In the history of the Nile there was a void: its Sources were a mystery. The Ancients devoted much attention to this problem; but in vain. The Emperor Nero sent an expedition under the command of two centurions, as described by Seneca. Even Roman energy failed to break the spell that guarded these secret fountains. The expedition sent by Mehemet Ali Pasha, the celebrated Viceroy of Egypt, closed a long term of unsuccessful search.
The work has now been accomplished. Three English parties, and only three, have at various periods started upon this obscure mission: each has gained its end.
Bruce won the source of the Blue Nile; Speke and Grant won the Victoria source of the great White Nile; and I have been permitted to succeed in completing the Nile Sources by the discovery of the great reservoir of the equatorial waters, the ALBERT N'YANZA, from which the river issues as the entire White Nile.
Having thus completed the work after nearly five years passed in Africa, there still remains a task before me. I must take the reader of this volume by the hand, and lead him step by step along my rough path from the beginning to the end; through scorching deserts and thirsty sands; through swamp, and jungle, and interminable morass; through difficulties, fatigues, and sickness, until I bring him, faint with the wearying journey, to that high cliff where the great prize shall burst upon his view - from which he shall look down upon the vast ALBERT LAKE, and drink with me from the Sources of the Nile!
I have written "HE!" How can I lead the more tender sex through dangers and fatigues, and passages of savage life? A veil shall be thrown over many scenes of brutality that I was forced to witness, but which I will not force upon the reader; neither will I intrude anything that is not actually necessary in the description of scenes that unfortunately must be passed through in the journey now before us. Should anything offend the sensitive mind, and suggest the unfitness of the situation for a woman's presence, I must beseech my fair readers to reflect, that the pilgrim's wife followed him, weary and footsore, through all his difficulties, led, not by choice, but by devotion; and that in times of misery and sickness her tender care saved his life and prospered the expedition.
"O woman, in our hours of ease
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!"
In the journey now before us I must request some exercise of patience during geographical details that may be wearisome; at all events, I will adhere to facts, and avoid theory as much as possible.
The Botanist will have ample opportunities of straying from our path to examine plants with which I confess a limited acquaintance. The Ethnologist shall have precisely the same experience that I enjoyed, and he may either be enlightened or confounded. The Geologist will find himself throughout the journey in Central Africa among primitive rocks. The Naturalist will travel through a grass jungle that conceals much that is difficult to obtain: both he and the Sportsman will, I trust, accompany me on a future occasion through the "Nile tributaries from Abyssinia," which country is prolific in all that is interesting. The Philanthropist, - what shall I promise to induce him to accompany me? I will exhibit a picture of savage man precisely as he is; as I saw him; and as I judged him, free from prejudice: painting also, in true colours, a picture of the abomination that has been the curse of the African race, the SLAVE TRADE; trusting that not only the philanthropist, but every civilized being, will join in the endeavour to erase that stain from disfigured human nature, and thus open the path now closed to civilization and missionary enterprise. To the Missionary, - that noble, self-exiled labourer toiling too often in a barren field, - I must add the word of caution, "Wait"! There can be no hope of success until the slave trade shall have ceased to exist.
The journey is long, the countries savage; there are no ancient histories to charm the present with memories of the past; all is wild and brutal, hard and unfeeling, devoid of that holy instinct instilled by nature into the heart of man - the belief in a Supreme Being. In that remote wilderness in Central Equatorial Africa are the Sources of the Nile.