"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

2 Dec 2013

A Philosophy of Tramping—Trader Horn, Part 2


Trader Horn Movie (1931) left to right:
Edwina Booth (Nina T—), Duncan Renaldo (Little Peru), Harry Carey (Trader Horn), Mutia Omoolu (Rencharo)




Part 2 of my profile on Trader Horn attempts to follow his further adventures from that period of his life covered in the first volume of his triology. I will then reflect further on the man and his philosophy. 

Back to Part 1


Horn's return to his home in Lancashire in 1882 was met with mixed events and emotions. Firstly he discovered that his Grandfather, John Smith, had died at the same time that Horn made his last trip up the Ogowe, and so Horn was denied the pleasure of relating to the old man his adventures on water and land. But Horn was also reunited with his childhood sweetheart Amy Knowles. In his conversations with Lewis throughout his first volume, Horn refers to a blue eyed, ringleted Lancashire lass who clearly remained in his heart and dreams throughout his time on the Ogowe. Amy's mother died in August the same year and she turned to Horn for comfort.

But after only a short time in Lancashire Horn's wanderlust returned. Through a coincidence and an acquaintance of Horn's family who was married to an old friend of Charles Dickens, the parliamentary reporter and master of Hansard, George Bussy, Horn decided to try his luck in London. Initially he just carried out odd jobs for Bussy but was soon a reporter in his own right. Clearly an important mentor and influence, Horn frequently refers to Bussy's wisdom in his writings. While working as a reporter Horn also rediscovered a former interest in painting, no doubt stimulated by a young artist named Charles Evans and his wife Ellen with whom Horn had taken lodgings.


Husband, Father and Scotland Yard Detective

Amy must have remained in touch with Horn because on discovering that her father was to re-marry a disagreeable spinster, Horn returned to Preston in June 1883 and the couple eloped. Amy simply left a note for her father on the table saying that she was leaving to marry Aloysius Smith. Amy's eighteen year old brother had forged the marriage consent and the couple were married in St George's Catholic Church, Southwark, on the 13th June 1883. Couzens speculates that another inspiration for Nina T— could well have been Amy, and so in this sense it would have been Horn rather than Peru who won the toss of the coin. On the marriage certificate, Horn records his occupation as a reporter and the 16 year old Amy lied that she was seventeen. We are told by Couzens that the only reason we know the details of the couples elopement, is that Amy's half sister May (from her father's second marriage) was still alive to give the details in 1983, aged 99. Just over nine months after Horn and Amy's marriage, on 22nd March 1884, Horn's daughter Marie Louisa Smith was born.

By this time Horn and his new wife were living above an antique shop in Lambeth where Horn did some work and also continued his painting; further inspired by his friendships with the artist Henry Scott Tuke, who on occasions stayed with the couple in their Lambeth apartment, and with the cartoonist Phil May. For a short period Horn immersed himself in the bohemian culture of London, although he also seems to have made a trip to New York with his new family as part of an assignment as a journalist for The Times. America was to leave a great impression on him as we shall see. Shortly afterwards Horn decided that he needed to provide greater security for his family, and so on 27th October 1884, signed up with the Metropolitan Police service, later passing his exams as a detective. As a Scotland Yard officer, Horn worked primarily with the poor and dispossessed in Central London, spending a good deal of his time with costermongers, in coffee stalls and pie shops. At the same time, Horn and his friend Phil May also took up boxing at a gymnasium in Lambeth. For a more detailed account of the times Horn spent in London, one must read Couzens' Tramp Royal which draws from Horn's unpublished work Buddha's Other Eye, and is amply illustrated with cartoons and sketches by Phil May.


Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

But Horn was already showing signs of his true tramping nature, as he was to later observe: 'London was panorama enough for a time but hardly suitable for a feller likes change.' He was also too soft hearted to survive as a police officer, identifying closely with the causes rather than the consequences of crime. And like many of the other tramps in this philosophy, he was already starting to associate marriage with captivity:

'Aye, and I could a seen more if I hadn't tied myself up in wedlock to a ringleted Lancashire lass. Same as I used to have in mind when I was a lad learning ivory. Wasted several years trying to settle down. Scotland Yard and so on ... There's some women you could drag about like the French drag their so called maitresses when they're developing a colony. But there's not many you'd care to have hampering your freedom. No getaway where there's a woman.'

In some ways, the trajectory of Horn's tramping career is the reverse of others I discuss, for unlike those child and adolescent tramps who became more settled towards the end of their lives, Horn starts off trying to embrace conventionality (the career as a colonialist more so than a police officer) even though suppressing strong instincts to the contrary, and only later follows the true tramping impulse. The new call for adventure came from a most unexpected arena. In 1887, as part of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show came to London, and after discussing it with Amy, Horn resigned from the police and sailed to New York for a second time. Horn's daughter Marie, who Couzens says wrote down her memories shortly before she died in 1956,  recalled how the family lived in a tent, variously in Nebraska and Denver, and that her father worked as a horse handler for Codie and also a sign and façade painter. She also recalls Horn teaching Indian women to paint on the reservation. Horn's son William was born at this time, allegedly delivered by Mrs Cody. But Amy's health started to deteriorate, forcing Horn to leave the Wild West show and take up work again as a journalist on regional newspapers. Horn's trail goes cold here as it seems he dragged the family around in an attempt to survive, labouring when he could but also panning for gold. Couzens speculates that Horn left Arizona in the early 1890s.


From the Osage Reservation to Pittsburgh

We pick up Horns trail again around this time at an Indian girls school, the St Louis Academy at Pawhuska, Oklahoma, run by nuns of the Catholic order of St Francis: 'I think this must have been the time when Dad began to teach the Indian ladies painting.' Although Couzens provides some fascinating references concerning the Osage Indians themselves, there is little more on how the Horn family spent their time at the school; except to say that Horn must have felt very at home among these people. He also seems to have contributed—through his old skill of bricklaying—to the region's architectural heritage by leaving some of the few permanent brick structures in the nearby town of Bigheart. Couzens describes one character, Roaring Thunder, who appears to have been a model of Cynic philosophy in embracing hardship as a strategy to avoid disappointment:

'He was a man who clearly did not want to be cut off from nature and from the rituals of the past. Like Aloysius, he refused to be overwhelmed by the new world, preserving himself and his dignity intact. He preferred the path of his brothers, the buffalo, to what a fellow Osage called 'the hard, white highway of the white man'. Despite the hardships of his life-style he lived to be seventy five.'

The lifestyle of the Osage is more admirable because, as Couzens describes, in 1897 (after Horn had left) oil was discovered on the Osage reservation making them 'the richest tribe in the world'. And in spite of his millionaire status, Chief Wah-she-ha, alias Bacon Rind (and as did Roaring Thunder) continued to resist any change in his way of living. Marie writes of this period, 'The Indians were generous and kind to us, and I often wondered why we left.'

An appreciation of the nature of wanderlust may have helped Marie to understand her father's inability to settle in one place. In any event, our next sighting of Horn is in the city of Pittsburgh. Couzens' only clue to Horn's arrival there is an entry in the Pittsburgh City Directory for 1892-1893 for an Alois. Smith, described as a 'labourer'. This is frustrated, however, by an account from Horn himself that he was painting signs in Pawnee, Oklahoma, including one in the Sheriff's office, which would put the date that Horn was still in Oklahoma after 1883. In all probability Horn came to Pittsburgh looking for work, which may, according to a recollection of his grandson Sandy, have included working as a Pinkerton Detective. Couzens is continually chasing ghosts in his own relentless investigation, though never failing to follow up a lead:

'A map of Pittsburgh solves one of the many mysteries of the Trader Horn story. The 'Tanny Hill Convent' where Marie seems to have received her first schooling could have been anywhere in America. But there is a Tannehill Street in Pittsburgh very close to the downtown area and, backing on to it, is a large Catholic Church called St Benedict the Moor. Behind the church are the remains of a large buildinga convent or school.' 

From a letter written by Amy's half sister, May, to Amy's granddaughters, entries from May's diary, and an interview with May before she died in 1983, Couzens was able to ascertain the following information. Horn was not always with his family during their time in America, although whether this was because he had to travel to find work or simply tramping we are not told. What May did reveal, was that Amy made five trips across the Atlantic, sometimes with her children, to visit her father and stepmother Mary, with whom by this time she was reconciled. In fact it turns out that Mary Knowles was kindness personified and was later very close to her granddaughter Marie. May reveals that when she was old enough to have her own memory of Amy's visits, she recalls Amy arriving one night with Marie and Willie, but that Annie had died from scarlet fever on the journey and been buried at sea. Amy stayed for quite a time in Preston and Marie described Grandma Knowles' house as, 'such a lovely home that I think Mamma was terribly homesick each time she went back.'

Eventually though, Amy decided to return to America, although she never got over Annie's death. As if Pittsburgh at the time was not harsh enough, 1893 was the height of the depression and also the coldest winter in the City's history. It was into this inhospitable environment and the 'Tannehill Convent' that Amy returned. Now identified as the St Paul's Roman Catholic Orphanage Asylum (1838-1965), Tannehill Street, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Amy was to leave Marie as a border at the orphanage while she continued to live with Horn and Willie. Marie has memories of being visited by her mother, by now showing advanced signs of tuberculosis, in the company of Horn's brother Robert who had come to take Marie back to Preston. The only surviving writing of Amy's is a letter (reproduced in Tramp Royal) written to Marie, by this time living with her step-grandmother in Preston. In the letter Amy says that she has 'been in bed sick with phnewmonia', probably already dying of consumption in Pittsburgh, and sends love from 'Dada Willie and myself'. Whatever Horn himself may have related to Lewis about his wife's illness, the only surviving words are a reference that he 'carried her out on the porch to see the fireworks', presumably on the 4th July 1894. Couzens notes that Horn must have been living in some degree of poverty, along with 10,000 other unemployed families recorded in Pittsburgh in November of that year. Amy's death is recorded on 28th November 1894 in Williams Street in the 30th Ward of that city. The death certificate records that she was a white female of twenty-seven years of age born in England of a father 'unknown'. Amy was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave two days later. 


Trader Horn's Return to Africa

Such was the ignoble end of the woman of Horn's dreams and fantasies, and one of the lowest moments of Horn's own life. Small wonder then that Horn should turn his back on America and travel to Africa once again, although this time the East rather than the West coast. Horn initially landed in Morocco as it would seem from Lewis' writings, where she believed he had a job connected to railway construction, but his eventual destination was the island of Madagascar as is recorded in his third book. Lewis concludes that Horn arrived in Madagascar 'some time after the Anglo-Boer War', and the book itself places his arrival there between 1895 and 1896. The Waters of Africa, both the fiction and the 'conversations', provide a teasing invitation to speculate on what Horn's real life adventures may have been. No matter that they are fabricated in large part, they remain fascinating testimonies of one person's extraordinary life and philosophy on that life. Horn's description of the peoples and places of Madagascar demonstrate that he knew the region intimately, and in his conversations with Lewis, Horn reveals a conscience towards the natural environment that was surprisingly advanced for the time—even though he denounces women for goading men to the crime under discussion!

'I ought to be thinking of me fauna too. I'm introducing the lemur, so-called Madagascar cat. And there's those spotted seals on the south island. A pelt like a leopard and a so-called leopard seal. Worth fifty pounds apiece. I used to dispose of a few to the Hudson Bay Fur Company, Oxford Street. Aye, for decking some proud beauty in Piccadilly men've got to ransack an obscure group of Islands in the Indian Ocean. ... Vanity's the cruellest instinct in the world. When a woman loses her pity and incites men to cruel slaughter of an innocent animal she'll lose her morals next.'

And why the need to introduce Belle Seymour (supposedly based on an American acquaintance or invention) into a fiction set in the Indian Ocean, when in real life it seems Horn was on familiar terms with the last Queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III and her sister Princess Betselao? Horn was clearly at his best with his fanciful autobiography rather than his fanciful fiction, more so as his real life adventures are every bit as fantastic and compelling as his attempts at the adventure novel.

'A dignified, gentle woman ... Why, I've seen her disrobe and bathe among the crocodiles. ... 'Twas a yearly ceremony to show her royalty to her people. The crocodiles, being sacred creatures, knew better than to touch the Queen of the Malagassies.'

Here again we have evidence that Horn must have been in Madagascar prior to 1897, because it was in that year that the French finally exiled the Queen to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean after their four year campaign to colonise Madagascar. Horn claims to have been occupied collecting taxes for the Queen and also prospecting for gold, which he describes as being of the finest colour in the world. Not surprisingly, Horn also fell foul of his old enemies the French:

'They [the Royal Family] didn't love the French any better than I did. Little fancy officers sitting down on a fine island full of minerals like Madagascar. Like a mistaken hen on barren eggs. Aye, there'd be nothing hatched while they're in possession. No natural fertility where the French are, wether of population, or of prospecting. ... Voila le gendarme's always been the battle cry of an unmartial nation. The country that depends on law'll always go to the wall. Its gentlemen, not gendarmes, they want in the French colony.'

Couzens speculates that the inclusion of the Chesterfields in Horn's fiction reveals that as well as sponge and oyster diving, Horn may also have been involved in gun running for the Imerina rebels in their fight to resist colonisation by the French. A campaign in which the British, while to Horn's disgust showed no outward interest in Madagascar themselves, may well have played a clandestine role. In any event, the French were as hostile to Horn as he was to them, resulting in his being jailed for his troubles. He berated the French for their poor administration of the jail in which he was held, as much as for their shortcomings as colonisers. He has a lot to say about certain of his fellow prisoners, including an Italian who was eventually executed for murder but from whom Horn learned the art of sausage making—as well as providing him the opportunity for some home-spun philosophy:

'Learned in sausage-making and made a living at it while waiting to be shot by the French. Oh, aye, they never told you when your turn would be ... Priest appeared early one morning with the warder. "Here's the vultures ready for somebody", we'd say. A bit of a joke'll always pass things off more pleasantly for all concerned. Especially the condemned. ... Aye, that feller enjoyed parting his knowledge of sausages to us. No doubt it was better for the condemned man than brooding alone in his cell. A human occupation plus human society puts a man in better fettle for meeting St Peter than all this chaplain business. The aroma of herbs about his soul would sure be an attraction to anyone with a streak of humanity about him, heaven or elsewhere.'

 Here is Horn at his literary best. There is an authentic humanity about these philosophic ramblings merging comedy with pathos, that reveals so much more about the social history of the period than any formal accounts could possibly convey. But Horn's incarceration in the Madagascar prison also provides us with a more accurate chronicle of his onward adventures. Horn tells us that when the French served him with his deportation order, he showed his contempt for them by lighting his pipe with it, at which the French 'got somewhat over exited.' Horn then describes how, in true buccaneering spirit, he rode his horse into the market letting it feed on the vegetables and then kicking over stalls on his way out. Horn describes his last moments in Madagascar, Cervantes style, being accompanied by the British Consul to a ship waiting to take him to the African mainland:

'I could laff still when I think of Monsieur le Capitaine marching me down to that jetty. Brandishing his little sword and puffing and blowing ... Aye, they all wanted to see the last of me when he marched me down to the ship ... holding out a little Union Jack for the purpose of protecting me ... Shaking his old sword as he marched along, martial as you please, albeit somewhat nervous.'


Trader Horn in Eastern, Southern and Central Africa

Horn arrived as a deportee in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique, and the Portuguese, not wanting to give domicile to a British mercenary any more than did the French (here Couzens provides information of other Britons charged with gun running), he was taken under escort directly to the British Consul, Roger Casement, with instructions to have Horn sent back to Britain via Swaziland—and from here we again have to rely on Horn's own testimony for details of his onwards travel.

Whether or not Horn did return to Britain to visit his family between 1896 and 1897, he was soon back in Southern Africa if claims in all three of his books that he was at war with the Matabele are to be believed. At the most Horn would still have been only thirty five years of age.

Horn seems to have dropped out of sight for some years, 'as near becoming native as a white man could.' And we next pick him up in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) working as an independent trader and store keeper. Here Horn recounts not only a meeting with the founder of the former colony, Cecil Rhodes, but also claims to have saved Rhodes life. Horn describes how he had been making prickly-pear brandy in the back of his store in Rhodesia when Rhodes turned up on a fishing trip with a friend, insisting that they take some of the brandy with them. Horn warned them that it had not matured and would 'treat 'em queer', but they 'took a good lot of it' anyway. One of Horn's workers took Rhodes and his companion to a good fishing spot by a large flat rock near the river bank. Later that afternoon, Horn's worker came rushing up in a panic because Rhodes and his friend had fallen asleep on the same rock from which a woman had been snatched by a crocodile while washing clothes only a week earlier.

'I rode down to the spot to see what he meant, and there I saw Rhodes and the other feller fast asleep. Dead drunk they both were and very red in the face. They might 'a' got sunstroke lying out like that, let alone the crocodile. ... They'd both left their lines in the water and a fish was caught and splashing about on one of 'em. ... Rhodes was properly astonished when he found out where he was [after being taken to Horn's store and laid out to sleep it off]. He wasn't a man was often caught napping.'  

By the time the Boer war broke out in 1899, Horn says that he was in South Africa's Cape Colony working at his old occupation of bricklaying. He initially enlisted in a local regiment but then joined an irregular outfit he called Kitchener's Cattle Thieves. The role of this troop was to commandeer cattle from the Boers and drive them hundreds of miles to British army headquarters—although Horn insists that they never took the 'family cow' needed to provide milk for the children. Couzens has unearthed independent evidence of Horn's role in the Boer war from a piece written by a Major George Witten for the New York Times in 1928. Witten, who had ridden alongside Horn for two weeks and met up him on other occasions, was by this time president of the Writers' Club of New York. He was provoked to write in response to the those who were branding Horn and Lewis as charlatans. Witten had first met Horn out on the veld among a group of Generals, and on asking who he was, Witten was told that Smith new Africa better than any other man. Witten's own opinion was that he had no doubt of the veracity of Horn's adventures, adding that he found Horn 'remarkably keen and alert'. Lewis also provides evidence of Horn's involvement in the Boer war in that she helped him claim a war pension from the government of the new Union of South Africa of fifty shillings per week.

March of the Prisoners

Our next sighting of Horn comes from an ex British South African policeman, F.L. Rack who claimed to have come across Horn in the northwestern Rhodesian mining town of Wankie (now Hwange) in 1904. This appearance of Horn coincides with the tale he tells in 'The March of the Prisoners', one of four chapters under the heading Odd Conversations at the back of Waters of Africa. In spite of Horn's diatribes against slavery, it seems he was not averse to engaging in the commerce of kidnapping, human trafficking and forced labour—he also adds an entirely new meaning to my glossary of 'tramping'. Horn had slipped over the Moçambique border and bribed a prison official to hand over 300 prisoners (including 'murderers in leg-irons') plus six armed Portuguese soldiers to guard them, and then marched them for over a fortnight (without losing a single prisoner) to a mine in Rhodesia where they were handed over as labourers at two pounds apiece, of which Horn received half. Horn justifies this enterprise by claiming that his captives enjoyed a comparative freedom (on the trek at least) to their former plight in jail, 'rotting there among their dirty crusts of mouldy bread.' Horn describes how the prisoners grew more cheerful day by day, 'mountain water and old Sol and bit o' God's freedom' going far to healing any wound.' Horn's conscience was further fortified by the fact that the six soldiers were also persuaded by 'a bit of natural coercion' to stay and work in the mine: 'No great compliment to their Government that it's soldiers are as lief to work half naked in a mine as to wear froggings and epaulets in a state of repose.' As Horn was to hear from a friend later, the postscript to this story was that it was only after sometime did the prison authorities realise they were 300 prisoners short, and for whom they had been supplying extra rations. The prison captain no doubt sold the surplus supplies and covered his back by producing a forged document from Horn: 'Please give the bearer three hundred prisoners and oblige yours sincerely the governor.' Horn further justified his escapade by postulating—who was going to worry about retrieving 300 hardened criminals anyway?

On The Wandering Jew and Animal Cruelty

Whatever the morality of this episode, it is in stories such as March of the Prisoners, that Horn as both the scoundrel tramp and delinquent storyteller are fully appreciated. It was also in Moçambique (related in Odd Conversations, 'The Wandering Jew') that Horn met another archetypal tramp character. We don't know what Horn was doing inland from the coastal town of Inhambane, but it was there near the village of Panda that Horn met one of the many manifestations of the Wandering Jew. Horn describes the Jew as having:

'the look of Jesus about him ... Sandals and a long gown and so on, and carrying a tall stick in his hand ... There he was, walking down Africa like that dove seeking land after Noah's flood. A home for the Jews he said. Come all that way from Palestine receiving food and shelter, but without a coin.'

Horn formed a brief but profound friendship with this person, who reinforced for Horn his already developing affinity with nature. In the chapter Horn reflects on human beings' cruelty and selfish disregard for their natural surroundings. Although in his youth Horn had shot his own share of animals, he later came to detest the unnecessary killing of wild animals, even by hunters who made a living from it. But trophy hunters were the most loathsome, 'nothing but licensed murder'll satisfy their kind'. Horn describes the most brutal and wonton act of cruelty he ever witnessed by 'a Major Somebody ... A red-faced ignorant whatever his fancy title may be'. Horn tells how this trophy tourist shot a female sable antelope before pushing its trembling baby to one side to drink the milk from the dying animal for himself. But Horn was not sentimental. In the dangerous environment in which he chose to exist, there were times when it was entirely necessary to kill animals, either for food or one's own protection. On at least two occasions Horn had to be rescued from maulings by lions by his friend Tom Connoly. On the first occasion, although the lion was shot, Horn received a bullet wound to his shoulder but was saved once again by the timely intervention of a witch-doctor. On the second occasion Horn was sleeping off a drinking binge under a wagon when the lion struck:

'I was lying in me cups one night under a wagon and Tom was asleep there by the fire. Something woke him, and he sat up just in time to see a lioness lying on her back trying to tickle me with her paws. Gentle as a kitten she was. I might 'a been a bobbin o' cotton.'

Human Trafficking

For other places in Africa that Horn might have spent time, we have only passing references, but there were clearly times when as well as working he was, 'Travelling on the contents of me pocket'. And so as well as both legitimate and illegal employment, Horn must also have spent many years in Africa as a tramp, albeit a very resourceful one. Of the other places he mentions visiting we can include: Gwelo and Que Que in Southern Rhodesia, Tati and the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, The Lake Chad area somewhere between Somalia and Northern Nigeria (see below), as well as tramping from the Persian Gulf (where he was involved in salvage work) via Mocha and Aden in Yemen, down the East African coast to the Island of Zanzibar where he worked for the Sultan, collecting tithes from Arab traders: 'My official duties made it necessary for me to collect the Sultan's levies on the high seas.' But Horn also accepting a mission from the Sultan where he:

'escorted the Sultan's daughter on her bridal voyage to the Persian gulf. Going as a bride to one of the Mahomedan princes there. Aye, she travelled in state, with a retinue of fifty eunuchs. I remember I had some trouble getting the requisite number together ... Plus women slaves.'  

Horn told Lewis how having secured the forty nine eunuchs and being at his wit's end to obtain the fiftieth, he found an Irish tramp to fill the vacant position. Given the untold riches on that voyage, Horn does admit resisting the opportunity of turning pirate and making himself extremely wealthy. 'Grand loot it would a' been. The jewels alone...' (see also fictional description in Part 1 from Horn's third book on the salvage operation from the Empress of India, possibly influenced by this voyage).

After tiring of Zanzibar and the sea, Horn travelled to the highlands of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) from where he tramped onwards to Somalia and Cape Guardafui. It was this place, 'notable for bloody violence' together with his Zanzibar escapades, that prompted Horn's diatribe on slavery in The Waters of Africa (see 'Trader Horn's Philosophy' below). Young boys trafficked up to places like Muscat in Oman from Zanzibar and Madagascar and young women brought back from Turkey and Georgia on the return journey.

The Lake Chad Road: in which Horn engages in highway robbery

We cannot be sure exactly when Horn was in the southern Sahara Desert, but one of the Odd Conversations from the end of The Waters of Africa, titled 'The Lake Chad Road', describes how he spent his time there. In this twenty four page memoir, Horn admits to his involvement in highway robbery and kidnapping. He says that 'when the French became impossible to live with on the coast', he travelled to Northern Nigeria with his own 'outfit of armed natives', with the intention of opening up a trade route 'right through Mahomedan country.' At some point Horn then joined forces with the leader of a local brigand gang he refers to as 'Mahomad Alie'. Their business was taking human hostages (for ransom) as well as outright robbery. And yet, as is the paradox of many of Horn's adventurous affairs, he relates this episode of his life to Lewis with a strange combination of both romance and regret:

'Camels! ... You've got to see a caravan in the moonlight to seize the beauty of it. The desert moon's the grandest in the world. Picks out the hills and gaps like a blue picture of a landscape, and from between two of 'em a caravan comes by surprise. You heart jumps to see it same as the circus'll give you a pang. ... That's all you'll see at first. A moving shadow picked of in spots of silver and the sound of bells.
     Talk of a picturepiracy on the high seas is a common affair after you've seen a caravan held up. But you've got to harden your heart to break up the panorama with common violence. ... When it comes near and you see the camel's pride and knowledge of their duties, you sure feel a pang at the thought of destruction.
     All that handsome commerce ... Took innocent business men a year to think it out and amass all that merchandise.
   The destruction of a big enterprise'll always weigh heavy on the mind of any feller born with natural feelings. Not like stopping a coach or a train that's only been running a day or two ... Some poor feller's venture that'll never come to fruit and can't be replaced.'

And as though to justify what seems by any accounts (including Horn's own) a despicably criminal act, our hero later emphasises the virtuous manner in which the female hostages were treated—the fate of those guarding the caravans is not mentioned.

'We were sworn in never to touch or molest, and we always kept our word. Handed 'em over to Mahomed Alie and he'd treat 'em like his own daughters. Give 'em the benefice of his protection while a ransom was being sent for.'

[...]

'We made a good living there until we got caught by the Senussi [religious Sufi fighters, also hostile to the French]. The loot was equally divided. No complaints about that. Fine carpets from Persia and so on, might have sold well in London, but were no use for anything in a desert bivouac.'

Rogue he certainly was, but whatever crimes Horn may have committed in his life, these were paltry and restrained indeed compared to those institutional atrocities committed by both state and church during the Victorian era. In terms of his personal morality, Horn was probably more of a 'Christian' than many priests or missionaries then or now. Trader he might have been, but here again Horn shows little regard for money or material possessions, his motives always driven by a thirst for adventure and a need to mine whatever experiences he could from the exotic and the novel. As Lewis remarked, whatever money Horn had, he derived pleasure from giving it away. Identifying himself as a Catholic throughout most of his writings, in this chapter Horn also describes himself as a 'white Mahomedan' and describes elsewhere how he both read and practiced elements of the Koran. And so once again, although a villain and adventurer, we also have evidence of Horn's Cynic credentials: not seeking pleasure from material possessions and adopting elements of other cultures to adapt to prevailing circumstances. As a postscript to this episode, the following passage refers to the period immediately preceding Horn's career as a desert bandit—less fruitful but resourceful nonetheless:

'Did I ever tell you I rode a camel all night once when I got into trouble with the French? Rode him all night in rocky country ... I hadn't eaten for two dayshad to kill the poor brute for food in the morning ...'


Trader Horn's Return to America and Hobo Culture

By 1905, now aged 44, Horn joined his brother who was at that time working in Jersey City. It must be assumed that up until this time, Horn's two surviving children were residing with Amy's stepmother and half-sister in Preston. The two brothers travelled together for a while, working in both Bayonne, NJ and New York for 70 cents an hour. On 8th April 1905 Robert sailed for Panama having signed up for work as a bricklayer on the canal for 72 cents an hour—as a skilled labourer he would have been paid this in gold. Couzens has interesting archive material covering this time, including postcards from Robert to the family back home in Lancashire. However, in less than a year Robert returned to England having been summoned home by his importunate wife Annie.

As for Horn himself, it seems that he returned at some point to Oklahoma and also Kansas where he engaged in prize-fighting, before moving to the southern Mississippi states, New Orleans and on to Florida. Horn may have spent time in prison in New Orleans accused of stealing fish from a net: 'Half-French Creoles. Ran us in for theft.' He also describes a flood:

'The Arkansas rose and swept the levees and we jumped on a passenger train for safety. No need to hide in the blind baggage. With the river rising there was no one with the heart to turn us off.'

Another Victorian tramp writer, Bart Kennedy, born the same year as Horn in 1861, was also in a New Orleans' jail around this time, and also describes escaping a flood, though whether this was the same flood encountered by Horn is difficult to establish. From his conversations with Lewis (above and below), Horn was certainly riding the rails as a hobo around this time:

'Oh, aye, I've walked the tracks. Like this Jack London feller they talk about. I've seen a fair lot of American society riding under the rods. All sorts o' fellers, changing their State for  the good of their State. ... Aye, the track's full of 'em. Blind baggage and so on.'

The customs and hazards of riding the rails are already fully described elsewhere on this site, most notably under the piece on Josiah Flynt. No doubt Horn's adventures and skills as a storyteller would have added to the repository of American tramp folklore. Another talent of Horn's that I have referred to, but not yet fully acknowledged, was his abilities as an artist. He was certainly talented enough to have works commissioned to adorn public buildings across America, and mischievous enough to include a small figure of himself somewhere in the picture. Couzens refers to one such commission in which Horn had included himself as a figure fishing, but when the town council reneged on the price, he altered the figure to one pissing.

Couzens also claims that Horn may have visited Peru, though whether this was to look up his childhood friend we do not know. What we do know is that he spent some time in Mexico around 1913, (involved in Pancho Villa's revolution') of which Lewis wrote a story on his anecdotes—a work now unfortunately lost. Around the same time, and presumably unknown to Horn, his daughter Marie had married and was living in Georgetown, Guyana, to a Will Scales, and on 8th of January 1913 Horn's first grandchild William Alexander 'Sandy' Scales was born in Georgetown Hospital. There are remarkable photographs of Marie's family in Couzen's book. Marie was by this time Horn's only remaining child. His son Willie, who had been in the army, died in South Wales, as Couzens put it: 'sitting in a chair, in agony and stark raving mad from an infected ear.' Marie was informed by a letter from her uncle but Horn would not find out until some years later.

Of significant interest is the fact that Couzens is later to enter this story himself, this time as a character rather than simply a source of reference. Couzens first met Sandy in 1981 when Horn's grandson would have been 68 years old. This meeting was to lead Couzens (via a lynching in 1915 in which Horn, by this time aged 54, may or may not have been involved) on a journey across America visiting people who knew Horn. Some of these even had in their possession Horn memorabilia. The meeting with Sandy and subsequent trip to America places Horn as living in a settlement called Kramer, halfway between the towns of Rochelle and Abbeville in Wilcox County, Georgia, sometime between 1913 and 1914. Here Horn 'took possession of an abandoned house, slept on a mat and did his own cooking, until he was eventually joined by Marie and Will Scales.' This would certainly have been by 1915 when Couzens is able to provide a first hand account of the home occupied by Horn, his daughter and her family, from a woman who (although she was only 15 at the time) remembers having to drive Will Scales to a musical programme in Rochelle School:

'She arrived at the house where Aloysius and the Scales family lived. The boards rattled as she walked across the porch, and the shack seemed to be in a terrible condition. It was probably either one of those houses of the Gress's employees or part of the convicts' accommodation! But she was astounded when Will Scales came out wearing a tuxedo with tails! He was 'like a prince'. Mrs Hillis talks of the regal way in which the Scales family carried themselves even though they were considered refugees by the townspeople.'

1915 was at the height of another depression in America and Will Scales had to travel to find work. Horn managed to make ends meet through picking up work as a bricklayer and painter (of pictures not buildings). Sandy related a story to Couzens how his grandfather (by now known as Uncle Pat, as the townsfolk assumed that all Catholics were Irish) had painted a picture of a horse for the local sheriff called Ben Edwards. Couzens was later able to identify surviving paintings by Horn and also building work:

'In Nell Johnson's beautiful old house there is a painting above the mantel piece. It is about six feet high and depicts a palace, seemingly on an island. A good deal of the painting consists of a background of sky and cloud and a foreground of sea with yachts rather like dhows sailing on it. The painting is predominantly blue.'

And so perhaps Horn's painting was influenced by his Waters of Africa adventures. In any case, some of Horn's time in Georgia must also have influenced that book. Horn's family seem to have been quite popular in Rochelle. Marie played the piano gave musical performances, she also had a job as a housekeeper in a local boarding house. Horn by this time had become friendly with a local millionaire, Jonathan Walker; a character even more eccentric than Horn and who Horn on his first meeting had mistaken for a tramp. Couzens says that Horn is remembered in Rochelle for what he did best, storytelling, and could always be found outside a local store, 'Jonathan Walker ... hovering like Uncle Remus in the background' talking of his world adventures to a street filled with poor people, black and white alike. As Couzens continues: 'some of the stories the old cracker-barrel philosopher told there must have been practice for the books to come.' But Horn, never able to put down roots for long, would soon be on his way again. Marie was to keep in touch with the Walker family for many years, and Jonathan Walker himself lived to the age of 105.


Trader Horn's Second Return to Africa and Ignominy

Early in 1916 Will Scales and his family returned to England and Horn was to join them in May that year. But sometime later an incident occurred that was to separate Horn from his family for many years. On taking Sandy out one day on a trip around the streets of London, Horn claimed that he was watching aeroplanes flying overhead when the next thing he realised Sandy was missing. The boy eventually returned about midnight safe and smiling in the company of a police officer, but Horn was severely shaken by the incident and Marie was naturally enraged. On 19th September 1916, once again Horn would set out for the African continent, leaving behind a letter (reproduced in full in Couzens' Book) giving Marie legal authority over his property and affairs.

The first postcard Marie received from Horn was posted from Madagascar, asking his daughter to let Jonathan Walker know where he was. But in a letter that Marie wrote in 1921 to Walker's grandchildren, Lina and Ida Walker, enquiring after the old man (Jonathan Walker not Horn), she told them that she had not heard from her father, by this time 60 years of age, in over four years.

We are now coming closer to the final episode in Horn's life. He was working in Pretoria in the building trade, when he fell from some scaffolding badly injuring his leg from which he contracted lead poisoning. The doctors advised Horn in hospital that they would have to amputate his leg to save his life. Horn refused to consider this but the doctors were adamant, and so Horn got word to a friend, Tom Connolly, who smuggled a rope into the hospital which Horn scaled down to his friend and two waiting mules. The pair trekked to a witch doctor friend of Horn's who cured the poison and saved Horn's leg.

But Horn was now too frail for physical labour, surviving for a while on his painting. We are told he received two pounds for a copy of Landseer's 'The Stag at Bay' from the owner of a shabby café, and also a picture of lions on the side of a paraffin can that ended up in the bar of a hotel. Eventually Horn did return to trading, although now reduced to the role of a street pedlar like those he had befriended while a police officer in London. There was little pleasure for Horn in his new occupation, particularly as he was now forced to live in a Salvation Army hostel in Johannesburg, always having preferred the open expanses of the outdoors. As Couzens later observes, to Horn it was the indignities of the dosshouse that represented the savage side of civilisation, not the cliché of 'Darkest Africa'. Horn's indignation at his Icarian collapse from trader on the Ogowe with a small army at his disposal, to hawking grid-irons, baskets and toasting forks around the suburbs of Johannesburg, is barely disguised in the following passage:

'Aye, when you've got to assuage the cannibal into the buying mood 'tis a more manly effort than facing a woman who doesn't want to buy. Some of 'em set the dog after you. They don't know I've faced rogue elephants. When you've heard the gorillas roar at dawn it takes away the capacity for fearing the common house dog.'


Trader Horn Writer and Celebrity

And so we finally arrive at the point where I started my biography of Trader Horn in Part 1: the accidental meeting with Ethelreda Lewis that was to save Horn from an undignified slide into death and launch his new career as a writer. We have first hand accounts from both Horn and Lewis as to what happened next, but the chapter from Couzens' book titled 'From Joss House to Doss House'—'The Joss House was a symbol for the magical world of youth; the Doss House a more realistic assessment of old age'—provides fascinating testimony, supported (as is the whole of Couzens' book) with numerous photographs, of the transition of Trader Horn from an unknown tramp and adventurer to entering the consciousness of an entire generation of readers, movie-goers and critics around the globe.

But Horn's new found wealth and fame did not change his philosophy on life, nor his treatment of his fellow man. Not easily forgetting the fellowship of tramping, a bond and code of behaviour described by other tramp writers on this site (see for instance Bart Kennedy's A Tramp's Philosophy), initially Horn remained at the hostel, sharing his early royalties with those less fortunate that himself. As he told Lewis:

'To tell you the truth I used me literary earnings rather too freely at the beginning of the week. Force of circumstances induced me to give something to that feller in the bed next to mine. Been here for a week without getting a job or earning penny. Getting that frightened look in the eyeI've seen it in cornered animals. [...] Ma'am, as a human being, you don't display much of the gentleman if you refuse your last cent to a starving man made in the same image as yourself.'

Horn's new notoriety would also reunite him with his daughter and grandchildren. Having thought by now that her father had probably died somewhere in Africa, imagine Marie's surprise to see his photographic portrait in a copy of the Illustrated London News dated 24th September 1927. Two weeks later Horn received a letter from his daughter addressed to Ethelreda Lewis, and by the end of the year he was back in England and the Scales's new family home in Whitstable on the North Kent coast. There is a splendid photograph in Couzens' book of Horn, all dressed up in his new togs, celebrating Christmas with his daughter, son-in-law and (by now) five grandchildren. Couzens also provides a comical description of the difficulties encountered by Lewis in her efforts to get the old reprobate to adopt a wardrobe befitting his new status:

'His dress sense had always been a source of some despair to her. ... Ethelreda dispatched him to Durban in April with a new outfit of clothes. He returned to Johannesburg in September, and two days later she saw him approaching her front gate. He had got rid of everythingeven his socksand was marching along in a hugely happy mood chewing tobacco and clothed in an aura of disreputable triumph.'

Lewis relates an interesting episode of Horn's departure to Durban where she had sent him to improve his health. As she was seeing him off from the platform, 'a remarkable looking elderly man' spied Horn in the train carriage and declared, "Why, it's Zambesi Jack!" After greeting Horn warmly, he turned to Lewis and declared, "This is Zambesi Jack, whose life beats Rider Haggard's fiction hollow. Somebody ought to write a book about him." Lewis declined to tell the man—who Horn later informed her was a former British aristocratic and ex-army Major fallen on hard times—that not only was the book written, but also accepted for publication. In any event, Horn did eventually agree to take a new set of clothes to England and 'be suitably caparisoned as an old Victorian gentleman with a beard ought.' But at the final hour, Lewis says, he rebelled and 'went off in an old suit of reach-me-downs, and old jersey and no tie. He had also smuggled ... some still older, more disreputable clothes into a kit bag.' Anticipating this, Lewis gave instructions to the train steward to deal with it. And this is how the now transformed grand old Victorian gentleman, as most photographs represent him, arrived in England. But Horn would not stay long in England. His publishers had arranged a lecture tour of America, and in March 1928 Horn sailed for New York in the White Star liner Olympic.

Horn seems to have been just at ease surrounded by adoring and sycophantic society fans in New York as he was surrounded by cannibals on the Ogowe. When asked by one of these New York ladies how he was going to spend the four or five thousand dollars a week he was allegedly to get in royalties, he simply replied through tears of laughter that all he was currently in possession of was two pounds and six pence. Couzens describes his inaugural lecture at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March to a packed house in the 1,500 seater Town Hall off Times Square:

'William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage, acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: "The Lord take care of you, an' the Divil takes care of the last man.' He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.'

After two weeks of being driven from one publicity event and dinner party to another, smothered with platitudinous solicitations, Trader Horn must have felt relieved to be travelling back to Liverpool on the SS Carmania and returning to Whitstable where he would enjoy some well deserved serenity. By the Spring of 1928 Metro Goldwyn Mayer had bought the film rights of Horn's first book for twenty five thousand dollars and the second two books had been accepted for publication, so Horn and Lewis would at least have no further money worries. Even so, Horn still had the Viking and the tramp running through his veins and, after a particularly long and dismal spell of British weather, instead of putting up his feet and relaxing by the fire, he came downstairs one morning and shouted to Marie, 'Tell that girl to get the car out. I'm going to Africa.'


Trader Horn's Round the World Tour and Final Journey

Marie received a postcard from Horn, dated 7th October 1928, a day's sailing from Madeira, to say that all was well and he would write again when he arrived in Cape Town. Horn had travelled third-class not wanting to endure the 'hardships' of first-class. And so one year after leaving Lewis' front porch in Johannesburg, and not having warned her of his return, Horn crept up the steps 'like a dog making hastily, and he hopes unseen after unexplained absences, to his mat.' Lewis had feared that money and celebrity would have harmed Horn, even warning his publishers against the American tour because of his vulnerability and partiality for drink. But she need not have worried. Horn survived the ordeal and was happy to return to his literary homeland as though he had never been away. When Lewis pushed a pile of reviews towards him he simply swept them to the floor. He then produced his own wad of letters and documents from his pocket saying, 'When the doctor comes in I want to give him these. They're only a nuisance to me. ... I feel safe with the doctor. Don't have to think for myself.' Horn clearly found the trappings of life as a successful author altogether burdensome and set about trying to re-engage with some his familiar pursuits. Although on this occasion based in a hotel room rather than a dosshouse, with the added luxury of a beat-up old ford and the assistance of a chauffeur come companion, cook and general factotum. And so it was that Horn, clutching a new German translation of his book, and his chauffeur, B Charlie, set off to pan for gold in the Rustenburg fields midway between Johannesburg and the Botswana border.

Whether or not he found any gold we do not know, but by February 1929 he had left Johannesburg and boarded the SS Demosthenes in Cape Town bound for Australia. He acknowledged his debt to Ethelreda Lewis before he left but confessed to her that:

'My travels are not yet over. I have been travelling sincewell, since I can remember. The wanderlust is highly developed in some people; so is it in me. I suppose I shall just go on wandering until I go to Mars and join the wanders and the angels there!'

On arrival in Australia he explained his reason for being there to a journalist as follows:

'A Harley Street specialist is to blame. Feeling queer I asked him what was wrong with me. "Trader", says he, "nothing's wrong except that you have about five miles of nonsense in your head. Travel, and get rid of it." So here I am talking to you.'

From Australia Horn travelled on to New Zealand where Couzens says, 'he could be found in odd corners of Wellington and Auckland dispensing pearls of wisdom', and from there he boarded the Niagara bound for Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu on 19th April. Eight days later Horn was back once again in America and taken on a tour of the MGM studio where a short film of him was shot in conversation with Cecil B. De Mille as a prelude to the shooting of Trader Horn the movie. Couzens devotes a forty page illustrated chapter of his book to the making of the film, which at the time broke records for both cost and innovation. The film, which premiered in London in April 1931, cost $3 million dollars to make (the average cost of an MGM movie at the time being just $350,000) and had grossed $1.7 million by the end of the year, not to mention all the merchandising spin-offs. The film also represented a break through in sound-recording and was the first ever non-documentary movie to be shot on location in Africa. The whole family attended the premier of the movie and Horn had to be silenced by the usherette for complaining aloud about inaccuracies in the film. Lewis also, in her unpublished autobiography, decried the fact that 'in no respect' was the book represented by the film. For the detailed story of the movie and it's characters, I strongly advise my reader to acquire a copy of Couzens' book, I now continue with my interest in Horn as inveterate vagabond and wanderer.

From Hollywood, Horn crossed America via Chicago in a regular train compartment, the former hobo clearly being uncomfortable with the idea of luxury travel: 'Iv'e never slept in a Pullman berth and don't intend to start now.' He arrived in New York the same day that the movie party arrived in Mombassa to shoot the film. On May 9th 1929, Horn left America for the last time on board the SS Muenchen bound for Southampton. Horn would not leave England again and apart from a couple of trips down to Cornwall and tramping around the Kent countryside near Marie's home at Joy Lane in Whitstable, he spent most of his last months either in front of Marie's fire or in three of the local pubs where he continued to entertain with his stories any who would listen.

Trader Horn was moved to a nursing home only days before his death on 26th June 1931, the same year as Trader Horn the movie was released, and just five days after his seventieth birthday. The cause of death is reported as a cancerous tumour, although as far as we can tell it only slowed the old tramp down in his final weeks. The day before he died a nurse found Horn wandering around with his hat on and reports the last words he spoke as, 'Where's me bloody passport? I'm off to Africa.' But the reader must not assume that even death marked the end of Horn's wanderlust, as the penultimate paragraph of his third book hints:

'To a feller that's always been one for liberty the railings of a cemetery're no more than the prison of the soul that's forced to witness the humiliation of the body. Whether in life or in death walls're a mistake. A man needs a getaway ...' 


———


Trader Horn's Philosophy

Horn's view of the world, as indeed is that of many so-called professional philosophers, is distinctive for its contradictions: the devout Roman Catholic, anti-Islamist, and (as Lewis describes it) nostalgic England worshiper, who yet denigrates the Latin races and the effects of colonisation and praises aspects of both Islam and the primitive societies he encounters south of the Sahara; his view that a woman's place is in the home yet admiring women who assume traditional male roles—indeed, privileging such women in his fiction; deeply scathing of the damaging effects of the colonising process, yet himself part of that process and angry with the British for not grabbing more when they had the opportunity; fiercely anti-slavery, yet not averse to the odd bit of human trafficking; the list continues.

But, as I have already noted in respect of other Victorian tramp writers, one must allow for the time in which Horn lived and wrote. Attitudes and characterisations that would be considered politically incorrect today, were common currency in a society where slavery was still part of daily commerce. Horn should be judged on how he behaved rather than on his all-to-human comments. In fact, the evidence points to someone who appreciated and understood the people and cultures of the places he lived, in a way that most of his contemporaries did not. This is a feature that marks out many tramp cosmopolites, those who like the ancient Cynics, carry their home with them and easily adapt to both the natural environment and the customs of the places they find themselves in. Horn was also, contrary to his sometimes dismissive comments, very respectful towards women as I will discuss in more detail in the final section of this post. And so one needs to get beneath the easy caricature of the jingoistic adventurer to fully appreciate Horn's underlying philosophy. As I will attempt to show, while Horn certainly expressed strong nationalistic sentiments, particularly in respect of his home county of Lancashire, his behaviour and outlook were very much cosmopolitan. And one may use Cynic cosmopolitanism as a model for Horn, backed up as it was by his use of the diatribe and the aphorism to pour scorn on what he regarded as the stupidity of human's behaviour towards other humans and to the natural world. Such stupidity, in spite of Horn's sentimentality about his home county, includes his distain of provincialism. There are parallels here with Nietzsche's aphorism below that it is a selfish and unreasonable influence that ties people down to the same companions and circumstances, and to the daily round of toil:

Why cling to your bit of earth, or your little business, or listen to what your neighbour says? It is so provincial to bind oneself to views which are no longer binding a couple of hundred miles away."

Horn expresses Nietzsche's sentiments in the following two pronouncements:

'There's fellers'll stick to a place like Sheffield and call it life. Wasn't life going on before Sheffield was born or thought of? It's not where knives are madeit's where you use 'em there's life.' 

'That poor feller [Sir Walter Raleigh] was treated something cruelly by the stay-at-homes of his day. Aye, they've always been the stumbling block of the roamers. 'Tis not savagery but the so-called civilised that's the danger to the man with a fret for wandering.' 

Below I will expand on some of the themes mentioned above. Not to try and develop a philosophical 'system' to attach to Horn—he was not that kind of philosopher. Neither will I attempt to draw out any kind of cohesive theory concerning all or any of the subjects discussed below; these section headings will be useful later when attempting to draw together a more general philosophy of tramping from my wider research on tramp writers. Although Horn seems to have been moderately well read, his is a personal philosophy born out of his own experiences, and on which he reserves the right to change his mind and present contradictory positions. What Horn does best, is to challenge his reader to reconsider their own views, or at least reframe them to accommodate the unorthodox and the marginal in place of mainstream thinking. So far as I can tell, Horn did not deliberately model himself on the ancient Cynics, but there are, nonetheless, some powerful resonances with the principal features of this ancient philosophy—and so this seems as good a starting place as any.

On Classical Cynicism

In my book, and elsewhere on this site, I have described the philosophy of the ancient Cynics as a personal strategy for survival and maintaining one's integrity in a hostile world. As the original cosmopolites, the Cynics borrowed from any culture that suited their purpose as an adaptive strategy for living. Horn demonstrates his own willingness to adapt in this way by incorporating into his everyday lifestyle the customs of the peoples he lived with and worked alongside (witchcraft in central and southern Africa, aspects of Islam in Northern and Eastern Africa, etc): 'Always had that modus operandi about me that I could follow the edicts of my surroundings.' In the Epilogue to his book, Couzens sums up the life of Trader Horn in just such a way when he tells us that:

'If this book is about anything, then it is about freedom. Despite the world's procrustean efforts to force individuals into its narrow bed either by stretching them on a bureaucratic rack or lopping of their limbs with journalistic hatchets, Aloysius managed to avoid permanent incarceration in the Great Doss House of the World.'  

At times Horn even adopted the lifestyle of Diogenes in his tub. As Couzens comments: 'Trader Horn, like a snail, carried his home with him', noting also that, he only owned and slept in one set of clothes, never knowing when he needed a quick getaway. William McFee, in his Foreword to Horn's second volume, also likens Horn to the old Cynic in describing an image he had of Horn:

'as an old, old man with a white, tobacco-stained beard wandering like a ghost through that West African ship at night bearing a portable electric lamp, like some forlorn and disillusioned Diogenes suffering from insomnia.' 

And like the Cynics also, Horn could not resist but to puncture human pomposity wherever it arose, as his ridiculing of Johannesburg's 40th birthday celebrations demonstrates:

'Where's the dignity of all this boasting? Forty years of greedy nothingness and then they've got to prance and scream in the face of the world dressed like clowns of the demi-monde in a so-called pageant. But the world's not listening. The age of the Golden City is of moment to nobody but those concerned.'

Horn clearly also shares Diogenes' sentiments that there should be no gratitude to ones parents for being born as we are simply creatures generated by nature, when he utters:

'Relations! ... One of the biggest delusions in the known world. When you leave home you leave brothers and sisters. Flesh and blood. But you've only got to return now and then from the world's horizons to find them a mirage.'

But it is Horn's use of Cynic genres such as the aphorism and the diatribe to punctuate his philosophy that, as it did with Nietzsche also, creates powerful images that make sure his words and ideas stay with you long after more scholarly expositions on the state of humanity are forgotten. The following aphorisms need no further explanation:

'the man that utilises Nature'll always be top dog ... Turn your eyes away from nature and you're punished.'

'A moral people, Americans. Of course if now and then somebody gets killed, well we're all nothing but human.'

'When the poor speak wisdom the rich'll always tremble. The wisdom of Nature'll always provide a shock for the educated.'

'what's entente but a forced conviviality? No better than a glass o' wine and a finger biscuit at a funeral.'

' 'Tis when a place has never been seen that you want to be there. To be unknown is the greatest attribute to beauty. Like one 'o those mirages that the clouds conjure up in playyou get there and something's vanished.'

' 'Tis progress kills the word. Talk of suicide of the race ... An empty cradle's nothinga harmless object compared with the cradle rocks an ambitious merchant or Léopold of Belgium.'

'There's two kinds in lifeone that holds the broom and one that'll get swept before it.'

And, stating his preferred research methodology, Horn informs us, 'If you want facts you must travel for 'em'

The best example of Horn's use of the diatribe comes in a seven page rant to Lewis' husband reproduced in Horn's third book. Here Horn is venting his anger on the practice of enslaving young boys to work as eunuchs in the harems of the Persian Gulf states. Hopefully my reader will get a flavour from the following short extracts, of the style of the diatribe as employed here by Horn:

On Slavery

'Doctor, there's suffering lads with none to put out a hand to save 'em. Where's England's manhood that can sit still and see an unnatural outrage perpetrated on helpless lads?
     Worth fifty pounds apiece for harem use. The head of the harem, she picks 'em out [...] Is a woman made more virtuous because she's watched night and day by some poor wretched soul caught when he was a wild slim lad in Abyssinia? [...] Nothing crueller in the known world than these blushes of religious modesty. Oh aye, cover up your face like an ostrich and pretend such things could never be, and you'll murder tender lads with every blush a Christian's proud to summon up! [...] Slavery ... "Oh, how cruel!" They say on the drawing-rooms of  the haut ton. Harems! "Oh how immoral!" But they'll not mention the root end of it which is condemning good healthy lads for the preservation of some idle woman for the man that bought 'em. ... They'll not mention the subject in these so called blue-books either. Oh, aye, a nice young English clurk's blushes must be spared at all costs. There he sits with his collar and his tie, and writes the word slavery, not seeing what it means. As for Parliament, they daren't mention such a word in front of the peeresses' gallery. Better let slavery go on than disturb the ladies in their crinolines and laces. Oh, aye, and you mustn't shock the distinguished strangers either or there'll be international troubles rising. Might be a Mohamedan listening there [...] Christian? What'd Christ do in the circumstances? ... Did He ever cover up His eyes from wickedness and fall back on prayer? [...] Doesn't Jesus Himself forbid slavery? "Feed my sheep" and so on ... What's become of His teaching? Where are the apostles of Jesus to-day? Nothing but homo stultus if slavery's still rife after two thousand years.'

It is interesting that Horn's rancour was focused specifically on the trade in young boys as eunuchs, and not the trade in young girls as concubines destined for the harems whom the eunuchs attended. Horn begins by apologising to Dr. Lewis that he was not able to produce an essay on the subject: 'What I should like to have engineered into it [The Waters of Africa] is an essay on the slave trade ... if your wife'd help me with the suitable language.' In fact, the form of the diatribe can be every bit as persuasive, and often more coherent, than the conventional essay. As usual, Horn has little awareness of his own talents as a philosopher, resorting instead to self-deprecation. In fact Horn's inside knowledge of the subject, his anger at its obscenities, and his own idiosyncratic writing style, make this a very powerful treatise indeed, a voice with clear parallels to Nietzsche's diatribes against Christianity.

Horn would often discuss his abhorrence of slavery in his weekly conversations with Ethelreda Lewis:

'Tis a terrible thing for a lad new from school to see the slaves being examined before being sold. Such an indignity as could never be matched in any hospital. ... There are things I could scarcely mention to a lady. I shall have to mention it to him [Lewis' husband].'

But Dr Lewis had no such reservation about repeating to his wife Horn's descriptions of the repugnant aspects of the slave trade:

'The things that were in Mr Horn's mind were the terrible tests for virginitya virgin being doubly valuableamongst the girls and young women, which were brutally carried out in front of their forlorn groups of men, who in their turn had to go not only indignity but mutilation.' 

Although Horn uses the language of the day to describe the indigenous workers in his charge, young as Horn was, he does not seem to have imitated the behaviour of many older expatriates towards them, indeed he acted with more compassion than do many employers today:

'I had always treated them well and, unlike most white men, had never struck a boy under any circumstances and was well loved by them. A lad that I found did not do his best I paid off at once, generally giving him a present and always found him another job'. 

Couzens describes Horn's relationship with native Africans as follows:

'He met blacks face to face, on an individual level, and on a plane of comparative equality. He depended on them, they on him. There was mutual respect. The virulent racism came not from the pioneers but from the metropolis, not from the Smiths but from the Ballantynes. Said our hero, "Grand opportunities there were in those days for a bit of natural diplomacy." '

And in a further comment on the hypocrisy of the colonisers imposing their own morality on those they sought to civilise, Horn declares:

'But when we cry "Savage!" were forgetting the stone of sacrifice still standing on the hills of England on which white men and yellow-haired women were killed by white men for the benefit of religion.'  

On Colonialism

In a further example of Horn's use of the diatribe, this time calling for independence for African States, Horn demonstrates just how far his thinking had shifted from the colonising ambitions of the young trader who had arrived in Africa fifty years earlier. Views that mark Horn out as a truly independent thinker in a world where such ideas were part of no political or philosophical agenda—certainly not in South Africa in the 1920s!

'When are these native tribes to be given their just due? Render to Caesar the thing that is Caesar's was never meant to apply only to the emperors. There's Caesar in every poor savage to whom tribute is due from his fellow-man. He mustn't be given depreciated notes in payment for good land, same as they have the Red Indians for their oil lands. Aye, there's Caesar in the poor African who's driven from the spreading-hunting ground bestowed on him by Nature to seek food in the filthy meshes of civilisation. ... Now there's this fellow Mussolini ... Talks of wanting Angola for development. ... A cut-throat with a cut-throat's methods'll never do for getting on with the natives. Putting on a black coat like Oliver Cromwell and marching into Africa with it like a toy Hannibal ... Africa'll take a good look at that bombastical dago and she'll smile. You can't lay down the law to Africa. You've got to follow her laws.'

In a separate conversation, Horn is clear that his libertarian views come from no popular ideology but from his own personal conviction that, not to grant independence to indigenous populations is a demonstration of sheer human stupidity.

'How could they expect me not to be on friendly terms with the natives? Wouldn't any man who isn't homo stultus find it his duty plus a bit of natural pleasure to assist a fine dark-skimmed people to manly independence?'

But Horn was no bleeding heart liberal. When it came to his more general political outlook, his approach is closer to the detached cynicism of Machiavelli, who maintained that if the human project was not refreshed by natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, we should create man made catastrophes to ensure humanity continued to flourish—a theme echoed by the Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck, when he declared that he was in favour of war because: Things have to collide; things are not proceeding nearly as horribly as they should. Yet there is no hint of irony in Horn's sentiments when he declares:

'Socialists! They've no notions of life except to upset Nature's ruling. ... Give way to Nature and there'll be peace again. If stopping wars and so on's going to cause such a commotion better give way to the old routine.'     

On Science

Horn continues the theme of human interference in the natural world when he says to Lewis in Harold the Webbed:

'Excuse me mentioning the scientist in a critical spirit. I know your husband is one. ... Prying out the secrets of evolution, so-called. What's evolution but a newfangled name for nature and her hidden doings? No one ever thought of such a name until they dig up a few secrets not meant for human eyes.' HW 116

Here Horn, three quarters of a century before the ideas of postmodernism became fashionable, is articulating the view of philosopher Jean Baudrillard, that scientists, in their obsession to realise the world, strip it of any metaphysical dimension. In our search to find the real, we have forced out the real; in trying to express everything we are left with nothing. And in his first volume, Horn is in no doubt of the price of meddling with nature: 'when man has destroyed nature, then it's his turn to go. The barren world will swallow him up.'

On Tramping

'Writing's always been a bit of a furor with me. Writing and roaming. Some's born with one thing and some another, and I was born with the gift of roaming. Aye. But there's always something calls you home. And when home has had its way with you, that other voice is heard that's only heard in the ears of some races. Wanderlust is as compact a word as the ultimate end of things.' 

As Couzens observed, vagrancy gave Horn the freedom to choose his own identity and roaming gave him 'the thrilling prospect of the search and the excitement of the find, but it kept him free of materialism, the tyranny of the possession of goods.' Noting also, that it was typical of Horn that 'when he found a fortune he would give it away.' Here we have the core belief of Cynicism, and of the Buddha and Jesus also, asceticism: that the key to happiness can be achieved by mastering our desiresif one desires nothing, one lacks nothing. And Horn himself has this to say on the philosophy of tramping:

'Doesn't the dawn come everyday calling you to move on? No camp should last forever. And that's where civilization makes the mistake of its life, trying to cage the natural man. Trying to make a stationary object behind bars. Did the great Onlooker give us the world plus the ocean to entice the thoughts of the roamer if he meant us to stay in one spot. ... All the luxuries of the haut ton are neither more or less than neck-irons to a slave. And what's worse they make heaven itself into the image of a cage. Why, the son of Mary Himself couldn't stand too much of the synagogue. ... Consider the lilies, he said. But the religioners've put no lilies in heaven.'

Horn also credits Viking blood in his veins, connected to the migratory habits of birds, for his wanderlust:

' 'Tis from the burst of sunshine the Vikings got their restless notions. Everything in flightthe bees and the birdno pleasure in staying at home. The sea was their element, but 'twas the warming sun called 'em to get out the ships ... what else could you expect but a burst of energy when the sun came back'

And when the sun did not appear, when it disappeared into the long dark frigidity that is the British winter, the pull of Africa was always irresistible to Horn. The sun was also important to Horn as part of the creative process of his writing, and here he explains to Lewis why he prefers to write by day rather than at night:

'The sun's full of illusions whereby your disposed to dream of the past. What does a dog lie in the sun for? Not just to warm his bones, it stimulates the memory and you'll see his legs twitching for a run. People call it dreams but a dog never has such dreams when he's cold.'

On Women

If I was hoping to come out at the other end of my research on Trader Horn with a clearer understanding of who the man was, I would have been disappointed. But that Horn confounds all attempts to separate truth from fiction, and more importantly, get to know the man behind the enigma, is what makes reading this tramp philosopher a delight. Of course one does have glimpses of the many faces of Horn from the young, multi-talented adventurer to the vulnerable, insecure old man and incorrigible fantasist, the diplomat, the vagabond, the writer, the philosopher, and so much more.

And so rather than end my exploration into the Trader Horn conundrum with some neat conclusions, I will finish by pondering the one aspect of Horn that baffled me the most: his  contradictory and quaintly antiquated view towards women. Horn was very particular how he wants to portray women in his 'fictions', and is at pains to point out to Lewis exactly what  effect he wants to create for his readers. For one so unconventional in other respects, Horn's religiously orthodox view of women is perplexing:

'I'll have no demi-mondes in my book, trailing their scents and laces. If the world can't look to women for an example of purity, then men'll lose heart too. They've always looked to marriage to absolve the past. And if women are going to fail them, heaven has no more resources. That's why I'm giving Bell Seymour a turn at the wheel on the old Omoru ... And if we dress her in simple costumes like a sailor suit or her Indian buckskins, she'll respond with her behaviour and purify the atmosphere for all concerned.' MAD 66

The first part of this conversation with Lewis is consistent with Horn's views given later in The Waters of Africa:

'Aye, women ... They surely anchor you to the inferior life. 'Tis a safe instinct of Nature to leave the female at the fireside. When instinct is violated it'll only lead to a confusion of principles.'

Yet only two pages later Horn is back again to promoting the role of Belle Seymour in his fiction as a swashbuckling female alter-ego of himself: 'How do you like my notion of Belle Seymour firing the disabling shot? Always looks well to see a lady in an heroic action.'

And so what can we conclude from Horn's writings of his own relationships with women? Couzens acknowledges that although Horn was undoubtably a rogue with an intimate knowledge of coin-counterfeiting, piracy, wrecking, human trafficking, gun-running and general brigandage, but he had not, according to Lewis been, 'wickedly unclean where sexual morals were concerned', adding, that she would rather send her daughter round the world with Horn than let her shake hands with many modern businessmen and writers. Horn certainly had every opportunity to take advantage of women, not least being in charge of a cargo that included concubines ('veiled women, destined for a harem, poor things), from the sultan of Zanzibar to the Persian Gulf. But although Horn was rebellious and non-conformist in most aspects of his life, he seems to have been every bit the prudish Victorian gentleman (though not of the repressed variety) when it came to his relationships with women; often playing these out in romantic fiction.

'Isn't there more attraction to the male sex in a bit of natural modesty than in the disgraceful spectacles you'll see in civilized towns? Bare arms, and too much bosom display ... Short skirts and so on. [...] Oh, aye, treasure's always the rarer for being a bit inaccessible. The jeweller's window doesn't lure a man that's been a prospector. He'll conjure up more excitement at the notion of a bit of diamondiferous rock than at the sight of any Cullinan or Koh-i-noor spread on white satin for common eyes to stare at.'

But perhaps not so Victorian after all, for Horn puts the blame for declining morals firmly at the door of so-called civilisation, and, just as did the ancient Cynics, a departure from nature. The young Horn may have fully embraced the Victorian project in terms of opening up the world to trade and commerce, but an older and wiser Horn understands that in order to truly improve society (protecting the environment, sexual morals, etc.), we had more to learn from cultures the Victorians regarded as in need of civilising, that they did from the civilisers:  

'a young feller has purer thoughts in a cannibal tribe than in the streets of civilization. Where nakedness is natural there's less secret wickedness eating into the conscience. ... It's civilization breeds secrecy and secrecy breeds the maggots of uncleanliness.'

I say Horn was not repressed, but in some aspects it seems he must have been. This Victorian gentleman, tramp and brigand, defies easy categorisations, we must accept Horn for what he was with all his contradictions and paradoxes. One of his more baffling theories is his strange rationale as to why Arabs 'become preoccupied with the fair sex', when he promotes the liberal consumption of alcohol for the purposes of being restrained in matters of the flesh:

'To a feller like him a woman's either a toy or a slave ... If the Mohamedans weren't prohibitionists from time immemorial there wouldn't be so much of this slave trade in poor lads [eunuchs] for the harem. When a feller's under liquor he sees things couleur du rose, as the French say, and he'll be content with a homely wife, and one of 'em. But when he's embittered with constant sobriety a man's got to see his visions in the flesh. He'll add a wife or two to the harem, if he can afford it ... Believe me, Ma'am, half the slavery among Mohamedans is due to 'em being congenital water drinkers ...'

Much of Horn's personal philosophy is full of wisdom, but he also resorts to generalisations that are half-baked; such as lechery being subdued by the consumption of alcohol, or that men who avail themselves of strong liquor do not abuse women. Neither—in spite of his own love of the bottle—is there much evidence that Horn was the model husband or even necessarily monogamous. If Horn's all-to-human comments are at times off-the-wall, and certainly are not intended as ironic, they demonstrate a harmless vulnerability and charm about the old tramp, whose writings are certainly not meant as a serious guide to living, more as an illumination into an individual tale of survival in a world that is not designed to accommodate individuals.

The thought that stayed with me throughout my engagement with the Trader Horn story, was the outcome of Horn's real life romance. One cannot help but feel pity for Horn as an unfulfilled fantasist, but also a certain indignation that the self-confessed vagabond (resenting the bonds of marriage as he clearly did) should have tried to act out his romantic fantasies at all. Sadly for Amy more than Horn, his success as a published writer came far too late.

Return to Trader Horn Part 1









3 comments:

  1. Just stumbled across your wonderful reflections on the 'Old Traveller' and the Trader Horn books, thanks to Google. I'm a huge TH fan and there has been precious little written about him and these books apart from Tim Couzens' book. Learned of TH at a time when I was traveling frequently to Gabon to study the fishes of the Ogooué. The books became huge favorites of mine, particularly the first. I had forgotten that Couzens had identified "Miss Haskens" as Susan Dewsnap. A Google search on her named turned up this interesting genealogy site created by a descendent of the missionary woman, Suzi Dewsnap Terrell, who seems to be named for her. http://www.keeperofthefamily.com/susannah_dewsnap.html
    There is a photo of Susannah Dewsnapp and photos of her tombstone in the plot at the Baraka mission in Libreville (something I'll have to see if I visit there again). Also interesting is an account from a diary of a mission woman--a Miss Laura Kreis Campbell. Campbell does not describe Aloysius, but must have met him. She says "Her remains were brought to Gaboon in a steam launch sent for that purpose by one of the Eng. traders." I wonder if this woman's descendant, who has published this web page is aware that her great great, etc. aunt is described in Trader Horn? Bravo for this tour-de-force...have yet to finish reading all you have written here. Looking forward to doing so this evening!

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  2. Creating a library catalogue record for a first edition of "The Waters of Africa" and found your posts on Trader Horn. Not much out there on him, unless as you say, you read his books. I like to include a biographical note in the records and normally don't include personal information regarding marriages. However, so sad to read that Amy was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. Will include her name in my biography of Trader.
    Thank you for the research.

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  3. How wonderful to read this on Trader Horn. I met Tim Couzens when he came to visit my mother (bernadette O'Garra nee Smith, granddaughter of Robert Smith, TH's brother). I was brought up on his stories. It all led me to embark on adventures of my own in New Guinea...

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