Spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Jul 7 05:43:13 EDT 2003

Jenne wrote:

>> Whilst not having the faintest idea what this has to do with Kipling's
>> politics or rehabilitation regarding those, I'd say they *were* planning to
>> eat the rabbits.
>Certainly plausible. But the practice of 'potting' at rabbits and other
>things that moved (remember, they held duels and shot at each other)

I don't think so, much, not by Kipling's time.  Duelling had been illegal
for more than fifty years by the time he was born, and the practice
pretty-much ceased as well as being illegal not very long after the end of
the Regency, as far as I know.  Certainly books written *about* the early
nineteenth century have what one might call "attempted duels" being
prevented by officers of the law arrresting the would-be duellers if they
are informed that a duel is in prospect, and men who *have* shot someone in
a duel have to flee the country to avoid arrest.  How far historical
fiction follows the facts of the time I don't pretend to know, but I image
such authors do make at least some effort at accuracy.

>an established part of the culture, one of the less attractive ones (since
>people who could actually use the food were forbidden from hunting).

True.  Hence, I suspect, the sympathy for the figure of the poacher in
Kipling's work.  He certainly seems to be pro-Hobden, annyhow, into whose
luncheon-basket one of Kipling's pheasants ran.  :-)

Mind you, rabbits are a pest to farmers, so shooting them might be accepted
for that reason (like shooting crows if there are vast flocks of them
destroying the crops).  I honestly have no idea what the "gentry" did with
the corpses of the rabbits they killed in such circumstances, but I
wouldn't be surprised to learn that they got casually given to any cottager
the successful hunter happened to meet on his way home.  I would have
thought that selling them would be infra-dig, and there's a limit to how
much rabbit one would want to eat, day in day out.

(I think I prefer the idea of a sudden shot and death to the idea of slow
death in a trap or having a ferret introduced into the warren to slaughter
the rabbits underground; and I am firmly of the opinion that shooting the
rabbits was better than creating a special disease to kill rabbits in a
horrible way, which was what was done less than a century later when they'd
got out of hand in Australia.)

>However, I would say that the fact that this fault was not Kipling's
>alone, but that of his culture, doesn't make it any less offensive.

I agree that going out with intent to kill things for no better reason than
target-practice is yicky.  Hunger is a reason, the other isn't.  But I
can't think of many places (actually I can't think of any, but I'm not
going to try to prove a negative!) in Kipling where sympathy is expressed
for someone going out to take pot-shots at things not for the pot, as it
were, and I have a feeling that I've seen him quoted (somewhere in one of
the biographies) as not caring to do it himself.  It seems likely that he
wasn't a good shot anyway, with his eyesight, which might explain not
wanting to do it when he wasn't driven by hunger, I suppose.

>I'm constantly surprised that more little boys don't get scurvy, so if the
>food was poor that would make sense.

Maybe they escape it by scrumping apples!  (Do apples prevent scurvy?)

>Side note: every school story I'm familiar with shows the kids being a
>little pre-occupied with food. I'm not sure why, it just seems to be one
>of the common elements.

If they are written by people who ate school dinners in England (don't know
about Wales or Scotland) in the 1950s 60s and 70s, it's understandable!
One of the things school inspectors, who ate in the schools they were
inspecting, always seemed to be saying was that they had to sneak out and
buy meals in cafes to supplement the awful food at boarding-schools, and
that day-schools were only better because one could have supper elsewhere
without giving offence so the worst one suffered was lunch.  There may have
been wonderful exceptions, but I think generally food provided at as little
cost as possible for a couple of hundred people who have no choice about
eating it tends not to be of the very highest quality.  It was meant to be
(and probably was, though boiling cabbage does the vitamins in it no good)
nutritionally balanced, because it was known to be the only meal some of
the pupils got in the day, but it was often rather grim and grey.

Are you like me beginning to think of the food as described in *Witch
Week*, by any chance?  :-)


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