Born in Bombay, India to John and Alice Kipling on the 30th of December, 1865, Rudyard Kipling had a luminescent early childhood and benefited greatly from his parents’ love of foreign cultures and arts. However, the young boy became unhappy when forced to leave the fascinating land of India and live in England from the age of five.
After attending the strangely-named United Services College at Westward Ho! in England, he wrote a short novel, Stalky and Co., about life as a schoolboy. He returned to India at the age of sixteen, where he continued his writing career by working on publications like “The Civil and Military Gazette” and “The Pioneer”
Fame found Kipling at the end of the decade with Barrack Room Ballads. He married Carrie Balestier, the sister of his deceased literary companion Wolcott Balestier, in 1892.
Not long after this Kipling tried for a time to calm his wandering spirit, living with Carrie’s parents in Brattleboro, Vermont. The swashbuckling Captains Courageous and the environmentally conscious Jungle Book were written during this time period. These works were popular and he enjoyed the fortunate life of a renowned author.
Kipling and Carrie had three children, Josephine, Elsie and John, the first two born in Vermont and the last in England, where the Kipling family resettled after leaving America. A sad period followed Carrie’s premature death in 1901. Kipling continued to write but much of his tireless exuberance was gone.
The delightful Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies was published in 1902. At the request of long time associate Alfred Harmsworth, Kipling then wrote the poem The Absent Minded Beggar, donating the proceeds to aid Britian’s Boer War soldiers. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907
The death of Kipling’s youngest son, John, at the Battle of Loos in the “war to end all wars” (World War I), proved a source of tragic inspiration. Postwar thoughts and preceding publications were all embraced as part of the massive 1916 Debits and Credits.
As the world changed following the devastation of the Great War, Kipling became increasingly identified with an archaic notion of colonialism and British superiority. He socialized with King George V of England and continued to write reports of imperial matters with a strong bias towards colonialism and the empire’s privileged “officer class”. These views have caused Kipling to fall strongly out of favor in the more globally aware decades of the 20th Century.
In fact, much of Kipling’s writings were meant to express sympathy and respect for the impoverished and suffering masses of Britian’s colonial outposts, as well as a love of wilderness. Rudyard Kipling passed away at the age of 70 on Jan 12, 1936.
Written in the last five years of Kipling’s life, the autobiography Something of Myself, was published posthumously in 1937. His “Gunga Din” was expanded into a popular movie, “The Jungle Book” became the basis of a beloved Disney movie in the 1960’s, and novels like “Kim” continue to be seen as valuable and important documents of a bygone age, despite the fact that Kipling remains strongly out of fashion in our time. Perhaps the words of his simple poem “If” are his most memorable:
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!