McGoggin by Rudyard Kipling
Ride with an idle whip, ride with an unused heel.
But, once in a way, there will come a day
When the colt must be taught to feel
The lash that falls, and the curb that galls,
and the sting of the rowelled steel.
This is not a tale exactly. It is a Tract; and I am immensely
proud of it. Making a Tract is a Feat.
Every man is entitled to his own religious opinions; but no man--
least of all a junior--has a right to thrust these down other men's
throats. The Government sends out weird Civilians now and again; but
McGoggin was the queerest exported for a long time. He was
clever--brilliantly clever--but his clevereness worked the wrong way.
Instead of keeping to the study of the vernaculars, he had read some
books written by a man called Comte, I think, and a man called
Spencer, and a Professor Clifford. [You will find these books in the
Library.] They deal with people's insides from the point of view of
men who have no stomachs. There was no order against his reading
them; but his Mamma should have smacked him. They fermented in his
head, and he came out to India with a rarefied religion over and above
his work. It was not much of a creed. It only proved that men had no
souls, and there was no God and no hereafter, and that you must worry
along somehow for the good of Humanity.
One of its minor tenets seemed to be that the one thing more sinful
than giving an order was obeying it. At least, that was what
McGoggin said; but I suspect he had misread his primers.
I do not say a word against this creed. It was made up in Town,
where there is nothing but machinery and asphalt and building--all
shut in by the fog. Naturally, a man grows to think that there is no
one higher than himself, and that the Metropolitan Board of Works made
everything. But in this country, where you really see humanity--raw,
brown, naked humanity--with nothing between it and the blazing sky,
and only the used-up, over-handled earth underfoot, the notion somehow
dies away, and most folk come back to simpler theories. Life, in
India, is not long enough to waste in proving that there is no one in
particular at the head of affairs. For this reason. The Deputy is
above the Assistant, the Commissioner above the Deputy, the
Lieutenant-Governor above the Commissioner, and the Viceroy above all
four, under the orders of the Secretary of State, who is responsible
to the Empress. If the Empress be not responsible to her Maker--if
there is no Maker for her to be responsible to--the entire system of
Our administration must be wrong. Which is manifestly impossible. At
Home men are to be excused. They are stalled up a good deal and get
intellectually "beany." When you take a gross, 'beany" horse to
exercise, he slavers and slobbers over the bit till you can't see the
horns. But the bit is there just the same. Men do not get "beany" in
India. The climate and the work are against playing bricks with
If McGoggin had kept his creed, with the capital letters and the
endings in "isms," to himself, no one would have cared; but his
grandfathers on both sides had been Wesleyan preachers, and the
preaching strain came out in his mind. He wanted every one at the
Club to see that they had no souls too, and to help him to eliminate
his Creator. As a good many men told him, HE undoubtedly had no soul,
because he was so young, but it did not follow that his seniors were
equally undeveloped; and, whether there was another world or not, a
man still wanted to read his papers in this. "But that is not the
point--that is not the point!" Aurelian used to say. Then men threw
sofa-cushions at him and told him to go to any particular place he
might believe in. They christened him the "Blastoderm"--he said he
came from a family of that name somewhere, in the pre-historic
ages--and, by insult and laughter, strove to choke him dumb, for he
was an unmitigated nuisance at the Club; besides being an offence to
the older men. His Deputy Commissioner, who was working on the
Frontier when Aurelian was rolling on a bed-quilt, told him that, for
a clever boy, Aurelian was a very big idiot. And, you know, if he had
gone on with his work, he would have been caught up to the Secretariat
in a few years. He was just the type that goes there--all head, no
physique and a hundred theories. Not a soul was interested in
McGoggin's soul. He might have had two, or none, or somebody's
else's. His business was to obey orders and keep abreast of his files
instead of devastating the Club with "isms."
He worked brilliantly; but he could not accept any order without
trying to better it. That was the fault of his creed. It made men
too responsible and left too much to their honor. You can sometimes
ride an old horse in a halter; but never a colt. McGoggin took more
trouble over his cases than any of the men of his year. He may have
fancied that thirty-page judgments on fifty- rupee cases--both sides
perjured to the gullet--advanced the cause of Humanity. At any rate,
he worked too much, and worried and fretted over the rebukes he
received, and lectured away on his ridiculous creed out of office,
till the Doctor had to warn him that he was overdoing it. No man can
toil eighteen annas in the rupee in June without suffering. But
McGoggin was still intellectually "beany" and proud of himself and his
powers, and he would take no hint. He worked nine hours a day
"Very well," said the doctor, "you'll break down because you are
over-engined for your beam." McGoggin was a little chap.
One day, the collapse came--as dramatically as if it had been meant
to embellish a Tract.
It was just before the Rains. We were sitting in the verandah in
the dead, hot, close air, gasping and praying that the black-blue
clouds would let down and bring the cool. Very, very far away, there
was a faint whisper, which was the roar of the Rains breaking over the
river. One of the men heard it, got out of his chair, listened, and
said, naturally enough:--"Thank God!"
Then the Blastoderm turned in his place and said:--"Why? I assure
you it's only the result of perfectly natural causes--atmospheric
phenomena of the simplest kind. Why you should, therefore, return
thanks to a Being who never did exist--who is only a figment--"
"Blastoderm," grunted the man in the next chair, "dry up, and throw
me over the Pioneer. We know all about your figments." The
Blastoderm reached out to the table, took up one paper, and jumped as
if something had stung him. Then he handed the paper over.
"As I was saying," he went on slowly and with an effort--"due to
perfectly natural causes--perfectly natural causes. I mean--"
"Hi! Blastoderm, you've given me the Calcutta Mercantile
The dust got up in little whorls, while the treetops rocked and the
kites whistled. But no one was looking at the coming of the Rains.
We were all staring at the Blastoderm, who had risen from his chair
and was fighting with his speech. Then he said, still more slowly:--
"Perfectly conceivable--dictionary--red oak--amenable--cause--
"Blastoderm's drunk," said one man. But the Blastoderm was not
drunk. He looked at us in a dazed sort of way, and began motioning
with his hands in the half light as the clouds closed overhead.
Then--with a scream:--
"What is it?--Can't--reserve--attainable--market--obscure--"
But his speech seemed to freeze in him, and--just as the lightning
shot two tongues that cut the whole sky into three pieces and the
rain fell in quivering sheets--the Blastoderm was struck dumb. He
stood pawing and champing like a hard-held horse, and his eyes were
full of terror.
The Doctor came over in three minutes, and heard the story. "It's
aphasia," he said. "Take him to his room. I KNEW the smash would
come." We carried the Blastoderm across, in the pouring rain, to his
quarters, and the Doctor gave him bromide of potassium to make him
Then the Doctor came back to us and told us that aphasia was like
all the arrears of "Punjab Head" falling in a lump; and that only
once before--in the case of a sepoy--had he met with so complete a
case. I myself have seen mild aphasia in an overworked man, but this
sudden dumbness was uncanny--though, as the Blastoderm himself might
have said, due to "perfectly natural causes."
"He'll have to take leave after this," said the Doctor. "He won't
be fit for work for another three months. No; it isn't insanity or
anything like it. It's only complete loss of control over the speech
and memory. I fancy it will keep the Blastoderm quiet, though."
Two days later, the Blastoderm found his tongue again. The first
question he asked was: "What was it?" The Doctor enlightened him.
"But I can't understand it!" said the Blastoderm; "I'm quite sane;
but I can't be sure of my mind, it seems--my OWN memory--can I?"
"Go up into the Hills for three months, and don't think about it,"
said the Doctor.
"But I can't understand it," repeated the Blastoderm. "It was my
OWN mind and memory."
"I can't help it," said the Doctor; "there are a good many things
you can't understand; and, by the time you have put in my length of
service, you'll know exactly how much a man dare call his own in this
The stroke cowed the Blastoderm. He could not understand it. He
went into the Hills in fear and trembling, wondering whether he would
be permitted to reach the end of any sentence he began.
This gave him a wholesome feeling of mistrust. The legitimate
explanation, that he had been overworking himself, failed to satisfy
him. Something had wiped his lips of speech, as a mother wipes the
milky lips of her child, and he was afraid--horribly afraid.
So the Club had rest when he returned; and if ever you come across
Aurelian McGoggin laying down the law on things Human--he doesn't
seem to know as much as he used to about things Divine--put your
forefinger on your lip for a moment, and see what happens.
Don't blame me if he throws a glass at your head!