There has been more than one reason, as I have said, for the waning of Kipling's popularity. In the first place, he does not give us so many good stories as once, in the full flush of his genius, he did. That is a perfectly legitimate reason. Then, too, he has had an unlucky trick of seeing ahead. When 'The Edge of the Evening' was first published (in 1913), it passed for hysteria. Only 'fools' believed in German spies—in 1913. But there are other causes more insidious and more potent. He stands, not only politically for the highest type of Toryism,—at least, one fancies he does,—but for a lot of other outdated things: pious attachment to the soil; romantic love, enduring, clean outside and in; the beauty of childhood and the bitterer beauty of parenthood; patriotism unshrinking; and unashamed; loathing of the mob and the mob's madness and meanness; the continuity of the English political tradition, from Magna Charta down; religious toleration; scrupulous perception of differences between race and race, type and type; the White Man's Burden. And I doubt if, even now, he is an ardent believer in Woman Suffrage.
Almost any one of these attitudes would have been enough to damn him with the British democracy. One quite understands that The Five Nations would not have been Mr. Lloyd George's vade mecum. One perfectly sees why Mr. Asquith, following the usual tradition, passed Kipling over for the Laureateship in favor of a gentleman whom few people had heard of and no one could read. ('The Widow at Windsor' probably shocked Balliol as much as it shocked Queen Victoria.) No Kipling-lover, for that matter, particularly wanted Kipling to be Laureate. One even realizes—though this time with amusement—why he is persona non grata to 'the brittle intellectuals that crack beneath the strain.' The intellectuals say that he is good at times for children, and often for the vulgar, and take their refuge in not taking him seriously. The intellectuals have been Russianizing themselves, in these last years; and Kipling's laughter at that phenomenon must have been unholy. They could scarcely afford to feel him remarkably right, it would prove them so remarkably wrong.
As I say, one quite understands why the gorged and flattered workingman, the demagogue, and the 'brittle intellectual' have not read him or listened to him; but it is none the less a mystery that someone should not have listened to him and seen that he was eminently sane on many vital points. There is, after all, no one living in England who writes so well, who is so nearly master of the English language. But one has to conclude that his audience has made up its mind only to be amused during a train-journey.
There was a merry little international correspondence in 1914 or 1915 over 'The Truce of the Bear.' What did Mr. Kipling say now? It was all a great joke on him. People also raked up 'The Man Who Was.' I believe Mr. Kipling never replied to his humorous questioners, or, if he did, it was to the effect that a man, like a government, might change his foreign policy with changing conditions. Still, everybody was very much amused, and for some reason (it can have been I only his unpopularity) very much pleased. Perhaps they had not forgiven some of the other poems in The Five Nations, and looked to discredit Kipling by pitching on 'The Truce of the Bear' as they had once pitched on 'The Islanders.' With Russia driving back the Teutons on the eastern front, I do not see that Kipling, as a patriot, could proceed to defend his ancient position very loudly. But I do not remember—here I speak under correction, for his war-poems are very elusive—that even since 1914 he has written of Russia as he has written of France. And I have often wondered if, in the last months, he has not taken a very private comfort in his own refrain of years ago,—
Make ye no truce with Adam-zad, the bear that walks like a man.
He may at least feel that he was essentially right about Russia, if incidentally wrong. If I am not mistaken, 'The Truce of the Bear' was written on the occasion of the invitation to the first Hague Conference. We took it that it was the Tsar whom England was to mistrust. Very likely. But I cannot help believing that Kipling had a private suspicion that the Hague Conference was all tommy-rot. Which, obviously, it was, pragmatically judged. The sheer decency and competence of certain Russian generals did save the world in the first year of the war: let us never forget it. There never was a Russian steam-roller, but the Germans thought there was going to be one. Let us, as I say, never forget it. But for the last year, the Russian people has been behaving allegorically in the sense of the poem.
When he stands up like a tired man, tottering near and near;
When he stands up as pleading, in wavering, man-brute guise....
When he shows as seeking quarter, with paws like hands in prayer,
That is the time of peril—the time of the Truce of the Bear!
Eyeless, noseless, and lipless, asking a dole at the door,
Matun, the old blind beggar, he tells it o'er and o'er;
Fumbling and feeling the rifles, warming his hands at the flame,
Hearing our careless white men talk of the morrow's game;
Over and over the story, ending as he began:—
'There is no truce with Adam-zad—the bear that looks like a man!'
I should be particularly sorry to say anything that German propagandists would like to have said. It is perfectly impossible for the average person to know what is the proper and what the improper attitude to take to Russia at the moment. Even those in high places might be forgiven for being perplexed. What the average person perceives is that the Russians are behaving very much, and very vividly, like 'the bear that looks like a man.' Certainly they stood up at Brest-Litovsk 'in wavering, man-brute guise.'
The only point of all which is that the folk who made so merry, a few years ago over 'The Truce of the Bear' had better find another joke. One does not base the rightness of Kipling on his merely having been a little less ridiculous, in a given instance, than his contemporaries wanted to think him.