Kipling in India

by Edwin Watts Chubb

In four lines of oft-quoted poetry Pope has declared that with words the same rule holds that applies to fashion,—"Alike fantastic if too new or old." Fashion changes, not only the fashions of millinery but of literature also. When the world is tired of the brilliant wit of Byron, it turns in relief to the contemplative verse of Wordsworth; when Longfellow and Tennyson have had their artistic day and a thousand imitators have produced romantic poetry, because

Most can raise the flowers now
For all have got the seed,—

then this same world turns with delight to the robust poetry of Kipling. He has brought a new dish to the banquet of life, or at least a new flavor has been given to the old.

Kipling is a man's poet, robust and virile. As a preface to one of his stories he wrote:

Go stalk the red deer o'er the heather,
Ride, follow the fox, if you can!
But for pleasure and profit together
Allow me the hunting of man;—

and this joy in the hunting of man is what has made Kipling so acceptable to men. Kipling has the defects of his virtues. There is a certain brutality in his point of view. His beautiful Recessional is not the greater part of Kipling. His voice "is still for war." His critics charge him with "Jingoism." One of the most brilliant parodies of recent times is Watson's

Best by remembering God, say some,
We keep our high imperial lot—
Fortune, I think, has mainly come
When we forgot, when we forgot!

The greater influence of Kipling, both in his prose and poetry, is contrary to the humanitarian spirit of the age. Le Gallienne has said,—"As a writer Mr. Kipling is a delight; as an influence a danger."

Mr. Kipling sprang into public notice because he had genius and because he had a new world to reveal to a jaded public. Mr. E. Kay Robinson was a friend and associate of Kipling when both were in the land of mysteries, India. Mr. Robinson went to India in 1884 and soon began to write verses over the signature of "K.R." Kipling was writing ballads under the initials "R.K." The similarity of the signatures attracted Kipling and he wrote to Robinson. They were afterwards associated in newspaper work and became close friends. Robinson has written about Kipling in India:

"My first sight of Kipling was at an uninteresting stage, when he was a short, square, dark youth, who unfortunately wore spectacles instead of eyeglasses and had an unlucky eye for color in the selection of his clothes. He had a weakness apparently for brown cloth with just that suggestion of ruddiness or purple in it which makes some browns so curiously conspicuous. The charm of his manner, however, made you forget what he looked like in half a minute....

"Among Kipling's early journalistic experiences was his involuntary assumption 'for this occasion only' of the rôle of the fighting editor. He was essentially a man of peace, and would always prefer making an angry man laugh to fighting with him; but one day there called at the office a very furious photographer. What the paper may have said about him or his photographs has been forgotten, but never will those who witnessed it forget the rough-and-tumble all over the floor in which he and Kipling indulged. The libel, or whatever it was, which had infuriated the photographer was not Kipling's work, but the quarrel was forced upon him, and although he was handicapped by his spectacles and smaller stature he made a very fine draw of it, and then the photographer—who, it may be remarked, was very drunk—was ejected. And Kipling wiped his glasses and buttoned his collar.

"That trick of wiping his spectacles is one which Kipling indulged more frequently than any man I have ever met, for the simple reason that he was always laughing; and when you laugh till you nearly cry your spectacles get misty. Kipling, shaking all over with laughter, and wiping his spectacles at the same time with his handkerchief, is the picture which always comes to mind as most characteristic of him in the old days."

With regard to Kipling's minute and exact knowledge of details Mr. Robinson has this to say:

"To learn to write as soldiers think, he spent long hours loafing with the genuine article. He watched them at work and at play and at prayer from the points of view of all his confidants—the combatant officer, the doctor, the chaplain, the drill sergeant, and the private himself. With the navy, with every branch of sport, and with natural history, he has never wearied in seeking to learn all that man may learn at first-hand, or the very best second-hand, at any rate.... But most wonderful was his insight into the strangely mixed manners of life and thought of the natives of India. He knew them all through their horizontal divisions of rank and their vertical sections of caste; their ramifications of race and blood; their antagonisms and blendings of creed; their hereditary strains of calling or handicraft. Show him a native, and he would tell you his rank, caste, race, origin, habitat, creed, and calling. He would speak to the man in his own fashion, using familiar, homely figures, which brightened the other's surprised eyes with recognition of brotherhood and opened a straight way into his confidence. In two minutes the man—perhaps a wild hawk from the Afghan hills—would be pouring out into the ear of this sahib, with heaven-sent knowledge and sympathy, the weird tale of the blood feud and litigation, the border fray, and the usurer's iniquity, which had driven him so far afield as Lahore from Bajaur. To Kipling even the most suspected and suspicious of classes, the religious mendicants, would open their mouths freely.

"By the road thick with the dust of camels and thousands of cattle and goats, which winds from Lahore Fort to the River Ravi, there are walled caravanserais the distant smell of which more than suffices for most of the Europeans who pass, but sitting with the travelers in the reeking inside Kipling heard weird tales and gathered much knowledge. Under a spreading peepul tree overhanging a well by the same road squatted daily a ring of almost naked fakirs, smeared with ashes, who scowled at the European driving by; but for Kipling there was, when he wished it, an opening in the squatting circle and much to be learned from the unsavory talkers. That is how Kipling's finished word-pictures take the lifelike aspect of instantaneous photographs."