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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: January 2018



‘When last I died (and dear, I die As often as from thee I go …)’

The Legacy, John Donne

‘To Her Majesty’ …

Queen of the white people who love the black man.

Daily News, 15 February 1858, RGS Farewell Dinner to Livingstone

The British Empire in Africa had a unique emotional life. Sentimentality helped sustain interest and support for the empire in the metropole. It strengthened the resolve of early colonial rule, gave unity and strength to white settlers, and drew in Africans as well. It could be manipulated by very different political regimes, from colonial to metropolitan to postcolonial. An emotion culture around the death and memorialisation of Livingstone made a powerful contribution to the ideological power of the British Empire, its polyphonic properties and the very Victorian project of an empire in Africa. Romanticised views of white heroism, sacrifice and humanitarianism blended together to produce an emotional force field and high-moral imperialism, drawing subsequent generations to follow in the footsteps of dead men. This great Victorian myth machine contributed to the history of the moral-emotional life of the nation, the history of the private self, the history of masculinity and to the Scramble for Africa. The popular presentation of Livingstone's death and the role of ‘his’ freed slaves was a highly sentimentalised fiction. The emotional response it generated bequeathed a sentimental view of ‘the heart’ of the British Empire and thus shaped the popular understandings of the liberal empire throughout most of the twentieth century and limited appetites for a critique of its violent methods. But it was African responses that made this initially possible. The apparent devotion to the death by Livingstone's African followers bequeathed a powerful and useful myth about Britain's superior race relations in Africa: that these relations were innately tolerant and even tender.

The Power of Death

This book has shown in more detail how Livingstone's unusual death impacted on British imperial propaganda and the history of her engagement with Africa. It began with a prologue about the memories of a heroic but upsetting death, an intimate experience of that death and a view of a touching African response to it.

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Empire of Sentiment
  • Online ISBN: 9781108182591
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