Kipling, recently returned from his first extended visit to South Africa (8 January-30 April 1898), was the guest of honour at this dinner, held at the Grand Hotel, London. Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the novelist, who presided, had been one ol the founders of the Anglo-African Writers’ Club and had probably extended the invitation to Kipling to speak (Morton Cohen, Rudyard Kipling to Rider Haggard, London, 1965, 35).
In his introductory remarks, Haggard said that Kipling was one of the “watchmen of our Empire,” one of those who “having the golden gift of words, embody in fitting language the aspirations of thousands, and awake and encourage in them the love of country.”
A newspaper account of the speech adds interesting details about Kipling’s delivery:
It is understood that he is not a rapid writer He restores the average by speaking at a break-neck rate, which may or may not be a malicious revenge for bis own trials as a reporter. He has a light, clear voice, and an utterance singularly free from the affectations of modem oratory. His diction is plain and curt, he has no airs or graces, and he talks rather than orates. “Look here!” he savs, with a jerk of the arm, when be introduces bis arguments. He pauses in the full flood of adjectives to hope he does not bore his audience. And be acknowledges a cheer with a smart salute, like that of the great Mulvaney/
(Daily Mail, 17 May 1898).
The burden of this speech, that the backward Boer ought to be displaced by the energetic Englishman dedicated to the “development” of the country, remained Kipling’s view. He always regarded the return of responsible government to the Boers after the Boer War by the English Liberal government as a “betrayal.”
MR. KIPLING, in reply, said he only wished that he could believe one half of the things which Mr. Haggard had said about him, because then he felt that he would be a little more used to the scheme of things than he was. It seemed to him, during his little visit down South, that of all the strong men who are building up our Empire there were none who needed our help and sympathy and understanding more than those who are carrying out our work in South Africa. In the Cape Colony those men had to deal with a class whose predominating characteristics were primitive and agricultural simplicity. In their simplicity these people objected acutely to those things which we understood as the elementary rudiments of civilization.
They objected to simple precautions against the spread of disease among their sheep—that was iniquitous. (Laughter.) They objected to precautions against rinderpest among their cattle—that was wicked. (Laughter.) They objected more or less to railways; and they objected to “roads” of all kinds. (Laughter.) These people also objected to little things like compulsory education and compulsory inoculation, and they founded a political party. That party was the most real, lively, and aggressive thing in South Africa. There was nothing more pathetic than the programme of progress put forward by the Cape Government, except perhaps the howl of indignation with which that modest programme was received. Behind this community was a State built up by the exertions of business men, with a Government which did not know what the needs of business men were. It was a State absolutely divorced from all considerations of business—rather, through and through with every worn-out, effete notion of Continental policy, and Continental trust money, and the like—hopeless inept and crippled, except for the efforts of the energetic but oppressed men who were trying to make it prosperous.
At first sight these things seemed very terrible. We created that State; we are responsible for it; we cleared out its enemies; we financed it; and we were financing it still. He was free to own that the contemplation of such a condition of affairs made him violently unwell for a week. It was the first time he had seen his own countrymen “squashed,” disarmed, and domineered over, with the great guns of forts looking into their back gardens, while foreigners from all parts of the world rode around with revolvers and other firearms sticking about all over them. It was particularly sickening, and there stayed in his memory one awful dinner—a dinner given him by white men who could not speak their own minds freely because they were spied on. (Shame.) He found himself in the atmosphere of three hundred years ago, and he did not like it. That was how it looked from the outside!
Going into things a little, and considering that remarkable section in the Cape Colony which devotes itself to saying: “No, you shan’t; we want to be left alone”—the men whose manners and methods were so unprogressive. Were they altogether to blame? They had lived their lives on their own land in a soft and gentle climate, which was apt to make men in the third and fourth generation just a little bit sleek. Suddenly they were disturbed by an inrush of energetic, pushing white men. They hated and resented the new order of things, which was quite natural, for there is no hatred like the hatred one feels for a more energetic chap than oneself. (Laughter.) He could not blame this particular section for hating the newcomers. But, unfortunately, no man and no race can keep a land they cannot develop. Sooner or later the energetic man comes and offers a mortgage. In course of time the
mortgage is foreclosed; and then the first owner calls heaven and earth to witness that his successor is a liar and a swindler and a thief. An enormous allowance must he made for these people. We were the “elder brother” among the nations; and we cannot afford to look at things as other people do. There was a lot of talk about what this race would do under certain circumstances, and what it would be our duty to do under other circumstances. It seemed to him that it was our duty now to be infinitely patient, because the game we were playing was a winning game, and it was that knowledge which lay at the bottom of the bitter feeling towards us. We must try by example and precept to coax them along the road to the material development of the land. It was no use getting angry with the unprogressive settlers.
Our people have to live with these people. The Colonials and Dutch had married and intermarried until you could hardly tell the one from the other. There was room in the land for both, and it was time to stop jabbering about “anti-Dutch,” “anti-English,” and so on. Be quiet; stop prating about that loaded rifle and work. Simply sit down and work. That was the opinion of most of the men he had talked with—the native-born colonials, sons of Englishmen, horn in the country; tall, lean, dark, quiet, very gentle men, with that curious gentle South African manner. These men are intimate friends of the Dutchmen—have the measure of the Dutchmen’s nature exactly, know them, and like them. These men have dreams of their own country—a land that can grow almost anything—“that the land shall he one land.”
Reverting to the Transvaal, Mr. Kipling said he could not see what was to be done. We have let things go on too long. We were dealing with a people who have considered themselves our masters and our bosses. We had allowed them to put back the clock throughout the whole of South Africa, and to create a festering sore in the heart of the country whose influence for evil would he felt for another ten years. It did not seem desirable at the present time to claim our rights by force. But when he was there it struck him that under some misapprehension about Continental help the Boers in the Transvaal might rise and give trouble. If they did, then would he the time to “scoop” them out. (Cheers.) In conclusion, Mr. Kipling said he could not tell them how grateful he was for what Mr. Haggard had said, and also for the way he was treated in South Africa. He hoped he had not done any mischief by what he had said that night. (Cheers.)
—The African Review, XV (21 May 1898), p. 312. 1