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Gilbert Murray on Rudyard Kipling: an unpublished letter.

MURRAY had a short acquaintance with Kipling in London in 1880, when both were fourteen. Finding their common interest in literature, Kipling invited Murray to co-operate in an epic poem |he was devising . . . which took place partly in this world and partly in the next'. |. . . I thought him extraordinarily clever and exciting, though there was something in him that repelled me.'(1) Kipling then left to join his father in India, and he and Murray met again only after some twenty years, to renew sporadic encounters and correspondence.(2) The letter reproduced here dates from soon after that renewal, in the summer of 1902, when Murray and his wife were staying with friends at Rottingdean in Sussex, where the Kiplings had a house.(3) The letter's addressee is T. C. Show (1852-1926), Murray's undergraduate tutor at St John's College, Oxford, with whom Murray maintained a lifelong friendship;(4) the letter is now in the possession of Snow's great-nephew Mr. T.A. Snow of Swansea, to whose kindness I owe both knowledge of it and permission to reproduce it here (I omit an initial sentence concerning a recent medical operation on Kipling's wife).




c/o Lady Burne Jones, July 26, 1902


Sussex My dear Snow,

. . . We are |loungin' around an' sufferin"(6) as usual, perhaps more than usual (though all perfectly well), because the beauty of this house is so thrilling, it keeps all one's sensations and emotions vividly awake. It is full of Burne Jones's work of every description, and seems haunted by his personality.

Over the way is he whom his friends term |Rud or |Kip' or sometimes |Ruddy Kip'. I see him nearly every day, and find him absurdly attractive -- so like the boy of 14 with whom I started to write the epic poem in the year 1880! He has the instinct of exaggeration in all that he says, so that I shall in furture be able to think of even his political diatibes with more amusement than loathing, e.g. after speaking of some landowner in Sussex who kept buffaloes and kangaroos in his park, he went on, |Perfectly common, now. Why, do you know Hindhead? All about Hindhead every day, every day, you meet escaped kangaroos going about and frightening the farmers'.

I also find, what I always suspected, that he is really not essentially a poet or artist but a narrow-minded moralist. He is so narrow-minded that he can see no virtue except manliness and hardihood and discipline, and he seems to think always about producing these qualities, training boys, encouraging ploughmen, confounding publicans and clergy and persons of culture and all anti-spartan influences. And of course, like all enthusiastic and narrow-minded moralists, he insists greatly on the license [sic] you may have in other matters if only you will attain the great essential.

A ludicrous figure near him for the day was an adoring uncle(7) -- a Methodist parson, stout and elderly, who models himself on Ruddy in every detail of belief, manner and even language. R. seems to loathe him, and says "Why can't he go and see his own wife instead of coming here?" But it was pure adoration and irresistible, that brought him. He told stories of a laboured and timid coarseness -- so unlike the direct and unconscious profanities of Ruddy, it made my heart like water. [ILLEGIBLE WORDS].(8)

Yours ever,

G.G.A.M. This letter may be added to the evidence of misgiving about Kipling's personality and its expression in his works already in his early career, among both those who knew him and felt their enthusiasm wane, and those who judged him only in print.(9)

(1) G. Murray, An Unfinished Autobiography (London, 1960), quotations from pp. 79 and 78f. respectively (cited hereafter as Autobiography). The second passage is quoted by D. Wilson, Gilbert Murray, O.M., 1866-1957 (Oxford, 1987), 15 (hereafter |Wilson'). For Murray's unchanging view of Kipling, a mixture of fascination and repulsion, see also Wilson, 96, 338, 342.

(2) The Gilbert Murray Papers in the Bodleian Library contain about half-a-dozen letters from Kipling to Murray from the years 1902 to 1934 (Wilson, 96, is in error that the latest is of 1905). Murray's letters to Kipling appear to have been lost. Kipling does not mention Murray in his (brief) autobiography Something of Myself (London, 1937); so Wilson 420.

(3) Wilson, 95f., citing two letters from Murray to William Archer in August 1902 with the same story about escaped kangaroos at Hindhead as in the letter published here.

(4) A pen-portrait of Snow at Autobiography, 88, cited by Wilson, 18f. For a fully documented profile see P.G. Naiditch, A.E. Housman at University College, London. The Election of 1892 (Leiden etc., 1988), 239-41.

(5) Murray had moved to Farnham in 1899 after his premature retirement from the Greek Chair at Glasgow; Wilson, 69.

(6) |How are you Sir?' |Loungin' around an' sufferin', my son.', R. Kipling. Debits and Credits, |The United Idolaters' (Macmillan edn, London, 1926), 89.

(7) I have not tried to identify the unfortunate person.

(8) |Your ruddykipliness took away my sweet spirit', i.e. |killed me', adapted from Homer, Odyssey, 11.203 |(longing for) your gentleness took away etc.', words of Odysseus to his mother's ghost.

(9) R.L. Green (ed.), Kipling: The Critical Heritage (London, 1971) gives in his Introduction an historical account of Kipling criticism and his anthology from it concentrates on Kipling's earlier contemporaries. My Swansea colleague

Neil Reeve made me aware how Murray's ambivalent opinion relates to others of its date, especially that of Kipling's gradually disillusioned advocate and friend Henry James, for whom see Green, 67-7, 159-67.
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Author:Collard, Christopher
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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