Bon soir! Bienvenue à notre reunion.
14 years ago, when we launched volume 1 of Le Vaillant’s Travels into the Interior of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope, translated and edited by Ian Glenn and his team, at Rust en Vreugd in Cape Town, I expressed the hope that the publication of volume 2 would follow ‘sooner rather than later’. In the event, it has taken 14 years for this to happen, and now with the text edited by a new editor, Professor David Culpin.
On the one hand, such a delay is regrettable, not least because it left readers wondering what happened next, after volume 1 deliberately ended on a cliffhanging note, with the young Le Vaillant describing his flirtation with a Gonaqua maiden whom he named Narina, ‘a ‘beautiful prankster’ who ‘teased me in her fashion, and tormented me in a highly provocative way.’ The author and his publisher in 1790 certainly knew how to ensure that the readers of volume 1 would want to buy volume 2, as I realized when, over 200 years later, I was asked by our members at every AGM when volume 2 would be published. At last it has!
But the 14-year delay and change of editor have not been without benefits: more biographical information about Le Vaillant himself and, in particular, the application of a different lens to the text, that of David Culpin of UWC and St Andrew’s University in Scotland, who is an expert in 18th Century French literature. This gives to his introduction and footnotes an ability to locate Le Vaillant’s text firmly within the context of this 18th Century literature, especially of its travel narratives and works steeped in Enlightenment thought, which he does admirably. It also means that the introductions and footnotes to volumes 1 and 2 complement rather than echo each other, giving readers a detailed, rounded account of Le Vaillant’s life thanks to Ian Glenn’s excellent, pioneering research, plus an understanding of the intellectual context in which and for which he wrote, thanks to David Culpin’s masterful grasp of the 18th Century French literary and intellectual landscape. HiPSA is proud to be the publisher of two such landmark analyses of a key travel text, a best-seller in its day, when it was translated into 7 European languages, and which is now available in a new translation into English, the first since 1790.
With the context so illuminatingly provided, readers with an interest in the late 18th Century Cape have gained an invaluable guide to following Le Vaillant’s Eastern Cape travel account and his pathbreaking ethnography of the Gonaqua and Khoekhoe whose language he learnt, giving him rare insight into their experiences and their view of the world and of others. Eastern Cape history and French travel literature are richer for the publication of this volume.
Thank you so much, David, and thank you too to the book’s talented designer, Claudine Willatt-Bate, its diligent indexer, Tanya Barben, and my editorial team of Elizabeth van Heyningen, Russell Martin and Ian Farlam, all three of whom are members of the HiPSA Council. Thanks are also due to the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) for a generous subsidy towards the publication of this volume, especially of its images. Professor Sophie Dulucq of IFAS played a key role in facilitating this, so our gratitude goes to her as well.
David, apart from expressing HiPSA’s gratitude to you for your exemplary scholarship, my parting words to you are, ‘Le Vaillant’s Second Journey into the Interior of Africa needs a translator and editor. Are you available?’