Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), prolific English poet and author wrote The Jungle Book (1894);
“The bushes rustled a little in the thicket, and Father Wolf dropped with his haunches under him, ready for his leap. Then, if you had been watching, you would have seen the most wonderful thing in the world—the wolf checked in mid-spring. He made his bound before he saw what it was he was jumping at, and then he tried to stop himself. The result was that he shot up straight into the air for four or five feet, landing almost where he left ground.
Kipling enjoyed early success with his poems but soon became known as a masterful short story writer for his portrayals of the people, history, and culture of his times. In his essay titled “Rudyard Kipling” George Orwell called him “the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase.” Through his works Kipling often focused on the British Empire and her soldiers though today that perspective of imperialism and ‘taming the natives’ has limited his popularity. Now he is best known for The Jungle Book which has inspired numerous other literary works and adaptations to television and film.
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 in Bombay (now Mumbai) India, son of Alice née MacDonald (1837-1910) and John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911) Head of the Department of Architectural Sculpture at the Jejeebhoy School of Art and Industry in Bombay. Some of Kipling’s earliest and fondest memories are of his and sister Alice’s trips to the bustling fruit market with their ayah or nanny, or her telling them Indian nursery rhymes and stories before their nap in the tropical afternoon heat. His father’s art studio provided many creative outlets with clay and paints. Often the family took evening walks along the Bombay Esplanade beside the Arabian Sea, the dhows bobbing on the glittering waters.
“I have always felt the menacing darkness of tropical eventides, as I have loved the voices of night-winds through palm or banana leaves, and the song of the tree-frogs”—from his autobiography Something of Myself (1937)
The newly opened Suez Canal created a bustling port city which captivated young Rudyard, an intersection to the ancient cultures and mystical rites of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Anglo-Indians and their then colonial rulers.
The idyllic days were to end when in 1871 Rudyard and Alice were sent to school in Southsea, England, to live with Captain Holloway and his wife. She ruled the boarding house with fire and brimstone and Kipling was often beaten by her and her son. “Then the old Captain died, and I was sorry, for he was the only person in that house as far as I can remember who ever threw me a kind word.”—ibid. Kipling soon learned to read and found solace in literature and poetry, voraciously turning to the magazines and books his parents sent him including Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and works by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bret Harte also left an indelible impression on Kipling.
Respite from the Holloway household was gained when he spent one month a year in London with his mother’s kindly sister Aunt Georgie and her husband, pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne Jones and their children. Those months of December were a veritable paradise to Kipling; North End House was constantly brimming with visiting friends and relatives, and the homey and artistic effects of the affectionate couple were everywhere. Their home echoed with laughter and the patter of little feet or was eerily hushed as the children raptly listened to fantastic stories told by Edward. They also played the organ, sang songs, dressed up in costumes and acted out plays.
In 1877 Kipling’s mother returned to England and collected him from ‘The House of Desolation’ as he grimly refers to the Holloway’s over sixty years later in his autobiography, so that he could attend the United Services College in Westward Ho!, Devon. He was now armed with spectacles, for Kipling was nearly blind without them and his undiagnosed vision problems were the source of much grief from Mrs. Holloway and his schoolteachers. He learned to defend himself from bullies and settled into the life of a student, became the editor of the school paper, and in his second year started writing his own Schoolboy Lyrics (1881) printed by his parents. In 1878 his father took him to the Paris Exhibition where he was allowed to wander freely and gained much appreciation for French culture which he wrote about in Souvenirs of France (1933).
In 1881 Kipling traveled back to Lahore, India to live with his parents. It was a happy homecoming and his ayah was overjoyed to see him too. Ensconced in his own office he became the assistant editor for the Anglo-Indian Civil and Military Gazette and later The Pioneer. He had suffered frail health as a child and his penchant for working ten or more hours a day may have led to a later nervous breakdown.
Thus began Kipling’s career as roving reporter, traveling to various parts of India and the United States. He wrote dozens of essays, reviews and short stories like “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) and “Gunga Din” (1890) which would later be collected in such volumes as Departmental Ditties (1886, poetry), Plain Tales From the Hills (1888, short stories), Wee Willie Winkie (1888, short stories), American Notes (1891, non-fiction), and his first major success Barrack-Room Ballads (1892, poetry). In 1887, he met professor Alec Hill who would become a great friend and travel companion.
Now living just off the Strand in London, England on Villiers Street, Kipling enjoyed the success of many of his publications and continued his prodigious output. During the influenza epidemic, on 18 January 1892 Kipling married Caroline ‘Carrie’ Balestier, the sister of his American publisher. American author Henry James attended. The Kiplings started their ‘magic carpet’ honeymoon in a wintry Canada (they bought twenty acres of land in North Vancouver only to learn several years later that it was owned by someone else) then went on to Yokohama, Japan, but the same day an earthquake struck he was informed by the bank that all his funds with the New Oriental Banking Corporation were lost when it failed. Left with the clothes on their backs and what they owned in their trunks, they made their way back to the United States, first living in ‘Bliss Cottage’ in the New England town of Brattleboro, Vermont before moving into ‘The Naulakha’. Their first daughter Josephine was born in 1892, Elsie in 1896, and son John “on a warm August night of ‘97’”. After a legal falling out with his publisher and brother-in-law Beatty Balestier, Kipling decided to move to England in 1896 and settled at ‘The Elms’ in Rottingdean, Sussex. He was now a success in India and America and The Jungle Book (1894) established his fame in England. Many other titles were published around this time including The Naulahka: A story of West and East (1892), The Second Jungle Book (1895) and Captains Courageous (1896).
In the winter of 1898, the Kiplings went on their first of many holidays in South Africa. “the children throve, and the colour, light, and half-oriental manners of the land bound chains round our hearts for years to come.” While in the United States a year later, Josephine died of pneumonia. Kipling had been gravely ill from it too and her death was a terrible blow to him. When the Boer War broke out Kipling joined in campaign efforts to raise money for the troops and reported for army publications. During a harrowing two-week stay in Bloemfontein he came face to face with the tragedies of war; the deaths by typhoid and dysentery and appalling conditions in the barracks. “They were wonderful even in the hour of death—these men and boys—lodge-keepers and ex-butlers of the Reserve and raw town-lads of twenty.”—Something of Myself
Embittered by the Great War Kipling sought solitude in the Sussex downs and in 1902 he and Carrie found the house ‘Bateman’s’ in Burwash, which he purchased and lived in for the rest of his life. First serialised in McClure’s Magazine, Kim was published in 1901. It follows the adventures of Kimball O’Hara in the Himalayas and reflects the conflicts between Britain, Russia, and central Asia. Kipling had thus far refused many awards and honours including that of England’s Poet Laureate but in 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.”
In 1915 during World War I Kipling visited the Western Front as reporter and wrote “France at War”. The Fringes of the Fleet (1915) was followed by Sea Warfare (1916). His son John died at the age of eighteen while fighting with the Irish Guards in the Battle of Loos which he wrote about in The Irish Guards in the Great War (1923). In 1922 he was named Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The same year he produced “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” or “The Iron Ring Ceremony” and Obligation at the request of the University of Toronto Engineering department. In 1926 he was featured on the cover of Time magazine. In 1935 Kipling gave an address to the Royal Society of St. George, “An Undefended Island”, outlining the dangers Nazi Germany posed to Britain.
Rudyard Kipling died of a hemorrhage on 18 January 1936 in London, and his ashes are interred in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, England near to T. S. Eliot. Today his study and the gardens at ‘The Elm’ are preserved by the Rottingdean Preservation Society, and Bateman’s is held by the National Trust. The Kipling Society was founded in 1927. From his poem “Recessional”—Lest we forget is now a popular epitaph used by many including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (est.1917) which Kipling worked as literary adviser for during World War I.
Other works by Kipling include;
Poems and Poetry Books
“The Absent-Minded Beggar” (1899)
Short Stories and Collections
“The Man Who Would Be King” (1888)
The Story of the Gadsbys (1888)
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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