Of Criticisms (1)

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 22 January 1887


Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, p. 81

A review — not by Kipling — of an amateur concert in Lahore, published in the CMG on 20 January, expressed some polite reservations about parts of the performance — ‘The Orpheus glees,’ for example, ‘did not show the amount of practice which unaccompanied part-singing requires.’ The next day a correspondent, X, defended the glee-singing on the grounds that the tenor was indisposed and had to be hurriedly replaced. This mild conflict gave Kipling his occasion for ‘Of Criticisms’. (Ananias was a dishonest early Christian, killed by God for lying) .

He was by this time a thorough veteran of reviewing, both in Simla and in Lahore, and of both amateur and professional performances. The same paper that contained this squib also contained his review of some amateur theatricals by the artillery officers at Mian Mir cantonments. ‘The whole evening’s entertainment was light, amusing, and not too long. What more could one wish?’ Kipling concludes his review, obviously following the precepts laid down in ‘Of Criticisms’.

The Article

To the Editor
Sir, — I object to music — sacred music especially — and I did not go to the Montgomery Hall concert. These tire my claims for intruding on a discussion which doesn’t in the least concern me. Many years ago I used to write criticisms on things that other people inflicted on their friends — concerts and theatricals, and readings and recitations and operas — and in the course of my ill-considered writings I made two or three notable discoveries, and contracted a deadly hatred, which I have still, of the Indian Amateur. He or she is impossible to deal with except on one line — that of unlimited adulation. When I read your correspondent’s account of the concert I chuckled; because I saw that he had erred, and I knew what awaited him. He tried criticism — very, very mild it is true, and set about with praise that would have made a professional rejoice — but none the less it was criticism.

He did not admit, as is my invariable custom, fully, frankly and without reservation, that never since Paganini composed the Dead March in Saul, or Jenny Lind sang Twickenham Ferry, had there been such superbly phrased and magnificently teneramente maestuoso prestissimo arrangement of symphonies and plagal-cadences. The Indian Amateur understands that sort of criticism; and, since nothing is impersonal in this wretched country, respects the critic as a person of judgment and sound knowledge. ‘Altogether,’ says your correspondent, ‘the concert was an admirable one and reflected credit on all concerned.’ That is, not one half enough. It might go down with an ordinary hardworking singer at home, but the Indian Amateur demands more — and why on earth should he not have it? To-day my conscience is some degrees less tender than a brickbat; but I remember a misty and far off time, when I conceived it was the duty of one who had paid two, three, or four rupees to a public entertainment for two or three hours’ stolid sitting on a bench in more or less comfort of mind, to treat the dispensers of that entertainment au grand serieux (with great seriousness); to take some trouble in what he wrote; to compare their performances with others that he remembered; and as delicately as possible to point out here and there it might be, the possibilities of amendment or further perfection. I was wrong — bitterly wrong, but I did not discover my mistakes before I had lost two or three very pleasant friends, had been branded openly with the brand of half knowledge and outrageous conceit, and raised a healthy crop of piques and spites. The award of such praise as I bestowed was put down to purely personal and private motives, etc., etc., etc.

Next [came?] my second discovery. Notice the Indian Amateur, he howls; do not notice him and he foams. He will of course deny all these accusations but that is a small matter. The safest plan is indiscriminate eulogy. The Indian Amateur demands ostentatiously, ‘honest criticism, you know’; but if he gets even an expurgated — a triply Bowdlerized — edition of what his soul professes to yearn for, he — well, is unhappy. I have written — I glory in my shame — of the Indian Amateur till I feared that my pen would turn up at the point in disgust, or that the man himself or the woman herself would see the gross insult of unstinted praise. But I was wrong. The pen continued its toil and the praise was accepted, on my honour, as a right, as a bare instalment of a just due. It was absolutely petrifying! Did I say So and So was Faust, Irving, Terris, and Toole combined, So and So was hurt because Wilson Barrett had been omitted from the comparison. I have compared — may I be forgiven for it — a lady actress to Ellen Terry, and she pointed out that since Ellen Terry was old and she young, Mary Anderson must have been the star I had in my mind. I said it was so, and the floor did not open under my shameless feet.

Later on I became absolutely callous, and am now open, for Rs. 2.8.0. in stamps, to prepare twenty lines of graduated, Corney-Grain-Santley-Sims-Reeves-Mario musical criticism (small type) or for ladies Rs. 3.4.0. ranging from Hortense Schneider, via Lola Montez to Adah Isaaks Menken, Patti, Albani, Norman Neruda, or two others. Dramatic ditto for men (old style English,) Kean, Kemble, Macready, Rs. 2.12.0. New style, Irving, Wilson Barret, and three other minor stars Rs. 3.2.0. Ladies: — Mrs Siddons, Connie Gilchrist (passing allusion only). Nellie Farren, Ellen Terry, ‘whole gamut dramatic expression’ ‘thunderou] s applause’ ‘absolutely perfect rendering,’ etc., etc., by private arrangement.
THE ANANIAS Care of Manager of this paper