Man and Mason: Rudyard Kipling

When I was writing about Kipling and shell-shock a while ago, I wanted to find out about the Masonic background, especially of ‘In the Interests of the Brethren’. I asked a couple of Masons, and their responses were cagey; I didn’t feel I was getting the full answer.
What I needed then was a book that has just been published: Man and Mason: Rudyard Kipling by Richard Jaffa, which answers just about all my questions.
The book offers a quick biography of Kipling, with emphasis on his Masonic involvement, a survey of all of his works that mention Masonry directly or indirectly, and a brief description of the Masonic movement.
Kipling was inducted into Freemasonry while a very young man in Lahore. He seems to have valued the inter-faith and interracial nature of the Lodge. He later liked to claim: ‘I was entered by a Hindu, raised by a Mohammedan, and passed by an English Master’. (Lahore, of course, is now in Pakistan, where Freemasonry was banned in 1972.)
Mr Jaffa is disappointed, I think, that Kipling was not a more active Mason. It was the idea of Freemasonry that appealed to him, I suspect, more than the actual practice of attending regular meetings. Late in his career the Masonic Lodge in his stories would become a model for a community in which the war-damaged were given friendship and a positive role; earlier, though, in tales like ‘The Man who would be King’, the rituals and arcana are used for essentially comic effect. Did the Masonic community of India enjoy the joke, or was it annoyed? Mr Jaffa does not tell us.
Sometimes his readings of stories seem a little odd. He mentions the end of ‘In the Interests of the Brethren’ when the clergyman half-jokingly threatens to report the lodge that is doing such good work among the soldiers to the authorities at the Grand Lodge, because of its unorthodox methods and practices. For a serious Mason like Mr Jaffa, such a report would be a serious matter.
Kipling finishes the story:

‘There ought to be scores of [Lodges like this, welcoming soldiers],’ Brother Burges repeated as we went out of the door. ‘All London’s full of the Craft, and no places for them to meet in. Think of the possibilities of it! Think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world. I hope I’m not censorious, but it sometimes crosses my mind that Grand Lodge may have thrown away its chance in the war almost as much as the Church has.’
‘Lucky for you the Padre is taking that chap to King’s Cross,’ said Brother Lemming, ‘or he’d be down your throat. What really troubles him is our legal position under Masonic Law. I think he’ll inform on us one of these days. Well, good night, all.’ The Doctor and Lemming turned off together.
‘Yes,’ said Brother Burges, slipping his arm into mine. ‘Almost as much as the Church has. But perhaps I’m too much of a Ritualist.’
I said nothing. I was speculating how soon I could steal a march on the Clergyman and inform against ‘Faith and Works No. 5837 E.C.’

Mr Jaffa, I think, misses Kipling’s point here. He writes:

The narrator’s private thoughts come as a shock. I said nothing. I was speculating how soon I could steal a march on the Clergyman and inform against ‘Faith and Works No. 5837 E.C.’ This is the surprising and brutal end to what has been an evening of Brotherly love and some emotion. The narrator, who has not offered a hostile word throughout the meeting, indicates in the last line of the story that he might destroy the whole enterprise. None of Kipling’s critics, Masonic or otherwise, have offered any explanation for this.

They haven’t offered an explanation, I would guess, because they don’t see that one is necessary. Presumably they have read the story as I have always done. They know Kipling (or his narrator persona) does indeed immediately inform on ‘Faith and Works No. 5837 E.C.’, and that he does so in the story we have just read in the Storyteller Magazine for December 1918. He is presenting his imaginary Lodge as an example to Masons (and indeed to everyone else – later stories like the Janeites show how Freemasonry was just one of many ways in which war-damaged men could be supported).
Among those he is informing on the lodge to is indeed the Grand Lodge – who could and should, in his view, have done much more in this line.
Kipling was always very keen on ritual, but much less keen on being limited by authority. His story shows an image of the creative use of Freemasonry – something for the Grand Lodge to learn from, not something to admonish.
I’ve hammered this misreading, and there are one or two other places where I felt a disagreement with Mr Jaffa, but such passages do not seriously diminish the value of a book that fills a gap in the Kipling literature.
The book has been published by Mr Jaffa himself, using the resources of the enterprising and useful Authorhouse firm. It demonstrates both the merits and limitations of self-publishing. The upside is that without a firm like Authorhouse this useful book would probably not have been published at all, because the market must be small.
The downside is that the book could have done with some editorial trimming and checking. Before a second edition, Mr Jaffa might ask someone to look at it seriously from this point of view, adjusting a few unwieldy sentences and rogue spellings. ‘Expatriate’, annoyingly, is spelled ‘ex-patriot’ throughout.
But then even commercially published books have their share of errors. I’ve just got hold of Charles Allen’s Kipling Sahib, and a coption to one of the photos tells me that when at school, Kipling’s nickname was ‘Beatle’. Well, eighty years later it might have been…

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: