Letters of Travel

by Rudyard Kipling. New York; Doubleday, Page & Co. 1920. 12mo, vi+802 pp.
THIS is a book for the devotee of Kipling rather than for the general reader. The first third of the volume consists of letters written to the London Times in 1892— letters, these, of a young tribal-minded journalist ever prepared to harry the folk beyond his own frontiers with insolent and unmannerly abuse; letters whose literary quality fails to lift them into the high and generous air of the first-rate tiling. Vivid they are, and not without interest, but the Kipling table is so well laden that these crumbs of his journalism add no new glory to his name. Moreover, in to-day’s bitter travail, our wayfarer’s outgrown tribal pose is more than ever a matter of vanity and vexation of spirit. And the word breed,’ applied to a people,—‘the lesser breed,’ ‘the imperial breed,’— is now a hugely wearying bit of cant. It would have been wiser to let the nineties bury their dead.
To this generally adverse verdict, however, one notable exception should be made. The letter entitled ‘Leaves from a Winter Note-Book’ is an authentic page of the greater Kipling. A New England autumn and winter have provided Mr. Kipling with a subject well fitted to his vivid, sense-awakening style; and the opportunity was magically seized. Kipling the scold disappears in Kipling the literary artist.
The second third of the book, which dates from 1913, deals with Canada and Canadian problems. These letters are much less abusive than those which deal with the United States, but are far below the American letters in pictorial and literary quality. The tribal pose has been put away in a cupboard; a sentimental imperialism rules the author’s mind.
In Part Three, devoted to a visit to Egypt, the Imperialist sees and meditates upon the works of his people. The letters are readable, but quite lacking in color and gusto.
All in all, reading the book is like digging a mine for a very small vein of literary gold. Nevertheless, one closes it with the comfortable thought that the gold, once you have got to it, is real gold.
H. B. B.