"The Rhyme of
the Three Captains"


The documents
in the case
the poem
notes on the text

[July 15th 2010]

1. Rudyard Kipling to William Ernest Henley, September 1890

Embankment Chambers, / Villiers Street, Strand

Dear Henley,

I am in trouble and furious. You know that I have written within the past few months some tales for MacM[illan's]. Mag and others. Harper and Co. bought the serial rights for America and paid me. The series in MacM. I intended to be one of twelve stories into which I purposed to put as good stuff as I could do, revise extensively and eventually republish with a preface. Today I receive a note from Harpers (leading publishers) announcing that they have reprinted in book form The Courting of Dinah Shadd, the Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney, The Man Who Was, and all the others. They will give it their own title. (They have given it their own title). They have not had the decency to apprize me of their intention and to complete the insult they fling a £10 note (the wages of one New York road scavenger for one month) at my head. They call it an honorarium.

Now I may turn out work too quickly. They are at perfect liberty to steal when I have done my work but the grotesque Yahoodom of nipping pieces off a half-presented foetus and slamming it into the market makes me jump. It isn't literature, it isn't honour. It is simply a piece of cowardly and huckstering sharp-practice to exploit a name that, for the time being, sells. Rather less than 12 months ago that firm in a letter one line and seven words long told me that they would not republish Soldiers Three, The Gadsbys, and all the rest. What do you recommend me to do? I have of course returned the money and told them that I cannot authorize the thing which they call an "Edition." This month's Harpers magazine brings in an elaborate patronization of me in the Editors Receiving Shop. Look at it. It completes the circle. I don't know who the man is but the whole notion of the article is intensely funny. The American, he says, lives in a "nimbler atmosphere" or something of the kind. When the man was writing that his blasted owners were stealing my work. The critic himself was criticizing stolen work with adjectives stolen from England.

I am much too wrath just now to write to the papers disclaiming the Edition, but I must blow off somehow so I go to you, who can see the insult of the burglary—the savage indecency and the utter disregard of anything except the dollars on the part of the leading publishing firm in America. Send me your notions on the matter. As a journalist, two years ago I should have lifted the scalp of Harpers and the amiable critic who "deplores" for me, and my vulgarity. It isn't the critic's fault that he lives, as every man must live, under the laws of his own life and environment, when he calls my stuff lacking in appreciation of the subtler values. The thing that makes it like a Gilbert-Sullivan operation is the raw, rank theft that runs through the "business" of his firm. When a burglar sits down on the front door steps to quarrel with the pattern of the silver-ware that he hath stolen he may be an authority on silver but he is first of all a thief and secondly he lacks a sense of humour. I suppose I shall be able to laugh at the business in a little time but at present I'm too savage to do more than swear.


[From The Letters of Rudyard Kipling vol. 2, Ed. Pinney (pp. 22/3) Professor Pinney points out that the title of the contentious volume was The Courting of Dinah Shadd and Other Stories (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1890).

2. The Athenaeum, October 4th 1890, 'Literary Gossip'

WE regret to hear that Mr. Rudyard Kipling has broken down from overwork He has been ordered to take a sea voyage and sailed on the P & O steamer Shannon for Naples on Thursday. His illness will probably delay the publication of "The Book of the Forty-five Mornings".

A YEAR or so sgo, Mr Rudyard Kipling, when passing through New York, called on Messrs. Harper and uffered them for reprinting 'Soldiers Three' and other pieces of his, now famous. He was speedily shown the door, and told thtlt a firm devoted to the publication of literature of a high class could not trouble itself about such writings as his. This autumn Messrs. Harper have picked out of the magazines some six stories of Mr. Kipling's, without asking his permission or giving him an opportunity of revising them, and have printed them as a volume. They have sent Mr. Kipling a letter containing a bald announcement of the fact and the sum of 10/. (sic), which has been promptly returned. The only literature that Messrs. Harper appear to understand at all is the commercial. When an author is unknown to fame, they, it would seem, content themselves with insulting him; when he is celebrated, they insult and rob him..

[The Athenaeum No 3284, for October 4th 1890, p. 452]

3. Rudyard Kipling to The Athenaeum, dated 6 November 1890, p. 627

I maintain that the paragraph which appeared in your issue of the 4th of October was absolutely true when it stated that Messrs. Harpers picked out of the magazines some six of my stories and produced them in book form without asking my permission, and without giving me a chance of revising them, and that they then tried to give me a ten pound note as compensation for their action.

In their letter to the Athenaeum of the 1st of November Messrs. Harper & Brothers write of my stories that "all of them save one, 'The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney,' had been previously published in Harper's Weekly. They were offered to us by Mr. Kipling or his business agent, and we paid for them in each case the price asked." This would lead any one not acquainted with the customs of the craft to suppose that Messrs. Harper & Brothers had purchased the book as well as the serial rights of the stories. This they did not do.

On the 11th of January last my agent, Mr. A.P. Watt, offered them through their London agent by word of mouth one tale entitled 'The Courting of Dinah Shadd,' distinctly stating that he was only selling them the serial rights. In due course Messrs. Harper & Brothers forwarded a cheque for the price asked. If the firm refer to Mr. Watt's letter to them, under date May 12th, they will there find that he thanked them for such and such a sum, "being the amount due for the American serial use of 'The Courting of Dinah Shadd.'"

On the 14th of March last another tale, called 'The Man who Was,' was offered in the same way under the same restrictions. Messrs. Harper & Brothers' cheque followed as before, and in Mr. Watt's letter of May 5th they will again find that he thanked them for such and such a sum as payment "for the serial use of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's 'The Man who Was' in America." The other three stories were offered by Mr. Watt by letter, and in each letter it is distinctly stated by him that he is only offering the serial use in America. The receipts recapitulate this restriction. Should Messrs. Harper & Brothers care to reread their 'Reply' in the light of these letters and receipts, I would inform them that the dates of the letters offering the stories are April 25th, May 17th, and August 1st. The dates of the receipts are June 10th, June 20th, and September 23rd. Reference to that file alone would amply prove that Messrs. Harper & Brothers bought, and knew that they were buying, nothing more than serial rights in five of my stories.

I hold, however, further proof. In a letter addressed to me under date August 27th they advise me of the production in book form of my stories—all carefully enumerated. They do not think it necessary to let me know what title they have given to the thing, but of five of the dragged-together stories they admit that they

To return to Messrs. Harper & Brothers' 'Reply' in last Athenaeum. They inform you that "the additional payment of £10 is tendered in acknowledgment for the story 'The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney."' In their letter to me of August 27th Messrs. Harper Brothers write as follows: "We have instructed our London agent James R. Osgood, to pay you 10£ in acknowledgment of our reprinting stories in the 'Franklin Square Library.' " There was only one ten-pound note mixed up with this sordid little farce, and that was the ten-pound note that it was not in my power to accept from Mr. James R. Osgood, London agent of Harper & Brothers.

Am I or am I not right in reaffirming that Messrs. Harper & Bros. appropriated my tales without asking my permission, had not the courtesy to allow me to revise proofs before jamming those tales ino a job-work volume, and sent me a ten-pound note as a notification of outrage perpetrated?

Since Messrs. Harper & Brothers are so anxious to make clear to the English public that they possess a canon of commercial morality, it is hardly necessary to make clear both to public and pirate that the purchase of advance sheets of five stories does not confer the right of hastily hawking those five stories (and one other thrown in to make bulk) up and down the States in the shape of an unedited, unrevised unfinished, disorderly abortion of botch-work.

The real trouble, of course, is not with this or that picaroon across the water. The high seas of literature are unprotected, and those who traffic in them must run their chance of being plundered. If Messrs. Harper & Brothers had not taken my stories, some other long or short firm would have done so. Only, a pretentiously moral pirate is rather more irritating than a genuine Paul Jones. The latter, at least, does not waste your time and ink.

Rudyard Kipling

[Collected in The Letters of Rudyard Kipling vol. 2., Ed. Pinney (pp. 25/6). The letter was published on 8th November 1890. Professor Pinney notes that Harpers withdrew "The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney" from the Dinah Shadd volume and substituted "The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot", which hal appeared in Harper's Weekly. At the same time they complained, with justice, that RK's attack was ungracious and self-defeating, since it would not prevent other publishers who had paid him nothing, from reprinting his work in the US. RK later agreed with them. In a note dated 6 May 1898 he wrote: "As regards the Harper discussion is no sense in starting a newspaper argument with anyone under any circumstances; I should have taken their money and held my tongue but in those days I thought I did well to be angry. Never again" (Grolier Club, Catalogue of the Works of Rudyard Kipling, [New York, 19301 p. 38).]

4. From Walter Besant, William Black, and Thomas Hardy, to The Athenaeum (No 3291), November 17 1890


November 17, 1890.

OUR attention has been called—somewhat late, perhaps—to a passage in the "Literary Gossip" of the Athenaeum of October 4th, in which the case of a certain author against Messrs. Harper & Brothers is first mentioned. It is no part of our purpose to express an opinion upon this case. But it seems a clear duty to us, who have experienced honourable treatment from this firm, to enter a protest against the sweeping condemnation passed upon them in the paragraph in question. This paragraph does not take the form of a communication by a contributor singly responsible for his own opinion, but it carries the whole weight and authority of the greatest literary journal in the country. "When," says this editorial note, "an author is unknown to fame, they, it would seem, content themselves with insulting him ; when he is celebrated, they insult and rob him."

We wish to record the fact that in the course of many years' friendly business relations with Messrs. Harper & Brothers such has not been our experience. Whenever it is a question of acquiring for any of their periodicals the foreign author's rights, they are as just and liberal in their dealings as any English house. In the matter of book-publication we have always found them willing and desirous to do what is possible for the foreign author, whose interests the American law not only fails but entirely ignores.


5. Kipling's poem was published in The Athenaeum on December 6th 1890.

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