The long-standing friendship between Andrew Lang (1844-1912) (1) and Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) (2) is surely one of the most intriguing literary relationships of the Victorian era. (3) Lang was a pre-eminent literary critic and his support for Haggard's earliest popular romances, such as King Solomon's mines (1885) and She (1887), helped to establish them as leading models of the new genre of imperial adventure fiction. (4) Lang and Haggard co-authored The world's desire (1890) (5) and the ideas of Lang, who was also a brilliant Classics scholar, can be seen in many of Haggard's works. There are some significant similarities between the two men: both were approximate contemporaries who lived through the most aggressive phase of British imperialism, both were highly successfully writers who earned their living by their pens, both wrote prolifically and fluently on a wide range of subjects, (6_ both were largely self-educated, both were interested in the supernatural, both had had unhappy experiences in love at first but later maintained long-lasting marriages, and both were men with powerful faculties of imagination. There are, of course, significant differences also: Lang was a gifted intellectual who had won a fellowship at Oxford, a Homeric scholar, a poet with a gift for irony and humour, and one of the earliest exponents of the new science of anthropological mythology; Haggard was less well educated and more serious-minded, he preferred action to ideas, was personally involved in the extension of British rule in Southern Africa, (7) and had a close experience of African tribal life. This article sets out to investigate the relationship between these two men, and to assess the extent to which Lang's classical and anthropological thinking shaped the narratives of Haggard, especially those set in his imperialistic fantasy of the African continent.
What may have attracted Lang's interest in Haggard, in addition to the phenomenal popularity of the early romances, especially King Solomon's mines (1885), may well have been passages such as the description of the 'paean of victory' by Ignosi, the 'King of the Kukuanas' (KSM pp. 206f.), as described by a hunter Evans to the narrator in this romance, Alan Quatermain:
Ignosi bound the diadem on his brows, and then advancing placed his foot upon the broad chest of his headless foe and broke out into a chant, or rather a paean of victory, so beautiful, and yet so utterly savage, that I despair of being able to give an adequate idea of it. I once heard a scholar with a fine voice read aloud from the Greek poet Homer, and I remember that the sound of the rolling lines seemed to make my blood stand still. Ignosi's chant, uttered as it was in a language as beautiful and sonorous as the old Greek, produced exactly the same effect on me, although I was exhausted with toil and many emotions.
Haggard's African battles do not shy away from graphic descriptions of cruel death and bloodshed. The battles in King Solomon's mines, and indeed in Haggard generally, are in this regard truly Homeric in their gruesome depictions of violence (compare the duel between Twala and Sir Henry in King Solomon's mines pp. 204-206, for example, with the combat between Achilles and Hector in Homer Iliad 22.273-374. (8)
Lang is best known to Classicists as a Homeric scholar. In addition to his long and critically acclaimed original poem Helen of Troy (1882) and his highly influential translations of the Iliad (co-translated in 1882 with Walter Leaf [Books 1-9] and Ernest Myers [Books 7-24]) and the Odyssey (mostly Lang corrected by S H Butcher, 1898), Lang published three books on these poems. (9) On the Homeric Question, Lang was a convinced Unitarian; in Homer and the epic (1893) he argued, through an analysis of the alleged discrepancies in the poems, that the Iliad and Odyssey were composed by a single poet. This argument was continued in Homer and his age (1906), in which the poems are shown to present a coherent worldview as a result of their composition at a single point of time after the establishment of writing in Greece (p. 310). Finally, in The world of Homer (1910) he noted that morally objectionable material, such as incest on the island of Phaeacia (Od. 7), had not been expurgated from the poems and that the epics were therefore not redactions but original compositions that had survived in their entirety. (10) Interestingly, his argument in this last book largely depended on his discovery, through the application of a comparative anthropological methodology, of what he termed 'primitive' elements in Greek religion. Thus, for example, he noted distinct similarities between Greek hero cults and Zulu ancestor worship (pp. 275, 329).
Lang's Classical knowledge of Homer, and Greek literature generally, is most apparent in his co-authorship with Haggard of the historical fiction, The world's desire (1890). Lang recommended that this romance should follow the plot of Euripides' play Helen in which the Spartan queen spent the course of the Trojan War in Egypt and not in Troy as in Homer. (11) Following this line of narrative would no doubt have appealed to Haggard, who had a life-long interest in Egyptology. (12)
The plot focuses on the jealousy that the Egyptian queen Meriamun feels for Helen over the love of Odysseus. This central motif is complicated by two sub-plots--the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and an invasion of the country by the Achaeans. Helen is a depicted as a polyvalent character. As in Euripides' depiction of her, (13) she is at once the most beautiful woman in the world, a goddess, and the cause of destruction to men. Her moral ambiguity is reflected in the central symbol of the work, the jewel that she wears - a ruby or blood-stone (haematite) that sheds blood. Such stones attracted much folklore, which was Lang's special area of expertise. (14) Lang and Haggard point out in the preface to the work that Servius comments on a bloodstone at Troy in his commentary on the Aeneid 2.33 (the reference is attributed by the authors to the Vergilian scholar Mackail). Servius writes:
In this citadel [i.e. of Troy] there is said to have been a stone of this kind, which sheds blood when rubbed by another. For [they say] that Helen had often made use of a fragment of this stone to attract lovers to herself. in hac enim arce huiusmodi saxum fuisse dicitur, quod ab alio contritum sanguinem emitteret, namque Helenam ad incitandos in se amatores saepe ex hoc saxo lapillum uti fuisse solitam.
This is not the way the stone is represented in the romance, however. Instead it is referred to as the two-fold 'Star of Love', which itself drips blood, but also becomes the 'Star of War' that sheds the blood of men. This ambiguity in the character of Helen is shown also in Victorian paintings of the Greek heroine. Whereas eighteenth-century depictions of Helen such as Jacques Louis David (1788) or Francois-Andre Vincent (1789) focus on her great beauty (in accordance with the Greek tradition, represented by the red-figure vase in the Louvre [G424]), the Victorians reveal her baneful aspect--Rosetti (1863), for example, shows her fingering a piece of jewellery in the form of a blazing brand, and Poynter (1881) has her laying hand to heart in a gesture of remorse, while in the background Troy burns. Such representations reflect Helen's complex character as it is depicted already in Greek literature, but the strong emphasis on Helen's destructive side is also a feature of Haggard's central female figures such as Ayesha in She.
Haggard often deploys material from ancient history relatively independently of Lang. This is most obvious in his fictional romance Cleopatra (1889), (15) which, in accordance with Haggard's proclivities, adopts a strongly pro-Egyptian slant. In his narrative, Haggard focuses on the struggle of Harmachis, the son of Amenemhat, the hereditary priest and ruler of Abouthis, to re-establish the rule of the Egyptian pharaohs and to rid his land of the hated Macedonian rulers. Harmachis is portrayed as the rightful ruler of the land of Khem, since he was the linear descendant of the old pharaohs who had been defeated by the Persians and Greeks. His mother prophesied at his birth that he would rule as pharaoh if he did not fall into sin (an anachronistically Christian idea). Using magical powers, Harmachis manages to win the trust of Cleopatra and he is given the post of astrologer in her court. However, his plot to assassinate the queen fails because of the intervention of Charmian, who had become jealous of his close relationship with Cleopatra. Cleopatra secures possession of the treasures of the Ptolemies and makes use of them to wage war on Octavian. Angered by this, Harmachis eventually achieves his goal by poisoning both Antony and Cleopatra. However, his coup is too late and the Romans successfully take control of the land of the pharaohs. Harmachis confesses his failures to the Egyptian priests at Abouthis and is eventually executed in prison after writing his memoirs, which constitute the romance itself. In addition to the overt use of material from Roman and Egyptian history and culture, Cleopatra is of interest for its sympathetic treatment of the victims of imperial aggression. (16) The disjuncture between Haggard's stance here and his enthusiastic support for Britain's annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 during his years as an aide to Theophilus Shepstone (he was said to have personally raised the Union Jack over Johannesburg) is …