Wanderings in South America, by Charles Waterton

Preface to the first Edition

I offer this book of “Wanderings” with a hesitating hand. It has little merit, and must make its way through the world as well as it can. It will receive many a jostle as it goes along, and perhaps is destined to add one more to the number of slain in the field of modern criticism. But if it fall, it may still, in death, be useful to me; for should some accidental rover take it up and, in turning over its pages, imbibe the idea of going out to explore Guiana in order to give the world an enlarged description of that noble country, I shall say, “fortem ad fortia misi,” and demand the armour; that is, I shall lay claim to a certain portion of the honours he will receive, upon the plea that I was the first mover of his discoveries; for, as Ulysses sent Achilles to Troy, so I sent him to Guiana. I intended to have written much more at length; but days and months and years have passed away, and nothing has been done. Thinking it very probable that I shall never have patience enough to sit down and write a full account of all I saw and examined in those remote wilds, I give up the intention of doing so, and send forth this account of my “Wanderings” just as it was written at the time.

If critics are displeased with it in its present form, I beg to observe that it is not totally devoid of interest, and that it contains something useful. Several of the unfortunate gentlemen who went out to explore the Congo were thankful for the instructions they found in it; and Sir Joseph Banks, on sending back the journal, said in his letter: “I return your journal with abundant thanks for the very instructive lesson you have favoured us with this morning, which far excelled, in real utility, everything I have hitherto seen.” And in another letter he says: “I hear with particular pleasure your intention of resuming your interesting travels, to which natural history has already been so much indebted.” And again: “I am sorry you did not deposit some part of your last harvest of birds in the British Museum, that your name might become familiar to naturalists and your unrivalled skill in preserving birds be made known to the public.” And again: “You certainly have talents to set forth a book which will improve and extend materially the bounds of natural science.”

Sir Joseph never read the third adventure. Whilst I was engaged in it, death robbed England of one of her most valuable subjects and deprived the Royal Society of its brightest ornament.


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30