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The Absent-Minded Beggar
Words by Rudyard Kipling.

Originally published by Enoch & Sons for The Daily Mail in 1899.


Music cover
Sullivan found the irregular meter of the words of this song awkward to set, remarking, "It puzzled me to compose Gilbert's I have a song to sing, O, but that was child's play compared to the task of setting Kipling's lines." The setting was completed on 5th November, 1899 and the first performance, by John Coates, took place eight days later at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, with Sullivan conducting. The song was published by Enoch & Sons for The Daily Mail, 1899, the proceeds being used to help the dependants of soldiers fighting in the Boer War. The manuscript was auctioned for £500, which helped to swell the fund and a facsimile "Special Edition de Luxe" issued. The song proved extremely popular, but brought disapproval from those who thought Sullivan had wasted his genius on such trivia. In his obituary of Sullivan in the Cornhill magazine of March 1901, Fuller Maitland would write: "...how can the composer of Onward, Christian Soldiers and The Absent-Minded Beggar claim a place in the hierarchy of music among the men who would face death rather than smirch their singing-robes for the sake of fleeting popularity?"

Sullivan also composed the The Absent-Minded Beggar March using material from this song as well as new material.


Karaoke File


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 of 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 the things?)
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay - pay - pay!

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 the things?)
Pass the hat for your credit's sake, and pay - pay - pay!

The Boer War
John Liston Byam Shaw
Byam Shaw - Boer War

There are girls he married secret, asking no permission to,
For he knew he wouldn't get it if he did.
There is gas and coal and vittles, and the house-rent falling due,
And it's rather more than 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!

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 the 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 task 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!

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 that 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!

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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