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Henry Morton Stanley

How I Found Livingstone

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This is a historical document — even if it is not a book that will elicit much sympathy from today’s readers. At least it didn’t elicit mine.

“From beautiful Sigunga, after a brief halt, we set off, and, after three hours, arrived at the mouth of the River Uwelasia. Hippopotami and crocodiles being numerous we amused ourselves by shooting at them …”

“Mionvu, the great Mutware, asks me if I have come for war. When did Mionvu ever hear of white men warring against black men? Mionvu must understand that the white men are different from the black. White men do not leave their country to fight the black people, neither do they come here to buy ivory or slaves. They come to make friends with black people; they come to search for rivers, and lakes, and mountains […] The white people are different from the Arabs and Wangwana; the white people know everything, and are very strong.”

By the standards of his time, Stanley was not a racist (“I had met in the United States black men whom I was proud to call friends,” he assures us), but his belief in the “white man’s,” particularly the Anglo-Saxon “white man’s,” cultural and political superiority is unmitigated, and blatantly shows throughout the book.

Still, How I Found Livingstone is an interesting book to read, on several levels — even if Stanley likes to tell a good story, and his words sometimes have to be taken with a grain of salt. But if, for instance, he may not actually have spoken the legendary words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” when the two men met, he still deserves due respect for having written them.

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About the Author

Henry Morton Stanley was born in Wales in 1841 as John Rowlands. His father died a few weeks after his birth, his mother abandoned him, the paternal grandfather with whom he grew up died when he was five, and he ended up in a workhouse for the poor, where he suffered from poverty and violence.

At the age of 18, in 1859, John Rowlands emigrated to the United States, where he disembarked in New Orleans. By chance he met and befriended a wealthy trader named Henry Hope Stanley, who became his benefactor, and whose name he took out of gratitude — much of what Stanley tells about their relationship in his autobiography remains doubtful, though.

Stanley took part in the Civil War on the Confederate side. After having been taken prisoner he joined the Union Army, but was soon discharged due to illness. He served on several merchant ships, joined the US Navy in July 1864, took part in the two Battles of Fort Fisher, and afterwards began to work as a freelance journalist, which took him, often under dangerous circumstances, to the Ottoman Empire, Abyssinia, Spain, the Black Sea region, and Persia.

Stanley’s 1871–72 expedition in search of David Livingstone is the subject of “How I Found Livingstone.” Only two years later Stanley embarked on an even more ambitious adventure — the first crossing of Africa, from east to west, seven thousand miles, which took 999 days and cost more than a hundred lives. This expedition, from 1874 to 1877, finally resolved the questions about the great rivers and lakes of central Africa, identified the long sought source of the Nile, and firmly established Stanley’s reputation as an explorer. From 1879 to 1884 Stanley spent five years in the Congo basin, in the service of the king of Belgium, Leopold II, building roads and establishing trading posts. Though he disapproved of the Belgian colonialist politics, his work paved the way for the creation of the Congo Free State, which, despite the “Free” in its name, was an absolute monarchy that was privately owned by the Belgian king.

From 1886 to 1889 Stanley led an expedition aimed at the relief of Emin Pasha, governor of Equatoria, threatened by the Mahdi’s holy war — here, too, colonialist interests were involved. It was the last of the major European expeditions into the interior of Africa — an expedition that suffered heavy losses and had, at best, mixed results, though it did indeed succeed to bring Emin Pasha to safety.

Stanley returned to England in 1890, married the painter Dorothy Tennant, and they adopted a son, Denzil. Stanley was knighted in 1899, in recognition of his service to the British Empire. Most of his remaining time he spent at a small estate in Surrey, Furze Hill, which he had bought in 1898; he died at his home died at his home in Whitehall, London, on May 10th, 1904.

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