Some critical comments
“But the finest celebrations of machines are to be found in his two imitation Browning monologue poems, “McAndrew’s Hymn” (1893) and “The Mary Gloster” (1894). And here he celebrates not the machines, but the men who work them – a Scots ships’ engineer and a hard old tough-living, rich ship-owner on his death-bed. Both are positive hymns to the life force. They work perfectly. And one sees well why a man who could encompass the whole meaning of an individual life in a single poem would find the intricacies and necessary longueurs of novel-writing uncongenial.”Wilson then quotes:
“It was Kipling’s corollary to the philosophy of self-reliance to expound the relation of the man to the machine in the new industrial age. The engineer, more than most men, is a master because, in Emerson’s awkward phrase, he is ‘plastic and permeable to principles’.
“From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy hand, O God:So speaks, says Wilson, McAndrew, the Scottish engineer, of his machine, the engine of which he is at once master and servant, which conforms to the laws of nature and yet is altogether dependent on his skill and courage.”
Predestination in the stride o’ yon connectin’ rod.
John Calvin might ha’ forged the same, enormous, certain slow –
Ay, wrought it in the furnace flame, my Institutio.”
“Unlike his close contemporary Conrad, who wrote primarily about the vanishing world of sailing-ships, Kipling’s imagination was excited by steam, engine-power, speed and the men who created and maintained such modern wonders. With the Scottish engineer in “McAndrew’s Hymn” he prayed that the Lord would send a man like Robbie burns to sing the Song o’ Steam. Perhaps, for a while, he believed that he himself might fill that role, though with the genuine humility he always showed to this poet, he also described his attempts to capture the essence of the modern world as merely “roughing out the work” for a greater poet to come “as Ferguson did for Burns”.Peter Keating also goes into greater detail about “McAndrew’s Hymn” and “The Mary Gloster” (pp. 108-110):
“They are quite distinct from the Browning parodies and pastiches he had previously written, and also unlike the music-hall types he was still using for some of the barrack-room ballads. Complex character analysis and psychological subtlety are not qualities usually associated with Kipling’s poetry, and even here in “McAndrew’s Hymn” and “The ‘Mary Gloster’, both clearly poems of character, the experiences and opinions of the speakers are more obviously imbued with Kipling’s own views than they would be in a comparable Browning monologue.Comments in recent biographies
Both speakers are blunt, frank, down-to-earth. McAndrew is a ship’ engineer, content with his job since a visionary experience at sea prompted him to shed his repressive Calvinist upbringing and adopt as his replacement “Institutio” a religion of the steam-engine. As published originally in Scribner’s Magazine, December 1894, the monologue was introduced by a fictitious “extract from a private letter” which makes it clear that McAndrew is on deck reminiscing to a passenger: this setting is not apparent from the poem as printed in The Seven Seas. The passenger says that McAndrew admitted to being made “quite poetical at times” by the engines, something that is perfectly clear from the poem itself, but he also describes McAndrew as “a pious old bird”. The poem leaves open just how “pious” McAndrew is: there are hints that he is priggish, given to the sin of pride, and not as free from Calvinist morality as he likes to claim. It is this note of ambiguity about how much reliability the reader can place on McAndrew’s insight into himself that reveals the influence of Browning, and perhaps too that of Burns’s “Holy Willie’s Prayer”.
Gloster’s character is more straightforwardly observed than McAndrew’s. He is a successful shipowner, a self-made man; wealthy, honoured, “not least of our merchant-princes”. He is also coarse and mean-minded, whereas McAndrew is genuinely sensitive, if rather smug. Yet the social distance between the two men, and the contrasting moral qualities they possess, are nothing to what unites them. They are devoted to the sea and the hard life it demands from those who live by it; they are widowers and talk openly, though not boastfully, about other women they have had; both are given to grand romantic gestures; and both regard as unbearably effete any way of life other than their own. McAndrew is scathing about a visitor to the ship, “Wi’ Russia-leather tennis-shoon an’ spar-decked yachtin’ cap,” who is unable to see that McAndrew, “manholin’, on my back – the cranks three inches off my nose”, represents the true romance of the sea. Gloster’s verbal attack on his son makes a similar point, though, true to his harder character, it is more vicious and it also gives Kipling yet another chance to mock the Aesthetes.
In Browning, these sentiments and the tone in which they are expressed would destroy any credibility claimed by the speaker, whereas Kipling enlists them as allies in his campaign on behalf of manliness. Nor does McAndrew’s greater sensitivity exclude him from being similarly placed. Like Sir Anthony Gloster, the most important thing about him is that he is a true man.
These two poems have always attracted admirers, among them T S Eliot, who was drawn to Kipling’s experimental use of “the poetry of steam” in “McAndrew’s Hymn”. An experiment it certainly is, but a very self-conscious one. McAndrew’s references to “coupler-flanges”, “spindle-guides”, “furnace-bars”, and “connectin’-rods”, function within the poem more as appropriate atmosphere than realised images. The uninitiated reader may be convinced that a “spindle-guide” is important to McAndrew, but has no way of knowing why it is so significant – indeed any way of understanding from the poem what exactly it is.”
“Doyle’s reminiscences also afford a rare glimpse of Kipling reading his work. Earlier in the year, he had written “McAndrew’s Hymn”, a Browningesque dramatic monologue in which an ageing Scottish engineer reviewed his life at sea and his discovery of the idiosyncratic faith which had sustained him.Referring to The Seven Seas Ricketts comments:
McAndrew revealed that, tempted by the East in his wild youth, he gave way to the Sin ‘against the Holy Ghost’: the despair that leads to suicide. He was saved, he confessed – ‘An’ by Thy Grace, I had the Light to see my duty plain./Light on the engine-room’. In other words his salvation, a typically Kiplingesque one was through work and being ‘o’ service to my kind’. Kipling’s performance of the poem sounds impressive. ‘He surprised me’, Doyle remembered, ‘by his dramatic power which enabled him to sustain the Glasgow accent throughout, so that the angular Scottish greaser simply walked the room’.”
“A few poems showed an ambitious interweaving of low-brow and high-brow elements. Speaker, idiom and milieu were calculatedly working-class in “McAndrew’s Hymn”, the engineer ‘alone wi’ God an’ these/My engines’; yet the dramatic monologue form, with its artful construction of an apparently artless narrator was literary and sophisticated. The poem imagined one kind of reader who would fuss over all the technical jargon, another who would see at once that McAndrew’s wish for ‘a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o’ Steam!’ was being granted even as they read. And so, rather neatly, Kipling was able to present himself as simultaneously the poetic heir of both Burns, provincial maverick, and Browning, English literary establishment.”Finally, we come to Andrew Lycett’s Rudyard Kipling(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999). On p. 267, Lycett reports:
“When Henry James came to stay at Tisbury, Rudyard spared him his observations on Americans abroad …. And read him his paean to a Scottish ship’s engineer, ‘McAndrew’s Hymn’, which would appear in Scribner’s Magazine in December. No doubt Rudyard, in expansive mood, adopted the broad accent of his Macdonald forebears. For this was a poem he had been working towards. He knew he could always write some ditty based on the aspirations of the soldiers’ mess, but he needed new subject matter. Over the previous two years he had been exploring the nature of romance; 'was it really achievable in an age of season tickets?' he asked in "The King". As he looked back over British history, he felt this elusive quality could still be found at sea, and suggested as much in several poems in the early 1890s ranging in style from "A Song of the English" to "The Ballad of the “Clampherdown". His personal contribution to the established genre of nautical verse was to invoke the role of machinery on the ocean wave. He achieved this in ‘McAndrew’s Hymn’, which chronicles the heroics of a ship’s engineer in command of his ‘purrin’ dynamoes’ as they beat out their message (reminiscent of Rudyard’s own politics): ‘Law, Orrder, Duty an’ Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!’”