American Museum of Natural History Logo link: Congo Expedition Main Page

Return to Annotated Bibliography List

Off to the Congo

Joseph Conrad

Chapin may have even read some fiction based on the Congo, including, of course, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, published in 1899. The NYPL Rare Books division has a copy of the transcription of Conrad's diary from his six months in the Congo as a steamship commander in 1890. In this diary Conrad gives scant but tantalizing hints of the conditions which he described later as "the vilest scramble for loot that every disfigured the history of human conscience."

A few years after Lang and Chapin returned from Africa, the New York Public Library acquired the correspondence of lawyer and art collector John Quinn. Quinn, who collected modern manuscripts and was a supporter of the Irish Home Rule movement, was in correspondence with both Conrad and Sir Roger Casement. After Casement had left the Congo, he had been assigned to Brazil, where he learned of the exploitation of the Putumayo Indians (also in the name of the rubber trade) and successfully agitated for reform. After this, he was brought back to Great Britain, at which time he became an outspoken advocate of Irish Home Rule. In a letter, John Quinn asked Conrad whether he'd ever met Casement in the Congo, and the reply gives posterity one of its most interesting views of Casement, who was eventually hanged for allegedly conspiring with the Germans against England during World War I. Conrad called him "entirely emotional" and "without mindů or politics." This is at odds with other accounts - most describe a quiet and thoughtful, intense man - but seems to correspond with his sometimes reckless actions.