Thursday, April 7, 2016

Adventurers of a Different Sort

Now that you know how it came to be that Peachy Taliaferro Wilson, my great-grandmother's third cousin, had his name featured in a story read around the world, perhaps it would be appropriate to share a bit of just what that story was called.

Those of you who are Rudyard Kipling fans may already have guessed the title: it was his novella, The Man Who Would Be King, published in 1888 in Allahabad, a city in northern India where Kipling then served as assistant editor at an English-language newspaper.

In addition to the inclusion of character names based on those of real-life people, Kipling's story also borrowed inspiration from factual details and exploits of three additional people. This outrageous tale of adventure was reprinted in a second collection of short stories in 1895, and in several subsequent editions.

By 1947, a dramatization of The Man Who Would Be King was adapted for radio broadcast, and rebroadcast the following year. In the 1950s, there were some considering the possibility of a screenplay version. Even Humphrey Bogart was eyeing the lead role, but director John Huston didn't come out with the film until 1975. Though Bogart had wanted it, the honors went—years later—to Sean Connery and Michael Caine, with Christopher Plummer playing the role of the unnamed narrator—supposedly Kipling, himself.

Meanwhile, the real Peachy Taliaferro Wilson—likely by then all but forgotten, except for family and memorials in church publications—would never have been remembered, except for the modern-day miracles of Internet connectivity, digitization projects, and freely-shared files. I know I certainly would not have known about him, except for that chance encounter when a Google search served up several articles concerning that unusual name.

For the details on the missionary's terms of service in India, I owe a debt of gratitude to the unnamed writer of Reverend Wilson's memorial and factual listing of the dates of his arrival, marriages, and death in church publications from over one hundred years ago—with thanks to Intense Guy for pointing out that detailed memorial article.

For uncovering the circumstances behind Kipling's choice of character names for his novella, thanks go to staff writer Bob Bauder of the Beaver County Times for his October 13, 2002, article commemorating the sesquicentennial celebration of Beaver College, and reflections on Rudyard Kipling's summer spent there as guest of friends Alec and Edmonia Hill upon their return to the States. If it weren't for the archive at Google News, I likely would never have known about that resource, either.

The American missionary Peachy Taliaferro Wilson must have had some sense of adventure to embark on such a life calling in India during the 1860s through his last days there in the late 1890s. Though sporting a name borrowed from his, the namesake adventurer Peachey portrayed in Rudyard Kipling's novella encountered exploits so divergent from the real Peachy's life story as to go well beyond the concept of alter ego.

I often wonder whether the Reverend ever had any inkling his name had been applied to such a character.



  1. From the sounds of the newspaper article - it is little wonder the College moved to the Philadelphia suburbs!

    1. Learned a lot about the college, thanks to that article!


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