- Historic Sites
The Making Of An American Lion
A Welsh waif adopted a new country and a new name and then became—thanks to a New York newspaper—the most famous African explorer of his time
February 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 2
On Sunday, December 8, 1872, the manager of the Theatre Comique on Broadway took the unusual step of buying up almost the entire front page of the New York Herald to puff the triumph of his latest presentation. It was called Africa or Livingstone and Stanley , and, to judge from the ecstatic reviews that were quoted, the show was a ringing success. The popular comedy team of Harrigan and Hart had been lured away from their previous engagement at a rival theatre in order to play the leads, and as the Comique was making an all-out attempt to broaden its audience appeal, the Herald ’s lady readers were particularly assured that the theatre and its program offered an enjoyable evening that no well-bred lady need shun.
The theme of the entertainment was, of course, the spectacular rescue of Dr. David Livingstone in Central Africa by Henry Morton Stanley, though the tale had been enlivened by such extra stage characters as “the Congo Dancers of the Land of Crocodiles” and a cast-away Irish lady, Mrs. Biddy Malone, who in Scene vin taught the Africans an Irish war cry. The pièce de résistance of this light-hearted farrago was, to the delight of the audience, the inevitable tableau as Stanley strode on stage in his African kit with an enormous Stars and Stripes to discover a wilting Livingstone at his last gasp. Raising his hat, Stanley uttered the immortal phrase “Doctor Livingstone, I presume,”a remark that sent the Comique’s audience into guffaws of delight.
It was no accident that the Herald had been chosen as the vehicle for the Comique’s advertising. The Herald was the most popular paper in New York. It was at the height of its power and flamboyance; its theatre reviews were crisply written and widely read, and its advertising carried enormous impact. People turned instinctively to the Herald for everything that was racy, gossipy, and entertaining. Above all, it was the newspaper that had “made” Stanley. It was the Herald , in the person of its eccentric millionaireeditor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., that had sent Stanley into Africa as its special correspondent to look for Livingstone. The Herald had paid all Stanley’s bills, and it was the Herald that had consistently carried as journalistic scoops all of Stanley’s dispatches. Indeed, Stanley’s last cable summarizing his exploits was so lengthy that it cost two thousand dollars to send, a sum that Bennett considered well spent if it helped to reassert the Herald ’s dominance over all its rival New York papers.
What Bennett and the Herald succeeded in doing in 1872 was to create for the American public that rare creature, Leo Africanus Americanus , an African lion from America. Naturally there had been plenty of other African lions before, men like Richard Francis Burton and John Manning Speke, who had searched for the source of the Nile, and Livingstone himself. But they had all been uncompromisingly British. Stanley, by contrast, was presented by the Herald as an American through and through, a bluff, nononsense traveler from the New World who had trod boldly into the heart of Africa, beaten the English at their own game, and carried off the greatest prize in African exploration. In the words of the official citation from Mayor A. Oakey Hall of New York, Stanley was a “young journalist who took the commission of a New York newspaper in his pocket and the American flag in his hand and so started to find a British explorer who had been practically abandoned by his own government in the wilds of Central Africa. …”
The man at the center of this enthusiasm was not, at first sight, obvious timber to turn into a public hero. Thirty-one years old, Stanley cut a rather squat and graceless figure. His arms and legs seemed too short for his thick, powerful body, and his rather rubicund face was chiefly remarkable for its air of determined pugnacity. His hair, once black, had turned a pepper-and-salt color during his African trek, and he behaved with an awkward combination of bluntness and shyness. Queen Victoria, who had met him two months previously, described him as “a determined, ugly little man- with a strong American twang.” When excited he could get carried away, gesticulate wildly, and blurt out all manner of indiscreet remarks, yet at the same time it was common knowledge that he himself took offense easily. Thus the Herald ’s successful publicity campaign to boost Stanley into the headlines was a considerable feat.
Stanley returned to New York from his Livingstone trip aboard the Cuba from Liverpool on November ao, 1872, a year and ten days after his memorable encounter with Livingstone. As usual the Cuba ’s arrival was reported by one of the Herald ’s fast patrol boats that constantly cruised off the port, waiting to pick up advance shipping news ahead of the rival press. But as she entered the Narrows the Cuba was also greeted by the Fletcher , a steam vessel specially chartered by a group of Stanley’s friends and newspaper associates. From the Fletcher ’s mast streamed an enormous red pennant on which was written the words “welcome home Henry Stanley,” and from her decks a crowd of Stanley’s admirers and members of the American Geographical Society waved and cheered. Stanley was whisked away by carriage from the docks to the Herald ’s office, where he had an interview with his boss, Bennett, and was applauded by his colleagues.
The next day a Herald reporter was sent up to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where Stanley was staying, with particular instructions to take a closer look at Kalulu, the small black boy whom Stanley had brought back with him from Africa and who was already something of a showman. The Herald ’s reporter found Kalulu prancing about dressed up as Buttons in a page-boy suit, and there followed a hilariously garbled interview in alleged Swahili during which Kalulu cheerfully dropped on all fours to imitate a Moslem at prayer, sang a Swahili song, and only lost interest in the proceedings when he turned up some chestnuts to eat. Stanley himself was under siege from numerous callers who had come to offer their congratulations and were being rewarded with a glimpse of the trophies that the explorer had already picked up on his way through London. The chief of these prizes was a splendid gold snuffbox sent to him by Queen Victoria. The lid was decorated with a blue and white enamel background on which appeared the devices of rose, thistle, and shamrock worked in precious stones. In the center of this arrangement was set the Queen’s personal monogram, V.R., surrounded by an imperial crown. Both the crown and the initials were also picked out in diamonds. Opening the lid one read on the reverse side the inscription Presented by HER MAJESTY, QUEEN VICTORIA to HENRY MORTON STANLEY, ESQ. in recognition of the prudence and zeal displayed by him in opening communication with DOCTOR LIVINGSTONE and thus relieving the general anxiety felt in regard to the fate of that distinguished Traveller. London, August 17, 1872.
Two nights after his arrival Stanley attended a reception given in his honor by the Lotos Club. This club, which later changed its name to the more familiar spelling Lotus, was composed largely of newspapermen, merchants, and clerics, and their clubhouse at Irving Place was specially decorated for the occasion with, among other items, a large “welcome” wreath hung over the door. Stanley arrived punctually at eleven, a half hour after the main throng of guests had assembled to cheer him. As usual, Stanley thanked his hosts for their hospitality and stressed his delight on coming home to the United States. He raised a few laughs by recounting how he had discomfited the English. Whitelaw Reid, the president of the Lotos and editor of the rival Tribune , then eulogized at length on Stanley’s achievement as an American journalist; and, as the evening grew more convivial, various other speakers jumped up to add their own notions, usually with bad jokes and worse puns, one being on the fact that Livingstone had seen African natives eating lotus roots.
So the lionization of Stanley gathered speed, ably controlled by the Herald and greatly enjoyed by New York. Over the weekend he and Kalulu visited Gurney’s photographic galleries to have more than twenty portraits taken in various heroic poses, in African dress as well as in western clothing. Among the props Stanley kept by the fireplace at the Fifth Avenue Hotel was a breech-loading gun that, he claimed, Livingstone himself had used against hippopotamuses. Doctor Livingstone’s brother, John, who had emigrated to Canada, also came down to New York to congratulate and thank the explorer, an arrival that the Herald greeted with the headline LIVINGSTONE FINDS STANLEY .
Not that everything was plain sailing for the returned hero. Stanley had brought back with him from Africa the seeds of a virulent illness, probably a combination of malaria and dysentery. This was to plague him for the rest of his life, and a bout of this illness laid him low on the evening he was scheduled to attend another gala reception, this time with the American Geographical Society in the Cooper Institute. Instead he was obliged to send a lastminute apology for his absence by the hand of John Livingstone, who stood in for him. Later that week, however, he made amends by attending the splendid banquet that the geographers gave for him at Delmonico’s. Nearly two hundred people attended. Stanley was in great form, flourishing his prize snuffbox from Victoria and announcing that “it is peculiarly pleasant and gratifying to receive such honour as this from, as I may say, one’s own kindred. It is not often a prophet is honoured in his own country, but I think, though I am not exactly a prophet, that at least a traveller can be recognised in his native land.”
Naturally enough, an instant Stanley industry flared up in the wake of his success. Besides the Africa show there was a skit in another review that depicted the Royal Geographical Society’s council in London as a conclave of doddering old savants who collapsed with shock when Stanley strode in on their committee meeting and announced that he had found Livingstone. A local humorist, Don Bryant, managed to attract New York audiences by giving spoof lectures in a pseudo-explorer style on the adventures of an African who came to New Jersey to search for the source of the Somerset River. Meeting a native, he inquired “Brrzknokho rkndorokledklokulla,” which—predictably—was translated as “Dr. Livingstone, I believe? My name is Stanley.” Meanwhile a Philadelphia publisher quickly got together with a San Francisco accomplice to prepare a book that allegedly gave the full account of the Livingstone rescue. The book was enticingly dressed up in an engraved cover showing African animals surrounded by jungle foliage. In fact it was nothing but a hodgepodge stolen from Stanley’s earlier published dispatches and padded out with imaginary African geography and zoology lifted from other African journals. There were also Stanley’s photo portraits on sale, Stanley mementos, and Stanley jokes. The only other national figure to rival him was Jay Gould, arrested that same week for manipulating nearly ten million dollars’ worth of Erie Railroad stock. And even here a touch of Stanley mania intervened. The Herald reporter hotfooted down to Wall Street to interview the notorious financier, caught sight of his prey in the Street, and, so the report alleged, intercepted his man by going boldly up to him and asking “Mr. Gould, I presume?”
But as with other overnight heroes, the yeast of excitement eventually turned sour for Stanley. The acclaim was simply too much to sustain, and heady indulgence brought its usual retribution on the morning after. Stanley’s nemesis was the series of African lectures that had been booked in advance by a quicksilver impresario at the allegedly enormous sum of thirty thousand dollars. A successful lecture series would have won for him the final acme of public approval (Harriet Beecher Stowe was speaking that same month at the Y.M.C.A. ), and Stanley was due to appear at the prestigious Steinway Hall. Tickets were offered at the steep price often dollars for eight lectures or—as the first night approached—at one dollar per performance. Carried away with his commercial prospects, the promoter oversold his program badly. Advertising in the papers, he claimed that Stanley’s topics would include LIFE IN CENTRAL AFRICA; THE HORRORS OF THE SLAVE TRADE; TRIUMPHS OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE FABULOUS LAND; MARCH OF THE HERALD EXPEDITION INTO THE LAND OF THE MOON; THE BATTLE OF THE JUNGLE; TRIBUTE TO THE KINC, OF UBBA; LIVINGSTONE’S MISSIONARY AND SCIENTIFIC WORK; THE CAVERNS OF TANGANYIKA; THE DISCOVERY OF DOCTOR LIVINGSTONE; DOCTOR LIVINGSTONE1S STORY; MARCH TO NYASSA LAKE AND THE FAMOUS CAZEME; THE TREASURES OF THE WONDERFUL LAND; THE MYSTIC NILE AND ITS SOURCES , etc., etc. Shrewd critics might have pointed out that it all sounded too much like P. T. Barnum’s advertisement in the next column, which announced “Dwarfs, Giants and Nondescripts” [in] his Great Hippodrome, along with “Colonel Routh Goshen the Largest Human Being in the Known World. Admiral Dot, Twenty Five Inches High” and a “Madagascar Family of Albinoes, and Wax Figures without Number. …”
Stanley’s inaugural lecture was a near-fiasco. It started out well enough with the podium evocatively decorated with African shields and spears, the Stars and Stripes that Stanley had carried at the head of his caravan, a huge map of Africa, and the impish Kalulu. But Stanley himself was a flop; he droned on monotonously, his text was dry and poorly organized, there were too many long and incomprehensible African place names in it, and people at the back of the hall could not hear him.
The second lecture of the series was even worse. The audience was noticeably smaller, and the long-suffering reporter from the Herald who had been kind enough about the first effort could stand the tedium no longer. “Mr. Stanley,” he snarled in his review, “has utterly mistaken the necessities of the platform. His map of Central Africa is not used, and the specimens of cloths which he brings on the stage are quite useless, for he does not know how to make his hearers interested in them by making them illustrative of his subject. … he overlooks the personal and the peculiar, and treats only of the geographical and commonplace. … All this is unnecessary, and it would be cruel to Mr. Stanley not to say so.”
Of course the cruelty was in being so caustic. Chastened, Stanley threw in his hand. The remainder of his lecture series was discreetly cancelled—so discreetly, indeed, that some thirty people showed up at Steinway Hall the following session and were surprised to find the building locked and in darkness. ”… After repeated knocking,” the New York World reported, “the janitor appeared to tell them that Stanley would not be appearing any more in the Hall owing to the fact that the former receipts of the lectures delivered did not meet expenses.” The World , which had been looking for just this opportunity, gleefully published Stanley’s discomfiture on its front page, and the Steinway management hastily arranged a substitute program of vocalists and piano with galleryseats for as little as twenty-five cents.
The lecture failure was only one of Stanley’s disasters. While he was in the full flush of popularity, Horace Greeley died and the papers were swamped with his obituaries. In particular the Tribune , usually reliable for a contest with the Herald , went in heavily for memorabilia about the late Presidential candidate who, after all, had helped to found the newspaper. Then the Fifth Avenue Hotel burned down, and there was not even mention of whether Stanley had moved out beforehand or how he had escaped the blaze, which killed several of the maids. Typically, Bennett seized this chance to splash on his front page the new “Bennett building” currently under construction and supposedly fireproof. Moreover, Christmas was due, and so Africa came off the boards at the Comique, and a pantomime was put on in its place. By the end of the holidays almost the only scrap thrown Stanley’s way was a puff for his book How I Found Livingstone , which was put on the list of recommended holiday reading. Thus in April, when Stanley left New York and sailed for his next journalistic assignment, his departure was scarcely noted.
Over the next eighteen years Stanley’s career was to be an astonishing series of coups. Returning to central Africa in 1874, he was to make a masterly trek lasting more than a thousand days. It took him clear across the middle belt of the continent and solved two of the foremost problems of African geography, namely, the extent of Lake Victoria relative to the Nile and the course of the Congo River.
The Congo voyage itself was a great adventure. Travelling in a forty-foot open boat of Stanley’s own design—it could be dismantled and carried in sections overland—the explorer floated, blustered, and fought his way down the length of the previously unknown waterway. Of his three white companions two died of fever, and the third was drowned in the Congo’s rapids. Sharp battles were fought against river tribes who attacked the strangers with squadrons of war canoes, and conditions eventually became so treacherous that the Zanzibar! coxswain went mad and rushed off into the jungle shrieking “The sea! the sea!” Yet scarcely had Stanley emerged from this ordeal when he plunged back into Africa, this time at the request of” King Leopold of Belgium, to develop the enormous Congo basin. Stanley’s campaign was of Pharaonic proportions. Commanding a small army of white volunteers and Zanzibari porters, he built a roadway around the worst cataracts, dragged steamers overland to launch them on Stanley Pool, as the inland lake of the Congo was called in his honor, and laid the foundations of the Congo Free State.
But these remarkable achievements were still in the future when Americans were casting a critical eye over the brand-new African lion presented to them so glibly by the New York Herald in 1872. Indeed, the people of the United States had earned themselves the privilege of treating Stanley exactly as they wished—handsomely, shabbily, or not at all—for the fact was that Stanley owed a tremendous debt to his country of adoption. He derived from the United States not only his initial fame for the Livingstone rescue but also to a large degree his selfconfidence, his education, and what savoir-faire he had. In many ways his life was the American dream come true, and it was by a quirk of history that he achieved renown in an African, rather than an American, context.
Stanley’s original name had been John Rowlands, and he was the illegitimate son of a Welsh girl who had promptly handed the infant over to the care of his grandfather living in the small Welsh town of Denbigh. There he was looked after until he was six years old, when, on the pretext that he was being taken on a visit to his Aunt Mary, he was walked down to the local workhouse and callously handed over to the workmaster, to be held in his custody until placed in suitable (and probably menial) employment. Stanley’s life in the workhouse was a nightmare. Like the other inmates he was wretchedly fed and clothed, forced to work in freezing conditions, and savagely tormented. The chief culprit in lliis Oliver Twist existence was the workmaster, a crippled brute of a man who had lost a hand in a mining accident, been put out to pasture in his present job, and took out, his malice on his wards. Later he was found to be certifiably insane. At fifteen, according to his memoirs, Stanley got into a fight with the workmaster, knocked him clown, and Heel from the workhouse before his tormentor regained consciousness. Briskly handed on from one relative to the next, Stanley finally obtained a job as a cabin boy aboard the American packet ship Windennere , sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans.
It was not a happy introduction to Americans, because the Yankee packets were notoriously hard driven, and the youthful Welshman was swindled and mistreated. He signed on as a cabin boy, but it was an old trick whereby the moment the vessel put to sea, the “cabin boy” was kicked forward to take his place with the regular sailors and had to serve his passage as a cut-price deck hand. Similarly, it was common practice to haze the newcomer so badly toward the end of the trip that the victim jumped ship at the first port without collecting his wages, which were pocketed by the captain. Certainly the technique worked well with the Welsh truant. At New Orleans Stanley scurried off the packet ship and, after spending one night bedded down among the cotton bales on the levee, headed into the city to look for work.
It was at this time that he had what can best be described as one of those tremendous strokes of good luck based on coincidence that were to propel him to fame. Trudging up Tchapitoulas Street early in the morning, past the commercial houses and stores, he saw a middle-aged man, prosperously dressed in a dark alpaca suit and tall hat, seated outside No. 3 store, the premises of Speake and McCreary, wholesale and commission merchants. Judging by the man’s appearance and the way his chair was tilted languidly back against the stone porch, Stanley mistook him for the proprietor and, walking over, blurted out, “Do you want a boy, sir?” “Eh?” the man replied with a start. “What did you say?” “I want some work, sir,” answered Stanley. “I asked if you wanted a boy.”
The stranger so casually approached was to alter the future explorer’s life profoundly. The man’s name was Henry Stanley, and he made a comfortable living as a commission agent, selling hardware and general goods to cotton planters and merchants along the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. Not only did he help provide the young Welsh immigrant with his first decent job, but he also befriended him, educated him, arranged his commercial training, eradicated the boy’s singsong Welsh accent, and finally adopted the waif. This adoption took place soon after the death of the commission agent’s wife and was a curious little ceremony in which Stanley senior, who turned out to have once been a travelling minister, made the sign of the cross on the lad’s forehead and baptized him. It was only then that Stanley learned how the commission agent had always wanted to adopt a boy and had even visited the local orphanage in search of one. So that the words of the young runaway suddenly approaching him in the street with “Do you want a boy, sir?” had voiced his inner feelings.
His protégeé␁s gratitude was boundless. The former John Rowlands, waif, took his benefactor’s name, listened to every word his mentor spoke, com- piled a log book of his advice, and even went so far as to adopt his style of handwriting. The first time that young Stanley received a letter from his foster father, he noted the signature and copied it for his own, retaining the distinctive flourish that was to appear on all Stanley’s later correspondence. When Mr. Stanley senior died of yellow fever on a business trip to Cuba in 1861, the future African explorer was almost inconsolable.
But Stanley had very much more than an emotional attachment to America through his foster father. His African training also really began at New Orleans. He was taken on as an assistant at Speake and McCreary’s store, and it was here and upriver that he developed his remarkable flair for organization and detail that was later to characterize his expeditions. At his prime in Africa, Stanley the explorer was capable of handling vast amounts of men and materials. It was nothing for him to control a marching column of porters three-quarters of a mile long and directed by bugle calls; and on the Congo he was to supervise the operation of an entire fleet of steamers carrying an army of natives with all their stores and munitions deep into the heart of the continent. All this was foreshadowed in his apprenticeship as a Mississippi commission agent: the bags and bales, the lists of lading, the best ways of packaging, all the expertise that oiled an intricate commercial structure operating far from its base. Years afterward, when he became the first white man to navigate the length of the Congo River, he would draw on this American background, even discovering that the same sort of calico and sheeting that he had once handled on the Mississippi were being used as currency by the Kenya natives. On the Congo he would benefit from his memories of a flatboat trip he had made down the Mississippi and (in 1866) a similar voyage down the River Platte on a homemade raft.
Other tricks of the trade were also to be learned along the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. Firstly, Stanley developed a phenomenal memory, which in later years was to stand him in such good stead as a newspaper reporter. Toward the end of his life his memory was so good that he could recall the precise names of casual acquaintances he had met as a teen-ager, and as a correspondent he was able to quote verbatim some conversations that he had heard five years before. River life also accustomed Stanley to constant travel, moving incessantly from one riverside market to the next and one plantation to another. Here, too, in the frontier atmosphere of Arkansas, where for a time he worked in a general store at Cypress Bend, he acquired an intimate knowledge of firearms, one of the main stock items, so that he could distinguish between a Sharp and a Ballard rifle or define the advantages of the Tranter over the Colt. Moreover, he learned to use these weapons. Cypress Bend had more than its fair share of feuds and larceny, and Stanley felt it necessary to practice with his gun behind the store until he became an accurate shot. Ironically, Cypress Bend also introduced him to another aspect of his future career, for it was there in the Arkansas bottom lands that Stanley first contracted ague, probably malaria, which reduced his weight to ninety-five pounds through repeated attacks of shivering, delirium, and nausea. With some truth he would one day point out to those who feared the dangers of ill health for white colonists in East Africa that fever was more virulent and widespread along the lower Arkansas River.
The outbreak of the Civil War swept Stanley, somewhat reluctantly—he did not support the war or favor either side—into the Dixie Greys, a Confederate volunteer unit attached to the 6th Arkansas Regiment. On the second day of Shiloh he was taken prisoner by Union skirmishers and shipped north to Camp Douglas, a prison compound on the outskirts of Chicago. While conditions were not as bad as those at Andersonville, they were desperate enough to break all but the most hardy prisoners. Stanley was shocked. The inmates were emaciated, so many dying from dysentery and typhus that when Stanley saw the wagons call daily at the hospital he likened the corpses they collected, each wrapped in a blanket and piled one upon another, to “New Zealand frozen-mutton carcasses … carted from the docks!”
After six weeks in the prison he volunteered to join the Northern forces and thereby obtained his release. Yet it was already too late. The young man—Stanley was only twenty-one years old—had scarcely been enrolled in the United States Artillery when he came down with a fierce attack of dysentery. As soon as he was fit enough to walk, the hospital authorities were only too glad to discharge him from their care and the Union forces, a physical wreck.
The next period of Stanley’s life, from June, 1862, to the spring of 1867, was a mélange of half-baked ideas, half-finished projects, and misadventures. He went back to sea temporarily, survived a shipwreck off Spain, visited his mother in Wales but was rebuffed, and for the last eight months of the Civil War was enlisted as a clerk in the United States Navy. He saved enough money to launch an abortive expedition to Turkey, but he and his American companion were plundered by brigands and came home crestfallen, with financial aid from the American minister and consul general.
Yet there were two incidents in this period that had an important effect on Stanley. While in the Navy he was an eyewitness to the Federal attack at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and wrote to newspapers describing the battle. Similarly, his dispatch recounting his misadventures in Turkey under the headline OUTRAGE TO AMERICAN TRAVELLERS IN TURKEY appeared in the press and attracted some attention. The result was that at the age of twenty-five Stanley decided to become a professional journalist, and, obtaining a roving commission from the editor of the Missouri Democrat , he set out in the spring of 1867, armed with note pad, pencil, and a valise of clothing, to report on the Army’s campaigns to pacify the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians. Stanley’s western tour was the last purely American lesson he learned, and in some ways it was the most important. His observations of the Indians, the workings of the negotiations between them and the military, the behavior of Generals Hancock and Sherman, who led the missions, and the exuberant development of the trans-Mississippi West that he wrote up, were all to shape his hopes for and ideas of Africa’s peoples and prospects. He would paraphrase and quote to Congo natives speeches he had heard delivered to the Sioux; when attacked by Africans he reacted as if they were Indians on the warpath; and he dreamed of developing interior Africa in the same style he had seen in western America.
On his western travels, too, Stanley evolved his style of writing. His dispatches to the Missouri Democrat noticeably improved from the rather stilted early efforts to his more fluent descriptions of the cow towns and mining settlements that he visited toward the end of his journey. Stanley was never to become a really polished author, although he eventually wrote more than ten large volumes based on his travels. Instead, he could be relied upon to give a rambunctious, colorful account of his own escapades and impressions, written at phenomenal speed. And this was precisely what he gave the readers of the Missouri Democrat , whether telling them about the redoubtable chief Satanta of the Kiowa, who dressed in a captain’s coat, with epaulets and leggings ornamented with jingling small brass bells, or describing Wild Bill Hickok, who was already a popular schoolboy hero. Hickok was working as a dispatch rider when Stanley met him, and evidently they struck up a friendship, for Stanley claimed that Hickok picked up a man who had insulted Stanley in a saloon and threw him over a billiard table.
Above all, Stanley’s western dispatches brought him before the editors of larger city newspapers. Besides the Missouri Democrat , his reports appeared occasionally in papers in Chicago and New York, and it was in the latter city in 1868, after coming back from the West, that he asked James Gordon Bennett, Jr., for a job as an overseas correspondent for the Herald . Bennett gave him a trial posting as the correspondent to report on the British military campaign against Abyssinia, and Stanley succeeded brilliantly. On his way there he bribed the telegraph master at Suez to give priority to any dispatches for the Herald , transmitting them before any other traffic. Thus Stanley’s descriptions of the British victory at Magdala were sent over the wires even before General Robert Napier’s official announcement to the British government. By another stroke of Stanley’s luck, the cable to England then broke, and for the next few days Her Majesty’s government found itself obliged —to its intense annoyance—to learn about the country’s great victory exclusively from the columns of the New York Herald .
The Abyssinian scoop confirmed Stanley as a crack correspondent and in due course led to the imperious summons to editor Bennett’s presence for the great journalistic commission that would result in Livingstone’s rescue. In typical Bennett style neither money nor time was to be any hindrance to his reporter’s quest. As he put it to Stanley: “Draw a thousand pounds now; and when you have gone through that, draw another thousand, and when that is spent, draw another, and when you have finished that, draw another thousand, and so on; but, FIND LIVINGSTONE.”
Nearly everything about Stanley’s expedition was markedly American. With the backing of an American newspaper Stanley arrived in Zanzibar on a Yankee ship on January 6, 1871, and went promptly to seek the help of the American consul there, deliberately taking care to keep his real intentions hidden from the British diplomatic representative. The American community of Zanzibar could not have been more helpful. Because there was no money waiting for Stanley from Bennett, the consul, Captain Francis R. Webb, advanced Stanley money to buy stores. Webb’s wife herself stitched together the American flag that was to be borne, Stanley ordered, by the tallest Negro in his column. And the small American mercantile community at Zanzibar, mostly New Englanders (Salem had a long tradition of trade with Zanzibar), helped him to assemble his stores and even presented him with a horse on which to lead his expedition.
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.
At no time, however, did he forget those early days in America that first launched him on his phenomenally successful life. In 1890, as the most successful African explorer of his day and the friend of kings, prime ministers, and millionaires, he came back to America to make a lengthy lecture tour. This time it was a great success. He travelled from one end of the country to the other in a special private Pullman car named the Henry M. Stanley, complete with its own kitchen and cook, a dining section that converted at night into a dormitory, a drawing room with a piano, three state bedrooms, and a bathroom.
The tour was also a pilgrimage for Stanley. Everywhere he went, he looked again for the places that he remembered from his youth. He paid a visit to New Orleans, strolled nostalgically up Tchapitoulas Street, and took his aristocratic English wife to the French market to treat her to what he claimed was a “cup of the best coffee in the world” from Monsieur Morel’s coffee stand there. Stanley also examined the Civil War battlefields and called at some of the towns he had originally described in the Missouri Democrat .
Stanley remained a fervent romantic about America. After his death, when the time came to make an inventory of the great explorer’s be- longings, the researchers found boxes and trunks neatly labelled and organized in a manner typical of his tidy mind. In one trunk they found a small collection of Civil War mementos, including several Confederate notes, eagle buttons, three belt clasps, and eleven minié balls. But most extraordinary of all, among the heaps of African shields and spears, the Pygmy poisoned arrows, and all the paraphernalia of his great African trips on which he had found tribes previously unknown to the white man, Stanley had carefully preserved a broken stone peace pipe of the sort so commonly found in the American West. According to its label, it was believed to have once belonged to Chief Sitting Bull.