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A Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

Rudyard Kipling, British author, was born in Bombay on the 30th of December 1865. His father, John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), an artist of considerable ability, was from 1875 to 1893 curator of the Lahore museum in India. His mother was Miss Alice Macdonald of Birmingham, two of whose sisters were married respectively to Sir E. Burne-Jones and Sir Edward Poynter. He was educated at the United Services College, Westward Ho, North Devon, of which a somewhat lurid account is given in his story Stalky and Co. On his return to India he became at the age of seventeen the sub-editor of the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette. In 1886, in his twenty-first year, he publishedDepartmental Ditties, a volume of light verse chiefly satirical, only in two or three poems giving promise of his authentic poetical note. In 1887 he published Plain Tales from the Hills, a collection mainly of the stories contributed to his own journal. During the next two years he brought out, in six slim paper-covered volumes of Wheeler’s Railway Library (Allahabad), Soldiers ThreeThe Story of the GadsbysIn Black and WhiteUnder the DeodarsThe Phantom ’Rickshaw and Wee Willie Winkee, at a rupee apiece. These were in form and substance a continuation of the Plain Tales. This series of tales, all written before the author was twenty-four, revealed a new master of fiction. A few, but those the best, he afterwards said that his father gave him. The rest were the harvest of his own powers of observation vitalized by imagination. In method they owed something to Bret Harte; in matter and spirit they were absolutely original. They were unequal, as his books continued to be throughout; the sketches of Anglo-Indian social life being generally inferior to the rest. The style was to some extent disfigured by jerkiness and mannered tricks. But Mr Kipling possessed the supreme spell of the story-teller to entrance and transport. The freshness of the invention, the variety of character, the vigour of narrative, the raciness of dialogue, the magic of atmosphere, were alike remarkable. The soldier-stories, especially the exuberant vitality of the cycle which contains the immortal Mulvaney, established the author’s fame throughout the world. The child-stories and tales of the British official were not less masterly, while the tales of native life and of adventure “beyond the pale” disclosed an even finer and deeper vein of romance. India, which had been an old story for generations of Englishmen, was revealed in these brilliant pictures as if seen for the first time in its variety, colour and passion, vivid as mirage, enchanting as the Arabian Nights. The new author’s talent was quickly 826recognized in India, but it was not till the books reached England that his true rank was appreciated and proclaimed. Between 1887 and 1889 he travelled through India, China, Japan and America, finally arriving in England to find himself already famous. His travel sketches, contributed to The Civil and Military Gazette and The Pioneer, were afterwards collected (the author’s hand having been forced by unauthorized publication) in the two volumes From Sea to Sea (1899). A further set of Indian tales, equal to the best, appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine and were republished with others in Life’s Handicap (1891). In The Light that Failed(1891, after appearing with a different ending in Lippincott’s Magazine) Mr Kipling essayed his first long story (dramatized 1905), but with comparative unsuccess. In his subsequent work his delight in the display of descriptive and verbal technicalities grew on him. His polemic against “the sheltered life” and “little Englandism” became more didactic. His terseness sometimes degenerated into abruptness and obscurity. But in the meanwhile his genius became prominent in verse. Readers of the Plain Tales had been impressed by the snatches of poetry prefixed to them for motto, certain of them being subscribed “Barrack Room Ballad.” Mr Kipling now contributed to the National Observer, then edited by W. E. Henley, a series of Barrack Room Ballads. These vigorous verses in soldier slang, when published in a book in 1892, together with the fine ballad of “East and West” and other poems, won for their author a second fame, wider than he had attained as a story-teller. In this volume the Ballads of the “Bolivar” and of the “Clampherdown,” introducing Mr Kipling’s poetry of the ocean and the engine-room, and “The Flag of England,” finding a voice for the Imperial sentiment, which—largely under the influence of Mr Kipling’s own writings—had been rapidly gaining force in England, gave the key-note of much of his later verse. In 1898 Mr Kipling paid the first of several visits to South Africa and became imbued with a type of imperialism that reacted on his literature, not altogether to its advantage. Before finally settling in England Mr Kipling lived some years in America and married in 1892 Miss Caroline Starr Balestier, sister of the Wolcott Balestier to whom he dedicated Barrack Room Ballads, and with whom in collaboration he wrote the Naulahka (1891), one of his less successful books. The next collection of stories, Many Inventions (1893), contained the splendid Mulvaney extravaganza, “My Lord the Elephant”; a vividly realized tale of metempsychosis, “The Finest Story in the World”; and in that fascinating tale “In the Rukh,” the prelude to the next new exhibition of the author’s genius. This came in 1894 with The Jungle Book, followed in 1895 by The Second Jungle Book. With these inspired beast-stories Kipling conquered a new world and a new audience, and produced what many critics regard as his most flawless work. His chief subsequent publications were The Seven Seas (poems), 1896; Captains Courageous (a yarn of deep-sea fishery), 1897; The Day’s Work (collected stories), 1898; A Fleet in Being (an account of a cruise in a man-of-war), 1898; Stalky and Co.(mentioned above), 1899; From Sea to Sea (mentioned above), 1899; Kim, 1901; Just So Stories (for children), 1902; The Five Nations (poems, concluding with what proved Mr Kipling’s most universally known and popular poem, “Recessional,” originally published in The Times on the 17th of July 1897 on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s second jubilee), 1903; Traffics and Discoveries (collected stories), 1904; Puck of Pook’s Hill(stories), 1906; Actions and Reactions (stories), 1909. Of these Kim was notable as far the most successful of Mr Kipling’s longer narratives, though it is itself rather in the nature of a string of episodes. But everything he wrote, even to a farcical extravaganza inspired by his enthusiasm for the motor-car, breathed the meteoric energy that was the nature of the man. A vigorous and unconventional poet, a pioneer in the modern phase of literary Imperialism, and one of the rare masters in English prose of the art of the short story, Mr Kipling had already by the opening of the 20th century won the most conspicuous place among the creative literary forces of his day. His position in English literature was recognized in 1907 by the award to him of the Nobel prize.

See Rudyard Kipling’s chapter in My First Book (Chatto, 1894); “A Bibliography of Rudyard Kipling,” by John Lane, in Rudyard Kipling: a Criticism, by Richard de Gallienne; “Mr Kipling’s Short Stories” in Questions at Issue, by Edmund Gosse (1893); “Mr Kipling’s Stories” in Essays in Little, by Andrew Lang; “Mr Kipling’s Stories,” by J. M. Barrie in the Contemporary Review (March 1891); articles in the Quarterly Review(July 1892) and Edinburgh Review (Jan. 1898); and section on Kipling in Poets of the Younger Generation, by William Archer (1902). See also for bibliography to 1903 English Illustrated Magazine, new series, vol. xxx. pp. 298 and 429-432.


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