The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter 15


Death of Andrew Lang — Recent letters from him — Suggested further collaboration — Lecture tour in S. Africa proposed — Letter from Charles Longman — Queen Taia’s ring.

The day on which I commence this chapter of my reminiscences — July 22, 1912 — is a sad one for me, since the first thing I saw on opening my eyes this morning was the news of the sudden death of my dear friend, Andrew Lang. It is odd that only last Thursday, when I was in London, some vague anxiety concerning him prompted me to make an effort to see Lang. Having an hour to spare before my train left, I took a taxi-cab and drove to his house in Marloes Road, to find which his direction of many years ago used to be, “Walk down Cromwell Road till you drop, then turn to the right!”

I found the house shut up, and the Scotch girl, arriving from the lower regions, informed me that her master had left for Scotland on Tuesday. I gave my card, asking her to forward it, then called to the girl as she was shutting the door to ask how Lang was. She replied that he had been unwell, but was much better. So, perhaps for the last time, I departed from that house with which I used to be so familiar in the old days, filled with such sad thoughts and apprehensions that on my return home I mentioned them to Miss Hector, my secretary.

Perhaps these were due to the drawn, death-suggesting blinds, perhaps to the knowledge that Lang had suffered much from melancholy of late — contrary to the general idea, his was always a nature full of sadness — perhaps to some more subtle reason. At any rate, it was so.

I have not seen much of Andrew Lang of late years, for the reason that we lived totally different lives in totally different localities. The last time we met was about a year ago at a meeting of the Dickens Centenary Fund Committee, after which I walked far with him on his homeward way, and we talked as we used to talk in the days when we were so much together. The time before that was about two years ago, when I dined alone with him and Mrs. Lang at Marloes Road, and we passed a delightful evening.

Letters, too, have been scarce between us for some years, though I have hundreds of the earlier times. Here are extracts from one or two of the last which have a melancholy interest now.

October 18, 1911.

Dear Rider, — Thanks for the Hare [this refers to my tale of “The Mahatma and the Hare”]. . . . I bar chevying hares, but we are all hunted from birth to death by impecunious relations, disease, care, and every horror. The hare is not hunted half so much or half so endlessly. However, anyway, I have not chevied a hare since I was nine, and that only on my two little legs, all alone!

Yours ever,
A. Lang.

If I were the Red-faced Man I’d say that from the beginning all my forbears were hunters, that it got into the blood, and went out of the blood with advancing age, so that perhaps it might go out altogether, though I hardly think it will. And ask WHO made it so!

By some chance there is a copy of my answer to this letter, also of two subsequent ones which deal with what might have been a business matter.

October 19, 1911.

My dear Andrew, — Yes, I have hinted at this hunting of Man on p. 135, and at a probable reason. You are right: hunted we are, and by a large pack! Still I don’t know that this justifies us in hunting other things. At any rate the idea came to me and I expressed it. But I might as well have kept it to myself. I doubt whether the papers will touch the thing: to notice an attack on blood sports might not be popular!

As one grows old, I think the sadness of the world impresses one more and more. If there is nothing beyond it is indeed a tragedy. But, thank Heaven! I can’t think that. I think it less and less. I am engaged on writing (for publication AFTER I have walked “the Great White Road”) my reminiscences of my early life in Africa, etc. It is a sad job. There before me are the letters from those dear old friends of my youth, Shepstone, Osborn, Clarke and many others, and nearly every one of them is dead! But I don’t believe that I shall never see them more; indeed I seem to grow nearer to them.

When I was a lad at Scoones’ I had an intimate friend named Sheil. When I returned from Africa I found that he had become a Trappist monk. We corresponded and I went to see him. (He too is long dead.) In one of his letters I find this sentence written over thirty years ago: “What I wish is that we may all go home together and be together always.”

This exactly expresses my sentiments towards the few for whom I care — dead or living.

Ever your friend,
H. Rider Haggard.

October 20, 1911.

Dear Rider, — I expect we shall meet our dogs and cats. They have ghosts! I don’t much bar fox-hunting: it needs pluck, and the fox, a sportsman himself, only takes his chances and often gets away. It’s all a matter of thinking. Scott was a humane man, but devoted to coursing, which I abominate. Wordsworth never thought of harm in trout-fishing, with fly. Now I was born to be ruthful to trout, as a kid, and sinned against light, but I could not use the worm.

Why on earth do you keep letters? I have a very few sealed up, but dare not look on them . . . .

A little later, either at Charles Longman’s suggestion or with his approval, it occurred to me to try to cheer Lang up and take him out of himself a little by getting him to collaborate, or at any rate to think over collaboration, in another romance. To this end I wrote to him as follows:

November 10, 1911.

My dear Andrew, — I have come across a scheme we had (about a quarter of a century ago) for collaboration in a novel of Old Kor.

I think it has been in bottle long enough and should be decanted.

What say you? Have you any ideas? I see stuff in it, but could not really tackle it just at present. It would be rather jolly to do another job with you, old fellow.

After all “The World’s Desire,” about which you were rather melancholy, has stood the test of time fairly well and many people still like it much.

Ever yours,
H. Rider Haggard.

Here is the answer, written from St. Andrews:

November 11th.

Dear Rider, — Faire des objections c’est collaborer, but I don’t think that I could do more. Had I any ideas of Kor long ago? “She,” I think, is not easily to be raised again unless she drops her [word illegible] for some prehistoric admirer. I like Kor, but have no precise conception of it, unless the Egyptians came thence.

The W.D. [“World’s Desire”] took in despite of my ill-omened name; I brought you worse luck than you would have had alone.

Yours ever,
A. Lang.

Do you bar ferreting rabbits? I think it damnable.

The answer to this is dated November 13, 1911.

November 13, 1911.

My dear Andrew, — All right, you shall “faire des objections,” i.e. if we ever live to get at the thing, which I can’t do at present.

I think Kor was the mother of Egypt, which kept up a filial correspondence with her oracles. “She” smashed the place in a rage because they tried her for the murder of Kallikrates. Foundation of history — papyrus records brought home by Holly and sent with “Ayesha” MS. Entered up by that old priest Junis, or someone.

Yes, ferreting rabbits is beastly, especially when the ferret freezes on to the rabbit in the hole. But one must get rid of rabbits somehow. Now coursing — but you know my views on the matter.

Ever yours,
H. Rider Haggard.

I find among my copies of letters one written to Lang in 1907, which also deals with the question of a further collaboration that we contemplated at this time. I had quite forgotten the matter, but now I remember that it came to nothing. Lang suggested one of the old Greek legends that ended in the most horrible all-round tragedy — I do not at the moment recall which of them it was, though I could easily discover by consulting his letters of the period.

I said that it would not do: that a twentieth-century audience would require something a little more cheerful. I think he was rather cross with me about it — if he could be cross with me, for no shadow of real difference ever came between us. At any rate the idea fell through, for which, too late, I am very sorry now. Here is my letter:

Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
December 28, 1907.

My dear Andrew, — I’d like to do another book with you before we skip — awfully. I think you were a bit discouraged about the “W. Desire” because a lot of ignorant fools slated it, but in my opinion you were wrong. That work I believe will last. It is extraordinarily liked by many who can understand. I told you about the American Egyptologist I met, for instance, who reads it every night!

Well now: I don’t care much for your Covenanter who would speak Scotch, etc. (i.e. at first sight). He would not have much of a public or enlist the heart. Can you not think of something “big and beautiful,” something that has an idea in it? Something for choice that has to do with old Greece (which you know) and with old Egypt (which I know?). Something with room in it for a few of your beautiful verses (I am not laying it on, old fellow, only saying the truth). In short, a real poetical romance such as we might both be proud of. Now don’t toss this aside, but think. You know all the old world legends: there must be some that would lend themselves to this general scheme: that of the quest for the divine which must (for the purpose of story) be symbolised by woman. You see the thing must have a heart; mere adventures are not enough: I can turn them out by the peck. A motive, friend, a motive! that’s what we need, and one that the world knows of.

How about a variant of the Faust legend? How about the Sons of God and the Daughters of Men? Something grand and pure and simple, something to lift up! Now don’t be discouraged, for though we are both antique, I know that we can do it, if only we can find the theme.

Where is our Hypatia? Let’s do a big thing for once and die happy! Please answer.

Yours ever,
H. Rider Haggard.

The last notes I ever received from him were written in February of the present year, just before I went to Egypt, and in somewhat better spirits than those that I have quoted. For instance, one begins “Cher Monsieur le Chevalier.”

At Longman’s request I had suggested to Lang, half-jokingly, that we should go together on a lecture tour to South Africa, as to which some proposals had been made to Longman.

Me go to South Africa to lecture!” he answered. “Why, going from London to Upp” — Longman’s place in Hertfordshire — “knocks me up.”

Evidently so long ago as February he was not feeling strong. I may add that a week or two since I met our mutual friend, Sir William Richmond, to whom “The World’s Desire” was dedicated. He told me that he thought seriously of Lang’s health — that he seemed very anxious to see his friends, but when he did see them spoke but little.

Looking through Lang’s letters to me I find one, written from St. Andrews on February 20, 1896, that tells me of the death of his brother in moving terms. In that letter appears the following passage, which on this sad day I quote with pride and gratitude:

“You have been more to me of what the dead friends of my youth were, than any other man, and I take the chance to say it, though not given to speaking of such matters.”

With this letter is a draft of my answer, rough and cut about, from which I extract a passage or two.

“No, there is nothing to be said, except what I once put into the mouth of a character in ‘Montezuma’ — that no affection is perfect until it is sealed and sanctified by death.”

(I feel the truth of that statement today when dear Lang seems nearer to me than he has been for many a year — than he has ever been!)

After all, what is it, this death? As I grow older I seem to understand the hope and beauty of it, and though doubtless I shall recoil afraid, to rejoice that life should close so soon. Better to die than to see those we love die. For to most of us existence here at the best is unhappy. Goodness and the desire to better the state of others are the only happy things in it, and the first in our half-brutal nature is hard to attain. But I think it can be attained if opportunity and space endure, and then, our many past sins, errors and foulness of thought and deed notwithstanding, why should we fear to die? Surely those men are mad who in their little day reject the offerings of religion, for through faith the communion of the creature with his Maker is real and possible to him who seeks it, whatever the fashion of his seeking, and without that communion light is not. Love also is real and immortal, not lust, but the love of children and friends and fellow-beings — that light shall always shine. For myself I hope to live long enough to win sufficient success and money to do some little good to others. If I fail in the attempt . . . may the earnest endeavour be accepted! At least we should try, since all we have, intelligence, attributes, means, is but lent to us. I wonder if you will set me down as a simple religious enthusiast or as a little mad with my notions of the efficacy of faith and prayer. Perhaps I am the latter — sorrow breeds it — but at least my madness is a star to follow . . . .

My dear Lang, that friendship to which you make such touching allusion always has been, is and will be returned by myself. I will say no more.

In the letter to which the above was an answer Lang quotes some verses by Lockhart to exemplify his own state of mind, which, as he says, “are good and simple” — so good, and at this moment so appropriate indeed, that I cannot end these remarks better than by copying them.

It is an old belief

 That on some solemn shore

Beyond the sphere of grief

 Dear friends shall meet once more.

Beyond the sphere of Time,

 And Sin, and Fate’s control,

Serene in changeless prime

 Of body and soul.

That creed I fain would keep,

 This hope I’ll not forgo;

Eternal be the sleep,

 Unless to waken so.

And so to Andrew Lang, among men my best friend perhaps, and the one with whom I was most entirely in tune, farewell for a while. Of his character and gifts I have already written while he was still living, so I will say no more of them now. There are few such, and today the world is poorer and greyer for the loss of a pure and noble nature. For myself I am more lonely, since of those men, not of my kin, whom I knew and loved while I still was young, now Charles Longman and Arthur Cochrane alone are left.

I find also another letter from Lang dated June 2, 1902, in which he informs me of the death of a second brother — “my little brother; he was always little, and ten years younger than I. . . . I tell you because you are a good fellow if ever there was one, and so was he,” etc.

I quote no more, according to the rule I have made as to certain matters which belong to the private lives of others. My answer, however, which is pinned to the letter, may be printed, as that is my affair and only portrays my private views.

June 6, 1902.

My dear Andrew, — Very well I won’t write about it; but try to take comfort. I am sure that no affections are so perfect as those which have passed through the fires of death, and often I think that as sometimes we grow away from the living, so always do we grow nearer to the desired dead — in spirit, I mean.

It is a strange world, especially to those who feel much, but the only things to do seem to be to work on to the best of one’s ability, to be very sorry for one’s sins, and in great humbleness to wait till the mortal tide engulfs us also — hoping that beneath or beyond it we may find peace, understanding and our perfect part. If I am sure of anything I am sure that Man has a living Spirit, and that he does not suffer so much to please the laws of Matter or a god called Chance. With true sympathy,

Your affec. friend,
H. Rider Haggard.

Some days after Lang’s death I received a letter from Charles Longman of which I will quote a passage that deals with the character of Andrew Lang and the friendship we both had for him.

Yes, you and I will always feel a blank when we think of Andrew Lang. He was of all men the most loyal to his friends — it was one of his most marked characteristics, and there had been a bond between us three which nothing could break. As you know, I had been anxious about him this spring, though not about his heart, which the doctor had lately examined without finding anything wrong. But his eyesight was threatened, and there was this strange depression about public affairs, which seemed as though it might grow worse. In old days when he was bright and cheerful it is little he troubled himself about strikes and such-like. So it may be that he — and those who loved him — have been spared something by his swift end. But the breaking of an unclouded friendship of five-and-forty years is no light thing: as you say, one must hope that the break is but a temporary one and that there is some other meeting-place for friends. Matt. Arnold says:

“Sad fate of every mortal lot
Which man, proud man, finds hard to bear,
And builds himself, I know not what
Of second life, I know not where.”

At some date before he died Lang asked his wife to give to me a certain ring in token of remembrance. I have now received and shall always wear this ring. It belonged to Queen Taia, the wife of Amenophis III, or perhaps to Nefertiti, her daughter-inlaw, who married the famous Khu-en-aten, the fourth Amenophis and the remarkable Pharaoh who inaugurated what the priests of Amen considered the heresy of the worship of the Sun’s Disc, by which, I take it, he symbolised the one Almighty God who made the world. On this ring, which, I think, from the length of time that it had evidently been worn, must have adorned the hand of Taia some 3500 years ago, is engraved a cat adoring Ra or the Sun, or perhaps the “Aten” or Disc. I already possess the sister ring that, from the less amount of wear it shows, was probably worn by the shorter-lived Nefertiti, Khu-en-aten’s adored and, I believe, sole wife. Both of them were obtained by us from the Rev. W. J. Loftie in the year 1887, who acquired them in Egypt when, about that time, the mummies of these queens were discovered and broken up by the Arabs at Tel-el-Amarna.

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