In late December 1876 the Welsh-American explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley, leader of the Anglo-American Expedition across equatorial Africa, was stranded on the upper reaches of the Congo River. It had been months since he had been able to send messages back to London, where his dispatches had been appearing regularly in the Daily Telegraph. The beleaguered expedition had already been decimated by starvation, disease and desertion. Two of Stanley’s three white companions, Frederick Barker and Edward Pocock, were already dead. Of the roughly 224 local porters, guides and soldiers that Stanley had recruited in Zanzibar (including thirty-six women) only 149 remained. 1 Arriving at the source waters of the Congo – just west of Lake Tanganyika – Stanley could either turn back eastwards along the relatively well-known Arab trade routes which led to the Indian Ocean or strike west and attempt to trace the river to its mouth at the Atlantic. In Stanley’s own published account, he delivers a rousing speech in an attempt to persuade his fellow travellers of the merits of the second and more perilous option:
Into whichever sea this great river empties, there shall we follow it. You have seen that I have saved you a score of times, when everything looked black and dismal for us … Many of our party have already died, but death is the end of all; and if they died earlier than we, it was the will of God, and who shall rebel against His will? It may be we shall meet a hundred wild tribes yet who, for the sake of eating us, will rush to meet and fight us … Therefore, my children, make up your minds as I have made up mine, that as we are now in the very middle of this continent, and it would be just as bad to return as to go on, that we shall continue our journey, that we shall toil on, and on, by this river and no other, to the salt sea. 2Two years later, when Stanley came to write up his journals in his bestselling travelogue Through the Dark Continent (1878) he glossed this speech with a footnote, explaining that a ‘poetical friend on hearing this address brought to my notice a remarkable coincidence’. 3 The poetical friend was almost 185certainly Edwin Arnold, editor of the Daily Telegraph, and the ‘coincidence’ was the resemblance between Stanley’s speech and an existing dramatic monologue. Stanley’s footnote quotes the lines in question: My mariners, Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me – That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old; Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. […] Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 4 These are the closing lines from Alfred Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, published in 1842 and written in 1833 shortly after the death of Tennyson’s closest friend Arthur Hallam, to whom the poem is partly a tribute.