This story first appeared in the Century Magazine of December 1894. It was collected in:
- The Day’s Work in 1898
- Scribner’s Edition Volume XIII
- the Sussex Edition Volume VI, page 49
- the Burwash Edition Volume VI.
Of this tale, Kipling himself wrote in his brief and incomplete autobiographical memoir, Something of Myself:
Horses were an integral part of our lives, for the Bliss Cottage was three miles from the little town, and half a mile from the house in building. [‘Naulakha’]. Our permanent servitor was a big philosophical black called Marcus Aurelius, who waited in the buggy as cars wait today, and when weary of standing up would carefully lie down and go to sleep between his shafts. After we had finished with him, we tied his reins short and sent him in charge of the buggy alone down the road to his stable-door, where he resumed his slumbers till someone came to undress him and put him to bed. There was a small mob of horses about the landscape, including a meek old stallion with a permanently lame leg, who passed the evening of his days in a horse-power machine which cut wood for us.
I tried to give something of the fun and flavour of those days in a story called ‘A Walking Delegate’ where all the characters are from horse-life.
The wife’s passion, I discovered, was driving trotters. It chanced that our first winter in ‘Naulakha’ she went to look at the new patent safety heating-stove, which blew flame in her face and burnt it severely. She recovered slowly, and Dr. Conland suggested that she needed a tonic. I had been in treaty for a couple of young, seal-brown, full brother and sister Morgans, good for a three-mile clip, and on Conland’s hint, concluded the deal. When I told the wife, she thought it would console her to try them and, that same afternoon, leaving one eye free of the bandages she did so in three foot of snow and a failing light, while I suffered beside her. But Nip and Tuck were perfect roadsters and the ‘tonic’ succeeded. After that, they took us all over the countryside.
Miss Mary (Molly) Cabot left a memoir of the Kipling’s life in Brattleboro and records as follows:
It was in Beatty’s back pasture, on an afternoon walk, that the short story entitled ‘A Walking Delegate’ was mapped out, while we salted the horses, Rod and Rick, the heroes on the tale.
This story is a parable, in the form of an anthropomorphic tale of horses: the narrator is able to understand their conversation, which is, in essence, about the current state of labour relations in the United States. Later on, some 33 years after the story was written, Kipling wrote ( Thomas Pinney (Vol V. p.331):
What I thought about the old U.S. stands in ‘Captains Courageous’, and in several other yarns. ’Don’t know as ‘The (sic) Walking Delegate’ ‘`007’ and ‘The Captive’ don’t give as good a line on my ancient views as any amount of “serious stuff.”
The setting is a small Vermont farm: the time; the present (1894), a hot summer Sunday. The narrator and his companion (never specifically named, but it may be assumed to be Kipling and Beatty, his brother-in-law who, initially, helped him on the ‘farm’), drive out to give the farm horses their salt, in ‘the Back Pasture’. The horses there are all those which Kipling actually knew, and whose personalities he believed he understood.
However, there is one other horse, a ‘wall-eyed, yellow frame house of a horse’ sent up to board from a livery-stable in the town. As a horse, he is clearly not a desirable animal, and in the fable he turns out to be a socialist agitator, who tries to persuade the other horses to rise against Man the Oppressor, in the manner of a French revolutionary who wishes to send all the aristocrats to the guillotine, or of a Bolshevik revolutionary 120 years later.
Some of the younger horses are half-persuaded by his talk, but the older ones, who know what makes the world work, are not to be bamboozled by high-flown talk, and they take exception to the yellow horse’s preaching violence, and ‘rough him up a bit’.
Taking Kipling’s comments on the horses quoted above, and given that the narrator of the tale is clearly Kipling himself, there is a general impression that all the horses were Kipling’s. However, this is hardly likely to be so. Although there are references to ‘the farm’, Kipling was never a practical farmer while he lived in Vermont, though later, at ‘Bateman’s’, he considered himself to be one. Beatty was the farmer, and it may be conjectured that, with the exception of ‘Nip’ and ‘Tuck’, the other horses were his, although they were mostly communally used: but Kipling himself, and Carrie, would never have had use for a riding horse (“The Deacon”), two pairs of carriage horses (“Rod” and “Rick”, “Nip” and “Tuck”), a buggy horse (“Marcus Aurelius”), another general purpose horse (“Tedda Gabler”), and the two farm horses “Tweezy” and “Muldoon”. Nor was “the Back Pasture” part of the ‘Naulakha’ estate: it was part of the Balestier farm. So, as suggested above, it seems more than likely that it was Beatty who was Kipling’s companion on this summer Sunday.
A Selection of critical comment
Kipling, the Critical Heritage, Ed. Lancelyn Green (1971), includes an article signed ‘An Admirer’ from Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol. LXXIX, pp. 131-5 (December 1898): credited to Stephen Gwynn by The Wellesley Index.
…But what I suspect Mr. Kipling of not knowing is that a symbol has only value when it translates into the concrete something less intelligible in the abstract; and that an allegory is only tolerable when its story is so interesting that one tacitly forgives it for being an allegory. Finlayson’s bridge over the Ganges seems to me to be an excellent symbol, a material incident to show a spiritual conflict; the Jungle Book stories are admirable allegories because there is very little allegory in them; we are haunted by a sense of some further meaning, not knocked over the head with a moral. But the sketch called ‘A Walking Delegate’ is an allegory naked and not ashamed. Mr. Kipling has a profound antipathy to Socialism, and a profound belief in ‘the day’s work’; that renders him a valuable prophet, and in one of his cleverest poems, ‘An Imperial Rescript’, he put the case against an artificial limitation upon man’s energy more convincingly than could be done by a legion of blue-books. But he has now chosen to represent the contempt of real workers for the idle demagogue in terms of horseflesh, and the result is, to speak plainly, nonsense.
These are not the ideas of horses, for the conception of combination for a common end is essentially foreign to them; and if Mr. Kipling wanted to write the dialogue it is hard to see why he should not have written it about men. Very probably he would say it amused him to write it in this way; and that is an unanswerable argument when what amuses the writer amuses the reader also. This Walking Delegate is a caricature of a man, but he is not in the least like a horse. The other horses are like horses, but the situation is not one that could conceivably arise among horses. Swift saw the possibilities long ago,” [Gulliver’s Travels and the houyhnyms] “and exhausted the dramatic contrast between a man’s conventions and the rules of life among decent animals, in circumstances fabulous, of course, but not inconceivable. And I confess that even the better features of the story – for instance the insight into the experiences of a New York tram-horse – are marred to me by the dialect.
There may possibly be some fascination about a tongue in which people say ‘nope’ and ‘yep’ for ‘no’ and ‘yes’, but I do not feel it; and there are surely enough authors already engaged in garnering the rank crop of American vulgarisms. To a certain extent these have infected Mr. Kipling’s own style already; we find him talking about ‘slugging’ a guard, ‘cramping’ a coupé, and so forth; and before the century is out, he may be writing ‘vim’ and ‘brainy’ with the best of them.
Lord Birkenhead (1978 – though written nearly thirty years earlier), made three comments on this tale:
He (Kipling) quotes a letter written in 1919 to Doubleday’s (his American publishers) “If you care to look up some of my old Indian work in the old tales …. You’ll see that what I wrote then covers what is happening in India today, just the same as ‘A Walking Delegate’ covers what is happening with your (and our) Labour movement.”
Mistrust of democracy, particularly the American variety, is never long absent from his stories or from his private correspondence. It reappear here in a horse story, ‘A Walking Delegate’, where the socialist horse, unhinged by abstract thought, wants political decisions to be made by counting noses: …
Birkenhead’s third quote comes in his final chapter, entitled ‘A Backward Glance’:
And behind the concentration on work, angering and disgusting many of the liberal and independent minds, is the insistence on an iron discipline. To such minds there was something horrible in the gusto with which Kipling, again and again in his writing, describes the process, essential in his opinion, of ‘licking a raw cub into shape’. This theme is the backbone of Captains Courageous, it runs through innumerable stories and poems, and is developed with particular relish in the Mulvaney stories. … And as one reads, it seems almost that a man does not exist for Kipling until this process had taken place – that he is only raw material.
The philosophy of the process is summed up at the end of ‘A Walking Delegate’, one of Kipling’s less tolerable animal fantasies, where the yellow horse, an agitator, has asked the old working horse: ‘Have you no respec’ whatever fer the dignity of our common horsehood?’ He gets the reply: ‘Horse, sonny, is what you start from. We know all about horse here, an’ he ain’t any high-toned, pure-souled child o’ nature. Horse, plain horse, same ez you, is chock-full o’ tricks an’ meannesses an’ cussednesses and monkey-shines … Thet’s horse, an’ thet’s about his dignity an’ the size of his soul ‘fore he’s been broke an’ raw-hided a piece’. Reading ‘man’ for ‘horse’, we have here Kipling’s doctrine of Man.
A special note by Professor Charles E. Carrington on this story, comments:
Rudyard’s work, in this allegory of American life, was his first task after the return from England in 1894. Though told as a horse story, it is more remarkable for the skilful use of several American dialects than for horse-lore. It led to another experiment in that vein a few months later, a story far more deeply felt and wrought out from the heart, The Maltese Cat, a throwback to his own attempts at polo-playing, in India ten years earlier, and to the recollection of his own grey pony, “Dolly Bobs”.
Professor Joyce Tompkins wrote:
The fun of a fable lies in inventive and appropriate detail. There is plenty of this in the Just So Stories, but Kipling’s high-spirited detail is best shown in the animal and machinery fables of ‘The Day’s Work’ and ‘Traffics and Discoveries’ which were not primarily directed to children at all. They have been so often quoted to substantiate the melancholic assertion that his scope shrank from men to children, from children to animals, and from animals to machines, that it is as well to begin with one of their positive qualities. But in fact nothing can be securely established upon so faulty a chronology. Kipling found the fable a congenial form at all stages of his writing life. In verse or prose, with primeval or archetypal characters, with humour or elevation, he used it not only as a playground, but to express some of his intimate convictions about life and art. … But it is against that type of fable in which the actors are animals or machines that the heaviest charge is levelled.
The animal fable is a very old and recurrent literary type, which has been found strong enough in our day to carry the sardonic humour and hinted horror of Orwell’s Animal Farm. We need select from its long tradition only two books which we know Kipling read as a boy. Uncle Remus, as he tells us in ‘The United Idolators’, was the rage at Westward Ho! for one term, and in his holidays he had read Mrs. Gatty’s Parables from Nature. This pleasant and natural little book expresses a conviction as strong as Kipling’s of the necessity of obedience, discipline and proper subordination, and on two occasions in very similar terms, though with only a shadow of his political reference. In ‘Kicking’ a chestnut colt is given bad advice by an old, half-bred, white Arab mare, to whose ‘monotonous existence the power of lashing a young colt up to indignation was rather an amusing novelty’. He throws a young girl, and is consequently sent to a trainer, who first forces him to submit and then gentles him until he gives willing service. ‘Happy the colts who learn submission without a lifetime of personal struggle’, concludes Mrs. Gatty firmly.
The likeliness in substance and method between this little tale and the more complex and amusing ‘A Walking Delegate’ is clear enough, and, since Kipling mentions Mrs. Gatty, he may have been conscious of it. But the comparison of young men to half-broken horses, with all the metaphor that can be drawn from harness and manège, is frequent in Kipling’s early work. If it is now somewhat irritating in its glibness, it is because horses are no more an accepted part of our lives as they were in Kiplng’s India – or, for that matter, in Mandeville’s England, for the same image occurs in The Fable of the Bees.
This last fable [‘Below the Mill Dam’], with ‘The Walking Delegate’ and ‘The Mother Hive’, is aimed at the unproductive, who withhold their work from the community, whether they are demagogues, like the yellow horse in ‘The Walking Delegate’, aesthetes, like the wax-moth in ‘The Mother Hive’, or sentimental and privileged conservatives like the rat.
Martin Fido (1974) wrote:
The adult volume, The Day’s Work, brought together stories written in Vermont and after. It marked a definite darkening in Kipling’s outlook. The Indian stories were long and concentrated heavily on work and duty. Animal stories took up the same theme: ‘The Maltese Cat’ celebrated the little polo Kipling had played in India, and his indebtedness to his pony’s professionalism: ‘A Walking Delegate’ recreated perfectly the horses Kipling had owned in Vermont, all presented by their actual names, with anthropomorphised personalities, in a vivid description of their pasture. Their conversation instructs a lazy would-be revolutionary visitor in the virtues of work and the respect due to man.
The longest comment was by Angus Wilson (1977):
Beside the intensity of the great Indian fables and the bitter music-hall jauntiness or lament of the ballads, the material that Kipling got from America itself is thin. Much of his spare outdoor time at Naulakha was given to horses – to carriage-driving with Carrie, attending to the salting of the horses with his brother-in-law, Beatty. Carriage-driving, of course, was not new, he had had his horse and trap, the Pig and Whistle, at Allahabad, but the atmosphere of the Vermont countryside was essentially horsey. Out of this came his fable about American labour politics, ‘A Walking Delegate’. This conversation among horses, when the agitator from the Far West is shown up for an empty braggart, has been praised for its comprehension of the various American dialects spoken by the horses. It may be true to American speech of the early nineties, but the spellings seem to me to bear only a marginal relationship to the accents of the South, New England, New York and the West and so on. Certainly the political observation appears to be superficial, though vehemently felt.
But the light that ‘A Walking Delegate’ throws upon Kipling’s art goes deeper, for it shares its failure with one of the really unsuccessful Jungle Book tales, ‘Her Majesty’s Servants’, a conversation between horses, mules, camels and elephants of the Indian Army. Why are these stories so inferior to those which deal with wild animals …. ? I believe it is because his imagination is too much reined by the failure of ‘place’ to set him free from the world of his daily life, of his conscious adult life. Mowgli’s jungle works, because it frees Kipling, and it works at its fullest when …. Kipling’s fancy can find a small place to make the universe. It is not necessary that Kipling’s creation of his men animals should take place in the wild. … it is exactly those wild creatures that live secretly in his own domain that most fill a child’s imagination. … The more this child’s transformation of place seeps into Kipling’s great animal fables for adults, the better it works. Hence the success of later political animal fables like ‘The Mother Hive’, where the mysterious life of the bees that fill the hive in his garden works into the human social lesson he preaches, giving it a looseness, a life which might otherwise be strangled by the confines of the political sermon; … This sense of a secret world known only to the author and the animals, a secret imparted by the creation of a small total world from the territory of animals, is lacking when animals are too domestic, too bound up with the lives and purposes of men – it accounts for the failure of Kipling’s attempts to bring alive the world of dogs in Thy Servant – A Dog.
In such stories as ‘The Walking Delegate’, however, the horses are alone, yet their paddock has no secret from man and the illusion doesn’t work. That the political fable itself is probably based upon insufficient knowledge of American life is not important, I believe; political fables are simplistic things and need no elaborate detailed knowledge. They cut most deeply where prejudice is strongest, and Kipling’s prejudice against American labour leaders was very strong.
Andrew Lycett (1999) remarks:
His observation of horses frolicking in the Back Pasture, on Beatty’s property, prompted the story ‘A Walking Delegate’, which is both an affectionate memoir of lazy days in the Vermont sunshine and a political allegory about a new kicker from Kansas who tries to stir his fellow nags into revolt against their masters – until the old bay Rod brings him up short: ‘America’s paved with the kind er horse you are – jist plain yaller-dog – waiting to be licked inter shape,’ an echo of Rudyard’s thoughts about the country’s inhabitants. (In domestic political terms, the new horse referred to the People’s Party which was stirring up populist protest following a marked economic downturn.)
The most recent comment is by Harry Ricketts (1999):
Even before the accident, [a (luckily) minor carriage-driving accident, in which Carrie, Baby Josephine and her nanny were thrown out of the carriage] horses had been on Kipling’s mind. He had been writing a satire on American Labour politics called ‘In the Back Pasture’ (later retitled ‘A Walking Delegate’), in which a socialist ‘yellow’ horse’ from Kansas tried to incite a group of Vermont horses to overthrow (and kill) their human owners. The Century, which published the tale in December, paid him $135 per 1,000 words, a new high in his rates. In addition to its political thrust – and calling one of the horses Tedda Gabler, [a play on words which would have been better understood, perhaps, then than it is today – see the note referring to page 49, line 18] cheekily described as having ‘a reputation for vice which was really the result of bad driving’ – ‘A Walking Delegate’ showed Kipling extending his ventriloquist range and experimenting with different kinds of American vernacular.
The story was admired in its day, not least by the New England realist Sarah Jewett. Miss Jewett had sent a letter to Kipling in which she said ‘…you see that I am crying MORE! ever since I read The Walking Delegate!’ [cited in Thomas Pinney Vol 2, p. 168.)