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Chapter XIV
England and Coomassie

it is not unadvisedly that the last chapter has been devoted almost as much to Livingstone as to Stanley. The main story of Stanley's quest he has told effectively elsewhere;1and in his interior life, which is the central theme of the present book, his intercourse with Livingstone was no small factor. The way he knew and loved Livingstone reveals Stanley. But to give the whole story of those sixteen months its true perspective, the reader should either turn to the full narrative, or should, at least, give some little play to his own imagination.

The few lines given to the contest with Mirambo represent months of struggle with a bandit-chief, and with slippery allies.

The three-line mention of the joint exploration of Lake Tanganyika stands for four weeks of adventurous voyaging, geographical discovery, and encounters with hostile or thievish natives. Through the whole period Stanley carried an immense and varied responsibility. He was not only commander, and chief of staff, but the whole staff. The discipline, commissariat, and medical care, of a force often numbering two hundred and more, all fell on him. For his followers he had to take the part of doctor, and occasionally of nurse, sometimes including the most menial offices. Often he was prostrated by fever, and once, before finding Livingstone, he lay unconscious for a week.

Problems of war and diplomacy confronted him. Shall he pay tribute, or resist? Shall he join forces with the friendly tribes, and fight the fierce and powerful Mirambo who blocks the way to Ujiji? He fights, and his allies fail him at the pinch; so then he resorts to a long flanking march through unknown country, and literally circumvents his foes. So, for over a year, every faculty is kept at the highest tension.

Along with the developing effect of the experience, comes the solitary communing with Nature, which brings a spiritual exaltation. Then follows the companionship with Livingstone, a man of heroic and ideal traits, uniquely educated by the African wilds; these two learn to know each other by the searching test of hourly companionship, amid savages, perils, perplexities, days of adventure, nights of intimate converse; Stanley's deepest feelings finding worthy object and full response in the man he had rescued, and suggestions of spiritual and material resources in the unknown continent, [286] destined to germinate and bear fruit;--all this his first African exploration brought to Stanley.

His return to civilisation was not altogether a genial home-coming. In a way, he had been more at home in Africa than he found himself in England. There his companionship had been with Nature, with Livingstone, with his own spirit; the difficulties and dangers confronting him had been a challenge to which his full powers made response; and “the free hand,” so dear to a strong man, had been his. Now he was plunged into a highly-artificial society; its trappings and paraphernalia, its formal dinners, and ceremonies, were distasteful to him; above all, he was thrust into a prominence which brought far more pain than pleasure.

A flood of importunate, or inquisitive, letters from strangers poured in on him; he notes that in one morning he has received twenty-eight. Relatives and acquaintances of his early years became suddenly affectionate and acquisitive; greedy claims were made on his purse, which he would not wholly reject. Worst of all, with the acclamations of the public which greeted him, were mingled expressions of doubt or disbelief, innuendoes, sneers! Men, and journals, of high standing, were among the sceptics.

Sir Henry Rawlinson, President of the Royal Geographical Society, wrote to the ‘Times’ that it was not true that Stanley had discovered Livingstone, but that Livingstone had discovered Stanley! The silly quip had currency long after Sir Henry Rawlinson had changed his tone; and the Society had passed a vote of thanks to Stanley. The “Standard,” in oracular tones, called for the sifting of the discoverer's story by experts; it “could not resist some suspicions and misgivings'; it found ” something inexplicable and mysterious' in the business! There were those who publicly questioned the authenticity of letters which, at Stanley's suggestion, Living-stone had written to the “Herald.”

Geographical pundits mixed their theoretic speculations with slighting personal remarks. Perhaps no great and eminent body of scholars escapes a touch of the Mutual-Admiration Society; there are shibboleths of nationality, of social class, of clan and coterie; and when an outsider steps on the stage, there is solemn wrinkling of official foreheads, and lifting of distinguished eyebrows. So from the “Royal Geographical” some chill whiffs blew towards this “American,” who brought strange tidings from Africa. To Stanley, sensitive, high-strung, conscious of hard work, loyally done and faithfully reported, not hungry for fame, but solicitous of trust and confidence, all this was intensely bitter.

There was a field-day at Brighton at the meeting of the Geographical Section of the British Association, under the presidency of Mr. (now, Sir) Francis Galton. Stanley was the central figure of the occasion. He spoke to an audience of three thousand, with a group of great geographers, and Eminences of high degree, including the ex-Emperor and Empress of the French. The “Telegraph's” report [287] describes him as speaking with entire self-possession, with composure, with a natural and effective oratory, and “with the evident purpose to speak his mind to everybody, without the slightest deference, or hesitation.”

But, in his Journal, he records that his stage-fright was so extreme he could only begin after three trials. At the request of the “Royal Geographical,” he had prepared a brief paper, dealing only with the exploration of the north end of Lake Tanganyika. But, unexpectedly, he was called on to give some account of his whole expedition.

He told his story, and read his paper. A general discussion followed, turning mainly on certain geographical questions; and, at the end, Stanley was called on for some final words, and ‘winged words’ they were, of passionate ardour and directness. On some of the geographical opinions, there was criticism; and a special attack was made on the theory to which Livingstone inclined, that the river Lualaba was the source of the Nile. Stanley had grave doubts of that theory, which he was destined ultimately to disperse; but, for Livingstone's sake, he wanted it treated at least with respect.

In the discussion there were allusions to himself, perhaps tactless rather than intentional; as when Mr. (now, Sir) Francis Galton remarked that they were not met to listen to sensational stories, but to serious facts! Whether malicious, or only maladroit, such allusions were weighted by what had gone before in the Press.

Stanley summed up with a fervent eulogy of Livingstone, and a biting comparison of the arm-chair geographer, waking from his nap, to dogmatise about the Nile, with the gallant old man seeking the reality for years, amid savage and elemental foes.

One cannot doubt that his own essential veracity and manliness stamped themselves on the minds of his audience; and, in truth, the great preponderance of intelligent opinion seems to have been, from the first, wholly in his favour. The “Times,” the “Daily news,” the “Daily telegraph,” and “Punch,” were among his champions. Livingstone's own family gratefully acknowledged his really immense services, and confirmed beyond question the genuineness of Livingstone's letters brought home by Stanley, so confounding those who had charged him with forgery. Lord Granville, at the Foreign Office, sent him, on the Queen's behalf, a note of congratulation, and a gold snuff-box set with diamonds; and, in a word, the world at large accepted him, then and thenceforward, as a true man and a hero.

But Stanley suffered so keenly and so long, not only at the time, but afterwards, from the misrepresentation and calumny he encountered, that a word more should be given to the subject. The hostility had various sources. In America, the “New York Herald,” always an aggressive, self-assertive, and successful newspaper, had plenty of journalistic foes.

A former employee of Stanley's, whose behaviour had caused serious trouble, and brought proper punishment on him, gained the [288] ear of a prominent editor, who gave circulation to the grossest falsehoods. In later years, other subordinates, whom Stanley's just and necessary discipline had offended, became his persistent calumniators. The wild scenes of his explorations, and the stimulus their wonders gave to the imagination, acted sometimes like a tropical swamp, whence springs fetid and poisonous vegetation. Stories of cruelty and horror seemed to germinate spontaneously. Stanley himself laid stress on the propensity in average human nature to noxious gossip, and the pandering to this taste by a part of the Press.

It is to be remembered, too, that the circumstances of his early life heightened his sensitiveness to gossiping curiosity and crude misrepresentation. And, finally, he had in his nature much of the woman, the Ewigweibliche; he craved fame far less than love and confidence.

Renown, as it came, he accepted, not with indifference,--he was too human for that,--but with tempered satisfaction. He met praise in the fine phrase Morley quotes from Gladstone, “as one meets a cooling breeze, enjoyed, but not detained.” The pain which slander brought he turned to account, setting it as a lesson to himself not to misjudge others. His thoughts upon his own experience may be sufficiently shewn by an extract from one of his Note-books.

The vulgar, even hideous, nonsense, the number and variety of untruths published about me, from this time forth taught me, from pure sympathy, reflection, and conviction, to modify my judgement about others.

When anyone is about to become an object of popular, i. e., newspaper censure, I have been taught to see how the scavenger-beetles of the Press contrive to pick up an infinitesimal grain of fact, like the African mud-rolling beetle, until it becomes so monstrously exaggerated that it is absolutely a mass of filth.

The pity of it is that most of the writers forget for whom they write. We are not all club-loungers, or drawing-room gossips; nor are we all infected with the prevailing madness of believing everything we see in the newspapers. We do not all belong to that large herd of unthinking souls who say, “Surely, where there is so much smoke, there must be a fire” ; those stupid souls who never knew that, as likely as not, the fire was harmless enough, and that the alarming cloud of smoke was owing to the reporter's briarwood!

Therefore I say, the instant I perceive, whether in the Press, or in Society, a charge levelled at some person, countryman, [289] or foreigner, I put on the brake of reason, to prevent my being swept along by the general rage for scandal and abuse, and hold myself unconscious of the charge until it is justified by conviction.

All the actions of my life, and I may say all my thoughts, since 1872, have been strongly coloured by the storm of abuse and the wholly unjustifiable reports circulated about me then. So numerous were my enemies, that my friends became dumb, and I had to resort to silence, as a protection against outrage.

It is the one good extracted from my persecution that, ever since, I have been able to restrain myself from undertaking to pass sentence on another whom I do not know. No man who addresses himself to me is permitted to launch judgement out in that rash, impetuous newspaper way, without being made to reflect that he knew less about the matter than he had assumed he did.

This change in me was not immediate. The vice of reckless, unthinking utterance was not to be suddenly extirpated. Often, as I opened my mouth in obedience to the impulse, I was arrested by the self-accusation, “Ah! There you go, silly and uncharitable as ever!” It was slow unlearning, but the old habit was at last supplanted by the new.

Stanley bore himself in the spirit of the words which F. W. H. Myers2 applies to Wordsworth:--

“He who thus is arrogantly censured should remember both the dignity and the frailty of man, . . . and go on his way with no bitter broodings, but yet . . . “with a melancholy in the soul, a sinking inward into ourselves from thought to thought, a steady remonstrance, and a high resolve.” ”

In the months following his return to England, alternating with indignant protests against misrepresentation, his Journal records many public and private hospitalities, and meetings with eminent and interesting people, on some of whom he makes shrewd and appreciative comment. One portraiture cannot be omitted,--his impressions of Queen Victoria. The first occasion on which he was received by Her Majesty was at Dunrobin Castle, when he visited the Duke of Sutherland, in company with Sir Henry Rawlinson, who did his best to make amends for his early doubts.

Monday, 10th September, 1872. About noon, we had got ready for our reception by the Queen. Sir Henry had been [290] careful in instructing me how to behave in the Presence, that I had to kneel and kiss hands, and, above all, I was not to talk, or write, about what I should see or hear. I almost laughed in his face when he charged me with the last, for I doubt whether the Queen's daughter would be less apt for gossip about such things than I. As for kneeling, I was pleased to forget it. We stood for a while in a gay salon, and presently Her Majesty, followed by Princess Beatrice, entered. We all bowed most profoundly, and the Queen advancing, Sir Henry introduced me in a short sentence. I regarded her with many feelings, first as the greatest lady in the land, the mistress of a great Empire, the head of brave soldiers and sailors whom I had seen in various lands and seas, the central figure to which Englishmen everywhere looked with eyes of love and reverence; and, lastly, as that mysterious personage whom I had always heard spoken of, ever since I could understand anything, as “The Queen.” And poor, blind Sir Henry, to think that I would venture to speak or write about this lady, whom in my heart of hearts, next to God, I worshipped! Besides, only of late, she has honoured me with a memorial, which is the more priceless that it was given when so few believed me.

The word “Majesty” does not rightly describe her bearing. I have often seen more majestic creatures, but there was an atmosphere of conscious potency about her which would have marked her in any assemblage, even without the trappings of Royalty. The word “Royal” aptly describes another characteristic which clung to her. Short in stature as she is, and not majestic, the very carriage of her person bespeaks the fact of her being aware of her own inviolability and unapproachableness. It was far from being haughty, and yet it was commanding, and serenely proud.

The conversation, which was principally about Livingstone and Africa, though it did not last more than ten minutes, gave me abundant matter to think about, from having had such good opportunities to look into her eyes, and absorb as it were my impressions, such as they were.

What I admired most was the sense of power the eyes revealed, and a quiet, but unmistakeable, kindly condescension; and an inimitable calmness and self-possession. I was glad to have seen her, not only for the honour, and all that, but [291] also, I think, because I have carried something away to muse over at leisure. I am richer in the understanding of power and dominion, sitting enthroned on human features.

He began in England his career as a public lecturer, and in pursuance of it went, in November, 1872, to America. He was received with high honours by the public, and with great cordiality by his old friends; was given a warm welcome by “the boys,” the sub-editors of the “Herald,” and was banqueted by the Union League Club, and the St. Andrew's Society, etc., etc. Then he spent several months in travelling and lecturing.

Returning to England, before the clear summons came to his next great exploration, he once more, as correspondent of the “Herald,” accompanied and reported the British campaign against the Ashantees, in 1873-74. That warlike and savage people, under King Coffee, had been harrying the Fantees, who had lately come under the British Protectorate, as occupying the “hinterland” of Elmina on the Gold Coast, which England had taken over from the Dutch.

At intervals for half a century there had been harassing and futile collisions with the Ashantees, and it was now determined to strike hard. “In 1823, Sir Charles McCarthy and six hundred gallant fellows perished before the furious onset of the Ashantees, and that brave soldier's skull, gold-rimmed and highly venerated, was said still to be at Coomassie, used as a drinking-cup by King Coffee.”

“In 1863-64, the English suffered severe loss. Couran marched to the Prah, eighty miles from here, and marched back again, being obliged to bury or destroy his cannon, and hurriedly retreat to the Cape Coast.”

Stanley gave permanent form to his record in the first half of his book, “Coomassie and Magdala” (1874). This campaign on the West Coast, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, was like, and yet unlike, the Abyssinian expedition on the East Coast, under Sir Robert Napier. The march inland was only one hundred and forty miles, but, instead of the grand and lofty mountains of Abyssinia, the British soldiers and sailors had to cut their way through unbroken jungle. Stanley's book is the spirited story of a well-conducted expedition, told with a firm grasp of the historical and political situation, with graphic sketches of the English officers, some of an heroic type, and with descriptions of a repulsive type of savagery.

Writing of the march, Stanley says:--

What languishing heaviness of soul fills a man, as he, a mere mite in comparison, travels through the lofty and fearful forest aisle. If alone, there is an almost palpable silence, and his own heart-pulsations seem noisy. A night darkness envelops [292] him, and, from above, but the faintest gleams of daylight can be seen. A brooding melancholy seems to rest on the face of nature, and the traveller, be he ever so prosaic, is filled with a vague indefinable sense of foreboding.

The enemy lay hiding in wait, in the middle of a thorny jungle, so dense in some places that one wonders how naked men can risk their unprotected bodies. This vast jungle literally chokes the earth with its density and luxuriance. It admits every kind of shrub, plant, and flower, into a close companionship, where they intermingle each other's luxuriant stalks, where they twine and twine each other's long slender arms about one another, and defy the utmost power of the sun to penetrate the leafy tangle they have reared ten and fifteen feet above the dank earth. This is the bush into which the Ashantee warriors creep on all fours, and lie in wait in the gloomy recesses for the enemy. It was in such localities Sir Garnet found the Ashantees, and where he suffered such loss in his Staff and officers. Until the sonorous sounds of Danish musketry3 suddenly awoke the echoes, few of us suspected the foe so near; until they betrayed their presence, the English might have searched in vain for the hidden enemy. Secure as they were in their unapproachable coverts, our volleys, which their loud-mouthed challenge evoked, searched many a sinister-looking bush, and in a couple of hours effectually silenced their fire.

The fighting, when it came, was stubborn. King Theodore's warriors had shewn no such mettle as did the Ashantees, who, for five continuous days, waged fierce fight. On the first day, with the 42nd Highlanders, the Black Watch, bearing the brunt, and the whole force engaged, the battle of Amoaful was won; then three days of straggling fighting; finally, on the fifth day, with the Rifle Brigade taking its turn at the post of honour, and Lord Gifford's Scouts always in front, the decisive battle of Ordahsu was won, and Coomassie was taken. In the Capital were found ghastly relics of wholesale slaughters, incidents of fetish-worship, which far outdid the horrors of King Theodore's court.

We are unable to realise, or are liable to forget, what Africa was before the advent of Explorers and Expeditions. The Fall of Coomassie, though attended with great loss of life, put an end to indescribable horrors and atrocities.

Stanley writes:--


Each village had placed its human sacrifice in the middle of the path, for the purpose of affrighting the conquerors. The sacrifice was of either sex, sometimes a young man, sometimes a woman. The head, severed from the body, was turned to meet the advancing army, the body was evenly laid out with the feet towards Coomassie. This meant, no doubt, “Regard this face, white man, ye whose feet are hurrying on to our capital, and learn the fate awaiting you.”

Coomassie is a town insulated by a deadly swamp. A thick jungly forest — so dense that the sun seldom pierced the foliage; so sickly that the strongest fell victims to the malaria it cherished — surrounded it to a depth of about one hundred and forty miles seaward, and one hundred miles to the north; many hundred miles east and west.

Through this forest and swamp, unrelieved by any novelty or a single pretty landscape, the British Army had to march one hundred and forty miles, leaving numbers stricken down by fever and dysentery — the terrible allies of the Ashantee King with his one hundred thousand warriors.

Stanley, speaking of Coomassie, writes:--

The grove, which was but a continuation of the tall forest we had travelled through, penetrated as far as the great market-place. A narrow foot-path led into this grove, where the foul smells became suffocating. After some thirty paces we arrived before the dreadful scene, but it was almost impossible to stop longer than to take a general view of the great Golgotha. We saw some thirty or forty decapitated bodies in the last stages of corruption, and countless skulls, which lay piled in heaps, and scattered over a wide extent. The stoutest heart and the most stoical mind might have been appalled.

At the rate of a thousand victims a year, it would be no exaggeration to say, that over one hundred and twenty thousand people must have been slain for “custom,” since Ashantee became a kingdom.

Lord Wolseley wrote: “Their capital was a charnel-house; their religion a combination of cruelty and treachery; their policy the natural outcome of their religion.”

Terms of submission were imposed on King Coffee, and the force returned to the coast.

Stanley writes of Lord Wolseley:--


He has done his best, and his best has been a mixture of untiring energy and determination; youthful ardour, toned down by the sense of his grave responsibilities, excellent good-nature, which nothing seems to damp; excessive amiability, by which we are all benefitted; wise forethought, which, assisted by his devotion to work, proves that the trust reposed in him by the British Government will not be betrayed.

Stanley occasionally criticises with freedom, both the Government, for not taking a larger view of the whole situation, and Sir Garnet Wolseley, for a somewhat hasty settlement of the business, after the fighting was over.

Stanley's political foresight and desire for the promotion of civilisation and commerce, even in such a benighted part of West Africa, is well exemplified by the following passage:--

If we are wise, we will deprive our present enemy of their king, attach to ourselves these brave and formidable warriors, and through them open the whole of Central Africa to trade and commerce and the beneficent influences of civilisation. The Romans would have been delighted at such an opportunity of extending their power, for the benefit of themselves and the world at large.

Nothing in Stanley's book indicates that he took any personal share in the fighting. But in Lord Wolseley's “Story of a soldier's life,” volume II, p. 342, occurs this passage: “Not twenty yards off were several newspaper correspondents. One was Mr. Winwood Reid, a very cool and daring man, who had gone forward with the fighting-line. Of the others, one soon attracted my attention by his remarkable coolness. It was Sir Henry Stanley, the famous traveller. A thoroughly good man, no noise, no danger ruffled his nerve, and he looked as cool and self-possessed as if he had been at target practice. Time after time, as I turned in his direction, I saw him go down to a kneeling position to steady his rifle, as he plied the most daring of the enemy with a never-failing aim. It is nearly thirty years ago, and I can still see before me the close-shut lips, and determined expression of his manly face, which, when he looked in my direction, told plainly I had near me an Englishman in plain clothes, whom no danger could appall. Had I felt inclined to run away, the cool, unflinching manliness of that face would have given me fresh courage. I had been previously somewhat prejudiced against him, but all such feelings were slain and buried at Amoaful. Ever since, I have been proud to reckon him amongst the bravest of my brave comrades; and I hope he may not be offended if I add him amongst my best friends also.” [295]

It was on his way home from the Ashantee War that the tidings met Stanley, which he accepted and acted upon as a summons to his real life's work.

25th February, 1874. Arrived at the Island of St. Vincent, per “Dromedary,” I was shocked to hear, on getting ashore, of the death of Livingstone at Ilala, near Lake Bangweolo, on May 4th, 1873. His body is on its way to England, on board the “Malwa,” 4 from Aden. Dear Livingstone! another sacrifice to Africa! His mission, however, must not be allowed to cease; others must go forward and fill the gap. “Close up, boys! close up! Death must find us everywhere.”

May I be selected to succeed him in opening up Africa to the shining light of Christianity! My methods, however, will not be Livingstone's. Each man has his own way. His, I think, had its defects, though the old man, personally, has been almost Christ-like for goodness, patience, and self-sacrifice. The selfish and wooden-headed world requires mastering, as well as loving charity; for man is a composite of the spiritual and earthly. May Livingstone's God be with me, as He was with Livingstone in all his loneliness. May God direct me as He wills. I can only vow to be obedient, and not to slacken.

1 In How I Found Livingstone.

2 Wordsworth, by F. W. H. Myers; in the English men of letters series.

3 The natives used old Danish muskets.

4 The “Malwa” arrived at Southampton on April 16, 1874.

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