“THE EVIL NIGHTS…”: BURTON’S LAST MAJOR EXPEDITION IN WEST AFRICA, WITH NARRATIVE OF THE SLAVE TRADE
BURTON, Richard F. A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome. With Notices of the Called “Amazons,” The Grand Customs, The Yearly Customs, The Human Sacrifices, The Present State of the Slave Trade, and the Negro’s Place in Nature. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1864. Two volumes. Octavo, modern three-quarter brown morocco gilt, raised bands. $4500.
First edition of this account of Burton’s last major expedition in West Africa, handsomely bound.
In late 1863, while serving as British Consul in West Africa, Burton traveled to the Kingdom of Dahome in order to establish trade relationships, to protest the kingdom’s involvement in the slave trade, and to investigate charges that King Gelele participated in ritual human sacrifice. Burton traveled in full pomp, with hundreds of porters and assistants, but the king refused him a private audience. As preparations for the yearly custom began, Burton demanded no one be killed in his presence. “In deference to him— or to his Queen— the victims were slaughtered at night — ‘the evil nights,’ said Burton— the king cutting off the first head himself” (Rice, 379). Unlike earlier travelers, Burton sought an unprejudiced explanation for the practices, despite his own revulsion. When he protested to Gelele, “the king had his answers. It was the English who long ago had initiated the slave trade… and as for the custom [of sacrifice, the king] slew only malefactors and prisoners of war… It had been a frustrating, disappointing, unsuccessful trip, and psychologically the king had been Burton’s master… Only Burton’s magnificent two-volume work on his efforts served to offset his disappointments” (Rice, 380). Each volume with an engraved frontispiece. With page 181 of Volume II misnumbered 381, as called for in Penzer. Penzer, 72-73. Casada 47. Ex-library, with library blind embossing to preliminary and concluding leaves of both volumes and stamp to first text page of each volume.
A fine, handsome copy. Scarce.