KIPLING, THE POET OF EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY REVEREND GEORGE C. PIDGEON, D.D.
Thursday, April 9th, 1936
PRESIDENT BRACE: For the benefit of our radio audience, I would like to say The Empire Club of Canada has just conducted its Annual Meeting and elected officers for the ensuing year. Major Gordon B. Balfour has been elected President and takes office on May 1st, next.
Today, I am going to ask Dr. George H. Locke, Chief Librarian of the Public Libraries, to introduce our guest speaker. Dr. Locke.
DR. GEORGE H. LOCKE: Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and Fellow Members of The Empire Club: I count this a very great honour to come to you today to present to you one of our most distinguished citizens who is going to speak to you about the most distinguished man in the British Empire, because, after all, Prime Ministers come and go and Generals come and go, men die in bed and elsewhere and they pass on, but the poet, the author, remains. Why? Because they create characters and those characters remain and you and I are acquainted with them down through the ages and they never die. I suppose we shall never get rid of Stalkey, never get rid of Mulvaney, and many characters Kipling created and that is exactly, as you all know, what made Dickens famous. And it is rather interesting to note at the last, the man who created so many characters in real life is lying beside the man who created more, for Dickens and Kipling lie beside each other in Westminster Abbey, and when the King of England died, King George V, the same week he died, he took with him, Kipling, the trumpeter of the British Empire. (Applause.)
DR. GEORGE C. PIDGEON: Thanks, Mr. Chairman and Dr. Locke, for an introduction like this to my visible audience and my invisible audience and you won't be surprised ii there are certain individuals in the invisible audience in whom I am particularly interested at this time.
Anyone who wants to speak on Kipling ought to begin with Kipling and let me, in beginning, offer a substitute for the apology I notice speakers so often make when they are beginning an address like this
When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre, He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea; An' what he thought he might require, 'e went and took, the same as me.
The market girls an' fishermen The shepherds an' the sailors too They 'eard old songs turn up again But kep' it quiet-same as you.
They knew 'e stole, 'e knew they knowed They didn't tell nor make a fuss
But winked at 'Omer down the road, An' 'e winked back - the same as us!
Now, there we are. And the one who would speak on Kipling gives up all hope of being original in any respect, whatever. But just let me make a personal explanation. I am not sure but what it is my love for the lyric that brings me closest to this poet of Empire. I learned it in very early childhood from my mother's love for Robert Burns and so strong was the hold of the lyric on my mind as a youth that it took me a long time to cultivate any sort of appreciation for our great dramatists and epic poets„ and this man with the music in his poetry had from the very earliest of his publications caught my imagination and also brought forth a response from, I think, that which was deepest in me. If you think of such poems as, above all, "The Song of The Banjo," "Fuzzy-Wuzzy," "Danny Deever," "The Road to Mandalay," and many others one might mention, you can understand the music of the verse that holds so many minds enthralled.
But then I mustn't stay to speak critically of this man's poetry. What I want to do is to bring home some of the things that appeal to the plain man, that is the ordinary reader of Kipling who isn't able to go back of the poems to study up the innumerable technical references that this writer makes. First as a preacher, may I just draw your attention to this man's love for the English Bible. His very thought seems rooted in that majestic old classic and if you look at the titles, such titles as "Dives," "The Sons of Mary and the Sons of Martha," "The Prodigal Son," the "Modern Version," and others of that class, you will see the truth of the remark that the Scripture which makes Miss Rossetti wistful and moves Tennyson to sing cadences, stirs in Kipling a sense of its message as an outdoor book calling to high achievement and attainment.
Now, his comments on the Scriptures aren't always exactly orthodox, perhaps to some of us they are the more interesting on that account. For instance, I picked the following out of "The Prodigal Son," this morning, just as I was coming away:
Here come I to my own again,
Fed, forgiven and known again,
Claimed by bone of my bone again
And cheered by flesh of my flesh.
The fatted calf is dressed for me
But the husks' have greater zest for me
I think my pigs will be best for me
So I'm off to the styes afresh.
Amusing? Perhaps. Tragic? Still more so. But I can name some of the men.
And then not only did he bring out sides of the truth that the ordinary student is liable to overlook but when Kipling was moved to the depths you got in his message the ring of the prophecies of the olden time that stirs the soul and moves to high action. Some of you will remember that striking poem that he published just after the tragedy of 1914, and the appeal that the chorus made to us in those terrible days
Though all we know depart, the old commandments stand
In courage keep your heart, in strength lift up your hand.
Well, first of all, he is the poet, of the Empire, the patriot, the one who caught the spirit of his country and sang forth its message to the world. In speaking of Kipfing as the patriot, we think first of all of his love of the land. Not to speak of his love for his own India to which he owed so much and which gave him such a marvellous opportunity, there is love for English soil which he had made his own and in a poem like "Sussex," he brings that out with all his strength. But what strikes me as a Canadian as I read his poetry is the way in which he catches the spirit of our land and sings of the things that appeal to the deepest in our nature. Now, I imagine one of the most beautiful of his poems to us all is, "The Flowers," that begins, "Buy my English posies," but who of us born in Canada can forget the first chorus in that poem, and by the way, there is no season of the year when it comes home to us as it does at the present minute
>Robin, down the logging road, whistles "Come to me!" Spring has found the maple grove, the sap is running free.
All the winds of Canada call the ploughing rain,
Take the flower and turn the hour, and kiss your love again!
And some of us who were brought up alongside of those marvellous fishing rivers of the east with all they mean to sportsmen across the world are grateful to Kipling for this stanza in "The Feet of the Young Men:"
Do you know the blackened timber - do you know that racing stream
With the raw, right-aygled log-jam at the end;
And the bar of sun-warmed shingle where a man may bask and dream
To the click of shod canoe-poles round the bend?
It is there that we are going with our rods and reels and traces
To a silent, smoky Indian that we know,
To a couch of new-pulled hemlock, with the starlight on our faces,
For the Red Gods call us on and we must go!
There you have the very picture of the eastern Canadian river and I, from my own memory, can match every single turn in those splendid lines.
Then, he has a strong sense of the achievements of his fellow countrymen. It often seems to me the very spirit of the Elizabethans gets into Kipling as he speaks of the world exploration and world conquest. There, of course, we think first of all of "The Song of The English," and, Mr. Chairman, I can't tell you how strong has been the appeal of that verse the late J. A. MacDonald used to love to repeat over and over in his really great speeches We have fed our sea for a thousand years And she calls us, still unfed
Though there's never a wave o f all her waves But marks our English dead;
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest, To the shark and the sheering gull,
If blood be the price o f admiralty, Lord God, we ha' paid in full.
Then, he has a sense of the mission of his people to the world. Perhaps he expresses that most strongly in his poem, "Take up the White Man's Burden." Now, there is a great deal of, I was going to say nonsense - it is worse than nonsense - talked about the white man's burden. In order to see the idea the populace gets out of the white man's burden put in its proper place, you had to listen to Professor Morrison, late of Queen's University, and the way in which Morrison talked about men who made the bearing of the white man's burden an excuse for exploiting the backward races would open our eyes to quite a few of the defects in our British patriotism. There is a great deal in that sort of talk that is hollow and selfish and utterly unworthy: One cannot forget in this the humiliation and despair of an African like Aggrey, in many respects the greatest of his race, as he thought of the way they were shut out from the opportunities of that great land by some who talked of bearing the white man's burden. But when all allowance is made for that, he and his people have had a mission to the world. Some one said a little while ago that Britain gave Egypt water and justice. Well, those of us who know the story of that long struggle realize that the gift of water and justice to countries like Egypt and India have been of vital importance that history will place a good deal higher than we are placing it today. (Applause.) And that sense of the Briton's mission and what his sense of justice when rightly expressed has meant to the world, Kipling brings out in another striking stanza in that "Song of the English:"
Keep ye the law
Be swift in all obedience
Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford Make ye sure to each his own
That he shall reap where he hath sown,
By the peace among Our peoples let men know we serve the Lord.
Now, it is that sense of the Briton's mission for which we are grateful to this man and not only did he express it but he stirred us to the fullest realization of its importance. Then, remember, that that poem, "The Song of the English," was written back in 1903, or rather was published in 1903, and when you look at the conclusion of that poem in the light of the tragedy of the World War, you can realize the significance of this prophecy that he makes for his own people, expressing what at that time was deepest in us
Also We will make promise, so long as the Blood endures
I shall know that your good is mine; ye shall feel that my strength is yours
In the day of Armageddon, at the last great fight o f all, That Our House shall stand together and the pillars do not fall.
Then, in order to appreciate his greatness we must think of him as the interpreter of the mind of his time. I do not think he could interpret the mind of our time. I do not think he could appreciate all that enters into the mind and heart of the youth that were growing up around him in those latter days in England but he did interpret the mind of his own people away black in the nineties, when I recall first hearing of his poems. No, when I first heard of them it was back in '88, and for two decades after the spirit of the Empire ways his to express in ringing verse and we in Canada but little realize the breadth of his outlook.
Now, I recall one of our most brilliant students from Ontario being sent to an Island in the Gulf of Georgia for the summer and from that island he could see, day by day, the great ships passing out to the Orient and to the south. He told me after that one could never realize the broadening of vision that meant to him. He was brought up in a little town in this province and then went out to that far west with its world connections and he said it simply lifted him to a new conception of our relationship with the outside world. Some of us who had lived for years in that far west with its relations with the Orient and the south, went over to England in the fall of 1912 and lived there for four or five months, trying to catch the spirit of the people found that we were provincial compared with those Britishers. They head a world outlook. They had a sense of world citizenship that put our views to shame and it was that they just lifted our eyes to a consciousness of the Briton's mission to all mankind. Here is a family-one daughter living in Hong Kong, another daughter living in Chili, another on the west coast of North America. Here is a friend of mine going to see his daughter and he visits her in the Port of Shanghai. No matter where you went, you were in contact with families whose vital connections were world-wide.
Now, it is that spirit that Kipling expresses and he lifts all who are open to his suggestions to a sense of the vastness of the influence that our people wield and, after all, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Club, the greatest of our men is the one who interprets the mind of his time. When we talk about the original thinker we think of some one who brings out some new thoughts that were never in the minds of men before. In reality, the original thinker is the one who, catches the spirit of has own age and gives it clear expression. The original and creative thinking of our time is done not in the study; it is done by men of action out in the world of men, contending with the forces that are bringing in a new day and the prophet that every generation needs is one who will catch that spirit and give expression to those thoughts and put in words that none can fail to hear and none can ever forget the message of his people to the world and to the future. (Applause.)
Now, that is what Kipling did. It was because of that he had such a hold and such a profound influence on the men of his time. And there is one message that we need from Kipling in our day and that is the strength of the individual, his resources, his possibilities, and you never could get out of Kipling the idea that man is made by his environment. To Kipling the man shaped the environment. That is what he got his manhood for. You remember this striking couplet in "The Mary Gloster," where the old man is telling the son of his achievements in the maritime world of his time
They copied all they could follow but they couldn't copy my mind,
And I left 'em sweating and stealing, a year and a half behind
There is Kipling's conception of the man, the man who shaped the world
They copied all they could follow but they couldn't copy my mind,
And I left 'em sweating and stealing, a year and a half behind.
I heard a literary critic say the other day that Kipling's "If" wasn't poetry. Well, perhaps it isn't. So, let's call it preaching if you will, but it is wonderful preaching, and it is a wonderful setting of a message of the old stoic, that a man should be independent of his environment, neither unduly exalted nor elated by success, nor unduly depressed by failure, but preserving an evenness of spirit through all the changes of his outward fortune. I will not attempt to read that or anything from it because it is so familiar to us all, but it has deeply influenced many of the youth of the day. I saw a teacher of youth the other day who had up in his office a copy of Kipling's "If," and he said there were certain conditions of boy life with which he had to deal for which that was the very best treatment he knew and many of us feel it has profoundly influenced us in older days.
Then, in speaking of the individual and the individual's power, he didn't ignore the individual's relationship with his associates. He is the poet of comradeship. Who that ever lived in the army can miss it?
God send us a trusty chum
If hers liquor, he'll give me some,
If I'm dying he'll hold my head
And write 'em home when I am dead
God send us a trusty chum.
Now this is the law o f the jungle-as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper and the wolf that shall break it must die
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk the law runneth forward and back,
For the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
We are hearing a great deal these days, perhaps a little too much, about fraud in connection with relief. Gentlemen, that is not what I am afraid of. That is a small thing and can be easily dealt with. What I am afraid of is the slackening of effort that is going on around us where men lean on society instead of feeling that society gets its strength and its resources from each man seeing his place and part and doing that part with all' his might. That is our difficulty today. That is where this man brings us such a vital message through the years. I am sure you have all noticed the attitude of the great souls of literature toward the slacker or the neutral. You find it first in the Book of Revelations "Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." You find it in Dante. Dante pictures just inside the gates of hell, the neutrals, the people who were not good enough for Heaven, but were not positive enough for hell. They could never take a stand while they were in the flesh, therefore they are always on the move, going round and round in a circle that can never stop, and so terrible is the monotony of their existence that even the positive suffering of the lower circles of perdition to them would be a positive relief. If you want a modern statement of that idea you find it in Browning's poem, "The Statue and the Bust." He there deliberately takes an instance where the suggestion was to crime and shows that the failure to take the opportunity when it came took all the colour out of life. He says:
The sin I impute to each frustrate ghost Is the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin - And speaking of those people, he adds Only they see not God, I know,
Nor all that chivalry of His,
The soldier-saints who row on row
Burn upward, each to his point of bliss.
Now, Kipling catches that idea in "Tomlinson." Tomlinson is a man who never did any harm and because he never did any harm thought himself sure of admission inside the pearly gates. When he got there, St. Peter, with his positiveness, had no place for him. There was no scope for a colourless creature such as he in the better world, so he sent him down below and when he went down below he had a still severer examination before his Satanic Majesty and speaking to him, Satan says this: The Devil he blew on a brandered soul and set it aside to cool:
"Do ye think I would waste my good pit-coal on the hide o f a brain-sick fool?
"I see no worth in the hobnailed mirth or the jolthead jest ye did
"That I should waken my gentlemen that are sleeping three on a grid.
Now, that is the attitude of all militant spirits toward the colourless man, the man who has nothing positive to stand for and nothing definite to do and whose claim to distinction is that simply he never did any harm. Dante, Browning, Kipling arid, above all, the author of the Book of Revelation„ have simply no place for such as he.
Then, he sings the song of the brave and strong all over the world
There dwells a wife by the northern gate And a wealthy wife is she;
She breeds a breed of roving men And casts them over the sea.
The good wife's sons come home again
With little into their hands,
But the lore of men that have dealt with men
In the new and naked lands.
But the faith of men that have brothered men By more than easy breath
And the eyes of men that have read with men In the open books of Death.
And following up that great idea of achievement that seeks not gain nor anything that self can desire you have that amazing "Ballad of the East end the West," with its still more striking introduction
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great judgment seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!
Back of the message of the individual there is the sense of the inspiration that comes to men, that light from beyond himself that lightens a man's eyes and lets him see things that are hidden from the rest of mankind and the poem that struck me most forcibly from that point of view was "The Explorer." Perhaps that is one of the more recent of Kipling's really striking contributions. He pictures this man as settled and prosperous, but while he is moving on, as far as his neighbours could see, successfully, he says:
Till voice as bad as Conscience rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper, day and night repeated so:
`Something hidden. Go and find it - Go and look behind the ranges
'Something lost behind the Ranges, lost and waiting for you - Go!
Then, there is the story of how he left all and went, of the struggle with nature's forces that almost drove him insane and then the discovery of an Empire with wooded mountains and valleys, with rich plains, with everything that man could desire inviting him to go in and take possession and then he sums the whole thing up this way
Yes, your 'Never-never country'-yes, "your edge o f cultivation"
And "no sense in going further" 'till I cross the range to see,
God forgive me! No, I didn't. It's God's present to our nation,
Anybody might have found it but - His whisper came to me.
And the story just reminded me of something that Morse said when an ardent young admirer was talking to him about his discoveries and he said this: "Well, you know, I never feel like taking any credit for them. Time and again I have faced a blank wall with no opportunity that I could see of either getting through it or getting around it-" And then, his young friend said, "You prayed?" "Yes, and the answer came and when I have been given credit for my discoveries I always feel like saying they are not mine, they have been given to me in the interests of mankind" - and I wonder if in our skeptical age we realize how much we in this modern practical world owe our practical achievements to an inspiration that came from beyond ourselves, and to this Kipling gave magnificent expression in that poem entitled, "The Burial," that you recall was written on the passing of Cecil Rhodes
Dreamer, devout, by vision led Beyond our guess or reach The travail of his spirit bred Cities in place of speech,
So huge the all-mastering thought that drove-
So brief the term allowed
Nations, not words, he linked to prove His faith before the crowd.
Then, back of all that is the deep religious spirit he brings out in so many. Again, as I said in another connection, it is not always in the orthodox way. That picture he gives of McAndrew, of McAndrew's faith and the change that came in the secrets df McAndrew's life, that throttling temptation to sanctify the flesh, the way he overcame it and then the covenant that followed and you remember the ringing expression that he gives to his faith as he, a mechanic, lives in a love, almost poetic, of his machinery:
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide, I see Thy Hand, O God
Predestination in the stride o' yon connectin'-rod.
A question our age is asking today as it never did bef ore.
Then, if you want to go to the example of all othersI haven't time to quote from "Mulholland's Contract"it is one of the most fascinating stories I know of personal, transformation and the way in which that may find expression. I should just like to close this all too superficial review of one whose works we love by that-shall I call it swan son? - well, it is as much to Kipling as "Crossing the Bar" is to Tennyson, and it gives expression to his flaith, even though it came to him in the early years of his poetic career
When earth's last picture is painted, And the tubes are twisted and dried, Whey the oldest colours have faded And the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith we shall need it, Lie down for an eon or two
Till the Master of all good workmen Shall set us our work anew.
And only the Master shall praise us And only the Master shall blame And no one shall work for money And no one shall work for fame, But each for the joy of working And each in his separate star
Shall paint the thing as he sees it, For the God of things as they are. (Hearty applause.)
PRESIDENT: Last week we had Partridge for luncheon. Today we have had Pidgeon, and it has been a real substantial luncheon.
Dr. Pidgeon has brought Kipling to us and I think we all know him better than when he came into the banquet hall. I think as time goes on Kipling will rest beside Dickens and Shakespeare in the studies of the youth and the studies of those of us who are older. He has been a wonderful man in this great Empire of ours and I believe his work will go on in the years to come.
On your behalf I extend to Dr. Pidgeon our very sincere thanks for coming to us today and presenting such an able address, a presentation of Kipling that I think well warrants repetition when the opportunity comes.