Return to England — Called to Bar — Wrote “Cetewayo and his White Neighbours” — Reception of the work — Why H. R. H. took to writing fiction — “Dawn” — J. Cordy Jeaffreson — Press notices encouraging but sales small at first — “The Witch’s Head” — Quiet life at Ditchingham — Letters from Shepstone — Life in London — Practice in Divorce Court.
On our return to England in the autumn of 1881 we went to stay at Bradenham for a while and rested after our African adventures. I do not remember anything that we did there, except that we were at the Sandringham ball. A note in my wife’s diary mentions that the Princess, afterwards Queen Alexandra, “looked lovely in pearl grey satin and was the prettiest woman in the room with the exception of Lady Lonsdale.”
Before Christmas we moved to a furnished house at Norwood. Here, having all my way still to make in the world, I set to work in earnest. First of all I entered myself at Lincoln’s Inn, but found to my disgust that before I could do so I was expected to pass an examination in Latin, English History and, I think, Arithmetic. My Latin I had practically forgotten, and my English History dates were somewhat to seek. I represented to the Benchers that, after having filled the office of Master of the High Court of the Transvaal, this entrance examination was perhaps superfluous, but they were obdurate on the matter. So I set to work and, with the assistance of a crammer, in a month learned more Latin than I had done all the time I was at school; indeed, at the end of a few weeks I could read Caesar fluently and Virgil not so ill. The end of it was that I passed the examination at the head of the batch who went up with me, or so I was given to understand.
Another thing that I did was to write my first book, “Cetewayo and his White Neighbours, or Remarks on Recent Events in Zululand, Natal and the Transvaal.” It contained about two hundred and fifty closely printed pages in the first of its editions, and represented a great amount of labour. I was determined that it should be accurate, and to ensure this I purchased all the Blue-books dealing with the period of which I was treating, and made precis of them, some of which I still possess.
But it is one thing for an unknown person to write a book of this character, and quite another for him to persuade anyone to publish it. I find among my papers a pencil draft of a letter which I sent to many publishers. It runs:
I write to inquire if you are inclined to undertake the publication of a short work I am now finishing. It is the result of some six years’ experience in South Africa in official and private capacities, and contains amongst other things a private history of the annexation of the Transvaal which, as I was on Sir T. Shepstone’s staff at the time, I am qualified to write.
The parts of the book, however, which would, I think, ensure the sale at the present moment, both here and in the Colonies, are the chapters dealing with the proposed grant of responsible government to Natal and the question of the reinstatement of Cetewayo. As you are no doubt aware, the ex-king will visit England very shortly, when I think an opportunely published work on the subject would find a ready sale.
The book is written in as interesting a style as I can command and would be published under my own name.
Awaiting the favour of a reply,
I am, etc.
Needless to say the reply always came, but notwithstanding the tempting bait of “the interesting style,” its character may be guessed. Nobody wished to have anything to do either with Cetewayo or his white neighbours.
At length I was faced with the alternative of putting the results of my labours into the fire or of paying for their production in book form. A letter from Trubner and Co., dated May 18, 1882, informs me that my MS. will make a volume of three hundred and twenty pages “like enclosed specimen,” and “if you will send us a cheque for the sum of 50 pounds sterling we will undertake to produce an edition of seven hundred and fifty copies.”
I sent the cheque, although at the time I could ill afford it, and in due course the work appeared. On the whole it was extremely well received by such papers as chose to review it seriously. Some of these notices I still possess, favourable and unfavourable. One from the Daily News, which comes under the latter category, dated August 23, 1882, is amusing to read today. It is written in the “high sarcastic” strain. Here is a sentence from it.
Mr. Haggard distrusts Cetewayo and is shocked at the notion of reinstating him on any terms. He is also shocked at the “retrocession of the Transvaal” and thinks we have not yet seen the end of the troubles in store for us, owing to our neglect to persevere in the work of exterminating the Boers, and so forth. These views have already been pretty fully set forth — so fully, in fact, that the necessity for a further exposition of them at this time does not seem very obvious. The freshest, and certainly the most amusing thing in Mr. Haggard’s book is his solemn warning that our policy, which he is pleased to stigmatise as “sentimental,” may end in alienating the affections of “the Colonists,” etc.
Here we see the party politics of the day at their best, or rather at their worst. The late Lord Carnarvon, who, it may be remembered, was Colonial Secretary during most of the years when I was intimately connected with South Africa, wrote to me:
“I am glad to find that my view as regards the Transvaal should be endorsed by one who had such good opportunities of judging as yourself”; and again:
Dear Mr. Haggard, — I am very much obliged to you for your extremely interesting book on Cetewayo. I have been so engaged with the accumulations of eight months’ business and with all the hundred and one questions which arise on our return to England that I have only been able to look at those parts which most closely interested me personally from their relation to events in which I was myself concerned; but I read these with great satisfaction. The English public was so deceived by misrepresentations of the annexation of the Transvaal that the real history was never understood; and the humiliating surrender of it was accepted in partial ignorance at least of the facts. A true statement of it is therefore very valuable, and I am grateful to anyone who has the courage to say what really did occur. It was as needless as it was discreditable; and though the unexpected discovery of gold is solving many difficulties, the unworthy nature of the cession has done great mischief to all time. I hope I may have the opportunity of talking about this to you.
Very faithfully yours,
I gladly quote an extract from a letter written by Sir Marshal Clarke from Basutoland, since it tempers my criticisms of Sir Hercules Robinson (Lord Rosmead), a gentleman of whom I have the most kindly personal recollections. He says, referring to this book:
I don’t think you have done quite justice to Sir Hercules Robinson. He appears to me to have been the right man for the place and for the time. He is not a very popular Governor, but his opinions carry great weight here as well as at home; he had a very difficult position at first — one of his principal difficulties arose from the impossibility of foreseeing how far his views would be supported at home — and while he appears to me to have acted with unswerving loyalty, his influence has done much to mitigate antipathies of races and to maintain our character for fair dealing with whites and blacks.
I also received letters from the late Lord Lytton, Lord Randolph Churchill, and others.
Except for any influence it may have had upon certain leading minds and organs of opinion, the book at this time proved a total failure. At this date (1883) an eager public had absorbed one hundred and fifty-four copies of the work. Say Messrs. Trubner:
You will no doubt consider the account a most unsatisfactory one, as we do, seeing that we are out of pocket to the extent of 82 pounds 15s., 5d. Against this, of course, we hold the 50 pounds advanced by you, but we fear that we are never likely to recover the balance, 32 pounds 15s. 5d.
As it happens, however, Messrs. Trubner did in the end recover their 32 pounds. When I became known through other works of a different character the edition sold out. Perhaps the public bought it thinking it was a novel; at any rate, I have come across a letter from a melancholy youth who made that mistake.
Since that time there have been other and cheaper editions, and in 1899, at the time of the Boer War, that part of the book that deals with the Transvaal was republished at one shilling and sold to the extent of some thirty thousand copies.
To this day there is a certain demand for the book. That it has already been extensively used by writers dealing with this epoch of African affairs in works of reference and elsewhere I have reason to know, although these have not always acknowledged the source of their information and judgments.
So it comes about that my only effort as an historian was not made in vain, although at first it seemed futile and fruitless enough. I may add that certain prophecies set down in its pages in 1882 have since that time been remarkably fulfilled.
If they [i.e. those who direct the destinies of the Empire] do not [take certain steps alluded to above] it is now quite within the bounds of possibility that they may one day have to face a fresh Transvaal rebellion, only on a ten times larger scale.
Unless they [i.e. South African problems] are treated with more honest intelligence, and on a more settled plan than it has hitherto been thought necessary to apply to them, the British taxpayer will find that he has by no means heard the last of that country and its wars.
Some twenty years after I wrote these words England did have to face a Transvaal war on a ten times larger scale, and the British taxpayer did hear that he was called upon to pay a bill of some three hundred millions sterling. Also about twenty thousand of our countrymen, among them a young nephew of my own, were summoned to lay down their lives on the African veld. Such was the cost to the Empire of the reversal of Sir Theophilus Shepstone’s policy in the interests of an English political party.
Whilst we were at Norwood a little incident occurred which resulted in my becoming a writer of fiction. At the church which my wife and I attended we saw sitting near us one Sunday a singularly beautiful and pure-faced young lady. Afterwards we agreed that this semi-divine creature — on whom to the best of my knowledge I have never set eyes again from that day to this — ought to become the heroine of a novel. So then and there we took paper, and each of us began to write the said novel. I think that after she had completed two or three folio sheets my wife ceased from her fictional labours. But, growing interested, I continued mine, which resulted in the story called “Dawn.”
Years afterwards, in 1894 indeed, on the occasion of the issue of one of the numerous editions of that tale, I inserted the following little dedication:
AFTER MANY YEARS
I dedicate this my first story
That Unknown Lady,
once seen, but unforgotten, the
mould and model of Angela,
the magic of whose face turned my mind
to the making of books.
Here I may as well tell the history of this book. Some of it, or rather of the first draft of it, I think I wrote at Norwood. Towards Christmas of 1882 my wife and I made up our minds to return to this house at Ditchingham, which was standing empty and furnished, while I pursued my studies at the Bar. Hither we came accordingly a little while before the birth of my eldest daughter. She was named Angela after the heroine of my novel, which shows that at this time it must either have been written or well advanced.
There appear to be three drafts of this work, the first of which (incomplete) is named “Angela,” after the heroine; the second, five hundred and fifty-four closely written foolscap sheets long(!), estimated, I observe, upon the title-page to print into about a thousand pages, called “There Remaineth a Rest”; and the third, bound MS. (unnamed), four hundred and ninety-three foolscap sheets. The history of them is briefly as follows. With pain and labour I wrote the work — five hundred and fifty-four foolscap sheets do take some labour in the actual matter of calligraphy, without considering the mental effort. Then I sent the result to sundry publishers — who they were I entirely forget. Evidently, however, Smith and Elder must have been one of them, as is shown by the allusion to James Payn in a letter from the late Mr. Cordy Jeaffreson, which I shall presently quote.
These publishers, or their readers, had no great opinion of “Angela” or “There Remaineth a Rest,” by whichever title it was then called. After these rebuffs most people would have put that mighty mass of manuscript into the fire or an upstairs cupboard. But I must have been a persistent young man thirty years or so ago, and I did not take this course. On the contrary, I consulted Mr. Trubner, with whom I had become personally acquainted since the publication of “Cetewayo and his White Neighbours.” Indeed he and I struck up some kind of a friendship, as is shown by the fact that he gave me his photograph in a little olive-wood frame, which photograph has stood on a shelf in my room from that day to this. It is a clever old face which is pictured there, and he was a clever old man. He used to tell me anecdotes in his queer, half-German talk about the literary celebrities of bygone days, and I remember that his description of George Eliot was extremely epigrammatic and amusing. This, however, I will not repeat. He was good enough to take some interest in the story, and to suggest that it should be sent to the late Mr. Cordy Jeaffreson for his opinion. This was done, and on April 27, 1883, Jeaffreson sent me his opinion, which is so thorough and able that I will quote from it, merely omitting his detailed criticism of the work.
24 Carlton Road, Maida Vale, N.W.:
April 27, 1883.
Dear Sir, — I have read your story deliberately and read it with considerable interest, which would of course have been greater had I read it in type.
Payn was not wrong. Your opening chapters have a superabundance of action, and several highly dramatic positions, but they lack dramatic interest, i.e. the interest that comes from an exhibition of the influence of character upon character. Novels being what they are just now, it is small praise to say that Angela’s love-story is better than two-thirds of the stories that are published. I could say much more in its favour. Still I urge you not to publish it in its present rude form. Indeed, the story has caused me to take so much interest in its writer that I could almost entreat you not to publish it.
I take it you are a young man. You are certainly a novice in literature: and like most beginners in the really difficult art of novel-writing you have plied your pen under the notion that novels are dashed off. Inferior novels are so written, but you have the making of a good novelist in you, if you are seriously bent on being one. It would therefore be ill for you in several ways to make your debut with a tale that would do you injustice. I don’t counsel you to try again with new materials. I advise you to make your present essay, what it might be made, a work of art and a really good performance.
You have written it with your left hand without strenuous pains; you must rewrite it with your right hand, throwing all your force into it. If you produce it in its present crude state you will do so only to regret in a few weeks you did not burn it. If you rewrite it slowly with your right hand — suppressing much, expanding much, making every chapter a picture by itself, and polishing up every sentence so that each page bears testimony to the power of its producer — the story will be the beginning of such a literary career as I conceive you to be desirous of running. Get the better of the common notion that novels may be dashed off — by remembering how often Lord Lytton rewrote “Pelham,” thinking over every part of it, now compressing and now expanding the narrative, before he ventured to give it to the world. Go to the Charles Dickens rooms in the S. Kensington Museum and observe the erasures, the insertions, the amendments of every paragraph of his writing . . . .
Here follows a long and able criticism of the story.
Having read your MS. I have packed it and will do anything you like with it — with the exception of sending it to a publisher in its present state. You will succeed in literary enterprise if it will be your ambition to do so.
Your story disposes me to think you have that ambition. It also causes me to hope that I may make the author’s acquaintance. If you call on me when you are in town I shall be delighted to ask your pardon for writing to you with such unmannerly frankness and self-sufficiency.
Believe me to be, my dear sir,
Yours very sincerely,
John Cordy Jeaffreson.
What an extraordinarily kind heart must have been that of Mr. Jeaffreson! He was a very busy man, producing as he did works of fiction and of biography, in addition to his antiquarian labours that involved the deciphering of thousands of old documents, by means of all which toil he earned a moderate income. Yet he found time on behalf of an individual totally unknown to him, or to anybody else in this country, to labour through several hundred not too legible sheets of manuscript, and to write a masterly criticism of their contents. Moreover, for all this trouble he refused to accept any reward. Certainly it has been my fortune to make acquaintance with much malice in the world, but on the other hand I have met with signal kindness at the hands of those engaged in literary pursuits, and of such kindnesses I can recall no more striking example than this act of Mr. Jeaffreson, of whom I shall always entertain the most affectionate memory.
Well, I took his advice. From a tiny note on the first page of the manuscript it would seem that I began to rewrite “Dawn” or “Angela,” as it was then called, on May 15, 1883, and finished the last of the four hundred and ninety-three foolscap sheets on September 5th of the same year. That is, in just under four months, in addition to my legal studies and other occupations and the time taken in attending in London to eat my dinners at Lincoln’s Inn, I wrote nearly two hundred thousand words. Nowadays the average length of a novel may be put at seventy-five thousand words, or even less, though mine are longer. But in the early eighties, when stories were brought out in three volumes and readers had more patience than at present, it was otherwise. I toiled at that book morning, noon, and night, with the result that at length my eyesight gave out, and I was obliged to finish the writing of it in a darkened room.
Still I did finish it notwithstanding the pain in my eyes, and then went to London to see an oculist. To my relief he told me I was not going blind as I feared, but that the trouble came from the brain which was overworked. He ordered me complete rest and change, during which I was not to read anything. So we went for a month to Switzerland, where we took lodgings. The only occupation that I had there was to walk, or, when this was not feasible, like a child to throw a ball against the wall of the room and see how often I could catch it on the rebound. However, the treatment proved effective.
The book being finished, or nearly finished, and the heroine, Angela, rescued from the untimely death to which she was consigned in the first version and happily married to her lover, once more I sought the assistance of Cordy Jeaffreson, who gave me a letter introducing me to Mr. Arthur Blackett of the firm of Messrs. Hurst and Blackett. It runs:
Dear Blackett, — Some months since I read the MS. of a novel of which the bearer of these presents, Mr. Rider Haggard of Ditchingham House, Bungay, is looking for a publisher. Mr. Haggard having distinguished himself in another field of literature, I was not surprised to find his first essay in prose fiction a thing of no ordinary power. It was a tale of character, pathos, incident, and new ground: so good that had it been less I should have advised him to publish it as it came to me. The goodness of the story, however, made me urge him to rewrite it, so that every chapter should be in harmony with its best and strongest parts. He has acted on my advice, and if the result of his renewed labour answers my anticipation, he has produced a work that will make your reader rub his hands and say “This will do.” . . .
Messrs. Hurst and Blackett wrote to me, and well do I remember the jubilation with which I read the letter:
We shall be very happy to undertake the publication of your novel on the following terms. To produce the work at our own expense and risk. To pay you the sum of 40 pounds on the sale of four hundred copies and 30 pounds on the sale of every hundred copies after. The title “Angela” has been used before . . . .
Needless to say I accepted the offer with gratitude and promised to find another title. Three days later the agreement arrived under which I sold the copyright to Messrs. Hurst and Blackett for a period of one year only from the date of publication. In their covering letter they informed me that they only proposed to print five hundred copies in the three-volume form, leaving me at liberty to make any arrangements I liked for a cheap edition, if one should be demanded.
About this time, namely just after he had read the MS. of “Angela,” I received the following interesting but undated letter from Mr. Jeaffreson:
Dear Sir, — Can’t you arrange to dine with us at seven o’clock on the 10th of next month? We could talk all round the literary question over a cigar in my study after dinner. Could you succeed in literature? Certainly up to a certain point: unquestionably up to the point you indicate, though you might never earn as much money as the two novelists you mention; for in that respect they have been singularly fortunate. But you may not hope to succeed in a day. You might become famous in a morning; but you may not entertain the hope of doing so. You must hope only to succeed by degrees, — by steady work, slow advances, and after several disappointments. Moderate success in literature is easily attainable by a man of energy, culture, and resoluteness who can afford to work steadily and play a waiting game. At twenty-one a man is necessarily impatient; at twenty-six a man has neither the excuse of youth nor the excuse of advancing age for impatience. How I envy you for being only twenty-six. I am old enough to be your father. I could not have written as good a novel as Angela’s story when I was twenty-six. I have already perused your “Cetewayo.” It is a far more difficult thing to interest readers in imaginary persons and incidents than to entertain them with writing about facts and characters in which they are already interested. It was because I saw you really knew your characters that I urged you to make the most of them. Do come and see me.
John Cordy Jeaffreson.
The following letter from myself to my sister Mary, which she found and returned to me a few years ago, throws some light upon the above:
Ditchingham House: May 5 1883.
My dearest Mary, — The enclosed letters may interest you. I consider Jeaffreson’s very encouraging on the whole, though he is inflicting a lot of extra labour on me. However, after I have been up for this examination I will go at it, and hope to finish the book in from two to three months. I do not altogether agree with Mr. Jeaffreson’s ideas as to changing the end of the book; indeed my own sentiments about it are much the same as those expressed by Miss Barber [a schoolfellow of my wife’s who was more or less living with us at the time. She is a sister of the late Marjorie Barber, “Michael Faireless,” the well-known author of “The Road–Mender,” etc., and afterwards married my brother, John G. Haggard, R.N.] in the letter that I forward you, because it puts the other side of the question very well. I wrote and asked Jeaffreson what he meant when he said that I could succeed in literature, and if in his opinion I could hope to compete with men like Payn and Blackmore, and in the very nice letter that he sent me in answer he said that “unquestionably I could succeed to the point I indicated.” This is of course encouraging, but I am not so sure about it.
I am going to dine with him on the 10th, when I shall try to modify his views about changing the end of the book . . . .
To this day I often wonder whether Jeaffreson was right in making me turn my story inside out and give it a happy ending. My idea was to present the character of a woman already sweet and excellent in mind and body, and to show it being perfected by various mortal trials, till at length all frailties were burnt out of it by the fires of death. In the second version I continued to carry out this scheme as well as I could, only the final fires through which the heroine had to pass were those of marriage to a not very interesting young man. I have always found young men — and, if they are to fill the position of heroes, the novel-reader insists that they must be rather young — somewhat difficult to draw. Young men, at any rate to the male eye, have a painful similarity to each other, whereas woman is of an infinite variety and therefore easier to depict. With elderly men, such as old Allan Quatermain, to take an instance, the case is different. With these I have had no trouble, perhaps because from my boyhood my great friends have always been men much older than myself, if I except the instances of Sheil or Brother Basil, and that other friend who died, of whom I have already written. Now I am reaping the sad fruits of this idiosyncrasy, since nearly all of those to whom I was deeply attached have gone before me, although, thank Heaven! a few still remain, such as Arthur Cochrane, Andrew Lang, and Charles Longman.
My criticism on “Dawn” considered as a whole — that is, so far as I recollect it, for I have not reread the book for many years — is that it ought to have been cut up into several stories. However, it has pleased, and apparently still continues to please, a vast number of persons, and not long ago I was much amused to see in an article in The Times that at Pekin — or Hong–Kong — it is one of the favourite subjects of study among the Chinese students of English literature. Perhaps an old aunt of mine, who still lives at the age of nearly a hundred, was right when she declared that the book was too full of “amateur villains.”
However, in due course it appeared in charming type, such as we do not get in novels nowadays, and three nice volumes bound in green, which I admire as I write. Certain of the reviews of it still remain pasted in a book. They were not very many nearly thirty years ago, or perhaps, as there were no Press-cutting agencies, one did not see them. On the whole, however, they seem to have been fairly favourable. Since 1883 I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of reviews of my books, good, bad, and indifferent, but I can safely say that few if any of them have pleased me more than that which appeared of “Dawn” in The Times.
“Dawn” [said The Times] is a novel of merit far above the average. From the first page the story arrests the mind and arouses the expectation. . . . This is, we repeat, a striking and original novel, breathing an elevated if somewhat exaggerated tone.
I wonder who wrote that notice! Be he living, which is scarcely probable, or dead, I offer him my gratitude. And yet I know not whether I should be grateful to this kindly critic, since his words, more than any other circumstances, encouraged me to try another novel.
As regards “Dawn” itself, it was more or less of a failure — of course I mean at that time, for in after years it became extraordinarily successful.
One of the most appreciative and indeed enthusiastic readers of this tale at the time was old Mr. Trubner, whose advice had encouraged me to make the attempt of its writing. Indeed I was told by one of his relatives that he continued its perusal to within a few hours of his actual death. Whether he finished it or not I cannot now remember. Scoffers might say that it finished him.
The new novel upon which I embarked ultimately appeared under the title of “The Witch’s Head.” Failing to find any magazine that would undertake it serially, in the end I published it with Messrs. Hurst and Blackett on practically the same terms as they had offered me for “Dawn.” Although, except for the African part, it is not in my opinion so good a story as “Dawn,” it was extremely well received and within certain limits very successful. Indeed, some of the reviews were quite enthusiastic, although, as I may here remark, I was unacquainted with a single person who made a business of reviewing fiction, or indeed with anyone connected with the Press. Never did a writer begin less equipped with friends who were likely to be able to do him a good turn. All I could do was to cast my fictional bread upon the literary waters.
The notices of “The Witch’s Head” naturally delighted me; indeed, after the lapse of more than a quarter of a century they still make pleasant reading. Also they caused the book to go quickly out of print and to be pirated in America. But this success would not tempt my publishers to reissue it in a cheaper form, a venture that they thought too risky. I hawked the work about and eventually found some other publishers — who have long since ceased to publish — who agreed to bring it and “Dawn” out each in a two-shilling edition, and nobly promised me one-third of the profits. But in that generous agreement was a little clause that afterwards nearly proved my ruin. It bound me to allow this firm to republish any other novel I might write during the five following years, in the same form and on the same terms. To such a document as this in my ignorance — there was no Authors’ Society in those days — did I set my hand, with results that shall be told later. These, however, did not alarm me at the time, if I really considered them, as, having then passed my final examination for the Bar without any assistance in the way of coaching, I determined to abandon the writing of fiction and devote myself entirely to my profession.
Three works had I produced, namely, one history and two long novels. The history had cost me 50 pounds to publish, and for the two novels I had received exactly the same sum in all; in short, the net returns were at that time nothing, and this for books that have since sold by the ten thousand copies, not to mention pirated editions. Thus I find that, during six months of the present year, 4204 copies of “Dawn” and 5656 copies of “The Witch’s Head” were sold in a cheap edition, besides others at a higher price, which, as these works were written about twenty-eight years ago, is not a total to be despised.
To return: had it not been for a curious chance my literary efforts would have ended with the publication of “The Witch’s Head,” and probably by now my labours at the Bar in this or some other land would almost have obliterated them from my memory. But, as it happened, I read in one of the weekly papers a notice of Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” so laudatory that I procured and studied that work, and was impelled by its perusal to try to write a book for boys.
Outside of this matter of my attempts at fiction I have little to add as to our life at Ditchingham before we migrated to London when I began to practise at the Bar. We lived very quietly, for we were not well off, and an estate which used to produce sufficient to support a country place of the smaller sort and those who dwelt on it, began to show greatly lessened returns. The bad years were upon us, and rents fell rapidly; moreover the repairs required were legion. Also, from one cause, and another, little or nothing came out of the African property, which shared in the depression that followed on the giving back of the Transvaal.
Under these circumstances, outside members of my own family our visitors were few, and in the main we had to rely on ourselves and our little children for company. I should add that in 1884 another daughter was born to us, who is now Mrs. Cheyne. She was named Dorothy, after the heroine of “The Witch’s Head,” or in full, Sybil Dorothy Rider. My recollection of this period is that it was rather lonely, at any rate for me, since my friends were African, and Africa was far away. However, I worked very hard, as indeed I have done without intermission since I was a rather idle boy at school, both at writing and the study of the Law. Between the intervals of work I took walks with a dear old bulldog I had, named Caesar, who appears in “Dawn,” and a tall Kaffir stick made of the black and white umzimbeet wood, which I still have, that reminded me of Africa. At times, too, I got a day’s shooting on our own land or elsewhere.
However, I had so many resources in my own mind, and so much more to do than I could possibly compass, that all these matters troubled me not at all. I was determined to make a success in the world in one way or another, and that of a sort which would cause my name to be remembered for long after I had departed therefrom, and my difficulty was to discover in which way this could best be done — in short, to search out the line of least resistance. So I possessed my soul in patience and worked and worked and worked. Often I wonder what estimate those who lived about me, and whom I met from time to time, formed of the studious young man who was understood to have been somewhere in Africa. I imagine that it was not complimentary, for if I understood them they did not understand me.
Some pleasures I had, however. My journeys to London to eat my dinners at Lincoln’s Inn were a change. So were the examinations, though these I faced with fear and trembling, having read up for them entirely by myself, which I imagine few people do. Occasionally some of my old African friends came to see me when they were on visits to England. Thus Sir Theophilus Shepstone came, and with what delight did I welcome him! Here is an extract from a letter of his, in which he alludes to his proposed visit, dated from London on May 26, 1883:
I have only just received your note of the 23rd. I see that you sent it to the Colonial Office, but I have not yet been there, for I don’t think they care much for me, except perhaps a few personal friends, and with the same exception the feeling is mutual as far as I am concerned. I think I shall make my number there about noon on Monday for the purpose of seeing those I care for, but for nothing else. I shall be very glad indeed to have a look at you again. How is your good wife? I hope well and strong.
Another letter from Sir Theophilus in this year has some allusions of more general interest, so I will quote most of it:
1 Charles Street, London: August 21, 1883.
My dear Rider, — Your warm-hearted and to me most touching farewell letter reached me last night on my return from a few days’ rushing about the country to say some good-byes.
I am sure I need not say, although it is pleasant to me to say it, that all the affectionate feeling which I know you entertain for me fills a warm place in my heart for you and for your dear wife. May God bless and prosper you both! Of course no one can tell what may happen in the future, or whether this is a permanent or only a temporary parting. At the dinner which was given me by the Empire Club Sir Robert Herbert spoke of me and of my services in the most remarkable language, and said plainly that I was still a young man so far as capacity for work went, and that he hoped soon to see me discharging some high function, etc. for the good of the country, and so on. It appeared as if he spoke from some intention of which he had knowledge; but my friend W. Sergeaunt, who sat next to me, said that if such a speech had been made by anyone else it would have meant a good deal, as it was it meant nothing; perhaps so. Of course every day I have in England adds to my consciousness of the influence that I could exert if I tried; but what is the use of it with such an abject Government as now rules and will for years to come, I fear, rule England?
I am glad that my speech did not wholly disgust you; I had no idea that the dinner was to be what it was, still less did I expect that reporters would be there, so I congratulated myself when I sat down. I shall look forward to the publication of your book with a great deal of interest; the trouble is that the real merits of a book are not the measure by which it is meted; as crushed strawberry is preferred to the beautiful natural colour of the fruit because it happens to be the fashion of the season, so with books: even they must pander to the taste of the hour whether it be good or bad, or they will not be read and therefore not bought. I hope, however, that the taste will be good when your book comes out; because, if it is, I have no doubt of its success . . . .
Always affectionately yours,
Towards the end of this letter Sir Theophilus says he is sailing in a few days for South Africa. I do not think that he ever saw the shores of England again. It is needless to add that Sir William Sergeaunt was right in his estimate of the value of Sir Robert Herbert’s speech. No further permanent employment was ever offered to him. Indeed, it was after this date that the persecution of him began, of which I have already written.
In 1883 Osborn wrote me a letter concerning some imantophyllum12 plants that he had collected for me in Zululand, which at this moment, twenty-eight years afterwards, are blooming in the greenhouse, in the course of which letter he makes some rather interesting remarks.
12 One of these plants was still blooming in Sir Rider’s bedroom in 1925. — Ed.
Zulu Reserve, via Stanger, Natal:
August 2, 1883.
. . . The place I am living at now is about a hundred miles south of Inhlazaty and is one of the loveliest spots in South Africa. I have a very fine forest within half a mile of my house, and a sea view a good sixty miles along the coast. My position here as supreme chief representing the paramount Power is certainly an improvement on the last.
You will have learnt ere this of Cetewayo’s fate. It could not have been otherwise: he was bound to come to grief, as from the day he set foot in Zululand — since his restoration he has never ceased in doing that which he ought not to have done. He proved himself to be as bad a character as ever wore a head-ring. It is to be hoped that he will do better in the happy hunting-grounds whither he betook himself on Saturday, 21 July, through the persuasive influence of several gleaming blades and sundry rifle bullets. As to myself I am getting thoroughly sick and tired of this dark country full of dark deeds of evil and violence. . . . I suppose that by this time you will have developed into a full blown barrister, and I need not tell you that from my heart I wish you every success. You ought to try for an appointment as Attorney–General in a colony (Crown), as you have the pull of private practice in addition to your official employment in such an office.
It is evident that when Sir Melmoth Osborn wrote thus of the death of Cetewayo as having taken place on July 21, 1883, he was deceived by some false rumour which had reached the Reserve from Zululand proper. Cetewayo did not really die until February 8, 1884, and Osborn saw his corpse before it was quite cold. An account of the circumstances of his death, which Sir Melmoth told me afterwards he believed to have been caused by poison, will be found on pp. 28 and 29 of the Introduction to the 1888 and subsequent editions of my book “Cetewayo and his White Neighbours.”
I think that we left Ditchingham, which at the time I thought I had let for some years to a gentleman who unhappily died before he took possession, at the beginning of 1885, about ten years after I began life in South Africa. Now with a wife and three children I was practically beginning life again in a small furnished house in West Kensington at the age of twenty-eight or thereabouts.
I remember, as one does remember trifles, that we drove in a railway bus from Liverpool Street to the West Kensington house, which personally I had not seen. We passed down the Embankment, and my little son, whom I was destined to lose, kneeled upon the seat of the bus and stared at the Thames, asking many questions.
After my arrival in London I began to attend the Probate and Divorce Court. Soon I found, however, that if I was to obtain a footing in that rather close borough, I must do so through a regular gate, and I entered into an arrangement with Bargrave (now Sir Henry Bargrave) Deane to work in his chambers. He was a connection of mine, my cousin Major George Haggard having married his sister. She died young. At that time her father, the well-known lawyer old Sir James Deane, was still alive, and I remember acting as his junior in some Divorce Court case. Bargrave Deane is now one of the judges of the Probate and Divorce Division.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09