Kipling’s Indian Summer

From: A 150-Year History of Beaver College and Arcadia University. ed., Cameron, Samuel et al. Arcadia University, 2003. pp. 20-27. 

R U D Y A R D   K I P L I N G   V I S I T S

 M U S O U A S H   O N   T H E    M O N O N G A H E LA

 

A N    E S S A Y

S a m u e l  M .  C a m e r o n

In the summer of 1889, Rudyard Kipling was a guest of President Taylor and his family at Beaver College. Kipling visited Beaver during his trip around the world, which he described in From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel. Of all the places he visited in the United States, he seemed to enjoy “the infinite peace of the tiny township” of Beaver, Pennsylvania, the best. “Imagine a rolling,  wooded, English landscape, under the softest of  blue skies, dotted at three-mile intervals with fat little, quiet little villages, or aggressive little manufacturing towns that the trees and the folds of the hills mercifully prevented  from betraying their presence . . . . It was good to lie in a hammock with half-shut eyes, and, in the utter stillness, to hear the apples dropping from the trees, a·nd the tinkle of the cowbells as the cows walked stately down the main road of the village.” Despite his appreciation of the town relative to the rest of the United States, Kipling could not totally  control his cynical acerbic tongue and, in order  to  protect  the  feelings  of  his  hosts,  disuised the  identity  of the  town  by calling it “Musquash,” an American Indian name for a beaver, and moved the town up the Ohio River to the Monongahela. How did Kipling come to visit the Taylors and this idyllic, but tiny, town and obscure college?

The story begins when Kipling graduated from the United Services College in Westward Ho, England, at the age of 16, and instead of going on to university, decided to rejoin his family in India and start a career as ajournalist. His father was Principal of the Mayo School of Art and Curator of the Lahore Museum in Lahore, India. Through family contacts, Kipling landed a job as a reporter for the Civil and Military Gazette. In 1887, at age 22, he joined the Gazette’s parent newspaper, the prestigious Pioneer, published in Allahabad.

In August 1884, after receiving her A.M. from Beaver College, Edmonia K. Taylor, the daughter of President Taylor, married Samuel Alec Hill, an English meteorologist who had recently been appointed Professor of Science at Muir University in Allahabad. The newly wed couple immediately traveled to India so that Professor Hill could assume his teaching responsibilities. They arrived on the 14th of October 1884, several years before Kipling transferred from Lahore to Allahabad. Inthe small English community IMng in Allahabad, it was inevitable that the Hills and Kipling would meet. Edmonia Hill was to become a close friend and confidant of young Kipling.

The two met at a dinner party at the house of George Allen, a publisher of the Pioneer. Edmonia described the meeting in a letter to her younger sister, Carolyn. “When we were seated at table and conversation was in full swing, my partner called my attention to a short dark-haired man of uncertain age, with a heavy moustache and wearing very thick glasses, who sat opposite, saying: ‘That is Rudyard Kipling, who has just come from Lahore to be onthe staff of the Pi. He is writing those charming sketches of the native states, Letters of Marque, which the Pi is publishing . . . .’ After dinner, when the men joined the ladies in the drawing room, evidently the retiring young author had marked me for an American, and, seeking copy perhaps, he came to the fireplace where I was standing and began questioning me about my homeland . . . . He is certainly worth knowing, and we shall ask him to dinner soon.”

A few weeks after their first meeting, Rudyard sent Edmonia a copy of his newly published Plain Tales from the Hills with a dedicatory verse: “Would they were worthier. That’s too late-Framed pictures stand no further stippling. Forgive the faults. To Mrs. Hill, March ’88. From Rudyard Kipling.” Future writings during these India years, however, were sent to Edmonia before framing, for her opinion and comments.

Kipling biographers have speculated on the close relationship of these two people. There is no doubt that Kipling had a crush on Edmonia, and that part of his motivation for seeking her opinion of his writings was to get her attention and esteem. Kipling, up to his . marriage, displayed considerable ambivalence about serious relationships with women other than  his close  relatives.  His true  affections  were  reserved  for  young  women  who  were unattainable. His first engagement, to Florence (Flo) Garrad ·(he was 16, she 17 or 18), occurred as he was about to sail from England to India. Mrs. Hill, safely married, while not as distant as Flo, was equally unattainable. During her student years at Beaver College, Edmonia was  a talented  prize-winning  artist  and  scholar.  After  graduation,  she  became a faculty member, teaching writing and supervising the student newspaper, The Beaver. She was naturally flattered by the value Kipling placed on her literary opinion. She found the witty, creative Kipling a source of intellectual stimulation in  the tepid cultural environment of Allahabad. In a letter to her youngest sister, Julia, she writes, “We have become quite well acquainted and we both enjoy his cleverness . . . . ” In addition she notes that both of his parents were prominent people in India and that his mother (like Edmonia) was the oldest daughter of a Methodist minister. That there  might have been a little romantic interest is betrayed by her amusement and intrigue in his dalliances with other young women of whom he kept her posted. In a letter to Carolyn she observes, “Young Kipling is certainly all things to all people . . . . I hear he can make first-class love to the latest belle in Simla.”

The friendship grew until eventually Kipling moved in with the Hills at their home “Belvedere.” In a letter to the family Edmonia states, “We are discussing whether we should generously offer to take him in to our house for a little while rather than to let him go to the Club in this desolate season . . . . He would not be much trouble and might prove a pleasant companion.” After explaining that because of landscaping improvements it would be impossible for him to stay in the separate bungalow, she proposed that he should stay in the main house. “R. can have the dressing room, bath, and east verandah, so he can be very comfortable . . . . The Blue Room has every convenience and is quite private, with its own verandah and entrance from the hall.” Both the Hills and Kipling were away from Belvedere during the hot summer months, so in fact spent only brief periods of time together in the house.

Kipling wrote long gossipy letters to Edmonia. One recurrent topic was a supposed love affair he was having with “My Lady” for whom he declared an undying, but unrequited affection. In letter after letter he told Edmonia who “My Lady” was not, but never identified who she was. C.E Carrington, one of Kipling’s biographers, speculates, “The reader begins to suppose her a figment of the young writer’s fancy, a projection, perhaps, of Mrs. Hill herself, to whom he must not declare his devotion.”

Kipling wrote “The Man Who Would Be King” while living with the Hills. Edmonia tells the following story in a letter to Julia. “When ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ was germinating in R. K.’s mind he was lunching with us. Suddenly he demanded names for his characters. A. promptly said, ‘Well, the queerest name I ever heard was that of a missionary I met in the Himalayas when we were both tramping-Peachy Taliaferro ‘ Of course Rudyard seized that at once. I could think of no nam9:·to give, so A. said, ‘Well, who was the most prominent man in your home town?’ Of course you know that I replied Mr. Dravo, and sure enough he used these very names, adding a t to Dravo.” Mr. John Dravo was a prominent resident of the town of Beaver, a major benefactor of Beaver College and President of its Board of Trustees. Thus, the two adventurers in the tale were named Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot.

In the fall of 1888, Edmonia became seriously ill with meningitis and, when she recovered, decided to recuperate at home in Beaver, Pennsylvania. Kipling also had been advised by his doctor to not spend another hot summer in India. He decided that he would return to England, but travel east. see the Orient, America, and visit with the Hills in Beaver. He talked his publisher into financing a series of travel articles for the Pioneer. He and the Hills booked passage on the same ship, the S.S. Madura of the British India line, and set sail from Calcutta to Rangoon on March 9, 1889. Kipling filed articles from Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canton, and Japan. Along the way, Alec Hill took photographs and the three friends planned an illustrated travel book that never materialized. Instead, the series of newspaper reports were eventually published in Kipling’s travelogue, From Sea to Sea. While Edmonia is not mentioned in these reports, Alec is; he is referred to as ”The Professor.” The photographs are now in an album in the Rare Book Collection of the Library of Congress. On May 11 the travelers sailed from Yokohama for San Francisco. Once they arrived in San Francisco, the Hills immediately headed by train for Beaver, while Kipling set out to see the United States. The reports he filed on the United States were highly critical in word and tone, inflaming the American press and public.

The only place in the United States about which Kipling had something good to say was Beaver, Pennsylvania, where. Kipling rejoined his friends the Hills later in the summer. He was a guest of the Taylor family and was given rooms in the College dormitory. In a criti­ cal voice, Edmonia said, “He is settled in the rooms of the College, where he has a living room with open fireplace, a spacious bedroom and bath. There is a couch, where I think he spends most of his time, smoking, reading, and meditating, but not doing much writing.” Kipling also had time for the young ladies of the town and is reputed to have introduced badminton to the College. The residents of the town still reminisce about his visit. Sixty-two years later, the Beaver Falls News Tribune of February 11, 1951, described the dinner party the Taylors gave to welcome Kipling, and their daughter and son-in-law. “An exciting garden party was held on the grounds of the house which was occupied by Edmonia’s father. Japanese lanterns were strung from the home all the way to Third Street. Everyone was invited to attend and the guests were attired in dress suits and evening gowns. Caterers came from Pittsburgh and the waiters walked up from the station in their black suits. This caused quite a sensation in the town. Conversation, music, and excellent food added to the enjoyment.” Edmonia wore an elaborate kimono of a dark fabric with embroidery in which were sewn the iridescent wings of beetles.

However, in the strict Methodist environment of the town, the party had no dancing or drinking. Beaver then, as now, was a ’11dry” town. A favorite tale is how Kipling still was able to obtain his daily glass of spirits. He obtained a prescription from a physician, and the College’s janitor drove him each day in the Taylors’ phaeton to the local druggist where Rudyard sipped his ration while relaxing in the carriage.

China decorating was very fashionable at the time and the College offered lessons in this art medium. Kipling developed the idea of writing some verses on dessert plates as a “thank you” gift to his hosts. Edmonia wrote in her diary for August 1889, “I’ve been painting a set of dessert plates with a design of our wild flowers to take back to India. One day Mr. Kipling, who has seemed unusually preoccupied, demanded china and paint. We wondered what project was being evolved in that fertile brain and now we know, for he has put upon six fruit plates some clever verses, about ten lines each, which he painted directly on the china without any notes . . . .They are rather badly painted in dark blue, as he was not accustomed to china paints and did not know how to use the turpentine. We tried to help, but he was too speedy for us.” The Taylors used the plates as everyday dining ware. They are now housed in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress.

There was also a summer romance. Rudyard, apparently with the matchmaking instigation of Edmonia, carried on a flirtation with Carolyn Taylor. Edmonia was, perhaps, eager to divert some of Rudyard’s attentions from herself to her younger sister. He wrote a short poem about Carolyn. Each of the fruit plates he created, on the reverse side, had some reference to her. On one are her initials, CAT; on another, a drawing of a cat; on still another, a drawing of the plant, cattails. The references to her on the plates have led some historians to suppose that Kipling created the plates for her. As the summer drew to an end, Professor Hill had to retu’. to his teaching post in Allahabad. He left for India before his wife and Carolyn accompanied her sister on her journey back to India. Kipling met Edmonia and Carolyn in New York and sailed with them for London on September 25, 1889, on the ship City of Berlin. Kipling’s romance with Carolyn continued and somewhere between New York and London the two became engaged. On October 9, Edmonia recorded in her diary, “Carrie engaged to R. K.”

The engagement was to be short lived. Carolyn sailed with her sister for India on October 25, ·1889. She, like Flo, became unattainable by distance. While he had been able to write long letters daily to Edmonia, he struggled to write to Carolyn. In one letter to Carolyn he says, “There lie in my waste paper basket the torn fragments of three long letters to you. Excellent letters they were but I destroyed ’em because I was afraid of the coldly critical eye that would read ’em. Heart o’ mine you, as well as I, must have discovered by this time that the writing of love letters is no easy thing.”

Carolyn became uneasy about rumors of Kipling’s lack of religious convictions and wrote asking him about them. He wrote a letter to reassure her of his belief in God; instead, the letter had the opposite effect on the devout Methodist. “Chiefly I believe in the existence of a personal God . . . . I disbelieve directly ‘in eternal punishment for reasons that would take too long to put down  on  paper.  On the same grounds  I disbelieve  in an eternal  reward. As regards the mystery of the Trinity and the Doctrine of Redemption I regard them  most reverently but cannot give them implicit belief, accepting them rather as dogmas of the Church than as matters that rush to the heart.” One can imagine Carolyn, the daughter  of a Methodist minister, being appalled and dismayed by this strange version of the Apostles’ Creed. It is not clear who broke off the engagement, Carolyn or Rudyard, but their relationship ended shortly after this exchange of letters. Deepening the mystery is that sometime during this period he again met Flo Garrard, his first love. Did he deliberately create an estrangement with Carolyn in order to be free to once more pursue Flo?

Edmonia and Kipling did not correspond again for over ten years. During that time Kipling married Carolyn Balestier, the sister of his American friend, Wolcott. In the winter of 1899, both Kipling and his daughter, Josephine, became seriously ill with pneumonia. Kipling recovered, but his six-year-old daughter died. Following this loss, Edmonia wrote to him and they resumed their correspondence, though not with the same frequency and intensity of the years in India. Kipling died of a perforated ulcer on January 12, 1936. It was not till after his death that Edmonia published the above quoted  letters and extracts from her diary about Kipling in the April 1936 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

Sources

Carrington, C. E. (1955). The life of Rudyard Kipling. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. Hill, E. (1936, ApriO. The young Kipling. Atlantic Monthly, 157, 406-415.

Kenah, S. (1951, February). Come with me to Musquash. News Tribune. Beaver, Pa.

Kipling, R. (1899). From sea to sea; Letters of travel. New York  Doubleday & McClure Company. Ricketts, H. (1999). Rudyard Kipling: A life. New York  Carroll & Graf Publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Hudson Saffell (36 Articles)
Freelance Writer / Editor

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