Andrew Lang
on Rudyard Kipling

Roger Lancelyn Green noted (in Kipling, The Critical Heritage, Routledge 1971)  that the earliest review in Great Britain yet discovered was in Andrew Lang’s monthly causerie ‘At the Sign of the Ship’ in Longman s Magazine, October 1886. 

Andrew Lang (1844-1912)  poet, scholar, folklorist and essayist, was perhaps the leading literary critic and reviewer in London of the 1880s and 90s.

He encouraged many writers of the day, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Bridges, Walter de la Mare – and Rudyard Kipling.



[October 1886]

There is a special variety of English Vers de Societé, namely the Anglo-Indian species. A quaint and amusing example of this literature has reached me, named Departmental Ditties. The modest author does not give his name. The little book is published in the shape of an official paper, ‘No. 1. of 1886’.

The envelope is the cover. No poem, and this is an excellent arrangement, occupies more than one of the long narrow pages. Would that all poems were as brief. The Radical should read Departmental Ditties and learn how gaily Johns et Cie govern India:


‘Who shall doubt’ the secret hid
Under Cheops’ pyramid,
Was that the contractor ‘did’
Cheops out of several millions?
Or that Joseph’s sudden rise
To Comptroller of Supplies,
Was a fraud of monstrous size
On King Pharaoh’s swart civilians?

Here we learn how Ahasuerus Jenkins, merely because he ‘had a tenor voice of super Santley tone’, became a power in the state.
Very curious is the tale of Jones, who left his newly-wedded bride, and went to the Hurrom Hills above the Afghan border, and whose heliographic messages home were intercepted and interpreted by General Bangs.

With damnatory dash and dot he’d heliographed his wife
Some interesting details of the General’s private life.

On the whole, these are melancholy ditties. Jobs, and posts, and pensions, and the wives of their neighbours appear (if we trust the satirist) to be much coveted by her Majesty’s Oriental civil servants. The story of Giffen, who was broken and disgraced, and saved a whole countryside at the expense of his own life, and who is now worshipped (by the natives) in Bengal, is worthy of Bret Harte.

The Indian poet has kept the best wine to the last, and I like his poem ‘In Spring-time’ so much that (supreme compliment!) I have copied it out here …


[August 1889]

Lang had recently received the six Wheeler’s Railway Library booklets, and was recommending their publication in England to Sampson Low, Marston & Co.

The worst of recommending Mr. Wheeler’s publications, which we do very heartily, is that apparently they are difficult to procure. They appear in paper-covered little volumes; but these volumes are not found on English railway bookstalls. Very little that is so new and so good can be discovered in those shrines of fugitive literature. Mr. Kipling is a new writer, or a writer new to the English as distinct from the Anglo-Indian public. He is so clever, so fresh, and so cynical that he must be young; like other people, he will be kinder to life when he has seen more of it. Clever people usually begin with a little aversion, which is toned down, in life as in love, to a friendly resignation, if it is not toned up to something warmer by longer experience. Mr. Edpling’s least cynical stories are those in In Black and White, studies of native life and character. He is far happier with Afghan homicides and old ford-watchers, and even with fair Lalun, ‘whose profession was the most ancient in the world’, and whose house was built upon the city wall, than with the flirts and fribbles of the hills. His ‘black men’ (as Macaulay would have called them) are excellent men, full of courage, cunning, revenge, and with points of honour of their own. We are more in sympathy with their ancient semi-barbarism than with the inexpensive rank and second-hand fashion of Simla.

An invidious critic might say, and not untruly, that Mr. Kipling has, consciously or unconsciously, formed himself on the model of Mr. Bret Harte. He has something of Mr. Harte’s elliptic and allusive manner, though his grammar is very much better. He has Mr. Harte’s liking for good qualities where they have the charm of the unexpected. Perhaps the similarity is increased by the choice of topics and events on the fringes of alien civilizations. It may also be conjectured that Mr. Kipling is not ignorant of ‘Gyp’s’ works. In any case he has wit, humour, observation; he can tell a story, and he does not always disdain pathos, even when the pathetic is a little too obvious. People will probably expect Mr. Kipling, with all these graces of his, to try his hand at a long novel. We are a nation that likes quantity. But it may very probably turn out that Mr. Kipling is best at short stories and sketches.

Perhaps the most excellent of his tales is ‘Dray Wara Yow Dee’, the confession to an Englishman of a horse-dealer from the Northern frontier. This character, in his cunning and his honesty, his madness of revenge, his love, his misery, his honour, is to our mind a little masterpiece. There is a poetry and a melancholy about the picture which it would be hard, perhaps impossible, to find in more than one or two barbaric or savage portraits from a European hand. His confession must be read; we shall not spoil it by analysis. The ‘Judgment of Dungara’ is as good, in a comic and cynical manner; so is the tale of a ‘sahib, called Yankum Sahib’. Missionaries ought to get the former by heart, and magistrates the latter. ‘Gemini’, the story of Ram Dass and Durga Dass, might make a Radical Indophile laugh, and might teach him a good deal about his clients. ‘In Flood Time’ is a little prose idyll of epical strength; there is something primitive in the adventure and something very sympathetic in the old warder of the ford who tells the tale. The ‘Sending of Dana Da’ is an Icelandic kind of miracle worked on esoteric Buddhists to their confusion and sorrow. The sending wherewith Dana Da vexed Lone Sahib was a sending of kittens, not nice young vivacious kittens, but kittens in their babyhood, and they vexed Lone Sahib sore.

‘On the City Wall’ is the last, and certainly one of the very best, of the stories; the tale of conspiracy, riot, prison-breaking, organized by Lalun the Fair and Wali Dad, ‘a young Mahommedan who was suffering acutely from Education of the English variety, and knew it’. This Wali Dad is as clever a study as that of the Pathan horse thief; his modern melancholy, infidelity, Welt-schmerz, and all the rest of it, leave him at bottom as thorough a Moslem fanatic as ever yelled ‘Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!’ Flow the British soldiers quell a multitude of yelling fanatics, without drawing a bayonet or firing a shot, is pleasant to read. And, at the end of the riot, there we find Agnostic Wali Dad, ‘shoeless, turbanless, and frothing at the mouth; the flesh on his chest bruised and bleeding from the vehemence with which he had smitten himself’. Wherefore we part from Wali Dad respecting him rather more than in his character of educated Unbeliever; for the attitude and actions of the fanatic were more sincere than the sighs and sneers of‘the product’.

On the whole, Mr. Kipling’s Under the Deodars is more conventional and less interesting than his studies of native life. There is comparatively little variety in ‘playing lawn-tennis with the Seventh Commandment’. Mr. Kipling, in his preface, intimates that Anglo-Indian society has other and more seemly diversions. Any persons who wish to see the misery, the seamy, sorry side of irregular love affairs, may turn to ‘The Hill of Illusion’. It is enough to convert a man or woman on the verge of guilt by reminding them that, after all, they will be no happier than they have been, and much less respectable. ‘A Way-side Comedy’ contains a tragedy almost impossible in its absurd and miserable complexity of relations. Only a very small and very remote Anglo-Indian station could have produced this comedy, or tolerated it; and yet what were the wretched men and women to do on this side of suicide? The freaks of Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Mallowe are more commonplace and rather strained in their cleverness. But, on the whole, the two little volumes, with Mr. Kipling’s Departmental Ditties, give the impression that there is a new and enjoyable talent at work in Anglo-Indian literature.


[November 2nd 1889]

A review of Plain Tales from the Hills in the Daily News

‘Who will show us some new thing?’ is the constant demand of criticism. As Jeames grew tired of beef and mutton, and wished that some new animal was invented, so the professional student of contemporary fiction wearies, ungratefully, of the regular wholesome old joints—of the worthy veteran novelists. This fastidiousness has its good side, it gives every beginner a chance of pleasing; but, on the other hand, it tempts people to overestimate an author merely because he is not yet stale and hackneyed, or at least familiar. We know pretty well what the eminent old hands can do, they seldom surprise us agreeably. What the new hand does is likely to have the merit of a surprise. Thus Mr. Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills (Thacker and Co.) take us captive, pretty much as his friend, Private Mulvaney, with twenty-five naked recruits, took the Burmese town of Lungtungpen. It was the dash, the strangeness, and the unexpectedness of Private Mulvaney’s expedition that did the business; the fort was not captured according to the theories of war. Thus we must be more on the watch than the Burmese garrison, and must not surrender at discretion to a literary recruit.

This warning is needful because Mr. Kipling’s tales really are of an extraordinary charm and fascination, not to all readers no doubt, but certainly to many men. His is more a man’s book than a woman’s book. The ‘average’ novel reader, who likes her three stout volumes full of the love affairs of an ordinary young lady in ordinary circumstances, will not care for Mr. Kipling’s brief and lively stories. There is nothing ordinary about them. The very scenes are strange, scenes of Anglo-Indian life, military and official; of native life; of the life of half-castes and Eurasians. The subjects in themselves would be a hindrance and a handicap to most authors, because the general reader is much averse to the study of Indian matters, and is baffled by jhairuns, and khitmatgars, and the rest of it. Nothing but the writer’s unusual vivacity, freshness, wit, and knowledge of things little known—the dreams of opium smokers, the ideas of private soldiers, the passions of Pathans and wild Border tribes, the magic which is yet a living force in India, the loves of secluded native widows, the habits of damsels whose house, like Rahab’s, is on the city wall—-nothing but these qualities keeps the English reader awake and excited. It may safely be said that Plain Tales from the Hills will teach more of India, of our task there, of the various peoples whom we try to rule, than many Blue Books. Here is an unbroken field of actual romance, here are incidents as strange as befall in any city of dream, any Kor or Zu-Vendis, and the incidents are true.

Mr. Kipling’s romances are not all of equal value; far from it. Several of them might indeed be left out with no great loss. But the best are very good indeed. For example, to read ‘The False Dawn’ is to receive quite a new idea of the possibilities of life, and of what some people call ‘the potentialities of passion’. Cut down to the quick, it only tells how a civil servant, in love with one sister, proposed to another in the darkness of a dust storm. But the brief, vivid narrative; the ride to the old tomb in the sultry tropical midnight, ‘the horizon to the north, carrying a faint, dun-coloured feather, the hot wind lashing the orange trees; the wandering, blind night of dust; the lightning spurting like water from a sluice; the human passions breaking forth as wildly as the fire from Heaven; the headlong race in the whirlwind and the gloom; the dust-white, ghostly men and women’— all these make pictures as real as they are strange. ‘I never knew anything so un-English in my life,’ says Mr. Kipling; and well he may. It is more like a story from another world than merely from another continent. A window is opened on the future, and we have a glimpse of what our race may become when our descendants have lived long in alien lands, in changed conditions—for example, in the electric air of South Africa. There will be new and passionate types of character in ‘the lands not yet meted out’.

The natives of India have been dwelling for countless centuries in the region which can make even Englishmen ‘un-English’. Mr. Kipling’s tales of native life are particularly moving and unwonted. Perhaps the very best, the account of a Hindoo and Moslem riot, called ‘On the City Wall’ is not in this volume, and we miss here the Pathan story of love and revenge. But, if anyone wishes to ‘grue’, as
the Ettrick Shepherd has it, to shudder, he may try ‘In the House of Suddhoo’. He will not only be taught to shiver, though the magic employed was a mere imposture, but he will learn more of what uneducated natives believe, than official records and superficial books of travel can tell him. There is nothing approaching it in modern literature, except the Pakeha Maori’s account of a native seance in a Tohun-ga’s hut in New Zealand. The Voice, the twittering, spiritual Voice that flew about the darkness, talking now from the roof, now from the floor, now without, now within, impressed the Pakeha Maori till it said, ‘Give the priest my gun’. Then the English observer began to doubt the genuine nature of the ghost. In the same way when the dead head of the native child spoke as it floated on the brass basin in the haunted house of Suddhoo, the English spectator can hardly help being moved, till the dry lips declare that the fee of the sorcerer must be doubled. ‘Here the mistake from the artistic point of view came in.’ But the tragic consequences came in too, inevitably. Mr. Kipling acts Asmodeus here, and, as it were, lifts the roof from the native house. The roof is only half lifted, with a terrible effect, in the romantic story ‘Beyond the Pale’, the half-told and never-to-be-finished record of an Englishman’s amour with a young native widow. On the other hand, in ‘The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows’, the whole life of a half-caste opium smoker, all the spectacle of will and nerve hopelessly relaxed and ruined, is transparent and masterly. At first three pipes enabled him to see the red and yellow dragons fight on his neighbour’s cap. Now it needs a dozen pipes, and soon he will see their last battle, and slip into another sleep, in ‘The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows’.

The tales of English existence, official and military, are often diverting and witty; occasionally flippant and too rich in slang. Mr. Kipling may have the vivacity of Guy De Maupassant, but he has neither his pessimism, nor, unluckily, the simplicity of his style. There is yet a good deal to be learned by tills born storyteller, and there is always the danger that, with experience and self-restraint, may come timidity and lack of force. The last story of the volume promises, or seems to promise, a novel on a theme quite untouched, the existence of a broken-down Englishman, a white pariah fallen among the dark places of ‘the Serai where the horse-traders live’. These stories, whatever their merits, are an addition to the new exotic literature, of which M. Pierre Loti is the leader in France. They have not M. Loti’s style, nor his romantic gloom and desolation; their defects are a certain knowingness and familiarity, as of one telling a story in a smoking-room rather late in the evening. But that is a very curable fault, and it is natural to expect much from a talent so fresh, facile, and spontaneous, working in a field of such unusual experiences.



An essay by Andrew Lang
Written for Essays in Little Henry & Co., London, 1891


THE wind bloweth where it listeth. But the wind of literary inspiration has rarely shaken the bungalows
of India, as, in the tales of the old Jesuit missionaries, the magical air shook the frail ” medicine tents,” where Huron conjurors practised their mysteries. With a world of romance and of character at their doors, Englishmen in India have seen as if they saw it not. They have been busy in governing, in making war, making peace, building bridges, laying down roads, and writing official reports. Our literature from that continent of our conquest has been sparse indeed, except in the way of biographies, of histories, and of rather local and unintelligible facetiae. Except the novels by the author of ” Tara,” and Sir Henry Cunningham’s brilliant sketches, such as ” Dustypore,” and Sit Alfred Lyall’s poems, we might almost say that India has contributed nothing to our finer literature. That old haunt of history, the wealth of character brought out in that confusion of races, of religions, and the old and new, has been wealth untouched, a treasure-house sealed : those pagoda trees have never been shaken.
At last there comes an Englishman with eyes, with a pen extraordinarily deft, an observation marvellously rapid and keen; and, by good luck, this Englishman has no official duties : he is neither a soldier, nor a judge ; he is merely a man of letters. He has leisure to look around him, he has the power of making us see what he sees ; and, when we have lost India, when some new power is ruling where we ruled, when our empire has followed that of the Moguls, future generations will learn from Mr. Kipling’s works what India was under English sway..

It is one of the surprises of literature that these tiny masterpieces in prose and verse were poured, “as rich men give that care not for their gifts”, into the columns of Anglo-Indian journals. There they were thought clever and ephemeral—part of the chatter of the week. The subjects, no doubt, seemed so familiar, that the strength of the handling, the brilliance of the colour, were scarcely recognised. But Mr. Kipling’s volumes no sooner reached England than the people into whose hands they fell were certain that here were the beginnings of a new literary force. The books had the strangeness, the colour, the variety, the perfume of the East. Thus it is no wonder that Mr. Kipling’s repute grew up as rapidly as the mysterious mango tree of the conjurors. There were critics, of course, ready to say that the thing was merely a trick, and had nothing of the supernatural. That opinion is not likely to hold its ground. Perhaps the most severe of the critics has been a young Scotch gentleman, writing French, and writing it wonderfully well, in a Parisian review. He chose to regard Mr. Kipling as little but an imitator of Bret Harte, deriving his popularity mainly from the novel and exotic character of his subjects. No doubt, if Mr. Kipling has a literary progenitor, it is Mr. Bret Harte.

Among his earlier verses a few are what an imitator of the American might have written in India. But it is a wild judgment which traces Mr. Kipling’s success to his use, for example, of Anglo-Indian phrases and scraps of native dialects. The presence of these elements is among the causes which have made Englishmen think Anglo-Indian literature tediously provincial, and India a bore. Mr. Kipling, on the other hand, makes us regard the continent which was a bore an enchanted land, full of marvels and magic which are real. There has, indeed, arisen a taste for exotic literature : people have become alive to the strangeness and fascination of the world beyond the bounds of Europe and the United States. But that is only because men of imagination and literary skill have been the new conquerors – the Corteses and Balboas of India, Africa, Australia, Japan, and the isles of the southern seas. All such conquerors, whether they write with the polish of M. Pierre Loti, or with the carelessness of Mr. Boldrewood, have, at least, seen new worlds for themselves ; have gone out of the streets of the over-populated lands into the open air ; have sailed and ridden, walked and hunted ; have escaped from the fog and smoke of towns. New strength has come from fresher air into their brains and blood ; hence the novelty
and buoyancy of the stories which they tell. Hence, too, they are rather to be counted among romanticists than realists, however real is the essential truth of their books. They have found so much to see and to record, that they are not tempted to use the microscope, and pore for ever on the minute in character.

A great deal of realism, especially in France attracts because it is novel, because M. Zola and others have also found new worlds to conquer. But certain provinces in those worlds were not unknown to, but were voluntarily neglected by, earlier explorers. They were the ” Bad Lands ” of life and character : surely it is wiser to seek quite new realms than to build mud huts and dunghills on the ” Bad Lands.” Mr. Kipling’s work, like all good work, is both real and romantic. It is real because he sees and feels very swiftly and keenly ; it is romantic, again, because he has a sharp eye for the reality of romance, for the attraction and possibility of adventure, and because he is young. If a reader wants to see petty characters displayed in all their meannesses, if this be realism, surely certain of Mr. Kipling’s painted and frisky matrons are realistic enough. The seamy side of Anglo-Indian life : the intrigues, amorous or semi-political—the slang of people who describe dining as ” mangling garbage “—the ” games of tennis with the seventh commandment “—he has not neglected any of these. Probably the sketches are true enough, and pity ’tis ’tis true : for example, the sketches in “Under the Deodars” and in ” The Gadsbys.” That worthy pair, with their friends, are to myself as unsympathetic, almost, as the characters in ” La Conquête de Plassans.” But Mr. Kipling is too much a true realist to make their selfishness and pettiness unbroken, unceasing. We know that ” Gaddy ” is a brave, modest, and hard-working soldier ; and, when his little silly bride (who prefers being kissed by a man with waxed moustaches) lies near to death, certainly I am nearer to tears than when I am obliged to attend the bed of Little Dombey or of Little Nell. Probably there is a great deal of slangy and unrefined Anglo-Indian society ; and, no doubt, to sketch it in its true colours is not beyond the province of art. At worst it is redeemed, in part, by its constancy in the presence of various perils—from disease, and from ” the bullet flying down the pass.” Mr. Kipling may not be, and very probably is not, a reader of ” Gyp”; but “The Gadsbys,” especially, reads like the work of an Anglo-Indian disciple, trammelled by certain English conventions. The more Pharisaic realists—those of the strictest sect—would probably welcome Mr. Kipling as a younger brother, so far as ” Under the Deodars ” and ” The Gadsbys ” are concerned, if he were not occasionally witty and even flippant, as well as realistic. But, very fortunately, he has not confined his observation to the leisures and pleasures of Simla ; he has looked out also on war and on .sport, on the life of all native tribes and castes ; and has even glanced across the borders of ” The Undiscovered Country.”

Among Mr. Kipling’s discoveries of new kinds of characters, probably the most popular is his invention of the British soldier in India. He avers that he “loves that very strong man, Thomas Atkins “; but his aflection has. not blinded him to the faults of the beloved. Mr. Atkins drinks too much, is too careless a gallant in love, has been educated either too much or too little, and has other faults, partly due, apparently, to recent military organisation, partly to the feverish and unsettled state of the civilised world. But he is still brave, when he is well led ; still loyal, above all, to his ” trusty chum.” Every Englishman must hope that, if Terence Mulvaney did not take the city of Lungtung Pan as described, yet he is ready and willing so to take it. Mr. Mulvaney is as humorous as Micky Free, but more melancholy and more truculent. He has, perhaps, “won his way to the mythical” already, and is not so much a soldier, as an incarnation, not of Krishna, but of many soldierly qualities. On the other hand, Private Ortheris, especially in his frenzy, seems to shew all the truth, and much more than the life of, a photograph. Such, we presume, is the soldier, and such are his experiences and temptations and repentance. But nobody ever dreamed of telling us all this, till Mr. Kipling came. As for the soldier in action, the “Taking of Lungtung Pen,” and the “Drums of the Fore and Aft,” and that other tale of the battle with the Pathans in the gorge, are among the good fights of fiction. They stir the spirit, and they should be distributed (in addition, of course, to the “Soldier’s Pocket Book”) in the ranks of the British army. Mr. Kipling is as well informed about the soldier’s women-kind as about the soldier : about Dinah Shadd as about Terence Mulvaney. Lever never instructed us on these matters : Micky Free, if he loves, rides away; but Terence Mulvaney is true to his old woman. Gallant, loyal, reckless, vain, swaggering, and tender-hearted, Terence Mulvaney, if there were enough of him, “would take St. Petersburg in his drawers.” Can we be too grateful to an author who has extended, as Mr. Kipling in his military sketches has extended, the frontiers of our knowledge and sympathy ?

It is a mere question of individual taste; but, for my own part, had I to make a small selection from Mr. Kipling’s tales, I would include more of his studies in Black than in White, and many of his excursions beyond the probable and natural. It is difficult to have one special favourite in this kind ; but perhaps the story of the two English adventurers among the freemasons of unknown Kafiristan (in the
“Phantom Rickshaw”) would take a very high place. The gas-heated air of the Indian newspaper office is so real, and into it comes a wanderer who has seen new faces of death, and who carries with him a head that has worn a royal crown. The contrasts are of brutal force ; the legend is among the best of such strange fancies. Then there is, in the same volume, “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes,” the most dreadful nightmare of the most awful Bunker in the realms of fancy. This is a very early work ; if nothing else of Mr. Kipling’s existed, his memory might live by it, as does the memory of the American Irishman by the “Diamond Lens.” The sham magic of “In the House of Suddhu” is as terrible as true necromancy could be, and I have a faiblesse for the “Bisara of Pooree” “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” is a realistic version of “The English Opium Eater,” and more powerful by dint of less rhetoric. As for the sketches of native life—for example, “On the City Wall”—to English readers they are no less than revelations. They testify, more even than the military stories, to the author’s swift and certain vision, his certainty in his effects. In brief, Mr. Kipling has conquered worlds, of which, as it were, we knew not the existence.

His faults are so conspicuous, so much on the surface, that they hardly need to be named. They are curiously visible to some readers who are blind to his merits. There is a false air of hardness (quite in contradiction to the sentiment in his tales of childish life); there is a knowing air ; there are mannerisms, such as ” But that is another
story”; there is a display of slang ; there is the too obtrusive knocking of the nail on the head. Everybody can mark these errors ; a few cannot overcome their antipathy, and so lose a great deal of pleasure.

It is impossible to guess how Mr. Kipling will fare if he ventures on one of the usual novels, of the orthodox length. Few men have succeeded both in the conte and the novel. Mr. Bret Harte is limited to the conte ; M. Guy de Maupassant is probably at his best in it. Scott wrote but three or four short tales, and only one of these is a masterpiece. Poe never attempted a novel. Hawthorne is almost alone in his command of both kinds. We can live only in the hope that Mr. Kipling, so skilled in so many species of the conte, so vigorous in so many kinds of verse, will also be triumphant in the novel : though it seems unlikely that its scene can be in England, and though it is certain that a writer who so cuts to the quick will not be happy with the novel’s almost inevitable ” padding.” Mr. Kipling’s longest effort, ” The Light which Failed,” can, perhaps, hardly be considered a test or touchstone of his powers as a novelist. The central interest is not powerful enough ; the characters are not so sympathetic, as are the interest and the characters of his short pieces. Many of these persons we have met so often that they are not mere passing acquaintances, but already find in us the loyalty due to old friends.