(notes by Roberta Baldi. We have been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Alastair Wilson) )
The grandiloquent names, catchy rhythms, and facetious rhymes of the "ditties", barely conceal the serious view of life that informs them. For the first edition, Kipling wrote an introductory poem that he called, pointedly, "General Summary":Departmental Ditties was the first collection of Kipling’s verse offered to the general public. The first edition, published in June 1886 in India, was produced in the form of a Government docket or file, in an edition of 500 copies, priced at 1 rupee. As Charles Carrington notes (p. 78):
There is no progress, no change of any significant moral or social value. Mankind has always been motivated by greed, selfishness, and self-seeking. Any individual revealing some special talent or ability has always placed himself at the mercy of other, less talented, but more powerful people who will thieve, murder, steal, or do anything else that is necessary to help them get on in life: "As it was in the beginning/Is to-day official sinning/And shall be for evermore."
The trouble with this cheerless philosophy was that it couldn't just be accepted as part of the overall joke. The first readers of Departmental Ditties laughed at the poems, but there was an element of unease in their laughter ... The ditties brought Kipling praise and admiration, but not, one suspects, many friends. The young poet journalist who not only knew all the local gossip, but was capable of exposing the unpleasant motives that lay behind it in catchy poems that everyone wanted to read, was a man to be wary of.
The book did not look like a book; it was part of the joke that he printed and bound it in the style ans shape of a Government office file, tied up with a bow of the pink tale that is called 'red tape'. The first edition was immensely popular in India, soon sold out, and is now a rarity.For more details of the book and the successive editions see David Alan Richards p. A7.