to the Copybook Headings
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Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered
for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British
soldiers in India, and his tales for children. He wrote classic poems
and stories which include (among many others) "The Jungle book" A book
of short stories which contains the famous story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", the
poems "Gunga Din" and "Mandalay", the novels "The Man Who Would Be King"
and "Captains Courageous", and his two most famous poems, "The Gods of
the Copybook Headings" and "IF__". He was born in India, and spent
his earliest years there, and then moved with his parents to England.
He lived in the United States for four years between 1892 and 1896, in
Brattleboro Vermont, not far from my own home in Ashby, Massachusetts before
moving back to Britain.
I admire Kipling for many of the same
qualities that so many inhabitants of our modern civilization dislike him.
He stood for unabashed masculinity, the British Empire, and pride in British
inspired civilizations such as America, the nation that was eventually
to supplant Britain in world dominance. To me he stood for qualities
which are rapidly vanishing in our modern society; self reliance, patriotism,
the virtues and values of Judeo-Christian morality, faith in your fellow
man, the ability to tell right from wrong and good from evil, and the self
confidence to stand up to those who's self indulgence and narcism
Gods of the Copybook Headings
|Kipling wrote the poem "The Gods of
the Copybook Headings" in 1919, after he had lost his son in the first
world war. This was one of the most tumultuous periods in world history.
The war had ended on November 11, 1918, and the war-related traumas of
death and destruction, combined with the outbreak of the great Spanish
flu epidemic between 1918 and 1920 (which killed between 50 and 100 million
people worldwide), had left the people dazed, and desperate for some sort
Pacifism become popular, patriotism
unpopular, and religious beliefs and their attendant morality had suffered
a serious setback. Jesus' statement on the cross "My God, My God,
why have you forsaken me?" was reinterpreted to mean "What sort of God
would allow this to happen?". This lead to a generalized rejection
of traditional morality and social values among large numbers of people,
especially the national elites.
The first Russian revolution had deposed
the Tsar in 1917, and many people began to look towards Marxist socialism
as the ultimate solution to the world's problems. It made sense at
the time. Marxist socialism had never been tried on a large scale
before. It's emphasis on rationalism and the rejection of God and
his attendant religious values appealed to the educated elites who
tended to resent religion as an imposition that interfered with their own
pursuit of "happiness".
Marxist socialism appealed to the lower
strata of society as well. Socially acceptable hedonism combined
with "free money" from the state would appeal to everyone except those
who clung to religion as their source of solace and social cohesion!
The massive failures of all the great
socialist experiments lay well in the future. Communism (international
socialism) and Fascism (national socialism) were in their infancy, and
Nazism (racially defined national socialism) in Germany arose as an outgrowth
of Fascism after 1919. Progressivism, which advocates the gradual
replacement of traditional democracy with socialist values and laws began
in the US in 1912 with the election of Theodore Roosevelt.
The zeitgeist of the day therefore became
a stew of Marxism and the abandonment of traditional values by a sexually
liberated "popular culture" (think the "roaring twenties") in many of the
most prosperous countries.
It was against this background that
Kipling wrote his poem, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings". He was
well ahead of his time in doing so. Kipling recognized that the abandonment
of the morals and values that created the British empire would lead not
only to the downfall of the empire itself, but the eventual downfall of
the civilization that it had created. A people who had abandoned
their moral values would eventually abandon each other. They would
abandon honesty, and without honesty there would be no reason to trust
anyone else. Without sexual morality, the traditional social contract
based on trust between the sexes would vanish, and the people would eventually
abandon marriage. Without marriage, the family, the most basic unit
of any civilization would wither and die. Money would become the
holy grail, and people would stoop to any depths to get it. At the
top, leaders would betray their institutions and their countries, impoverishing
virtually everyone else to get rich themselves. At the bottom, gangs
of thugs would roam the streets stealing anything of value.
Kipling knew that the abandonment of
the values that built the civilization would lead to its destruction.
He also knew that as the destruction settled in on the civilization, the
old values would resurface, probably with a vengeance. This is the
meaning of his poem, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings".
The "copybook headings" refer to proverbs
or sayings printed in perfect handwriting at the top of the pages in a
19th century schoolchild's notebook. The object of the exercise was
to produce good handwriting by making the student copy out the heading
phrase over and over again until he formed each letter perfectly.
While the people who produced the copybooks, and the teachers that used
them were not especially interested in teaching moral values, (these were
amply taught at home by parents in those days), the headings that were
printed at the top of the pages were always old proverbs. Here is
a partial list:
Haste makes waste.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Ignorance is bliss
You mustn't cry over spilt milk
You can catch more flies with honey than
you can with vinegar
You can lead a horse to water, but you
can't make him drink
Those who live in glass houses shouldn't
A Bird in the hand is worth two in the
Well begun is half done
A little learning is a dangerous thing
If wishes were horses then beggars would
If pigs had wings they would fly
The wages of Sin is Death
If you don't work you die
Stick to the Devil you know
All is not Gold that Glitters
sayings may seem trite today, but almost all of them states a basic
truth which should constitute common sense. The children learning
good handwriting would copy them over and over again until both the handwriting
and the proverb were firmly implanted in their heads.
Unfortunately, few children (and few
adults) today have any idea of what these proverbs mean or why each one
is the doorway to a concept of basic morality and values that used to be
universal in our society. In those days, common knowledge
of these concepts acted as a glue that held society together and placed
moral limits on an individual's behavior. Even if they all
had cell phones, no kid in those days would dream of joining a "flash mob"
to rob or assault innocents. They would all know from early childhood
that "if you don't work, you die", and "the wages of sin is death"!
These are just a few of the moral truths that were taught to all children
in those days, and they were known and understood by the poorest members
of society as well as the richest.
order to interpret the... poem, you need to understand some of the phrase's
and terms Kipling uses.
gods of the marketplace" stand for materialistic values
. Materialism is not new. It has always been the default value
system since before we first climbed down from the trees and began to think
in abstractions. It wasn't really until mankind overcame his immediate
physical needs that he developed transcendent moral values and began to
form enduring social groupings, and ultimately entire civilizations.
|Kipling's derisive reference to the "Gods of the Market Place" was
not intended as anti-capitalist. "The market" is not short for "the free
market," as it is in contemporary parlance. Rather, the "market" refers
to the public spaces where people gather to listen to demagogues who promise
the impossible and the irrational -- the function performed by CNN today.
by Robert Tracinski Jun 02, 2010
Currently writing at RealClearMarkets
gods of the copybook headings" stand for the transcendent
values that made those civilizations possible. They include self
reliance, loyalty to family and nation, and a belief in something
outside and above ourselves that rewards us for restraining our base instincts.
They include a compact that makes families possible, and a basic need for
personal integrity and honesty. These are the moral values that made
it possible to create civilizations, and to maintain them intact, and without
them, civilizations crumble and fall.
measures and Carboniferous Epoch" are both acknowledgements
that materialistic values are ancient, and have always been with us.
Sandstones" has no modern definition, but refers, like Cambrian
measures, to the ancient origin of materialism. It was probably a
phrase thought up by Kipling because it sounds ancient.
|Sid Note: However one source describe
the Feminian Sandstones as being the base stones of church structures.
Another source states that during the era when the first temples and churches
were being constructed, the promises were for “the Fuller Life.”
is a type of (green) cheese.
last two stanzas may be difficult to interpret in light of our modern sensibilities.
|As it will
be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only
four things certain since Social Progress began —
That the Dog
returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
The dog and the sow represent
base instinct, the very source of material values. The origin of The Gods
of the Marketplace.
And the burnt
Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire—
Albert Einstein once said "The
definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results." John Adams once said, "There never
was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Kipling said that
a fool refuses to learn from past failures.
And that after
this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
The "Brave New World" was the
phrase chosen by Aldous Huxley for the title of his famous 1932 novel
about a dystopian future society. This was exactly what Kipling meant
when he coined the phrase!
When all men are
paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
This was a slap at Marxist/Materialist
values, a welfare state in which all people are paid for existing, and
morality is forgotten. In other words, a society that worships at
the alter of materialistic values.
As surely as Water
will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
The Gods of
the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Throughout history, we have
watched the cycle of civilizations based on moral values rise, and then
fall into bloody chaos as the culture deserts those moral values.
And after the fall, all is dark until moral values reassert themselves
and allow for the usually violent dismantling of the old order and the
rebuilding of a new civilization.