In the letter to his Aunt Edith Macdonald in which he copies out this speech, Kipling says that “it was my maiden speech.” Earlier, however, in a letter to Edith Macdonald of 24 December 1882, he had written that “I am going to a big Masonic Banquet where in default of my Seniors I shall have to return thanks for the Press in a Speech” (Letters, I, 27). Perhaps he never gave the speech in 1882, or perhaps he had forgotten it by 1884. In any case, the speech of 25 January 1884 is the first for which we have a text. The occasion is described thus by Kipling:
“Yesterday the Punjab Club gave a big dinner to our retiring Honorary Secretary, who is going to be married. There were about forty’ at table and I had to reply for the Press of India—it was my maiden speech so that fact must he my excuse for quoting it as the reporter showed it to me. As a matter of fact it wasn’t anything half so polished as I was in the middle of a “boss-trade” with a friend when my name was called. Wheeler [Kipling’s editor at the Civil and Military Gazette] had sloped silently and left me to pull through as I could. This is what I am said to have said.”
After transcribing his speech, Kipling adds:
This little hit of nonsense took very fairly and they all made a big row and heat upon the table with their fists. So I’m through my baptism of fire in the public orator
GENTLEMEN (I know that’s all right) This is a flattering and I confess, a most embarrassing honour. So far as a youngster of my position and experience can claim to represent the Press of India believe me I thank you most heartily for the toast you have just drunk. You know the proverb about the “strength of the chain being its weakest link,” and that “little boys should be seen and not heard.” May I ask you to “take in the chain” and forgive the baldness of my maiden speech. It may sound a startlingly original sentence but I am “unaccustomed to public speaking.”
[—To Edith Macdonald, 26-28 January 1884.
Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney, London: Macmillan, 1990, I, 53.]