Monday, May 28, 2007

Rudyard Kipling: Poet, author, Freemason

I was looking at some new (to me) non-Masonic blogs tonight and found The Bull in Full, where a recent post mentioned a band that had put Bro. Rudyard Kipling's poem The Palace to music. The fact that Bro. Kipling was a Freemason was mentioned in the post.

That reminded me that the very first lecture I gave in my lodge after I was officially appointed Director of Masonic Education when the new Worshipful Master took over was about Rudyard Kipling.

Here's the text of the first Masonic talk I gave that year:
I’d like to thank W. M. Steve for appointing me to be the lodge's Director of Masonic Education. I’ll do my best to share interesting Masonic information with you.

There have been many famous Masons, not just in the U.S. but in England and elsewhere. For the rest of the year, I’d like to present short talks to you on some of my favorite ones.

Tonight let’s take a look at Joseph Rudyard Kipling. You may remember reading some of his books when you were in junior high school, like Gunga Din, Kim and Captains Courageous, or perhaps you’ve watched Disney’s The Jungle Book with your children or grandchildren. Kipling wrote The Jungle Book about his adventures in India.

Kipling was a British citizen, born in Bombay, India in 1865. His father was principal of an art school in India. He returned to England when he was five years old. When he graduated from college at the age of 17, he returned to India, and began writing for the Civil and Military Gazette.

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."

Another 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 level."

In 1892, he married an American, Caroline Starr Balestier, who introduced him to several notable American authors. He received an honorary degree from Oxford University in 1907 along with one of his contemporaries, Brother Mark Twain. Also in 1907, Kipling became the first British writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. He and his American wife lived in her family estate in Vermont from 1892 until 1896, when they returned to England. The home in Vermont has been preserved as a historical landmark.

Rudyard Kipling was made a Mason at Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 at Lahore Punjab, India on April 5, 1886. His work required special dispensation, because he was only twenty years, two months old at the time. The same evening that he was raised, he was elected secretary of his Lodge so that he recorded his own initiation in the minutes of his Lodge.

A few months later, he delivered a lecture in his lodge on the "Origin of the Craft First Degree."

He advanced in the Mark Degree in Fidelity Mark Lodge on April 12, 1887 and was elevated in Mt. Ararat Mark Mariners Lodge at Lahore on the same day. He attended an Installation meeting of Independence with Philanthropy Lodge No. 391 at Allahabad, Bengal on December 22, 1887. On March 4, 1889, he demitted from his Craft Lodge and resigned from his other Lodges three months later on June 30, 1889.

Returning to England, he was offered an honorary membership with Author's Lodge No. 3456 sometime after its founding in 1910 and with Motherland Lodge No. 3861, London, in 1918. There is no record of him attending either of these Lodges. He was a Founding Member of Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge No. 12, retaining his membership until his death. In 1905, Canongate-Kilwinning Lodge No. 2, Edinburgh, Scotland chose him as poet laureate as they had a previous Brother, Robert Burns. The Philalethes Research Society in North America also lists him as an honorary member although there is no record of any attendance, correspondence or submission of research papers. The Philalethes Society honored Kipling for his Masonic stories Kim and The Man Who Would Be King. Kipling joined the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle in May, 1918, remaining a member until his death in 1936. Although he paid his dues promptly, there is no record of his attending a meeting. On November 17, 1924 he is recorded as attending Rosemary Lodge No. 2851 E.C., giving his Lodge as Motherland No. 3861.

In his autobiography, Kipling wrote, "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 Solomon's 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."

In 1925, he wrote in the London Times, "I was Secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, E.C. Lahore which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered by a member of Bramo Somaj, 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 anyone would notice was that at our banquets, some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates."

Even during the years when Kipling was not active in Masonry, his peppered his writings with Masonic symbolism and references. The short story The Man Who Would Be King, made into a movie with Sean Connery and Brother Michael Caine in 1975, was perhaps Kipling's best known work relating to Freemasonry. Sir George MacMunn wrote that "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."

Rudyard Kipling left us with many Masonic and non-Masonic stories and poems, but none is as famous as his poem "If," with which I will close:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal with lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out-tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And — which is more — you'll be a Man, my son!
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  1. When I was growing up, "IF" was framed on my bedroom wall. I guess I read all or part of it every day. I'm 58 years old, and I don't know if I've touched all the bases in that poem. I'm still working on it.

  2. I'm sure we're all still working on it, which when you think of it is the very point of the poem - we're a perpetual work in progress.

    My eighth-grade teacher made us memorize that poem as a condition for our graduating to high school. Wise woman.


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