Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/December 1897/Scientific Literature
THE SCIENTIFIC SPIRIT IN KIPLING'S WORK.
The collected edition of Mr. Kipling's prose and verse published by the Messrs. Scribner presents the successful execution of a singularly felicitous idea. The Soldiers Three stories, which first made known the appearance of a new genius, were scattered in various legitimate and pirated editions like the tales of social and of native life in India. Even the Jungle Books lacked the last tale—perhaps not the last—for In the Rukh appeared in Many Inventions, published by D. Appleton and Company in 1893. For the first time, therefore, we now have a properly classified exhibition of the wealth which Mr. Kipling has added to imaginative literature. The titles of the volumes under the present systematic arrangement are Plain Tales from the Hills, Soldiers Three and Military Tales (two volumes), In Black and White, The Phantom Rickshaw, Under the Deodars and Other Stories, The Jungle Books, The Light that Failed, and The Naulakha. The illustrations have been photographed from reliefs modeled in clay by Mr. Kipling's father. The light paper, handsome type, with its firm, clear impression, the generous margins, and dignified binding are reasons for congratulations to publisher and reader alike.
If this were the place for purely literary comment upon Mr. Kipling's splendid gifts much might be written of the tremendous power of his best expression, the resonance of his song, his quick insight into motives, and his control of a gamut which might be deemed to run from Hood to Poe, since his imagination, power of sympathy, and his quick humor thrill us, or move us to laughter, at his will. But all this the reading world has recognized. Very little, however, has been said of Mr. Kipling's application, possibly more or less unconscious, of scientific principles in his work. It is quite unnecessary to explain that Mr. Kipling is not an ethnologist because he differentiates the Hindu, Sikh, or Afghan so consistently, or because in all his work he expresses more forcibly than any other writer the characteristics which have made England a great imperial power. He is not an alienist because of The Madness of Private Ortheris, or The Man who Was, or In the Matter of a Private, or The Phantom Rickshaw, or The Disturber of Traffic, or At the End of the Passage, and yet a professional alienist might well accept his diagnosis of certain phases of mental aberration, his description of the effects of certain hallucinations and illusions, and his description of severe mental shock and aphasia in The Man who would be King, and elsewhere. He is not a physiologist, but his exactness in indicating the physiological effects of strong emotions—witness Mulvaney in battle—is another indication of the quality of his analytic observation. To cite a very different instance, in a preface to Wee Willie Winkle Mr. Kipling has illustrated his attitude toward children in saying: "If a mere man keeps very quiet and humbles himself properly, and refrains from talking clown to his superiors, the children will sometimes be good to him, and let him see what they think about the world." This, as Mr. Gosse has said, suggests the collector of exact data, the naturalist lying quietly in the grass and noting the habits of birds and animals.
The wonderful Jungle Stories have added a new character to fiction in Mowgli, yet if we judge the other characters by our special standard Mr. Kipling's power of getting at the roots of things—of reasoning to causes—is perhaps less apparent in these stories for a reason not far to seek. Certain familiar motives shown in mating and in jealousy, in the father's place as provider and in the mother's care for her young, in instincts of self-defense and revenge, and in quasi-tribal organization and leadership would naturally lend themselves to a writer's purposes. But while certain truthful characteristics are retained, the developed personification of Mr. Kipling's animal heroes takes them almost as much out of the field of exact observation as the animals of our own Indian mythology. The reason of this is found in the very simple justification offered by the claims of art. Dr. Groos's Play of Animals, shortly to be published in English, is a very valuable example of the scientific attitude. That Mr. Kipling's literary treatment has been untrammeled is a cause for congratulations, unless we are to beg the question at the outset by relegating imagination to fairy tales pure and simple. Now, Mr. Kipling does not deal in fairy tales, but primarily with motives which are practical. When Shelley enshrined the skylark in literature he did not clip the wings of his song with an explanation that the skylark sometimes destroys crops in Germany. This fact would have been noted by Mr. Kipling, and in one way or another his imagination would have found a way of suggesting it in a purely literary form. This is an extreme case, but it illustrates fairly enough a mental curiosity, alertness, and keenness of perception which would have made a mark in laboratory work, let us say, if Mr. Kipling had been a student of science. The suggestion gains piquancy from the constant presence in Mr. Kipling's work of a quality diametrically opposed to this—the martial spirit, which is quite the reverse of the scientific. Mr. Kipling's earlier years of association with the British army in India have left an impress which will remain. In spite of the nobler motive of the magnificent Recessional, the ring of the sword is heard throughout the larger portion of his verse and prose, a note due to his intense vitality and personal force, as well as to the accentuated patriotism of the poet laureate of Greater Britain.
Patriotism, however, which we are assured is unscientific and merely a phase of selfishness, has nothing to do necessarily with another phase of Mr. Kipling's literary performance—his literary conquest of the new realm of applied science. From him we have learned that the locomotive engineer may be a more romantic figure than the mailed knight, and that the passing away of white sails has lessened in no degree the poetry of the sea. The central motive of our time is the application of science to industry, but it was left for Kipling to sing the song of steam in McAndrew's Hymn. One grows chary of the use of that time-honored phrase "a new note." There have been so many "new notes" which have died away into a silence never broken afterward. But if Mr. Kipling should write no more, he has already proclaimed the romance of machinery, the heroism of "earth's chosen men of strength," the significance of the deep-sea cables, "blind, white sea snakes," and he has expressed the appeal to the poet's imagination made by phases of invention, commerce, and manufacture, which have had hardly a superficial recognition heretofore. There are critics who quarrel with Mr. Kipling's liberal use of the nomenclature of marine engines and locomotives, but that is not a quarrel to be insisted upon. Possibly, like a student in the first flush of enthusiasm, he is unconsciously zealous to show that he does not "miscall technicalities," but "coupler flanges" and "spindle guides" by the score will not prevent such work from reducing the number of "damned ijjits" who whimper that "steam spoils romance at sea." Quite aside from purely literary quality, with which we are not primarily concerned in this place, Mr. Kipling's power of concentration, his application as a student, and his ability to master practical details are exhibited to a very striking degree in McAndrew's Hymn, in The Ship that Found Herself, in his long story Captains Courageous, and in his story No. 007, which appeared lately in Scribner's Magazine. We do not think that a story like the last furnishes the human interest or the enjoyment found in the best of his Indian tales. The personification of the familiar locomotive or, for that matter, the horses in a Vermont pasture, inevitably comes, if not as an anachronism, at least as a wound to that desire for the possible which unconsciously guides adult readers of pure fiction. Nevertheless, all this treatment of applied science is, as we have said, the opening of a new territory, in which we believe Mr. Kipling will find many lasting additions to English song and also to English fiction. While a few exceptions have been taken to the correctness of his technical phrases—for example, by Mr. Cy Warman in his verses on No. 007—Mr. Kipling's accuracy is phenomenal. Noting this in the London Academy a year ago, a sailor remarked: "The secret of his success is that he always goes straight to the fountain head for his information. . . . His mind can best be compared in acquisitiveness to a sleepless octopus, always gathering in something with each of its tentacles." So far as his work in fiction is concerned, we think the human interest of the lives on an overinsured, unseaworthy tramp steamer will make a more direct appeal than the conversation of cylinders and piston rods, notwithstanding the usual moral. Like Cromwell's soldiers, Mr. Kipling believes in the moral law, the wrath of God, a stout arm, and a sharp sword. Like a Roundhead also, he feels at times a stern sense of judicial responsibility toward the quick and the dead, especially if they are Americans.
This brings us to one last point, barely to be touched upon, which is that Mr. Kipling's remarkable power of perception and analysis is not accompanied by a corresponding power of synthesis. This is quite at variance with the common judgment, but it may be illustrated by comparisons of sketches of individuals with the romantic passion of his devotion to the Empire, or, again, by a comparison of single types with the curious image which Mr. Kipling has evolved in The American—a poem which should have had as its logical complement some verses on the Jameson raid, the British war ships at Crete, and the Armenian atrocities. But this is a small matter, so far as we are concerned, and youthful tendencies to sweeping generalizations are commonly too unimportant to call for any other remedy than time. Mr. Kipling has so many qualities essential to a scientist that one is the more disposed to deprecate occasional broad assumptions and the influence of acid prejudices; but any limitation is suggested with reluctance when one writes of the young genius who within ten years has become the foremost active figure in the English literature of this day, the most sonorous singer of verses, and the most impressive story teller. We have yet to mark his arrival as a novelist. Meantime the perfectly appointed edition of the Messrs. Scribner is a necessity for those who would have their libraries include some of the best gifts which English letters have offered to the world—gifts from a young man of thirty-two, with his richest years yet before him.
In The Present Evolution of Man Mr. Reid discusses the question whether the struggle for existence has ceased with man. Dr. Moxon, whose declaration is quoted among those of other authors to furnish a text for the essay, affirms that it has, and that the conflict is now one against mere existence. The latter aspect of the question is not touched in the book. Dr. Moxon's attitude is treated as characteristic of that of the majority of the general public, and also of the majority of medical men, who, "while observing the effects of disease on man the individual, have signally failed to observe its effects on man the species." While he accepts evolution in its widest and most absolute sense as a certainty, the author differs from the usual views, in that in his opinion acknowledged authorities have not recognized or have not laid sufficient stress on certain processes of evolution which appear to him of the greatest importance. The book is intended to lead up to the presentation of these processes, and is divisible into two parts, in the first of which the problem of evolution in general is briefly considered, with an attempt to penetrate somewhat deeper in certain directions than has hitherto been done, and in the second part the conclusions arrived at are applied to the problem of man's present evolution, with an endeavor to show that this evolution is proceeding in a direction hitherto altogether unexpected. The processes of evolution are supposed to be singly, inappreciably minute, and all as still going on—even spontaneous generation, which we do not discover, because the really earliest forms of life are beyond all devisable means of observation. The inheritance of acquired qualities as a factor of evolution is rejected, and the process is held solely dependent on the survival of the fittest. Yet the variations acquired by every normal individual have a magnitude and importance far beyond that which is commonly attributed to them by biologists. The present evolution of man, while development in bodies and brains is an element in it, is mainly an evolution against disease. The stage of evolution reached by European races is the result of a long process of selection against certain classes of diseases to which they have become comparatively proof. The natives of other regions into which European civilization is extending itself have this immunity yet to acquire. Hence the deadly influence of our civilization upon them when they are subjected to it. Other agencies which are the causes of the elimination of the unfit are the narcotics. The influence of these two classes of factors, and the nature and extent of the modifications affected by them in physical and mental conditions, are the subjects of the second part of the book.