Stanley and Livingstone
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Mon May 26 06:36:20 MDT 2003
New Yorker Magazine, June 6, 2003
LOST AND FOUND
by ADAM HOCHSCHILD
Exploring the legacy of Stanley and Livingstone.
The changing images of Stanley and Livingstone over the years offer as rich
a terrain for a writer as do the two men themselves. But anyone who expects
to see this promising territory explored in the newest book on the subject,
Martin Dugards Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and
Livingstone (Doubleday; $24.95), will be disappointed. This pedestrian
rehash of the story reads almost like one of the Victorian hagiographies.
Even its form, with alternating sections about the two men on their
separate travels until they meet and the journey becomes one, has been used
Dugards prose, not unlike Stanleys, sometimes has a melodramatic ring:
Character is built through trials and turmoil; He would learn for
certain whether the explorer was dead or alive. . . . He could not stomach
the maudlin limbo of doubt; What would happen in the next few minutes
would alter the future of exploration, Africa, and the world; The call to
adventure is genetic in a handful of men and women; Stanleys travels took
him to the entrance to Africas beating heart. More nettlesome yet, the
book is sprinkled with factual errors. It was not King Leopold IV of
Belgium for whom Stanley staked out a Congo colony but Leopold II; and it
was not the Belgian Congo that first came into being as a result but the
Congo Free State. The allegation that Livingstone fathered an illegitimate
African child is by no means a documented fact; it is vigorously disputed
by his biographer Jeal and other writers. Tanganyika became independent in
1961, not 1964. Britains population in the eighteen-fifties was not four
million but, counting Ireland, more than twenty-seven million.
There is a broader pattern of unreliability in Dugards book as well.
Almost always, he accepts Stanleys account of an event at face value.
Stanley, who invariably portrayed himself in flattering terms, making
exactly the right response in any dialogue or action, must always be
treated with caution. Should we, for example, believe him when he tells how
he quelled a mutiny of his porters, first facing down one armed man who
came toward him, then whirling around, like a hero in a kung-fu movie, to
defy another, who was about to fire on him from the other side? Dugard does.
Or take another episode. In the introduction to How I Found Livingstone,
the first of his many lively, self-promoting best-sellers, Stanley writes,
A journalist in my position . . . like a gladiator in the arena . . . must
be prepared for the combat. Any flinching, any cowardice, and he is lost.
The gladiator meets the sword that is sharpened for his bosomthe flying
journalist or roving correspondent meets the command that may send him to
his doom. He tells a dramatic tale of how he was summoned to Paris by his
employer, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. He found Bennett in his hotel room at
What! said I, do you really think I can find Dr. Livingstone? Do you
mean me to go to Central Africa?
Yes; I mean that you shall go, and find him wherever you may hear that he
is. . . . The old man may be in want:take enough with you to help him
should he require it. Of course you will act according to your own plans,
and do what you think bestbut find livingstone!
Only slightly altering the punctuation, Dugard reproduces this dialogue and
takes it as fact. But, according to Stanleys most careful biographers,
Bierman and McLynn, it is doubtful that anything resembling the
conversation took place. Records show that Stanley arrived in Paris some
ten days later than he said he did. Eight days worth of pages from his
diary around this time have been torn out. The idea of pursuing Livingstone
seems to have come from another official at the New York Herald.
Furthermore, Bennett may have lost interest and forgotten about the whole
project, for when Stanley arrived in Zanzibar, the jumping-off point for
his expedition, he found that Bennett had failed to send promised money for
supplies. (Dugard notes that the money wasnt there, but he does not ask
why.) Stanley, though, had every reason to inflate his own role as a
gladiator and Bennetts as an editorial genius, because when he published
his book, which is dedicated to Bennett, he was still on the Heralds
payroll and wanted the paper to finance his next expedition to Africa.
That journey became Stanleys greatest feat of exploration, providing the
first European look at the greater part of the Congo River and its
tributaries. Subsequently, he spent five years travelling up and down the
river, bamboozling illiterate African chiefs into signing their land over
to King Leopold II. This laid the foundation for the Kings privately owned
Congo Free State, a forced-labor regime that represented the bloodiest
single episode in the scramble for Africa; it has been estimated that,
during Leopolds rule and its immediate aftermath, the territorys
population was cut in half.
Stanley returned to central Africa one last time, between 1887 and 1890.
Curiously, like the famous journey that began his exploring career, this
final trip was a quest for a missing white physician. In this case, it was
an eccentric German Jew who followed Islamic customs, became known as Emin
Pasha, and was appointed governor of the southern province of the
Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. He was also putting together a collection of stuffed
birds for the British Museum. Emin Pasha had sent word that he was under
siege from extremist Islamic rebels and needed help. Embarrassingly,
however, it turned out that, by the time Stanley and his bedraggled
vanguard finally reached Emin Pasha, he was no longer eager to be rescued.
For him everything depends on whether he is able to take me along, for
only then . . . would his expedition be regarded as totally successful,
the governor groused in his diary. Stanley wrote another best-seller about
the trip, but this time books and journals by his white subordinates also
appeared. They painted a grim picture: of Stanley exploding in temper
tantrums, having a deserter hanged, working porters to death, ordering
floggings left and right and administering some himself. When he felt that
the expedition might be attacked, one officer wrote, Stanley gave the
order to burn all the villages round. At the height of the imperial age,
though, the revelations about Stanleys brutality did little to tarnish his
Dugard lists all the major recent books on Stanley and Livingstone in his
bibliography, but he largely bypasses what they have to say, and is mostly
uncritical of Stanley. He also scants the potential richness and depth of
Livingstones story: the way his muted opposition to the colonialism made
possible by his very exploring turns him into something of a tragic figure.
Why is a book like Dugards appearing today? Like everything else, books
reflect the spirit in the air. And we are living at a time in history when,
with startling suddenness, people are talking proudly about the American
empire. Those in power in Washington see the world as a clash of
civilizations, and are convinced that their civilization has every right to
use force to prevail, just as Stanley was convinced that he had every right
to burn down African villages that impeded his progress. Perhaps, at this
imperial moment, it is not surprising that someone like him is viewed in
such a friendly light. Hollywood is already giving us sympathetic and
glamorous portrayals of C.I.A. agents in the TV series The Agency and in
films like The Recruit. Stanley and Livingstone may be next.
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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