The only reference to this speech that I know of is the entry in Mrs. Kipling’s diary’ for 22 May 1922: “Rud’s speech at the Anglo-French dinner a great success” (Rees extracts). In the preceding two weeks Kipling had been in Belgium and France at the time of King George V’s visit to war cemeteries there; the climax of this occasion was on 13 May when the King made a speech written for him by Kipling at the British cemetery near Boulogne. Mrs. Kipling’s diary records of this event that it was “a most effective and impressive affair and Rud feels most useful as between France and England and the Empire. He is glad he proposed it and it was acted on” (13 May 1922: Rees extracts). The speech to the Associated Franco-British Societies was thus a continuation of Kipling’s work for the entente.
The first annual dinner of the Associated Franco-British Societies was held at the Hotel Victoria with Lord Derby presiding; Bonar Law, the former Conservative Prime Minister, and an old friend of Kipling’s, was the main speaker.
Mr Rudyard Kipling, in proposing “The Associated Franco-British Societies,” said:
As the speakers who have preceded me have pointed out, and as we know in our hearts, France and England have been revealed to each other, as men must be who have fought side by side for the life against the same enemy. There has been no time in our struggle to keep anything back of the best or the worst in either land. We have been ringed with fire in an intimacy marked, like that of another relation of life, by times of ennui and disenchantment; but, like that other relation—thank Heaven—flowering again in renewed respect, and confidence, and affection many times renewed. (Hear, hear.)
One feels that we two alone among the nations can discuss the various imbecilities and impatiences of which we have severally been guilty, with tolerance and comprehension—sometimes even with a laugh—and can take order among ourselves that, if possible, they shall not recur. That is also the aim of the Associated Societies, whose prosperity I have the honour to propose to-night. It can be reached by judicious and well-applied propaganda.
Friendship’s Little Privileges
I have been often told that, since the Armistice, the French have launched anti-British propaganda in various parts of the world. From what one knows of the minor amenities of social life, 1 should think this was probably true. (Laughter.) We all say things from time to time behind our best friend’s back which are only matched by what our best friend says behind ours. Why not? We are friends. If nobody knows what is good for himself, everybody knows what is good for his friend. (Cheers and laughter.)
I confess I am myself engaged just now in a humble anti-French propaganda which has for its object the execution, in their own tumbrels, of every taxi-driver on the Place de la Concorde. (Laughter.) In this I am moved solely by the desire to save the lives of some of our Allies, and my friends in their adorable Metropolis. Similarly, I have heard it argued with the cold logic of the Gaul that, in a land where all vegetables are equally and savagely boiled and combined with the daily dreadful joint, it follows that the cooks of that land must be professional poisoners. (Laughter.) The deduction is, perhaps, extreme; but one can easily see that those who hold such views—as I hold the Parisian cabman to be a bowelless and impenitent assassin—only wish that we in England may live longer and more pleasantly. Our aims, therefore, however we express them, are identical. (Hear, hear.)
I may never see the triumph of my little propaganda. As to the probable date of the reform of domestic cookery in England, I offer no opinion, hut it seems to me that both countries are in need of strong anti-French and anti-British propaganda on these lines to correct and explain those details in the life of each, which are for the moment incomprehensible to the other. It is always fascinating to see what the other man is doing. It is more fascinating to find out what are his reasons for doing it, and most fascinating of all to discuss the reasons with him.
“Men of Good Will.”
But, however mysterious we may appear to each other, we are in no sense a mystery to the rest of the world. May I give you the testimony—the certificates, if you choose—of a third party wholly removed from European schemes of thought and life? There was a young native soldier of onr Indian Armies to France, writing from a hospital in England to reassure his mother in India about this new world ontside all known worlds, into which fate had led her son. He said substantially, “Mother, do not be afraid for me. These countries of England and France are not inhabited by devils as we were told, but by men and women of good will—in all respects like real people. They behave as we behave. They buy and sell among themselves needles, scissors, thread, and the halves of chickens, just as in a real bazaar. (Laughter.) Their women attend to their land and shops while their men fight, just as we do. They pay taxes and their land descends from father to son on payment of the tax, precisely as with us. And, like ourselves, their land is always in their mouths. They are always talking about it. Therefore, mother, do not be afraid any more. These are civilized people just like our own people at home.” (Laughter.) I submit that this young Indian’s estimate of us is a fair one. We may each call the other “men and women of good will.” (Cheers.)
The Old Landmarks Gone
On this interpretation, then, and with the memories behind us which we share, one realises that the possibilities for the Associated Societies in the work of mutual interpretation between our own lands are almost illimitable. They can cover every aspect of national and individual life, effort, and amusement; and every man, woman, and child in the country can do something …[rest of line cut away] to forward them. The war has [blasted?] and upheaved the old lines of thought and action on which the world used to guide itself. Those lines of thought, those fields of action must he resurveyed, reconditioned, leveled, and linked up again; just as on the torn bosom of the Somme to-day men, women, and children must still gather up and coil away the barbed wire that hinders cultivation; must still dig the live shell out of the sunken roads that are being returned to man’s use; must still fill up the torn and punched shell-holes each with his or her own silent, unnoticed spade-work. (Hear, hear.)
And when one watches the titanic labour of a people, drained of blood and money, rebegetting their land not merely from its foundations, but from the blackened pits where those foundations once stood, one is proud beyond speech to be allied with a character and a hardness of mind which does not allow the self-pity we are apt to call the reaction of war, to degenerate into any form of sloth. (Loud cheers.)
They do not, perhaps, find time to study Voltaire in the devastated areas, but they most literally obey his precept to “cultivate their garden” as long as there is light to see to work. And we must do the same in respect to all the things, material and immaterial, which may smooth, deepen, and render instinctive an alliance such as ours. Our need, then, and the work before the societies, is that we each cultivate our garden so that our neighbour, who is our comrade, may find welcome, pleasure, profit, and the ease of accepted intimacy in visiting it. Never in all time has there been union so strict and entire as that which now binds England and France. (Cheers.) Never lias there been more splendid opportunity. Between us, we gathered, preserved, and gave forth all that was most essential to civilisation since Rome fell. Together, but together only, we can uphold and maintain it.
My Lords, ladies, and gentlemen, I give you the toast of “Prosperity to the Associated Anglo-French Societies for the Development of the Entente— one and indivisible.”
—Unidentified newspaper clipping, Kipling Papers, University of Sussex (KP 28/9).