Be that as it may, it is undeniable that a poetical exposition of the complicated part which Anglo-Saxondom is playing in the modern world calls for some qualities which Mr. Kipling does not possess. He understands the Neolithic man and paints him with frank enjoyment of his primal starkness. But one suspects that he has neither the patience nor the insight to illuminate the ways of men in the infinitely complex paths of organized society. Aside from his interest in the one subject of Imperial Federation, his political and social theories have not advanced very far beyond the "beneficent whip" doctrine of his master Carlyle. There is material for literature, even here, and Mr. Kipling has demonstrated his skill by making the most of it. But the
"dog eat dog" theory of conduct, while well adapted for such literary excursions into the field of animal psychology as Mr. Jack London has lately made in his Call of the Wild, breaks down in the presence of the actual history of human society. It is too easy to be true. It leaves out of the reckoning too many facts, to say nothing of that beatitude which promises that the meek shall inherit the earth.
When Whitman attempted to state the criteria by which great national poetry is to be tested, he asked, among other queries, "Is the good old cause in it?" To that question, however phrased, one is bound to return after reading Mr. Kipling's hymns of action. For
"Sidney's good old cause"
meant to Whitman, as it has to so many poets greater than either Whitman or Mr. Kipling, nothing less than the progress and freedom of the whole human race. "My theme is justice," exclaimed Wordsworth in proud defense of the warmth of his pamphlet on the Convention of Cintra, "and my voice is raised for mankind." But Mr. Kipling's theme is never justice, except such justice as the conquering Anglo-Saxon chooses to bestow. His voice has never been raised for mankind. He has no word for the oppressed. His answer to the proposal for European disarmament was The Truce of The Bear. He celebrates war, not as the last argument of kings, but as the only argument of republics; not as the necessary and therefore honorable police work of the order-loving nations, but out of the naked lust of battle, or the boyish glee of
"Landin' 'isself with a Gatlin' gun to talk to them 'eathen kings."
To read him, after reading the political poetry of Milton or Shelley, of Lowell or Whittier, is to be conscious of a startling and radical difference, not merely on the specific issue of human liberty, but also in the general conception of life and destiny. Mr. Kipling's gospel is very simple. It is the Neolithic one of carrying a big stick, and the finest poem he has ever written was inspired by a mood of mediation— all too rare in him—upon the vast responsibilities entailed upon the possessors of superior physical force.
If one expects to hear in The Five Nations, therefore, any new message from that immemorial spiritual conflict where men are struggling for knowledge and happiness and the right to self-government, he will listen in vain. The half-dozen eventful years that have elapsed since the publication of his previous volumes of verse have not modified, very essentially, Mr. Kipling's "gentleman-adventurer" attitude toward life. Nevertheless, there is at least evidence in the new volume of a more kindly personal feeling toward England's political foes. And there is a humorous detached vision of some flaws in the Englishman's scheme of things, which is more like the easy raillery of Byron's Beppo than anything in recent poetry, and which hints of future growth. Mr. Kipling was once of the opinion that the American's sense of humor would save him at the last. It would be ungenerous not to give Mr. Kipling himself the benefit of the same hope. His natural humor may be further enriched by more humane and thoughtful experience. He will doubtless have opportunity for wiser comprehension of those who differ from him politically. Above all, he is dowered with an extraordinary genius for the depiction of individual men,—brothers, though they be at the ends of the earth,—and for enforcing the lesson learned by his troopers in South Africa:—
"Why, Dawson, Galle, an' Montreal—Port Darwin—Timaru,
Good-bye, you bloomin' Atlases! You've taught us somethin' new:
The world's no bigger than a kraal. Good-bye—good luck to you!"
It is through such gifts as these that Mr. Kipling's poetry may yet—actually, though perhaps quite unconsciously—aid the good old cause, and further that better civilization in which his theories allow him to have such little faith.