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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Dr. Livingstone I presume?

That quote says it all.  Stanley and Livingstone met in the African wilderness, 140 years ago.  We all know the quote—but how did it come about, and what really happened?

In reality, it was a bit different from what we assume—or presume.

I have been away, down the coast, bothering rocks for the past week, and there  will be more on the rocks later. I took my favourite delving book, A Bedside Nature, with me: it is a collection of interesting excerpts from that stalwart of the scientific trade, Nature.

And so I found, again, the true story. Here is how it really happened, before the myth-makers ran off with the yarn and concocted a farrago from it:
The well-dressed British explorer.

"In an instant, he recognised the European as none other than Dr Livingstone himself; and he was about to rush forward and embrace him, when the thought occurred he was in the presence of Arabs, who, being accustomed to conceal their feelings, were very likely to found their estimate of a man upon the manner in which he conceals his own. A dignified Arab chieftain stood by, and this confirmed Mr Stanley in his resolution to show no symptoms of his own rejoicing or excitement. Slowly advancing towards the great traveller, he bowed and said "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" to which address the latter, who was fully equal to the occasion, simply smiled and replied "Yes". It was not till some hours afterwards, when alone together, seated on a goat skin, that the two white men exchanged those congratulations which both were eager to express, and recounted their respective difficulties and adventures." 
Nature, 6, 184, 1872.

So it wasn't Victorian middle-class reserve at all, and there was no sang froid. There was no stiff upper lip involved.

They were simply making cultural assumptions about their audience.

You know, you might just be able to win a beer at the pub with something like that.

Next post: our less-than-well-dressed  explorations of some Australian geology on the south coast of New South Wales.

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This blog covers quite a few different things, so I tag each post. I also blog about history, and I am currently writing a series of books called Not your usual... and the first two have been accepted by Five Mile Press, The offcuts appear here with the tag Not Your Usual... . For a taste of Australian tall tales, try the tags Speewah or Crooked Mick.   For a miscellany of oddities, try the tag temporary obsessions. And language us covered under the tags Descants and Curiosities, while stuff about small life is under Wee beasties.

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