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Boeke | Books > Kennisgewings | Notices > English

Book launch: The South African Letters of Thomas Pringle


2011-11-10

Book launch: The South African Letters of Thomas Pringle
Boekhuis Bookshop,
Cnr. Lothbury Avenue and Fawley streets, Auckland Park
(plenty free parking available)
Wednesday 16 November: 18h00 for 18h30
RSVP: by Tues. 15 Nov on 011 482 3609 or Boekehuis@boekehuis.co.za

Boekhuis Bookshop & theVan Riebeeck Society invite you to a Book Launch and Discussion of the Society’s latest publication, The South African Letters of Thomas Pringle. Randolph Vigne, the editor of this collection, will be in conversation with Chris Thurman, academic (English Department at Wits University), journalist and the author of a book on the Eastern Cape poet and historian, Guy Butler.

Who was Thomas Pringle?

Thomas Pringle (1789-1834) was a Scottish writer and poet who came to South Africa in 1820 as part of the British settlement on the frontier. In his short life (and short time in South Africa (1820-1826)), he achieved much: an honoured place in South Africa’s literature (he is remembered as’ the father of English poetry’ in this country), he worked for the relief of the hard-pressed settlers, the emancipation of the Khoisan and protection of the Xhosa on the frontier from retaliatory commando raids. In Cape Town he ran the South African Public Library, edited, with his friend John Fairbairn, the Cape’s first independent newspaper and the bi-monthly South African Journal, and established a successful ‘classical and commercial academy’ until all were brought down by the hostility of the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset. He fought back but, financially ruined, returned to his final career in Britain. In London he began working for the Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1827. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire came into force in August 1834 but, crippled since infancy and suffering from tuberculosis, he died in December 1834, aged only 45.

Pringle’s remains were brought from London in 1970 and re-interred in a memorial chapel in the Baviaans River valley.

About this book

Thomas Pringle’s great liberal archive is lost. A voluminous and well-organised correspondent, his letterbooks, letters received, personal files and journals were sent to Cape Town by his widow, Margaret. The story goes that his family in the eastern Cape sent also the many letters they had received from him – all for John Fairbairn to write Pringle’s biography. It was never written and the loss of the entire Thomas Pringle archive remains a mystery. Only the 70-odd letters he had written to Fairbairn were in the latter’s estate, and with them, the official, literary and personal letters in many libraries and archives, with South African content or relevance, have been gathered in this collection of letters.

Pringle wrote his own South African memoir, Narrative of a residence in South Africa, which was first published as part of African sketches in 1834. These surviving letters present a coherent account of Pringle, editor, poet, pioneer settler, librarian, teacher, champion of press freedom and the human rights of the oppressed indigenous people of the Cape.

About the editor

Randolph Vigne was born in Kimberley in 1928 and grew up in Port Elizabeth where he joined the Van Riebeeck Society in 1941. After his education at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown and Wadham College, Oxford he served as English editor at Maskew Miller’s in Cape Town until 1964 when he moved to England and continued his career in educational publishing. He has undertaken much research and writing in southern African and European historical fields, publishing, among other books, Guillaume Chenu de Chalezac, the ‘French boy’ at the Cape of Good Hope (VRS 2nd Series, No 22, 1993) and Liberals against Apartheid, the History of the Liberal Party of South Africa (Macmillan, 1997). A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he was awarded the Order of Luthuli by the President of South Africa in 2010.

Extract from Pringle’s memoir, Narrative of a residence in South Africa

This is Pringle’s first extended depiction of the South African landscape – a ship deck view of the Eastern Cape coast, just beyond the Knysna lagoon –
approximately the territory in which the settlers were to be placed.

“This [the ship’s tacking off the coast] gave us an excellent opportunity of surveying the coast scenery of Auteniqualand and Zitzikamma, which is of a very striking character. The land rises abruptly from the shore in massive mountain ridges, clothed with forests of large timber, and swelling into the back ground into lofty serrated peaks of naked rock. As we passed headland after headland, the sylvan recesses of the bays and mountains opened successively to our gaze, like a magnificent panorama, continually unfolding new features, or exhibiting new combinations of scenery, in which the soft and the stupendous, the monotonous and the picturesque, were strangely blended. The aspect of the whole was impressive, but somber; beautiful, but somewhat savage. There was the grandeur and the grace of nature, majestic and untamed; and there was likewise that air of lonesomeness and dreary wildness, which a country unmarked by the traces of human industry or of human residence seldom fails to exhibit to the view of civilized man …the sublimely stern aspect of the country, so different from the rich tameness of ordinary English scenery, seemed to strike many of the Southron [English] with a degree of awe approaching to consternation. The Scotch, on the contrary, as the stirring recollections of their native land were vividly called up by the rugged peaks and shaggy declivities of this wild coast, were strongly affected, like all true mountaineers on such occasions. Some were excited to extravagant spirits; others silently shed tears.”

A poem by Thomas Pringle

Long Years of Sorrow

Long years of sorrow and slow wasting care
Have stol'n from thy soft cheek its vermeil hue;
And somewhat changed the glossy locks that threw
Their shadowy beauty round thy temples fair;
And lent to those sweet eyes a sadder air,
That, from their long dark fringes laughing, blue,
Once look'd like violets fresh bathed in dew,
And seem'd as they might e'en enchant despair!
Sickness and grief have touched thee: yet so mildly
That, though some graces of thy youth are gone,
The loveliness that witch'd my heart so wildly
In life's romantic Spring--is still thine own:
And those meek pensive eyes, in their revealings,
Speak now of higher thoughts and deeper feelings