Kipling as Cryptographer: the Piltdown Caper
by Stephen A. Blossom
A vengeful hoax with old bones perpetrated in 1912 confounded many British scientists when it was exposed four decades later, and the idea that Rudyard Kipling knew about it all along was debated in literary circles, although it was never accepted as an established fact, in spite of questions raised by a story he wrote.
Now, however, research has found two hidden references in the story itself that reveal a connection between the hoax and the story.
Kipling’s story, “Dayspring Mishandled”, published in 1928, tells the tale of an elaborate literary hoax involving Chaucer; no connection with Piltdown was then apparent because the fakery with the fossils had not yet been discovered. After the trickery was unmasked, speculation regarding Kipling was based principally on the striking parallel between details of the hoax at Piltdown and the hoax in the story. In each case the work done was almost incredibly abstruse, requiring much scholarly attention to the fine points, and clever, careful planning so that the victim never discovered the deception.
Two recent pieces of internal evidence from “Dayspring” seem to have been created by the author specifically to show a direct linkage to the scientific deception. One is a quotation, the other an acrostic puzzle concealed in names from the story.
The clue of the quotation needs only slight exposition. The Piltdown discoveries were officially presented to the world in London on December 12, 1912, at a meeting of the Geological Society. The “fossils” were represented by a plaster reconstruction of the skull based on a few skull bones, teeth and part of a jaw. The originals were presumably in safekeeping.
Sir Arthur Keith, president of the Royal Anthropological Institute, one of several speakers, proclaimed that the discovery had fulfilled the prophecy of what the ancestor of man was likely to be. Another speaker, W. L. Duckworth, repeated this thought: “The anatomy of the Piltdown skull realized largely the anticipation of students of evolution”, he said.
Kipling uses the same idea. A convincing hoax has taken in Castorley, the story’s villain, but his wife has guessed the truth. The dying Castorley is quoting his wife: “… that the Chaucer find had anticipated the wants of humanity …”.
This correlation might be dismissed as mere coincidence if it were not for the interlocking names in the acrostic, a correlation that goes beyond coincidence.
Eight names from the story form the basis of this cryptic text:
Manallace (the protagonist)This is the kind of cipher that Manallace used to conceal his signature in the story. When we align the names so that the letter A appears eight times in a row, as above, we can pick out the secret signature and the real topic of the story. The names of the hoaxers, however, are not revealed, although Kipling certainly must have known them.
Castorley (see above)
Graydon (the operator of an editorial syndicate)
Gleeag (a physician)
Wardour Street (the address of certain publishers)
Neminaka’s Cafe (a literary meeting place)
Antwerp (home of a copier of Chaucer manuscripts)
Sunnapia Collection (A buyer of old manuscripts).
It has been suggested that “Dayspring” is a mature version of Kipling’s earlier “Stalky & Co.” and it is hard to argue with that. He must have been thinking of his youth when he selected the verse by Nodier to put at the head of the story. In rough translation from the French, it reads “The child of the good old days, I wake at dawn and sing for you.” The Stalky days, his youth, were filled with pranks.
A fact that should be noted is that Kipling’s home was less than 20 miles from the Piltdown site. The attraction of the “digs” must have been almost irresistible because his journalistic instincts were deeply ingrained.
His keen personal interest in intelligence operations is evident in “Kim” and the Stalky stories.
Also, we should note that the scientific name given the Piltdown man was “Eoanthropus dawsoni, or “Dawn man of Dawson.” Joseph Weiner, a member of the team investigating the bones, must have been one of the first to suspect a touch of Kipling. He noted in a letter that “Dayspring” was a poetical term for dawn, and he wondered how Kipling had arrived at the title of the story.
The contention here is that we have two strong new (although circumstantial) links between “Dayspring” and Piltdown, namely the crossword puzzle arrangement and the quotation. In combination with the arguments already set forth they should come close to clinching the matter. The author must have had private intelligence regarding Piltdown, and the fiction is intimately connected with the fact.
“The Piltdown Men” by Ronald Millar, 1972
“Piltdown, a Scientific Forgery” by Frank Sherman 1990
The Piltdown Papers” by Frank Sherman 1990
NOTE: Some readers may dismiss this article as the product of a wild imagination, but a careful reading of the story will show that each place name and personal name in the acrostic diagram can be found in Kipling’s text, without any spelling variations. Other readers might view the diagram as a mere random coincidence, a happenstance. An analysis of the probability of such an occurrence, however, would put the odds against it at many billions to one. A person experienced in the design of crossword puzzles, of course, could easily design such an arrangement on purpose. The question is whether Kipling did it on purpose or by happenstance.
This page was last updated August 27, 2000.
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen A. Blossom