Founding the Congo State
the first work, exploration, was done.
Now for the harder task, civilisation.
That was henceforth the main purpose and passion of Stanley's life.
For him, the quest of wider knowledge meant a stage towards the betterment of mankind.
He had laid open a tract comparable in extent and resources to the basin of the Amazon, or the Mississippi.
What his vision saw, what his supreme effort was given to, was the transformation of its millions of people from barbarism, oppressed by all the ills of ignorance, superstition, and cruelty, into happy and virtuous men and women.
His aim was as pure and high as Livingstone's. But, as a means, he looked not alone to the efforts of isolated missionaries, but to the influx of great tides of beneficent activities.
He sought to pour the civilisation of Europe into the barbarism of Africa, and the prime force to which he looked was the natural, legitimate desire for gain, by ways of traffic; the African and the European both eager for the exchanges which should be for the good of both.
With this, he counted on the scientific curiosity, and the philanthropic zeal, of the civilised world to assist the work.
The curse of interior Africa had been its isolation.
Its only contact with the outer world had been through the ferocious slave-trade, carried on by Europeans on its western shore through four centuries, until suppressed under English leadership, but still maintained by Arabs, working wholesale ruin from the east.
A natural channel, and an invitation to legitimate and wholesome commerce, was the vast waterway of the Upper Congo, which Stanley had just discovered.
The obstacle which had prevented its employment was a strip of two hundred miles next the sea, where a succession of cataracts and rapids, through rough and sterile hills, made navigation impossible.
This strip must be pierced, first by a wagon-road, later by a railroad.
Its human obstacles, principally the rapacious African traders, or “ middle-men,” shrewd, greedy, and jealous of the white man's intrusion, must be propitiated.
Then, from mouth to source of the river, stations must be established as centres of trade and of friendly intercourse.
That was Stanley's plan; and for fit and adequate support he looked first to the English people and the English Government.
Before he touched English soil, on his return at the end of 1877, his letters in the “Telegraph” had hinted at the vast and inviting political possibilities which the new country offered to England.
With scarcely a breathing-space, he threw himself into the work of persuading, preaching, imploring, the ruling powers in English Commerce and in public affairs to seize this grand opportunity.
He spoke in all the commercial centres, especially in Manchester and Liverpool, setting forth the immense advantages to trade of such an enterprise.
He had audience with such public men as would listen, or seem to listen.
But the Government and the people of England turned a deaf ear.
Stanley was, by some, called “Quixotic” ; by others, an “adventurer,” or “a buccaneer.”
Others professed to be shocked, and said he put Commerce before Religion!! So he received no help or encouragement from Britain.
But, in Belgium, King Leopold was already keenly interested in African possibilities.
In the summer of 1877, he had convened a company of geographers and scientific men, who had organised the “International African Association” for exploration, and, perhaps, something further.
Their first essays were mostly on the eastern coast.
On Stanley's return, at the end of 1877, he was met at Marseilles by messengers of King Leopold, to urge him to come to Brussels for a conference, and for the initiation of further African enterprise.
He excused himself on the plea of physical exhaustion and unfitness for further undertakings.
But he had other reasons, in his strong preference for England as his supporting power.
After half a year of ill-success in that quarter, in August, he met King Leopold's Commissioners in Paris.
In the discussion there, the vague purpose to do something scientific or commercial in the basin of the Congo crystallised into Stanley's plan as given above.
There was close study, analysis, and detail; the papers were transmitted to the King, and Stanley kept in touch with the project.
But again he urged upon England that she should take the lead; and, again, in vain.
Thereupon, he accepted an invitation to the Royal Palace at Brussels in November, and there met “various persons of more or less note in the commercial and monetary world, from England, Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland.”
An organisation was made, under the name, “Comite daEtude du Haut Congo” (which afterward became practically identified with the “International ” ). Plans were adopted on a modest scale; the sum of twenty thousand pounds was subscribed for immediate use; and Stanley was put in charge of the work.
Colonel Strauch, of the Belgian Army, was chosen President of the Society; and he, and his associates, selected Stanley's European assistants, and acted as his base of supplies during the five and a half years--January, 1879, to June, 1884--which he spent in the work.
The story of that work is told at large in Stanley's book, “The Congo, and the Founding of its free State.”
Less full of adventure and wonder than his preceding and following works, it is rich in material for whoever studies the relations, actual and possible,
between civilised and savage men. The merest outline of it is given here, with quotations chosen mainly to illustrate the character of its leader.
For the nucleus of his working force, he went back to Zanzibar, and chose seventy men, forty of whom had before gone with him through Africa, and who, as a body, now served him with a like fidelity and devotion.
He took them around the continent, by Suez and Gibraltar, and reached the mouth of the Congo in August, 1879.
August 15, 1879.
Arrived off the mouth of the Congo
Two years have passed since I was here before, after my descent of the great River, in 1877.
Now, having been the first to explore it, I am to be the first who shall prove its utility to the world.
I now debark my seventy Zanzibaris and Somalis for the purpose of beginning to civilise the Congo Basin
With a force recruited up to two hundred and ten negroes, and fourteen Europeans, and with four tiny steamers, he set out for the mastery of the river.
A few miles' steaming away from the trading establishments at the mouth, up to the head of navigation, and the first station, Vivi, is planted; wooden huts brought from England are set up, and wagon-roads are made.
Then, a Labour of Hercules, transport must be found for steamers and goods through a long stretch of rugged hills.
After exploration, the route must be chosen; then the stubborn, dogged labour of road-building, over mountains and along precipices; the Chief, hammer and drill in hand, showing his men how to use their tools; endless marching and hauling; and, at last, a whole year's work (1880) is done; forward and backward, they had travelled two thousand five hundred and thirty-two miles, and, as a result, they had won a practicable way of fifty-two miles--“not a holiday affair,” this!
Strenuous toil, a diet of beans, goat's meat, and sodden bananas; the muggy atmosphere of the Congo Cañon, with fierce heat from the rocks, and bleak winds' through the gorges!
Six European and twenty-two native lives, and thirteen whites invalided and retired, were part of the price.
Now, a second station, Isangila, is built; here, as at Vivi, a treaty is made with the natives, and land for the station fairly bought.
Next, we have eighty-eight miles of waterway, and, then, another station at Manyanga.
Here came a plague of fever, and the force was further weakened by garrisons left for the three stations.
Stanley was desperately ill; after ten days fight with the fever, the end seemed at hand; he prescribed for himself sixty grains of quinine, and a few minims of hydrobromic acid, in an ounce of Madeira wine; under this overpowering dose his senses reeled; he summoned his European comrades for a farewell, while Death loomed before him, and a vision of a lonely grave.
Grasping the hand of his faithful Albert, he struggled long and vainly to speak the words of a parting charge; and when, at last, he uttered an intelligible sentence,--that
success brought a rush of relief, and he cried, “I am saved!”
Then came unconsciousness for twenty-four hours; and, afterwards, just life enough to feel hungry; and thus he reached convalescence and recovery.
A push of eight days further, to Stanley Pool, where begins the uninterrupted navigation of the Upper Congo.
Here he finds that M. de Brazza, in the pay of France, though aided by funds from the Comite International of Belgium, having heard of Stanley's doings, has raced across from the sea, and bargained with the natives for a great strip on the north bank of the river.
So, for this region, Stanley secured the south bank.
At last, greatly to his encouragement and help, came a re-enforcement of the good Zanzibaris.
Early in 1882, he planted a fine station, named Leopoldville, in honour of the monarch whom Stanley heartily admired, and relied on. On this settlement, when he had finished it to his mind, Stanley looked with special pride and complacency: the block-house, impregnable against fire or musketry; the broad-streeted village for his natives; their gardens of young bananas and vegetables; the plentiful water and fuel; the smooth promenade, where he imagined his Europeans strolling on Sundays, to survey the noble prospect of river, cataract, forests, and mountain.
Stanley, however, saw more than met the eye. He dwelt on the possible future of that magnificent country, with its well-watered soil, now neglected, but richer than any in the whole Mississippi Valley. “ It is like looking at the intelligent face of a promising child: though we find nought in it but innocence, we fondly imagine that we see the germs of a future great genius,--perhaps a legislator, a savant, warrior, or a poet.”
Soon after, a violent fever so disabled him that he was obliged to return to Europe, in 1882.
He made his report to the Comite de l'association Internationale du Congo, which had assumed the authority and duties of the Comite daEtude.
He showed them that he had accomplished all, and more than all, his original commission aimed at, and urged them to complete the work by building a railroad along the lower river, extending the chain of stations, and obtaining concessions of authority from the chiefs along the whole course of the Congo.
To all this the Committee assented, but they were urgent that Stanley should return to take charge.
He consented, in spite of impaired health, and started back, after only six weeks in Europe; making condition only, and that with all the persuasiveness at his command, that they should send him able assistants, instead of the irresponsible, flighty-headed youngsters on whom he had been obliged so largely to rely.
He dreaded what they might have done, or undone, in his absence.
His fears were justified; his journey up the river lay through a mournful succession of neglected and blighted stations; and Leopoldville, of which he had hoped so much, was a grass-grown hungry waste!
He did his best to repair the mischief,
and pushed on up the river, the one dominating idea being to establish a succession of stations for a thousand miles along the Upper Congo, as far as Stanley Falls.
Briefly, his route from the ocean covered 110 miles of steaming; then a land march of 235 miles to Stanley Pool, whence the Upper Congo gives clear navigation, for 1070 miles, to Stanley Falls.
Numerous tributaries multiply the navigable waterways to about 6000 miles. The district thus watered Stanley estimated as a square of 757 miles either way, a superficies of 57,400 square miles, nearly the dimensions of the future Free State.
He found the Lower Congo region unproductive, yielding at first only ground-nuts, palm-oil, and feed-cake for cattle, and, further up-stream, some production of rubber, gum-copal, and ivory.
But the Upper Congo was rich in valuable forests and in fertile soil; woods for building, for furniture, and dyes; gums, ivory of elephant and hippopotamus; india-rubber, coffee, gum-copal, and much besides.
All this potentiality of “wealth, beyond the dreams of avarice,” could only be actualised through the perfection of communication: already Stanley was eagerly planning for a railway that should link the Upper Congo with the sea.
Now, for a year and a half, his principal care was to negotiate treaties with the chiefs, which should give political jurisdiction over the territory.
Throughout the enterprise, amiable relations with the natives were most successfully cultivated; friction was overcome by patience and tact; firmness, combined with gentleness, in almost every instance averted actual strife.
The chiefs were willing enough to cede their political sovereignty, receiving in each case some substantial recompense; foreign intrusion was barred; and the private rights and property of the natives were respected.
Over four hundred chiefs were thus dealt with, and so the foundations of the Free State were established.
On his journey up the river he was constantly meeting tribes who were his old acquaintances of six years before.
Old friends they could scarcely be called, but new friends they readily became.
A halo of wonder hung round his first advent; the curiosity born of that memory was heightened by the marvel of the steamboats; the offer of barter was always welcome, and the bales of cloth, the brass rods, the trinkets,--first as a present, then in trade,--were the beginnings of familiar intercourse.
Stanley's diplomacies, his peace-makings between hostile tribes, his winning of good — will and enforcement of respect, make a story that should be studied in his full narrative.
The summer of 1884 found the work of founding the State virtually finished, and Stanley nearly finished, too. There had been difficulties of all kinds, in which almost the entire responsibility had rested on his shoulders, and he had reached the limit of his strength; could he but hand over his work to a fit successor!
There was a man at that time in retreat, near Mount Carmel
If he but emerged from his seclusion, he had all the
elements in him of the man that was needed: indefatigable industry; that magnetism which commands affection, obedience, and perfect trust; that power of reconciling men, no matter of what colour, to their duties; that cheerful promise that in him lay security and peace; that loving solicitude which betokens the kindly chief.
That man was General Gordon
For six months I waited his coming; finally, letters came announcing his departure for the Soudan; and, soon after, arrived Lieutenant-colonel Sir Francis de Winton
, of the Royal Artillery, in his place.
General Gordon had arranged to take the Governorship of the Lower Congo, under Stanley, who was to govern the Upper Congo; and, together, they were to destroy the slave-trade at its roots.
General Gordon wrote a letter to Stanley in which he said that he should be happy to serve under him, and work according to Stanley's ideas.
When Sir Francis de Winton went out, Stanley transferred to him the Government of the Congo, and returned to England.
This same year, 1884, saw the recognition of the new State by the civilised powers.
England's contribution was mainly indirect.
She had previously made a treaty with Portugal, allowing her a strip of African coast, as the result of which she could now have excluded everyone else from the Congo.
Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow, through their Chambers of Commerce, had remonstrated in vain.
The United States, meanwhile, had been the first to recognise the new State of the Congo.
Spurred by General Sandford, formerly Minister to Belgium, who appealed, on the one hand, to American interest in Livingstone and Stanley, and, on the other hand, to commercial possibilities, the American Senate, on April 10, 1884, authorised President Arthur to recognise the International African Association as a governing power on the Congo River.
This action, says Stanley, was the birth to new life of the Association.
In view of the menace to the world's trade by the Anglo-Portuguese treaty, Bismarck's strong personality now came to the front, somewhat prompted by King Leopold.
Stanley admired the straightforward vigor of the German as much as he admired the philanthropy of the Belgian rule.
Bismarck summoned a Conference at Berlin, to which the leading European powers sent delegates.
There were also delegates from the United States, and with these Stanley was present as their “technical adviser,” and, naturally, had a good hearing.
The Conference was mainly interested to secure the commercial freedom of the Niger and the Congo.
It gave definite recognition to the Congo Free State.
It did map-making with a free hand, marking out European dominions in Africa, with especial profit to France and Portugal, through the adroitness of the French Ambassador,
says Stanley, and with the concurrence of Prince Bismarck.
Also, quite incidentally, so to speak, the Conference proceeded to lay down the formalities by which a European power was to establish itself on virgin African soil, which consisted, virtually, in putting up a sign-board “ to whom it may concern.”
By this simple process, and with no trouble of exploration, purchase, or settlement, Bismarck then calmly proceeded to appropriate a large slice of Eastern Africa, which had been opened up by the British.
The future course of African affairs, including the vesting of the Congo sovereignty in King Leopold, has no place in this story.
In this whole chapter of Stanley's work, perhaps the most significant feature, as to his character, and, also, as a lesson in the art of civilisation, is his manner of dealing with the natives.
As a concrete instance may be given the story of Ngalyema and the fetish.
Ngalyema, chief of Stanley Pool
district, had demanded and received four thousand five hundred dollars' worth of cotton, silk, and velvet goods for granting me the privilege of establishing a station in a wilderness of a place at the commencement of up-river navigation.
Owing to this, I had advanced with my wagons to within ten miles of the Pool.
I had toiled at this work the best part of two years, and whenever I cast a retrospective glance at what the task had cost me, I felt that it was no joke, and such that no money would bribe me to do over again.
Such a long time had elapsed since Ngalyema had received his supplies, that he affected to forget that he had received any; and, as I still continued to advance towards him after the warnings of his messengers, he collected a band of doughty warriors, painted their bodies with diagonal stripes of ochre, soot, chalk, and yellow, and issued fiercely to meet me.
Meantime, the true owners of the soil had enlightened me respecting Ngalyema's antecedents.
He was only an enter-prising native trader in ivory and slaves, who had fled from the north bank; but, though he had obtained so much money from me by pretences, I was not so indignant at this as at the audacity with which he chose to forget the transaction, and the impudent demand for another supply which underlay this.
Ngalyema, having failed to draw any promise by sending messengers, thought he could extort it by appearing with a warlike company.
Meantime, duly warned, I had prepared a surprise for him.
I had hung a great Chinese
gong conspicuously near the principal tent.
Ngalyema's curiosity would be roused.
All my men were hidden, some in the steamboat on top of the wagon, and in its shadow was a cool place where the warriors would gladly rest after a ten-mile march; other of my men lay still as death under tarpaulins, under bundles of grass, and in the bush round about the camp.
By the time the drum-taps and horns announced Ngalyema's arrival, the camp seemed abandoned except by myself and a few small boys.
I was indolently seated in a chair, reading a book, and appeared too lazy to notice anyone; but, suddenly looking up, and seeing my “brother Ngalyema,” and his warriors, scowlingly regarding me, I sprang up, and seized his hands, and affectionately bade him welcome, in the name of sacred fraternity, and offered him my own chair.
He was strangely cold, and apparently disgruntled, and said:--
“Has not my brother forgotten his road?
What does he mean by coming to this country?”
“Nay, it is Ngalyema who has forgotten the blood-bond which exists between us. It is Ngalyema who has forgotten the mountains of goods which I paid him. What words are these of my brother?”
“Be warned, Rock-Breaker.
Go back before it is too late.
My elders and people all cry out against allowing the white man to come into our country.
Therefore, go back before it be too late.
Go back, I say, the way you came.”
Speech and counter-speech followed.
Ngalyema had exhausted his arguments; but it was not easy to break faith and be uncivil, without plausible excuse.
His eyes were reaching round seeking to discover an excuse to fight, when they rested on the round, burnished face of the Chinese gong.
“What is that?”
“Ah, that — that is a fetish.”
A fetish for what?”
“It is a war-fetish, Ngalyema.
The slightest sound of that would fill this empty camp with hundreds of angry warriors; they would drop from above, they would spring up from the ground, from the forest about, from everywhere.”
“Sho! Tell that story to the old women, and not to a chief
My boy tells me it is a kind of a bell.
Strike it and let me hear it.”
“Oh, Ngalyema, my brother, the consequences would be too dreadful!
Do not think of such a thing!”
“Strike it, I say.”
“Well, to oblige my dear brother Ngalyema, I will.”
And I struck hard and fast, and the clangorous roll rang out like thunder in the stillness.
Only for a few seconds, however, for a tempest of human voices was heard bursting into frightful discords, and from above, right upon the heads of the astonished warriors, leaped yelling men; and from the tents, the huts, the forest round about, they came by sixes, dozens, and scores, yelling like madmen, and seemingly animated with uncontrollable rage.
The painted warriors became panic-stricken; they flung their guns and powder-kegs away, forgot their chief, and all thoughts of loyalty, and fled on the instant, fear lifting their heels high in the air; or, tugging at their eyeballs, and kneading the senses confusedly, they saw, heard, and suspected nothing, save that the limbo of fetishes had suddenly broken loose!
But Ngalyema and his son did not fly. They caught the tails of my coat, and we began to dance from side to side, a loving triplet, myself being foremost, to ward off the blow savagely aimed at my “brothers,” and cheerfully crying out, “Hold fast to me, my brothers.
I will defend you to the last drop of my blood.
Come one, come all,” etc.
Presently the order was given, “Fall in!”
and quickly the leaping forms became rigid, and the men stood in two long lines in beautiful order, with eyes front, as though “at attention.”
Then Ngalyema relaxed his hold of my coat-tails, and crept from behind, breathing more freely; and, lifting his hand to his mouth, exclaimed, in genuine surprise “Eh, Mamma!
Where did all these people come from?”
“Ah, Ngalyema, did I not tell you that thing was a powerful fetish?
Let me strike it again, and show you what else it can do.”
“No! No! No!”
“ I have seen enough!”
The day ended peacefully.
I was invited to hasten on to Stanley Pool
The natives engaged themselves by the score to assist me in hauling the wagons.
My progress was thence-forward
steady and uninterrupted, and in due time the wagons and goods-columns arrived at their destination.
But this was only one incident in what may be called the “education of Ngalyema.”
Seldom has teacher had a more unpromising pupil.
He was a braggart, a liar, greedy, capricious, abjectly superstitious, mischief-making.
Stanley's diary shows how he handled him during three months of neighbourhood.
For instance, Ngal-yema begged certain articles as presents; Stanley coupled the gift with the stipulation that his followers were not to bring their arms into the camp.
The promise was persistently broken; finally, at the head of his armed warriors, Ngalyema was suddenly confronted by Stanley's rifle, and fell at his feet, in abject panic, to be soothed, petted, and brought into a healthy state of mind.
“I am bound to teach this intractable “brother” of mine,” is the comment in the diary.
Again and again he makes trouble; and, always, he is met by the same firm, gentle hand.
Slowly he improves, and at last is allowed once more to make “blood-brotherhood,” with crossing of arms, incisions, and solemn pronouncement by the great fetish-man of the tribe, in token of renewed fraternity and fidelity.
Ngalyema might fairly be pronounced a reformed character, and the friendship between him and Stanley became life-long.
Some of you may, perhaps, wonder at the quiet inoffensiveness of the natives, who, on a former expedition, had worried my soul by their ferocity and wanton attacks, night and day; but a very simple explanation of it may be found in Livingstone
's Last Journals, dated 28th October, 1870.
He says: “Muini Mukata, who has travelled further than most Arabs, said to me, “If a man goes with a good-natured, civil tongue, he may pass through the worst people in Africa
This is true, but time also is required; one must not run through a country, but give the people time to become acquainted with you, and let their worst fears subside.”
Now, on the expedition across Africa
I had no time to give, either to myself or to them.
The river bore my heavy canoes downward; my goods would never have endured the dawdling required by this system of teaching every tribe I met who I was. To save myself and my men from certain starvation, I had to rush on and on, right through.
But on this expedition, the very necessity of making roads to haul my enormous six-ton wagons gave time for my reputation to travel ahead of me. My name, purpose, and liberal rewards for native help, naturally
exaggerated, prepared a welcome for me, and transformed my enemies of the old time into workmen, friendly allies, strong porters, and firm friends.
I was greatly forbearing also; but, when a fight was inevitable, through open violence, it was sharp and decisive.
Consequently, the natives rapidly learned that though everything was to be gained by friendship with me, wars brought nothing but ruin.
So it was that he went among these fierce savages as a messenger of good tidings, and they welcomed him. He put his superiority over them to use in making bridges across the gulf between their minds and his. He studied not only their languages, but their ceremonials, and adapted himself to their forms of justice and ways of settling disputes, as in the rite of blood-brotherhood.
He brought them not only personal good — will and kind treatment, but the practical advantages of civilisation.
Everywhere he found eagerness to trade, and the possibility of commercial interchange that should be profitable to both sides.
Many of them accepted training in labour, and recruited his road-making force.
In his treaties with the chiefs, he did not hesitate to purchase full political sovereignty, usually in exchange for goods; for such sovereignty was worthless or harmful to these tribes, compared with the beneficent rule of a superior intelligence.
But neither in the formal treaties, nor in the actual practice, was there the least trace of spoliation of land and goods which was practised later, when Stanley had left the Congo.
“It is agreed,” says one of his typical treaties, “that the term “cession of territory” does not mean the purchase of the soil by the Association, but the purchase of the suzerainty by the Association.”
Stanley's whole treatment of the natives was as simple in its principle as the Golden Rule; it was applied with infinite skill and patience; and in a spirit of heartiest human good-will, dashed, often, with boyish humour that went home to the savage heart.
He tells with gusto of the welcome given to frolicking races, and the gambols indulged in by his good Danish follower, Albert:--
The dark faces light up with friendly gleams, and a budding of good — will may perhaps date from this trivial scene.
To such an impressionable being as an African native, the self-involved European
, with his frigid, imperious manner, pallid white face, and dead, lustreless eyes, is a sealed book.
The most tragic pages in the history relate his coming upon a series of villages just ravaged by a ferocious slave-raid of the Arabs, and afterwards finding a herd of the wretched captives chained and guarded.
It is a terrible picture.
Over a hundred villages had been
devastated, and the five thousand carried away as slaves stood for six times as many slain, or dying by the way-side.1 The hot impulse rose to strike a blow for their liberation; but it would have been hopeless and useless.
On his return journey, Stanley borrowed from the slave-traders several of their number as his companions down the river, to give them an object-lesson as to the impending check on their excursions.
To extirpate this slave-trade was among the prime objects of his enterprise, and whatever else failed, this succeeded.
The furthest point he then reached was Stanley Falls, where he planted his station in charge of a solitary white man, the plucky little Scotch engineer, Binnie.
Stanley, on his return down the river, reflects on the influences he has planted to extend his work.
We had sown seeds of good — will at every place we had touched, and each tribe would spread diffusively the report of the value and beauty of our labours.
Pure benevolence contains within itself grateful virtues.
Over natural people nothing has greater charm or such expansible power; its influence grows without effort; its subtlety exercises itself on all who come within hearing of it. Coming in such innocent guise, it offends not; there is nought in it to provoke resentment.
Provided patience and good temper guides the chief of Stanley Falls station, by the period of the return of the steamers, the influence of the seedling just planted there will have been extended from tribe to tribe far inland, and amid the persecuted fugitives from the slave-traders.
Among the brightest pages of the story are the occasional returns to some station where a faithful and efficient subordinate, left in charge, has made the wilderness to blossom as a rose.
Such is the picture of Equatorville, to which he returned, after a hundred days absence, to find that the good — will and zeal of two young Army lieutenants had transformed the station from a jungle of waterless scrub; had built and furnished a commodious, tasteful, “hotel” ; had drawn up a code of laws for the moral government of the station, and the amelioration of the wild Bakuti; and planned sanitary improvements worthy of a competent Board of Public Works.
But too frequent is the opposite story; the subordinates' indolence, neglect, perhaps desertion; and the decadence of the station.
The painful element in the story, and ominous of future consequences, is the failures among the men sent out from Europe as his assistants.
There were many and honourable exceptions, and these he praises warmly in the book.2 Such were the Scotch engineer, Binnie, who so stoutly held his solitary post at Stanley Falls; the efficient and fine-spirited Danish sailor, Albert Christopherson; the Scandinavian seaman, Captain Anderson, with his genius for inspiring everyone near him to work; the Englishman, A. B. Swinburne, with a genius for gardening and home-making, and for winning the affection of both whites and blacks; the Italian mechanician, Francois Flamini, who charmed the steam-engines into docility.
But the book tells often of the failures, and the private note-books detail the story more plainly, and tell, too, something of his difficulties with his native helpers.
All the officers, before I sent them to their posts, were instructed by me, orally and in writing, in the very minutiae of their duties, especially in the mode of conduct to be adopted towards the natives.
The ridiculous inadequacy of our force as opposed to the native population required that each officer should be more prudent than brave, more tactful than zealous.
Such conduct invariably made the native pleasantly disposed to us. If some characters among them presumed to think that forbearance sprang from cowardice, and were inclined to be aggressive, the same prudence which they had practised previously would teach them how to deal with such.
It was mainly impressed on the officers that they were to hold their posts more by wit than by force, for the latter was out of the question, except after forethought, and in combination with headquarters.
This was due to the fact that the young officers were as ignorant of diplomacy as children.
Their instincts were to be disciplinary and dictatorial.
The cutting tone of command is offensive to savages, and terrifying to them as individuals.
D. exceeded his instructions in assuming the responsibility of provoking the Arabs at Stanley Falls
He studied only his own fighting instincts, and British resentment against the slaver.
At an early period he was too brusque;
this repelled confidence and roused resentment.
While he was expected to represent civil law of the most paternal character, he regarded the thirty Houssas soldiers under his command as qualifying him for the role of a military dictator; and as soon as he appeared in that character, the Arabs became unanimous in asserting their independence.
Before a man with thirty soldiers can adopt such a tone, he surely ought to have been prepared for the consequences.
But he seems to have done nothing except challenge the Arabs.
He knew he had so many rounds of ammunition, but his ammunition was damp, and he was not aware of it.3
I know that many of my Officers were inclined to regard me as “hard.”
I may now and then have deserved that character, but then it was only when nought but
When I meet chronic stupidity, laziness, and utter indifference to duty, expostulation ceases, and coercion or hardness begins.
His associates had been the principal cause of the exhibition of this quality, and with some of them he had been very unfortunate.
To describe Bracconier's case, for example, would fill a good-sized book.
Others were equally impenetrable to reason and persuasion.
Intuitively, I felt that Braconnier, though polite and agreeable,
was not to be entrusted with any practical work.
His education and character had utterly unfitted him for work of any kind.
He was asked to superintend a little road-making.
He sought a nice, shady place, and fell asleep; and his men, of course, while they admired him for his easy disposition, did what was most agreeable to them, and dawdled over their work, by which we lost two days. When myself incapacitated by a sudden stroke of fever, I requested him to supervise the descent of the boiler-wagon down a hill; not ten minutes later the boiler and wagon were smashed, and he was brought to me, half-dead from his injuries!
He was appointed chief of Leopoldville, but, in four months, the place resembled a ruin.
Grass encroached everywhere, the houses were falling to pieces, the gardens choked with weeds, the steamers were lying corroding in the port, the natives were estranged, and he and his men were reduced to a state of siege.
He allowed a young Austrian
lieutenant and six Zanzibaris to enter a small unsuitable canoe and attempt to ascend the Congo
Within fifteen minutes of their departure, they were all drowned!
There is always another side to these accusations, and those inclined to believe Bracconier's ridiculous charge of my ‘hardness’ should try, first, how they would like to endure three years of indolence and incapacity, before they finally dismissed the fellow; let those who criticised me ascertain whether this man distinguished himself in other fields and other missions; though I have no doubt that in a Brussels drawing-room he would be found to be an agreeable companion; but not in Africa
, where work has to be done, and progress made.
Then, as regards the coloured people, good as the majority of Zanzibaris were, some of them were indescribably, and for me most unfortunately, dense.
One man, who from his personal appearance might have been judged to be among the most intelligent, was, after thirty months experience with his musket, unable to understand how it was to be loaded!
He never could remember whether he ought to drop the powder, or the bullet, into the musket first!
Another time he was sent with a man to transport a company of men over a river to camp.
After waiting an hour, I strode to the bank of the
river and found them paddling in opposite directions, each blaming the other for his stupidity, and, being in a passion of excitement, unable to hear the advice of the men across the river, who were bawling out to them how to manage their canoe.
Another man was so ludicrously stupid that he generally was saved from punishment because his mistakes were so absurd.
We were one day floating down the Congo
, and, it being near camping time, I bade him, as he happened to be bowman on the occasion, to stand by and seize the grass on the bank to arrest the boat, when I should call out. In a little while we came to a fit place, and I cried, “Hold hard, Kirango!” --“Please God, Master,” he replied, and forthwith sprang on shore and seized the grass with both hands, while we
, of course, were rapidly swept down-river, leaving him alone and solitary on the bank!
The boat's crew roared at the ridiculous sight; but, nevertheless, his stupidity cost the tired men a hard pull to ascend again, for not every place was available for a camp.
He it was, also, who, on an occasion when we required the branch of a species of arbutus which overhung the river to be cut away, to allow the canoes to be brought nearer to the bank for safety, actually went astride of the branch, and chopped away until he fell into the water with the branch, and lost our axe. He had seated himself on the outer
end of the branch!
The coloured men accepted the reproaches they deserved with such good-nature that, however stupid they were, I could not help forgiving and forgetting.
But it was not so with the officers.
was so much offended that, if I ventured on a rebuke, it was remembered with so much bitterness, that an officer who was continually erring was also constantly in a resentful mood.
I could not discharge a man for a blunder, or even a few blunders; but, if disobeying and making unfortunate mistakes was his chronic state, and he always resented instruction, it can easily be imagined that life with such a one was not pleasant.
There were periods when careless acts resulted fatally to others; or when great vexation, or pecuniary loss, went on for months consecutively; until I really became afraid to ask any officer to undertake any duty.
Who would suppose that out of five intelligent Belgian officers bidding a sixth bon voyage
not one could perceive by the size of the canoe, the number of people in it, and the manner the departing friend was standing in the little cockleshell, that the voyage must end disastrously?
and yet not one had the least suspicion that the young man was going to his doom, and about to take six fellows with him!
Who would have imagined that those five horror-struck gentlemen would have permitted two of their companions to venture upon attempting the same hazardous voyage the very next day?
And yet they did, without so much as a protest; and, though the two unhappy voyagers saved their lives by springing on shore, their boat and all their effects were swept over a cataract.
Not long after, another of these officers, who belonged to a boat-club on a Belgian river, thought he would establish one of his own on the Upper Congo
As a first step he purchased an elegant canoe, paying heavily for it. He attached a keel-piece to it, made a mast and a sail, and one day he went sailing smoothly towards the middle of the river where it was four miles wide.
Presently, having got beyond view of his station, the wind died away, and he was carried down by the mighty flood.
He began to cry out for aid, as he had forgotten his paddles; but his cries could not be heard, he was alone on the wide waters!
Towards midnight, his men, getting anxious, set out in search of him, and, after many hours, found him nearly distracted with terror, and brought him to camp, vowing he would never again trust himself alone on the Congo
A short time after this, another officer and a French missionary were devoured by cannibals, with eleven Zanzibaris who accompanied them.
The details of the story went to prove that, in this case again, the military officer proved his inaptitude to learn, though in other ways the young man was exemplary.
Still, the disposition to blunder seemed so prevalent that he who was responsible for the good management of their affairs might well be pardoned, if, in his anxiety for the welfare of those under him, he should exact obedience in a more peremptory tone than formerly.
Another officer had his station burned twice, with all the property stored in it. He was relieved of his charge, and appointed
to an honourable mission; but, after setting out, he suddenly decided to abandon his people; leaving them to find their own way, whilst he slipped off to the coast, “to buy a pair of boots,” as he said.
No one could have appeared more astonished than he was when, after the third glaring offence, he was told that he was no longer needed.
Another officer was supplied with a small company of choice men, and I instructed him to build a station with a friendly tribe, which had desired it for the opening of trade.
Within a few days he began shooting promiscuously at the natives with a revolver; and, on one of his men expostulating with him, he turned the weapon upon his faithful servant and shot him in the head; upon which, the remainder of the men flung themselves upon him, and, having disarmed him, carried him, bound hand and foot, to me. The officer was escorted to the coast; I charged him with being a dangerous lunatic, though no one would have supposed, from his appearance and language, that he was thus afflicted.
I could go on with pages of these extraordinary misadventures, all of which I had to endure with some of the officers who were sent out to me. I but cite these few instances, taken at random, to prove that there is another view to be taken when the responsible head of an expedition, or enterprise of this kind, is charged with being “hard.”
One is not likely to be hard with persons who perform their duties; but it is difficult to be mild, or amiable, with people who are absolutely incapable, and who will not listen to admonition without bristling with resentment.
The only power I possessed with officers of this kind was that of dismissal, which I forbore to use too frequently because, in doing so, I punished the Association.
It was only in extreme cases that the power was exercised.
, of course, there would be no necessity for many words or sore feelings; but in Africa
, I could not lose eighty pounds for a solitary evidence of incapacity.
I practised forbearance, I tried to instruct, to expostulate, to admonish,--once, twice, thrice; I made every effort to teach and train; but, at last, when nothing availed, I was forced to have recourse to dismissal.
Being of an open temper and frank disposition, and always willing to hear what my officers or men had to say,
though as a leader of men I could not hob-nob with my officers, they ought to have found no difficulty in understanding me. The black man certainly was never at a loss to do so.
No man is free from imperfections; but when one is genially disposed, and evinces good-will, a man who fastens upon one
imperfection, and constantly harps upon that, shows his own narrow-mindedness and incapacity.
I have had no friend on any expedition, no one who could possibly be my companion, on an equal footing, except while with Livingstone
How could any young men, fresh from their school-rooms, look with my eyes upon any person or thing within notice?
A mathematician might as well expect sympathy from an infant busy at the alphabet, as the much-travelled may expect to find responsive feelings in youths fresh from home or college.
How can he who has witnessed many wars hope to be understood by one whose most shocking sight has been a nose-bleed?
I was still in that fierce period of life when a man feels himself sufficient for himself, when he abounds in self-confidence, glories in a blazing defiance of danger and obstacles, is most proud and masterful, and least disposed to be angelic.
It is strange that no novelist, to my knowledge, has alluded to this strong virility of purpose which, at a certain stage, is all-powerful in men's characters.
Though altogether solitary, I was never less conscious of solitude; though as liable to be prostrated by fever as the youngest, I was never more indifferent to its sharpest attacks, or less concerned for its results.
My only comfort was my work.
To it I ever turned as to a friend.
It occupied my days, and I dwelt fondly on it at night.
I rose in the morning, welcoming the dawn, only because it assisted me to my labour; and only those who regarded it from a similar temperament could I consider as my friends.
Though this may be poorly expressed, neverthless, those who can comprehend what I mean will understand the main grounds.
The founding of the Congo Free State was the greatest single enterprise of Stanley's life.
Perhaps nothing else so called out and displayed his essential qualities.
Its ultimate fruit cannot be so clearly measured as the search for Livingstone, or the first exploration
of the Congo.
Of those enterprises he was himself the Alpha and the Omega; each was a task for a single man, and the achievement was measured by the man's personality.
But the founding of the Free State was a multiple task, involving a host of workers.
He had not made the selection of his helpers, except the rank and file, and the rank and file did not fail him. It was his lieutenants, selected by others, among whom the perilous defect was found.
Further, his undertaking, in its essential nature, involved dangers which it was doubtless well he did not wholly foresee, for they might have daunted even his spirit.
He broke down the wall between a savage and a civilised people, and the tides rushed together, as at the piercing of Suez.
On either side were both lifting and lowering forces.
The faults and weakness of the savage were plain to see; his merit and his promise not so easy of discernment.
But the “civilised ” influences, too, were extremely mixed.
There was the infectious energy of the able trader, and his material contributions; there were the distinctly missionary workers; and there were sentiments of humanity and justice, often obscured or perplexed, but, when educated, powerful to compel Governments to ways of righteousness.
With these higher powers mingled blind and selfish lust of gain; the degeneracy of philanthropy in its partnership with profit; the selfish feuds of race and nationality, each for itself, alone; lastly, the easy, deadly contempt of the white man for the “nigger.”
To cast a prosperous horoscope for the evolution of the African race, one must hold strongly to the higher power we call Providence.
The instrument of that power was the man who brought Europe and America into touch with Darkest Africa.
His example and his ideal shine like a star above the continent he opened to the world's knowledge.
When the observant savages watched him, as the rough ground of Vivi was subdued; when, later, they saw him, as the fifty-mile roadway was bridging the hills and chasms, and with drill and hammer he taught and led his followers, they gave him the name Bula Matari, “Breaker of rocks.”
By hit, or by wit, they struck his central quality — concentrated energy, victoriously battling with the hardest that earth could offer, all to make earth goodly and accessible to man. A Maker of Roads, a Breaker of Rocks, was he all his life long--Bula Matari!