Note on the Text of the Letter

Livingstone's Letter from Bambarre

This section describes key physical and textual characteristics of the Letter from Bambarre. The section begins with a summary of the issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (8 Nov. 1869), pages of which Livingstone used to create the letter, then turns to a close analysis of the letter itself as well as to an overview of relationship of this letter to other contemporaneous letters that Livingstone also wrote over pages from the Proceedings.


Livingstone’s letter to Waller consists of two leaves, both of which are covered recto and verso, recto to verso, with writing. The leaves are taken from a proof copy of The Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 14.1 (8 Nov. 1869): 1-18. This issue is devoted almost wholly to letters from Livingstone written in July 1868. This proof copy, like the 24 November 1869 issue of The Standard, was delivered to Livingstone on 4 February 1871 along with three letters from Waller (see The Letter with Annotations, note for 0001.2-3). One of the letters from Waller (1869b), in fact, discusses the particular RGS meeting to which the Proceedings correspond.

A color image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[2]), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
A color image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[2]), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported. This segment shows, upside-down, the printed conclusion of Livingstone’s "despatch" to the Earl of Clarendon (July 1868), and, handwritten, Livingstone’s reference to that same despatch on the last line on the page: "Despatch supplementary to that from Bangwe[olo]."

The published version of the Proceedings opens with an address by Roderick Murchison, President of the RGS, then includes letters from Livingstone to John Kirk (8 July 1868), the Earl of Clarendon (July 1868), Roderick Murchison (8 July 1868), and Sir Bartle Frere (July 1868). Livingstone composed all these letters near Lake Bangweolo. There follows a letter from John Kirk to C. Gonne, Secretary to the Government of Bombay (7 Sept. 1869). Finally, the issue concludes with a summary of the audience discussion that followed the reading of the letters. This summary notes that the audience included Bartle Frere, A.G. Findlay, Francis Galton, and Horace Waller.

Although comparison of the proof copy and published text shows that the two are not identical, there is enough overlap to determine that the verso of the first leaf of Livingstone’s letter ([2]), which is numbered page 9, contains portions of pages 12 (the conclusion of Livingstone’s letter to the Earl of Clarendon), 16 (Kirk’s letter to Gonne), and 17 (the opening of the audience discussion) of the published text. In other words, this leaf is taken from the end of the issue, and would have been among the first Livingstone used were he to turn over the issue and begin writing on successive leaves, end to beginning. More curiously, on [2], Livingstone himself refers to the letter to the Earl of Clarendon (July 1868), or what Livingstone calls the "despatch … from Bangweolo," and does so directly below where the printed fragment of the letter appears on the page.

A color image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[4]), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).

A processed spectral image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[4] pseudo_v1), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).

A processed spectral image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[1] sharpie), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
A color image and two processed spectral images of a segment of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[4], 1871c:[4] pseudo_v1, 1871c:[4] sharpie), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported. The segment shows that the "uncorrected" proof copy of the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society was specifically marked "for Dr Livingstone Interior of Africa."

The verso of the second leaf of Livingstone’s letter ([4]) corresponds to pages 1 and 2 (prefatory matter and opening of the address by Murchison) of the published version, and is in fact numbered page 1. This suggests that this leaf would have been the last that Livingstone used if writing on successive leaves, end to beginning, of the Proceedings proof copy. The handwritten address to Livingstone in the top left-hand corner of the page, "Dr Livingstone Interior of Africa," confirms that this was indeed the first page of the proof copy (the published version of the text has additional prefatory matter, pages i-vii, not found in the proof copy).

Three other Livingstone letters written on leaves of the Proceedings proof copy have survived. These are held at the National Library of Scotland. One is addressed to Agnes Livingstone and dated March 1871. The other two are to John Kirk and dated 13 February 1871 and 25 March 1871. These letters are on pages 2, 4, and 5, respectively, of the Proceedings proof copy. The letters have been spectrally imaged and published by the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. Given the dates and pages numbers of these letters, it is possible that Livingstone wrote the two leaves of the letter to Waller on different dates – the first on 5 February 1871 and the second sometime later, possibly on or after 25 March 1871 (although other evidence suggests a date no later than 16 February 1871, see The Letter with Annotations, note for 0001.1).

Alternately, although Livingstone may have started writing on the first leaf of the letter on 5 February 1871, he may have continued adding to this leaf and eventually begun writing on the second leaf sometime after 5 February 1871. Internal details certainly supports this conclusion. For instance, the narrative style of the two leaves of the letter differs considerably and suggests that Livingstone wrote these while in two very different moods – the narrative on the first leaf ([1] and [2]) jumps rapidly from topic to topic, while that of the second ([3] and [4]) contains several long meditations on East African slavery. Livingstone’s "overtext" on the first leaf ([2]), i.e., the portion of the letter written over the printed text of the Proceedings, is clearly an after-the-fact addition, while the "overtext" on the second leaf ([4]) and part of the vertical text in the right margin likewise appear to be after-the-fact additions.

A color image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[4]), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).

A processed spectral image of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[1] RARR), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/).
A color image and processed spectral image of a segment of a page of the Letter from Bambarre (Livingstone 1871c:[1], 1871c:[1] RARR), detail. Copyright Peter and Nejma Beard. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported. The segment presents Livingstone’s signature followed by a red seal. The processed image additionally highlights the proximity of the seal to one of the folds of the page.

Finally, each leaf of the letter is to some extent a self-contained entity, and the narrative of the letter does not continue from [2] to [3]. Rather, each leaf has an opening, closing, and postscript in the form of the "overtext." For instance, the recto of the first leaf ([1]) is dated 5 February 1871, addressed "My Dear Waller," and covered with text that runs horizontally across the page from top to bottom. The verso of the first leaf ([2]) contains the printed text of the Proceedings upside down. The layout of Livingstone’s text on the verso shows that he continued his text from the recto, and wrote around the printed text in the top, left, and bottom margins successively. He then turned the leaf ninety degrees clockwise and wrote in the remaining margin (where he also placed his signature). Finally, without again turning the letter, he wrote across the printed text of the Proceedings, perpendicular to that text.

The recto of the second leaf ([3]) begins simply with "P.S. to Waller," then follows the same composition format – recto and verso, recto to verso – as the first leaf ([1] and [2]). Livingstone’s signature also appears in roughly the same place as on the first leaf ([1]), but is here followed by a red seal. This seal may have been used to hold together the flaps of the letter after the pages had been folded and the letter was ready to be transported. As a result, although this leaf is clearly a postscript, it is still addressed to Waller in the opening (though, of course, adding Waller’s name here was necessary to ensure the two parts of the letter remained together), has a concluding signature ([4]) and its own postscripts ([4]), just like the first leaf. The emergence of more evidence may clarify the composition history of the letter further.

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