Verse letter to Sidney Low



1889


(notes by Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe drawing on
the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


the poem
[September 8th 2020]

Source

This stanza from a longer poem is preserved in a letter from Sidney Low now in the Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., in which he says it comes from 'an unpublished poem of 40 lines'.

It was the American collector, W.M.Carpenter, who brought the letter to light. He wrote to the Kipling Journal in 1931 (see KJ 19 for September 1931, p. 95):
In an English provincial town I picked up a letter from Sidney Low which gives us a hint of the difficulties which Kipling met in India, in combining working for a newspaper with writing as a profession. Low had offered Kipling an engagement to write exclusively for his paper ... The answer was in the form of 40 lines of rhyme ... (he then quotes the lines) This item I think is not without interest, and you may like to place it in perspective in the Files. —W. M. Carpenter, Evanston, U.S.A.
The poem was not collected by Kipling, but these lines are to be found in Rutherford (p. 467) and Pinney (p. 2199).

Background

Sidney Low (1857- 1932), Editor of the St. James's Gazette, had offered to publish sketches or short stories by Kipling, and suggested that he might sign a contract for regular work. Rutherford notes that Andrew Lang (1844-1912), another influential man of letters and an admirer of Kipling's work, seems to have suggested a similar arrangement with the Daily News or Pall Mall Gazette.

The St James's Gazette was a highly regarded London evening paper, founded in 1880, out of the Pall Mall Gazette.


Kipling, however, after his 'Seven Years Hard' in India, was clearly unwilling to commit himself to regular journalism. On November 2nd 1889, less than a month after his return to England, he wrote to Caroline Taylor, to whom he was then engaged:
I did not come to England to write myself out at first starting - not by a very long sight. This seemeth to me the more perfect way. To go slowly and only do sufficient magazine work to enable me to rub along comfortably while I turn my attention to the novels and the books. A man can fritter himself away on piece work and be only but a little richer for it ... I have burned more than one solitary pipe over the question. Even regarding it from a business point of view the latter method pays better in the long-run. Wherefore I have refused in a brief poem of five stanzas the St. James's Gazette offer of a permanent engagement. Catch me putting my head into that old noose again –- and me hardly recovered from the constant surprises of seven years' journalism.

... The situation stands thus. I hold work on Macmillan's Magazine up to £300 a year: The Lahore paper stands me for £100 (and that's four hundred); on those two alone therefore without turning my attention to the St. James's, the Spectator, Longmans, and Punch (who all want me) I could devote myself to building up the American connection and going on straight with the books and the poetry.
[Pinney, Letters vol 1 p. 356]
So it was not wholly surprising that Kipling turned down an offer that would have been seized upon gratefully by many other young writers. £400 in 1889 was worth over £50,000 in 2020 values.


Notes on the text


the News they call Daily The Daily News was one of the most popular London newspapers, founded in 1846. Its founding Editor was Charles Dickens. Its circulation was around 90,000, and it offered excellent coverage of overseas news.

the sheets of Pall Mall The Pall Mall Gazette was a serious London evening newspaper. Under its famous editor W T Stead it had a tradition of campaigning on social issues. Its contributors included such figures as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Louis Stevenson.


[P.H./J.R.]

ęPhilip Holberton and John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved