A Good(ish) Man in Burma
An enigma hiding in plain sight, Harold Fielding Hall has been the intermittent focus of my attention for forty years. Demanding to be explored, apparently easy to find out about, he is infinitely mysterious.
So many unanswered questions.
He made a walk-on appearance in Amateurs in Eden. In that book he was a paragraph; his story reveals the allure, the delusion and the tragedy of the imperial years and merits a proper study.
His book The Soul of a People is one of the best ever written about the Burmese. Olive Schreiner told a friend ‘It is the most beautiful book I ever read: it has been to me like rain falling on a dry thirsty ground to read it.’ Twenty years after publication the Manchester Guardian traced its unexpected success: ‘During the past ten years, among the houses of reflective folk, one has found “The Soul of a People” on the little table with the intimate books of companionship – with, let us say, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas a Kempis, Emerson’s Essays, Maeterlinck and later the poems of “AE” or Rabindranath Tagore.’
But his life ended with an act of random cruelty. Why?
Harold Fielding Hall first went to Burma in 1885; lived and worked there for over twenty years. What has happened to the country and people he loved since the military coup in February 2021 would have broken his heart, and it can feel frivolous to explore his vanished world, when Myanmar today is suffering such horrors.
What can we do? As individuals, nothing much. But we can support those working for the people of Myanmar.
https://burmacampaign.org.uk works for human rights, democracy and development in Burma.
https://prospectburma.org enables young Burmese to access higher education abroad. Their mission is ‘to offer hope – and practical, targeted support – to equip individuals and organisations with expertise to match their energy and dedication to build an alternative, peaceful future’.