A lucid and lively survey of Victorian explorers from Raby
(English/Homerton College, Cambridge). "For the English in the
nineteenth century, abroad, and especially the Empire and the
colonies, existed to bring things back from," notes Raby in a neat
introductory capsulization. Bring things back they did, to a
fare-thee-well, but they were also, the author makes clear, agents
in the imperial juggernaut, "part of a slow but inexorable process
of domination and annexation." Opening the world to commerce may
have been the end result, yet each of the venturers heard his or
her own drummer and fashioned an inimitable style afield. Raby
profiles Mungo Park, Richard Lander, and Heinrich Barth on their
African sorties; Joseph Hooker's plant collecting in India and the
mountain kingdoms to the north; Charles Darwin's monumental
classification undertakings while being ferried about on the
Beagle; the scientific entrepreneurs Henry Walter Bates, Alfred
Wallace, and Richrad Spruce, who traded in beetles (a Victorian
fancy), birds, and dried plants (though it is odd that Raby makes
no mention here of the recent biopiracy controversies, particularly
with Spruce, whose cinchona and rubber gatherings are a hot topic).
And as women explorers have been given short shrift for their
contibutions, Raby takes pains to chronicle the work of Mary
Kingsley in West Africa and Marianne North's superb botanical
artwork. Raby then turns his attentions to how the jottings of
these explorers were appropriated and deployed by writers as
diverse as Charles Kingsley, whose Water Babies Raby considers "a
coded tour round the scientific debates of the mid-century," and
Samuel Buffer in his utopian Erewhon, the romantic Rider Haggard,
son-of-the-manse John Buchan, Dickens in Bleak House, and, of
course, Conrad. Importantly, Raby shows how the works of the
explorers shaped a new Darwinian and colonialist worldview, one
that remains mighty influential in the modern imagination. (Kirkus
Inspired by Darwin and his voyages on the "Beagle", a new
generation of naturalists and scientists set out from Britain to
explore tropical forests and mountain ranges. Some of them were
entrepreneurs - many were dependent on selling their specimens to
finance their trips - but they were also scrupulous and sensitive
observers. This book traces some of the extraordinary journeys of
these Victorian travellers.
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