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David Livingstone

A birthday celebration
David Livingstone Shapero Rare Books

March 19th marks the birthday of David Livingstone, who, along with captains Cook and Scott, is one of the three most renowned British explorers of the modern age, and, like them, died in the land he loved.

David Livingstone Shapero Rare Books

March 19th marks the birthday of David Livingstone, who, along with captains Cook and Scott, is one of the three most renowned British explorers of the modern age, and, like them, died in the land he loved.

‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’ The phrase I first heard as a schoolboy with Livingstone as one half of a duo with H. M. Stanley. I knew what Stanley did, he found Livingstone, but I had no knowledge of Livingstone himself. It as though Stanley had gone hunting in Africa and bagged ‘an Explorer’. Was he even lost?

Livingstone first caught the imagination of the public in a little-know work, A Narrative of Dr. Livingston’s discoveries in south central Africa, published early in 1857 by Routledge for the British Banner, a popular newspaper which had serialised bits of Livingstone’s narrative, some months ahead of the official narrative. With a striking cover and Livingstone’s name misspelt, it was a typical piece of popular throwaway merchandise for a mass market. It has survived in quite small numbers and our copy is particularly well preserved.

When Livingstone’s official narrative came out it caused a sensation. Missionary Travels in South Africa not only gave an account of his travels from 1849-1856 during which he became the first European to see Lake Ngami, the Zambesi River, and the Victoria Falls; it caught the zeitgeist. Before Missionary Travels appeared, most British books on Africa concentrated on the Niger and largely featured sickness, disease, and massacre.

Livingstone’s work on the Zambesi was far more uplifting and was a good read being interspersed with sporting narratives. Not bad for a dour non-conformist missionary. An interesting feature of the book is its bibliographical complexity.

Considering John Murray was the leading publisher of travel accounts, there are a remarkable number of points of difference from copy to copy: some have lithographs, some an index, there are difference in the list of plates, some plates were altered during the printing, etc. A lot of this is probably due to the book being reprinted but retaining the original title.

Professor David Phillipson has done an excellent job in sorting these out in a paper for the Hakluyt Society, and states that some variants were issued simultaneously. What I tend to look for is the overall condition of the book, and I do like the copies with the lithograph frontispiece. The present copy is so illustrated and is bright and fresh in the original cloth.

Livingstone’s second expedition was along the Zambesi to evaluate the possibilities of trade on behalf of the British Government. It lasted from 1858-1864 and proved a very difficult undertaking. From the point of view of exploration, it failed in some of its objectives such as an exploration of Lake Nyasa. From a scientific perspective it was altogether more successful and many specimens were sent back to the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. In December 1863, whilst at Murchison Falls in Uganda, at the head of Lake Albert, Livingstone wrote an autograph letter, signed, to J. N. Whitaker concerning taking soil temperatures. This three-page document is an evocative memento of all the technical work that was needed on such an expedition. Written in Livingstone’s distinctive hand it is in good condition.

Livingstone was a hugely popular figure and held in high esteem by the public. This is reflected in a scarce contemporary biography by H. G. Adams, Dr. Livingston: his Life and Adventures. The first edition is scarce, and our copy is a fine copy in the original red pictorial cloth.

One of Livingstone’s final printed works was Despatches addressed by Dr. Livingstone, Her Majesty’s Consul, Inner Africa, to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for foreign Affairs, 1872. This rather dull title is full of interesting information on local tribes, slavery, relations with the Arabs, Zanzibar, speculation on Mount Kilimanjaro and the source of the Nile. Now very difficult to find, especially as here, stitched as issued.

And so, we return to where we began, with Stanley’s account, How I Found Livingstone, 1872. Whatever one’s opinion of Stanley, and he certainly divides the crowd, his background in journalism gives his books a readability lacking in other explorers. This book, describing the meeting of the two men in Ujiji in present day Tanzania increased cemented the popularity of Livingstone and made Stanley’s reputation in Britain, despite hostility from the Royal Geographical Society who resented an American finding their local hero. One of the key books in African exploration, good copies are hard to find. It would have been better in two volumes and tends to be fall out of its binding. Our copy in the original pictorial cloth is a superior example.

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