from No Outspan
by Deneys Reitz
In June 1924, towards the end of the Parliamentary session, I had a pleasant surprise.
There is an institution known as the Empire Parliamentary Association, which all Members of Parliament in Great Britain and the Dominions are entitled to join. Periodically the Association sends a group on visits of goodwill to different countries of the Empire, and this year South Africa had been chosen as their venue. Some forty or fifty Members of Parliament arrived at Cape Town on an extended tour of the Union and Rhodesia, and I was elected by ballot as one of the local delegates to accompany them.
I found, on our departure, that my father was to accompany us. He was a Member of the Union Senate, which had elected him as its representative.
I was the more delighted at this, for we had seen but little of each other for a great many years. As children, my brothers and I had been his inseparable companions by coach and on horseback in the days when he was President of the Orange Free State Republic, but after he became State Secretary to President Paul Kruger we saw less and less of him. Then came the vicissitudes of the Anglo-Boer War and subsequent exile, he in Texas and I in Madagascar. On our return to South Africa, he became President of the Upper House and I was a struggling lawyer in a small village a thousand miles away, so we met only at rare intervals. The Great War and the post-war activities that followed kept us apart and now, after almost a lifetime, we were to travel together for the next few months.
He soon became the central figure of the expedition, for he was a polished raconteur and a mine of information to our overseas guests, and I noted with pleasure how they deferred to him and his wide learning. He was a scholar in the best sense of the term. He had a mastery of Latin and Greek, and he spoke French, German, High Dutch and Afrikaans with equal facility; his command of English and his knowledge of English literature were probably unsurpassed by any in this company of savants, authors, public men, and men of the world that made up our group of Parliamentarians.
My father was a poet too. Not a great poet, but a true poet, for he wrote poetry for the love of it. I have watched him on occasion. His lips would move silently; then he would take an envelope or an odd scrap of paper, and there appeared a ditty, a couplet, or a song.
In the Anglo-Boer War his Afrikaans poems went far to hearten our sorely tried men in the field, and they are still remembered.
He wrote as easily in English as in Afrikaans or Dutch. At Bloemfontein is the grave of an infant sister of mine who died long ago. On her headstone is an inscription which he composed:
Her tiny feet that never trod
This thorny world of ours,
Are standing by the Throne of God
Amidst His fairest flowers.
When the British ordered us out of the Transvaal in 1902, I saw him, as our train crossed the Portuguese border, sitting motionless for a while, then he took a pad upon his knees and wrote a few lines, which he handed me. I have them yet.
Though foreign shores my feet may tread,
M y hopes for thee are not yet dead.
Thy freedom’s sun may for a while be set,
But not forever; God does not forget.