Monday, January 18, 2016

Today is the 80th Anniversary of Rudyard Kipling’s death

Rudyard Kipling died on January 18th 1936, in hospital in London, not long after his 70th birthday. Incidentally, January 18th is also the date on which Kipling got married – in 1892.

He might have lived longer if the source of his suffering and illness had been correctly diagnosed and suitably treated much earlier.
I was amused to read that Rudyard Kipling's death was prematurely reported in a magazine to which he immediately wrote, "I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers."

King George V, who was also born in 1865 and who was a personal friend of Kipling’s, died two days later, on 20th January 1936. He too might have lived longer, but perhaps by a few hours only, if he had not received a certain treatment: his death was deliberately speeded up with a lethal injection from his doctor, so that the announcement could appear in the morning papers.

It was George V who made the first ever royal Christmas speech, which was broadcast on the radio in 1932. I was interested to learn recently that it was Kipling who composed the script for the personal message that King George delivered on Christmas Day to all his peoples throughout the Empire.

Kipling, who was a member of the War Graves Commission, also prepared on an important speech for King George to make when visiting war graves in France and Belgium.

They both lived through the First World War; perhaps it is for the best that they didn’t live to see WWII.

When Kipling died, his best work was far behind him and his reputation was in decline.  Yet books about the man, the writer and the political thinker are still in demand. The following extract is from a review of an award-winning book published in 2002 that does much to restore Kipling’s standing:

The Elizabeth Longford Historical Biography prize has been awarded to David Gilmour's superbly revisionist work The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, which triumphantly succeeds in rescuing Kipling's reputation as a significant political thinker

Gilmour points out how often his subject was proved right in many, if not most, of his predictions. Kipling predicted the Boers would establish apartheid if they were allowed to; as early as the mid-1890s, he warned that the Kaiser would unleash an aggressive world war; he said that communal genocide in the Punjab would accompany any over-hasty transfer of power in India; and he denounced the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. It is a noble, but by no means exhaustive, list.

Of course, it is as the finest phrase-maker since Shakespeare that Kipling will be remembered; many of the phrases we associate with the First World War and its commemoration were his.”

The entire review can be read here.

I wonder how many more books about Rudyard Kipling will be written between now and the 100th anniversary in 2036.

Rudyard Kipling with King George V

Rudyard Kipling memorial service at Westminster Abbey, London 1936