The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 10


“King Solomon’s Mines” — Andrew Lang — Estimate of Lang’s character — Anecdotes of Lang — Cassells and “King Solomon’s Mines” — Instant success — Letters from R. L. S. — Bazett Haggard and R. L. S. in Samoa. — The writing of “Jess” and “She” — What I shall be remembered by — Fifteen months’ work — “She” dedicated to Lang — Published by Longmans — Letters about it — The Sherd of Amenartas.

Whether I wrote “King Solomon’s Mines” before or after I entered Bargrave Deane’s chambers I cannot now remember, but I think it must have been before. At any rate I recollect that we brought up from Ditchingham a certain pedestal writing-desk, which had always been in the house and has returned thither, for it now stands in my wife’s bedroom, and added it to the somewhat exiguous furniture of our hired abode. It stood in the dining-room, and on it in the evenings — for my days were spent in the Temple — I wrote “King Solomon’s Mines.” I think the task occupied me about six weeks. When the tale was finished I hawked it round to sundry publishers, Hurst and Blackett among them, none of whom if I remember rightly, thought it worth bringing out.

At length, I know not how, the manuscript, which today presents a somewhat battered appearance, reached the late W. E. Henley, who appears to have brought it to the notice of Mr. Andrew Lang. How I first came into contact with my friend Andrew Lang — that is, where and when I met him — I cannot recall. This, however, must have been subsequent to the following note:

1 Marloes Road: March 28 [1883].

My dear Sir, — Your paper “Bottles” has reached me as London editor of Harper’s. I am much pleased by it, but I am unable to accept anything except by permission of the American editor. . . . I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking you for the great pleasure “The Witch’s Head” has given me. I have not read anything so good for a long while.

Faithfully yours,
A. Lang.

What the paper “Bottles” may have been I am not now quite sure. I think, however, that I can identify it with a short tale which subsequently appeared in a magazine, perhaps the Cornhill, under the title of “The Blue Curtains.” At any rate I have forgotten the circumstances of the story, and do not know whether a copy of it remains in my possession.

When Lang’s next letter was written — it is only dated “Sunday” — I gather from its tone that I had made his personal acquaintance. Its subject is “King Solomon’s Mines,” and it runs:

Dear Mr. Rider Haggard, — I have got so far as Sir Henry’s duel with the king. Seldom have I read a book with so much pleasure: I think it perfectly delightful. The question is, what is the best, whereby I mean the coiniest, way to publish it? As soon as possible I will find out what Harper’s Boy’s Magazine is able to do. I believe that all boys’ magazines pay hopelessly badly. There is so much invention and imaginative power and knowledge of African character in your book that I almost prefer it to “Treasure Island.”

The rest of the letter deals with possible methods of bringing out the work.

Lang’s next letter on the subject is dated October 3rd, and shows that by now we were on more or less intimate terms.

Dear Rider Haggard, — Many thanks for “K.S.M.” How grand the map is. . . . Abstain from politics; let civilisation die decently as die it must, and as we have no fight in us. I don’t belong to the Voting classes. Ni Elettori ni Eletti.

Yours very truly,
A. Lang.

P.S. — My people, with whom I have been in Galloway, prefer “Dawn” to “The Witch’s Head.” I don’t. “Dawn” is too steep, especially Lady Bellamy, and George, and Philip, and the heroine. The writing and the sentiment pleased me very much, but I barred the Astral Body.

Perhaps before I go any further I should try to give some estimate of Andrew Lang, whose character I have had opportunities of observing through many years. Take him all in all I think him one of the sweetest-natured and highest-minded men whom it has ever been my privilege to know, although a certain obtrusive honesty which will out, and an indifferent off-handedness of manner, has prevented him from becoming generally popular. Moreover, he has always been supposed to be somewhat of a mocker and farceur, as is exemplified in his Press nickname of “Merry Andrew.” Yet the truth is that his laughter is often of the sort that is summoned to the lips to hide tears in the eyes. This may be seen by attentive students of his poems, and, in truth, few are more easily or more deeply moved by anything that appeals to the heart, be it national, or personal.

Of his abilities I speak with some diffidence. On all hands he is admitted to be perhaps the soundest and ablest critic of his time, but when it comes to his place as an historian, or as a student and recorder of matters connected with myth, ritual, and religion, I find myself incompetent to judge of his real status, which doubtless the future will decide, though personally I believe it will be a very high one. On such matters, however, only experts can express opinions of real value. Lang never claimed to be a creator, and whenever he sets to work to create, which he has not done of late years, his wide knowledge and his marvellous memory of everything he has read — and little worth studying in ancient or modern literature has escaped him — prove positive stumbling-blocks in his path. I noticed this particularly when we were evolving “The World’s Desire.” With that modesty which so often distinguishes those who have much to be proud of, he once described himself to me as “A hodman of letters,” a description that may be paralleled by Mrs. Lynn Linton’s rather sharp saying — to myself I believe, although of this I am not sure — that “Andrew Lang would be the greatest writer in the language if only he had something to write about.” The fact is, of course, that he has always had too much. Like the amorous Frenchman he has ever been wont to eparpiller son coeur upon a hundred subjects. I should add that Mrs. Linton was one of his great admirers. In a letter which she wrote to me in 1890, and which is before me at this moment, she says, “I simply adore his work.” Again, further on in the same epistle, she speaks of her “delight in his most exquisite work.”

The truth is that Lang is par excellence a litterateur of the highest sort, perhaps the most literary man in England or America. When he is not reading he is writing, and he writes more easily than he talks, at any rate to most people. Also some of his poetry is wonderfully beautiful. If verses like “The White Pacha,” its companion “Midnight, January 25th, 1886,” and “A Dream” are doomed to die, and with them others as good, I wonder what will live! Again, what majestic lines are these upon the Odyssey:

So gladly, from the songs of modern speech

Men turn, and see the stars, and feel the free

Shrill wind beyond the close of heavy flowers,

And through the music of the languid hours,

They hear like ocean on a western beach

The surge and thunder of the Odyssey.

Of his extraordinary readiness I need say little, as it is known to all men. Still, as it may be forgotten when this book is published, if that ever happens, I will give two instances. Once he called on me; we were going for a walk together, but I was not ready to start. So he asked for paper, and in half an hour or so finished a leading article — I think it was for the Daily News — which he sent straight to the office by a cabman, to appear without the submission of a proof. I read that article afterwards; it was on some Shakespearian subject which involved many allusions and much quotation. I believe that it contained no error.

On another occasion I was travelling with them from St. Andrews to Edinburgh, and Dr. Boyd, better known as A.K.H.B., was our fellow-voyager. He was a great conversationalist and talked to Lang almost without ceasing. Presently Lang took off the tall hat he was wearing, placed it on his knee, produced paper and pencil, set the paper on the crown of the hat and began to write like a spiritualist automatist, if that is the right word, all the time keeping up a flow of argument and conversation with A.K.H.B. At Edinburgh I saw him post the results, without rereading, to the editor of the Saturday Review. The article appeared in due course without his seeing a proof, and written in his usual clear and beautiful style.

Such is the professional man, but of the friend I know not what to say, save that I reckon it as one of the privileges of my life to be able to call him by that much-misused name; the tenderest, the purest and the highest-minded of human creatures, one from whom true goodness and nobility of soul radiate in every common word and act, though often half-hidden in a jest, the most perfect of gentlemen — such is Andrew Lang.

To return to the history of “King Solomon’s Mines.” Ultimately that book found its way to Messrs. Cassells, recommended to them, I believe, by Mr. Henley. Subsequently Henley reproached me with having taken it out of his hands, and said that he could have got me much better terms. But I never did take it out of his hands; indeed I never knew that it was in his hands. If my memory serves me, I heard direct from Messrs. Cassells informing me that they would publish the book and asking me to call re the agreement.

At any rate I called and in that great building saw a business-like editor whose name I never knew. He pointed out that the company was prepared to offer me an alternative agreement. The first of the two agreements conveyed the copyright to Messrs. Cassells in return for a sum of, I think, 100 pounds paid down. The second offered me 50 pounds on account of royalties, to be calculated “at the rate of ten per cent. of the published price of the book on all copies sold by them during the continuance of the copyright, reckoning thirteen copies to the twelve.”

After my previous experiences as an author 100 pounds on the nail had great attractions. I had no particular belief in the story which I had thrown off in my leisure hours as a mere jeu d’esprit, especially after its rejection in other quarters. Even Mr. Lang’s kind expressions of opinion carried no conviction to my mind, for I did not understand all that it meant coming from such a source. I set him down as an amiable gentleman with a taste for savages and boys’ books; it did not occur to me that he saw such things every day, and that when he wrote to one who was practically a stranger that he almost preferred this particular boys’ book to “Treasure Island,” the compliment was high and indeed extraordinary. So after a brief moment of reflection I told the business-like editor that I would sell the copyright for 100 pounds, and he departed to fetch the agreement.

As it chanced, however, there sat in the corner of the room a quiet clerk, whom I had never even noticed. When the editor had departed this unobtrusive gentleman addressed me.

“Mr. Haggard,” he said in a warning voice, “if I were you I would take the other agreement.”

Then hearing some noise, once more he became absorbed in his work, and I understood that the conversation was not to be continued.

Still a moment remained for thought.

“Why the dickens,” I reflected to myself, “did he say that to me? He must have had some reason.” The business-like editor re-entered the room bearing the document in hand.

“I have changed my mind,” I said as he presented it to me: “I will not sell the copyright; I will take the royalty agreement.”

Undoubtedly the quiet clerk in the corner, who was acquainted with the estimate that had been formed of the book by his employers, did me a very good turn, as did my knowledge of men when I acted so promptly on his hint.

The royalty that I accepted might have been higher, at any rate after the sale of a certain number of copies, but it was infinitely better than the acceptance of a small sum down for the copyright of “King Solomon’s Mines,” of which the sale has been very great and at present shows signs of increase rather than of diminution.

Many years later this gentleman wrote reminding me of the incident and forwarding a book that he had published.

“King Solomon’s Mines,” which was produced as a five-shilling book, proved an instant success. Published about the beginning of October, on December 9th Messrs. Cassells wrote to me that they had already sold 5000 copies more or less, a large sale for a boys’ book by a practically unknown man. I wonder how many copies they have sold up to Christmas 1911! In one form and another the total must run to hundreds of thousands.

Before the book appeared we had gone down to Norfolk for part of the long vacation, not to Ditchingham, which was let, but to a farmhouse at Denton adjoining a farm of our own, where I employed my holiday in writing “Allan Quatermain,” the continuation of “King Solomon’s Mines.” One day I chanced to visit the little town of Bungay and there to see a copy of the Saturday Review which contained a two-column notice of the latter work. It was written by Lang, although this I did not know at the time. With delight my eye fell upon such sentences as “All through the battle piece, ‘The Last Stand of the Greys,’ Mr. Haggard, like Scott at Flodden, ‘never stoops his wing’”; and “to tell the truth we would give many novels, say eight hundred (that is about the yearly harvest), for such a book as ‘King Solomon’s Mines.’”

By the way, things in this respect have changed since 1885. I believe that the “yearly harvest” of British novels now numbers nearly three thousand.

I went back to the farm that night feeling sure that my book was going to succeed. A week or so later I received a note from Lang in which he says: “The Spectator in a ‘middle’ gives you more praise than I did, and is neither known personally to you, I fancy, nor an amateur of savages, like me. I hope they will give a review also. . . . I never read anything in the Spectator before with such pleasure.”

One day I took the manuscript of “King Solomon’s Mines” to be bound by Mr. H. Glaisher the bookseller. In the carriage of the Underground Railway I perceived an old lady engaged in a close, indeed an almost ferocious study of the map printed at the beginning of the printed volume which rested on her knees. This was too much for me. Drawing the original map from my pocket, I placed it on my knee — we were seated opposite to each other — and began to study it with like attention. The old lady looked up and saw. She stared first at her map and then at mine, and stared, and stared. Twice she opened her mouth to speak, but I suppose was too shy, nor did I, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of my map, written in blood upon a dirty piece of torn linen, the shirt-tail of Don Jose de Silvestra, give her the slightest encouragement. The end of it was that she seemed to come to the conclusion that that railway carriage in which we were alone together was no place for her. Suddenly, as we were about to leave a station, she sprang up and leapt from the train, at which, the unfolded map still in her hand, she gazed bewildered until it vanished into the tunnel.

Among the many letters that I received about “King Solomon’s Mines,” perhaps the most interesting that I can find are from Robert Louis Stevenson. The first of these, undated, as they all are, is written from Skerryvore, Bournemouth, where he was living at the time. Here I should state that to my sorrow I never met Stevenson face to face: always we just missed each other.

Dear Sir, — Some kind hand has sent me your tale of Solomon’s Mines; I know not who did this good thing to me; and so I send my gratitude to headquarters and the fountainhead. You should be more careful; you do quite well enough to take more trouble, and some parts of your book are infinitely beneath you. But I find there flashes of a fine weird imagination and a fine poetic use and command of the savage way of talking: things which both thrilled me. The reflections of your hero before the battle are singularly fine; the King’s song of victory a very noble imitation. But how, in the name of literature, could you mistake some lines from Scott’s “Marmion” — ay, and some of the best — for the slack-sided, clerical-cob effusions of the Rev. Ingoldsby? Barham is very good, but Walter Scott is vastly better. I am, dear sir,

Your obliged reader,
Robert Louis Stevenson.

Of course I answered Stevenson’s letter — by the way, I have not the least idea who sent him the book — thanking him and pointing out that he had overlooked the fact that Allan Quatermain’s habit of attributing sundry quotations to the Old Testament and the Ingoldsby Legends, the only books with which he was familiar, was a literary joke.

Stevenson wrote back, again in an undated letter from Bournemouth and on a piece of manuscript paper:

Dear Mr. Haggard, — Well, yes, I have sinned against you; that was the part of a bad reader. But it inclines me the more to explain my dark saying. As thus:

You rise in the course of your book to pages of eloquence and poetry; and it is quite true that you must rise from something lower; and that the beginning must infallibly (?) be pitched low and kept quiet. But you began (pardon me the word) slipshod. If you are to rise, you must prepare the mind in the quiet parts, with at least an accomplished neatness. To this you could easily attain. In other words, what you have still to learn is to take trouble with those parts which do not excite you.

Excuse the tone of a damned schoolmaster, and believe me,

Yours truly,
Robert Louis Stevenson.

The next letter, also from Skerryvore, Bournemouth, which, because of its allusions to “King Solomon’s Mines,” although undated, must have been written at this time, is an enigma to me. I have not the faintest idea to what it refers.

Dear Mr. Haggard, — Is it not possible to make a gratuitous donation inter vivos? Could not that be done in a separate instrument? I know not if it matters; but if there were any ready way of gaining the point, I might adopt it. My law is all to the wind; and indeed I never knew but a taste.

I thank you at least for the remark.

I come rarely to town, and am usually damned sick when I do. But if I can, I’ll try to see you. (I know a cousin of yours here by the way.)

What are you about? I am again at a boys’ story; but I’ve been a year at it already and may be longer.

Yours very truly,
R. L. Stevenson.

P.S. — Further reflection on “K.S.M.” makes me think you are one who gets up steam slowly. In that case, when you have your book finished, go back and rewrite the beginning up to the mark.

My case is the reverse: I always begin well, and often finish languidly or hurriedly.

P.P.S. — How about a deed of partnership?

This “deed of partnership” on the face of it would seem to suggest some scheme of collaboration. Yet I do not think that this could have been the case — for the following reason. I remember that my late brother Bazett, who was afterwards an intimate friend of Stevenson’s in Samoa, told me that someone, I know not who, had written to him suggesting that he and I should collaborate in a story, and that he had returned an angry and offensive answer to the suggestion, as I dare say it was quite natural that he should do. This answer, it seems, had however weighed upon his mind. At any rate Bazett informed me that Stevenson on several occasions spoke to him with deep regret as to his petulant reply. This is all I know, or at any rate all that I can recollect, of the matter. Yet what else can have been referred to in the above letter I am at a loss to guess.

Stevenson’s remark as to his finishing languidly is interesting, and, so far as my judgment goes, his romantic work shows its truth. Thus to my fancy the first part of “Treasure Island” is far and away better than its end. In an adventure story what is called style, however brilliant, is not enough: the living interest must be kept up to the last page; it should increase to the very end. Of course I know that many of our critics, like those of Alexandria in the first centuries of our era, think and preach that style is the really important thing, much more important than the substance of the story. I cannot believe that they are right. The substance is, as it were, the soul of the matter; the style is its outward and visible body. I prefer a creation with a great soul, even if its form is somewhat marred, to one with a beautifully finished form and very little soul. Of course when the two are found together, a rare event, there is perfection. Also people differ in their ideas of what style really is. By it some understand inverted sentences, unusual words and far-fetched metaphors or allusions, making up a whole that is difficult to comprehend. Others hold that the greater the simplicity of the language, the better the style. I am not an authority, but my own view is that above all things the written word should be clear and absolutely readable, and that work which does not fulfil these conditions can scarcely be expected to endure. It runs a grave risk of passing with the fashion of the hour. To take a single instance, the Authorised version of the Old Testament, considered as literature, seems to me to fulfil all the requisites of good writing, in fact to be style in the truest sense. Yet the meaning remains perfectly clear, and were those books to cease to be studied for their religious contents, they would still always be read as a model of plain and vigorous English.

But to return to Stevenson. Here I will add the last letter save one that I received from him, though again I do not know to what it refers, since the enclosure of which he speaks is missing, or at any rate has not been found at present. Like the others it is undated, but the allusion to “Nada the Lily” shows that it must have been written about twenty years ago, at the beginning of 1892.

Valima Plantation, Samoan Islands.

Rider Haggard, Esq.

Dear Haggard, — In cleaning up the hideous mess which accumulates about the man of letters I came on the enclosed sheet. Its filthiness will indicate its age. But there is internal evidence which to me dates it still further back; and that is the reference to your brother Bazett. I now know him well and regard him with the most sincere and lively affection and respect. Indeed we are companions in arms and have helped each other back and forth in some very difficult and some very annoying affairs. This has given a wonderful jog to my sense of intimacy with yourself until I have a difficulty in remembering that I have never seen you. Two remarks and I leave my filthy enclosure to speak for itself. First, the equations on the fly-leaf were not in the least intended for you — they’re pieces of a lesson in the Samoan language — and you must kindly regard them as non-existent. Second, “Nada the Lily” is A1.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Louis Stevenson.

I only wish I could find the “filthy enclosure,” or at least remember with what it had to do.

I have one more allusion to my brother besides the letter which came to me with “The Man Haggard.” It is written on a little triangular bit of foolscap pinned into the manuscript of “Nada the Lily.” I suppose that Lang must have sent it to me.

“If you see Haggard, tell him we have a great affection for his brother. Our home rejoices when we see him coming; and that Chaka mourning for his mother is great.”

Here is this last letter pinned into the first of the two accompanying, parchment-bound volumes, that which is entitled “An Object of Pity; or, The Man Haggard. A Romance. By Many Competent Hands. Imprinted at Amsterdam.” These volumes were sent to me by Stevenson in July 1893.

Tivoli Hotel, Apia, Samoa,
South Paci.

Dear Rider Haggard, — I send you herewith a couple of small (and, so to speak, indecent) volumes in which your brother and I have been indulging in the juvenile sport of shying bricks at each other. Honi soit qui mal y pense, say I. And I hope you will say the same. We are a large party, with nothing to do — Lady Jersey, my wife, Captain Leigh, your brother and I, and Mrs. Strong, my daughter-inlaw — and that which we wrote was not according to wisdom. I have heard some of yours called in question for steepness; here is your revenge.

Yours very truly,
Robert Louis Stevenson.

The companion volume is entitled “Objects of Pity; or, Self and Company. By a Gentleman of Quality. Imprinted at Amsterdam.” It is corrected throughout in my brother Bazett’s handwriting. I should judge that it went to press without his having the advantage of seeing proofs. Pinned to the title-page is the following letter to me from Bazett.

Apia, Samoa: July 17, 1893.

Dear Rider, — Enclosed letter from R. L. Stevn. speaks for itself. He says we all had nothing to do. He is wrong there. They wrote the “Object of Pity” on the days I was at work at Comn. I did not write my letter till 3 [word illegible] after, when Stevenson insisted on having it printed and took it to Sydney and had it printed. I was riled at being called “an object of Pity” rather, so set to and gave them a Roland for their Oliver.

We have had a very bad time here. I have seen sights of “The French Revolution” — heads carried about in the streets with yells and shouts — wounded and dead carried along. Also a beastly bloody axe which decapitated “young Mataafa” shoved under my nose to admire and adore. I told my friend “Safolu” to take his beastly thing away and he seemed quite surprised . . . . These books are R. L. S.‘s gift to you — write him a line . . . .

Your loving brother,
Bazett M. Haggard.

Stevenson and I are great friends; he is such a good chap, but as I say of him in my book.

As regards the volumes themselves, which seem to fetch a great deal of money when they come on the market, I am only able to say that I have studied them with great zeal but am unable to make head or tail of them. Perhaps this is because I do not possess the key to the joke or understand the local allusions.

I have only one more relic of Stevenson, a very amusing poem which he wrote to Lang and myself on “The World’s Desire,” or rather a copy of it, for I believe that Lang has lost the original. Again I must express my sorrow that I never saw Stevenson. Evidently he was a delightful man and as brilliant as he was charming; truly a master of his craft. “Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde” has always seemed to me one of the most remarkable things of its sort in the English language. Longman gave me an early copy of it just after it was issued from the press, and this I still possess somewhere. I shall never forget the thrill with which I read the story; in places the horror of it is enough to cause the hair to rise. His essays, too, are almost unmatched, at any rate in our time, and next to these I should put “The Master of Ballantrae.” At least such is my individual taste.

About “King Solomon’s Mines” I have only this to add. In it I made a mistake with reference to an eclipse, which brought me into much trouble with astronomers, and also with numbers of the reading public who hurried to expose my ignorance. In a subsequent edition I rectified the mistake, but that produced more trouble, since students of the work had violent arguments between themselves, each quoting the versions that they had read, and wrote to me to settle their disputes. I have always found the movements of the heavenly bodies very ticklish things to touch. Whatever one says about the moon, for instance, is pretty sure to be wrong.

I may say this further, that no book that I have written seems to have conveyed a greater idea of reality. At this moment I hold in my hand at least a dozen letters sorted from what I call “Unknown Correspondents,” by which I mean communications received from individuals with whom I have no personal acquaintance. Every one of the writers of these epistles is anxious to know whether or not the work is a record of fact. Even the great dealer in precious stones, Mr. Streeter — I fear I must say the late Mr. Streeter — approached me on the subject. I believe he actually sent an expedition to look for King Solomon’s Mines, or at any rate talked of doing so. Nor was he so far out in his reckoning, for since that day they have been discovered — more or less. At any rate Rhodesia has been discovered, which is a land full of gems and gold, the same land, I believe, as that whence King Solomon did actually draw his wealth. Also Queen Sheba’s Breasts have been found, or something very like to them, and traces of the great road that I describe. Doubtless I heard faint rumours of these things during my sojourn in Africa, having made it my habit through life to keep my ears open; but at the best they were very faint. The remainder I imagined, and imagination has often proved to be the precursor of the truth. The mines of Kukuana land, alias Rhodesia, are destined to produce much more treasure than ever Solomon or the Phoenicians won out of them. Who built the vast Zimbabwe and other temples or fortresses? Some ridiculous scientist has alleged within the last few years that these were reared by the Portuguese at the time that those very Portuguese were talking of them as the work of the devil or of ancient magicians in an unknown age. The thing is absurd. Those edifices are the relics of a lost civilisation which worshipped the Nature gods. Who they were, what they were, we do not and perhaps never shall know. Andrew Lang has stated the whole problem much better than I can ever hope to do, in a poem he once wrote at my request for a paper in which I was interested. I do not think that those verses have ever been republished, so I will quote two of them:13

13 Republished in The Poetical Words of Andrew Lang, vol. iii, p. 42 (1923), under the title of “Zimbabwe.” — Ed.

Into the darkness whence they came,

They passed — their country knoweth none,

They and their gods without a name

Partake the same oblivion.

Their work they did, their work is done,

Whose gold, it may be, shone like fire,

About the brows of Solomon,

And in the House of God’s Desire.

The pestilence, the desert spear,

Smote them: they passed with none to tell

The names of them that laboured here:

Stark walls and crumbling crucible,

Straight gates, and graves, and ruined well,

Abide, dumb monuments of old.

We know, but that men fought and fell,

Like us — like us — for love of gold.

A girls’ school, or some members of it, evidently weary of the society of their own sex, wrote congratulating me with great earnestness because I had in “King Solomon’s Mines” produced a thrilling book “without a heroine.”

Truly in those days my industry was great. While on my summer holiday in 1885 I wrote “Allan Quatermain,” the sequel to “King Solomon’s Mines,” from the first word to the last, although it did not appear until about a couple of years later, after it had run through Longman’s Magazine. On what exact dates I began and finished the story I do not know, though possibly these are entered on the manuscript, of which I made a present to my friend Charles Longman.14

14 These dates are not entered on the MS. — Ed.

On my return to town in the late autumn I began a novel of a very different style, which was afterwards published under the name of “Jess.” The manuscript of “Jess” does not state the date of its commencement, but at the end appears the date of December 31, 1885, showing that it was finished on that day. This book I wrote for the most part in the chambers, at 1 Elm Court, that I shared with Mr. Kerr, the son of Commissioner Kerr, upon an old teak table with a leather top. This table, which I bought of a second-hand dealer, had evidently begun life in some ship where the cabins were low, for it was so short in the legs that, until they were heightened in some way, it used to make my back ache to write at it; also it has all the solidity common to ship’s furniture. Now it is used for trimming lamps in the basement of Ditchingham House.

Whenever I was not engaged in Court, where I hung about a great deal, and even for a while reported Divorce and Probate cases for The Times on behalf of that journal’s regular reporter, an old barrister name Kelly, when he was absent on a holiday, I sat at this table in the dingy room at 1 Elm Court and toiled at “Jess.” Sometimes this was no easy task, since young barristers of my acquaintance, with time upon their hands, would enter and scoff at my literary labours. In the evening I placed what I had written in a kind of American cloth music-roll, which either my wife or Miss Barber made for me, and carried it home to West Kensington, so that I might continue my work after dinner. In fact, there were two of these rolls. The first of them I lost on my homeward way, I know not how or where. It contained about a dozen foolscap sheets of closely written manuscript of one of the most important parts of the book, that which, amongst other things, describes the character of Frank Muller and how, after he had attempted the murder of Neal and Jess in the Vaal River, he galloped away pursued by his own terrors. I remember that I was much distressed at this loss, thinking that what I had written was the best thing I had ever done. I waited awhile, hoping that the address written within the case might bring it back to me. But it never did. So I rewrote the missing sheets from memory, which has never been my strong point. I wonder whether they are better or worse than those that departed!

So soon as “Jess,” of which I will speak more hereafter, was finished, or rather about a month later, I began another tale which the world knows as “She.” The exact date of its commencement is uncertain, for it has been obliterated by a clip that fastened the manuscript together, and all that remains is “Feb.86.” At the end, however, is inscribed “Finished 18 March 1886.” Therefore, even supposing that it was begun upon the 1st February, which would mean that I had allowed myself a month’s rest after finishing “Jess,” the whole romance was completed in a little over six weeks. Moreover, it was never rewritten, and the manuscript carries but few corrections. The fact is that it was written at white heat, almost without rest, and that is the best way to compose.

I remember that when I sat down to the task my ideas as to its development were of the vaguest. The only clear notion that I had in my head was that of an immortal woman inspired by an immortal love. All the rest shaped itself round this figure. And it came — it came faster than my poor aching hand could set it down.

Well do I recall taking the completed manuscript to the office of my literary agent, Mr. A. P. Watt, and throwing it on the table with the remark: “There is what I shall be remembered by.” Well do I recall also visiting Mr. Watt at his office, which then was at 2 Paternoster Square, and finding him out. As the business was urgent, and I did not wish to have to return, I sat down at his table, asked for some foolscap, and in the hour or two that I had to wait wrote the scene of the destruction of She in the Fire of Life. This, however, was of course a little while — it may have been a few days — before I delivered the manuscript.

It would seem, therefore, that between January 1885 and March 18, 1886, with my own hand, and unassisted by any secretary, I wrote “King Solomon’s Mines,” “Allan Quatermain,” “Jess,” and “She.” Also I followed my profession, spending many hours of each day studying in chambers, or in Court, where I had some devilling practice, carried on my usual correspondence, and attended to the affairs of a man with a young family and a certain landed estate.

A little later on the work grew even harder, for to it was added the toil of an enormous correspondence hurled at me by every kind of person from all over the earth. If I may judge by those which remain marked with a letter A for “answered,” I seem to have done my best to reply to all these scribes, hundreds of them, even down to the autograph-hunter, a task which must have taken up a good part of every day, and this in addition to all my other work. No wonder that my health began to give out at last, goaded as I was at that period of my life by constant and venomous attacks.

When “She” was in proof for serial publication in the Graphic I showed it to Andrew Lang. He writes to me on July 12, 1886:

I have pretty nearly finished “She.” I really must congratulate you; I think it is one of the most astonishing romances I ever read. The more impossible it is, the better you do it, till it seems like a story from the literature of another planet. I can’t give a better account of the extraordinary impression it makes upon me; as to the Public I never can speak.

Then he makes some criticisms of the style, the comic element and the horrors, and ends with a P.S. “I know I shan’t sleep.”

On the 25th of the same month Lang writes again:

I have just finished “She,” previously I skipped a bit to get to the end. I certainly still think it the most extraordinary romance I ever read, and that’s why I want you to be very careful with the proofs, before it goes out in a volume. . . . I nearly cried over Ayesha’s end. But how did she come to Kor? There is a difficulty about Leo. He is not made a very interesting person. Probably he was only a fine animal. Anyhow that can’t be helped now and never could perhaps. I dare say Kallikrates was no better. But some of the chaff in awful situations lets one down too suddenly. I’d take other fellows’ advice about it, in some of the marked places. I hope they find She in Thibet, and all die together. [They did, practically, twenty years later, see “Ayesha.” — H. R. H.] By George, I’d have gone into the fire and chucked in She too, perhaps it would have picked her up again.

In another letter he says:

It is awfully good of you to think of putting my name in “She” and I consider it a great distinction. The only thing is that, if you do, I shan’t be able to review it, except with my name signed thereto and my honest confession. Probably I could do that in the Academy. It is rather curious (plagiarism on your side again) that I was going to ask you to let me dedicate my little volume of tales, “That Missionary,” etc. to you.

I may say here that Lang did review “She” in the Academy over his own name, but, I am almost sure, nowhere else, although I believe he was accused of having written a dozen or more notices of this work, and that he did dedicate “In the Wrong Paradise” to me in very charming language.

Having run through the Graphic, where it attracted a good deal of attention, “She” appeared as a six-shilling volume, I think the first or one of the first novels that was published in that form, some time in December 1886. It was brought out by Messrs. Longmans and very well got up, the elaborate sherd compounded by my sister-inlaw, then Miss Barber, and myself being reproduced in two plates at the beginning of the volume. The illustrations by Messrs. Greiffenhagen and Kerr were, however, added afterwards. By the way, the reproduction of this sherd was shown as being from a genuine antique to Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Evans, who of course was a great expert on such matters. For a long while he peered at it through his eyeglasses and at last put it down, remarking, “All I can say is that it might possibly have been forged” — which I consider great testimony to the excellency of the sherd, which now reposes in a cupboard upstairs.15

15 It is now in Norwich Museum with the original MSS. of many of Sir Rider’s tales. — Ed.

The title “She,” if I remember aright, was taken from a certain rag doll, so named, which a nurse at Bradenham used to bring out of some dark recess in order to terrify those of my brothers and sisters who were in her charge.

“She” proved a great and immediate success, and I received many letters, of which I will quote one from Sir Walter Besant, and one from Mr. (now Sir Edmund) Gosse.

12 Gayton Crescent, Hampstead:
January 2, 1887.

My dear Haggard, — While I am under the spell of “Ayesha,” which I have only just finished, I must write to congratulate you upon a work which most certainly puts you at the head — a long away ahead

— of all contemporary imaginative writers. If fiction is best cultivated in the field of pure invention then you are certainly the first of modern novelists. “Solomon’s Mines” is left far behind. It is not only the central conception that is so splendid in its audacity, but it is your logical and pitiless working out of the whole thing in its inevitable details that strikes me with astonishment.

I do not know what the critics will say about it. Probably they will not read more than they can help and then let you off with a few general expressions. If the critic is a woman she will put down this book with the remark that it is impossible — almost all women have this feeling towards the marvellous.

Whatever else you do, you will have “She” always behind you for purposes of odious comparison. And whatever critics say the book is bound to be a magnificent success. Also it will produce a crop of imitators. And all the little conventional story-tellers will be jogged out of their grooves — until they find new ones . . . .

Yours very sincerely,
Walter Besant.

Certainly Besant was quite right when he said that I should always have “She” behind me “for purposes of odious comparison.” I always have. Quite a large proportion of my critics during many years have mentioned in the course of their reviews of various works from my pen that the one under consideration is not another “She,” or words to that effect. As though a man’s brain could harbour a host of “Shes”! Such literary polygamy is not possible. Only one love of this kind is given to him.

The second letter that I will quote from is from a friend who I am glad to say still lives, Mr. Edmund Gosse, the distinguished author and man of letters.16

16 Now Sir Edmund Gosse, C.B.

29 Delamere Terrace: January 8, 1887.

My dear Mr. Rider Haggard, — I feel constrained to write again to you about “She” before the impression the book has made upon my mind in any degree wears off. In construction I think you have been successful to a very marvellous degree. The quality of the invention increases as you go on, and the latest chapters are the best. Indeed it does not appear to me that I have ever been thrilled and terrified by any literature as I have by pp. 271–306 of “She.” It is simply unsurpassable.

All through the book there are points which I have noted for the highest praise, the three white fingers on Ustane’s hair, the dream about the skeletons, the meeting of the Living and the Dead, the Statue of Truth — these are only a few of the really marvellous things that the book contains. I was a great admirer and, as you know, a warm welcomer of “King Solomon’s Mines,” but I confess that exceedingly picturesque and ingenious book did not prepare me for “She”; and I do not know what to say, of hope or fear, about any future book of adventure of yours. I don’t know what is to be imagined beyond the death of Ayesha.

Accept again my thanks for the gift of your book, which I put among my treasures, and now the expression of my sincere and cordial admiration.

Yours most truly,
Edmund Gosse.

P.S. — May I say, without impertinence, I think the style strikes me as a vast improvement upon that of “K.S.M.”?

To turn to something humorous — I find the following in the handwriting of the late Rev. W. J. Loftie, headed “SHE” in large letters.

Are you acquainted with the story of the lady who wrote poetry? She had begun an epic —

“Man was made innocent and good, but he” —

when a visitor called. She left the paper on the table: the visitor came in, waited a little and departed. When she returned she found the couplet completed:

“Man was made innocent and good, but he —

Would doubtless have continued so — but SHE!”

Well, “She” came out and was a great success. On March 15th Charles Longman wrote to me in Egypt:

I am glad to tell you that “She” keeps on selling capitally. We have printed 25,000 already, and have ordered another 5000, and I do not think we shall have many left when the printers deliver them. . . . Last week we sold over 1000 copies!

This was a large number as books sold in those days, when people were not accustomed to buying novels in one volume, having been in the habit of borrowing them from the library in three. Moreover, from that day to this the sale of “She” has never ceased, whilst in America it was pirated by the hundred thousand.

All the reviews of it were not good; indeed some of them attacked it strongly. Others, were enthusiastic. The Times (a review in The Times then, before the days of Literary Supplements, if good, was very valuable) spoke extremely well of it. The Times reviewer, however, criticises the Greek upon the sherd. Had he known that it was the work of Dr. Holden, one of the best Greek scholars of the day, he might have preferred to leave it unquestioned. Here is the doctor’s letter on the subject, written from the Athenaeum in March 1886.

Dear Haggard, — Your task is not quite so big as one of the labours of Hercules, but by no means easy without further data. Do you want the Greek to be such as to deceive the learned world into thinking that it is no forgery, but a genuine bit of antiquity? If so, the style will have to be taken into account: it won’t do to imitate Herodotus, though it is just the bit suitable for his style, because of the date B.C. 200.

Anyhow, I am just going down to Harrow to examine the Sixth Form for Scholarships, and shall be fully occupied there for a fortnight. I hope therefore you are not in any particular hurry: if so, I must return you your MS., which I cannot do justice to without some further consideration of the subject.

Yours sincerely,
H. A. Holden.

That my old master did consider it very thoroughly I know for a fact. I remember his telling me that he would have liked to be able to give six months to study before he ventured on this particular piece of Greek. I said that with all his great learning this was surely unnecessary.

“My dear boy,” he answered, “I have been soaking myself in the classics for over forty years, and I am just beginning to learn how little I know about them!”

In the same way the black-letter, mediaeval Latin inscription and the old English translation thereof, etc., were the work of my late friend, Dr. Raven, who was a very great authority on monkish Latin and mediaeval English.

Twenty years later, the time that I had always meant to elapse, I wrote a sequel under the title of “Ayesha, or The Return of She.” Of course, although successful in a way, it was more or less pooh-poohed and neglected on the principle that sequels must always be of no worth.

Of the scores of letters which I received about “She” from correspondents personally unknown to me, the following is perhaps one of the most curious. It is written from the Electric–Technical Factory of Messrs. Ganz and Co., Budapest.

Dear Sir, — In explanation of the following lines please to learn that during the course of the last few weeks, we, whose signatures you will find adjoined, have had the pleasure of reading your celebrated novel, “She.”

Despite our various tastes, characters and nationalities we have, one and all, taken a most lively interest in your story.

It appears that each of us found in it a something which appealed to his sympathies; to one the ethnographical and topographical descriptions may have given satisfaction; to another the frequently occurring remembrances of athletic sports; in a third, perhaps, sweet memories of bygone classical studies have been awakened.

The last time we dined in company it was decided that we should proffer to you, in humble acknowledgment of our respect and thanks, our united most hearty good wishes for your happiness, contentment and general well-being, with the hope that you may be spared to enrich your fellow-creatures and coming generations with the fair products of your fertile mind.

We beg you, dear sir, to believe us,

Yours faithfully,

A. Damek, Crawford, C. Horstek,
German; Scotchman; Englishman;

S. Jordan, E. Poesetzlin, L. Stark,
Frenchman; Swiss; Hungarian;

Electrical Engineers.

This, I think, was a very satisfactory letter for an author to receive.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38