Of Birthdays

(notes edited by Philip Holberton, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


A letter from Kipling’s father John Lockwood Kipling, on his birthday, to Edith Plowden, a close family friend, dated ‘Simla, 6 July 1886’, in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex. Pinney notes that it was written in Simla, where RK had just joined his parents and sister.

Ruddy interrupts his scribbling to hand me, with eyes alight, as they are when he has verse-spinning in hand, a sonnet he has made. —Here it is.—[gives text] Pretty, isn’t it?—wanting a little polish and finish perhaps, as first draughts of verses are apt to do. But I object to Ruddy across the table that it is scarcely perfect as a compliment. —Why shouldn’t I have once been young like other people?…. Today has been the boy’s first day in Simla and he has been dashing about making calls. So there may be a touch of fatigue in his sonnet.

It is not collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 326) and Pinney (p. 1811).

The Poem

Despite Lockwood’s comment, this seems a chiselled and mature piece of work. The first lines describe the happiness of the Kiplings, parents and children, reunited in their ‘family square’, when the fledglings of other families have left home. This may be a gift of Fate in compensation for a ‘childhood desolate’—the years from 1871 to 1877 when Kipling and his sister Trix were left as unhappy boarders in Southsea in what he called the ‘House of Desolation’, while their parents went back to India. See Something of Myself pp. 4-17, and the bleak fictionalised account in “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, published two years later.

His father marvels that his babes have grown up, while they wonder whether he could ever have been young.

Rudyard was twenty, and his father forty-nine. Lockwood had looked older than his age since an earlier bout of typhoid fever.


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