Born: December 30, 1865
Died: January 18, 1936
The English poet and story writer Rudyard Kipling was one of the first masters of the short story in English, and he was the first to use Cockney dialect (the manner in which natives of London, England's, East End speak) in serious poetry.
His eyes were brilliant blue, and over them his heavy black eyebrows moved up and down as he talked. A close friend was the headmaster, (the principal of Westward Ho school) "Crom" Price, who encouraged Kipling's literary ambitions by having him edit the school paper and praising the poems which he wrote for it. When Kipling sent some of these to India, his father had them privately printed as Schoolboy Lyrics (1881), Kipling's first published work.
In 1882 Kipling rejoined his parents in Lahore, India, where he became a copy editor (one who edits newspaper articles) for the Civil and Military Gazette. In 1887 he moved to the Allahabad Pioneer, a better paper, which gave him greater liberty in his writing. He published satiric (sharply or bitterly witty) verses, Departmental Ditties in 1886, and over seventy short stories in 1888 in seven paperback volumes. In style, these stories showed the influence of the writers Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), Bret Harte (1836–1902), and Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893). The subjects, however, were Kipling's own. He wrote about Anglo-Indian society, which he readily criticized with an acid pen, and the life of the common British soldier and the Indian native, which he portrayed accurately and sympathetically.
In 1889 Kipling took a long voyage through China, Japan, and the United States. When he reached London, he found that his stories had preceded him and established him as a brilliant new author. He was readily accepted into the circle of leading writers. While there he wrote a number of stories and some of his best-remembered poems: "A Ballad of East and West," "Mandalay," and "The English Flag." He also introduced English readers to a "new genre [type]" of serious poems in Cockney dialect: "Danny Deever," "Tommy," "Fuzzy-Wuzzy," and "Gunga Din."
Kipling's first novel, The Light That Failed (1891), was unsuccessful. But when his stories were collected as Life's Handicap (1891) and poems as Barrackroom Ballads (1892), Kipling replaced Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) as the most popular English author.
In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Balestier. They settled on the Balestier estate near Brattleboro, Vermont, in the United States, and began four of the happiest years of Kipling's life. During this time he wrote some of his best work— Many Inventions (1893), perhaps his best volume of short stories; The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), two books of animal fables that attracted readers of all ages by illustrating the larger truths of life; The Seven Seas (1896), a collection of poems in experimental rhythms; and Captains Courageous (1897), a novel-length, sea story. These works not only assured Kipling's lasting fame as a serious writer but also made him a rich man.
In 1897 the Kiplings settled in Rottingdean, a village on the British coast near Brighton. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War (1898; a short war between Spain and the United States over lands including Cuba and the Philippines) and the Boer War (1899–1902; a war between Great Britain and South Africa) turned Kipling's attention to colonial affairs. He began to publish a number of solemn poems in standard English in the London Times. The most famous of these, "Recessional" (July 17, 1897), issued a warning to Englishmen to regard their accomplishments in the Diamond Jubilee (fiftieth) year of Queen Victoria's (1819–1901) reign with humility and awe rather than pride and arrogance. The equally well-known "White Man's Burden" (February 4, 1899) clearly expressed the attitudes toward the empire that are implied in the stories in The Day's Work (1898) and A Fleet in Being (1898).
Kipling considered order, discipline, sacrifice, and humility to be the essential qualities of colonial rulers. He felt it was their duty to spread law, literacy, and morality throughout the world. During the Boer War, Kipling spent several months in South Africa, where he raised funds for soldiers' relief and worked on an army newspaper, the Friend. In 1901 Kipling published Kim, the last and most charming of his portrayals of Indian life.
Kipling retired to "Bateman's," a house near Burwash, a village in Essex. In 1902 he published Just So Stories for Little Children. Kipling published The Five Nations, a book of South African verse, in 1903. He also issued two books of stories of England's past— Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910). Like the Jungle Books they were intended for young readers but were suitable for adults as well. His most significant work at this time was a number of volumes of short stories written in a different style—"Traffics and Discoveries" (1904), "Actions and Reactions" (1904), "A Diversity of Creatures" (1917), "Debits and Credits" (1926), and "Limits and Renewals" (1932).
Kipling's later stories treat more complex, subtle, and somber (serious) subjects. They reflect Kipling's darkened worldview following the death of his daughter, Josephine, in 1899, and the death of his son, John, in 1915. Consequently, these stories have never been as popular as his earlier works. But modern critics, in reevaluating Kipling, have found a greater power and depth that make them among his best work.
In 1907 Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, England. His autobiography, Something of Myself, was published in 1937.
Rudyard Kipling's early stories and poems about life in colonial India made him a great favorite with English readers.