Chapter 7 Conclusion
Haggard thought that “within a very short period of a man’s decease”[i] there would be no one interested in his books and papers. How wrong he was, for constant visits by many researchers to the Norfolk Registry Office to look at his MSS and to Norwich Museum to see his Egyptian artifacts, added by the antiquarian value of his editions in the thousands of pounds, and the extraordinary success of King Solomon's Mines, not counting the 83 million copies of She have confounded his pessimistic opinion. King Solomon's Mines appeared on the reading list for the present writer's GCE (sic) examinations in 1955 along with Buchan's The Forty Nine Steps and Prester John. His name is recorded on mountains and glaciers in Canada and plains in Australia, as well as in his home town of Bungay. His reputation, like that of Conrad, Kipling and others, is refreshed and retained by the existence of Appreciation Societies in the UK, Australia, Canada and elsewhere. His romances have entertained and thrilled readers for generation after generation.
Yet, as a squire and landowner, and ultimately as a wealthy writer, he was able to live the life of the intellect on a rural farm and to enjoy for most of his life a farmer’s daily existence, with visits to his flat in London and journeys abroad, and to combine his novel writing in his daily routines.
The ability to see into the recesses of Man’s soul, to find a vision of infinity and to weave it throughout his romances, along with the amazingly torrid output of text in the highest imaginative vein possible, are his greatest legacy.
His philosophy of life is beautifully set out in Moon of Israel where he opines on death:
"Death, O prince, is, I think, but a single step in the pylon stair which leads at last to the dizzy height whence we see the face of God and hear his voice tell us what and why we are.”
A not completely difficult philosophy, but expressed and shaped in unparalleled and amazingly expressive terms.
Haggard could not understand why critics like J M Barrie[i] did not rate him as highly as Stevenson, James, Conrad, his great friend Kipling or even Falkner, the author of Moonfleet,[ii] but, in my estimation, he stands as firmly in the pantheon of imaginative literature as any of his contemporaries. His characterisations are spotlessly wrought, his plots are firm and solid, his grasp of human understanding and of man’s place in the firmament is superior to a roll call of any other living writer, and I include Dickens in my sweep.
Haggard repeated many myths that he researched in his wide travels. He had learned from Shepstone many of the stories of the Zulus, and even on his return to South Africa in the 1920s picked up more information, such as the Zulu national anthem, for his romances. Frederick Jackson, Lilth's brother, was also a valid source, for in his travels in Borneo in the far east he had learned many accounts of mythical tales which he passed on to Haggard. His visit to Egypt with Lillias furnished him with material, and Humphrey Carter's excavations provided much of the materials and artifacts, such as the rings and the scaraboeus with the words ‘Suten se Ra’ that he constantly used. He obtained the additional Greek material for King Solomon's Mines from a local professor of his acquaintance and received some help with the hieroglyphics at the beginning of the tale. Haggard researched Egyptian history, and in his visits to Cairo museum to look at the mummies, obtained much relevant information about prehistoric Egypt from the time of the great pharaohs. His Icelandic myths were well researched, too, and with Kipling's help was able to create the Norse myths of Wi the Hunter and his adventures in a mythical Ice Land
Except for a few novels written for financial necessity, the consistency of Haggard’s output is extraordinary, writing up to three thousand words a day with an imaginative flair and enthusiasm that rarely waned, except in his times of depression. Haggard was, of course aided in his writing by his sister in law Aggie and Louie’s input, although not recorded in those days, was powerfully supportive and also Miss Hector as a secretary taking Haggard’s dictation was a considerable help, travel companion and amanuensis to him.
In writing this biography, I saw Haggard as a diffident man at times and a humble one; there appears to be no evidence of aggression, arrogance or willfulness. As Sydney Higgins has pointed out, Haggard in an “exceptionally honest letter reveals [both] the private modesty he presented to friends and relatives throughout his life...” And also there is his exaltation over his literary success to be considered, where Haggard earned the staggering sum for the time of six hundred and seventy five pounds for 25,000 copies of King Solomon's Mines sold in 1886. By 1888 he earned triumphantly over ten thousand pounds, a sum never achieved by any writer of quality up to that time. Recognising this success, even a young Winston Churchill wrote to him telling Haggard what a good story was Alan Quatermain and asking him to please send another one.[i] His aunt, a Hagagrd family friend had sent him a copy.
I have to take issue with Professor Higgins over his suggestions of Haggard as a sexual philanderer. He offers no evidence apart from a sketchy reference to a letter from Frederick Jackson, and he himself reports that Lady Louie Haggard was part of the efforts to help Lily Archer and her sons with education, support and money and in no way shows proof of any sexual peccadilloes on Haggard's part. Gossiping rumours abound, but there is no fact. Attacking a famous imaginative writer for assisting a close friend of the family (Frederick Jackson, Lily's brother, was a close friend of the Haggard brothers also[i], is not a balanced view, considering that Louie attended Lillith's funeral with Haggard after supporting her and the children for a number of years after their return from Africa
"I do not think I had any business to marry you when I did – it was pulling you down in the world. However, I think that I have now attained, in name if not in fortune, such a position you would not have been likely to exceed if I had not met you, and for that I am very thankful. I dare say that you think me a queer chap for writing like this, more especially as you have always been so gentle and considerate about things, but the matter taken in addition to my other weaknesses and failings, has always pressed upon me, though it is only now, after all these years, when I have fought and to some extent won the day, that I can speak of it."
His descendents in current culture are undoubtedly Terry Pratchett and the Sci Fi writers. Brian W Aldiss maintains that Haggard is a writer of Science Fiction, counting Alan and the Ice Gods, and When the World Shook as both representative of the genre, and pointing to She as a masterpiece of the lost race genre. He writes:
"Haggard knew wherof he spoke, and the best of his novels like She and Alan Quatermain, still have vigour, even if their punctilious mores have dated."
Indeed, the manners and customs of the late-Victorians are out of date, but a return to old fashioned values may well be the way out of the financial, moral, aggressively militaristic and political morass in which we find ourselves today.
[i] 10 Sept 1914.D S Higgins The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard (New York Stein and Day, 1980). 114.
[i] Letter in the Huntington Collection (HM43641).
[ii] See V S Pritchett, “Haggard Still Riding” New Statesman, Vol. LX (27 August, 1960) 277-8.
[i] Roy Jenkins, Winston Churchill (London: Macmillan, 2001).
[i] Victoria Manthorpe, Children of the Empire: The Victorian Haggards (Victor Gollancz, 1996).
Brian W Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (London: Victor Gollancz, 1986).138 - 9.
Old Pharaoh Cloak