Letters to the Family II

A People at Home


(notes edited by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work for the ORG of Admiral Brock)


First published in London in the Morning Post, 19th March, 1908, in Canada in Vancouver World on 21st March, 1908, and in the USA in Collier’s Weekly, 21st March, 1908, as “The Relatives at Work”, accompanied by the poem Jubal and Tubal Cain (ORG Verse No. 912). Collected in Letters of Travel (1892-1913) in 1920, in Letters to the Family

This article describes the people of Canada, sketching their apparent differences from the peoples of the other British Dominions.

Notes on the Text

[Page 129, line 1] The proverb with which the article is introduced is, perhaps, one Kipling acquired in India or adapted from one of the many hundreds in use in that country.

[Page 129, line 5] Canadian Clubs Social clubs where Canadians came together to talk, dine and listen to edifying speeches from colleagues.

[Page 129, line 9] tying the victim to a steak literally, providing him with a good lunch; but also a play on words; in the adventure stories about distant countries so popular with the Victorians, a victim was often tied to a stake before being shot, or burned, or garrotted.

[Page 130, line 9] taal The form of Dutch spoken in South Africa by the Boer farmers, handed down from the early settlers at the end of the 18th Century; the basis of the more elaborate ‘Afrikaans’, now only one of the eleven official languages of the Republic of South Africa.

[Page 130, line 12] Bantu one of the great groups of African peoples, including the Zulus, Basutos, and Swazi.

[Page 130, line 14] Maoris the people of New Zealand who were there before the Europeans came.

[Page 130, line 16] boomerang an Australian aboriginal missile weapon: a curved piece of hardwood with a sharp edge along the convexity of the curve. It can be thrown so as to hit an object in a different direction from that of projection or so as to return to or behind the starting point.

[Page 130, line 19] Redskins a name for the North American Indian peoples: now rarely used, and likely to cause offence. ‘Native Americans’ is a more acceptable phrase.

[Page 130, line 26] French those parts of Canada that were settled from Europe were largely controlled by France until 1760 when Montreal was taken by the British, Quebec having fallen the year before.

[Page 131, line 9] Looking at their footmarks . . . nor in-toed Kipling used this imagery, usually used to refer to the gait of a horse, elsewhere; in “A Walking Delegate” (The Day’s Work p. 62 line 6) and “An Habitation Enforced” (Actions and Reactions p. 37 line 29).

[Page 131, line 17] when breeds are in the making Kipling is suggesting that the various nations of the Empire were developing their own distinguishing characteristics. One wonders what he would make of the intermingling of other nationalities which go to make up the Canadian (or Australian or New Zealander) today.

[Page 131, lines 23/24] driving the great world-plough which wins the world’s bread the prairies of Canada were just starting to produce wheat on a larger and larger scale (two million tons in 1904: 3.7 million tons in 1906: and 7.7 million tons in 1913: it is now (2010) over 20 million tons per year, as new breeds of wheat have been introduced, which can be grown further north, or with increased yields in the southern areas).

[Page 131, line 27] Norse Legend There is a rich pre-Christian tradition of Norse legends of the Gods and Giants and their doings, going back over a thousand years to the days of the Vikings, well known to Kipling.

Niflheim’s enduring cold in Norse mythology an underworld of cold and darkness, the abode of the dead who were distributed over its nine regions.

[Page 131, line 29] Bifrost Bridge the Rainbow. In Norse mythology the Aesir (the gods) use this bridge to cross from heaven to earth.

[Page 131, lines 29-30] Odin … Aesir Odin was the king of the Aesir (the gods) in Norse mythology.

[Page 132, line 9] Great Eastern Gate at Quebec the mouth of the St. Lawrence River itself.

[Page 132, line 10] side-doors at Halifax and St. John towns in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick respectively – both on the open sea, and hence ice-free all the year round.”

[Page 132, lines 14 and 16] the maples . . . warning signal leaves turning flaming red, the sign of the coming of Autumn, with Winter close behind, when the river is closed by ice.

[Page 132, line 21] steam-thresher the combine harvester, which cuts and threshes the wheat in one operation, was developed in the 1930s. Before that time wheat was cut by a reaper-and-binder, hauled by a team of horses, and the resulting bundles (shocks, or stooks) were carried, when they were fully dry, to a threshing machine, driven by a steam engine, which shook the grain out of the ripe ears of wheat.

[Page 132, line 30] “the chariot at hand here of Love” the first line of a poem by Ben Jonson (1573-1637), entitled ‘The Triumph’.

[Page 133, line 6] bitter-true stovepipe jests the difficulty of replacing a defective stovepipe was a stock joke of the period.

[Page 133, line 11] switch-yards railway shunting yards.

[Page 133, lines 20-22] On scores of congested sidings . . . late Quebec Bridge See letter I, page 127, line 18.

[Page 133, line 33] fifty-pound villas probably the annual value fixed for taxation purposes on a good-sized house.

[Page 134, line 25] fifteen years that journey was in 1892 when he was returning to Vermont from Japan, having then broken off his honeymoon trip on account of a bank failure; see our notes on the previous series of articles, From Tideway to Tideway.

[Page 134, line 30] “the birds crying and the grass waving in the wind” the source of this quotation – presumably from a folk tale – has not been identified.

[Page 135, line 1] Afrites evil demons or monsters of Muslim mythology, here classed with djinns.

[Page 135, line 20] tide of Wheat has rolled north another degree railway development had made it possible to grow wheat profitably another degree of latitude – 60 nautical miles (some 68 land miles, or 109 km) further north. Between 1900 and 1914 Canada built another two transcontinental railways, north of the original Canadian Pacific Railway.

[Page 135, paragraph commencing line 24] a youngish man Kipling is describing the work of an engineer whose task is to prevent or divert avalanches from overwhelming the single line of rails through the Selkirk Mountains.

[Page 135, line 26] Jotunheim the abode of the giants of Norse mythology – the enemies of the Aesir. (See Page 131, line 30).

[Page 135, line 28] Miolnr Or Miolnir the Hammer of Thor, the Smith of the Gods. He was the God of Thunder, and son of Odin. (See “Cold Iron” in Rewards and Fairies p. 12 line 31)

[Page 135, line 30] Selkirks 11,000 to 12,000 feet (3,600 metres) mountains in British Columbia.

[Page 137, line 12] Gudrun heroine of various traditional stories including: (1) a German national epic of the 13th century; (2) the Norse Volsunga Saga; and William Morris’s (1834-96) “Sigurd the Volsung” in 1876; and (3) the Laxdaela Saga.

William Morris and the pre-Rapharelites were very interested in the Norse legends and sagas; Kipling had encountered him in his childhood at the home of his Burne-Jones relations, where to the children he was ‘Uncle Topsy’.

[Page 137, line 12] Aslauga daughter of Sigurd, who appears in a novel by De la Motte Fouqud (1777-1843), a German officer-author, translated by Thomas Carlyle in German Romance.

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