In 1862-3 I made a tour in Western Africa, and afterwards desired to revisit that strange country with the view of opening up new ground and of studying religion and morality among the natives. I was, however, unable to bear a second time the great expenses of African travel, and had almost given up the hope of becoming an explorer when I was introduced by Mr. Bates, the well known Amazon traveller and Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, to one of its Associates, Mr. Andrew Swanzy, who had long desired to do something in the cause of African discovery. He placed unlimited means at my disposal, and left me free to choose my own route. I travelled in Africa for two years (1868-70) and made a journey which is mentioned in the test. The narrative of my travels will be published in due course; I allude to them now in order to show that I have had some personal experience of savages. I wish also to take the first opportunity of thanking Mr. Swanzy for his assistance, which was given not only in the most generous but also in the most graceful manner.
With respect to the present work, I began it intending to prove that "Negroland" or Inner Africa is not cut off from the main-stream of events, as writers of philosophical history have always maintained, but connected by means of Islam with the lands of the East; and also that it has, by means of the slave-trade, powerfully influenced the moral history of Europe and the political history of the United States. But I was gradually led from writing the history of Africa into writing the history of the world. I could not describe the Negroland of ancient times without describing Egypt and Carthage. From Egypt I was drawn to Asia and to Greece; from Carthage I was drawn to Rome. That is the first chapter. Next, having to relate the progress of the Mohammedans in Central Africa, it was necessary for me to explain the nature and origin of Islam, but that religion cannot be understood without a previous study of Christianity and of Judaism, and those religions cannot be understood without a study of religion among savages. That is the second chapter. Thirdly, I sketched the history of the slave-trade, which took me back to the discoveries of the Portuguese, the glories of Venetian commerce, the revival of the arts, the Dark Ages, and the invasion of the Germans. Thus finding that my outline of universal history was almost complete, I determined in the last chapter to give a brief summary of the whole, filling up the parts omitted, and adding to it the materials of another work suggested several years ago by The Origin of Species.
One of my reasons for revisiting Africa was to collect materials for this work, which I had intended to call The Origin of Mind. However, Mr. Darwin’s Descent of Man has left little for me to say respecting the birth and infancy of the faculties and affections. I therefore merely follow in his footsteps, not from blind veneration for a great master, but because I find that his conclusions are confirmed by the phenomena of savage life. On certain minor points I venture to dissent from Mr. Darwin’s views, as I shall show in my personal narrative, and there is probably much in this work of which Mr. Darwin will disapprove. He must therefore not be made responsible for all the opinions of his disciple.
I had intended to give my authorities in full with notes and elucidations, but am prevented from doing so by want of space, this volume being already larger than it should be. I wish therefore to impress upon the reader that there is scarcely anything in this work which I can claim as my own. I have taken not only facts and ideas, but phrases and even paragraphs, from other writers. I cannot pay all my debts in full, but I must at least do myself the pleasure of mentioning those authors who have been my chief guides. On Egypt they are Wilkinson, Herodotus (Rawlinson’s edition), Bunsen; Ethiopia or Abyssinia, Bruce, Baker, Lepsius; Carthage, Heeren (African Nations), Niebuhr, Mommsen; East Africa, Vincent (Periplus), Guillain, Hakluyt Society’s Publications; Moslem Africa (Central), Park, Caillie, Denham and Clapperton, Lander, Barth, Ibn Batuta, Leo Africanus; Guinea and South Africa,Azurara, Barros, Major, Hakluyt, Purchas, Livingstone; Assyria, Sir H. Rawlinson, Layard; India, Max Muller, Weber; Persia, Heeren (Asiatic Nations); Central Asia, Burnes, Wolff, Vambery; Arabia, Niebuhr, Caussin de Perceval, Sprenger, Deutsch, Muir, Burckhardt, Burton, Palgrave; Palestine, Dean Stanley, Renan, Dollinger, Spinoza, Robinson, Neander; Greece, Grote, O. Muller, Curtius, Heeren, Lewes, Taine, About, Becker (Charicles); Rome, Gibbon, Macaulay, Becker (Gallus); Dark Ages, Hallam, Guizot, Robertson, Prescott, Irving; Philosophy of History, Herder, Buckle Comte, Lecky, Mill, Draper; Science, Darwin, Lyell, Herbert, Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall, Chambers (Vestiges of Creation), Wallace, Tylor, and Lubbock. All of the works of the above named authors deserve to be carefully read by the students of universal history, and in them he will find references to the original authorities, and to all writers of importance on the various subjects treated of in this work.
As for my religious sentiments, they are expressed in opposition to the advice and wishes of several literary friends, and of the publisher, who have urged me to alter certain passages which they do not like, and which they believe will provoke against me the anger of the public. Now, as a literary workman I am thankful to be guided by the knowledge of experts, and I bow to the decisions of the great public, for whom alone I write, whom alone I care to please, and in whose broad unbiased judgment I place implicit trust. But in the matter of religion I listen to no remonstrance; I acknowledge no decision save that of the divine monitor within me. My conscience is my adviser, my audience, and my judge. It bade me write as I have written, without evasion, without disguise; it bids me to go on as I have begun, whatever the result may be. If therefore my religious opinions should be condemned, without a single exception, by every reader of the book, it will not make me regret having expressed them, and it will not prevent me from expressing then again. It is my earnest and sincere conviction that those opinions are not only true, but also that they tend to elevate and purify the mind. One thing at all events I know -- that it has done me good to write this book, and therefore I do not think that it can injure those by whom it will be read.