College archive celebrates a rare find from man of letters

Archivist, Alison Scott with the Kipling letter

Archivist, Alison Scott with the Kipling letter

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HE is one of the most popular authors of all time, with his books still adored by readers young and old more than 70 years after his death.

In a twist of fate of which literary legend Rudyard Kipling himself would have been proud, a new correspondence penned by the writer has been unearthed by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.

A member of staff at the college was stunned to find a handwritten letter while sifting through the college archives.

Dated November 20 1909, it came into the ownership of the college hidden inside a copy of The Life of Sir William Osler by Harvey Cushing and had lain in the archives unnoticed since the 1970s.

Quite how the letter, which was addressed to Osler himself, came to be there remains a mystery.

One theory is Cushing may have found the letter while writing Osler’s biography and simply kept it.

Archivist Alison Scott, who made the discovery, said: “I was quite amazed when I saw who had written the letter.

“Letters were found inside the book when it was given to the library in 1975 and were housed in the college archives. They were not looked at properly until this year as part of a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue the archives.

“It was only then that we realised one of the letters was from Kipling.”

The correspondence, which appears to be in excellent condition, is written on headed notepaper with an image of a telegraph pole and a train indicating the nearest railway station and telegraph office to Kipling’s Sussex home.

It reads: “Mcphail is coming to stay with us directly on his arrival here from Canada.

“I’ll do my best to send him in to the Athenaeum dinner in good and proper order though I fear that myself I shan’t be able to come on the 13th.”

Exactly what type of function the Athenaeum dinner was or why Kipling could not attend is unknown.

The addressee, Sir William Osler, was a Canadian physician and pathologist and mentor to Harvey Cushing, who was also a great admirer of Kipling’s and corresponded with him.

Osler and Kipling may have met originally because Osler’s wife was a distant cousin of Mrs Kipling, but they became friends and Osler is credited with stoking much of Kipling’s interest in medical history.

The Macphail Kipling writes of is believed to be Sir Andrew Macphail, Professor of Medical History at McGill University in Quebec.

Alison said: “Many of the things we come across in the archives have a limited interest group, but everybody knows Rudyard Kipling and that’s what made this so interesting.”

A spokesman for the auction house Christies said it was “certainly quite rare” to come across Kipling manuscripts and letters.

In 1995, a two-page handwritten poem called A Saint Helena Lullaby – signed “Rudyard Kipling from a bad memory” – fetched $5175 at auction in New York.

dawn.morrison@edinburghnews.com