Tuesday 29 March 2011

J M Barrie and Rudyard Kipling

In the 1920s University College, Dundee was fortunate enough to receive visits from two of the great literary figures of the day, Sir James M Barrie and Rudyard Kipling. Both visited the College in their role as Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews. At the time University College was part of St Andrews. 

Barrie bowling to Haig
 Barrie might have had cause to be wary of visiting the Dundee campus despite the fact that he was a native of nearby Kirriemuir. In the 1919 Rectorial Election he had been seen as the candidate favoured by St Andrews, while students at University College had reputedly supported the Fourth Marquess of Bute. However as Barrie had ultimately won a comfortable majority, it is likely that he had ultimately received substantial backing from Dundee students. In some ways this should not have been surprising, as Barrie had an earlier association with the College. In 1903, he contributed the essay ‘A Confession’ to The Meal-Poke, a miscellany published by the University College Student’s Union Bazaar.

Haig preparing to take a shot
In May 1922 Barrie came to Scotland to deliver his celebrated ‘Courage’ address at St Andrews. On the same visit he and Douglas Haig, the Earl Haig, (the recently elected Chancellor of the University of St Andrews) visited Dundee to open the new University College playing fields at Downfield. Earl Haig’s visit was in itself very significant as it was the first time University College had been visited by its Chancellor. Haig probably felt some affinity with the College, as he had been nominated for the chancellorship by Principal McKay of University College, and had been awarded the freedom of the city of Dundee in 1919.

Both men delighted the large crowd who were present at Downfield by stepping up to action on the new cricket field. The Peter Pan author bowled a few balls to the Field-Marshal, but was somewhat disappointed not to claim his wicket. Barrie gave highly entertaining speeches both at the playing fields and at an official reception at the Caird Hall. As well as regaling listeners with stories of his love and experiences of cricket, Barrie described his pride that his native Forfarshire contained one of the greatest cities of the British Empire. He also advised his audience of the importance of University College, arguing that a city’s ‘chief pride’ should be its University. After leaving the Caird Hall the two men went to University College itself, where they were warmly received by staff and students. Barrie, who announced he planned to withdraw from public life, described the day as the ‘happiest of my life’.

Rudyard Kipling
In 1923 Barrie’s successor Rudyard Kipling also made the trip to Dundee when he came to St Andrew’s to give his Rectorial address. Again he was very well received by staff, students and the people of the city. In a memorable address he praised the relationship between University College, Dundee and the University of St Andrews arguing that it was a source of strength not just to Dundee, but also to St Andrews. He also called on the merchant princes and leading citizens of Dundee to give their support to the college. Poignantly, he observed that by doing so their names could live on even if their line was to die out. Indeed he implored people to consider giving money and support towards the education of young men in memory of ‘some son of yours who should have borne’ your name. Kipling had of course lost his only son, Jack, at the Battle of Loos in 1915, a battle where a large number of casualties came from Dundee.

Dr Kenneth Baxter

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