The Corner

Private of The Buffs

I realise, a little late, that people not raised in England probably don’t

know the story on which Sir Francis Doyle based his poem. Here it is, from

the London Times of 1860: “Some Sikhs and a private of the Buffs (the

East Kent Regiment), having remained behind with the grog-carts, fell into

the hands of the Chinese. On the next morning they were brought before the

authorities and commanded to perform the kotow. The Sikhs obeyed; but

Moyse, the English soldier, declaring that he would not prostrate himself

before any Chinaman alive, was immediately knocked on the head, and his body

thrown on a dunghill.” This was during the Anglo-Chinese War of that year.

Here is a charming note on the poet, from Michael Turner’s anthology of

Victorian verse, Parlour Poetry:

SIR FRANCIS HASTINGS CHARLES DOYLE, second baronet (1810-1888), came of

military stock and most of his male relatives seem to have been colonels at

the very least. He went to Eton and Oxford, where, the D.N.B. [=

Dictionary of National Biography] reports, “his intercourse with Gladstone

became very intimate.” Called to the bar, he later received the appointment

of receiver-general of customs. To compensate perhaps for remaining a

civilian, he wrote stirring military ballads: “The Red Thread of Honour”

was translated into Pushtoo and “became a fovarite among the villagers on

the north-western frontier of India.” To crown his literary ambitions, he

was elected professor of poetry at Oxford in 1867.

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