SNAP! A Legend of the Lone Mountain

    Rossall has produced many fine authors. J.G. Farrell and Leslie Chateris lead the pack but there are many others whose literary endeavours are all but forgotten. One thinks of Nicholas Roland who, alongside his career as a diplomat, found time to write novels set in  first century Judaea and a late twentieth century fictitious African republic Then there is Derek Walker-Smith, Baron Broxbourne, whose semi-autobiographical novel, ‘Out of Step’ is set in Rossall itself. Few works of fiction endure and a good deal of the novels written by Rossallians now feel awkwardly dated. Swashbuckling heroes stampede across colonial possessions with an imperialistic conceit that characterises so much late Victorian and early twentieth century literature. The bombastic spirit of Rider Haggard often seems remarkably close at hand. 

   One such forgotten Rossallian novel is ‘Snap!’, a copy of which is sitting on my desk as I write. The author of this adventure novel was Sir Clive Philipps-Wolley who was born in 1853. Sir Clive was the eldest son of a schoolmaster and  he was distantly related to Lord Clive of India. He attended Rossall in the late 1860s and left in 1871. Upon leaving school, he joined the British consular service and was posted to a city in Crimea. It was in the Caucuses that he first developed an interest in big game hunting –  a passion that was to endure a lifetime.  Upon inheriting the family estate of his great-grandfather, he resigned his post and returned to England to study law. Sir Clive was called to the bar but spent less than a year practising law. He was a man of action and it is not difficult to imagine that he was stiflingly bored by the legal world. Sir Clive joined the army where he taught marksmanship and was soon promoted to the rank of captain. 

   Sir Clive was one of those great Victorian all-rounders who was game for pretty much anything in life. He played cricket for Shropshire and began to develop a career as an author. ‘My Soldier Keeper’ appeared in 1880 and this was swiftly followed by ‘Sport in the Crimea and Caucasus’ in 1883. In 1882, he visited British Columbia for the first time. His motivation for this initial visit was the allure of big game hunting. In the early 1890s, Sir Clive relocated to British Columbia with his wife and four young children. He then carved out a career  as a writer on all aspects of hunting whilst involving himself with limited success in politics. 

   Sir Clive was not just consumed by the thrill of killing animals. He was an ardent imperialist and considered himself to be a supreme patriot. He was one of the first commentators to warn of the dangers posed by Germany’s expanding navy. He joined the Navy League of Canada and wrote rallying jingoistic verses much in the style of Rudyard Kipling. Sir Clive was knighted in 1914 for his work in support of the Navy League.  

HMS Hogue

They seem like obvious pillars, but where they are shaky, their absence is felt and the resulting impact on society can be detrimental.

  Tragedy struck when his only son, Lieutenant-Commander Clive Phillipps-Wolley, died when HMS Hogue was sunk during the Battle of Heligoland –  just a few weeks after the beginning of the First World War. 

   Sir Clive’s literary themes reflected the preoccupations of British Columbia at the time. For example, the subject of his novel ‘Gold, Gold in Cariboo’ (1894) needs little explanation.  Once settled in Victoria, Sir Clive was very happy indeed. He remained an ardent anglophile, but preferred to admire the motherland from a distance. In an interview with the London Mining Journal, he mused that, ‘You could not pay me to come back to the old country’. For Sir Clive, British Columbia was a wonderful paradise waiting to be tamed by the audacious pluck of the English. To our modern minds, Sir Clive’s conception of the world was deeply troubling if not overtly racist. 

   His novel, ‘Snap’ is set in the Canadian wilderness and is a classic adventure novel. It is an epic tale of survival and filled with tales of bravery. At one point he takes time out of the narrative to launch an attack on boys who are ‘wrapped up in cotton wool’. 

As for Snap, he was not such a prig as to think for a moment that this great change, or any of it was his doing. ‘Deuced lucky’ was what he called it – in his own heart he had a more reverent way of speaking of it.

     Sir Clive’s novels celebrate that peculiar form of masculinity that was forged in public schools. Muscular Christianity, fervent nationalism and the unthinking conceit of imperialism underpin almost all of his works. Moral considerations often appear to be subjugated by the imperative to take decisive action. Protagonists in his novels are not philosophically minded. It is as though the world is there for the Englishman’s taking. Animals were there to be hunted and consumed for pleasure and new territories were there to be plundered for gold or whatever resource they might reasonably offer up. Arguably, his novels do not deserve to be remembered, less still actually read. Nevertheless, like the works of Kipling and Haggard, they are important from a historical and cultural perspective. There is no denying Sir Clive’s talent as a brilliant writer and it is just a shame that his talents were directed towards the exploration of themes which are entirely at odds with the progressive and liberal values of our post-colonial age. 

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School