Edmund Gosse
on Kipling

From the Century Magazine, October 1891


Sir Edmund William Gosse (1849-1928) was  an influential
critic. He was one of the members of the Savile Club who
welcomed Kipling to literary London in the Autumn of 1889.
He introduced him to Wolcott Balestier and,with his wife
and son, was one of the small group of guests at Kipling’s
wedding to Balestier’s sister Caroline in January 1892.



Two years ago there was suddenly revealed to us, no one seems to
remember how, a new star out of the East. Not fewer distinguished
men of letters profess to have ‘discovered’ Mr. Kipling than there were
cities of old in which Homer was born. Yet, in fact, the discovery was
not much more creditable to them than it would be, on a summer night,
to contrive to notice a comet flaring across the sky. Not only was this
new talent robust, brilliant, and self-asserting, but its reception was
prepared for by a unique series of circumstances. The fiction of the
Anglo-Saxon world, in its more intellectual provinces, had become
curiously femininized. Those novel-writers who cared to produce
subtle impressions upon their readers, in England and America, had
become extremely refined in taste and discreet in judgment. People
who were not content to pursue the soul of their next-door neighbor
through all the burrows of self-consciousness had no choice but to
take ship with Mr. Rider Elaggard for the ‘Mountains of the Moon’.
Between excess of psychological analysis and excess of superhuman
romance, there was a great void in the world of Anglo-Saxon fiction.
It is this void which Mr. Kipling, with something less than one hundred
short stories, one novel, and a few poems, has filled by his exotic
realism and his vigorous rendering of unhackneyed experience. His
temperament is eminently masculine, and yet his imagination is strictly
bound by existing laws. The Evarras of the novel had said: ‘Thus gods
arc made,/And whoso makes them otherwise shall die,’ when, behold,
a young man comes up out of India, and makes them quite otherwise,
and lives.

The vulgar trick, however, of depreciating other writers in order
to exalt the favorite of a moment was never less worthy of practice
than it is in the case of the author of Soldiers Three. His relation to his
contemporaries is curiously slight. One living writer there is, indeed,
with whom it is not unnatural to compare him—Pierre Loti. Each of
these men has attracted the attention, and then the almost exaggerated
admiration, of a crowd of readers drawn from every class. Each has
become popular without ceasing to be delightful to the fastidious.
Each is independent of traditional literature, and affects a disdain for
books. Each is a wanderer, a lover of prolonged exile, more at home
among the ancient races of the East than among his own people. Each
describes what he has seen, in short sentences, with highly colored
phrases and local words, little troubled to obey the laws of style if he
can but render an exact impression of what the movement of physical
life has been to himself. Each produces on the reader a peculiar thrill,
a voluptuous and agitating sentiment of intellectual uneasiness, with
the spontaneous art of which he has the secret. Totally unlike in detail,
lludyard Kipling and Pierre Loti have these general qualities in
common, and if we want a literary parallel to the former, the latter is
certainly the only one that we can find. Nor is the attitude of the
French novelist to his sailor friends at all unlike that of the Anglo-
Indian civilian to his soldier chums. To distinguish we must note very
carefully the difference between Mulvaney and monfrere Yves’, it is not
altogether to the advantage of the latter.

The old rhetorical manner of criticism was not meant for the
discussion of such writers as these. The only way in which, as it seems
to me, we can possibly approach them, is by a frank confession of their
personal relation to the feelings of the critic. I will therefore admit that
I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the charm of what Mr. Kipling
writes. From the first moment of my acquaintance with it it has held
me fast. It excites, disturbs, and attracts me; I cannot throw off its
disquieting influence. I admit all that is to be said in its disfavor. I force
myself to see that its occasional cynicism is irritating and strikes a false
note. I acknowledge the broken and jagged style, the noisy newspaper
bustle of the little peremptory sentences, the cheap irony of the satires
on society. Often—but this is chiefly in the earlier stories—I am aware
that there is a good deal too much of the rattle of the piano at some
cafe concert. But when all this is said, what does it amount to? What
but an acknowledgment of the crudity of a strong and rapidly develop-
ing young nature? You cannot expect a creamy smoothness while the
act of vinous fermentation is proceeding.

Wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line;
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betray’d;
Thy generous fruits, though gather’d ere their prime,
Still show a quickness, and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rime. (Dryden)

In the following pages I shall try to explain why the sense of these
shortcomings is altogether buried for me in delighted sympathy and
breathless curiosity. Mr. Kipling does not provoke a critical suspension
of judgment. He is vehement, and sweeps us away with him; he plays
upon a strange and seductive pipe, and we follow him like children.
As I write these sentences, I feel how futile is this attempt to analyse his
gifts, and how greatly I should prefer to throw this paper to the winds,
and listen to the magician himself. I want more and more, like Oliver
Twist. I want all those ‘other stories’; I wish to wander down all those
by-paths that we have seen disappear in the brushwood. If one lay
very still and low by the watch-fire, in the hollow of Ortheris’s great-
coat, one might learn more and more of the inextinguishable sorrows
of Mulvaney. One might be told more of what happened, out of the
moonlight, in the blackness of Amir Nath’s Gully. I want to know how
the palanquin came into Dearsley’s possession, and what became of
Kheni Singh, and whether the seal-cutter did really die in the House of
Suddhoo. I want to know who it is who dances the Haiti Hukk, and
how, and why, and where. I want to know what happened at Jagadhri,
when the Death Bull was painted. I want to know all the things that
Mr. Kipling does not like to tell—to see the devils of the East ‘rioting
as the stallions riot in spring’. It is the strength of this new story-teller
that he re-awakens in us the primitive emotions of curiosity, mystery,
and romance in action. He is the master of a new kind of terrible and
enchanting peepshow, and we crowd around him begging for ‘just
one more look’. When a writer excites and tantalizes us in this way, it
seems a little idle to discuss his style. Let pedants, then, if they will, say
that Mr. Kipling has no style; yet if so, how shall we designate such
passages as this, frequent enough among his more exotic stories?

Come back with me to the north and be among men once more. Come back
when this matter is accomplished and I call for thee. The bloom of the peach
orchards is upon all the valley, and here is only dust and a great stink. There is
a pleasant wind among the mulberry trees, and the streams are bright with
snow-water, and the caravans go up and the caravans go down, and a hundred
fires sparkle in the gut of the pass, and tent-peg answers hammer-nose, and pony
squeals to pony across the drift-smoke of the evening. It is good in the north
now. Come back with me. Let us return to our own people. Come!
The private life of Mr. Rudyard Kipling is not a matter of public
interest, and I should be very unwilling to exploit it, even if I had the
means of doing so. The youngest of living writers should really be
protected for a few years longer against those who chirp and gabble
about the unessential. All that needs to be known, in order to give him
his due chronological place, is that he was born in Bombay in Christ-
mas week, 1865, and that he is therefore only in his twenty-sixth year
yet. The careful student of what he has published will collect from it
the impression that Mr. Kipling was in India at an age when few
European children remain there; that he returned to England for a
brief period; that he began a career on his own account in India at an
unusually early age; that he has led life of extraordinary vicissitude, as
a journalist, as a war correspondent, as a civilian in the wake of the
army; that an insatiable curiosity has led him to shrink from no
experience that might help to solve the strange riddles of Oriental
existence; and that he is distinguished from other active, adventurous,
and inquisitive persons in that his capacious memory retains every
impression that it captures. Beyond this, all that must here be said
about the man is that his stories began to be published—I think about
eight years ago—in local newspapers of India, that his first book of
verse, Departmental Ditties, appeared in 1886, while his prose stories
were not collected from a Lahore journal, of which he was the sub-
editor, until 1888, when a volume of Plain Tales from the Hills appeared
in Calcutta. In the same year six successive pamphlets or thin books
appeared in an ‘Indian Railway Library’, published at Allahabad, under
the titles of Soldiers Three, The Gadsbys, In Black and White, Under the
Deodars, The Phantom Rickshaw, and Wee Willie Winkie. These formed
the literary baggage of Mr. Rudyard Kipling when, in 1889, he came
home to find himself suddenly famous at the age of twenty-three.
Since his arrival in England Mr. Kipling has not been idle. In 1890
he brought out a Christmas annual called The Record of Badalia Herods-
foot, and a short novel, The Light that Failed. Already in 1891 he has
published a fresh collection of tales called (in America) Mine Own
People [Life’s Handicap] and a second miscellany of verses. This is by
no means a complete record of his activity, but it includes the names of
all his important writings. At an age when few future novelists have
yet produced anything at all, Mr. Kipling is already voluminous. It
would be absurd not to acknowledge that a danger lies in this preco-
cious fecundity. It would probably be an excellent thing for every one
concerned if this brilliant youth could be deprived of pens and ink for
a few years and be buried again somewhere in the far East. There
should be a ‘close time’ for authors no less than for seals, and the extra-
ordinary fullness and richness of Mr. Kipling’s work does not com-
pletely reassure us.

The publications which I have named above have not, as a rule, any
structural cohesion. With the exception of Badalia Herodsfoot and The
Light that Failed which deal with phases of London life, their contents
might be thrown together without much loss of relation. The general
mass so formed could then be re-divided into several coherent sections.
It may be remarked that Mr. Kipling’s short stories, of which, as I have
said, we hold nearly a hundred, mainly deal with three or four distinct
classes of Indian life. We may roughly distinguish these as the British
soldier in India, the Anglo-Indian, the Native, and the British child in
India. In the following pages I shall endeavor to characterize his
treatment of these four classes, and finally to say a word about him
as a poet.

There can be no question that the side upon which Mr. Kipling’s
talent has most delicately tickled British curiosity, and British patriot-
ism too, is his revelation of the soldier in India. A great mass of our
countrymen are constantly being drafted out to the East on Indian
service. They serve their time, are recalled, and merge in the mass of
our population; their strange temporary isolation between the civilian
and the native and their practical inability to find public expression for
their feelings make these men—to whom, though we so often forget
it, we owe the maintenance of the English Empire in the East—an
absolutely silent section of the community. Of their officers we may
know something, although ‘A Conference of the Powers’ may per-
haps have awakened us to the fact that we know very little. Still,
people like Tick Boileau and Captain Mafflin of the Duke of Derry’s
Pink Hussars are of ourselves; we meet them before they go out
and when they come back; they marry our sisters and our daughters;
and they lay down the law about India after dinner. Of the private
soldier, on the other hand, of his loves and hates, sorrows and pleasures,
of the way in which the vast, hot, wearisome country and its mysteri-
ous inhabitants strike him, of his attitude towards India, and of the
way in which India treats him, we know, or knew until Mr. Kipling
enlightened us, absolutely nothing. It is not surprising, then, if the
novelty of this portion of his writings has struck ordinary English
readers more than that of any other.

This section of Mr. Kipling’s work occupies the seven tales called
Soldiers Three and a variety of stories scattered through his other books.
In order to make his point of view that of the men themselves, not
spoiled by the presence of superior officers or by social restraint of any
sort, the author takes upon himself the character of an almost silent
young civilian who has gained the warm friendship of three soldiers,
whose intimate companion and chum he becomes. Most of the
military stories, though not all, are told by one of these three, or else
recount their adventures or caprices. Before opening the book called
Soldiers Three, however, the reader will do well to make himself
familiar with the opening pages of a comparatively late story, ‘The
Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney’, in which the characteristics of the
famous three are more clearly defined than elsewhere. Mulvaney, the
Irish giant, who has been the ‘grizzled, tender, and very wise Ulysses’
to successive generations of young and foolish recruits, is a great
creation. He is the father of the craft of arms to his associates; he has
served with various regiments from Bermuda to Halifax; he is ‘old in
war, scarred, reckless, resourceful, and in his pious hours an unequalled
soldier’. Learoyd, the second of these friends, is ‘six-and-a-half feet of
slow-moving, heavy-footed Yorkshireman, born on the wolds, bred
in the dales, and educated chiefly among the carriers’ carts at the back
of York railway-station’. The third is Ortheris, a little man as sharp as
a needle, ‘a fox-terrier of a cockney’, an inveterate poacher and dog-

Of these three strongly contrasted types the first and the third live
in Mr. Kipling’s pages with absolute reality. I must confess that Learoyd
is to me a little shadowy, and even in a late story, ‘On Greenhow Hill’,
which has apparently been written in order to emphasize the outline of
the Yorkshireman, I find myself chiefly interested in the incidental part,
the sharp-shooting of Ortheris. It seems as though Mr. Kipling
required, for the artistic balance of his cycle of stories, a third figure,
and had evolved Learoyd while he observed and created Mulvaney
and Ortheris, nor am I sure that places could not be pointed out where
Learoyd, save for the dialect, melts undistinguishably into an incarna-
tion of Mulvaney. The others are studied from the life, and by an
observer who goes deep below the surface of conduct. How penetrating
the study is, and how clear the diagnosis, may be seen in one or two
stories which lie somewhat outside the popular group. It is no super-
ficial idler among men who has taken down the strange notes on
military hysteria which inspire ‘The Madness of Ortheris’ and ‘In the
Matter of a Private’, while the skill with which the battered giant
Mulvaney, who has been a corporal and then has been reduced for
misconduct, who to the ordinary view and in the eyes of all but the
wisest of his officers is a dissipated blackguard, is made to display the
rapidity, wit, resource, and high moral feeling which he really possesses,
is extraordinary.

We have hitherto had in English literature no portraits of private
soldiers like these, and yet the soldier is an object of interest and of very
real, if vague and inefficient, admiration to his fellow-citizens. Mr.
Thomas Hardy has painted a few excellent soldiers, but in a more
romantic light and a far more pastoral setting. Other studies of this
kind in fiction have either been slight and unsubstantial, or else they
have been, as in the baby-writings of a certain novelist who has enjoyed
popularity for a moment, odious in their sentimental unreality. There
seems to be something essentially volatile about the soldier’s memory.
His life is so monotonous, so hedged in by routine, that he forgets the
details of it as soon as the restraint is removed, or else he looks back
upon it to see it bathed in a fictitious haze of sentiment. The absence of
sentimentality in Mr. Kipling’s version of the soldier’s life in India is
one of its great merits. What romance it assumes under his treatment
is due to the curious contrasts it encourages. We see the ignorant and
raw English youth transplanted, at the very moment when his instincts
begin to develop, into a country where he is divided from everything
which can remind him of his home, where by noon and night, in the
bazaar, in barracks, in the glowing scrub jungle, in the ferny defdes of
the hills, everything he sees and hears and smells and feels produces on
him an unfamiliar and an unwelcome impression. How he behaves
himself under these new circumstances, what code of laws still binds
his conscience, what are his relaxations, and what his observations,
these are the questions which we ask and which Mr. Kipling essays for
the first time to answer.

Among the short stories which Mr. Kipling has dedicated to the
British soldier in India there are a few which excel all the rest as works
of art. I do not think that any one will deny that of this inner selection
none exceeds in skill or originality ‘The Taking of Lungtungpen’.
Those who have not read this little masterpiece have yet before them
the pleasure of becoming acquainted with one of the best short stories
not merely in English but in any language. I do not know how to
praise adequately the technical merit of this little narrative. It possesses
to the full that masculine buoyancy, that power of sustaining an
extremely spirited narrative in a tone appropriate to the action, which
is one of Mr. Kipling’s rare gifts. Its concentration, which never
descends into obscurity, its absolute novelty, its direct and irresistible
appeal to what is young and daring and absurdly splendid, are unsur-
passed. To read it, at all events to admire and enjoy it, is to recover for
a moment a little of that dare-devil quality that lurks somewhere in the
softest and the baldest of us. Only a very young man could have
written it, perhaps, but still more certainly only a young man of

A little less interesting, in a totally different way, is ‘The Daughter of
the Regiment’, with its extraordinarily vivid account of the breaking-
out of cholera in a troop-train. Of ‘The Madness of Ortheris’ I have
already spoken; as a work of art this again seems to me somewhat less
remarkable, because carried out with less completeness. But it would
be hard to find a parallel, of its own class, to ‘The Rout of the White
Hussars’, with its study of the effects of what is believed to be super-
natural on a gathering of young fellows who are absolutely without
fear of any phenomenon of which they comprehend the nature. In a
very late story, ‘The Courting of Dinah Shadd’, Mr. Kipling has shown
that he is able to deal with the humors and matrimonial amours of
India barrack-life just as rapidly, fully, and spiritedly as with the more
serious episodes of a soldier’s career. The scene between Judy Sheehy
and Dinah, as told by Mulvaney in that story, is pure comedy, without
a touch of farce.

On the whole, however, the impression left by Mr. Kipling’s
military stories is one of melancholy. Tommy Atkins, whom the
author knows so well and sympathizes with so truly, is a solitary being
in India. In all these tales I am conscious of the barracks as of an island
in a desolate ocean of sand. All around is the infinite waste of India,
obscure, monotonous, immense, inhabited by black men and pariah
dogs, Pathans and green parrots, kites and crocodiles, and long solitudes
of high grass. The island in this sea is a little collection of young men,
sent out from the remoteness of England to serve ‘the Widder’, and to
help to preserve for her the rich and barbarous empire of the East. This
microcosm of the barracks has its own laws, its own morals, its own
range of emotional sentiment. What these arc the new writer has (not
told us, for that would be a long story) but shown us that he himself
has divined. He has held the door open for a moment, and has revealed
to us a set of very human creations. One thing, at least, the biographer
of Mulvaney and Orthcris has no difficulty in persuading us, namely,
that ‘God in his wisdom has made the heart of the British soldier, who
is very often an unlicked ruffian, as soft as the heart of a little child,
in order that he may believe in and follow his officers into tight and
nasty places.’

The Anglo-Indians with whom Mr. Kipling deals are of two kinds.
I must confess that there is no section of his work which appears to me
so insignificant as that which deals with Indian ‘society’. The eight
talcs which are bound together as The Story of the Gadshys are doubtless
very early productions. I have been told, but I know not whether on
good authority, that they were published before the author was
twenty-one. Judged as the observation of Anglo-Indian life by so
young a boy, they are, it is needless to say, astonishingly clever. Some
pages in them can never, I suppose, come to seem unworthy of later
fame. The conversation in ‘The Tents of Kedar’, where Captain
Gadsby breaks to Mrs. Herriott that he is engaged to be married, and
absolutely darkens her world to her during ‘a Naini Tal dinner for
thirty-five’, is of consummate adroitness. What a ‘Naini Tal1 dinner’
is I have not the slightest conception, but it is evidently something
very sumptuous and public, and if any practised hand of the old social
school could have contrived the thrust and parry under the fire of
seventy critical eyes better than young Mr. Kipling has done, I know
not who that writer is. In quite another way the pathos of the little
bride’s delirium in ‘The Valley of the Shadow’ is of a very high,
almost of the highest, order.

But, as a rule, Mr. Kipling’s ‘society’ Anglo-Indians are not drawn
better than those which other Indian novelists have created for our
diversion. There is a sameness in the type of devouring female, and
though Mr. Kipling devises several names for it, and would fain
persuade us that Mrs. Herriott, and Mrs. Reiver, and Mrs. Hauksbee
possess subtle differences which distinguish them, yet I confess I am
not persuaded. They all—and the Venus Annodomini as well—appear
to me to be the same high-colored, rather ill-bred, not wholly spoiled
professional coquette. Mr. Kipling seems to be too impatient of what
he calls ‘the shiny top-scum stuff people call civilization’ to paint these
ladies very carefully. ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’, in which a hideously
selfish man is made to tell the story of his own cruelty and of his
mechanical remorse, is indeed highly original, but here it is the man,
not the woman, in whom wc are interested. The proposal of marriage
in the dust-storm in ‘False Dawn’, a theatrical, lurid scene, though
scarcely natural, is highly effective. The archery contest in ‘Cupid’s
Arrows’ needs only to be compared with a similar scene in ‘Daniel
Deronda’ to show how much more closely Mr. Kipling keeps his eye
on detail than George Eliot did. But these things are rare in this class
of his stories, and too often the Anglo-Indian social episodes are choppy,
unconvincing, and not very refined.

All is changed when the central figure is a man. Mr. Kipling’s
officials and civilians arc admirably vivid and of an amazing variety.
If any one wishes to know why this new author has been received with
joy and thankfulness by the Anglo-Saxon world, it is really not
necessary for him to go further for a reason than to the moral tale of
‘The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin’. Let the author of that tract
speak for himself.

Every man is entitled to his own religious opinions;
but no man—least of all a junior—has a right to thrust these down other men’s
throats. The government sends out weird civilians now and again; but McGog-
gin was the queerest exported for a long time. He was clever—brilliantly
clever—but his cleverness worked the wrong way. Instead of keeping to the
study of the vernaculars, he had read some books written by a man called
Comte, I think, and a man called Spencer, and a Professor Clifford. [You will
find these books in the Library.] They deal with people’s insides from the point
of view of men who have no stomachs. There was no order against his reading
them, but his mama should have smacked him. … I do not say a word against
this creed. It was made up in town, where there is nothing but machinery and
asphalt and building—all shut in by the fog. . . . But in this country [India],
where you really see humanity—raw, brown, naked humanity—with nothing
between it and the blazing sky, and only the used-up, over-handled earth under-
foot, the notion somehow dies away, and most folk come back to simpler

Those who will not come back to simpler theories are prigs, for
whom the machine-made notion is higher than experience. Now Mr.
Kipling, in his warm way, hates many things, but he hates the prig for
preference. Aurelian McGoggin, better known as the Blastoderm, is a
prig of the over-educated type, and upon him falls the awful calamity
of sudden and complete nerve-collapse. Lieutenant Golightly, in the
story which bears his name, is a prig who values himself for spotless
attire and clockwork precision of manner; he therefore is mauled and
muddied up to his eyes, and then arrested under painfully derogatory
conditions. In ‘Lispeth’ we get the missionary prig, who thinks that
the Indian instincts can be effaced by a veneer of Christianity. Mr.
Kipling hates ‘the sheltered life’. The men he likes are those who have
been thrown out of their depth at an early age, and taught to swim off
a boat. The very remarkable story of‘Thrown Away’ shows the effect
of preparing for India by a life ‘unspotted from the world’ in England;
it is as hopelessly tragic as any in Mr. Kipling’s somewhat grim

Against the regime of the prig Mr. Kipling sets the regime of
Strickland. Over and over again he introduces this mysterious figure,
always with a phrase of extreme approval. Strickland is in the police,
and his power consists in his determination to know the East as the
natives know it. He can pass through the whole of Upper India,
dressed up as a fakir, without attracting the least attention. Sometimes,
as in ‘Beyond the Pale’, he may know too much. But this is an excep-
tion, and personal to himself. Mr. Kipling’s conviction is that this is
the sort of man to pervade India for us, and that one Strickland is
worth a thousand self-conceited civilians. But even below the Indian
prig, because he has at least known India, is the final object of Mr.
Kipling’s loathing, ‘Pagett, M.P.’, the radical English politician who
comes out for four months to set everybody right. His chastisement is
always severe and often comic. But in one very valuable paper, which
Mr. Kipling must not be permitted to leave unreprinted, ‘The
Enlightenments of Pagett, M.P.’, he has dealt elaborately and quite
seriously with this noxious creature. Whether Mr. Kipling is right or
wrong, far be it from me in my ignorance to pretend to know. But his
way of putting these things is persuasive.

Since Mr. Kipling has come back from India he has written about
society ‘of sorts’ in England. Is there not perhaps in him something of
Pagett, M.P., turned inside out? As a delineator of English life, at all
events, he is not yet thoroughly master of his craft. Everything he
writes has vigor and picturesqueness. But ‘The Lamentable Comedy
of Willow Wood’ is the sort of thing that any extremely brilliant
Burman, whose English, if slightly odd, was nevertheless unimpeach-
able, might write of English ladies and gentlemen, having never been
in England. The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot was in every way better,
more truly observed, more credible, more artistic, but yet a little too
cynical and brutal to come straight from life. And last of all there is the
novel of The Light that Failed, with its much-discussed two endings,
its oases of admirable detail in a desert of the undesirable, with its
extremely disagreeable woman, and its far more brutal and detestable
man, presented to us, the precious pair of them, as typical specimens of
English society. I confess that it is The Light that Failed that has wakened
me to the fact that there are limits to this dazzling new talent, the eclat
of which had almost lifted us off our critical feet.
The conception of Strickland would be very tantalizing and incom-
plete if we were not permitted to profit from his wisdom and
experience. But, happily, Mr. Kipling is perfectly willing to take us
below the surface, and to show us glimpses of the secret life of India.
In so doing he puts forth his powers to their fullest extent, and I think
it cannot be doubted that the tales which deal with native manners are
not merely the most curious and interesting which Mr. Kipling has
written, but are also the most fortunately constructed. Every one who
has thought over this writer’s mode of execution will have been struck
with the skill with which his best work is restrained within certain
limits. When inspiration flags with him, indeed, his stories may grow
too long, or fail, as if from languor, before they reach their culmina-
tion. But his best short stories—and among his best wc include the
majority of his native Indian tales—are cast at once, as if in a mould;
nothing can be detached from them without injury. In this consists
his great technical advantage over almost all his English rivals; we
must look to France or to America for stories fashioned in this way. In
several of his tales of Indian manners this skill reaches its highest
because most complicated expression. It may be comparatively easy to
hold within artistic bonds a gentle episode of European amorosity. To
deal, in the same form, but with infinitely greater audacity, with the
muffled passions and mysterious instincts of India, to slur over nothing,
to emphasize nothing, to give in some twenty pages the very spicy
odour of the East, this is marvelous.

Not less than this Mr. Kipling has done in a little group of stories
which I cannot but hold to be the culminating point of his genius so
far. If the remainder of his writings were swept away, posterity would
be able to reconstruct its Rudyard Kipling from ‘Without Benefit of
Clergy’, ‘The Man who Would be King’, ‘The Strange Ride of
Morrowbie Jukes’, and ‘Beyond the Pale’. More than that, if all record
of Indian habits had been destroyed, much might be conjectured from
them of the pathos, the splendor, the cruelty, and the mystery of India.
From ‘The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows’ more is to be gleaned of the
real action of opium-smoking, and the causes of that indulgence, than
from many sapient debates in the British House of Commons. We
come very close to the confines of the moonlight-colored world of
magic in ‘The Bisara of Pooree’. For pure horror and for the hopeless
impenetrability of the native conscience there is ‘The Recrudescence of
Imray’. In a revel of color and shadow, at the close of the audacious
and Lucianic story of‘The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney’, we peep
for a moment into the mystery of ‘a big queen’s praying at Benares’.
Admirable, too, are the stories which deal with the results of attempts
made to melt the Asiatic and the European into one. The red-headed
Irish-Thibetan who makes the king’s life a burden to him in the
fantastic story of ‘Namgay Doola’ represents one extremity of this
chain of grotesque Eurasians: Michele D’Cruze, the wretched little
black police inspector, with a drop of white blood in his body, who
wakes up to energetic action at one supreme moment of his life, is at
the other. The relapse of the converted Indian is a favorite theme
with this cynical observer of human nature. It is depicted in ‘The
Judgment of Dungara’, with a rattling humor worthy of Lever,
where the whole mission, clad in white garments woven of the
scorpion nettle, go mad with fire and plunge into the river, while the
trumpet of the god bellows triumphantly from the hills. In ‘Lispeth’
we have a study—much less skilfully worked out, however—of the
Indian woman carefully Christianized from childhood reverting at
once to heathenism when her passions reach maturity.

The lover of good literature, however, is likely to come back to the
four stories which we named first in this section. They are the very
flower of Mr. Kipling’s work up to the present moment, and on these
we base our highest expectations for his future. ‘Without Benefit of
Clergy’ is a study of the Indian woman as wife and mother, uncove-
nanted wife of the English civilian and mother of his son. The tremulous
passion of Ameera, her hopes, her fears, and her agonies of disappoint-
ment, combine to form by far the most tender page which Mr.
Kipling has written. For pure beauty the scene where Holden, Ameera,
and the baby count the stars on the housetop for Tota’s horoscope is
so characteristic that, although itis too long to quote in full, its opening
paragraph must here be given as a specimen of Mr. Kipling’s style in
this class of work.

Ameera climbed the narrow staircase that led to the flat roof. The child, placid
and unwinking, lay in the hollow of her right arm, gorgeous in silver-fringed
muslin, with a small skull-cap on his head. Ameera wore all that she valued
most. The diamond nose-stud that takes the place of the Western patch in
drawing attention to the curve of the nostril, the gold ornament in the center
of the forehead studded with tallow-drop emeralds and flawed rubies, the heavy
circlet of beaten gold that was fastened round her neck by the softness of the
pure metal, and the clinking curb-patterned silver anklets hanging low over the
rosy ankle-bones. She was dressed in jade-green muslin, as befitted a daughter
of the Faith, and from shoulder to elbow and elbow to wrist ran bracelets of
silver tied with floss silk; frail glass bangles slipped over the wrist in proof of the
slenderness of the hand, and certain heavy gold bracelets that had no part in her
country’s ornaments, but, since they were Holden’s gifts, and fastened with a
cunning European snap, delighted her immensely. They sat down by the low
white parapet of the roof, overlooking the city and its light.

What tragedy was in store for the gentle astrologer, or in what
darkness of waters the story ends, it is needless to repeat here.
In ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’ a civil engineer stumbles
by chance on a ghastly city of the dead who do not die, trapped into it,
down walls of shifting sand, on the same principle as the ant-lion
secures its prey, the parallel being so close that one half suspects Mr.
Kipling of having invented a human analogy to the myrmeleon. The
abominable settlement of living dead men is so vividly described, and
the wonders of it are so calmly, and, as it were, so temperately dis-
cussed, that no one who possesses the happy gift of believing can fail
to be persuaded of the truth of the tale. The character of Gunga Dass,
a Deccanee Brahmin whom Jukes finds in this reeking village, and
who, reduced to the bare elements of life, preserves a little, though
exceedingly little, of his old traditional obsequiousness, is an admirable
study. But all such considerations are lost, as we read the story first, in
the overwhelming and Poe-like horror of the situation and the extreme
novelty of the conception.

A still higher place, however, I am inclined to claim for the daring
invention of ‘The Man who Would be King’. This is a longer story
than is usual with Mr. Kipling, and it depends for its effect, not upon
any epigrammatic surprise or extravagant denouement of the intrigue,
but on an imaginative effort brilliantly sustained through a detailed
succession of events. Two ignorant and disreputable Englishmen,
exiles from social life, determine to have done with the sordid struggle,
and to close with a try for nothing less than empire. They are seen by
the journalist who narrates the story to disappear northward from the
Kumharsan Serai disguised as a mad priest and his servant starting to
sell whirligigs to the Ameer of Kabul. Two years later there stumbles
into the newspaper office a human creature bent into a circle, and
moving his feet one over the other like a bear. This is the surviving
adventurer, who, half dead and half dazed, is roused by doses of raw
whisky into a condition which permits him to unravel the squalid and
splendid chronicle of adventures beyond the utmost rim of mountains,
adventures on the veritable throne of Kafiristan. The tale is recounted
with great skill as from the lips of the dying king. At first, to give the
needful impression of his faint, bewildered state, he mixes up his
narrative, whimpers, forgets, and repeats his phrases; but by the time
the curiosity of the reader is fully arrested, the tale has become limpid
and straightforward enough. When it has to be drawn to a close, the
symptoms of aphasia and brain-lesion are repeated. This story is con-
ceived and conducted in the finest spirit of an artist. It is strange to the
verge of being incredible, but it never outrages possibility, and the
severe moderation of the author preserves our credence throughout.
It is in these Indian stories that Mr. Kipling displays more than
anywhere else the accuracy of his eye and the retentiveness of his
memory. No detail escapes him, and, without seeming to emphasize
the fact, he is always giving an exact feature where those who are in
possession of fewer facts or who see less vividly are satisfied with a
shrewd generality.

In Mr. Kipling’s first volume there was one story which struck quite
a different note from all the others, and gave promise of a new deline-
ator of children. ‘Tods’ Amendment’, which is a curiously constructed
piece of work, is in itself a political allegory. It is to be noticed that when
he warms to his theme the author puts aside the trifling fact that Tods
is an infant of six summers, and makes him give a clear statement of
collated native opinion worthy of a barrister in ample practice. What
led to the story, one sees without difficulty, was the wish to emphasize
the fact that unless the Indian government humbles itself, and becomes
like Tods, it can never legislate with efficiency, because it never can
tell what all thejhampcmis and saises in the bazaar really wish for. If this
were all, Mr. Kipling in creating Tods would have shown no more
real acquaintance with children than other political allegorists have
shown with sylphs or Chinese philosophers. But Mr. Kipling is always
an artist, and in order to make a setting for his child-professor of
jurisprudence, he invented a really convincing and delightful world of
conquering infancy. Tods, who lives up at Simla with Tods’ mama,
and knows everybody, is ‘an utterly fearless young pagan’, who
pursues his favorite kid even into the sacred presence of the Supreme
Legislative Council, and is on terms of equally well-bred familiarity
with the Viceroy and with Futteh Khan, the villainous loafer kbit from

To prove that ‘Tods’ Amendment’ was not an accident, and also,
perhaps, to show that he could write about children purely and simply,
without any afterthought of allegory, he brought out, as the sixth
instalment of the ‘Indian Railway Library’, a little volume entirely
devoted to child-life. Of the four stories contained in this book one is
among the finest productions of its author, while two others are very
good indeed. There are also, of course, the children in The Light that
Failed, although they are too closely copied from the author’s previous
creations in ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’; and in other writings of his
children take a position sufficiently prominent to justify us in con-
sidering this as one of the main divisions of his work.
In his preface to Wee Willie Winkie Mr. Kipling has sketched for us
the attitude which he adopts towards babies. ‘Only women,’ he says,
but we may doubt if he means it, ‘understand children thoroughly;
but if a mere man keeps very quiet, and humbles himself properly,
and refrains from talking down to his superiors, the children will
sometimes be good to him, and let him see what they think about the
world.’ This is a curious form of expression, and suggests the naturalist
more than the lover of children. So might we conceive a successful
zoologist describing the way to note the habits of wild animals and
birds, by keeping very quiet, and lying low in the grass, and refraining
from making sudden noises. This is, indeed, the note by which we
may distinguish Mr. Kipling from such true lovers of childhood as
Mrs. Ewing. He has no very strong emotion in the matter, but he
patiently and carefully collects data, partly out of his own faithful and
capacious personal memory, partly out of what he observes.
The Tods type he would probably insist that he has observed. A
finer and more highly developed specimen of it is given in Wee Willie
Winkie, the hero of which is a noble infant of overpowering vitality,
who has to be put under military discipline to keep him in any sort of
domestic order, and who, while suffering under two days’ confine-
ment to barracks (the house and veranda), saves the life of a headstrong
girl. The way in which Wee Willie Winkie—who is of Mr. Kipling’s
favorite age, six—does this is at once wholly delightful and a terrible
strain to credence. The baby sees Miss Allardyce cross the river, which
he has always been forbidden to do, because the river is the frontier,
and beyond it are bad men, goblins, Afghans, and the like. He feels
that she is in danger, he breaks mutinously out of barracks on his pony
and follows her, and when she has an accident, and is surrounded by
twenty hill-men, he saves her by his spirit and by his complicated
display of resource. To criticize this story, which is told with infinite
zest and picturesqueness, seems merely priggish. Yet it is contrary to
Mr. Kipling’s whole intellectual attitude to suppose him capable of
writing what he knows to be supernatural romance. We have therefore
to suppose that in India infants ‘of the dominant race’ are so highly
developed at six, physically and intellectually, as to be able to ride
hard, alone, across a difficult river, and up pathless hilly country, to
contrive a plan for succoring a hapless lady, and to hold a little
regiment of savages at bay by mere force of eye. If Wee Willie Winkie
had been twelve instead of six, the feat would have been just possible.
But then the romantic contrast between the baby and his virile deeds
would not have been nearly so piquant. In all this Mr. Kipling, led
away by sentiment and a false ideal, is not quite the honest craftsman
that he should be.

But when, instead of romancing and creating, he is content to observe
children, he is excellent in this as in other branches of careful natural
history. But the children he observes, are, or we much misjudge him,
himself. ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ is a strange compound of work at
first and second hand. Aunty Rosa (delightfully known, without a
suspicion of supposed relationship, as ‘Anti-rosa’), the Mrs. Squeers of
the Rocklington lodgings, is a sub-Dickensian creature, tricked out
with a few touches of reality, but mainly a survival of early literary
hatreds. The boy Harry and the soft little sister of Punch are rather
shadowy. But Punch lives with an intense vitality, and here, without
any indiscretion, we may be sure that Mr. Kipling has looked inside
his own heart and drawn from memory. Nothing in the autobiographies
of their childhood by Tolstoi and Pierre Loti, nothing in Mr. R. L.
Stevenson’s ‘Child’s Garden of Verses’, is more valuable as a record of
the development of childhood than the account of how Punch learned
to read, moved by curiosity to know what the ‘falchion’ was with
which the German man split the Griffin open. Very nice, also, is the
reference to the mysterious rune, called ‘Sonny, my Soul’,1 with which
mama used to sing Punch to sleep.

By far the most powerful and ingenious story, however, which Mr.
Kipling has yet dedicated to a study of childhood is ‘The Drums of
The Fore and Aft’. ‘The Fore and Aft’ is a nickname given in derision
to a crack regiment, whose real title is ‘The Fore and Fit’, in memory
of a sudden calamity which befell them on a certain day in an Afghan
pass, when if it had not been for two little blackguard drummer-boys,
they would have been woefully and contemptibly cut to pieces, as they
were routed, by a dashing troop of Ghazis. The two little heroes, who
only conquer to die, are called Jakin and Lew, stunted children of
fourteen, ‘gutter-birds’ who drink and smoke and ‘do everything but
lie’, and are the disgrace of the regiment. In their little souls, however,
there bums what Mr. Pater would call a ‘hard, gem-like flame’ of
patriotism, and they are willing to undergo any privation, if only they
may wipe away the stigma of being ‘bloomin’ non-combatants’. In the
intervals of showing us how that stain was completely removed, Mr.
Kipling gives us not merely one of the most thrilling and effective
battles in fiction, but a singularly delicate portrait of two grubby little
souls turned white and splendid by an element of native greatness.
It would be difficult to point to a page of modern English more
poignant than that which describes how ‘the only acting-drummers
who were took along’,—and—left, behind, moved forward across the
pass alone to the enemy’s front, and sounded on drum and fife the
return of the regiment to duty. But perhaps the most remarkable
feature of the whole story is that a record of shocking British retreat=
and failure is so treated as to flatter in its tenderest susceptibilities the
pride of British patriotism.

Mr. Kipling’s debut was made in a volume of verse, called Departmental
Ditties, which has continued to enjoy considerable popularity and has
frequently been reprinted. This collection of comical and satirical
pieces representative of Indian official life has, however, very slight
literary value. The verses in it are mostly imitations of popular English
and American bards, with but here and there a trace of the true accent
of the author in such strong though ill-executed strains as ‘The Story
of Uriah’, and ‘The Song of the Women’. In other cases they follow,
but more faintly, the lines of the author’s prose stories. It cannot be
said that in this collection Mr. Kipling soars above the ‘Ali Babas’ and
‘Aliph Cheems’ who strike an agreeable lyre for the entertainment of
their fellow Anglo-Indians. No claim for the title of poet could be
founded on literary baggage so slight as Departmental Ditties.
Of late years, however, Mr. Kipling has put forward, in a great
variety of directions, essays in verse which deserve much higher con-
sideration. He has indulged the habit of prefixing to his prose stories
fragments of poems which must be his own, for there is nobody else
to claim them. Some of these are as vivid and tantalizing as the tiny
bits we possess of lost Greek tragedians. Among them is to be found
this extract from a ‘barrack-room ballad’ used to introduce the story
of‘The Madness of Private Ortheris’:

Oh! where would I be when my float was dry?
Oh! where would I be when the bullets fly?
Oh! where would I be when I come to die?
Somewheres anigh my chum,
If ’e’s liquor ’e’ll give me some,
If I’m dying ’e’ll ’old my ’cad,
An’ ’e’ll write ’em ’ome when I’m dead.
God send us a trusty chum!

There must have been not a few readers who, like the present writer,
on finding this nugget of ballad-doggerel, felt that here was a totally
unworked field just touched by the spade, and left. Happily, Mr.
Kipling has digged farther and deeper, and he has written a series of
barrack-room ballads which are unique in their kind, and of which
scarcely one but is of definite and permanent value. The only writer
who has, to my mind, in any degree anticipated the mixture of vulgar
and realistic phraseology with the various elements of pathos com-
bined in the lives of rough young men exiled from home is the
Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, whom Mr. Kipling greatly
excels in variety of metre and force of language. Except in its sardonic
form, humor has never been a prominent feature of Mr. Kipling’s
prose. I hardly know an instance of it not disturbed by irony or
savagery, except the story of ‘Moti Guj’, the mutineer elephant. But
in some of the Barrack-Room Ballads there is found the light of a genuine
humor. What can be more delightful, for instance, than this apprecia-
tive description of Fuzzy-Wuzzy, by one of the Soudan force who
has had to deal with him in the bush?

But more often, underneath the rollicking storm of the verses, there
may be heard the melancholy which is characteristic of so much of
the best modern writing, the murmur of that Weltschmerz which is
never far off, at all events, from Mr. Kipling’s verse. It sometimes
seems as though it were the author himself who speaks to us in the
soldier’s impatience at the colorlessness and restraint of Western life.
And it is with the exquisite melody of his own ballad of ‘Mandalay’
that we leave the author who has so strangely moved and fascinated
us, who has enlarged our horizon on one wholly neglected side, and
from whom, in the near future, we have a right to expect so much
imaginative invigoration. But what is he saying?

Ship me somewhere east of Suez where the best is like the worst,
Where there are n’t no Ten Commandments, an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be—
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea—■
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
Oh, the road to Mandalay,
Where the fiyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder out cr China ’crost the bay!

Ah, yes! Mr. Kipling, go back to the far East! Yours is not the
talent to bear with patience the dry-rot of London or of New York.
Disappear, another Waring, and come back in ten years’ time with a
fresh and still more admirable budget of precious loot out of Wonder-