Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

MY CONTEMPORARIES IN FICTION.*

BY DAVID CHRISTIE MURRAY.

A year

ance.

V.-LIVING MASTERS.-RIDYARD KIPLING.

I wrote a set of verses, which I called

“ The Ballad of the Rudyard Kipling.” I WAS “up in the back blocks” of

I never printed it, because by the time Victoria, Australia, when I lighted

it was fairly written Kipling's work had upon some stray copies of the weekly

not merely gone back to its first qualedition of the Melbourne Argus, and be ity, but seemed brighter and finer than came aware of the fact that we had

before, and the poor thing, such as it amongst us a new teller of stories, with

was, was in the nature of a satire. I a voice and phy ognomy of his own.

venture to write down the opening The Argus had copied from some jour

verses here, since they express the feelnal in far-away India a poem and a ing with which at least one writer of story, each unsigned, and each bearing English fiction hailed his first appearevidence of the same hand. later I came back to England, and

I. found everybody talking about “The

Oh, we be master mariners that sail the snortMan from Nowhere,” who had just

ing seas, taken London by storm. Rudyard

Right red-plucked mariners that dare the Kipling's best work was not as yet be peril of the storm. fore us, but there was no room for

But we be old, and worn and cold, and far

from rest and ease, doubt as to the newcomer's quality,

And only love and brotherhood can keep and the only question possible was as our tired hearts warm. to whether he had come to stay.

That inquiry has now been satisfactorily an

II. swered. The new man of half-a-dozen We were a noble company in days not long years ago is one of England's proper gone by. ties, and not the one of which she is And mighty craft our elders sailed to every least proud. About midway in his

earthly shore,

Men of worship, and dauntless soul, that fearbrief and brilliant career, counting from ed not sea nor sky; his emergence until now, people began But God's hand stilled the valiant hearts, to be afraid that he had emptied his

and the masters sail no more. sack. Partly because he had lost the

III. spell of novelty, and partly because he did too much to be always at his best,

Aud for a while, though we be brave and handy

at our trade, there came a time when we thought

We sailed no master-galleon, but wrought we saw him sinking to a place with the in cock-boats all, ruck.

Slight craft and manned with a single hand ; Sudden popularity carries with it yet many a trip we made, many grave dangers, but the gravest

Though we but crept from port to port with

cargoes scant and small. of all is the temptation to produce careless and unripe work.

To this temptation the new man succumbed, but only

But on a day of wonder came ashining on the for awhile. Like the candid friend of

deep, Lady Clara Vere de Vere, he saw the d royal Splendour, proud with sail, and snare, and he retired. But at the time generous roar of guns ; when, instead of handing out the bread

She passed us, and we gaped and stared.

Her lofty bows were steep, of life in generous slices, he took to

And deep she rode the waters deep with a giving us the sweepings of the basket, weight of countless tons. *Copyright, 1897, by the National Press Agency, Ltd. To be completed in Thirteen Parts,

IV.

V:

thing of inestimable price, there comes Her rig was strange, her name unknown, she along a newspaper man, doing the came we know not whence,

driest kind of hackwork, bound to a But on the flag at her peak we read “ The

drudgery as stale and dreary as any in Drums of the Fore and Aft." And--I speak for one--my breath came thick

life, and he sees what no other man has and my pulse beat hard and tense, ever seen before him, though it has And we cheered with tears of splendid joy been plain in view for years and years. at sight of the splendid craft.

Through scorn and discouragement and VI.

contumely he polishes his treasure, in

painful hours snatched from distasteShe swept us by; her master came and spoke us from the side,

ful labour, and at last he brings it We knew our elder, though his beard was where it can be seen and known for scarce yet fully grown ;

what it is. She spanked for home through churning foam

It is only genius which owns the with favouring wind and tide, And while we hailed like mad he sailed, a

seeing eye. There are in Great Britain King, to take his own.

to-day a dozen writers of fine faculty,

trained to observe, trained to give to Some men are born rich, and some observation its fullest artistic result ; are born lucky, and some are born and they are all panting for something both to luck and riches. Kipling is new. The something new is under one of the last. Nature endowed him

their noses.

They see it and touch it with uncommon qualities, and circum- every day.

If I could find it, my name stance sent him into the sphere in which in a year would sail over the seas, and those qualities could be most fortun- I should be a great personage.

But I ately exercised. It seems strange that shall not find it. None of the men who the great store of treasure which he are now known will find it. It is alopened to us should have been un- ways the unknown man who makes handled and unknown so long. His that sort of discovery. He will come Indian pictures came like a revelation. in time, and when he comes we shall It is always so when a man of real wonder and admire, and say: “How genius dawns upon the world. It was new! How true!” Why, in that very so when Scott shewed men and women matter of Tommy Atkins, whose manithe jewelled mines of romance which fold portraits have done as much as lay in the highways and by-ways of anything to endear Kipling to the Enghomely Scotland.

so when

lish people—it is known to many that Dickens bared the Cockney hearth to in my own foolish youth I enlisted in the sight of all men. Meg Merrilies,

I lived with Tommy. I and Rob Roy, and Edie Ochiltree were fought and chaffed and drank and dril. all therethe wild, the romantic, the led and marched, and went "up tahn" humourous were at the doors of millions with him, and did pack drill, and had of men before Scott saw them. C.B. with him. I turned novel-writer London, in the early days of Dickens, afterwards, and never much as there were hordes of capable writers dreamt of giving Tommy a place in my eager for something new. Not one of pages. Then comes Kipling, not knowthem saw Bob Cratchit, or Fagin, or ing him one half as well in one way, the Marchioness until Dickens Saw and knowing him a thousand times betthem. So, in India, the British Tommy ter in another way, and makes a noble had lived for many a year, and the and beautiful and merited reputation jungle beasts were there, and Govern- out of him, shows the man inside the ment House and its society were there. military toggery, and makes us laugh and capable men went up and down the and cry, and exult with feeling. There land, sensible of its charms, its wonder, was a man in New South Wales-ashepits remoteness from themselves, and herd—who went raving mad when he yet not discerning truly. At last, when learnt that the heavy black dust which a thousand feet have trodden upon a spoilt his pasture was tin, and that he

It was

the army

In

SO

had waked and slept for years without who reads Kipling—and who does not? discovering the gigantic fortune which -is the truly astonishing range of his was all about him. I will not go mad, knowledge of technicalities. He is if I can help it, but I do think it rather very often beyond me altogether, but hard lines on me that I hadn't the sim I presume him to be accurate, because ple genius to see what lay in Tommy. nobody finds him out, and that is a

A good deal has been said of the oc thing which specialists are so fond of casional coarseness of Kipling's pages. doing that we may be sure they would There are readers who find it offensive, have been about him in clouds if he and they have every right to the ex had been vulnerable. He gives one the pression of their feelings. I confess to impression at times of being arrogant having been startled once or twice, but about this special fund of knowledge. never in a wholly disagreeable fashion But he nowhere cares to make his

-never as “ Jude the Obscure" start modesty conspicuous to the reader, and led. Poor Captain Mayne Reid, who his cocksureness is only the obverse of is still beloved by here and there a his best literary virtue.

It comes schoolboy, wrote a preface to one of from the very crispness and definiteness his books—I think “The Rifle Ran with which he sees things. There are gers,” but it is years on years since I no clouds about the edges of his persaw it-in order to

put forth his defence ceptions. They are all clear and nette. for the introduction of an occasional Things observed by such a man dogoath or impious expletive in the conver matise to the mind, and it is natural sation of his men of the prairies. He that he should dogmatise as to what pleaded necessity. It was impossible he sees with such apparent precision to pourtray his men without it. And

and completeness. he argued that an oath does not soil A recent writer, anonymous, but the mind “like the clinging immor- speaking from a respectable vehicle as ality of an unchaste episode.” The platform, has told us that a short story majority of Englishmen will agree with is the highest form into which any exthe gallant Captain. Kipling is rough pression of the art of fiction can be cast. at times, and daring, but he is always This to me looks very like nonsense. I clean and honest. There are no her do not know any short story which can maphroditic cravings after sexual ex take rank with “ Pére Goriot,” or citment in him. He is too much of a “Vanity Fair,” or “ David Copperman to care for that kind of thing. field.” The short story has charms of

What a benefactor an honest laugh its own, and makes demands of its ter-maker is! Since Dickens there has

What those demands are only been nobody to fill our lungs like Kip the writers who have subjected themling. Is it not better that the public selves to its tyranny can know. The should have “My Lord the Elephant " ordinary man who tries this form of and “Brugglesmith” to laugh out art finds early that he is emptying his right at, than that they should be feebly mental pockets. Kipling's riches in sniggering over the jest-books begotten this respect have looked as if they on English Dulness by Yankee Hu were without end, and no man before mour, as they were eight or nine years him has paid away so much. But it ago ? That jugful of Cockney sky has to be remembered here that in blue, with a feeble dash of Mark Twain

many examples of his power in this in it, which was called “Three Men in way he has been purely episodic, and a Boat,” was not a cheerful tipple for the discovery or creation of an episode a mental bank holiday, but we poor is a much simpler thing than the dismoderns got no better till the coming covery or creation of a story proper, of Kipling. We have a right to be which is a collection of episodes, argrateful to the man who can make us ranged in close sequence, and leading laugh.

to a catastrophe, tragic or comic, as The thing which strikes everybody the theme may determine.

Own.

[ocr errors]

In estimating the value of any writer's work you must take his range into consideration. Kipling sketches, in emotion, from deep seriousness to exuberant laughter; and his grasp of character is quite firm and sure, whether he deal with Mrs. Hawksbee or with Dinah Shadd ; with a field officer or with Mulvaney, Ortheris and Learoyd; with the Inspector of Forests or with Mowgli. He knows the ways of thinking of them all, and he knows the tricks of speech of all, and the outer garniture and daily habitudes of all.

His mind seems furnished with an instantaneous camera and a phonographic recorder in combination; and keeping guard over this rare mental mechanism is a spirit of catholic affection and understanding

Finally, he is an explorer, one of the original discoverers, one of the men who open new regions to our view. A revelation has waited for him. He is as much the master of his English compeers in originality as Stevenson was their master in finished craftsmanship.

[merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

In a

as

N ANSEN is a typical explorer physi- attracting involuntary attention.

cally and mentally, one of a class crowd he is conspicuous, the commandwhose occupation is yet far from gone, ing power and litheness of his form notwithstanding a very general impres- marking him out a fit leader of sion to the contrary.

An English men. The explorer is of Norwegian scientist, Mr. Logan Lobley, at the blood, with the fair hair and blue eyes last Geographical Congress reckoned of the pure Scandinavian. The kindup the area of the world still awaiting liness which often characterizes the the labour of adventurous spirits ; and Northmen gives his face an amicable his grand total of 20,000,000 square

attractiveness, which suffers nothing miles, on a large part of which the foot from the force and firmness betokened of civilized man has not yet trod, is a by his massive jaw; while a good startling result. Here, in the con- broad forehead, from which the fair quest of the earth's surface, is scope hair is brushed straight back, gives enough yet for all the energies of the the fin.sh to a countenance of clear inadvance guard of humanity. In the telligence. ranks of explorers have marched some A visitor to his home at Lysaker of the most heroic figures the race on a bitterly cold day, with the therhas produced. Doubtless fresh open- mometer 9 degrees below zero, was ings for all the vital forces of mankind startled to find Nansen on the railway await us in the future, but we are yet platform, wearing no overcoat, but far from ready to welcome the ex- dressed simply in a light grey Ski unitinguishment of this form of enter- form, and standing perfectly at ease prise.

among this fur-clad company. InNansen stands before

fine deed, with Nansen, at home, a top specimen of heredity-a Viking worthy coat was a rare indulgence even in the of his race. He is six feet high, with depth of winter, but he might have a finely proportioned physical develop- been seen at times with one thrown ment in which strength aad quickness across a shoulder, the long capes actare combined in an uncommon degree. ing as a graceful drapery to his tall His figure, with its long stride and lithesome form. This disciplined powswinging gait, can never pass without er of enduring the rigours of a north*See also Frontispiece, for picture of Nansen.

us

a

« PředchozíPokračovat »