A Book of Words – XII

Selections from speeches and addresses delivered between 1906 and 1927

“Some Aspects of Travel”

Royal Geographical Society 14 February 1914

Notes by Leonee Ormond


Published in the Morning Post and The Times, page 5, on 18 February 1914 and in the Journal of the Geographical Society, April 1914, pages 366-78. Published as a pamphlet, by Doubleday, New York, 1914 and as “Des voyages et des parfums”, Société littéraire de France, 1917, in a translation by René Puaux. Collected in A Book of Words, Macmillan, London, 1928.


Lord Curzon, the former Vicerot of India, was again in the Chair (see “The Verdict of Equals” (VII)) and Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), one of the great figures of Antarctic exploration, was among a large audience. Curzon spoke of Kipling as;

.. a great man of letters, one of the foremost whom our race had produced (cheers), was to show that he, too, had tasted the joys, understood the romance, and penetrated the secrets of travel. [The Times, 18 February 1914]

Andrew Lycett writes (p. 438) of this speech as‘a fascinating jumble of insights into travel’. Kipling began by saying that he himself had not travelled widely, but that he had known many travellers. He hardly ever named these men, but, relying on their evidence, he retailed their experiences, stressing the strains and difficulties involved in travel. Kipling looked forward to the development of the aeroplane which would completely change the speed and experience of travelling.

[The first heavier than air flight had only been achieved in 1903; two years later Kipling published “With the Night Mail” and in March 1912 “As Easy as A.B.C.”, both of which envisaged a big future for intercontinental air travel.]

Notes on the Text

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

[Page 100, line 3] a friend of mine unidentified.

[Page 100, lines 11-12] isosceles triangle a triangle with two equal sides.

[Page 101, line 5] fresh-run trout just after arrival in the river from the sea.

[Page 102, line 25] Stanley Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) explorer and writer who was sent in 1869 by a New York newspaper proprietor (Gordon Bennett) to find David Livingstone (1813-1873), believed to be lost in Central Africa. Find him he did. with the famous greeting: ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume ?’.

[Page 103, lines 18-19] the one march I ever had to make in a hurry We have not positiively identified this expedition which Kipling had to undertake. He may have been referring to his travels in Rajasthan in 1887, under ‘Letters if Marque’ ? Suggestions from readers will be welcome.

[Page 104, line 20] Punch The celebrated London humorous magazine, founded in 1841, to be found next to The Times in many an English breakfast room.

[Page 106, line 19] Mercator’s projection a special arrangement of the world maps in which the meridians of longitude are at right angles to the parallels of latitude – designed in the sixteenth century by the Flemish cartographer Gerhard Kremer (1512-94). Kremer was otherwise known as Gerardus Mercator, the Latin version of his name.

[Page 107, line 7] forty fathoms 240 feet (some 70 metres) – i.e. getting fairly near to the land.

[Page 107, line 8] Tuscarora Deep or ‘Japan Trench’, a long trough in the north-western Pacific Ocean, formerly believed to be the deepest place on earth, some 28,000 feet (8,500 metres) deep.

[Page 107, line 10] Tarshish a port city referred to in the Old Testament. Its location has been the subject of much discussion. Some believe that it was Tarsus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the birthplace of St Paul, others that it was in Spain, Crete or even India.

[Page 107, line 10] Tyre ancient Phoenician port, now in Lebanon. Metals from Tarshish were sold in Tyre. ‘The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish for it is laid waste’, Isaiah. 23.1.

[Page 107, line 15] the Cape the southern tip of Africa, an important naval base.

[Page 107, line 18] “veld” More commonly spelt ‘veldt’, open highland country in South Africa.

[Page 107, line 20] Cape Colony the large territory north and east of Cape Town which became a British colony after 1806.

[Page 108, line 2] Salisbury cathedral city in Wiltshire.

[Page 108, lines 4-11] from fifty-one nothing north … fifty hours this would take you south from the River Thames (close to Greenwich) to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

[Page 108, line 30] Hitt city on the Euphrates, west of Baghdad.

[Page 108, line 31] Noah To escape the Flood God tells Noah to build an Ark and line it with pitch, inside and out. (See Genesis 6.14)

[Page 109, line 1] valerian various species of herbaceous plants of the genus valeriana, some used medicinally.

[Page 109, line 21] Zambezi the fourth longest river in Africa, it runs from Zambia and Angola and then flows into the Indian Ocean.

[Page 109, line 22] Cape Agulhas the ‘Cape of Needles’ on the southern point of Africa, the point of division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In speaking of the area between the Zambezi and Cape Agulhas Kipling is referring to most of Southern Africa.

[Page 110, line 31] turmeric assafœtida curry stuffs Indian spices. Turmeric has a characteristic yellow colour. Assafœtida (or asafœtida) is the pungent rootstock of an east Indian plant found in curry powder, and a resinous gum with a strong odour. This passage is an indication of the sensitivity of Kipling’s ‘nose’.

[Page 111, line 5] Bhotyali A Buddhist priest of some kind, or perhaps simply a Tibetan.

[Page 111, line 11] champak an Indian tree of the magnolia family, with orange, highly fragrant flowers.

[Page 111, line 33] simple of itself, like Falstaff’s sack Sir John Falstaff is a hard-drinking jovial character in three plays by Shakespeare, “Henry IV”, parts one and two and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. Sack, a sweet wine like sherry, is Falstaff’s usual drink. In “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, Act III, Scene V, Falstaff asks Mistress Quickly for sack. Bardolph suggests putting in eggs, and Falstaff replies: ‘Simple of itself; I’ll no pullet-sperm in my brewage’.

[Page 112, line 2] from the Seventies to either pole in both areas there is almost permanent ice and snow and very little, if any, open land. Both are vast circles with radiuses of twenty degrees and areas of over 5m square miles (land miles as opposed to nautical miles) – some 1,300 million hectares.

[Page 112, line 9] Melville of the Jeannette Rear Admiral George Wallace Melville (1841-1912). When Chief Engineer of the USS Jeannette on an Arctic expedition (1879-81), Melville found an island north of Siberia and named it ‘Jeannette Island’ after the boat.

[Page 112, line 19] rimpje in Afrikaans, a piece of bamboo or cane furniture.

[Page 112, line 28] skunk North American weasel-like animal, which can eject a liquid with a dreadful stench if disturbed.

[Page 113, line 7] the Selkirks a range of mountains in Idaho, Washington State and British Columbia.

[Page 113, line 9] euphorbias name of the spurge genus.

[Page 113, line 11] pulque a drink made in Mexico from the sap of the agave or maguey plant.

[Page 115, line 18] “three blind ‘uns and a bolter” this humorous expression, which seems to have been in common usage, evidently refers to horses drawing a coach, and to the misfortune of having four unreliable animals. It has a ring of Surtees, but we have not traced the origin of the expression.

[Page 116, lines 20-21] “ignominiously reported or exceedingly condemned” Hakluyt, Dedication to Sir Francis Walsingham (1530?-1590) in the first edition of Principal Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1599.

[Page 117, line 18] unplumbed, salt and estranging This is from the last line of Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘To Marguerite’, published in 1852. Ann Weygandt (p. 116) shows that Kipling had already quoted, somewhat inaccurately, from this poem, in a chapter-heading on page 58 of ‘The Hill of Illusion’ (1887) collected in Under the Deodars in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories.

[Page 119, line 4] Hudson Henry Hudson ( ? – 1611) explorer and navigator. Hudson’s Bay in northern Canada is named after him. He died when set adrift with his son by a mutinous crew.

[Page 119, line 5] Scott Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912), leader of the second party to reach the South Pole. He and his companions died on the way back.

[Page 119, line 5] Columbus Christopher Columbus, (c. 1445-1506) the great Genoese navigator, known as the discoverer of modern America.

[Page 119, line 6] Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) South African statesman and prophet of Empire. He made a fortune in diamond mines and did much to develop trade and industry in Southern Africa. He was Prime Minister of the Cape from 1890-1896, and a personal friend of Kipling, who stayed with him in South Africa, asnd admired him greatly.

[Page 119, line 8] Drake Sir Francis Drake (1545-c1596) circumnavigator and Admiral. In 1577 he set out for the River Plate and sailed through the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific. See “Simple Simon” in Rewards and Fairies.

[Page 119, line 9] Oates Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912) member of Scott’s Antarctic expedition which reached the South Pole in 1912. As he could not continue to march back he walked out of the hut at night to his death into a blizzard so that he should not be a burden to his companions. “I am just going outside” he said, ‘and may be some time.’


©Leonee Ormond 2011 All rights reserved