The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

VII. The Literature of Travel, 1700–1900

§ 16. Speke

The exploration of Africa during the nineteenth century produced a multitude of volumes, recording much heroic effort and achievement. David Livingstone must come first. His two books contain the plain straightforward story of a strenuous many-sided life entirely devoted to missionary work and scientific observation in south Africa. Their pages do not much lend themselves to telling quotation: they are clear, well written records, recalling, in a manner, the maritime diaries or narratives of the later eighteenth century. And, in general, this is true of other works concerning African travel. Most of them are more notable for what they relate than for their manner of relating it. Burton’s The Lake Regions of Central Africa expresses the virile and aggressive personality of that untiring traveller. Speke’s Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile, a fine record of exploration, is, perhaps, best in a literary sense where he describes the court of ‘Mtesa, king of Uganda:

  • I was now requested to shoot the four cows as quickly as possible. I borrowed the revolving pistol I had given him and shot all four in a second of time.… The king now loaded one of the carbines I had given him with his own hands, and giving it full cock to a page, told him to go out and shoot a man in the outer court; which was no sooner accomplished than the little urchin returned to announce his success with a look of glee such as one would see in the face of a boy who had robbed a bird’s nest, caught a trout, or done any other boyish trick. The king said to him, “And did you do it well?” “Oh, yes, capitally.” He spoke the truth, no doubt, for he dared not have trifled with the king; but the affair created hardly any interest.