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Too Dark Altogether

Angus Mitchell
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World, by Maya Jasanoff, William Collins, 400 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0007553730 Rubber Justice: Dr Harry Guinness and the Congo Reform Campaign, by Catherine Guinness, privately published, 244 pp, ISBN: 978-0648057604 British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913, by Dean Pavlakis, Routledge, 320 pp, £88.99, ISBN: 978-1472436474 The Politics of Dissent: A Biography of ED Morel, by Donald Mitchell, Silverwood Books, 246 pp, £11, ISBN: 978-1781321782 As the nineteenth century came to an end, rumours started to circulate widely about the violence perpetrated by the regime of King Leopold II in the Congo Free State. Parliamentary intervention followed from involvement by the two main NGOs: the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines Protection Society. In 1903, a question was asked in the House of Commons by the Liberal MP Herbert Samuel. The foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne, ordered the British consul and his man on the spot, Roger Casement, to journey into the upper Congo. Having spent five years reporting officially on many aspects of Leopold’s colonial administration, Casement was well-placed to investigate the stories. He would spend the next three months travelling through the region. On exiting the river with a dossier of hand-written reports, copied correspondences and memos, testimonies and a diary, he scribbled the first of nearly three hundred letters to ED Morel, a young activist-writer. He recommended him to read Heart of Darkness and suggested he contact the author, Joseph Conrad, to see if he would support a public campaign for systemic reform. Casement and Conrad had met in the lower Congo in 1890 and a friendship had developed between the two men. Over the coming weeks, as the idea for a grassroots Congo reform movement grew green shoots, Casement corresponded with Conrad about the issue of atrocities and slavery. Casement’s letters have not survived, but five manuscript letters from Conrad to him are held in the National Library of Ireland. They reveal, on the part of Conrad, a sense of controlled outrage that the diplomatic will that had put an end to slavery at the start of the nineteenth century should have allowed an even more atrocious system to thrive in its place. Conrad was reticent. He may have expressed support for the campaign in spirit, but he declined to do so in public. Two months later, Morel and Casement founded the Congo Reform Association following a meeting…



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