Rudyard Kipling remains a polarizing figure. As we’ve written before, his favor among his countrymen and literary critics has ebbed and flowed as societal and cultural norms have shifted. A Nobel laureate who has been referred to as everything from “a complete man of genius” by Henry James to “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting” by George Orwell, Kipling at least merits our study. And for many, his works are highly-sought after collectibles.
Kipling was a staunch proponent of the British engagement in World War I. He despised Germany and was irked that the British were taking so long to destroy the enemy, blaming those in charge for their incompetence which led to so much of their own blood shed. When his son John was killed in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, Rudyard Kipling was devastated. His feelings about the necessity of the war remained unchanged, however. It’s interesting to trace how the death of John infiltrates Kipling’s writing. If you’re a Kipling collector, don’t overlook the following works.
“My Boy Jack” in Sea Warfare
"My Boy Jack" is the most-well known and well-recognized poem about Kipling’s son, John, who the family lovingly referred to as “Jack.” You may be familiar with such notable lines as ‘“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”/Not this tide,/ Nor any tide,/ Except he did not shame his kind —/ Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.”.
"My Boy Jack" was published as an untitled poem in prelude to the “Destroyers at Jutland” section of a collection of Kipling’s journalistic works called Sea Warfare. First editions of Sea Warfare were published by Macmillan in London in 1916. Each of the three sections, including “Destroyers at Jutland”, as well as “The Fringes of the Fleet” and “Tales of the Trade” was initially published in The Daily Telegraph and The Times between November 1915 and October 1916.
First editions of Sea Warfare are bound in the publisher’s blue cloth with gilt lettering to the spine and cover. A first edition in fine condition will sell for several hundred dollars.
“A Death Bed” in The Years Between
Another one of Kipling’s poems notable for its reactionary nature to his son’s death is “A Death-Bed.” Published in 1918, in this poem, Kipling seemingly relishes the opportunity to be particularly crass and unfeeling, taking delight in the suffering of the German Kaiser who was dying of throat cancer. He refers to him, whom he deems the responsible party for the Great War, as “this” throughout, and if a reading of this poem doesn’t make your skin crawl, you’re doing it wrong. The lines “Some die suddenly. This will not.” and “Some die easily. This dies hard.” are sure to make anyone squirm.
The Years Between was published in 1919 in London by Methuen and Co. Ltd and in 1919 by Doubleday in the United States. The title appears to reference the years between the war in South Africa and the end of World War I. The collection includes forty-five poems and a series of epitaphs, many of which are some of Kipling’s darkest works (as “A Death-Bed” proves). First UK editions of The Years Between have dark red buckram boards with gilt lettering to the spine. A fine edition with an intact dust jacket will sell for around $450-550.
The Irish Guards
Kipling’s commitment to his son is seen in his dedication to tirelessly chronicling the regimental history of the Irish Guards, whose reinforcement contingent John had been serving with when he was killed. Kipling used primary sources to detail a sweeping history of the Guards. According to an article by Nina Martyris in the New Yorker, “[i]t was a tedious and exhausting task that took seven years and left him, according to [his wife] Carrie’s diary, “yellow and shrunken.””
The first UK edition of The Irish Guards in the Great War was published in London by MacMillan & Co. in 1923. The first US edition of The Irish Guard was published by Doubleday, Page & Company in Garden City, NY. When looking for collectibles, ascertain whether or not the item in question contains both volumes 1 and 2 of The Irish Guards. Prices will vary if only one volume is included versus the complete edition.
First UK editions have the publisher’s red cloth with gilt decoration on the front cover and lettering on the spine. The inclusion of a scarce dust jacket makes this collectible all the more valuable, with prices ranging from $450-$500.
First US editions have the publisher’s dark cloth (seen above) with gilt decoration. The dust jacket for the US edition is likewise quite scarce. Without said dust jacket, collectibles are typically priced around $200-$300.
If— in Rewards and Fairies
Finally, If— , published for the first time in 1910 in Kipling’s collection Rewards and Fairies deserves inclusion on this list, as the poem was written as a sort of “manifesto of manliness”, as Martyris describes it, for John (albeit, for teenage John, before his death).
The First American edition was published by Doubleday, Page & Co., in Garden City in 1910. Such editions were bound in the publisher's green cloth with gilt lettering on the front cover and spine and with a black-colored sailboat impressed on the front cover and smaller on the spine. With a scarce dust jacket, such a book would sell for well over $700.
The First UK edition was published by Macmillan in London in 1910. It was bound in the publisher’s red cloth with an image of elephant in gilt on the front cover. Without the scarce dust jacket, this edition will still sell for between $550-$650.