The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard


[The following speech was delivered to the Canadian Club, in the Russell House, Ottawa, in March 1905, when Sir Rider Haggard (at that time Mr. H. Rider Haggard) was in Canada as Commissioner appointed by the Colonial Office. His instructions were to visit and report on Labour Colonies established in the U.S.A. by the Salvation Army. After inspecting them he was to proceed to Ottawa and discuss the subject with Earl Grey, then Governor–General of Canada.

Sir Rider wished this speech to be inserted as an appendix to “The Days of My Life,” as it gives the essence of his views on the subject of the settlement of the surplus town population of Great Britain on the unoccupied land of the empire, a subject to which he devoted so much time and energy.

Commander Booth Tucker, of the Salvation Army, was with Sir Rider on this occasion, and also spoke. There was a record attendance of members of the Canadian Club, Mr. W. L. Mackenzie King (Prime Minister of the Dominion in June 1926) being in the Chair. — Ed.]

I will begin by making a confession. The other day I had the honour of addressing the branch of your society in Toronto, and there, for one solid half-hour, did I inflict myself upon them. I began to wonder how much they would stand. Well, I sat down and thought they must bless me for doing so. The next day I saw some of the newspapers, including one which stated that your humble servant had made what they were pleased to call a very interesting but exceedingly brief address. I thought to myself: If this is called brief in Toronto, I wonder what is long. I took a few opinions on the point. I asked why they called a speech of that length a brief one. My friend’s answer was that it had to do with your parliamentary institutions. He told me that it was quite common in your House of Commons throughout the country, for speeches to run from two to three hours, and therefore that is the standard and model of time by which addresses are judged.

Now, gentleman, I say to you at once that, high as might be that honour and greatly as I should desire it in any other circumstances, I feel that I should never be competent to be a member of a House of Commons of which this is true. Gentlemen, your president has made some very kind allusions to me and to my rather — what shall I call it? — varied career. He has spoken, for instance, of Africa. Well, gentlemen, it is true I began my life as a public servant in Africa, and many wonderful things I saw there.

I was in at the beginning, so to speak, of all the history we are living through today. I was with Sir Theophilus Shepstone when we annexed the Transvaal; as your president says, I had the honour of hoisting the flag of England over it. Gentlemen, I lived, too, to see the flag pulled down and buried. And I tell you this — and you, as colonists as I was, will sympathise with me — it was the bitterest hour of my life. Never can any of you in this room realise the scene I witnessed upon the market-square of Newcastle when the news of the surrender of Majuba reached us. It was a strange scene, it was an awful scene. There was a mob of about 5,000 men, many of them loyal Boers, many Englishmen, soldiers even, who had broken from the ranks — and they marched up and down raving, yet weeping like children — and swearing that whatever they were they were no longer Englishmen.

That is what I went through in those days; and I only mention it to tell you how I came to leave South Africa. For I agreed that it was no longer a place for an Englishman. Still, time goes on, the wheels swing full circle, things change. I remember that after that I wrote a book. It was a history. And in that book I went so far as to say — I remember it well, and there it stands in black and white to be read — that unless some change occurred, unless more wisdom, more patriotism and a different system altogether prevailed in African affairs, the result would be a war which would tax the entire resources of the British Empire. Gentlemen, have we not had that war? And at that time what did they say? They laughed at me, an unknown young man. And, years later, when the war was on, they dug up the book and printed these paragraphs and said, “Dear me, what a remarkable prophecy!” Three men were right: Sir Bartle Frere was right, and they disgraced him; my old chief, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, was right, and they disgraced him; and even I, humble as I was, was right, and they mocked at me. We know the end.

Thus my residential and official connection with South Africa came to an end — I would not stop there any longer. I came home and went to the bar, where I had fair prospects. And then a sad thing happened to me — I wrote a successful book.

I do not know whether to be sorry or glad that I wrote it. Other things might not have happened; and, after all, as Job the Patriarch says: “Man knoweth not his own way.” You go as destiny drives you. So it was, gentlemen, I took to fiction. Having begun, I had to go on. And, after all, there is something to be said for it. After all, it is not a bad thing to have given pleasure and amusement to many who are weary or sick, and, perhaps, some instruction also. You might do worse than to write a good novel. Not that I for a moment wish to state that all of mine are good.

Of course, the time comes to every writer, I suppose, when he has an inspiration and does something which he knows to be better than he ever did before. Perhaps he sees a little higher up into heaven perhaps he sees a little lower down into — the other depths; and he creates something and knows that that thing which he has created will live, and that it will even go glittering down the generations. He knows, perhaps, that he has cut his name fairly deep upon the iron leaves of the Book of Time, which are so hard to mark. Perhaps he knows that, and for a little while he is content. Not for long — no artist, I think, is ever contented for long with what he has done. But he thinks: “At least, I have done something.”

Then, perhaps, he begins to understand — it comes into his mind — that that was not his real inspiration. Not in these gauds of the imagination, these sparkling things, these plays of fancy or of eloquence or wit, was the real inspiration to be found. He turns and wonders where it is. And he turns, let us say, and looks at the dull masses of misery that pervade the globe, he looks and wonders, and he thinks: Is there nothing that I, humble as I am, can do to help to alleviate that misery, to lift up those who are fallen, to lift them up for their own good and for the good of the world? And then, gentlemen, he knows that that, not the gaudy, exciting work is the real inspiration of his life.

And, perhaps, he turns and tries to match his own single strength against the prejudices of generations, and tries to get men to think as he does, tries to show them where the evil lies and where, too, lies the remedy. Gentlemen, I have spoken, as it were, in allegory. And yet these things have some application, certainly in my humble case they have some application. Years ago, I saw what I described to you; I saw the evils with which, since then, I have attempted to cope. I recognised that it was my duty to cope with them if I could.

It is a hard task, gentlemen. It is a hard thing, in the first place, to live down the reputation of being a writer of fiction — to surmount the enormous barrier of prejudice that lies across one’s path. And it is not for years, perhaps, that people will begin to listen and will begin to understand that to most men’s minds there are two sides. Still, humbly, imperfectly, I did attempt it. I have not done much. Yet I have done something. They listen to me now a bit. If they had not listened to me I should not be here in my present position today as a Commissioner from the Government of Great Britain.

Well, what is it; what is this problem that moved me? I will tell you in a few words. I perceived and realised the enormous change that is coming over the Western world; how those, who for countless generations, dwelt upon the land, are deserting the land and crowding into the cities. I studied the reasons for this. For two years I studied them, going through England, village by village, county by county, town by town. And I found out what they were. In England the chief cause was lack of prospect on the land. We are cramped in England with the remains of a feudal system which works nothing but ill; and under that system it is so that no man on the land seems to have a chance to rise. The labourer on the land, say at two-and-twenty, is earning as high a wage as he can ever hope to earn.

I ask you, gentlemen, how should any of us like to know that at two-and-twenty we were doing the best we could hope to do in life? That is the lot of the labourer on the land. All that he has to look forward to at the end of his long career of forty or fifty years of toil is probably a place in the workhouse. Is that an attractive prospect? Then, no doubt, the spread of education, the facilities of travel, and other things of that kind conduce to the immigration into the cities, and this movement goes on with ever-increasing rapidity.

At the present moment in England, I believe we have but one-seventh of our population living on the land. In the United States, if the figures given me are correct, matters are very little better. And so it is in other countries — everywhere the land dwellers heap themselves into the cities. And what happens to them when they get there? How many succeed? Not one in five, I say. The rest of them, for the most part, get nothing. If sickness strikes a man, when he arises from his bed his place is gone. His children grow ill through crowding together in narrow courts and unsanitary rooms, and become decimated by disease. Bad times come and the workmen are dismissed by the thousand from their employ. Grey hairs, at any rate, come at last, and with grey hairs the notice to quit; and so they go down, and they go under and become part of that mass which is known as the submerged tenth — though I imagine there is a good deal more than a tenth. And there they are — miseries to themselves, useless to their country, and a burden upon the town that has to support them.

Gentlemen, if you think I exaggerate, ask Commissioner Booth Tucker, and he will tell you. He will tell you, he who knows, as one of the heads of the great organisation that is today dealing with this class of people. He will tell you how many children they have to feed in the morning in the big cities in order that they may go to school, how many dock labourers they have to feed, and so on. He can tell you tales you will scarcely believe of the suffering — the horrible suffering, the inconceivable misery of these great cities which the foolish peoples of the earth rush into to dwell there.

Now, that is what is going on in the great city. Let us look at the other side of the question. Let us go to places like Fort Amity, where I saw the Colony of the Salvation Army. As your president told you, I am not at liberty to forestall my report in any way; but I can say this — that there I went to the schools, as I did in other places, and saw the children. The parents of these Fort Amity children were taken from a great city, the city of Chicago, where mostly they were working as day labourers. They came with nothing; in fact, it was necessary to pay the fares of most of them. They had no prospects, nothing earned, nothing to hope for. If we could get at the facts, no doubt we should find they lived in one or two rooms, and not too well. I went and looked at these children. My daughter photographed them in the schools at Fort Amity. Never did you see a healthier, happier, more robust, more promising set of children in your life. And I wondered how these children would have looked had not the Salvation Army had the idea of starting this Colony and had they been left to wander about in the streets of Chicago. And I wondered also, gentlemen, how many of these faces — these happy, contented faces — would have been wanting, but for the change made in the condition of these children.

But you may be political economists, some of you, and we all know that political economy is a hard doctrine. And you may say: Well, these people went to the cities of their own accord; let them expiate their fault in the city; let them welter and let them perish there, dead beats, and the world is well rid of them. Well, I am going to submit, if you will allow me, another side of the argument for your consideration. If you do not want to do anything on the ground of humanitarianism to help the people, I submit to you, gentlemen, and I submit to everyone, that there is another ground on which the thing should be done; and that is the ground of the welfare of the nation.

I will start out with an axiom. If the Western nations allow this sort of thing to go on, allow their population to crowd into the cities, then, I say, the career of the Western nations is going to be short. The city folk, those who remain, will never hold their own in the world — not only because of the weakened physique and changed character, but because of another and more final reason. Gentlemen, children are not bred in the cities. There will come a time when the children bred there are too few — it is coming now. And if the children are not bred, if there is not the supply of healthy children to carry on the nation, how can the nation stand? With the people on the land it is different. Self-interest comes into play.

A large family is a valuable asset to the small-holder; in the city it is nothing but a drawback. Let any one of you gentlemen think of himself with a home consisting of a single room in a tenement in New York or a back slum in London, and with six or eight children; and then think of the contrast with those six children upon the land and able to assist in your business of caring for the cattle or carrying on many of the other operations of the farm. We must look at facts. With dwellers on the land self-interest comes in; on the land alone will the supply of children be available that is necessary to carrying on our white races. And if they are not carried on in sufficient numbers what of it? Of course, you have all heard of what they call the yellow peril, and many people have laughed at it as a bogey. Is it a bogey? Does Russia, for instance, consider that Japan is a mere nightmare? I think not; I think Russia has very definite and distinct ideas as to the prowess of Japan today. Japan is a small nation. Forty years ago the Japanese dressed themselves up in scale armour, like lobsters, and fought with bows and arrows. And look at them today, knocking Russia around the ring.

Imagine the state of affairs when, not little Japan, but, let us say, great China, with her 400,000,000 people, has also made some strides towards civilisation, has carried out, for instance, that programme which I saw announced in the papers yesterday, in the way of building warships; and imagine those 400,000,000 of stolid, strong, patient, untiring land-bred men having nowhere to live, having not earth upon which to stand, and seeking a home. And imagine them casting their eyes around for worlds to conquer, and seeing an island continent half vacant and other places with a few families scattered over the land, and a few millions heaped together in the things these white people call cities.

Imagine them saying, God — whatever gods there be, whatever gods we worship — give us the right to live; we have the right to our share of the earth; here we have not enough of the earth; we will seek the earth; we will take the earth; we will keep the earth. Then imagine the scanty peoples spread thinly over these territories saying: “But we will pass a law to keep you out.” They answer: “We will come in nevertheless, we will walk through your paper law.” And those who hold the ground say: “You shall not come in; we will shoot you; we will keep you out with force of arms.” And their answer is: “Keep us out if you can; we have arms as well as you; we are better men than you; we will come; we will occupy; we will take; we will keep.” Is that a bogey — a mere dream of the night?

I tell you it is nothing of the sort. It is the thing which will happen within one hundred years unless there are very different arrangements made amongst the Western nations from those which exist today; unless the people are moved from the cities back to the land. Population, gentlemen, is like water: where there is a hollow, thither it will flow to fill it. Therefore, it is vital to the nations that they should look into this matter and try to deal with it. I am as sure as that I stand before you that these words are true; that I get at the truth, the essence, the fibre, the marrow of the thing, and that truth, that essence, that fibre, that marrow, is that you must get your people on to the land out of the cities, and keep them on the land there to multiply as God commanded them of old.

Now, gentlemen, how does this apply to the great country in which I am today? I say that it applies very closely. I say that very soon there is going to be an enormous competition for immigration, for population, and especially for Anglo–Saxon population; that the time is coming when these people will be bid for, when they will be sought for, when they will be paid for — paid any price to get them. And I venture to say to you: Get them while you can, get them from home, get them from England.

Now, gentlemen, if I live, within a month or two I hope to be able to show you a plan I have devised and which I hope, which I even dare to think, may show you how you can get a good many of these people. I will say no more of that now, except that I trust you will agree with me when you read it, and that you will let no obstacle stand in your way, but will all put your shoulders to the wheel and for the sake of your country, and for the sake of all concerned, will try to help to bring into your splendid land Englishmen who will be made available to you, I hope, in many thousands.

I am beginning to be like one of your members of parliament, I fear I am catching the disease. I will only add this: That all the world is mad on trade, all the civilised world, at least, has got the idea that wealth is everything. I controvert that statement; I say that wealth is nothing. What is wealth without men and women to use it and spend it? I remember once writing a story in which I represented certain men shut up in a cave and surrounded by all the diamonds and all the gold of a continent. And they were starving. I would like to ask you of what use were those diamonds and that gold to them?

In the same way, of what use is wealth unless you have men and women — healthy men and women — these are the real wealth of the nation. You remember the old Greek fable of Antaeus, how, whenever he fell to earth he arose fresh and strong. So it is with us. Do not believe, gentlemen, that wealth is everything. Wealth, I maintain, is nothing compared to flesh and blood, nothing as compared to healthy children; nor is pomp nor any other thing — these are nothing. The strength of a people, gentlemen, is not to be found in their Wall Streets, it is to be found in the farms and fields and villages. I will only add just this one word — that I do hope that what I have so humbly, so inadequately tried to say before you may perhaps go deep into the minds of some of you and set you thinking. For myself, I can only say that I have tried to carry out this task — not the task of speaking, but the bigger one — with a single heart, because I believe in its necessity, because I believe that no man can serve his generation better than by trying to point out these things and try to make the people think. If I have done that, gentlemen, I have not lived in vain. All that I should ask to be said of me when I am gone is this: “He did his best.”

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