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


The Week's News demanded a Christmas story which would fill a whole sheet of the paper. R. K. brooded over this awhile; the result was 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,' which is a true story of his early life when he was sent with his little sister to England to be educated. It is next to impossible to bring up English children in India, not because they could not have literary advantages here, but on account of the bad influence the close contact with the native servant has on the child. He is a slave to every whim, so Sonny Baba grows too domineering to suit the fancy of an English parent. No self-reliance can be learned while under the pampering care of bearer or ayah. Also, once a chi chi accent — as English contaminated by a native tongue is termed — is acquired, it is rarely lost even after years of later life in England, and pure speech is an essential, according to an Englishman. 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep' recounts Kipling's experiences at the hands of Aunty Rosa, the stern Englishwoman who made her living by taking in the little waifs from Anglo-India who must be separated from their parents. The hardest choice a woman must make in India is to decide whether it is best to go home with her children or to stay with her husband.

A friend took Ruddy and Trix from Bombay on the long sea voyage, and saw them established in the 'home,' where little Trix was adored and petted but Ruddy was accused of storytelling. There was great jealousy of his brightness in contrast to that of the son of Aunty Rosa. He learned to escape punishment by deceit, and there was no one to teach him the difference between right and wrong. He, poor child, at six was left in the house with a servant while Trix was taken off on a holiday with the mother and her son. Ruddy read and read from the boxful of books that his father had sent him, reading from daylight to dark, till he had devoured them all; then, forlorn indeed, having strained his eyes and being utterly alone, he entertained himself by measuring the whole house hand over hand.

It was pitiful to see Kipling living over the experience, pouring out his soul in the story, as the drab life was worse than he could possibly describe it. His eyesight was permanently impaired, and, as he had heretofore only known love and tenderness, his faith in people was sorely tried. When he was writing this he was a sorry guest, as he was in a towering rage at the recollection of those days. His summing up in the closing words shows the influence on his whole life.

'We are just as much Mother's as if we had never gone. Not altogether, for when young lives have drunk deep of the bitter waters of hate, suspicion, and despair, all the love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge, although it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light and teach faith where no faith was.'

Rudyard was planning to go direct to England, when suddenly the idea occurred to him that he would like to see something of the world first, and as he had helped us look up routes he begged to be allowed to accompany us. Then Mr. Allen asked him to write letters on the trip for the Pi, which would pay his expenses. We agreed to have him join us, so he writes that he will arrive 'an awful grimy dirty unshaven bricklayer and the great —— will perchance come down to the station and blandly tumble over me and then go home and tell his friends that my journey is solely undertaken in the interests of the Pioneer and I shall loaf down the platform with an unclean pipe in my mouth and then I'll be fairly embarked on the way to the high seas.'

CALCUTTA, March 9, 1889

Here we are, ready to start on our long journey to climes unknown. Rud has loaded us up with a delightful array of books, and he proudly exhibits two black leather manifold books in which he plans to write his 'Sea to Sea' letters for the Pioneer with an occasional 'turnover' for the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, his first love.

He has just received Wee Willie Winkie, with its attractive cover designed by his father. This is the inscription for my presentation copy:—

I cannot write, I cannot think,

I only eat and sleep and drink.

They say I was an author once,

I know I am a happy dunce,

Who snores along the deck and waits

To catch the rattle of the plates,

Who drowns ambition in a sea of Lager and of Tivoli.

I cannot write, I cannot sing,

I long to hear the meal bell ring;

I cannot sing, I cannot write,

I am a walking Appetite.

But you insist and I obey—

Here goes!

              On Steamer Madura,

Now rolling through a tepid sea,

March 10th

              to Mrs. Hill from me,

A journalist unkempt and inky

With all regards, Wee Willie Winkie.

The covers were torn off from the whole six of the Wheeler edition on account of some postal law, and the letter press sent on to England to Andrew Lang, so that Ruddy may be already introduced when he arrives in London.

The Babu at the Meteorological office at Allahabad will collect the 'Sea to Sea' letters as they appear in the Pioneer and bind them, so we can have a record of our trip without keeping a diary, though all India will be looking on.

March 16

I was present at the inception of Ruddy's Barrack Room Ballads. We were on the British India steamer Africa sailing toward Singapore, standing by the rail, when he suddenly began to hum, 'Rum-ti-tum-tra-la'—shaking the ashes from his pipe overboard. I was used to this, knowing something was stirring in his brain. Humming in a musical tone, he exclaimed, 'I have it. I'll write some Tommy Atkins Ballads,' and this idea kept simmering for months, with an occasional outbreak in soldierlike language. While we were at Moulmein lunching by a graceful pagoda hung with tinkling brass ornaments at the slender top and with a very broad base, he put forth the opinion that the Burmans had simply copied nature in their building, pointing to a near-by toddy palm tree, and certainly the shape was identical., while the tinkling resembled the rustling of the leaves.


We are sailing to-day for America. When Ruddy went to the shop to buy books for our Pacific trip he found an American pirated edition of his own tales. He was so furious that he stalked out of the shop and bought us nothing, to our great dismay. He declared that he would pronounce a curse on the American people in his very next letter, and for one thing it should be on the slovenly way in which Americans speak, — just like servants, — for the English are so particular about pure speech. I think it is because their lower classes drop the h or use dialect, as we do not. When R. met a girl on the steamer who spoke with a very Southern accent he said his curse was working, though we noticed that he was very devoted to this same sweet maiden from South Carolina.


Mr. Kipling has arrived after his Western tour, where he had many experiences, novel and trying. He seems very happy to be once more with his Anglo-Indian friends, for he has been lonely without letters from his home people. He is settled in the rooms at the College, where he has a living room with open fireplace, a spacious bedroom and bath. There is a couch, where I think he spends most of his time, smoking, reading, and meditating, but not doing much writing. He is absorbing the experiences which are so different in Pennsylvania surroundings from his Lahore days.

A. has a dark room rigged up at the College and the negatives made on that wonderful trip are being transformed into memory books for Rudyard, ourselves, and others.

BEAVER, August 1889

I've been painting a set of dessert plates with a design of our wild flowers to take back to India. One day Mr. Kipling, who has seemed unusually preoccupied, demanded china and paint. We wondered what project was being evolved in that fertile brain and now we know, for he has put upon six fruit plates some clever verses, about ten lines each, which he painted directly on the china without any notes.

His subjects are Plums, Peach, Berries, Watermelon, Apples, Grapes.

I'll copy the verses soon. They are rather badly painted in dark blue, as he was not accustomed to china paints and did not know how to use the turpentine. We tried to help, but he was too speedy for us.

The time has arrived for another parting, as A.'s leave is nearly up. R. K. will meet us in New York, to sail with us on the City of Berlin. We shall leave him in London to achieve his world-wide fame, as he is sure to do. In his visits to Washington, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Boston he has made many friends; he has gained new material for his writing, and he feels that his American experiences have been well worth while. He behaved quite decently while at Beaver, for when he felt grumpy he kept it to himself. The servants were puzzled by him, especially when he demanded that the barber shave him in bed. He swapped stories with our Senator and townfolk, arousing interest wherever he went.

Now we are off for our five years of exile.

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


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.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In