Mungo Park the Explorer – 1804

 

 

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Below is a piece about Mungo Park the Scottish explorer, explorer of the African continent – including Timbuktu.

Excerpt from Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott Volume 1 – 1837 by John Gibson Lockhart

Mungo Park the Explorer – 1804

During this autumn Scott formed the personal acquaintance of Mungo Park, the celebrated victim of African discovery. On his return from his first expedition, Park endeavoured to establish himself as a medical practitioner in the town of Hawick; but the drudgeries of that calling in such a district soon exhausted his ardent temper, and he was now living in seclusion in his native cottage at Fowlsheils on the Yarrow, nearly opposite Newark Castle.

His brother, Archibald Park, a man remarkable for strength both of mind and body, was the sheriffs-officer of that district, and introduced the traveller to his principal. They soon became much attached to each other; and Scott supplied some interesting anecdotes of their brief intercourse, to the late Mr. Wishaw, the editor of Park’s posthumous Journal, with which I shall blend a few minor circumstances which I gathered from him in conversation long afterwards. “On one occasion,” he says, “the traveller communicated to him some very remarkable adventures which had befallen him in Africa, but which he had not recorded in his book.” On Scott’s asking the cause of this silence, Mungo answered, “that in all cases where he had information to communicate, which he thought of importance to the public, he had stated the facts boldly, leaving it to his readers to give such credit to his statements as they might appear justly to deserve; but that he would not shock their faith, or render his travels more marvellous, by introducing circumstances, which, however true, were of little or no moment, as they related solely to his own personal adventures and escapes.” This reply struck Scott as highly characteristic of the man; and though strongly tempted to set down some of these marvels for Mr. Wishaw’s use, he on reflection abstained from doing so, holding it unfair to record what the adventurer had deliberately chosen to suppress in his own narrative.

He confirms the account given by Park’s biographer of his cold and reserved manners to strangers; and, in particular, of his disgust with the indirect questions which curious visitors would often put to him upon the subject of his travels. “This practice,” said Mungo, “exposes me to two risks; either that I may not understand the questions meant to be put, or that my answers to them may be misconstrued;” and he contrasted such conduct with the frankness of Scott’s revered friend, Dr. Adam Ferguson, who, the very first day the traveller dined with him at Hallyards, spread a large map of Africa on the table, and made him trace out his progress thereupon, inch by inch, questioning him minutely as to every step he had taken. “Here, however,” says Scott, “Dr. F. was using a privilege to which he was well entitled by his venerable age and high literary character, but which could not have been exercised with propriety by any common stranger.”

Excerpt from Memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott Volume 1 – 1837 by John Gibson Lockhart

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Further Reading and External Links

Mungo Park the Explorer on Wikipedia