Naturalists Set on Taming Nature
Posted by Richard Conniff on November 19, 2010
We think of naturalists as conservationists. But in the nineteenth century, many of them gladly saw themselves as pioneers for the taming of nature. Looking out on the “immense virgin forests” of Gabon in 1856, for instance, the French-American explorer Paul Du Chaillu would write:
“I began to think how this wilderness would look if only the light of Christian civilization could once be fairly introduced among the black children of Africa. I dreamed of forests giving way to plantations of coffee, cotton, and spices; of peaceful negroes going to their contented daily tasks; of farming and manufactures; of churches and schools …”
To hammer home the defectiveness of untamed nature, Du Chaillu noted that, at this moment in his reverie, as he sat in the shade of a tree, he lifted his eyes up into the branches and spotted a 13-foot-long black snake, which he shot. Then he watched in disgust as his men promptly roasted and ate it.
Civilization could not, evidently, come soon enough.