Reminiscence by his then best chum of Rudyard Kipling's four years in United Services College in Westard Ho!, Devonshire, England.< read all 1 reviews
If your interest in the life and writings of 1907 Nobel Prize winner Rudyard Kipling is nil or barely more, then do not read G. C. Beresford's 1936 SCHOOLDAYS WITH KIPLING.
If, on the other hand, you are like me an admirer of long standing of Kipling, can't get enough Kipling, then SCHOOLDAYS WITH KIPLING is must reading. Anglo-Irish aristocrat Beresford -- later a famed photographer of celebrities such as Virginia Wolff -- and Kipling were boarding students together in England, on the north coast of Devonshire in a failed golfing community called Westward Ho! Their school, founded in 1874, was United Services College (USC). Its students were most often sons of British army or navy officers or of colonial administrators in places like India. And they were training not to go on to Oxford or Cambridge, but for military academies such as Sandhurst and then into army, navy or overseas civilian service. The school was distinctly different from established prep schools such as Eton College. On the other hand its atmosphere was not military and only lightly Christian. Its first Headmaster was Cormell Price, a friend of the Macdonalds (including Rudyard's mother Alice Macdonald Kipling). Price's role was probably decisive for Rudyard's cash-strapped parents' decision to send him to and find the scarce money for USC.
Sited on the northern coast of Devon, USC was isolated, a few miles walk from the town of Bideford, much frequented by Kipling and his two greatest chums: to see a dentist, to buy curios and culinary delights. Westward Ho! is on the Bristol Channel across which to the north lies southern Wales and the port of Cardiff. Rudyard Kipling spent 4 1/2 seminal years there from January 1878 to July 1882, from age 12 to 16 1/2.
Founder of the still flourishing Kipling Society, J.H.C. Brooking, in his Foreword described Rudyard Kipling as "the boy who had a man's mind (and a learned man's mind) before his teens began." And much of the point of Beresford's SCHOOLDAYS WITH KIPLING is to demonstrate just how gifted and how much a genius of imagination and poetry young Rudyard already was at age 12 and grew steadily more and more so till he left USC in July 1882 for an amazingly apt job as assistant editor of an English language weekly newspaper in his parents' city of Lahore, Punjab, India.
In 1899, already world famous as poet, novelist and master of the short story, Kipling himself had looked back at his school days in a brilliant novel STALKY & CO. He wrote it when he was 34 years old, 17 years after leaving United Services College. The novel is hugely but far from entirely autobiographical. It is the story of Rudyard and his two best friends, future society photographer, Anglo-Irish aristocrat G. C. Beresford and English member of a professional military family, L.C. Dunsterville, a future major general and fighting commander in the first world war. In the novel Kipling was Beetle, Beresford was M'Turk and Dunsterville was Stalky, the novel's eponymous hero.
In the novel, the three friends are harmless until wronged themselves (usually by a tyrannical schoolmaster) or until they see a fellow student bullied. They must then be avenged at all costs. And thanks to the brilliant strategizing of Dunsterville/Stalky they both make the punishment fit the crime and do so in a way that assures that they are neither caught nor rightly suspected.
In SCHOOL DAYS WITH KIPLING author Beresford makes several points that will stay with you, the reader:
-- (1) The three friends indeed played pranks, especially Dunsterville/Stalky and they were indeed cleverly planned and flawlessly executed. But they were very tame and kind-hearted compared to what went on in STALKY & CO.
-- (2) Kipling was called "the Beetle" from time to time at school. For he was pudgy, awkward, beetle-browed and slouched. But his regular nickname was "Gigger." For he was virtually blind without very thick lenses made of stones. As the only boy in USC wearing glasses, it was natural that his lenses be compared with the "gig lamps" lighting carriages in those days. Hence "Gigs" or "Gigger" for the boy.
-- (3) "Gigger, even at his earliest period, was never the simple, frank, tell-you-everything schoolboy. There was always a reserve, a huge residuum of thought, somehow, at the back of everything he said; he never let you know all he knew. He knew more than he thought it worth while telling you. In fact, what he knew extended to infinity, whereas what you knew came to an end jolly soon" (Ch. 9).
This reticence to go into detail about his birth and first few years in India and six horrible years in an English southern coastal boarding house before coming to USC is very important. In later years Kipling would write both autobiographically and in fiction about his first 12 years before Westward Ho! but almost nothing was said of those important days to his friends Beresford and Dunsterville. The latter, by the way, devoted three chapters of his own 1928 memoir, STALKY'S REMINISCENCES, to his own schooldays with Kipling and Beresford.
-- (4) Kipling did not dwell on his personal past either in India or more recently and unhappily on the sourthern coast of England. He lived always in the moment. He dealt with facts as he found them and was keen to make the best of what was offered. Kipling's Westward Ho! moment, the years 1878 - 1882, included long holidays with his Macdonald aunts and their famous husbands in London. They were an arty crowd, Pre-Raphaelites, including two uncles by marriage who were world famous painters and among several friendly cousins one the future prime minister Stanley Baldwin. It was hints of arcane wisdom, face-to-face meetings with the great and of clouds of glory from this grand metropolitan world in London (with its lovers of Walt Whitman and enthusiasts for Buddhism) that allowed Gigger to act so intellectually, literarily and culturally superior to his English friend Stalky and to his Irish friend M'Turk.
Kipling did not pine for India as his homeland. Yet, according to Beresford, India was Kipling's destiny. When he reached Lahore, not yet 17 in 1882, he was met by a father who was both a gifted artist, teacher and scholar of Indian buddhism, a mother who was the toast of high Anglo-Indian society and his younger sister Trix who was learning all about Anglo-Indian young people. These three affectionate relatives opened India to Rudyard rapidly and accurately.
-- (5) Kipling's future was always in his thoughts. He knew that his parents could not afford to send him to university. His weak eyes ruled out success in athletics or a career in the armed forces. He wanted to write. Especially, he wanted to live as money-making poet. Yet, being practical, he understood that he had to make his living writing prose. His parents published without his knowledge or consent SCHOOLBOY LYRICS in India in 1881. No one at USC ever had a hint that the little book existed. Rudyard told no one.
It was a great boost to his future seven-year career in India when Headmaster Cormell Price ordered Rudyard/Gigger to revive the deceased school newspaper the CHRONICLE. Kipling edited seven issues -- today a very expensive collector's item. And he was thereby made as ready as he could be to take up the reins at age 16 of an important Anglo-Indian newspaper in the Punjab.
BOTTOM LINE: Four and one-half seminal, creative years in the life of a budding genius, whose early writings would propel him to world fame in London by age 24 make G. C. Beresford's SCHOOLDAYS WITH KIPLING must reading for anyone who wants to watch and learn from literary genius in the making.
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