I hasten to add that I am referring to Manchester 'oooooop north' in England, not the gorgeous town of Manchester in New England, although I suspect, being students, they are just as barmy as each other anyway! My title is taken from the opening of a splendid article by Christopher Howse in The Telegraph in which he stoutly defends the reputation of Rudyard Kipling against the dopey (probably in all senses of the word!) students of Manchester University who have defaced one of Kipling's greatest poems which was reproduced as a mural on a wall in the college. No need to tell you that poor old Kipling stands accused of the greatest crime known to Man - racism! Yeeeeeeeeeeees, quite!
Alas, in this photo he looks like an escapee from Monty Python's Flying Circus but, based on my mostly childhood memories, he was a truly great poet and story-teller.
As Mr. Howse reminds us, far from being a flag-waving Empire man, Kipling remained dubious about the whole enterprise:
He tried to make a home in Vermont, but, after an almost fatal illness and the death of his daughter Josephine, left America forever in 1899. He pinned his hopes on English rule in South Africa, but, disgusted with the ascendancy of the Boers, left in 1908 and never went back.
It was as the eternal outsider, the unobserved observer, that Kipling delivered the strongest rebuke to the British Empire in his poem “Recessional”. It marked the diamond jubilee of the Queen and Empress Victoria in 1897, but the author chose to make use of the public attention he commanded as a celebrity author to denounce imperialist hubris. Put no trust in the “reeking tube” of rifle or machine-gun, he warns. Empires fall into dust:
Far-called, our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
(By the way, the “lesser breeds without the Law” referred to in the poem, are not natives on whose behalf the White Man takes up his burden; they are would-be empire-builders such as Russia and Germany.)
That was written at the very pinnacle of Empire which tells me that Kipling was an exceedingly shrewd observer of the ways of the world! It is decades since I last read any of his poems so this story has given me the boot up the backside I need to go and buy a copy. In the meantime, here is one of his most famous poems which the students of Manchester University would do well to study!