The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIII. South African Poetry

§ 3. The Bechuana Boy

The Lion and Giraffe is also an exceedingly graphic snapshot of a scene which Pringle, if he had not witnessed it, had heard described at first hand, and displays all his powers of imagination, observation and description. But the piece, perhaps, which more than any other marks this pious Scottish farmer’s son for a real literary artist, the brother at once of Burns and Scott and Livingstone, is The Bechuana Boy. This touching and beautiful piece, part fact, part fiction, truth arranged with art, was based on the story of a Bechuana orphan boy, who had been carried off from his native country by the mountain tribes, half-bred Hottentots, and who fell under Pringle’s protection. The touch of the pet springbok was suggested to Pringle by his seeing, a few days afterwards, a slave child playing with a fawn at a farmer’s residence. The real little African boy brought by Pringle and his wife to England became their devoted protégé and almost adopted child, but died, like many at that time, of an affection of the lungs.

  • I sat at noontide in my tent,
  • And looked across the Desert dun,
  • Beneath the cloudless firmament
  • Far gleaming in the sun.
  • When from the bosom of the waste
  • A swarthy stripling came in haste
  • With foot unshod and naked limb;
  • And a tame springbok followed him.
  • With open aspect, frank yet bland,
  • And with a modest mien he stood,
  • Caressing with a gentle hand
  • That beast of gentle brood;
  • Then meekly gazing in my face,
  • Said in the language of his race
  • With smiling look yet pensive tone,
  • “Stranger—I’m in the world alone!”
  • “Thus lived I, a lone orphan lad,
  • My task the proud Boor’s flocks to tend;
  • And this poor fawn was all I had
  • To love, or call my friend;
  • When suddenly, with haughty look
  • And taunting words, that tyrant took
  • My playmate for his pampered boy,
  • Who envied me my only joy.
  • “High swelled my heart! But when a star
  • Of midnight gleamed, I softly led
  • My bounding favourite forth, and far
  • Into the Desert fled.
  • And here, from human kind exiled,
  • Three moons on roots and berries wild
  • I’ve fared; and braved the beasts of prey,
  • To ’scape from spoilers worse than they.
  • “But yester morn a Bushman brought
  • The tidings that thy tents were near,
  • And now with hasty foot I’ve sought
  • Thy presence, void of fear:
  • Because they say, O English Chief,
  • Thou scornest not the Captive’s grief:
  • Then let me serve thee, as thine own—
  • For I am in the world alone!”
  • Such was Marossi’s touching tale,
  • Our breasts they were not made of stone;
  • His words, his winning looks prevail—
  • We took him for “our own.”
  • And One, with woman’s gentle art
  • Unlocked the fountains of his heart;
  • And love gushed forth—till he became
  • Her Child in everything but name.
  • Many other pieces testify sympathetically to the noble, indeed often heroic, character of the Kaffirs, and to their capacity both for poetry and religion, elements not to be forgotten in any account of South African poetry. Such are The Ghona Widow’s Lullaby with its quotation from the famous Ntsikana’s Hymn, or The Captive of Camalu or The Koranna.