Recalling greatest flea market book bargain

Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa and opponent of the slave trade.

About 25 years ago, I started getting interested in South Carolina history, natural history and select authors including Archibald Rutledge, much of whose catalog reminded me of my childhood hunting experiences on the Santee. Well, little did I know that there were at least 55 published works, capping off a remarkable literary career that included his appointment as poet laureate of South Carolina.

After a quarter of a century, I have every darned one of them except two, “Plantation Song,” a very scarce 16-page booklet of poetry that the author had privately published in 1908 and gave to a few friends, and “Songs From a Valley,” a 64-page book of poetry published by the Public Opinion Printing Co. in 1919. Much of the earlier acquisitions I found in flea markets and bought them for a “song,” so to speak.

In fact, the greatest book bargain I ever found was in a Myrtle Beach flea market, something written by a different author on different subject matter entirely. (I’ll explain later.)

Which brings us to the subject of Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone. (Bear with me!) Martha Langford Derrick, Dr. Fletcher Derrick’s better half, sends me a family pamphlet she put together concerning her Huguenot connection and the impressions certain great men have made on her heart. One of those men was Livingstone, whom people may recall as having been found by Stanley in the wilds of Africa in 1871 under the most extraordinary circumstances. But that’s all they know about him.

Livingstone by the end of the 19th century was a household name. Quoting Mrs. Derrick (edited and in part): “We must look at one man — Dr. David Livingstone — missionary of the Gospel, medical doctor, explorer, and earnest opponent of slavery. Because of his life, South Africa and Zambia are democratic, Christian nations.

“Livingstone rejoiced that his father supported his idea to become a doctor and preach the Gospel. This was to be the beginning of a long, hard struggle. Although his wife, Mary, shared his ideals, theirs was not to be an easy marriage with Livingstone so long in Africa and Mary left to rear and support four children.

“Livingstone, one of whose goals was to discover the headwaters of the Nile, explored the Zambezi River in detail. He would go years without hearing from his family, trekking through the most formidable jungle and enduring occasional spats of village warfare — all for the purposes of spreading the Word. He suffered from malaria, cholera, foot sores, was exposed to leprosy and tropical ulcers. He wrote, ‘I lost almost all teeth, and was stoned by suspicious tribes.’

“His years alone made him self-sufficient and disciplined not to talk unless he had something specific to say. One of his returns to Britain in 1864, after having been away for six years, found him at low ebb in life: no money and lost hope of any improvement in Africa.

“He left the following year and his whereabouts were unknown for another six years until he was discovered by Stanley, who raised his helmet in salute and supposedly inquired, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’

“Stanley had searched two years for Dr. Livingstone and his discovery was the scoop of the century. Stanley was reduced to tears by Livingstone’s commitment and plight and Livingstone reduced to the same by Stanley’s kindness. But Stanley could not convince Livingstone to leave Africa.

“After the two men parted for good, Livingstone would use Stanley as a mouthpiece to make his case of slavery known. Each Sunday, Livingstone preached and endured pain, incredible hardships, and preached only Christ and the spirit of the Gospel. He finally wore out and was found dead kneeling by his bed on May 1, 1873 — one of the world’s spiritual pioneers.

“The Africans took his body to Zanzibar. His heart and other organs were removed and buried by the Africans. His body was preserved with salt and brandy and carried 1,500 miles over unbearable terrain, requiring ten months to reach the ship that would return him to England, where he would be the only pauper laid to rest in Westminster Abbey— with full state honors, no less.

“For us, to have watched the sunset on the Zambezi River and seen the rainbows at Victoria Falls (like Livingstone, the first white man to see the falls and who would later name them for his queen), made us feel as though we had walked in the footsteps of one of the greatest men to have lived on Earth.”

Well, as I was saying, my greatest book deal ever was in a Myrtle Beach flea market years ago, where I happened to pick up and examine an 1890 two-volume autobiographical account of Stanley’s exploits titled “In Darkest Africa.” Price: $40. Although not really up my alley, I thought the offer too good to pass up. (I later saw the same thing in an expensive New York bookstore and they were asking $1,800.)

There’s actually little mention of Livingstone in Stanley’s autobiography, and no mention at all of the latter’s famous query when the two met. The following excerpt, however, is notable:

“When I was commissioned, while yet a very young man, for the relief of David Livingstone, the missionary, I had no very fixed idea as to what manner of man he was. The newspaper described him as worthy of the Christian world’s best regard; privately men worshipped strange things of him.

“One, that he had married an African princess, and was comfortably domiciled in Africa; another, that he was something of a misanthrope, and would take care to maintain a discreet distance from any European who might be tempted to visit him. Not knowing whom to believe, I proceeded to him with indifference, ready to take umbrage, but I parted from him in tears. The newspapers were right in his case.”

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.