H. R. H. returns to the country — Devotes himself to agriculture — “Farmer’s Year” — Arthur Young — Bradfield Combust — Bobbin — Determines to follow Arthur Young’s example — Agreed with Daily Express for series of articles on Rural England — Visit to Cyprus and Holy Land — A Winter Pilgrimage — Rural England journeys — Heaviest labour of H. R. H.‘s life — Arthur Cochrane’s help — Hundreds of interviews — Practical results disappointing — Mr. R. W. Hanbury — Agricultural Post — Lord Onslow — Mrs. Asquith.
My town excitement over I returned to the country and the writing of books. Oddly enough, I found that the thorough change of thought seemed to have rested my mind, with the result that my imagination was fresher than it had been for some years before. Also the work itself was and has remained less irksome to me than during the years 1891 to 1895. Still the desire haunted me to do something in my day more practical than the mere invention of romance upon romance. By degrees it came home to me that a great subject lay to my hand, that of the state of English agriculture and of our rural population, also of all the questions thereto pertaining.
So forcefully did it come home that I grew to think and indeed to believe that I was appointed to serve my own, and perhaps other countries, by following up this neglected branch of research which to many has seemed so useless and so dull. Therefore with a bold heart I gave all my spare time and energy to a study of the matter.
First I wrote the book that is called “A Farmer’s Year,” with the twofold purpose of setting down the struggles of those who were engaged in agriculture during that trying time, and of preserving for the benefit of future generations, if these should care to read of them, a record of the circumstances of their lives and of the condition of their industry in England in the year 1898. In its way this book, which was first published serially in Longman’s Magazine — now, alas! defunct, like most of the good magazines of my early days — proved extraordinarily successful. It was reviewed and quoted everywhere, almost without exception, with great favour. Also the letters that poured in upon me concerning it were almost without number; they still continue to arrive. But, compared with my romances, it brought me in but a small amount of money. For this there were several reasons. It was published at too low a price — 7s. 6d. — whereby Charles Longman and I hoped to put it within the reach of all; also the charming illustrations by my friend Mr. Leon Little, of which I have the originals in this house, involved a good deal of expenditure.
The chief reason, however, is very simple. The British public as a whole is a nation of town dwellers and not rural in its tastes. It wants novels to read, not works that deal with agriculture in however interesting a fashion. He who treats of such subjects must do so at his own cost and be content to take his pay in honour and glory. Well, as I never expected anything else, I was not disappointed in this lack of financial results. My objects were, as I have said, quite different. I set them out so clearly in the little preface which I wrote some years later for the “Silver Library” Edition of the work, that I will venture to quote it here:
In Ancient Egypt the gentleman farmers of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties whilst yet alive caused their future sepulchres to be adorned with representations of such scenes of daily life and husbandry as to them were most pleasant and familiar.
The study of these paintings and reliefs has delighted me much today, as it did when first I visited them in 1887. Whilst considering them it occurred to me that in this book, by means of the methods of my own age, I have unconsciously attempted to follow the example of the authors of these rock-hewn manuscripts who lived some fifty centuries ago.
Perhaps, I thought to myself, in times to be, when all is changed again save the eternal ways of Nature that are the ways of God, the word-pictures of my pages also may thus interest and instruct unborn men of tastes akin to mine.
Such is my hope.
It would please me to write another “Farmer’s Year” arranged upon a similar plan, setting forth my further agricultural experiences throughout an entire year, now that I farm on a larger scale and more scientifically than I did, especially in the matter of milk-production. I greatly doubt, however, whether at my age and with so much work in front of me, I shall ever find the opportunity, especially as the production of such a book involves constant residence on one spot from January to December.
I followed up “A Farmer’s Year” by reading a paper on the Rural Exodus before the Norfolk Chamber of Agriculture on May 6, 1899, which is printed at the end of that volume, and moving the following Resolution that, after discussion, was carried unanimously:
This Chamber respectfully calls the attention of Her Majesty’s Government to the continued and progressive shrinkage of the rural population in the Eastern Counties, and especially of those adult members of it who are described as skilled agricultural labourers.
In view of the grave and obvious national consequences which must result if this exodus continues, the Chamber prays that Her Majesty’s Government will as soon as may be convenient make its causes the subject of Parliamentary inquiry and report with a view to their mitigation or removal.
On May 30th in the same year I moved a similar Resolution before the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture in London where, after criticism and discussion, it was also unanimously carried.
In January 1900 I went with my family to Florence, where we stayed with my sister-inlaw, Mrs. John Haggard, whose husband was at that time Consul in Noumea, whither he could not take his children. It was the year of the Boer War, and a melancholy business I found it to spell out the tale of our disasters in the Italian papers. The Times had asked me if I would care to go to South Africa as one of their war correspondents, but this did not strike me as an attractive business at my age. However, I entered into another arrangement with Mr. Arthur Pearson, the owner of the group of papers of which the Daily Express is the principal. This was that, on the conclusion of the war, I should write a series of articles under the title of “The New South Africa,” which would, of course, have involved a long journey in that country. This engagement was never fulfilled, for the reason that the war carried on for another two years or so, before which time the British public was utterly weary of the subject of South Africa. Upon this ground Pearson suggested that the contract should be cancelled.
In the meantime, however, while I was taking my bath one morning — a domestic occasion on which, for some reason unexplained, I have observed that I am more open to new impressions than at any other time — an idea struck me. It was to the effect that I should like to emulate Arthur Young, who more than a century before had travelled through and written of the state of agriculture in the majority of the English counties. Second thoughts showed me that the enterprise was very vast. It had taken Arthur Young about thirty years, if I remember right, not to complete it — for this neither he nor any one else ever did — but to deal with about twenty-six counties, travelling leisurely on horseback and for the most part, I think, as an official of what in those days answered to the present Board of Agriculture.
I may add that about a year ago I paid a visit to Arthur Young’s home, Bradfield Combust, more commonly called Burnt Bradfield, near Bury St. Edmunds, which was then for sale. The house, of course, is rebuilt, but all the rest — park, ancient oaks, and little lake — remain much as they were in his day, a hundred years ago.
Readers of his Life will remember how he instructed his delicate daughter — who afterwards died, poor child — to walk in certain places, such as in the Round Garden or on the flagged path where it was dry — “the little garden where I have so many times seen her happy.”
There they are to this day, and, standing among them alone, I could almost re-create the figure of pale little Bobbin as she obeyed the orders sent from France in her father’s letters. There, too, is the great avenue of limes which were, I believe, planted by Mr. Arthur Young, running from the house across the timbered grounds to the highway by the church. Here in the churchyard lie the mortal remains of this great man, for, when his prescience and his patient industry are taken into account, I think he may be fairly described as great. In the church, actually underneath his pew, is buried his sweet Bobbin, and on a tablet in an annexe appears a touching memorial inscription to her, which I regret I had no time to copy. It does not, I think, appear in the Life by Miss Betham Edwards.
How sadly read his words written at Bradfield in the year 1800:
I never come to this place without reaping all the pleasure which any place can give me now. It is beautiful and healthy, and is endeared to me by so many recollections, melancholy ones now, alas! that I feel more here than anywhere else. Here have I lived from my infancy, here my dear mother breathed her last, here was all I knew of a sister, and the church contains the remains of my father, mother, and ever beloved child! Here, under my window, her little garden — the shrubs and flowers she planted — the willow on the island, her room, her books, her papers. There have I prayed to the Almighty that I might join her in the next world.
Well, his sorrows are done and, had she lived the full life of woman, by now Bobbin’s days would have been counted out twice over. Let us trust that long ago her broken-hearted father’s petition has been granted, and that this pathetic pair once more walk hand in hand in some celestial garden, never to be parted more.
If I may venture to compare myself with such a man, there is a considerable similarity between our aims and circumstances. We have both been animated by an overwhelming sense of the vital importance of British agriculture to this country and its citizens. We are both East Anglians and born of the class of landed gentry or “squires.” We have both been official servants of the State. We have both written novels and much connected with the land. We were both practical farmers, which many who write on such things are not, and in the same counties. We were both tall, thin, with pronounced features, and possessed a nervous temperament and somewhat similar powers of observation. We both suffered a terrible loss that saddened our lives, though happily for him the blow fell in his later days. Both of us have been animated by the same hopes.
Such are some of the resemblances, and I dare say others could be found; for instance, if Young wrote of rural France, I have written of rural Denmark. Only I am thankful to say I have been spared his domestic separations, as I hope I shall be spared his blindness and the religious mania, or something approaching it, that darkened his last years.
To return, in the end I determined to cling to my inspiration and to follow old Arthur Young’s example, if in any way I could manage to do so.
My chance came in connection with this South African agreement. In answer to Pearson’s suggestion that it should be cancelled, I requested my agents, Messrs. A. P. Watt & Sons, to inform him that I was prepared to agree, on the condition that, in place of it, he would substitute another — namely, that the articles should deal with rural England. Otherwise I would proceed to South Africa, as I had made all my plans to do. Pearson considered and, in the end, assented. I do not know that he was particularly anxious to exploit rural England in the columns of the Daily Express, but at any rate it was a fresh cry, whereas that of South Africa had become very stale indeed.
Before speaking of this matter, however, which only matured in the beginnings of 1901, I will return for a moment to my travels which commenced at Florence. I had arranged verbally with Moberly Bell of The Times to visit Cyprus and the Holy Land, and to write for that journal some articles upon the affairs of the Near East. I did visit Cyprus and the Holy Land, but the articles were never written. For this reason: I took with me a nephew, now a respected lawyer verging on middle age and, I may say, a relative for whom I have the greatest regard and the warmest affection, who was to act as my secretary. But if ever his eye should fall upon these lines I hope he will not be offended if I add that then, in the heyday of his very fascinating and festive youth, he proved the most erratic secretary with whom I have ever come in contact. I could never find him when I wanted him, and as for the heavy typewriter which we dragged about with us, all he did with it was to drop it on my toes out of the rack of a railway train. At last I got sick of the article, which alone clung to us after he had lost all the luggage on the Italian railways, causing us to proceed to Cyprus with practically nothing but the clothes in which we stood, and sent it home from that romantic isle packed in the remains of a mule-saddle, or something of the sort.
After this there was for a year or two a certain coolness between me and The Times, which had never received the promised articles, for of course I was unable to explain the real reason of my delinquencies. However, my affectionate nephew enjoyed himself enormously, both in Cyprus and the Holy Land, whither I had taken him because I understood that he intended to enter the Church. As we sailed from Limasol for Beyrout he said, in a hushed voice, that he had something to tell me.
“Speak up,” I answered, wondering, with an inward groan, whether he had engaged himself in marriage to the barmaid of the Nicosia Club.
It turned out, however, that what he had to confide was that he had changed his views about entering the Church, and up to this point had concealed the matter for fear lest I should refuse to take him on to the Holy Land, but spoke now, perhaps because he did not wish to make the visit sailing under false colours. I reflected to myself that this bouleversement would be attributed to my evil influence, but said nothing. It all came right in the end, as such things do; and I am bound to add that, although he did not shine as a secretary, a trade for which Nature never fashioned him, this dear nephew of mine was perhaps the pleasantest companion with whom I ever travelled.
In the intervals of getting him up in the morning and generally attending to his wants and my own, I managed to make some notes, out of which I subsequently wrote my book, “A Winter Pilgrimage.”
The Holy Land impressed me enormously, although it is the fashion of many travellers to say that there they find nothing but disappointment. But of all these matters I have written in the “Winter Pilgrimage,” so I will say no more about them.
By the way, this “Winter Pilgrimage” is, I think, unique in one respect: the first half of it was published serially after the last had already appeared. The managers of the Queen newspaper, who had agreed to bring out all the portions of the book which dealt with the Holy Land in this form, found the instalments so popular among their readers that they asked to be allowed to print the remainder, which dealt with Italy and Cyprus.
Before I pass to the subject of “Rural England” I will dwell for a moment upon my only novel with a purpose, which appeared about a year previous to my journeyings in the Near East. It is called “Doctor Therne,” and deals with the matter of the Anti–Vaccination craze — not, it may be thought, a very promising topic for romance. I was led to treat of it, however, by the dreadful things I had seen and knew of the ravages of smallpox in Mexico and elsewhere, and the fear, not yet realised, that they should repeat themselves in this country. It was a dangerous move. Said the Lancet:
In conclusion we must commend Mr. Haggard’s courage in thus entering the lists against the Anti–Vaccination party. As a novelist and a politician alike it is evidently to his advantage to take no step that would be likely to alienate him from any large body of possible supporters. Yet he has risked losing many readers and creating a fanatical opposition to whatever he may do in a public or private capacity for the sake of telling the truth.
Although so different in matter and manner from my other works, this tale has been widely read, and will in due course appear in one of those sevenpenny editions which have become so popular of recent years. I dedicated it (without permission) to the Jenner Society. The Executive Committee of this society on December 22, 1898, passed a warm and unanimous resolution thanking me for the work.
Of “Rural England,” the heaviest labour of all my laborious life, there is really not very much to say. There it is. I shall never forget the remark of my daughter Dolly, a young lady with a turn for humour, when these two great volumes — they contain as many words as would fill five novels — arrived from Messrs. Longmans and, portly, blue and beautiful, stood before us on the table. “My word, Dad!” she said, “if I had written a book like that, I should spend the rest of my life sitting to stare at it!”
I confess that before all was finished I was inclined to share in this opinion. What a toil was that! First there were the long journeys; one of them took eight months without a break, though, happily, that summer was very different from this more disastrous year of cold and floods, 1912. Then there were the articles for the Daily Express and Yorkshire Post, which must be completed in my spare time, sometimes at midnight, of which I wrote more than fifty.
I do not think I could have completed the task at all without the assistance of my friend Mr. Arthur Cochrane, who took the notes while I did the talking, and also helped very much in the preparation of the series of agricultural maps. These maps, I regret to say, it was found impossible to include in the cheaper edition because of the cost of reproducing them.
But making the investigations was not all. After these came the writing of the work itself, whereof the articles only formed the foundation. This occupied the best part of another year of most incessant and careful application, for here every fact must be checked. It was the very antithesis to that involved in the composition of novels, where the imagination has free play. Here I may add that of the recorded results of these hundreds of interviews and statements made upon the individual authority of the persons seen, or from observation of the matters investigated, not one was subsequently questioned. No; I am wrong. The manager of the Great Eastern Railway took exception to some of the carriage rates quoted by an informant, for which I was not responsible. Also one gentleman who had invited me to inspect his farm spoke of “minor inaccuracies and blemishes” in the account I gave thereof. In nearly twelve hundred closely printed pages that, I am proud to say, is all.
The work was well received, although of course there were those who found fault. Everyone has his own ideas as to how such a thing should be done, though those who try to do it are few indeed. I too had my idea, which was to arrive at the truth out of the mouths of many witnesses. I desired to set down the facts as they were at the beginning of the twentieth century, not as they had been in the past or would possibly be in the future, or as people with various theories and political views would like to see them. I wished to preserve a large body of incontestable evidence for the benefit of future generations. Since that day things, I am glad to say, have changed a little — not very much — for the better; and if I were to undertake such a task afresh — which Heaven forbid! — I might write otherwise on certain points. But I tried to draw a picture of our agriculture and rural conditions in the twenty-seven counties that, with the Channel Islands, I visited, which should be true and faithful to the circumstances of the time.
Some, of course, were angry with me because I did not advocate Protection as a remedy. Others of a different school were angry because I pointed out that Free Trade had wrought enormous damage to British agriculture, and that this same Protection, if it could be established, would go far to repair that damage. As a matter of fact, I began my travels a believer in Protection. By the time I had finished them, rightly or wrongly I came to the conclusion that it was not feasible in England — a view which, during the last ten years or so that have elapsed since the publication of “Rural England,” little has happened to controvert. Indeed, I still hold that Protection, or Tariff Reform, which is so widely advocated by the followers of Mr. Chamberlain, is a heavy stone tied round the neck of the Unionist dog, and one which it will find makes swimming difficult in our political waters.
I elaborated these views in a speech I made some months after I published “Rural England” at the Framlingham Farmers’ Club, which speech has often been quoted since that time, when, it will be remembered, Mr. Chamberlain’s proposals were very much before the country.
Well, Mr. Chamberlain’s trumpet, which has been echoing through the land for the last ten years, has not yet shaken down the Free Trade walls, though it is possible that by the time these lines are read it may have done so. I cannot tell; nobody can tell except the Great Disposer of events. I can only put things as I see them. At any rate the point that I believe I was the first to place before the public in the above speech, although others took it up soon afterwards, is sound and clear. I can see no escape from the conclusion that, if food-stuffs are to be admitted to our markets practically free, while other imports are taxed, our agriculture must suffer to a terrible extent. The same thing applies, if in a less degree, to the admission of food-stuffs without impost from the constituent parts of the British Empire. It would make little difference to the British farmer, in these circumstances, whether the corn or the meat came in free from India and Canada or from Russia and the Argentine, if at the same time he had to pay more for his implements, his clothing, and every other article of daily life, and, as a consequence, a higher rate of wages, while he only realised the old low prices for what he had to sell. For, be it remembered, the British manufacturer competing with the foreign-made articles would certainly raise the cost of his output till it equalled, or almost equalled, the price at which such foreign articles could be profitably sold to the British consumer.
At first my hopes of any tangible result of my labours were bitterly disappointed. Thus, when in January 1906, a little over three years later, I wrote a preface to a new edition of “Rural England,” I find myself saying:
I wish I could add that I was able to point to any tangible fruits of its publication. This, however, I cannot do. Personally, I have made every effort to bring the reforms urged in its pages to the benevolent notice of those in authority. At some private cost I have inflicted upon them copies of these expensive volumes and been favoured in return with polite notes of thanks. I have interviewed certain of them who wished to receive me. I have neglected other work in order to travel up and down the country addressing every kind of meeting and explaining my views; in short, of would-be agricultural reformers, I may say almost, that I have “laboured more abundantly than they all.” Now after four years are gone by I must with humiliation report that nothing of any consequence has happened.
It is true that at one time I hoped that the great extension of parcel post privileges which, under the title of an Agricultural Post, I urged so earnestly in the interests of small holders, would pass into the region of accomplished fact. In February 1903 I wrote a letter on this subject to Mr. Hanbury, and I give an extract from his answer:
House of Commons: February 18, 1903.
Dear Mr. Haggard, — I should have answered some days — or weeks — ago, but I have been in communication with the P.M.G., Henniker Heaton, and others on the subject you have done so much to bring to the front. So far from opposing the principle of your suggestion I am heartily in favour of it, and I am doing what I can to see it carried into practice. My criticisms are criticisms of detail. I do not think the scheme can be limited to agriculture or even to rural districts. It must apply all round. Nor is it practicable to compete for long distances with the Railway Companies. The coaches of the P.O. run to distances of 50 miles round London, and at present it costs the P.O. less to send parcels by that way than by rail. But the arrangement with the Railway Companies as to parcels expires very shortly now, and it remains to be seen whether they cannot be made to carry them very much cheaper in the future. The weak point of the P.O. service as regards the country districts is that it distributes the parcels sent from the towns to almost every house free, but does not do so much for collection as it does for distribution. The result is that the flow of traffic is all in one direction. A farm-house or cottage a mile or a mile and a half from a P.O. can readily receive parcels from London, but to despatch one to London involves a walk of a mile or a mile and a half.
So again the limit of 11 lbs. is satisfactory to a town producer or a tradesman, but it is not at all what the small farmer wants.
Knowing how keen your interest in these questions is and what good you have done already, I hope we shall be able to work side by side on this and many other points.
R. W. Hanbury.
Of my answer there is a copy extant, from which I quote:
Ditching House, Norfolk:
February 19, 1903.
Dear Mr. Hanbury, — It is with great pleasure that I have read your kind letter and learn from it that this Post is really to receive your support. Under these circumstances (although of course there will be endless difficulties and obstacles to overcome) I see no reason why it should not pass into the realm of accomplished fact. If so I am sure that coming generations will bless your name as the Minister who brought about a great and beneficent reform in our economic conditions and gave back some of its prosperity to the land. For it would — directly or indirectly — do these things.
I agree the Post could not be limited: all trades and persons must share its benefits. I think “Goods Post” would be the best name.
I believe the Railway Companies would come in on reasonable terms for long distances. The General Manager G.E.R. told me straight out (after I had shown him what the thing really meant) that they would be glad to do so.
I agree that a collecting system is absolutely essential. Motors make this easy. It (the Goods Post) might be combined with some “contre remboursement” or pay-on delivery plan. But most of the stuff should go doubtless to co-operative agencies who would sell it on the markets, crediting each producer with his share.
Believe me, sincerely yours,
H. Rider Haggard.
P.S. — I am convinced the reason that the idea of an Agricultural Post is not received with enthusiasm in every agricultural quarter (the town papers seem all to be much in favour of it) is that the farmers and their scribes believe that if it were conceded the concession would be used as an argument against their getting Protection on food-stuffs!
That is why so many of them oppose or belittle every useful reform: “it might stop their getting Protection.” Therefore they never will unite to demand palliatives, but prefer to hanker after the unattainable!
Subsequently I had a most satisfactory interview with this Minister in his private room at the House of Commons, from which I emerged full of hope that the matter was really in a way of being put through.
A little later Mr. Hanbury died suddenly, and nothing more has been heard of the Goods Post from that day to this.27 To my mind he was a great loss to the country, as in him departed a man open to new ideas; one, too, animated by a sincere desire to advance the cause of agriculture.
27 A Cash on Delivery postal service has at last been instituted. — Ed.
Nearly two years later I received the following letter from the late Lord Onslow, who in his turn had become Minister of Agriculture.
Clandon Park, Guildford:
November 13 1904.
Dear Sir, — I have read with much interest not only your book on Rural England, but your speeches and letters to the Press on rural subjects; and I thoroughly appreciate how much you have done to educate public opinion on rural matters.
I know, too, that in your opinion the Government have shown themselves supine in dealing with these questions.
Difficulties there are which perhaps are not within your knowledge, but there are two primary ones which take the heart out of any official reformer. One is the absolute impossibility of getting more than one or two important measures through the House of Commons in any Session, and then only by the use of the Closure, while measures to which only one single member is opposed cannot be brought on.
The other is the state of the national Exchequer and the falling off in the power of the Government to borrow at the low rates of former times.
I am in accord with you in much that you hold, but it is only possible for the Board of Agriculture to act where neither legislation nor expenditure is necessary.
I expect to be in London most of next week and the week after; and if you should chance to be coming to town, I should much like to discuss some of these subjects with you.
I am, yours faithfully,
Here is my answer to this letter:
Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
November 15, 1904.
Dear Lord Onslow, — I thank you very much for your letter. . . . Believe me, my Lord, I quite appreciate the difficulties you mention. At the same time I am so enormously impressed with the vital importance of the questions involved that I think every effort should be made to educate public opinion until it consents to sweep away those difficulties and give a fair trial to reasonable reforms. It is my sense of the supreme necessity of these reforms that has induced a humble person like myself to write big books, take long journeys, make speeches, indite letters to newspapers, etc. — all gratis work, of course — in the intervals of getting my livelihood by other means. But as you wish to see me I will not trouble you with a long letter on all these matters.
Very truly yours,
H. Rider Haggard.
To the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Onslow.
In due course I had a long talk with Lord Onslow at his private house, during which he kindly but firmly pressed out of me all the information I had to give as regards small holdings and other matters. In the end he asked me what I thought had best be done. I replied that it would be well to begin by making a thorough inquiry into all the circumstances of the whole business. He agreed, and we parted; nor did I ever meet him again except once at a public dinner.
Subsequently he appointed a committee to investigate small holdings, on which he did not offer me a seat. Nor, to the best of my recollection, was I even asked to give evidence.
Thus did I keep “pegging away” on Nelson’s principle that it is “dogged as does it.” Having no official position, of course I could only work from the outside, but I am sure that I missed no opportunity within my reach. Thus, to take an example almost at hazard, I find the copy of a letter written in some acerbity of spirit to Captain Kennedy, who was the Conservative agent for the Eastern Counties, in reply to an informal invitation to me to contest the Wisbech Division.
These exertions I continued down to the time of the fall of the Conservative Government, which I implored to do something in the direction of extending small holdings, if only for the sake of their own political skin. Needless to say, they took no notice. The only answers that ever reached me were to the effect that they were not going to “window-dress.” Of course the reasons for this attitude are to be found in Lord Onslow’s letter which I have already quoted. Moreover, I did not confine my endeavours to prominent members of the Conservative party, of whom I had begun to despair. This is shown by a letter which I addressed to Mr. Asquith, the present Prime Minister, who at that time, of course, was in Opposition, a propos of some speech he had made. Almost was I, never much of a party politician, driven to the Pauline attitude of being all things to all men if by any means I might win some. With Mr. Asquith I had some slight acquaintance. I remember Lord James of Hereford, whom I knew fairly well, introducing him to me one day when I was lunching at the Athenaeum, on which occasion they both expounded to me the reasons of their strong dislike of Protection. Here is the letter:
Ditchingham House, Norfolk:
March 19, 1903.
My dear Sir, — I have read your speech reported yesterday, and in consequence I am venturing to ask your acceptance of the copy of my recently published work “Rural England” which I send herewith. I hope that you may find time to glance at the book, and especially at the chapter headed “Conclusions.” Most thoroughly do I agree with what you say as to the possibility of a vastly increased output of home-grown food. But this you will never get until you have co-operation and the cheap carriage which, as you may have seen, I am doing my best to advocate — under the form of an increase in postal facilities. For this reason: without co-operation and cheap carriage the small holder cannot thrive; and it is to him that you must look for enlarged production — not to the large farmers. As regards the lack of rural cottages I agree that this is one of the great causes of the exodus to the towns (see Vol. II, pp. 519–520). But the lack of prospects is a greater. If labourers had a prospect of rising and could do well on the land as small holders they would soon get cottages, for then they could pay a rent at which these would be remunerative to build. Or more probably they would build their own, as at Evesham.
Now I believe that such prospects could be afforded to labouring men by means of some such moderate measures of reform as I have suggested (Vol. II, p. 555) if only some British Government would really take the matter to heart.
To my mind, to plunge everlastingly into foreign adventure after foreign adventure, however difficult and costly, and all the while to neglect our own land so cruelly is a madness. What will it benefit us to gain the whole earth if we are to lose our country-bred population? Again, with all this outcry about our danger from lack of food, why not take the obvious remedy of growing most of it at home? as we could do in my judgment, and without Protection.
Forgive me for having troubled you with these screed. I do so frankly in the hope of interesting you still more earnestly in a subject to which, trusting to do a little good, I have given so much time and labour — more indeed than my personal and material interests have justified me in doing. To you, sir, may come the opportunity of helping forward these reforms and thus truly benefiting our country.
Believe me, very truly, yours,
H. Rider Haggard.
The Right Hon. H. H. Asquith.
As a matter of fact it was from the Radical party, with which I profoundly disagree upon certain points, that light came at last. They, as I know from sundry signs and tokens, had taken the trouble to study “Rural England.” At any rate the Development Board, which now does so much for agriculture, embodies somewhat closely, if with variations, the scheme of Government assistance for that industry which I outlined in the last chapter, headed “Conclusions.”
The book has been very largely quoted, both here and in other countries, though often enough without acknowledgment, notably by politicians in search of ideas. For instance, Lord Rosebery — I need not say, with acknowledgment — has alluded to it more than once in his speeches, and so have many other prominent men. I remember that he pointed it out to me in his library, and told me, I think, that he had read it straight through.
I fear that this has been rather a dull chapter, for its subject is always dull, and he who decants thereon is apt to be considered an agricultural bore. Also it has involved the quotation of several letters and the reprinting of some extracts from books, which are apt to look wearisome in type. Yet I did not see how these could be omitted, since the words set down years ago do give exactly the writer’s thoughts and views in a fashion more completely accurate than can any summary founded on his recollections. Memory is a treacherous thing, and one to which in such matters it is not well to trust.
Strange and varied were the establishments in which Cochrane and I often found ourselves as guests during the course of these “Rural England” journeyings. When it was announced that I was going to visit a given county we invariably received many kind offers of hospitality. Since, as a rule, we knew nothing of our would-be hosts, our method of dealing with these was to take a map and accept at hazard those invitations which would bring us nearest to the centre of the various districts we wished to investigate. Really it was a wise plan, for it brought us into touch with all sorts and conditions of men.
When, at the given day and hour, we drove up to the residence of our unknown host, often enough it was without knowing whether we should find a palace or a farmhouse.
I could write a whole chapter, if not a small book, about the places where we stayed and their inhabitants. One night, for instance, we found ourselves in an ancient and gigantic baronial castle. While I was undressing Cochrane arrived in my apartment, which was huge and gloomy, and asked me if I would mind coming to inspect his sleeping-place. I did, and by the light of a few struggling candles saw the most depressing room on which ever I had set eyes.
It was enormous, and in the centre of the back wall stood a four-post bed with black hangings and, I think, black hearse-plumes at the corners. Round the walls were old, full-length family portraits of a singularly grim description — I imagine they must have been memorial pictures — while over the mantelpiece sat an awful old seventeenth-century woman who held a skull in her hands. This very skull, by the way, was kept in a cupboard upstairs, where I saw the thing, which had something to do with the history of the family, or rather of that which preceded it in the ownership of the castle and estate. Everything about the chamber was in thorough keeping with that skull; even the coal-box was black and shaped like a sarcophagus!
“This,” said Cochrane — a lover of cheerful surroundings — in a feeble voice, “is no doubt the place where these people have been laid out for generations!”
Remembering the horrible “black bed” in the Verney Memoirs, which used to be carted from house to house whenever a death was expected in the family, I agreed with him, and departed, wishing him pleasant dreams and a good night’s rest.
So huge was that castle — built, I believe, in the time of King John — that in the morning we were utterly unable to find our way to the breakfast-room. Up and down passages we wandered, till at last we saw a table with writing materials on it, and sat down there to answer letters, until ultimately we were retrieved.
Another strange experience was when we found ourselves in a bachelor house, of which the host, poor fellow — having, we understood, been crossed in love — was in the habit of looking upon the wine when it was red. In that house there was practically nothing to eat, for the reason that its owner ate practically nothing. I remember a certain pink and underdone veal and ham pie which, as I was extremely unwell at the time, did not excite appetite; also an egg which I asked for in place of the pie — but I will not dwell upon that egg! On the other hand, we literally swam in 1845 — yes, 1845 vintage port. It was going at lunch, it was going at dinner, it was always going — I may add, it always went!
Our host, a most kindly-natured and wealthy man, finding out that I liked old furniture, took me to an attic which was stuffed with Jacobean oak and Georgian Chippendale. I admired the pieces, whereon he said in a careless voice, “If you like them, take them away. I don’t care for them.”
I was greatly tempted, but in all the circumstances did not feel justified in accepting this liberal offer.
But I must not continue the record of such reminiscences of our journeyings, since of these truly there is no end.
In the year 1903, which I spent at home, I wrote another work of a rural character, called “A Gardener’s Year.” This first appeared serially in the Queen, and was afterwards brought out in a handsome volume of nearly four hundred pages by Messrs. Longman. It went through two editions and gave pleasure to a good many people.
Also I wrote a romance of chivalry called “The Brethren,” of which the scene is laid in the Holy Land in the time of the Crusaders. Personally it is a favourite with me, but my historical tales have never been quite so popular as are those which deal with African adventure.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 22:45