Kipling is an easy man to dislike. He wasn't much loved in his own time, apparently, even by people - schoolmates, for example, and neighbours in Vermont - with whom he thought he was rubbing along well. In his later years he lost many of the friends he had, except the most right-wing ones and King George V, who found Kipling the only literary figure he could get on with at all. He lost them not only because of his own reactionary views, but also because of the mood they put him in - of dark, unattractive pessimism - and the way he expressed them, often with extraordinary viciousness. In 1893, hearing of the death of an MP, he hoped that if he was an Irish Home Ruler he had gone down with the cholera; on being told in 1907 that the Liberal Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman had had a heart attack, he reacted 'with joy'; and he wrote a poem in 1918 hoping the Kaiser would die of throat cancer. He also claimed the Liberal Government had killed King Edward VII. David Gilmour, who does the best he can to defend Kipling against his detractors, insists that some of this was not intended 'personally', but it is hard to see how that could be.
LRB 25 April 2002 | PDF Download