Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Stanley's Near-Death Experience

     "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"
     These are the words which rise to mind when most people hear the name of Henry Morton Stanley. It's a pity, because he probably never uttered them, and they made him the butt of merriment. At least, that is the opinion of Tim Jeal, in his acclaimed 2007 biography, Stanley: the impossible life of Africa's greatest explorer. And one of the interesting bits of trivial which emerged was that he had a near-death experience.
    It occurred in May 1881, when he was busy setting up the Congo Free State, and he came down with fever. There was so much blood in his urine that it turned the colour of port wine. For several weeks, he was at death's door, shivering and sweating, and passing in and out of consciousness. At one point, he was convinced he was about to die, and called all his staff around him. After bidding them farewell in a barely audible voice, he sank back, cried out, "I am saved," and lost consciousness.
     Finally, when it was all over, he recorded the following in his diary:
I am at the entrance of a very lengthy tunnel, and a light as of a twinkling star is seen an immeasurable length away. There is s sensible increase in the glow - the twinkling ceases, it has become an incandescent globe. It grows larger & it advances ... the light grows blinding.
     But, nevertheless, he came back to continue his work.