Eugène Nielen Marais (pronounced /ˈjuːdʒiːn ˈniːlɨn mɑˈreɪ/; 9 January 1871 – 29 March 1936) was a South African lawyer, naturalist, poet and writer.

His early years, before and during the Boer War

Marais was born in Pretoria, the thirteenth and last child of his parents, Jan Christiaan Nielen Marais and Catharina Helena Cornelia van Niekerk. He attended school in Pretoria, Boshof and Paarl and much of his early education was in English, as were his earliest poems. He matriculated at the age of sixteen. After leaving school he worked in Pretoria as a legal clerk and then as a journalist before becoming owner (at the age of twenty) of a newspaper called Land en Volk (lit. Land and (the Afrikaner) People). He involved himself deeply in local politics. He began taking opiates at an early age and graduated to morphine (then considered to be non-habitforming and a safer drug) very soon thereafter. He became addicted and his addiction ruled his affairs and actions to a greater or lesser extent throughout his life. When asked for the reasons for taking drugs, he variously pleaded ill health, insomnia and, later, the death of his young wife as a result of the birth of his only child. Much later, he blamed accidental addiction while ill with malaria in Mozambique. Some claim that his use of drugs was experimental and influenced by the philosophy of de Quincey.He married Aletta Beyers but she died from puerperal fever a year later, eight days after the birth of their son, Marais' only child. In 1897—still in his mid-twenties—he went to London, initially to read medicine. However, under pressure from his friends, he entered the Inner Temple to study law. (He qualified as an advocate). When the Boer War broke out in 1899, he was put on parole as an enemy alien in London. During the latter part of the war he joined a German expedition that sought to ship ammunition and medicines to the Boer Commandos via Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). However, he was struck down in this tropical area by malaria and before the supplies could be delivered to the Boers, the war ended.

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