Responses: 5.0082 Gatling/Machine Guns (2/70)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 21 May 91 15:22:58 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0082. Tuesday, 21 May 1991.

(1) Date: Fri, 17 May 91 11:56 CDT (60 lines)
From: Bill Kupersmith <BLAWRKWY@UIAMVS>
Subject: Gatling Guns

(2) Date: Fri, 17 May 91 11:03 BST (10 lines)
From: Stephen Miller <>
Subject: Social History of the Machine Gun

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 17 May 91 11:56 CDT
From: Bill Kupersmith <BLAWRKWY@UIAMVS>
Subject: Gatling Guns

In answer to Marc Smith's query about a poem featuring the Gatling
gun, I'd say that three different poems have been confused.
Marc Smith is probably reacalling a couplet, not by Kipling, but
by Hilaire Belloc, from *The Modern Traveller* "'Whatever happens
we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not.'" Sorry I cannot
supply the line numbers--the text before me isn't numbered--but
it's in sec. VII. And I can't guess from where Marc Smith remembered
it--it's often quoted by authors on technicology and imperialism (e.g.,
John Ellis, *The Social History of the Machine Gun* [New York: Pantheon,
1975], p. 94).

Of course a Maxim gun isn't a Gatling gun, but an example of the
first successful modern machine gun, which fires automatically
rather than by turning a crank. For the Gatling gun in poetry I think
Timothy Reuter is right to credit Henry Newbolt. The poem remembered
is from *Clifton Chapel and Other Poems* and is entitled "Vitai Lampada"
(the funny looking spelling of "vitae" is Lucretian [2.79]). The
crucial stanza reads:

The sand of the desert is sodden red,--
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;--
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

The reference to the jammed Gatling probably was inspired by the Zulu
War of 1879: "The jamming of the Gatling Guns, mentioned by Lord
Chelmsford, undoubtedly was due to the use of ordinary service rifle
cartridges . . . With the solid-drawn cartridge cases, recommended
for Gatling Gun use, no such difficulty was enountered (Paul Wahl
and Donald R. Toppel, *The Gatling Gun* [New York: ARCO, 1965],
p. 89).

There is, however, a poem by Kipling that deals with the same
theme of superior military technology--not machine guns but
light artillery--"Screw-Guns" in *Barrack-Room Ballads*:
The refrain goes:

For you all love the screw-guns--the screw guns they all love you!
So when we call round with a few guns, o' course you will know
what to do--hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender--it's worse if you fights
or you runs:
You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees, but you
don't get away from the guns!

As a schoolboy I recall that a friend had a recording of a British
Army chorus (probably Royal Horse Artillery or Royal Artillery)
singing "Screw-Guns" to the tune of the "Eaton Boating Song"--it
was awesome.

--Bill Kupersmith
University of Iowa
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------17----
Date: Fri, 17 May 91 11:03 BST
From: Stephen Miller <>
Subject: Social History of the Machine Gun

The author of this book is John Ellis and the most recent edition is
that of 1987 published by the Cresset Library (at least in the UK). It
is an excellent book and well worth a read.

stephen miller
oxford university computing service