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Kipling's Best Short Stories And Poems Post by :knopka Category :Essays Author :George Hamlin Fitch Date :November 2011 Read :2636

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Kipling's Best Short Stories And Poems


Rudyard Kipling cannot be classified with any writer of his own age or of any literary age in the past. His tremendous strength, his visual faculty, even his mannerisms, are his own. He has written too much for his own fame, but although the next century will discard nine-tenths of his work, it will hold fast to the other tenth as among the best short stories and poems that our age produced. Kipling is essentially a short-story writer; not one of his longer novels has any real plot or the power to hold the reader's interest to the end. Kim, the best of his long works, is merely a series of panoramic views of Indian life and character, which could be split up into a dozen short stories and sketches.

But in the domain of the short story Kipling is easily the first great creative artist of his time. No one approaches him in vivid descriptive power, in keen character portraiture, in the faculty of making a strange and alien life as real to us as the life we have always known. And in some of his more recent work, as in the story of the two young Romans in Puck of Pook's Hill, Kipling reaches rare heights in reproducing the romance of a bygone age. In these tales of ancient Britain the poet in Kipling has full sway and his visual power moves with a freedom that stamps clearly and deeply every image upon the reader's mind.

The first ten years of Kipling's literary activity were given over to a wonderful reproduction of East Indian life as seen through sympathetic English eyes. Yet the sympathy that is revealed in Kipling's best sketches of native life in India is never tinged with sentiment. The native is always drawn in his relations to the Englishman; always the traits of revenge or of gratitude or of dog-like devotion are brought out. Kipling knows the East Indian through and through, because in his childhood he had a rare opportunity to watch the native. The barrier of reserve, which was always maintained against the native Englishman, was let down in the case of this precocious child, who was a far keener observer than most adults. And these early impressions lend an extraordinary life and vitality to the sketches and stories on which Kipling's fame will ultimately rest.

The early years of Kipling were spent in an ideal way for the development of the creative literary artist. Born at Bombay in December, 1865, he absorbed Hindustanee from his native nurse, and he saw the native as he really is, without the guard which is habitually put up in the presence of the Briton, even though this alien may be held in much esteem. The son of John Lockwood Kipling, professor of architectural sculpture in the British School of Art at Bombay, and of a sister of Edward Burne-Jones, it was not strange that this boy should have developed strong powers of imagination or that his mind should have sought relief in literary expression.

The school days of Kipling were spent at Westward Ho, in Devon, where, though he failed to distinguish himself in his studies, he established a reputation as a clever writer of verse and prose. He also enjoyed in these formative years the friendship and counsel of Burne-Jones, and he had the use of several fine private libraries. His wide reading probably injured his school standing, but it was of enormous benefit to him in his future literary work. At seventeen young Kipling returned to India, where he secured a position on the CIVIL AND MILITARY GAZETTE of Lahore, where his father was principal of a large school of arts.

The Anglo-Indian newspaper is not a model, but it afforded a splendid field for the development of Kipling's abilities. He was not only a reporter of the ordinary occurrences of his station, but he was constantly called upon to write short sketches and poems to fill certain corners in the paper, that varied in size according to the number and length of the advertisements. Some of the best of his short sketches and bits of verse were written hurriedly on the composing stone to satisfy such needs. These sketches and poems he published himself and sent them to subscribers in all parts of India, but though their cleverness was recognized by Anglo-Indians, they did not appeal to the general public. After five years' work at Lahore, Kipling was transferred to the ALLAHABAD PIONEER, one of the most important of the Anglo-Indian journals. For the weekly edition of this paper he wrote many verses and sketches and also served as special correspondent in various parts of India.

It was in 1889 that the PIONEER sent him on a tour of the world and he wrote the series of letters afterwards reprinted under the title From Sea to Sea. Kipling, like Stevenson, had to have a story to tell to bring out all his powers; hence these letters are not among his best work.

Vividly do I recall Kipling's visit to San Francisco. He came into the CHRONICLE office and was keenly interested in the fine collections which made this newspaper's library before the fire the most valuable on this Coast, if not in the country. He was also much impressed with the many devices for securing speed in typesetting and other mechanical work. The only feature of his swarthy face that impressed one was his brilliant black eyes, which behind his large glasses, seemed to note every detail. He talked very well, but although he made friends among local newspapermen, he was unsuccessful in selling any of his stories to the editors of the Sunday supplements. He soon went to New York, but there also he failed to dispose of his stories.

Finally Kipling reached London in September, 1889, and after several months of discouragement, he induced a large publishing house to bring out Plain Tales From the Hills. It scored an immediate success. Like Byron, the unknown young writer awoke to find himself famous; magazine editors clamored for his stories at fancy prices and publishers eagerly sought his work. It may be said to Kipling's credit that he did not utilize this opportunity to make money out of his sudden reputation. He doubtless worked over many old sketches, but he put his best into whatever he gave the public. He married the sister of Wolcott Balestier, a brilliant American who became very well known in London as a publishers' agent, and after Balestier's death Kipling moved to his wife's old home in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he built a fine country house; but constant trouble with a younger brother of his wife caused him to abandon this American home and go back to England, where he set up his lares at Rottingdean, in Surrey. There he has remained, averaging a book a year, until now he has over twenty-five large volumes to his credit. In 1907 Kipling was given the Nobel prize "for the best work of an idealist tendency."

In reading Kipling it is best to begin with some of the tales written in his early life, for these he has never surpassed in vigor and interest. Take, for instance, Without Benefit of Clergy, The Man Who Was, The Drums of the Fore and Aft, The Man Who Would Be King and Beyond the Pale. These stories all deal with Anglo-Indian life, two with the British soldier and the other three with episodes in the lives of British officials and adventurers.

The Man Who Would Be King, the finest of all Kipling's tales of Anglo-Indian life and adventure, is the story of the fatal ambition of Daniel Dravot, told by the man who accompanied him into the wildest part of Afghanistan. Daniel made the natives believe that he was a god and he could have ruled them as a king had he not foolishly become enamored of a native beauty. This girl was prompted by a native soothsayer to bite Dravot in order to decide whether he was a god or merely human. The blood that she drew on his neck was ample proof of his spurious claims and the two adventurers were chased for miles through a wild country. When captured Daniel is forced to walk upon a bridge, the ropes of which are then cut, and his body is hurled hundreds of feet down upon the rocks. The story of the survivor, who escaped after crucifixion, is one of the ghastliest tales in all literature.

Other tales that Kipling has written of Indian life are scarcely inferior to these in strange, uncanny power. One of the weirdest relates the adventures of an army officer who fell into the place where those who have been legally declared dead, but who have recovered, pass their lives. As a picture of hell on earth it has never been surpassed. Another of Kipling's Indian tales that is worth reading is William the Conqueror, a love story that has a background of grim work during the famine year.

One of Kipling's claims to fame is that he has drawn the British soldier in India as he actually lives. His Soldiers Three--Mulvaney, the Irishman, Ortheris, the cockney, and Learoyd, the Yorkshireman--are so full of real human nature that they delight all men and many women. Mulvaney is the finest creation of Kipling, and most of his stories are brimful of Irish wit. Of late years Kipling has written some fine imaginative stories, such as The Brushwood Boy, They and An Habitation Enforced. He has also revealed his genius in such tales of the future as With the Night Mail, a remarkably graphic sketch of a voyage across the Atlantic in a single night in a great aeroplane. Another side of Kipling's genius is seen in his Jungle Stories, in which all the wild animals are endowed with speech. Mowgli, the boy who is suckled by a wolf, is a distinct creation, and his adventures are full of interest. Compare these stories with the work of Thompson-Seton and you get a good idea of the genius of Kipling in making real the savage struggle for life in the Indian jungle.

Of Kipling's long novels The Naulakha ranks first for interest of plot, but Kim is the best because of its series of wonderful pictures of East Indian life and character. Captains Courageous is a story of Cape Cod fishing life, with an improbable plot but much good description of the perils and hardships of the men who seek fortune on the fishing banks.

As a poet Kipling appeals strongly to men who love the life of action and adventure in all parts of the world. In his Departmental Ditties he has painted the life of the British soldier and the civilian in India, and his Danny Dever, his Mandalay and others which sing themselves have passed into the memory of the great public that seldom reads any verse unless it be the words of a popular song. The range of his verse is very wide, whether it is the superb imagery in The Last Chantey or the impressive Calvanism of McAndrew's Hymn. His Recessional, of course, is known to everyone. It is one of the finest bits of verse printed in the last twenty years.

Kipling, in spite of his many volumes, is only forty-six years old, and he may be counted on to do much more good work.

If he turns to historical fiction he may yet do for English history what the author of Waverley has done for the history of Scotland. Certainly he has the finest creative imagination of his age; in whatever domain it may work it is sure to produce literature that will live.

(The end)
George Hamlin Fitch's essay on: Kipling's Best Short Stories And Poems

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