I hope to be writing soon about Kipling and writing, but here are some preliminary thoughts as well as an entertaining and little- known poem.
He was one of the greatest writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. He is unread and endlessly dismissed by the pseudo- literate as a children’s writer, a racist, a simple colonialist. In fact he is both a bard and an elusive and ambiguous modernist who is admired by an unlikely group that ranges from Henry James to Angus Wilson and, albeit with some ambivalence, Christopher Hitchens, whose typically provocative esasay can be found here. (May be available only to Atlantic subscribers).
I want to highlight one of his paragraphs. He says:
“The paradox underlying all of Kipling’s work, whether it be his letters, his poetry, or his stories, is a horror of democracy combined with an exaltation of the common man. He always ostensibly preferred the grunt or the ranker to the officer, the humble colonial servant to the viceroy, the stoker and the sailor to the admiral. His songs about engineers and artificers—of which “McAndrew’s Hymn” is a sterling example—show, moreover, a real appreciation of modernity and innovation, and may explain why he attracted the attention of the Nobel committee when, as critics sniffed, Swinburne, Meredith, and Hardy were still alive, and a “blacksmith” should not have been preferred to a “goldsmith.” Probably no compliment could have delighted him more. Yet in his heart he disliked industrialism and the mass civilization that it brought in its smoky train”
He is on to something, but maybe missing it by a bit. Kipling’s dislike of democracy was not as much a wish to tell others what to do but, at least sometimes, a startlingly libertarian rejection of all tyrannies, including that of the majority. In several late stories that might be called science fiction, he makes fun of “primitives” who retain the savage 20th Century belief that, because one more person believes “A” than “B”, that “A” is therefore right. His fiercest reaction to this principle is the chant “McDonagh’s Song”, a refusal to BE tyrannized by anyone.
“Whether the People be led by the Lord
Or lured by the loudest throat;
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote-
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.
Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King-
Or Holy People’s Will-
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying – after- me:-
Once there was The People- Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen O ye slain!
Once there wasThe people- it shall never be again!”
For electing rulers democracy may well be the best we have. For micro- managing behavior I’m with Kipling. Most of the things I enjoy are so arcane the majority doesn’t know they exist– and I’m afraid they’d ban them if they did. Oh, wait; they already HAVE banned “hunting with dogs” in Kipling’s England.