As I grow older, I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking seems to be getting a hold of me
Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856 - 1925) was an English writer famous for his adventure stories set in Africa, 'King Solomon's Mines' and its sequel, 'Allan Quatermain'.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born on 22nd June 1856 in Norfolk, England. He was initially sent to Garsington Rectory in Oxfordshire to study under Reverend H. J. Graham, but unlike his older brothers who graduated from various public schools, he attended Ipswich Grammar School.
After failing his army entrance exam, he was sent to a private crammer in London to prepare for (but never sat) the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office. During his two years in London he came into contact with people interested in the study of psychical phenomena. In 1875, Haggard’s father sent him to what is now South Africa, to take up an unpaid position as assistant to the secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Natal. In 1876 he was transferred to the staff of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Special Commissioner for the Transvaal. It was in this role that Haggard was present in Pretoria in April 1877 for the official announcement of the British annexation of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal.
At about that time, Haggard fell in love with Mary Elizabeth “Lilly” Jackson, whom he intended to marry once he obtained paid employment in Africa. Unfortunately his father forbade the marriage and Haggard married a friend of his sister, Louisa Maegitson. The couple travelled together, had a son named Jock (who died of measles aged 10) and three daughters, Angela, Dorothy and Lilias. Lilias became an author, edited The Rabbit Skin Cap, and wrote a biography of her father entitled The Cloak That I Left (published in 1951).
Haggard is most famous as the author of the novels King Solomon’s Mines and its sequel Allan Quatermain, and She and its sequel Ayesha, swashbuckling adventure novels set in the context of the scramble for Africa (the action of Ayesha however happens in Tibet). Hugely popular, King Solomon’s Mines is sometimes considered the first of the Lost World genre. She is generally considered to be one of the classics of imaginative literature and with 83 million copies sold by 1965, it is one of the best-selling books of all time. He is also remembered for Nada the Lily (a tale of adventure among the Zulus) and the epic Viking romance, Eric Brighteyes.
While his novels portray many of the stereotypes associated with colonialism, they are unusual for the degree of sympathy with which the native populations are portrayed. Haggard also wrote about agricultural and social reform, in part inspired by his experiences in Africa, but also based on what he saw in Europe.
At the end of his life he was a staunch opponent of Bolshevism, a position he shared with his friend Rudyard Kipling. The two had bonded upon Kipling’s arrival in London in 1889, largely on the strength of their shared opinions, and the two remained lifelong friends. Haggard died in London on 14th May 1925.