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Lot 41: DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813-1873)

Christie's

September 22, 2010
London, United Kingdom

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DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813-1873)

Autograph letter signed ('D. Livingston' [sic]) to Benjamin Pyne, Kolobeng, 27 August 1850, densely written on three pages, large folio (400 x 250mm), bifolium, autograph address panel, postal markings (mounted between two sheets of glass, uninspected out of mount). Provenance: by descent in the Pyne family; by presentation to the present owners.

A high-spirited early letter recounting his second journey to Lake Ngomi and urging the recipient to emigrate. Opening with hopes that the letter will escape the depredations of the Boers who are plundering English travellers, Livingstone reacts with irony to news of the death of Queen Adelaide, 'Am glad to hear she was a good woman. These great folk ought to be good certainly ... One may well wonder they should every think of being bad. Poor fellows like myself must try and be good without being paid for it'. He goes on with a bracing recommendation that his correspondent solve his present difficulties by emigration, recommending Australia ('The climate is better than that of England, the soil excellent, the country rapidly advancing in civilisation'), urging in particular the advantageous position of children in the colonies compared with England (Livingstone mentions the birth of his fourth child, Elizabeth, three weeks previously -- she was to die less than a month later). The letter goes on with an account of his recent exploration of the country around Lake Ngami in difficult conditions: 'We had to travel often during the entire night. Lost many men four by pitfalls two by lions'; Livingstone has been serving as driver, 'not an easy task for the whip is like a large fishing rod and one has to wield it as a man does a flail'; the ravages of malaria ('This disease seems destined to preserve inter-tropical Africa for the black races') are offset by a few delights, including a spot by the lake where 'Children played on the banks as merrily as if in old England or cold Scotland'. As for Livingstone's own 'colony' at Kolobeng, it is in a poor state, and he foresees the day when he will be obliged to abandon it: 'Our river still continues dry and the soil ... not well adapted for native produce ... The Mission continues in an unsatisfactory state in consequence of the drought. Our enemies not failing to take advantage of the comparison between the years of plenty under heathenism and those of scarcity under the Gospel'. The letter concludes with family news: Livingstone's father-in-law Robert Moffat is translating the Bible (into Setswana), and his own children are 'very healthy', with Thomas proving 'a great wagon driver'; Mary Livingstone has been 'troubled since confinement with a paralytic affection of one side of the face. Hope it will leave as she recovers strength'.

The journey described was Livingstone's second exploration of the area around Lake Ngami, following from his initial expedition with William Cotton Oswell in the previous year.

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September 22, 2010, 12:00 AM GMT

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