Five leather-bound books from 1869-1878 contain poetry and theatrical plays by the French writer Francois Coppee. They were found at a brocante in Paris.
This week's Sunday Scribblings topic: the books you would write. I am a writer by trade and already writing a book; the book I would write would be something completely different. I've always been interested in adventurers who played a dynamic role in shaping history. The Sunday Scribblings topic made me think about how under Queen Victoria's rule the British National Geographic Society sponsored extensive exploration into unknown lands.
Men like Richard Burton and John Speke; Henry Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone and General Charles George Gordon struggled for years in long dangerous treks through remote outposts in the Heart of Africa. These brave men traversed Zanzibar, the Khartoum and the Sudan while seeking the source of the Nile. In the 1850s, these explorers' intellect, curiosity and resourcefulness represented the best of their generation. Personal sacrifices and physical hardship endured were dismissed as necessary evils, so great was their unrelenting quest for the truth.
By the early 1850s, even the most determined explorers on the White Nile had been unable to move past the (present) town of Juba, which was nowhere near the river's source. Fierce heat, vast forests of papyrus reeds, malaria and other tropical fevers, as well as native tribal opposition conspired to prevent progress south.
In 1856, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke set off for Africa. Rejecting the obvious route that followed the Nile upstream from Egypt, they courageously traveled westward from Zanzibar into the African interior where white men had never ventured. By boat, by camel, horseback and on foot these men chartered new territory.
The slave route from the interior that the men first followed led from one watering place to another, with nearly all traders' caravans headed for Kazeh (now known as Tabora) in Central Tanganyika, 500 miles inland from the sea. From Kazeh the paths extended in all directions: one directly north towards the southern shores of Lake Victoria; another round the Western side of the lake towards the country known as Karagwe; still another due west to Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika and another southward towards Lake Nyasa. Progress was slow and impossible in anything other than dry conditions.
If I had the financial backing and practical assistance and if I were in better physical shape to traverse desolate areas in Central Africa; I'd like to retrace the footsteps of these explorers. I'd write about how time's march has affected these areas: I'd photograph points of interest and talk to those residents whose fathers or grandfathers remember the intrepid British explorers.
In certain areas of the Middle East, whenever I visit, it's as though time has stood still. Other than the usual births and deaths, nothing appears to have changed. I'd like to know if that is the case in remote parts of Central African lands where the explorers fought calamitous accidents, famine, disease and pestilence; treacherous snakes and scorpions; places where angry natives created barriers of poisoned arrows in an attempt to keep the white men from their lands.
As per the Sunday Scribblings challenge, an imaginery opening paragraph of the "book I would write:"
"It's impossible!" the director exclaimed. Richard Burton and John Speke exchanged knowing glances. "Impossible" was added incentive to prove such know-nothing civil servants wrong. The young explorers were tired of bureaucrats lacking vision and imagination, constantly seeking to undermine their mission. The Nile's source was waiting to be found; there was little doubt that with a team of strong men, tools and supplies the prize was theirs to claim.