Appendix 7:

THE SEVEN SEAS AND THE RUBAIYAT by Paul Elmer More.

 (From The Atlantic Monthly, vol.84 (1899), p. 800-808.)

Some introductory remarks are in order. The Seven Seas was a collection of Rudyard Kipling’s poems published in 1896. The collection would today be described as a gung-ho Queen and Empire set of verses, very patriotic and proud of England’s supremacy at sea (Britannia rules the waves), both in respect of her Empire (on which, famously, the Sun never set) and, incidentally, in respect of her achievements through the Industrial Revolution. The following verse, from the first section of “The Song of the Dead” gives the flavour of its patriotism:

When Drake went down to the Horn
And England was crowned thereby,
’Twixt seas unsailed and shores unhailed
Our Lodge—our Lodge was born
(And England was crowned thereby!)

The opening lines of “M’Andrew’s Hymn” give the flavour of its occasional and curious Industrial Engineering slant:

Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
An’, taught by time, I tak’ it so—exceptin’ always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God—
Predestination in the stride o’ yon connectin’-rod.

One can see from both these verses, then, why this collection of Kipling’s poems has not retained its appeal today! (Incidentally, Kipling’s fondness for machinery reached its zenith in a later poem, “The Secret of the Machines”, first published in 1911, in a textbook he co-authored with C.R.L. Fletcher, entitled A School History of England. Not that this was new, for Shelley too had a great interest in scientific progress and engineering. In his poem “Letter to Maria Gisborne”, written in 1820, he included lines referring to “thumbscrews, wheels, with tooth and spike and jag”; “great screws, and cones, and wheels, and groovèd blocks”; and “conic sections, spherics, logarithms” !)

More’s article opens thus:

“Some months ago, a London editor was rash enough to wager that no paragraph on Kipling or FitzGerald should appear in his journal during a stated time, – and needless to add, he lost the bet in the very next issue. This endless flux of gossip about two chosen names, with here and there a word of serious criticism smuggled in, is indeed one of the curiosities of our modern literary weeklies; and the peculiarity of it all is enhanced by the fact that two authors could scarcely be selected from the body of English literature more opposed to each other in style and intention.

Apart from this journalistic notoriety, none of our poets, not even Byron, has enjoyed just the kind of popularity which Kipling has achieved. Other poets have received equal or greater honour from the cultured public, but our new Anglo-Saxon bard appeals with like force to the scholarly and to the illiterate; his speech has become, as it were, the voice of the people. Mr William Archer, in his American Jottings, gives an apt illustration of this. On leaving his steamer Mr Archer “jumped on the platform of a horse car on West Street,” and was accosted by the conductor as follows: “’I s’pose you’ve heard that Kipling has been very ill ?...He’s pulling through now, though…He ought to be the next Poet Laureate…He doesn’t follow no beaten tracks. He cuts a road for himself every time, right through; an’ a mighty good road, too!’”

The fame of the Rubaiyat is of a different sort altogether, yet not less real in its own sphere. One of our ambassadors, himself a devotee of the “Suffolk dreamer”, has related how he heard a stanza of the poem quoted in a far-away mining camp; and I have read of a society of enthusiasts in England, who, with roses garlanding their brows, meet together and dine in honour of their prophet. Yet very few poems, perhaps no poem of its length, have had so marked an effect on writers of a certain class; and the homage paid to this jewel among translations is strikingly manifested by the number of aspirants – including Mr Le Gallienne, it may be observed, one of Kipling’s few literary foes – who have tried, and are still trying, to do the work over again more to their own taste, eager apparently to win renown by gilding refined gold.

The interest taken in these two authors is, in fact, so persistent and extraordinary that it might seem as if the corpus vulgatum of our poetry were destined to shrink within these narrow limits; and it is a timely question to consider what strange fatality has yoked together in notoriety this ill-assorted couple, and what their fame signifies to us in our racial development.

The cause of Kipling’s popularity is not far to seek. For many years the Anglo-Saxon people, in their ever growing self-consciousness, have been waiting for some poet to formulate their experiences and needs, and have not been slow to express open dissatisfaction with otherwise accredited singers. Tennyson dwelt for them in a world of shadowy idealism; he had no sympathy with the democratic movement; he lapsed in his latter days into a spirit of pantheistic mysticism especially abhorrent to the straightforward Briton. Browning, as R.H.Hutton has observed, was interested chiefly in that subtle line of demarcation between the worlds of sense and faith which finds its problems and symbolism in the Roman Church, – and nothing so disturbs the stolid Philistine as this confusing of the real and the unreal; furthermore, Browning was obscure. Longfellow sang with exquisite grace the virtues and aspirations of the home-loving people, but failed to voice its rude conquering temper out of doors. Matthew Arnold chose for himself a region of sublimated doubt and faith, interesting enough to Oxford, but incomprehensible to the larger public. Each and all of these poets had of necessity strong traits of the Anglo-Saxon character, but they missed its dominant chord, and so remained more of less isolated in the realm of pure art.

For this reason, we can understand the acclaim with which a poet has been received who actually sings in stirring rhythm the instincts of the people. And in truth, both the virtues and the defects of Kipling are such as to render him a popular idol. One cannot easily imagine to himself a car conductor enthusiastic over Milton or Spenser or Shakespeare as a poet to be read: these luminaries dwell in a region beyond his comprehension. Yet if Kipling fails to strike the highest note, the reception given him by such critics as Professor Norton proves that he too, in his own way, is a true artist, and no mountebank of the crossroads.

Probably, what first impresses everyone, on reading The Seven Seas, – and the idea comes with peculiar emphasis just now, – is the imperialistic temper of the poet; his earnest conviction that the English race, “the Sons of the Blood”, are destined to sweep over the earth and fulfil the law of order and civilisation. “After the use of the English, in straight-flung words and few,” he has sung his stave of victory so lustily that the hearts of the toilers in the fields and of the “dreamers, dreaming greatly, in the man-stifled town,” have leaped in response to his call. So great is the influence of hymns like the Recessional and the White Man’s Burden that to his fame as a poet has been added something of the authority of a statesman; he has made himself, as no other poet before him, accepti par imperii. His sympathy with the impulse toward expansion and his penetration into the hidden causes of ferment are written large in his Song of the English. He sees in the forward movement no ministerial programme or prudential wisdom, such as guides the rulers of Germany and France to fortify their empire by seizing new lands, but an inevitable instinct of the people, driving them out to subdue and possess.

Came the Whisper, came the Vision, came the Power with the Need,
Till the Soul that is not man's soul was lent us to lead.
As the deer breaks – as the steer breaks – from the herd where they graze,
In the faith of little children we went on our ways.

But there is another and a deeper instinct of the Anglo-Saxon race than the impulse to expand and absorb. With the power of conquest they carry everywhere the law of order and obedience.

The ’eathen in ’is blindness bows down to wood an’ stone;
’E don’t obey no orders unless they is ’is own;
’E keeps ’is side-arms awful: ’e leaves ’em all about,
An’ then comes up the regiment an’ pokes the ’eathen out.

sings Tommy Atkins in his vigorous barrack-room idiom; and he is right. It is the sense of life as a vast complicated organization, in which every member must play his part bravely and uncomplainingly in subjection to the whole; it is hearkening to “Law, Order, Duty an’ Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!” so eloquently ascribed by Mister McAndrews to his beloved “seven thousand horse-power,” that drives the race irresistibly to its goal. There may be, indeed there are, a few left, even in England, who are not “damned ijjits”, and who still think something of the old romance at sea is spoiled by steam; who feel that in some way the fairer and richer flower of life is crushed out by the grinding of mill wheels, and that there is a deeper joy of philosophy than can come to a man driven ruthlessly and restlessly by his own invented machine. But the truth remains that the civilization of the day is a product of iron and steam, and that victory belongs to those who are strong to adapt themselves to the new demands. Our late war with Spain was sufficient proof of this.” (p.800-802)

By way of some brief explanatory notes on the foregoing, the “society of enthusiasts in England” refers to the Omar Khayyam Club, founded in 1892 by a number of literary lights of the day; Le Gallienne is Richard Le Gallienne – see note 13 above; the verse “Came the Whisper, came the Vision…” is from The Seven Seas, the opening section of “The Song of the Dead”; the verse “The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness….” is from  the Barrack-Room Ballads which follow the maritime section of The Seven Seas, it being the opening verse of “The ‘eathen.” (This was the second series of barrack-room ballads by Kipling, the first series having been published under the title Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses in 1892.) As for the “damned ijjits” (idiots), this is based on the following lines from “M’Andrew’s Hymn”:

That minds me of our Viscount loon—Sir Kenneth's kin—the chap
Wi' Russia leather tennis-shoon an' spar-decked yachtin'-cap.
I showed him round last week, o'er all—an' at the last says he:
"Mister McAndrews, don't you think steam spoils romance at sea?"
Damned ijjit! I'd been doon that morn to see what ailed the throws,
Manholin', on my back—the cranks three inches from my nose.
Romance! Those first-class passengers they like it very well,
Printed an' bound in little books; but why don't poets tell?
I'm sick of all their quirks an' turns—the loves an' doves they dream—
Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o' Steam!

After the foregoing section More goes on to talk of Kipling as rousing his readers to righteousness, somewhat after the manner of a Hebrew Prophet, adding:

“The Anglo-Saxon race more than any other has retained the real temper of Hebraism, the worship of a force, dwelling apart, yet human in its limitations, that shapes the activities of the world to its own end. Jehova, the Lord of Righteousness, is still England’s God….” (p.803)

This observation finds a curious echo in the mentality behind the British-Israel movement, outlined in Appendix 4d. Be that as it may, Kipling writes, in the opening verse of his “Hymn before Action”:

The earth is full of anger,
The seas are dark with wrath;
The Nations in their harness
Go up against our path!
Ere yet we loose the legions—
Ere yet we draw the blade,
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, aid!

More goes on, though, to criticise Kipling for the crudity of his verses and their lack of spiritual depth. These verses appeal to “a people of restless, shallow energy”, and it is this that effectively precludes Kipling from being a great poet. Furthermore, Kipling lacks poetic beauty for its own sake:

“His most ardent admirers would probably be surprised to find how few passages of real loveliness they could recall from his poems; and it is no doubt this deficiency that inspires Kipling’s enemies – and even he has enemies – to speak so contemptuously of his work.” (p.807)

Le Gallienne, for example, in his book Rudyard Kipling: A Criticism (1900), whilst expressing approval of some of Kipling’s verse (p.31), wrote that in general “the truth about Mr  Kipling’s poetry,” is that its author was really just “a master of captivating sing-song, a magician of catches and refrains.”(p.64-5) Le Gallienne went on to say that “in Mr Kipling the banjo …has found its Apollo.” (p.65). T.S.Eliot, though, went to some lengths to show that Kipling was a genuine poet, in his prefatory essay to A Choice of Kipling’s Verse, first published in 1941, and with many later reprintings.

But getting back to More’s article, he moves from Kipling on to the Rubaiyat thus:

I have attempted thus far to show how the poetry of The Seven Seas reflects both the dominant strength and the deficiencies of the Anglo-Saxon temper; there is a curious interest in comparing with it another volume of almost equal popularity, in which all that is un-English might seem to have come to flower. Within the body of the people has sprung up, of late years, a small circle of men to whom the restless activity of the race is distinctly repellent: they are quietists and worshippers of pure beauty. The movement began with the pre-raphaelites, who sought in mediaeval Italy all that was wanting in the England about them, and has grown to include an ever increasing band of malcontents. For the very reason that they are cut off from the broader sympathies with actual life, there is something inefficient in their work, something very fair and fragile, which we are wont to stigmatize as effeminate or dilettante. Beauty and form are indeed the feminine elements of genius, which, as has been often observed, must embrace both the masculine and feminine principles to accomplish its best results. But alone and unsupported by the virility of thought and action, the love of beauty has always a tendency to become effeminate and inefficient. It is just this flower-like grace, apart from any sturdier character, that appeals to the group of dilettantes, in FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat. English poetry contains nothing more exquisitely lovely than such stanzas as this:-

Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn
In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;
Nor rolling Heaven, with all his Signs reveal’d
And hidden by the sleeve of Night and Morn.

There is in such writing all the curious felicity of Horace, to whom FitzGerald is often likened; but it must be added that there is also a complete absence of the manly tone of Horace, and of his shrewd reflection on life, which have made him the friendly mentor of the centuries.

It might seem at first as if the Rubaiyat would attract this small coterie alone, were it not further true that there is a touch of the dilettante inherent in the whole race. The very fact that a person has little appreciation of harmony and beauty in their higher manifestation leads him to make a sharp distinction in his taste between what appeals to the reason or dominant emotions and what, under the designation of beauty, is a mere titillation of the fancy. This divorce between reason and the imagination, due to an original defect of temperament in the race, has been so widened by the exigencies of modern life that any real synthesis of the powers has become almost impossible. Unwholesome and irrational as it is, the division has entered even into our scheme of education, and in our universities we now see the classical and modern language faculties separated into semi-hostile groups of pure philologists on the one side, and shallow dabblers in literature on the other; and so impossible is any mediating ground between the two that even when the scholar, who looks down so contemptuously on the aesthetes, himself turns by any chance to notice literature, we see him fall into the same trifling attitude. Our libraries are flooded with works that have no style or form on the one hand, and with books of style that have no substance on the other. And to this same division is due the almost equal popularity of authors so diametrically opposed as Kipling and FitzGerald.

But our English Omar has another claim on our attention besides this mere verbal grace: his work possesses a genuine psychological interest in so far as it reflects a peculiar mood of the day. The band of dilettantes to whom his felicities of style appeal so strongly represent also a marked reaction against the predominance of Anglo-Saxon ideals. To a few men has come an inner awakening after the despotism of the recent scientific period, and the weariness born of enthusiasm that has failed to carry the mind beyond its own restricted circle. Religious faith in the old formulas of salvation has been weighed and rejected by the scientific spirit, of which Renan in France and Huxley in England made themselves the spokesmen. But in the end the new faith has been found no more enlarging and no less dogmatic than the old; and to some the whirl and stress of mechanical progress seem to have taken from life all that was truly worth possessing. Even the mass of the Anglo-Saxon people, whose strenuous, unreflecting minds accepted the doctrine of material advance most eagerly, have begun at last to question blindly their own enthusiasm. The exultant words of a Kipling still draw them with the force of inspiration, but in their hours of relaxation they can listen to another voice that tells of indifference and repose. Out of the ruin of past ideals no new vision of human duty has grown as yet, and no poet has arisen to stir the heart to higher aspirations. Only we listen in our uncertainty to this prophet of disillusion and doubt:-

Alike for those who for Today prepare,
And those that after some Tomorrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries,
‘Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.’

The Rubaiyat has often been compared with the Epicurean tome of the De Rerum Natura, and there is no doubt a superficial resemblance. “This too I have seen: how that men recline at table cup in hand, and shadow their brows with garlands, and how they cry out from the depth of their heart, ‘Brief is this joy for feeble men; even now it has been, and never again shall we call it to return.’” – sang Lucretius to the Romans; and today we read in English verse:-

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d – ‘While you live,
Drink! – for once dead, you never shall return.’

Yet in spirit the two poems are utterly at variance. The work of Lucretius is but a new faith of philosophy, the dux vitae Philosophia, calling to men to put away their vain, disturbing superstitions, and to conquer for themselves a better and surer peace in strenuous thought; it is at the last the utterance of the will to refrain speaking with all the stress of the Roman character. Lucretius would have been the first to repudiate the indifferentism of the Persian:-

Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
Tomorrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

The stanzas of the Rubaiyat announce the surrender of the will altogether; they speak the creed of defeat, and have little in common with the mysticism – if I may use that ambiguous word – of the great poets of England and antiquity.

We have still to await the coming of the true poet, who shall unite the virility of Kipling and the graceful charm of Omar with yet a deeper note of insight into spiritual truth than has been vouchsafed to either. In the meanwhile, we cannot but admire the strange fatality that has linked together the restless rover of the seven seas and the gentle “Suffolk dreamer” in their fellowship of fame. (p.807-808)

The above four quoted verses from The Rubaiyat are, respectively, verses 33, 25, 35 and 41 from the 3rd, 4th or 5th editions. For Lucretius, see Appendix 2a.

Looking back on the London of 1890, Hilton Brown, in his book Rudyard Kipling: a New Appreciation (1945) wrote that in the “literary politics” of the day, “the situation resolved itself into a feud – at times amounting to the dimensions of a war between the opposing camps of Henley’s Young Men and the Yellow Book” – that is, between what Brown calls “the robust he-mannery” of the likes of Kipling and W.E.Henley (editor of the generally conservative and pro-Empire literary journal, the Scots Observer) and “the slinking innuendoes and the curtained cynicisms of Wilde and Beardsley” – the Aesthetes or Decadents, with their quarterly periodical The Yellow Book. He adds:

“In an incredibly short space of time the rivalry between the two camps developed into the brilliant boy Beardsley versus the brilliant boy Kipling; either might have described himself as ‘the rage of London’. Fortunately for Henley’s Young Men, Wilde – the opposing general – disgraced himself and fell; the Yellow Book school followed him into oblivion.” (p.33)

The Rubaiyat, of course, had been adopted by the Aesthetes – certainly by Wilde (see Appendix 10) –and Kipling, on his arrival in London from America in 1889, had certainly taken a particular dislike to them. In his poem “In Partibus”, first published in that year, he complained in following terms, placing the Aesthetes on a par with the “fog and filth” of London and the streets of “seething vice”:

But I consort with long-haired things
In velvet collar-rolls
Who talk about the Aims of Art
And ‘theories’ and ‘goals’
And moo, and coo with women-folk
About their blessed souls.

Kipling, of course, would these days be dubbed a male-chauvinist pig by feminists, the line “moo and coo with women-folk” being one of his lesser sins in comparison with that classic example of his political incorrectness, “a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke.” This famous line is from his poem “The Betrothed”. Richard Le Gallienne, in his Rudyard Kipling: a Criticism (1900), saw this poem as depicting “Mr Kipling’s general, amused, somewhat contemptuous and bitter, and entirely fatherly, view of women.”(p.21)

Incidentally, Wilde also expressed his dislike of Kipling in print, saying (of his Plain Tales from the Hills) that “from the point of view of life, he is a reporter who knows vulgarity better than anyone has ever known it”, and adding that he is “our first authority on the second rate.” (This comes from a speech of Gilbert’s in the dialogue “The Critic as Artist”, published in Wilde’s Intentions (1891).)

It is interesting, though, that in 1886 Kipling wrote a parody of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam entitled The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal’vin. Basically it was a poetic complaint against a 2% income tax introduced into India that year by Sir Auckland Colvin. Rupaiyat derives from Rupee and Kal’vin from Colvin, of course. The opening verse reads as follows, in imitation of FitzGerald’s verse 4, the “I” being Sir Auckland Colvin, the tax man:

Now the New Year, reviving last Year's Debt,
The Thoughtful Fisher casteth wide his Net;
So I with begging Dish and ready Tongue
Assail all Men for all that I can get.

This, of course, is one of many parodies of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat that have been produced over the years, Kipling’s being a testimony to the fame that it had achieved even in India by 1886. It is not clear, though, what the conservative God-fearing Kipling thought of FitzGerald’s efforts: probably more than one might expect, for his time in India does seem to have given him a curious respect for elements of both Hinduism and Islam (Brown, op.cit. p.88-89), contrary to what one might think from poems like “The White Man’s Burden”!