If it were not for the curiosity of Rudyard Kipling’s American guest, one of his most famous poems - "Recessional" - might have been lost to history.
Sara Norton, daughter of respected Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton and family friend of the Burne-Joneses, was visiting the Burne-Jones home in Rottingdean in 1897, where Rudyard - Edward Burne-Jones’s nephew - was working on a poem for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
He was, the story goes, unhappy with his first attempt, and threw it into the wastebasket. Sara (or Sally as she was known) retrieved it and, along with Kipling’s wife Caroline and his “Aunt Georgie”, persuaded him to complete it. He cut two stanzas, added a few lines and submitted it to the London Times, where it was published on the same page as the Queen’s proclamation in the Diamond Jubilee issue.
Rudyard gave the original page to Sara, and added along the edge “Written with Sally’s pen – R.K.” At the end of the manuscript Kipling also added: “Done in council at North End House, July 16. Aunt Georgie, Sally, Carrie, and me.”
The original sheet that Sally rescued from the trash was a treasured item in the Norton family, and passed to Sara’s sister upon her death in 1922. It was then presented to the British Museum in 1937 by Stanley Baldwin (another Burne-Jones nephew) at the Norton family’s request.
Margaret Burne-Jones (left) and
Sara “Sally” Norton, 1890 (detail)