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Art. VI. The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa,
in the Year 1805. By Mungo Park. Together with other Documents, official and private, relating to the same Mission. To which is prefired an Account of the Life of Mr. Park.
London. 1815. SOME of our readers may require to be told that the African
Association and the African Institution are two distinct societies, whose views and objects are altogether different; both of them, however, composed of the most respectable and enlightened men that this country can boast, and both engaged in African objects the Association being no less distinguished for its exertions in pro-. moting the extension of geographical discovery on this long neglected continent, than the Institution for its unwearied efforts in abolishing the odious traffic which for three centuries the people of Europe have carried on, in buying and selling its unhappy inhabitants.
Mr. Park's first journey into Africa was performed under the authority, and at the expense, of the Association; who, on his return, allowed him to publish an account of his travels for his own benefit; in the composition and elucidation of which he was assisted by some of its most able and distinguished members. His second journey was undertaken by the immediate orders, and at the expense of, government; at the suggestion, however, of some of the leading members of the Association, and with the same views as those of the former mission. It was stated in his instructions, that the great object of the journey was that of pursuing the course of the Niger' to the utmost possible distance to which it could be traced, and, among other matters, to discover whether any and what commercial intercourse could be opened with the natives of the interior of Africa. It was nalural therefore to conclude, that the documents relating to this last mission, which were officially transmitted to the Secretary of State, would by him be placed in the hands of those members of the African Association under whose superintendence, and by whose aid, the former volume had been published with so much credit to the author, and received with so much satisfaction by the public. This, however, was not the case—they were put into the hands of the Institution-probably, through inadvertence-by design it could scarcely be, as that would seem to convey a kind of censure on the members of the Association. On the question of fitness, it will not be necessary for us to decide in whose hands documents of this nature would most advantageously be placed—in those of Sir Joseph Banks and Major Rennell, or of the Duke of Gloucester and Mr. Wilberforce.
The determination once taken, that the original and official documents should be printed, and, as it would appear, without alte
ration, it became of less moment into whose hands they fell; but we are rather puzzled to find out a satisfactory reason why their appearance has been so long delayed. However limited the additional information contained in them might be, there could be no doubt of the propriety of laying it before the public. It was but common justice to the family of the deceased, that they should enjoy the benefits accruing from the publication of the work, and we would fain hope that no delay was occasioned by any difference of opinion on that point. It was also proper, indeed it was but just to the memory of a man who had sacrificed his life in the service of science and discovery, that some account of that life should accompany his labours—but it was neither just nor proper, that the memory
of one who had thus devoted himself should be calumni. ated, not for acts done or omitted to be done, but for being suspected of entertaining opinions on a sabject which had no bearing on the special service on which he had been employed.
' It is painful,' says his biographer, after bestowing this well-merited praise, to be under the necessity of adverting to two circumstances unfavourable to Park's memory, connected with the history of this publication. These are, first, an opinion which has prevailed, that Park was a supporter of the cause of slavery, and an enemy to the abolition of the slave trade; and, secondly, a report equally current, that the travels, of which he was the professed author, were composed, not by Park himself, but in a very considerable degree by Mr. Bryan Edwards.'
The connection which either of the circumstances here mentioned may have' with the history of this publication,' we confess our utter inability to discover; and can only regret, with the biographer, that “ topics,' which he admits to be thus personal and invidious, and which he wished to decline,' had not been avoided; our regret is the greater, since it would appear that he did not feel himself at liberty to suppress them.' Unwilling as we are to entertain sentiments derogatory to the character of the African Institution, and with every disposition to believe that the individual, who has undertaken to prepare this volume for the press, is, as he informs us, alone responsible for whatever else is contained in it besides the official documents, yet as the publication of it was avowedly entrusted to the directors of the Institution, and as it is elsewhere stated, that the task of writing the life of the traveller' was confided by the Institution to one of its directors,'* we find it difficult not to identify them with the anonymous writer of the account of the life of Mungo Park. Knowing, too, as we do, the impression that will necessarily be made by a sentence of condemnation, supposed to proceed from so numerous and powerful a body, armed with a more than ordinary influence over the feelings and opinions of the public, we are the more anxious to remove, as far as we are able, the unmerited stigma which is here attempted to be fixed on the memory
* Edinburgh Rcview.
of Mr. Park, The two charges, left as we have quoted them, might serve only to excite a smile at the solemn manner in which they are brought forward. Park is employed by a small but select society of literary characters, at their own expense, to ascertain a geographical fact, which had divided the opinions of the western world for more than two thousand years; in this he completely succeeded, after unparalleled difficulties, and at the imminent risk of his life. In the prosecution of further discoveries in the same branch of science, by the recommendation of the same society and under the immediate auspices of government, he actually lost his life; but another society, which sets up no pretensions to science or discovery, gets possession of the papers, and one of its directors avails himself of the occasion to attack the memory of the traveller, because he had not deemed it proper to go out of his way to volunteer opinions on a subject with which he had no concern—the abolition of the slave trade.
This charge is rather curiously made out. First, Bryan Edwards was the friend and adviser of Park—therefore, Park must think as Bryan Edwards did. 2dly, Bryan Edwards was the advocate of the West India planters, and the supporter of the West India interests, and in the House of Commons a leadivg and systematic opponent of the abolition of the slave trade-therefore, Park was also a systematic opponent of the abolition. 3dly, As secretary of the African Association, Edwards had constant communication with Park; and the latter even visited him at his country-bousetherefore, Edwards must have seen the advantage to be gained for the slave trade by a skilful use of the influence which his situation gave him. 4thly, As“ the first object of Edwards must naturally have been to gain the services of Park in the direct support of the slave trade'— therefore, he gave that support, as is incontrovertibly proved, by his silence- which,' says his biographer,' was in itself a sufficient proof of a bias existing in the mind of the writer, unfavourable to the abolition.' Once, however, he admits, and but once, the mention of the slave trade does occur in Park's Travels, but then it is · hastily dismissed with a slight and unmeaning observation,'—'a truism, he calls it, of no practical value or importance.'-The passage is this
• If my sentiments should be required concerning the effect which a discontinuance of that commerce (the slave trade) would produce on the manners of the natives, I should have no hesitation in observing,
that in the present unenlightened state of their minds, my opinion is, the effect would neither be so extensive nor beneficial as many wise and worthy persons fondly expect.'
This cautious opinion is construed by his biographer into an insinuation that the zeal manifested in favour of the abolition originated solely in ignorance and enthusiasm'-an inference which we conceive cannot fairly be drawn from the premises. The friends of the abolition are extremely zealous, as all the world knows, and yield with reluctance to any opinion that tends to damp their ardour; but we can easily conceive that men of a less sanguine temperament, with an equal abhorrence both of the principle and the practice of trafficking in human beings, may have derived, from local experience of the state of society in the interior of Africa, a conscientious conviction, that the particular circumstances to which this traffic owes its origin, and the difficulty of abruptly interrupting its progress, have, to a certain degree, lessened the odium of continuing it."* It is possible that a traveller of this description may have been satisfied in his own mind, that greater evils were to be apprehended from an immediate and total abolition, before any progress in civilization, than those arising out of a continuance of a gradually diminishing trade, keeping pace with a gradually increasing civilization. That such would have been the just conclusion in the early stages of the question, when Park visited Africa, we are free to declare our entire conviction; nay, their own experienced governor, Mr. Ludlam, tells them, twelve years afterwards, when the total abolition had been accomplished, that these wise and worthy persons' would be disappointed. It is therefore the more unfair towards Park's memory,
that he should be censured in the year 1815, when circumstances had totally changed, for an opinion formed from actual experience on the spot in the year 1796.
We view the slave trade with feelings of utter abhorrence, and most cordially rejoice in the prospect of its universal abolition; but we cannot shut our eyes against the truth, nor subscribe to the principle, that because an author does not volunteer an opinion against this traffic, he is to be traduced while living, and reproached when dead. With regard to Park, we are unable to discover what reasonable cause of offence he can have given to the Institution. They admit that the principal illustrations of the arguments in favour of the abolition have always been derived from the statements contained in Park's Travels'-—what would they have more? It is admitted too, and the biographer says he can state with great confidence, 'that he uniformly expressed a great abhorrence of slavery and the slave trade ; but that he considered the abolition of the slave trade as a measure of state policy; and that it would be improper for him to interpose his private opinion relative to a question of such importance, and which was then under the consideration of the legislature. Such forbearance one would think might have taken off the edge of censure, but not so; it has exposed him, on the contrary, to the imputation of meanness and duplicity; by sacrificing his feelings, and lending bis aid to the support of a cause which his heart abhorred, in order to secure the patronage of Mr. Bryan Edwards. And how is this chargé supported ? First, by an accusation of saying nothing—and then of saying too much.
* Declaration of the Plenipotentiaries assembled at Vienna.
The second charge, we apprehend, is brought forward to strengthen the first, though, if true, it would in fact totally destroy it; but it is true; the fact was notorious to the whole world; and was neither. denied nor attempted to be concealed either by Park or Edwards : but it is also true, that, materially as the latter assisted the former in the composition of his work, he never attempted to influence a single opinion, nor ventured to insert a single circumstance that was not either on record in the Journal, or obtained from the traveller in the course of conversation. It would be mere malice (of which we fully acquit the biographer) to bring forward a charge at this distance of time, so unconnected with the history of the present publication, and so unimportant, unless it were meant to supply some proof of the existence of that influence which Edwards is alleged to have
skilfully exercised over Park, but of which this solitary surmise only is offered. As a principle, we cannot allow that it is unfavourable to a traveller's reputation to accept assistance in preparing his observations for the public eye. We are not aware that it was ever considered as injurious to the fame of Commodore Byron, the Captains Wallis, Carteret and Cook, or to that of Sir Joseph Banks, because, from the journals of the former, and the notes and observations of the latter, Hawkesworth compiled the voyages vulgarly called after his name. Captain Wilson was never, we believe, deprived of the merit of discovering and describing the Pelew islands, though every one knew that the narrative was drawn up by Mr. Keats; and Lord Anson was not deemed unfit to fill one of the most important offices in the state, because his chaplain first reduced into some order, and Mr. Robins afterwards corrected and amended, the account of his voyage round the world. Why then should the assistance of Bryan Edwards be deemed unfavourable to the memory of Mr. Park?
With the exception of this ungenerous attempt to depreciate the memory of Park, the life of that unfortunate traveller is written with good taste, feeling and judgment; and we cannot but hope,