I’m mostly working on an essay about Kipling at the moment, so my day at Bradford reading the conscientious objectors’ paper The Tribunal was quite a bracing change of tone and political attitude.
I was therefore slightly surprised when I found Kipling within these pacifist pages.
As well as news of tribunals, and of the prison experiences of C.O.’s, the paper included brief inspirational quotations from classic writers. Sometimes these were anti-war (an extract from Southey’s ‘Blenheim’, for instance); sometimes they were just inspirational.
In the issue for May 25th, 1916, we find this abbreviated version of ‘If-’:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
That is good enough advice for the C.O. facing the possibility of arrest and prison, but I couldn’t help wondering what Kipling himself would have made of his verses appearing in this context. The sympathy he showed to the pacific lama in Kim did not extend, I think, to the Great War conchies. I wondered too – was he paid a royalty? Probably not.
Might there even have been an ironic intent in printing the lines of the great Bard of Imperialism in a context that gave support to opponents of the war? I suspect not, actually, since a 1917 issue shows his verse being used quite without irony when, in a letter sent from prison, W.J.Chamberlain, the first editor of The Tribunal, finishes a morale-boosting discourse with:
I cannot help but think of those wonderful words of Kipling:
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word —
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
This, of course, is from ‘Recessional’, and a reminder that Kipling’s distaste for the ‘reeking tube and iron shard’ and his desire to prevent war were as definite as those of the pacifists – even though he had very different ideas about how wars could be prevented.
Clearly, admiration for Kipling was something that could transcend politics.
A later edition of the paper, however, reprints this very good parody of ‘Recessional’:
Lord God of battles, whom we seek
On clouds and tempests throned afar,
When, tired of being tamely weak,
We maffick into deadly war.
If it should chance to be a sin,
At least enable us to win.
Give to the churches faith to pray
For what they know they shouldn’t ask,
And such abounding grace that they
May cheerfully perform the task,
Wave flags, and loyally discount
That fatal Sermon on the Mount.
Give to the people strength to be
Convinced all happens for the best,
To see the thing they wish to see,
And prudently ignore the rest;
So priest and people shall combine
To gain our ends and call them thine.
(This parody is credited as ‘from an evening newspaper dated Nov 29th, 1901’, so its immediate occasion would have been the Boer War. A little detective work suggests that the author was G. F.Bradby, a Rugby schoolmaster.)