It is all to easy to forget as we surf the Internet and watch the latest documentary on our screens that in years gone by it was the exploring authors who brought information to the public. As the darker reaches of Africa were being explored there was eager anticipation of news back in the cities of the world. Corrspondents sent back their articles but not in the instantaneous way that news travels in today’s world. The books that described these many expeditions of discovery found their way into public and private libraries. Often a library was a gentleman’s proudest possession and even today many collectors are constantly on the look out for a book to add to their collection.
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The Age of Exploration
Adventure, exploration or discovery, whatever you would call it had a prominent place in the library of many during the 19th Century. The Dark Continent, as Africa was known, was one which held mystique and led to many explorers heading to the Continent. Sir David Livingstone was prominent, an explorer and missionary who was fascinated by Africa. He was not alone in seeking the source of the Nile and Sir Richard Burton and John Hannay Speke found Lake Tanganyika during their search. Burton caught malaria so had to turn back but that was certainly not the end of his adventures which also took him west to North America and Brazil as well as postings in West Africa and the Middle East.
Burton had been a Captain in the army of the East India Company but was enlisted by the National Geographic Society to explore East Africa. He became a prolific author whose books remain popular today. He mastered a number of languages during his lifetime. His writing both about the Middle East where he disguised himself as a Muslim to enter Mecca and North America where he studied the Mormons established him as an authority on a range of subjects.
His linguistic skills meant he was able to translate a number of books from European and Asian authors for the English reader as well as producing his own work. He wrote over 40 books and he mastered 25 languages, quite a feat. He was not the most popular man in Victorian times because some of his translations were of exotic Asian manuscripts that were too explicit for the current society. He was also often critical of British foreign policy and perhaps his career suffered as a consequence though he served as a British Consul in three different Continents.
There is no hiding his contribution to the spread of knowledge whatever the subject. He was widely read and his books became common in the best libraries. They remain so and can still be bought to add to the travel, exploration and discovery sections, as studies of religion or human behaviour.
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