Friday, July 23, 2010

H. G. Wells tweaks Sir Henry Rider Haggard

So, now that I'm finally done with and have sent off my Haggard paper ("SHE and Tolkien, Revisited"), it's time to clean my desk -- to reshelve books, take others back to the university library, and sort through the stacks of accumulated photocopies of various bits of resource material and file them where I can find them again (lately I've been doing it by project, which seems to work pretty well). So now seems a good time to relate a fun little bit I came across in the process of researching Haggard (who I know much less about than Tolkien).

One of the most interesting things I read was THE PRIVATE DIARIES OF SIR H. RIDER HAGGARD [1980] -- you can make the case for Sir Henry himself having been far more interesting than his books. I was much amused by one entry in particular, dated 19th November 1921. Haggard was an enthusiastic backer of the British Empire, one of his chief wartime activities being visiting the various overseas parts of the Empire as part of a resettlement scheme to get British soldiers to settle in places like South Africa and Australia and East Africa and New Zealand.*

So, when Haggard attended a banquet in celebration of The Empire, he was not expecting for H. G. Wells to make mischief by questioning whether there shd be an empire at all. Here's how Haggard tells the story:

"Yesterday I went to town to be the principal guest at the dinner of the Delphian Coterie, where the subject for consideration was 'Quo Vadis -- or the Empire a century hence?' There was a large and enthusiastic audience of a very intelligent order, gathered to welcome my fellow guest, Dean Inge, and myself. Before I spoke the Secretary read out the following remarkable and to my mind most mischievous letter from Mr. H. G. Wells: 'I regret very much that I cannot attend your gathering tonight. I hope and believe that one hundred years hence there will be no British Empire. Either it will have played its part in the development of civilisation and have changed into and given place to a much larger union of free states, or it will have become a danger and a nuisance to mankind, and have followed German Imperialism and Roman Imperialism to the dust heap.' (p. 232)

--I'd have more respect for Wells' courage if he'd made this anti-toast in person, but still it's interesting, ninety-eight years later, to see how close Wells was to the mark -- the empire dissolved right about the time of his own death some thirty-five years later. And how horrified Haggard wd be to see the bad old days slip irrecoverably into the past.


current audiobooks: (1) THE KING JAMES BIBLE [1611], and (2) GOD IS NOT GREAT, by Christopher Hitchens [2007].

*essentially a sort of homestead act, designed to help the postwar British maintain white-minority control over nonwhite-majority populations.

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