The Young Kipling

In the latter part of the nineteenth century an American girl married an Englishman who had been appointed by Lord Salisbury to fill the chair of Science at the Muir Central College, Allahabad University, at Allahabad, India. The following are extracts from her diary and from letters written to her home people


Dear J. — When 'The Man Who Would Be King' was germinating in R. K.'s mind he was lunching with us. Suddenly he demanded names for his characters. A. promptly said, 'Well, the queerest name I ever heard was that of a missionary I met in the Himalayas when we were both tramping—"Peachey Taliaferro Wilson."' Of course Rudyard seized that at once. I could think of no name to give, so R. said, 'Well, who was the most prominent man in your home town?' Of course you know that I replied 'Mr. Dravo,' and sure enough he used these very names, adding a t to Dravo.

Later he was sitting at a desk busily writing. A. was in a big chair and I was near by. His custom was to push off a sheet from the pad as fast as he had filled it with his tiny fine writing, letting it fall to the floor. A. picked up the sheets, read and passed them to me, our one complaint being that we could read this thrilling story faster than the author furnished it.

Speaking of 'His Majesty the King,' R. K. said he had a very tender comer in his heart for little children, but there was not often an opportunity for showing it.

I never saw anyone more devoted to children, and alas there are so few in this station; all old enough have been sent to England, but Dr. and Mrs. J. Murray Irwin have a darling little girl who is my godchild. When she comes to the house there is nothing that R. will not do to amuse her. He plays bear, crawling over the floor, and he will endure every sort of teasing. On her birthday he wrote to accompany my small gift a gay little verse beginning:—

Imperious wool-booted sage,
Tho' your years as men reckon are three,
You are wiser than ten times your age
And your faithfulest servants are we.

At last R. K. is coming into his own, for he is permitted to collect the stories he has written for the Week's News into a more permanent form to be published by Wheeler, in the Railway Edition. The covers are to be a grayish blue and the pater is designing them.

The first one, of Soldiers Three, came for inspection and has been severely criticized by Ruddy. Mulvaney is not smart enough in the way he stands, and the barracks are not just right. I shall keep the pencil sketch, as it will be interesting to compare.

What a life he leads, all among the babblings of the Chamber of Commerce and the unsavory detail of the days among the dockets, departmental orders, and the queer expositions of human frailty, vanity, greed, and malice that a newspaper offers. With it all he watches for suggestive ideas for his tales. For instance:—

'The Judgment of Dungara' had its origin in a statement that A. made at the dinner table concerning the Nilgiri nettle, which has most persistent stinging qualities. R. made use of every item of information he could gain, and in a few days the story of the great God Dungara appeared in the Week's News. It has a vivid description of the loneliness of a mission station in the interior. 'Isolation that weighs upon the waking eyelids and drives you by force headlong into the labors of the day.' The missionary, besides giving his flock the Bread of Life, had taught them to weave white cloth from the glossy fibres of a plant that grew near by. The Civil Service official was due, and the converts, usually naked, were to appear for the first time clothed in their new garments, made, alas, from this terrible nettle. It was woven fire that ran through their limbs and gnawed into their bones. Needless to say, they broke ranks and rushed to the river, 'writhing, stamping, twisting and shedding garments, pursued by the thunder of the trumpet of the God Dungara."

The need in India for hospitals for native women is very great. Dr. Bielby, the Kiplings' physician at Lahore, was going home to England, so she was asked to present to Queen Victoria the dire necessity for some help for the secluded zenana women. She did so, and as a result the Lady DuTerin Fund for a chain of hospitals throughout India was raised by means of everyone giving a day's pay, from the richest rajah down to the humblest ryot—from the Viceroy to Tommy Atkins. This stirred the soul of Rudyard, so he wrote for the Pioneer 'The Song of the Women' — prefacing the poem with the address of the women of Uttarpara to Lady Dufferin which had been published in the Pioneer. 'Our feelings in this matter are shared by thousands of our sisters throughout the land and of this we are assured by many signs not likely to come under the observation of the outside world.'

Kipling brought the first copy of the paper just fresh from the press to us and, tossing it over, said, "What do you think of that?" He is rather cynical about the whole matter, for the giving of money is not voluntary, but practically compulsory.

Kipling's friends felt that it was unfair to him to keep writing stories for the two papers without any extra remuneration, so he was persuaded to discontinue them. He wound up with "The Last of the Stories.' He pictures a visit of his old friend, the Devil of Discontent, who lives at the bottom of the inkpot, but emerges half a day after each story has been printed with a host of useless suggestions for its betterment. This Devil of Discontent is the proprietor of the largest hell in existence, the Limbo of Lost Endeavor, where the souls of all the characters go. He takes the author below, where his characters are passed in review before him — till his heart turns sick. 'The Last of the Stories' closes, 'Now the proof that this is absolutely true lies in the fact that there will be no other to follow it,' and there were no more for the Week's News — a great loss to the Indian public. He was not permitted to sign any of his work.

We invited Rud to stay at our house while we are away, as he is at the N. W. P. Club and he could have more room and also enjoy Bhoj's cooking. He has written of his good times and of his trials.

It seems that the ayah thought this was her opportunity for a tamasha, so she celebrated by having guests in the compound. That meant noisy ekkas jingling down the avenue and the night, vocal with much tinkling of anklets to the accompaniment of the sitar. Rud says he had no notion that forty poor rupees could create such a devilment for so long.

Evidently he is not idling, as he says Mulvaney 'came' with a rush on the blue couch in the Blue Room, and if he walked one mile up and down as he was hacking it out, he walked three. Old 'Pig and Whistle' is getting lame, so R. is pattering about in the dust, to his infinite weariness and discontent.


Dear ONES: You know we live in a famous old bungalow which has been standing since the Mutiny days of 1857, when nearly every house was destroyed. R. K. so appreciated the privilege of staying in our lovely home while we were away that he wrote a clever sketch for us which tells of our daily life, our occupations, and our servants. He pictures the attractive verandah where we live most of the time, the long avenue of thick-leaved shisham trees leading to the house, and he gives many amusing incidents. He calls this 'Celebrities at Home,' borrowing the title from a series of articles now coming out in an English paper.

Some day maybe I'll send you the manuscript, which is at first in his fine handwriting, but toward the last is hurriedly scribbled.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In