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Kipling's son, John, in the Great War. Another was an interview by Clare Sheridan appearing after the war. Concerning the interview, there was a complete misunderstanding between Mr. Kipling and the interviewer. The interview was officially denied. I am
not aware that it was specifically retracted. Its purport was highly critical of the United States. Published throughout America, it aroused much comment. In Michael Arlen's phrase, there was any amount of backchat. You are anxious, perhaps, to make a name for yourself? You might try to terview Mr. Kipling now.
You might even try to see him. Well, you can hang about the village of Burwash and the outskirts of Bateman's. Your reward may possibly be a glimpse of a "moodily stern man striding through Sussex lanes and along the roads, with an angler's creel slung on his back and a stout ashplant in his hand". He used to sing at the top of his voice as he strode along. . . . Much better not to try to speak to him.
Yes, the unique thing is that, since his youth, he has had no personal history at all. There is literally nothing to record. People have made, in anxiety and enmity or with that curious malice that is not personal but is directed toward the great, all sorts of conjectures. The rumor got about that Kipling's whole ambition was to found a county family. But if he had that ambition, it lies frustrate; and if he had it, perhaps it was never so belittling as the gossips fancied. God knows the children of great writers are not writers
Perhaps a Conservative government might have given Mr. Kipling a peerage, but since 1914 Conservative governments have been scarce and before 1914 it would not have been possible. Stanley Baldwin is a kinsman of Kipling; one cannot be indelicate. But it is small wonder that as I am writing these lines Heywood Broun should be printing his opinion that "there seems every reason to believe that the man who wrote 'Kim' is definitely dead". The obvious reply is that, as a person, he never lived. I do not myself for one moment credit the biographical outline I have already set forth. It is, like the atomic theory and other such matters, a mere hypothesis, a plausible way of accounting for the presence of so much printed matter and the evidence of a force or energy which we do not understand. There are the photographs of Kipling - but since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle discovered ectoplasm, the camera is not to be trusted. R. K. is a myth.
But if his personality does not exist outside his work, it is fully realized in it. We shall do well if we can comprehend all of his manysidedness and his singlesidedness. What fun to try!
"Born blasé", was J. M. Barrie's comment, when Kipling the stripling appeared on the scene. And Barrie went away to meditate; a long time passed, and he produced "Peter Pan". Stevenson recognized the newcomer's genius but made his reservations. There was "copiousness and haste", and Kipling "is all smart journalism and cleverness; it is all bright and shallow and limpid, like a business paper a good one, s'entendu; but there's no blot of heart's blood and the Old Night. ... I look on and admire; but in a kind of ambition we all have for our tongue and literature, I am wounded."
Oscar Wilde said that in turning over the pages, "one feels as if one were seated under a palm tree reading life by superb flashes of vulgarity. . . . From the point of view of literature Mr. Kipling is a genius who drops his aspirates. . . . He is our first authority on the second-rate, and has seen marvelous things through key-holes, and his backgrounds are real works of art. In his best tentative manner, Henry James spoke of R. K. as a young man who had gone a long way before breakfast. And, he might have added, was now eating a particularly hearty breakfast.
Thus the voices when Kipling was young in the lands. Barrie was right as far as he went; Stevenson had no inner faculty by which to measure the new man; Wilde's wit was based on the "Plain Tales from the Hills" and "Departmental Ditties" sort of thing, and, so based, was sound enough. Henry James was being properly circumspect.
The first truth, and the truth of all the most enduring, is that(Kipling is a great master of English prose.) He was not born so; you will not find this quality in his earliest work; he conquered it with the help of his instinct, his reporter's training, and the English Bible. I quote from "Men of Letters" by Dixon Scott:
The rhythms run with a snap from stop to stop; every sentence is as straight as a string; each has its self-contained tune. Prise one of them out of its place and you feel it would fall with a clink, leaving a slot that would never close up as the holes do in woollier work. Replace it, and it locks back like type in a form, fitting into the paragraph as the paragraph fits into the tale. There are no glides or grace-notes, or blown spray of sound. Most prose that loves rhythm yields its music like a mist, an emanation that forms a bloom on the page, softly blurring the partitions of the periods. Kipling's prose shrinks stiffly from this trustfulness. The rhythms must report themselves promptly, prove their validity, start afresh after the full stop. Lack of
faith, if you like - but also, it must be admitted, a marvellously unremitting keenness of craftsmanship. And it is the same with the optical integers. Sudden scenes stud his page like inlaid stones.
The leisurely ocean all patterned with peacocks' eyes of foam.
I swung the car to clear the turf, brushed along the edge of the wood, and turned in on the broad stone path to where the fountain basin lay like one star-sapphire.
When his feet touched that still water, it changed, with a rustle of unrolling maps, to nothing less than a sixth quarter of the globe, with islands colored yellow and blue, their lettering strung across their faces.
And these are no mere decorations. tales are gemmed- but as watches are jewelled; it is round these tense details that the action revolves. What is the emotional axis of "The Finest Story in the World"? It is that silver wire laid along the bulwarks which I thought was never going to break. Are we to know that a man was struck dumb? Then just as the lightning shot two tongues that cut the sky into three pieces something wiped his lips of speech as a mother wipes the milky lips of her child.
The motive of all his tales, as of "At the End of the Passage", is a picture seen in a lens. Even the shadowy outer influences that brood over Kim's life, the inscrutable Powers that move in its background, come to us first in designs as vivid and dense as the devices of heraldry — as a Red Bull on a Green Field, as a House of Many Pillars; and before the close are resolved into the two most definite, clean-cut, and systematic of all earthly organizations: the military mechanism of India and the precise apparatus of Freemasonry. Kipling must have pattern and precision and he has the power as well as the will. He can crush the sea into a shape as sharp as crystal, can compress the Himalayas into a little lacquer-like design, has even, in "The Night Mail" that clean, contenting piece of craftsmanship printed a pattern on the empty air.
and the overheard cynicism of elders were set down with a sort of rude vigor. Shallow stuff beside the nearly contemporary stories of O. Henry; but it is common to mistake a kick for an emotion - and I may add that particularly in this country the mistake seems to be increasing.
This first phase did not last long. It is not true to credit Kipling with the first use of vernacular; Dickens go no further back had used it, and Kipling did no more than employ it with extravagance. But in dealing with modern machinery R. K. really did open a new literary field and stake out a claim that remains undisputed today. For a time he was in some danger of thinking that a machine was a story, as a man is a story; instead of a deus ex machina he was busy exalting the machine as god. That mistake did not last long, either. From dazzling or bewildering he passed on to a paramount wish to move mankind. Now the race can be moved only by emotion; (emotion is not conveyed unless the writer has himself been deeply stirred; and Kipling could not be stirred, any more than you or I, except by certain things. English soil was one of them; the pride and responsibility of race (the White Man's Burden) was another; custom, authority, discipline, reverence, fear, were others. I am sorry to use abstract terms, for these things have never presented themselves abstractly to Kipling. They have always been concrete, personal, and immediate as in that phrase, "the White Man's Burden". Katharine Fullerton Gerould, one of Kipling's most ardent admirers, would add to the list above: patriotism, love, childhood and parenthood, duty and death. But these are more abstractions and they do not mean as much as a single good Kipling story. Mrs. Gerould is
more right and far more expressive when she speaks of Kipling as having a Chaucerian or Shakespearian sense of life"life, good and bad, high and low, grave and gay". Both Kipling and Dickens are no mean inheritors of Elizabethan spaciousness.
At the close of her essay on "The Remarkable Rightness of Rudyard Kipling", Mrs. Gerould says:
All that I have meant to do is to point out that Kipling was right about preparedness, right about the Colonies, right about Germany, right about Russia, right about the Boers, right about Kitchener, right about demagogues and "labor", right about the elderly politicians, right about the decent British code, right about patriotism and the human heart right about love.
And then she seems to wonder that R. K. has been damned on every side. One would think Mrs. Gerould had never heard of a certain Aristides, styled the Just.
I am not one of those who sternly require the divorce of literature from all political and social purposes, from propaganda of every kind. If my Latin is not too rusty, the very form of the word "propaganda" — periphrastic means something that must be spread around, the clear implication being that it will not propagate itself. Observation teaches me that anything which will not propagate itself will die anyway, no matter what the resort to artificial methods of keeping it alive. So the presence of a little, or even of a few tons, of propaganda around the place bothers me not. I will bury it, it will not bury me.
wither according to its nature. He is merely one of many chunks of good red earth in which it is planted. And like the rest of us, though more conspicuously, more intensely, he grow flowers and plants and weeds.
But as to that "rightness": it may occur to us that to have been right in a dozen years is bad chance to prove right in a hundred. I turn to Kipling's book of war verse, "The Years Between", and in some "material which may be said to be authoritative and to state clearly Mr. Kipling's own ideas in regard to this book" I find a note on the poem "The Rowers":
Originally published in the London Times in 1902 at the time when Germany wished to embroil England with the United States noteworthy for the first use of the word
He both is, and isn't, a poet.) If we could only recognize the distinction, he is a singer or chanter - chanteyman, as the sea would have it - rather than a poet. He is at his best, the best easily imaginable, in such songs as "The Truce of the Bear" and "The Sons of Martha". They do well who take off their hats, who even toss them in the air, at the sound of such lines as these:
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
the children's song in "Puck of Pook's Hill".
The difference is difficult to express: Masefield is a poet in a sense that Kipling is not. Kipling is a poet in the sense that Vachel Lindsay is a poet. Neither parallel may be drawn too far. The best of Kipling was made to be kept alive on the lips of people the world over, and of course it largely is; and so is a little of the worst. Kipling's highflown efforts in serious poetry to express his feeling about the English soil are frequently lifeless, but lines flash out:
So to the land our hearts we give
And Memory, Use, and Love make live
But his best poetry is in prose, Or, if you prefer, his best prose is damaskeened with exquisite poetry. There will always be "They" and "The Brushwood Boy" and "The Jungle Books" better than everything, perhaps, there will always be "Kim", a Wheel of Life, a little dust, a flower, a prayer.
English Literature During the Last Half
Gods of Modern Grub Street. A. St. John
Men of Letters. Dixon Scott. DORAN.
The Kipling Index. DOUBLEDAY, PAGE.
Kipling's Country and His Neighbors.