by Thomas Pinney
This is an edited version of Thomas Pinney's Introduction to the Cambridge edition of Something of Myself (1995), which we are including here with the kind permission of Cambridge University Press.
On page 5 [of the galley proofs for the Morning Post] I think I would like you to omit the words I have omitted and substitute those I have marked on the margin. I think the thing as it stands is too offensive, if it is not libellous, and I don't, above all things, want to have that kind of criticism of the Autobiography. I don't, in fact, want anything that people can ride off and dispute about.Obviously, this rule would justify much omission; how often Mrs. Kipling may have applied it cannot now be known. Another principle is stated in a letter of November 5, 1936, as she thanks Gwynne for his labor in cutting the text down for the purpose of serialization:
It has been a terrific job for you, and for me something quite intolerable. This thinking back into the past is not an easy matter for me. I want to be wise and I want to remember everything that he said to me about the Autobiography, and I chiefly want to remember what he meant to change in another and later draft.This, too, since it privileges merely prospective notions about the book - what Kipling might have done - would seem to authorize considerable changes; but, again, if such changes were made, we have no way to recognize them. Whatever was actually done, it is clear that in principle at least Mrs. Kipling in her role as editor did not feel bound to take her husband's words as she found them.
I saw him walking backward in the dusk over the uneven wharf, his cloak blown upwards, tulip-fashion, over his grey head, while he beat a tambourine in the face of the singing, weeping, praying crowd who had come to see him off.Open again to p. 159, to the description of the wide country north of Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, where Kipling saw, for the first and only time, a live battle take place, in "a vacant world full of sunshine and distances, where now and again a single bullet sang to himself."
Then to the left, almost under us, a small piece of hanging woodland filled and fumed with our shrapnel much as a man's moustache fills with cigarette-smoke. It was most impressive and lasted for quite twenty minutes. Then silence; then a movement of men and horses from our side up the slope, and the hangar our guns had been hammering spat steady fire at them. More Boer ponies on more skylines; a last flurry of pom-poms on the right and a little frieze of far-off meek-tailed ponies, already out of rifle range.The selection and ordering of detail, and its transformation by a variety of surprising images, all work to create a richly complex vignette with what seems, deceptively, the most casual, impressionistic ease. Open to p. 201, and there find Kipling at the other end of the world, in Stockholm, to receive the Nobel Prize; the Swedish king had died while Kipling and his wife were on their way to Stockholm, and they arrived to find the court in mourning:
Winter darkness in those latitudes falls at three o'clock, and it was snowing. One half of the vast acreage of the Palace sat in darkness, for there lay the dead King's body. We were conveyed along interminable corridors looking out into black quadrangles, where snow whitened the cloaks of the sentries, the breeches of old-time cannon, and the shot-piles alongside of them. Presently, we reached a living world of more corridors and suites all lighted up, but wrapped in that Court hush which is like no other silence on earth.Unsympathetic readers may perhaps jib at the last phrase, seeing in it something of Kipling's notorious "knowingness," but it is not out of place from a man whose fame has doubtless taken him into more than one palace and who is about to receive the Nobel Prize; and even if it were, it would be only a small deduction from a passage so controlled and yet so brilliant.
It would be hard to exaggerate the loneliness and sterility of life on the farms. . . . What might have become characters, powers and attributes perverted themselves in that desolation as cankered trees throw out branches akimbo, and strange faiths and cruelties, born of solitude to the edge of insanity, flourished like lichen on sick bark. (p. 117)One can only regret that Kipling never ventured to write those stories about New England that he once hoped to do.
The dead of all times were about us - in the vast forgotten Moslem cemeteries round the Station, where one's horse's hoof of a morning might break through to the corpse below; skulls and bones tumbled out of our mud garden walls, and were turned up among the flowers by the Rains. (p. 42)Sometimes the perception is more fanciful, as when he writes of the Sussex workmen who came to dig a well for him that they were "two dark and mysterious Primitives" who had come "out of the woods that know everything and tell nothing." At its best, this perception of the past in the present, and of the present in the past, raises scenes and characters in Something of Myself to a new level of seriousness and dignity without falsification. In describing a story that he wrote for Puck of Pook's Hill but later discarded, Kipling suggests how past and present mingled for him:
I went off at score - not on Parnesius, but a story told in a fog by a petty Baltic pirate, who had brought his galley to Pevensey and, off Beachy Head - where in the War we heard merchant-ships being torpedoed - had passed the Roman fleet abandoning Britain to her doom. (p. 187)The imagined Baltic pirate reminds us that the Roman retreat from Britain opened the way for the German invasions that followed, just as the allusions to merchant ships being torpedoed remind us that the Germans had only yesterday been repelled from those same shores: scenes 1,500 years apart become versions of each other.
Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,At school Kipling discovered the Browning of Men and Women, the collection in which "Fra Lippo Lippi" first appeared; and in describing the experience of that discovery at the end of his life in Something of Myself, he again claims kinship with Fra Lippo Lippi: "a not too remote - I dare to think - ancestor of mine" (p. 34). The opening lines of the poem stand at the head of the third chapter of Something of Myself, the "Seven Years' Hard" of the Indian experience. The scene in Browning's poem is of the discovery by the town guard of the unclerical Fra Lippo returning to the Medici Palace late at night after a revel in the city:
He learns the look of things and none the less
I am poor Brother Lippo by your leave.Kipling did not have to explain himself for his unseemly conduct, but, like Fra Lippo, he wants to explain the hard conditions of his apprenticeship and to justify his art by an appeal to his experience. The apologia of the priest would be a parallel to that of the journalist.
You need not clap your torches to my face.
'Twas ask and have,Fra Lippo, as Browning presents him, was the founder of artistic realism, intent on portraying the world and the flesh and the devil in all their variety and color, to the scandal of his churchly employers: "give us no more of body than shows soul", they say. But Fra Lippo cannot be restrained from painting all that he sees, not out of a wish to scandalize but from a conviction of the good of the world: "it means intensely and means good" is his defence of whatever it may be that he renders. It is doubtful that Kipling, even the young Kipling, would have given an unqualified 'Yes' to the peculiarly optimistic tenets of Fra Lippo's realism. But he shared many of the assumptions that lay beneath the dominant realistic practice of the high Victorian age. And he quotes with approval, in Something of Myself, the aesthetic credo of "Fra Lippo Lippi":
Choose, for more's ready!
If you get simple beauty and naught else,It is in the figure of the artist especially, rather than in the idea of art, that Kipling saw his closest relation to Fra Lippo: both were keen observers, sharpened by personal suffering; both delighted in the variety of the world; both were exhilarated by the act of offending against official notions of decorum; both took the most intense pleasure in the exercise of their art; both knew they possessed a talent far beyond the ordinary, and that it should not lie buried. Kipling could hardly have put it more modestly when he hoped to be recognized as among the remote kindred of Fra Lippo Lippi: he was close kin - and from the upper branch of the family.
You get about the best thing God invents.
But how and where I first heard the lines that cast the shadow is beyond me - unless it be that the brain holds everything that passes within reach of the senses, and it is only ourselves who do not know this.The thought is not pursued. Kipling's attraction towards the "occult", to the imaginative persuasion that we are surrounded by mystery and that the overwhelming truth of one's life is already determined but hidden, to be revealed only in tantalizing glimpses, is written out in so many forms and in so many stories that it would be impossible even to enumerate the evidence here. In T.S. Eliot's words, "Kipling knew something of the things which are underneath, and of the things which are beyond the frontier." I make the point only to draw attention to what might be called the final reticence in Something of Myself, Kipling's unwillingness to acknowledge and to develop for his "friends known and unknown" what must have been the chief form of religious experience that he knew. Without the evidence of his other work, such hints and light breaths of suggestion as occur in Something of Myself would certainly not seem to ask to be taken seriously.