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Reviews83 Tom Pocock. Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire, A Biography. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993. xiii + 263. £20 UK (cloth). It is easy to see the appeal of someone like Rider Haggard to a biographer who values energy, color, and ceaseless activity. The opportunity to trace the trajectory of Haggard's success, from the popular fiction writer's unpromising start as the "least favored son" (8) to his final position as eminent public figure complete with knighthood, must have been an additional draw. If not "THE MOST AMAZING STORY EVER WRITTEN," as Cassell publicized Haggard's King Solomon's Mines in 1885, it is a pretty remarkable one, and its extraordinary character seems to have been the stimulus for biographer Tom Pocock to begin the project that yielded Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire. The reader who can breathe easily in the faint atmosphere of nostalgia for the lost world of Pocock's title will probably find the book a reasonably satisfying experience. The future accomplishments of his son were certainly not predicted by Haggard's apparently disappointed father, who sent the boy to Ipswich Grammar School, although four older brothers and one younger one were sent to public schools. Denied the education befitting a son of the rural gentry, Haggard allowed himself, at nineteen, to be sent to Africa as an aide to Sir Henry Bulwer, then Lieutenant-Governor of Natal. His lowly job was to help with housekeeping and catering duties, but luck — and perhaps getting away from his family — brought him a measure of success. In 1 877 he accompanied Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary for Native Affairs, to the Transvaal, where Shepstone, ostensibly charged with investigating affairs between the Boers and the Zulus, effected its annexation. Haggard, who hoisted the British flag following the annexation, was then offered a job as English Clerk to Melmoth Osborn, the new Colonial Secretary for the Transvaal. Once again chance brought Haggard further success; the Registrar of the new High Court died, and at twenty-one, Haggard was appointed to succeed him. These professional achievements seem to have given Haggard the courage to exchange the security of the colonial service for the riskier venture of ostrich farming. In the years that followed, Haggard was called to the Bar, ran for Parliament (and was defeated), wrote 58 works of fiction, including the best-selling King Solomon's Mines and She, published various other books on such subjects as small holdings, rural England, coast erosion, the First Boer War, and the Salvation Army, completed a two-volume autobiography, labored on government commissions, and, in addition to his travels in southern Africa, journeyed extensively in Egypt, Iceland, Mexico, Italy, Cyprus and the Levant, Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Spain, the United States, Canada, New 84Victorian Review Zealand, Australia, and Denmark. The travel, which fed his literary imagination, also yielded rather spectacular rewards: during one trip fellow Norfolkman Howard Carter, working on the excavation of royal tombs in Egypt, provided Haggard with an escort to see the tombs of Seti, Rameses IJI and Amenhotep ?, and during another, Carter invited Haggard to visit the tomb of Tutankhamun. In all, Haggard managed to cram enough into his busy days for several biographies. Even Haggard's personal life, as Pocock unveils it, seems the stuff of romantic fiction. Lily Jackson, a woman for whom Haggard entertained an enduring passion, married another man when Haggard's father, ever the authoritarian Victorian patriarch, refused to allow his son to return from South Africa to become formally engaged. The storyline of their relationship, the subtext of his otherwise conventional domestic existence, could easily have found its way into one of Haggard's works of fiction. Haggard supported a penniless Lily, along with her children and sisters, when her stockbroker husband embezzled her family fortune, declared bankruptcy and abandoned the family. Later, when she contracted syphilis from the husband, to whom she had returned, Haggard visited her in the final stages of her illness; and both Haggard and his wife, Louisa, attended Lily's funeral. Such material adds yet an extra dimension to a life well worth writing about, and Tom Pocock, whose other books include eight biographies, was clearly much taken...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 83-86
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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