25 September 2008
DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813-1873)
Autograph letter signed ('David Livingstone') to Sir Robert Playfair and John Kirk, Bambarre, 'Manyema country', November 1870, 4 pages, 8vo (some light discolouration on last page where folded). Provenance: Reginald Foskett collection (printed in his edition of The Zambesi Letters, 1964; Sotheby's sale, 20 July 1989, lot 316; the Spiro Family Collection.
Livingstone opens with a summary of his findings as to the waterways of East Africa: 'this great lacustrine river Lualaba is the central line of drainage of the Great Nile valley ... West of this two large rivers each having the same native name Lualaba unite & form a Lake before going North into I suppose the Nile'; behind the lake is 'a remarkable mound, the watershed from which four gushing fountains flow each to form a large river though at their sources not more than ten miles apart ... These are probably the "unfathomable fountains of the Nile" mentioned to Herodotus ... I have heard of this mound and its fountains so often ... that I cannot doubt more than if I had seen them myself'.
Livingstone goes on to sum up the difficulties he has faced: 'My experience in Manyema has been trying -- the vegetation is indescribably rank -- the rills and rivulets innumerable'; his bearers have been recalcitrant, mendacious and superstitious, so that in the end 'I went North with only three -- my feet were torn by travelling in mire & instead of healing kindly as heretofore an irritable eating ulcer fastened on each foot & laid me up for months ... a discharge of bloody ichor with great pain each night may shew that they are allied to fever'. Livingstone continues with complaints as to the training and education his attendants had received in Zanzibar, being wholly inadequate for their supposed trades: to add insult to injury they have turned to slave trading since being dismissed -- 'the Manyema flee in terror at the reports of guns, and no danger is incurred in catching their children wives & goats'.
After a brief passage on the ivory trade ('like gold digging -- the tusks had been left in the interminable forests where the elephants had fallen'), Livingstone expresses his hopes for men and supplies reaching him from Zanzibar, though he is anxious that some shipments may have been intercepted: 'I have had no medicine for years ... My chronometers all dead'. The letter concludes with a disparate series of messages, including one 'to the Sultan with my salaam. Were he not so ugly by smallpox I should like a photograph of him'; a postscript asks for mosquito netting, and notes that his only contact with the outside world since 1866 has been two boxes received 18 months before.
Livingstone's lack of information is evident even in the addressing of the letter: when he left, Playfair was the consul in Zanzibar, and his old assistant Kirk the vice consul; but the former had left to be consul in Algeria some three years before the date of the present letter. Some supplies from Kirk did reach Livingstone early in 1871, and sustained him until the famous encounter with Stanley in November 1871.
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