Sir Henry Rider Haggard

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A personal journey of discovery

When Howard Carter first broke through into Tutankhamen's Tomb, he didn't wait to complete the recording of the contents before sharing with the world his wonderful discoveries and experiences; he revealed them as the work progressed. So it is with my personal discovery of Sir Henry Rider Haggard.

My imagination has been captured, and, the telling of the story, simply can't wait. Incidentally, Rider Haggard knew Howard Carter, and, had an early, private viewing of the young king's tomb; more on that, later.

I suppose, the first thing, is to answer your question; what is an account of Rider Haggard doing on a photographer's web site?

The object of my website, as I state on my home page, has always been, to share experiences.

Several months ago, I found myself just wanting to relax for a day; although I have a mountain of books, mostly on Egyptian history waiting to be read, I fancied a complete change.

Scanning the book shelves, I came upon a book that I had read as a teenager, and, that had manage to survive my many changes of home throughout my life. The book was 'King Solomon's Mines' by Rider Haggard. I read it from start to finish, only pausing for essential, 'comfort breaks'. Until then, I hadn't fully appreciated the expression, 'Ripping Yarn'. What a wonderfully crafted, beautifully told story. My only reservation being, that I wished the much shooting of Big Game, to have been achieved with a camera, and not a shot gun; different times, different attitudes.

On the title page of 'King Solomon's Mines', it mentioned, that, also by the same author could be found, 'She' and 'Allan Quatermain'.

A quick visit to a local charity shop found them. And both copies, survivors of more than ninety years of appreciative readers. 'Allan Quatermain' was devoured first, along with more Big Game, all forgiven, wonderful stuff. Then onto 'She'. At this point I realized I was being spoken to, and perfectly spoken to at that, by a very clever, sensitive man. I can fully appreciate why his friend, Kipling, suggested that 'She' wasn't written by Haggard, but, through him.

At this point too, Janet, my wife, decided that if she couldn't avoid hearing the name Rider Haggard in nearly every sentence I spoke, she may as well join in and humour me. She found a copy of a biography by his daughter, Lilias Rider Haggard, entitled, 'The Cloak That I left'. 

I think it safe to say here, that, this really was the start of my obsession and total admiration of this great man. The connections being made are incredible. He had a passion for my passion - Egypt, and wrote 13 novels with Egyptian themes, with countless articles and diaries of his trips there. For the last word on this subject, please read 'Rider Haggard and Egypt' by Shirley M Addy.

If you compare my first read of Rider Haggard, to that first, fist sized hole in Tutankhamen's tomb wall, then you will get some idea of what I am experiencing, and all the thrill of the pleasures to come. Perhaps, the only difference being, that we know more about Tutankhamen's treasures than we do of the boy himself, whereas, not only do we have Rider Haggard's treasures (the books), but also, a full account of his incredible life. From his extensive travels, to his ability to absorb, both the mystical and spiritual history of those countries, his acute intuition and brilliant imagination, his open mind and connection to the universe, his keen patriotism, and political understanding of Great Britain's needs at that time (sadly rejected by government), his deep understanding and knowledge of the Zulus, his energy and drive to achieve all this, and so much more I haven't listed.

All from a man, who humbly asked, that at his death, his life should be commented on thus:  "He did his best."

So far, I have read 25 of his novels (a little over a quarter of his output), and intend to read every printed word he put on paper, as well as every word printed about him. I literally put one book down and start another.

Of this action a friend inquired: "Isn't that boring, aren't they all the same?" To calmly counter this, I gave a very quick outline of the plots of the last three books I had read, from 'Cleopatra' written as a translation of papyri by Harmachis, the last of Egypt's native royal sons, to 'Eric Brighteyes' structured as an Icelandic Saga, and 'Beatrice', a heart breaking, tragic Victorian romance, that for the first time in a novel, moved me to tears.

I am sure you are getting the picture. This man has become a personal hero, and I would love to here from anyone who has also 'found' Sir Rider Haggard, and shares my feelings.

At some time in the future, I intend to do a pilgrimage to his home county, Norfolk, and then there will be 'pictures'! Meanwhile, I will keep adding other useful information, web links, book bargains, and personal observations; anything in fact, to promote the spread his inspiring words.

An excellent new biography for 2013 has been kindly made available on the web by its author, Geoffrey Clarke

Happy reading. 

For fellow lovers of Egypt

It is interesting to note this front piece taken from a copy of 'Moon of Israel', a novel set around the events of the Exodus. I will let it speak for itself.
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I have been aware of this phrase, but, until my recent interest in HRH, I did not realize it was the 'SHE' from the novel of the same name. And furthermore, that it originated from a very early experience of Rider's childhood. I will let Lilias explain from her biography, 'The Cloak That I left': "Another thing he told us was that in the nursery was a deep cupboard, and in the cupboard lived, in Rider's extreme youth, a disreputable rag doll of particularly hideous aspect, with boot-button eyes, hair of black wool and a sinister leer upon its painted face. This doll was something of a fetish, and Rider, as a small child, was terrified of her, a fact soon discovered by an unscrupulous nurse who made full use of it to frighten him into obedience. Why or how it came to be called She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed he could not remember, but so it was, and in years after the memory of the repellent inhabitant of the nursery cupboard gave her name to the 'She' who was to become famous all over the world".

HRH and the missing luggage

Rider Haggard was a very well travelled man, and, many of his journeys were accompanied without his luggage, as it invariably went missing. Now, he could simply blame British Airways, but then, he deduced, his own initials were the simple reason – 'HRH'. Believing the owner of the cases thus labeled, to be royal and rich, Rider thought them too tempting for a thief to ignore.

Brief Encounter

Previously, I mentioned the novel 'Beatrice,' and how I found it incredibly moving. Most people will be familiar with the film 'Brief Encounter' and how the upright, middle-class morals of the time, made it unacceptable for two lovers, should one of them be married, to pursue their affair, without sufficient pain and guilt, as to finally make them part, and return to their normal lives.

That was in 1946, so tap the moral barometer back to 1890, and see how a married man, albeit unhappily married, and, a free spirited, beautiful young girl, survive. Also consider, that such was the attitude of the time, that even the author was accused of leading others astray, and forced to include a moral 'disclaimer' in later editions of his book.

'Beatrice' is very much a book of its time, it simply wouldn't be written now. I will interrupt here and say, that should you intend to read this book, and I hope you do, then please read no further, as I am about to give the basic story away.

To continue: Beatrice Granger, aged 22 (the beautiful one) lives with her sister Elizabeth (a little plainer) and their clergyman father (obsessed by their finances) in the vicarage, in the small costal village of Bryngelly in Wales. The much loved by all, Beatrice, runs the local school, and it is her small salary that supports the family in their modest life style.

Beatrice has already captured the heart of the very wealthy local squire, Owen Davies. He has proposed marriage to her, and declared his undying love many times. Even though this marriage would solve the family's financial situation, Beatrice is a very modern free thinker, and refuses his proposals and advances; she will not marry a man she does not love! To complicate things even more, jealous sister Elizabeth, has her own heart set on marriage to the wealthy Owen Davies. And she is looking for any opportunity to extinguish the fire that burns in his heart for her sister.

She does not have to wait long, however, for fate, in the shape of Geoffrey Bingham (married to Lady Honoria, and a brilliant, up and coming solicitor destined for parliament and greater things), has entered their lives. He first meets Beatrice on the beach at the water's edge, she, rowing in her canoe, he, hunting sea birds. In his eagerness to retrieve a shot curlew from the sea, he gets cut off by the tide, and his only escape is to go with Beatrice in the small, two man craft. Already in their conversations, they find themselves talking frankly about life.

Geoffrey has taken over the paddling, and is working hard against the approaching storm and strong seas, until the paddle breaks, and, it looks as if they both may drown. Finally the canoe capsizes, Geoffrey is knocked unconscious, and is only saved from drowning, by Beatrice clinging on to him.

Because I am so eager to share the book with you, I am getting into too much detail, and must now be more concise.

They are both rescued, and here the bond between them is sealed, intellectually at first, until it gradually dawns on them both through the story, that they are in love. Elizabeth was aware of the spark between them from the very beginning, and uses every deceitful trick possible to encourage their friendship, to make it a public scandal, distort the truth, and, have Beatrice branded a 'scarlet woman.' In that event, she deduces, Owen Davies would want nothing to do with Beatrice, and so turn to her.

This is a serious misguided assumption on Elizabeth's part, for, even when the truth is out, that Geoffrey Bingham and Beatrice Granger are indeed lovers, squire Davies is so insanely in love and obsessed with Beatrice, that he threatens to publicly ruin Geoffrey unless Beatrice ends the relationship and becomes his wife. I feel I should define here the term 'lovers' and what it involved; they kissed on the beach.

Beatrice is faithful to her original feelings, and will not marry a man she does not love, nor will she see the man that she does love, ruined. Geoffrey is willing to give up his marriage, and career, and run away with Beatrice. Her love for him will not allow this, and she sees only one possible way out of the situation; she takes her canoe far out to sea, never to return.

Just to make the pill even harder to swallow, a short while after, Geoffrey's wife dies in an accident.

I trust that Rider Haggard would forgive this crude summary of his tragic story. Many of the letters between Beatrice and Geoffrey and their strained dialogues are beautifully and sensitively written, and it gives a great insight into the lives and morals of the time.

'Beatrice' A novel by Sir Rider Haggard

created on 2009-07-16 16:09:54 by mike