Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sir Haggard’s diaries

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the British author of many an adventure story set in colonial Africa, often in sympathy with the native populations, was born 160 years ago today. He may have kept a private diary when younger, but the only diary extracts to have been published - Private Diaries and Diary of an African Journey - date from the last decade of his life. In the latter book, Haggard records an interesting conversation with the wife of South Africa’s first Prime Minister about the country’s future.

Haggard was born into a large family, in Norfolk, England, on 22 June 1856. His father was a barrister and his mother a writer. He was schooled at Ipswich Grammar, and then in London to enter the Foreign Office, but he never sat the necessary exams. Instead, in 1875, his father sent him to South Africa to work for his friend, Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Natal. By 1878, he had secured himself a job as registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal. In 1880, he returned to England briefly, and there married Marianna Louisa Margitson with whom he had one son (who died young), and three daughters.

The family left South Africa in 1882, and settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Haggard turned to the law and was called to the bar in 1884, but, by then, he was more interested in writing novels. His most famous work, King Solomon’s Mines, was published in 1885, and other stories based in Africa followed, most notably She, which has become, according to Wikipedia, one of the best-selling single-volume books of all time. Also according to Wikipedia, his novels portray many of the stereotypes associated with colonialism, ‘yet they are unusual for the degree of sympathy with which the native populations are portrayed.’

Although Haggard failed to get elected to Parliament in 1895, he became involved with reform in the agricultural sector, sitting on land use commissions, and occasionally travelling to the colonies. Apart from his many fiction works, he wrote several non-fiction books, including Rural England (1902) and an autobiography (The Days of My Life, 1926). He was knighted in 1912 and made a KBE in 1919. He died in 1925. There is not much biographical information about Haggard freely available online, other than at Wikipedia. However, The Days of My Life is available as a University of Adelaide ebook or at Project Gutenberg Australia.

From the start of the First World War, Haggard kept a detailed diary. This was edited by D. S. Higgins and published by Cassel in 1980 as The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard, 1914-1925. According to Kirkus Reviews, the diary extracts (only some two per cent of the total) make for ‘a live and affecting document’; however the impression the journal leaves is of ‘a fragile, worn-out relic from a bygone era’. Morton N. Cohen, author of Haggard’s biography for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) is less generous: ‘[The diary] is, sadly, the account of a sour old man who sees himself betrayed by fate, a disillusioned imperialist with authoritarian, racist leanings, who ranted against the Jews, communists, Bolsheviks, trade unionists, the Irish, and Indian nationalists (the editor of his diaries omits from the published text most of Haggard’s harangues).’

Haggard also kept a diary sometimes earlier in his life, although how often is not clear. In 1899, Longmans, Green & Co published a farming diary for the year 1898, A Farmer’s Year (freely available at Internet Archive), and, in 1905, it published A Gardener’s Year (Internet Archive). Both books have diary-like entries, though they were written by Haggard as information books with publication in mind. In 2001, C. Hurst, by arrangement with the University of Natal Press, South Africa, published Diary of an African Journey (1914), as edited by Stephen Coan. Some pages of this can be viewed at Googlebooks (the source of the following extracts). Also, it’s worth noting that Haggard mentions - albeit only a couple of times - a diary in his autobiography.

7 March 1914
‘On this day, together with a number of other people, we were invited by the government to what might be termed a ‘joyride’ round Table Mountain. For one of our party, Mrs. Tatlow, it proved nothing of the sort. The motor she was in collided with another. She was thrown or fell out and has been left behind in bed at the Queen’s Hotel (I write this at Oudtshoorn) suffering from something like slight concussion. We lunched in a tent at the famous house of Groot Constantia. This place was granted in 1684 to Van der Stel, who was the next governor to Van Riebeeck. He built the house and began to cultivate the vines from which the well-known wine Constantia was made. Its last owners were the Cloetes who sold it in 1885 with 280 acres of land to the government for the small sum of £5 500. Since that time the state could have done well on their bargain if, as I was informed by the manager, they refused an offer for it of £28 000. Here there are 103 acres under vines and 56 under fruit trees. The house with its large cool rooms all adorned with ancient and appropriate furniture is really beautiful.

At luncheon which was given in a tent I sat next to, and had an interesting conversation with, Mrs. Botha, who expressed herself as very pleased that I agreed with her husband, the Prime Minister [Louis Botha], as to the uselessness of attempting to emigrate poor white folk to South Africa when already there were enough of them. Such people, unskilled and resourceless, she said, would come right up against the competition of the native, and their exclusion, which in some quarters was set down to race feeling, was really in their own interests. The only openings were for farmers with some capital, a scarce class. We discussed the outlook of the white inhabitants of South Africa in the future and both agreed that it seemed very doubtful - chiefly because of this native question. The native could no longer be suppressed, or even oppressed: he must follow his destiny and often he was an able and a competent person. In practice South Africa must face the fact that all it has to rely on, so far as the whites are concerned, is its present population and their progeny. But here came the trouble - the restriction of population (i.e. race suicide) is creeping in, even among the Boers, except quite in the backveld districts where it would reach ere long. One no longer saw the large families of 30 years ago: they grew smaller and smaller. Moreover those who were growing up, for some subtle reason, in enterprise, in virility and femininity in their widest sense, were not the men and women of the stamp of our generation. She had often said as much to her own children. What was to be the end of it? She could not tell but the future was dark and dubious. Perhaps at last South Africa would be the heritage of the black races with an admixture of white blood. The danger of war between whites and Bantu had gone by, but there were other dangers. Thus what I saw on the previous day, white man and black, working side by side was one of them: it meant the approach of equality. Once that was established how could the dwindling white people hold their own against an increasing race, already four or five times as numerous?

She said it was hard work for a man like her husband to be Prime Minister of the Union in these days and hard for his wife also. It was both exhausting and difficult to deal with politics continually and keep his hands quite clean. We both agreed that time and experience were wonderful softeners of strong views. Thus today I should not write another Jess and she would not think about the English as she had thought even a dozen years ago. She told me that although it seemed a strange thing for her to say, the deportation of the captured Boers had been a very good thing for the people. The sight of other lands had opened their minds and made them more progressive; also they had learnt what the British Empire meant. Such is a summary of this enlightening talk made from notes taken that evening, and I think one that is accurate, although compressed. Mrs. Botha struck me as an able woman in a quiet way and I liked her very much.’

10 March 1914
‘Woke up lo find that we were running over bush-clad sourveld with a few ostriches wandering round lonely Boer steadings. While I was dressing the iron lid of the washbasin fell on and crushed the top plate of the false teeth which were recently fitted with so much discomfort. A most annoying incident. Luckily I have the old temporary set with me which the dentist wanted to destroy.

At lunch time we came to a range of mountains called Outniqiua, or some such name, that tower above a little township of about 2 000 inhabitants, called George, which is largely inhabited by retired persons in search of quiet. The situation is fine on a flat plain dominated by tall grassy peaks down which run waterfalls that look like lines of wandering silver. At the beginning of the pass we went through government plantations of gums [eucalypts] of about 10 years of age which are doing splendidly. There are several of these here. Next we passed through some native bush in the kloofs, then came broom, heather and bracken, clothing the broad hill shoulders. From the crest of the pass the view was grand. The flat plain below diversified with plantations surrounding the scattered town of George and in the distance the great sea. All this district might be afforested, the hills with pines and the plains with gums. As the land seems to be worth no more than 10s. an acre it would be an excellent purpose to which to put it. About 4 o’clock we entered the Oudtshoorn valley, a hot and fertile place surrounded by hills, and everywhere saw ostriches feeding on lucerne in their wired camps.

On arrival we were met by the mayor and notables and taken off to see the farm of Mr. John le Roux where, after 34 years or so. I renewed my acquaintance with that ungainly but profitable fowl, the ostrich. By the way, at the station a gentleman whose name I think was Rex came up and asked me if I remembered him - as I did not he produced from his pocket an official order of the Pretoria High Court, written and signed by myself in 1878, appointing him a sworn interpreter. I wonder if he always carries it about with him. I was glad to see that the order was properly drawn and written in a better hand than I can boast nowadays. The signature, however, is identical with that I use at present.’

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