Composing & Publishing Missionary Travels (2)

Journey to Book, part II

Cite (MLA): Livingstone, Justin D. "Composing & Publishing Missionary Travels (2)." Jared McDonald and Adrian S. Wisnicki, eds. In Livingstone's Missionary Travels Manuscript. Justin D. Livingstone and Adrian S. Wisnicki, dirs. Livingstone Online. Adrian S. Wisnicki and Megan Ward, dirs. 2019. Web.

This page, the second of a two-part essay, traces the creation of Missionary Travels at the hands of author and publisher. It examines the draft manuscript and associated publishing correspondence for what they reveal about both David Livingstone’s composition practices and the methods of the John Murray publishing house. The essay contends that the making of Missionary Travels was characterised by a complex circulation of manuscript and print in which galley proofs began to be distributed and revised even while the composition of new material was ongoing. The essay also addresses a key altercation between Livingstone and his publisher by arguing that, although the production of Missionary Travels was highly collaborative, Livingstone made considerable effort to retain literary authority over his book. Read the first part of the essay here.

The Literary Advisor: Murray's "Red Ink Man"    Top

As he worked on Missionary Travels, Livingstone often welcomed the advice of those he consulted on matters ranging from the literary to the scientific. Equally, he was prepared to reject unwanted interference if it compromised the vision he had for his expeditionary narrative. This dynamic emerges in one key episode in the publishing correspondence, which provides evidence of Livingstone's desire to preserve his authorial voice (see Henderson 2015, J. D. Livingstone 2012, J. D. Livingstone 2014).

In late May 1857, Livingstone sent several letters to Murray complaining strenuously about unjustifiable interventions in his book by the publisher's reviser. Murray's habitual practice, particularly for untested authors, was to set literary advisors to work on a text to prepare it for the marketplace. Their remit was to improve language and style, and sometimes to engage in more extensive acts of editorial redaction and revision. In the mid-nineteenth century, the literary advisor (or publisher's reader) was becoming an important fixture of publishing, as "book capitalists" in an industrial economy sought the skills of expert critics in order to heighten commercial success (Bell 2013:10).

John Milton, who was assigned to Missionary Travels, was one of Murray's most trusted readers (Fraser 1996:16; see also Missionary Travels in Pen & Print [1]). The Murray and Milton families had a long-established working relationship which had begun with Milton's father, Henry. Henry Milton had become acquainted with the publishers through his sister, the author Fanny Trollope, and had started to read manuscripts for Murray in 1841. John Milton took on the mantle of the firm's lead reader when his father died, while also enjoying a distinguished career as a civil servant in the War Office. It is estimated that over a forty-year period members of the Milton family read around 1500 manuscripts and proofs (Fraser 1996:11-12, 16).

Initially, Livingstone appears to have received Milton's suggestions without much complaint. Having first asked to review the "red ink man's work" on 6 April 1857, Livingstone went until 22 May before expressing his ire. In one undated letter written in the interim, he even acceded to some of the "corrections proposed," telling Murray that he deemed them to be "proper" (LivingstoneAll citation references to "Livingstone" are to David Livingstone unless otherwise specified. 1857g).

There were, for all that, signs of conflict to come. Livingstone remarked that "[m]any parts were annotated with ‘meaning obscure,'" and that he would "examine carefully whether that is owing to the wits of either your friend or my own being in that state." At this point, Livingstone was prepared to admit his own fault, speculating that the issue would probably emerge to be "my language" which he would strive to improve. But although Livingstone's letter remained good-natured, he clearly bridled a little at the criticism. Pinpointing one minor query of the reader's (located in Livingstone 1857bb:[245]), he quipped to Murray: "Why I am rather proud of my faults not being greater than this" (Livingstone 1857g).

On the whole, the red-pen corrections in the surviving manuscripts do not appear invasive enough to have caused too much vexation. It was, however, Milton's work on the printed "slips" that provoked Livingstone's outrage and led him to complain to Murray. It is likely that Milton had been tasked with correcting a later phase of galley proofs, as a final critical step before the production of the more inviolable page proofs. Certainly, even before Livingstone saw the reviser's effort he was concerned that changes introduced at this stage might end up appearing in the published text without his approval.

On 22 May 1857, Livingstone asked Murray if he had "any of the permanent copy set up." As typesetting for page proofs began, Livingstone wanted to look over "the corrections introduced by your corrector," to ensure that "he is a man who has sympathy in such a book" (1857o). Shortly afterwards, Livingstone decided to go one step further and review Milton's work himself before it progressed any further through the publication process: "Your reviser," Livingstone wrote, "had better not not [sic] have much printed before I see the corrections" (1857p).

Livingstone explained himself by telling Murray that he had come to realise that readers did not always interpret his words quite as he expected: "I find that frequently another idea has been suggested to your mind and that of my brother than I intended and I can by adding a word put these right." Since Livingstone had begun "to feel anxious lest anything should be not exactly true," it was best to review the reader's emendations (Livingstone 1857p).

Given his concern that he might be misunderstood, Livingstone perhaps suspected that editorial intervention by a third party would further distort rather than clarify his meaning. One thing was clear: once the book reached the page-proof stage, there would be little opportunity for further refinements. "When the impression is made printed off," Livingstone wrote to Murray, "then there will be no altering any errata" (Livingstone 1857p). On receipt of the galley proofs, he found that his concerns were justified. The red "ink man" had intruded on the text more extensively than Livingstone had anticipated.


Textual Interference and Literary "Emasculation"    Top

When he perused the sample of Milton's work on the galley proofs, Livingstone lost no time in telling Murray that he was less than impressed with the results. The editor, Livingstone contended, had subjected the narrative to a "process of emasculation" and was "entirely wanting in sympathy" with a work of African travel (1857r). Milton had taken "unwarrantable liberties" by "diluting" Missionary Travels with his "namby pambyism" (Livingstone 1857s, 1857r).

Without the marked up slips themselves, the only evidence of Milton's intrusions are the particular instances that Livingstone communicated to Murray. The author's frustration was at least in part with various simplifications that the editor introduced. Livingstone complained to Murray that a sentence including the Petronian refrain, "abiit ad plures" (meaning, "he has gone to join the majority"), had been "struck out, by this gentleman." The excision suggested the editor's intellectual limitations: "Ab uno disce omnes ignorance I fear," remarked Livingstone, quoting a Latin motto that translates as "from one instance you may infer the whole" (literally, "from one learn all") (1857r).

It was not only Milton's excisions, but some of his amplifications that irritated Livingstone. In a letter of 17 June 1857, Livingstone provided Murray with an example of the editor's intervention, showing the original "text" alongside the "emasculation." Livingstone's version of the passage, as given in the letter, is written in relatively succinct prose:

In shooting by night animals are more frequently wounded than killed –The flowing life stream increases the thirst so that they come slowly up to drink in spite of the danger Their feeling is "I must drink though I die." (1857t)

The "emasculation," by contrast, supplements Livingstone's language and replaces its concision with a more verbose quality to which the author clearly objected. Livingstone underlined the offending additions:

In shooting by night animals are more frequently wounded than killed: the loss of the flowing life stream increases the thirst so that in desperation they come slowly up to drink in spite of the danger appearing as it were, to feel that they must drink, even though they were to die for it. (1857t)

For Livingstone, the combined effect of the editor's augmentations and deletions was to reduce his book's complexity. The language of dilution and "namby-pambyism" highlight his concern that these interventions would diminish its status as a major expeditionary narrative.

Livingstone complained, moreover, that the editor's "abominable" suggestions were reducing the work to a "mere primer," i.e., a rudimentary introduction. Milton had annotated many passages that he felt required greater clarity, but Livingstone was not convinced that there was merit in further expansions: "I fear, by the explanation I have given wherever obscure was marked it will even now partake of too much of the penny primer character" (1857s).

Such remarks remind us that Livingstone was negotiating the boundary between celebrity and authority. While he and his publisher wanted to produce a "popular and saleable" book that would please the public (Livingstone 1857s), Livingstone was concerned to cement his status as a scientific explorer.

It is Livingstone's stature as a serious expeditionary geographer that also underlies his highly gendered charge of literary "emasculation." Explorers were of course among the more significant archetypes of Victorian manliness. They successfully embodied a masculinity consisting of "authority, independence, discipline, a sense of duty, the dignity of labor, and moral responsibility, which overlay deeper associations with vigor, virility, endurance, and, above all, courage" (Kennedy 2013:89). Explorers commanded this position by their expeditionary feats, and – crucially – by the written accounts they produced of their endurance and encounters in the field. But as this episode between Livingstone and Murray indicates, the way in which these expeditionary records were narrated was also of critical significance. For Victorian explorer-authors, literary style could operate as a marker of manliness.

In Livingstone's case, his pointed reaction to editorial interference reveals the particular style of masculinity that he set out to cultivate. His allergy to embellishments on the one hand and simplifications on the other show his interest in appearing not simply as a man of action but as a man of science. In opting for straightforward and direct expression, which he declared was "clearer more forcible [sic]" than the editor's purple prose (Livingstone 1857r), Livingstone was aiming to write according to established protocols of scientific discourse in which plain prose was taken as a sign of credibility and authorial truthfulness (Keighren, Withers, and Bell 2015:106-07, Henderson 2013:180; also see Christie and Shuttleworth 1989:2, Shapin 1984:495).

Literary style, Livingstone realised, had implications for his reputation and he was concerned not to jeopardise the reception of Missionary Travels as an authoritative account of a significant geographical expedition. Ultimately, when Livingstone saw the editor's changes he didn't just complain about them. He called on Murray to reject them "in toto"; "every iota" of the revision, Livingstone indicated, simply had to go (1857s).


Authenticity, Authority, and the Politics of Prose    Top

Livingstone thought little of the corrections to the galley proofs, but it remains unclear what Milton had been hoping to achieve. Although the evidence is limited, Milton's task as literary editor was at the very least to try to increase the book's market appeal. The simplifications that Livingstone found so objectionable were surely efforts to make Missionary Travels more widely accessible. In amplifying portions of Livingstone's prose, Milton was also, presumably, trying to capitalise on the narrative's dramatic potential and make it more vividly descriptive.

It is also possible that Milton's interventions were designed to foreground Livingstone's subjective voice. Ensuring that travel texts were perceived as authentic and credible witnesses was a pressing matter for both authors and publishers. While there were multiple routes to establishing believability, one method was to cultivate a rhetorical style of "intimacy, immediacy" that might appeal to the reader's personal sensibilities (Keighren, Withers, and Bell 2015:216).

Milton may well have been motivated by an effort to create such an authenticity effect in Missionary Travels. His stylistic alterations to the passage cited in the previous section do serve to heighten the reader's sense of accessing Livingstone's subjective impression of the scene. Livingstone, however, had a different path to authenticity in mind: his style was primarily designed not to emphasise subjective perception but rather to emphasise objective witness and his reliability as a scientific observer. What seems ultimately to underlie this stylistic divergence between author and editor are different notions about how best to secure the book's reception as an authentic work of travel.

When he categorically rejected Milton's input, Livingstone also took it upon himself to propose some advisors whom he could rely on to share his literary vision. Livingstone initially suggested Francis Galton, who had explored south-west Africa (but is better known today for his later promotion of eugenics), before settling on the assistance of Royal Geographical Society secretary Norton Shaw (Livingstone 1857s, Henderson 2015). What was of utmost importance was that the reviser should have "sympathy with African travel" (Livingstone 1857s).

Although Livingstone doesn't provide a precise explanation of what this "sympathy" would entail, it is clear that he wanted a reader with scientific credentials and personal experience in exploratory travel and expeditionary writing. The term was loaded with the qualities he considered Milton to lack. A qualified reviser with geographical expertise and a manly character would not engage in Milton's "namby-pambyism" nor shy away from complexity, and would appreciate the value of scientific plain prose.

Livingstone's decision to reject Milton was perhaps vindicated on the book's publication. For the most part, reviews commended Missionary Travels for its apparently unembellished quality which they read as a measure of its authentic witness (J. D. Livingstone 2014:30-31, Henderson 2013:185). Whether or not Murray fully acquiesced, however, and permitted Livingstone to eradicate the editor's efforts altogether cannot be answered definitively in the absence of the marked-up galley proofs.

Certainly, the several instances that Livingstone cites in his letters are largely restored to the original in the published version, and he appears to have been placated. Yet the epistolary record also hints at compromise. On 11 July 1857, while finishing up the last few pieces of manuscript, Livingstone reported that he had received the "proofs" and would embark on them soon. It is likely that these were page proofs – more expensive to alter than the printed slips – since Livingstone promised Murray that he would keep his changes to a minimum: "I shall try and make only those alterations which are required to bring back the sense" (Livingstone 1857v).

A probable scenario is that, due to the simultaneity of the various phases of publication, some of Milton's amendments had made their way into the page proofs before Livingstone managed to institute his prohibition on interference. Livingstone was still going to restore his text, but with the caveat that he would only do so where essential.

This arrangement probably required type to be recomposed, but Murray must have considered Missionary Travels to be worth the financial outlay. Livingstone was himself hopeful that eventual sales would justify his stylistic remediation: "I hope if you are losing some subscribers," he told Murray, "you are getting others" (Livingstone 1857v). Livingstone shrewdly appealed to Murray's commercial interests; it was his own vision of the book, Livingstone suggested, that would best serve the publisher in producing a successful literary commodity.

Despite this rapprochement, the most striking feature of the altercation is undoubtedly Livingstone's willingness to make such a forceful complaint and to insist so emphatically on Milton's dismissal. The whole episode is remarkable for the extent to which Livingstone sought to resist the operations of a publishing system that structured mediation into book production. This is not to say that he ignored the guidance of others. When he rejected the reviser's alterations, Livingstone made it clear that he had Thomas Binney on his side as well as Whitwell Elwin, editor of the Quarterly Review. Livingstone also consulted Roderick Murchison and the eminent naturalist Richard Owen, who apparently both agreed that his own style was superior (Livingstone 1857s).

Yet, although Livingstone solicited opinions from a range of individuals, he was deeply concerned with regulating interference and remaining in control of his book. It is his struggle to retain jurisdiction over his work through the different phases of the publication circuit that emerges conspicuously in his discussions of manuscript material, printed slips, and page proofs.

Such intense efforts to maintain literary authority, of course, were bound up with Livingstone's preoccupations with self-image and public appearance. Livingstone was clearly anxious to cultivate the prestige of an accomplished explorer and field scientist – and this, no doubt, was all the more acute as a result of his working class background and his informal training as a cartographer and natural historian. Aware that authorial voice was crucial to this venture, Livingstone refused to permit stylistic interventions that might undermine his carefully conceived image. As he put it to Murray when complaining about Milton: "I really cannot afford to appear as he would make me" (Livingstone 1857r).


Conclusion    Top

The published Missionary Travels must be regarded as a book of compromises and accommodation. For instance, Livingstone had wanted to include either his full astronomical observations or his seTswana grammar as an appendix, but conceded these demands (see Henderson 2015, J. D. Livingstone 2014:26). Murray, for his part, not only tolerated Livingstone's stylistic protests but his requests for sometimes trifling revisions to illustrative matter – an expensive procedure when it meant amending engraved plates (Barringer 1996:183, Koivunen 2001:9, 2009:167).

But if Missionary Travels was a book of compromises, it was also one of collaboration. This collaborative dimension was partly of Livingstone's making and partly of the publisher's. As detailed above, Livingstone consulted a range of individuals on the book's particulars and experimented in using both an amanuensis and a copyist. For the publisher, of course, book production was always collaborative. Alongside the literary editor (the subject of focus in the present analysis), books of travel required engravers for illustrations, expert cartographers for maps, and compositors who customarily introduced silent grammatical and orthographic changes.

While Livingstone embraced the collaborative nature of book making up to a point, it eventually gave him cause for concern. Since the publication process opened the way for unauthorised changes to be introduced, he became anxious to retain literary oversight. Indeed, Livingstone's complaints to Murray about Milton's alterations should be read as a struggle over the authority of authorship. Whose prerogative was it to make final decisions about style and expression? Livingstone was an expert traveller, but the John Murray firm was expert in making books of travel.

For the most part, Murray authors showed deference to the firm's judgement on such matters, since publishing with such a reputable establishment was a guarantor of literary respectability (Keighren, Withers, and Bell 2015:216-18). Livingstone, however, was not prepared to do so uncritically or simply as a matter of principle. Despite the publisher's reputation in geography and despite being himself a relatively untested author, Livingstone was determined to exert his independence.

Nevertheless, Livingstone's frank complaints about Murray's literary editor should not dominate our perspective on their interactions. The two men had a close and productive working relationship. When Livingstone learned that opportunistic publishing rivals were capitalising on his fame by releasing unauthorised accounts of his travels, he drafted a preface to Missionary Travels for Murray's eyes only, "to be read if you have leisure then destroyed." In its ironic quality and "fiery" attack on competitors, there is a clear sense of shared interests – of camaraderie – between author and publisher (Livingstone 1857ff:[1]). The journey from manuscript to book was one of negotiations, but Livingstone and Murray were united in their efforts to make Missionary Travels a success in the Victorian literary market.


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