- A Commentary (Oct 1926)
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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830 ] A Commentary The New Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 4 (Oct 1926) 627-29 Mr. Kipling’s “Benefit” On the seventh of July Mr. Rudyard Kipling (see the Morning Post of July 8th) “received at the hands of the Earl of Balfour the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Literature. The occasion was the Centenary Banquet of the Society, held at the New Princes’ Restaurant, Piccadilly. Lord Balfour presided, and the company included distinguished representatives of the world of Art and Letters.”1 Mr. Kipling’s words on that occasion seem to reflect a certain melancholy , though we draw no inferences. Whether Mr. Kipling found it an occasionforelationordejectionwedonotknow;butthereaderofthenews paper account finds it an occasion for a word in support of Mr. Kipling against any odium that may attach to the receipt of a Gold Medal at the hands of the Earl of Balfour. His speech was a good one, and has peculiar pertinence to Mr. Kipling’s own reputation. His words about Swift are worth remembering: A man of overwhelming intellect and power goes scourged through life between the dread of insanity and the wrath of his own soul warring with a brutal age. He exhausts mind, heart and brain in that battle; he consumes himself; and perishes in utter desolation. Out of all his agony, remains one little book, his dreadful testimony against his fellow-kind, which to-day serves as a pleasant tale for the young under the title of Gulliver’s Travels. It seems possible that Mr. Kipling may have been speculating on the chance of being remembered chiefly by The Jungle Book (as a tale for children) or the Just-So Stories.2 The world, he remarks, will extract from fiction “just so much of truth or pleasure as it requires for the moment.” It is true that the meaning of a work of art is always relative to the world in which the reader lives, and to the reader’s needs, desires and prejudices, to his knowledge andhisignorance.ItisonlymoreobviouslytrueofawriterlikeMr.Kipling, who is eminently, and by his own confession too, a teller of tales. Mr. [ 831 A Commentary (october) Kipling’s prose is liable to be qualified by the superior reader as merely brilliant reportage. Reportage it is, and sometimes, as in Captains Courageous, indifferent reportage: Gloucester fishermen have been able to detect inaccuracies in that book.3 But the greatest master of the short story in English is more than a reporter. We do not refer to Mr. Kipling’s influence upon political or social life: his popularisation of the Empire, his introduction of India and the Colonies into the sphere of consciousness of the inhabitant of the London suburb, a work industriously followed by dozens of storywriters . To discuss these matters we have hardly yet sufficient perspective. But the work of Kipling as a whole has a sense, a meaning, which few of its readers will trouble to apprehend; but without apprehending which no one is competent to judge its greatness or abate its value. The City Churches Again4 Meanwhile an evening journal has published a photograph of the Bishop of London, complete with golf-bag and tennis racket, leaving for New Zealand, for, we are told, his first holiday in twenty-five years.5 We do not grudge the Bishop his holiday; the episcopal function is a very arduous one; it should be interrupted by more frequent vacations. But it is unfortunate that the Bishop’s absence should occur at the same time as renewed rumours of the design to destroy the City Churches. Since the first attempt was made, several years ago, the church of St. Magnus Martyr has been concealed, on the side from which its beauty was most conspicuous, by a large industrial structure (not ill-favoured in itself) which reduces the church to the proportions and importance of a museum piece.6 This is bad enough, but in default of any central direction of municipal planning, it is what we must expect; and it is easier to demolish undesirable buildings than to erect desirable ones. But if those responsible for the preservation of these shrines wish themselves to destroy them, is it not at least to be required, by the people to which these guardians are morally responsible, that a public statement of the ecclesiastical exigencies, in the name of which this demolition is indicated, should be spread abroad? It is only what employers and trades-unions are constantly being called upon to do, whenever there is...