A Book of Words – XIX

Selections from speeches and addresses delivered between 1906 and 1927

A Thesis

Banquet at the Sorbonne 19 November 1921

Notes edited by Leonee Ormond


Published in The Times 21 November 1921, p. 14. Collected in A Book of Words, Macmillan, London, 1928.


Kipling was speaking at a banquet held jointly by the Sorbonne and the Association France-Grande-Bretagne. Paul-Emile Appell (1855-1930), the Rector of the Académie Francaise, presided, and two former Prime Ministers, Georges Leygues (1857-1933) and Paul Painlevé (1863-1933) were also present, as was Auguste Jonnart (1857-1927), President of the France-Grande-Bretagne Association, together with numerous politicians, diplomats and scholars.

Kipling, presenting himself as a story-teller, explained that he was planning to draw upon the legend of the were-wolf, who entered a village in the guise of a man or woman and then committed atrocities in his own form. Telling his hearers that one can discover the truth about a people from its folk tales, Kipling used the legend to warn of the dangers still posed by Germany and stressed the importance of the relationship between France and England. Kipling’s reference to the were-wolf was the subject of an article in The Times of 21 November, p. 14.

Kipling wrote to his son-in-law, George Bambridge, in a letter of 13 October 1932:

As far as I can recall, my talk at Paris was to the effect that in the thousand years of our varied relations we had tried each other out and had conceived a lasting respect for each other: and understood that we were the guardians of what remains of civilisation in the world.
[Letters, Thomas Pinney (Ed.) , vol 6 p.136]

Notes on the Text

(the page and line numbers below refer to the
Uniform Edition of A Book of Words Macmillan, London 1928)

[Page 201 line 6] Pantagruel The French writer and physician François Rabelais (1494?-1553) published Pantagruel in 1532. This was the second book chronologically, but the first to be written and published, of a coarse bawdy exuberant narrative in four or five parts. Pantagruel himself is a prince whose education is the subject of vigorous and full-blooded satire. At the time of its publication, the work aroused the wrath of the Sorbonne, which was then the theological faculty of the University of Paris.

[Page 201 line 7] thèse Sorbonnique a thesis from a graduate of the Sorbonne.

[Page 202 line 16] Gaul Frenchman. The Gauls were a Celtic people, who inhabited France under the Romans, and before the invasions of the Franks.

[Page 202 line 32] the Teuton and the Tartar The Teutons are Germanic tribes, and the Tartars a warrior people from Central Asia.

[Page 203 line 1] Wehr-Wolf This was Kipling’s idiosyncratic spelling of the word. ‘Wehr’ in German means a defence or a ‘weir’; the German army was called the ‘Wehrmacht’. The German word for werewolf is ‘Werwolf’.

[Page 204 line 29] Utopian Utopia by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), published in Latin in 1516, tells of an imaginary island where everything is perfect.

[Page 205 line 28] Gehenna a place of torment, hell.

[Page 206 line 4] No Man’s Land waste land, with no known owner. It is a term familiar from the Great War, where the ground between the embattled armies was called ‘No Man’s Land’.



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