The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 20

THE ROOSEVELT LETTERS

Appointed Commissioner to report to Secretary of State for Colonies on Salvation Army Labour Colonies in U.S.A. — Alfred Lyttelton — H. R. H.‘s daughter Angela goes with him as secretary — Washington — Mr. Hay — President Roosevelt — The White House — Notes of interview with Roosevelt — Correspondence with Roosevelt.

On January 1905 I received, quite unexpectedly, the following letter from the Right Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, who at that date was Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Downing Street: January 14, 1905.

Dear Mr. Rider Haggard, — The Rhodes trustees have agreed to give a sum of 300 pounds (inclusive of all expenses) to defray the expense of sending a Commissioner to the United States to inspect and report upon the “Labour Colonies” established in the United States by the Salvation Army. There appear to be at present three of these, in California, Colorado, and Ohio, and they are used for the transmigration of persons from the big American cities. It is thought that if on inquiry this system is found to be financially sound and to be a real benefit to the poorer classes, it might prove a useful model for some analogous system of settlement from the United Kingdom to the Colonies.

It is the desire of the Rhodes Trustees that the Commissioner should be nominated by and report to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

I should be very glad if you would consent to do the work, for which your experience as an observer both of men and agricultural affairs so eminently qualifies you. The remuneration is not very great, but the interest of the question to which the inquiry will relate and the public service which the Commissioner will be able to do may induce you, I hope, to undertake it.

If you go, you would in the first place be put into communication with the Salvation Army authorities. Mr. Booth Tucker, who commands their United States branch, considers that the Commissioner should start as early in the year as practicable, because he would have better opportunities of seeing the settlers and talking with them before the more strenuous agricultural operations have commenced.

I should therefore be obliged if you would be so good as to let me know in a few days whether you will be able and willing to go, and if so, whether you could start in February.

Yours faithfully,
Alfred Lyttelton.

H. Rider Haggard, Esq.

I extract the following passage from my answer:

I thank you for your letter and the compliment you have paid me. I accept your invitation to undertake this mission, especially as the subject is one that interests me very much; indeed I was speaking on a branch of it at the meeting at York last week of which Mr. Seebohm Rowntree was chairman. . . . I understand that I shall receive my appointment as Commissioner and my instructions from you as Secretary of State, not from the Rhodes Trustees, and that it will be so gazetted.

Shortly after I received a letter from Mr. Lyttelton’s secretary, Mr. Graham, which I print to show what were the exact terms of my instructions.

Downing Street: January 31, 1905.

Sir, — I am directed by Mr. Secretary Lyttelton to inform you that he has nominated you to be a Commissioner to proceed to the United States, and to inspect and to report to him upon the conditions and character of the Agricultural and Industrial Settlements which have been established there by the Salvation Army, with a view to the transmigration of suitable persons from the great cities of the United States to the land and the formation of Agricultural Communities.

2. It appears to the Secretary of State that, if these experiments are found to be successful, some analogous system might with great advantage be applied in transferring the urban populations of the United Kingdom to different parts of the British Empire.

3. You should pay special attention to the class of persons taken by the Salvation Army, their training and success as agricultural settlers, and the general effect upon character and social happiness; you should also consider the financial aspects of the experiments.

4. It would be desirable that, after you have inspected the several Settlements, you should proceed to Ottawa and discuss the subject with Lord Grey, who has taken great interest in it, as well as with such local authorities as may be indicated to you by the Governor–General as likely to aid you with advice and assistance as to the application of the system in a British Colony.

5. The Rhodes Trustees, with whom the suggestion of the Inquiry originated, and by whom Mr. Lyttelton has been asked to nominate a Commissioner, have made a grant of 300 pounds, including all travel expenses, to meet the cost of the Inquiry.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Fred. Graham.

H. Rider Haggard, Esq.

I remember that when I went to see the Colonial Secretary to receive his verbal instructions before sailing, by some accident I missed the right entrance to the Colonial Office and finally obtained admission through a little back-door. At the time this circumstance struck me as curiously emblematic of my position. For after a cessation of twenty-six years was I not once again entering the official service of my country through a back-door, by means of this unexpected commission with which I was now honoured?

I inspected the Salvation Army colony at Hadleigh. Also I had a long interview with General Booth, and in due course I arrived at New York accompanied by my daughter Angela, who acted as my secretary. Here I was seized upon by interviewers, one instance of which I must record, because it is amusing. In the Waldorf Hotel we had three rooms — my daughter’s, my own, and a place for sitting. About two o’clock one night the telephone in each of these rooms (every room in an American hotel has a telephone) began to ring furiously. I leapt from my bed and tried to attend to two of them. While I was doing so my poor daughter arrived shivering in her nightgown (there were many degrees of frost), exclaiming, “Oh, Dad, do come here! There is a lunatic on the telephone who says he wants me to come out walking in the streets.”

It turned out that some enterprising newspaper was distributing food to the New York poor, and thought that it might get an advertisement by our presence at the process.

After this the young lady in question became artful. When she went to bed she took the receiver off the telephone. After I had cut my foot open in a sudden and sleepy midnight rush to that instrument, so did I!

Having paid some official visits we went to Philadelphia, where I inspected the vacant lots which a local society enabled poor people to cultivate. Also I was entertained at lunch by the Franklin Club, a society of gentlemen connected with literature, of which Dr. Weir Mitchell, the great nerve specialist, was the venerated president. This was a truly delightful meal, and one of which I shall always retain most grateful recollections.

From Philadelphia I proceeded to Washington, where I lunched with the late Secretary of State, Mr. Hay, a most refined and agreeable man who, I found, was a friend of my brother William. His name is now prominently before the public in connection with the Hay Pauncefote Treaty re the Panama Canal. On the 9th of March the Under–Secretary, Mr. Loomis, took us to see the President, Mr. Roosevelt, who was then celebrating his inauguration. The White House was crowded with people waiting to shake hands with the new Chief of the State, amongst whom I noted a band of Indian chiefs, men with long black hair, copper-coloured skins, and strongly marked features. Mr. Loomis took us to the President’s private room, a double chamber connected with a large ante-room by folding doors. These doors stood open, and beyond them were gathered a number of gentlemen awaiting the President. I take it that they were the Council of State or Cabinet.

Then the President appeared and shook hands with us warmly. He was, and indeed still is,30 a short, stout man with a fair, fresh complexion and rows of very even teeth, which he shows in their entirety every time he smiles. In manner he is frank and earnest, nor does he mince his words and opinions.

29 Written in 1912. — Ed.

First he waved his hand towards the gentlemen in the ante-room and, pointing to the door, beyond which the crowds through which we had passed were gathered, said that there I beheld the aftermath of a presidential election in a democratic country. Then he asked me my views upon the South African situation, adding that he was himself of Dutch descent.

I gave them, and he expressed his hope that the Boers in South Africa, with whom he had great sympathy, would settle down, learn English, and become a dominant factor in that country under the British flag and rule. He added that he had expressed these views strongly to those of their leaders who had visited him in America, which shows that he, at least, was not working against us in the South African War.

Our talk next turned upon matters connected with the land and with the absolute necessity of keeping the population on the soil and not allowing it to flock into the cities. I found that his views and mine upon this point were identical, as he recognised the inevitable deterioration of the race which must ensue if the land-dwellers were to become city-dwellers. He spoke also on the subject of the limitation of families, and instanced the case of the French Canadians who, in some districts, were crowding out the British-born folk in the Dominion. These Frenchmen, he informed me, settle upon the land and have large families, whereas the English Canadians draw to the cities. Also he instanced the case of Australasia. He impressed me as a thoroughly sound and reliable man — one whose heart was in the right place, and who would do the best he could for his nation during the time it was in his care, and for humanity at large.

A few days later my daughter and I were entertained at luncheon at the White House, to which we went straight from another luncheon, where we were also entertained by citizens of note in Washington.

It was a most amusing meal. Especially do I recollect Mr. Roosevelt’s comic sketch of the anticipated details of a forthcoming meeting between himself and the Swiss Minister, who was attending at the White House to present his credentials.

“He,” he said, “will stand in a fine uniform and read a lot of rot to me in French, while I shall stand opposite to him and read a lot of rot in English. And that’s what they call the high ceremonies of diplomacy!”

“It is an odd thing, Mr. Haggard,” he said, as he entered the private drawing-room after luncheon, “that you and I, brought up in different countries and following such different pursuits, should have identical ideas and aims. I have been reading your book, ‘Rural England,’ and I tell you that what you think, I think, and what you want to do, I want to do. We are one man in the matter”; or words to that effect.

I could only answer that I was extremely glad to hear it.

I may add that I was not wrong in supposing that the President would try to put these ideas into action, as indeed is shown by his famous Conservation Act, the passing of which he subsequently brought about; also by many other of his administrative deeds. Further, should he ever return to power again, I am convinced that he will push on along these lines.

In proof of what I say — since, before proceeding with the account of my American mission, I think that for convenience’s sake it will be well here to finish the story of my relations with President Roosevelt — I will quote the substance of a note I made of an interview which I had with him in London more than five years later. Also I will quote several letters which have subsequently passed between us.

June 2, 1910.

I saw Mr. Roosevelt and his family this afternoon at 10 Chesterfield Street. He was extremely pressed, and informed me that he had not even found time to put on a black coat since coming up from staying with Selous. I told him the result of my American mission. He said that it was most disheartening, but always the case where officials could have their way. I congratulated him upon his Natural Resources Conservation Policy. He answered that he was making a big fight upon that point.

The Bishop of Massachusetts, who was present, said to Mr. Roosevelt that I approved of his famous Guildhall speech.

“Ah!” he said, “I knew I should have Haggard’s support.”

(On this point Kermit Roosevelt, his son, told me that both Balfour and Grey were pleased with the speech.)

I informed Mr. Roosevelt of the investigations that I had just arranged to carry out for the Salvation Army. He said that this was “a grand work” which I proposed to do, and he only wished that he could have found time to come round with me, adding with much earnestness:

“Why not make use of all this charitable energy, now often misdirected, for national ends?”

“What I have called ‘the waste forces of Benevolence,’” I said. “It is odd, Mr. Roosevelt, that we should both have come to that conclusion.”

“Yes, that’s the term,” he answered. “You see, the reason is that we are both sensible men who understand.”

In saying good-bye to me, Mr. Roosevelt said, “It’s a barren thing to say, but I want to tell you how deeply I admire all your social work, and, if you care to know it, I should like to add that I have found it a strength and a support to myself in my own struggles. . . . It’s almost an insult to ask you here rushed as I am, but I did want to have a word with you, and had no other chance.”

I also spoke to him about Horace Plunkett’s work. He answered that he thought most highly of him and that he, Plunkett, was coming over to America to see him.

Subsequently I read in the American Outlook a most interesting signed article by Mr. Roosevelt a propos of my social work, and especially of the book called “Regeneration” that I had written on the Salvation Army.

As to this review Mr. Roosevelt wrote to me regretting that he could not have made the article ten times as long.

To this I answered on August 8, 1911:

I thank you most heartily. I cannot tell you how greatly I appreciate the good opinion of a man like yourself, and what is so very rare, the public expression of that opinion. As a private individual I find my task very hard: to drive into the intelligence of a blind and careless generation certain elementary facts which it cannot or will not understand is always difficult, especially if the wielder of the hammer is not rich. If I could afford it I would devote the rest of my life to this kind of educational work in my own land and others. But I fear I can’t, and in this country no kind of help is forthcoming to make such efforts possible.

Of Mr. Roosevelt’s long answer I quote the beginning and the end, omitting all the central part of the letter, which deals with various social problems. I will call special attention to the last lines of this letter, which I think show a high and fine spirit.

The Outlook, 287 Fourth Avenue,
New York: August 22, 1911.

Dear Mr. Haggard, — I have been reading “Rural Denmark” with genuine interest, and I congratulate you upon the work. I was especially interested in the rather melancholy chapter at the end

— “What might be and what is.” I agree with every word you say about the land . . . .

I do not wonder that you feel discouraged and blue at times. As you say, it seems a hard and thankless task to have to try to hammer into your generation what is vital for them to learn and what they refuse to learn. I half smiled when I read what you wrote, because I so often have the same feeling myself. As President I tried, and I now continue to try, to teach lessons that I feel ought to be learned by my fellow-countrymen; and I often wonder how much I am accomplishing by it. There are so many important lessons that ought to be learned, and the art of preaching so that it will at least do no harm is such a very difficult art to acquire and to practise! I often become quite horrified at the multitude of profoundly dull and uninteresting little books and pamphlets and articles and tracts, all with a worthy purpose, which are sent to me by other men interested in trying to teach something which they believe ought to be taught; I wonder whether I seem the kind of dull pointless bore to the people I am trying to help as so many of these worthy people seem to me! I think your business and mine is to go ahead, never to stop trying to help along the lines we have marked out, and yet to keep our sense of humor and sense of proportion and equability of nature. We must not preach all the time, or we will stop doing any good; for we must always remember not to fall into the snare of preaching for the sake of relieving our own souls instead of for the purpose of accomplishing something as regards somebody else’s soul. We must not permit ourselves to become soured by our experiences, for being gloomy does not in the least help a man to reach others, and merely makes him less attractive to himself and to all around him. Life is a campaign, and at best we are merely under-officers or subalterns in it. We are bound to do our duty as efficiently and as fearlessly as we know how; but it is a good thing to remember that we must not be too much cast down even if things look wrong, because melancholy only tends to make us less and not more efficient, and buoyancy and good-humor and the ability to enjoy life all help instead of hindering a reformer.

Well! I have written you an unconscionably long letter. Good-bye and good luck!

Faithfully yours,
Theodore Roosevelt.

H. Rider Haggard, Esq.,

Ditchingham House,
Norfolk.

I answered as follows:

Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
September 5, 1911.

My dear Mr. Roosevelt, — Many thanks for your interesting letter of August 22nd. I think that the cause of the “trouble among the peoples who speak English” is twofold, the love of pleasure and the love of wealth, both of which affections can, for the majority, be most easily gratified in cities. Doubtless the Golden Calf is the most popular of all gods ancient or modern, and he does not build his shrines amongst woods and fields. Moreover his worship becomes ever more facile, since during the last century a new code of morality has matured in these matters.

Rogues, of course, there always were, but in the days of our grandfathers not so many, I think, of the “indifferent honest.”

I have a few shares in certain commercial undertakings. A week or so ago I observed that the price of these shares was falling rapidly. When they had, so to speak, bumped against the bottom, in each case the shareholders were notified of certain troubles and miscalculations that had occurred. The next day the papers pointed out that the “insiders” had been unloading their shares at the high price before warning the shareholders of what had happened, and remarked that this furnished another proof of the helplessness of the investor in the hands of the said insiders, who are, I suppose, the directors and their friends.

Now I frequently have to send people to prison who through poverty or actual want have stolen something, but no one will send these “insiders” to prison, although they are worse than ordinary thieves because they betray the confidence of those who trusted them and whose interests they are paid to promote. On the contrary, their rapidly acquired wealth will be admired, they will be spoken of with respect as successful men, and probably in the end receive or purchase titles.

Now in the conditions of a simple pastoral life dishonesty, even if innate, could scarcely bring such rich rewards.

Apply the argument to the various classes of mankind and I think we have one of the causes of the popularity of the town.

Another is, of course, that there women can show themselves off, their jewels and dresses, if rich; or if poor, can have the advantages of cheap amusements. In most people the love of Nature scarcely exists; it seems to be the privilege of the highly educated. But ninety-eight out of a hundred love a gas-lamp.

Speaking generally, this seems to be the state of affairs among all the more progressive of the white peoples. I hear that even the Boers of whom you speak are in a good many instances beginning to be affected by this kind of tidal movement towards the town. How will it end? That is the interesting point. My opinion is that in the absence of some unforeseen and unexpected turn of this tide it will involve the practical destruction of the white peoples, and that within a measurable time, say, two or three centuries. Except in the case of those of a lower stratum whose progeny soon die out or become degenerate, the town women do not have many children; in fact there seems to be a rebellion against this burden amongst most married women. Also the increase of luxury and the cost of living all tend towards the same end. Only on the land are children welcome, that is if this land is owned by their parents, who find their labour valuable. Look at France. Were it not for the support of England, Germany would soon have her in its bag. But the same causes that are reducing France to a state of political death are, I am told, beginning to work at the heart of her enemies, the Germans. Look at Australia. If there were no British fleet how long would it be before it received a considerable number of immigrants of the Mongol type? And so on.

But all these arguments are commonplace to you. The question is, Whither do they lead, supposing them to be accurate?

I think, to two alternative conclusions. The first alternative is that the Almighty has had enough of the white races and is bringing about their ruin through their own failings as in past days He brought about the ruin of Rome, purposing once more to fill their places from the East. The second alternative is that He is pointing out to them that their only possible rejuvenation, their only salvation lies in the closer settlement of the land which they neglect.

Denmark has learned something of this lesson, and that is why to me its example seems so important. Personally also I believe it to be the first of truths, and that is why I try to preach it in and out of season. But the sporting owner and the tenant farmers of the country, both of which classes find things very well as they are, do not share my views, and say so with vigour. The future will show which of us is in the right.

. . . I quite agree with all that you say at the end of your letter; indeed I think that these are fine words. All that one can do is to peg away and not be discouraged. Then at least one has done one’s humble best in the little hour that is granted, leaving the ultimate issues in the hands of Fate and the future. If no one will listen, if the opposing interests are too strong, at least one has cried aloud in the wilderness and done one’s best.

With very kind regards,
Believe me,
Ever sincerely yours,
H. Rider Haggard.

About a year later I wrote a note to Mr. Roosevelt, saying that of course American politics were no affair of mine, and that I would not venture to say anything about them. Still, as I believed that his heart was in the right place, I wished him success in his arduous struggle.

To this note I received the following reply, which strikes me as of extraordinary interest. The opening of it, of which the note is “misunderstood,” is somewhat pathetic; the writer’s conviction as to the approaching “general smash-up of our civilisation” unless certain conditions can be put a stop to is of much weight coming from such a man, and the conclusion throws a light upon his character which would astonish many even in this country.

Office of Theodore Roosevelt,
The Outlook, 287 Fourth Avenue,
New York: June 28, 1912.

Dear Mr. Haggard, — I have but a moment in which to answer your welcome letter, as I am driven almost to death. There are but a limited number of my own countrymen, among those of the highest education, who understand as you do just what I am striving for. I suppose that as we grow older we naturally lose the natural feeling of young men to take an interest in politics just for the sake of strife — the same kind of interest one takes in big game hunting or football, the kind of interest quite compatible with doing excellent work but which cannot inspire the highest kind of work. As we get older, if we think seriously at all, and if we escape falling into a permanent Palmerstonian jauntiness of attitude, we cannot avoid becoming deeply and indeed painfully impressed with the tremendous problems of our social and industrial life. To me politics and applied ethics ought to be interchangeable terms, and my interest in the former arises chiefly from my interest in the latter. If the whole game is one of mere sound and fury, without any sincerity back of it, any real purpose of achievement, then it is all of as little importance as a contest between the blues and the greens in the Byzantine circus. I am, I hope and believe, a practical man, and I abhor mere sentimentality; but I abhor at least as much the kind of so-called practical man who uses the word “practical” to indicate mere materialistic baseness, and who fails to see that while we of course must have a material and economic foundation for every successful civilisation, yet that fabric cannot be lasting unless a warp of lofty disinterestedness and power of community feeling is shot through the woof of individualistic materialism. Have you ever read “No. 5 John Street”? I happened to be reading it the other day. Now I know I cannot ever achieve more than the very smallest part of what I would like to do, but at least I wish to take part in a movement for using the government so far as may be to put a stop to the dreadful conditions at both ends of the social scale which are described in “No. 5 John Street.” In the same way, I wish to get the government interested in conservation, and in restoring the people to the land. I do not know whether we will be able to succeed in the great movement for social and industrial reform, which includes all such movements as the two I have mentioned, but I do know that the alternative is a general smash-up of our civilisation; and succeed or fail, I hold it to be the duty of every decent man to fight to avoid such a smash.

I hope you come to Canada and then I shall see you here and have a chance of talking over some of these matters, which are of such vital importance, and which the average man treats as of no importance whatever.

As for my personal fortunes, they are of no consequence whatever, except in so far as they are for the moment connected with this movement. The great bulk of my wealthy and educated friends regard me as a dangerous crank because I am trying to find a remedy for evils which if left unremedied will in the end do away not only with wealth and education, but with pretty much all of our civilisation. The majority of people veer one way or the other according to whether at the moment I seem to succeed or fail, and are quite incapable of believing that I am concerned with anything but my own success or failure. But all this is of little permanent consequence. It is a fight that must be made, and is worth making; and the event lies on the knees of the gods.

Faithfully yours,
Theodore Roosevelt.

To this letter I answered:

Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
July 14, 1912.

My dear Mr. Roosevelt, — I thank you for your letter. . . . I too hold that the civilised world wallows in a slough worse, perhaps, than the primeval mud of the savage; that is is possible (if not probable) that it may be dragged from that slough, cleansed and clothed in white garments. That it is the bounden duty of all men as they shall answer for it at the last to do their honest best to bring this about; regardless of any wreaths of success, of any dust of failure, regardless of everything save that glory which, in all probability, will never crown their individual strivings, or, if it comes, be at all identified with their half-forgotten names.

This, I imagine, is a conviction that comes home to certain of us with added force when some of the cables that bind us here are slipped and our being begins to thrill beneath the pull of that tide which flows over the edge of the World. At least it has come home to me, grieving in my own impotence, and I am sure that it has come home to you. Our Faith then is the same. How can that Faith be — not fulfilled — but put in the way of fulfilment by others who come after?

Let us suppose that you succeed and reach great power, now or later. I daresay you will not: as you say, it is on the knees of the gods, or rather of God — and heaven knows, I shall think no differently of you if you succeed or fail, but let us suppose it. What could you do — or strive to do?

You are confronted with a hideous problem. The other day, in a hairdresser’s shop, I took up one of our illustrated papers. In it was a reproduced photograph of a number of your New York women (members of the upper 400 I think they were named) feeding their lap-dogs, adorned with jewelled collars, off plates of gold. Elsewhere I have read and seen pictures of New York poor starving in the snows of winter.

There in brief is your problem and the problem of every civilised country of the Earth. The glutted, foul, menacing cities, the gorgeous few, the countless miserables! And beyond the empty Land which could feed them all and give them health and happiness from the cradle to the grave.

The problem then is: the Poor in the Cities, and the answer to it should be, the Poor on the Land, where they would cease to be poor.

What are the bitter fruits of this City Life? A confusion more complete than that which fell on the builders of the Tower of Babel; a failure more utter; a mere shattered mass of half-dried bricks which will be washed to shapelessness by the rains of heaven and crumbled to powder by its everlasting sun.

An ultimate dearth of Life: the woman who will not bear children on the one hand; the woman who may not bear children on the other. A destruction: with a vision (for those who can see) of the East once more flowing in over the West and possessing it — and lo! the toil and intellect of ages gone.

Such may be the will — the design of God. I do not know. Yet I think it more probable that it is the cracked coin in which He will repay the wickedness, or the mad folly of man.

Cannot this torrent be stayed or turned? Here I see no hope of it: Yonder you may have a chance. Our existence as a race (I speak of all the white Nations) seems to me to depend upon the answer. If this letter were published in the Press today, I am aware it would be mocked at. But if it could be read one short five-hundred years hence, I wonder if the readers of that age would call me fool or prophet?

Good luck to you! In triumph or disaster God’s blessing and peace on you who are striving for the truth and right.

Thus prays your friend,
H. Rider Haggard.

Here ends my Roosevelt correspondence up to the present time. If he survives me — which, being so strong, is more than probable — I do not think that he will be vexed with me for including what he wrote to me in my autobiography, seeing that it is in a sense all public matter and reveals his true character in the most favourable of lights.

How wrong, in my opinion, are those who so bitterly abuse Mr. Roosevelt! I think him a noble-hearted and upright man who is striving for the good of humanity.

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