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 locations considered exotic by readers in his native England.


We white people think that we know everything.
  • The 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.
  • 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
  • The great wheel of Fate rolls on like a Juggernaut, and crushes us all in turn, some soon, some late
    • Allan Quatermain (1887), INTRODUCTION
  • 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.
    • Allan and the Holy Flower (1915), CHAPTER I, BROTHER JOHN
  • 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, OLD FRIEND

King Solomon's Mines (1885)[edit]

  • 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"
Cleopatra as imaged by Thomas Francis Dicksee (1876)

Cleopatra (1889)[edit]

  • 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.

Quotes about Haggard[edit]

  • 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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