As a youth, I was a voracious carnivore for meaty travel and exploration books. I snatched up nearly any volume I could find on the subject and dragged it down to my parents’ den.
That was well past 5 days ago, so any recollection I might have once had of the actual titles is long since banished to some remote wilderness in my brain. But, I can say that as I wandered up and down the undeveloped mountains and woods behind our house, hacking through dense rhododendron and resting beside woodland ponds, my companions included some pretty famous explorers, historical and fictional, like Sir Ernest Shackleton, Marco Polo, Davy Crockett, David Balfour, and, of course, Christopher Columbus.
While the excitement of exploration mounted and coursed through my veins, I remember the deepening disappointment as I realized that the entire world had already been explored. I simply couldn’t find a place that I could stand or walk that I could vouch for certain that no human had ever been in that spot before. After a while, I turned from terrestrial discovery to space and time exploration. At least most of that story hadn’t actually happened yet.
However, through all those years, I don’t recall ever having journeyed with Henry Morton Stanley or David Livingston(e) (his original last name was Livingston, because his deeply religious father changed the family name, objecting to the pagan implications of “stone”). Perhaps some deep unconscious urge prompted me to save that last frontier of the African interior for a time later in my life, in the same way that I’ve steadfastly refused to read William Faulkner until some as yet unnamed period in my own history.
Recently, though, I picked up a copy of Into Africa : The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard – a very fabulously written epic that chronicles the later period of Livingstone’s career and the earlier period of Stanley’s. Well researched, and heavily reliant on the journals of both, it delves into the psychological transformation of both men as they both, in turn, transform the face of the known world. Livingstone is presented as a paradox : a deeply religious man, highly sensual yet somehow made to find peace in this juxtaposition, while Stanley is depicted as turning his own sense of inferiority into greatness and finding his own peace with himself deep within the heart of Africa.
Confession: I haven’t finished the book. As I near the end, I find myself wanting to set it aside, torn between the excitement of discovery in the final chapters, and the disappointment of spoiling the end of the mystery of Africa. Unlike Stanley and Livingstone, I’m not sure I’ll ever find peace with that part of myself, but I’m reasonably sure I’ll finish the book this evening and be ordering a copy of How I Found Livingstone in Central Africa by Henry Morton Stanley.