Stalky & Co. was written some twelve or fifteen years after the end of Kipling’s schooldays; the recollections by himself, Dunsterville and Beresford anything from forty-eight to sixty years after the three of them had left Westward Ho! It is natural to assume that, to some extent at least, the distant memories were coloured by the convincing fiction of Stalky & Co., as well as by the age and characters of the writers.
There exists, however, a certain amount of contemporary “evidence”-Kipling’s contributions to the United Services College Chronicle while he was actually a boy at Westward Ho!
The earliest of these, published on 30th June, 1881, when the Chronicle was revived at Cormell Price’s command so that Kipling might edit it, is preceded by the privately printed booklet Schoolboy Lyrics (1881). Only one poem out of this rare little volume is of direct interest in view of Stalky & Co., that called “The Dusky Crew” (Sussex Edition, Vol. XXXV, Pages 7-8), the most relevant lines of which run:
“Our heads were rough, and our hands were black
With the ink-stains midnight hue;
We scouted all, both great and small
We were a dusky crew;
And each boy’s hand was against us raised
‘Gainst me and the Other Two.
We chased the hare from her secret lair,
We roamed the woodlands through;
In parks and grounds far out of bounds
Wandered our dusky crew;
And the keepers swore to see us pass
Me and the Other Two.
A master’s wrath has fallen on us,
On me and the Other Two.
He found our cave in the cold, dark earth,
He crept the branches through;
He caught us in our Council-Hall –
Caught us, a dusky crew;
To punishment he led us all,
Me and the Other Two.”
This was obviously long “before they reached the dignity of a study” and while they still “built, like beavers, a place of retreat and meditation”.
The verse contributions to the Chronicle (mostly collected in the Sussex Edition), though containing an occasional reference echoed in Stalky & Co., are of very little interest from the point of view of the present study. Most important of the early verses is the set called “The Song of an Outsider”, the fullest and most authentic version of which was published in The Kipling Journal, No. 54, July, 1940. It seems to have been written very shortly after Kipling reached India late in 1882. It begins :
“E’en now the heron treads
the wet Slush swamp of Goosey Pool,
And proses vex my Latin Set,
That first Set, Upper School.
E’en now across the Summer air
The call-bell’s clamour floats
Down to the weed-hung rocks pools
where The Juniors sail their boats.
E’en now the gorse is out in bloom
Along the Torridge Valley,
E’en now the “spidger” meets its doom
From “tweaker” or from “sally”.
E’en now to Corey’s bath they flock,
The College, after three;
E’en now the N.H.S. boys “rock”
The Bideford Bargee.
E’en now the heavy College “crock”
Brings round the College tea:
E’en now the hungry first form mock
J. Short’s economy.
No call bell rings for me, alas!
For me no proses are ……… etc.
Kipling’s prose contributions to the Chronicle are of even less interest, and show very little promise in themselves. The most interesting article is that to which Kipling refers in “An English School”, where he says (Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, page 271)
“There was friction among the study-fags once, and the Editor wrote a descriptive account of the Lower School – the classes whence the fags were drawn . . .”
The description in the article “Life in the Corridors” [U.S.C.C. No. 4, 30th June, 1881] of the “Corridor-Caution” gives weight to the Revd. John’s words about Clewer in “The Moral Reformers”.
“The Corridor-Caution”, wrote Kipling, “is the most interesting of our small deer, and cannot be confounded, even by a tyro, with the common sloper, though alike in many points … The coat of the Corridor-Caution varies greatly: the most usual winter protection being a nondescript jacket once grey but now ornamented in about equal proportions with mud, ink and whitewash, the combinations being both effective and striking. For summer the clan are most generally arrayed in Eton jackets most surely out at elbow, and collars entirely innocent of starch. By the bye, the collar is a sure index to nearly every boy’s status in the school, from the Prefect with immaculate ‘stick-ups’, to our young friend whose twelve and a half inch ‘turn-downs’ are begrimed by the fingermarks of his many captors . . .”