he would to-day be without a peer. Mr Granville
Barker is often cited as a classical modern example
of precocity, but he was twenty-four when he wrote
The Marrying of Anne Leete
. Mr Henry James
was twenty-eight before he had published a characteristic
word. Mr Thomas Hardy at twenty-five had only
printed a short story, and he was more than thirty
when his first novel appeared. Mr Kipling came
upon the public in 1886 without a preliminary stutter.
Mr Kipling at twenty-two could write as craftily
as Mr Kipling can write after nearly thirty years’
experience. We shall not be greatly concerned
in these pages to trace the progress of Mr Kipling’s
craft and wisdom. He was always crafty and always
wise. He had done some of his best work at thirty.
He recalls Hazlitt’s curious saying that an
improving author is never a great author. Mr
Kipling is not an improving author. There has
been a little moving up and down the scale of excellence;
many things hinted in the early volumes from Plain
Tales from the Hills
to Many Inventions
are developed more elaborately and surely in later
volumes; the old craft has come to be used with an
ease that has in it more of the insolence of a master
than was possible in the author of 1887. But
so far as literary finish is concerned, Plain Tales
from the Hills
leaves little to be acquired.
Already Mr Kipling wields his implement as deftly
and firmly as many a skilled writer who was learning
his lesson before Mr Kipling was born. Few authors
have so surely scored their best in their earliest
years. Authors are considered young to-day at
thirty. Mr Kipling at that age had already written
The Jungle Book
This does not, of course, imply that all Mr Kipling’s
stories are of equal merit. On the contrary,
we shall henceforth be mainly concerned with looking
for the inspired author under a mass of skilful journalism.
It is not a simple enterprise. Mr Kipling is
so competent an author that he is usually able to
persuade his readers that his heart is equally in
all he writes. Moreover, Mr Kipling has fallen
among many prejudices, literary and political, which
have caused his least important work to be most discussed.
For these reasons the actual, as distinguished from
the legendary, Mr Kipling is not easily discovered.
Mainly it is a work of excavation.
Mr Kipling has been writing short stories for nearly
thirty years. His tales are too numerous for
disparate discussion. It will be necessary to
take them in groups. One or two stories in each
group will be taken as typical of the rest.
Thereby we shall avoid repetition and be able to show
some sort of plan to the maze of Mr Kipling’s
diversity of subjects and manners.
Mr Kipling’s Indian stories fall into three
groups. There are (1) the tales of Simla, (2)
the Anglo-Indian tales, and (3) the tales of native
India. There is also Kim, which is more—much
more—than a tale of India.