H. Rider Haggard

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There are things and there are faces which, when felt or seen for the first time, stamp themselves upon the mind like a sun image on a sensitized plate and there remain unalterably fixed.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (22 June 185614 May 1925), born in Bradenham, Norfolk, England, was a Victorian writer of adventure novels set in exotic locations such as southern Africa, Central Asia, Egypt, Iceland and Mexico.


We white people think that we know everything.
  • You lie; you always were a liar, and you always will be a liar.
    • Dawn (1884), CHAPTER I
  • I do not believe in violence; it is the last resort of fools.
    • Dawn (1884), CHAPTER XXI
  • There is no loneliness like the loneliness of crowds, especially to those who are unaccustomed to them.
    • A Tale of Three Lions (1887), CHAPTER I, THE INTEREST ON TEN SHILLINGS
  • There are things and there are faces which, when felt or seen for the first time, stamp themselves upon the mind like a sun image on a sensitized plate and there remain unalterably fixed.
    • Colonel Quaritch, V. C.: A Tale of Country Life (1888), CHAPTER I, HAROLD QUARITCH MEDITATES
  • For he was a merciful man, who loved not slaughter, although his fierce faith drove him from war to war.
    • The Brethren (1904), PROLOGUE
  • My death is very near to me, and of this I am glad, for I desire to pursue the quest in other realms, as it has been promised to me that I shall do.
    • Ayesha: The Return of She (1905), CHAPTER I, THE DOUBLE SIGN
  • We white people think that we know everything.
  • It is awkward to listen to oneself being praised, and I was always a shy man.
    • The Holy Flower (1915), CHAPTER I, BROTHER JOHN
  • After all, dangers are everywhere; those who turn back because of dangers will never succeed in any life that we can imagine.
    • The Holy Flower (1915), CHAPTER 9, BAUSI THE KING
  • I have never observed that the religious are more eager to die than the rest of us poor mortals.
    • The Ancient Allan (1920), CHAPTER I, AN OLD FRIEND
  • Now all the world is wonderful, but surely among its countries there is none more so than Africa; no, not even China the unchanging, or India the ancient. For this reason, I think: those great lands have always been more or less known to their own inhabitants, whereas Africa, as a whole, from the beginning was and still remains unknown.
    • The Treasure of the Lake (1926), CHAPTER I, KANEKE'S TALE
  • After spending a week in Cape Town, finding that they overcharged me at the hotel, and having seen everything there was to see, including the botanical gardens, which seem to me likely to confer a great benefit on the country, and the new Houses of Parliament, which I expect will do nothing of the sort, I determined to go back to Natal.
    • Chapter 1, "I Meet Sir Henry Curtis"
  • Listen! what is life? It is a feather, it is the seed of the grass, blown hither and thither, sometimes multiplying itself and dying in the act, sometimes carried away into the heavens. But if that seed be good and heavy it may perchance travel a little way on the road it wills. It is well to try and journey one's road and to fight with the air. Man must die. At the worst he can but die a little sooner...
    Out of the dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and, lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere. Life is nothing. Life is all. It is the Hand with which we hold off Death. It is the glow-worm that shines in the night-time and is black in the morning; it is the white breath of the oxen in winter; it is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset.
    • Chapter 5, "Our March into the Desert"
  • On, on we went, till at last the east began to blush like the cheek of a girl. Then there came faint rays of primrose light, that changed presently to golden bars, through which the dawn glided out across the desert. The stars grew pale and paler still, till at last they vanished; the golden moon waxed wan, and her mountain ridges stood out against her sickly face like the bones on the cheek of a dying man. Then came spear upon spear of light flashing far away across the boundless wilderness, piercing and firing the veils of mist, till the desert was draped in a tremulous golden glow, and it was day.
    • Chapter 5, "Our March into the Desert"
  • He is an extraordinary animal is the house fly. Go where you will you find him, and so it must have been always. I have seen him enclosed in amber, which is, I was told, quite half a million years old, looking exactly like his descendant of to-day, and I have little doubt but that when the last man lies dying on the earth he will be buzzing round – if this event should happen to occur in summer – watching for an opportunity to settle on his nose.
    • Chapter 5, "Our March into the Desert"
  • Everything has an end, if only you live long enough to see it.
    • Chapter 5, "Our March into the Desert"
  • I looked down the long lines of waving black plumes and stern faces beneath them, and sighed to think that within one short hour most, if not all, of those magnificent veteran warriors, not a man of whom was under forty years of age, would be laid dead or dying in the dust. It could not be otherwise; they were being condemned, with that wise recklessness of human life which marks the great general, and often saves his forces and attains his ends, to certain slaughter, in order to give their cause and the remainder of the army a chance of success. They were foredoomed to die, and they knew the truth. It was to be their task to engage regiment after regiment of Twala's army on the narrow strip of green beneath us, till they were exterminated or till the wings found a favourable opportunity for their onslaught. And yet they never hesitated, nor could I detect a sign of fear upon the face of a single warrior. There they were—going to certain death, about to quit the blessed light of day for ever, and yet able to contemplate their doom without a tremor. Even at that moment I could not help contrasting their state of mind with my own, which was far from comfortable, and breathing a sigh of envy and admiration. Never before had I seen such an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, and such a complete indifference to its bitter fruits.
    • Chapter 14, "The Last Stand of the Greys"
  • Altogether, a more miserable trio than we were that evening it would have been difficult to discover; and our only comfort lay in the reflection that we were exceedingly fortunate to be there to feel miserable, instead of being stretched dead upon the plain, as so many thousands of brave men were that night, who had risen well and strong in the morning.
    • Chapter 15, "Good Falls Sick"
  • It is easier to destroy knowledge, Ignosi, than to gather it.
    • Chapter 15, "Good Falls Sick"
  • I am not a nervous man in a general way, and very little troubled with superstitions, of which I have lived to see the folly.
    • Chapter 16, "The Place of Death"
  • Then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There around us lay treasures enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or to build a fleet of ironclads, and yet we would have bartered them all gladly for the faintest chance of escape. Soon, doubtless, we should be rejoiced to exchange them for a bit of food or a cup of water, and, after that, even for the privilege of a speedy close to our sufferings. Truly wealth, which men spend their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.
    • Chapter 18, "We Abandon Hope"

She (1887)

  • And now let us love and take that which is given us, and be happy; for in the grave there is no love and no warmth, nor any touching of the lips. Nothing perchance, or perchance bitter memories of what might have been.
    • Chapter 7, "Ustane Sings"
  • Yea, all things live for ever, though at times they sleep and are forgotten.
    • Chapter 9, "A Little Foot"
  • [T]hinking can only serve to measure out the helplessness of thought.
    • Chapter 10, "Speculations"
  • Ah, how little knowledge does a man acquire in his life. He gathereth it like water, but like water it runneth through his fingers, and yet, if his hands be but wet as though with dew, behold a generation of fools call out, "See, he is a wise man!"
    • Chapter 13, "Ayesha Unveils"
  • There is no such thing as magic, though there is such a thing as a knowledge of the secrets of nature.
    • Chapter 13, "Ayesha Unveils"
  • [M]emory haunts me from age to age, and passion leads me by the hand—evil have I done, and with sorrow have I made acquaintance from age to age, and from age to age evil I shall do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes.
    • Chapter 13, "Ayesha Unveils"
  • Time and time again have nations, ay, and rich and strong nations, learned in the arts, been and passed away and been forgotten, so that no memory of them remains. This is but one of several; for Time eats up the works of man.
    • Chapter 16, "The Tombs of Kôr"
  • [T]he food that memory gives to eat is bitter to the taste, and it is only with the teeth of hope that we can bear to bite it.
    • Chapter 17, "The Balance Turns"
  • Strange are the pictures of the future that mankind can thus draw with this brush of faith and this many-coloured pigment of imagination! Strange, too, that no one of them doth agree with another!
    • Chapter 22, "Job Has a presentiment"
  • Truly time should be measured by events, and not by the lapse of hours.
    • Chapter 28, "Over the Mountain"
  • The great wheel of Fate rolls on like a Juggernaut, and crushes us all in turn, some soon, some late—it does not matter when, in the end it crushes us all.
    • Introduction
  • [I]n all essentials the savage and the child of civilization are identical.
    • Introduction
  • Civilization is only savagery silver-gilt.
    • Introduction
  • [T]he law of England is much more severe upon offences against property than against the person, as becomes a people whose ruling passion is money.
    • Chapter 13, "About the Zu Vendi People"
  • How true is the saying that the very highest in rank are always the most simple and kindly. It is in your half-and-half sort of people that you find pompousness and vulgarity.
    • Chapter 15, "Sorais' Song"
  • Passion is like the lightning, it is beautiful, and it links the earth to heaven, but alas it blinds and kills!
    • Chapter 17, "The Storm Breaks"
  • Women love the last blow as well as the last word, and when they fight for love they are pitiless as a wounded buffalo.
    • Chapter 18, "War! Red War!"

Cleopatra (1889)

Cleopatra as imaged by Thomas Francis Dicksee (1876)
  • For what man is there who does not prize that gift most rare and beautiful, that one perfect thing which no gold can buy – a woman's unfeigned love?
  • How strange a thing is a love of woman, that is so small in the beginning and in its ends so great! (...) For when the Invisible conceived the order of universe He set this seed of woman's love within its plan, that by its most unequal growth is doomed to bring about equality of law. For now it lifts the low to heights untold, and now it brings the noble to the level of the dust. And thus, while Woman, this great surprise of Nature, is, Good and Evil can never grow apart.
  • Love counts not its labour nor can it weigh its tenderness in the scale of purchase. That which it has it gives, and craves for more to give and give, till the soul's infinity be drained.
  • Those who go secretly, go evilly; and foul birds love to fly at night.
  • The shaft of my vengeance fell upon my own head.
  • . . . is [it] better to be alive or dead[?] The religious plump for the latter, though I have never observed that the religious are more eager to die than the rest of us poor mortals.
  • The truth is that we fear to die because all the religions are full of uncomfortable hints as to what may happen to us afterwards as a reward for our deviations from their laws and we half believe in something . . . For very few inhabitants of this earth can attain either to complete belief or to its absolute opposite. They can seldom lay their hands upon their hearts, and say that they know that they will live for ever, or sleep for ever; there remains in the case of most honest men an element of doubt in either hypothesis.
  • Never stretch out your hand to Death till he stretches out his to you
  • . . . who ever sees Wisdom until she is flying away?
  • The seconds seemed minutes, the minutes seemed hours, and the hours seemed years. . . Where now were the gods I had worshipped and—was there any god? Or was man but a self-deceiver who created gods instead of the gods creating him, because he did not love to think of an eternal blackness in which he would soon be swallowed up and lost? Well, at least that would mean sleep, and sleep is better than torment of mind or body.
  • The tool carves the statue and the hand holds the tool but the spirit guides the band.
  • . . . why do you seek to peer into the future, which from day to day will unroll itself as does a scroll? Be content with the present, man, and take what Fate gives you of good or ill, not seeking to learn what offerings he hides beneath his robe in the days and the years and the centuries to come.
  • While you are a man, live the life of a man, and when you become a spirit, live the life of a spirit. But do not seek to mix the two together like oil and wine, and thus spoil both.
  • . . . too great holiness often thwarts itself and ends in trouble for the unholy flesh.
  • . . . do not lie except when you are obliged, for jugglers who play with too many knives are apt to cut their fingers.
  • It is well to be wise sometimes, for others’ sake, but not for our own, oh! not for our own.
  • . . . feasts are sometimes followed by want and rejoicings by sorrow and victories by defeat, and splendid sins by repentance and slow climbing back to good again.
  • . . . gifts have a way of coming to those who do not desire them
  • . . . even a king may choose his own wife sometimes.
  • Forgive me since I acted for the best, only until the end no one ever knows what is the best.
  • . . . the time of kings is not their own.
  • It seems that in this world we never can be content . . . we only think that we should be if things were otherwise than they are.
  • When one can think of nothing, it is best to follow the counsel of those who can think of something; also to hunt rather than to be hunted.
  • But what of names, which often enough mean nothing at all?
  • . . . your praying men . . . are cast in one mould and measured with one rule, and say what they are taught to say, not thinking for themselves . . . Some of them think . . . and then the others fall on them with big sticks. The real priest is he to whom the Spirit comes, not he who feeds upon its wrappings, and speaks through a mask carved by his father’s fathers.
  • Oh! it is a strange world, full of jest to those who can see the strings that work it.
  • I wonder whether many people understand, as I do, how entirely distinct and how variable are these moods which sway us, or at any rate some of us, at sundry periods of our lives. As I think I have already suggested, at one time we are all spiritual; at another all physical; at one time we are sure that our lives here are as a dream and a shadow and that the real existence lies elsewhere; at another that these brief days of ours are the only business with which we have to do and that of it we must make the best. At one time we think our loves much more immortal than the stars; at another that they are mere shadows cast by the baleful sun of desire upon the shallow and fleeting water we call Life which seems to flow out of nowhere into nowhere. At one time we are full of faith, at another all such hopes are blotted out by a black wall of Nothingness, and so on ad infinitum. Only very stupid people, or humbugs, are or pretend to be, always consistent and unchanging.
  • In this country, England, where I write, there are bridges everywhere and no one seems to appreciate them. If they think of them at all it is to grumble about the cost of their upkeep. I wish they could have experienced what a lack of them means in a wild country during times of excessive rain, and the same remark applied to roads. You should think more of your blessings, my friends, as the old woman said to her complaining daughter who had twins two years running, adding that they might have been triplets.
  • Human nature does not change, Allan, and wine and women are ancient snares.
  • . . . all are still savage at heart, even you and I. For what is termed culture is but coat upon coat of paint laid on to hide our native colour, and often there is poison in the paint.
  • The moths are few that fear the flame, but those are the moths which live.
  • . . . all joy grows from the root of pain.
  • . . . what a man believes is true for him and will certainly befall. If it were otherwise, what is the use of faith which in a thousand forms supports our race and holds it from the horrors of the Pit? Only those who believe nothing inherit what they believe—nothing
  • . . . when lost in a forest every path that may lead to safety should be explored
  • Fire may be lovely and attractive, also comforting at a proper distance, but he who sits on the top of it is cremated, as many a moth has found.
  • The worst of scandals becomes romantic and even respectable in two thousand years; witness that of Cleopatra with Cæsar, Mark Antony and other gentlemen. The most virtuous read of Cleopatra with sympathy, even in boarding-schools, and it is felt that were she by some miracle to be blotted out of the book of history, the loss would be enormous. The same applied to Helen, Phryne, and other bad lots. In fact now that one comes to think of it, most of the attractive personages in history, male or female, especially the latter, were bad lots. When we find someone to whose name is added “the good” we skip.
  • . . . the mad often see well in their dreams, though these are not sent by a god . . . The mind in its secret places knows all things . . . although it seems to know little or nothing, and when the breath of vision or the fury of a soul distraught blows away the veils or burns through the gates of distance, then for a while it sees and learns, since, whatever fools may think, often madness is true wisdom.
  • Yet it is true that sun and moon and earth are born of the same black womb of chaos. Therefore in the beginning they were identical, as doubtless they will be in the end when, their journeyings done, they rush together to light space with a flame at which the mocking gods that made them may warm their hands. Well, so it is with men, . . . whose soul-stuff is drawn from the gulf of Spirit by Nature’s hand, and, cast upon the cold air of this death-driven world, freezes into a million shapes each different to the other and yet, be sure, the same.
  • It is only the nervous that climb the highest points of anything, and this is true of fights as of all others.
  • Bethink you, have there not been days, aye and months, in your own life when you would have rejoiced to sleep in mindlessness? And should we not, perchance, be happier, all of us, if like the beasts we could not remember, foreknow and understand? Oh! men talk of Heaven, but believe me, the real Heaven is one of dreamless sleep, since life and wakefulness, however high their scale and on whatever star, mean struggle, which being so oft mistaken, must breed sorrow—or remorse that spoils all.
  • . . . the extreme of unmorality is as fascinating to study as the extreme virtue and often more so.

Heu-Heu (1924)

  • . . . the dead keep their wisdom to themselves
  • . . . there are always plenty of fools in the world and the fool who comes after is just as big as the fool who went before. Death spills the water of wisdom upon the sand . . . and sand is thirsty stuff that soon grows dry again. If it were not so . . . men would soon stop falling in love with women, and yet even great ones . . . fall in love.
  • . . . all men are cowards . . . in one matter or another, though in the rest they may be brave enough.
  • So kick away the burning sticks from beneath the water of your anger and let it cease from boiling, and go forth as you have promised, to see wonderful things and do wonderful deeds and snatch the pure and innocent out of the hands of evil gods or men.
  • . . . these priests, after the fashion of priests all the world over, now aspired to the absolute rule of the race
  • While we breathe there is hope, and all that seems lost still may be won
  • . . . there is a way out of most difficulties if only it can be hit upon.
  • . . . we are all fools in our different ways, and how can any one dig out of his heart the folly that his mother put there before he was born?
  • Superstition is still king of most of the world, though often it calls itself Religion.
  • . . . is there anything so mighty as water in the world, I wonder
  • . . . if you live long enough, you will learn that this world is full of deceptions
  • You may all have noticed that however piously disposed, there is a point at which the majority of women become very practical indeed.
  • Never before was there such a sudden disrobement of an ecclesiastical dignitary draped in all his trappings.
  • . . . disillusionment is often painful, you know
  • It is what is in a man that matters . . . not what he looks like outside, as women often used to say to me when I was young
  • . . . I thought I saw the mind of Providence acting through Hans. Yes, the cunning of the Hottentot had been used by the Powers above to sweep from the earth a vile tyranny and to destroy a blood-soaked idol and its worshippers.
  • . . . now and again it is wise to cease from being wise, lest Heaven should grow jealous of our wisdom and want to share it.
  • . . . the devil never dies
  • . . . those who worship the Black One [i.e. the Devil], at last the Black One takes by the throat.
  • Life is more than gold . . . and great honour is better than both.
  • Is it not so with many of the gods men set up? They are not and never were, but their priests are and shake the spear of power and pierce the hearts of men with terrors. What, then, does it matter about the gods whom no man sees, when the priest is there shaking the spear of power and piercing the hearts of their worshippers? The god is the priest or the priest is the god—have it which way you like
  • The world is very old and there have been peoples in it of whom we have heard nothing
  • when men seek a god . . . they make one like themselves, only larger, uglier, and more evil . . . Also, often they say that this god was once their king, since at the bottom all worship their ancestors who gave them life, if they worship anything at all, and often, too, because they gave them life, they think that they must have been devils. Great ancestors were the first gods . . . and if they had not been evil they would never have been great. Look at Chaka, the Lion of the Zulus. He is called great because he was so wicked and cruel, and so it was and is with others if they succeed, though, if they fail, men speak otherwise of them.
  • . . . little in the world is pretty, except the world itself.
  • . . . they [the Walloos] are but the rotting stump of a tree that once was tall and fair. The dust of Time hides many such stumps . . . But what of that? Other fine trees are growing which also will become stumps in their season, and so on for ever.
  • Then he went off to bed.

Quotes about Haggard

  • Sir Rider Haggard
    Was completely staggered
    When his bride-to-be
    Announced "I AM SHE!"
    • W. H. Auden, "Academic Graffiti". In The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Poems, Volume II 1940–1973. Princeton University Press, 2022 (pg. 636).

  • To Mr. Kipling as to Mr. Haggard I owe a debt of gratitude for having stimulated my youthful imagination and this I gladly acknowledge, but Mr. Wells I have never read and consequently his stories of Mars could not have influenced me in any way.
    • Edgar Rice Burroughs, letter to The Bristol Times, 23rd February 1931. Quoted in Irwin Porges, Edgar Rice Burroughs: the man who created Tarzan Brigham Young Univ. Pr., Provo, Utah, 1975, (pg. 130), and Harold Bloom, Classic Science Fiction Writers. Chelsea House Publishers, New York, 1995, (pg. 23).

  • Rider Haggard was perhaps the greatest of all the writers who enchanted us when we were young. Enchantment is just what he exercised; he fixed pictures in our minds that thirty years have been unable to wear away.
    • Graham Greene, "Rider Haggard's Secret", in Collected Essays of Graham Greene. Random House, 2010.

  • Haggard is the text-book case of the mythopoeic gift pure and simple... Haggard's best work will survive because it is based on an appeal well above high-water mark. The fullest tides of fashion cannot demolish it. A great myth is relevant as long as the predicament of humanity lasts; as long as humanity lasts. It will always work, on those who can receive it, the same catharsis.
    • C. S. Lewis, "The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard", in On Stories And Other Essays on Literature. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002 (pg. 100).
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