Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

A Note on the Three Versions of the Text
Victorian explorers and travellers produced a variety of records to document their experiences in the field. Often these records emerged in stages, with each successive record building on and revising the information contained in previous records. Roy Bridges (1987:180) has identified three categories of such records: “There is the first-stage or ‘raw’ record made as [the explorer] went along, the more considered and organised journal or perhaps letter written during intervals of greater leisure and finally the definitive account of the expedition, usually composed after his return to Europe with a view to publication.” However, adds Bridges, “these categories are not of course absolute and in practice may merge into one another in various ways.” (For more on the critical debate, see Youngs 1994 and Wisnicki 2010.)
Livingstone didn’t live to publish “the definitive account” of his final travels. Rather, Horace Waller posthumously edited and published the Last Journals of 1874 (see Helly 1987; also The Manuscript), but Bridges’s categories otherwise offer a useful method for describing the documents Livingstone produced on his last journey. These documents include first-stage records such as field diaries and notebooks, and second-stage records such as letters and the 1872 Journal into which Livingstone transcribed most of his field diaries. Bridges (1987:181, 184) underscores the value of the “raw,” unadulterated, first-stage records: “Direct and full information on the journey is provided with no later glossing, omission or addition,” and so “Livingstone’s notebooks and diaries do sometimes give information which is simply not present at all in published works.”
Figures 1, 2. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297c/131, detail, color (top)
and intercept (below). The material condition of the actual manuscript
reveals much about the composition process and the circumstances
under which Livingstone produced and transported the text. The
processed image here clarifies some of the text beneath the blot at left.
Reference to the texts made available in this edition – the 1871 Field Diary, the 1872 Journal, and the 1874 published text – illustrates and extends Bridges’s arguments. Furthermore, a passage in an 1871 letter, included here as a “bonus” text, offers yet a fourth version of the Nyangwe massacre. Long ago Dorothy Helly (1987) definitively described the range of editorial moves by which Waller transformed the 1872 Journal into the 1874 published text and so helped create the Livingstone we remember today. However, a look at the newly-revealed text of the 1871 Field Diary shows that the distance between this work and the 1872 Journal – let alone the 1874 published text – is much greater than that between the latter two texts.
The 1871 Field Diary offers a candid, unmediated, and often unnarrativized window onto Livingstone’s experiences in the field. The diary reads as much as a Victorian work as it does a fragmentary, modernist record of travel in extreme circumstances. At times the writing is disorganized, at times incoherent, at times Livingstone cycles through a heterogeneous range of narrative modes – offering descriptions of experiences, meteorological observations, native vocabularies, field notes, and drafts of letters in rapid succession. Moreover, the chance to read the text while viewing the images of the diary – whether natural light or processed spectral images – reveals the intimate link between what Livingstone writes and the way his words appear on the manuscript page, for instance, when the particularly heavy blotting of his ink follows a passage where Livingstone notes: “We have rain in large quantity almost every night” (1871a:297c/107).
Figure 3. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297c/107, detail, spectral ratio.
The blotting of the text reflects the content, part of which reads:
"We have rain in large quantity almost every night."
The diary also shows Livingstone at a moment of crisis, in circumstances that often get the better of him and lead him into decisions that he would otherwise not make. As a result, when we read the 1871 Field Diary alongside the 1871 letter and 1872 Journal, we get a fascinating glimpse into the way Livingstone hoped to rewrite problematic incidents and (re)present himself to the public.
Note on Spectral Images