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Rider Haggard's Neglected Journal: "Diary of an African Visit" Lloyd Siemens University of Winnipeg IN THE CONCLUDING paragraph of his unpublished journal, "Diary of an African Visit," Sir Henry Rider Haggard takes leave of his manuscript by assuring himself that he has set down "some faithful report of those things that struck [him] most" during his four-month, 12,000-mile journey through Africa in 1914. In a tone of weariness he adds, "I daresay that I shall never read it through and whether any one else will who can say?" When he composed his private farewell to the dark continent in May 1914, Haggard could not have been aware of the several ironies lodged in his final entry. There is the obvious irony that what he understood at the time to be his "retirement tour" as member of the Dominions Royal Commission was, in the event, only the first of many official tours, most of them in the cause of the settlement of ex-servicemen in the colonies. These tours, and his evaluation of the post-War world, were to become the subjects of another twenty-two diary volumes between July 1914, and his death in 1925. There are profounder ironies as well. Haggard recovered from his temporary weariness not only to read through his journal many times, but to leave behind a "fair copy" of a 265-page bound typescript complete with title. There is a final irony in the fact that the most painstakingly edited and consciously "literary" of the twenty-three diaries should have been virtually overlooked by Haggard scholars for nearly eighty years.1 "Diary of an African Visit" is a significant document, in the first instance, because it introduces us to a less apprehensive observer of the world than the often fretful persona of the twenty-two subsequent diaries. Because he is not yet troubled by the sense of an impending world cataclysm, he can take time to observe the habits of the English 155 ELT 37:2 1994 Traveller on permanent holiday ("It is certainly extraordinary what numbers of English there are with money who seem to take pleasure in wandering about the earth with no definite object..."), as well as the sporting rituals of the English Cricketer abroad ("Sports in these temperatures . Ye Gods!") He also finds the time to record a playful running joke about a recently-fitted pair of dentures that are accidentally crushed by a falling basin lid. There are flecks of nostalgia too as Haggard re-visits the locales of his brief career as civil administrator or the cottage in which he and his bride spent an extended honeymoon. He describes himself as "one returned from the dead," a "Rip-Van-Winkle" who discovers that he has become a legend in the places he had served before his meteoric rise to fame and many of which he had either celebrated or "invented" in his early writings. He is taken on a tour of Rider Haggard Street; he meets ex-patriots who have been lured to Africa by the imaginative power of his fiction. In the heart of Zululand he stops at a store for tea and finds himself "correcting an infamously printed extract" from one of his books. Towards the end of most major entries he soliloquizes about Time's passage, the inevitable loss of friends and (viewed from his perspective) the slight accomplishments of his fifty-eight years. However, the tone that dominates the most moving sections is elegiac compassion at the tragic deaths—British, Boer, Zulu—wrought by wars of conquest. Haggard's keen mortuary sense draws him to more than a dozen cemeteries, military and civilian. Nearly each visit triggers in Haggard a poignant lament for the dead, culminating typically in an apostrophe on the futility of racial or cultural aggression and the vanity of imperial ambition. At Bloemfontein, for example, he describes the "Old Graveyard" where many hundreds of dead English soldiers are buried. To the left of a central path is a sight "if possible, even sadder": graves of the more than 26,000 Boer women and children who perished in the "Concentration Camp" nearby—"Now friend and foe they lie here...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 155-161
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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