A Book of Words – VI

Selections from speeches and addresses delivered between 1906 and 1927

“The Handicaps of Letters”

Royal Literary Fund 21st May 1908

Notes by Leonee Ormond


Published in The Times, 22 May 1908, page 12 . Collected in A Book of Words, Macmillan, London, 1928.


The dinner was held in the Whitehall Rooms of the Hotel Metropole. Kipling was in the Chair and proposed the toast to the Royal Literary Fund. He was followed by the Dean of Canterbury, Henry Wace (1836-1924), who proposed a toast to Literature. Hallam, Lord Tennyson (1852-1928), proposing a toast to Kipling, spoke of him as the ‘most forceful, the most vivid literary genius of our present age’. (Times, 22 May 1908, page 8)

In a letter returned to England from South Africa after Kipling’s departure, Arthur Llewelyn Roberts had asked Kipling to solicit his friends for contributions to the Fund. Kipling replied on 18 May:

I cannot pretend that I should have been any good at it because my acquaintance lies chiefly among those who need help. I had supposed that my work was to get as much money as possible out of people at the Dinner.
(Letters, Ed. Pinney vol. 3, pp. 320-21)

Kipling defines writers as distinct from lawyers and doctors. Their work continues after their deaths but, after a time, their heirs cannot benefit from it. He praises the work of the Fund in helping writers who have met with misfortune.

Notes on the Text

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

[Page 39, line1] Hades the kingdom of the dead in Greek mythology.

[Page 39, line3] Homer and Sappho two ancient Greek poets. Homer’s dates are not known, but he is thought to have lived between 1050 and 850 BC. He is generally believed to have been the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Sappho, who lived in the 7th century BC, is known for her love poetry, but little of her work survives.

[Page 41, line 10] Book of Job in the Old Testament, usually dated to between the 5th and 2nd Centuries BC.

[Page 42, line 5] Lord Chancellors the heads of the Judiciary of Britain.

[Page 42, line 6] woolsack the seat of the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords. It is a large square bag of wool without back or arms.

[Page 42, line 11] calling of letters this page deals with the question of literary copyrights, although this word is not mentioned. Kipling had quite a lot to do with the consolidation of the Law of Copyright – since 1908. It now (2011) belongs generally to the writer for his or her life-time and to legal heirs for a further seventy years after the writer’s death.

[Page 43, line 7] Philistia the country of the Philistines in south west Palestine. The term ‘Philistine’ was used, particularly during the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s-90s, to describe uncultured and unimaginative people.

[Page 43, lines 11-12] Pharisees … Scribes upholders of a strict Judaic law. Jesus attacked them for their legalistic and inflexible approach.


©Leonee Ormond 2011 All rights reserved