Kipling and Sanatogen

Anyone around in the fifties and sixties will recall advertisements for Sanatogen, the tonic wine that ‘fortifies the over-forties’. It was a standard joke during those decades, I think, on anyone’s fortieth birthday, to present them with a bottle of the stuff. Back then, many more people than today were teetotallers, but some were reluctant ones. That was where tonic wines came in. These were regarded as medicines, so did not come in for the same amount of moral disapproval as proper wines. They could be drunk with a clear conscience. The fact that they tasted considerably less delicious than a half-decent Bordeaux probably helped their reputation of being purely medicinal.

Sanatogen existed long before those advertisements, having been invented by the Bauer corporation in Germany in 1898. A hundred years ago this week, that Genetosan,the firm distributing it in Britain, annoyed Rudyard Kipling.

The monthly newsletter of the Kipling Society is always worth reading, and this month they offer details of a court case in 1920. The research is by Mike Kipling (no relation, I gather.) Genetosan had circulated an advertisement for Sanatogen which implied that Kipling endorsed the product. They quoted some apposite lines from ‘If-’;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

The advertisement rightly points out that for some people summoning their nerve is something that many people find difficult. Actually, that’s a recognition of a weakness of Kipling’s poem. All those generalised commands are much easier to say than to carry out, and the poem doesn’t seem to acknowledge the fact. Which is why the poem lends itself to inclusion in pi-jaws by head-teachers who like to pontificate morally to students without acknowledging their own fallibility…

But I digress.

So Sanatogen, apparently, is a ‘nerve tonic’ that will turn you into a Kiplingesque hero.

Kipling was not keen on his work being used in this way, and sued.

The court care raised very interesting points about copyright and intellectual property, about the right to quote from a work. Kipling himself, the defendants pointed out, had often used quotations from other poets as epigraphs to his work. Wasn’t that what Sanatogen was doing?

Kipling won the case, and set a precedent protecting writers from unauthorised use of their work.

Pall Mall Gazette, £ December 1920 (reproduced from the Kipling Society Newsletter)

This sets me wondering, though. A while back I noted a wartime advertisement in which an extract from a speech by Kipling was used to sell War Bonds. Did he give explicit permission for this use of his writing? It was a for a cause he would have endorsed, but would he have had one rule for the War Bonds and a different one for Sanatogen?

Sanatogen tonic wine is apparently still on sale. I wonder who drinks it these days. Maybe it’s sold in those Health Food shops that cater mostly for hypochondriacs. Give me a glass of Malbec any day.

One Comment

  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted December 3, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you – a good breakfast read, and that includes the digression!


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