Speech Delivered in the Hall of Trinity College, Cambridge

Replying to Health of Recipients of Honorary Degrees


Kipling was awarded an honorary degree bv Cambridge on the occasion of the installation of Lord Rayleigh as Chancellor of the University. The other recipients of degrees were the Prime Minister, Asquith, The Duke of Northumberland, Lord Halsbury, Admiral Sir John Fisher, Sir George Trevelyan, Sir Hubert von Herkomer, C. A. Parsons, Sir James Ramsay, Sir Andrew Noble, Sir William Crookes, Professor Horace Lamb, Professor G. D. Liveing, and Professor Alfred Marshall.
The title is given here as it stands at the head of the manuscript.



SEVERAL OF THOSE wlio have been honoured today are sons or nephews of the university but there remain some of us who were not so fortunate as to pass through the schools where learning is to be had unmixed. We have been compelled to make our small and unscientific purchases of it in the open market where it is often grossly adulterated with expediency and prejudice.

Yet we have all known and proved and seen tried certain men who have been trained under your more enviable dispensation. We have worked with or against such men, well taught not to respond too immediately or too unreservedly to every external impulse; so that in time of crisis their actions might be regulated rather by reason than by the more obvious emotions.

Naturally we can know but little at first hand of the atmosphere which bred this habit of mental continence or—I speak for myself—of the classic influences which underlie that atmosphere. But the men who have profited by both atmosphere and influence have shown us, by their lives as much as by their conversation, that in those same classics are to be found a great store of startlingly modern facts collected and illustrated a very long time ago, by persons of large experience and no small literary powers. The facts include all the things which are at first emphatically denied and at last unwillingly admitted by each succeeding generation of mortals. The facts are that if a man thrusts his hand into a fire his hand will be burnt; that if he grasps a naked sword by the blade his hand will be cut and that no body of men (or women) however large or large minded are any more exempt from the consequences of their own acts than the loneliest figure in a Greek play.

The acceptance of these facts and all that acceptance implies is knowledge which has always been confined to the few. It is possible though that the stored wisdom of the schools and the rough and ready reckoning of the marketplace come at long last to much the same—that by different roads men of diverse temperament and activities may reach the same end. Certainly the roads that have led us here are widely divergent. One of us has spent his days in making life more beautiful; others have equally striven to make death more instant and unlovely; and others again according to their lights have chased rainbows. We can one and all rejoice to find that the hard conclusions we were forced to come to at our own charges were fearlessly set out very long ago and for ages have been unbrokenly taught here to such as were worthy to understand them. It is a source of great pride and gratitude to us that your ancient fortress of discipline where men’s souls are set and tempered, against Life, should have seen fit to bestow upon us such signal marks ol her favour.
——Manuscript, Kipling Papers, University of Sussex (KP 28/9).