This story first appeared in the Century Magazine of December 1894. It was collected in:
Of this tale, Kipling himself wrote in his brief and incomplete autobiographical memoir, Something of Myself:
Horses were an integral part of our lives, for the Bliss Cottage was three miles from the little town, and half a mile from the house in building. [‘Naulakha’]. Our permanent servitor was a big philosophical black called Marcus Aurelius, who waited in the buggy as cars wait today, and when weary of standing up would carefully lie down and go to sleep between his shafts. After we had finished with him, we tied his reins short and sent him in charge of the buggy alone down the road to his stable-door, where he resumed his slumbers till someone came to undress him and put him to bed. There was a small mob of horses about the landscape, including a meek old stallion with a permanently lame leg, who passed the evening of his days in a horse-power machine which cut wood for us.This story is a parable, in the form of an anthropomorphic tale of horses: the narrator is able to understand their conversation, which is, in essence, about the current state of labour relations in the United States. Later on, some 33 years after the story was written, Kipling wrote ( Thomas Pinney (Vol V. p.331):
What I thought about the old U.S. stands in ‘Captains Courageous’, and in several other yarns. ’Don’t know as ‘The (sic) Walking Delegate’ ‘`007’ and ‘The Captive’ don’t give as good a line on my ancient views as any amount of “serious stuff.”The story
The setting is a small Vermont farm: the time; the present (1894), a hot summer Sunday. The narrator and his companion (never specifically named, but it may be assumed to be Kipling and Beatty, his brother-in-law who, initially, helped him on the ‘farm’), drive out to give the farm horses their salt, in ‘the Back Pasture’. The horses there are all those which Kipling actually knew, and whose personalities he believed he understood.
However, there is one other horse, a 'wall-eyed, yellow frame house of a horse' sent up to board from a livery-stable in the town. As a horse, he is clearly not a desirable animal, and in the fable he turns out to be a socialist agitator, who tries to persuade the other horses to rise against Man the Oppressor, in the manner of a French revolutionary who wishes to send all the aristocrats to the guillotine, or of a Bolshevik revolutionary 120 years later.
Some of the younger horses are half-persuaded by his talk, but the older ones, who know what makes the world work, are not to be bamboozled by high-flown talk, and they take exception to the yellow horse’s preaching violence, and ‘rough him up a bit’.
Taking Kipling’s comments on the horses quoted above, and given that the narrator of the tale is clearly Kipling himself, there is a general impression that all the horse were Kipling’s. However, this is hardly likely to be so. Although there are references to 'the farm', Kipling was never a practical farmer while he lived in Vermont, though later, at ‘Bateman’s’, he considered himself to be one. Beatty was the farmer, and it may be conjectured that, with the exception of ‘Nip’ and ‘Tuck’, the other horses were his, although they were mostly communally used: but Kipling himself, and Carrie, would never have had use for a riding horse (“The Deacon”), two pairs of carriage horses (“Rod” and “Rick”, “Nip” and “Tuck”), a buggy horse (“Marcus Aurelius”), another general purpose horse (“Tedda Gabler”), and the two farm horses “Tweezy” and “Muldoon”. Nor was “the Back Pasture” part of the ‘Naulakha’ estate: it was part of the Balestier farm. So, as suggested above, it seems more than likely that it was Beatty who was Kipling’s companion on this summer Sunday.
A Selection of critical comment
Kipling, the Critical Heritage, Ed. Lancelyn Green (1971), includes an article signed ‘An Admirer’ from Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol. LXXIX, pp. 131-5 (December 1898): credited to Stephen Gwynn by The Wellesley Index.
...But what I suspect Mr. Kipling of not knowing is that a symbol has only value when it translates into the concrete something less intelligible in the abstract; and that an allegory is only tolerable when its story is so interesting that one tacitly forgives it for being an allegory. Finlayson’s bridge over the Ganges seems to me to be an excellent symbol, a material incident to show a spiritual conflict; the Jungle Book stories are admirable allegories because there is very little allegory in them; we are haunted by a sense of some further meaning, not knocked over the head with a moral. But the sketch called ‘A Walking Delegate’ is an allegory naked and not ashamed. Mr. Kipling has a profound antipathy to Socialism, and a profound belief in ‘the day’s work’; that renders him a valuable prophet, and in one of his cleverest poems, ‘An Imperial Rescript’, he put the case against an artificial limitation upon man’s energy more convincingly than could be done by a legion of blue-books. But he has now chosen to represent the contempt of real workers for the idle demagogue in terms of horseflesh, and the result is, to speak plainly, nonsense.Lord Birkenhead (1978 – though written nearly thirty years earlier), made three comments on this tale:
He (Kipling) quotes a letter written in 1919 to Doubleday’s (his American publishers) “If you care to look up some of my old Indian work in the old tales …. You’ll see that what I wrote then covers what is happening in India today, just the same as ‘A Walking Delegate’ covers what is happening with your (and our) Labour movement.”Birkenhead’s third quote comes in his final chapter, entitled ‘A Backward Glance’:
And behind the concentration on work, angering and disgusting many of the liberal and independent minds, is the insistence on an iron discipline. To such minds there was something horrible in the gusto with which Kipling, again and again in his writing, describes the process, essential in his opinion, of ‘licking a raw cub into shape’. This theme is the backbone of Captains Courageous, it runs through innumerable stories and poems, and is developed with particular relish in the Mulvaney stories. … And as one reads, it seems almost that a man does not exist for Kipling until this process had taken place – that he is only raw material.A special note by Professor Charles E. Carrington on this story, comments:
Rudyard’s work, in this allegory of American life, was his first task after the return from England in 1894. Though told as a horse story, it is more remarkable for the skilful use of several American dialects than for horse-lore. It led to another experiment in that vein a few months later, a story far more deeply felt and wrought out from the heart, The Maltese Cat, a throwback to his own attempts at polo-playing, in India ten years earlier, and to the recollection of his own grey pony, “Dolly Bobs”.Professor Joyce Tompkins wrote:
The fun of a fable lies in inventive and appropriate detail. There is plenty of this in the Just So Stories, but Kipling’s high-spirited detail is best shown in the animal and machinery fables of ‘The Day’s Work’ and ‘Traffics and Discoveries’ which were not primarily directed to children at all. They have been so often quoted to substantiate the melancholic assertion that his scope shrank from men to children, from children to animals, and from animals to machines, that it is as well to begin with one of their positive qualities. But in fact nothing can be securely established upon so faulty a chronology. Kipling found the fable a congenial form at all stages of his writing life. In verse or prose, with primeval or archetypal characters, with humour or elevation, he used it not only as a playground, but to express some of his intimate convictions about life and art. … But it is against that type of fable in which the actors are animals or machines that the heaviest charge is levelled.Martin Fido (1974) wrote:
The adult volume, The Day’s Work, brought together stories written in Vermont and after. It marked a definite darkening in Kipling’s outlook. The Indian stories were long and concentrated heavily on work and duty. Animal stories took up the same theme: ‘The Maltese Cat’ celebrated the little polo Kipling had played in India, and his indebtedness to his pony’s professionalism: ‘A Walking Delegate’ recreated perfectly the horses Kipling had owned in Vermont, all presented by their actual names, with anthropomorphised personalities, in a vivid description of their pasture. Their conversation instructs a lazy would-be revolutionary visitor in the virtues of work and the respect due to man.The longest comment was by Angus Wilson (1977):
Beside the intensity of the great Indian fables and the bitter music-hall jauntiness or lament of the ballads, the material that Kipling got from America itself is thin. Much of his spare outdoor time at Naulakha was given to horses – to carriage-driving with Carrie, attending to the salting of the horses with his brother-in-law, Beatty. Carriage-driving, of course, was not new, he had had his horse and trap, the Pig and Whistle, at Allahabad, but the atmosphere of the Vermont countryside was essentially horsey. Out of this came his fable about American labour politics, ‘A Walking Delegate’. This conversation among horses, when the agitator from the Far West is shown up for an empty braggart, has been praised for its comprehension of the various American dialects spoken by the horses. It may be true to American speech of the early nineties, but the spellings seem to me to bear only a marginal relationship to the accents of the South, New England, New York and the West and so on. Certainly the political observation appears to be superficial, though vehemently felt.Andrew Lycett (1999) remarks:
His observation of horses frolicking in the Back Pasture, on Beatty’s property, prompted the story ‘A Walking Delegate’, which is both an affectionate memoir of lazy days in the Vermont sunshine and a political allegory about a new kicker from Kansas who tries to stir his fellow nags into revolt against their masters – until the old bay Rod brings him up short: ‘America’s paved with the kind er horse you are – jist plain yaller-dog – waiting to be licked inter shape,’ an echo of Rudyard’s thoughts about the country’s inhabitants. (In domestic political terms, the new horse referred to the People’s Party which was stirring up populist protest following a marked economic downturn.)The most recent comment is by Harry Ricketts (1999):
Even before the accident, [a (luckily) minor carriage-driving accident, in which Carrie, Baby Josephine and her nanny were thrown out of the carriage] horses had been on Kipling’s mind. He had been writing a satire on American Labour politics called ‘In the Back Pasture’ (later retitled ‘A Walking Delegate’), in which a socialist ‘yellow’ horse’ from Kansas tried to incite a group of Vermont horses to overthrow (and kill) their human owners. The Century, which published the tale in December, paid him $135 per 1,000 words, a new high in his rates. In addition to its political thrust – and calling one of the horses Tedda Gabler, [a play on words which would have been better understood, perhaps, then than it is today - see the note referring to page 49, line 18] cheekily described as having ‘a reputation for vice which was really the result of bad driving’ – ‘A Walking Delegate’ showed Kipling extending his ventriloquist range and experimenting with different kinds of American vernacular. The story was admired in its day, not least by the New England realist Sarah Jewett.