“Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” Henry James
Think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world. Kipling (from the story In the Interests of the Brethren)
OUR BROTHER RUDYARD KIPLING
(lecture delivered on Oct 07, 2011 at the CR4 Lodge)
Kipling was an active Mason only for a short while, but throughout his whole life he defined himself as a Mason, and his work was significantly influenced by Masonry. In this lecture I will try to present a portrait of Kipling-Mason and reflect on the nature of Masonic references in his work.
Kipling was born in 1865 in Bombay. His father served as principal of a private school of art and also taught Architectural Sculpture at the same school. He met his future wife about 3 years earlier, in England, at the Rudyard Lake. They would call their firstborn son after the name of a lake, a reminder of their love story. Kipling’s parents moved to India and became ‘Anglo-Indians’, that is people who belonged to both England and India. Rudyard would inherit this dual allegiance. The themes of mixed ethnic identity and clashes of cultures were to become central to Kipling’s writing. This topic is taken to its uppermost in his masterpiece, the tale of Mowgli, a human child raised by wolves.
It is often said that the first 5-6 years of man’s life shape his character. Kipling thought that his own story confirmed this view. The first 5 years of his life were lived in Bombay. The tropical garden of his parents’ bungalow was his personal garden of Eden. Gentle Indian nannies gave him and his sister Beatrice nothing but love and allowed their young charges a lot of freedom. The local dialect, spoken by servants, was to become his first language.
At the age of 5 he was sent to England to stay in a foster family and go to school. His parents left him there without even explaining to him what was going to happen. Kipling would never forget this shock. The atmosphere in the foster family was cold, hypocritical and full of restrictions. Kipling would later say that his ability to tell lies, which was necessary to survive, helped to develop his story-telling talent. His foster parents did not like this at all: at some point he was even forced to go to school with a tag “liar” attached to his backpack. The Anglican Christianity of his foster parents, whom he hated, was probably one of the reasons for his critical attitude to religion.
When ‘Ruddy’ turned 10, his parents came to England and moved him to a boarding school for Anglo-Indian boys. The style of the school was somewhat Spartan, the kids were brought up in the spirit of camaraderie, sense of duty and bravery. These noble values would later find expression in his books, and the school is to be credited for this. However, the first two years at school were hard due to bullying. He had poor vision, wore thick eyeglasses and was somewhat clumsy. Sometimes, he would write his mother a few letters per day – his first stories. His mother wrote back to the school principal, a family friend, asking him to give her son more attention and saying, rightly or wrongly, that he was somewhat feminine by nature. If this was at least partly true, could it possibly explain his fascination with men and manliness? Kipling wrote mainly about men. Women are rare visitors on the pages of his books. Or should this be attributed to the fact that his deep love for his mother appeared to be unanswered – she would always go away and leave him alone?
The school principal complained about Ruddy’s lack of responsibility and negligence in his assignments, whereas the boy was sending poetry to his parents, which they even published under a pen-name without notifying him. His father, wondering whether he would be able to do a normal job, showed remarkable insight by deciding to get him a post at a newspaper. He wrote to the principal: “I don’t have money for Oxford, and a journalist is about the only job he could do”. One of his friends was the editor of a local newspaper, which would become the place of Rudyard’s first job.
Rudyard went back to India after graduating, at the age of 17. His family moved from Bombay to Lahore, a city in the Punjab, where his father worked as the curator of the city museum and principal of the College of Art. The young man started to work as an assistant editor at The Civil and Military Gazette. As a journalist, he would mingle with natives among the colorful crowds of Lahore, absorb the details of cultures, castes and religions, learn accents and dialects enjoying all the things that he loved as a child.
Seven years in India, together with the experiences of early childhood, shaped his unique talent. During these years he wrote his first 6 books of stories and poetry and became known as a writer. At the age of 24 he left India to pursue a career in literature and would never return, but Indian topics would dominate his writing for many years. He would marry, have children, lose two of them, live in the US and England, travel around the world, become famous and receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. But his best books would still remain about India, about the colorful diversity of its constituent cultures, each with its own value.
Kipling’s attention to multiculturalism was well ahead of his time. What was seen as colonial exotics a hundred years ago has become a mundane reality of our daily life. Western society has changed. The ethnic diversity of Kipling’s Punjab has come to the streets of London, Brussels and New York. We are confronted with the same issues of our own cultural and national belonging as Kipling’s Anglo-Indian characters. To the thinking mind, the issues of ethnic identity evolve into more general questions of self-knowledge and self-development: what am I? Should I stay the way I am or become something else? Out of the clashes of cultures in society and in people’s hearts the question becomes: what is our real identity and belonging? If our ethnic self is but a form, what is the content? If our culture can be changed like a piece of clothing, what remains unchanged? If the cultural values and rules of behaviour are relative, are there any absolute values and rules? In Kipling’s time as well as in the 21st century, Masonry provided working tools and words of advice for men on a quest to find answers to those questions. Kipling came to Masonry for the same reason why we came to it: in a search for a true identity.
The first steps of Kipling’s Masonic life are well documented. He was initiated before reaching the legal age (he was 20 years and 4 months old) at the Hope and Perseverance Lodge in Lahore because the lodge needed a secretary. He was passed a month later and raised about 8 months after initiation. Already on the night of his raising, he acted as secretary and soon presented the annual report to the Grand Lodge. Modern research shows, that the report was full of errors – the result of his negligence or lack of experience, or, perhaps, both. He was elected secretary after a month, in January 1887, and then installed as such a month later. During this year he lectured twice in his Mother Lodge and received two side degrees – a Mark Mason and a Royal Ark Mariner.
He moved to Allahabad in two years after initiation and joined the local Craft Lodge. However he did not resign immediately from his Mother Lodge. A year later he moved to England and sent from there four letters of resignation to all four Indian lodges, of which he was a member. He would never join any lodge again, and there is no evidence that he ever attended any lodge meetings as a visitor. In the Twenties, he was made an honorary member of a few lodges in England. He accepted membership, but never visited the lodges. It is easy to reproach him, but he was a celebrity and behaved as such. To one of the invitations he replied: “I regret to say that I pass from the labor of fighting the English climate to the refreshment, more or less, of the South of France, where I ought to be …Fraternally yours.” The answer sounds Masonic, but a dedicated Mason would not answer this way.
Writing about Kipling’s Masonry, one cannot avoid the question, why had Masonry such a profound influence on his writing even though his own Masonic life was so short? If Masonry meant a lot to him, why did he not pursue a Masonic career and avoid lodge meetings? There is no clear answer available, but some insights and guesses can be made. A frequent opinion is that Kipling was a practical Mason. Masonry immediately provided him with a lot of new contacts, which he readily exploited. Later, both in England and in the US, he used Masonic introduction when it was useful to him and did not make a secret of his Masonry on the semi-private level even though he was not practising. This view captures some facets of his character, but a deeper truth also exists, which becomes more apparent when one looks at his writing where the influence of Masonic values is profound. Masonry resonated with the waves of his own heart, and enhanced his own way of looking at the world and describing it. We, Masons, feel this when we read his work.
To begin with, his initiation, which occurred early in his life, was, in fact, not only an initiation into Masonry, but also an initiation into adulthood. Being the youngest in the lodge, he was accepted as an equal among people of greater age and life experience and higher social position, and still had an important and special function among them. His personal situation made Kipling quite responsive to the ideals of human brotherhood expressed in Masonry. These ideals were probably more important to him than actual Masonry of his time, which was more racist and elitist than it claimed to be. Eternal contrast between a shining idea and its less glorious implementation was definitely one of the reasons for his rather reserved attitudes to actual Masonry. He wrote about his Mother Lodge: “The lodge included Brethren of at least four different creeds. I was entered by a member of the Brahmo Samaj (a Hindu), passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew. We met, of course, on the level …”
This story sounds as a passionate hymn to Masonry, but it is simply not true. Kipling was recommended, initiated, passed and raised by two British Colonels. The Hope and Perseverance lodge was not really multicultural – it counted only four non-Brits among about 40 members. Kipling apparently makes up a story about his Masonry. He is writing not so much about actual Masonry, but more about the image of Masonry as it was imprinted on his heart. It is hard to tell how much of this image is from Masonry, and how much from his heart. To further appreciate this fascinating mix of Masonry and Kipling, let us listen to his most well-known Masonic poem The Mother Lodge. In this poem he tells us about his Mother Lodge as he would want it to be, more than about what it really was. Kipling’s bond to his Mother Lodge was very real. In 1909 he joined a Rosicrucian society in England, which required its members to be Masons in good standing. He wrote in his application form, that he was still a member of the lodge in Lahore – an obvious lie, which could also be indicative of his attachment to his first Lodge.
Kipling’s references to Masonry and Masonic characters in his stories form collectively an entity that can be called “Kipling’s Masonry”, distinct from a real one. Kipling’s Masonry is not only multicultural, but also expressly democratic. His Masons are typically people of lowly origins, quite often simple soldiers, as was the father of Kim, a poor Anglo-Indian boy from his novel Kim. In his most Masonic story In the Interests of the Brethren, Kipling depicts a Masonic lodge of instruction in London during WWI. The lodge is full of front-line soldiers on a leave, many of them wounded or depressed or just dead tired. In the lodge they are received heartwarmingly, their physical and mental wounds are tended. The lodge shown was probably as far from real London lodges, as it was from other places, where front-line veterans would be received. At the end of the story, the narrator asks: ’what would happen if Grand Lodge knew about all this?’ Finally he decides to go there himself and report on the lodge of instruction.
In this story Kipling conveys all his love for Masonry, but also passes a judgment on it. One of the Masons in the story says: “Think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world. I hope I’m not censorious, but it sometimes crosses my mind that Grand Lodge may have thrown away its chance in the war almost as much as the Church has.’’ Kipling is not only praising Masonry for its brotherhood potential, but is also lamenting its missed chances – that potential is not realized. His Masonry is a powerful tool to unite people, but is this tool really used? Comparison with the Church is symptomatic – in his stories churches are not particularly strong in implementing proclaimed ideals. Let us listen again to Kipling’s statement: “Think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world”. This sounds critical, but it is not the comment of an outside observer. Kipling tells Masonry what it should be, as any full member has a right to do. This statement is typical for Masonry of his time, with its greater accent on political and social involvement, but it still resonates in our hearts. What are we doing through Masonry ‘for all the world’?
Another aspect of Kipling’s ambiguous relationship to Masonry was probably his individualism and the lifestyle of a celebrity. He sincerely admired brotherhood as a concept, but was ambitious and career-oriented. He became famous very early on and sought seclusion in the quiet haven of his family home. His wife guarded his privacy and sold his autographs. Sometimes, he would even travel incognito, under a fictitious name. Is it likely that such a man would go to a provincial lodge somewhere in Vermont and get involved in a casual chat with his neighbours? We are tempted to say: “why not?” But once a political scandal was ignited only because his remark made in private was intentionally misinterpreted. Like many famous people, he was alone in the world and had a limited circle of friends.
His well-known poem “If – “ is loved by Masons and is generally considered Masonic, but is it really? The character, who inspired the poem, was Dr L. S. Jameson, a British general and politician, who led a disastrous offensive of 1895 against the Boer Republic of the Transvaal, after which he was tried and imprisoned, but later released and even became a Prime Minister. Kipling writes here of human dignity and wisdom, of human beings’ right to act and experience. But the ideal man of this poem is alone in the world, there is even something Nietzschean about his character. The values of perfection expressed in the poem are essentially individualistic. The warmth of real human brotherhood is not to be found among them. Whatever its direction, “If-“ is one of the most influential poems of the English-speaking world. It was voted as the UK’s favorite poem in a 1995 BBC opinion poll. It is hung in offices and bedrooms around the world, including my own office, where it is admired by my colleagues w/o creating any Masonic allusions. I think that the Masonic value of the poem is not only in what it states, but also in the question which is posed: what does it mean to be a Man?
Another beautiful answer to the same question can be found in Kipling’s most famous story: The Jungle Book. Mowgli, raised by animals, is rejected by fellow-humans, but still behaves as a human should: he is helping the weak, uses fire and rules over animals. Mowgli is essentially alone, just as an ideal man of the poem “If-“. He is a man per se, stripped of culture and ethnicity. He follows no ethical pattern of human making, but he knows perfectly what to do. This masterpiece, written by a mature Kipling, apparently expresses his view of a man in the world and possibly to a certain degree his view of himself. This vision of a man standing alone in the world seems to contradict our daily experience, but it definitely resonates with the deepest layers of our feeling of self. Our Creator, in whose image we are made, is alone – so are we. The story of Mowgli has its place in the line of great stories about people living apart from human society, the most famous one being Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Profound influence of Masonry can be found in Kipling’s novel Kim. Kim, a poor Anglo-Indian boy follows a Buddhist monk, a lama, on the quest for a river that washes away all sins – an image arguably more Christian than Buddhist. For a boy, this quest is not shrouded in religious motives – he follows the lama and sees him as a Holy Man w/o being a Buddhist himself. The boy enjoys a strong sense of reality and shows no pretense of holiness. At his first appearance in the book, the lama visits Lahore’s Museum of Art and talks to the keeper, a character remindful of Kipling’s father. The keeper says “We are both Masters” – a clear allusion to Kipling’s Masonry as a union of real seekers, whatever the race or religion. Kim’s personal story is also influenced by a Masonic bond. He carries on his chest three papers of great value, one of which being a MM certificate of his father, an Irish soldier. Because of this certificate, he is adopted by his father’s regiment and is sent to school.
It is quite amazing that this book, which contains enormous wealth of detail about Indian life, was written in 1910, more than 20 years after Kipling left India. His memory was phenomenal, as well as his ability to relive old experiences as if they happened yesterday. Kipling’s attitude to Masonry is easier to understand if you compare it with his attitude to India. He loved both but did not feel the need to have them around all the time. Both were things of the past, but still afresh in his memory and alive in his heart. Let us not forget that Kipling was, well, a genius. He experienced the world and connected to it differently from the average man.
The concept of Masonry as a tool to unite people takes a wild turn in Kipling’s famous story The man who would be King. In this story two unscrupulous vagabond-masons discover Kafiristan, a country where local tribes know 2 degree of Masonry. The story sounds nonsensical to modern Masons, but it might have reflected a real view spread among Indian Masons of his time: that basic Masonic rituals, including the grips, originated from secret customs of local tribes. This story could be a recollection of some real Indian North-frontier Masonic folklore that Kipling might have picked. I will read a short piece of the story, full of elegant ambiguity:
I ask you as a stranger–going to the West,” he said, with emphasis. “Where have you come from?” said I. “From the East,” said he, “and I am hoping that you will give him the message on the Square – for the sake of my Mother as well as your own.” Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of their mothers, but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, I saw fit to agree.
Effective use of Masonic imagery can be seen in the poem The widow at Windsor. In this poem the British Empire is likened to a Masonic Lodge and British soldiers to the “sons of the Widow”.
In his writing Kipling often used Masonic vocabulary almost as idioms, as we use sometimes Biblical expressions. Modern research has established a fairly compete list of casual references to Masonry in his work, of which I will quote just a few.
Canada possesses two pillars of strength and beauty in Quebec and Vancouver.
The Soldier may forget his sword,
The Sailorman the sea,
The Mason may forget the Word
And the Priest his litany.
A doctor explains a difference between a surgeon and a general practitioner: “he said he was an operative mason, not a speculative one”.
Kipling accepted the Masonic values of brotherhood, tolerance and spiritual searching as his own. He expressed these values in his writing and enriched his work with Masonic imagery and references. He saw in Masonry great but underused potential to unite people of different nations and cultures.
Kipling’s personality was rich and multifaceted. This short essay does not pretend to be a complete guide to his life. It rather conveys my vision of him and my love for him. If he was writing about ‘his Masonry’, I was talking today about ‘my Kipling’. But there is a lot more to Kipling than what has just been said. The section “Interesting facts about Kipling”, which can be found hereafter, points to a few important aspects of his life, which have not been mentioned, in particular his work for the British War Graves Commission and his later interest in technology and engineering .
BIOGRAPHY OF RUDYARD KIPLING, 1865 -1936
1865 Born in Bombay, India, the son of John Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and a professor of Art, and Alice MacDonald Kipling.Both his grandfathers were Methodist ministers.
1870 At the age of five brought to Southsea, England to live in a foster family.
1875 Enrolled in a boarding school for boys from Anglo-Indian families in North Devon, England.
1882 After school moved back to India and worked for The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore
1888 Joined The Pioneer, a newspaper in Allahabad, India; published 6 books of stories
1889 Discharged from The Pioneer after a dispute, moved back to England having travelled via the US
1892 Married Caroline Balestier (Carrie), a sister of his American publisher and a co-writer W. Balestier. The couple settled in Brattleboro, Vermont (US). Here he produced Jungle Books and other famous works. He lost all his savings (about 2,000 pounds) after the failure of a bank. Two years later he earned 5,000 pounds owing to his growing popularity.
1896 Moved to Devon, UK after the rise of anti-British sentiments in the US and Carrie’s conflict with her brother Beatty.
1899 His first daughter Josephine died of pneumonia at age of 6.
1898-1908 Spends his winter holidays in South Africa; supports the British war effort in the Second Boer War.
1907 Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the first English writer to receive it and the youngest recipient ever.
1915 Kipling’s son John, an Irish Guards officer, was killed in action in the battle of Loos, France. Caroline wrote in a letter: “A world was to be remade without a son”.
1926 Awarded Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Literature.
1936 Kipling died from duodenal ulcer. His daughter Elsie, the only child to survive him, remained childless.
1886, April 05, initiated in Hope and Perseverance #782 English Constitution lodge at Lahore, India.
1886, May 03, passed to the degree of FC in the same L.
1886, December 06, raised to the degree of MM in the same L and begins working as secretary.
1886 His father helped him to decorate the ML “after the prescription of King Solomon’s Temple”.
1887, January 10, elected secretary of his ML, installed in February.
1887, April 04, lectured on topic “Origin of the Craft First Degree” in his ML.
1887, April 14, advanced to the Mark Degree in Fidelity Mark Lodge, #98, at Lahore.
1887, April 14, received the degree of Royal Ark Mariner in the Mt. Ararat Ark Mariners’ Lodge, # 98.
1887, July 04, lectured on topic “Popular Views on Freemasonry” in his ML.
1888, April 17, joined the Independence with Philanthropy Lodge # 391, in Allahabad, India.
1889 Upon moving to England, Kipling resigns from all four Indian lodges, of which he had been a member.
1899 Elected an Honorary Member and Poet-Laureate of Canongate Kilwinning # 2 Lodge in Scotland.
1900 Participated in the meetings of the Emergency Lodge at Bloemfontein, near the battlefields of the 2nd Boer war, together with Arthur Conan Doyle who served as a military doctor.
1909, July 08, joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, a Christian Masonic society, although at this time he was not a subscribing member of any Craft Lodge under English jurisdiction. On admission, he reported membership in a Hope and Perseverance Lodge in Lahore, which he had severed long ago. His motto declared on admission: “By fortune, not by merit.”
1910 Honorary member of the Author’s Lodge, together with a few other famous writers.
1918, June 28, Honorary member of the Motherland Lodge in London.
1922 Founding member of The Builders of the Silent Cities #12 Lodge in St. Omer, France.
1927 Founding member of the sister lodge The Builders of the Silent Cities #3861 in London. He never attended the meetings but kept membership until 1935.
1933 Presented a gavel, made of 4 sorts of wood† (a Palestinian souvenir) to his school friend E. A. Snow, a Canadian officer. The gavel contains the inscription “To W. Bro. E.A. Snow from Bro. Rudyard Kipling.”
† 4 sorts of wood of which Kipling’s gavel was made:
1 Almond tree – material of Aaron’s rod, see Numbers 17:8. The cups of menorah had almond shape, see Exodus 25:33-34.
2 Carob (St John’s tree) – source of simple subsistence food, food of beggars and hermits. Luke 15:16 (He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating …) Believed to be eaten by John the Baptist in the desert, see Matthew 3:4 (some suggest that locusts is a wrong translation and carob pods were meant).
3 Shittim (acacia) – sacred wood; altars and arks to hold Holy objects are made from it. See Exodus 25:15, 26:37, 27:1, 30:1, 37:25, 38:1, (And he made the incense altar of shittim wood … )
4 Oak – strongest wood: Amos 2:9, Ezekiel 27:6 (Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars…). Sacred tree, pagans worshipped under it, see Hosea 4:13, Isaiah 1:29; place of burial, see Gen. 35:8. God and his angels appeared under oaks: Judges 6:11, 1 Kings 13:14, Gen 18:1, 13:18 (And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre ..).
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT KIPLING
Kipling’s mother and her 3 sisters are called in British history collectively the MacDonald sisters and are famous for their marriages:
Alice (1837-1910) married John Lockwood Kipling to become a mother to Rudyard Kipling.
Georgiana (1840–1920) married Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite artist and became a mother-in-law to John William Mackail, a Scottish writer, and a grandmother to Angela Thirkell, a British and Australian novelist.
Agnes (1843–1906) married Edward Poynter, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Louisa (1845–1925) married the industrialist Alfred Baldwin and was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, a three-time Conservative Prime Minister, and a grandmother to Oliver Baldwin, a left-wing Labour politician. Oliver was very close to Kipling’s family in his youth, but later Kipling cut his nephew off when he learned of his homosexuality and Marxist views.
British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited Kipling in Vermont and taught him to play golf.
Kipling’s famous controversial poem White Man’s Burden was subtitled The United States and the Philippine Islands and was written in 1899 when America invaded the Philippines to combat local insurgents. Some think that Kipling wrote this poem to help Theodore Roosevelt persuade doubting Americans to seize the Philippines. Others believe that the poem might rather be a parody on imperialist attitudes. In any case, there appeared a few responses titled The Black Man’s Burden.
Kipling supported the view that William Shakespeare worked on the text of the King James Bible.
Kipling felt guilty for the death of his only son John during WWI because he pushed for his military training as an army officer despite his son’s poor vision. He wrote a 2-volume history of John’s regiment, the Irish Guards, and worked for the British War Graves Commission. He authored the grave inscriptions:
Their Name Liveth For Evermore – on the Stones of Remembrance (Eccl. 44:14)
Known unto God – for unknown servicemen
The Glorious Dead – on the Cenotaph in London.
In 1922 Kipling developed The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, a graduation ceremony for Canadian engineering students. The graduates are presented with an iron ring worn on the little finger of the working hand (to rub against the paper) and take a solemn obligation. The ritual is administered by the Corporation of the Seven Wardens and is confidential. More than 200,000 Canadian engineers have been obligated up to now, my daughter being one of them. Much later this tradition was mimicked in the US, where the Order of Engineers and an analog of the iron ring ceremony were introduced in 1970.
Kipling’s poem “If –“ was voted as the UK’s favorite poem in a 1995 BBC opinion poll.
Kipling declined British knighthood and the Order of Merit. But he did accept honorable doctorates at a few universities.