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Kipling, Rudyard

Category: Writer

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865 –1936) was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist chiefly remembered for his children's stories. He was born in Bombay, India, and he spent two periods of his life in India both of which profoundly influenced him.  Unlike many of the great writers, poets, and artists on this website, Kipling stands almost alone in having his spiritual life developed principally via enormous happiness. 

He had a few years of unhappiness.  His time in the UK when he was a child,  when he experienced cruelty; the death of his son in the war; and the death of his daughter later in his life, but most of his life appears to have been rich and joyful.  He was profoundly influenced by the culture of India.  For example he said that when he was still very young in India :

 

In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she (the Portuguese ayah, or nanny) or Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution 'Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.' So one spoke 'English', haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.

After school  in the UK, his father obtained a job for his son in Lahore, Punjab (now in Pakistan), where  Kipling became the assistant editor of a small local newspaper, the Civil & Military Gazette.  "my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength".

Kipling was asked to contribute short stories to the newspaper and from this point on he became a prolific writer.

 

Kipling also became a Freemason in about 1885, at only 20. 

 

I was  entered as an Apprentice by a member from Brahmo Somaj, a Hindu, passed to the degree of Fellow Craft by a Mohammedan, and raised to the degree of Master Mason by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew.

He is especially adept at abstruse symbolism and I suspect he received at least part of his knowledge from this source.  Having said this, India is awash with symbolism, so he could have hardly failed to absorb some.

Kipling's family became yearly visitors to Simla.  He describes this time:

 

My month’s leave at Simla, or whatever Hill Station my people went to, was pure joy—every golden hour counted. It began in heat and discomfort, by rail and road. It ended in the cool evening, with a wood fire in one’s bedroom, and next morn—thirty more of them ahead!—the early cup of tea, the Mother who brought it in, and the long talks of us all together again. One had leisure to work, too, at whatever play-work was in one’s head, and that was usually full.

The Mall in Simla

So what made Kipling happy?  Family, home, his work and his friends.  A Safe House surrounded by those he loved.

On 9 March 1889, Kipling left India seeking his fortune, reaching Liverpool in October 1889.   He settled in London, but things did not go well.  In the next two years he published a novel, The Light that Failed, but had a nervous breakdown.   No safe house, no family.  The doctors said rest and travel, so in 1891,  Kipling embarked on another sea voyage visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and once again India.  Before his return, he proposed by telegram to Carrie Balestier. On 18 January 1892, Carrie (aged 29) and Rudyard Kipling (aged 26) were married in London.

The couple settled upon a honeymoon that would take them first to the United States.  Carrie by this time was pregnant with their first child, and they rented a small cottage on a farm, which they called Bliss Cottage, their first child, Josephine, was born there.

 

And here he returned to what gave him his greatest joy, home and family.  It  was  in this cottage that the first dawnings of the Jungle Books came to Kipling:

 . . my workroom in Bliss Cottage was seven feet by eight, and from December to April the snow lay level with its window-sill. It chanced that I had written a tale about Indian Forestry work which included a boy who had been brought up by wolves. In the stillness, and suspense, of the winter of ’92 some memory of the Masonic Lions of my childhood’s magazine, and a phrase in Haggard’s Nada the Lily, combined with the echo of this tale. After blocking out the main idea in my head, the pen took charge, and I watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the two Jungle Books.

with Josephine

With Josephine's arrival, Bliss Cottage was felt to be too small, so eventually the couple bought land—10 acres  on a rocky hillside overlooking the Connecticut River and built their own house.  Kipling named the house "Naulakha" named after the Naulakha pavilion in Lahore. Kipling called the house his  "ship", and said it  brought him "sunshine and a mind at ease."

In the short span of four years, he produced, in addition to the Jungle Books, a collection of short stories (The Day's Work), a novel (Captain Courageous), and a profusion of poetry, including the volume The Seven Seas. the collection of Barrack-Room Ballads and the  poems "Mandalay" and "Gunga Din".

Whilst there he entertained friends and family to stay, he played golf and revelled in the outdoor life, nature and the beauty of the countryside, he describes autumn.

'Naulakha' today

A little maple began it, flaming blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as fast as the eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold. Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army; and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf, till nothing remained but pencil-shadings of bare boughs, and one could see into the most private heart of the woods.

In February 1896 Elsie Kipling, the couple's second daughter, was born.

Rudyard Kipling, oil on canvas by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, 1899
- son of Edward Burne-Jones

The Kiplings loved life in Vermont and might have lived out their lives there, were it not for global politics and family discord.  In July 1896, the Kiplings packed their belongings, left the United States, and returned to England.

By September 1896, the Kiplings were in Torquay, Devon.  Kipling did not much care for his new house, whose design, he claimed, left its occupants feeling dispirited and gloomy.  But his time there was not totally unproductive.  His first son John was born in 1897.

A succession of moves followed until, in 1902 Kipling bought Bateman's, a house built in 1634 and located in rural Burwash, East Sussex. Bateman's was Kipling's home from 1902 until his death in 1936. The house had no bathroom, no running water upstairs and no electricity, but Kipling loved it:

 

Behold us, lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house—A.D. 1634 over the door—beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. It is a good and peaceable place. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it.

 

And now he had found another safe house and was with his family, another spurt of inspiration occurred -  the  Just So Stories supposedly for Little Children but so full of symbolism that like Lewis Carroll's work can be read in many ways.  It was published in 1902, the year after Kim was first issued, a story about the spiritual path.

On a visit to the United States in 1899, Kipling and Josephine developed pneumonia, from which she eventually died. He lost his son John in the first World war and suddenly things changed.  Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace and with much less success than before. He died of a perforated duodenal ulcer on 18 January 1936 at the age of 70.

Batemans

Kipling is best known for his works of fiction, - The Jungle Book (a collection of stories which includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"), the Just So Stories, Kim (1901) , many short stories, including "The Man Who Would Be King" (1888); and his poems, including "Mandalay" (1890), and "Gunga Din" (1890).  All these were written when he was at his happiest and most content.  Only the poem  "If—" written in 1910 was written in less happy times.

In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize, and to date he remains its youngest recipient. Among other honours, he was sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, all of which he declined. Kipling wasn't interested.  What made him happy could not be bought or conferred on him.

Henry James
Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.

 

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