Kipling and the Irish

Owen Dudley Edwards

Kipling leapt into British fame at the beginning of 1890, and it had been Ireland which had given him his chance – that and the rich harvest of short stories from his Indian years. He hit England just before the Commission on ‘Parnellism and Crime’ was about to report. That report, predictably, exonerated Parnell and his party, accused by the Times of having fomented the Phoenix Park murders of Chief Secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish and Under-Secretary Thomas Burke, who had in reality been killed (on 6 May 1882) by Parnell’s bitter enemies the Invincibles. The Times in 1887 had made many other charges under the heady influence of a group of clever and unscrupulous young Irish Unionists who had captured the paper, then under the nominal direction of a senile manager and an infant editor. Parnell, Michael Davitt and the Land League were accused of having inspired agrarian outrages including murder, arson, horse-gelding and cattle-houghing. Certainly they had developed ostracism as a weapon, causing it to be christened the ‘Boycott’ after the landlord who was one of its first victims: but they insisted that they had opposed violence, and had advocated only non-violent pressures against evicting landlords and blackleg tenants. The Special Commission judges, however, refused to distinguish between violent and non-violent intimidation, and declared that the land agitation had been a cause of crime. The judges noted that the Parnellites had benefited financially and morally from association with Irish-Americans pledged to the separation of Ireland from Britain.

The Tory Government of Robert Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, and its Irish administration under his nephew Chief Secretary A.J. Balfour – whose preferment had given rise to the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ – had thrown everything, including its Law Officers, and the resources of the Secret Service division of the Home Office, into stiffening the nerve of the Times, and they shared in the obloquy that fell on the Times when the main sensation of the newspaper’s case crashed with the revelation that letters supposedly showing Parnell’s complicity in the Phoenix Park murders had been forged by Richard Pigott. The Commission Report did seem to support the Tory case that Irish agrarian violence had been in part because of, and not in spite of, the Land League’s advocacy of non-violent action. But after the Pigott debacle who was ready to make capital of this?

Kipling was. He wrote the furious poem ‘Cleared’ and offered it to the Times. That demoralised newspaper, desperately hoping the whole business would be quickly forgotten, rejected the poem. But when Robert Fitzroy Bell, owner of the Scots Observer then edited by W.E. Henley, called on Kipling to enquire as to possible further ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’, the first of which Henley had just published, Kipling retrieved ‘Cleared’ from the waste-paper basket. Fitzroy Bell was a very ‘stalky’ figure, unscrupulous and resourceful in his Toryism. To dish the Liberals in the Edinburgh University Rectorial Elections he had invented the institution of Students’ Representative Councils: he thereby became known as the father of student democracy and the Liberals did not win another Edinburgh Rectorial for twenty years. He knew enough of agriculture to grasp how the Liberals would be humiliated by a poem representing them as sheep, given bloodstains as a shepherd’s mark by their alleged Irish Nationalist masters. He was happy to accept ‘Cleared’ on behalf of Henley, with whom Kipling thus forged an invaluable link. The poem appeared on 8 March 1890.

Kipling was a late-comer, and had come in fresh, to the battle. He was also a dirty fighter, which delighted Henley and Fitzroy Bell. Far from admitting that the Parnellites’ opponents had gone into the Special Commission behind evidence which largely proved to be forgery and perjury, the poem even made an emotive reference to the Phoenix Park murders implying that Parnell’s exoneration proved his guilt. Cases of intimidation where the Land Leaguers were clearly on record denouncing the perpetrators were twisted into an insistence that they had inspired them. Some Parnellites had indeed committed perjury in their evidence, among them Parnell himself: the poem chose to assume they all did. It was hardly blameworthy for the Parnellites to receive donations, even if called ‘Judas-Gold’, from ‘Fenians out of jail’, some of whom, like the Irish-American poet John Boyle O’Reilly, were now eminently respectable figures: but ‘They only fawned for dollars on the blood-dyed Clan-na-Gael’ was a just, if unkind comment on the Parnellite use of Irish-American revolutionary organisations for fund-raising. It might be asked where the Parnellites’ unscrupulous use of the Clan-na-Gael for purely constitutional political purposes differed from Kipling’s Irish soldier heroes in ‘The Mutiny of the Mavericks’, who concealed their unbreakable loyalty to the Crown and pretended a mutiny to get booze from funds sent by American conspirators: but Kipling embattled in furious verse was far from Kipling ironising in indulgent prose. When in India, he had visualised Parnellites such as William O’Brien and T.P. O’Connor as figures of fun: not now.

The real force of the poem lay in a quality alien to the interests of Henley and Fitzroy Bell. When Fitzroy Bell saw it, ‘Cleared’ was in the Irish dialect Kipling used for his Irish soldiers in his short stories, and he apparently intended to put it in the mouth of his favourite, Terence Mulvaney. The poem was altered in proof, perhaps at Henley’s instance, and was probably improved by being put into something resembling standard English. A number of Irishisms still survive in it, including ‘clane’ for ‘clean’ to rhyme with ‘again’, and, strangely, most of these harmonise much better with Irish intonation than do Kipling’s laboured attempts in prose to reproduce Irish dialect.

So ‘Cleared’ was conceived as the statement of an Irishman. In that sense it is not ‘anti-Irish’ at all, though it would have been condemned as such up and down the ranks of the Parnell movement and the Liberal Party. It is simply speaking for another Ireland. It shows a genuine passion at the misfortunes of the ordinary people caught up in agrarian outrage. Unlike the Times’s case, it is not landlord propaganda disguised as patriotism. Kipling wrote out of a fear that the Empire might be undermined by conspiracy, and, believing in an Irish loyalty that came naturally when not suborned by conspiratorial and ignorant politicians, he evidently sees the final words of his indictment as decisive in Irish – or at least in Mulvaney’s – eyes:

If black is black or white is white, in black and white it’s down,
You’re only traitors to the Queen and rebels to the Crown.
If print is print or words are words, the learned Court perpends: –
We are not ruled by murderers, but only – by their friends.

Kipling unconsciously produced an odd indictment of the poem in Something of Myself (which he began in 1935, and which is here admirably annotated by Robert Hampson, to whom some of the foregoing may be new): ‘A Government Commission of Enquiry was sitting in those days on some unusually blatant traffic in murder among the Irish Land Leaguers and had whitewashed the whole crowd.’ Was this his attitude to it in 1890? He seems to insist that it was. If so, there is even more devious work in the pretence that the Commission’s verdict is worthy of respect. There is also a strong measure of contempt for a Commission which cannot even whitewash without providing ammunition for Kipling. The contempt is open in dealing with the Parnellite use of the Gladstonians:

     go, scare your sheep together,
The blundering, tripping tups that bleat behind the old bell-wether.

It is, in fact, a somewhat anti-English poem. Ireland was ultimately to prove the occasions for Kipling to commit treason himself. In 1912-14 he identified himself with the Ulster revolt led by Carson, and its cause of resistance to the proposed Government enactment of Home Rule, together with its ultimate undertaking to use arms (imported from Germany). His incendiary poem ‘Ulster’ is one of the clearest incitements to violence uttered by anyone during the crisis. Once again, he fought dirty. He was normally generous and even sympathetic in his references to Roman Catholicism. Yet in ‘Ulster’ he utilised every means of fomenting anti-Catholic fears. At first the poem simply sums up historic Ulster Protestant opinions of the Irish Roman Catholic majority on a secular front, declaring that Home Rule would hand the Protestants over to rebellion, rapine, hate, oppression, wrong, greed, murder, treason, folly, sloth and spite, but it then shades into religious horrors:

We know the wars prepared
On every peaceful home,
We know the hells declared
For such as serve not Rome –
The terror, threats, and dread
In market, hearth, and field –
We know, when all is said,
We perish if we yield.

He could argue that he was being metaphorical, and alluding to the spirit of Irish nationalism, but his Ulster audience would connect it with the Inquisition and the fires of Smithfield – and, as he had said of the Parnellites in ‘Cleared’, he knew, and well he knew. The poem’s last line retained the protective ambiguity with which he had charged the Parnellites, but would have been fully understood in its stronger sense:

Believe, we dare not boast,
Believe, we do not fear –
We stand to pay the cost
In all that men hold dear.
What answer from the North?
One Law, one Land, one Throne.
If England drive us forth
We shall not fall alone!

We shall have allies, that is: and, when we fall, we shall take a good many of the enemy with us, Crown forces included.

The poem was only part of his campaign: there would also be violent speech-making in 1914, the site for his identification with Demosthenes being Tunbridge Wells. He was undoubtedly telling his audience, local and newspaper, to shake off any allegiance to the legally-constituted government, whom he characterised as swindlers seeking to betray Ulster to criminals so that they might retain their salaries. He was safe enough in doing this, whatever his deserts. The Asquith Government was giving Carson his head: it hardly wanted to martyr the creator of Mowgli and the Just-So Stories. But however incendiary his proceedings, how ‘anti-Irish’ were they?

‘Ulster’ is a sectarian poem. But once again its attack on certain forms of Irish nationalist agitation – by now very much in the past, to the point of looking exhumed from the Parnell Commission charges – is made in the tones of other Irishmen. The poem is in fact an attempt to put words into the mouths of the Ulster insurgents. It is this which supplies realism, if not justice, to the imagery; it is this also which explains lines like ‘The traitor claims his price’ (which is otherwise, as applied, for instance, to poor, decent, pompous John Redmond, not so much incendiary as ludicrous). And it simply is not possible to designate as ‘anti-Irish’ a poem identifying itself so thoroughly with so large a group of Irish persons. As Kipling well knew, it was less reasonable to call the Ulster Protestants non-Irish than to call the white inhabitants of the United States non-American. On the other hand, the poem’s ominous repetition ‘England’s act and deed ... England’s shot and steel ... England drive us forth’ indicates that Kipling had temporarily identified, not only with the sectarianism of the Ulster Protestants, but also with the anti-Englishness that shrewd observers – like the Ulster novelist George Birmingham in his The Red Hand of Ulster – recognised beneath their professions of loyalty.

‘Ulster’ is a poem of terrible power and great skill. The poem is lunatic: but it is also a very accurate report concerning Ulster Protestant fears of cultural obliteration. And it enabled Kipling to release some extraordinary sentiment of hatred within himself. And the hatred was not just against Home Rulers, Catholics, or Irish nationalists, or even Liberals, but also against England. To say this is not to gainsay the great love of England which shines so much through Kipling’s work – although it is important to separate this, insofar as it can be separated, from his birth-given devotion to the Empire. His devotion to England tends to be somewhat overinsistent. Defenders of Kipling indignantly cite his bitter attack on professional flag-waving in a very moving episode in Stalky & Co, ‘The Flag of Their Country’: but his unease about his English audience is revealed in the fact that when the book was first published in serial form, this instalment (alone of all) appeared in an American and not also in an English magazine. The somewhat embarrassing flights into panegyric about England seem a little contrived: he settled into them after 1902, as he settled into English residence. ‘Ulster’conveys the subordinate existence of another, darker attitude.

Kipling’s first experience of England – in 1871-77 – was a terrible one, as he has recorded in his brilliant, corrosive story ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’. We have to depend greatly on the story for a knowledge of this initial encounter: it is Kipling’s testament as to England’s first impact on him. His misery in the ‘House of Desolation’, and his victimisation at the hands of Mrs Sarah Holloway and her son, remained with him all his life. Little Rudyard had real uncles and aunts in England, and they were not poor people: the Poynters, the Burne-Joneses, the Baldwins. Yet his parents had wantonly placed him in the care of the Holloways at grave risk to his happiness, his well-being, his sight and even his sanity. Once he had recovered the proof of parental love, he could never again endanger his possession of it. Only the Holloways, his first English in England, could be to blame. More directly, his experience suggested that the English were not to be fully trusted. Some of Kipling’s poems, such as ‘The Puzzler’, are less complimentary than might appear at first glance:

The Celt in all his variants from Builth to Ballyhoo,
His mental processes are plain – one knows what he will do,
And can logically predicate his finish by his start;
But the English – ah, the English! – they are quite a race apart.

In Something of Myself Kipling speaks of ‘my Mother, all Celt and three-parts fire’. And ‘my father’ has his ‘sage Yorkshire outlook and wisdom’. Neither Yorkshire nor Cockney radiate intimidating English mystery to the outsider: perhaps they should. Certainly Kipling was at home with all of his soldiers three, the Irish Mulvaney, the Cockney Ortheris and the Yorkshireman Learoyd.

Edmund Wilson argues in ‘The Kipling that nobody reads’ that Kipling became an apostle of brutality and authoritarianism from his time in the ‘House of Desolation’. This needs to be re-examined: those dreadful years left their message, but it was a more complex one than Wilson makes it. ‘So long as the Irish are loyal to England, Kipling shows the liveliest appreciation of Irish recklessness and the Irish sense of mischief: Mulvaney is Irish, McTurk is Irish, Kim is Irish. But the moment they display these same qualities in agitation against the English, they become infamous assassins and traitors.’ But Wilson’s essay encourages us to ask: what are all those Irish – and Wilson is mentioning only three of them – doing among Kipling’s most cherished creations?

Mulvaney is Irish. This makes reasonably good sense, at least initially. When Kipling first needed to meet ordinary soldiers in his capacity as a teenage journalist in India, he was introduced to some ‘ “boozing chums” who belonged to the musketry fatigue party, headed by Corporal MacNamara’ (Birkenhead, Kipling). In his autobigraphical Schooldays with Kipling G.C. Beresford offers another source in a school sergeant named Pat Kearney. Beresford himself, imitating a lower-class rural Irish accent, is a third: he says that, apart from his own Irish accent, he could only do broad Connaught, but his mother came from Castle Island, Co. Kerry, and while Mulvaney wanders somewhat in his dialect, the intrusive Kerry ‘f’ before ‘wh’ is constant. Beresford was Kipling’s daily companion for four years.

It was no doubt MacNamara who first suggested an Irish soldier to Kipling, just as his specialisation suggested the title of the first Mulvaney story, ‘The Three Musketeers’: published first in 1887, it implies by reference to the soldiers’ imminent departure home that it will be a singleton. But the idea had worked, Kipling came back to the three, and as he moved farther from his original material his use of the same characters guided him into remoter territory where he had to improvise more than was probably required for this first effort. In the process Mulvaney became a little mixed: his marital status varies, he even seems to vary between Catholic and Protestant. But he never varies in his comradely fidelity for Ortheris and Learoyd. Kipling came back to him because Mulvaney gave him confidence, even for so alien a business as the reproduction of his accent. And Kipling drew other Irish soldiers, sometimes when he had to, as in ‘The Mutiny of the Mavericks’, sometimes not.

McTurk is Irish. Here again, we start with an Irish original, although a rather startling one. Isabel Quigley annotates the text of Stalky & Co quite well, but is meagre of information on its originals: even to get their dates one must go to Mr Hampson. Beresford (as seems to have been pointed out by nobody, not even his Times obituarist) was the grandson of the (Protestant) Archbishop of Armagh, still in office during his schooldays. His family was a most distinguished Anglo-Irish one, originally of Ulster stock, and he descended from the first Marquess of Waterford.

According to Beresford’s account, it was he who targeted Kipling for friendship, and fairly ruthlessly too, dropping other friends. As Stalky & Co indicates, Beresford was a Ruskin enthusiast, and Kipling was the nephew of Burne-Jones. Hence, for Kipling, the first non-relative to offer him friendship and admiration in England was Irish, in striking contrast to the bitter repression at the Holloways. ‘Stalky’ (the future General Dunsterville) joined the two schoolboys later. The three had an important quality in common: they were, from a strictly English point of view, all outsiders. Although Dunsterville and his parents were of English stock, they were all born in Imperial and foreign parts. The English prejudice against ‘colonials’ was as high as against the Irish (and with Parnell looming there was little English incentive to distinguish between Catholic and Protestant Irish undesirables). In certain ways, the ‘Co’seem to have adopted an Irishness to set them apart. Stalky & Co makes much of their fondness for Irish music-hall songs, and ‘The Wearing of the Green’, described there as sung by McTurk, keeps re-appearing in Kipling’s prose and verse. (The song is associated with the United Irishmen, late 18th-century radicals much execrated by Beresford’s ancestor, the Anglo-Irish political leader John Beresford: but presumably that increased its charm to him.) In Stalky & Co the unpopular masters are associated with an almost racist anti-Irish attitude. Mr King complains of ‘McTurks’s Hibernian sneer’ and later says: ‘I mistrust the dark Celt.’ Mr Prout resents being nicknamed ‘by a dark and scowling Celt with a fluent tongue’. In real life, Kipling’s adored headmaster Cormell Price was an enthusiastic supporter of Irish nationalism.

All parties, Beresford included, warn against taking Stalky & Co as autobiography, and the discrepancies are instructive. Beresford may not have had a drop of Celtic blood: but Kipling identified him with a Celtic (if Protestantised) Ireland, especially when seen through his authoritarian enemies’ eyes. ‘I hear that old Beresford has joined the Fabian Society (he was always a bit of a Socialist),’ wrote Kipling to Dunsterville in 1898: but if this amounted to Home Rule sentiment in 1878-82 it did not prevent Beresford’s subsequent cynicism about the Hibernophilia of his headmaster. It seems to have been Kipling who romanticised the presumed Irish rebelliousness. And whatever the realities, the trio’s ethics in Stalky & Co seem curiously reminiscent of Irish protest. The accent on revenge, on punishment fitting the crime, on manipulation of law to their own advantage, on forcing against the English themselves their own propensity to judge by appearances – all were common coinage in the days of Parnell’s rise and Kipling’s schooling. But the links are even closer. In ‘Slaves of the Lamp (Part One)’, Stalky goads a drunken local, ‘Rabbits-Eggs’, to wreck King’s study. We are not told whether legal vengeance later fell on ‘Rabbits-Eggs’, although it is hard to see how he would have escaped: in any case, Stalky & Co go free and rejoicing. This is the earliest of the stories, written in 1897: in 1890 Kipling had written in ‘Cleared’:

Their sin it was that fed the fire – small blame to them that heard –
The boys get drunk on rhetoric, and madden at a word.

Rabbits-Eggs (how reminiscent the name is of ‘Scrab’ and ‘Skin-the-Goat’ and the other noms de guerre to surface in the Parnell Commission) got drunk on more than rhetoric, but otherwise there seems a perfect analogy in the matter of manipulators, activists and victims. Another resemblance occurs when the trio convince Prout that dreadful corruption is on foot, in order to ridicule his hunting for imaginary plots: the Parnell Commission also produced a few bogus conspiracies intended to make the Times pay money and look foolish (quite apart from Pigott’s conspiracy, which was not intended to be unmasked). Stalky & Co decide that McTurk shall appear to ‘head conspiracies – and cabals – and boycotts’. For a story supposedly set in 1881, the last word was quite extraordinarily topical. In theory, it all works out perfectly well, with Stalky later putting comparable ruses to use in the service of Empire. In practice, it leaves one asking: whose side was Kipling on?

Kim is Irish. ‘Of course he was Irish,’ wrote Kipling to an aunt of Shane Leslie’s. ‘He had to be. The Irish (Southern) are the Orientals of the West.’ Here Kipling runs afoul of Professor Alan Sandison, who insists Kim was British. It would seem that Kipling saw Irishness in India as having the capacity to pass into Indian life in ways that seemed wrong for the English (though the Hibernicised Stalky is permitted linguistic passage). The first story in Life’s Handicap, ‘Krishna Mulvaney’ suggests one form of the theme, in a ludicrous and rather odious treatment. ‘Namgay Doola’ in the same volume offers another. In this instance, the story might seem ‘anti-Irish’, in that it records the red-haired half-Indian son of a wandering Irish soldier exhibiting the faults of treachery, cattle-maiming and general ungovernability, as well as a reverential singing of a weird version of ‘The Wearing of the Green’. In a particularly nasty touch the narrator successfully offers money to one of Namgay Doola’s children, an eight-year-old boy, to give him his father’s gun: ‘I might have shot Namgay Doola as he chanted. But I was satisfied. The blood-instinct of the race held true.’ The narrator ultimately recommends to the local king that he either hang Namgay Doola and his family or else raise him to honour in the Army.

‘He comes of a race that will not pay revenue. A red flame is in his blood which comes out at the top of his head in that glowing hair. Make him chief of the Army. Give him honour as may befall, and full allowance of work, but look to it, O King, that neither he nor his hold a foot of earth from thee henceforward. Feed him with words and favour, and also liquor from certain bottles that thou knowest of, and he will be a bulwark of defence. But deny him even a tuft of grass for his own. This is the nature that God has given him. Moreover he has brethren –’

   The State groaned unanimously.

   ‘But if his brethren come, they will surely fight with each other till they die; or else the one will always give information concerning the other.’

None of this conflicts with the assumptions of ‘Cleared’, or even ‘Ulster’, save that it is more good-humoured. But there remains the problem of Kipling’s intentions. The narrator is not Kipling himself, as with the Mulvaney stories, but an Imperial administrator, and however much Kipling might formally approve of his authoritative judgments and racist conclusions, it is far from clear that the author’s sympathies are entirely with him. The conclusion suggests that the last laugh is on the side of Namgay Doola.

   And the King was so pleased with my perspicacity that he offered to sell me a village for twenty pounds sterling. But I buy no villages in the Himalayas as long as one red head flares between the tail of the heaven-climbing glacier and the dark birch-forest.

I know that breed.

Moreover, there is something very moving about the strange family chanting in fragmentary obeisance to a forgotten Irish national and religious faith. So determined an Irish nationalist as Frank O’Connor included that scene – minus the bribed child’s gun-stealing – in his anthology A Book of Ireland. There is a strange beauty in the deplorable Irish-Indian family; there is none in the no doubt infinitely more admirable Imperial administrator.

Kipling was ostensibly hostile to cross-racial links, and scornful of Indians whom he considered excessively educated. But the tragedies of inter-racial love in ‘Beyond the Pale’ and ‘Without Benefit of Clergy’ show a fine tenderness and delicacy, and seem even to imply a yearning which finds itself restricted by the vaunted order and laws. He may have known that the phrase ‘Beyond the Pale’ derives from the English experience of Medieval Ireland, when their power extended hardly beyond Dublin, inside whose surrounding Pale there was English order. But the ‘Orientals of the West’ could more easily cross the racial frontier: unsatisfactorily in the case of Namgay Doola – magnificently in the case of Kim’s devotion to the Lama.

Kipling loved Ireland – a somewhat imaginary Ireland. This had something to do with his mother, who had Irish forebears. It has much to do with Beresford, and the world that grew from him to incorporate Dunsterville. It was greatly affected by his sufferings at the hands of the Holloways. Ireland symbolised confidence and camaraderie, rather than authority and fear. And he exploded in anger when he saw the country used as a political pawn by unworthy authority-figures. This Ireland possessed some of the romanticism of Cormell Price. And he was able to project his love for it into the love of an Irish boy who crosses the barriers of age, race and culture. If he had not written another line apart from Kim, he would deserve a return of that love.