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Kipling and the Bhoys at Yale

(by David Alan Richards)

This article was written for Fine Books & Collections, issue 12.1. for Winter 2014. We are grateful for the author's permission to republish it here. Kipling's verses were first published in the Yale Literary Magazine for May 1896.



[January 14th 2014]

In 1896, Rudyard Kipling was living in Brattleboro, Vermont, with his American-born wife. By then, Kipling was the world’s most famous living writer, renowned for the verse in Departmental Ditties and Barrack-Room Ballads, the stories in Soldiers Three and Plain Tales from the Hills, and the novels The Light That Failed and the two Jungle Books.

It is therefore unsurprising that, in the fall of 1895, sophomores in the Yale class of 1898 founded a Kipling Club, having Professor William Lyon Phelps as faculty sponsor. What is surprising is that the boys decided to invite Kipling down to New Haven to attend “not the last annual banquet of the Kipling Club at Yale” (indeed, it was the first) in the spring of 1896, in Heublein’s Café down across the New Haven Green.

Off went the letter of invitation from club president Gouverneur Morris, Jr. (great-grandson of the United States Constitution signer Gouverneur Morris). What ensued was even more remarkable. Instead of ignoring their letter, or sending a polite but nondescript refusal, Kipling, on his engraved letterhead, wrote and sent an untitled poem, couched in the Irish dialect of Mulvaney, one of the “Soldiers Three”:

Attind ye lasses av Swate Parnassus
An’ wipe my burnin’ tears away
For I’m declinin’ a chanst av dinin’
Wid the bhoys at Yale on the fourteenth May.

The leadin’ fayture will be liter-ature,
(Av a moral nature as is just an’ right)
For their light an’ leadin’ are engaged in readin’
Me immortial Wooruks from dawn till night.

They’ve made a club there an’ staked out grub there
Wid plates an’ napkins in a joyuous row,
An’ they’d think ut splendid if I attended
An’ so would I–but I cannot go.

The honust fact is that daily practise
Av rowlin’ inkpots, the same as me
Conshumes me hours in the Muses’ bowers
An’ laves me divil a day to spree.

Whin you grow oulder an’ skin your shoulder
At the World’s great wheel in your chosen line,
Ye’ll find your chances, as Time advances,
For takin’ a lark are as slim as mine.

But I’m digressin’. Accept my blessin’,
An’ remember what ould King Solomon said,
That youth is ructious an’ whiskey’s fluxious,
An there’s nothin’ certain but the mornin’ “head.”

Although the guest of honor was absent, Morris read the verses aloud at the banquet, in the Irish dialect. Then, realizing that they were in possession of unpublished verse by their literary hero, Morris and his clubmates—although aware of Kipling’s deep and justified resentment at unauthorized publication of his “immortal Worruks” (he once had 23 lawsuits going simultaneously in United States courts against “pirate” publishers)—decided to showcase them in the Yale Literary Magazine, then edited by and for undergraduates.

So, the Lit for May 1896, with the publication of this poem, became a Kipling “first edition.” The verses were printed without title in the “Memorabilia Yalensia” section of the journal, with part of the introduction reading:

The privilege of printing the original work of any literary man is not often accorded to a college publication, and it is with great pleasure and pardonable pride that we insert something from the pen of so distinguished a writer as Rudyard Kipling. The verses cannot fail to interest and delight the University.
The delicate point that the author’s “accord” had not in fact been sought or received was not mentioned, but after a New York newspaper reprinted eight lines of the poem, citing the Lit as its source, the club received a letter from a New York law firm, acting at the behest of Kipling’s London solicitors, seeking damages. Club secretary Julian Mason then wrote Kipling directly, asking forgiveness for the presumption of the Club and the Lit. Sixteen days later, the same New York attorneys dropped the claim for damages, presumably at the author’s direction.

Still, despite this second act of grace and favor, Kipling never reprinted the poem in any of his volumes of collected verse, on the grounds that “Mulvaney’s Regrets,” as these verses came to be known, was “ a set of low Irish rhymes” (as he styled them in a 1901 letter) done only to “amuse” the students at Yale, and were not to be considered part of the official canon. And the manuscript of “Attind ye lasses”? Club president Morris gave it to his senior and secret society, Scroll & Key, where it stayed in the windowless tomb on College Street for decades. Eventually, it came into the safer keeping of the University Library, thereby accidentally, but prophetically, becoming the first acquisition in what is now the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Kipling first editions, manuscripts, correspondence, ephemera, and memorabilia.

Yale’s Beinecke Library, through the benefactions of several collectors over the last century, has assembled the largest number of first, copyright, limited, and pirated editions of his works, including 86% of his 759 first edition titles. By comparison, the British Library has only 40%; the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, 43%; the Library of Congress, with its mandated deposit of American copyright editions, 48%; Harvard University’s Houghton Library, employer of Kipling bibliographer Flora Livingston, 53%; and Dalhousie University in Canada, with the collection of Kipling bibliographer James McGregor Stewart, 64%.

Because of the breadth and depth of its Kiplingiana, Yale in the spring of 2011 was offered on a first-refusal basis, and has now acquired, the remaining Kipling archives of A. P. Watt & Sons, from the descendants of the founders of that literary agency, which from 1889 through the author’s death and down to today has represented Kipling and his estate’s heirs and assigns in matters of copyright and sales to periodical and book publishers and licenses to motion picture and television producers. This gatekeeper function meant that the Watts (Alexander Pollack [“A.P.”] and his son Alec [“A.S.”]) were for some five decades in a position to receive, and ultimately retain, the writer’s autograph manuscripts and marked-up typescripts and galley proofs, Kipling’s original correspondence transmitting them and negotiating their terms of publication, and singular examples of the copyright, limited, and otherwise rare editions of pamphlets and leaflets and broadsides sent by their copyrighting publishers back to the agency. The Watt Archive is comprised of 285 letters from Kipling to A.P. (who died in 1914) and A.S. Watt, written between 1889 and 1936, 93 autograph manuscripts, corrected typescripts, corrected book and magazine proofs, over a hundred copyright printings of the author’s work, and related ephemera.

Of the holograph material, the prize is a fine bound volume comprised of the only extant autograph manuscripts and subsequent corrected typescripts of eight of the ten stories first appearing in periodicals before collection in Many Inventions of 1893. Almost equally remarkable is the typescript, heavily edited and with some ink sketches by the author, of what became Chapters 1 through 5 of Kim, the first typing of these parts, with blanks left where the author’s handwriting was unclear (and thus preceding the corrected typescript text now in the British Library and presented by Kipling himself in 1925). Except for the British Library, to whom the author personally gave seven of his book-length manuscripts, Yale’s Beinecke is now the only library anywhere with three such examples, since it already held the Kipling-corrected typescript, sent to Lippincott’s Magazine, of The Light That Failed of 1891–and with this acquisition, all such book manuscripts of the author are seemingly accounted for.

As for the cache of 285 letters from Kipling to the Watts, these await their editor, but excerpts indicate their range and value to scholars: the first mention of the idea of compiling a group of “beast stories” into The Jungle Book is here, and the first mention of the titles for both that book and Stalky.

Kipling’s books and manuscripts were collectible during his lifetime—they began appearing at auction at Sotheby’s in London in 1898—and one such collector was Ganson Goodyear Depew (Yale class of 1919), of Buffalo, New York. Depew, a member of the other famous Yale senior society Skull & Bones, and so not directly influenced by the manuscript then at Scroll & Key, but with an interest in literature as a member of the Elizabethan Club, took his law degree at Yale in 1922 and died a mere three years thereafter, in possession of 358 Kipling items, numbering 275 books (including a presentation copy from Kipling’s father of his son’s parent-published first book, Schoolboy Lyrics of 1881), 52 pamphlets and first magazine appearances, manuscripts of the poems “The Ballad of the Bolivar” and “Fuzzy-Wuzzy,” five sets of corrected proof sheets, and three volumes that were the copies used by Kipling in preparing the text for the “Bombay” edition of his collected works published in London from 1919 to 1924. Now deposited in the Beinecke Library, the collection was presented to the Elizabethan Club in his memory in 1926.

The second major Kipling collection now at Yale was assembled by a New Haven schoolteacher, Matilda Tyler, who passed away in 1992 but over the years before donated what she called in a reminiscence in the Yale University Library Gazette her “rather catholic collection of Kipling items.” Besides many titles not present in the Depew collection, she acquired and donated a copy of the oversized program, signed by Mark Twain and Kipling, of the Oxford Convocation of 26 July 1907, at which the two ex-journalists, neither a college graduate but both receiving honorary LL.D.’s, marched at the head of the procession of honorees. More remarkable was her acquisition at auction in 1991 of a bound volume of mounted letters, written by Kipling to his first formal publishers, the Indian firm of Thacker Spink & Co., from July 1886 through January 1890, negotiating the terms, typesetting, and binding appearance of his first two books, Departmental Ditties and Plain Tales from the Hills, which volume also contains the receipt for the payment of 500 rupees paid to the author for the copyright of Ditties, giving him the funds to travel to London to begin his career there.

The third major Kipling collection to be given to Yale, filling out the concentration of material which attracted for Yale the offer of the Watt Archive, was my own, given as my 45th reunion gift for the Class of 1967, a collection which was exhibited at the Beinecke Library in the summer of 2007. Many of its items are pictured in the Yale University Press exhibition catalogue, Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind, and included the previously mentioned marked typescript of The Light That Failed; a run of issues of schoolboy editor Kipling’s prep school newspaper The United Services College Chronicle; a bound volume of the Boer War newspaper, The Friend, with reporter Kipling’s anonymous contributions identified on these daily numbers by his signature; dust-jacketed copies of Kim and Just-So Stories; and manuscripts of his poetry. Personal items include the two versions of his bookplate, his copies of others’ books left behind when he abandoned his personal library in Vermont when returning forever to England; and the Westminster Abbey Order of Service with ticket to Kipling’s funeral, for his burial in Poet’s Corner.

First edition rarities include: the only known copy of the American first edition, a San Francisco concert program, of what became known as “Kipling’s Auld Lang Syne,” and one of five known copies of the South African original broadside of those verses; a Kipling-autographed copy of the first South African edition of “The Absent-Minded Beggar,”; an illustrated letter from Kipling’s cousin Philip Burne-Jones showing him painting the picture which became the inspiration for the poem “The Vampire”; one of three surviving copies of the unauthorized American edition of “The White Man’s Burden,” which Kipling successfully sued to have destroyed; the only known copy of the earliest Kipling dust jacket, on the American Second Jungle Book of 1895; the first American edition of a Kipling World War I speech here titled “Every Ounce In Us,” published by the Simmons Hardware Company of St. Louis, Missouri; and the dedication copy to the Prince of Wales, then patron of the British Legion, of the charity fundraiser The Legion Book of 1929, containing a Kipling poem and published in a deluxe edition of one hundred copies signed by him and all the other authors and artists who contributed to the volume. When Kipling, who also served as trustee of the Rhodes Trust at Oxford University and was elected Rector of St. Andrews University in Scotland, was in 1932 made an Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, he was pleased to refer to it thereafter as his “Coll,” and in 1936 (the year of his death), he donated to Magdalene the bound manuscript of his 1896 poetry collection, The Seven Seas. Kipling lived in the United States for several years, two of his three children were born in this country, Captains Courageous is set in New England, and he derived much of his writer’s income from the sale of his many books and magazine publications here. From the Kipling Club of 1896 to the extraordinary collections of his work now to be found in the Yale University libraries, it is perhaps not too much to suggest that Yale College was and is his American “coll,” dating from his first encounter with “the bhoys at Yale.”


[D.A.R.]

©David Alan Richards 2014 All rights reserved