Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

The Date of the Livingstone Stanley Meeting (cont)
One problem remains. If, based on Livingstone's records, 28 or 29 October seem the likeliest dates, how can this be reconciled with Stanley's accounts? The most contemporary evidence from Stanley comes from a despatch he sent to the New York Herald dated 10 November 1871. In this despatch, Stanley (1970:59) writes that the meeting took place a week earlier, on the 3 November 1871. Yet in How I Found Livingstone, Stanley (1872:274-75) notes that he also lost track of the date and, like Livingstone, did not realize the error until the coming of Ramadan. In his case, adds Stanley, he was seven days ahead. However, the text itself of How I Found Livingstone gives the date as 10 November (Stanley 1872:405), a point that implicitly suggests that Stanley was behind – not ahead – seven days.
Figure 1. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297c/109, detail,
spectral ratio. Livingstone's entry for 12 April 1871, which
records a new moon and the arrival of the "4th Arab month."
The situation is confusing indeed. François Bontinck (1979) infers that when Stanley wrote 3 November, he had not yet corrected his dates. If he had, he would have written 27 October, a date that agrees with Cunningham. Yet as we have seen, this date does not agree with the surviving evidence from Livingstone himself. Bontinck also explains that the reason why Stanley gives the date of the meeting as 10 November is that he mistakenly added seven days to his record of 3 November instead of subtracting them, and so this problem, for Bontinck at least, is resolved.
The final turn in the critical argument comes from Tim Jeal. In his recent biography of Stanley, Jeal (2009:505) contends that the 3 November date is already the product of a subtraction. Jeal notes that in an earlier diary, Stanley had given the date of the meeting as 10 November. The date in the despatch, 3 November, was thus seven days earlier and, it appears, had already been revised by Stanley. Yet, if this reasoning is correct, the date of Stanley's despatch becomes dubious. The despatch records the meeting with Livingstone and so must have been written after 14 November when the two men together realized their mistakes in dating. Other evidence presented by Jeal, which is too detailed to recount here, again contradicts the 3 November date in favour of the 10 November date.
Whatever the case here, Jeal (2009:505-05) ultimately suggests that the details recorded by Stanley are inconsequential and that Stanley fabricated the fact that he had made a mistake in the first place! When Stanley realized that Livingstone believed the meeting to have taken place in late October, Stanley invented the story of his mistake in order to minimize the discrepancy between the two accounts and to make it appear that his, Stanley's, date was closer to Livingstone's than it really was. When it came to writing How I Found Livingstone – the permanent record of the encounter – Stanley opted for what he really believed to be the real date, 10 November 1871. Jeal (2009:506) also adds that Livingstone's "21-day discrepancy is by no means a proven quantity."
Figure 2. Table setting out Livingstone's erroneous references to
dates and Islamic months, the corrected dates and months, and the
number of days by which Livingstone's dates need to be corrected.
In other words, the historical and critical record gives us the possible dates of 27, 28, 29 October, and 3 and 10 November for the Livingstone and Stanley meeting. Moreover, although the 1871 Field Diary confirms the text of the 1872 Journal, namely that Livingstone was some 20 or 21 days out in his dating, we can go no further than this because we don't really have a date for the meeting itself from Livingstone.
In the 1872 Journal, Livingstone begins to describe Stanley's arrival in the midst of a long entry marked earlier as 24 October (Livingstone 1872a:727). As the entry progresses without break to the next page (1872a:728), Livingstone writes the date 28 October in the margin. The text, however, is continuous from one page to the next, and there is no obvious place for the new entry to begin. In addition, as Roy Bridges astutely notes (Bridges 1982), Livingstone writes the descriptive text that sets the stage for the meeting in a rather ambiguous manner – "But when my spirits were at their lowest ebb the good Samaritan was close at hand for one morning Susi came running at the top of his speed & gasped out 'An Englishman – I see him'" (1872a:727) – wording that opens possibilities rather than closes them, especially the reference to "one morning."
As a result, we can go no further than this, at least without the discovery of additional evidence. The 1871 Field Diary, although it advances the critical discussion, cannot close it. The last entry in the 1871 Field Diary (16-1/172br) bears a date of 3 November, which, when corrected, gives us either 13 October (a difference of 21 days) or 14 October (20 days, Cunningham's argument). The Diary, therefore, brings us to the doorstep of the celebrated meeting and its actual date, but no further.
Justin Livingstone and Adrian S. Wisnicki
Note on Text Versions