The Environmental side of Allan Quatermain

Thought by Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
At last, one beautiful evening in January, which is our hottest month, we steamed past the coast of Natal, expecting to make Durban Point by sunset. It is a lovely coast all along from East London, with its red sandhills and wide sweeps of vivid green, dotted here and there with Kafir kraals, and bordered by a ribbon of white surf, which spouts up in pillars of foam where it hits the rocks. But just before you come to Durban there is a peculiar richness about the landscape. There are the sheer kloofs cut in the hills by the rushing rains of centuries, down which the rivers sparkle; there is the deepest green of the bush, growing as God planted it, and the other greens of the mealie gardens and the sugar patches, while now and again a white house, smiling out at the placid sea, puts a finish and gives an air of homeliness to the scene. For to my mind, however beautiful a view may be, it requires the presence of man to make it complete, but perhaps that is because I have lived so much in the wilderness, and therefore know the value of civilisation, though to be sure it drives away the game. The Garden of Eden, no doubt, looked fair before man was, but I always think that it must have been fairer when Eve adorned it.

A beautiful sentiment.  One which I quite agree with.  This is not the most popular of opinions in the current world however due to some of the harsher “green” and “environmentalist” movements.  Movements that seem to desire lack of man, where nature is untouched and even unviewed by mankind.  Virgin lands.  While I agree that untouched nature, “growing as God planted it” is beautiful, Quatermain makes a great point of how it seems to be the presence of man that makes it complete.  Sure, man’s presence can seem to be a “blotting” surface on the face of the planet but part of Man’s purpose in life is to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  This is not the most “green” of statements, but it’s the truth.

What does it mean to subdue and rule over in a Christian context?  It’s been discussed before with regards to people, but Christ said it succinctly in Matthew 20:16 – “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”  Ruling and authority isn’t about forcing people or things to ones will, but by serving them so they can be the best they can be.  Same goes for our authority over the earth.  We aren’t to subdue the earth and animals through harsh means to our every whim and desire, but instead subdue the earth to allow the best and the highest quality of beauty, animals, humans,  and plants.   In that process, the earth and its animals will better provide for our needs and desires then if harshly treated.  An example with regards to how men treat men is slavery.  Sure slavery works to get cotton fields tended, but the freely chosen labor of man not only is more moral, but is cheaper and higher producing.

That being said, the majority of men treat their segment of earth with the necessary respect for its maximum utilization for that man’s needs.  Ever drive through suburbia?  It’s sprawling and green, filled with trees (assuming you don’t live in the desert).  Even now, gardens and fruit trees are becoming more popular as people become conscious of food choices.  Privately owned farms attempt to get the maximum plant yield possible.  There are private old-growth forests for hunting game.  Even logging companies, whose business it is to cut down trees have a vested interest in re-growing forests to maximize their profits.  Even that is better than the non-man forest fires which is natures way of destroying old growth forests so new growth can begin again.

The greatest issues with the earth arrive when property isn’t owned but communally shared.  This effect is known as the “tragedy of the commons”.  This can be best seen in countries around the world that abhor property rights and private ownership.  The land gets slaughtered because no one cares for it.  Farms don’t maximize their yield.  Logging companies don’t replant because they can’t sell the land, or re-utilize it when the forest regrows.  People don’t grow fruit trees and gardens if they aren’t allowed to keep the produce.

To subdue the earth is to own it, and to own it means individuals utterly controlling and utilizing property to their desires and goals.

This post is the continuation of a short series of commentary based on quotes pulled from King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard.  Haggard wrote a fantastic book in an amazingly short time-frame.  Here are some quick links to posts related to this book: Short review of the book itselfall the quotes in one place, and a list of other commentary like this one.


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