KIPLING
THE MOTORIST


So what made Kipling-the-bicyclist take to four wheels at the turn of the last century ? A twenty-minute drive in Alfred Harmsworth's 6hp Panhard, which had turned up at his front door one autumn day. Kipling returned home white with dust and dizzy with noise, but 'the poison worked from that hour.' A motor car would give him the freedom of movement that his increasing fame was denying him; the freedom - in theory anyway - to explore England, 'the most marvellous of all foreign countries', and to go househunting. For by now he knew his days in Rottingdean were numbered, his privacy daily invaded by hordes of sightseers from Brighton.


But there was another less obvious reason for his obsession with the motor car. Only a matter of months since the death of his adored little Josephine in New York, and his own serious illness there, he was sorely in need of a diversion in his daily life. And suddenly, here it was, this vibrating piece of machinery at his doorstep; here was Romance all over again. Not since he had 'discovered' steam and the marine engine during long sea voyages, had he felt so inspired. He wrote in 'They', 1904:

'One view called me to another; one hilltop to its fellow, half across the county...

'... and since I could answer at no more trouble than the snapping forward of a lever, I let the county flow under my wheels. The orchid-studded flats of the East gave way to the thyme, ilex, and grey grass of the Downs; these again to the rich cornland and fig trees of the lower coast, where you carry the beat of the tide on your left hand for fifteen level miles; and when at last I turned inland through a huddle of rounded hills and woods I had run myself clean out of my known marks.'

Moreover, as he was soon to find out, this time Romance went hand in hand with a Cause.