Sunday, February 8, 2015


O loved little Island, forget never the Sea.
Never the Sea forgivs such as forget her.

Liverpool Shipbrokers’ Benevolent Society
Adelphi Hotel, 26 October 1928

WHEN Lord Hewart was your guest lasy year he gave you some interesting facts about maritime law as that affected freights. But I don't recall that he mentioned a certain saying about that maritime by-product, passengers. So many of us guests are passengers, and so many of our hosts are interested in our passages, that I need not apologise for quoting it. It runs: 'God made men; God made women; and then He made passengers.' This libel is based on the cruel superstition that if you put people into a ship, and roll them round Ushant, by the time they are decanted at their first port, they look and behave like nothing on the face of the waters except passengers.

I expect this accounts for the way we were treated within human memory. I won't go into details farther than to remind you that our cabins used to open directly into the dining-saloon, and we were warned by notices on the mahogany-inlaid mizzen-mast which came through the table that we were under the authority of the Master, and that 'the limit of his authority was the needs of the case, having regard to the security of the ship and those on board.' This covered a large area.

But now that we have imposed the world-end habit on the week-end habit the case is altered. So long as we passengers muster at boat-stations with our belts on, and do not try to alter the ship's course or set her alight, we can do absolutely what we please. And we do. To take one side of our activities only: We arrive in 20,000-ton liners to assault lovely and innocent coast towns, a thousand of us, under cover of a gas attack by 200 motor-cars. We roar through the streets, a pillar of dust by day. We come back at night, with our picture postcards, to dance to amplified gramio- phones on promenade decks till it is time to call boarding parties away to carry the next place of interest on the, programme.

And this traffic, this prodigious tourist-traffic, is increasing. Time and distance only excite it to wilder effort; for there is a man at this table who expressed his regret to me the other day that he could not for the moment—for the moment, mark you!—include the Galapagos Islands—where the giant tortoises come from—in a tourist itinerary.

Well, even supposing we may be able, next year, to cruise about scratching our initials on turtle-back sterns, what is the good of us? Apart from our dividend-earning capacity what moral purpose do we passengers subserve in the general scheme of things? This—and it is not a little matter. When we are home again, and have arranged the snapshots of ourselves standing in front of the Pyramids or the Parthenon, we have, at the lowest, realised that there are other lands than ours where people live their own lives in their own way and seem quite happy about it, and where we have seen and touched the things we had hitherto only read about. And when interest in one's neighbour, curiosity about his housekeeping, and understanding of his surroundings are waked and can be gratified in hundreds of thousands of hearts, they make for toler¬ance, good-will, and so peace. And that is to the good.
Much of this good the world owes to those big companies who foresaw that, after the War, people would need a little fresh air and exercise, and supplied it. I do not accuse them of undiluted benevolence in this respect, but organisations that have to visualise the full circuit of the globe, as a matter of daily routine, are given—gloriously given—to building better than they know. The history of Liverpool since the Restora¬tion is proof. The mere constructive imagination used to order and equip a port that serves every sea on every tide far outmarches what is known as 'imagination' in the imaginative callings. The demands on it are more incalculable; the difficulties of execution greater; the penalties of failure more severe. But these. trifles do not affect us passengers. We reserve our imagination for our own jobs. All we demand of you is to be taken everywhere as punctu¬ally as by train; as cheaply and as quickly as possible; in the greatest luxury and, of course, in absolute safety. Nothing more. And that is why some of you here have, like Shakespeare and others, to create masterpieces on approval every few years. But if your imagination be at fault as to her lines; if you have not imagined the best system for driving and fuelling her; if she fails to come up to speed and con¬sumption standards, you cannot throw her in the waste-paper basket. She is there—every foot and ton of her—a burden on her shareholders and a museum of useful warnings to your rivals in the same game. And to come into such a game, before a card is drawn,, costs, I believe, several millions.

Even after experience and science have been tried out to the last, it takes nerve to break away and back one's own judgment against the world. But nerve is the cutting-edge of imagination, and it happens to be a quality which, taking one century with another, our country has not altogether lacked. Whether we de¬veloped it because we were forced to use the seas in order to live, or whether we had it from the first and took the seas on our way, does not matter. Nerve, which knows risks and faces them, seems to be dis¬tributed vertically and uniformly, as far down as we have been able to mine into the grit of the national character.

Nowhere has it proved itself more splendidly than in the Merchant Service. Here you have, in daily use, the imagination that foresees, without being over¬whelmed, any risk that the ocean may deliver; and the nerve that deals with every immediate peril arising out of that risk. These things are so wholly given and taken for granted, that we accept them as we accept the fact that our people depend for their food, their material, and their credit on the Merchant Service. We know that if our shipping goes, we go; and that fact is per¬fectly understood by our ill-wishers. We have always accepted those risks as part of our existence.
Just now, our existence is so fantastically burdened and handicapped that, if we chose to give rein to imagination, we could waste half our time and effort in forebodings. Fortunately we do not, we cannot, so choose. For it was the sea that, from our beginnings, directed our imaginings. It was the sea that waited on us the world over, till our imaginings became realities, till our mud-creeks at home grew to be world-com¬manding ports, and our remotest landing-places the threshold of nations. It is the sea that has given us the cutting-edge to our imagination, the nerve that meets all manner of trouble with the inherited conviction that nothing really matters so long as one keeps one's nerve, and, in that certainty, overcomes every handicap without too much clamour. 

Liverpool Shipbrokers’ Benevolent Society
Adelphi Hotel, 26 October 1928 

Notes edited
by Leonee Ormond
The speech  
Notes on XXXI  
Notes on XXXIII  

[April 11th 2011]


Published in pamphlet form as "The Nerve that Conquers", Doubleday, New York, 1928. Published in The Times 27 October 1928, page 9 and on the same date in the New York Times and East Anglian Times. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. XXV, pp. 285-91, together with the earlier speeches collected in A Book of Words, and in the Burwash Edition vol. XXIV. Kipling gave permission for his speech to be printed in pamphlet form in aid of the Benevolent Society, but there is no record of such a publication.


Kipling had been asked to give the speech by Sir Percy Bates (1879-1946), the Chairman of Cunard, and of the Morning Post, with whom he stayed.

He arrived in Liverpool on 25 October and on the following day toured the docks on the Overhead Railway.

An account of his visit was given in the Liverpool Echo of Ocrober 26th under the title: Rudyard Kipling Sees Our Ships. Famous Author's Trip Along the Docks:

Youth is restless in Liverpool, today, for Rudyard Kipling is here. A glimpse of the author who has inspired every right-thinking Englishman, at some time or other, is a possibility of the streets.And middle-aged men reflect to themselves and try to recapture the magic of reading "Kim," or "Soldiers Three," or "Barrack Room Ballads" for the first time.

Kipling arrived last night, and this evening will be the chief guest at the banquet, in the Adelphi Hotel, of the Liverpool Ship- brokers' Benevolent Society... In such an atmosphere what more natural than that the author of "Ballad of the Bolivar," "The Ship that Found Herself," and other marvellous romances of the mercantile marine, should take a cruise among ships? Thus it came about that Mr. Kipling took a voyage not on a ship, but amongst and alongside ships--on the Overhead Railway...

To Mr. Kipling the tour along the docks in the Overhead train was a treat he made no effort to disguise. As the train passed the Northern Docks, containing the biggest liners, its pace was reduced, so that he might have a better chance of seeing the craft. The keen interest he displayed is, perhaps, best indicated by one little incident. He espied a Blue Funnel liner.Quick as lightening he queried,

"Where have I seen a funnel like that before?" Then,with equal rapidity, he supplied the answer himself, "Ah! I remember now, it was at Yokohama about twenty years ago."

Concerning another ship, Mr. Kipling recalled that he travelled on a vessel of that fleet from a China port. She carried tea, and so much of it that she had to put a couple of hundred tons of her bunker coal on deck. He won't readily forget it, he said, because the coal shoot passed near to his cabin, and he got the full benefit of it. About the wonderful panoramic view of the docks and ships, obtainable from the Overhead Railway, Mr. Kipling became positively enthusiastic.
In a letter to Elsie of October 10, Kipling wrote:

I am going up to Liverpool to stay a night with Percy Bates and make a speech to the Benevolent Shipbrokers of that Port. Did not know that that sort of people were benevolent but anything is possible at Liverpool.
[Letters, (Ed. Thomas Pinney) vol 5. p. 455[.

No comments:

Post a Comment