A Book of Words – XXX

“The Spirit of the Latin”

by Rudyard Kipling

MONSIEUR LE PRÉSIDENT– In according to me this reception, your Academy confers on me the greatest of honours, and your colleague, Señor Gustav Barroso, has overwhelmed me with praise beyond my deserts. For I am—I have been—no more than a maker of tales and verses which have had the good fortune to interest and amuse. And where men are interested or amused, they pardon many faults; and, as you have done, they reward richly.I count it always as one of the supreme rewards of my work that it has opened to me something of the aims and intentions of my fellow-craftsmen in various parts of the world.

Mes confrères, it is from this point of view that I am acutely interested in your prodigious land. As a man of letters I have reason. As an individual I have also a personal right, at which Señor Barroso has so eloquently hinted. You know the old saying: “Give me the first six years of a man’s life, and I will give you all the rest”. In my case that is true. I was born, and I passed my childhood and my early manhood within the Tropics who is a mother that never forgets her children however far they may travel. So I feel that I am not altogether a stranger at heart to men who have had the breath of the Equator about their cradles, and the sense of vast distances before their young feet.

If I cannot speak your language, that is no reason that I cannot think some of your thoughts. It is possible indeed, that, by virtue of our birthright, you and I may look upon certain aspects of life from angles foreign to men who have been nursed beneath the North Star. It is possible, for the same reason, that you and I may be moved by hopes and apprehensions of which the North is not yet aware—much less informed. For you and I both know the lands and the life where Civilisation must stand on guard against the relentless challenge and defiance of Nature unsubdued that sweeps up to our very gates.

To us, neither sun, moon, earth, water nor the forest are as men see them and deal with them up above, on the shoulders of our planet.

That is on one side of our head—between ourselves. On the other, we affirm our solidarity with the rest of the world—that temperate world which puts on a thick coat when it looks at the stars.

But, whatever stars men may be born under, they are always immensely curious to know and be told how other men live, and what they think of the business of living. Never were they more curious than now, when the experiences of the past fifteen years have delivered upon them the shock, the burden, and the developments of a full century. It is a new world which each nation finds in itself and its neighbours to-day—a world, perhaps, of less reverence and belief, but surely of greater comprehension and larger acceptances than the old.

The wave of destruction that swamped it for so long is being followed by a new tide of creation which one already hears breaking on every shore. Mes confrères, I venture to think that this fresh tide will carry the galleons of Brazil very far.

To you has been granted the richness of an ancient and heroic culture superimposed on the vivid historical background of your Captains and flagbearers—those fierce and arrogant shades of your early conquests—who moved without fear among the mysteries of a land which has not yet revealed a tithe of her mysteries, even to you her sons. Added to this has been a life, intense, isolated, particular, on the one hand, and on the other intimately linked in intellectual, scientific, and economic achievement with the old world. For you, as in the British Empire, there is no extreme of the primitive or the cultured within your borders with which you have not come in contact, or from which you have not drawn contrast and inspiration. But, for you, there is no separation by the seas, of the component parts of your dominions to weaken or to deflect the national influence upon the whole. You have only to contend with oceans of land, seas of mountains and forest; and, in a not distant future, with the peril of limitless wealth poured into your lap by the Nature which you address yourselves more and more to dominate. Yours is a stupendous drama, set in theatres, such as this city and others, of almost unbelievable beauty, and destined to be carried to its triumphant fulfilment with the force, the fervour, and the passion of your own immense skies.

But we who serve the written word, may leave these merely material concerns to the years and the personalities that will give them birth and shape. It is to the tales and the songs—the thousand and one tales and songs—of every aspect and thought of life in this new world of yours that men will turn for the intimate and unconscious self-revelation of your national spirit and outlook upon which, in the end, the understanding, the sympathy, and the admiration of your equals elsewhere will be based. And it is you who are partakers in the world-breath that stirs in all hearts to-day—you who specially share the reawakening of the Latin—who will give to the world these gifts, more precious and more enduring than any other treasure that men can offer to their fellow-men.

In this certainty I salute the Academy of Brazil, part of whose office it is to watch over and to forward these high destinies.

Señor Barroso, you have spoken of the secular friendship between our respective lands. I am a man of short views. I rarely look beyond, two or three hundred years. It is, I think, close upon three hundred years since the father of all our English novelists—Daniel Defoe—first wrote those two magic words—“The Brazils”—which have blazed ever since as beacons of romance and adventure to generations of our youth. It is an equal space of time since our ancestors proved and accepted each other amicably on the high seas, and shared many desperate enterprises over the face of the earth. It is but a few years ago that Santos Dumont gave his life to prove that the air, as well as the sea, can bring us nearer. I argue, therefore, that, two hundred years hence, when the Rio – London mail arrives in forty-eight hours instead of fifteen days, we shall be found continuing untroubled in our ancient fruitful amity, and linked, it may be, by interests more extended and significant than those of the present day.

And I am perfectly sure that, three hundred years hence, Carnival in Rio, of which we are all, this evening, the exhausted survivors, will, like our national friendship, have lost nothing of its vigour. I count it part of my good fortune that I have witnessed the phenomenon of an entire populace rejoicing in the strength and gaiety of life, and yet self-attuned to an exquisite courtesy and good-will.

And what can I say of the good-will shown to me on my too short visit to the threshold of your country, except that it has been as lavish as the beauty of land and sea and life that surrounds us. You have told me, Señor Barroso, that I should find myself among friends. That was true from the first hour—the first moments—of my arrival. And it is because of the grace, the open heart, and—may I say?—the almost affectionate cordiality of your welcome that I have spoken to you as a man speaks only in the house of his friends.