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Geography and Travel. 1054: Isaac Taylor, Scenes in Africa

Author: Taylor, Isaac
Title: Scenes in Africa, for the amusement and instruction of little tarry-at-home travellers. By the Rev. Isaac Taylor. Author of European, Asiatic, and American Scenes. Second edition.
Cat. Number: 1054
Date: 1821
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: Harris and Son, Corner of St. Paul's Church Yard
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., iv + 128pp.
Size: 16 x 9.5 cm

Images of all pages of this book Note: these have NOT been verified or catalogued. Use with care.

Page 003 of item 1054

The Taylors of Ongar, in Essex, between them produced a great many books for children. The sisters Anne and Jane were most famous for Original Poems for Infant Minds (see 0851-0854), and their father Isaac for his Scenes of... series, published by John Harris between 1818 and 1830, of which this is one. Isaac Taylor (1759-1829) was also an engraver, like his own father, and a non-conformist preacher.

Scenes in Africa came in the middle of Taylor's series. A prefatory poem introduces the reader to the same child and the same instructor as had featured in the earlier tours of Europe and Asia, and promises further volumes to come ('But is there no more when this volume is done', asks the child, to which the instructor replies 'O yes, there's America, there will be fun,/And then the whole world is complete.').

Taylor introduces the subject of this volume to his young readers with the child's reference to black Africans he has seen living in Britain:

There live the black negroes, I've heard papa say, -
We see one sometimes in the street;
I wonder they like to be so far away;
I'll look at the next that we meet.(p.iii)

However, the main text of the book begins on board ship. We are somewhere in the Mediterranean when the child asks 'But what is that odd-looking vessel in the distance? ... it seems as if it were making its way directly to us. Surely it has oars as well as sails; how fast it comes.' This 'strange-looking vessel was a Corsair,' we discover, 'a pirate from the coast of Barbary; whose whole business is robbery; and who would certainly make slaves of all the crew and passengers.' (p.2) Without resistance, the Corsairs capture the ship. Before long they have taken the narrator to the north coast of Africa and sold him into slavery.

After this exciting opening, which subjects the narrator to the fate which he will learn much more about over the following pages, Taylor's text settles back into a more traditional pedagogic style: 'Almost the whole Mediterranean coast of Africa goes by the general name of Barbary;' the instructor relates, 'though it is not now under one dominion .... The principal of these is the kingdom of Morocco', and so on (p.3). Characteristically for Taylor, this kind of factual material is mixed with further stories and anecdotes. The narrator is soon freed by the Emperor of Morocco, continues his journey around the continent and has his own adventures. Taylor also relates the tales of other travellers, slotting them smoothly into his own account. The adventures of 'Horneman' and 'Adams' feature heavily, for instance, presumably being derived from James Rennell's Geographical illustrations of the travels and informations of F. Horneman (1802) and either The Narrative of Robert Adams, a sailor, who was wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the year 1810 (1816) or Captain John Adams' Sketches taken during ten voyages to Africa, between the years 1786 and 1800 (1822). The travels of Mungo Park are also often cited. In effect, then, what Taylor provides is sometimes little more than a miscellany of travel writing, rewritten for children.

Taylor's view of Africans is mixed. He describes some as naturally noble, and capable of virtue even without Christianity. He reports of one West African that when he fights he shouts 'Strike me, but do not curse my mother' (p.37). This leads to reflections on the idea of the noble savage:

There are feelings mild and sweet
Twisted in our nature;
Form'd to make the heart complete,
By the great Creator.

Education will refine,
True religion nourish;
Man appears almost divine
Where these feelings flourish.

E'en where ignorance deforms,
Makes the mind unsightly,
We can see in passion's storms,
If he feels but rightly.

Worthy Negro, thou art right,
More than many others;
Shame to those, though fair and white,
Who abuse their mothers. (pp.37-8)

On the other hand, Taylor also describes some Africans as violent, grasping, inhospitable, and addicted to all manner of vices. In a section entitled 'Mumbo Jumbo' he castigates witch-doctors, and the cruel punishments they inflict on women in their villages (p.48ff.). And when a European ship comes into harbour in Western Africa, he reports, the natives generally run down to it in hopes of exchanging slaves for brandy. They will even sell their own children or parents to the Europeans to get more of this 'vile liquor'. 'It is true the English have many laws against this trade in flesh and bones;' he continues, 'but their power cannot reach every where'. Another poem recounts the author's outrage at children selling parents into slavery, but concludes with animadversions of British children:

Yet, much the same is often done
By many a miss and master;
Who waste their parents' wealth in fun,
And break their hearts still faster.

If such unnaturals had a mark,
Their sin expressed by colour;
How many fair would turn quite dark,
As negro dark, or duller. (p.46)

Later, 'In order that the atrocities of [slavery] may never be forgotten, and that every little boy and girl may grow up in horror at the Slave Trade,' Taylor provides details of how the slave system is operated by both Africans and Europeans (p.34ff.). He describes the kidnapping of slaves, the way in which war is often declared only so as to take prisoners to sell into slavery, the burning of buildings to force the inhabitants outside so that they may be captured and sold. There is also the standard description of a slave ship, an account of slave auctions once the destination is reached, which take no account of the family ties of the slaves, and of the hard work and severe discipline which exists on the plantations. This is followed by a rebuke to Britons for not taking action sooner - the trade in slaves had only been abolished by Britain in 1807, and at the time of publication, slavery was still not illegal in British colonies - and a eulogy of the anti-slave trade campaigners Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. (p.65)

From the slave coast in north-west Africa, Taylor conducts his readers on a journey eastwards. During a brief excursion to 'Abyssinia' we are told of the custom of eating live flesh from a cow and of a great waterfall. Then the journey comes to an end in Egypt, with an account of the Nile, the pyramids, mummies and so on. A poem brings the book to a close, summarising what the reader has been shown generally in very stereotypical terms - the evil Moor, the stupid, pitiable negro, the dreadful atrocities and the notable sights. The final stanza celebrates the exposure to European eyes of Africa, figuring those readers who strive to learn more about the continent as heroic explorers:

So Africa! - those who despise it,
Shew ignorance dull, I declare:
He best shews his wisdom who tries it,
And learns what he can every where. (p.127)