A curious combination of hatred and love drew the explorers back to Africa. They were like men who make a life at sea; having once committed themselves to its hazards they feel impelled to go back again and again even if Africa kills them. At one time or another most of them rail against the country and its inhabitants, declaring them to be ugly, brutal, scheming, debauched and finally hopeless.
It is extraordinary in the accounts of their journeys how seldom they are touched by the beauty or the grandeur of the landscape, the tremendous plains of the central plateau with the blue mountains in the distance and the herds of wild animals roaming there 'to the explorers it is all basically hostile, incomplete, not to be regarded with an aesthetic eye until it is reformed and reduced to order by civilization and Christianity.'
Dr. Schweinfurth, one of the calmest and most self-sufficient of explorers on the Upper Nile, remarks, 'The first sight of a throng of savages, suddenly presenting themselves in their naked nudity, is one from which no amount of familiarity can remove the strange impression; it takes abiding hold upon the memory, and makes the traveller recall anew the civilization he has left behind.'
In other words, there is here a sort of Rousseauesque attraction, a nostalgia for simplicity, which nevertheless is constantly being upset by the lonely traveller's remembrance of the comfortable, reassuring world at home.
Recoiling from the savagery of Africa, Schweinfurth returned to Europe. But he found he could not remain there; within a year or two Africa called him back. It was the same with all the others, whether they were missionaries like Livingstone, scholars like Burton, soldiers and collectors like Speke, or sportsmen like Baker.
All of them in their books claim that they are in Africa because they have a mission there; they want to resolve the geographical problems and they want to reform the country, to convert the untilled land into useful farms, to open up commerce and to lift the natives out of their animism and savagery into a higher way of life. And yet one cannot help feeling that there is still another reason for their journeys: a fundamental restlessness, a simple absorbing curiosity in everything that is strange and new. To satisfy that curiosity they are prepared to put up with anything, even the prospect of death itself.
Joseph Thomson, the young Scottish explorer who was the first to cross Kenya to the great lakes, was quite frank about this. Just before he died he wrote: 'I am doomed to be a wanderer. I am not an empire-builder. I am not a missionary. I am not truly a scientist. I merely want to return to Africa to continue my wanderings.'