First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 23 January 1890. Collected Volume IX, No. 60 of Turn-overs, 1890, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Kipling had been living in Villiers Street, London for three months before this story was first published, after his return to England from India in 1889.
The narrator, who is clearly a successful author, is called upon by a nervous young man, Mr R.H. Hoffer, of about twenty years of age who wants to read his five act tragedy to the narrator. The narrator agrees, and suffers as he expected to do. Then being of a generous disposition, he takes the manuscript and throws it on the fire, before taking Mr Hoffer to a restaurant for a meal.
Three days later, another author calls upon the narrator. During their conversation, it becomes clear that Mr Hoffer is a confidence trickster who has spun the same yarn to the other author just as successfully, although the narrator scored by having burnt the manuscript.
This story is definitely one in which Kipling has taken real events and converted them into a piece of amusing fiction based on the confidences of his cousin Ambrose or ‘Ambo’ Poynter (1867-1923).
Two diary-letters to Mrs Edmonia Hill are the factual sources in which Kipling describes what he has been doing. ( Letters 1 pp.363-365, 369, 370 & 374). For 13 November 1889, he visited his Uncle Ned and Aunt Aggie Poynter:
Young Poynter who insists on regarding me as his father confessor thrust into my hand on leaving his M.S. volume of poems and A FIVE ACT TRAGEDY IN BLANK VERSE! I shall go to heaven for this. Such a queer pathetic written letter accompanied the thing … Acknowledged letter and set myself to study the soul of a young man as revealed in his writings of verse. Never before shown to anyone. You shall know the result tomorrow.
On 14 November he wrote:
Yes, those poems were queer, young Poynter’s I mean, not mine. Most of ’em were translations from the Latin and Greek; and the poor boy had evidently been struggling with religious difficulties thro’ it all—complicated with budding flirtations which, most naturally, plunged him further into the maze of doubt and uncertainty … None the less some of the lines of the boy’s tragedy which is eminently and even stiffly classical, are fine. He seems to have read Shelley and Shakespeare with great diligence and to have not unskilfully borrowed from ’em both … He wants my verdict not so much on his poems as his psychological condition. If I put it down in writing, I shall offend him. I will e’en ask him to dinner—or a pipe—and talk things over—verily the soul of a young man is awful cu’rous.
Kipling records seeing his Poynter relatives several times in early December 1889, including one late session with ‘Ambo’ on 6th.
Then on 21 December, he reports that
This night I entertained an admirer—such a queer young chap sprung from deuce knows where. He’s nineteen and in business but anxious to write. . . Well, I fed him at Salferino [Solferino’s Restaurant] took him to the Empire … and then brought him to my chambers where he told me (a) all his life (b) all his hopes (c) all his love affairs … As he stayed till the last train had gone I had to send him home in a cab.
Not knowing quite when this story was completed, it is difficult to say whether the unnamed admirer is relevant to its gestation or not, but it illustrates the way that Kipling was seen by those who were a few years younger than him. “My Great and Only” was completed on 16 November and printed on 11 and 13 January 1890, whereas this story was printed 12 days later. This suggests that Kipling could well have completed it by the end of November, and thus before the events recorded in the letter to Mrs Hill for the period 3 to 25 December.
©David Page 2007 All rights reserved