7 - 8 April 2004
LIVINGSTONE, David (1813-1873). Autograph letter signed ('David Livingstone') to 'My dear Brother' [John Livingstone], Lake Bangweolo, South Central Africa, December 1872, densely written on 4 pages, folio (340 x 212mm) (worn, fragmented at folds, and discoloured; silked).
AN IMPORTANT AFRICAN LETTER FROM LIVINGSTONE TO HIS BROTHER. 'IF THE GOOD LORD ABOVE GIVES ME STRENGTH AND INFLUENCE TO COMPLETE THE TASK IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING I SHALL NOT GRUDGE MY HUNGER AND TOILS': ONE OF LIVINGSTONE'S LAST LETTERS, A BITTER COMPLAINT OF HIS PERCEIVED BETRAYAL, AND A NOBLE RESTATEMENT OF HIS COMMITMENT TO HIS MISSION.
Livingstone's letter opens with an account of his suffering at the hands of 'a coterie or ring of slave trading Arabs and Banians ... the Banians would not kill a flea or murder a louse for the world, but by their money & means they are the worst cannibals in all Africa'; the explorer complains vigorously at the actions of the 'vice-consul' [Kirk] in entrusting his relief to the Banians, and reads hypocrisy into his reported recommendation that Livingstone retire; he goes on at length to mock reports that Lake Bangweolo is in mountainous country ('the only "mountain-slopes" were Anthills'), and pours scorn on Portuguese reports of the position of the town of Cazembe. Returning to complaints of Kirk's actions, Livingstone describes himself as being reduced to 'a mere ruckle of bones and thought only ... It was then that my good Samaritan Stanley, sent by James Gordon Bennett came on the scene and his conduct was beyond all praise'. In contrast, Livingstone rails at the failure of his son 'William or Bill' ('as poor a specimen of a son as Africa ever produced') to mount an effective relief: 'they became like "chirted Pudducks" ... The son [sic] was told that Stanley would make his fortune out of me -- and if he does he is heartily welcome'; the letter continues with further criticism of Bill's lack of independence and reliance on money, a criticism which extends to Livingstone's sisters. As Livingstone's salary has been stopped, he sees no prospect of rest on his return home, but 'as soon as I get a set of new teeth [I shall] launch out into Foreign parts to seek my fortune -- a nice reward for the Discovery of the sources of the Nile -- Is it not?'. Again the letter reverts obsessively to Kirk's hypocrisy and perfidy, blaming him for 'all my losses ... confidentially I say to you that possibly the difficulties may have had a remote connection with his eagerness to share in the honour of discovery after I had helped him to his prerequisites "position & salary"'. Livingstone clings to the last to his intentions of finding the sources of the Nile and ending the slave trade: 'if the good Lord above gives me strength and influence to complete the task in spite of everthing I shall not grudge my hunger and toils -- Above all if he permits me to put a stop to the enormous evils of this inland slave trade I shall bless His name with all my heart -- the Nile sources are valuable to me only as a means of enabling me to open my mouth with power among men'. The letter ends with a dismissal of suggestions that Livingstone's real desire is fame.
By December 1872, Livingstone was forced reluctantly to lead his party towards Lake Bangweolo; he was already suffering from the internal bleeding that was to lead to his death within months. The incessant rains during that month may be responsible for the condition of the present letter.
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