Friday, February 6, 2015


reates/1907/press.html SPEECH TO CANADIAN AUTHORS
STRICTLY BETWEEN OURSELVES, I think this is an occasion when we are justified in feeling a little proud of our calling. We know that, after all the men who do things have done them, and the men who say things about their doings have said them, it is only words—nothing but words—that live to show the present how, and in what moods, men lived and worked in the past.
And we do not know what words they will be. That is one of the reasons why there can be neither first nor last in the kingdom—for it is not a republic—of letters.

We who use words enjoy a peculiar advantage over our fellows. We cannot tell a lie. However much we may wish to do so, we only of educated men and women cannot tell a lie—in our working hours. The more subtly we attempt it, the more certainly do we betray some aspect of truth concerning the life of our age.
It is with us as with timber. Every knot and shake in a board reveals some disease or injury that overtook the log when it was growing. A gentleman named Jean Pigeon, who once built a frame house for me, put this in a nutshell. He said: `Everything which a tree she has experienced in the forest she takes with her into the house.' That is the law for us all, each in his or her own land.

Canadian writers and poets have dealt directly or by implication with every detail of their country's life and background.

Some have chosen the days of the first adventurers wandering bewildered across blind forests and great waterways. Others have illuminated the distracted times of the United Empire Loyalists, of the great famine year, the Fenian raids, and Riel's rebellion. Others, again, those periods of doubt and self-distrust that followed the political birth of your huge sub-continent.

And now men and women are dealing with the marvellous later years when Canada, first of the new Powers, came to her soul and strength, and, incidentally, sent four hundred thousand free men to the War.
Directly or unconsciously, then, the splendour, the toil, and the variety of your national history will have inspired or coloured all your work.

Somewhere in the mass of this work must be laid up the very lines, phrases, and books which will be taken by the world of to-morrow as the authentic portrayal of your world of yesterday. But, as I said, who the people are that have already written those words, and for what reason of art or emotion their words will be accepted before all other words, we cannot tell.

Mercifully, it is not permitted to any one to foresee his or her literary election or reprobation, any more than it was permitted to our ancestors to foresee the just stature of their contemporaries, whose shrines and former dwellings you are now in the process of visiting.

You have already spent five or six fairly crowded days with us. You have before you ten more in which to look over some of the possessions, and verify some of the title-deeds, of your imperishable inheritance here.
The things that you will see here, and the atmospheres you will realise, are not, as aliens might regard them, archaeological curiosities or ineffective echoes out of a spent past. Whether they be the work of men's hands, or men's souls, they bear witness to the instinct—it is more than tradition—the immemorial racial instinct towards unbridled expenditure on matters material and spiritual for sheer joy of the exercise.

They are proof of our land's deep unconscious delight through all ages in her own strength and beauty and unjaded youth.

That same headlong surplus of effort and desire goes forward along other paths to-day. But our eyes are held. Like the generations before us, we cannot perceive among what new births of new wonders we now move. And all these things, out of our past, in our present, and for our future, are yours by right.
They are doubly yours, since the dominant strains of your blood draw from those twin races—French and English—which throughout their histories have been most resolute not to be decivilised on any pretext or for any gain.

If on your journeys some of you feel inclined to faint by the wayside, you have my deepest sympathy, for it was given to me once to see Canada en bloc. I had known portions of it, of course, many years before, but this was one prodigious sweep from Quebec to Victoria and back again.
Through three amazing weeks it was my turn to be shown things—to listen to prophecies which, within the next ten years, fell short of the facts, and to feel the moral pulse of a land and a people free as their own airs, and yet set in most ancient and sane practices of justice, honour, and self-control.

I tried to grasp all these things because they were just as much mine as everything here is yours. Not till long after my return did the significance of them begin to break in upon me. Then my experiences and impressions clarified and arranged themselves, and as I sorted them out in my head I found that I had the key to them all the time in my heart.

It will be the same with you on your return, because one's own heart is the best place to store the few things in life that really matter.
A Book of Words

Selections from speeches and addresses
delivered between 1906 and 1927
This is one of the six later speeches not included in that collection which were added for the Sussex Edition

"Speech to Canadian Authors" 

Luncheon for
the Canadian Authors’ Association
Royal Society of Literature
Claridges, London, 12 July 1933

Notes edited
by Leonee Ormo
A Book of Words
Selections collected in A Book of Words from thirty-one speeches and addresses delivered between 1906 and 1927, together with six later speeches from the Sussex Edition 


Notes by
Leonee Ormond

[April 25th 2011]

Publication History

This collection, with thirty-one speeches, was published by Macmillan in 1928. The last six speeches, making thirty-seven in all, were published in the Sussex Edition, volume XXV, in 1938.

Angus Wilson (p. 255) comments:

... one of the paradoxes about Kipling is that for a man who disliked public appearances and speaking, he put some of his most deeply personal and revealing statements into his speeches. As a result, A Book of Words, that incorporates them, makes splendid reading. His speech to McGill University is no exception. It is his most direct and fierce attack upon materialism.

The Title Page 

Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30, 1865. At the age of six he was placed in the care of some relatives in England, but he returned to India on reaching the age of seventeen. He obtained a position on the staff of The Civil and Military Gazette, published at Lahore, and in his early twenties edited The Pioneer at Allahabad. In his capacity as a journalist, and for his own purposes, he travelled extensively throughout India. On those journeys he acquired a thorough insight into Hindu conceptions and sentiments and became intimately acquainted with the different Hindu groups, with their varying customs and institutions, and with the special features of English military life in India  This firm grasp of the true inwardness of all things Indian is abundantly reflected in Kipling's writings, so much so that it has even been said that they have brought India nearer home to the English nation than has the construction of the Suez Canal. Of his early works the satirical Departmental Ditties (1886) attracted notice by the audacity of the allusions it contained, and by the originality of its tone. Also among the early productions are Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Soldiers Three (1888), collections of stories famous among other things for the three lovingly drawn soldier types: Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd. Other works in the same category are, for instance, The Story of the Gadsbys (1888), In Black and White (1888), and Under the Deodars(1889), all of which are concerned with society life in Simla. The series entitled Life's Handicap, embracing some stories of serious import, appeared in 1891. The same year saw the publication of The Light that Failed, a novel somewhat harsh in style but containing some strongly coloured descriptive passages of excellent effect.
As a poet Kipling was already full-fledged at the appearance of Barrack Room Ballads (1892), magnificent soldier-songs brimming over with virile humour and depicting realistically Tommy Atkins in all his phases, valiantly marching onward to encounter dangers and misery wherever it pleases «the Widow of Windsor», or her successor on the throne, to dispatch him. In Kipling the British Army has found a minstrel to interpret in a new, original, and tragicomical manner the toils and deprivations through which it has to pass, and to depict its life and work with abundant acknowledgment of the great qualities it displays, but without the least trace of meretricious embellishment  In his verses descriptive of soldiers and sailors he so happily expresses their own thoughts, often in the very language they themselves employ, that they appreciate him deeply and, as we are told, sing his song whenever they have a pause in the day's occupations. Surely, there is hardly any greater mark of honour that can be given to a poet than to be beloved by the lower orders.
In the cycle entitled The Seven Seas (1896) Kipling reveals himself as an imperialist, a citizen of a world-wide empire. He has undoubtedly done more than any other writer of pure literature to draw tighter the bonds of union between England and her colonies.

In Sweden, as elsewhere, «the jungle books» by Kipling, the first of which appeared in 1894, are much admired and beloved. A primordial type of imaginative power inspired the creator of these mythlike tales of the animals in whose midst Mowgli waxed in strength: Bagheera the Black Panther, Baloo the Bear, Kaa the cunning and mighty Rock-Python, Nag the White Cobra, and the chattering, foolish Monkeys. Some of the scenes are simply sublime; for instance, the one where Mowgli is resting in «the living armchair» Kaa, while the latter, who has witnessed so many generations of trees and animals, dreams of bygone ages; or again when Mowgli causes Hathi the Elephant to «let in the jungle» to take over the fields of men. These descriptions display an instinctive feeling for a poetry of nature which is quite phenomenal, and Kipling is far more in his true element in the primeval grandeur of these jungle stories than, for instance, in «The Ship that Found Herself» (in The Day's Work, 1898), an interesting though eccentric personification of mechanical inventions. The Jungle Book tales have made Kipling a favourite author among children in many countries. Adults share the delight experienced by the young and relive their childhood while perusing these marvellously delightful, wonderfully imaginative fables of animals.

Among the large number of Kipling's creations, Kim (1901) deserves special notice, for in the delineation of the Buddhist priest, who goes on a pilgrimage along the banks of the stream that purifies from sin, there is an elevated diction as well as a tenderness and charm which are otherwise unusual traits in this dashing writer's style. There is, too, in the figure of the little rascal Kim, the priest's chela, a thorough type of good-humoured roguishness.

The accusation has occasionally been made against Kipling that his language is at times somewhat coarse and that his use of soldier's slang in some of the broadest of his songs and ballads verges on the vulgar. Though there may be some truth in such remarks, their importance is offset by the invigorating directness and ethical stimulus of Kipling's style. He has won immense popularity, not only in the Anglo-Indian world, which possesses in him a great literary master, but also far beyond the limits of the vast British Empire. During his serious illness in America in 1899, the American newspapers issued daily bulletins regarding his condition, and the German Emperor dispatched a telegram to his wife to express his earnest sympathy.

What is then the cause of this world-wide popularity that Kipling enjoys? Or, rather: In what way has Kipling shown himself to deserve it? How is it, too, that he has been deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature, for which a writer must especially show an idealism in his conceptions and in his art? The answer follows:

Kipling may not be eminent essentially for the profundity of his thought or for the surpassing wisdom of his meditations. Yet even the most cursory observer sees immediately his absolutely unique power of observation, capable of reproducing with astounding accuracy the minutest detail from real life. However, the gift of observation alone, be it ever so closely true to nature, would not suffice as a qualification in this instance. There is something else by which his poetical gifts are revealed. His marvellous power of imagination enables him to give us not only copies from nature but also visions out of his own inner consciousness. His landscapes appear to the inner vision as sudden apparitions do to the eye. In sketching a personality he makes clear, almost in his first words, the peculiar traits of that person's character and temper. Creativeness which does not rest content with merely photographing the temporary phases of things but desires to penetrate to their inmost kernel and soul,is the basis of his literary activity, as Kipling himself says: «He draws the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are.» In these weighty words lies a real appreciation of the poet's responsibility in the exercise of his calling.

No comments:

Post a Comment