We may now realise more clearly the peril which lies in the popular fallacy concerning Mr Kipling described in the first few pages of this book. So far is Mr Kipling from being an author inspired and driven to claim a share in the active life of the present, an author who unloads upon us a store of memories and experience, that he is only able to do his finest work as an unchecked and fantastic dreamer. The stories in which he imposes upon his readers the illusion that he would never have written books if he had stayed at home, that his stories are the carelessly flung reminiscences of a full life—these stories are themselves instances of the skill whereby a cunning author has been able to conceal from his generation the deep difference between artifice and inspiration. A crafty author will often employ his best phrases to describe the thing he has never really seen with the eye of genius. His manner will be most assured where his matter is the least authentic. His points will be most effectively made where there is the least necessity to make them. Mr Kipling, writing as a soldier, is more a soldier than any soldier who ever lived. Thereby the discerning reader will infer that Mr Kipling was not born to write as a soldier. He will know that Mr Kipling is not profoundly and instinctively an atavistic prophet, because his atavism is more atavistic than the atavism of the first man who ever was born. He will also realise that Mr Kipling writes so effectively about India because he ought to be writing about England and Fairyland and the Jungle. He will realise, in short, that Mr Kipling is an imaginative man of letters who has wonderful visions when he stays at home, and who needs all his craft as an expert literary artificer to persuade his readers that these visions are not seriously impaired when he ventures abroad.
Only the briefest epilogue is necessary concerning Mr Kipling’s poetry. We have concluded as to his prose stories that his best work is in the pure fancy of The Jungle Book, and that we descend thence through his English tales and his celebration of the work of the world to clever stories of India and Soldiers Three. Upon each of these levels we meet with verse in the same kind, concerning which it may at once be said that at all times, except where the rule is proved by the exception, Mr Kipling’s verse is less urgently inspired than his prose. The true motive which drives a poet into verse is the perception of a quality in the thing he has to say which requires for its delivery the beat and lift of a rhythm which crosses and penetrates the rhythm of sense and logic. This is true even of the poetry which seems, at first, to contradict it. Pope’s Essay on Man, for example, which at first seems no more than a neater prose than the prose of Addison, is really not prose at all. In addition to the cool sense of what appears to be no more than a pentametric arrangement of common-places there is a rhythm which admirably conveys, independently of what is being actually said, the gentle perambulating of the eighteenth-century philosopher in the garden which Candide retired to cultivate in the best of all possible worlds. In all poetry there must be a manifest reason why prose would not have served the author’s purpose equally well.