Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, the son of John Lockwood Kipling, principal of the School of Art in Lahore, was born in Bombay on 30th December, 1865. His father sent him to England to be educated at the United Services College, but returned to India in 1882 where he found work as a journalist on the Civil and Military Gazette. Articles and poems that first appeared in the newspaper were later collected and published as Departmental Ditties (1886), Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), Soldiers Three (1890) and Wee Willie Winkie (1890).

Extremely popular in India, Kipling decided to see if he could achieve the same success in England. His first novel published in England, The Light That Failed (1890) did badly but Barrack-Room Ballads (1892) and Jungle Book (1894) established Kipling's reputation. However, some people in Britain found his poetry distasteful and Kipling was accused of jingoism by those hostile to imperialism.

On the outbreak of the Boer War, Kipling travelled to South Africa where he worked with the wounded and produced a newspaper for the troops. By the time he returned to his home in Rottingdean, a small coastal village near Brighton, Kipling was being described as the Laureate of the Empire. His friend Cecil Rhodes described him as having "done more than any other since Disraeli to show the world that the British race is sound at core and that rust and dry rot are strangers to it.".

In 1901 Kipling published the best-selling novel, Kim. Kipling was now extremely famous and to obtain some privacy, Kipling moved to Bateman's, a large house in Burwash. Over the next few years Kipling concentrated on writing children's books such as Just So Stories (1902), Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910).

Kipling was highly critical of the Liberal Government that had been established by Henry Campbell-Bannerman following the 1906 General Election. Kipling was hostile to its imperial and Ulster policies and the pacifism of many of its leading figures. He was also an active supporter of the National Defence League, an organisation that advocated an increase in military spending and the introduction of a national military service scheme. Some pacifists and socialists accused Kipling and his supporters of mirroring German Junkerism, a belief in a hierarchical society with a military caste at the top.

As a result of his hostility to the Liberal Government, Kipling was not one of those invited by Charles Masterman, the head of the secret War Propaganda Bureau, to the meeting of Britain's leading writers, on 2nd September, 1914. However, after the resignations of the anti-war members of the Cabinet, John Burns, Charles Trevelyan and John Morley, and the dramatic change in the views of David Lloyd George, Kipling was willing to work with Asquith's government.

In later 1914 the War Propaganda Bureau arranged for Kipling to tour of Britain's army camps. The visits resulted in the publication of The New Army (1914). He also visited the Western Front and wrote about his experiences in France at War (1915). Kipling was also commissioned to write a pamphlet on the Royal Navy, The Fringes of the Fleet (1915).

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Kipling's only son, John, attempted to enlist in the British Army. After being rejected on health grounds, Kipling used his influence to get his seventeen year old son a commission in the Irish Guards. Six weeks after arriving in France, John Kipling was killed during the Battle of Loos. Kipling never got over losing his son and for many years suffered from depression. This was reflected in the sombre mood of most of his later writing.

Rudyard Kipling, whose autobiography, Something of Myself, was published in 1934, died of a severe hemorrhage in London on 18th January 1936.

Primary Sources

(1) Rudyard Kipling, The New Army (1914)

They (the Canadian soldiers) were all supple, free and intelligent; and they moved with a lift and a drive that made one sing for joy. They were young, they were beautifully fit, and they were all truly thankful that they lived in these high days. It was their rigid humility that impressed one as most significant - and, perhaps, most menacing for such as may have to deal with this vanguard of an armed Nation.

(2) Rudyard Kipling, France at War (1915)

The Boche does not at all like meeting men whose womenfolk he has dishonoured or mutilated, or used as protection against bullets. It is not these men are angry or violent. They do not waste time in that way. They kill him.

They (German prisoners of war) stood there outside of all humanity. Yet they are made in the likeness of humanity. It (the Allied front-line trenches) is the rampart put up by Man against the Beast, precisely as in the Stone Age. If it goes, all that keeps us from the Beast goes with it.

(3) Rudyard Kipling, The Fringes of the Fleet (1915)

It is no lie, that at the present moment we hold all the seas in the hollow of our hands. Nor is it any lie that, had we used the Navy's bare fist instead of its gloved hand from the beginning, we would in all likelihood have shortened the war.

(4) Rudyard Kipling, letter to L. C. Dunstervile on the death of John Kipling (October, 1915)

He led the platoon over a mile of open ground in the face of shell and machine-gun fire and was dropped at the further limit of the advance, after having emptied his pistol into a house full of German m.g.'s.

He was senior ensign though only 18 years and 6 weeks. It was a short life. I'm sorry that all the year's work ended in that one afternoon but - lots of people are in our position - and it is something to have bred a man.

(5) Rudyard Kipling, Common Form (1918)

If any question why we died.

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

(6) Rudyard Kipling, A Dead Statesman (1924)

I could not dig; I dare not rob;

Therefore I lied to please the mob.

Now all my lies are proved untrue

And I must face the men I slew.

What tale shall serve me here among

Mine young and defrauded young.