Feature of the Month: Kipling remembered

The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling
London: Macmillan, 1894
[S.L.] I [Sterling – 1894]

The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). Among Kipling’s popular works for children are The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, published in 1894 and 1895 respectively. These consist of short stories about animals, mostly set in India, where Kipling was born, spent the first six years of his life, and returned in 1882 for a few years to work as a journalist; Kipling’s description of the jungle, however, is probably based on photographs. Most of the tales feature a boy called Mowgli, who is raised by wolves, and his relationship with the creatures of the jungle. At the end of the second book Mowgli returns reluctantly to mankind. The books quickly became popular. In 1900 E. Nesbit’s Bastable family played The Jungle Book, with unhappy consequences, at the beginning of The Wouldbegoods; the stories inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs’s tales of Tarzan, published from 1914 onwards; and moving from a literary to a social sphere, they were behind the formation of the Wolf Cub division of the Boy Scouts.

At the University of London, Sir Louis Sterling’s collection of first and fine editions of English literature, while containing all the high spots of English literature, reveals his particular predilections – and Kipling was clearly one of his predilections, with 37 titles (39 volumes) in the printed catalogue of Sterling’s library. Sterling acquired his copies of Kipling between 1929 and 1938. The Jungle Book and its successor were clearly his favourite titles, owned in more copies and purchased at higher prices than the rest of Kipling’s work. Having purchased the two books bound in cloth for £100 in March 1929, he splashed out twice in 1938 to make late purchases of the titles: firstly with a French translation in a limited edition of 125 copies (Le Livre de la jungle, Paris, Société du livre contemporain, 1919), bought for £200 in April 1938, and then with this beautifully bound set in October.


The Jungle Book, upper board

The bookseller advertised this set under the heading “20th century bindings”. The binder was namely the prestigious firm of Sangorski & Sutcliffe (established 1901), renowned for its jewelled and multi-coloured leather bindings. Their copies of The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are bound in blue levant morocco with shark-skin doublures and snake-skin flyleaves. The Jungle Book shows Hathi the elephant on the upper board, with a small ruby for the eye, and mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on the lower board, while The Second Jungle Book depicts the python, Kaa, in snake-skin on the upper board and Akela, the lone wolf, on the lower board, like Hathi with a ruby for his eye. Extracts from “The Law of the Jungle” are tooled in gilt on the turn-ins: for example, “When ye fight with a wolf of the pack, ye must fight him alone and afar, Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the pack be diminished by war.”

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