Henry Rider Haggard was born at Bradenham, Norfolk, the eighth of ten children, to Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, a barrister, and Ella Doveton, an author and poet. 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. This was because his father, who perhaps regarded him as somebody who was not going to amount to much, could no longer afford to maintain his expensive private education. After failing his army entrance exam, he was sent to a private crammer in London to prepare for the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office, for which he never sat. During his two years in London he came into contact with people interested in the study of psychical phenomena. Instead, Haggard's father sent him in 1875 to what is now South Africa, in 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. Indeed, Haggard raised the Union flag and read out much of the proclamation following the loss of voice of the official originally entrusted with the duty.
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. In 1878 he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal, and wrote to his father informing him that he intended to return to England and marry her. His father forbade it until Haggard had made a career for himself, and by 1879 Jackson had married Frank Archer, a well-to-do banker. When Haggard eventually returned to England, he married a friend of his sister, (Mariana) Louisa Margitson in 1880, and the couple travelled to Africa together. They had a son named Jock (who died of measles at age 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 in England, 1882-1925
Moving back to England in 1882 (according to H.d.R. the return was in autumn 1881 and they had been living in Newcastle, Natal), the couple settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk, Louisa's ancestral home. Later they lived in Kessingland and had connections with the church in Bungay, Suffolk. Haggard turned to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1884. His practice of law was desultory, and much of his time was taken up by the writing of novels, which he saw as being more profitable. Rider Haggard lived at 69 Gunterstone Road in Hammersmith, London, from mid 1885 to circa April 1888. It was at this Hammersmith address that he completed King Solomon's Mines (published September 1885). Heavily influenced by the larger-than-life adventurers he met in Colonial Africa (most notably Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham), the great mineral wealth discovered in Africa, and the ruins of ancient lost civilizations of the continent, such as Great Zimbabwe, Haggard created his Allan Quatermain adventures. Three of his books, The Wizard (1896), Elissa; the Doom of Zimbabwe (1899), and Black Heart and White Heart; a Zulu Idyll (1900), are dedicated to Burnham's daughter, Nada, the first white child born in Bulawayo; she had been named after Haggard's 1892 book Nada the Lily.
Aid for Lilly Archer
Years later, when Haggard was a successful novelist, he was contacted by his former love, Lilly Archer, née Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had embezzled funds entrusted to him and fled, bankrupt, to Africa. Lilly was penniless, and so Haggard installed her and her sons in a house and saw to the children's education. Lilly eventually followed her husband to Africa, where he infected her with syphilis before dying of it himself. Lilly returned to England in late 1907, where Haggard again supported her until her death on 22 April, 1909. These details were not generally known until the publication of Haggard's 1981 biography by Sydney Higgins.
Public affairs and honours
Haggard was heavily involved in reforming agriculture and was a member of many commissions on land use and related affairs, work that involved several trips to the Colonies and Dominions. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 1912 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the 1895 summer election, losing by only 198 votes.
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 in 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. Africans often play heroic roles in the novels, although the protagonists are typically, though not invariably, European. Notable examples are the heroic Zulu warrior Umslopagas and Ignosi, the rightful king of Kukuanaland, in King Solomon's Mines. Having developed an intense mutual friendship with the three Englishmen who help him regain his throne, he accepts their advice and abolishes witch-hunts and arbitrary capital punishment. Three of his novels are written in collaboration with his friend Andrew Lang who shared his interest in the spiritual realm and paranormal phenomena.
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 at London in 1889 largely on the strength of their shared opinions, and the two remained lifelong friends.
Reputation and legacy
Haggard's stories are still widely read today. Ayesha, the female protagonist of She, has been cited as a prototype by psychoanalysts as different as Sigmund Freud (in The Interpretation of Dreams) and Carl Jung. Her epithet "She Who Must Be Obeyed" is used by British author John Mortimer in his Rumpole of the Bailey series as the private name the lead character, a barrister with some skill in court, uses for his wife, Hilda, before whom he trembles at home. Haggard's Lost World genre, influenced popular American writer Robert E. Howard, and other American pulp writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Talbot Mundy and Abraham Merritt. Allan Quatermain, the adventure hero of King Solomon's Mines and its sequel Allan Quatermain, was a template for the American character Indiana Jones, featuring in the films Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Quatermain has gained recent popularity thanks to being a main character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Haggard was praised in 1965 by Roger Lancelyn Green, one of the Oxford Inklings, as a writer of a consistently high level of "literary skill or sheer imaginative power" and a co-originator with Robert Louis Stevenson of the Age of the Story Tellers
Knight Batchalor (1912)
Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (awarded 1919)
British War Medal