August 2001
Cylinder of the Month

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Rudyard Kipling's poem The Absent-Minded Beggar as read by Harry Spencer (1900).

The Absent-Minded Beggar
Company Columbia Phonograph Company
Cylinder # 11095 (5-inch "grand" cylinder)
Category Standard poem
Title The Absent-Minded Beggar
Performed by Harry Spencer
Circa 1900
Announcement "Rudyard Kipling's poem 'The Absent-Minded Beggar' by Mr. Harry Spencer for Columbia Phonograph Company of New York and Paris."

The Anglo-Boer War, fought in South Africa between the British and Boer forces in 1899-1902, was the backdrop for The Absent-Minded Beggar, Rudyard Kipling's 1899 poem to help raise funds for British soldiers and their families.

Harry Spencer, along with his older brother Len Spencer, were frequently announcers for Columbia records from the mid-1890s through the early 1900s.   Harry's early specialty was recorded speeches and other dramatic recitations, while Len was most often heard in song and minstrel recordings.

In this (5") Columbia Graphophone grand cylinder recording, Harry Spencer comes through loud and clear in reciting portions of Kipling's fine poem.

To hear The Absent-Minded Beggar  —

To hear an excerpt   —  
For help playing these sounds, click here.

The Absent-Minded Beggar

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 khaki ordered South? 
He's an absent-minded beggar, and his weaknesses are great – 
But we and Paul must take him as we find him –
He is out on active service, wiping something off a slate – 
And he's left a lot o'little things behind him! 
Duke's son – cook's son – son of a hundred kings – 
(Fifty thousand horse and foot going to Table Bay!) 
Each of 'em doing his country's work (and who's to look after their things?) 
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay – pay – pay! 

Here are girls he married secret, asking no permission to, 
For he knew he wouldn't get it if he did. 
There is gas and coals and vittles, and the house-rent falling due 
And it's more than rather likely there's a kid. 
There are girls he walked with casual they'll be sorry now he's gone, 
For an absent-minded beggar they will find him, 
But it ain't the time for sermons with the winter coming on. 
We must help the girl that Tommy's left behind him! 
Cook's son – Duke's son – son of a belted Earl – 
Son of a Lambeth publican – it's all the same to-day!
Each of 'em doing his country's work (and who's to look after the girl?)
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay – pay – pay!

There are families by thousands, far too proud to beg or speak, 
And they'll put their sticks and bedding up the spout,
And they'll live on half o'nothing paid 'em punctual once a week, 
'Cause the man that earned the wage is ordered out.
He's an absent-minded beggar, but he heard his country's call, 
And his reg'ment didn't need to send to find him; 
He chucked his job and joined it – so the job before us all 
Is to help the home that Tommy's left behind him! 
Duke's job – cook's job – gardener, baronet, groom, 
Mews or palace or paper-shop – there's someone gone away! 
Each of 'em doing his country's work (and who's to look after the room?) 
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay – pay – pay! 

Let us manage so as later we can look him in the face, 
And tell him – what he'd very much prefer – 
That, while he saved the Empire his employer saved his place, 
And his mates that's you and me looked out for her.
He's an absent-minded beggar and he may forget it all, 
But we do not want his kiddies to remind him 
That we sent 'em to the workhouse while their daddy hammered Paul. 
So we'll help the homes our Tommy's left behind him! 
Cook's home – Duke's home – home of a millionaire – 
Fifty thousand horse and foot going to Table Bay! 
Each of 'em doing his country's work (and what have you got to spare?) 
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay – pay – pay! 


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