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Love for Kipling

April 17, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

While waiting in line I always carry along a little Kipling, mainly to call upon this one little snippet to sustain me, “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting.” I do love his epic little poem, “If.” That poem has helped me to maintain my balance on more occasions than I can count…

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” 

Yes, Mr. Kipling has allowed me to push the punchbowl away and avoid irrational exuberance, and on other occasions, allowed me to rise from the ashes of adversity with dignity, yes, and even joy.

Upon meeting Twain, Kipling wrote, “Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer.  The landing of a twelve-pound salmon is nothing to it.”

Kipling would write home to London, “Ihave seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar — no, two cigars with him, and talked with him for more than two hours!  Once indeed, he put his hand on my shoulder. If hereafter, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, I shall fall to cureless ruin, I will tell the superintendent of the workhouse that Mark Twain once put his hand on my shoulder; and he shall give me a room to myself and a double allowance of paupers’ tobacco.”

Here again, I admire the economy of Kipling’s words, “We laughed with sheer bliss of being alive.” 

Twain, meanwhile, at age 70, is addicted to Kipling’s works. He rereads Kim every year, “And in this way I go back to India without fatigue.… I am not acquainted with my own books, but I know Kipling’s books. They never grow pale to me; they keep their color; they are always fresh.” 

In 1903 Kipling, would avow in a letter to Frank Doubleday, “I love to think of the great and Godlike Clemens.  He is the biggest man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight. Cervantes was a relation of his.” 

Kipling and Twain received honorary degrees at Oxford in 1907, about which Kipling would write, “When Mark Twain advanced to receive the hood, even those dignified old Oxford dons stood up and yelled.  To my knowledge he was the largest man of his time, both in direct outcome of his work, and, more important still, as an indirect force in an age of iron philistinism.  Later generations don’t know their debt, of course, and they would be quite surprised if they did.”

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain, “Kipling and I represented royalty as well as we could without opportunity to practice.  Some of those old Oxford dons maintained that between Kipling and Twain, we knew all that could be known; Kipling knew all that was worth knowing and I knew the rest.”

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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