Kipling’s Atlas

by David Alan Richards

In 1912, on the second annual visit of the Kipling family over the long Christmas weekend to Cherkley Court, the Sussex home of Max Aitken, Rudyard Kipling gifted his host with a massive atlas.  Steiler’s Atlas of Modern Geography: 100 Maps with 162 Inset Maps Engraved on Copper, was then in its ninth edition, published in Gotha in 1911 by the publishing house of Justus Perthes, working with a London agency, Asher & Co.[1]   The volume cannot be comfortably read even when balanced on one’s lap, since it measures two inches thick, fifteen and a half inches tall, ten and a half inches wide, and weighs in at eleven pounds.

It had first been published almost a century before, in 1831, and by this iteration in the early twentieth century, featured four-sheet maps of the heavens and the two poles, Central Europe, Southern and Western Europe, Northern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Polynesia, North America, Central America, South America, and the West Indies.  The language of the titles and captions on the hundred multi-colored plates of maps is German (Russia is “Russland”, Great Britain is “Grossbritannien”), but the table of contents, for readers like Kipling and Beaverbrook, is in English.

The special distinction of this copy, however, now in the Special Collections of the University of New Brunswick in that province’s capital of Fredericton[2], is not only Kipling’s holographic presentation inscription on the title-page’s upper right-hand corner―”Max: Aitken | from | Rudyard Kipling. | Xmas.1912”.  Rather it is that dozens of the plates have been annotated on their upper or lower margins of white space by Kipling with short excerpts from his verses concerning the very lands which are depicted cartographically, and sometimes the very cities, like Moscow, or islands like Corsica, portrayed in smaller insets within the larger plates.  Some of these self-quotations, written about one place, are here repurposed by Kipling to make an observation about another locale entirely.

By this date, the 46-year-old Kipling was a seasoned world traveler.  His life was regularly punctuated by long sea-voyages from the age of two, and he culled life stories of “nameless men on steamers and trains around the world”[3] for many of his plots.  Born in Bombay (now Mumbai) in India in 1865 and taken for health reasons to board in England as a five-year-old in 1871, he had taken a walking tour of the Himalayas in 1885, visited Japan in 1889 on the long way round to England through the United States, across which he traveled for four months, and then commenced a world tour in 1891 which took him to Cape Town in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. The honeymoon following his marriage in 1892 to the American Caroline Balestier brought the newlyweds to Canada, and then Japan.  The couple were back in Cape Town in 1898, which they revisited annually during the winter (warm) season there through 1907-08, and he went north to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria.  Rudyard undertook a month-long speaking tour across Canada in 1907.  The following year, the couple began annual trips, up to the outbreak of the First World War, to Engelberg or San Moritz in Switzerland.

In March 1909 he visited Rome, and the next year the Kiplings began annual visits to Vernet-les-Bains in France.  Six months before giving this atlas to Aitken (ennobled as Lord Beaverbrook in 1911 through the recommendation of the Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, also a native of New Brunswick like Aitken), Rudyard and Max toured together in France.  The next year the Kiplings traveled to Florence and Venice in Italy; and within six months after gifting the atlas, they visited Egypt and the Nile Valley, and then returned to France, travelling by car across that country before returning to England.[4]

Furthermore, it must be remembered that while Kipling’s Nobel Prize in 1907 had been awarded in recognition of his literary achievement in poetry and fiction, travel writing was also a genre in which he had frequently published: while his Letters of Travel (1892-1913) was not to appear until 1920, its very title proclaimed that it was a collection of his articles, the first syndicated through newspapers about his travels in the Orient after his marriage in 1892, plus his Letters to the Family about his trip through Canada in the autumn of 1907 and published there in 1908, as well as seven articles describing his journey through Egypt and the Sudan published as “Egypt of the Magicians” in English and American magazines in 1914.[5]  That same year, he addressed The Royal Geographical Society in London in February with remarks titled “Some Aspects of Travel”, published by Doubleday in the United States and reprinted in The Journal of the Geographical Society for April 1914.  When he collected it among his speeches in A Book of Words (1928), the text was preceded by an epigram: “The life of wanderers is ill to live? Credit it not.”[6]

The multi-millionaire Beaverbrook certainly commanded the wherewithal to travel extensively, but his business career in Canada had kept him there in its eastern provinces.  He first visited Great Britain in 1908, and made a permanent move there only in 1910, at the age of 30.  Kipling’s gift of an atlas, given his respect for the entrepreneur (who was soon providing him with investment and other financial advice), cannot be read as condescending toward the younger man, who had not at all seen the world.  The Beaver’s immense drive and fierce intelligence would in decades to come resonate across the globe, with his vast sway as newspaper baron during Great Britain’s imperial apogee, and more particularly with his success as a gifted government minister for Winston Churchill in building up aircraft production in World War Two, while wooing President Franklin Roosevelt on Great Britain’s behalf (with, remarkably, the re-gifting to FDR of Kipling’s first Christmas gift to the Aitkens at Cherkley Court).[7]

Rather, Kipling’s aim seems merely, in inscribing sixty-eight excerpts from his verses onto these large plates, to bind Max more closely to the imperial project with which Rudyard himself was so early publicly identified.  Germany and Russia remained significant threats to the Pax Brittanica (as the British saw it), while a newly militarized Japan rose to imperil both commercial security and Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy in the Pacific arena.  Richard Jebb, English journalist and author in the field of Empire and colonial nationalism, pointed to the reverberations of Kipling’s poetry, the “imperial soul”, as Jebb saw it, and wrote of a coveted union of “Five Free Nations”[8] in a book published just two years after Kipling’s own The Five Nations (1903), which celebrated Great Britain, Canada, and the colonies Australia, New Zealand, and Cape Colony in South Africa.

In 1903, the United Kingdom consisted of four nations: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  In the first American review of Kipling’s collection, appearing in the Atlantic Monthly for 1 December 1903, well-known American critic Bliss Perry suggested that Kipling’s “five nations” were the “five free nations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa [i.e., Cape Colony], and the islands of the sea [i.e., the British Isles].” By August 1912 The Five Nations had been reprinted eight times, shortly before the presentation of this Atlas to Aitken that Christmas.[9]  And the year before, there occurred on 16 May 1911 the official unveiling of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace (left) ; here, the principal avenues into and through the memorial site were to be restricted via heavy wrought-iron gates with stone pillars representing the Dominions of Canada, Australia, South Africa (Cape Colony and Natal), and New Zealand, the quartet making up with Great Britain the Five Nations.[10]

Only two of his self-quotations inscribed in the margins of this atlas are sourced, both to his “A Song of the English”, first published in The English Illustrated Magazine for May 1893, and then published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1909 as a large illustrated book (Kipling self-mockingly described it in his presentation copy to Lord Milner as a “gift-book of the large boxed variety, which are supposed to lie about on tables”).[11]  On the blank leaf preceding the volume’s introductory text, he wrote in his calligraphic hand: “Keep ye The Law ― be swift in all obedience | Clear the Land of evil ― drive the road and bridge the ford | Make ye sure to each his own | That he reap what he hath sown. | By the peace among Our peoples let men know we serve The Lord!”

The self-quotations chosen, when applied to particular swaths of the British Empire―affirming the supposed moral right to rule nearly a quarter of the earth’s surface and a fifth of its population―involved an inherent contradiction.  As historian James Anthony Froude had asserted, “one free people could not govern another free people,”[12] recognizing that the operation of case law in Britain’s settler colonies precluded, prima facie, the exercise of arbitrary authority.  Nevertheless, the righteousness of imperialism as a liberalizing force trumped the necessity to apply the law strictly in all cases.  Hence the contrasting results in attitude evidenced in these annotations implicitly hailing the righteous in Canada and Australia, on the one hand, and directly criticizing the rebellious in Ireland and the Boer republics on the other.  Kipling’s poetry exemplified the synergies between the rule of law, God as righteous judge, and Britain’s wider civilizing mission.

Over the double-plate spread of the two hemispheres (“Westliche und Östliche Halbkugal”) Kipling wrote in all capital letters, although the British possessions were not on these German maps colored in red, “FAIR IS OUR LOT ― O GOODLY IS OUR HERITAGE!”.  The atlas included plates depicting the North and South Poles.  On the former, he wrote: “To the Heavens above us, O look and behold | The Planets that love us all harnessed in gold! | What Chariots, what horses against us shall side | While the stars in their courses do fight on our side.”  On the latter, it reads: “Through Terrors overtake us, we’ll not be afraid. | No power can unmake us save that which hath made! | Nor yet beyond Reason or Hope shall we fall ― | All things have their season, and Mercy crowns all!”  These together comprise the first stanza of “An Astrologer’s Song”, linked to his story “A Doctor of Medicine” collected in Rewards and Fairies (1910) and reflecting the beliefs of Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), who believed in healing through an astrological-medical method.  (Kipling was to revisit this subject in his lecture to the Royal Society of Medicine in March 1928, which he titled “Healing by the Stars.

Beneath the world-wide map of undersea cables, captioned “Haupt-Wekt-Telegraphenlinein”, he quoted, from “The Neolithic Age” of 1892: “O this world is wondrous large ― seven seas from marge to marge;| And it holds a vast of various kinds of men. | And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu | And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.”  Remarkably, he did not quote from his poem of 1893, “The Deep-Sea Cables”, collected in The Seven Seas (1896).  Kipling and (the Canadian) Beaverbrook would have known that from the 1850s until 1911, British submarine cable systems dominated the most important market, the North Atlantic Ocean; it is notable that Britain’s very first action in World War One after declaring war on Germany was to cut the five cables linking Germany with France, Spain, and the Azores, and through them, North America.[13]

His animus toward the Germans found expression in his annotations of the atlas’s maps of “Deutches Reich”.   On one he wrote: “There is no truce with Kings― | The old Unteachable Kings;” on another, “How so great his clamour ― whatsoever his claim ― Suffer not the old King, under any name.”  Kipling like other Britons had been deeply affronted by the behavior of the German Kaiser in the aftermath of the Jameson Raid of late 1895, when Wilhelm II, in his notoriously undiplomatic way, had sent a telegram to Kruger of the Transvaal that seemed, in defiance of the English position, to recognize the independence of the Boers.  In these two quotations (the first perhaps misremembered from a discarded draft[14]) from “The Old Issue”―which when published in newspapers in London, New York, and Boston on 29 September 1899 was originally titled “The King”―he seems once more to be referring to the Kaiser.  Then, a dozen years before, he had written “Ancient and Unteachable, abide―abide the Trumpets!”, “Suffer not the old King here or overseas”, and “Suffer not the old King under any name.”[15]

Kipling was equally disdainful of the Russians, if for different reasons than when deriding the Kaiser of the Germans.  As early as his schooldays at United Services College (no doubt influenced by his parents’ letters from North West India where the Great Game had begun), he led the winning side in a debate that “the advance of Russia in Central Asia is hostile to British power.[16]  In 1890 he published his story “The Man Who Was”, about a British soldier of the White Hussars captured in the Crimean War and imprisoned for thirty years before escaping.  Eight years later he published widely his poem “The Truce of the Bear,” stressing the danger of thinking that the Russians ever accepted defeat on the North-West Frontier, with its italicized refrain: “There is no truce with Adam-zad, the Bear that looks like a Man!”[17]

This poem was his source for the annotation on the map of “Russland”: “When he stands as  asking quarter, with paws like hands in prayer | That is the time of peril―the time of the Truce of the Bear.”  On the plate depicting the Black Sea, he wrote the dark opening quatrain from “Hadramauti,” from Plain Tales from the Hills, about a stranger who behaves shamelessly badly: “Who know the heart of the Christian? How does he reason? | What are his measures and balances?  Which is his season | For laughter, forbearance or bloodshed, and what devils move him| When he arises to smite us? I do not love him”  For the inset city map of “Moskau”, the annotation is “Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proves with shot and steel,” the first line of his poem “The Rhyme of the Three Sealers” (1892), a rollicking story of seal poachers in the Bering Sea where the Russians patrol and confiscate ship and catch. For Russia’s far east and Siberia, he quoted (again slightly inaccurately) from the same poem: “And God who clears the grinding berg and steers the grinding floe | He hears the cry of the little kit-fox and the lemming on the snow.”

For most Western European nations, his marginal asides were milder.  On the map of Switzerland his inscription was “So and no otherwise―so and no otherwise Hillmen desire their hills”, the refrain from “The Sea and the Hills,” first published in Kim (1901), which was apt for the mountain-filled chart, but not a political comment.   For Spain and Portugal, he reminded Beaverbrook of the fabled lassitude of the inhabitants of Europe’s southwestern corner with verses from his  “The Broken Men”, collected in The Five Nations (1903), which had nothing to do with the Iberian peninsula but struck the poet as apt : “On street and square & market | The noon-day silence falls | You’ll hear the sleepy babble | Of the fountain in our halls | Asleep amid the yucca’s | The city takes her ease.”

For his beloved France (areas of “Frankreich” on the plates), he used five stanzas from “The French Wars”, one of the poems written for a book he had in 1911 just published and co-authored with Oxford professor C. R. L. Fletcher to complement his text in A School History of England, verses intended to celebrate the end of centuries of conflict between England and France, not least in awareness of the Kipling-predicted coming war with Germany.  He begins, on a map depicting the east coast of France, with “The boots of Newhaven and Folkstone and Dover | To Dieppe and Boulogne and to Calais cross over― | And in each of those runs there is not a square yard | Where the English and French haven’t fought―and fought hard!” On the margin of the map showing the English Channel: “If the ships that were sunk could be floated once more | They’d stretch like a raft from the shore to the shore, | And we’d see, as we crossed, every pattern and plan | Of ship that was built since sea-fighting began.”

The third clearly recalls the Napoleonic wars: “But the galleys of Caesar ―the squadrons of Sluys | And Nelson’s crack frigates are hid from our eyes | Where the high Seventy-fours of Napoleon’s days | Lie down with Deal luggers and French chase-marées.”  On a fourth map plate, he employed the final stanza (on the first of this series, he had quoted the first stanza) from the same poem, with “They answer no signal―they rest on the ooze | With their honey-combed guns and their skeleton crews― | When racing above them through sunshine and gale ― | The cross-channel packets come in with the mail.”   He closes his five inscriptions from the same poem, a frequency not elsewhere repeated, with the final stanza, describing the seasick passengers disembarking from those packets, concluding: “And nobody thinks of our blood-thirsty wars.”[18]

The map of Italy recalled his meditations in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) on the Roman legions who once garrisoned England; he wrote below the inset map of Rome from “A British-Roman Song” in  “A Centurion of the Thirtieth”:My father’s father saw it not | And I, belike, shall never come | To look on that so holy spot | The very Rome.”  On the chart showing the eastern edge of Italy with the province of Rimini bordering the Adriatic, he inscribed these lines from “Rimini”, also first published in Puck, quoting another centurion sent to Brittania, remembering a  lost love whose name appeared in the author’s beloved poet Horace’s Odes: “When I left Rome for Lalage’s sake | By the Legion’s road to Rimini | She vowed her heart was mine to take | With me and my shield to Rimini ― Till the Eagles  flew from Rimini.”  For Italy’s west coast, and its map of Corsica, the lines he recollected for annotation might have been predicted by anyone today knowing Kipling’s work: “‘How far is St Helena from a little child at play? | What makes you want to wander there with all the world between? | Oh mother call you son again or else he’ll run away! | No one talks of winter when the grass is green.”   Nevertheless, “A St. Helena Lullaby” had appeared only shortly before in Rewards and Fairies (1910).

For the map depicting Japan and the islands of the South Pacific, he quoted from his 1892 poem “The Gipsy Trail” (in which he originally used the word “Romany” rather than “gipsy” as here), written a few weeks after his marriage, when he and Caroline were planning to travel to Japan and on to the South Seas: “Follow a gipsy patteran | West to the sinking sun, | Till the junk-sails left through the houseless drift  | And the East and the West are one!”  On the map of China, the line is most familiar, from “Mandalay” of 1890, to this day one of Kipling’s two or three best-loved poems: “And the Dawn comes up like thunder | Out o’ China crost the Bay!”.  For the map of “Asien”, the lines would be equally familiar, also from “Mandalay”: “Ship me somwheres east of Suez where the least is like the worst | Where there aren’t no ten commandments & a man can raise a thirst.”

For the self-governing colonies celebrated in his poetry collection The Five Nations, his affection is unbounded.  At the Imperial Conference of 1907 these had received the collective status of “Dominions”, not only Canada but Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland (not included into Canada in the consolidation of Britain’s remaining North American colonies back in 1867), the Cape Colony, Natal, and Transvaal; the last three, with the Orange Free State, had become the Union of South Africa in 1910.[19]

On the map of “West-Canada,” Kipling resorted again to “A Song of the English”, with verses from the section subtitled “Victoria” (as identified by Kipling in his script) about that great port city in British Columbia: “From East to West the circling world has passed | Till West is East beside our land-locked blue | From East to West the tested chain holds fast― | The well-forged links ring true.”  Kipling had recently trained across Canada, in 1907, to help forge those chains, on the solitary speech-making tour of his life, speaking to Canadian Club branches in many cities along the way[20]; these were published in 1908 as Letters to the Family: Notes on a Recent Trip to Canada in 1908.[21]  On the chart for “Ost-Canada”, sweeping from the Great Lakes to the country’s western maritime provinces, he wrote the most memorable lines from “Our Lady of the Snows”, his poem of 1897 celebrating that dominion’s passage of legislation to give to Great Britain more favorable tariff terms than to the rest of the world[22]: “A Nation spoke to a nation― a queen sent word to a Throne:― | Daughter am I in my mother’s house, but mistress in my own.”  (Recall here Froude’s assertion that one free people could not govern another.)

On the map depicting the entire African continent, the lines inscribed at first seem inapposite: “God gave all men all Earth to love, | But since our hearts are small | Ordained for each one spot should prove | Beloved over all.”  Kipling had originally written them in his poem “Sussex”, in 1902 when his family had moved into their new home Bateman’s (left)  in that English county.  The sentiment makes more sense when paired with the much longer quotation on the succeeding map of “Capland”, the Cape: “Therefore being bought by blood | And by blood restored | So the arms that nearly lost, | She, because of all she cost | Stands a very woman most | Perfect and adored! | On your feet and let me know this is why we love her |For she is South Africa―and she is South Africa― |Africa all over!”  These verses are from “South Africa”  , published in The Five Nations in 1903, with its image of the country as a faithless woman, describing the soldiers who return there as her lovers after the Second Anglo-Boer War (1898-1902).[23]

And by the date of the gift of this Atlas, the Kipling family had wintered for eleven years (during the South African summers) in the Woolsack on Cecil Rhodes’s estate, their holiday home away from Bateman’s and by now it seems it was a second “spot…beloved over all”.  That great empire-builder, who died of heart disease in 1902 while the Kiplings were holidaying in Capetown, was not forgotten now in Rudyard’s gift book: the map depicting west central Africa bears these lines from “The Burial” (or “C. J. Rhodes”), where Kipling’s words read over Rhodes’s grave in Rhodesia: “There till the vision he foresaw | Splendid and whole arise | And unimagined empires draw | To council ‘neath the skies.[24]

Nor did his African map annotations neglect the cause for which he so admired Rhodes, for the map centered on the Gulf of Guinea on the continent’s east coast was embellished with verses which were controversial in some circles even when written in 1898, urging the Americans newly engaged in the Spanish-American War to undertake their own imperial mission in the Philippines: “Take up the White Man’s Burden | Send forth the best ye breed― |Go bind your sons to exile | To serve another’s need.[25]  This explicitly applied to “Asiatics” the notion that they were inferior to Europeans, and that it was somewhat incumbent upon the “white man” to guide such people towards law and order and to inculcate notions of Western civilization (for their own good).

The only chart bearing two inscriptions, depicting the southern half of the African continent, is annotated on the left and right of the map’s margin below the Cape of Good Hope: “To the home of the floods and thunder― | To her pale dry healing blue ― | To the lift of the great Cape combers, | And the smell of the baked Karoo,” and “To the growl of the sluicing stamp-head | To the reef and the water-gold | To the last and the largest empire | To the map that is half-unrolled![26]  Taken together, these comprised one stanza of Kipling’s poem of 1895, “The Native-Born”, which hailed the common heritage and purpose of the English-speaking peoples now colonizing what Kipling in this poem styled “the Four New Nations” (Canada, Cape Colony, Australia, and New Zealand) who form “the last and largest Empire”.  The “map that is half-unrolled” in 1895 was Rhodes’s avowed dream for a route the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo.[27]

On the map of southeastern Australia, with inset maps of Adelaide and Melbourne, the inscribed lines are again from “The Native-Born”:Our heart’s where they rocked our cradle | Our love where we spent our toil― |And our faith and our hope and our honour― | We pledge to our native soil”, while on the chart for its northeastern coast bordering the Coral Sea, he quotes the untitled heading to his 1890 story “A Matter of Fact”: “And if ye doubt the talks I tell, | Steer through the South Pacific swell. | Go where the budding coral hives | Unending strife of endless lives.” For the island continent’s southwestern corner, his verse names the map-depicted cape of Southwestern Australia which catches the full force of the swell from the Southern Ocean: “I know whose standard flies | When the clean surge takes the Leeuwin or the coral barriers rise.” This he quotes from “The Young Queen” (The Commonwealth of Australia inaugurated on New Year’s Day 1901)”, to which the subtitle was added when the poem was collected in The Five Nations in 1903.

The chart for “Neu-Seeland (New Zealand)” bears these verses: “Broom above the windy town, pollen of the pine―| Bell-bird in the leafy deeps where the ratas twine: | Fern about the saddle-bow; fern upon the plain―| Take the flower and turn the hour and kiss your love again.”  The “windy town” is Wellington, and these lines comprise the fifth verse in his poem “The Flowers”, collected in The Seven Seas (1896), which devotes other verses to the flowers of England, Canada, South Africa, and Australia (his future Five Nations).  He had visited the country in 1891, via Cape Town, and traveled by buggy past pretty gorges in the Ruananga bush, so unlike anything in England, when the most distinctive of the flowers of New Zealand were in bloom on the North Island.[28] (He again used the idea of national flowers in his poem “England’s Answer” ―the last of the seven poems comprising “The Song of the English”―and represented New Zealand there by “the southern Broom”, a genus peculiar to that country.)

India was never to be a dominion, but it had been his birthplace and his home, and on the double-spread plate for “Vorder-Indien und Inner-Asien” he wrote: “We have forfeited our birth-right―| We have forsaken all things meet. | We have forgotten the look of light―|We have forgotten the smell of heat.”  This comes from “Song of the Wise Children”, written in the second half of 1902 and collected the next year in The Five Nations, containing the line “The [sun’s] spears of our deliverance | shine on the home where we were born.”  It is the only map of India in this atlas which he annotated, and of all his inscriptions, this is the perhaps the most emotionally resonant, in its brevity and singularity.

As for the other country where he had lived for some years, the United States (“Vereinigte Staaten”), his map annotations are remarkably dark.  On the first plate, of the American northwest, he wrote: “Calm-eyed he scoffs at sword and crown | Or panic-blinded stabs and slays. | Blatant he bids the world bow down | Or cringing begs a crust of praise”, citing “The American”, first published (as “An American”) in the Pall Mall Gazette for 27 July 1894. Kipling biographer Andrew Lycett rightly styles these verses “execrable”, to demonstrate, having recently returned to England after living in Vermont for two years (and to which Kipling was returning), what he was rejecting.[29]

On the map of the United States and Mexico, the verses inscribed are “Twas not while England’s sword unsheathed put half a world to flight | Not while their new-built cities breathed secure behind her might―| Not while she poured from Pole to Line treasure and ships and men―| These worshippers at Freedom’s shrine they did not quit her then!”  These were from “The American Rebellion (1776)”, written for his book with Fletcher A School History of England of 1911.  His hostile approach to the subject is apparent from a letter of September 1910 to his mother-in-law in Vermont: “I think I should write some severe and drastic verses about the U.S. and the Revolution―verses describing the French wars that saved America from France and then I shall mourn over America refusing to pay her share.[30]

On the second plate of the series, depicting the upper central Midwestern states, the verse is from the sixth verse of “An American”: “His hands are black with blood―his heart | Leaps, as a babe’s, at little things.”  On the third, covering from the Great Lakes to the New England shore, specifically citing “The [sic] American”, the quotation is “Lo, imperturbable he rules | Unkempt, disreputable, vast.”  In both instances, the relevance to the image annotated is obscure, but the bitterness is patent. The notation on the fourth plate, mapping the American southwest, is “Such boasting as the Gentiles use”, from “Recessional”, for which Kipling’s source is Romans 2, 14:

“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by the nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”

Why, in inscribing these anti-American verses in 1912 for his Christmas gift to Aitken, was Kipling so angry with the United States?  It has been said that Canada might easily have become the Scotland of a North American Union.  Before the election of September 1911, the Liberals under Prime Minister Laurier campaigned for a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, whose President Taft was claiming would make Canada an American “adjunct”.  Kipling responded to a request from the Montreal Star, solicited by Aitken, to air his views on the subject with an “open letter”, which an Aitken biographer has called “by any standards, heady stuff”.[31]

“It is her own soul,” the letter ran, “that Canada risks today.  Once that is pawned, for any consideration, Canada must inevitably conform to the commercial, legal, financial, ethical and social standards, which will be imposed on her by the sheer admitted weight of the United States….She might, for example, be compelled later to admit reciprocity in the murder-rate of the United States which at present, I believe, is something over one hundred and fifty per million per annum.” [32]

The Conservative Party then prevailed in the election, campaigning on the slogan “No truck or trade with the Yankees”.  The Kiplings rejoiced at an outcome that “settled” Canada’s position in the Empire, giving an example to Australia and South Africa, and Aitken, who had recently become a British MP, later assured Kipling that his letter to the Star had much influenced the result.[33]  Clearly, the author’s animus still ran high when he worked annotating the atlas for his Canadian friend’s Christmas gift the following year.

He identified still other enemies abroad in these notations.  For Ireland, he wrote: “Mistletoe strangling an oak―Rats gnawing cables in two| Moths making holes in a cloak―How they must love what they do! | Yes and we Little Folk too.  We are as busy as they |Working our works out of view.  Watch and you’ll see it some day.”  His poem “A Pict Song” (again from Puck of Pook’s Hill) is about the Picts north of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland, overborne by the weight of Roman power but resenting it and quietly working to undermine it (and to the British frame of mind, the English oak―being strangled―had near mythical powers of cultural association[34]).  Here, remarkably, it is applied across the Irish Sea to the Irish, to remind the reader of the feelings of a conquered people and of the need for empire-builders to beware of their potential for subversion.

On the map of the Balkans, he wrote “I have watched them in their tantrums―all that Pentecostal crew”, taken from his poem of 1896, “Et Dona Ferentes”, collected in The Five Nations.  Provoked by Kipling’s irritation that year with the United States’s Monroe Doctrine warning to Great Britain about the boundary dispute between it and Venezuela over the latter’s border with British Guiana[35], he now seemingly applied this line, inscribed in the autumn of 1912, to the First Balkan War, commenced in October that year when Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria declared war upon the Ottoman Empire (not to end until the Treaty of London in May 1913).

Another chart, titled “Die Balkan Habinsel in 4 Blättern. Turkei, Rumänien, Griechenland, Serbien, Montenegro, Bulgarien”, bears the inscription “Then was our shame revealed, | At the hands of a little people―few but apt in the field.”  This comes from “The Islanders”   of 1902 (a poem more famous for its line about “flannelled fools at the wickets”), which at that date grudgingly acknowledged the success of the Boer guerillas in verses born of his worry about a future war with Germany.  On this map, Kipling repurposes the observation from decade-old verse demanding military readiness to pen a grim and eerie forecast of a world war, which indeed effectively commenced in 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which borders Serbia and Montenegro.

As for “Die Britischen Ineslin” where he and Aitken both now lived, that double-page map was improved with “If England was what England seems | And not the England of our dreams― | But only putty brass and paint―  How quick we’d chuck it…But she ain’t!”, the conclusion quoted from “The Return”, one of a suite of sixteen “Service Songs” which closes The Five Nations, telling of soldiers’ return from the Boer War.  On the double-page chart of “Groszbritannien”, which largely cuts off Scotland, he writes: “To the home of our people’s people― | To her well-ploughed windy sea― | To the hush of our dread High Altar | Where the Abbey makes us we.”  This is again from “The Native-Born” from 1895, from verse twelve, about England, still “home” to the native-born who are serving abroad throughout the Empire.  No political fervor or ancient prejudices inspired his selections here.

His notations on a few others of the maps, of continents or countries which did not particularly trouble the British Empire, are relatively mild as well.  For “Arabien”, he recalled: “Be’old a cloud upon the beam an’ umped above the sea appears | Old Aden like a barrick stove that ain’t been lit for years an’ years. | I passed by that when I began…” (“For To Admire”, 1892, about a time-retired soldier returning from India past the naval base and coaling station at Aden).  On the chart for “Nord & Mittel Asien,” he inscribed: “It’s the Never-Never country―it’s the end of cultivation | So they said” (a conflation of lines from “The Explorer”, 1903).[36]  For the continent of “Sud-America”, he has written: “God bless the thoughtful islands | Where never warrants come | God bless the good republics | That give a man a home! | That ask no cruel questions… (“The Broken Men”, 1903, about ports in South America which were overseas havens for fugitives from the law in Britain).  For that continent’s south: “Old Horn to All Atlantic said | (A-hay O! To me O!) | ‘Now where did Franke learn his trade? | For he ran me down with a treble-mains’le | All round the Horn!” (“Frankie’s Trade”, 1910: Frankie is Sir Francis Drake).

For the islands of the “West-Indien”: “Day long the diamond weather―the high unaltered blue― | The smell of goats and incense and the mule-bells tinkling through” (also from “The Broken Men”).  And for the South Sea Islands, the “Ostindische Inseln” of New Guinea, including the Solomons, Samoa, Fiji, and Hawaii, he wrote: “Do you know the palm-built village where the sago-dealers trade? | Do you know the reek of fish and wet bamboo? | Do you know the sweating silence of the orchid-scented glade | Where the blazoned bird-winged butterflies flit through?” (“The Feet of the Young Men”, 1897, Part III about Malaysia). On the map depicting “Vorder-Indien und Inner-Asien”, he wrote: “Till down the loaded air there comes | The thunder of Thibetan drums | And droned om mane pudmi hums” (“Buddha at Kamakura”, 1892, later collected in Letters of Travel).

These last-described annotations have a travelogue quality, while evidencing Kipling’s extraordinary range of travel and his remarkable memory for colors and odors along the way.  But the majority quoted above, some repurposed from their original settings, provide a bracing glimpse of his political concerns in the year 1912 about England’s place in the hearts of those who served in her far-flung colonies, and about the threats to Empire in what he perceived as a dangerous world.



©JDavid Alan Richards  2023 All rights reserved


[1] On Kipling’s friendship with the Aitkens, beginning with the Kiplings’ house gift to the Aitkens at their new home Cherkley Court at Christmas 1911, see David Alan Richards, “Kipling’s Hostess Gift,” The Kipling Journal, vol. ___, No. ___, _____ 2024, pp. __-__.

[2] Item 192, 1911, Archives and Special Collections, University of New Brunswick Libraries, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

[3] Preface to Life’s Handicap, Macmillan Pocket Edition (London, 1907), p. xiv.

[4] See Appendix F, “Chronology of Rudyard Kipling’s Life and Major Works, 1865-1936,” in David Alan Richards, Rudyard Kipling: A Bibliography (Newark, DL and London: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2010), pp. 741-746.

[5] Richards, Bibliography, A328, pp. 258-259.

[6] Richards, Bibliography, A266, pp. 219-220.

[7] Richards, “Kipling’s Hostess Gift,” pp. __-__.

[8] Richard Jebb, Studies in Colonial Nationalism (London: 1905).

[9] Richards, Bibliography, A190, pp. 165-167: the American edition was published on 1 October 1903, a month after the English edition.

[10] G. A. Bremner, Building Greater Britain: Architecture, Imperialism, and the Edwardian Baroque Revival c. 1885-1920 (New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art, 2023), pp. 192-193.

[11] Richards, Bibliography, A229, p. 194.

[12] James Anthony Froude, Oceana; or England and the Colonies (London: Longmans, Green, 1886), p. 2.

[13] Jonathan Reed Winkler, Nexus: Strategic Communications and American Security in World War I (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 5-6; see generally, Paul Kennedy, “Imperial Communications and Strategy, 1870-1914, English Historical Review, vol. 86:341, pp. 728-752. The pressing need for up-to-date information that helped furnish commercial advantage and mitigate risk for Britain’s “invisible” sources of income, generated primarily from trade in services and returns on foreign investment, including heavy investment in the empire, ensured that Britain remained the world leader in communications technology: John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 112.

[14]  Kipling noted in his autobiography Something of Myself that he did not refer back to his originally published text when quoting himself: “In respect to verifying one’s references,…it is curious how loath a man is to take his own medicine,” Thomas Pinney, ed., Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 126.

[15] Collected by Kipling in The Five Nations (1903), where he added the date “October 9, 1899” as a subscript by way of reminding readers of the day on which Britain received the ultimate from President Kruger at the start of the Boer War: see Sarah Lefanu, “Something of Themselves,” Kipling Journal, vol. 94, no. 382, June 2020, p. 27, and Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999), p. 318.

[16] Angus Wilson, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works (New York: Viking, 1977), p. 43.

[17] Published in Literature on 1 October 1898, in the New York Tribune on 13 October, and in The Critic of December 1898, later being collected in The Five Nations (1903).

[18] In his inscription, misremembered as “wonderful” wars.

[19] R. Macgregor Dawson, ed., The Development of Dominion Status 1900-1936 (New York: Frank Cass & Co. 1937).

[20] David Gilmour, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002), pp. 188-189.

[21] Richards, Bibliography, A215, pp. 183-184.

[22] David Alan Richards, “The Composition of ‘Our Lady of the Snows’”, Kipling Journal, no. 387, September 2021, pp. 48-59.

[23] Compare Gilmour, p. 200: “Kipling’s nostalgia for South Africa was stronger and more enduring than for any other place on the planet. ‘That d―d country’, he reflected in 1925, ‘is too like a woman.  One can’t help loving her more for her badnesses which are many; and as I lost my heart to her a quarter of a century ago, I’m now an old and impenitent lover.”

[24] The poem’s manuscript is reproduced in color facsimile in David Alan Richards, Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 51-53.

[25] Lycett, Rudyard Kipling, pp. 310-311; David Alan Richards, “Kipling and the Rhodes Scholars”, Kipling Journal, no. 345, June 2012, pp. 25-26.

[26]  The “sluicing stamp-head” refers to the process by which gold-bearing rock is crushed under steel rods that stamp up and down and is then washed (sluiced) to extract the gold, and “water-gold” is presumably alluvial gold which has been washed out of the reef and now lies in the bed of a stream. The “five nations” were each leading gold producers, making London the center of the world’s gold market during this period: Bremner, p. 220.

[27] The manuscript of “The Native-Born”, the only complete autograph manuscript of the poem and the text sent to The Times where it became Kipling’s first poem published there (now in the Richards Kipling Collection at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library), is annotated in pencil at the side of this stanza “South Africa”.  This tenth stanza, lines 67-74, may have been Kipling’s favorite from the poem, because he inscribed these same lines in 1898 on headed notepaper of the Kimberley Club in Kimberley, South Africa (auctioned at Bonhams, 10 April 2013) and inside a first English edition of The Five Nations (Bloomsbury Auctions, 10 December 2008).

[28] Margaret Newsom, “Kipling in New Zealand,” Kipling Journal, no. 183, September 1972, pp. 9-13, at 11.

[29] Lycett, p. 267.

[30] Thomas Pinney, ed., Letters of Rudyard Kipling: Volume 3, 1900-1910 (London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1996), p. 451.

[31]  Charles Williams, Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite A Gentleman (London: Biteback Publishing Ltd., 2019), p. 114.

[32]  Kipling to Montreal Star, 6 September 1911.  According to Douglas Lee Eckburg, “Estimates of Early Twentieth Century Homicide Rates: An Econometric Approach”, Demography, vol. 32, no. 1, February 1995, the U.S. homicide frequency for 1911 is estimated to be 87 per million.

[33] Gilmore, p. 190.

[34] Archie Miles, The British Oak (London: Francis Lincoln, Ltd., 2013).

[35] Gilmour, pp. 111-113.

[36] See the text accompanying footnote 25 above on “The White Man’s Burden” and “Asiatics”.