Some might think that the obvious retort to the proposition ‘What Rudyard Kipling can do for you’ is ‘Not a lot’. But let’s see. One of my favourite photos of Kipling was taken in October 1923. He stands bareheaded, cleft chin jutting, blurred right hand raised in acknowledgement. The famous eyebrows, so memorably described by Harold Nicolson as ‘curl[ing] up black and furious like the moustache of a Neapolitan tenor’ are much in evidence, but on this occasion are benign rather than furious, because Kipling is smiling broadly. He is smiling broadly because he is at the University of St Andrews to give an address entitled ‘Independence’ to a large audience of students who have recently voted him their new Rector. You can just make out his new gown in the photo and perhaps that blur in his right hand is his new rectorial cap.
Kipling began his St Andrews address with a model example of the late style (elaborate, fastidious, arch) that he used on such public occasions and that can also be heard all over the later stories.
There is no recording of the speech, but his delivery was probably a friendly version of the one he used for his speech to the Society of St George in May 1935, which Siegfried Sassoon heard on the radio and memorably described as ‘like [the voice of] a suave precise professor of military law’.
He began the address like this:
‘The sole revenge that maturity can take upon
youth for the sin of being young is to preach at it. When I was young I
sat and suffered under that dispensation. Now that I am older I propose,
if you, my constituents, will permit me, to hand on the sacred torch of
(After 40 years of university teaching, how I sometimes long to begin a lecture with those words to the receding flotilla of flipped-up lap-top lids.) Kipling then – this is, after all, an address to a predominantly Scottish audience – quotes a stanza from Burns’s ‘Epistle to a Young Friend’ urging the young friend to acquire money, honorably of course:
Not for to hide it in a hedge
Nor for the train attendant, [Did he pause here? Get a laugh?]
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent.
Which, via a few compliments to Scottish thrift, leads him to one of his trademark just-so history lessons, or more accurately just-so prehistory lessons, in which he pretends to reveal the origins of some human attribute: in this case the desire for independence. This builds up through various ingenious, also common-sensical, sub-narratives to the observation that ‘the power of the Tribe over the individual has become more extended, particular, pontifical, and, using the word in both senses,impertinent, than it has been for many generations’ and that owning yourself is ‘based upon the truth that if you have not your own rations you must feed out of your Tribe’s hands: with all that that implies’.
(Yes, I did have to look up ‘impertinent’ in the OED for that double meaning and found that the original sense of the word is ‘irrelevant, intrusive, out of place’ before it came to mean as a consequence ‘insolent, saucy, lacking proper respect’. So, in passing, one of the smaller things Kipling can do for you is increase your vocabulary: a Scottish word like ‘hirpling’, for instance, used in his autobiography and elsewhere, and meaning ‘to hobble’ or ‘walk with a limp’, is particularly useful as one gets older.)
To return to Kipling’s speech, its obvious and stated moral is: ‘At any price that I can pay, let me own myself ’. Useful in its way, but even harder to live up to in our overwhelmingly credit-dependent world. If that advice sounds all too Polonius-like, what about the earlier wryer, more Hamlet-like reflection that:
‘yourself is the only person you can by no possibility get away from in this life, and, it may be, in another. It is worth a little pains and money to do good to him’?
That sounds as though it comes from someone one might really want to listen to, someone who knows about the oppression of the self, someone on close terms with existential doubt and metaphysical uncertainty, someone soon to write of the need to use everyday activities to build a ‘bulkhead ’twixt Despair and the Edge of Nothing’. Independence, as defined by Kipling in his address, can at best only ‘do’ a limited amount of ‘good’ for such a person.
That is Kipling on 10 October at St Andrews. Two days later, he is at University College, Dundee. Here, at a luncheon, he gives a speech entitled ‘The Classics and the Sciences’ to the Council of University College, Dundee. This time he champions the virtues not of independence but of interdependence – a juxtaposition he playfully pretends to find ‘awkward’. ‘As is usual in such a dilemma,’ he observes, ‘I defend myself by the time-honoured formula: “I have nothing to add, and nothing to retract”.’ From there, he proceeds to recommend co-operation between science-based Dundee and classics-based St Andrews, and, no doubt very popularly, speaks in favour of granting Dundee full university status. But, again one of his most interesting remarks goes beyond niceties, university politics, even the classics–science divide. Kipling digresses, though nothing in Kipling is really ever a digression, to a pet theme that for anyone’s work to be ‘any use’ (his own phrase) it needs to ‘take the whole of [you]’, but this all-absorption has the great consequence/disadvantage of cutting you off from other people’s work. This is a fair point about independence and interdependence, but Kipling goes on, more fascinatingly:
‘But there has always been a middle way between the attitude of
Swammerdam, half-crazed at the sight of the marvels his microscope
showed him in a drop of water, shutting his notebook and vowing
such revelations were not to be communicated to mankind; and
of that other extreme of mind which rationalises over phenomena
inexplicable, and because it has given them names would deliver
judgment on the secret springs of life, death, and motive in men.’
Kipling talking about ‘a middle way’: that may, for some, be a bit of a jolt in itself, but is a reminder, if one were necessary, that he was always so much more than that famous 1904 Max Beerbohm cartoon, brilliant, witty and convenient as it is (I apologise if it is so familiar that ‘the sacred torch of boredom’ flares up once more), whose caption underneath reads:
‘Mr Rudyard Kipling takes a bloomin’ day aht, on the blasted ’eath, along with Britannia, ’is gurl’.
This of course parodies Kipling’s use of cockney in poems like ‘Gunga Din’ (‘You may talk o’ gin and beer / When you’re quartered safe out ’ere’ / An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it’) and ‘Tommy Atkins ( ‘I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer, / The publican ’e up and sez, “We serve no redcoats ’ere”’).
The rather languid Britannia in the cartoon is of course Britain. She and the diminutive Kipling have swapped hats, she wearing his bowler, he her war-helmet. Kipling hangs on her arm, blowing his toy trumpet. She seems uninterested in and unimpressed by, his imperial tootings – which at the time probably reflected accurately enough a widespread British indifference towards the British Empire and the recent South African War.
But to return to Swammerdam, whom I confess I had never heard of before and half-thought Kipling might have made up. Not at all: always check your references, as Kipling reminds himself and his reader in his autobiography (good advice which he himself did not always follow, there and elsewhere). Jan Swammerdam was a 17th century entomologist and doctor, who did indeed look through a microscope at nature, particularly insects, before giving up his scientific and medical studies for more spiritual revelations, which is presumably what Kipling implies by the word ‘half-crazed’. Apart from reminding us that Kipling, an avid reader of books like Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, was fascinated by odd and out-of-the-way knowledge, his remarks on Swammerdam confirm that he was already seriously gathering material for one of his greatest late stories, ‘The Eye of Allah’, first published in magazine form in 1926 and collected the same year in Debits and Credits. In this complex, many-layered story set in a medieval English monastery, the ‘Eye’ is a primitive microscope brought back from Spain of his mistress in childbirth into the Magdalene he is creating for a new illuminated manuscript of St Luke’s Gospel. For this, he uses the shapes of micro-organisms which the ‘Eye’ reveals in drops of water to revolutionise his depiction of the devils driven out of the Gadarene swine. The Abbot, while fully appreciating the medical and metaphysical potential of the tiny brave new world revealed by the ‘Eye’, sees the microscope as a discovery before its time and destroys it to save himself and his colleagues from being burnt as heretics.
This is a more complicated clash, you could say, of the desire for independence and the need for interdependence. I had just worked out the connection between this speech and Kipling’s story when, consulting the invaluable on line New Readers’ Guide to Kipling, I found that that Kipling sleuth Lisa Lewis had discovered the link years ago. She had
even usefully added that, on their way back from Scotland in October 1923, Kipling and his wife paid a visit to the ruins of Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, the significance of the visit being that the abbey had a large infirmary and was one of the religious institutions that succumbed to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. My Powerpoints show a modern photograph of the ruins of Fountains Abbey, and a drawing taken from Swammerdam’s The Book of Nature, or the History of Insects which might have offered Kipling a clue to John’s ‘devils’.Another powerpoint shows what New Zealanders call a ‘Claytons portrait’ of Jan Swammerdam – actually a 19th century ‘reconstruction’, deriving
from Hartman Hartmanzoon’s face in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631). (According to the infallible Dr Google, no such contemporary portrait of Swammerdam exists.)
Kipling loved hoaxes, particularly artistic and literary ones; one of his most memorable late stories is about a protracted revenge involving a fake Chaucerian manuscript. And he would, I think, have loved the idea of that ‘Claytons’ portrait of Swammerdam, ‘the portrait you have when you’re not having a portrait’. A relish for the continual oddity and gullibility of human nature, and its desire and need to believe, are two further things Kipling can do for you. He had learnt this desire the hard way, blasted by his traumatic childhood years with the evangelical Mrs Holloway in the ‘House of Desolation’ in Southsea. The consequence of this experience for him was that he desperately desired and needed to
believe in something beyond and above the merely human and so opted disastrously, some (including myself) would say, for the British Empire.
And the British Empire, as Bonamy Dobrée astutely noted many years ago, became the equivalent of Kipling’s ‘Catholic Church’. But this lecture only occasionally veers in the direction of Kipling and imperialism about which so much has been and continues to be written. In passing, however, I shall just reiterate, as others have before me, that Kipling had ‘two / Separate sides to [his] head’, as he put it in ‘The Two-Sided Man’, the poem-epigraph to chapter 8 of Kim.17 To
which I shall add, a point not so often made, that having ‘Two / Separate sides’ does not necessarily mean having these ‘two sides’ in simultaneous operation and in communication with each other. At times, one side of Kipling’s head does seem overly dependent on words ending in ‘ic’. These words would include, but not be restricted to: xenophobic
(‘lesser breeds without the Law’); misogynistic (‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male’); and anti-Semitic: (‘all the course of Time makes clear / To everyone [except the Hun] / It does not pay to interfere / With Cohen from Jerusalem’). But it is important to keep reasserting there is always that other (separate) side. This is the side, for instance, that wrote the light, but not slight, poem ‘We and They’ in Debits and Credits. The final verse shows that Kipling knew all about the ‘other’ and ‘othering’, and the need to see, think and
imagine beyond one’s own culture:
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
That late story about the fake Chaucerian manuscript, ‘Dayspring
Mishandled’, makes the ‘two-sided’ point in a different way. It is a
revenge story, as a number of Kipling’s most adhesive stories are (the
psychological roots going back to his experiences with the Holloways
in Southsea and probably also to his largely suppressed sense of being
abandoned by his adored parents), but in ‘Dayspring Mishandled’ the
desire for revenge is not allowed to succeed, as it is in earlier stories.
In this instance at least, revenge, if reluctantly, must be put aside.
Or revenge can be comically transformed, as at the the beginning of
Kiplings St. Andrews speech, where the inevitable envy the old feel
for the young is turned into a joke shared with his audience. It may
have taken Kipling a lifetime to grasp this imaginatively, but we all find
some lessons harder to learn than others. Of course, to be in the grip of
the need for revenge is itself to be dependent, not independent – as to be
in the grip of prejudice, of whatever kind, is similarly to be dependent.
The desire for independence (to own ourselves), the hold of dependence
(we cannot let go of certain emotions, states of mind, compulsions),
the need for interdependence (to feel positively bonded to others, to
be mutually co-operative) – these are points on the psychic compass
between which Kipling often oscillated in his life, as in his work. And,
in our own ways in our own lives, do we not also swing erratically
between them? ‘Dayspring Mishandled’ might help us here, too, by
reminding us that, for Kipling, it is one’s work, whatever that may be,
that helps to sustain us, and will even, we are told of the obnoxious but
genuinely scholarly Castorley, ‘try to save the soul’19 of us. And so may
friendship: Kipling is a major fictional explorer of this underwritten
subject, and particularly of the sometimes unexpected ties which bring
and hold people together. These ties may derive from a shared appreciation
of someone else’s work (a common theme), of the novels of Jane
Austen (as in ‘The Janeites’), a shared understanding of the harshness
and deprivations of the ordinary soldier in British India (as in the stories
about Mulvaney, Learoyd and Ortheris), or of the ‘Ties of Common
Funk’ (as in ‘The Puzzler’); or, most movingly, the shared journeying in
Kim – which, among much else, is one of the great novels of friendship,
as it is arguably of personal independence within interdependence.20
I was the age of most of that St. Andrews audience when I started
to grasp something of what Kipling might be able to do for me. I was
an English literature student at Trinity College, Oxford. It was the
early 1970s – now a time almost as unimaginably distant as that of
St. Andrews fifty years earlier: long hair, cheese-cloth shirts, a non-
repayable grant, flared trousers, the smell of joss sticks, posters of Che
Guevara and Picasso’s Don Quixote on the walls, The Grateful Dead
and Bowie on the turntable, phrases like ‘really weird’ and ‘far out’
hanging in the air. I had a good degree and no idea what do with myself.
How feckless and lucky that sounds in our own very different economic
times, So I thought I might as well stay on at Oxford and do a B Litt,
a fifty-thousand-word thesis. The only problem was: who or what to
work on? The few people I knew who were doing post-graduate study
in English were either convincing themselves that a minor writer (like
Edward Thomas) had been seriously undervalued or else convincing
themselves of the importance of a minor, but hitherto underexplored,
aspect of a major writer (like corn in Shakespeare).
Ironically, although I really did pick those two examples at random,
it would have shown far more professional nous than I possessed to
pursue either of those options: Edward Thomas’s literary and critical
stock has risen exponentially in the years between, and 2015 saw the
much-publicised claim that one of the figures on the title page of John
Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1598) is in fact
a contemporary portrait of Shakespeare, holding, yes, a stalk of corn.
Initially, I wanted to do a thesis on nineteenth-century children’s
literature. I had recently discovered George MacDonald and thought
he might make a good central figure, but I was soon informed that
children’s literature was not considered an academically respectable
(or even possible) subject. So I thought of Kipling whom I had been
reading on and off since childhood. Various powerful memories resurfaced.
Sprawled, aged nine, on the sofa in my parents’ army flat in Hong
Kong, reading ‘The Spring Running’, the last story in the Second Jungle
Book, and crying because Mowgli was leaving the jungle – and because,
later that evening, I was leaving on a plane back to boarding school in
England. Lounging, aged seventeen, in an English class and confidently
announcing to Mr Curtis: ‘But wasn’t Kipling just a jingoist, sir?’ – sure
that everyone was agreed on that. And Mr Curtis asking me how much
Kipling I had actually read. This, I was forced to admit, was little more
than the Jungle Books, The Just So Stories and a few obvious poems. The
following year Mr Curtis organised a couple of school performances of
some of Kipling’s ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’. I was allocated ‘Tommy’,
which I recited ostentatiously smoking a cigarette – considered rather
daring. Hunched, aged nineteen, after reading my weekly essay to my
tutor (that week Dubliners) and my tutor telling me two things: firstly,
that Joyce had coined the useful adjective ‘scrotum-tightening’ – as in the
phrase ‘the scrotumtightening sea’ – and, secondly, that Joyce admired
Kipling, and that, actually, Kipling was really quite a remarkable writer
though never of course studied at university.
So, three years later, Kipling seemed to fit the bill: he was a children’s
writer and he was not so much minor as totally ignored. I put in
my application, entitled ‘What’s Wrong with Kipling’ with no question
mark, but begging the question. Your application went into a central
pool and was passed round until eventually an interested don would
pick it out and agree to supervise you. Or not. My application remained
unpicked for quite a while. Finally, John Bayley (then at New College)
took me on. His methods of supervision would probably not be thought
appropriate now, though they suited me: minimal contact but pithy
comments in the margin of any written work I sent him.
At the first of our few face-to-face supervisions, Bayley asked me
if I would like coffee. When I nervously said yes, he spooned instant
coffee into a cup and turned on the hot-water tap in the sink. I remember
wondering, as I took a few reluctant sips, whether he was deliberately
echoing an already celebrated Glenda Jackson moment in Sunday
Bloody Sunday (1971). It seemed a plausible theory at the time, but,
looking back, it seems more likely that Bayley, whose culinary and
hospitality practices were famously minimal and idiosyncratic, always
made coffee that way.
Naturally, Bayley knew far more about Kipling than I did and gave
me some useful tips. One was to look for changes between the original
magazine version of a story and the later collected version. Another was
to alter the title of my thesis to the blander but much more capacious ‘The
Range of Kipling’s Short Stories’. I wish I had kept a copy of his annotations.
The one I recall most clearly was about ‘The Brushwood Boy’. In
this 1895 story, Kipling tries to individualise an exemplary subaltern,
George Cottar, by giving him a complex and disturbing dream life. I see
in my thesis that I described the story as ‘an interesting failure’ (which I
still think it is). Here is George back from India on his first leave. He is
returning to his parents’ large country house after a day’s fishing:
The moon was strong, and he took his rod apart, and went home
through well-remembered gaps in the hedges. He fetched a compass
round the house, for, though he might have broken every law of the
establishment every hour, the law of his boyhood was unbreakable:
after fishing you went in by the south garden back-door, cleaned up
in the outer scullery, and did not present yourself to your elders and
your betters till you had washed and changed.21
My comment on this passage is closely based on an annotation of
One of the refreshing revelations in reading Kipling is to find a
writer who is not obsessed with being scrupulously mature in his
attitude to life and is prepared to explore and celebrate the way that
childhood and ‘grown-upness’ coexist in the individual and this
awareness of the persistence of the often very idiosyncratic and
deeply ingrained rituals of adolescence here lights up the story for
That still makes a good point, I think, though it could be more crisply
expressed. It exemplifies another of the things that Kipling can do for
you: to be aware of, and cherish, the continuing presence within you of
older and younger selves. Also the recognition of the abiding nature of
early personal codes and habits. Kipling would have agreed with C.S.
Lewis in this, if nothing else: that growing-up should be more a matter
of adding on than of shedding and discarding.23
Which should lead to a neat segue, but does not. Or perhaps it does.
If the proposition ‘What Rudyard Kipling can do for you’ had been
put to an audience a little over a hundred years ago, shortly before the
outbreak of the First World War, it would very probably have produced
rather different responses. Here is one likely reaction from an already
burgeoning constituency: the boy scouts. Robert Baden-Powell made
prominent use of Kim in his 1908 Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for
Instruction in Good Citizenship. He emphasised, for instance, the invaluable
potential for scouts and for future servants of the Empire of Kim’s
Game, in which Lurgan Sahib, one of Kim’s spy-trainers, teaches the
future agent how to memorise an array of briefly seen objects in minute
detail. Also underlined by Baden-Powell is the potential usefulness for
scouts of Kim’s skill in disguise, both of himself and others, as when he
rescues agent E.23 on the train in chapters 11 and 12 by turning him into
‘an all but naked, ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu’.24
Baden-Powell concludes his summary of the novel by spelling out what
he sees as its future (imperial) usefulness: ‘These and other adventures
of Kim are well worth reading, because they show what valuable work
a boy scout could do for his country if he were sufficiently trained and
So, somehow, back we are with Empire again, that other ‘sacred
torch of boredom’, though Baden-Powell’s idea of what Kipling can
do for you is, I imagine, unlikely to be a popular one now. But, then,
Kipling never did much care for the boy scout and girl guide movements
and the way that Kim and The Jungle Books had been used to supply
names and rituals.26 That said, he understood with absolute clarity that
once you publish you lose control over the uses to which your work can
be put . if not entirely in the present, certainly in the future. The future,
as he observed in ‘Fiction’, his fascinating 1926 speech to the Royal
Literary Society, may well ‘divert’ a writer’s work ‘to ends of which
[he] never dreamed’.27 Which in his own case has proved resoundingly
true. Just to give two examples from dozens: Kipling could never have
dreamed that in the 1990s the left-wing singer-songwriter Billy Bragg
would (approvingly) set to music the words of ‘A Pict Song’ from Puck
of Pook’s Hill nor that, in the 2015 National Theatre production of
Everyman, the senile Kindred, Everyman’s father, would at one point
start automatically spouting ‘If–’:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too ….
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings . nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And,which is more . you’ll be a Man, my son!28
Twenty years ago in a national poll, ‘If–’ was voted the United Kingdom’s
favourite poem. Of the 12,000 votes cast, it received twice as many as
the runner-up. In 1998, after the final of the Football World Cup, the
BBC concluded its televised coverage with an extended sequence of
highlights from the various games to a voice-over of the poem. It is
hard to imagine ‘If–’ drawing so many votes now. Harder to imagine
it featuring as the voiceover to a highlights package of the 2015 Rugby
World Cup (though the famous lines about treating ‘those two imposters’
Triumph and Disaster ‘just the same’ might still have proved useful for
the humiliated England team). All the same, this famous litany of worthy
maxims about growing up must surely still have something to teach us.
I agree it might, but not perhaps what we are all too used to assuming.
(Apologies to anyone who has heard my reading of ‘If–’ before.)29
The problem with the enormous popularity and familiarity ‘If–’
achieved (even Kipling in his autobiography said it had been ‘anthologised
to weariness’ – he should be so lucky) is that the popularity and
familiarity come to enshrine a particular meaning:30 in this case, that the
poem is a check-list of good advice about growing up. This makes the
poem almost impossible to read in any other way. It is like the joke about
the person who went to see Hamlet and came out complaining that the
play was full of quotations. ‘If–’ is somewhat the same, particularly for
older readers, so familiar that you read only what you expect to read.
In fact, it is possible to read the poem differently, and more rewardingly,
if we realise that a prime model for Kipling’s poem is John
Donne’s ‘The Undertaking’, whose final three verses run:
If, as I have, you also do
Virtue in woman see,
And dare love that, and say so too,
And forget the He and She;
And if this love, though placèd so,
From profane men you hide,
Which will no faith on this bestow,
Or, if they do, deride;
Then you have done a braver thing
Than all the Worthies did;
And a braver thence will spring,
Which is, to keep that hid.
All right, you might object, you can see Donne’s verses have the same
structure (if, if, if, leading up to a consequence), but why should we
think this a prime model for Kipling’s poem? Could it not just be coincidence?
It could, except that Kipling was an avid reader of Donne and
had used the final verse of this very poem (slightly misquoted – verify
those references) as an epigraph to ‘William the Conqueror’, a story in
his 1898 collection The Day’s Work. (He later told his cousin Stanley
Baldwin’s younger son Arthur: ‘Donne may or may not catch hold of
you. Anyhow, keep him for a bit and see if he doesn’t affect you later.
Anyway, he will teach you words and tropes and such things.’)32 So,
the supporting evidence is there, but how does Donne’s poem help us
to read ‘If–’ differently? It allows us to see an implied parallel between
the child in Kipling’s poem and the lover in Donne’s, and to see that the
child, like the lover, is faced by a tangle of conditions which are simply
impossible to fulfil. To see, in other words, that, if all of these are the
requirements, no one gets to be ‘a Man’ i.e. an adult; this is the test we
all fail. Which in turn allows us to see Kipling’s lines not as a list of
worthy platitudes, but more as a rueful depiction of the ethical assault
course which confronts the child or young adolescent. And that, surely,
is a very helpful thing for anyone to grasp: as a child, the poem offers
worthy things to aim for; later, we realise that these may be worthy, but
they are, taken together (look at the number), only partially attainable.
More a question of interdependence than independence here, you might
say: if we all face so searching an examination.
But let us end on a less sombre note. Kipling offers other more
straightforward tips – about the writing life, for instance. These are
equally helpful, if we can only follow them. After tea at Bateman’s in
October 1922 (‘home-made blackberry jam’ and ‘piles of home-made
cakes’), Kipling gave the nineteen-year-old future novelist and detective
writer Rupert Croft-Cooke the following advice about literary rivalry:
‘Never look over your shoulder at the other man. Paddle your own
canoe and don’t worry about anyone passing you. Keep going in
your own time. If you’re going to do anything you’ll do it; if not,
watching others succeed only embitters failure. And failure in
writing shouldn’t be bitter ….
‘You’ll get a lot of criticism written and spoken, some of it honest,
some not, some careful, a good deal thoughtless. But remember this.
You and only you who are being criticised will know what is valuable,
what is helpful, whether it is praise or blame. Every now and
then someone will say a thing which stops you in your tracks. “He’s
right”, you’ll say, and be the better for it’.33
There is more independence than interdependence here, I agree. Yet, as
Kipling knew well enough, writing itself can become a kind of drug,
thus creating its own forms of dependence. Furthermore, writing, as
Kipling also knew, is always in some sense a collaborative act between
writer and reader. Not for nothing did he dedicate his autobiography
to ‘My Friends Known and Unknown’.34 So, as I hope I have begun
to suggest, a slightly longer answer to the proposition ‘What Rudyard
Kipling can do for you’ might be: ‘More than you think’.