chapter  6
18 Pages

‘And it was so – just so – a long time ago’?:Kipling and History

In his introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, Donald Mackenzie suggests firstly that the stories that make up these texts are the products of an ‘archaeological imagination’,1 and secondly, and by implication, that the origins of the stories can be found in historical artefacts. Mackenzie draws on Kipling’s account in Something of Myself, of the sinking of a well and the clearing of a pond at Bateman’s,2 which between them produced a series of objects that are variously categorized as Jacobean, Cromwellian, Roman, Elizabethan and Neolithic.3 Mackenzie derives from this a description of the ‘archaeological’ imagination he attributes to Kipling in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies:

Kipling in the passage quoted gives us some of its key elements: a context of the primitive and the mysterious (here touched with the jokey); a matching context of the practical, of work but work touched with the magic of art; a focusing on artefacts; the past as buried, to be reached by digging; the past as at once remote, indeed alien, and immediate (the ‘deepest mud yielded us a perfectly polished Neolithic axe-head with but one chip on its still venomous edge’). This is a past not heard but seen; a past fragmented, tactile, mute, on whose excavated fragments a re-creating imagination must play.4