The Manner of Men

(notes edited by George Engle)


First published in the September 1930 issue of the London Magazine, subtitled “A Romance of the Middle Sea” and headed by the words from 1 Corinthians 15, 20. The magazine has one large illustration by F. Matania. Collected in 1932 in Limits and Renewals, without the sub-title but accompanied by the poem “At His Execution”.

Reprinted in the Penguin Classics edition of Limits and Renewals (1987) with an introduction and notes by Phillip Mallett, and in the Oxford World’s Classics collection Mrs Bathurst and other stories (1991) with an introduction by John Bayley and notes by Lisa Lewis. Included in the Sussex and Burwash editions.

The story

The main story is the voyage, generally reckoned to have taken place in or shortly before 60 AD, during which St Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta, then called Melita—the account of which given in Acts 27-28 has been said to be the most vivid account of a voyage and shipwreck in the whole of Greek and Latin literature. In Kipling’s story that voyage is described in the conversation of three reminiscing seamen whose meeting provides a typically Kiplingesque “frame” for the main story.

The main characters in the story, apart from St. Paul himself, are:

  • Baeticus, the young master of a Spanish wheat ship who answers to this name, derived from the Roman province of Baetica (corresponding roughly with the present Andalusia and including the river Baetis, now the Guadalquivir).
  • Quabil, a much older master mariner, formerly captain of the Alexandrian grain-ship Eirene and now Port Inspector at Marseilles. He is a Phoenician, a people of Semitic stock occupying the seabord of what is now the Lebanon, who developed an unusual flair for the sea and seagoing. Sometimes referred to in the O.T. as Canaanites, the Phoenicians were more often called Sidonians, after Sidon, one of their principal ports on this coast—a name they retained even during periods when Sidon was exceeded in importance by its sister port Tyre, some 30 miles to the south. The sunburn acquired on the open decks caused the Phoenicians to be nicknamed “the Red Men”; hence Quabil describes himself as “a Red Sidonian” and, when suitably mollified, responds to “Red”.
  • Sulinor (or Sulinus), also named Mango, now captain of Rome’s naval guard ship at Marseilles, having previously served under Quabil in the Eirene, until she was lost. Before that he had been in the slave-trade, and also a Black Sea pirate, so he is now very much a poacher turned gamekeeper. In Latin mango means a slave dealer. He is from the province of Dacia, north of the Danube, and has navigated that river. His name is evidently, like that of Baeticus, a geographical improvisation, from the Danube’s Sulina mouth.

A glimpse of Kipling at work

Kipling sought expert guidance for much of the nautical detail in this story, his chosen informant being his friend Sir Peter Bates, chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company and of the company formed to build the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. In a letter to him dated 15 Aug. 1929, [Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Ed. Thomas Pinney, Vol. 5] Kipling sends him detailed particulars of the Spanish wheat-ship in which Paul is to travel, interspersed with specific questions about sails, tonnage, loading of the holds, the probable condition of the cargo etc., etc., ending: ‘Further information and advice will be thankfully received…’

Some critical comments

In The Art of Rudyard Kipling (1959) J M S Tompkins writes (on pp. 114-5):

With what virtuosity he charges and directs the first sentence of “The Manner of Men” [quoted]. Colour, weather, movement, place, even (roughly) period are given in twenty words, and in the swing of the first phrase there is the light dip of the summer sea. The rest of the tale has the same rich substantiality of the imagination, the same economy of statement. The interest is strong and various. But the wild-fire never blazes; all is passed through the intellect.

In Aspects of Kipling’s Art C A Bodelsen writes(on pp.106-7):

When in “The Manner of Men” one finds seven mentions of the Beasts (with a capital B) of the Roman arena, though these do not figure in the story itself, one knows that the Beasts must be meant to express some important idea (which in this tale is never made explicit at all). The Beasts are the ultimate horror. Even the Romans, who can bear the prospect of ‘fire – sword – the sea – torture even’, flinch at the thought of them. That Paul, who has fought the Beasts already, and whose back is scarred with their bites, pursues a course that he believes will end by his being thrown to the lions, is a measure of the strength his faith has given him.

Bodelsen writes of the importance of “key words” in Kipling’s late stories:

Bodelsen ibid (pp. 112-3): The key words are often combined with the device of repetition. This is the case, for example, with the …sevenfold occurrence of ‘the Beasts’ in “The Manner of Men” [For these occurrences see the heading and pages 234, lines 13 and 18; 236, line 30; 238, line 13; 244, line 10; and 249, lines 3 and 4.]

In Kipling’s Hidden Narratives Sandra Kemp (pp. 94-6) writes that:

…in “The Manner of Men” and “The Church that was at Antioch” Kipling “ingeniously uses the hints in the New Testament to create the characters of the disciples Peter and Paul, but the events of their lives are imaginatively framed by the concerns and preoccupations of the Roman soldiers and the Spanish and Sidonian sailors who narrate the tales. … The famous shipwreck of Acts 27 is retold ‘sailor-fashion’.

… “The Manner of Men” is a striking portrait of Paul… But the events of the narrative show how Paul’s power really lies in the way he has adapted himself to ‘the manner of men’ and impresses himself on them so that he lives in their memories and thoughts. This is particularly evident if the story is read alongside the biblical narrative. Acts 27 focuses on Paul as the ‘hero’ of the tale, but Kipling’s version sees him only as he affects others … What emerges is Paul’s imaginative tact. He sees each man as he is … He handles Quabil’s touchiness, Sulinor’s silent fear of the beasts and the prisoners on board the ship precisely as each requires

… The effect is paradoxical. The narrative suggests that in some sense the lives and characters of the sailors have not been changed by their experience of Paul … At the same time, however, the outcome of the story suggests that Paul affected them each in their own way by contributing to a deepening of their sense of life… In this story, self is not lost in religious ecstasy as it is in some of the earlier Indian stories, but in imaginative identifications with the ordinary lives of other men. In this respect the poem that follows the story is deeply moving, for as a prayer to Christ it expresses in human terms the fact that for Paul ‘reward’ would be restoration to ‘himself’ after a lifetime of self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake.


©George Engle 2005 All rights reserved