You may have walked past this print in our upstairs passage, and even stopped to admire the beautiful illustrations or to read the poem by Rudyard Kipling, but do you know the story behind it? First published in The Daily Mail in October 1899, Kipling wrote The Absent-Minded Beggar in response to the Boer War, and waived his copyright so that the proceeds could go towards supporting troops. The poem itself was perhaps Kipling’s most popular work in his lifetime, but it was when Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan light opera fame) set it to music that it really took off. As Kipling wrote, Sullivan “wedded the words to a tune guaranteed to pull the teeth out of barrel-organs.” Again, no royalties were payable for performing or printing the song, as long as the proceeds went to the ‘Absent-Minded Beggar Fund.’
In total, the poem and song raised a staggering £250,000 (£31.5 million in 2018 terms), and Kipling was offered a knighthood as a result. He declined.
Listen to a recording of this 19th century charity single here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTGTsI7W6yU