The Making Of An American Lion

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By the same token, the chagrin of the English when Stanley reappeared out of central Africa to announce his success was immediate. “It is with some regret,” declared the reporter for the London Daily Telegraph , “that I must commence by saying that Mr. Stanley is not an Englishman, or rather a Welshman, as was recently reported in some journals, but an American citizen.” Other newspapers complained about having to learn about Livingstone through the columns of the New York Herald , and several critics—including some American newspaper rivals—claimed that Stanley was a fraud and had never actually met Livingstone. On the whole, however, Americans were delighted with Stanley’s success, and in particular he became a symbol for the expatriate Americans living in Europe. In Paris, for example, the American community led by Minister Washburn organized a dinner at the Hotel Chatham to which Stanley was invited on his way back from Africa. Another guest was William Tecumseh Sherman, then touring Europe and the Middle East, and Stanley took huge delight in quoting from memory to the general the speech Sherman had made to the Indians when Stanley was a reporter with his command.

Stanley initially repaid his transatlantic compliments by burying his Welsh background and playing up his American antecedents. It was a deliberate ruse, because someone in England had dug up Stanley’s Welsh birthplace and Stanley flatly denied the fact. For whatever reason—reluctance to admit his humble birth, gratitude to America for his training, or as an American by choice—Stanley emphasized his American background and did not correct the statements that variously described his birthplace as Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and New York.

Naturally the deception could not be maintained forever, and in the long run this served Stanley’s purpose just as well. Africa, after all, was of much greater interest to imperial Britain than to the United States, and as Stanley’s African career developed he received more sympathy and cooperation from the British. It was a gradual process of readjustment by which he managed to retain both his American and his British links. His Congo voyage, for example, was sponsored jointly by the New York Herald and the London Daily Telegraph and flew both the American and the British flags; and though at the end of the journey Stanley advocated that Britain should claim the Congo for herself, he appeared at the Berlin Conference, which decided such matters, as an adviser to the American delegation. Indeed in 1885, so as to protect the copyright of his books in the United States, he formally became an American citizen before the superior court of New York City.

But chiefly he was thought of in an African context. He was held to be the African traveler par excellence, the man who would succeed where all others might fail. Thus in 1887, when a relief expedition was raised to send to the help of Emin Pasha, the governor of Equatorial Province cut off by rebels in the Sudan, it was Stanley who was picked to lead the armed flying column. Once again by a combination of ruthless discipline and singleminded efficiency Stanley thrust his way across Africa. Emin Pasha was escorted out, and Stanley came back to Europe an international hero. Now everyone was falling over themselves to pay him honors. Belgium gave him a state reception, and its king awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold and the Grand Cross of the Congo. In London the Royal Geographical Society struck a special gold medal for him—it was his second, an honor never before or since accorded —and organized a huge meeting in Albert Hall attended by the Prince of Wales. The American community in London put on a sumptuous testimonial dinner, embellishing the occasion with menu books bound in handtooled leather (which several guests filched) and gave to Stanley a special two-foot-high silver and gold shield ordered from Tiffany’s, which depicted Africa beneath an American eagle. In Iceland a local poet composed an ode to Stanley, loosely derived from Hiawatha , and Stanley’s book of the expedition, In Darkest Africa , was so widely successful that it helped establish that phrase as a popular catchword in much the same way as his earlier remark, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

This spate of acclaim signified the high-water mark of Stanley’s career. The price of his success had been the ruin of his health, which now forced his virtual retirement from active exploration. In 1890 at Westminster Abbey he married Dorothy Tennant, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, but he was so wracked with illness that a physician had to accompany the couple on their honeymoon. Thereafter his spells of gastritis, as he called them, became increasingly debilitating. His wife, too, served as a restraining influence. Partly at her suggestion Stanley entered British politics, applying to the home secretary for readmission to British citizenship so that he could run for Parliament, though as an M.p. Stanley made little impact and soon gave up the position. However, his new nationality did mean that the royal office could at last recognize his achievements, and on May 19, 1899, he was sent a letter informing him that “Her Majesty has been pleased to confer upon you the Grand Cross of the Bath.” The erstwhile Welsh runaway was finally Sir Henry Morton Stanley.