Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing

By James Duncan; Derek Gregory | Go to book overview

2

Limited Visions of Africa

Geographies of savagery and civility in early eighteenth-century narratives

Roxann Wheeler

The Negroe Town of Cape Coast is very large and populous. The Inhabitants, tho’ Pagans, are a very civiliz’d Sort of People, for which they are beholding to their frequent Conversation with the Europeans. They are of a warlike Disposition, tho’ in Time of Peace, their chief Employment is fishing, at which they are very dexterous.

(Smith 1744, 123)

He [Agaja, the king of Dahomey] was middle-sized, and full bodied; and, as near as I could judge, about forty-five years old: His Face was pitted with the Small Pox; nevertheless, there was something in his Countenance very taking, and withal majestick. Upon the whole, I found him the most extraordinary Man of his Colour, that I had ever conversed with, having seen nothing in him that appeared barbarous, except the sacrificing of his Enemies; which the Portuguese Gentleman told me, he believed was done out of Policy; neither did he eat human Flesh himself.

(Snelgrave 1734, 75)

Those People [Africans] in general are the most unpolish’d of the three ancient Parts of the World. Along the Coasts of the Mediterranean, where the Arabs formerly extended their Conquests, they are most civiliz’d, that Nation, renown’d in those Days, having still retain’d something of their former Government and more human way of living. The inner Regions, less known to us, as scarce ever frequented by other Nations, continue in greater Ignorance, and entire privation of all politeness; and the most Southern are altogether brutal, or savage.

(The Compleat Geographer 1709, 166)

Until Mungo Park’s 1795 expedition into the African interior, there is little ‘true’ storyline about Africa available to Britons. 1 Instead, there are episodes of coastal contact in the early narratives, first for gold, ivory and decorative woods and later for slaves; many of these episodes yield confusion about the land and the inhabitants rather than clarification. Below, I will draw on several African travel narratives of the 1720s and 1730s, especially William Snelgrave’s A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea and the Slave-Trade (1734). 2 I am particularly interested in juxta-

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Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Limited Visions of Africa 14
  • 3 - Enlightenment Travels 49
  • References 69
  • 4 - Writing Travel and Mapping Sexuality 70
  • 5 - The Flight from Lucknow 92
  • 6 - Scripting Egypt 114
  • 7 - Dis-Orientation 151
  • 8 - The Exoticism of the Familiar and the Familiarity of the Exotic 164
  • 9 - Travelling Through the Closet 185
  • 10 - Writing Over the Map of Provence 200
  • Index 219
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