Something of Myself
Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

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Something of Myself



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Something of Myself

My source for this is Kipling: A Selection of His Stories and Poems, by John Beecroft. It was written around 1935, so the only entry in Beecroft’s list of copyrights which might apply is:
Copyright © 1956 by Elsie Bambridge
although it was first published in 1937.

I. A Very Young Person


Note (Hal’s):
“Baa Baa, Black Sheep” is a fictionalized version of this period of Kipling’s life.

— end note

If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day’s doings (specially when he wants to go to sleep) he will contradict himself very satisfactorily. If each contradiction be set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort.

But my ignorance was my salvation. I was made to read without explanation, under the usual fear of punishment. And on a day that I remember it came to me that ‘reading’ was not ‘the Cat lay on the Mat,’ but a means to everything that would make me happy. So I read all that came within my reach. As soon as my pleasure in this was known, deprivation from reading was added to my punishments. I then read by stealth and the more earnestly.

When my Father sent me a Robinson Crusoe with steel engravings I set up in business alone as a trader with savages (the wreck parts of the tale never much interested me), in a mildewy basement room where I stood my solitary confinements. My apparatus was a cocoanut shell strung on a red cord, a tin trunk, and a piece of packing-case which kept off any other world. Thus fenced about, everything inside the fence was quite real, but mixed with the smell of damp cupboards. If the bit of board fell, I had to begin the magic all over again. I have learned since from children who play much alone that this rule of ‘beginning again in a pretend game’ is not uncommon. The magic, you see, lies in the ring or fence that you take refuge in.

Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it.



II. The School Before Its Time


We smoked, of course, but the penalties of discovery were heavy because the Prefects, who were all of the ‘Army Class’ up for the Sandhurst or Woolrich Preliminary, were allowed under restrictions to smoke pipes. If any of the rank and file were caught smoking, they came up before the Prefects, not on moral grounds, but for usurping the privileges of the Ruling Caste.



The penalty for wilful shirking was three cuts with a ground ash from the Prefect of Games. One of the most difficult things to explain to some people is that a boy of seventeen or eighteen can thus beat a boy hardly a year his junior, and on the heels of the punishment go for a walk with him; neither party bearing malice or pride.

So too in the War of ’14 to ’18 young gentlemen found it hard to understand that the Adjutant who poured vitriol on their heads at Parade, but was polite and friendly at Mess, was not sucking up to them to make amends for previous rudeness.

[...] I wish I could have presented him as he blazed forth once on the great Cleopatra Ode—the 27th of the Third Book. I had detonated him by a very vile construe of the first few lines. Having slain me, he charged over my corpse and delivered an interpretation of the rest of the Ode unequalled for power and insight. He held even the Army Class breathless.

There must still be masters of the same sincerity; and gramophone records of such good men, on the brink of profanity, struggling with a Latin form, would be more helpful to education than bushels of printed books. C—— taught me to loathe Horace for two years; to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights.



There were few atrocities of form or metre that I did not perpetrate and I enjoyed them all.

I discovered, also, that personal and well-pointed limericks on my companions worked well, and I and a red-nosed boy of uncertain temper exploited the idea—not without dust and heat; next, that the metre of Hiawatha saved one all bother about rhyme: and that there had been a man called Dante who, living in a small Italian town at general issue with his neighbours, had invented for most of them lively torments in a nine-ringed Hell, where he exhibited them to after-ages. C—— said, ‘He must have made himself infernally unpopular.’ I combined my authorities.

I bought a fat, American cloth-bound note-book, and set to work on an Inferno, into which I put, under appropriate torture, all my friends and most of the masters. This was really remunerative because one could chant his future doom to a victim walking below the windows of the study which I with my two companions now possessed.

III. Seven Years’ Hard Our native compositors ‘followed copy’ without knowing one word of English. Hence glorious and sometimes obscene misprints.



My first bribe was offered to me at the age of nineteen when I was in a Native State where, naturally, one concern of the Administration was to get more guns of honour added to the Ruler’s official salute when he visited British India, and even a roving correspondent’s good word might be useful. Hence in the basket of fruits (dali is its name) laid at my tent door each morning, a five-hundred-rupee note and a Cashmere shawl. As the sender was of high caste I returned the gift at the hands of the camp-sweeper who was not. Upon this my servant, responsible to his father, and mine, for my well-being, said without emotion: ‘Till we get home you eat and drink from my hands.’ This I did.

On return to work I found my Chief had fever, and I was in sole charge. Among his editorial correspondence was a letter from this Native State setting forth the record during a few days’ visit of ‘your reporter, a person called Kipling’; who had broken, it seemed, the Decalogue in every detail from rape to theft. I wrote back that as Acting-Editor I had received the complaints and would investigate, but they must expect me to be biassed because I was the person complained of.

In 1885 a Liberal Government had come into power at Home and was acting on liberal ‘principle,’ which so far as I have observed ends not seldom in bloodshed. Just then, it was a matter of principle that Native Judges should try white women. Native in this case meant overwhelmingly Hindu, and the Hindu’s idea of women is not lofty. No one had asked for any such measure—least of all the Judiciary concerned. But principle is principle, though the streets swim.

Compare to:
H.G. Wells




One recognised the very phrases and assurances of the old days still doing good work, and waited, as in a dream, for the very slightly altered formulas in which those who were parting with their convictions, excused themselves. Thus: ‘I may act as a brake, you know. At any rate I’m keeping a more extreme man out of the game.’ ‘There’s no sense running counter to the inevitable,’—and all the other Devil-provided camouflage for the sinner-who-faces-both-ways.



At one time our little world was full of the aftermaths of Theosophy as taught by Madame Blavatsky to her devotees. My Father knew the lady and, with her, would discuss wholly secular subjects; she being, he told me, one of the most interesting and unscrupulous impostors he had ever met. This, with his experience, was a high compliment.
On one of my Simla leaves—I had been ill with dysentery again—I was sent off for rest along the Himalaya-Thibet road in the company of an invalid officer and his wife. [...] I knew the edge of the great Hills both from Simla and Dalhousie, but had never marched any distance into them. They were to me a revelation of ‘all might, majesty, dominion, and power, henceforth and for ever,’ in colour, form, and substance indescribable. A little of what I realised then came back to me in Kim.



[...] when one has been second in command of even a third-class cruiser, one does not care to have one’s Admiral permanently moored at a cable’s length.
IV. The Interregnum A Government Commission of Enquiry was sitting in those days on some unusually blatant traffic in murder among the Irish Land Leaguers; and had white-washed the whole crowd. Whereupon, I wrote some impolite verses called ‘Cleared’ which at first The Times seemed ready to take but on second thoughts declined. I was recommended to carry them to a monthly review of sorts edited by a Mr. Frank Harris, whom I discovered to be the one human being that I could on no terms get on with. He, too, shied at the verses, which I referred to Henley, who, having no sense of political decency, published them in his Observer and—after a cautious interval—The Times quoted them in full. This was rather like some of my experiences in India, and gave me yet more confidence. Excerpts
One heard very good talk at the Savile. Much of it was the careless give-and-take of the atelier when the models are off their stands, and one throws bread-pellets at one’s betters, and makes hay of all schools save one’s own. But Besant saw deeper. He advised me to ‘keep out of the dog-fight.’ He said that if I were ‘in with one lot’ I would have to be out with another; and that, at least, ‘things would get like a girls’ school where they stick out their tongues at each other when they pass.’ That was true too.

I have always liked the Salvation Army, of whose work outside England I have seen a little. They are, of course, open to all the objections urged against them by science and the regular creeds: but it seems to me that when a soul conceives itself as being reborn it may go through agonies both unscientific and unregulated.



The Salvation Army

V. The Committee of Ways and Means Thanks to the large and intended gaps in the American Copyright law, much could be done by the enterprising not only to steal, which was natural, but to add to and interpolate and embellish the thefts with stuff I had never written. At first this annoyed me, but later I laughed [...] There was no more pretence to morality in these gentlemen than in their brethren, the bootleggers of later years. As a pillar of the Copyright League (even he could not see the humour of it) once said, when I tried to bring him to book for a more than usually flagrant trespass: ‘We thought there was money in it, so we did it.’ It was, you see, his religion.

stories sans copyright

Reporters came from papers in Boston, which I presume believed itself to be civilised, and demanded interviews. I told them I had nothing to say. ‘If ye hevn’t, guess we’ll make ye say something.’ So they went away and lied copiously, their orders being to ‘get the story.’ This was new to me at the time, but the Press had not got into its full free stride of later years.



The Smithsonian, specially on the ethnological side, was a pleasant place to browse in. Every nation, like every individual, walks in a vain show—else it could not live with itself—but I never got over the wonder of a people who, having extirpated the aboriginals of their continent more completely than any modern race had ever done, honestly believed that they were a godly little New England community, setting examples to brutal mankind.

Someone—I think it was Sam McClure from America—had given us a tandem-bicycle, whose double steering-bars made good dependence for continuous domestic quarrel. On this devil’s toast-rack we took exercise, each believing that the other liked it. [..] But, one fortunate day, it skidded, and decanted us on to the road-metal. Almost before we had risen from our knees, we made mutual confession of our common loathing of wheels, pushed the Hell-Spider home by hand, and rode it no more.
VI. South Africa The most important medical office in any Battalion ought to be Provost-Marshal of Latrines.

Eventually the ‘war’ petered out on political lines. Brother Boer—and all ranks called him that—would do everything except die. Our men did not see why they should perish chasing stray commandos, or festering in block-houses, and there followed a sort of demoralising ‘handy-pandy’ of alternate surrenders complicated by exchange of Army tobacco for Boer brandy which was bad for both sides.

At long last, we were left apologising to a deeply-indignant people, whom we had been nursing and doctoring for a year or two; and who now expected, and received, all manner of free gifts and appliances for the farming they had never practised. We put them in a position to uphold and expand their primitive lust for racial domination, and thanked God we were ‘rid of a knave.’

VII. The Very-Own House Somehow, an enterprising Brighton agency hired us a Victoria-hooded, carriage-spring, carriage-braked, single-cylinder, belt-driven, fixed-ignition Embryo which, at times, could cover eight miles an hour. Its hire, including ‘driver,’ was three and a half guineas a week. [...] But we went to Arundel and back, which was sixty miles, and returned in the same ten-hour day! We, and a few other desperate pioneers, took the first shock of outraged public opinion. Earls stood up in their belted barouches and cursed us. Gipsies, governess-carts, brewery waggons—all the world except the poor patient horses who would have been quite quiet if left alone joined in the commination service, and The Times leaders on ‘motor-cars’ were eolithic in outlook.



And always the marvel—to which the Canadians seemed insensible—was that on one side of an imaginary line should be Safety, Law, Honour, and Obedience, and on the other frank, brutal decivilisation; and that, despite this, Canada should be impressed by any aspect whatever of the United States.
VII. Working-Tools

Every man must be his own law in his own work, but it is a poor-spirited artist in any craft who does not know how the other man’s work should be done or could be improved. I have heard as much criticism among hedgers and ditchers and woodmen of a companion’s handling of spade, bill-hook, or axe, as would fill a Sunday paper.



They were originally much longer than when they appeared, but the shortening of them, first to my own fancy after rapturous re-readings, and next to the space available, taught me that a tale from which pieces have been raked out is like a fire that has been poked. One does not know that the operation has been performed, but everyone feels the effect. Note, though, that the excised stuff must have been honestly written for inclusion. I found that when, to save trouble, I ‘wrote short’ ab initio much salt went out of the work.
Take of well-ground Indian Ink as much as suffices and a camel-hair brush proportionate to the interspaces of your lines. In an auspicious hour, read your final draft and consider faithfully every paragraph, sentence and word, blacking out where requisite. Let it lie by to drain as long as possible. At the end of that time, re-read and you should find that it will bear a second shortening. Finally, read it aloud alone and at leisure. Maybe a shade more brushwork will then indicate or impose itself. If not, praise Allah and let it go, and ‘when thou hast done, repent not.’ The shorter the tale, the longer the brushwork and, normally, the shorter the lie-by, and vice versa. The longer the tale, the less brush but the longer lie-by. I have had tales by me for three or five years which shortened themselves almost yearly. The magic lies in the Brush and the Ink. For the Pen, when it is writing, can only scratch; and bottle ink is not to compare with the ground Chinese stick. Experto crede.

Compare to:

Strunk & White



My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, Kim, and both Puck books, and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not, because when those books were finished they said so themselves with, almost, the water-hammer click of a tap turned off. One of the clauses in our contract was that I should never follow up ‘a success,’ for by this sin fell Napoleon and a few others. Note here. When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey.

It was pure snobism on my part, but it served to keep me inside myself, which is what snobbery is for.
Take nothing for granted if you can check it. Even though that seem waste-work, and has nothing to do with the essentials of things, it encourages the Daemon. There are always men who by trade or calling know the fact or the inference that you put forth. If you are wrong by a hair in this, they argue: ‘False in one thing, false in all.’ Having sinned, I know. Likewise, never play down to your public—not because some of them do not deserve it, but because it is bad for your hand. All your material is drawn from the lives of men. Remember, then, what David did with the water brought to him in the heat of battle.

II Samuel

Occasionally one could test a plagiarist. I had to invent a tree, with name to match, for a man who at that time was rather riding in my pocket. In about eighteen months—the time it takes for a ‘test’ diamond thrown over wires into a field of ‘blue’ rock to turn up on the Kimberley sorting-tables—my tree appeared in his ‘nature-studies’—name as spelt by me and virtues attributed. Since in our trade we be all felons, more or less, I repented when I had caught him, but not too much.



But, attacking or attacked, so long as you have breath, on no provocation explain. What you have said may be justified by things or some man, but never take a hand in a ‘dog-fight’ that opens: ‘My attention has been drawn to,’ etc.

text checked (see note) Jun 2005

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Graphics copyright © 2005 by Hal Keen