Pine Nuts: Kipling and Twain |

Pine Nuts: Kipling and Twain

My definition of success is never having to wait in line. I am not a success.

At the Department of Motor Vehicles I always pack along a tome to read while waiting for my number 734 to appear on the electronic board. In my last visit I took Rudyard Kipling along, started and finished Gunga Din.

Kipling has always been of interest to me, mainly because of his association with Mark Twain. Kipling and Clemens received honorary degrees at Oxford together in 1907, and some of those old Oxford dons maintained that between Kipling and Twain, they knew all that could be known; Kipling knew all that was worth knowing, and Twain knew the rest.

Said Kipling of that event: “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.”

Said Twain of that event: “Kipling and I represented royalty as well as we could without opportunity to practice.”

In Kipling’s, From Sea to Sea, there appears, “An Interview with Mark Twain.” The chapter is 15 pages long, so I will extract my favorite passage and share it here in this fine family journal for the gentle reader to enjoy.

Kipling made his trip to Elmira in 1889, at age 24, to interview a man 30 years his senior, Sam Clemens. About that encounter Kipling said, “Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer. The landing of a twelve pound salmon is nothing to it.”

Six years later Sam sent Rudyard a letter dated August, 1895 …

Dear Kipling,

“It is reported that you are about to visit India. This has moved me to journey to that far country in order that I may unload from my conscience a debt long due to you. Years ago you came from India to Elmira to visit me. It has always been my purpose to return that visit and that great compliment some day. I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with silver bells and ribbons and escorted by a troop of native howdahs richly clad and mounted upon a herd of wild bungalows; and you must be on hand with a few bottles of ghee, for I shall be thirsty.” (Ghee being clarified butter made from the milk of a buffalo.)

Kipling wrote in a letter to Frank Doubleday, 1903: “I love to think of the great and Godlike Clemens.”

Finally, Twain gets the last word: “Since England and America have been joined in Kipling, may they not be severed in Twain.”

Oh! Gotta go, there’s my number … 734.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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