Stalky & Co.

The writing of the stories

(by Roger Lancelyn Green, 1961)

Rudyard Kipling went to the United Services College at Westward Ho!, near Bideford, North Devon, as a small capering twelve-year old in January 1878, and left in the autumn of 1882, a precociously sophisticated teenager, to take ship for journalism in India. It had been a formative experience. In October, 1893, there appeared in an American periodical called Youth’s Companion the article “An English School” which was included at the end of Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides thirty years later. This was the first evidence in his published writings of his deep interest in his old School.

The previous writing concerned with the School was a poem contributed to the U.S.C. Chronicle where it appeared in October, 1884, two years after Kipling had left.

“An English School” is an important source for an understanding of Stalky & Co., and any commentary on the stories must of necessity refer to it. Nevertheless, though it shows that Kipling’s thoughts were turning back to Westward Ho!, and that he was looking at it with the perspective of manhood, there was no sign then that he had any idea of using the setting in fiction. He had visited the School once since his return from India – during the Summer Term of 1890, when he spent a week with Cormell Price, the Head.

He was at Westward Ho! again on 25th July, 1894 at the leavetaking of Cormell Price and made a short speech on behalf of the Old Boys, which was printed in the U.S.C. Chronicle, No. 58, 17th December, 1894 (and reprinted in H. A. Tapp’s United Services College (1933), pp. 41-2).

His first reference to the School in fiction occurred the following December, when “The Brushwood Boy” appeared in The Century Magazine. This story of the secret dream life of a brilliant young soldier, was revised before inclusion in The Day’s Work (1898), and it was no longer obvious that Georgie Cottar’s public school was at Westward Ho! – though the correct description of the First Fifteen colours and a sentence to the effect that the School helped its boys “to enter the army direct, without the help of the expensive London crammer” would surely have cried “Westward Ho!” to the initiate.

In the original version, however, there is no room for doubt Cottar grew “under a system of compulsory cricket, football, and paper-chases, from four to five days a week, which provided for three lawful cuts of a ground-ash if any boy absented himself from these entertainments without medical certificate or master’s written excuse”. He “was transplanted to the world of three hundred boys in the big dormitories below the hill”, where in due time he “sat at the prefects’ table with the right to carry a cane, and, under restrictions, to use it.” To clinch the matter, after the description of his responsibility “for that thing called the tone of the school”, and how he learnt from the Head to control boys, we are told that “On the other side – Georgie did not realise this till later – was the wiry drill-sergeant, contemptuously aware of all the tricks of ten generations of boys, who ruled the gymnasium through the long winter evenings when the squads were at work. There, among the rattle of the single-sticks, the click of the foils, the jar of the spring-bayonet sent home on the plastron, and the incessant “bat-bat” of the gloves, little Schofield would cool off on the vaulting horse, and explain to the head of the school by what mysterious ways the worth of a boy could be gauged between half-shut eyelids.”

Cottar was an almost exact contemporary of Stalky and Co. at Westward Ho!, judging from the clues to be found in the Century Magazine version. Like Stalky, he must have gone to India about the end of 1884 (in his case it might have been one year later, but no more), and so have left the School at least a year before this in order to pass through Sandhurst and win his commission. There is no reference to him, of course, in any of the Stalky stories, but if he was their exact contemporary he must have been none other than “Carson, the head of the school, a simple, straight-minded soul, and a pillar of the First Fifteen”. But we may perhaps prefer to believe that the Brushwood Boy was one year junior to Stalky, and is either not mentioned, even under an alias, in Stalky & Co., or else was still but a minor character at the School – appearing perhaps under the guise of that “young Carter”, whose potted-ham sustained Stalky and his companions on a memorable occasion.

But this is looking ahead. The basic idea of the Stalky stories proper seems to have come suddenly to Kipling at the end of 1896: “While we were at Torquay,” he says in Something of Myself (pp. 134-5), “there came to me the idea of beginning some tracts or parables on the education of the young. These, for reasons honestly beyond my control, turned themselves into a series of tales called Stalky & Co. My very dear Headmaster, Cormell Price…paid a visit at the time and we discussed school things generally. He said, with the chuckle that I had reason to know, that my tracts would be some time before they came to their own…”

Charles Carrington (Kipling’s first ‘official’ biographer) has kindly supplied such dates connected with the writing of the Stalky stories as he had gleaned from Mrs. Kipling’s Diary, so we are now able to say with certainty that Cormell Price’s visit was during the last week of 1896, and that “Slaves of the Lamp” was begun on January 14th, 1897, and that on February 28th he was writing “more of a second schoolboy yarn”. “Slaves of the Lamp”, Part I, was published in Cosmopolis in April of that year, and Part II in May – and it seems possible that at the time this was all he intended to write about Stalky and Co. Although not exactly a tract or parable, Part II does at least serve as a “moral” to Part I – the ingenious mischief of the schoolboy pranks being turned to good account by Stalky in the hard business of Border Warfare on the North West Frontier of India. “I see,” said Dick Four, when M‘Turk had told how “Rabbits-Eggs” came to “rock” King’s rooms that other night. “Practically he duplicated that trick over again. There’s nobody like Stalky.”

The immortal trio could not, however, be kept down-and suddenly in July, Kipling is “working at a Stalky story”. In August he is revising “In Ambush,” and in October reading the stories to Lockwood Kipling, the latest being “A Little Prep.” This should be the weekend referred to by Sir Sydney Cockerell in a letter to The Times (7th March, 1938) in which he speaks of ‘a weekend visit to Rottingdean in October, 1897, when my fellow-guest under Burne-Jones’s hospitable roof was his old friend Cormell Price, who had been Kipling’s beloved Headmaster at Westward Ho! On the evening of our arrival, Kipling, with whom we had all enjoyed a walk over the downs in the afternoon, brought from his house across the way some chapters of his then unfinished Stalky & Co., and read them out with gusto, turning again and again to Cormell Price with the question, `Do you remember that, sir?’ When we were alone I asked Price how many of the schoolboy pranks about which he had been appealed to he actually remembered. His answer was, `Kipling remembers many things that I have forgotten, and I remember some things that he would like me to forget!’ Long afterwards I repeated these words to Kipling, whose smiling comment was: `Yes, the dear fellow never gave me away…”.

There seems to have been a gap in the writing after this, coinciding with Kipling’s winter visit to South Africa. On April 11th, 1898, however, he wrote from Cape Town the letter to the Horsmonden School Budget containing six “Hints on Schoolboy Etiquette” which parallel incidents in Stalky & Co.

By May 24th he was ‘working on Stalky,’ and was visited by ‘Mr. Green, a schoolmaster’ – probably the house-master with the black-beard who, according to Dunsterville, was nicknamed “Barky” – though he does not seem to be represented in Stalky & Co., unless he can be equated with Macrae.

On June 28th he ‘began to work at Stalky again’ and on July 22nd comes the intriguing entry, ‘Rudyard starts to write the last of the Stalky stories, which, after the Jungle fashion, is the first.’ On August 3rd, however, he ‘finishes the Stalky story but rejects it.’ Unless the story was scrapped altogether, this one would assume to be “Stalky” – published, however, that same December, 1898, in The Windsor and McClure’s magazines, though not included in Stalky & Co.

Why it was omitted from the book (but included in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides in 1923 and The Complete Stalky & Co. in 1929) has never been explained, so far as I know. Perhaps some reader knows the answer? At the back of my mind is a recollection of hearing (but I don’t know where) that it was omitted on account of an outcry against cruelty to dumb cows raised in the press after the magazine publication.

Meanwhile, “In Ambush” appeared in McClure’s Magazine in August, 1898, and on August 13th it is recorded ‘The schoolboy stories sent to Watt’ – who arranged for their appearance monthly from January to May, 1899, in McClure’s and The Windsor. “The Flag of Their Country” was, however, only being written on November 3rd, 1898, and “The Last Term” on November 14th.

Proofs of the book arrived in August, 1899, and coincided with a visit from Cormell Price. The “Dedication Verses” were written August 21st-24th, and the book was published on October 6th.
After this Stalky was in abeyance for a dozen years, though he played a small part (as an adult) in “A Deal in Cotton”, which appeared in Cassell’s Magazine January 1908, and a larger part in “The Honours of War” (Windsor Magazine, August 1911) – the second of these may be the story he was writing in August and December, 1910 (called simply “a Stalky story” by Mrs. Kipling).

On May 6th, 1911, comes the brief entry, ‘A Stalky story, “Regulus”‘ (which was not published until 1917). But Kipling gives the date of writing as 1908 – in which year he perhaps sketched out the story, writing or re-writing it in its final form in 1911. Then on February 2nd, 1923, having recently met an old U.S. Colleger called Carstairs, he is again ‘working at a Stalky story, “The United Idolaters”,’ which is ‘ready for Watt” on November 13th. And after meeting one Griffiths, also old U.S.C., is writing ‘a Stalky story’ on August 13th, 1925, which he is ‘very busy with’ in September. This must be “The Propagation of Knowledge”, published in The Strand, January, 1926. Perhaps someone can tell us who Carstairs and Griffiths were, and whether their careers at Westward Ho! had any bearing on these two stories?
Finally, on April 13th, 1928, he is ‘writing a Stalky story , which would be “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman” – published in The London Magazine in September of the following year before inclusion in The Complete Stalky & Co.

Kipling put this inscription in a copy of Stalky, & Co.: “This is not intended to be merely a humorous book, but it is an Education, a work of the greatest value. Rudyard Kipling at Inglemere, Ascot. Sunday 25th Jan. 1925.”