The Days of My Life, by H. Rider Haggard


Henry Rider Haggard was born on June 22, 1856, and died on May 14, 1925. The present work covers the first fifty-six years of his life, commencing with his earliest recollections and ending on September 25, 1912. On that day he wrote to me: “I have just written the last word of ‘The Days of My Life,’ and thankful I am to have done with that book. Whenever I can find time and opportunity I wish to add ‘A Note on Religion,’ which, when done, if ever, I will send to you.” This “note” he sent me on January 24, 1913. By his wish the entire MS. was sealed up and put away in Messrs. Longman’s safe, and was seen no more till after his death, when it was opened by me in the presence of one of his executors.

Rider Haggard entered on the serious business of life at an early age. He sailed for South Africa in July 1875, when he was only just nineteen, on the staff of Sir Henry Bulwer, the newly appointed Governor of Natal. Eighteen months later he was attached to the special mission to the Transvaal, led by Sir Theophilus Shepstone, which resulted in the annexation of the Transvaal to Great Britain on April 12, 1877. Shortly after the annexation the Master and Registrar of the High Court at Pretoria died, and Haggard was appointed as Acting Master when he was barely twenty-one, an age at which his contemporaries in England were undergraduates at college. This provisional appointment was confirmed a year later.

It can hardly be doubted that this early initiation into affairs had an effect in moulding Rider Haggard’s character, and that effect would not be diminished by the tragic nature of the events which quickly followed, with which he was closely connected — Isandlwana, Majuba, and the Retrocession of the Transvaal.

In consequence of the Retrocession he returned to England in the autumn of 1881. His African career was ended, he had a young wife and child, and he still had his way to make in the world. His six years of Africa had, however, not only given him a knowledge of the world and a self-reliance rare in so young a man, but had also enabled him to acquire an intimate knowledge of the history and characteristics of the Native Races, which he was subsequently able to turn to good account.

From the circumstances of his early life he was thrown much into the company of men older than himself, and he had a singular gift of winning not only their confidence, but their love. The happy relations which he was able to establish with his superiors in the Government service are an example of this, and it was a faculty which never left him.

This autobiography deals not only with Haggard’s life in South Africa, and with his literary career, but also with an aspect of his many activities which is less familiar to those who knew him mainly as a writer of romances. He was always dominated by a strong sense of duty, and by an ardent patriotism, and the direction in which he thought that he could best serve his country was in an attempt to arrest the rapidly growing migration of population from the country districts to the slums of the towns. He thought that a healthy, contented, and prosperous rural population was the greatest asset that a country could possess, and this work will show with what ardour and energy he devoted himself to the furtherance of this object, and to the prosperity of agriculture generally. He journeyed through twenty-seven countries examining the condition of agriculture, and published the results of this survey in his book “Rural England.” This undertaking he described as “the heaviest labour of all my laborious life.” Besides this he travelled through the United States and to Canada as a Commissioner appointed by the Colonial Office, to report to the Secretary of State on the Labour Colonies instituted by the Salvation Army. He also served on Royal Commissions which involved much labour and long journeys. If to give unsparingly of one’s time and abilities to the service of one’s fellow-men, without hope of reward, is to be a philanthropist, surely Rider Haggard deserved that honoured name. But, like many another man who devotes his time to work of this character, he was much discouraged and disappointed because his labours were not crowned by immediate results. Nevertheless, it is probable that the causes for which he worked will, in the long run, triumph, and the work which he gave so unsparingly will not be wasted.

I undertook the preparation of this work for the press because my friend, Rider Haggard, wished me to do so. I hope I have not bungled or failed in the execution of this labour of love. I wish especially to express my gratitude to Miss Hector, who acted as Sir Rider’s secretary for thirty-four years, up to the time of his death, for reading the proofs and for her unfailing kindness and help in many ways.

My thanks are also due to various gentlemen for permission to print letters: viz. the Father Superior of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey for several letters from the late Brother Basil; Mr. E. F. Benson for an extract from a letter of Archbishop Benson; the executors of Sir Walter Besant; Mr. Bramwell Booth, General of the Salvation Army, for letters from himself and from General William Booth; the Earl of Carnarvon for a letter from his grandfather; the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill for a letter from himself, and one from Lady Leslie; Lady Clarke for a letter from Sir Marshal Clarke; the executors of Miss Marie Corelli; Sir Douglas Dixie, Bart., for a letter from the late Lady Florence Dixie; Lady Gwendolen Elveden for one from the late Earl of Onslow; Sir Bartle Frere for a letter from his father; Sir Edmund Gosse; Earl Grey for letters from his father; the Viscountess Harcourt for letters from the late Viscount Harcourt; Mrs. Hanbury for a letter from the late Rt. Hon. R. W. Hanbury; the executors of the late W. E. Henley; Mr. H. C. L. Holden for a letter from Dr. Holden; Messrs. Hutchinson and Co., Ltd., for a letter from Messrs. Hurst and Blackett; the executors of the late Mr. J. Cordy Jeaffreson; Mr. Rudyard Kipling; Chief Justice J. K. Kotze; Mrs. Andrew Lang for many letters from her husband; Sir Oliver Lodge; the Hon. Mrs. A. Lyttleton; the executors of the late Sir Melmoth Obsorn; Mr. Lloyd Osbourne for five letters and an unpublished poem by R. L. Stevenson; Messrs. G. Routledge and Sons, Ltd., for a letter from Mr. Trubner; the executors of the late President Roosevelt; Colonel Walter Shepstone for letters from his father, Sir Theophilus Shepstone; Miss Townsend for a letter from her father, Mr. Meredith Townsend; Mr. Evelyn Wrench for extracts from the Spectator. I have also to express my thanks to the following gentlemen for kindly reading and consenting to the publication of passages referring to them: Sir E. Wallis Budge, Major Burnham, The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, and Mr. Thomas Hardy, O.M.

July 1926. C. J. Longman.

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