The Kipling That Nobody Read


THE volume called Traffics and Discoveries, published in 1904, marks the complete metamorphosis of Kipling.1 The collection that preceded it, The Day’s Work, though these tendencies had already begun to appear in it, still keeps some human values: the English officials in the Indian stories — ‘The Tomb of His Ancestors’ and ‘William the Conqueror’ — have still a sympathetic interest in the natives. But the Kipling of the South African stories is venomous, morbid, distorted.

When the Boer War finally breaks, Kipling is at once on the spot, with almost all the correct reactions. He is now at the zenith of his reputation, and he receives every official courtesy. And though he may criticize the handling of a campaign, he never questions the rightness of its object. He has the impulse to get close to the troops, edits a paper for the soldiers; but his attitude toward the Tommy has changed. He had already been entertained and enlightened by Lord Dufferin, the British Viceroy in India. Hitherto, he tells us in his memoirs, he ‘had seen the administrative machinery from beneath, all stripped and overheated. This was the first time I had listened to one who had handled it from above.’ Another passage from Something of Myself shows how his emphasis has altered: ‘I happened to fall unreservedly, in darkness, over a man near the train, and filled my palms with gravel. He explained in an even voice that he was “fractured ‘ip, sir, ‘Ope you ain’t ‘urt yourself, sir?” I never got at this unknown Philip Sidney’s name. They were wonderful even in the hour of death — these men and boys — lodgekeepers and ex-butlers of the Reserve and raw town-lads of twenty.’ Here he is trying to pay a tribute; yet it is obvious that the Kipling who was proud to be questioned in India by Lord Roberts as if he were a Colonel has triumphed over the Kipling who answered him as a spokesman for the unfortunate soldiers. Today he is becoming primarily a man whom a soldier addresses as ‘sir,’ as a soldier is becoming for Kipling a man whose capacity for heroism is indicated by remaining respectful with a fractured hip. The cockney Ortheris of Soldiers Three and the officer who had insulted him at drill waived the Courts-Martial Manual and fought it out man to man; but the virtue of his officers and soldiers today consists primarily in knowing their station.

Kipling had raised at the beginning of the war, through his poem ‘The Absent-Minded Beggar,’ a very large sum of money for the families of the troops in South Africa; but the poem is a money-raising poem — it has nothing like the spontaneous feeling of

I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ‘ We serve no red-coats here.’

The Barrack-Room Ballads were good in their kind: they gave the Tommy a voice, to which people stopped and listened. Kipling was interested in the soldier for his own sake, told of his life as it seemed to the soldier himself. The poem called ‘Loot,’for example, which worries Mr. Edward Shanks because it appears to celebrate a reprehensible practice, is in reality perfectly legitimate because it simply describes one of the features of the soldier’s experience in India. There is no moral one way or the other. The ballads of The Five Nations, on the other hand, the fruits of Kipling’s experience in South Africa, are about ninety per cent merely rhymed journalism decorating the ready-made morality of a patriotic partisan. Compare one of the most successful of the earlier series with one of the most ambitious of the later.

1 The first part of Mr. Wilson’s essay on Kipling appeared in the February issue. — EDITOR
The Injian Ocean sets an’ smiles
So sof,’so bright, so bloomin’ blue;
There aren’t a wave for miles an’ miles
Excep’ the jiggle from the screw;
The ship is swep’, the day is done,
The bugle’s gone for smoke and play;
An’ black agin’ the settin’ sun
The Lascar sings, ‘Hum, deckty hai!'
For to admire an’ for to see,
For to be’old this world so wide
It never done no good to me,
But I can’t drop it if I tried!

Contrast this with ‘The Return’ (from South Africa).

Peace is declared, an’ I return
To ‘ACkneystadt, but not the same;
Things ‘ave transpired which made me learn
The size and meanin’ of the game.
I did no more than others did,
I don’t know where the change began;
I started as an average kid,
I finished as a thinkin’ man.
If England was what England seems,
An’ not the England of our dreams,
But only putty, brass, an’ paint,
’Ow quick we’d drop ‘er! But she ain’t!
Before my gappin’ mouth could speak
I ‘eard it in my comrade’s tone;
I saw it on my neighbor’s cheek
Before I felt it flush my own.
An’ last it come to me — not pride,
Nor yet conceit, but on the ‘ole
(If such a term may be applied),
The makin’s of a bloomin’ soul.

This is hollow, synthetic, sickening. ‘Having no position to consider and my trade enforcing it, I could move at will in the fourth dimension.’ He has a position to consider today; he eats at the captain’s table, travels in special trains; and he is losing the freedom of that fourth dimension. There is a significant glimpse of the Kipling of the South African imperialist period in the diary of Arnold Bennett: ‘I was responding to Pauline Smith’s curiosity about the personalities of authors when Mrs. Smith began to talk about Kipling. She said he was greatly disliked in South Africa. Regarded as conceited and unapproachable. The officers of the Union Castle ships dreaded him, and prayed not to find themselves on the same ship as him. It seems that on one ship he had got all the information possible out of the officers, and had then, at the end of the voyage, reported them at headquarters for flirting with passengers — all except the chief engineer, an old Scotchman with whom he had been friendly. With this exception they were all called up to headquarters and reprimanded, and now they would have nothing to do with passengers.’

As for the Indians, they are now to be judged on the basis of their loyalty to the English in South Africa. There are included in Traffics and Discoveries two jingoistic Sunday-school stories which are certainly among the falsest and most foolish of Kipling’s productions. ‘The Comprehension of Private Copper’ holds up to contempt an Anglicized Indian, the son of a settler in the Transvaal, who has sided with the Boers against the English; ‘A Sahibs’ War,’ on the other hand, presents an exemplary Sikh, who accompanies a British officer to South Africa, serves him with the devotion of a dog, and continues to practise after his leader’s death the public-school principles of sportsmanship he has learned from him, in the face of the temptation to a cruel revenge against the treachery of the Boers who have shot him. As for the Boers themselves, Kipling adopts toward them a systematic sneer. The assumption appears to be that to ambush the British is not cricket. And though the Dutch are unquestionably white men, Kipling manages somehow to imply that they have proved renegades to white solidarity by allying themselves with the black natives.

One is surprised to learn from Something of Myself that over a period of seven years after the war (1900-1907), Kipling spent almost half his time in South Africa, going there for five or six months of every year. He seems to have so little to show for it: a few short stories, and most of these far from his best. He had made the acquaintance of Cecil Rhodes, and must simply have sat at his feet. The Kiplings stayed in a house just off the Rhodes estate; and Kipling devotes long pages to the animals in Rhodes’s private zoo and to architectural details of Rhodes’s houses. Even writing in 1935, he sounds like nothing so much as a high-paid publicity agent. It turns out that the Polonius precepts in the celebrated verses called ‘If—' were inspired by Kipling’s conception of the character of Dr. Jameson, the leader of the Jameson raid.

It may be worth mentioning in connection with Kipling’s surrender to official authority that he has been described by a close friend, Viscount Castlerosse, as having abdicated his authority also in other important respects. ‘They [the Kiplings],’ he says, ‘were among the few happy pairs I have ever met; but as far as Kipling was concerned, his married life was one of complete surrender. To him Carrie, as he called her, was more than a wife. She was a mistress in the literal sense, a governess and a matron. In a lesser woman I should have used the term “nurse.” Kipling handed himself over bodily, financially and spiritually to his spouse. He had no banking account. All the money which he earned was handed over to her, and she, in turn, would dole him out so much pocket money. He could not call his time or even his stomach his own. . . .

‘Sometimes in the evening, enlivened by wine and company, he would take a glass more than he was accustomed to, and then those great big eyes of his would shine brightly behind his strong spectacles, and Rud would take to talking faster and his views would become even more emphatic. If Mrs. Kipling was with him, she would quickly note the change and, sure enough, in a decisive voice she would issue the word of command: “ Rud, it is time you went to bed,” and Rud always discovered that it was about time he went to bed.

‘I myself during the long years never once saw any signs of murmuring or of even incipient mutiny.’


In any case, Kipling has committed one of the most serious sins against his calling that are possible for an imaginative writer. He has resisted his own sense of life and discarded his own moral intelligence in favor of the point of view of a dominant political party. To Lord Roberts and Joseph Chamberlain he has sacrificed the living world of his own earlier artistic creations and of the heterogeneous human beings for whom they were offered as symbols. Here the constraint of making the correct proimperialist point is squeezing out all the kind of interest which is proper to a work of fiction. Compare a story of the middle Kipling with a story by Stephen Crane or Joseph Conrad, dealing with similar subjects. Both Conrad and Crane are pursuing their independent researches into the moral life of man. Where the spy in Under Western Eyes is shown as a poor, suffering, and loving human being, confused in his allegiances by the circumstances of his birth, a secret agent in Kipling must invariably be either a stout fellow, because his ruses are to the advantage of the British, or a sinister lying dog, because he is serving the enemy. Where the killing of The Blue Hotel is made to implicate everybody connected with it in a common human guilt, a killing in a story by Kipling must absolutely be shown to be either a dastardly or a virtuous act.

To contrast Kipling with Conrad or Crane is to enable us to get down at last to what is probably the basic explanation of the failure of Kipling’s nerve. He lacked faith in the artist’s vocation. We have heard a good deal in modern literature about the artist in conflict with the bourgeois world. Flaubert made war on the bourgeois; Rimbaud abandoned poetry as piffling in order to realize the adventure of commerce; Thomas Mann took as his theme the emotions of weakness and defeat of the artist overshadowed by the business man. But Kipling neither faced the fight like Flaubert nor faced the problem in his life like Rimbaud nor faced the problem in his art like Mann. Something in him, something vulgar in the middle-class British way, something perhaps connected with the Methodist ministers who were his grandfathers on both sides, a tradition which understood preaching and could understand craftsmanship, but instinctively looked to the powers that governed the material world and never thought of putting the artist on a par with them — something of this sort at a given point prevented Kipling from playing through his part and betrayed him into dedicating his talents to the glorification of the practical man. Instead of becoming a man of action like Rimbaud, a course which shows a boldness of logic, he fell into the ignominious rôle of the artist who prostrates his art before the achievements of soldiers and merchants, and who is always declaring the supremacy of the ‘ doer ‘ over the man of ideas.

The results of this are very curious and well worth studying from the artistic point of view — because Kipling, it must always be remembered, is a man of really remarkable abilities. Certain of the symptoms of his case have been indicated by George Moore and Dixon Scott, whose discussions of him in Avowals and in Men of Letters are among the few firstrate pieces of criticism that I remember to have seen on the subject.

George Moore quotes a passage from Kim, a description of evening in India, praises it for ‘ the perfection of the writing, of the strong masculine rhythm of every sentence, and of the accuracy of every observation ‘; but then goes on to point out that ‘Mr. Kipling has seen much more than he has felt,’ that ‘when we come to analyze the lines we find a touch of local color not only in every sentence, but in each part between each semicolon.’ So Dixon Scott diagnoses admirably the excessive developments of plot and of dialect that distinguish the middle Kipling. ‘Switch,’ he says, ‘this imperatively map-making, pattern-making method upon . . . the element of human nature, and what is the inevitable result? Inevitably, there is the same sudden stiffening and formulation. The characters spring to attention like soldiers on parade; they respond briskly to a sudden description; they wear a fixed set of idiosyncrasies like a uniform. A mind like this must use types and set counters; it feels dissatisfied, ineffective, unsafe, unless it can reduce the fluid waverings of character, its flitting caprices and twilit desires, to some tangible system. The characters of such a man will not only be definite; they will be definitions.’

And he goes on to show how Kipling’s use of dialect and technical jargon makes a screen for his relinquishment of his grip on the organism of human personality: ‘For dialect, in spite of all its air of ragged lawlessness, is wholly impersonal, typical, fixed, the code of a caste, not the voice of an individual. It is when the novelist sets his characters talking the King’s English that he really puts his capacity for reproducing the unconventional and capricious on its trial. Mr. Kipling’s plain conversations are markedly unreal. But honest craftsmanship and an ear for strong rhythms have provided him with many suits of dialects. And with these he dresses the talk till it seems to surge with character.’

The packed detail, the automatic plot, the surfaces lacquered with dialect, the whole ever-tightening tension of form, are all a part of Kipling’s effort to impose by main force his scheme. The strangest result of this effort is to be seen in a change in the subject matter itself. Kipling actually tends at this time to abandon human beings altogether. In that letter of Henry James in which he speaks of his former hope that Kipling might grow into an English Balzac, he goes on:

‘ But I have given that up in proportion as he has come steadily from the less simple in subject to the more simple — from the Anglo-Indians to the natives, from the natives to the Tommies, from the Tommies to the quadrupeds, from the quadrupeds to the fish, and from the fish to the engines and screws.’ This increasing addiction of Kipling to animals, insects, and machines is evidently to be explained by his need to find characters unresistingly susceptible of being presented as parts of a system. In the Jungle Books, the animal characters are each one all of a piece, though in their ensemble they still provide a variety, and they are dominated by a ‘Law of the Jungle,’ which lays down their duties and rights. The animals have organized the Jungle, and the Jungle is presided over by Mowgli in his function of forest, ranger, so that it falls into its subsidiary place in the larger organization of the Empire.

Yet the Jungle Books (written in Vermont) are not artistically off the track; the element of obvious allegory is not out of place in these fairy tales. It is when Kipling takes to contriving these animal allegories for grown-ups that he brings up the reader’s gorge. What is proved in regard to human beings by the fable called ‘A Walking Delegate,’ in which a pastureful of self-respecting horses turn and rend a yellow loafer from Kansas, who is trying to incite them to rebellion against their master, Man? A labor leader and the men he is trying to organize are, after all, not horses but men. Does Kipling mean to imply that the ordinary workingman stands in the same relation to the employing and governing classes as that in which the horse stands to his owner? And what is proved by ‘The Mother Hive,’ in which an invasion of wax moths that ruin the stock of the swarm represents the infiltration of socialism? (Compare these with that more human fable of 1893, ‘The Children of the Zodiac,’ which deals with gods become men.) And, though the discipline of a military unit or of the crew of a ship or a plane may provide a certain human interest, it makes us a little uncomfortable to find Kipling taking up locomotives and representing ‘.007’ instead of the engineer who drives it as the hero of the American railroad; descending even to the mechanical parts, the rivets and planks of a ship, whose drama consists solely of being knocked into place by the elements so that it may function as a coordinated whole.


We may lose interest, like Henry James, in the animal or mechanical characters of Kipling’s middle period; but we must admit that these novel productions have their own peculiar merit. It is the paradox of Kipling’s career that he should have extended the conquests of his craftsmanship in proportion to the shrinking of the range of his dramatic imagination. As his responses to human beings became duller, his sensitivity to his medium increased.

In both tendencies he was, of course, quite faithful to certain aspects of the life of his age. It was a period, these early nineteen-hundreds, of brilliant technological improvement and of generally stunted intelligence. And Kipling now appeared as the poet both of the new mechanical methods and of the ideals of the people who spread them. To reread these stories today is to feel again a little of the thrill of the plushy transcontinental Pullmans and the spickand-span transatlantic liners that carried us around in our youth, and to meet again the bright and bustling people, talking about the polo field and the stock market, smart Paris and sunny California, the latest musical comedy and Kipling, in the smoking rooms and steamer chairs.

Kipling followed this mechanical progress by evolving a new kind of prose technique. We have been harangued by the Futurists and others about the need for revolutionary artistic innovations appropriate to the life of the machine age; but it is doubtful whether any rhapsodist of motorcars or photographer of dynamos and valves has been so successful at this as Kipling was when he wrote The Day’s Work. These stories of his get their effects with the energy and accuracy of engines, by means of words that, hard, short, and close-fitting, give the impression of ball bearings and cogs. Beside them, the spoutings of the machine fans look like the old-fashioned rhetoric they are. For these latter could merely whoop and roar in a manner essentially romantic over the bigness, the power, the speed, of the machines, whereas Kipling exemplified in his form itself the mechanical efficiency and discipline, and he managed to convey with precision both the grimness and the exhilaration which characterized the triumph of the machine.

He also brought to perfection the literary use of the language of the specialized modern world. He seems to have created the genre in which we arc made to see some comedy or tragedy through the cheapening or obscuring medium of technical vocabulary or professional slang. He did not, of course, invent the dialect monologue; but it is improbable that we should have had, for example, either the baseball stories of Ring Lardner or the Cyclops episode in Ulysses if Kipling had never written.

This is partly, no doubt, pure virtuosity. Mr. Beresford says that Kipling was by nature as unmechanical as possible, could do nothing with his hands except write. He had never worked at any of the processes he described, had had to get them all up through the methods of the attentive reporter. But it is virtuosity on a much higher level than that of the imitation literature so often admired in that era. Where Stevenson turns out pale pastiches of veins which have already been exploited, Kipling really finds new rhythms, new colors and textures of words, for things that have not yet been brought into literature. For the most part a second-rate writer of verse, — because, though he can imitate the language of verse as he can imitate all the other languages, it is usually, as George Moore says, his observation, not. his feeling, that is authentic, — he is a genuine master of prose. It is impossible still for a writer to read, for example, the first part of ‘The Bridge-Builders’ without astonishment and admiration. How he has caught the very look and feeling of the materials that go to make bridges and of the waters that they have to make passable! And the aspect of modern armies against the dusty South African landscapes, and the tempo of American trains, and the relation of the Scotch engineer to the patched-up machines of his ship! The Kipling who put on record all these things was an original and accomplished artist.

For the rest, he writes stories for children. One is surprised in going back over Kipling’s work to find that from the time of his settling in Vermont he published no less than nine children’s books: the two Jungle Books, Captains Courageous, the Just So Stories, Stalky & Co., Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rewards and Fairies, A History of England, and Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Scout Masters. It is as if the natural human feelings progressively forced out of his work by the rigors of organization for its own sake were seeking relief in a reversion to childhood, when one has not yet become responsible for these things, where it is enough to enjoy and to wonder at what we do not yet understand. And, on the other hand, the simplified morality to which Kipling has now committed himself is easier of acceptance when approached from the point of view of the child. (The truth is that much of his serious work of this period might almost equally well be subtitled For Scouts and Scout Masters.) These stories, excellent at their best, are most successful when they are most irresponsible — as in the Just So Stories; least successful, as in Captains Courageous, when they lean most heavily on the schoolboy morality.

The most ambitious of them — the two series about Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906 and 1910) — have, I know, been much admired by certain critics, including the sensitive Dixon Scott; but my own taste rejects them on rereading them as it did when I read them first at the age for which they were presumably intended. Kipling tells us that the stories in Rewards and Fairies were designed to carry a meaning for adults as well as to interest children. But their technical sophistication puts them slightly above the heads of children at the same time that Kipling’s sugared exploitation of his Anglo-Spartan code of conduct makes them slightly repugnant to grown-ups.

They are, to be sure, the most embroidered productions of Kipling’s most elaborate period. The recovery of obsolete arts and crafts, the re-creation of obsolete idioms, had opened to him new resources. The discovery of the English sea and earth stimulated his genius for words: the rich grassiness of the English country, the dense fogginess of the English coast, the layers upon layers of tradition that cause the English character to seem deep-rooted, deep-colored, deepmeaning. He has applied all his delicacy and strength to this effort to get the mother-country into prose; but his England is never so real as was his India; and the effect, for all the soundness of Kipling’s writing, is somehow fundamentally decadent. The Normans and the Saxons and the Elizabethans, the great cathedral builders and sailors and divines perpetrating impossible ‘gags,’ striking attitudes that verge on the ham, seem almost to anticipate Hollywood. The theme of the rôle and the ordeal of the artist which figures in Rewards and Fairies suffers from being treated in the vein of Stalky & Co. In the story called ‘The Wrong Thing,’ Kipling embarks on a promising subject: the discrepancy between the aim of the artist who is straining to top the standards of his craft, and the demands of the temporal powers that employ him; but he turns it into a schoolboy farce and spoils it.

Kipling’s England is the most synthetic of his creations of this period when he depends so much on tools and materials as distinguished from sympathy and insight. Scott says that these stories are opalescent; and this is true, but they have the defects of opals that have been made artificially and whose variegated glimmerings and shiftings never really convey anything mysterious.


Yet, in locating the Ideal in the Empire, Kipling was not without his moments of uneasiness. If the Empire is really founded on self-discipline, the fear of God, the code of noblesse oblige, if it really involves a moral system, then we are justified in identifying it with ‘the Law’; but suppose that it is not really so dedicated.

If England was what England seems,
An’ not the England of our dreams,
But only putty, brass, an’ paint,
’Ow quick we’d drop ‘er! But she ain’t!

Yet ‘Recessional,’ perhaps the best set of verses that Kipling ever wrote, is a warning that springs from a doubt; and the story called ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is surely a parable of what might happen to the English if they should forfeit their moral authority. Two low-class English adventurers put themselves over on the natives of a remote region beyond Afghanistan, organize under a single rule a whole set of mountain tribes; but the man who has made himself king is destroyed by the natives that have adored him the instant they come to realize that he is not a god, as they supposed, but a man. The Wesleyan preacher in Kipling knows that the valiant dust of man can build only on dust if it builds not in the name of God; and he is prepared to pound the pulpit and call down the Almighty’s anger when parliamentarians or ministers or generals debauch their office or hold it light.

Kipling always refused official honors in order to keep himself free; and his truculence had its valuable aspect in that it aided him to resist the briberies of his period of glory and fortune. In the volume of his collected addresses, which he called A Book of Words, there are some sincere and inspiriting sermons. ‘Now I do not ask you not to be carried away by the first rush of the great game of life. That is expecting you to be more than human,’ he told the students at McGill University in the fall of 1907, when the height of his popularity was past. ‘But I do ask you, after the first heat of the game, that you draw breath and watch your fellows for a while. Sooner or later, you will see some man to whom the idea of wealth as mere wealth does not appeal, whom the methods of amassing that wealth do not interest, and who will not accept money if you offer it to him at a certain price. At first you will be inclined to laugh at this man and to think that he is not “smart” in his ideas. I suggest that you watch him closely, for he will presently demonstrate to you that money dominates everybody except the man who does not want money. You may meet that man on your farm, in your village, or in your legislature. But be sure that, whenever or wherever you meet him, as soon as it comes to a direct issue between you, his little finger will be thicker than your loins. You will go in fear of him: he will not go in fear of you. You will do what he wants: he wall not do what you want. You will find that you have no weapon in your armory with which you can attack him; no argument with which you can appeal to him. Whatever you gain, he will gain more.’

If Kipling had taken a bribe, it was not that of reputation or cash; it was rather the big moral bribe that a political system can offer: the promise of mental security. And even here a peculiar integrity — as it were, an integrity of temperament that came to exist in dissociation from the intellect — survived the collapse of the system and saved Kipling in the end from his pretenses. How this happened is the last chapter of his story.

There was a Wesleyan preacher in Kipling. The Old Testament served him as an armory of grim instances and threatening visions to put over the majesty of the imperial code; or, on occasions when the imperial masters failed to live up to this code, of scorching language for a generation of vipers. But Kipling had no real religion. He exploits, in his poems and his fiction, the mythology of a number of religions.

We may be inclined to feel, in reading Kipling, — and to some extent we shall be right, — that the various symbols and gods which figure in his stories and poems are mere properties which the writer finds useful for his purposes of rhetoric or romance. Yet we cannot but suspect in Kim and in the stories of metempsychosis that Kipling has been seriously influenced by the Buddhism which he had imbibed with his first language in his boyhood. Mr. Beresford corroborates this: he says that the Kipling of Westward Ho! talked Buddhism and reincarnation. And it is certainly with Buddhism that we first find associated a mystical side of Kipling’s mind which, in this last phase, is to emerge into the foreground.

We left the Lama of Kim attaining the Buddhist ecstasy and escaping from the ‘Wheel of Things’ at the same moment that Kim gets promotion and finally becomes a spoke in the wheel of British administration. But the world-beyond of the Lama is to creep back into Kipling’s work in strange forms. Among the strained political fables of the collection called Traffics and Discoveries, which is the beginning of the sombre later Kipling, there is a story of a wireless operator who is possessed by the soul of Keats. It may be that Kipling’s Southsea experience, in driving him back into his imagination for defense against the horror of reality, had had the effect both of intensifying his fancies and of dissociating them from ordinary life — so that the ascent out of the Wheel of Things and the visitations of an alien soul easily became for him ways of representing this. The effort of the grown-up Kipling to embrace by the imagination, to master by a disciplined art, the realities of the larger world is to be subject to sudden recoils. In the Kipling of the middle period, there is a suppressed but vital element which thrusts periodically a lunatic head out of a window of the well-bricked façade.

This element is connected with the Lama, but it is also connected with something else more familiar to the Western world: the visitations and alienations of what is now known as neurotic personality. Here again Kipling was true to his age. While the locomotives and aeroplanes and steamers were beating records and binding continents together, the human engine was going wrong. The age of mechanical technique was also the age of the nerve sanitarium. In the stories of the early Kipling, the intervention of the supernatural has, as a rule, within the frame of the story itself, little psychological interest; but already in ‘They’ and ‘The Brushwood Boy’ the dream and the hallucination take on a more emphatic significance. With ‘The House Surgeon’ and ‘In the Same Boat,’ they are in process of emerging from the fairy tale: they become recognizable as psychiatric symptoms. The depression described in ‘The House Surgeon’ has been transferred, by the artifice of the story, to persons unconcerned in the tragedy through the influence from a distance of someone else; but the woman with whom the horror originates is suffering morbidly from feelings of guilt, and the sensations are obviously based on the first-hand experience of the author.

‘And it was just then that I was aware of a little gray shadow, as it might have been a snowflake seen against the light, floating at an immense distance in the background of my brain. It annoyed me, and I shook my head to get rid of it. Then my brain telegraphed that it was the forerunner of a swift-striding gloom which there was yet time to escape if I would force my thoughts away from it, as a man leaping for life forces his body forward and away from the fall of a wall. But the gloom overtook me before I could take in the meaning of the message. I moved toward the bed, every nerve already aching with the foreknowledge of the pain that was to be dealt it, and sat down, while my amazed and angry soul dropped, gulf by gulf, into that horror of great darkness which is spoken of in the Bible, and which, as the auctioneers say, must be experienced to be appreciated.

‘Despair upon despair, misery upon misery, fear after fear, each causing their distinct and separate woe, packed in upon me for an unrecorded length of time, until at last they blurred together, and I heard a click in my brain like the click in the ear when one descends in a diving bell, and I knew that the pressures were equalized within and without, and that, for the moment, the worst was at an end. But I knew also that at any moment the darkness might come down anew; and while I dwelt on this speculation precisely as a man torments a raging tooth with his tongue, it ebbed away into the little gray shadow on the brain of its first coming, and once more I heard my brain, which knew what would recur, telegraph to every quarter for help, release or diversion.’

And although the recurring irrational panics of the couple of ‘In the Same Boat’ are finally explained as the result of shocks received by their mothers before their births, nevertheless the man and woman, with their ‘nerve doctors,’ their drug-taking, their shaky journeys in flight from their neurotic fears, their peculiar neurotic relationship, constitute an accurate account of a phenomenon of contemporary life which, at the time that Kipling was writing, had hardly been described in fiction.

Observe that in both these stories, as in the stories of war neuroses that will follow, the people who suffer are quite innocent, their agony is entirely unjust. The only cases in which the obsessive horror is represented as having been earned are those in which a man is hounded to death by the vision of a woman he has wronged. This theme recurs regularly with Kipling from the time of ‘The Phantom Rickshaw,’ one of the very first of his short stories, through the remarkable ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ of his middle period, to the strange and poisoned ‘ Dayspring Mishandled,’ which was one of the last things he wrote. It would seem to be unprofitable to speculate on the relation of this theme of betrayal to the other recurring themes of Kipling’s work. We do not know enough about his life to be able to assign it to an assumption that he must somehow have sinned against the mother who had abandoned him so inexplicably at Southsea; or to relate it to the strange situation of Dick Heldar in The Light That b\failed, who vainly adores, and goes blind in adoring, the inexplicably obdurate Maisie. All we can say is that the theme of the anguish which is suffered without being deserved has the appearance of having been derived from a morbid permanent feeling of injury inflicted by his experience at Southsea.

Certainly the fear of darkness passing into the fear of blindness which runs all through his work from The Light That Failed to ‘They,’ is traceable directly to his breakdown and to the frightening failure of his eyes. This was a pattern he seems to have repeated. Illnesses were critical for Kipling. It was after his illness in India that he set out to contend with the hostile world by making himself a writer; and it was after his illness in New York that he decided to turn his back on America and to accept all the values that that retreat implied. It was after the breakdown in which Kim asked himself, ‘What is Kim?’ that he emerged as a full-blown British agent. From the darkness and the physical weakness, the Kipling of the middle period has come forth with tightened nerves, resolved to meet a state of things in which horses are always being whipped or having their heads blown off, in which schoolboys are bullied and flogged, in which soldiers are imprisoned in barracks and fed to the bayonets and guns, by identifying himself with horses — as in ‘A Walking Delegate’ — that gang together to kick and maul another horse, schoolboys — as in ‘The Moral Reformers’ of Stalky — that gloat in torturing other schoolboys, soldiers that get the sharpest satisfaction from stabbing and pot-shotting other soldiers. He has set himself with all the tightened screws of a metal-armatured art to stand up to this world outside that gets its authority from its power to crush and kill: the world of the Southsea house. And yet the darkness and the illness return.

It is a key to the whole work of Kipling that the great celebrant of physical courage should prove in the long run to convey his most powerful and convincing effects in describing moral panic. Kipling’s bullyings and killings are contemptible: they are the fantasies of the physically helpless. The only authentic heroism to be found in the fiction of Kipling is the heroism of moral fortitude on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

And in the later decades of Kipling’s life the blackness and the panic close down; the abyss becomes more real. It is the Crab, both devil and destiny, which in the fable called ‘The Children of the Zodiac’ lies in wait for the poet and finally comes to devour him. The nurse-like watchfulness of Mrs. Kipling and Kipling’s fear of stepping out of her régime, which appeared to his friend Viscount Castlerosse an impediment to the development of his genius, were no doubt, on the contrary, a condition, in his extreme nervous instability, of his being able to function at all—just as the violence of his determination to find the answer to the problems of society and a defense against the forces that plagued him in the program of an imperialist government was evidently directly related to the violence of desperation of his need.

But now both shelters — the roof and walls of his family life and the confidence of his political idealism — were at the same moment to be destroyed.


In 1914-1918, the British Empire collided with a competitor. All England went to war, including Kipling’s only son. The boy, not yet out of his teens, was killed in an attack before Loos in September 1915, and his body was never found. John Kipling had at first been reported missing, and his father waited for months in the hope of getting a letter from Germany announcing that he had been taken prisoner.

These war years left Kipling defenseless. It had been easy to be grimly romantic on the subject of the warfare in India, when Kipling had never seen fighting; it had even been possible, as a reporter at the front, to Meissonier the campaign in South Africa in the bright colors of the new nineteenth century. But the long systematic waste of the trench warfare of the struggle against Germany discouraged the artistic exploitation of the cruelties and gallantries of battle. The strain of the suspense and the horror taxed intolerably those attitudes of Kipling’s which had been in the first instance provoked by a strain and which had only at the cost of a strain been kept up.

From even before the war the conduct of British policy by its guardians had been far from pleasing to Kipling. He saw clearly the careerism and the venality of modern politicians; and he was bitterly opposed on principle to the aims of the radicals and liberals. In May 1914, when civil war with Ulster was threatening, he delivered at Tunbridge Wells and allowed to be circulated as a penny leaflet a speech against the Home Rule Bill of a virulence almost hysterical. The attempt to free Ireland he excoriates as on a level with the Marconi scandals. ‘The Home Rule Bill,’ he declares, ‘broke the pledged faith of generations; it officially recognized sedition, privy conspiracy and rebellion; it subsidized the secret forces of boycott, intimidation and murder; and it created an independent stronghold in which all these forces could work together, as they have always and openly boasted that they would, for the destruction of Great Britain.’

This was to remain Kipling’s temper in public questions.

Our world has passed away,
In wantonness o’erthrown.
There is nothing left today
But steel and fire and stone!

he wrote when the war began. And when Kipling was sickened and broken with steel and fire and stone, there was nothing left at all.

Nothing, at least, but his craft, which now reflects only the twisted fragments of Kipling’s exploded cosmos.

These latest stories of Kipling’s have attracted little attention for reasons that are easily comprehensible. The disappearance in the middle Kipling of the interest in human beings for their own sake and the deliberate cultivation of the excommunicatory imperialist hatreds had already had the effect of discouraging the appetite of the general public; and when the human element reappeared in a new tormented form in Kipling’s later stories, the elliptical and complex technique which the writer had by that time developed put the general reader off. On the other hand, the highbrows ignored him, because, in the era of Lawrence and Joyce, when the world was disgusted with soldiering and when the imperialisms were apparently deflated, they could not accept Kipling’s point of view. In their conviction that it could not possibly hold water, they had not even enough curiosity to wonder what had happened to an author who was associated with the fairy tales of their youth. And in a sense they were, of course, correct. Kipling had terribly shrunk; Kipling was even in pieces; whereas Yeats was playing out superbly the last act of a personal drama which he had sustained unshaken by public events, and Henry James was now seen in retrospect to have accomplished, in his long career, a prodigy of disinterested devotion to an art and to an interpretation of life. Where there was so much wreckage around, political, social, and moral, the figure of the disinterested artist commanded especial respect.

Yet the Kipling found among the wreckage, starved and wry in this latest phase, has carried through his growth as an artist. Some of these stories are the most intense in feeling as they are in form among the most concentrated that Kipling ever wrote; to a writer, they are perhaps the most interesting. The contents are often hard to swallow, and the stories themselves — through a tasteless device which unfortunately grew on Kipling as he got older — are each preceded and followed by poems which, in translating their themes into secondrate verse, tend to dull the effect of the prose. But here Kipling’s peculiar method, trained with deadly intention, scores some of its most amazing hits.

Let us, however, first consider the subjects of these final collections of stories (A Diversity of Creatures, Debits and Credits, and Limits and Renewals). The fragments of the disintegrated Kipling fall roughly into five classes: tales of hatred, practical jokes, neurotic cases, tales of fellowship in religion, and tales of bereavement.

The tale of hatred — of the Americans and the Germans: ‘Sea Constables’ and ‘Mary Postgate’ — has here become absolutely murderous. The hatred of democracy — in the satire called ‘As Easy As A.B.C.’ (which appeared in 1912) — is carried to lengths that would be Swiftian if Kipling had subjected the whole human race to the death ray of his abstract contempt, but which is rendered rather suspect by the exemption of an ideal group of disciplined officials. The morals of these stories are odious, and the plots mostly contrived and preposterous; yet they derive a certain dignity from the desperation of bitterness that animates them.

Then there are the practical jokes — a category which includes the comic accidents: practical jokes inflicted by the author. These have always been a feature of Kipling. His addiction to this form of humor seems to have derived originally from the booby traps and baitings of Westward Ho!; later, changing sides, he identified them rather with the licking-into-shape of the regimental ragging. The victims of these practical jokes fall into two classes: petty tyrants, who humiliate and bully, and who always have to be cads; and political idealists and godless intellectuals, who always have to be asses. Kipling likes nothing better than to hurl one of these latter into a hive of bees or, as in one of his early stories, to silence his opinions by a sunstroke. A first principle of Kipling’s world is revenge, and the humiliated must become the humiliator. One might expect this kind of thing to disappear in the latest Kipling; but the formula becomes instead much more frequent, and it plays a peculiar rôle. The practical joke is, like extravagant laughter, a violent if hollow explosion for the relief of nervous strain; and the severity of this strain may be gauged by the enormous proportions of the hoaxes in which Kipling now labors to combine the complex calculation of an Ibsen with the methodical ferocity of a Chinese executioner.

In the stories of war neurosis the comic disaster is frankly exploited as a therapeutic device. There are six stories of war neurosis in Kipling’s last two collections. The situation of the shattered veteran provided him with an opportunity to study further a subject which has haunted him all his life: the condition of people who seem to themselves on the borderline of madness. Here the sufferers are still perfectly guiltless. In one case an appearance of guilt, in another a conviction of guilt, turn out to be totally unjustified. But the picture is now more realistically filled out than it was by the prenatal occurrences that were the best he could do for motivation with the neurotics of ‘In the Same Boat.’ The war supplies real causes for derangement; and Kipling sees that such short circuits may be mended by going back to the occasion that gave rise to the obsession and disentangling the crossed wires. But his principal prescriptions for saving people from the effects of the horror and the strain of the war arc such apropos comic accidents and well-aimed benevolent frauds as, in reality, are rarely possible and which would be of doubtful efficacity if they were. In one story, the fantasy of the sick man turns out to be baser! on a reading in hospital of a novel by Mrs. Ewing (as the soldiers in ‘The Janeites’ find solace in the novels of Jane Austen) — which also gives the veteran, when he recovers, a beneficent interest in life: that of planting wayside gardens. Another ex-soldier is saved by a dog.

Kipling’s homeless religious sense resorts to strange fellowships and faiths to bolster up his broken men. He had been made a Freemason in India, and Freemasonry had figured in Kim and had seemed to crop up in the guise of Mithraism in the Roman stories of Puck of Pook’s Hill. Now he invents, for a new series of stories, a circle of philanthropic Masons who meet in the back room of a tobacconist’s and help men who have been wrecked by the war. A new ideal — but the new ideal of a tired and humbled man — of a brotherhood which shall not be delimited by the confines of a fighting unit or caste begins to appear in these stories. Mithraism figures again in ‘The Church That Was at Antioch’: the young Roman officer turned Mithraist says of his mother, ‘She follows the old school, of course — the home-worships and the strict Latin Trinity. . . . But one wants more than that’; and he ends by being murdered in revenge for his protection of the Apostle Paul. In another story, ‘The Manner of Men,’ Paul rescues a neurotic sea captain: ‘Serve Cæsar,’ says Paul. ‘You are not canvas I can cut to advantage at present. But if you serve Cæsar you will be obeying at least some sort of law. . . . If you take refuge under Cæsar at sea, you may have time to think. Then I may meet you again, and we can go on with our talks. But that is as The God wills. What concerns you now,’ he concludes in a tone that recalls at the same time the Buchmanite and the psychoanalyst, ‘is that, by taking service, you will be free from the fear that has ridden you all your life.’

This is, then, quite another Kipling. His captains have been afraid all their lives. His soldiers are not cocky, not keen to kill inferior races, not charged with the mission of the Empire. The officers and soldiers are closer together, as they were in the early stories; but now they are simply civilians back in mufti, between whom the bond of having been in the war is stronger than the class differences of peacetime. And they are all the remnants of a colossal disaster. I shall quote one of the pieces in verse with which he supplements these later stories, indifferent though it is as poetry, because it illustrates this change so strikingly: —

I have a dream — a dreadful dream —
A dream that is never done,
I watch a man go out of his mind,
And he is My Mother’s Son.
They pushed him into a Mental Home,
And that is like the grave:
For they do not let you sleep upstairs,
And you’re not allowed to shave.
And it was not disease or crime
Which got him landed there,
But because they laid on My Mother’s Son
More than a man could bear.
What with noise, and fear of death,
Waking, and wounds and cold,
They filled the Cup for My Mother’s Son
Fuller than it could hold.
They broke his body and his mind
And yet they made him live,
And they asked more of My Mother ‘s Son
Than any man could give.
For, just because he had not died
Nor been discharged nor sick:
They dragged it out with My Mother’s Son
Longer than he could stick. . . .
And no one knows when he’ll get well —
So, there he’ll have to be:
And, ‘spite of the beard in the looking-glass,
I know that man is me!

The theme of inescapable illness dominates the whole later Kipling. In some cases the diseases are physical, but there is always the implication of a psychological aspect. In ‘A Madonna of the Trenches’ and ‘The Wish House’ — gruesome ghost stories of love and death that make ‘At the End of the Passage’ and ‘The Mark of the Beast’ look like harmless bogey tales for children — cancer serves as a symbol for rejected or frustrated love. And it is not clear in ' Dayspring Mishandled ‘ whether the detestable literary man Castorley is being poisoned by his wife and the doctor or by the consciousness of the wrong he has committed, which has been brought home to him by Manallace’s hatred. The strangest of all these stories is ‘Unprofessional,’ in which cancer, hysterical seizures, the aftermath of the war, and the influence of the something outside human life, combine in a circumstantial fantasy of the beneficent possibilities of science.

Kipling is back again in the ‘House of Desolation’ at Southsea, unjustly tormented, ill, abandoned by those he loves, full of hatred, and with the darkness full of spectres descending on that world which determined effort had once enabled him to see so distinctly. It cannot be due entirely to the accidents of Kipling’s life that the most authentic of his early stories should deal with children forsaken by their parents and the most poignant of his later ones with parents bereaved of their children. The theme had appeared in ‘They,’ before the death of Kipling’s son though after the death of his daughter, associated with the themes of blindness and the deprivation of love.

Certainly two of these last stories of Kipling’s that deal with the deaths of boys in the war are among the most moving he wrote. The scene in ‘Mary Postgate,’ for example, in which the camellike English ‘companion’ burns up the belongings of the young soldier to whom, as an orphan (Kipling’s children are mostly orphans), she has stood in a maternal rôle and who has just been killed in a plane, haunts one as do few things in Kipling. You have a typical Kipling inventory of all the objects, mainly relics of boyhood sports, that Mary Postgate has to destroy; and then: ‘The shrubbery was filling with twilight by the time she had completed her arrangements and sprinkled the sacrificial oil. As she lit the match that would burn her heart to ashes, she heard a groan or a grunt behind the dense Portugal laurels.’ The match that would bum her heart to ashes: they are the first words that we have yet encountered, the only words that we shall have encountered, that have not been or are not to be matter-offact; and here the objective observation of Kipling, of which George Moore complained that it was too systematic and too technical — making it ‘Portugal laurels’ where another writer would have written simply ‘shrubbery’ — here this hardness of concrete detail is suddenly given new value by a phrase on another plane.

So in that other remarkable story, ‘The Gardener,’ Kipling’s method of preparing a finale by concealing essential information in an apparently casual narrative produces an effect of tremendous power. This method, which Kipling has developed with so much ingenuity and precision, serves in certain of his stories to spring surprises that are merely mechanical; but it has always had its appropriateness to those aspects of the English character with which Kipling has been particularly concerned in that it masks emotion and purpose under a pretense of coolness and practicality; and here it is handled in a masterly manner to dramatize another example of the impassive Englishwoman. The implications of ‘Mary Postgate’ prevent us from accepting it fully: we know too well that the revengeful cruelty which impels the heroine of the story to let the battered German aviator die is shared by the author himself. But ‘The Gardener’ may conquer us completely. I am not sure that it is not really the best story that Kipling ever wrote. Like the rest of even the best of Kipling, it is not quite on the highest level. He must still have his fairy-tale properties; and we may be disposed to protest at his taste when we find that the Puck of Pook’s Hill element is now being supplied by Jesus. But if we have followed Kipling’s development with interest, we realize the significance of this fact. The rôle that Christ has formerly played in Kipling — as iô the poem in Rewards and Fairies called ‘ Cold Iron ‘ — has been the pukka Sahib role of one who was able to ‘ take it.’ This is the first time that Kipling’s Christ has pitied as Kipling himself pities now rather than boasts of the much-enduring and self-disciplined British. And the symbol at once bares the secret and liberates the locked-up emotion with a sudden and shocking force. The combination of self-repression and grief of the unmarried mother in ‘The Gardener’ is characteristic of the real Kipling. Here he has found for it intense expression in the hard concrete symbols of his art.

The big talk of the work of the world, of the mission to command of the British, even the hatefulness of fear and disappointment, have faded away for Kipling. He composes as a memorial to his son, and to the military system in devotion to which the half-American boy has died, a history of the Irish Guards in the war, in which Lieutenant John Kipling is hardly mentioned. But meticulously assembling, by the method by which he once seemed to build so solidly, the scattered memories of his son’s battalion, he seems merely to be striving, by wisps and scraps, to re-create the terrible days that preceded the death of his child. Even the victory over the Germans can never make that right.