The guest on Radio 4's Great Lives this week was John Major, who, supported by Andrew Lycett, chose Rudyard Kipling as his exemplary figure. You can listen to the programme here.
Kipling might have been my choice, too, so it was fascinating to hear John Major justify his reasons. Major referred to Kipling as a 'poet' primarily. Much as I love Kipling's poetry, I love Kim and the short stories more. There are stories in The Jungle Books and Debits and Credits which seem flawless. Is there a better short story writer in English than Kipling? If you're sceptical, read this, this, or this.
Of course, half an hour is insufficient time to give Kipling anything like his due. He was the cousin of Stanley Baldwin, the nephew of Edward Burne-Jones, and the friend of (inter alia) Cecil Rhodes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Baden-Powell and Theodore Roosevelt. Kipling was the last British writer whose opinions mattered. Not only did he whisper into the ears of emperors, he thrust his own arguments noisily into the public forum, and was listened to, enthused about, admired and loathed by a world-wide audience of which modern writers can only dream.
P.S. Still on the subject of Kipling: yesterday this site received a record number of hits, mostly thanks to South Africans searching for the phrase 'flannelled fools'. Can anyone tell me why?