18th January 1936. Recessional.
In the 1990.s Kipling’s ‘If’ which championed the noble qualities required in Empire, was voted the most popular poem by the British public.
Nobel Prize winner and cousin of Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, Rudyard Kipling who died Today in 1936, predicted the Boer and the Kaiser’s Wars and the Empire’s potential disintegration in his poem ‘Recessional’. (1)
Before he was thirty, Kipling having spent his early years in India, became Britain’s high priest of Imperialism, though in reality he cut an indifferent figure with his pebble glasses framed in blue steel.(2)
Kipling used his Indian experience in his ‘Plain Tales from the Hills’, and ‘Kim’ whose involvement in the ‘Great Game’ reflected Russian espionage and posturing on the northern borders for control of the area.
Kipling steeped in Imperialism and elite Victorian values of the schoolroom and university, lived at a time when, now unfashionable adventure stories, by the likes of G. Henty and his Boys Own Papers ‘potboilers’, and H. Rider Haggard, glorified the English character.
These were part of a popular literary genre where the good ‘white’ men outfaced the bad, but with a downside of what we now regard as offensively racial and xenophobic.
Then others such as AEW Mason’s ‘Four Feathers’ and Edgar Wallace’s ‘Sanders of the River’, with their energetic plots, covered ‘the big blank spaces on the map’, where tests of strength, struggles with evil, have been later so favoured by film makers.
Post Empire there has been a tendency among the more well-meaning liberal elements of society to rubbish and be embarrassed by our colonial past, which mind-set passing through the education system has left a jaundiced view of our past and its literature, a thinking which is as illogical as condemning the study of history.
The past is just that, part of the sweep of human history, and not as some people think something to be apologised for. Even if our time in India is remembered for nothing else we rid the sub-continent of Suttee and the Terror of Thugee (Thugs), which over centuries killed millions.
(1) Rudyard after the Derbyshire Reservoir for the Macclesfield Canal. Recessional penned for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
(2) He was the only boy in the school to wear glasses and was variously called the ‘beetle’, ‘giglampo’ or ‘gigs’ and a contemporary recalled that his form-master disliked confronting his ‘four-eyes’.
theguardian.com. Miranda Carter 23.1.2014.
theguardian.com/review. Brian Thompson. 7.12.2002.