Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865, and many of the stories for which he later became famous bear the marks of that Indian background.
His father was a teacher of arts and crafts and Rudyard was raised by a maid who taught him Hindustani as his first language. However, at age six he was taken to and left in Swansea, England for five years at a foster home. There he confronted English discipline, including beatings, for which he was ill prepared.
At age thirteen he entered United Services College to prepare him for a life of military service. This ambition was thwarted by his short-sightedness. At that time his family connections with pre-Raphaelites influenced his writing.
When he returned to India in 1882 he pursued a career in journalism, to suit his bookish interests. He wrote many short stories which were well received in England where he was hailed as a literary luminary.
“Ruddy”, as he was know in younger years, glorified the English soldier in various situations and overseas duties in the British Empire, particularly India and Burma. He wrote mostly for or about military personnel.
He also wrote wonderful stories for children, including The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book.
In 1892 he married Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of an American publisher with whom he collaborated. The marriage was apparently not an ideal one, as Caroline struggled with some of his character qualities. Kipling became a more difficult man to live with after the death of his daughter when they lived in Vermont, USA.
His son, John, who also had short-sightedness, managed to get into the military, but was killed in World War One, at the Battle of Loos, at age 18.
Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and was the first Englishman to receive that prestigious award.
Certainly there is no Christian message in his books, although the heroes are always men of high ideals. Nor is there any indication that Kipling was ever converted. An active Freemason, he is sometimes spoken of as the Masonic Poet. His stories express a sense of Imperialism and pride in the prominence of the British Rule, as if it were by divine mandate. He did not question the quality of that rule or its implications.
But in 1897 he wrote a hymn for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – a hymn still to be found in most hymnals and often sung on patriotic occasions:
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line –
Beneath Whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget.
Australians will recognise the words “Lest We Forget”, since they are invoked each Anzac Day, April 25, in memory of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in battle. The hymn is most likely to be heard on Anzac Day. The words also adorn the Returned Soldiers’ League (RSL) buildings.
Rudyard Kipling died in London of a cerebral haemorrhage on January 18, 1936, aged 70. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com