Kipling's Indian

by Thomas Pinney

(based on his introduction to "Kipling's India,
Uncollected Sketches 1884-1888" - Papermac 1986.)

[June 8th 2015]


The young Rudyard Kipling who went out to India in the September of 1882 to join the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore was still more than three months short of his seventeenth birthday. Properly speaking, it was a return to India, for Kipling had been born in Bombay and had lived there surrounded by native servants until, after the fashion of the English in India, he had been sent to England for his education. That was in 1871, when he was not yet six; now, eleven years later, he was returning, practically as a stranger, to the land of his birth and to the parents whom he knew only from their rare visits to England.

His appointment to the Civil and Military Gazette (hereafter the CMG) had come about through his father, John Lockwood Kipling, a ready and agreeable writer himself, who frequently contributed to the Indian newspapers and was well known to the editors and publishers of the English community in India. Kipling’s mother, too, sometimes wrote for the CMG, in the form of letters describing the summer life of the hill stations. And Rudyard had already demonstrated a knack for journalism. He had been put in charge of his school magazine in 1881 and had filled it with work of his own. By early 1882 he had begun to write news items for the weekly paper in Bideford, just over the hill from his school at Westward Ho! Thus, when the question of what to do with an uncommitted but promising young man had to be faced, journalism seemed a clear answer. Kipling’s erratic school performance and the comparative poverty of his parents put Oxford or Cambridge out of the question. For a time Kipling had played with the notion of a career in medicine, but this idea was not carried far. He had fallen in love and was not eager to leave England, but by the time his school days ended in the summer of 1882 the matter had been settled for him, and he dutifully sailed from London to take up his new work.

The CMG was published in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab and the centre of British administration for the northwestern frontier regions of India (as it was then) generally. Kipling’s parents had been in Lahore since 1875, when his father was appointed head of both the newly-founded school of art there and of the Lahore museum. The size of the British community in Lahore was surprisingly small — perhaps a few hundred civil servants and military officers, not counting the rank and file of the troops stationed at the fort and in the nearby cantonments at Mian Mir. The popular idea of the British in India during the high days of Empire does not usually offer a very distinct realisation of how few their numbers actually were. All of the servants of the Raj could be, and were, enumerated each year in an official directory, complete with a statement of annual salary, that required only a modest shelf space. Immigration from England was discouraged, and the fixed practice of the administrators was to return to England on retirement. Thus there was little growth in the numbers of Britons in India year after year, and those who were there did not look upon the country as home but as a place of labour in exile. Unless these facts about the British community in India are clearly grasped — that it was a very tiny group set apart from a vast anonymous multitude, and that it saw itself as living in exile from home — one is likely to misunderstand the assumptions and the peculiar self-consciousness that identified the group for which Kipling wrote during his Indian years.

To take a trivial but revealing instance of the psychology involved, Kipling, in describing the illuminations at Lahore for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887, compares the light shining on the exotic outlines of the night-time city with ‘such a light as one sees at night playing over Brighton from far away on Lewes Downs’ (18 February 1887). Does that comparison legitimize the scene at Lahore? Kipling is partly writing to himself: he knew that coast and those downs from family homes, and he was later to return to the region to make it his own home. But he is also writing to an audience who might be expected to approve the comparison.

The CMG was the property of a larger paper, the Pioneer of Allahabad — for which Kipling was afterwards to work — and though the CMG had a considerable plant, where a large job-printing business was carried on, the paper itself was a modest enterprise. Kipling was, as he wrote in Something of Myself (p. 40) , ‘fifty per cent of the “editorial staff” of the one daily paper of the Punjab’; the other fifty per cent was the editor, Stephen Wheeler. Wheeler was only a few years older than Kipling, but he was comparatively a hardened journalist and certainly a severe taskmaster. He mistrusted ‘original’ or ‘independent’ writing, and for a long time refused to allow Kipling to do anything of his own. The best account of the demanding and unrewarding routine to which Kipling was now subjected is in a letter he wrote to a former teacher during the first weeks of his job:
I write, so to speak, between the horns of the gum pot and the scissors. For the last two hours I have been putting together the bulk of our paper and correcting proofs of all kinds but just at present there is a lull for tiffin so I am free to write to you. . . . My working hours are from 10 till 4.15 or earlier if I can manage it. One isn’t working all the time but it is necessary to be on hand for special telegrams and visitors between those two times. Besides this there is a lot of work out of office hours, telegrams come to my house at any time of the day and night. These have to be seen to. Special telegrams are generally full of abusive matter which might land us in a libel case and so on. One of the first things a sub editor has to learn is to altogether give up original writing. I have not written three words of original matter beyond reports and reviews since I have joined the staff. The actual business which I am learning is intensely interesting and does not become monotonous in any way for you never meet the same thing twice. Some thirty papers go through my hands daily — Hindu papers, scurrilous and abusive beyond everything, local scandal weeklies, philosophical and literary journals written by Babus in the style of Addison. Native Mohammedan, sleepy little publications, all extracts, Indigo papers, tea and coffee journals, jute journals and official Gazettes all have to be disembowelled if they are worth it. Moreover I am responsible for every scrap of the paper except the first two pages. That is to say, I bear the blame of correspondents’ blunders — it is my duty to correct them; misprints and bad lettering — it is my business to find them out; vulgarities, bad grammar and indecency — we get that sometimes! have to be looked to carefully and I have a large correspondence all over India with men of all sorts. All local notes come to me and have to be digested, and I must pick up information about approaching polo matches, garden parties, official dinners and dances, to insert in the local column.
(to Willes, 17 November 1882: MS, Dalhousie University).
This routine was heavy enough; added to that, the content of the paper gave Kipling little chance for independent writing. The CMG’s first responsibility was to give the official news to a readership of officials: the proceedings of the government, national and local, the speeches of the Viceroy, the expositions of administrative authorities, the reports of various agencies, and all information of that kind. Then came telegraphic news from around the world, but mostly from Europe, and pre-eminently, from England. Long columns were filled with accounts of public, social, artistic and sporting life from the homeland to which the Indian exiles were all looking. The ups and downs of French political life were closely reported, perhaps to give the Indian civil servants a satisfied sense of their own comparatively orderly and useful activities. And the proceedings of Russia were recorded in detail — every Indian official would of course be expected to know what the Czar and his agents were up to and to have a notion about what the Imperial response should be. When these interests had been met, the market quotations, the results of racing and other sports that Anglo-Indian gentlemen took an interest in, and the weather — always the weather — had to be dealt with. Only then did local news get a chance to be heard from. ‘Local’ of course meant the English community almost exclusively. A murder, a religious festival, or a race riot in the native quarter might get a summary notice, and the misdoings of natives up and down the country offered standard fare for editorial comment, but beyond that the lives of the Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs of Lahore went mostly unnoticed by the CMG. Local news tended, like the national news, to have a strong official flavour: a levee at Government House, a military ball at the Lawrence Hall, or a letter from a Lahore administrator on some topic of government policy were standard items. After all these things had been served, not much remained for indulging one’s own line, or for developing new lines of interest in the paper’s coverage, or even for any ‘reporting’, as we understand that term, of the most ordinary sort.

Any account of Kipling’s career as a journalist in India must also stress the sheer physical discomfort of the life. Kipling tried to give some idea of it to a reporter in San Francisco, where he was interviewed as an interesting visitor on his way from India to England in 1889:
An editor in India has a hard time of it until he gets acclimated, or salted, as we call it, and it takes from one to two years to do that. The thermometer from March to October during the day hovers at about 116 in the shade. At dawn it is 84, and all through the night, after the air has been pumped through wet reeds. Outside during the day everything is dusty and red-hot. I have seen the blackness of midnight occur at midday from the dust storms. The editor must have green paper on the glass of his windows to keep out the glaring light. If he drinks he will drink the national drink there called the peg. This consists of a little whisky in soda nine inches high, with ice. You drink there for the liquid, and not for the liquor, and the minute you drink it you feel it coming out through your shirt. The editor in India, as he sits writing at his desk, has to have every piece of paper about him weighted down, else the fans which are ceaselessly going to prevent suffocation, will blow everything away. Oftentimes the cholera strikes these cities. It is worse now since we have the railroads. Everybody who can then gets away to the mountains, but somebody must stay and run the paper, and consequently the attaches must be all-around men, who can turn their hands to anything, and keep things going
(San Francisco Chronicle, 2 June 1889).
Or, as Kipling put it laconically many years later in his autobiography, ‘a daily paper comes out every day even though fifty per cent of the staff have fever’ (Something of Myself, p. 40).

There was a positive side, too, one should add. Especially at first, the boyish Kipling was delighted to enter into the privileges of adult life: he was being paid, he had responsibility, he belonged to a club. It was not long before he was given an office of his own, and he purchased a dog cart in which to drive between home and office. Though he lived with his parents, his comings and goings were determined by his own purposes. During Wheeler’s frequent illnesses Kipling was in entire charge of the paper and of the printing plant, and he knew at a very precocious age what it was like to have ‘about seventy men to bully and hector as I please’, as he wrote on his seventeenth birthday (to Price, 30 December 1882: copy, Lorraine Price). The novelty of these things could not last long, however, and when the novelty was gone so was the pleasure.

When Kipling had proved to his disciplinarian editor that he could perform his routine soberly and capably he was, little by little, allowed to give his irresistible urge to write some exercise in other forms. By December of 1882 (and probably earlier) he was writing some of the miscellaneous editorial notes called ‘scraps’, brief items only a few paragraphs long at most, that made up the CMG’s front page after the telegraphic news had been accommodated. These scraps were based on topics from current news, and, though they might combine editorialising with description, and were sometimes facetious, they were not very adventurous. No doubt Kipling also had some experience of writing all the other forms of editorial contribution — leaders, reviews, summaries, and the like — for we know that he sometimes had to do the whole duty of the paper whenever Wheeler was ill. We also know, from Kipling’s plaintive recollection, that Wheeler considered translation an excellent discipline for his assistant, and regularly set him to translating from the Russian news contained in the official French of the Journal de St. Petersbourg or the Nouveau Temps.

Kipling’s first venture into topical verse began in 1884 — one poem appeared in January, another in April, another in May. These were the first in a series that would continue throughout Kipling’s stay in India and whose main memorial is Departmental Ditties.

Meantime, Kipling had been given his chance at what was to become the most distinctive form of his Indian journalism. In March of 1884 he had been sent to Patiala, a native state some 200 miles southeast of Lahore, to be ‘special correspondent’ for the CMG covering the state visit of the Viceroy, Lord Ripon, to open the Mohindar College. ‘I was told to write as much as I could’, he confided to an aunt (4 April 1884), and he responded by producing four long accounts of the ceremonies and the city (CMG, 20, 21, 22, 26 March) — a total of about 10,000 words. This performance seems to have been accepted as proof of Kipling’s fitness, for, as he wrote shortly after returning to Lahore, ‘I have won my spurs as a descriptive special correspondent and even elicited approval from the far off Simla hills where my proprietors dwell’ (4 April 1884). Other special assignments followed, the most demanding of which took Kipling in March and April of 1885 to the mouth of the Khyber Pass to cover the meeting of the Amir of Afghanistan with the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin; the result was a twelve-part series running over a three-week period. On his return from that assignment he was off to Simla, where, from June to August of 1885, he sent a steady flow of ‘Simla Notes’ to the CMG. And in November of that year he went on assignment to Ajmir to report the opening of the Mayo College by the Viceroy. Two years later, when Kipling was transferred from the CMG to its big sister, the Pioneer of Allahabad, his reputation as a special correspondent prompted his employers to put him on such work almost exclusively, an assignment that produced the articles collected in Letters of Marque and The City of Dreadful Night.

To return to Kipling at the beginning of his significant journalism early in 1884; it appears that Wheeler considered that his sub-editor might be allowed to exercise his abilities at home as well as abroad, for in May of 1884 Kipling began to write a weekly column called ‘A Week in Lahore’. This ran irregularly for the next two years, trying to make something mildly interesting out of such stories as might be generated by the staid activities of municipal and official life. He also began to write accounts of local or near-local events such as native fairs, or the visits of theatrical troupes and other entertainers, or municipal celebrations, both English and native. One notable assignment led him through the cow-byres of the native quarter of Lahore to see at first-hand the origins of ‘Typhoid at Home’, as the resulting article was called. Apart from the fact that his ‘special’ assignments usually took him some distance away from Lahore, there is not much to distinguish them from his more local work: both show the same kinds of interests and powers at work in his writing.

Kipling may be said to have passed from his probationary state in 1884; by 1885 his production had become, compared with the trickle before that, a flood. Even within the limits of our seriously incomplete bibliographical knowledge it is clear that he was engaged in a copious production of quite varied material. The first of the short stories appeared as early as September 1884 (‘The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows’), though it was not soon followed by others. He was also doing comic or descriptive sketches, more or less fictionalised, on such Indian topics and occasions as a bout of fever, or a Christmas day in exile, or a journey along the dubious roads of the hill country. These appeared either anonymously, as of course the great bulk of all that he wrote for the Indian papers did, or pseudonymously: his disguises might be ponderous, as in ‘Hastings Macaulay Elphinstone Smallbones’; cryptic, as in ‘Kingcraft’ or ‘Jacob Cavendish’; succinct, as in ‘L. B.’, or ‘E. Y.’, or ‘S. T.’, or, simply ‘R’. The initials ‘R. K.’ began to appear at the end of some of these things in 1885, however, and by the end of his Indian career his name, without any further disguise or reticence, had become a valued means for selling newspapers. In 1885 too Kipling began sending contributions to journals other than the CMG, especially to the Pioneer, which was part of the family, but also to such publications as the Calcutta Review, the Calcutta Englishman, and the Indian Planter’s Gazette.

As his professional achievements continued to grow, Kipling felt both undervalued and overworked at the CMG, where Stephen Wheeler’s initial mistrust of his new young assistant had never been fully overcome. A letter that Kipling wrote in 1886, when he had been on the staff for the better part of four years, makes vividly clear how he felt about the way in which he was used and, especially, about Wheeler’s opinion that he, Kipling, was not reliable when it came to the labour of writing news paragraphs (‘scraps’) and of performing other routines (Allen in the passage that follows is Sir George Allen, founder of the Pioneer and a proprietor of the CMG):
About that notion which is abroad, that scraps delight me not nor routine work either. Allen said the same thing and then I sat tight, he being a full mouthed man and one [of my] owners to boot. Now I’ll speak distinctly as the drunkard said. The whole settlement and routine of the old rag from the end of the leader to the beginning of the advertisements is in my hands and mine only; my respected chief contributing a blue pencil mark now and then and a healthy snarl just to soothe me. The telegrams also and such scraps as I or my father may write are my share likewise; and these things call me to office half one golden hour before, and let me out, always three quarters, sometimes a whole hour behind, my chief. My Sabbath is enlivened by the official visits of the printer and my evenings after dinner are made merry by his demands. So much for the routine to which I am averse.

Of the scraps it is no profit to speak. They are pasted into a book with the days marked over them and are ready to be shown up the next time I have the ‘aversion’ brought officially to my notice. On my word I fancy Allen must think I write my ‘skits’ in office hours. This is not so. You may bet your journalistic boots that if my worthy chief found any portion of the work which he did not conceive to be his share falling on his shoulders I should hear about it pretty sharply. The rhymed rubbish and the stuff like ‘Section 420.I.P.C.’ [the title under which "In the House of Suddhoo" was first published] is written out of office for my own personal amusement — (I don’t play tennis or whist or ride and my driving is no pleasure to me) — and then — O my friend — is damned as waste of time and only put in with a running lecture on the sinfulness of writing such stuff. Roughly speaking an extra half column of scraps is necessary to prevent a talking to and ensure the reception of a ‘special’. Under these conditions is my ‘play’ writing printed. When it is rejected — as happened in the case of my ‘Other Side of the Question’ I send it to the Englishman and get Rs30. Otherwise of course I am not allowed to write for other papers. I can’t put what you call my ‘higher flights’ aside any more than I/you can put aside the occasional woman which is good for health and the softening of ferocious manners. It’s my amusement and like all amusements the nicer for being discouraged. If you find the ‘notion’ floating about anywhere you can combat it tell ’em like a good fellow that if I was averse to routine and scraps they’d know it in an unmistakeable way — from Wheeler, who would point out that he was ‘doing all my work’, or else (his trump card) ‘that I was making things hard for him’. He lives in nervous dread of these things. I chuckle, because I am unregenerate. He’s a good man is my chief but he’ll never burst a blood vessel through hauling.
(to E. K. Robinson, 30 April 1886: MS, University of Sussex).
Relief from the burden of Wheeler and his discouragements came shortly after this letter was written, when Wheeler went on leave and was replaced by Edward Kay Robinson, a young man who had worked on the Globe in London and was now on the staff of the Pioneer. He came to Lahore prepared not to inhibit but to encourage his assistant’s gifts, and it is from this period, about the middle of 1886, that Kipling’s career as a writer of short stories began to blossom. Only two of the stories collected in Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling’s first book of stories, had appeared in the four years of Wheeler’s regime; within the first half year of Robinson’s new dispensation, ten of the stories collected in Plain Tales had appeared, and they were only a fraction of the total actually published in that time: many remain yet uncollected. The two men made a major overhaul of the paper in August 1887, partly designed to accommodate and display Kipling’s work. They bought new type, rearranged the layout, and generally sought to brighten the looks of their paper. On the revamped front page, now no longer devoted to ‘scraps’ but papered over with advertisements, the far right- hand column was reserved for original contributions, and ran over into the first column of page two. Items that appeared in this space came to be called ‘turnovers’, since one had to turn over the page in order to finish what began on page one. The space was not actually so captioned in the CMG itself, but when material from these columns was collected and published in a series of volumes by the CMG, ‘Turnovers’ was the title used for the series. These two columns of free space were shared by many contributors, but they were Kipling’s special turf for the rest of his stay on the CMG. Between the first of August, when the paper’s new design first appeared, and mid-November 1887, when Kipling left Lahore for Allahabad and the Pioneer, he filled many ‘turnover’ spaces with a variety of verses, sketches, skits, and stories.

It had long been clear to Kipling’s proprietors — at least as early as his reports from Patiala in 1884 — that they had an unusually able property in the sub-editor of the CMG, and there had been talk on more than one occasion of translating him from the CMG to the Pioneer in Allahabad. The move was at last made in November 1887, and until his departure from India in March 1889, Kipling remained on the staff of the Pioneer. This paper, founded in 1865, was in Kipling’s day regarded as the leading journal in all of India outside the presidency cities of Bombay and Calcutta, with whose papers it took at least equal rank. It was no small thing, then, to represent the Pioneer-, it was all the more flattering to be made one of the paper’s star performers, as Kipling soon was. At the beginning of 1888 the paper brought out a new weekly supplement called The Week’s News and installed Kipling as its editor. He had been away on special assignment for the Pioneer when the supplement had been created, and his first knowledge of it was from the posters in the railway stations bracketing his name with that of Bret Harte as writers for the new weekly paper. The Week’s News was, as Kipling wrote, largely a ‘re-hash of news and views’ from the preceding week’s Pioneer, but it also offered a page of fiction that it was Kipling’s special business to fill. This he did with an astonishing energy and enthusiasm, providing week after week the stories that went into the books that first made his name with a public beyond India: Soldiers Three, The Phantom ’Rickshaw, Wee Willie Winkie, and the rest.


Kipling’s work on the Pioneer is, compared with that for the CMG, quite well documented: some things that he wrote remain unidentified; more still remain uncollected, but neither lot makes a large proportion of the whole. The case is quite different when we turn to his work for the CMG, with which this selection is entirely concerned (excepting one single item that first appeared in the Pioneer: ‘Out of Society’). Until quite recently, the identification of Kipling’s early work in India rested on a few very imperfect authorities. There was first the evidence of Kipling’s own reprintings of his work; we know, for example, that he wrote ‘The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows’ in the CMG for 26 September 1884 only because he reprinted it in Plain Tales from the Hills four years later. Some of this re-printing was forced on him, notably in the case of the material in From Sea to Sea and Abaft the Funnel, first collected and published by American pirates and only then brought out in authorised editions. A second source of authorised identifications was created in 1896 when Kipling allowed (and presumably assisted) an editor to make extracts from his work for publication as The Kipling Birthday Book: a few of the items extracted in this collection came from previously unacknowledged writings for the Indian press and may be taken as certainly by Kipling. A third authorised source of identifications is the so-called Crofts Collection, a set of clippings of his work sent by Kipling to his old schoolmaster W. C. Crofts at different times in the 1880s, containing some twenty-two titles not otherwise identified. All told, Kipling identified by these direct and indirect methods some dozens and scores of his contributions to the Indian papers, but the body of work gathered into the canon in this way is of course a selection only. How rigid and narrow a selection could only be guessed, but once Kipling’s fame was established at the outset of the 1890s there were many eager bibliographers and bibliophiles who were happy to guess. Files of the CMG and of the Pioneer were examined by professional bookmen, keen to find any track of Kipling across their pages. Promising titles, suggestive pseudonyms, characteristic subjects, notable turns of phrase — all suggested grounds for making attributions. Better-informed guesses were made by people who had some reason to know — friends, or colleagues, or interested comtemporaries. In this way, a very large list of conjectural attributions was built up. Two particularly enthusiastic collectors, the Englishman Captain Ernest W. Martindell and the American Ellis Ames Ballard, went to the expense of reprinting many of the items so identified, much to Kipling’s annoyance (there is reason to think that Martindell, at least, had a commercial as well as an amateur interest in these reprints).

Kipling learned early to take a dim view of the bibliographers, for the same reason that he took a dim view of reporters: both were prying into things that he meant to keep private — his life, in the one case, and the unidentifiable body of his anonymous early work in the other. When an old friend who did know some of the secrets of his early work proposed that a selection from it should be published, Kipling at once demolished the idea: ‘Well, a man does not like his boy-hood’s play work (for that is what it comes to) being given to the public after nearly forty years’ (to Mrs Hill, 18 February 1924: copy, University of Sussex). In that spirit, he steadfastly refused to assist the speculators, grimly accepting the annoying consequence that his silence would allow all sorts of unsupported attributions to go unchallenged. The most compendious record of this body of writings attributed to Kipling — almost all of it from the Indian years — is contained in the Summary of the Work of Rudyard Kipling, Including Items Ascribed to Him published by Admiral Lloyd H. Chandler in a limited edition in 1930. Following the guidance of Chandler and others, R. H. Harbord reprinted a good many of the early writings conjecturally attributed to Kipling in the first five volumes of his Reader’s Guide to Rudyard Kipling’s Work, privately printed, 1961—70. Inevitably, given the basis of their information, both Chandler’s list and Harbord’s reprintings contain many mistaken attributions. Kipling’s more critical and cautious bibliographers, Flora Livingston in her Bibliography, 1927, and its Supplement, 1938, and James McG. Stewart in his Bibliographical Catalogue, 1959, treat the anonymous or pseudonymous Indian work very tentatively, accepting only a few items not identified in the authoritative sources described above. Most of the careful students of Kipling have been wisely content to accept the guidance of Livingston and of Stewart. Louis Cornell, for example, whose Kipling in India, 1966, is the most detailed study yet made of Kipling’s Indian work, confines himself strictly to those items certified by Livingston and Stewart. At the same time, it was obvious that Kipling must have written far more than could be confidently identified. He had been, after all, a working journalist in India for more than six years, and the tale of his acknowledged writing bore no proportion to what might certainly be expected from such a period of work.

Thus the matter stood until 1976. On the death in that year of Kipling’s daughter Elsie, Mrs George Bambridge, all of the family papers in her possession passed to the National Trust and were, a few years later, deposited in the University of Sussex library. Among the materials thus laid open to public inspection for the first time were the books of cuttings from Indian newspapers that had been kept by Kipling himself, and that preserved, incompletely, but with a fullness unmatched elsewhere, the record of his career in Indian journalism. There are four of these scrapbooks, containing many hundreds of items from his pen, almost all of them contributed to the Indian press between 1884 and 1891. Many of the cuttings are undated and without any identification of the place where they first appeared. But by a careful comparison of the materials in the scrapbooks with the files of the CMG, the Pioneer, and other Indian papers, it has been possible to assign almost every item in the scrapbooks to a particular publication and a particular date. The writings thus brought to light expand many times over the list of what was previously known to be by Kipling during this period.

During his first two years in India, 1882 and 1883, Kipling does not seem to have kept any scrapbook of his writings. The first we have is from 1884, and it allows us to double the small list of previously-identified items from that year. In 1885, the quantity of newly-identified items multiplies many times over what had been previously known or even conjectured. And so throughout the rest of his years on the CMG. Altogether, the four scrapbooks of Indian material contain 830 items not previously attributed to Kipling. By far the greater part of this total consists of ‘scraps’ for the CMG, the brief paragraphs on the miscellaneous topics of the news that filled a part of the front page of the paper under Wheeler and were relegated to the third page under Robinson. But besides ‘scraps’ there are among the new items some 140 original articles of all sorts: reviews, reports, sketches, stories, and leaders, on widely varying subjects, and ranging from the wholly impersonal to the highly characteristic. Four of the new items are translations from foreign news sources, and nine are verses. Of the 830 total items, fifteen come from the Pioneer, five from the Englishman, all the rest are from the CMG.

The original reason for keeping these scrapbooks appears to be that given in Kipling’s letter to Kay Robinson of 30 April 1886: he wanted the ocular proof of his industry to show to anyone who might doubt his performance of routine or the quantity of his work. Once begun, however, the collection must have been kept going for its value to Kipling as well as for a defence against the complaints of his superiors. To judge from the evidence of revision made in Kipling’s hand on a number of the clippings, he had some thought of using the scrapbooks as a reservoir from which he might draw reprintable items; in the event, however, he did very little of that. After he left India Kipling continued to keep a scrapbook record of his production: there are five further volumes among the Kipling papers at Sussex containing cuttings of his stories, poems, and articles, with an occasional typescript, from 1892 down to and after his death in 1936. They are not at all systematic, or complete, and one may guess that Mrs Kipling had more to do with their compilation than did Kipling himself. What they contain, with one or two possible exceptions, is well-known to the bibliographers, so that their interest is not comparable with that of the four scrapbooks from the Indian years. Only a very few people seem to have known of the existence of these scrapbooks before the death of Mrs Bambridge brought them to public notice. No doubt Kipling’s agents, A. P. Watt and his son A. S. Watt, had knowledge of them. There is evidence too that Kipling showed them, or at least made their existence known, to his first thorough bibliographer, Mrs Flora Livingston, though there was no question of her being able to make use of them. The two men who completed biographies based on the Kipling papers — Lord Birkenhead and Charles Carrington — both drew from the scrapbooks, but neither had time or occasion to straighten out the somewhat confused sequence of the material, or to correctly identify the time and place of publication of the various cuttings.

To the record of the Indian scrapbooks the evidence from two other sources has been added to extend the list of new attributions from the Indian years: the diary that Kipling kept in 1885, and the letters he wrote while in India. First, the diary: Kipling left this document behind in Lahore by some accident, and it ultimately passed into the collections of the Houghton Library at Harvard. The entries are practically continuous down to the fourth of October, after which they cease; there are some sections of personal interest, such as the account of his walking tour in the Himalayas in May, but the main business of the diary, and its main interest for us, is as a record of his journalistic and literary work. In addition to its list of writings already known, the diary confirms Kipling’s authorship of several items only conjecturally attributed to him; most important, it identifies for the first time eighty- one items contributed to the CMG: 59 scraps, 19 original items, 2 translations, and one verse. Incidentally, it establishes that the Indian scrapbooks are incomplete, for it contains many items missing from the scrapbook for 1885. Kipling’s letters written in India, the largest collection of which is in the Kipling papers at the University of Sussex, also add a few new items: ten original articles, and one set of verses may confidently be attributed to Kipling from the evidence so far discovered in his correspondence.

The total of newly-attributed pieces from Kipling’s Indian years arrived at through these three sources of information — scrapbooks, diary and letters — is 927. The number of new attributions is in fact greater than that, for there is evidence in the letters for identifying some later works, but we are here speaking only of the question of identifying new items from Kipling’s Indian years, and it is best to confine the discussion to those limits. The task of accounting for all the new things brought to light through the Kipling papers awaits the enterprising bibliographer who is prepared to overhaul and bring up to date the pioneering work already done. But one may note here that the list of uncollected items from Kipling’s Indian years in Louis Cornell’s bibliography, which accurately represents the state of knowledge before the Kipling papers became public, gives a total of 118 (and a number of these are not in fact by Kipling). The items now added to the list make an eight-fold increase; it is obvious that a new basis for the study of Kipling’s Indian career is now available. The quantity of new material now added to the body of Kipling’s work is considerable; what about the quality? In and of itself it would never attract our attention now; it is interesting because it is Kipling’s, and will be read for whatever it may have to tell us about the ways in which he might or did develop. The scraps, which are the most numerous of the new items, are usually written in editorial style and have little personal or expressive character. If one reads them in extenso, however, they do give a lively suggestion of the range of things that came under Kipling’s notice and of the ability — essential to any journalist, no doubt — that he developed of saying something about nearly anything. George Eliot compares the journalist’s art to that of the beater of gold leaf, whose business is to make the smallest possible amount of precious metal cover the largest possible area. Kipling certainly grew adept in that way. Perhaps it was in reaction to this demand of his newspaper life that he turned, in his fiction, to methods of rigorous exclusion and severe condensation. But there are many signs of the finished Kipling in these newspaper items, and if there is no single item that one would call distinguished, the effect made by a continued reading is.of a vivid and distinct literary identity beginning to emerge through the routine forms of journalism.


Very few people are likely to be able to sit down to a continued reading of this new material, unless they make a special trip to the University of Sussex to do so — and even there they would not find the nearly one hundred new attributions not included in Kipling’s scrapbooks. Kipling could hardly have written for a less accessible medium than the CMG. Newspapers are ephemeral by definition and the Indian climate no doubt helped to confirm that definition; British India was not notable for its libraries, and in the west, where there were libraries, neither librarians nor readers were much interested in Indian newspapers. The consequence is that only two extensive files of the CMG are known to exist. One is in the India Office Library in London; the other, just recently brought back into public knowledge, is the file that belonged to the CMG office itself. The paper was suppressed by the government of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in 1963 and its building demolished to make room for new commercial development. For nearly twenty years the files were in limbo until, late in 1982, they were donated to the National Archives in Karachi. I have had no report on their condition, but it is likely that they suffered damage in their years of homelessness. There are short runs of the papers in a few libraries but nothing even approaching an extensive file. Practically speaking, then, there are only three places in the world where one may read what Kipling wrote for the CMG — London and Karachi for the paper itself, and the University of Sussex for the clippings in Kipling’s scrapbooks. There are thus two kinds of practical difficulty in the way of reading Kipling’s Indian journalism: inaccessibility and bulk. For the purposes of an unspecialised reader, a carefully-chosen selection would seem to be the best way to provide an idea of what that journalism is like. As I see it, the articles here reprinted show that Kipling had two broadly different ways of looking at India. The first might be called the Official View, essentially paternalistic and administrative and not different from what one might suppose any responsible and mildly progressive Indian civil servant to have held. This is the view that urges on the native population the virtue of western education, of the improvement of the situation of women, and of good sanitation in the cities. This last was a favourite hobby of Kipling’s, returned to again and again in the course of his Indian years: the outrageous stinks of the Indian cities, their dangerous and needless vulnerability to disease and infection, never ceased to work him up to good journalistic indignation, and the fervour of his preaching the gospel of good drains never diminished:
Be it known to all men interested in so intensely important a fact, that the compiler of these notes will from the present date until further notice, in each issue of these notes, persistently and emphatically, in season, and out of season, abuse, vilify, scoff at, and bedaub with the mud of derision and the tar of opprobrium the slothful, unclean, reckless, negligent, stupid and irreclaimably perverse body corporate known as the Lahore Municipality. . . . Lahore City is in as foul and as filthy a state as any city can be, which statement may be proved by standing to windward of the Delhi gate and gingerly sniffing the air therefrom. Further investigations in the narrow fetid gullies may be pursued at the risk of headache and nausea and graver distress. The gullies and bustees seethe and stink: the waterworks are out of order, and the end of these things will be disease and death.
(CMG, "A Week in Lahore", 5 May 1886).
The official Kipling objected both to old-fashioned things like infant marriage, and to novel things like the native movement towards self-government, encouraged by the policy of Lord Ripon, the Viceroy. Here is a characteristic comment of Kipling’s on the outcome of one experiment in self-government:
The punishment of the Hoshiarpur Municipality has been extensively quoted by our contemporaries. The Bombay paper says justly: — ‘The candle of Local Self-Government in Hoshiarpur has been blown out. The pity is that it was ever lighted in such an atmosphere.’ As we know, the Municipality condoned appropriation of public land, because the filcher had erected a temple close to the sites in question. British justice and sense of corporate rectitude is shocked and scandalized; but the fault lies with that over-scrupulous weakness which has insisted on thrusting Western machinery into Eastern hands. The city fathers of Hoshiarpur acted according to their instincts and traditions. They would not have erred under the orders — not guidance but orders — of an English official, who took no interest in temples but a good deal in clear and clean roads. Left to themselves, they became themselves and that was all. . . . On the one side is a paper scheme. On the other all the influences of climate, caste and creed warring against the energy, impartiality and breadth of intellect which that scheme demands.
(CMG, 20 May 1887).
That is the paternalistic-official stereotype of the native fully developed: caste-ridden, venal, incompetent — a sort of larger child capable only of falling into trouble if left to himself. There is no reason to doubt that Kipling actually believed this. He certainly repeated the account frequently enough in this newspaper manner without, so far as I can tell, any hint of doubt or irony. It may not be all that he believed on the question, however.

Allied to this view of the native is a frequently-expressed annoyance in response to ‘ignorant’ interference or judgements from ‘home’ — that is, the efforts of MPs and others to bring what they saw as ‘reform’ to India. Since they didn’t ‘know’ India or the Indian, how could such interferings be anything better than dangerous nuisances? There is a lot of that attitude in the newspaper articles which need not, I think, be illustrated here. It is familiar enough from Kipling’s stories. It combines a sort of orientalism — that is, a conviction that the natives are not suited by western forms — with a very western conviction that the English in India know best what is good for Indians. The inevitablity of contradiction in this position seems clear. But it expresses something more than simple contempt of the native in gross, for it includes the deeper distrust of democracy, and the fear of demagoguery. But of course the natives were not the only topics of disapproval. If they had to be dragged into a world of sound drains and lighted streets, the other side of things was the failure of the English bureaucracy to provide drains and lights in a timely and efficient manner. Grumbling over the inadequacies of officialdom is a standard exercise in Kipling’s journalism; again, it is too familiar from the stories to need illustrating here.

Perceptible under these perhaps superficial though powerful enough notions and responses is a sense of things that must have been in every English mind but could not be officially expressed. This was the anxiety of being alone in a world whose ways were not merely hostile — that was bad enough — but mysterious. So one could never be sure that one was getting anywhere. I think of two quite clear expressions of this. In ‘The City of Evil Countenances’ Kipling writes of an experience in which he was, for a moment, a lone Englishman literally surrounded by an alien crowd of northwest frontiersmen. The scene is so strange that it ceases to be human: ‘Faces of dogs, swine, weazles and goats, all the more hideous for being set on human bodies, and lighted with human intelligence, gather in front of the ring of lamplight.’ In this situation the only comfort is the appearance of the policeman, symbol of the English government, and the sight of the ‘magnificent drain and water main which runs through the main streets of the city’ — a kind of spiritual as well as material plumbing. But then a splendidly savage Afghan postures on a culvert, bringing western mechanics and eastern barbarism into literal juxtaposition. And behind him there are thousands more of the savages, whose language cannot be understood and who, though they seem to accept restraint for the moment, can never be reconciled to ‘the white stranger within their gates’. What hope of success can there be against such odds? A variant of this perception, even more disturbing, perhaps, occurs in ‘Typhoid at Home’, Kipling’s repellent discription of the conditions under which the city of Lahore got its milk. As he penetrates deeper into the filth and darkness of the Lahore native quarter early on a February morning he comes to a section which seems at first deserted but then is suddenly revealed to him as concealing a multitudinous yet indistinct and unformed life:
But the dead walls, the barred and grated windows, and the high storeyed houses, were throbbing and humming with human life, as you may hear a hive of bees hum ere they go forth to their day’s work. Voices of children singing their lessons at school; sounds of feet on stone steps, or wooden balconies over-head; voices raised in argument, or conversation, sounded dead and muffled as though they came through wool; and it seemed as if, at any moment, the tide of unclean humanity might burst through its dam of rotten brickwork and filth-smeared wood, blockading the passages below.
The combination of elements here is powerfully expressive: ideas of disease, of teeming humanity, and of elemental force come together in that ‘tide of unclean humanity’ against which, when it comes, one will be quite helpless. Kipling, one imagines, almost prefers the straightforward animal ferocity of "The City of Dreadful Countenances". It is not fanciful to link such experiences as these to Kipling’s persistent sense, expressed in so many forms in his stories, of the fragility of civilisation, of the unremitting need to defend the city against brute nature and the barbarian.
The anxiety I have been describing belongs, I think, to the official view of things in India, though it could not be given official expression. For was it not just the perception that Indians were sunk in filth and barbarism that justified the English? Unluckily, the perception was thoroughly ambiguous, being both a call to action and at the same time a revelation that no action could make much difference or do much good.
Kipling’s other view of India, the more personal and humane one, does not get so clear an expression as the official one does in his articles, but traces of it are there to be found by those who wish to look for it. It is in his accounts of the Amritsar fair, for example, in the alert and receptive interest he takes in the spectacle and its meaning. In sharp contrast to his response to the crowd in ‘The City of Evil Countenances’ and to the invisible crowd in ‘Typhoid at Home’, the response to the crowd in ‘A Popular Picnic’ is one of real pleasure, not least because the scene is alien: the men behave differently, the children behave differently, yet on their own terms and left to themselves they show both an impressive dignity and an attractive humanity. When the fair is over, Kipling’s servant will return to his servant’s role, and will no doubt be thoroughly unsatisfactory: ‘But I saw another side of his character on the day when he piloted me through the packed tumult of the Chiragan fair of 1886. And it’s very curious.’ Does the irony of that last observation touch Indians or English more nearly? At any rate, when Kipling is rendering the Indian scene for its own sake, delighting in its variety and copiousness, and responding to the individuality of its people, he is very different from the Kipling who writes about India in relation to English purposes and English standards. Another instance of his attentive and sympathetic rendering of popular life is the description of maulvis and hajjis at the end of ‘The City of the Two Creeds’, an instance all the more striking by reason of the fact that Kipling himself seems to have had no liking for dogmatic religion in any form. Given the nature of his newspaper work and the clientele for which he wrote, his opportunities for this free rendering were not very many. But when he had them he took them.

Within the general subject matter of India there is plenty of room for many of Kipling’s characteristic concerns. Children, for example, frequently catch his interested eye, whether they are the native children of ‘A Popular Picnic’ or the English children of ‘Simla Notes’, 29 July 1885. So do animals, which he is already able to present in his inimitable way as having an intelligent life without ever ceasing to be animals. The two extremes of English life in India that Kipling made particularly his own also appear: soldier life and Simla society. Several characteristic themes and special interests may be noted in these articles. The idea of the necessary breaking-in of the restive individual to a constructive discipline is given amusing expression — in animal terms — and with some real descriptive brilliance in the account of the imperturbable Captain Hayes and the fractious horse. Kipling’s high admiration for technical competence appears repeatedly — in ‘An Armoured Train’, for example, and in the two very interesting accounts of bridges, ‘The Sutlej Bridge’ and the ‘Chak-Nizam Bridge’. That admiration is part of a broader admiration, not just for the technician but for the professional or craftsman in general, and particularly to the sort of professional who can be seen as a version of the artist. Take the Nats of ‘A Popular Picnic’, for example:
My friend the chaprassi said that the Nats who walk on slack ropes and balance themselves on bamboos, were the best part of the show. He was quite right. Their performances were very wonderful, and their tackle so insecure, that you expected a fall every minute from the rope to the stones below. On an average they collected two annas per performance, and they performed five times in three hours; but they never hurt themselves, which was what the crowd seemed to want. The thing being done is quite trivial, but it is at the same time ‘very wonderful’; and though the rewards are pitiful, there is a sense in which the Nats are beyond that consideration. Their skill is such that ‘they never hurt themselves’, and so disappoint the crowd’s expectation; thus, though they are ostensibly- striving to please the crowd, they also leave the crowd behind in the endeavours of their art.
Or take "The Biggest Liar in Asia".
The mark of this artist is to choose the least profitable material and to transform it, and to do so without evident effort, his art concealing art. But, like the king who slew the slayer and shall himself be slain, he knows that his reign is never secure; his supplanter already exists and his defeat, in the fullness of time, is certain. Clearly, this is a man who works for no ordinary reward, but, like the Nats, seeks his recompense in the pure exercise of his art. The treatment of all these things is lightly comic, but the things treated are full of suggestion.
There is a connection to be made, perhaps, with another identifying theme in Kipling’s work, that of self-sacrifice and the willing endurance of pain and fatigue in the service of one’s responsibility — whether that be administration, or bridge-building, or dentistry in Afghanistan, or railway repair or newspaper work. This appears, not as an explicit topic, but as an assumption, a way of looking at all sorts of diverse things that arise in the course of journalistic reporting. Sometimes he writes about literal sickness. Fever, entailing struggle, horror and exhaustion, is the price that the Englishman pays for his position in India. In Kipling’s treatment (e.g., ‘De Profundis’), fever unites in a single symbolic experience the strains of official work with the sense of loneliness and abandonment in a strange land. The astonishing descriptive skill for which Kipling is famous is evident, at least intermittently, at a very early point in these articles. Take this modest but characteristic sample from ‘The Sutlej Bridge’:
Here the whole face of the country is scarred and scraped and scooped for the earth of the roadways. There is a faint feverish smell from the damp silt soil, and every where the eye falls on interminable processions of donkeys and donkey-drivers — laden beasts climbing up, and unladen ones going down. The sound of the thousands of little hoofs on the soft earth, and the never-ending ‘thud’ of the loads as they are tipped off, makes a bass drone, to which the rattle and thump of the donkeyboys’ sticks supplies a staccato treble accompaniment.
The skill with which a large complex scene of movement and sound has been grasped and rendered rapidly but vividly is already highly developed. But it is needlessly narrow to confine these remarks only to those things that Kipling later developed, or that critics have agreed upon to talk about in his work. It is not the least part of the interest of these early items to see Kipling trying out methods and manners that he did not go on with, or that belonged strictly to the earliest phases of apprenticeship. Nor should any editorial commentary be needed to bring out what is evident on the surface of these articles. The young Kipling was full of the joy of literature, eager to show his knowledge of books and authors through allusion and quotation; he took delight in imitation and parody, as testing his skill and showing his right to join the company of writers. And, as he looked alertly on the life presented to him, he added to it his own good spirits, his gift for phrase, his comic intervention, and his sympathetic interest in the variety of human responses to experiences of common concern. The articles presented in this selection from Kipling’s Indian journalism must be read for what they are — the unpretentious productions of a young journalist writing his daily assignments — but they were, after all, the productions of no common ability, and they will, I think, enrich and confirm our perception of his more mature and ambitious accomplishments.


©Thomas Pinney 1986 All rights reserved