KIPLING'S VISIT TO EGYPT IN 1913
(Notes edited by John Radcliffe, drawing where appropriate on the work done for the ORG)
1. Sea Travel
2. A Return to the East
3. A Serpent of Old Nile
4. Up the River
5. Dead Kings
6. The Face of the Desert
7. The Riddle of Empire
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments.
After their winter break in Engelberg in January 1913, the Kiplings decided to investigate for themselves and proceed to Egypt, where they knew several people, ranging from Lord Edward Cecil, now Financial Adviser to the British agent and consul-general, to Lionel Landon, Perceval's brother, who, a couple of years earlier, had been awarded the Egyptian decoration the Order of Osmanieh (fourth class), in recognition of his work as Inspector of Irrigation in Sudan. The connection between the Middle East and Europe was evident in Rudyard's letter to Roderick Jones, the Reuters chief in South Africa, to whom he wrote, 'We are just off to Switzerland and, if Austria will only be reasonable, for Egypt in February – maybe even Khartoum.'
On 7 February 1913 the Kiplings caught a train to Marseilles, where they boarded the P. & O. liner s.s. Persia en route for Port Said ... Since the weather was cold and wet, the Kiplings did not stay long in Cairo, even though Lady Edward Cecil, the chatelaine of Great Wigsell, was staying at the same hotel, the Semiramis. Instead, they made their way up the River Nile to Luxor and Aswan on the s.s. Rameses III, owned by Thomas Cook.
From Aswan they travelled twelve miles on donkey to view the dam that Willcocks built, before proceeding up stream to Wadi Halfa in Sudan, where they had arranged to meet their friends Rudyard's American publisher 'Effendi' Doubleday and his wife Nellie, who had been on a Roosevelt-type tour of Africa.
While waiting at this sweltering desert outpost for the Doubledays to arrive by train from Khartoum, Rudyard asked someone the names of the intervening stations. Having learnt they were called Station Number One, Station Number Two and so on, he later liked to amuse Sudanophiles with alternative suggestions: the surnames of Kitchener's generals seemed his favourite.
En route back to Cairo, Rudyard stayed at the American financier Pierpont Morgan's house in Thebes, while he visited the Metropolitan Museum's excavations in the Valley of the Kings. The Doubledays probably arranged these stopovers, though the bibliophile Morgan had been in touch with Rudyard two years earlier when he sent him a carefully restored copy of The Golden Latin Gospels.
In the Egyptian capital Rudyard at last met Lord Kitchener, the British Agent and Consul-General, who failed to impress: there was a 'butcherly arrogance' about this 'fatted Pharaoh in spurs', who had alienated the business community with his agricultural and financial reforms.
He reminded Rudyard of 'a sort of nebulous Rhodes, without grip or restraint'. (To do Kitchener justice, Lord Edward Cecil commented of him, 'His energy is quite appalling. He starts a new scheme every morning which he wishes finished by 8 a.m. the next day'. Indeed, Rudyard's antipathy to Kitchener smacks of some vendetta of Cecil's wife.)
Rudyard was more inspired by the administrators he had met further south, the Sudanese equivalents of Scott in India (in `"William the Conqueror"). These men had created a country which, 'less than sixteen years ago ... was one crazy hell of murder, torture and lust, where every man who had a sword used it till he met a stronger and became his slave:' In Egypt of the Magicians, Rudyard forecast that the Sudanese would, in time, forget their precarious existence under the Mahdi:
They will honestly believe that they themselves originally created and since then have upheld the easy life into which they were brought at so heavy a price. Then the demand will go up for 'extension of local government, Soudan for the Soudanese', and so on till the whole cycle has to be retrodden. It is a hard law but an old one—Rome died learning it, as our western civilisation may die—that if you give any man anything that he has not painfully earned for himself, you infallibly make him or his descendants your devoted enemies?'As well as the usual travel reportage, the book provides amusing geopolitical analysis:
Here is a country which is not a country but a longish strip of market-garden, nominally in charge of a government which is not a government but the disconnected satrapy of a half-dead empire, controlled pecksniffingly by a Power which is not a Power but an Agency.However, as its title implies, Rudyard was also interested in another side of Egypt—the one that fascinated students of esoteric religion, its history as a crucible of spiritual development. He had been alerted to this aspect by Rider Haggard, a regular visitor to the country and a friend of the great Egyptologist Wallis Budge ... The sense that Rudyard was embarked on a spiritual quest comes in the book's mock conversation with Pharaoh Akhenaten who bewails the fact that he mistook the conventions of life for the realities. When Rudyard, trying to be helpful, chips in, 'Ah, those soul-crippling conventions.' the Pharaoh corrects him, saying that he had wrongly regarded them as lies, but they were in fact invented to cover the raw facts of life – the most important being that 'mankind is just a little lower than the angels, and the conventions are based on that fact in order that men may become angels. 'But if you begin, as I did by the convention that men are angels they will assuredly become bigger beasts than ever.'
This was a Pharaonic gloss on Rudyard's religious premise that one should not look too closely into the mind of God, for that way madness lies. It recalled "The Prayer of Miriam Cohen", with its cry for `A veil' twixt us and Thee, Good Lord. More mundanely, it can also be read as justification for Rudyard's Hobbesian political philosophy. But in this case he was pursuing a spiritual quest, as was emphasised in the poem 'A Pilgrim's Way', which accompanied the articles when they were published in Nash's Magazine in June 1914:
I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,Not that Rudyard gave much away: as another mock interviewee, a four-thousand-year-old Egyptian nobleman, described the riddle of the Sphinx: 'All sensible men are of the same religion, but no sensible man ever tells"'—one more pithy echo of Rudyard's own opinion (albeit a crib from the seventeenth-century Earl of Shaftesbury, refracted through Disraeli's Endymion.) [A.L.]
Or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray ...
The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!.