As a departure from Twain, I took up Kipling this week, and devoured “From Sea to Sea.” I was pleasantly surprised to discover how far ahead of us olde Rudyard was and is.
“God made the pine with its root in the earth,
Its top in the sky;
They have burned the pine to increase the worth
Of the wheat and the silver rye.
Go weigh the cost of the soul of the pine
Cut off from the sky;
And the price of the wheat that grows so fine
And the worth of the silver rye.”
“The thin-lipped, keen-eyed men who boarded the train would not read that poetry, or, if they did, would not understand. Heaven guard that poor pine in the desert and keep its top in the sky!”
Wow … that was published in 1899. Were Kipling able to witness what we have done since and are continuing to do today, well, he would be spinning like a lathe.
While traveling across this great land of ours, Kipling paid a visit to Mark Twain in Elmira. (I knew I was reading Kipling for a reason.) And it was comforting to read how a seasoned and admired author like Kipling could be so awed.
“Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer. The landing of a 12 pound salmon is nothing to it.”
Kipling would write home to London, “You are a contemptible lot, over yonder. Some of you are Commissioners, and some Lieutenant-Governors, and a few are privileged to walk about the Mall arm in arm with the Viceroy; but I have seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar – no, two cigars with him, and talked with him for more than two hours! Once indeed, he put his hand on my shoulder. It was an investiture of the star of India. If hereafter, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, I shall fall to cureless ruin, I will tell the superintendent of the workhouse that Mark Twain once put his hand on my shoulder; and he shall give me a room to myself and a double allowance of paupers’ tobacco.”
In 1903, Kipling would avow in a letter to Frank Doubleday, “I love to think of the great and Godlike Clemens. He is the biggest man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight, and don’t you forget it. Cervantes was a relation of his.”
Kipling and Twain received honorary degrees at Oxford in 1907, about which Kipling would write, “When Mark Twain advanced to receive the hood, even those dignified old Oxford dons stood up and yelled. To my knowledge he was the largest man of his time, both in direct outcome of his work, and, more important still, as an indirect force in an age of iron philistinism. Later generations don’t know their debt, of course, and they would be quite surprised if they did.”
Twain would write about that occasion, “Kipling and I represented royalty as well as we could without opportunity to practice. Some of those old Oxford dons maintained that between Kipling and Twain, we knew all that could be known; Kipling knew all that was worth knowing and I knew the rest.”
Two of our best … Kipling and Twain.
McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.