Editing Leipoldt, an interesting and versatile person

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(Not for citation)

1 Introduction

C Louis Leipoldt (1880–1947) is the well-known Afrikaans writer canonised in Afrikaans literature as a major poet (Viljoen 1996:1). His first piece that was published he wrote when he was eleven. He continued to write as a journalist to his last days for both local and overseas journals. He was not only a prolific journalist, but also an author. PJ Nienaber referred to Leipoldt’s Die Heks (1923) as “die eerste volwaardige drama in ons taal” (Nienaber 1951:334). Nienaber refers to Oom Gert Vertel en Ander Gedigte (1911) in context of “wat meer as enige ander boek aan die begin van die eeu gehelp het om mense in Suid-Afrika en in Nederland te oortuig van die waarde van Afrikaans” (Nienaber 1951:334). Leipoldt wrote poetry, plays, studies in medicine and dietetics, historical novels, letters to friends and associates, on the history of wine, on South African cookery, short stories, and humorous studies. The extremely meticulous biography of JC Kannemeyer captures the life and times of this interesting and versatile person in Leipoldt, ‘n Lewensverhaal (Kannemeyer 1999). The words of J Kromhout ring true at the suggestion that: “Jammer is dit dat hy nie toegelaat is om sy lewenswerk af te sluit met ‘n omvangryke outobiografie nie; iets na die aard van Yeats se Autobiographies of selfs A Writer’s Notebook van W Somerset Maugham. Die dood het dit verydel en wat ons wel van Leipoldt besit is onvoltooid, skaars begin” (Kromhout 1954:16).


2 Not just Leipoldt as a writer of Afrikaans

Peter Merrington, in a paper entitled “C Louis Leipoldt’s ‘Valley Trilogy’ and contested South African nationalisms in the early twentieth century”’ states:

C Louis Leipoldt has long been received as a major figure within the Afrikaans literary canon. The recent posthumous publication of his “English language ‘Valley Trilogy’” (written in the 1920s, when the white Union of South Africa experienced contestation between Anglophone and Dutch or Afrikaner political lobbies) now reveals him as a dedicated liberal, squarely set against the isolationist policies of his Afrikaner peers (Merrington 2003).

He continues:

Leipoldt is a complex figure who fits partially into both these camps. His background in Moravian mission culture was more continental than Cape Dutch; his experiences as a journalist and medical student gave him broad perspectives of Britain, Europe and the Far East. He worked with nationalists such as Gustav Preller, yet his sympathies lay in the liberal Cape.

Merrington’s essay is a reading of the three dynastic novels of ideas in which the characters “enact in microcosm the formation of South African civil society, and engage with the unfolding tragedy of racial rivalry” (Merrington 2003).

Sandra Scott Swart, in chapter 5 of her unpublished thesis, A “Ware Afrikaner” – an examination of the role of Eugène Marais (1871–1936) in the making of Afrikaner identity, states:

This chapter contributes to the challenge to this historiographical construction of the rural socio-intellectual world of the Afrikaner, as an extension and exploration of ideas suggested by Hexham on white-black socio-religious interactions, drawing on the challenge presented to the conventional stereotype of the Afrikaner by Du Toit. This is effected through the investigation into the world of the Bushveld Boer through the work of Eugène Marais (1871–1936) and Christian Frederick Louis Leipoldt (1880–1947) (Swart 2001).

Swart shows the departure from Calvinist theology and Western medicine towards an interest in African beliefs and traditional medicine – captured in Leipoldt’s term bushveld magic (Swart 2001).

Both Merrington and Scott show another side to this interesting and versatile person. They have provided a new perspective on C Louis Leipoldt, better known as one of the inaugural poets of the Afrikaans language and avid writer of stories, our own Robert Louis Stevenson, our own Tusitala (“teller of tales”).


3 Co-editing Leipoldt: Origins

Co-editing six books by C Louis Leipoldt, currently published in two trilogies, The Valley (Leipoldt 2001) and Leipoldt’s Food and Wine(Leipoldt 2003) and co-writing the twelve-page Introduction to The Mask (Leipoldt 2006, unpublished manuscript) due to appear within the next two weeks with the proofs signed off by publisher TS Emslie of Cederberg Books during the past week, is a process that commenced in 1999. Its origin lies in a request from the proprietor of Bushman’s Kloof in the Cederberg Mountains to compile a handbook of the history of the Cederberg and its environs for use by the resident rangers (Murray 1999, unpublished manuscript). While I was in residence at the lodge, working in the library of the retreat, Storwrack (Leipoldt 1980) caught the eye. As I read it, it became interesting to note that Leipoldt’s historical novel on the South African War of 1899 to 1902 provided a more comprehensible perspective of the event than the chronicled account one is accustomed to teaching secondary school students.


4 Leipoldt’s historical themes – future prospects?

Several works based on historical characters by Leipoldt, referred to in MP Olivier Burgers’s CL Leipoldt: ‘n Studie in stof-keuse, -verwerking en –ontwikkeling, are surely future areas for editing. The story of Pieter Gysbert Noodt serves as a suitable example. Burgers explains the historical subject matter that must have appealed to Leipoldt for him to have been taken by the story, a tragic event at the Cape, leading to Noodt’s death on 23 April 1729 (Burgers 1960:38). Although Theal’s character sketch of Van Noodt provides an interesting account, especially of the gruesome details of the sentences of some of the accused who conspired to murder him, such as having their bodies exposed to the air and the birds (Burgers 1960:37), it is more likely to have been the case that the OF Mentzel account in his book Life at the Cape in the mid-eighteenth Century; being the biography of Rudolph Siegfried Alleman, Captain of the Military Forces of the Cape of Good Hope, was the one that intrigued Leipoldt. Entries such as “an enemy of man”, “a devil incarnate”, “trickery”, “wrongdoing” and “utterly disproportionate punishments” would certainly have been fertile ground for Leipoldt’s imagination to write. Leipoldt’s Oom Gert vertel, Van Noodt se Laaste Aand and Die Laaste Aand have their origin in the story of Van Noodt and in the case of the latter work, with the story of Pieter Elberfeld of Batavia interwoven and superimposed.

In Leipoldt’s unpublished manuscript Reflections on a Stone Skull, written in London in October 1912, now housed in the Manuscripts & Archives University of Cape Town Libraries, the story of “Peter Elberfeld, traitor, philanthropist, rebel, hero, madman, genius, scoundrel, patriot – anything you please, but certainly and decidedly one who failed and paid the price of his failure” (Burgers 1960:47) is intriguing. The entry in Leipoldt’s manuscript of Elberfeld reads as follows, having visited the Tandjong Priok in Batavia on 29 February 1912 where the statue in his memory stood:

Left the ship with Ashton (the chief engineer) and traveled to Batavia. There we walked along the tramway to see the Elberveld head. It faces the tramline close to the Stads Kerk (which is a square dwelling house type of church). The head is 10ft from ground with the inscription still perfectly legible though somewhat overgrown. You cannot get near the head but it seems to be a roughly hewn piece of limestone. It is said to be the real head whitewashed every year. It looks like a very big concrete skull – supra orbital ridges very pronounced and mental prominences too – much too big for real skull but may have grown through accretion. There are various shrubs growing – behind the wall is a garden – infringement of the commandment that nothing should be grown. Impression not gruesome but ludicrous. Spear head sticking out of skull (Burgers 1960:46–47).

The prospects of editing are sure to continue, especially with further workings of historical accounts by Leipoldt, such as the history of the kleptomaniac murderer Gert Johannes Swanepoel, hanged in 1856 in George, taken from the diary of John Blades Currey and reworked by Leipoldt into The Charred Gunstock (1933) and Die Graskolletjie.


5 Discoveries on Leipoldt in editing The Valley

The story behind Gallows Gecko, the first in The Valley Trilogy, is based on a historical event, when Amadeus Tereg, a member of the Cape Colony Civil Service, acted as a hangman on a single occasion for pecuniary purposes. With his conscience hanging heavily over his head, he decided to leave the services of the State, and with his family, after his wife had been left money in an estate, he moved to an outlying part of the Colony. There he legally changed his name to Everardus Nolte. Towards the end of the novel his past was found out. Leipoldt had learnt stories such as these from well-known storytellers from Clanwilliam, and had researched them himself, as in the case of the Swanepoel case (vide MPO Burgers 1960:77 et seq). With his powerful memory, Leipoldt constructed plays and novels with the historical information, reflecting the social, cultural and political events and customs of the time, about Clanwilliam and its environs between the years 1820 and 1899. His style as a writer of historical causerie is a great legacy for the student of history wishing to account for detail of the time and place in South African history. He was particularly interested in the psychological details surrounding the actions of people, thus we have an interesting combination of history and psychology playing itself out in his works.

Stormwrack is the middle book of the historical novels, giving an account of the events in the area and the country between the years 1899 and 1902, and serves as a suitable example of the changing relations between the English- and Dutch-speaking elements living in the community at the time. The changing nature of the relations between them is illustrated by the following passage:

Among these younger members of the meeting there were many who could remember the previous meeting, exactly ten years back, when the Village had met to discuss the Sovereign’s Jubilee. Now they were met to discuss the sixtieth year of Alexandrina Victoria’s reign. How much water had flowed down the river those ten years! How much snow had melted on the high peaks of the glorious ranges overlooking the Valley! How times had changed! There was not one of those who remembered the Jubilee year of 1887 who did not realize that conditions, opinions, viewpoints, even prejudices, hates and predilections, had changed since then. There had been no hampering sense of division then; there had been no suppressed reservations in their expression of loyalty (Leipoldt 2001).

The year 1887 in Cape history had not reached the proportions of the hiatus in relations that it did a decade later in South Africa’s ante bellum period. Leipoldt continued:

With enthusiastic unanimity, with sincere co-operation between all parties of the community, the Village and the District, collaborating after prolonged discussion, had selected for Her Majesty’s jubilee gift a case of oranges and tangerines. Everyone who owned an orange orchard had contributed, and as the difficulty of selection was very great, it was decided that only those oranges large enough comfortably to nestle in the magistrate’s top hat, and those tangerines heavy enough to scale over what was considered a fair weight for such fruit, would go to Windsor (Leipoldt 2001).

Leipoldt’s ipsissima verba are worthy of note for an understanding of the historical novels:

These three are separate and independent but closely related books that are designed to describe the history of a semi-rural community in the Cape Colony from 1820 until 1930. Each book is complete in itself, but the three together are necessary to outline the environment and to explain the changes that have taken place in the course of a century in relations between the English and Dutch speaking elements in the community (Leipoldt 2001).

The suggestion of a Leipoldt trilogy, especially bearing the success of The Deneys Reitz trilogy of 1996 in mind, resulted in publisher TS Emslie of Stormberg Publishers agreeing to the publication of the Valley trilogy. Two years of editing followed. The Valley appeared in 2001. Until then, only an abridged version of Stormwrack had been published in hardback in 1980 and in paperback in 2000 and an abridged version of Gallows Gecko had been published under the title Chameleon on the Gallows in 2000, but until 2001 The Mask had never been published (30). One must, however, pay tribute to Stephen Gray for being the initiator of this discovery of Leipoldt, since it was he who came upon the manuscripts of Leipoldt in the University of Cape Town Library and set to work on editing Leipoldt, although the format of his editing was to create a more readable novel, whereas TS Emslie and PL Murray sought to reproduce the entire Leipoldt text in Leipoldt’s ipsissima verba.

The editors said in the Introduction to The Valley:

The task of producing this trilogy from the typed manuscripts … has been accompanied by a voyage of discovery of a wonderfully complex, versatile and endearing personality. He was much more than the seminal Afrikaans poet and writer that many English-speaking South Africans have encountered as the author of Oom Gert Vertel and other well-known poems. He wrote, in English and Afrikaans, books on inter alia cookery, and wine making at the Cape; and grew up speaking English, Dutch and German – to the extent, he said, that he would be hard-pressed to say which was his home language – reading Latin and Greek under the tutelage of his father, and adding French and Italian in due course. Leipoldt was in many senses a “universal man” and as “omniscient author” of The Valley his versatility are more manifest as the trilogy progresses (TS Emslie and PL Murray in Leipoldt 2001:xvi).

Some knowledge of Leipoldt himself will prove useful for understanding the author as an expert in many fields: poet, playwright, journalist, chef, botanist and medical doctor. The Louis Leipoldt Medi-Clinic in Bellville is named after him, as is Leipoldt’s, a restaurant in Johannesburg; serruria leipoldti is a species of plant that is named after him. When one reads in the trilogy of botanical or medical or culinary matters, to name some, it is worth knowing that the author was an expert in these fields and that he wrote from a wealth of knowledge and experience. The Valley, the Village and District, recognizable as Clanwilliam and its surrounding valleys, extend to Wupperthal – he never mentions them by name as such in The Valley. This is where the young Leipoldt – Christie as he was known to his family – grew up, with deep family roots stretching as far as Wupperthal itself where his paternal grandfather was one of the inaugural missionaries establishing the Mission Station in 1829. The name Leipoldtville takes its name from Leipoldt’s father.

He returned to this area many times during his lifetime, botanizing and camping out with his friend Dr Le Fras Nortier. The strong autobiographical aspect of these historical novels prompts a great deal of curiosity about Leipoldt’s life. Written in the 1930s and possibly aimed at an international audience after the success of Deneys Reitz’s Commando published in 1929, Leipoldt gives an alternative and unique perspective on the South African War, the aftermath of which is an important theme in The Mask. The Valley is an absorption of the way Leipoldt experienced and saw matters and events, an aspect augured earlier in his life and expressed by him in the April 1907 edition of the Westminster Review under the pseudonym “John Keats, medical student”:

The study of the life and associations of a great writer must always possess an interest, which adds to and enhances the pleasure to be derived from his works. More especially is this study intrinsically valuable where the case concerns the great poet. Environment in relation to its influence on the mind is not only interesting from a purely psychological point of view: it is equally instructive to the literary student who wishes to know the forces which moulded the thought, the impressions which stamped themselves indelibly on the memory of the master, and the associations which modified or broadened his views or cramped and stultified the methods of expression. These items of personal detail often afford valuable clues to the individuality of the man. They make a biography of the poet doubly absorbing to the student, because, in many instances, they furnish the key to problems which are otherwise vague, puzzling, or altogether incomprehensible (Leipoldt in Kannemeyer 1999).

Leipoldt wrote this at age 27. Did he realise at that young age that his literary and historical sentiments would one day flourish as they did? The above remarks by the young Leipoldt are important especially in relation to the third of the trilogy of historical novels, The Mask, which mentions a place recognisable as Clanwilliam, where the author lived from the age of three until eighteen. Leipoldt’s father was the dominee of the Dutch Reformed Church of Clanwilliam from 1884 until 1910. During this period, the author moved to Cape Town in November 1989 to work as a journalist, reported on martial law in the Cape Colony during the South African War of 1899 to 1902, became editor of a pro-Boer newspaper after the arrest of his predecessor, left the Colony and pursued medical studies in London, qualifying as a medical doctor in 1907.

In the Foreword to Leipoldt’s Food and Wine, the essay entitled “My Life With Doc” by one of Leipoldt’s adopted sons, Peter Shields, Shields states that throughout his life Leipoldt regarded Clanwilliam and the Cederberg as his spiritual home: “Doc loved Clanwilliam and the Cederberg, and went there fairly often. They were his spiritual home. He knew a terrific number of people in that part of the world, and wherever he went he would call on friends” (P Shields in Leipoldt 2003:xii). It is thus not surprising that when Leipoldt, now the mature author, came to write his trilogy of historical novels it is with particular sympathy and insight that he set to work on a Cederberg canvas. Leipoldt confesses that the time spent in the company of local people such as the Aya in the Leipoldt household and Outa Klaas, served as an important mental archive for his future writing on and about Clanwilliam (Kannemeyer 1999:60: Murray in an unpublished essay entitled “Boyhood”, p 1).

In The Mask Neckerthal is recognizable as Wupperthal. Leipoldt’s grandfather was one of the inaugural Rhenish missionaries who established this station in 1829. Leipoldt’s memory of the accounts of the earlier colonial history of Clanwilliam and its environs serves as a suitable repository for historical recollection. Santa, a medical student graduate from Britain, now working as a doctor in the town, the daughter of Elias Vantloo the lawyer and one of the leading residents, calls to mind some of the people who lived in the district at the time, and “their lineal descendants, the first and second generations of English, German and Swedish settlers who had colonized the Valley, and her recollections of them were all kindly, pleasant, and edifying” (Leipoldt 2001:590).

In Stormwrack Pastor Johann Uhlmann, a central character, was modelled on Leipoldt’s father. Uhlmann was a talented musician; Leipoldt’s own father enjoyed playing the violin, and in Etaine Eberhardt’s biographical note in The Valley she says, “By all accounts he was a scholarly man of gentle habits and was a talented violinist” (Eberhardt in Leipoldt 2001, p vii). Pastor Uhlmann received a deputation from the congregation elders requesting him to refrain from playing “godless music” on the fiddle. He listened to their complaints, gave members of the deputation coffee and cake, and with almost unbelievable acquiescence locked his violin case and never opened it again until the day he died, years later. As he lay on his deathbed, he called for his violin and actually died holding the instrument that was so dear to him (quoted in the unpublished manuscript to The Mask, p 10).

TS Emslie and PL Murray elaborate on this story by suggesting:

This sad and moving tale becomes incredibly more so when one learns that it was literally true of Leipoldt’s father, a talented violinist who had been educated in Germany and who had wanted to pursue a musical career but bowed to the wishes of his father and became a missionary instead (quoted in the unpublished manuscript to The Mask, p 10).

Emslie and Murray further suggest that:

One imagines that the entire Leipoldt family must have experienced the psychological consequences of the repressive silencing of the talented violinist – who first sacrificed a musical career in favour of becoming a missionary, then sacrificed his instrument altogether for the sake of harmony in his congregation. As the writers in the Introduction say, “a different man might have won over the complainants with his talented skill, but Pastor Uhlmann submitted to the brutish demands of his flock” (quoted in the unpublished manuscript to The Mask, p 10).


6 The son of a missionary family, a Buddhist (?), a person who travelled

The effect of being the son of a missionary was felt from an early age. At the age of eleven the young Christie entered for and won a writing competition for a “Story Needing Words” in The Boy’s Own Paper in England. His mother made him place his winnings, a substantial amount for a young boy of the countryside, ten shillings and sixpence, into the missionary fund for the Sudan. It is not surprising, therefore, that Peter Shields describes Leipoldt’s attitude to religion as follows:

Doc claimed to be a Buddhist. I think he needed to break free of the dictates of his strict Protestant upbringing, remembering that his father had been the dominee of the Dutch Reformed Church in Clanwilliam and that he never went to school – he was taught by his father, and could recite long extracts from the Bible. We didn’t go to church. Doc wasn’t against organized religion – he just wasn’t interested in it (Dr Peter Shields in Leipoldt 2003, pp xii–xiii).

Louise Viljoen in an article entitled “Leipoldt and the Orient: a reading of CL Leipoldt’s travel writing in the context of Orientalist discourse” opines that:

Taking into account Leipoldt’s position with regards to colonialism and the way in which it influences his discourse one again becomes conscious of the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in colonial discourse (Viljoen 1996: 15).

It is difficult to pin Leipoldt down as one or the other, but he certainly showed signs of being inclined toward certain features in Buddhism.

Kannemeyer attributes his devotion to young people in need to the Buddhist ideal of “liefde sonder begeerte” – unconditional love (Kannemeyer in an article by Sonja Loots in Die Burger entitled “Was hy of was hy nie?” of 28 August 2005).

In a discussion of Leipoldt’s sexual orientation, J du T Zaaiman, responding to an article by JC Kannemeyer entitled “C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie”, suggests that Kannemeyer comes close to the truth with his assertion that Leipoldt acted the way he did as a result of his “uiters simpatieke moeder”, and Kannemeyer’s reference to Dr Barnardo’s words to Leipoldt that “… your own lonely youth was lonely and dark. Why don’t you help other children to have a happier youth than your own? I will be a compensation for your own loneliness” (J du T Zaaiman in SAMJ October 2005, Vol 95, No 10, pp 713–714).

Leipoldt certainly made a difference in the lives of Peter and Jeff, the boys whom he legally adopted and raised as his own. Dr Peter Shields wrote in the Introduction to Leipoldt’s Food and Wine:

I greatly enjoyed living in Doc’s home and I learned an immense amount from him. Thinking back, I was extremely fortunate – I had lost my own father, also a doctor, who died in 1925 and whom I adored; but Doc stepped in and provided me with a good, wholesome easy childhood. And yes, I loved him. He was like a big bear, with a somewhat gruff voice. I always think of him as a big bear (Shields in Leipoldt 2003:xv).

In the Introduction to The Mask, TS Emslie and PL Murray write:

Returning to the subject of Leipoldt’s rejection of conventional religion with which he was brought up, his hatred of hypocrisy is shown in the whole of The Mask, but especially in Santa’s contempt for the wife of the missionary who conducted Sophia’s funeral service. Nevertheless Leipoldt accepted the need to live his life according to a code, and claimed to be a Buddhist. It is tempting to dismiss this claim as simply another instance of his contrarian instincts, but it seems that his missionary background – his parents and both sets of grandparents were missionaries – exerted a strong influence on him, and all the evidence supports the view that Leipoldt’s own closely held belief in the power and endurance of the highest form of love – that which expects nothing in return – was the code that he chose to live by. If it can be said, as we suggest it can, that the endurance and triumph of this kind of love is the ultimate theme of The Mask, then the deeply personal nature of the novel – in the light of Leipoldt’s own beliefs and the way in which, throughout his life, he gave to others expecting nothing in return – is clear.

One cannot be sure precisely where his orientation lay or how much of a Buddhist he was, except to say that he was versatile and that his writings are of immense interest now and editing further will continue to present students of Leipoldt with further material to work with and from. Viljoen’s view in this regard is important to note:

Referring to Derrida who grew up in colonial Algeria and Kristeva who grew up in Bulgaria, David Spurr observes that in such places “it is possible to live both in and beyond the West”. To a certain extent the same can be said of Leipoldt who grew up in South Africa, but studied in England and Europe. The complexity of his position [also by being exposed to the Orient through his father and his own travels– PLM] is reflected in the ambiguity of his discourse, proving that reading colonial discourse in terms of ambivalence, rupture and self-contradiction may prove the most fruitful option for further research in this field (Viljoen 1996:16).


7 Leipoldt the contrarian

Leipoldt left Cape Town for Britain in 1902, towards the end of the South African War. He returned twelve years later for the first time, having qualified with distinction as a medical doctor. He wrote to Dr Bolus, his sponsor:

You will be pleased to hear that I have gained the highest award a student can get at Guy’s – winning this year the Treasurer’s Gold Medal in Clinical Medicine as well as the gold medal in Surgery. My competitors were qualified men – all London University – and I am therefore rather pleased at the results. So far the two medals have only been won in the same year by three other men … all on the staff. Usually the honours are divided, one man being better, taking the one medal while the other goes to another student. My achievement is therefore a bit of a record … (Leipoldt in Dear Dr Bolus 1979:46).

In The Mask we read of the return of the two characters from different parts of the world, Dr Santa Vantloo, the newly qualified doctor who studied medicine in London, and Mr Mabuis, grandson of Pierre Mabuis, alias Tins, a humorist in the style of Mark Twain, in Gallows Gecko. Mabuis had fought on the side of the Transvaal Republic, after which he went into exile in Argentina as an “irreconcilable” after the South African War of 1899 to 1902. His return to the area of his forebears coincided with Santa’s return from England. Their fierce polemical debates span subjects such as patriotism, language, politics, religion and culture. TS Emslie and PL Murray contend that “one senses that Leipoldt uses them both as mouthpieces for his own views”.

Dr Peter Shields’s views are worth noting, referring to Leipoldt in the Foreword to Leipoldt’s Food and Wine:

Doc loved arguing. He would have made a good lawyer. He was also a great talker, continually asking questions – usually pulling your leg. He would suddenly decide to give you a hard time, and then temporary verbal assault would begin! He loved to present you with an alternative view of whatever point you were making, even if you were merely stating a fact (Leipoldt 2003:xiii).

Emslie and Murray write:

Leipoldt the contrarian is evident when the narrator in The Mask discusses slavery in the Cape Colony. The views expressed are anything but politically correct, and the narrator appears to enjoy being every bit provocative as much as did Leipoldt the man.

There was agreement, however, between Santa and Mabuis in The Mask on “the stultifying effect of the church on culture”, and disagreement between Santa and her mother on the role of language and culture. Mabuis’s heated debate on the differences between Servian (sic) and Afrikaner nationalism presents interesting prospects for further study. Leipoldt’s hate of hypocrisy is shown through Elias Vantloo’s membership of the teetotal lodge and advocating Good Templary, although the more discerning Dr Buren of The Mask was able to detect the smell of peppermint on his breath.


8 Leipoldt the connoisseur of food and wine

Leipoldt’s hate of hypocrisy as referred to above can be seen in light of Leipoldt the scientist (although through the voice of Dr Buren in The Mask, he says scientists should not have scientific souls, which is Leipoldt’s campaign for the balance between ars pratica and ars poetica) and his avid interest in dietetics. Leipoldt showed a great interest in cookery and qualified under Auguste Escoffier. He was “truly knowledgeable about wine, its importance, its uses, its nobility and its health-giving properties as one sees in the third book in Leipoldt’s Food and Wine: 300 Years of Cape Wine. Dr Peter Shields writes about his adoptive father:

Doc always had wine with his meals, and Jeff and I were also always given wine. Doc used to make us describe it, something I wasn’t much good at. He considered wine to be a good thing, and we all enjoyed it. My recollection is that Doc’s preference was for red wine. He was never snobbish about wine, or about anything else for that matter. I never saw him “tight”. He seldom had more than two glasses of wine (Leipoldt 2003:xiii).


9 Editing Leipoldt’s Food and Wine

The editors of Leipoldt’s Food and Wine placed their work in context as follows:

In 2000 we began editing and preparing for publication the typed manuscript of The Valley, Leipoldt’s trilogy of historical novels which spans the period 1820 to 1930 and is set in the Cederberg – that wonderful, evocative beloved region of the Cape where Christie (as Leipoldt was known to his family) spent his formative years and where his ashes now lie buried on the Pakhuis Pass. For us this was the beginning of an abiding fascination with Christian Frederick Louis Leipoldt (1880–1947), stimulated further by Dr JC Kannemeyer’s meticulous and scholarly Leipoldt ‘n Lewensverhaal and by Leipoldt’s own wide-ranging intellect and presence, expressed in his poetry and other publications. It was inevitable that we would re-read, with greater appreciation, Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery and Three Hundred Years of Cape Wine, and that we should discover the admirable Polfyntjies vir die Proe, now skillfully translated from the original Afrikaans by Dr WL Liebenberg and adapted by TS Emslie into its final form as Culinary Treasures (Leipoldt 2003:xix).

The editors also say:

Leipoldt was without exaggeration a poet, playwright, novelist, journalist, chef, botanist – l’uomo universale – and in our view his many talents combine perfectly in the works now inspanned as Leipoldt’s Food and Wine (edited by TS Emslie and PL Murray 2003).

The first book provides a contextual history of food in the chapter on the Origins of Cape Cookery, although his view that “As the early settlers at the Cape came from Holland, it is not surprising that Dutch influence in Cape Cookery should be considerable, although it does not overshadow that of Oriental cookery” is contested. The second contains essays with humour about cookery, the classic being Jakkalskossouffle, and the third gives an overview of the history of the South African wine industry to 1947. Leipoldt’s Food and Wine is an important repository of the history of food, writing on food and wine, and the subject of food and history.


10 Conclusion

Leipoldt’s great achievement was in finding the balance between science and art – ars praticaand ars poetica – although he was an artist and he was a scientist. On the one hand he wrote papers for medical journals on his subject of expertise, paediatrics; on the other he composed the most beautiful poems. He read Latin, Greek, Italian, Bata, English, Afrikaans, Dutch and German, and could speak all of these languages. He was extremely proficient in three of them. He was a botanist, doctor, chef, and a literary giant across so many fields. He was the son of a missionary who had an immense understanding of “the other”. Above all he was an ordinary individual, whose virtuosity made him an interesting person. Discovering something of his worldview through editing and reading him has been a rich experience. The visitor to his grave will find no epitaph, only the name and dates of birth and death recorded in a hollowed out rock formation in the Cederberg range, with a hardly recognisable San mural painted on the rock surface as backdrop. Surely an extract from one of his poems might serve as a suitable memory to this extraordinary, interesting and versatile universal man:

Viooltjies in die voorhuis –

Viooltjies blou en rooi!

Viooltjies oral op die veld,

En orals, ai so mooi!




Merrington, Peter. “C Louis Leipoldt’s ‘Valley Trilogy’ and contested South African nationalisms in the early twentieth century” in Current Writing, 2003, Vol 15, no 2, pp 32–48 (68).

Viljoen, Louise. “Leipoldt and the Orient: a reading of CL Leipoldt’s travel writing in the context of Orientalist discourse”, delivered at the Eighth Biennial Interdisciplinary Conference on Netherlandic Studies, New York, USA, 1966.

Zaaiman, J du T. "C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele orientasie" in SAMJ October 2005, Vol 95, No 10, pp 713–714.


Sandler, EM (ed). Letters to Dr Bolus dated 18 June 1907, in Dear Dr Bolus, Letters from Clanwilliam. London, New York & The Continent written during his medical studies 1897 – 1911, published for the University of Cape Town by AA Balkema, 1979.

Newspaper articles

Loots, Sonja. “Was hy of was hy nie?” In Die Burger, 28 August 2005.

Primary sources

Leipoldt, C Louis. The Valley, edited by TS Emslie and PL Murray, published by Stormberg Publishers, Cape Town, 2001.

Leipoldt’s Food and Wine, edited by TS Emslie and PL Murray, Stonewall Books, Cape Town, 2003.

The Mask, unpublished manuscript, proofs signed off by TS Emslie, Cederberg Books, with Introduction by TS Emslie and PL Murray, 2006.

Reflections on a Stone Skull. Unpublished manuscript in the UCT Library.

Secondary sources

Kannemeyer, JC. Leipoldt ‘n Lewensverhaal, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1999.

Kromhout, J. Leipoldt as Digter, JL van Schaik, Pretoria, 1954.

Burgers, MPO. CL Leipoldt: ‘n Studie in stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Kaapstad, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, 1960.

Nienaber PJ. In Perspektief en Profiel: ‘n geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse Letterkunde, Afrikaanse Pers Boekhandel, Johannesburg, 1951.

Unpublished doctoral thesis

Swart, Sandra Scott. A “Ware Afrikaner” – an examination of the role of Eugène Marais (1871–1936) in the making of Afrikaner identity. Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Modern History, University of Oxford, for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2001.

Unpublished essay

Murray , PL. “Boyhood”, 2004.

Unpublished manuscript

Murray, PL. The story of the places of the Cederberg, Clanwilliam, Bushmanskloof. 1999.


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