Exploring minds of Stanley, Livingstone
Special to The Seattle Times
Adventure, declares Martin Dugard in his new book about Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone, is genetic. If we are to take Dugard's rather subjective assertion at face value, then we must accept Stanley and Livingstone as born thrill seekers who just couldn't help themselves when they stepped off the brink of the mapped and charted world into the mysterious Dark Continent — Livingstone first, in pursuit of the origin of the Nile River, then Stanley in pursuit of Livingstone, who had mysteriously disappeared into the African miasma.
But Dugard has more to offer than suspect bromides in his otherwise splendid "Into Africa."
The story of Stanley and Livingstone has been told so many times, from such varied perspectives and so often punctuated with mythological chimera, that it is a tribute to any writer who can manage to find a publisher to enthuse on the subject, let alone publish a book about the legendary British explorer and his ambitious shadow.
Dugard saw that the key ingredient so far missing from the oft-spun African tale was psychological insight into the motivations and characters of two men who left the security of their native lands in pursuit of something greater, even historically unprecedented.
Livingstone's honorable motive, Dugard explains, was finding the source of the Nile River. Already a legendary explorer, the Scottish physician, bootstrapped from poverty, previously made several acclaimed sorties into the African wilderness as a Christian missionary and anti-slavery activist. He always kept fastidious daily journals. At age 55, widowed, with children to support, Britain's favorite hero accepted a commission from the Royal Geographic Society to seek and find the true source of the Nile.
And here Dugard finds the explorer's deeper motivation: a pressing need to make money from writing a book about the expedition, providing financial security for his children and himself into old age. Whatever Livingstone's motives, the African wilderness swallowed him up.
Henry Morton Stanley, on the other hand, is depicted by Dugard as an unabashed dilettantish anti-hero driven by a desperate psychological need for acceptance from the literary world, specifically the Fourth Estate.
After varied and sundry freelance adventures, the native Welshman-turned-American finally made his name as a journalist covering the American Indian Wars. His intimate style won him acclaim and eventually a post at the New York Herald, which sent him to Africa to prove that the persistent rumors of Livingstone's death were unfounded. The Herald was gambling that Stanley would scoop the British press, a journalistic coup the Herald's editor, James Gordon Bennett, desired above all.
"All Stanley had," writes Dugard, " — all he ever had, through good times and bad — was determination, bluster, and an almost masochistic ability to endure rejection." This early statement provides a clue as to how Dugard will evaluate Stanley's psychological state and his moral fabric throughout the rest of the book.
The story of Stanley's search for Livingstone is told in alternating chapters, first covering Livingstone's quest, then Stanley's, and so on, each chapter headed by Dugard's carefully calculated mileposts depicting the distance separating the two explorers. At last they meet in the flesh, and those famous words are spoken by the journalist to the long lost legend: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Despite his attempts at psychological mind reading, "Into Africa" is terrific reading, as much for its rich historical accuracy and precise account of the atrocities of the African slave trade as for its novel-like story arc and pure adventure.
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