The University of Cape Town, situated as it is on the eastern slopes of Devil’s Peak (part of the Table Mountain range), has often been described as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, justifiably so. Nevertheless, students, staff and visitors often grumble about the inaccessibility of the university’s upper, or Groote Schuur, campus except for those with access to motorised transport. Parking is often difficult, some motorists and their passengers have to scramble down a footpath from the parking lot of the nearby Rhodes Memorial in order to get to their lectures. Hundreds of others walk up from the Rondebosch Main Road or the lower campus. Among those who ‘trek’ up the hill to the main campus with its cafeterias, lecture halls and main library (in which the Kipling Collection is housed) are the occupants of a senior student residence, ‘The Woolsack’, who use as their recreation centre an attractive white gabled house around which the residence has been built.
Pedestrians making their way to the upper campus pass a statue of a seated man, head propped on hand, dreamily gazing north-eastwards across the Cape Flats to the grey-blue Hottentots-Holland Mountains and beyond. Deeply etched into the granite plinth which supports the bronze figure are the words from which the title of this presentation is taken:
I dream my dream
By rock and heath and pine,
Of Empire to the northward.
Ay, one land,
From Lion’s Head to Line!
These words come, of course, from ‘Cape Town’ (‘The Song of the English’) which first appeared in May 1893, several years before the poet, Rudyard Kipling, one-time occupant of ‘The Woolsack’, met its owner, Cecil John Rhodes, the man whose image is cast in bronze. Yet his lines perfectly encapsulate some of the facets of Rhodes’s many-faceted life. A politician, successful financier and mining magnate, he was also an empire-builder, constantly looking northwards, dreaming of ways to extend the frontiers of the British Empire and defend its interests. Whether the lines describe the city is another matter. Rhodes’s personality and personal vision were later to captivate Kipling. His actions did so much to forge the South Africa of today – and to bring about, to a degree, the very existence of the University of Cape Town. Of the four personalities who feature in my narrative, two, Kipling and Rhodes, have been examined extensively by biographers and critics. They have been scrubbed, wrung and hung out to dry, as it were. I make no attempt to rewrite their lives. Kipling’s visits to the Cape and travels in South Africa have already been described by Reneé Durbach. (1) I shall, however, try to add a little to their story: to give it a South African slant, to describe their relationship in respect of ‘The Woolsack’, and to dispel a few myths. I hope, too, to illustrate how four men: Rhodes, Kipling, a university librarian, and a book collector were flung together inextricably like the ‘sand of Muizenberg spun before the gale’, and how the generosity of three of them created the connection between Kipling and the University of Cape Town, and its Library.
Kipling visited Cape Town briefly in 1891 during the course of a recuperatory voyage which took him on one of his many ‘long trails’ across ‘the seven seas’. He was already an established writer, for he had written ‘something that should take with the English public’. He arrived in the dusty little town, a ‘sleepy, unkempt place, he called it, on 10 September and left again two weeks later. He found ‘the dry spiced smell of the land and the smack of the clean sunshine … health-restoring’. Kipling claimed to have seen Rhodes (who had been the topic of conversation on board the southbound Mexican – he was, in fact, talked about everywhere) in a restaurant just before his departure to Australia. Rhodes, though, left for his newly founded ‘own country’ of Matabeleland shortly after Kipling’s arrival in Cape Town.
Although unable to go as far north as Kimberley to see the diamond diggings, Kipling visited Matjiesfontein, the Karoo home of Olive Schreiner, the great South African feminist writer, whose The story of an African farm he greatly admired. He had met her earlier at the home of Thomas Etkin Fuller, editor of the Cape Argus, the local evening paper. Despite his apparent detestation of newspapermen, he often sought out their company, no doubt on account of his ‘seven years hard’ in newspapers in India. Fuller’s son recalled: ‘My earliest memories are of the bachelor Kipling … who was frequently in and out of our house. He was a delightful companion, fond of dancing, full of anecdote and wit, and, while keeping everyone interested, did not absorb all the conversation. At that time he was not overloaded with a sense of his own superiority’. (2) Kipling stayed in Coghills Hotel in the village of Wynberg just ‘under hot Constantia broad’, in full view of where ‘thorned and throned the aching berg [propped] the speckless sky’. He visited the naval base of Simon’s Town, passing the white sandy beaches of the False Bay coastline to get there. Clearly captivated by the ‘glorious land’ he saw before him, he was determined to return.
And return he did, seven years later, and with good reason, for in 1897 he met the man who would tighten the bonds linking him with the Cape. This, of course, was Cecil Rhodes, he who did so much to fashion the South Africa of the closing years of the 19th, and indeed of the 20th century too. He had come out to Natal as a young man of seventeen and then moved to the diamond diggings at Kimberley where he was an outstanding success as a shrewd financier. Rhodes, that flawed Colossus, is someone who, more than anyone else, is connected with the history of capitalism, exploitation, possession and colonial expansion in southern Africa. He has been described by biographers, friends and foes alike, as vain, boyish, untrustworthy, cynical, imperial, manipulative, contradictory, enigmatic, unscrupulous, dishonest, money-grubbing, persuasive and deceitful. He was all of these, but above all, he was a man with big ambitions and dreams, intent on extending British rule, at least from the Cape to Cairo – dreams that he was determined to realise. He had some virtues, though, as he was also unfailingly generous, even to his opponents, and loyal to the few whom he could call his friends.
By fiddling around with franchise qualifications and the relationship between masters and servants, Rhodes’s ‘native’ policies entrenched the oppression of the black peoples of the Cape. Land and labour had always been at the heart of race relations in the region, to this combination he added finance and capital. The Cape’s economy ceased to be primarily agrarian-based and began to be driven by the needs of finance and industry. Migratory labour and the compound system initiated on the Kimberley diamond mines – in the control of Rhodes’s De Beers Consolidated Mining Company – became the norm on the gold mines which were being opened up on the Witwatersrand of the Transvaal. It was this financial muscle which enabled him to achieve his political and expansionist aims.
Using stealth, guile, military strength and some help from the smallpox virus, he wrested the land across the Limpopo from the proud Ndebele and Shona peoples, and later dispossessed the Lozi across the Zambezi of the land of their birth. He joined a select band of men who had a country named after them, something of which he was immensely proud, and feared would be taken from him, asking: “‘Did you ever hear of a country’s name being changed?’” (3) He was associated with southern Africa for a mere thirty-two years, yet his contribution to the economic and political development of the region and to its infrastructure was considerable. His political machinations sowed the first seeds of what was to develop into the hated homelands and apartheid policies of later South African governments. The Jameson Raid into the Transvaal Republic, at which he connived, put an end to any question of unity between Afrikaans- and English-speaking South Africans. His was a life lived on a grand scale, he invited ambivalence, but could never be ignored. This was Kipling’s hero, his ‘dreamer devout’, whose greatest quality, Kipling felt, was his imagination, to whom he was utterly devoted, and with whom he shared a belief in a Pax Britannica. (4)
Why Rhodes should be commemorated with a statue and a memorial on the slopes of Devil’s Peak will be explained as the story unfolds, but initially his connection to the mountain slopes needs to be told. Only thirty-seven, he was elected Prime Minister of the Cape in 1890. It was appropriate, he thought, that he should have a home that would suit his position as a statesman. This he found in a house called ‘The Grange’, its history dating back to the earliest days of the Dutch settlement at the Cape when it was known as ‘Groote Schuur’ (great granary or barn). The house, which he leased in 1891 (from which time he began buying up properties on the mountain slopes) and bought in 1893, was set in large and beautiful grounds adorned by beds of hydrangeas, a delight to the eye in spring and summer when they bloomed purple and blue.
He restored the house’s original name, and employed a young English architect, Herbert Baker, new to the Cape, to renovate it in the Cape Dutch style. When much of the house was destroyed in a fire on 15 December 1896 – a devastatingly bad year for him – he commented that he felt ‘ like Job, all but the boils’. (5) Baker rebuilt the house without departing from the original design, and added a new wing. Terraces were laid out and planted with luxurious foliage, including Rhodes’s much loved plumbago. The garden was where he did much of his dreaming and where his ‘thought’ took form in his mind. ‘Groote Schuur’ was where Rhodes entertained lavishly, in the style vividly described by Ann Harries in her entertaining and imaginative Manly pursuits. (6)
Death was Rhodes’s constant companion on account of his heart condition (later recognised as a hole in the heart or atrial septal defect). Always restless and on the move he apparently spent only a short while actually living in the home he occupied for eleven years. ‘Groote Schuur’ was his refuge, and the mountain, which he gazed at from his bedroom window (the lord of all he surveyed) was his inspiration, his object of worship. From 1891 (before he bought the house) to 1899 he purchased as much land as he could around it, eventually acquiring thousands of acres of the south-eastern slopes of Table Mountain, thereby saving it from any further development – if for this only, South Africa’s debt to Rhodes is vast.
Writing to his American friend, Dr. James Conland, in March 1897, Kipling mentioned that he was going to be dining with Rhodes. ‘I think it will be rather larks’, he added. (7) Rhodes was in London appearing before a Parliamentary select committee investigating the role of his British South Africa Company in the ill-conceived Jameson Raid. They met on 2 April, at the home of Moberley Bell, manager of the London Times on the same day that Kipling was elected to the Athenaeum Club of which Rhodes, too, was a member. Also present was Alfred Milner, about to go to the Cape as High Commissioner of British South Africa. Rhodes and Kipling had much in common, primarily, they shared the same imperialist ideals. Kipling, however, did not share Rhodes’s devotion to Marcus Aurelius whose Meditations Rhodes consulted frequently and carried with him always. Kipling referred to the Stoic as “‘the licensed prig, Marcus Unrealius’”. (8) Rhodes, also, was generally dismissive of literary men, thinking writing as a vocation mere loafing and believing that every man should have active work to do in life. (9) ‘Loafers’ were, for him, always the lowest form of humanity. Kipling would have appreciated his attitude to work, believing that the cure for all ills –
…was not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire.
(`The camel’s hump’)
Rhodes was a voracious, if indiscriminate reader, he often acknowledged the influence that the books he read had had on his life – Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Gibbon, William Winwood Reade’s The martyrdom of man. According to James McDonald, Rhodes’s business associate, biographer and one of his ‘young men’, he considered Kipling “‘unique in English literature’” declaring that although he had only four of his books, he had learnt much from them. (10) Interestingly enough, there are no Kipling titles in Rhodes’s extensive library at ‘Groote Schuur’ at present, although Gordon Le Sueur, Rhodes’s secretary, recorded that Rhodes had nearly all of Kipling’s books – whether he had read them is another matter, as Le Sueur had never seen him read poetry or novels. He did say, though, that Rhodes was fond of Kipling ‘because he wrote such charming letters’ – quite true, of course. (11) McDonald added that Rhodes invited Kipling to visit him in 1898, and it was, perhaps, this invitation that prompted his return to the Cape. Readers of the Cape Times of 16 December 1897 were warned that Rudyard Kipling, now established and living comfortably off his pen, was coming to the Cape for rest and recreation, nothing else. The reality, of course, was to be quite different.
This time he was accompanied by his American wife, Caroline or ‘Carrie’, two young daughters, Josephine and Elsie, and an even younger son, John. And all the impedimenta of comfortable parenthood, including two bicycles. Among their party was Lockwood Kipling, the much-loved Pater. Kipling had written to his old friend Dr. Conland just before they sailed, saying: ‘It will be a rest for the wife: and Cape Town is the paradise for children’. (12)
They sailed into Table Bay on the Dunvegan Castle, after a comfortable trip. During the voyage he made the acquaintance of Miss E. Morton, Principal of a well-established Cape Town girls’ school, Good Hope Seminary. She enjoyed his company greatly. They spent many hours discussing books and reading – ‘… he talked a good deal of nonsense & some sense, & was very amusing’, she wrote in a lengthy letter to her mother in Scotland. An astute observer, she described the way he amused the children on board. Lockwood Kipling, she said was ‘a fine old man with eyes that see more than they say … He is as proud of his son as his son is of him. Only he does not say so.’ She gave some insight into the dynamics of the Kiplings’ marriage when she noted that he spoke to his wife ‘as duty bound’. Miss Morton further complained that Carrie was ‘disappointing to look at. She may have been pretty before she got fat, but she gobbles her food & is dowdy’. A middle-aged spinster, of course, might have been unaware of the effects on a mother’s figure and appetite of a relatively recent confinement: baby John, after all, was not yet five months old, and Carrie was probably still nursing him. She continued: ‘She is evidently a nice woman & probably clever. I like her on the whole, but she is not anything like her husband’. (13)
The Kipling party stayed at the Vineyard Hotel, in the leafy suburb of Newlands, not far from Rhodes’s ‘Groote Schuur’. Kipling’s friend, Rider Haggard, had recommended the establishment to them. They complained of an ungracious landlady. Soon after their arrival, Kipling and Carrie went out on a cycling excursion on the lower slopes of the mountain. There they came across Cecil Rhodes on his habitual horse ride. He invited them to lunch at ‘Groote Schuur’, thereby giving Kipling an opportunity to really converse with him. Thereafter they met often, discussing their shared imperialist vision. Rhodes had a habit of bombarding his visitors with questions, something that Kipling described in his autobiography. There, too, he acknowledged Rhodes’s influence on his life. Rhodes’s speech mannerisms were odd, and were always commented on by all who met him. Miss Winifred Currey, who knew him well in her youth, recalled the following: ‘His voice was and always remained peculiar, a high falsetto – nevertheless a compelling voice to which people would listen. He had a very small vocabulary and he would say ‘ I give you this thought’ and this thought would be badly expressed in words of one syllable but was also worth attending – strange in a man of such intellect.’ (14) . It was not surprising that the inarticulate Rhodes requested the highly verbal and accomplished writer to function as his mouthpiece. Kipling was quite entranced.
The Kiplings were quickly absorbed into Cape Town’s social scene, often through Rhodes’s contacts. Alys Fane-Trotter, the doyenne of writers about Cape architecture at the time, recalled that the ‘Kiplings were charming to us and Rudyard would spend the afternoon sitting on our very humble stoep, drawing wonderful pictures for the children, and telling us first drafts of stories he expected to write’. (15) Carrie accompanied her husband on one of his visits to Schoongezicht, the Stellenbosch home of John X. Merriman, a liberal Cape politician and an opponent of Rhodes. Carrie told Mrs Merriman the story of how ‘The recessional’, which had been written in 1896 in response to the Jameson Raid, was rescued from a waste paper basket, something which amused her greatly. Kipling considered Merriman one of the ‘best raconteurs he had ever met’. (16)
The children enjoyed every moment of their almost three-month stay, but Carrie was often left to her own devices. Kipling went off with Rhodes to visit his fruit farms in the cool mountain valleys near Cape Town. There Rhodes had initiated a fruit farming industry and created a model village for the farm labourers with homes, a school and a church designed by Baker. Rhodes insisted that Kipling go north via Kimberley to Bulawayo, formerly the capital of the dispossessed Ndebele king. Before leaving Cape Town, Kipling joined a capacity crowd of 2,500 at a meeting in the City Hall addressed by Rhodes, his first political appearance since he had resigned as Prime Minister following the Jameson Raid. Kipling crossed the Limpopo River and explored Bulawayo and surrounding areas on a bicycle. During the trip he stopped over in Johannesburg from which, according to Fane-Trotter, he returned ‘fuming at the patience of British lion’. He twice visited Kimberley where the sight of the black miners incarcerated in compounds made no impression on him. His father joined him on the second visit – Lockwood Kipling had toured as far as Durban in Natal – and the two of them called on Olive Schreiner. ‘We’ve seen a good deal of Rudyard Kipling the last days’, she wrote to her good friend Betty Molteno, while to her brother she described him as ‘a real man, a most loveable little human creature’. (17) It is quite possible that father and son made good use of their time together in the Cape to discuss Kim, on which Kipling worked throughout much of that year. He never failed to acknowledge his father’s contribution to that book. Writing to Miss Morton the day before he sailed on the Norham Castle, he had this to say about his visit: ‘ Let us hope that I may in some little way be of use to the land that I have so much fallen in love with’. (18)
During the course of 1896, a difficult year, his thoughts were still very much with Rhodes and the Cape. They met briefly in London in May, and in October an interview with Kipling about Rhodes appeared in print. This was published in African Review under the headline of ‘Great man on a great man’. Here Rhodes was represented as his ‘beau idéal’, his present day idol, whom he considered the ‘greatest of living men’. Kipling made it quite clear that his understanding of morals or high ideals was the making of an empire and the spreading of civilisation with it. (19) It was not surprising that Kipling was known as the Cecil Rhodes of literature, a voice for those Englishmen who felt as he did about the Empire. Public interest in him and his work was growing. That year – Kipling’s thirty-third – Frederic Knowles produced a bio-bibliography of Kipling. (20) Quite something for so young a writer.
A sadly depleted Kipling family returned to South Africa in February 1900. Best beloved Josephine had died tragically during an ill-conceived trip to New York eleven months earlier. Kipling and his wife were desperately in need of a rest, and she was often depressed and out of sorts. So they returned to the land whose ‘colour, light and half-oriental manners … bound chains around [their] hearts for years to come’. But the South African War was in progress and Rhodes was holed up in Kimberley, a town besieged. The Kiplings stayed at the Mount Nelson Hotel, as elegant and beautiful a place then as it is now, just above the city beneath the front face of Table Mountain. The hotel was chock-a-block with diamond and gold millionaires, military men and journalists, some of whom, like H.A. Gwynne (soon to become much-loved by the Kipling children) became friends for life.
Kipling was given a pass by Lord Roberts to visit hospitals all over South Africa He spent the early weeks of the visit ‘dancing among hospitals and running from one end of Capetown to the other trying to be of some use’, or so he told William Charles Scully, author and resident magistrate in the Transkei. (21) Carrie was once more left alone for some of the time which did little to raise her spirits, but she made the acquaintance of Lady Edward Cecil (later Viscountess Milner) who developed a ‘great liking and admiration for her, and for whom she became one of her ‘best and most valued friends’. (22) The siege of Kimberley was lifted, Rhodes was free, and Kipling hurried to meet him.
While in Kimberley Rhodes’s fertile mind had been hard at work. He decided that he would provide writers and artists with a home at the Cape so that they could derive creative inspiration from the beauty and grandeur of Table Mountain. Herbert Baker, Rhodes’s architect, recalled the circumstances thirty-one years later. ‘Cecil Rhodes … always spoke to me of it “as a home in the woods for poets and artists”’, he wrote. ‘[S]o when they came to South Africa instead of living in towns and suburbs they might be inspired by the beauty of the mountainside and its distant views. Later he told me that he would first give it to Mr. Rudyard Kipling for whenever he liked to come to South Africa.’ (23) . The idea delighted both husband and wife who were enjoying the wonderful climate and beautiful scenery.
Kipling once more toured Rhodes’s fruit farms with him, a visit described in some detail in War impressions by the Menpeses. The beautiful scenery and the Cape Dutch houses which complimented it so beautifully inspired him to compose some verses which were later carved on the mantelpiece of Rhodes’s manager’s house:
“This is the blossom of the fruit.”
I cleared the land, I set the trees;
I led the water down the sluit.
Earth gave me fiftyfold increase –
This is the blossom of the fruit. (24) .
On 7 March, the day before Kipling went off with Rhodes, Carrie (at Rhodes’s invitation) and Baker visited Rondebosch to select a site (she said) for a house. Rhodes’s only instruction to Baker in respect of the house was that he should not be ‘mean’. What was found there, however, was an already existing dwelling ‘falling in to dilapidation’, recalled Baker. At this point, I shall put Kipling aside and expand on some Cape Town local history in order to explain the origin of the name of the house which would give the Kipling family a respite from eight English winters.
The house had originally been built by Jacob Eksteen, owner of ‘Zorgvliet’ on whose estate the building stood. The property stretched from the banks of the Liesbeek River to the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak. Its history, like that of ‘Groote Schuur’, went back to the earliest days of the Dutch settlement in the Cape. It was one of the original farms granted in 1657 to the Free Burghers who were to provide food for the rapidly growing settlement and the passing ships that called at the refreshment station. By the mid-19th century its rural character had disappeared. The main road, which passed through the `Zorgvliet’s’ own village of Rosebank and the adjacent villages of what was to become Mowbray, to the north, and Rondebosch, to the south, ran just below the house. By the late 1830s Eksteen (whose family owned many large estates in the Cape Peninsula) found that he was expected to do too much entertaining – and objected to the fact that passers-by were helping themselves to his wine and grapes. He decided to build a second house further up the mountain slopes. The neighbouring village of Mowbray was becoming popular, and new homes were being built there. Eksteen became friendly with one of the owners whom he asked what he was going to call his house. ‘“Wolmunster”’, was the reply. Bearing in mind that ‘wol monster’ is a sample of wool’ in Dutch, Eksteen commented: ‘“If your home is the sample, mine will be the sack from which it comes.”’ So he named his home ‘Woolsack’. The property passed to his younger brother, J.W. Eksteen on his death in 1849. (25) If this story is correct, it explains the origin of the name of the house, which certainly had nothing to do with the judicial bench.
J.W. Eksteen did not live in the house but let it out. In 1865 he leased it to a widow, T.B. Woolls (quite coincidentally). The person signing surety for her was W. Byron Sampson, her son-in-law. The Woolls and Sampsons lived in the house for about seven years. Victor Sampson, a liberal who was disliked by Kipling, and who was later Attorney-General during Jameson’s premiership, described with great affection the happy childhood he and his brother, Aubrey Woolls-Sampson (a South African War hero who added his mother’s maiden name to his surname), had enjoyed at ‘The Woolsack’. This he described as ‘a large, roomy, thatch-roofed house hidden away in thick forests.’ (26) , (27) Eksteen died in 1877, leaving the property to his son, Dirk Gysbert. In 1880 Zorgvliet was destroyed in a great fire. The Eksteen family was farmed out to the homes of family members while additions and repairs to ‘The Woolsack’ were completed. However, Dirk Gysbert lost interest in farming which was becoming increasingly difficult: the Cape was still feeling the effects on its agricultural economy of the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869. Furthermore, his bank failed, phylloxera ravaged his vineyards and his wife died. The estate was sold – broken up in fact. Three portions of the ‘Zorgvliet’ were transferred to Rhodes between 1891 and 1899.
Plans for ‘The Woolsack’ kept Carrie occupied, although she was once more abandoned by her husband. Just over a week after his return from the trip with Rhodes he went off to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State (Republic) which had been captured by the British under Lord Roberts. Kipling was asked to join the editorial team of The Friend, the English language newspaper with decidedly Republican leanings which Roberts had commandeered as a mouthpiece for pro-British sentiment. Kipling described his experiences on The Friend in great detail in Something of myself, as did Julian Ralph, an American also on the editorial team, in his account, War’s brighter side. (28)
Arthur G. Barlow, an English-speaking Free State Republican, was editor of The Friend at the time. He was forced to resign from his position when he refused to co-operate with Roberts. Barlow had this to say about Kipling, who habitually wore a big, flat Boer hat and dirty khaki coat: ‘His strong feature was his big, black, bushy eyebrows. He loved praise and revelled in the spotlight’. (29) He was most complimentary about Kipling’s ability to knuckle down, write copy and read proofs – do anything, in fact, that was required of him. Otherwise, Barlow was far more critical, describing him as an ‘English jingo’. Kipling quite clearly loved the two weeks that he spent working on the newspaper, despite the fact that the English-born compositors (who sympathised with the Republican cause) deliberately sabotaged copy. While in Bloemfontein he had his first experience of military action. He had ‘the time of his life’, he later confided to Dr. Conland in a letter dated 24 July. (30) Carrie had been depressed in his absence, but had been cheered by a visit from Mary Kingsley She had, however, benefited from the vacation and the children were well. He added, sadly: ‘Of course they have forgotten all about Josephine – but every now and then they ask me questions which cut me to the heart’. (31) The pain still felt by both parents at their loss was considerable.
There were many Cape-born colonists, like Merriman, who opposed the South African War and objected to Kipling’s ‘insane ravings’, ‘mischievous rubbish’ and ‘epileptic frenzy’, calling him a ‘modern Tyrtaeus’. (32) The Cape Dutch or Afrikaners, while unwavering in their loyalty to Britain, were antagonised by jingoistic attitudes like Kipling’s, and were beginning to show solidarity with the republicans of the Free State and Transvaal. His influential ‘The sin of witchcraft’, published in The Times and Cape Town’s Mail in March 1900 as ‘The exposure of the Cape population’, further raised the ire of many colonists. In this he described the Afrikaners as ‘men who have befouled the colony’ with ‘deliberate and calculated treason extending over a long period’. (33) He simply did not understand the sentiments of many of the colonists (both English- and Afrikaans-speaking) in respect of the war and the presence of British troops in their country. The Kiplings returned to England late in April, secure in the knowledge that a home awaited them in the Cape – no more need to stay in boarding-houses or hotels.
1900 was generally a good year for Kipling. Kim was finally completed, appearing serially at the end of the year. This was the book which Lord Birkenhead described as ‘enchanting, intensely moving, and authentically great. … He had attempted no such tolerance and understanding before, and he never had so again’. (34) The situation in South Africa was often discussed in correspondence in which he fulminated against the ‘Cape Dutch’ and the Boers, and lent support to the High Commissioner of British South Africa, Sir Alfred Milner’s, plans to encourage British emigration to South Africa. It was also the year in which he was introduced to the motor car. He became an enthusiast and he and Carrie were chauffeur-driven around the English countryside looking for a home. Rhodes, too, was delighted with motor cars, as a child with a new toy, and was one of the first car owners in the Cape.
On Christmas Day 1900 the Kipling family and their usual entourage of servants and governess sailed into Table Bay. They were met by Rhodes’s carriage, and taken to the perfect, fully equipped home awaiting them. Baker had got the ‘The Woolsack’ ready for them during 1900, re-designing the house around an open atrium, until there was very little left visible of the original. This was ideal for the hot, dry Cape summers but as soon as the April rains set in it was necessary to burn pinecones in fires in the open fireplaces. Kipling ‘with his knowledge of good craftsmanship, which was as much intuitive as learnt from his father, took a keen interest in the furnishing of the house’. (35) Trees in which squirrels played surrounded the house. With its teak shutters, windows and doors and thick whitewashed walls, ‘The Woolsack’ was a perfect retreat from the summer heat, and its spacious grounds were a delight for the children who could run around barefoot and hide among the foliage. The white sands and warm waters of Muizenberg were easily accessible. To Carrie, whose health and emotional state began to improve, this was truly paradise.
Close by was Rhodes’s menagerie, a source of enormous wonder for all. Rhodes gave them an abandoned lion cub to rear. This they named Sullivan. Kipling described this experience not only in Something of myself, but also in his correspondence, and in a Just-so stories-style tale, ‘My personal experience with a lion’, first published in The Ladies’ Home Journal in January 1902. In this delightful tale, written with great affection, Carrie appears as a warm, competent, confident (certainly in her ability to save Sullivan’s life), motherly person. The warm relationship that Elsie and John, who appear as Una and Daniel, formed with the cub is wonderfully described, as in: ‘Then he began to play with Daniel and Una – especially Una, who walked all round the garden hugging him until he squeaked, and Daniel used to brush him with a dandy-brush’. The literary references to the relationship between lions and people in the names given to the children is quite charming, and were, of course, used by him again. (36) Sullivan, unfortunately, died shortly after the Kiplings’ departure from ‘The Woolsack’.
Kipling relaxed and often visited ‘Groote Schuur’ which was a fifteen-minute or so walk away through a thickly-wooded glen, past a huge horseshoe-shaped hydrangea bed. Rhodes kept an open house, and was a generous host, even when away. The Kiplings blended well with the other guests such as Milner, Jameson and Baden-Powell. Discussion around Rhodes’s dinner table at this time centred on his proposed scholarships for well-rounded, not just bookish, young colonials. American students, two from each state, were included in this provision, and later, after his meeting with the Kaiser, young Germans too. His intention was that they study at the colleges of Oxford. Rhodes who preferred the company of men, surrounding himself with his ‘lambs’, had always had ‘a quick eye for a likely lad’. (37) He was generally uncomfortable in the company of women, but Carrie Kipling seems to have been a welcome guest. It was she who suggested to Rhodes that he increase his proposed scholarships from £250 to £300. This was something that had been forming in Rhodes’ mind, and all through the 1890s successive wills sketched out proposals for scholarships which would enable him, always fearful of death and very conscious of his own mortality, to be remembered by posterity. And ‘civilise’ the colonial at the same time. His health had been failing over the years, the heart condition that was finally to kill him was very troublesome. A ‘valiant trencherman’, a smoker (like Kipling) and a heavy drinker (although never intoxicated) he seemed to cock a snook at fate and live life to the full. The Kiplings saw a great deal of Rhodes during their first stay at ‘The Woolsack’, probably more than at any other time. He also visited them often, sometimes to discuss his scholarship scheme with Carrie whose general competence he seemed to appreciate. Elsie, in the Epilogue to Lord Carrington’s work, described him as ‘ponderous and silent’, much preferring the company of Leander Starr Jameson, Rhodes’s lieutenant. (38) Just before sailing back to England in the Briton, Kipling wrote to Rhodes, thanking him for making the cottage, ‘perfect in its peace and quiet as anything in this world could offer’, available to them. He added, ‘ [I]t has been horribly lonely since you left. Rather like living in a landscape with half the horizon knocked out.’ (39) Rhodes was away from Cape Town, attending to his Kimberley affairs from March to May. It was not surprising that Baker, looking back at the relationship between Kipling and Rhodes, wrote the following of Kipling: ‘[H]is admiration and reverence for Rhodes and his ideals were immense; and his and Mrs. Kipling’s gratitude to Rhodes for giving them that cottage was apparent to me as an undertone in all they said and did there’. (40)
1901 was an eventful year. A revised Kim was published in book form, he taught Elsie to cycle and he experimented with a camera. All the while the war continued to rage in South Africa. Kipling felt no sympathy for the Boer women and children (and the blacks) who were confined to concentration camps. He tinkered with a scheme for a university for South African women (something he had mentioned to Miss Morton in 1898). He also considered England ‘a stuffy little place mentally and morally physically’, or so he told Rhodes. (41) This view he expressed in ‘The islanders’. Its remarks about ‘flannelled fools’ and ‘muddied oafs’ rankled at a time when British incompetence and unreadiness had allowed the war against the Boers to drag on. Although written late in the year, the poem was published in early January 1902. When he disembarked off Kinfauns Castle on 7 January, he was met by throngs of journalists who wished to question him about the sentiments expressed in the poem. Among them was Edgar Wallace (later to become the author of popular detective and future-war fiction), who in 1898 had met him at the docks with verses parodying ‘Barrackroom-ballads’.
Cape Town was in the grip of a heat wave which was unrelieved by the seasonal, usually cooling (if annoying) southeast wind, affectionately known as the ‘Cape Doctor’. Even ‘The Woolsack’ was hot, and all Kipling could do was to work on some of the Just so stories, no doubt thinking of the lost child to whom they were first told. Elsie recalled that they were first read to her and John at ‘The Woolsack’. They were expected to comment on the stories but never the illustrations. The stories he wrote there were ‘The butterfly that stamped’ and ‘The cat that walked by himself ‘. Capetonians have long held the unconfirmed belief that the tree-lined avenue down which the cat walks in Kipling’s illustration is none other than Newlands Avenue, the second oldest road in the Cape, which runs northwards into the gates of ‘Groote Schuur’.
The Colossus was dying. Even ‘Groote Schuur’ could not give him relief from the heat. Fleeing Cape Town and the pestilential Russian adventuress, Princess Radziwill, he retired to his little cottage at Muizenberg overlooking False Bay. Even there he got no relief from the oppressive heat. He had a hole knocked out of his bedroom wall in the hope that he would not have to fight so desperately for his breath. The ‘clean’ death he longed for was not to be. Kipling called at the cottage and corresponded with Rhodes’ secretary, Philip Jourdan, as to his friend’s condition. Rhodes died on 26 March, not yet forty-nine. His last words were characteristic of his drive to achieve: ‘So little done. So much to do’. Only a few people, including Rudyard Kipling, were permitted to see the body in its Rhodesian teak coffin in the little cottage at the sea. Later the body lay in state for a few days at ‘Groote Schuur’ with thousands of people coming to see it. Then it was conveyed on a train (its ‘maiden’ journey) to World’s View in the Matoppos near Bulawayo for the kind of burial Rhodes had long planned, in a grave hastily hewn out of the rock.
Kipling was too upset to attend the burial. He was consulted about the funeral arrangements and composed some lines which were recited at the private ceremony at ‘Groote Schuur’. He joined the procession which accompanied Rhodes’s coffin from the Houses of Parliament (he had been a Member for twenty-two years until his death) to St. George’s Cathedral, marching in slow time up Adderley Street – Cape Town’s main street – until his muscles ached almost as much as his heart. He found the time to visit ‘Welgelegen’ the other house that Baker had rebuilt on the ‘Groote Schuur’ estate. This was the home of the Currey family, who had known Rhodes since his Kimberley days and had also benefited from Rhodes’s generosity. John Blades Currey, the steward of ‘Groote Schuur’ at the time of Rhodes’s death, and his son, Harry, Rhodes’ private secretary for a time, were well able to talk to Kipling about the dead man.
Rhodes’s death, however, did not end Kipling’s links with ‘The Woolsack’ as he had life tenancy of the house acquired by virtue of a parole grant free of rent. As for ‘Groote Schuur’, the house was bequeathed to the nation as a home for the prime minister of a future federal government of the states of South Africa. This was an act of faith as ever there was one as the will was drawn up in July 1899, eleven years before unification. Until this ‘federation’ was achieved the estate could be used as a park for the people. Rhodes’s will further stated that only buildings for public purposes could be erected on the land.
The Kiplings sailed to England in April, together with the Pater who had been visiting them since February. Carrie’s health and mental state were always a concern. In June 1902 he wrote to Conland: ‘So far I am rejoiced to say that Carrie benefited enormously by the Cape trip. She is better than I have known her in years – happier and less nervous. This cheers me hugely. Another year or two of peace will restore her, I think, to quite her old self.’ (42) South African affairs continued to occupy him. He had intended to return to the Cape in midyear but this trip was cancelled as house hunting kept him and Carrie occupied. When their ‘very own house’, ‘Bateman’s’ was secured, it needed to be prepared for them. Nevertheless, a month later he found the time to recommend Maitland Hall Park, an old friend from his days in India on the Allahabad Pioneer, for the post of editor of the Cape Times, the local morning newspaper. He described in great detail life in Cape Town. ‘It’s a lazy land; given to picnics and junketings on slight provocation and the coloured menials won’t work too hard.’ He added: ‘Jameson will be out before me. He is the man who asked to get you. He represents Rhodes and Rhodes was Africa.’ (43) Park’s contribution to the life of Cape Town was considerable. He served as editor until 1921. A strong advocate of a British connection, Park equally strongly supported English-Afrikaans co-operation, which was to culminate in the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The friendship formed in India grew firmer at the Cape and the Kiplings and Parks used to see much of each other in the following years.
The family returned to Cape Town in January 1903. One of his fellow passengers on the Kildonan Castle wrote an account of the trip to his wife. He observed the following: ‘The Kiplings are very quiet company, their two little ones a boy and a girl are very plainly dressed. The boy is about four years old and is dressed in a woollen knitted costume in which he grubs around all the day and enjoys himself a treat’. (44) John, in fact, was just over five. Miss Morton, writing in 1898 had also commented on the children’s clothes, saying that Carrie did not dress the ‘dear little things nicely’. (45)
For the next six years this was the pattern of the Kiplings’ lives. The family escaped to ‘The Woolsack’ for the English winter, staying at the Cape until the days got colder. The children explored the now familiar ships and had a grand time re-acquainting themselves with the officers, crew and passengers whom they knew well. They participated in shipboard activities, attending concerts, celebrating birthdays and enjoying the company of fellow passengers, either old or new friends. Among these were Abe Bailey (whom Kipling described as a bad enemy, an unscrupulous millionaire), Gwynne, who was later to become editor of the conservative Morning Post, one of Kipling’s favourite papers, and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and their daughters. Kipling, was generally a wonderful fellow passenger, except when his manner was misleading. (46) When not working in a tiny cabin provided for him he entertained the children on board and joined in the fun of a child’s party – sharing out the cake. Herbert Baker recalled how Kipling sat on the deck of a northbound ship and told stories by the hour to his son.
Returning to ‘The Woolsack’ was always a pleasure. Jameson took occupation of ‘Groote Schuur’ after Rhodes’s death, and the Kiplings were frequent guests. Jameson had always been a friend, and often called at ‘The Woolsack’, his visits greatly enjoyed by the children. The adjoining property, further down the slope, belonged to the Strubens of Strubenheim, who were excellent neighbours, providing ‘The Woolsack’ with baskets of fruit. Charles Struben introduced his friend, Captain Craig-Waller of H.M.S. Pelorus to Kipling. This was a ship that Kipling knew well as he had sailed on her twice previously when Edward Bayly, whom he had met in Simon’s Town in 1891, was her captain. Kipling visited the ship and astounded Craig-Waller with his knowledge of the vessel and its crew. (47) He played golf with Jameson, attended the annual dinners of the local Royal Automobile Club, where he could be relied on to make a witty speech, and meetings at Cape Town’s Masonic Lodge. When Joseph Chamberlain came out to tour South Africa in 1902-1903, Kipling attended a garden party and sat at the main table at the dinner held in the distinguished visitor’s honour. The family visited the Baileys in their Baker-designed home, ‘Rust en Vrede’ in Muizenberg, where the children often stayed. A fellow guest recalled: ‘ [W]e bathed, played cricket, and were told stories by Rudyard Kipling, always at his best with young people. He adored his own children.’ (48)
He complained about the wind and the wet, and the Coloured picnickers who littered the lawns around the Belvedere, the old Summer House near ‘The Woolsack’. The children had a fine time when one of Rhodes’s kudu escaped its paddock, ran about the garden and was chased by Nero (the ‘Jumbo’ of Something of myself?). Touring in a motor car around the countryside was a favourite pastime. On occasion he was joined by Jameson, once motoring to Sir Lowry’s Pass which straddles the Hottentots Holland Mountains and offers the visitor an unsurpassed view of the Cape Peninsula. He was a familiar figure on the suburban train, on the streets and in the shops of Cape Town. Once he complained that he could not find his own books in a local bookshop. When Lily Langtry visited Cape Town in 1906 he walked on the mountain with her.
He and Carrie visited Johannesburg where he met Sir Percy FitzPatrick. On one visit he stayed with the FitzPatricks and overheard his host telling his children stories about an heroic dog, Jock. Kipling urged Fitzpatrick to set the stories down in writing, and out of that suggestion came the great South African classic (although now politically incorrect) Jock of the Bushveld, published in 1907. After one such visit up north the Kiplings returned to Cape Town through the Karoo. He described their love for the land in a letter written to that ‘dear old man’, Gwynne, in April 1903: ‘But what a lovely land that Colesberg Naawpoort run is & curiously the wife fell for it too’. Was he thinking of buying some land in the country? He ‘would not build there’, he said, ‘till I know what I am doing for the next two or three years. Besides it isn’t an outright sale and if I ever have a kopje it shall be all mine.’ (49) They visited Kimberley to view Baker’s ‘Honoured Dead’ Memorial for the twenty-seven who died during the siege of Kimberley, for which Kipling had composed some rather uninspiring lines.
His veneration of Rhodes continued. He showed a keen interest in the progress being made in the construction of the Rhodes Memorial, discussing virtually every aspect of its site, design, statues, etc., with Baker, its architect. The Memorial, initiated by the Mayor of Cape Town and funded largely by public subscription, was dedicated in 1912, long after Kipling’s departure from the Cape. He objected to the siting of Rhodes’ north-facing statute (‘your hinterland is there’) which had been placed temporarily in Cape Town’s Public Gardens, rather than at the bottom of the more impressive Government Avenue.
‘The Woolsack’ remained a much-loved retreat and he continued to work there. His working habits were discussed in the popular press: ‘Most of Mr. Kipling’s work of late years has been done in South Africa in the charming old-fashioned cottage on the outskirts of Capetown that was presented to him by the late Mr. Cecil Rhodes.’ (50) The work mentioned here was Puck of Pook’s Hill which began to appear serially in the Strand Magazine in January 1906. Much of this book and of its sequel, Rewards and fairies, was written and researched in Cape Town. Kipling made use of the resources of the then South African Public Library, consulting a 1661 edition of the great 17th century physician and astrologer, Nicholas Culpeper’s The English physician enlarged for his ‘A doctor of medicine’ (Rewards and fairies, 1910). The two children who feature so much in these books – but take second-place to the Sussex countryside and Hogben the hedger – are Dan and Una who were met before in Sullivan’s story.
Kipling was generally gloomy about the political situation in South Africa. ‘Much of the peace of the empire within the next five years will depend upon the turn of events in the Transvaal and the Cape’, he wrote to Sir James Knowles from Bateman’s in May 1905. (51) Although still interested in Cape politics, he turned down a request to stand as a candidate for Jameson’s Progressive Party. He was rather peeved when, because other journalists had complained, he had to justify to Maitland Park why he had sat in the press galleries at the opening of the Colonial Parliament. He was, of course, an accredited correspondent of the London Times. He thought little of the goings-on in the Parliament, generally, writing to a Miss Wilman in July of that year: ‘I am sorry to hear about Adderley Street being blown up but I suppose that one can’t have so much gas in the House of Parliament without its’ leaking out somewhere.’ (52) (One of his concerns was the settlement of good British stock on the land. Although a small group came to South Africa from Sussex, this was something that did not get off the ground. Determined to promote British interests in South Africa, he exhorted Baker: ‘Please for the future in writing or speaking allude to it as British South Africa. I find this annoys them.’ (53)
Then the time came to cut physical ties with South Africa. The situation in the country was difficult, it struggled to recover from a post-war depression. Kipling was unable to support the granting of self-government to the former Republics. He had always mistrusted democratic government, and was generally authoritarian in his attitudes. The autocratic Lord Milner, Governor of the Transvaal and the Orange River colonies, had represented much of what Kipling stood for in South Africa. He was forced out (or so Kipling thought) by the newly-elected Liberals in the British Parliament, largely because of his unpopular policy of bringing indentured Chinese labour into South Africa, and allowing them to be flogged. He cursed the Liberals without acknowledging the iniquities of that scheme, or that the living conditions of the Chinese on the mines were appalling. Or, for that matter, understanding that it was this issue of Chinese labour which politicised the former Boer generals, thereby beginning a new phase in South African politics. Jameson’s Unionist Party had lost the 1908 elections in the Cape and John X. Merriman of the South African Party, who had opposed Rhodes of old, became that colony’s last Prime Minister. Kipling might have appreciated Merriman’s skill as a raconteur, but was disparaging of his politics. The country was rapidly moving towards unification (not federation which was what Rhodes had wanted). The possibility of a Boer General, and a Transvaaler, becoming the first premier of the new country was more than he could bear. Political considerations were prompting the family’s departure from ‘The Woolsack’.
Certainly by the last two visits, South Africa had begun to lose its charm. He complained that they saw no one because there was no one to see. The Kiplings’ lives were busy, but no longer centre stage. One of the visitors received at ‘The Woolsack’ was Stephen Black, the Cape Argus’ court reporter, who had tea with the Kiplings and Rabbi Bender of the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation shortly before their final departure from Cape Town. Black’s meeting with ‘the great, the only Rudyard Kipling’ was one that he never forgot. They discussed journalism (one was born to it, not made) and the future of South African literature. Kipling regretted that no South African had as yet boasted of or described their country. (What of The story of an African farm and Jock of the Bushveld ?) They talked of ‘The Woolsack’. Kipling described it as the most beautiful spot on earth, the Blaauwberg hills his favourite view. Muizenberg, disgracefully neglected, was the world’s finest beach. (54) In view of his imminent departure, the anticipated loss of all of that must have been deeply felt. The last few days in ‘The Woolsack’ were sad ones. Carrie was kept occupied packing up the house (the task made more difficult by incessant rain), too busy to see Mrs. Maitand Park. Kipling thanked Mrs Park for her kindnesses to the children and for a brace of pigeons. (55) They sailed on the familiar Kenilworth Castle where on an earlier voyage Kipling had sat among children and told them his Just so stories.
Discontent with the South African political situation might have been a reason for the Kiplings’ abandonment of ‘The Woolsack’. But it was not the only one. Departure from it in 1908 was inevitable. The country he found to love was his own, or at least a part of it, in the county of Sussex around ‘Bateman’s’, specifically its past. John had entered a boarding-school, St. Aubyns, in 1907, and the long break at the Cape was interfering with his academic progress. Kipling did not, however, relinquish his hold on the house, or his link with Rhodes.
The years away from ‘The Woolsack’ were difficult ones for the Kiplings. His parents died within three months of each other. Kipling felt sorely his father’s loss. Lockwood Kipling had always been his son’s confessor, sounding board, and boon companion. His sister, Trix’s, mental state fluctuated, and war clouds gathered over Europe. A trip to Cairo reminded him of the Karoo and the Cape. He penned what is still considered England’s best-loved poem, ‘If-’, saying in his autobiography that it was inspired by Jameson. Baker, who understood the depths of Kipling’s feelings for Rhodes asked of it: ‘Are we sure, too, that the character of Rhodes as well as that of Jameson was not the inspiration?’ (56)
The war that he had predicted came after all. The poet who had written ‘The absent-minded beggar’ at the start of that other war, a dress-rehearsal for the one that followed it, now espoused politics and beliefs which were unpopular and out of step with the rest of society. The conflagration brought tragedy for many, including the Kiplings. John, destined for the navy from birth, attempted to obtain a commission in the army. He was rejected on account of his age (not yet seventeen) and his poor eyesight. Kipling pulled some strings and the boy, striving to be the soldier and the man of action his father so desired to be himself, was given a commission in the Irish Guards. There was no need for John to enlist. He simply did what was expected of him. Having obtained the required parental consent from his father, he was shipped to France just before his eighteenth birthday. What was to come was inevitable. Here was the sacrifice the Kiplings felt they had to make. Just short of six weeks later, on 27 September 1915, John was among the 20,000 British soldiers lost in the battle of Loos. His body was never found in his parents’ lifetime. Two years later they received confirmation of his death. Kipling was appointed a member of the War Graves Commission, and honoured the memory of his son in five brief entries in his two-volume work The Irish Guards in the Great War. Kipling arranged for a British gardener, employed by the Commission, to sound the Last Post every night in remembrance of his son. This practice continued until the Germans overran Ypres in 1940.
The Kiplings were utterly broken. They retreated behind the laager that Elsie described in Carrington’s work, with Carrie sheltering her husband from the world more and more possessively. Even in fiction she was described as ‘his bossy American wife’. (57) Josephine had died on that last trip to America which she had insisted upon, now John was gone, doing what his father thought was honourable. To add to their sadness, Carrie’s mother died in 1919 in America and the last link with her childhood was broken. Even the possibility of carrying out Rhodes’s vision was not enough for Kipling. After the death of Earl Gray in 1917 Jameson asked him to become a Rhodes Trustee. Rhodes’s scholarship scheme, which had been discussed so long ago by the Founder and Carrie at the Cape had borne fruit and was administered by the Rhodes Trust. Kipling was happy to attend the meetings until he resigned in protest in 1925 against the appointment as Secretary of Philip Kerr, a Liberal, who had served in South Africa as a junior member of Milner’s ‘Kindergarten’ and who had worked assiduously for unification. Kipling refused to reconsider when begged to do so and, in typical fashion, insisted that the Trustees issue a statement of explanation.
In late 1918, just before the cessation of hostilities, Baker sent Kipling notes that he had been preparing for his biography of Rhodes. Kipling told him that he had found them interesting, but of ‘The Woolsack’ he had this to say: ‘I have had a good deal of publicity in my life, and love it not. “The Woolsack” has come to be closely associated with my family life … So I would be grateful if you could cut the note about it down to the fact of your designing it.’ (58) One wonders what it was he objected to. All that was mentioned in the book was: ‘When the Woolsack was nearing completion, he said to me that he had told Rudyard Kipling that he could come out every year and ‘hang up his hat there’. This the Kiplings did for many Cape summers.’ (59)
The war treated the Kiplings and their fellow countrymen hard. He recounted to J. Carruthers (later Sir Jock) Beattie, the first Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the newly established University of Cape Town, the crippling effect that the war had had on the mental heath of the nation. Lady Park, who had been visiting London from the Cape, was in a very vulnerable mental state. This, said Kipling, was not uncommon. (60) A ‘strained brain is not much more than a sprained leg, nowadays in England’, he wrote, adding ‘ though, of course, it would be more of a rarity in country so lightly touched by the War as the Cape has been.’ He could speak from experience, as his own wife was suffering from severe bouts of depression and his sister, Trix Fleming, was struggling with schizophrenia.
Elsie always seemed to come off second-best, not the ‘best beloved’ daughter and not the longed-for son. She married the not entirely suitable George Bambridge, an Irish Guards officer. To the sorrow of all, this marriage was childless. Kipling ‘adored’ children. The presence of grandchildren might have lightened the increasing gloom of his and Carrie’s declining years and would have given him an opportunity to ‘frivol’ more. In fact, Kipling’s dealings with children might well be the basis for a new biography. The last twenty years of their lives were spent obsessively worrying about their health, searching for the sun, complaining about servants and staff, and transferring their affections to animals and – in his case – motor-cars. Naturally he still had rights to ‘The Woolsack’, and although he told Baker that he and Carrie looked forward to returning to it after the war, this visit never took place. (61) . Neither did the one promised to Cape Argus readers on 10 December 1925: ‘Many old friends are sure to be on the quay when Mr. Rudyard Kipling steps on South African soil again’.
Events in South Africa were unfolding that could have altered the situation as regards ‘The Woolsack’. It is not appropriate now to record – except briefly – the convoluted history of the establishment of the University of Cape Town. Rhodes had visited Bloemfontein in 1891 and had noticed how the boys of Grey College, both English- and Afrikaans-speaking studied together in happy harmony. This inspired him to think of building a national university, modelled on his own Oxford College, Oriel, on the slopes of Table Mountain near ‘ Groote Schuur’. Here both ‘races’ of South Africa could mingle together during their student years, thereby laying a foundation for future co-operation. The university would be built out of the profit from the Kafir Compound System of De Beers Diamond Mines, ‘out of the Kafir’s stomach’, he told Baker. (62) . But the plan failed, largely because he deferred to Afrikaner sentiment which was opposed to any idea of union between the Afrikaans-speaking college in Stellenbosch and the English-speaking South African College, long established in Cape Town. This was probably just as well, as the sweat and blood of dispossessed black miners would hardly have been a propitious foundation for a tertiary educational institution. Following this setback and the advent of the South African War he dropped his university scheme and the scholarships took precedence in his mind.
After Rhodes’ death, his former associates, Werner and Beit, provided £500,000 for the creation of a new university for the whole of South Africa, on condition that it would be residential in character, open to English- and Afrikaans-speakers alike, and be launched (at least) by 1916. Another war and considerable obstacles intervened, but finally (following negotiations with the colleges in the other provinces) the University of Cape Town (in which is incorporated the South African College) came into being. In 1916 the Union Parliament passed The University of Cape Town Act which came into force in April 1918. A site had to be selected and as there was some contention about where this would be (Baker was in disagreement), a Rhodes Trustee had to point out that Rhodes had left the ground above the Summer House for that very purpose. A young architect, J.M. Solomon, a protégéé of Baker was appointed. His design, based on Jefferson’s University of Virginia, eschewed the Cape Dutch style that Rhodes had had in mind. Difficulties seemed to be insurmountable, all too much for Solomon. He was staying in the ‘The Woolsack’, made available to him by the Rhodes Trustees, when he committed suicide in August 1920, tragically depressed by his failure to achieve all he had planned because of a lack of funds and the difficulties created by the gradient of the site.
It was too late, however, to halt the work that had already begun, as the University was arising on the mountain. C.P. Walgate, Solomon’s assistant, was appointed in his place. The imposing Jameson Hall built in the early 1930s was partially funded by public donation. It is the centrepiece of the whole university, looking down onto a ranked series of steps and terraces, across the Flats to the suburbs and mountains in the distance. At the bottom of the steps is the statue of Rhodes, erected in 1934, with those words of Kipling on its plinth. This was a donation to the University by the Rhodes Memorial Committee, a reminder of the link between the University and Rhodes. The J.W. Jagger Library, the nucleus of what was to become the University of Cape Town Libraries, stands to the south of ‘Jammie’ Hall. Sir Jock strove to create an academic environment in which young English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites were brought together, as Rhodes had originally envisaged for his university on the ‘Groote Schuur’ estate. Afrikaans-speaking students, however, felt uncomfortable since two symbols of British imperialism were so visibly present on the campus. Students who were not white generally found access to the University difficult.
The Rhodes Trust cast an interested eye over the building on the campus, particularly as regards their conformity with Solomon’s original design (not always with success). In the early 1930s the future of ‘The Woolsack’ appeared on the agenda of meetings at the University and of the Trust. F.B. Phillip, who represented the interests of the old British South Africa Company, occupied the house at the time. Prompted, perhaps, by Kipling’s advancing years, and the fact that on his death the house would revert to the Groote Schuur estate and thus the South African Government, Baker prepared a memorandum sketching out a ‘scheme’ for the future of ‘The Woolsack’, for ultimate submission to the Rhodes Trust, the University and the Department of Education. It explains in some degree what Rhodes had in mind when he instructed Baker to re-build ‘The Woolsack’. Baker wrote:
‘I am very anxious that this public spirited intention of Rhodes should be rewarded while others as well as myself are alive to bear witness, and that some plan should be considered for perpetuating his wishes and generosity to South Africans in the future. I understand that the Groote Schuur Act established Mr. Kipling’s tenancy for his life and he must therefore be consulted as to whether the scheme should operate during his life-time, but in any case it would be wise to formulate a scheme for the future. The scheme suggested is that Rhodes’ words “poets and artists” should be interpreted liberally in “general culture” as I believe he would have wished; it was his way to crystallise great thoughts into few words.’ He continued: ‘As Mr. Kipling has not yet been consulted the subject should be treated as confidential.’ (63)
It was against this background that Kipling was visited by Baker in December 1932. Baker asked him to agree to the use of ‘The Woolsack’ by other writers and artists. Although Kipling was willing to consider this, Baker’s request prompted his anger, and a remark in a letter to the Bambridges that this was a plot to provide “‘ some sort of soft billet for some pet of the Rhodes Trustees – probably a pink Bolshie!’”. (64) Of course, as indicated in Baker’s memorandum, this was not the intention of the Trustees. The selection of the ‘pet’ was to be made on ‘a wide international basis as is done for the Rhodes lecturers now brought annually to Oxford by the Rhodes Trustees’. After Baker’s second approach a month later, Kipling was unbending. Baker, understandably, was annoyed by Kipling’s rejection of his scheme. Kipling’s attitude was quite the antithesis of Rhodes’s generosity to him. It lends credence to Seymour-Smith’s contention that Kipling ‘lacked kindness of heart’, ‘was not good to or about other people’ and, ‘the warmth we know he possessed scarcely ever came across’. (65) In a letter to E.T. Millar Baker repeated what he had recently learnt from Sir James McDonald, Rhodes’s erstwhile business associate: “‘Kipling has always been very sticky about the Woolsack. Between ourselves Rhodes latterly found him rather trying.’” (66)
I have been puzzled by Rhodes’s apparent exasperation with Kipling as recorded as hearsay by Baker. One can only believe it to be true, why should it not be? Why would Rhodes find ‘trying’ a man for whom he provided a home, a train, took on trips, spent time in conversation with, whose company he at times clearly enjoyed? We know from what Baker has said that Kipling venerated Rhodes, but the Rhodes he knew was the older, sicker man, irritable and difficult. His political reputation was in tatters, he had lost his position as Prime Minister of the Cape and, most importantly, his mind was much preoccupied with the fulfilment of his dreams (those of a creative, intuitive nature, thought Baker), and his own failing body. There were two possible areas of conflict between Rhodes and Kipling, one political, the other possibly more emotive.
Rhodes had an affection for South Africans, for the Cape Afrikaners whom he had nurtured for two decades often playing them off against the English-speaking liberals. His loyalty to the Cape, to Cape Town and its mountain was unwavering. The mountain had religious significance for him, he considered it his ‘Church’, where he could be alone with the ‘Alone’. Kipling’s narrow political loyalties did not match those of Rhodes who used men opportunistically, regardless of their political affiliations. Rhodes did not despise liberals, as did Kipling. The Liberal Lord Rosebery was named as the first executor of his final will, drawn up in 1899. There is no mention of Rhodes and Kipling meeting in England after May 1898, yet Rhodes visited England many times before his death. Harry Currey, his one-time secretary who knew him well, if anyone knew him at all, had this to say of him in a letter to his father, John Blades Currey:
“‘He does not want any living man to know him. His life and interests seem mapped out into squares; and the man who is concerned with Square 6 must know nothing of Square 7.’” (67)
Kipling was placed firmly in Rhodes’s Cape Town square. Rhodes certainly might have engineered the South African War, but he had no real understanding of the determination of the Republican Boers to cling to their independence. The War he regretted, and expected to be brief, but he hoped that its final outcome would be a South African federation under British imperialism, with Cape Town as its capital. Kipling, with typical savagery, ‘rooted’ for war.
As for the other reason, Baker, who spent many hours in Rhodes’s company, indicated that Rhodes was very disappointed that Kipling did not write enough that expressed the beauty and grandeur of the country. One must ask oneself, as did J.P. Collins, why, considering his glowing descriptions of ‘The Woolsack’ in Something of myself, he did not write a song of farewell to it. (68) .His letters, somehow, were far more ‘inspired’ than his writing, better expressing the love he felt for Cape Town and the ‘sun and the sea and the thrice blessed vision of Table Mountain’. (69)
He saw so much of the region and its people, yet never commented, for example, on the melodious voices of the Setswana lifted up in song, whom he must have heard while in Kimberley (as did Mark Twain), or the physical grace of the defeated Ndebele. The spaciousness of the land, and its physical beauty impressed him, but very little else of its character and atmosphere. He was less kind to its people, congratulating Milner (in April 1904) on the outbreak of bubonic plague among the Indians in Johannesburg (a surprising remark from a man who had written so sensitively of Indians in Kim, and who, in his early years had loved and been loved by his Indian caregivers). (70) He complained about the lack of industry of the ‘niggers’, and other locals, although he had to make similar complaints about the English labourers who worked on ‘Bateman’s’ in 1902. It is not difficult to understand why E. Barnard Fuller was to write that in Kipling’s ‘later visits he appeared to have developed characteristics which made personal contacts with him difficult.’ (71) . South Africa was a country with a history of only 300 years (or so Kipling told Black). It could not provide him with a sense of the continuity he so evocatively recreated for Sussex in the ‘Puck’ stories. About South Africa he seemed to lack his Elephant’s Child’s ‘’satiable curtiosity’.
I.R.K. Baker noted that South Africa did not inspire Kipling in the true sense of the word. Much of what he wrote could have been written about anywhere. There was no evidence in his writing that he understood ‘the true spirit, aspirations or traditions of the people’, or incorporated in his writings the real atmosphere of the country.’ Through his friendship with Rhodes he was ‘… exceptionally circumstanced with regard to acquiring an intimate knowledge of the inner life, political movements, and social problems of the sub-continent. But his personal friendships and intercourse with South African men of light and leading have … so far, been practically barren of literary results.’ Nothing he wrote about the country was in any way important. (72) This sentiment is echoed, although not so emphatically, in Durbach’s Kipling’s South Africa. What Kipling had to say about its people was often hurtful and insulting. Did Rhodes think that Kipling abused his hospitality by failing to carry out his brief? Was this why Rhodes found him ‘trying’?
Consultations between the interested parties, namely the University, which would assist in the management of the scheme, the Rhodes Trustees and the Government continued, despite Kipling’s reaction. B.K. Long, successor to Sir Maitland Park at the Cape Times, was also present, often functioning as facilitator. Unfortunately, none of the parties could reach agreement on the financing of Baker’s scheme. Kerr, now Lord Lothian, indicated in a letter to Beattie dated 11 January 1935, that if the scheme were unworkable the house should become the official residence of the deputy premier. Jan Christiaan Smuts, a supporter of Rhodes until the Jameson Raid, who had led Boer commandos in the most successful invasions of the Cape during the South African War, was now Minister of Justice and deputy premier. He feared such government control. Baker’s hopes for the ultimate fulfilment of Rhodes’s vision for ‘The Woolsack’ were dashed. On Kipling’s death in January 1936 the house reverted to the South African Government. Its first occupant under the new regime was a former Rhodes Scholar, Jan Hofmeyr, Minister of Finance and Smuts’ right-hand man, and, appropriately, a descendent of the Hofmeyr family, early residents of ‘Groote Schuur’. Baker was relatively happy with this outcome, even if Smuts’s fears were realised. In the house Hofmeyr found the same ‘deep peace’ that Kipling described. For him it was “‘an almost incredibly lovely place’” although utterly miserable in winter. (73) . (He and the University authorities were not so happy when students raided his vineyards in 1943 – shades of Jacob Eksteen!)
And so the house remained a ministerial residence until the 1970s, its last occupant being Hilgard Muller, National Party Minister of Foreign Affairs, also a Rhodes Scholar. The University had received an injection of funds and was expanding. It was offered the property by the Government in exchange for the construction of a ministerial home on the Groote Schuur Estate – a six-figure sum was mentioned. ‘The Woolsack’, in very much the same condition that it was in Kipling’s time, was used initially as the headquarters of the University’s Planning Unit. In the 1980s, when the middle campus development took place, a residence for senior students, funded by a generous donation from the Vice-Chancellor, Harry Oppenheimer, was planned around it. ‘The Woolsack’ remains beautiful (its atrium now covered over) amidst the honey-coloured brick buildings surrounding but not overwhelming it, their design based on a students’ residence at the University of Virginia. This was not exactly what Rhodes and Baker had in mind, but perhaps there will be future South African writers, artists and thinkers, former residents of ‘The Woolsack’, who will remember the beauty of the house and draw inspiration from the grandeur around it. And dream dreams, not of empire but of improving the lot of the inhabitants of southern Africa.
The University’s links with Rhodes continued in its relationship with his financial heirs. The Rhodes Trust had always given assistance where possible, but the De Beers Company and Anglo-American Corporation have been liberal in their support on the principle that Rhodes had started De Beers and had given land for the campus, and they should do more. (74) The late Chancellor, Harry Oppenheimer, chairman of both corporations was particularly generous until his death in August, 2000, donating funds to the University which made possible the re-design and renovation of the J.W. Jagger Library and some of its satellites into one envelope. Appropriately, the main library on the upper campus has been re-named the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library.
And it is to the Library that I now turn, to examine briefly those no less important acts of generosity that link the University once again to Kipling. In 1940 Rene Ferdinand Malan Immelman was appointed University Librarian. The University Library, ever since its establishment, had been struggling to acquire the resources it needed to meet the needs of the academic community. A scholar and a collector in his own right, Immelman, who served as University Librarian for thirty years, was determined to make the library one of which a university at the southern tip of Africa would be proud. He felt that its holdings should not only reflect the needs of undergraduates and the research needs of postgraduates and faculty, but also be representative of universal and cultural developments. He knew that the library would be failing future generations and scholarship generally if its shelves only held those titles required for the teaching programme. Undaunted by financial constraints and an understanding that the Library could not compete with the great university libraries of Europe and America, he used his considerable talents in the field of book selection and acquisition to create the library he wanted. He generously shared his knowledge of books, libraries and local history with other librarians, book collectors and scholars. He also knew the value of donations (even those not directly relevant to the University’s teaching programme), and established good rapport with many book collectors. He was happy to receive anything by donation, and actively sought out collections and their collectors.
One such collector was John Scott Ivan McGregor. Born in London in 1887, he had been a voracious reader all his life. A remarkable man, he served in the Dardanelles as Army Chaplain during the Great War. When sent back to England to recover from a war injury he resigned his commission and re-enlisted as an ordinary soldier, serving in the trenches of the Western Front. After the war, he served the Indian Army Reserve in India for a couple of years. He came to South Africa in 1921, intending to farm – as a remittance man – but money was not forthcoming. He decided to go into teaching, securing a position as English Master at the Potchefstroom Boys’ High School, Potchefstroom being a centre for Christian nationalist education. Thousands of boys passed through his hands: he was an inspired teacher who started the school library, considered to be the best in South Africa in its day, a school museum and an extremely successful dramatic society. He donated over a thousand of his own books to the library and his contribution to the school was considerable. He is still remembered today by descendants of his pupils who have heard their fathers or grandfathers talk of him. He was a dedicated and passionate collector, his first collecting interests being modern English poetry and Lewis Carroll. On retirement in 1947 he moved to a small house in the southern Cape town of George. There was no room for all his books in the house, so he offered his meticulously annotated poetry collection of first editions, private press imprints, fine editions and poetry journals to the University of Cape Town Libraries for the paltry sum of £300, nothing like its real value. Thus began the correspondence between ‘Mr. McGregor’ and ‘Mr. Immelman’, which ended with McGregor’s death in 1969. Immelman was always kind and patient, and despite his professional responsibilities, never failed to respond to McGregor’s letters and concerns.
McGregor’s generosity was boundless. In 1957 he presented the library with his Alice in Wonderland collection, believing that ‘when we reach three score years and ten it is time to put our affairs in order’. He was happy to know that the books that meant so much to him would give pleasure and interest to future generations of young South Africans. His collecting days were not over, however, as after his retirement he began to collect everything he could lay his hands on by or about Rudyard Kipling. He recalled the burgeoning of his interest in Kipling when he was still a schoolboy: ‘I remember my father returning to the Manor House where we lived a mile or two outside Dover and putting a book on the table. It was “Stalky and Co.” and I remember him saying – “I am not sure that it is a suitable book for you to read.” It was a foolish remark, because of course I read it when he was out of the house … That was my first reading of “Stalky” and I suppose I have read it a score of times since then. Perhaps in that year I first thought of a Kipling collection, but it only came to me many years later.’ (75)
Then in 1959 he did something uncharacteristic of most book collectors. His wife fell ill and needed to be moved into the only warm room in the house, the room in which his Kipling Collection was kept. Most book collectors think little of the needs of their wives. He gave up his collection and presented it to the University of Cape Town Libraries, the only condition being that it be housed in its own room. Although that condition was met initially, as the Library grew and developed the Kipling Collection lost its room and was absorbed into the collections of what is now Rare Books & Special Collections, where it is the jewel among them all. There was talk of the Kipling Collection moving to ‘The Woolsack’, but this, although appropriate, was administratively impossible. Thanks to the re-organisation of the University Libraries made possible through Harry Oppenheimer’s generosity, the Kipling Collection has moved back to the ‘old’ J.W. Jagger Library where it has that room of its own.
It is a remarkable collection, more so as it was gathered together by someone with few financial resources. McGregor was the best sort of book collector – a book buyer who had a personal interest in the subject of his collection, as well as knowledge, both specialised and general. These were his characteristics exactly. Intelligence, pertinacity and money are the three requirements necessary in a collector. All he lacked was the last, and yet, on his ‘meagre stipend’ he built up a near complete collection of over 2,000 volumes which included books by and about Kipling, first editions, selections, bibliographies, etc., all meticulously catalogued, analysed and annotated in his neat hand, and those annotations indexed. His knowledge of Kipling’s writings continues to amaze one. A member of the Kipling Society, he corresponded with his fellows and acquired items from them, adding to the collection even after the initial donation. The gift included a full set of the Kipling Journal; over 30 scrapbooks, some of his own, some bought from Col. Millburn, one-time president of the Kipling Society, some bought from Mr. Haines of Dublin; and over 700 folders containing ephemera: pamphlets, photographs, musical settings, etc. – anything that has Kipling’s name or a line of prose or poetry by him mentioned in it. The scrapbooks and folders, too, are meticulously indexed. They are a wonderful resource for a researcher. He devised his own classification scheme and subject headings. The Collection includes the School budget of Horsmonden School, Kent, which contains a letter written by Kipling in Kipling. Quartette, the Indian Railway editions, the Detmold illustrations to The Jungle Books, recipe books that belonged to Kipling’s mother and sister, his sister’s commonplace book, and hundreds of other rare and valuable items.
There is no need for me to describe the collection in any detail: its former curator has already done this in the Kipling Journal. (76) Just a few words need to be added. The collection grows: successive University Librarians have made funds available for the purchase of modern critical works, biographies and rare items (such as the definitive Sussex edition). Some recent titles acquired are Don Randall’s Kipling’s Imperial Boy and Adam Nicholson’s The Hated Wife. During my period as curator we acquired a copy of Kipling’s first book, Departmental Ditties, a ‘little brown baby’ without, unfortunately, the ‘pink string round its stomach’. I recently ordered a copy of the ‘Order of Service’ at Kipling’s funeral. Students and researchers find the Kipling Room a quiet retreat from the usual hubbub of the campus. Additional material has been added to the folders, including an unpublished television script by Renée Durbach, Gentlemen in Khaki, in which some of Kipling’s experiences in South Africa have been dramatised, for example, the incidence with the ‘lunatic’ which Elsie described in Carrington’s book. For researchers (all too few of them) using the collection, it is a joy and delight, as everything that is required is on hand. They should be eternally grateful (as I am) that McGregor was such an ‘obsessive’ collector – I do not use the word pejoratively – and that a past university librarian had the foresight to accept this spectacular gift.
Naturally, Immelman wanted to publicise the collection, so he prepared a pamphlet, The Kipling Collection in the University of Cape Town Library (1961) which contained, quite ingenuously, extracts from the Kipling letters included in the collection. Only 250 copies were printed These were for distribution to universities and other interested bodies. McGregor felt that Elsie Bambridge would want to see this pamphlet, so he sent her a copy, not realising what the consequences of his act of courtesy would be. She had been jealously guarding her father’s work and reputation since his death, as had her mother during his life. Her response, of January 1963, not surprisingly, was: ‘I must, however, protest about the reproduction of my father’s letters’ she wrote. ‘ The copyright of his letters, belongs to me, & and cannot be reproduced without my permission and due acknowledgement being made that this permission has been given. I am surprised that you did not realise this fact.’ (77) This ‘protest’ was repeated by A.P. Watt & Son, Kipling’s literary agent. Reginald Harborn, then president of the Kipling Society was ‘horrified’, calling Elsie and A.P. Watt’s ‘threat’ a ‘bluff’ Immelman’s brochure, never intended for sale or profit, was withdrawn. Learned institutions all over the world were not to know of the vast extent and value of a collection in South Africa which honoured her father. Only after Elsie’s death in 1976 was the necessary permission given to the University Library by the agents for the re-issue of the brochure, and then for limited distribution only. No additional copies could be reproduced without permission. Immelman’s comprehensive brochure was a fitting record of McGregor’s donation: it was regrettable that it could not be given greater exposure. I hope that this conference will be a means of alerting Kipling scholars to its existence. The Collection is one of the finest examples of a personal collection in a South African academic library.
Is Rhodes remembered in South Africa? The names of the countries he created further north were changed. His Rhodesias have become Zimbabwe and Zambia. Rhodes Memorial, the Doric temple dedicated to him on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, at his favourite ‘seat’, from which he would gaze northwards and dream his dreams, draws thousands of visitors. They do not come to honour Rhodes, but rather to visit the monument’s lovely restaurant, and see its magnificent views, since it is the only spot on the mountain from which both False Bay and Table Bay can be seen. It gives hikers access to the pine-covered slopes and rocky crags of the mountain, its heaths having been replaced by exotic grassland. Fallow deer, another exotic introduced by Rhodes to re-create ‘home’ in Africa, graze on its lawns, tame enough to eat from the hands of delighted children. On the walls of the temple itself, below the bust of Rhodes fashioned in the likeness of Titus, the Roman emperor whom he believed he most resembled, are fixed the following words:
The immense and brooding spirit
Shall quicken and control
Living he was the land and dead
His soul shall be her soul.
No acknowledgement is given to the poet. Few would know who wrote those words, or really comprehend in whose honour they were written.
The Rhodes Fruit Farms, now owned by Anglo-American, produce reasonably priced jams which are available on all supermarket shelves. I doubt if their purchasers make the connection. Some South Africans – the privileged few – have been the recipients of Rhodes Scholarships. Whether the Scholarships have produced the great statesmen that the Founder had in mind is debatable. Rhodes Cottage Museum, the little house in Muizenberg where he died, has few visitors. ‘Groote Schuur’ is not as accessible to ‘the people’ as it was years ago. Rhodes’s statue still exhorts passers-by to go north to their hinterland. The University has, however, acknowledged Rhodes’s role in its foundation by naming the campus Post Office ‘Rhodes Gift’.
It is in his generosity to South Africans that some of Rhodes’s many flaws might be redeemed. He gave to the nation the properties he purchased. Few today know that his purchase and gift halted the development of the mountain slopes; or that he was the instigator of a war fought on their country’s soil by the British whose scorched earth policy and concentration camps for women, children and blacks had an overwhelming effect on the South African collective psyche and politics of the 20th century.
And what of Kipling, the man who promoted that war? Few know about or remember him. At least his authorship of the lines on the statue on the campus is acknowledged. His name means little to most students who pass it, unaware that their University Library holds an exceptional Kipling Collection. The collection is promoted as much as possible: conference papers, public lectures to bibliophiles and – where the interest is greatest – to comfortably situated middle-class senior citizens who in their youth were stirred by tales of the jungle and how the elephant got its trunk. A Kipling course is not taught at the university. Kipling is of academic interest (more often among visiting researchers) only as a member of the canon of imperialist literature, the writer of boys’ adventure stories and a delineator of ‘the other’.
Despite all the biographies and the critical works that have been written, his life and his work remain enigmatic, deliberately so: ‘seek not to question other than the books I leave behind’. He was a brilliant wordsmith yet much of his writing is obscure, its meaning hidden in wordplay. Kipling seems to be a man so beset by circumstance and the consequence of poor choices made for or by him. Rhodes, too, although appearing to share confidences easily, showed a different side to his personality at every turn. They kept large parts of their lives concealed in ‘the separate sides’ of their heads, from intimacy and the public gaze, rather like the Masonic Order to which they both belonged. Both their lives, for all they accomplished, seem sad, even tragic on account of the absence of a fulfilled inner life. Cecil Rhodes, for all his many and vast imperfections is a far more fascinating – endearing, even? – personality than is Rudyard Kipling.
Differing attitudes towards Kipling, demonstrating the conundrum that he was, have been expressed on these pages. Comments have ranged from E. Barnard Fuller’s ‘delightful companion’, Olive Schreiner’s ‘lovable little human creature’ and Stephen Black’s ‘the great, the only Rudyard Kipling’, to Fuller’s reconsideration that he was ‘overloaded with a sense of his own superiority’ and Merriman’s view that he was a purveyor of ‘mischievous rubbish’. Then there is Arthur G. Barlow, who wrote of his dealings with Kipling fifty-one years earlier: ‘Before I met Kipling, I was one of his greatest admirers and read all his works – since, I’ve never opened a Kipling book. In the main I looked upon him as an English jingo who came to South Africa and did the English South Africans and the British Empire incalculable harm’. (78) In view of what became of the British Empire, and English South Africans, this harsh judgement has some relevance today.
The British Empire is no more. Out of the ashes of the South African War rose the Union of South Africa, in which the political aspirations of only a small section of the population were accommodated. Two nationalist movements also arose: Afrikaner nationalism represented by the National Party, and the African nationalism of the African National Congress which rules South Africa today. English-speaking South Africans began to lose their political dominance in 1910 and were completely marginalised after 1948 when the Nationalists came to power. Not sufficiently vigorous in their condemnation of apartheid, often compliant, even complacent as regards the repression of blacks and political dissent, they stood apart from political developments in their own country. ‘Groote Schuur’, which Kipling visited often to meet with Rhodes and Jameson became, in 1990, the venue for the first official meeting of the ruling National Party and the African National Congress. The resultant ‘Groote Schuur Minute’ laid the foundation for the South Africa that is the complex, challenging, exasperating, vibrant, exciting country it is today.