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One of the most popular authors of the late 19th century, Henry Rider Haggard entered British society at Wood Farm, West Bradenham Hall, Norfolk, England, on the twenty-second day of June, 1856. He was the eighth of ten children born to William and Ella Haggard. William Haggard was successful and prosperous barrister, while his wife Ella fancied herself a poet, although none of her poetry ever achieved publication.
As he passed through childhood, Henry Rider disappointed his father, who placed little faith in his son’s intellectual capabilities. In fact, William Haggard believed that his son was slow. Therefore, unlike his brothers, who attended exclusive private English prep schools, Henry was sent to Ipswich Grammar School and received additional tutoring at home. Years later, in 1875, Henry failed the army entrance exam, not only embarrassing his family but fulfilling his father’s evaluation of his son’s abilities. Because of his connections, William Haggard found employment for Henry. As a result, Henry would become secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the lieutenant governor of Natal, a British colony in Africa.
In Africa, Henry Haggard bloomed. He joined the staff of the special commissioner, Sir Theophilus Sheptstone. In the company of the commissioner, Henry traveled into the Transvaal, where the Boers, the Zulus, and the British Army fought for ascendancy. After the British prevailed, and the Boer Republic of the Transvaal was annexed, Henry was appointed Master and Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal. An ‘enlightened colonialist,’ Henry Rider Haggard perceived the British Empire as a force for good in Africa. He believed that the British Empire liberated oppressed peoples, allowing them the freedom to develop as communities, while maintaining their traditions.
Haggard respected and admired the indigenous peoples of Africa, especially the Zulus, whom he considered mighty warriors. His observations and experiences in Africa formed the foundation of his future literary pursuits. The exotic settings, lost worlds, proud natives, and esoteric, spiritual themes reflected where he had been, what he had done, and what he had seen in Africa.
In 1880, Haggard returned to England for a visit. While there he married Mariana Louisa Margitson, a Norfolk heiress. When Haggard returned to Africa, his wife accompanied him. Haggard owned an ostrich farm in the Transvaal, where the couple set up house. Their tranquillity did not last long.
For in 1881, the British Empire handed the Transvaal back to the Dutch. Haggard opposed the formation of the Boer state. He believed the Boers would impose an oppressive government on the natives, exploiting the land and its population for wealth. Nevertheless, the British no longer controlled the area. Haggard and his wife sailed for England, where they lived in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Haggard studied law and in 1884 began practicing in London. To relieve the tedium of his new profession, Haggard began writing. His first book was Cetewayo and His White Neighbors, a study of African history of that period. In fact, it was a poorly disguised condemnation of Britain’s policy in Africa. The book was not popular, and Haggard was criticized for his viewpoint.
Haggard’s next literary effort was Dawn, a novel, which was followed closely by another novel, The Witch’s Head. Both novels were uninteresting melodramas full of poorly painted bad guys, along with inklings of things to come – clairvoyance and foreseeing the future. The Witch’s Head was notable only because portions were autobiographical. This marked the first time Haggard injected scenes from his own life into his writing.
According to legend, the turning point in Haggard’s writing came about due to a bet. One of Haggard’s brothers bet five-shillings that Haggard couldn’t write a novel as good as R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which had just been released to much acclaim. Haggard took the bet. Six weeks later Haggard finished King Solomon’s Mines, the first of the Allan Quatermain novels. King Solomon’s Mines is the story of treasure hunters seeking the source of the Biblical king’s fabulous wealth. As the story unfolds, a simple treasure hunt becomes something much more – a spiritual trek through a lost land. Haggard introduces a race of noble savages, an evil witch doctor, and African animism, all of which influenced later writers, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Hollywood movies, such as Tarzan and Indiana Jones.
King Solomon’s Mines became an overnight bestseller. Ever since initial publication in 1885, the book has never gone out of print. Haggard’s next novel – She – was just as popular as King Solomon’s Mines. She introduced a flame of perpetual youth, hallucinogenic psychic powers, and reincarnation. An adventurer, Leo Vincey travels to Africa to discover the history of a dead ancestor named Kallikrates, who was an Egyptian priest. After trials and dangers galore, Vincey arrives at the Kingdom of Kor, where he meets She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Her name is Ayesha. And in her, many scholars see a reworking of the Wandering Jew.
By this time, Haggard was wealthy and famous. Still residing in Ditchingham, when he wasn’t dictating his next book to his secretary, he was overseeing his farm or traveling around the world. Haggard visited most of Europe, along with Egypt, Africa, North America, and South America. It was while Haggard was in Mexico – in 1891 – that his only son died in London. Haggard not only grieved inconsolably, he also suffered tremendous guilt, wishing he had been there when the tragic event occurred. Haggard kept writing, completing as many as three novels per year.
In 1895, Haggard decided to enter the world of politics, running for parliament. He lost. Yet because of his recognized expertise in agriculture, sociology, and colonial migration, he received appointment to the Dominions Royal Commission. As a commissioner, one of his duties took him to the United States, where he investigated the Salvation Army’s labor colonies. When he returned to England, Haggard wrote a lengthy report of his findings. The report went unnoticed. Nevertheless, due to his literary fame and his extensive travels, Haggard formed and maintained friendships with many political figures. He counted Theodore Roosevelt as a close friend, and dedicated one of his books, Finished, to President Roosevelt.
One of Haggard’s readers was Carl Jung, who stated that the novel She was the perfect example of the Anima/Animus relationship. Jung believed each person contained both masculine and feminine components. Separate from gender, these components were psychological and biological energies that directed each individual’s development toward integration, a healthy wholeness. According to Jung, Queen Ayesha represented the Anima. She was a guide and mediator to the hidden, undiscovered inner world. Thus, Haggard’s protagonists were not merely seeking physical treasures they were also involved, simultaneously, in a spiritual search. Haggard’s alter ego was Allan Quatermain, who became the Ego or Animus in King Solomon’s Mines. In his next novel, She, Haggard introduced Queen Ayesha, who became the Anima. The delicate relationship between Animus and Anima provided the driving force of the novels.
Another of Haggard’s readers, Madame Blavatsky, asserted that Queen Ayesha embodied the first principle of the Theosophical doctrine, which stated there was a single, underlying inseparable Truth that had no cause and no beginning, thus unknowable and indescribable. According to Blavatsky, it was Be-ness rather than Be-ing. Yet this Be-ness comprised in its aspect the idea of absolute Abstract Motion, which encompassed the quality of Change.
Haggard’s metaphysical themes influenced a number of other writers. Edgar Rice Burroughs borrowed the lost world concept for his John Carter novels, which were set on the red planet Mars. And Haggard’s ideas of lost tribes, the elephant’s graveyard, and characters endowed with almost supernatural powers appeared in Burrough’s Tarzan novels. Another author who leaned heavily on Haggard was H.P. Lovecraft in his Cthulhu Mythos stories. Joseph Conrad read Haggard, for it was Haggard who first referred to “darkest Africa.” Conrad picked up on the mysterious concept hinted at in the term ‘darkest,’ using it as a major theme in his Heart of Darkness.
Haggard’s Anima novels are: King Solomon’s Mines She Ayesha, The Return of She Wisdom’s Daughter She and Allan The Treasure of the Lake
Haggard wrote over 40 novels, most of which are still in print. The most popular are the Anima novels, and the 14 volumes that comprise the Allan Quatermain series. Haggard’s belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy impugned his reputation and contradicted his seemingly tolerant attitude toward foreign cultures. He was a complex man, extremely intellectual yet at the same time unpredictable and very sensual. Haggard, though married to Mariana Margitson, had a life-long mistress, who lived nearby. Except for the fact that she existed, Haggard’s mistress remained as mysterious as Queen Ayesha.
Henry Rider Haggard died in a nursing home in London, on May 14, 1925. He was cremated, and his ashes buried at a church in Ditchingham. Haggard wrote his autobiography in two volumes. Entitled The Days of My Life, it was posthumously published in 1926. Haggard’s daughter, L.R. Haggard, publisher her memoir of her father in 1951. The memoir is entitled The Cloak That I Left.
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