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RUDYARD KIPLING'S Autobiography
The Lodge of Hope and Perseverance, No. 782, English Constitution in Lahore,
Punjab, India was seeking a Secretary. The year was 1885 and there was a new
resident in Lahore, a young man, not yet of legal age, employed as an assistant
editor of the provincial newspaper. His father was a Freemason, a notable
artist, and Curator of the Lahore Museum. It was suggested that the son was
eminently suited for the vacant office, and thus, at twenty years and six
months, Rudyard Kipling became a Freemason and Lodge Secretary in a Masonic
connection that influenced his life and writings through many years. During
those years his fame grew as, in Somerset Maughamıs appraisal, "our greatest
storyteller" . To recall something about Kiplingıs engagement with Freemasonry
is the purpose of this presentation. To read Kipling with an eye for Masonic
references is an interesting enterprise. Others have found it so and have
written on the subject. In his "The Life of Rudyard Kipling" , C. E. Carrington
makes several references to the Masonic influence. I have drawn on this and
other sources in bringing this presentation to you on Kipling, the Man and
Joseph Rudyard Kipling: 1865 - 1936
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born at Bombay, India on December 30, 1865, the son of John Lockwood Kipling and Alice MacDonald Kipling. His father had gone to India to accept the post of Principal of the newly founded Sir Jamjetjee Jejeebhoy School of Art. His parents were gifted persons; his mother, Alice, sparkling and elegant, established her claim to his ambiguously aimed dedication in Plain Tales from the Hills , "To the wittiest woman in India". One of her sisters was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, another was Lady Burne-Jones. At five years of age, Rudyard was brought, by his parents, to England and spent five unhappy years with a foster family in Southsea, an experience he later drew on in Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (1888). He then went on to the United Services College, Westward Ho!, near Bideford in North Devon where he remained until his school years were over and he returned to India to become a member of the editorial staff of the "Civil and Military Gazette" in Lahore. Here he rediscovered the land of his birth and developed the flair for writing that had already marked his school years at Westward Ho!. It is recorded that "After the paper had been put to bed in the sultry Indian midnight, he would find his way into the old walled city" to sense the mystic atmosphere of that colourful land and its ancient people, and to exercise a talent for absorbing background and for storing in his memory impressions and incidents which provided material for a half-century of literary production. In the bazaars, from all sorts and conditions of natives, from police officers, and from service people, he gathered copy that was to be the basis of many poems and stories. His biographer says that "One of the channels by which he penetrated the underworld was Freemasonry --- he was fascinated by the mysterious bond that over-came class rules. Freemasonry was a cult that transcended caste and sects. It was the only ground in a caste ridden country on which adherents of different religions could meet on the levelı." In his twenty-first year he began to produce the verse and stories that were to make him famous and which attracted attention from the outset. His stay in India was terminated in 1889, when he returned to England where he established literary contacts and lasting friendships and where the artistry of his writing won growing recognition. Among his new friends, he was especially drawn to an American publisher from Vermont, Wolcott Balestier, whose sister Caroline he married on January 18, 1892 shortly after Wolcottıs untimely death. Carrie and Rudyard took up residence, from 1892 to 1896, in Brattleboro, Vermont, the home of the Balestier family. The had a large home built to their own specifications on the outskirts of Brattleboro where their two daughters were born and where they made many friends and were noted for their hospitality. Kipling accomplished much writing here, including the Jungle Book and Captains Courageous. Unhappily a family quarrel developed with Carrieıs brother Beatty and the outcome was a return to England in 1896. The Kipling home still stands in Vermont and has been preserved as a historical landmark. It is not the intent of this presentation to dwell on Kiplingıs increasing fame after his re-establishment in England. As his genius was acknowledged, honours were at his command but he refused all except those of a literary nature. He was the first English writer to be awarded a Nobel prize for literature in 1907. It is also of interest that his first honorary degree was from McGill University, for which he visited Montreal in 1907, and on that occasion, Sir William VanHorne, President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, placed his private car at Kiplingıs disposal for a trip to Vancouver and return. Financial success, public acclaim, and personal sorrows marked the years until death on January 18, 1936 and Kiplingıs funereal service in Westminster Abbey. His eldest daughter, Josephine, caught pneumonia in February 1899 during a trip to New York and never recovered, dead at age 6! His only son, John, was killed at the Battle of Loos in Belgium, on September 27, 1915 just six weeks after his eighteenth birthday! Kipling gave unstintingly of his time and effort as a member of the Imperial War Graves Commission and is credited with the authorship of the inscription seen in every cemetery " Their Name Liveth for Evermore".
Kiplingıs Masonic Life:
In "Something of Myself" Kipling writes: "In 1885, I was made a Freemason by dispensation (being under age) in The Lodge of Hope and Perseverance 782 E.C. because the Lodge hoped for a good Secretary. They did not get him, but I helped, and got Father to advise me in decorating the bare walls of the Masonic Hall with hangings after the prescription of King Solomonıs Temple. Here I met Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, members of the Araya and Brahmo Samaj, and a Jewish Tyler, who was a priest and butcher to his little community in the city. So yet another world was opened to me which I needed." We get a little more detail in a letter Kipling wrote in the London Times, dated March 28, 1935: " In reply to your letter I was Secretary for some years of the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance No. 782, English Constitution which included Brethren of at least four different creeds. I was entered by a member of the Brahmo Samaj (a Hindu), passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew. We met, of course, on the level and the only difference that anyone would notice was that at our banquets some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste rules from eating food not ceremoniously prepared, sat over empty plates. I had the good fortune to be able to arrange a series of informal lectures by Brethren of various faiths, on baptismal ceremonies of their religions."
Kipling also received the Mark Master degree in a Lahore Mark Lodge and affiliated with a Craft Lodge in Allahabad, Bengal. Later, in England he affiliated as an honorary member of the Motherland Lodge, No. 3861 in London. He was also a member of the Authorsı Lodge, No. 3456, and a founder-member of the Lodge Builders of the Silent Cities, No. 4948, which was connected with the War Graves Commission and which was so named at Kiplingıs suggestion. Another Masonic association was formed when he became Poet Laureate of the famous "Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2" in Edinburgh, the Lodge of which Robert Burns is said to have served in the same office. Enquiry of Brattleboro Lodge, No. 102, in Vermont, discloses no record of Rudyard Kipling having visited during his residence in the community. Years later, however, he accepted a fellowship in the Philalethes Society, an organization of Masonic writers formed in the United States in 1928. The February 1963 issue of "The Philalethes", a publication of this Society, recalls that, before the original list of forty Fellows was closed in 1932, Kipling was proposed as the fortieth Fellow. When the Secretary wrote to advise him that they wished to honour the author of "My Mother Lodge", "The Man Who Would Be King", "Kim" and other Masonic stories, Kipling accepted.
There seems to have been some quality deep within his nature to which Freemasonry appealed. The idea of a secret bond, of a sense of community, and of high principles among men sworn to a common purpose, fitted his concept of a social order. To quote his biographer Carrington: " Freemasonry, with its cult of common action, its masculine self-sufficiency, its language of symbols, and its hierarchy of secret grades, provided him with a natural setting for his social ideals." On his first trip to America in 1889, he made use of Masonic introductions whereby his visit was enriched. An American novelist, Edward Lucas White, became a life-long friend, and it is said that in their correspondence and association they made continued use of Masonic terminology. Kipling was essentially a Craft Mason, and there is no indication of interest in the extraneous branches of the Institution. The place of his Mother Lodge in his affection is suggested in the article read to the Leicester Lodge of Research on November 25, 1929 in which reference is made to a current press item about Kiplingıs sending a "Masonic Tool" to his Mother Lodge in Lahore. It is not strange then that these feelings be reflected in his work.
We find the reflection of Kiplingıs Masonic interest in three areas of his writing. There are wholly Masonic poems, of which " The Mother Lodge" and "Banquet Night" are largely familiar to Masons; there are the overtly Masonic-based stories such as "The Man Who Would Be King", "Kim" and those relating to the Lodge of Faith and Works, No. 5837, English Constitution, such as "In the Interests of the Brethren", "The Janeites" etc.; and there are the numerous Masonic allusions which colour many of his poems and stories.
The Man Who Would Be King has been called a masterpiece. It is one of his earlier stories and was written in India, about the strange adventure of two vagabonds, Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnegan, with whom the author became acquainted in an unusual way. In a railway carriage, one of the two accosted the author Masonically and persuaded him to take a message to the other "on the square --- for the sake of my Mother, as well as your own". The two adventurers go off on an unhallowed expedition, and after two years one returns with a fantastic tale of experiences in a kingdom beyond Afghanistan, where they found Masonic practices among the natives, had used Masonry to further designs of power, and had met ultimate disaster from which only one returned --- maimed, disfigured and demented --- carrying the shrunken head of his erstwhile comrade. His story, from ecstatic beginning to gristly end, defies imagination. The unscrupulous pair had found the crude mountain tribesmen knowledgeable of the E.A. and F.C. degrees but ignorant of the M.M. degree. Dravotıs fertile mind concocted the devious scheme of using the Sublime degree as an instrument for control. So the plan progressed, and a lodge was formed, when, lo, in a dramatic moment, the Masterıs symbol was disclosed on the underside of the very stone used by Dravot as the Masterıs seat. It corresponded to that on his Masterıs Apron. "Luck again", says Dravot to Peachy, " they say itıs the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of..." and then Dravot declared himself "Grand Master of all Freemasonry in Karfiristan.... and King of Karfiristan, equally with Peachy!" Then, in Peachyıs words, "We opened the Lodge in most ample form".
But, it was too good to last. Call it human frailty or moral transgression, the sweet wine of success was to much for Dravot, and when he looked for a Queen to share his Kingdom, the god became a man of the earth. Sowing the winds of desire, he and Peachy reaped the whirlwind of horror as the disillusioned natives turned on them and left only the mentally-bereft junior partner to escape back to civilization and death, with the dried and withered head of Daniel Dravot as the relic of the man who would be king. This story was made into a movie and can be found in some video stores.
Kim, a picturesque novel of the Indian underworld, has a high measure of artistry and has been compared with E.M. Forsterıs Passage to India. Essentially, it is the story of the education of a police spy who counteracted a Russian spying plot in India; but it contains a thread of Freemasonry. Kimball OıHara was the orphaned son of a wastrel ex-sergeant of the Mavericks, an Irish regiment, who had married the nursemaid in a Colonelıs family. With both parents dead, the three year old child was left with a native woman, who strung around his neck a leather amulet-case containing his fatherıs entire estate: Kimıs birth-certificate, his fatherıs "clearance-certificate" and OıHaraıs Master Masonıs certificate. Growing up in the native environment, the lad meets many interesting characters and eventually finds his fatherıs old regiment; the Masonic certificate is a talisman and as the story unfolds Kim rises to the challenge of his heritage.
Kipling seems ever-ready to insert, often in an incidental manner, Masonic allusions suggested by the ritual, terminology and symbols with which he was so intimately acquainted, and which had become embedded in his mind. The interested reader, who is persistent, will find more of such, often when least expected. Sir George MacMunn wrote: "Kipling uses Masonry in much the same way he uses the Holy Writ, for the beauty of the story, for the force of the reference, and for the dignity, beauty, and assertiveness of the phrase. There is one more effect that familiarity denies us which is present in the Masonic allusion and that is the almost uncanny hint of something unveiled." It is certain that in their search for a good secretary, the Brethren of "Hope and Perseverance" found one who became an exemplar of the great principles of our Art, in his life, work and influence. Surely his spirit must have been present at the memorable ceremony at the Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi, India on November 24, 1961, when the new Grand Lodge of India was consecrated, comprising 145 Lodges over whom the Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland had relinquished their authority. And at this point, in conclusion, some lines (non-Masonic) seem appropriate as placed by Kipling at the end of his collected works.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014