As it states here, this souvenir item, printed on silk, ‘is presented by Mrs. Langtry on the occasion of the 100th performance of the “Degenerates” [by Sydney Grundy] at the Garrick Theatre. For permission to use Mr. Kipling’s poem Mrs. Langtry has made to the “Daily Mail” a contribution of £100 for the benefit of the wives and children of the Reservists fighting in South Africa.’
Kipling wrote ‘The Absent-Minded Beggar’ to assist the Daily Mail’s ‘Soldiers’ Families Fund’, established to raise money for comforts such as tobacco, cocoa, and soap for the troops, and clothing and postage for parcels from home for their families. Many of the men mobilised were ex-soldiers in permanent employment for whom returning to military duty meant a significant cut in their income, and there was no legislation to protect Reservists’ employment. Poverty hit many families when the lifestyle maintained comfortably on a workman’s wage of twenty shillings could not be kept up on the infantryman’s ‘shilling a day’:
When you’ve shouted “Rule Britannia” – when you’ve sung “God Save the Queen”
When you’ve finished killing Kruger with your mouth
Will you kindly drop a shilling in my little tambourine
For a gentleman in kharki ordered South?
The poem was first published in the Daily Mail on 31 October 1899; both Kipling and the artist Richard Caton Woodville—the image of a defiant Tommy was commissioned to accompany Kipling’s poem, and endlessly reproduced—contributed their fees, and the Fund raised £100,000 in three months.
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