Silk souvenir illustrated with the poem The Absent-Minded Beggar by Rudyard Kipling on double sided cream with red and green printing. Lithographic portrait of Kipling on front and picture of 'A gentleman in kharki' by R. Caton Woodville on centre page. Presented by Mrs Langtry to commemorate the 100th performance of 'Degenerates', Garrick Theatre, 24th November 1899.
Silk and satin theatre programmes were frequently produced in the 18th and 19th centuries to commemorate special theatrical and musical events, the less expensive ones with integral fringing made from fraying cut edges, and the more expensive with separately applied silk or metallic fringes. This was not a theatre programme as such, but a souvenir presented to mark the 100th performance of Sydney Grundy's The Degenerates at the Garrick Theatre on Friday 24th October 1899. Lillie Langtry, who was presenting the play as part of her season at the theatre and who was playing Mrs. Trevelyan in the production, recited Kipling's poem The Absent-Minded Beggar from the stage after the final curtain, and presented every audience member with one of these souvenirs. They were described as: 'a full size Edition de Luxe in facsimile of Mr. Kipling's manuscript, specially printed by The Daily Mail for this occasion.
To use the poem for the souvenir Mrs. Langtry subscribed a hundred pounds (worth about twelve thousand pounds in 2018) to The Daily Mail fund for the wives and children of the reservists fighting in South Africa. The second Boer War had broken out on 7th October 1899 and the majority of soldiers mobilised for the front were Army Reservists - ex-soldiers whose loss of their civilian income had serious results for their dependents. The infantryman's daily shilling could not compare with a workman's weekly wage of twenty shillings. There was no guarantee that men could return to their civilian jobs, if they avoided serious injury or even death. A number of charitable funds were set up, amongst them one publicised by The Daily Mail proprietor Albert Harmsworth. Kipling wrote this poem on 16th October and sent it to Harmsworth on the 22nd, with a note telling him that he could use it for any of the relief funds: 'It's catchpenny verse and I want it to catch just as many pennies as it can... It isn't a thing I shall care to reprint so there is no need of copyrighting it in America. If anyone wants to sing it take care that the proceeds go to our men.' Arthur Sullivan was persuaded to set it to music and it was first performed by John Coates at the Alhambra Theatre under Sullivan's baton on 13th November 1899. The established war artist Richard Caton Woodville Jnr. provided an illustration of a brave British Reservist entitled 'A Gentleman in Kharki', and the published poem and sheet music sold in vast numbers, along with merchandise emblazoned with the illustration. The Absent-Minded Beggar Fund became an unprecedented success, raising a total of over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.