Park, Mungo (Introduction by John Keay)
- Travels in the Interior of Africa - Folio Society edition
Folio Society, London, 1991.
Reprint: octavo hardcover, with gilt spine titling, tipped-on upper board illustration and endpaper maps; 203pp., top edges dyed dark blue, with a monochrome portrait frontispiece and 15pp. of plates likewise. Minor wear; some rubbing to boards and mildly faded spine panel. Very good in a like slipcase. "Mungo Park's Travels is a classic of English exploration literature - a contemporary bestseller whose influence lingered throughout the next century, and into the 20th, inspiring a remarkable variety of writers, from Wordsworth and Melville, to Conrad and Hemingway. A solitary, quiet, young Scot with itchy feet, Park had ventured alone into the African interior in search of the Niger river at the age of 24. He was equipped with a horse, an umbrella, a change of clothes, a compass, a pistol - and a hat. When he emerged 18 months later, he was in rags, but carrying a fistful of notes and his hat. He was greeted as one who had risen from the dead, and soon after his remarkable escape he began to commit the story of his adventures to paper. Park was not just a hero-explorer of 'the Dark Continent', he was also fiercely engaged in the contemporary debate about slavery and its longed-for abolition. This makes him modern; and so does his prose, which is not only a thrilling tale of adventure and survival, but also (in his confrontations with the practice of the slave trade) an eye-witness's argument against a humanitarian catastrophe. In his solitude, he was often the victim of violent theft, was once left for dead, and is almost always finding himself in some kind of jeopardy. Park usually travelled with native guides, or on his own, with not much idea of where he was going, apart from what he could pick up from local people. Inter alia, he was captured by Moors, but escaped. He had to bang on village gates to avoid being eaten by lions. He was chronically unwell, often with malaria, but also from the side-effects of malnutrition (he nearly starved to death during a famine).Throughout his Travels, Park the quiet man reports an extraordinary, heart-stopping tale with equanimity and good humour. Well received in his own time, and consistently rediscovered by subsequent generations, Park's Travels has never quite achieved the broader recognition as a classic that it deserves. The explorer's own life was similarly overtaken by oblivion. On a second mission to the Niger, he and his party are reported to have met their deaths in the depths of their quest for its source. Park was just 34." - Robert McCrum
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