Monday, January 18, 2016

Something of myself

The English writer Rudyard Kipling, who died 80 years ago today, left behind a treasure of much-loved stories and poems, such as The Jungle Book, Kim and If. But, he didn’t leave much autobiographical material - hating the idea of biographers churning over his life - and what diary material has survived is thanks to chance rather than purpose: one diary from 1885, when he was working as a journalist in India, and several notebooks he kept while on motoring tours. In addition, and of much use to biographers, are surviving partial transcripts of the daily diary kept by Kipling’s American wife, Carrie, the originals of which were destroyed by the Kiplings’ daughter Elsie.

Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865. He was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire near where his parents had met and courted. Aged five he was taken, with his younger sister Alice, to live with a couple in Southsea, who boarded children of British nationals serving in India, and they remained there for six years. Alice returned to India, while Rudyard was admitted to the United Services College at Westward Ho!. In 1882, he, too, returned to India - his parents lacking the resources to send him to Oxford, and doubting his academic ability to win a scholarship - where his father, in Lahore by this time, secured him a job as assistant editor of a local newspaper, the Civil and Military Gazette, published six days a week. This suited Kipling, whose need to write (journalism, poetry, short stories), apparently, was unstoppable. In the late 1880s, he moved to Allahabad to work for The Pioneer, though was discharged in 1889 after a dispute. He published a first collection of his poems as Departmental Ditties in 1886, and a first prose collection, Plain Tales from the Hills, in Calcutta in early 1888.

Determined on a literary career, Kipling returned to London, visiting Japan and North America on the way. He published several short stories, and a novel, and also took another tour, this one to South Africa and the antipodes. In early 1892, in London, he married the American Carrie Balestier, and they settled in Vermont where their two daughters (Elsie and Josephine) were born. During the next four years, he wrote several books of short stories (not least The Jungle Book and its sequel), a further novel and much poetry. But, in 1896, the Kiplings left the US - partly because of an increase in perceived anti-British feeling and partly because of a dispute with Carrie’s family - to return to England, where they first lived in Torquay, Devon, then Rottingdean and, finally, in a house called Bateman’s in Burwash, Sussex. A third child, John, was born to the Kiplings in 1897. And from 1898, for a decade, the family travelled every winter to South Africa (where they were given a house by Cecil Rhodes) - except for 1899. That year, the Kiplings sailed to America, so Carrie could see her mother, but the journey across the Atlantic was very hard, and Kipling and Josephine both fell seriously ill. Josephine did not survive.

By this time, Kipling was famous. He continued writing short stories and novels, producing Kim and the Just So Stories soon after the turn of the century, as well as songs and poems (such as If, published in 1910). In 1907, after turning down other honours, including a knighthood, he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. With the onset of war, Kipling supported the fight against Germany, and even helped his son, who had eyesight problems, get enlisted. However, John went missing within a few weeks, and his body was never recovered. Devastated, Kipling continued to write after the war, but never returned to the bright colourful children’s stories he had once so delighted in; indeed, his conservative and imperialist views fell out of fashion, and his writing too. He died in London on 18 January 1936. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, next to the graves of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Kipling Society, the BBC, Encyclop√¶dia Britannica or The Poetry Foundation.

Kipling was apt to destroy many of his personal papers, disliking the idea of biographers churning over his life; his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Elsie Bambridge, took a similar view. Only a few diaries kept by Kipling have survived by chance: one from when he was young in 1885, and a set of notebooks he kept while on motoring holidays later in his life. Carrie, kept a daily diary from 1892 until her husband’s death. Although the originals were destroyed by Bambridge, two biographers, Charles Carrington and Lord Birkenhead, had already made extensive notes and transcribed parts of the diary. These are held by the University of Sussex’s Kipling archive at The Keep, but The Kipling Society also has copies (and has made them available online, with an index), as well as a detailed explanation of how the transcripts came to be made.

Biographers have made good use of the 1885 diary - see Andrew Lycett’s Rudyard Kipling, for example - but the full text can be found in Rudyard Kipling: Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings edited by Thomas Pinney, Cambridge University Press, 1991, available to preview at Googlebooks. (Something of Myself is a rare autobiographical text, started by Kipling in the last months of his life but not properly finished - Carrie edited it for publication.) Here are several extracts of the 1885 diary included in that Pinney edition.

28 January 1885
‘Scraps on Accidents on Indian Railways, The Dynamitard’s attempts at Westminster and Hume’s vegetarianism. About one column altogether. An easy day as far as the paper was concerned; there being plenty of matter in hand and not much proofwork.’

13 February 1885
‘Scrap. Musketry schools. Annotated Prejvalsky’s explorations in Thibet - and rec’d bellew’s Sanitary Report for notes of the week. Typhoid at home went in today: Mem scrap on Rai Kanega Lall and design for town hall must be done tomorrow.’

25 February 1885
‘Sting of yesterday blinded me couldn’t see. Went to hospital Lawrie came over about mid day and looked at it. Attention more occupied by blain of my face. Must come to hospital tomorrow and see how cocaine works. Did not to go office.’

26 February 1885
‘Eye all right. W said it wasn’t and so lost my work for the day - served him right. Went to hospital [?] cocaine and was impressed. To Cinderella in the evening and was impresseder.’

6 April 1885
‘No bank holiday for me. Special of three columns on review. Fine weather at last but I must shut up with a click before long. Too little sleep and too much seen.’

1 May 1885
‘On the road to Kotgur. May day at Mahasu inexpressibly lovely. Lay on the grass and felt health coming back, again. De brath a delightful man. What a blessed luxury is idleness. Eagles and shot at bottles.’

21 August 1885
‘Dinner with Tarleton Young at his chummery. Where met one LeMaistre who is a womans mind small and mean featured. He may be decent enough for aught I know. Usual philander in Gardens. Home to count the risks of my resolution.’

Transcripts of Kipling’s diaries of his motor tours, around 100 pages, are held in the archive at The Keep. The original notebooks were thought lost, at least until found in a dusty drawer at Macmillan (see The Daily Telegraph). An excellent article by Meryl Macdonald Bendle, a first cousin once removed of Kipling, in the June 2003 edition (number 306) of the Kipling Journal, uses the notebooks to describe the history of Kipling’s motoring tours. A generous selection of extracts from the diaries, though, can be found in earlier editions of the Journal, such as in one from March 1985 (number 233).

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