The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 22

ROYAL COMMISSION ON COAST EROSION AND AFFORESTATION

Operation in Nursing Home — “Ayesha” — H. R. H. often asked which he thinks best passages in his works — An answer to the question — Member of Royal Commission on Coast Erosion — Lloyd George — Afforestation added to the reference — Scheme presented to Government — Dropped — King Edward’s funeral — H. R. H. undertook a report for Salvation Army — Regeneration — General William Booth — His death — H. R. H. wrote pamphlet for Archbishop Benson — “Rural Denmark” — The Development Board — Notes of interview with Lloyd George — Knighthood conferred — Offered seat on Dominions Royal Commission — Egypt Again — “Marie” — Dedicated to Sir Henry Bulwer — End of Chronicle of H. R. H.

In the intervals of all this Commission business I retired for a month or five weeks into a nursing home to undergo an operation which the effects of my long journey made necessary.

Never shall I forget that place! — the lodging-house-like little drawing-room where patients were received, and where I had to wait in my dressing-gown while my room was made ready for the operation; the dreadful noise caused by the carriages of theatre-goers returning home at night or by the rattle of the mail-carts over the stone-paved road; the continual operations; the occasional rush of the nurses when it was announced that a patient was passing away; and so forth.

I had never taken a major anaesthetic before, and I must say I did not find the process pleasant. I can still see the face of my friend Dr. Lyne Stivens, and the jovial, rubicund countenance of the late Professor Rose, bending over me as through a mist, both grown so strangely solemn, and feel the grip of my hand tightening upon that of the nurse which afterwards it proved almost impossible to free.

Then came the whirling pit and the blackness. I suppose that it was like death, only I hope that death is not quite so dark!

From this blackness I awoke in a state of utter intoxication to find the nurses of the establishment gathered round me with sheets of paper and the familiar, hateful autograph books in which, even in that place and hour, they insisted I should write. Heaven knows what I set down therein: I imagine they must have been foolish words, which mayhap one day will be brought up against me.

Another question: Why cannot the public authorities establish really suitable nursing homes for paying patients? This would be a great boon to thousands, and, I should imagine, self-supporting.

However, of one of these nurses at any rate, a widow, I have grateful recollections. I amused myself, and, I trust, her, by reading “Ayesha” aloud to her during my long wakeful hours — for she was a night nurse.

This book “Ayesha,” which was published while I was in the nursing home, is a sequel to “She,” which, in obedience to my original plan, I had deliberately waited for twenty years to write. As is almost always the case, it suffered somewhat from this fact, at any rate at the hands of those critics with whom it is an article of faith to declare that no sequel can be good. Still, I have met and heard from many people who like “Ayesha” better than they do “She.”

Lang was very doubtful about this book. He wrote:

You may think me a hound, but I only found out as I went to bed last night that “Ayesha” was in the drawing-room. Awfully good of you to make me such a nice dedication, grammar right too, which I name because in a very jolly book egalement dedie to me the grammar is wrong, but I could not point that out to the author.

I am almost afraid to read “She,” as at 61,00000 one has no longer the joyous credulity of forty, and even your imagination is out of the fifth form. However, plenty of boys are about, and I hope they will be victims of the enchantress . . . .

I was therefore correspondingly relieved, believing as I do that Lang’s judgment on imaginative fiction was the soundest of any man of his time, and knowing his habit of declaring the faith that was in him without fear, favour, or prejudice, when on the following day I received another note in which he said:

It is all right: I am Thrilled: so much obliged. I thought I was too Old, but the Eternal Boy is still on the job. Unluckily I think the dam reviewers never were boys — most of them the Editor’s nieces. May it be done into Thibetan. Dolmen business in Chapter I all right!

I have often been asked, and have been careful never to answer the question, as to what I considered the best passages in my own humble writings. It is a very favourite query of the casual correspondent, from whom I receive, on an average, a letter a day, and sometimes many, many more. Now in acknowledgment of them all I reply — Ignosi’s chant in “King Solomon’s Mines,” as it appears in the later editions of that book (the same that Stevenson called “a very noble imitation”); the somewhat similar chant to the Sun in “Allan Quatermain”; the scene where Eric Brighteyes finds his mother dead — which Lang declared was “as good as Homer” — and the subsequent fight in the hall at Middlehof; the description of the wolves springing up at the dead body in the cave in “Nada the Lily”; the transformation in the chapter called “The Change” and “The Loosing of the Powers” in “Ayesha”; a speech made by the heroine Mameena as she dies, in an unpublished work called “Child of Storm,” with the rest of her death scene; the account of the passion of John and Jess as they swung together wrapt in each other’s arms in the sinking waggon on the waters of the flooded Vaal; and, oh! I know not what besides. When one has written some fifty books the memory is scarce equal to the task of searching for plums amidst the dough. Also, when one has found them, they seem on consideration to be but poor plums at best. Also one thinks differently of their relative merits or demerits at different times. For instance, how about “She’s” speech before she enters the fire? and the holding of the stair by old Umslopogaas? and the escape of the ship in “Fair Margaret”? or the battle of Crecy in “Red Eve”? If I am asked what book of mine I think the best as a whole, I answer that one, yet unpublished, to my mind is the most artistic. At any rate, to some extent, it satisfies my literary conscience. It is the book named “Child of Storm,” to which I have alluded above, and is a chapter in the history of “Allan Quatermain.” Of Allan, for obvious reasons, I can always write, and of Zulus, whose true inwardness I understand by the light of Nature, I can always write, and — well, the result pleases at least one reader — myself. Whether it will please others is a different matter.

So, at last I have tried to answer the inquiries of the all-pervading casual correspondent in a somewhat superficial fashion. To do so thoroughly would involve weeks of reading of much that I now forget.

When I escaped from that nursing home, very feeble and with much-shattered nerves, I went to stay with my friend Lyne Stivens to recuperate, and then for a day or two to Kipling’s. Here I remember we compounded the plot of “The Ghost Kings” together, writing down our ideas in alternate sentences upon the same sheet of foolscap.

Among my pleasantest recollections during the last few years are those of my visits to the Kiplings, and one that they paid me here, during which we discussed everything in heaven above and earth beneath. It is, I think, good for a man of rather solitary habits now and again to have the opportunity of familiar converse with a brilliant and creative mind. Also we do not fidget each other. Thus only last year Kipling informed me that he could work as well when I was sitting in the room as though he were alone, whereas generally the presence of another person while he was writing would drive him almost mad. He added that he supposed the explanation to be that we were both of a trade, and I dare say he is right. I imagine, however, that sympathy has much to do with the matter.

Of late years Kipling has been much attacked, a fate with which I was once most familiar, since at one time or the other it overtakes the majority of those who have met with any measure of literary, or indeed of other success — unless they happen to be Scotchmen, when they are sure of enthusiastic support from their compatriots always and everywhere. The English, it seems to me, lack this clan feeling, and are generally prepared to rend each other to pieces in all walks of life, perhaps because our race is of such mixed origin. In Kipling’s case some of these onslaughts are doubtless provoked by his strong party feeling and pronouncements, though the form they take is for the most part criticism of his work. Even on the supposition that this is not always of quite the same quality, such treatment strikes me as ungenerous. No man is continually at his best, and the writer of “Recessional” and other noble and beautiful things should be spared these scourgings. However, I have no doubt it will all come right in the end, and I hope that when this book is published he may be wearing the Order of Merit.

Nowadays everything is in extremes, and the over-praised of one year are the over-depreciated of the next, since, as much or more than most people, critics, or the papers that employ them, like to be in the fashion. It is fortunate that, however much it may be influenced at the time, the ultimate judgment lies with the general public, which, in the issue, is for the most part just. It is fortunate also that only a man’s best work will come before this final court, since in our crowded age the rest must soon evaporate.

The next important event that happened to me was my nomination in the year 1906 as a member of the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion. It happened thus. Seeing that such a Commission was to be appointed, I wrote to Mr. Lloyd George, who was then the President of the Board of Trade in the new Radical Government, explaining to him a method I had adopted of keeping back the sea by the planting of Marram grass. This plan had proved most successful so far as the frontage of my house, Kessingland Grange, near Lowestoft, was concerned, and I suggested that it might with advantage be more widely followed.

Mr. Lloyd George asked me to come to see him, which I did, with the result that ultimately I found myself a member of the Royal Commission whereof Lord Ashby St. Ledgers, then Mr. Ivor Guest, was the Chairman. Lord Ashby St. Ledgers was at the time quite a young man whom I liked very much, and with whom I got on extremely well; indeed he was always most kind and considerate to me. So far he has been extraordinarily fortunate in life, and I hope that his good chance may continue. Born to great wealth, while still young he finds himself a member of the Government, a Privy Councillor, and a peer in his own right without the necessity of waiting for his father’s title. Truly the ball is at his feet and, with his considerable business abilities, he should be able to kick it far, as I hope he may.

How strangely do the lots of men vary, especially in this old-established land! One toils all his life to attain in old age, or more probably not to attain at all, what another steps into from the beginning as a natural right and almost without effort on his part. One man misfortune follows fast and death follows faster; another seems to pass from childhood to a very distance grave without a heartache or a stumble; neither he nor those connected with him are called upon to face work, or want, or struggle, or to know any kind of human loss or suffering or anxiety of the soul — that is, so far as we can judge.

Almost am I inclined to think that the Prince Fortunatus of this character, of whom everybody will know several, must have behaved himself very well in a previous incarnation and now be reaping the harvest of reward. Or maybe — this is a more unpleasant idea — his good things are appointed to him here like those of Dives in the Bible, and — there are breakers ahead. Unless the world is regulated by pure chance, there must be some explanation of these startling differences of fate. Or perhaps the fortunate ones have their own bitternesses which are invisible to other eyes. Well, one may speculate on such problems, but to do the work that comes to one’s hand thoroughly, to thank God for and be content with what one has and to envy no man — these are the only real recipes for such satisfaction and happiness as are allowed to us in our mortal pilgrimage. Such, at least, is my attitude, though I must say I agree with Disraeli that life has more to offer to those who begin it with 3000 pounds a year, and with Becky Sharp who remarked safely that in these circumstances it was easier to be virtuous!

I worked hard on that Royal Commission. During the five years of its life, indeed, I only missed one day’s sitting, and that was because the steamer from Denmark could not get me there in time. Shortly after the commencement of its labours I was nominated the Chairman of the Unemployed Labour and Reclamation Committee, which involved a good deal of extra, but important and interesting, business. Also I was the Chairman of two of the tours that were made by committees of the Commission to inspect the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, during which tours I am glad to say there were no differences of opinion or other troubles, such as have been known to arise on similar occasions.

When we had been sitting about a year, finding that there was not really very much in the Coast Erosion business, which had been somewhat exaggerated, Lord Ashby St. Ledgers and I approached Mr. Lloyd George one night at a dinner party and suggested that, as had been originally proposed, the question of Afforestation should be added to our Reference. This was done, and some experts in the matter were appointed to the Commission. After this we investigated that great subject with much zeal and, being pressed by the Government, presented an interim Report. It was drafted, with the assistance of course of our clever and industrious secretary, Mr. Grimshaw, of the Board of Trade, by the Chairman, Professor Somerville, and myself, quorum pars magna fuit my extremely able and learned friend, Professor Somerville. We presented a scheme for the consideration of the Government, under which, had it been adopted, enormous areas of waste or poor land in the United Kingdom would in due course have become forests of great value. Needless to say it was not adopted; it’s fate was the fate of my Land Settlement Report, minus the appointment of a Committee to “knock the bottom out of it.” The fact is that the venture was too sound and quiet to be undertaken by a Government of party men who look for immediate political reward rather than to the welfare of the country forty or fifty years hence, especially when, as was likewise the case in my Land Settlement Report, the immediate finding of large sums of money is involved.

Also the inevitable critics arose. Gentlemen who thought that they ought to have been on the Commission, gentlemen who thought that they ought to have been called as witnesses, gentlemen who honestly disagreed, shouted aloud in the accustomed chorus, and in the end the thing was practically dropped. Which is a pity, for it would have worked well in the long run and proved of great benefit to the United Kingdom in those coming days when the timber supplies of the world will run short. Also it would have given a great deal of employment on land which now uses but little labour. However, I did not feel its failure in the same way as I had felt that of my one-man Report, since now I shared the responsibility with about a score of distinguished persons who had unanimously made our futile recommendations to the Crown. It was one more piece of, to all appearances, wasted work, that was all. I must say I do not wonder that many officials become slack and remain well content to do as little as they can, seeing what are the results which overtake those ardent spirits who show themselves guilty of trop de zele. Cold shoulders and rapped knuckles, these are their portion.

After the funeral of our Afforestation scheme we proceeded to examine more coasts. I wonder if there is a groin or an eroded beach on the shores of the United Kingdom that I have not seen and thoughtfully considered. Amongst other places we went to Ireland, where, as the Chairman of the Committee, I examined all the southern coasts of that beauteous isle; also a fine variety of inland swamps which it was thought possible to reclaim.

It was a very interesting experience because of the number and different classes of people with whom we came in contact as we journeyed from place to place in motor-cars.

I found the Irish the most charming and attractive people that I have ever met and the most incomprehensible. What rather disgusted me, however, was the mendicant attitude of mind which again and again I observed among those who gave evidence before us. They all wanted something out of the Government, and generally something for nothing. I remember growing enraged with one witness, a most shameless beggar, and saying to him, “The fact is, sir, that after the British Government has given you the horse, you expect that they should feed it also.”

“Shure, your Honour!” he answered, quite unperturbed, or words to that effect.

As I was dressing one morning at a Cork hotel, I received a telegram informing me that King Edward had died during the night. We did not leave Cork till ten or eleven o’clock, but up to that hour, although the news was well known, I saw no indication of public mourning. No bells were rung, and no flags flew at half-mast. This may have been mere carelessness, or it may have been — something else. That day, when stopping under a tree to shelter from a heavy shower, I fell into conversation with an Irish farmer of the humorous type, and told him the sad intelligence. He reflected for a moment, then said, “Is that so, your Honour? Well, he’s gone! Let’s thank God and the saints it isn’t us!”

On the other hand, the same tidings moved an old woman in a wretched shanty in Connemara literally to tears.

“And it’s dead he is,” she said to me. “Shure, he was a grand man! Never a week but he sent me five shillings with his own name to it.”

Further queries elicited the fact that this old lady believed that his late Majesty personally posted to her five shillings each Monday morning, which she drew at the Post Office in the shape of an Old Age Pension! Hence her loyal soul.

On my return to London I saw King Edward’s body lying in state in Westminster Hall, and afterwards watched the noble panorama of his funeral from the upper balcony of the Athenaeum. Thomas Hardy and I sat together; there were, I remember, but few in the club.

The great military pageant of the passing of the mortal remains of King Edward brought back to my mind that of the burial of Queen Victoria. This I saw from the house of one of the minor Canons, which was exactly opposite to the steps of the Chapel at Windsor. The sight of the gorgeous procession passing up those steps impressed itself very deeply on me. The bearers staggering under the weight of the massive leaden coffin that yet seemed so short, till once or twice I thought that they must fall; the cloaked King Edward walking immediately behind, followed by a galaxy of princes; the officer, or aide-decamp, who came to him, saluting, to make some report or ask some order, and received a nod in answer; the troops with arms reversed; the boom of the solemn guns; the silent, watching multitude; the bright sun gilding the wintry scene; the wind that tossed the plumes and draperies — all these and more made a picture never to be forgotten. And now, after a few brief years, the mourning monarch who formed its central, living figure passed by in another coffin, himself the mourned!

A few days after the funeral I met at dinner one of the physicians who attended the late King during his last illness. He told me that he did not think that His Majesty knew he was dying, and that no one informed him. He thought that the King believed that he would pull through, as he had often done before. When it was suggested to him that he had better not see people, he answered, “It amuses me,” and that he did not want any “fuss.” This doctor was of opinion that there was nothing in the story that the King had worried himself over the political situation, as he was “not that sort of man.” He died because his heart was worn out, for he had “warmed both hands at the fire of life.” He did not seem to be spiritually troubled in any way, though he kept “all the forms.” He added that on the day he died the King smoked a cigar.

Whilst I was still engaged upon this Commission I undertook another piece of work. One day General Booth sent an officer to me to ask if I would write a report upon the social efforts and institutions of the Salvation Army, for which it would be prepared to pay a fee, to be arranged. I answered that I had no time, and that in any case I would not touch their money. Ultimately, however, I made the time and undertook the task as a labour of love, on the condition that they should pay the out-of-pocket expenses. It took me about three months in all, including the travelling to various cities in England and Scotland, and as a result I published my book, “Regeneration,” of the copyright of which I made the Army a present. I do not suppose that this has proved a valuable gift, as, to find a large sale, such books must be of the ultra-“sensational” order, which mine was not.

I saw much of human misery in the course of that business, in which I was assisted by my friend, Mr. D. R. Daniel, one of the secretaries of the Royal Commission. But all of this is recorded in the pages of the book, so I need not dwell upon it here. I emerged from this work with a most whole-hearted admiration for the Salvation Army and its splendid, self-sacrificing labours among the lowest of the low. Its success with these, where so many have failed, remains something of a mystery to my mind, which I can only explain by a belief that it is aided through the agency of the Power above us. Nothing else will account for the transformations it effects in the natures of utterly degraded men and women. Long may it endure and prosper!

I have known General Booth for many years; my first interview with him, one of great interest, is printed verbatim in “Rural England.” We were always the best of friends, perhaps because I was never afraid of him, as seemed to be the case with so many of those by whom he was surrounded, and was always ready to give him a Roland for his Oliver in the way of what is known as chaff. I have seen him under sundry conditions, of which, perhaps, the funniest was the following. One day, after he had been holding a great meeting for City men in London, at which I was present, I took a gentleman to visit him who I thought might be able to help his cause. We found him at his office in Queen Victoria Street, stripped to his red Salvation jersey, streaming with perspiration, and very cross because his tea, or whatever the meal was called, was not ready. He was calling out, officers were flying here and there, some one was trying to soothe him, and so on. At length the meal arrived, consisting of a huge dish of mushrooms and a pot of strong tea. Contemplating this combination of fungi and tannin, I remarked that never before had I understood the height and depth and breadth of his faith in the heavenly protection.

This reminds me of a story which Captain Wright, a member of the Salvation Army who acted as one of my secretaries in America, told me of the General’s peculiar diet. Wright was travelling with him when he was tearing round the States preaching in the great cities. At that time his fancy was to eat two boiled Spanish onions before he went to rest, and it was Wright’s business to see that those onions were there. One unlucky night, however, after a particularly exhausting meeting they arrived at the hotel, where all the attendants had gone to bed, to find two very massive onions reposing on the plate as usual, but just as they had left, not the saucepan, but their mother earth!

Of the row that ensued the captain spoke to me in the hushed voice of awe.31

30 General Booth said to me — more than once: “Ah! but you would look grand in my uniform.” Whereto I would reply quite truly that I was not fit to wear that wedding garment, or words to that effect. — H. R. H.

The old General wrote as follows about my book, “Regeneration.” The letter is a very good specimen of his fine, bold handwriting, although at that time his sight was already feeble.

International Headquarters,
London, E.C.: December 10, 1910.

My dear Rider Haggard, — I have just read “Regeneration.” It is admirable. You have not only seen into the character and purpose of the work we are trying to do, with the insight of a true genius, but with the sympathy of a big and generous soul. From my heart I thank you.

May the blessing of the living God rest upon you, and on Mrs. Haggard and on your daughters, both for this life and the life to come.

Believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
William Booth.

Rider Haggard, Esq., J.P.

On May 20, 1912, the General wrote to me, saying that he was to undergo at once an operation for cataract on his remaining eye, one being already blind.

The signature to this touching letter, written just before his last illness, for death followed on the heels of that operation, is somewhat irregular, for then he was practically blind, but still in the old firm handwriting. Three months later to the day he died, and I received the following telegram, dated 21st August:

With deepest sorrow I have to announce the General laid down his sword at 10.15 last night. Pray for us.

Bramwell Booth.

So William Booth passed away. If there is any regard elsewhere for the deeds of good men, his should be great. Here on earth he has built himself a monument of thousands of regenerated hearts. Why, I wonder, was burial in Westminster Abbey not offered for his remains? I suppose the answer is — because he did not belong to the Church of England. Yet if the Abbey can open its ancient doors to those who amused many of the people — eminent actors, for instance — it seems hard that these should be closed to one who saved so many of the people, and in all lands.

The book “Regeneration” was extremely well reviewed by scores of papers, both here and in other countries, especially in America; thus I remember The Times gave it a leading article. I only saw two indifferent notices of it — in Church of England journals — and these were aimed more at the Salvation Army than at the work itself.

In my time I have done one or two little pieces of writing for somewhat similar objects. Thus many years ago I was responsible for a pamphlet called “Church and State,” which I composed in defence of the Established Church of Wales that was then, as now, threatened with disendowment. This was undertaken at the request of the late Edward Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote to me at some length in August 1894, giving me the various points on which he thought stress should be laid.

The pamphlet was written in due course and approved of by the Archbishop, who wrote to me in November of the same year:

I must give you my cordial thanks — in the name of all interested — and they are Legion — for your admirable and telling paper. It is presumptuous in me to use epithets. . . . We are all very grateful to you.

I never spoke to Archbishop Benson, although I often saw him at the Athenaeum. Indeed one night we dined next to each other at separate tables and alone. I remember that I was tempted to address him, for he did not know me by face, but, remembering that busy men seldom like to be troubled at their rest by strangers, I refrained. So the opportunity went by, for which I am sorry, as I should have liked to make the personal acquaintance of this good and very earnest prelate.

I have always thought that he was most happy in the manner of his death, which took place suddenly while he was at prayer. Such would be the end that I should choose, if choice lay within our power.

Another task that I undertook in the intervals of my Royal Commission was an agricultural investigation which resulted in my book “Rural Denmark,” whereof a new edition is just about to appear. What I saw in that country was to me little less than a revelation, but I need not dwell on it in these pages. Here I found the answer to the problem which had puzzled me for so many years — namely, how agriculture could be made to pay in a Free Trade country with an indifferent climate. That answer undoubtedly is: By means of medium or small holdings, for the most part owned and not rented, aided by universal co-operation, which will only flourish in the absence of too many large farmers, and by a system akin to that which is known as credit-banks. Thus supported, the soil of Denmark, which is on the whole poorer than our own and afflicted with an even worse climate, manages out of its small extent, equal only to that of Scotland, to export over twenty millions sterling worth of agricultural produce, chiefly to the British Isles, in addition to the amount which it keeps at home for sustenance in a densely populated land.

What Denmark does most undoubtedly the United Kingdom could do, though perhaps with some variation in the actual products. This, however, will not, I think, happen under that aftermath of feudalism, our present system of hired farms, many of which are larger than the tenant can manage, and, as a consequence, indifferently cultivated. Nor will co-operation on a large scale arise under these circumstances. Owners with no landlord to run to must co-operate in self-protection; tenants, and especially large tenants, do not do so.

I was anxious to serve on the Development Board, in the interests of Afforestation, and also I felt that it had its roots, or at any rate some of them, planted in the soil of my book “Rural England.”

Here I will insert a note that I made of a conversation which took place between Mr. Lloyd George and myself in May 1909, which throws a good deal of light upon this matter.

SUMMARY OF MY CONVERSATION WITH MR. LLOYD GEORGE ON MAY 11, 1909.

(Made from notes taken on the same morning.)

On Friday the 7th of May I met Mr. Lloyd George in Parliament Street. He said he “must see me,” and after some conversation asked me to breakfast on the following Tuesday.

I began by putting the case for the adoption of our Afforestation scheme as forcibly as I could, arguing that Afforestation should be placed in the hands of a Permanent Royal Commission.

The Chancellor’s answer amounted to this: That he was most anxious to see our Afforestation plan go through on whatever scale could be arranged. He told me that this was very largely, if not chiefly, because I had personally succeeded in interesting him much in the matter when we met and stayed together at Carrow Abbey last year. The advocates of Afforestation were, he considered, very fortunate in having to deal with him, since he was sure that no Chancellor who went before him, and none who were in the least likely to follow after him, would listen to them for a moment. As it was he had but one earnest supporter in this matter in the Cabinet — Winston Churchill.

I suggested John Burns also, inasmuch as the Labour party were all in favour of an Afforestation scheme.

He replied: No, at heart Burns was not in favour of it, and for the reason that the Labour party were. He added that J. B. was “thoroughly wrong” with the Labour party.

In Parliament, Mr. Lloyd George continued, this party was the only one from which he received any support as to Afforestation. Although they had seemed to be in favour of it a few months ago, and even keen for it, the rest of the Liberal party now appeared to care nothing for it, while the Unionists of course were hostile on principle; also because they feared it would interfere with sport.

All these considerations made the matter difficult for him. Also there was another. In the Parliamentary war over the Budget the money necessary might easily be cut off.

I then passed on to the question of a permanent Royal Commission.

He said he did not see how it could be managed for Afforestation alone, but that it might be for the purposes of the administration of the Development Grant as a whole. Personally he was entirely adverse to the passing over of that Grant into the power of any official Department.

I replied that one permanent Royal Commission to deal with the whole Development Grant would quite meet my ideas, provided that Afforestation was adequately represented thereon.

I asked how many he would have on the Commission. He replied that he feared that it must be a large one, as he supposed it would be necessary to put on representatives of the various Public Offices.

A discussion then ensued as to who would be the best Chairman for the Development Board or Commission. We talked over various names that seemed to fulfil the qualifications he considered necessary, namely, that this Chairman should be a man of rank and wealth if possible. As regards this point he said that there was some force in the criticism that the proposed Development Board might possibly become a tool of party or other subtle form of corruption, and even descend to the perpetration of jobs.

I suggested that the way to avoid this would be to put on it none but men of the highest character who were known to be impartial and open-minded and who were generally respected by the country. He agreed.

The names suggested for the Chairmanship, so far as I remember, were Lord Desborough, Sir Herbert Maxwell, and Lords Milner and Curzon (these two by myself). Lord Curzon, he thought, would bring a great deal of dignity to the office, but too much of the “viceregal manner.” Milner’s name he favoured, but finally seemed to conclude that he was in a sense too strong a man, who with his charming manner would invariably in the end get his own way, which might not always be the right way, and carry the Commission with him. Finally after a pause I suggested Lord Rosebery.

“Rosebery!” he said, sitting down and thinking. “Rosebery! the very man! Politically detached, universally known, beyond suspicion, and a master of the subject. The very man — that’s a stroke of genius of yours — if he will serve.”

I then said that I thought there ought to be a Vice–Chairman also, to which he seemed to assent. I mentioned further that being much interested in all these subjects, I should like to serve on that Commission if it were ever formed. He nodded and raised no objection to this, but how much or how little that may mean I do not know.

When I bade him good-bye he was sending a secretary over to the Prime Minister to ask at what time he could see him that morning, in order, I understood, to discuss the whole matter.

The general impression left upon my mind is that Mr. Lloyd George means to put this business through if he can, but owing to the great forces, secret and open, ranged against him and it, that he is not quite certain of his ability to do so.

On Christmas Day, 1909, I received a letter from Lord Ashby St. Ledgers, my Chairman, in which he said:

I had a conversation yesterday with Lloyd George, and he intimated that he intended to offer you a post as Commissioner under the Development Board.

I told him it was slave-driving not to offer you a salary with it, but he said that his limit of 3000 pounds per annum had not enabled him yet to secure a permanent official, and that it would involve an amendment of the Act to provide anything for anyone else.

He spoke of Dick Cavendish for Chairman, and Horace Plunkett and an Irishman for the other two.

Then he goes on to talk of Afforestation in connection with the proposed Board.

I should explain here that although if a salary had come my way I should not have refused it, considering the time and work involved, money was not my object in wishing to serve on this Board. That, as I subsequently informed Mr. Lloyd George, I should have been glad to do for nothing as a piece of public duty.

Afterwards, by his direction, an interview took place at the Ritz Hotel between Lord Ashby St. Ledgers, on behalf of the Government, Lord Richard Cavendish, and myself, at which we discussed the whole policy of the future administration of the Act.

It might now have been thought that this matter was settled, but again there proved to be many a slip, etc.

In order to put an end to the attacks Lloyd George went to Mr. Walter Long, who was leading the Opposition on the Unionist side, offering to knock off one name — I believe it was that of my friend and colleague, Professor Somerville, though of this I am not sure — but saying “I must have Rider Haggard.” To this Mr. Long agreed, and the matter was then adjourned to the following night — I think the last of the session. Again the trouble began, and Sir Frederick Banbury, either throwing over or not knowing of the arrangement with Mr. Long, threatened to stop the whole thing, once more in a thin House, unless the number of Commissioners was reduced to eight. So, as my name was the last on the list, for all the others had been announced, it was struck off to prevent the hanging-up until after the adjournment of the Amendings Act, which I think was being rediscussed upon its return from the House of Lords.

Thus it came about that I, who directly and indirectly had played a considerable part in connection with this beneficent measure, was prevented from having any share in its administration.

The Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation came to its end at last when we signed a Report that was practically unanimous, save for one or two reservations, of which I drafted all that portion that has to do with Reclamation. I believe that our recommendations, which contain nothing very startling, are to be made the subject of an Act of Parliament at some future date.

I made some good friends upon that Commission, notably that charming and able geologist, Professor Jehu (to whom I dedicated my tale “Red Eve”), who was my constant companion during those five years, and dear old Sir William ffolkes, now gone from among us.

I missed that Commission very much, since its sittings took me to London from time to time, and gave me a change of mental occupation and interests. Indeed I do not remember ever being more consistently depressed than I was during the first part of the following winter. Here, as I no longer shoot, I had nothing to do, except the daily grind of romance-writing, relieved only by Bench business, my farm affairs, and an afternoon walk through the mud with the two spaniels, Bustle and Jeekie, and a chat after church on Sunday upon the affairs of the nation with my fellow-churchwarden, friend and neighbour, Mr. Carr, the squire of this place. Also bronchitis, which had threatened me for some years, troubled me much. I thought that I had shaken it off, but caught it again during a cold snap, staying at a Cambridge college, whither I went to address a large meeting upon the possibility of establishing agricultural training institutions upon the Danish model. So I returned here, enjoyed the bronchitis, and began to write this autobiography, for really it seemed as though everything had come to an end.

Then of a sudden things changed, as they have a way of doing in life. Thus one morning about Christmas-time I found amongst my correspondence a communication from the Prime Minister informing me that the King had been pleased to confer a knighthood upon me. I had often thought and said that I did not think I should care to be knighted. Indeed when a year or two before it was suggested to me through a semi-official channel on behalf of a very powerful Minister, that if I wished for a baronetcy it might perhaps be arranged, I said at once, and firmly, that I did not. Baronetcies are for rich men who have male heirs, not for persons like myself.

However, I took the knighthood when it was definitely offered, on the ground that it is a mistake to refuse anything in this world; also that a title is useful in the public service, and especially so abroad. Moreover, it was Recognition, for which I felt grateful; for who is there that does not appreciate recognition particularly after long years of, I hope, disinterested toil?

A week or so after the announcement of my honour, on January 11, 1912, the post brought me another interesting and more important letter, from which I will quote one or two passages.

Colonial Office: January 10, 1912.

Dear Mr. Haggard, — You are probably aware that at the Imperial Conference of last year it was decided to appoint a Royal Commission to visit the various Dominions and report upon them. I enclose a copy of the Resolution of the Conference and another of the suggested Terms of Reference. You will notice that the Fiscal Question is carefully excluded from the purview of the Commission. The inquiry will probably extend over three years, though it will not occupy anything like the whole of that time, and it will entail three visits to the Dominions — one of three months to Canada and Newfoundland, another of three months to South Africa, and another of six months to Australia and New Zealand. These visits will take place in different years and will not be continuous. Of course, following the precedent of all other Royal Commissions there will be no remuneration for the Commissioners [then follow details as to travelling allowance, etc.]. There is to be one Commissioner for each of the five Dominions and six British Commissioners. Lord Inchape is to be the Chairman, and the Prime Minister and I are very anxious to try to induce you to be one of the British Commissioners . . . .

Yours very truly,
L. Harcourt.

In a subsequent letter Mr. Harcourt wrote:

I greatly hope that you will be able to accept, and I trust for the sake of the reading public that the Commission will not prevent you from pursuing a good deal of your usual avocations, and might even incidentally provide materials!

I need scarcely say that to my mind this was recognition — with a vengeance. Charles Longman remarked when I told him the news, at which he was delighted, “I would rather have heard this than that they had given you a peerage. Anyone can be a peer, but to be one of the six men chosen to represent the United Kingdom on a great Empire inquiry of this sort is a real honour.”

I agree with him, especially as I have no wish to be a peer. Also to me the compliment seemed the more marked for the reason that it was paid to an individual who first became known to the public as a writer of romantic literature, an occupation that does not dispose the British nation to take those who follow it seriously. Now I saw that all my long years of toil in investigating and attempting to solve the grave problems which lie at the root of the welfare of our country had not been without effect upon the minds of its rulers, and I felt proportionately grateful and honoured.

Of course the acceptance of this Royal Commissionership involves serious sacrifices in my case, exclusive of that of long separation from my family. Thus it will necessitate the partial shutting down of my home here; and how I am to carry on my literary work in the intervals of so much public labour, really I do not know! I felt, as did my wife, and still feel that such considerations should not be allowed to interfere with the execution of what I look upon as a high and honourable duty.

Subsequently I had a long interview with Mr. Harcourt, in the course of which we discussed matters connected with the Commission and other things. He struck me as a singularly able and agreeable man, quite unlike his father, Sir William Harcourt, whom also I used to know, and yet in a way resembling him. It seems an odd thing to say, but I thought the tone of his mind very conservative, and before I left him found myself wondering how it came about that one who is so very much an English gentleman, in the old and best sense of the word, and an aristocrat, finds it easy to rub political shoulders with certain members of the present Radical party, who hate English gentlemen and aristocrats.

The same remark applies to Sir Edward Grey and to some others. I suppose the truth is that nowadays those who elect to lie down between the somewhat gamey party blankets must expect queer bedfellows. One wonders which set in the end will thrust the other out of that uneasy couch. Though the mass of the congregation may change, most of us continue to worship in the Church into which we were baptised — yes, even if its priests from time to time give new renderings to some of the ancient doctrines. That is human nature, and the simile suggests a key to the puzzle.

Before leaving the subject of my new appointment, I may mention a curious little circumstance in connection with this Dominions Royal Commission.

The notice of the first meeting informed me that it was to sit in a room, numbered so-and-so, at the great public building known as Scotland House. When I arrived there at the appointed time I asked the porter, who is an old friend of mine, which that room might be.

“Why, sir,” he said, “the same in which you have been sitting for years.”

So there I found myself in that identical chamber, with the identical noise from the Embankment outside, and the identical electric fan creaking away over the door. But, here came the difference: everybody in it was changed, down to the messenger boy, and none of those gathered there even knew a single creature with whom I had been associated in that place for so long a period of time. It was like arising from the dead into the midst of a new generation. For a few minutes it made me feel very lonely as I looked up to find fresh faces in place of the old familiar ones that now were gone, two of them for ever. Nor was this sensation lessened when, in an adjoining office, I saw the unclaimed despatch-box of one of my former colleagues who is now dead.

In the beginning of the present year I paid another visit to Egypt in the hope of shaking off my bronchitis, which I did — until I got back to England, a country in which I am rather doubtful whether I shall ever be able to winter again. On this occasion my daughter Angela and I examined the mummy of the Pharaoh Meneptah, which Sir Gaston Maspero kindly caused to be removed to a private room for our inspection. It was a strange thing to look upon the tall form and the withered countenance of the man who is generally believed to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus, that majesty before whom, perhaps, Moses stood, and to think that that frozen countenance — it is a very impressive countenance still — may have trembled and sunk in at the announcement of the judgments of the great God of the Israelites. One thing is clear, however: he was not drowned. Meneptah died in old age from ossification of the arteries; there still lies the lime about the heart of Pharaoh — which it pleased God to harden!

Many question the whole Exodus story because there is no mention of it in the contemporary Egyptian records. Personally, however, I believe it to be true in its main outlines, and that a large body of Semites did break away from Egypt about this period, although it did not suit the official scribes to make any mention of the event with its very unpleasant happenings. One day I hope to write a romance of the time, hence my particular interest in Meneptah and in his son and heir, Seti II.

On my return to England I set to work to write a romance in the new Allan Quatermain series. The first of these books, “Marie,” which is dedicated to my old chief, Sir Henry Bulwer, has, I am glad to say, been much liked by its readers and, up to the present, proved successful. Of course, however, when I speak of success, I mean on the moderate scale to which I can hope to attain.

No doubt, however, by degrees as a writer I shall be put upon the shelf, for that is the lot of all or nearly all of us when we grow old. I cannot look forward to any prosperous period in my old age, which, should I chance to live so long, it seems to me probable enough I shall be called upon to pass in a very modest way. As, however, I have been able to provide well for any who may come after me, at this I do not grumble in the least. I have earned a good average income as an author during many years, and perhaps I ought to have saved more. But investments are apt to turn out badly when the investor has no time to attend to them; moreover, as I think I said I have discovered, it is certainly true that man does not “live to himself alone.” There are plenty of those who claim to share in whatever he may earn. The owner of any fixed property in our part of rural England is, in fact, nothing but a distributor. In wages, taxes, and subscriptions he hands out nearly all that he receives, except, of course, the worries, the losses, the clamorous and almost savage demands for money that come by every post, and the various official forms that he is required to fill in. These too often are all his portion, and therefore it is that I have determined to sell every acre of our outlying lands if they will reach to a very moderate reserve figure on the open market.

And now “I have spoken!” as the Zulus say. I fear that these volumes are somewhat egotistical in their contents and tone, but how can that be helped? An autobiography which did not treat at length of the person concerned would be but an apple dumpling without the apple.

There is much more that I might have said. For instance, I, who am now preparing to start upon a great journey to the Antipodes, have found neither the time nor the courage even to look through my letters received during the last ten or twelve years. I have dealt simply with those salient points that occurred to me and hunted, not always with success, for such documents as might bear upon them. Thus, a very amusing and perhaps an interesting chapter might have be composed out of the correspondence which I have received from writers who are personally unknown to me. Should I live and find time, strength, and opportunity, I may add another volume to this record descriptive of my impressions of the British Empire, the greater portion of which I am about to visit. But who knows the future and its gifts?

So ends the chronicle of Henry Rider Haggard — a lover of the kindly race of men, a lover of children, a lover of his friends (and no hater of his enemies), a lover of flowers, a lover of the land and of all creatures that dwell thereon, but most of all, perhaps, a lover of his country, which, with heart and soul and strength, he has tried to serve to the best of his small powers and opportunities. May every blessing be on her — every success to her arms by land and sea, and every splendour on her ancient name, during the troublous times that are to come! Yes, and all confusion to any of her sons who, for selfish ends, would drag her down to wreck! Such is his earnest prayer!

Thus then, poor sinner that I am, trustfully as a wearied child that, at the coming of the night, creeps to its mother’s knee, do I commit my spirit to the comfort of those Everlasting Arms that were and are its support through all the fears of earth and, as I believe, have nursed it from of old!

One boon, from infancy to age, has been showered upon me in a strange abundance, pressed down and running over — the uncountable, peculiar treasure of every degree and form of human love, which love alone, present or departed, has made my life worth living.

But if it is all to cease and be forgotten at the borders of the grave, then life is not worth living. Such, however, is no faith of mine.

Farewell!

H. Rider Haggard.

Ditchingham: September 25, 1912.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/haggard/h_rider/days/chapter22.html

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