Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Art. I. A Voyage to Abyssinia, and Travels into the Interior of that

Country, executed under the Orders of the British Government, in the Years 1809 and 1810; in which are included an account of the Portuguese Settlements on the East Coast of Africa, visited in the Course of the Voyage ; a concise Narrative of late i vents in Arabia Felix; and some Particulars respecting the Aboriginal African Tribes, extending from Mosambique to the borders of Egypt; together with Vocabularies of their respective Languages. Illustrated with a Map of Abyssinia, numerous Engravings and Charts. By Henry Salt, Esq. F R.S. &c. Royal 4to, pp. 580 Price 51. 5s. Rivingtons. 1814.

FOR the last twenty-four years Abyssinia has been regarded,

by the greater number of the people among us, who take some little account of the different regions of the world they inhabit, much in the light of a newly discovered country. Previously to that time it was seldom recollected to be in existence; the relations of foreign missionaries and historians of a long anterior period, were very little known among us, excepting that of Lobo, translated by Johnson; and how much of that might be accurate no one presumed to have any confident judgement; while the slight unauthenticated stories of more recent date, that might now and then find their way into the chronicles of adventures and curiosities, had amused for an hour, bad excited, perhaps, a momentary vain wish, that some certain information could be obtained respecting this unknown land, and had been soun forgotten. The name always conveyed an idea of utter estrangement; and the very locality, secluded on all sides by such a breadth of impervious frontier, had to the imagination VOL. III.-N. S.

R

a certain dark air of vast remoteness, which was no longer retained by the regions of the great Southern Ocean.

This character of profound retirement was at length broken in

upon, and dissipated by, a most daring and accomplished adventurer from this country. When Bruce published his travels, Abyssinia became, all at once, far more familiar to our imaginations than a great part of our own island. Its leading personages, the general condition of its population, its institutions, the face of the country, its grand river, its most remarkable animal and vegetable productions, were suddenly displayed before us in one comprehensive picture of most vigorous delineation and glowing colours. So vivid was his representation, and in so natural and interesting a manner was he himself brought forward in it, that he has associated his name, his character, his history, inseparably with the country. Abyssinia may exbibit its long list of emperors, and its ample memorials of wars, revolutions, and missionary enterprises; but in popular recollection, in this country at least, it will, for a long time to come, have no distinction so marked, so instantly and inevitably suggested to thought, as that it is the country that Bruce visited. He had, morally, something very like that quality, or happy accident of being, which some of our voyagers to the South Sea islands found possessed by the king of a portion of one of them, that whatever ground he walked upon became thenceforward his own. Should it prove practicable for a series of travellers, each of them as intelligent, observant, and active, as the Author of this volume, to visit that country during the next half century, and make their reports in as entertaining and elegant a form, yet still, to the end of that or a longer period, Bruce will be the name which they must submit to perceive maintaining a maguitude of notoriety more than equal to their collective fame.

Bruce's representation has, partly by means of its priority, but not less by the power of mind which inspirits it, taken such effectual occupancy of the general imagination, (like Milton's representations of Eden and the infernal world,) that it is not without some little reluctance that many of his readers are yielding to the evidence which is accumulating to correct his involuntary errors or intentional impositions. Even Mr. Salt him. self, who will be thought quite zealous enough in the detection and exposure of these, confesses that he still reads Bruce's work with an interest which makes him regret it should contain any thing to force scepticism or disbelief on his mind. After exposing some such mis-statements and contradictions, as it must be acknowledged that no stretch of charity cau put to the acsount of unconscious error, our Author adds,

• I here beg leave to observe, that the reader who wishes to form a just estimate of the merits and faults of Mr. Bruce, should carefully compare the information given in the late appendices with the original publication, and, after perusing both with attention, he will find that I have selected only a small portion of the contradictions subsisting between them; as I have been anxious to enter only so far into the question as might tend to justify the observations I felt myself compelled to make respecting this traveller ; for, had I altogether evaded the question, I might, with some justice, have been supposed to have comproinised my own opinions from dread of his numerous advocates, or from a culpable desire of sheltering myself under his acquired reputation. I am perfectly aware how much Mr. Bruce has accomplished ; and no man can more truly admire his courage, his perseverance, his sagacity, or his genius, than myself; and I confess that, from the pleasure I still take in reading his book, I shall never cease to regret that any weakness of character or unfortunate vanity should have induced him, in a single instance, to have swerved from the plain and manly path of sincerity and truth which lay before him : since the ground which he occupied was far too elevated for him to stand in need of any such unworthy and adventitious aid. p. 343.

In several other places he bears testimony in strong terms to the general truth of Bruce's picture of the country and its population. At some moments, what our Author beheld, so vividly recalled his predecessor's exhibitions that it was nearly equal, for obtaining a strong and true impression of the scene, whether he looked on the reality or on the reflected images in the mirror of the description. If that powerful describer could have abstained from some extravagances and exaggerations,--if the crowded diversity of actual adventures could have convinced him there was really no room for the introduction, as matter of fact, of several fictitious ones,--if he could have thought it better, freely to suffer some other individuals to enjoy an inferior share of the credit of an achievement, of which he has, after all, been unsuccessful in his earnest endeavour to monopolize the honour, than to mis-state facts, falsify dates, and even attempt to pervert geography,--and if these convictions of defective integrity, in some particulars, had not inevitably thrown a certain dubiousness over the specific detail, at least of every part of his work where any thing extraordinary is exhibited ;-he might indeed have been regarded as the prince of travellers. How much he misjudged the age that was then coming on, if he really fancied that his enterprise was to be nearly the last of the kind, that no Englishman would ever dare be found on any part of his track, and that therefore his negligent or deliberate deviations from truth could be for ever beyond the reach of inquisition. If the rapid multiplication of books of travels be, in some respects, an evil, it gives us at least the advantage of a powerful check on the romance-making propensities of the amusing vagrants; and

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

what has befallen Bruce will very strongly tend to admonisi them, that there is hardly any part of the earth which the most daring of them can explore, that can secure them an impunity in bringing us a deceptive account of what they shall have seen there, and have done there.

The only place to warrant such an experiment would be a country going to be for ever closed up (as in the case of a great portion of the coast of Greenland) by an indissoluble assemblage of ice, or a district in some of those regions where it should not be at all improbable that the very year after the traveller's visit, the towns, the people, and the very face of the country, may be destroyed by an earthquake.

In our cursory survey of the present work, it may come in our way almost inevitably to notice, in a slight and passing manner, an instance or two of Bruce's temerity and miscalculation, in making statements and assertions which must have been hazarded in the presumption, that he was an exclusively favoured mortal with regard to atiempts on the interior of Africa, and that the fountains of the Nile had hardly been more effectually guarded against vulgar approach before his time, than the very country itself was destined to be subsequently. He was not even considerate enough to advert to a danger that menaced his reputation from a quarter from which it might be deeply injured without the intervention of any rival of his adven

He could little have anticipated that his own manuscript papers were to furnish, through the highly laudable honesty of his friends, in a new edition of his own work, the proofs of a variety of inaccuracies and contradictions, and, we fear, some intentionally false statements.

Nevertheless, he stands as yet above all danger of rivalry in practical achievement in that part of the world He went where no other of his countrymen has penetrated since, or is likely to penetrate for an indefinite time to come; and the brilliant enterprise was accomplished by his own single energy, aided by none of that influence which now accompanies, in so many regions of the east, a man belonging to a nation known to have acquired the ascendency at sea, and the dominion of a considerable portion of Asia. His fame admits no other individual for a moment in heirship or competition but Mr. Salt; and he, witla all the influence and the facilities that accompanied him, has not been able to approach that central region of Abyssinia which Bruce created himself the means of invading, and traversing with protracied and privileged and intimate inspection.

Having read with much interest Mr. Salt's former journal of travels in Abyssinia, forming a párt of Lord Valentia's splendid work, we heard, with great pleasure, of his being appointed by our government to make a more formal attempt on that coun

tures

[ocr errors]

try, in a mission which, with evertures for opening a commercial intercourse as its most palpable object, would necessarily, in such hands, include whatever could be accomplished in the way of general inquiry, vigilant and accurate inspection, and

raphical representation. We ventured to hope that at his return we should be enabled to travel once more in imagination to Gondar, for the first time with a guide on whom we could in all respects implicitly rely. It was, therefore, with a strong feeling of disappointment that we learned at length that he had, with still more mortifying disappointment to himself, found insuperable obstacles to his design of penetrating into the interior province of Amhara ; that he had not, indeed, been able to approach very materially nearer to Gondar than Antálo, the capital of the grand eastern province denominated Tigre, the same town which formed the limit to his former advance into

country :-only he was permitted in this latter visit to make a pleasant and a very observant excursion eastward to the river Tacazze, and the foot of some of the mountains of Samen, the grand appearance of which mountains was worth a longer journey, even had there been nothing interesting in its several stages.

Still, though all his readers will very sensibly share his own disappointment, and though they are to be informed, besides, that he failed in the specific object of his mission, they will all testify that he has given us a very pleasing book. It contains information of considerable value, supplies a great deal of entertainment, and will contribute to reduce to a less extravagant and a more defined shape in our minds, the somewhat wild and dubious images introduced into them without a possibility of expulsion by his romancing predecessor. It presents, also, a number of characteristic objects and scenes directly to the eye by means of our Author's sketches, and may, perhaps, for we would not utterly despair of this, tend to excite in this country a degree of benevolence which may ultimately operate to assist an unhappy people, placed in circuinstances in which very small services might prove of incalculable benefit. To this last point Mr. Salt, with a very laudable zeal in behalf of a country, in which he has experienced so much kindness and seen so much infecility, adverts strongly both at the beginning and at the end of his book. His dedication to a personage to whom, previously to reading it, we exceedingly wondered what he could say, concludes thus

• Should this volume succeed in attracting your notice to the present forlorn and distracted state of Abyssinia, so far as to induce your R. H. to promote the welfare of that country, by the introduction of useful arts, together with a judicious advancement of the true tenets of the Christian Religion among its inhabitants, I shall feel that my

« ForrigeFortsett »