Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936

… Baa Baa Black Sheep … In Ambush … The City of Dreadful Night … My Boy Jack … Something of Myself …


Rudyard Kipling

RUDYARD KIPLING was born in Bombay on December 30th 1865, son of John Lockwood Kipling, an artist and teacher of architectural sculpture, and his wife Alice. His mother was one of the talented and beautiful Macdonald sisters, four of whom married remarkable men, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Poynter, Alfred Baldwin, and John Lockwood Kipling himself.

Young Rudyard’s earliest years in Bombay were blissfully happy, in an India full of exotic sights and sounds. But at the tender age of five he was sent back to England to stay with a foster family in Southsea, where he was desperately unhappy. The experience would colour some of his later writing.

When he was twelve he went to the United Services College at Westward Ho! near Bideford, where the Headmaster, Cormell Price, a friend of his father and uncles, fostered his literary ability. Stalky & Co., based on those schooldays, has been much relished by generations of schoolboys. Despite poor eyesight which handicapped him on the games field, he began to blossom.

Based on the map of “Kipling’s India” in Charles Carrington’s Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works, pp. 84-85, (Macmillan & Co, 1955).

In 1882, aged sixteen, he returned to Lahore, where his parents now lived, to work on the Civil and Military Gazette , and later on its sister paper the Pioneer in Allahabad.

In his limited spare time he wrote many remarkable poems and stories which were published alongside his reporting. When these were collected and published as books, they formed the basis of his early fame.

Returning to England in 1889, Kipling won instant success with Barrack-Room Ballads which were followed by some more brilliant short stories. After the death of an American friend and literary collaborator, Wolcott Balestier, he married Wolcott’s sister Carrie in 1892.

After a world trip, he returned with Carrie to her family home in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA, with the aim of settling down there. It was in Brattleboro, deep in New England, that he wrote Captains Courageous and The Jungle Books , and where their first two children, Josephine and Elsie, were born.

Mowgli and his Brothers

A quarrel with Rudyard’s brother-in-law drove the Kiplings back to England in 1896, and the following year they moved to Rottingdean in Sussex, the county which he adopted as his own. Their son John was born in North End House, the holiday home of Rudyard’s aunt, Georgiana Burne-Jones, and soon they moved into The Elms.

Life was content and fulfilling until, tragically, Josephine died while the family were on a visit to the United States in early 1899.

By now Kipling had come to be regarded as the People’s Laureate and the poet of Empire, and he produced some of his most memorable poems and stories in Rottingdean, including Kim, Stalky & Co., and Just So Stories.

At the Museum of the Rottingdean Preservation Society, at The Grange in Rottingdean, there is a now a Kipling Room, with a reconstruction of his study in The Elms, and exhibits devoted to his work. The Grange is open daily, and there is no admission charge.

Bateman's House
Bateman’s, a seventeenth century iron-master’s house photographed by Mike Lacey, 2019.

Life was never the same again after Josephine’s death, and living so close to Brighton Kipling had become a tourist attraction.

So in 1902 he sought the seclusion of a lovely seventeenth century house called Bateman’s near Burwash, nearby in Sussex, where he spent his remaining years.

Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies , which included the poem “If-“, and other well-known volumes of stories, were written there, and express Kipling’s deep sense of the ancient continuity of place and people in the English countryside.

There is a wealth of information about Burwash and its idyllic surroundings on the village web-site.

Kipling’s poem, “The Absent-Minded Beggar” had raised vast sums of money for the benefit of British soldiers in the Boer war.

Alfred Harmsworth, at whose request he had written for the fund, introduced him to the joys and frustrations of the pioneer motorist.

Kipling was a friend of Cecil Rhodes, of Lord Milner, and of Dr Jameson, on whose qualities the poem “If-“ is said to have been based. Kipling had written for the Army’s newspaper in South Africa, rediscovering the familiar routines of journalism, and spent many winters thereafter in a house near Capetown.

Kipling foresaw the First World War, and tried to alert the nation to the need for preparedness. The Kiplings were to suffer a second bereavement with the death of their son John, at the age of 18, in the Battle of Loos in 1915.

But Kipling continued to write, and some of the post-war stories (for instance in Debits and Credits) are counted among his finest. He was also much involved in the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and King George V became a personal friend. The Kiplings travelled a great deal, and at the outset of one of their visits, in January 1936, Rudyard died, just three days before his King. He had declined most of the many honours which had been offered him, including a knighthood, the Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he had accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Rudyard Kipling’s reputation grew from phenomenal early critical success to international celebrity, then faded for a time as his conservative views were held by some to be old-fashioned. The balance is now being restored.More and more people are coming to appreciate his mastery of poetry and prose, and the sheer range of his work. His memoir Something of Myself was written in 1935, the last year of his life and was published posthumously.