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Mary Kingsley

  • One immense old lady has a family of lively young crocodiles running over her, evidently playing like a lot of kittens. The heavy musky smell they give off is most repulsive, but we do not rise up and make a row about this, because we feel hopelessly in the wrong in intruding into these family scenes uninvited ...

  • ... the grim, grand African forests are like a great library, in which, so far, I can do little more than look at the pictures, although I am now busily learning the alphabet of their language, so that I may some day read what these pictures mean.

  • ... the African leopard is an audacious animal, although it is ungrateful of me to say a word against him, after the way he has let me off personally ... taken as a whole, he is the most lovely animal I have ever seen; only seeing him, in the one way you can gain a full idea of his beauty, namely in his native forest, is not an unmixed joy to a person, like myself, of a nervous disposition.

  • ... a big leopard ... was crouching on the ground, with his magnificent head thrown back and his eyes shut. His fore-paws were spread out in front of him and he lashed the ground with his tail, and I grieve to say, in face of that awful danger — I don't mean me, but the tornado — that depraved creature swore, softly, but repeatedly and profoundly.

  • He [a leopard] had moved off in one of those weird lulls which you get in a tornado, when for a few seconds the wild herd of hurrying winds seem to have lost themselves, and wander round crying and wailing like lost souls, until their common rage seizes them again and they rush back to their work of destruction.

  • ... the thunder seemed to lift itself off the ground, and the lightning came in sheets, instead of in great forks that flew like flights of spears among the forest trees.

  • Ambas and Bobia Islands are perfect gems of beauty. Mondoleh I cannot say I admire. It always looks to me exactly like one of those flower-stands full of ferns and plants — the sort you come across in drawing rooms at home, with wire-work legs. I do not mean that Mondoleh has wire-work legs under water, but it looks as if it might have.

  • Knowing you do not like my going into details on such matters, I will confine my statement regarding our leeches, to the fact that it was for the best that we had some trade salt with us. ... Of course the bleeding did not stop at once, and it attracted flies and — but I am going into details, so I forbear.

  • ... after my return from a second sojourn in West Africa ... I published a word-swamp of a book about the size of Norie's Navigation. ... It has led to my being referred to as 'an intrepid explorer,' a thing there is not the making of in me, who am ever the prey of frights, worries, and alarms; and its main effect, as far as I am personally concerned, has been to plunge me further still in debt for kindness from my fellow creatures, who, though capable of doing all I have done and more capable of writing about it in really good English, have tolerated that book and frequently me also, with half-a-dozen colds in my head and a dingy temper.

  • ... I most carefully confined myself to facts and arranged those facts on as thin a line of connecting opinion as possible.

  • ... there is nothing like getting used to cockroaches early when your life is going to be spent on the Coast — but I need not detain you with them now, merely remarking that they have none of the modest reticence of the European variety. They are very companionable, seeking rather than shunning human society, nestling in the bunk with you if the weather is the least chilly, and I fancy not averse to light; it is true they come out most at night, but then they distinctly like a bright light, and you can watch them in a tight packed circle round the lamp with their heads towards it, twirling their antennae at it with evident satisfaction; in fact it's the lively nights those cockroaches have that keep them abed during the day.

  • If you see a thing that looks like a cross between a flying lobster and the figure of Abraxas on a Gnostic gem, do not pay it the least attention, never mind where it is; just keep quiet and hope it will go away — for that's your best chance; you have none in a stand-up fight with a good thorough-going African insect.

  • There is one distinctive charm about fishing — its fascinations will stand any climate. You may sit crouching on ice over a hole inside the arctic circle, or on a Windsor chair by the side of the River Lea in the so-called temperate zone, or you may squat in a canoe on an equatorial river, with the surrounding atmosphere forty-five percent mosquito, and if you are fishing you will enjoy yourself ...

  • It is a generally received opinion that there are too many books in the world already. I cannot, however, subscribe to any Institution that proposes to alter this state of affairs, because I find no consensus of opinion as to which are the superfluous books ...

  • It is my melancholy fate to like so many people I profoundly disagree with and often heartily dislike people who agree with me.

    • Mary Kingsley,
    • in African Affairs: Journal of the Royal African Society ()
  • [Responding to repeated questions about traveling in Africa without a husband:] I am looking for him.

    • Mary Kingsley,
    • in Malcolm Forbes, Women Who Made a Difference ()

Mary Kingsley, English traveler, ethnological researcher

(1862 - 1900)

Full name: Mary Henrietta Kingsley.