Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

Bound in Blackwood's: The Imperialism of "The Heart of Darkness" in Its Immediate Context

William Atkinson, Appalachian State University

© William Atkinson. No part of this text may be reposted or republished without the permission of the author.


We now read Heart of Darkness as an independent text or as part of an anthology of texts representative of their period and culture. Or perhaps we read it in its 1902 form, bookended between "Youth" and "The End of the Tether." Its first readers, on the other hand, came upon "The Heart of Darkness"1 in three successive issues of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, a long-established monthly with a clearly delineated political attitude. They read it not only as a work of Conrad's but also as part of Blackwood's. My premise is that embedded in Blackwood's, "The Heart of Darkness" functioned somewhat differently from the way it functions elsewhere. An archaeologist is always careful to preserve the immediate context of an artifact in order to establish how it was used by its makers; once we place the artifact in a collection, we are using it for purposes of our own. What follows, then, is an essay in literary archaeology: some suggestions on how the immediate context of "The Heart of Darkness"--the February, March, and April 1899 issues of Blackwood's--would have influenced what its first readers made of it.
Conrad remarked in a letter to William Blackwood that he thought the subject of his African story very much "of our time" (Letters 2: 140); he meant that it dealt with imperialism, specifically with King Leopold's colonial project in central Africa. Few scholars today would quibble with the claim that Conrad's narrative is about imperialism, but what it says about imperialism and just whose imperialism it has in mind are more contentious matters. There is a mass of scholarship that explains what was going on in the Congo and who was doing it, and there are extensive studies of the discourse on Africa and imperialism, the discourse within which Heart of Darkness operated. A contemporary Conradian brings so much of this material to Heart of Darkness that the story looks very different now from the way it did 30 years ago. Is this ambient textual material now part of Conrad's text? No, but many instructors put together a set of materials gathered from various sources to provide background--historiographical pieces, articles from other journals of the period, and pertinent criticism. Bound together, these materials become a single text unified by their relationship to Conrad's text. And when we bind Heart of Darkness together with such background material, we have a third text. One example is the "enriched" Heart of Darkness published in 1972 by Pocket Books: in the middle of the narrative is a 48-page "reader's supplement" containing biographical, historical, and critical material. Another is Ross C. Murfin's 1996 "case study" Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, two-thirds of which consists of critical essays. While in these two examples all the additional material points toward Conrad's story, John Kucich's Fictions of Empire binds together Heart of Darkness, Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King," and Stevenson's "The Beach of Falesa" with other materials that address imperialism.
The Pocket Books volume foregrounds Conrad's story, the Kucich book foregrounds imperialism, and the Murfin collection could be regarded as foregrounding literary critical theory and practice, using Conrad's text as the occasion. Thus, the company a text keeps will affect how we read it. In what sort of material was the original text, "The Heart of Darkness," embedded? In what direction was that textual bedrock aligned?


"Personality in a periodical publication"

There is evidence that Conrad was keen to become a Blackwood's writer. He did not care very much for popular magazines, even though they paid him well for his fiction, but he regarded Blackwood's as an exception: "One was in decent company there and had a good sort of public" (Letters 2: 130). He was happy to place "Karain," which he had written at a venture, with the magazine in November 1897, but he wrote "Youth" the next year with Blackwood's in mind. We hear of him studying to master the prevailing ethos, reading back issues of the magazine, and consulting Margaret Oliphant's 1897 Annals of a Publishing House: William Blackwood and his Sons (Knowles and Moore 39).2 Clearly the magazine had a very definite identity.
The word magazine derives from an Arabic word meaning a storehouse, a place where goods are laid up. It implies something orderly and coherent. Having been brought together in one place by an organizing intelligence, the various objects take on a unity in diversity. A written magazine achieves the same effect by showing a degree of consistency from article to article and from month to month or week to week. The texts come from a variety of people, but there is editorial continuity--continuity of taste and political attitude--and once they are physically bound together, the unity of the publication takes precedence over its diversity. At the simplest material level, there is consistency of typeface among the various articles and stories, and this consistency prevails not only in individual numbers but also across time. Most periodicals are careful to establish and maintain a physical character and are reluctant to make major changes. The font a magazine uses for its title becomes as familiar to its readers as a human face; to change it is tantamount to announcing a change of character.
Over time, then, a magazine develops a character. The readers know what sort of ideas will be entertained and what sort will be dismissed. They know what the magazine will laugh at and what it will consider out of bounds for humor. The magazine becomes as predictable, or unpredictable within limits, as a group of friends. We have all seen letters to the editor announcing a decision to cancel a subscription; such letters usually express a very personal sense of betrayal and consequent anger or sorrow, a feeling that the magazine has strayed too far from the reader's key beliefs.
In the February 1899 Blackwood's, the Looker-on (the regular editorialist and commentator) remarks on the publication's unusual continuity of character:

Minds change under the same influences; and it might almost be that the same mind, so influenced, has carried on the Magazine from the first number to the thousandth. So it is, too, that "Maga" has a personality more individual, more constant and pronounced, than is seen in any other creature of its kind; and what I mean by personality in a periodical publication (strong clear character is one interpretation of the word) is a great thing. (428)

The Looker-on is making a strong claim: that the magazine has maintained a largely consistent identity over a period of 82 years. Such constancy must have attracted a readership that knew what it was getting. The well-established character of Blackwood's would have had a powerful hermeneutic force; thus, if readers experienced any minor cognitive dissonance between what they expected of Blackwood's and what they found in Conrad's narrative, Blackwood's would probably have prevailed.
While the well-established reputation of Blackwood's would have played its role in creating the reader's horizon of interpretation, the motifs and themes from other material in the same issue were as significant in this regard as the overall character of the magazine. The identity of a particular text, in this case the individual number of the magazine rather than the discrete stories and articles, is generated by a number of cohesive processes, including the recurrence of particular terms or motifs. We are troubled if we find that a symbol seems to carry different meanings at different points within a text, and we unconsciously work hard to perceive cohesion. "All interpretation is highlighting," Gadamer tells us (362). And the recurrence of particular themes across sections of the magazine would have the effect of highlighting them. The original reader would have tended to take the whole magazine as a largely cohesive unity, as a hermeneutic totality. This tendency was encouraged by the fact that most of the articles and some of the stories were anonymous, as if emanating from a single source, one for which William Blackwood himself took responsibility. From a Bakhtinian viewpoint, reading "The Heart of Darkness" as part of a much larger text might seem to multiply the voices, to make the reading experience more dialogic and less hermeneutically certain. But such is not the case. The additional voices are largely of one mind on the subject of imperialism, so any small voice of opposition that makes itself heard in Heart of Darkness is drowned out by these louder and more certain tones, those of the magazine's venerable personality.
Founded in July 1817 by William Blackwood (grandfather of the owner and editor in Conrad's day), the magazine, according to Walter Graham, was set up as "a more pert and nimble Quarterly [Review], as a Tory organ, designed to give smart opposition to the [Whig] Edinburgh Review" (276). Under its first editors--John Wilson, James Hogg, and John Gibson Lockhart--the magazine quickly gained a reputation for the venom of its personal attacks and critical notices. It was from these early pages that Lockhart conducted his campaign of vilification against Leigh Hunt, Keats, and Hazlitt, "the Cockney School of Poetry," as he styled it. Such was the vitriol of some of the contributors that several victims, Hazlitt among them, brought successful suits against the magazine. But Blackwood's did not long maintain its reputation as an enfant terrible. By midcentury, while still overtly political, it had developed an avuncular tone, delighting in its nickname Maga. In Conrad's time, it was, in Ivo Vidan's words, "conservative and imperialist, an old British magazine with a long reputation and a steady readership in the establishment (405). Blackwoods liked to regard itself as a cut above other publications. Even J. H. Harper, writing his own magazine, seems to have bought into Maga’s own view of itself. He writes that there are only two types of general-interest magazines, Blackwood’s being the original of one type and Harper’s of the other:

Some things–for example the best kind of fiction—might be common to both, but there would always be this difference, that Blackwood would by choice appeal to a limited class of highly cultivated readers, proposing to meet special demands of that class, while Harper would be addressed to all readers of average intelligence, having for its purpose their entertainment and illumination, meeting in a general way the varied claims of their human intellect and sensibility. (qtd. in Tye 44)

From his perspective 70 years later, James Tye finds that Harper’s contributors are now regarded as a more distinguished and better-known group than those who wrote for Blackwood’s. “With the exception of Conrad,” he finds, “original writing in verse and prose was completely undistinguished” (23). Indeed, the three numbers in which “The Heart of Darkness” appeared do not aim at a particularly high level of cultivation: the fiction is for the most part easily digestible, and much of the other material suggests people whose principal interests lie in hunting, shooting, and the empire. Harper puts his finger on the matter when he talks of “a limited class.” Blackwood’s  had a circulation of only 6,000 to 7,000.3 But the readership was wealthy, and it was cultivated in the sense that products of the British public school were a breed apart. They certainly thought of themselves as such, and were rich enough and powerful enough to make their views count; and Blackwood’s represented their politics.
This was the publication that took “Karain” and then “Youth,” the first Marlow narrative; and William Blackwood was pleased enough with Conrad’s work to use “The Heart of Darkness” as the lead fiction in the magazine’s thousandth number. The story ran through three issues (February, March, and April); and in October of the same year, Blackwood began the serialization of Lord Jim. But when we consider the later critical orthodoxy on Heart of Darkness, a puzzle presents itself. What was a text that tells the story of imperialism gone horribly wrong doing in a magazine that prided itself on its support for imperialism, and many of whose readers were actually involved in the colonial project?
From the 1960s until the 1980s, most scholars who considered Conrad’s politics read Heart of Darkness as ultimately anti-imperialist. Eloise Knapp Hay, in 1963, saw the text as a vigorous critique of imperialism and racism, one from which “England is in no way exempt” (154). Frederick Karl, writing in 1979, suggested that William Blackwood, “his ingrained sense of traditional values and his conservative literary tastes” notwithstanding, knew what he was unleashing on his readers, and his publishing “The Heart of Darkness” and Lord Jim “were acts of tremendous perspicacity. For these works, seen from the perspective of 1899-1900, were little less than revolutionary, both in content and in their shaping” (394). Cedric Watts, in 1989, characterized the Blackwood’s of Conrad’s time as “staid, sober, rational and unadventurous” (79), and he likened the presence of “The Heart of Darkness” in it pages to a shark in a carp pond (81).
By the late 1980s, possibly in response to Chinua Achebe’s ferocious 1975 attack on both text (“an offensive and deplorable book [14]) and author (“Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist” [11]), scholars began to acknowledge that Heart if Darkness was of its time, and its time was ideologically unappealing. Since many of these scholars were unwilling to follow Achebe in discharging the text into the utter darkness beyond anthologies and class reading lists, all the sophistication of poststructuralist reading protocols had to be called upon. Patrick Brantlinger, for example, while noting the text’s criticism of King Leopold’s imperialism, also acknowledges that “its anti-imperialist message is undercut by its racism, by its reactionary political attitudes, by its impressionism.” Nonetheless, Brantlinger detects a tentative redemptive radicalism:

There are few novels, however, which so insistently invoke a moral idealism they do not seem to contain and in which the modernist will-to-style is subjected to such powerful self-scrutiny—in which the voice at the heart of the novel, the voice of modern literature, the voice of imperialist civilization itself may in its purest, freest form yield only “The horror! The horror!” (274)

The contemporary reader might this find the text redeemed from its compromises, although Conrad himself may remain beyond salvation.
Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, recognizes that while Conrad is critical of imperialism, he does not offer any alternative, seeming to take European tutelage of the colonized as given. “As a creature of his time, Conrad could not grant the natives their freedom, despite his severe critique of the imperialism that enslaved them” (30). However, Said finds redemption in what he sees as the text’s epistemology, a very up-to-date-looking antiessentialism:4

By accentuating the discrepancy between the official “idea” of empire and the remarkably disorienting actuality of Africa, Marlow unsettles the reader’s sense not only of the very idea of empire, but of something more basic, reality itself. For if Conrad can show that all human activity depends on controlling a radically unstable reality to which words approximate only by will or convention, the same is true of a world being made and unmade more or less all the time. (29)

Both Brantlinger and Said see Conrad’s story as a historical artifact of surpassing interest for what it tells us about the discourse within which it swam. In this they represent the contemporary orthodoxy on the text: that it was very much of its time, replete with prejudices unpalatable to contemporary sensibilities. But they contrive to mitigate such prejudices by showing how, at certain points, the text swam against the currents of its own discourse.5 For quite some time now, a popular academic rescue operation on a classic text whose politics seem reactionary is to show that at some level it knew better than it said or could say. But the readers at the time had no need to read against the grain. The grain lay in the same direction that they thought, and if it did not, they would stop reading and possibly stop buying the magazine.
The claim by the earlier scholars I cited that such a fine crusted Tory as William Blackwood would be interested in introducing subversive material into his beloved Maga—in the thousandth number, no less—will not hold water. It is not as if Blackwood’s had any kind of reputation for supporting the avant-garde. Nor might it be claimed that “The Heart of Darkness” came upon the unsuspecting readers by stealth. Conrad, who had recently published two other stories in Blackwood’s and was to publish there yet again within a few months, was a familiar name. In fact, the story would not have been at all unpalatable when read in its immediate context, bound with the rest of the Blackwood’s material. The average Blackwood’s reader would have been neither equipped nor inclined to read Conrad’s story “against the grain,” as ultimately subversive of its own and the reader’s discourse. My account is an attempt to bring out and examine the grain of the magazine in which “The Heart of Darkness” first appeared, to show how Conrad’s narrative fits in the explicit and implicit imperialist ideology of the three numbers of Blackwood’s from February to April 1899.6

"What saves us is efficiency"

Conrad's story was the lead fiction in the thousandth issue, coming immediately after a "Noctes Ambrosianae,"a temporary revival of a series of semicomic dialogues that had run in Blackwood's from 1822 to 1835. They were an important element in the magazine's early success, so William Blackwood decided to give the "Noctes" one last curtain call for the thousandth number. As usual, the principal speakers are Christopher North (John Wilson), the voice of cultured Scotland, full of classical learning and Ciceronian periods, and the Ettrick Shepherd (James Hogg), who speaks broad Lowland Scots. These two, with help from Tickler (John Gibson Lockhart) and the English Opium Eater (Thomas De Quincey), totter out of retirement to pass judgment on Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, and particularly to lend their moral weight to an assertion of the imperialist doctrine Maga now supported. More exactly, the doctrine acknowledged that imperialism was so difficult and dangerous that only the British were fit to undertake it. The French and other Continentals would always make a mess of things.
North's motto is, as it was 50 years earlier, "Church and Queen" (172). They are all Unionists to a man, committed to retaining Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. For North--for Maga--union extends beyond the British isles to the empire as a whole: "the conception of the greatness and oneness of the Empire" (179). North believes that what he calls "the bad old Liberal view of foreign policy" has now been displaced by "the Imperial instinct" (178). He cites the battle of Majuba Hill, almost 20 years earlier, as the nadir of this Gladstonian Liberalism. Having annexed the Transvaal in South Africa, the British gave it up after their defeat at the hands  of the Dutch South African settlers. Gladstone, we are to understand, displayed nothing but "cowardice and scuttle" in abandoning the Transvaal so readily. Gladstone was never particularly keen to extend the empire, and even as late as 1899, Blackwood's continued to regard him as a bête noire.7 But Blackwood's does not unhesitatingly support the new "forward imperialism," which is most closely related to the current colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. North is a Disraeli man, relishing empire for its glory and greatness rather than for the profits that Chamberlain sees accruing to British businessmen. "The one man to whom the revival of patriotic sentiment is primarily due was Lord Beaconsfield [Benjamin Disraeli]," he writes. "We are all Jingoes now, thanks to him"(178). Accordingly, North has praise for Kipling, whom he regards as the heir to the late Tennyson's "note of patriotism." "A wonderfully vigorous and versatile writer, sir," agrees the English Opium-Eater (189).
Such is the ideology sketched out in the opening pages of the February number--an empire ready to protect itself and to expand, all in the interest of a glory that pushes commerce into a secondary role. Just what the glory might be is not entirely clear, but in "The Heart of Darkness" Marlow offers a reading. It is in the warm, vague light cast by the account in "Noctes" of British imperialism that the Blackwood's reader encounters Marlow's famous first sentence, "And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth"(195), inviting us to imagine ourselves in Britain on the eve of the Roman invasion. The ancient Britons represent absolute barbarism, so it might be assumed that the British of 1899 would be pleased to regard themselves as modern Romans and the nineteenth-century British empire as a later version of the mighty Roman empire. The matter is more complicated, however. Britain had been a Roman colony, but the occupation left no apparent cultural marks, only a few towns and associated buildings, and the British do not think of themselves as Latins--in fact, they often regard themselves, with some complacency, as positively non-Latin. And their attitude toward the Romans is ambivalent. When they think of themselves as British, they are Britons and the victims of the Roman imperialism. In1902, Thomas Thorneycroft's statue of Queen Boadicea, who raised a bloody revolt against the Romans, was set up near the Houses of Parliament. So a rebel, albeit an unsuccessful one, received pride of place at the heart of the British empire. When the British think of themselves as Anglo-Saxon, they are, of course, not British but heirs to those who displaced the Romans and introduced such English practices as trial by jury and beer drinking. So there is no reason for a Blackwood's reader to take offense at Marlow's judgment of the Romans:

But these chaps were not much account really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force.... They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and men going at it blind--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. (196)

In fact, Marlow had explicitly distinguished the Romans from the modern British in the preceding sentence: "Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency" (196). After having come dangerously close to suggesting that "our" conquest of the earth is ugly, he again distinguishes British practice from Roman: "What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea-something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to"(196).
Marlow's reasoning will not bear very close analysis. He makes two distinctions: one between the reality of the idea of efficiency and the unreality of "sentimental pretence"-- which will become associated with his aunt's notion about "weaning these ignorant millions from their horrid ways" (202) or the overblown rhetoric of Kurtz's report "Suppression of Savage Customs"--and the other between British and Roman imperialisms. Yet Marlow acknowledges the Romans to have been "a wonderful lot of handy men" (195), the very epitome of military efficiency. So there must be something superior about British as opposed to Roman efficiency. That something is the idea "at back of it." He implies that the idea behind efficiency, being essentially linked to the physical world, is more real than the ideals behind the other type of imperialism--the Continental variety. But if linkage to the physical world adds reality to an idea, how can he claim that the idea, which is not material, is what redeems British efficiency? Moreover, efficiency, the manner of doing something, provides no guidance as to what to do efficiently. Exterminate all the brutes or civilize them? Marlow's argument would not appear to offer any guidance as to the better course: whatever the decision, do it efficiently.
We could hardly expect a casual reader to pick apart Marlow's introductory remarks in this way, but even a careful Blackwood's reader would be unlikely to do so because the passage mirrors the unexamined premises behind British imperialism. Indeed, the idea of looking too closely into things is represented here as dangerous and un-British. In the "Noctes" North tells his listeners that the weakness of John Davidson's poetry stems from "introspection and the possession by vague and ill-understood ideas ... he needs must expound theories and philosophies, and so he comes to grief"(189). Were he more like James Hogg, whose mind one assumes was never clouded by an idea, Davidson would be more successful, implies North. Learning and ideas, Blackwood's consistently maintains, are dangerous. There are a few people--North, for example—who are morally equipped to deal with  ideas, who will not allow themselves to be carried away by them, but most people abuse them. Mr.  Kurtz is one of the majority: "He had the faith. He could believe anything-anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party" (652). By the end of the narrative, we have heard of  Africans bowing down to Kurtz himself and offering sacrifices—which just goes to show the dangers of sentimental pretence. Cool efficiency is the god before whom Marlow would have us bow down. The Outer Station, by contrast, is subject to "a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly" (206), and the same flabby devil is "running the show" at the Central Station (210).
Marlow is emphatically not talking about a British colony. "You understand it was a Continental concern, that Trading Society; but I have a lot of relations living on the Continent, because it's cheap and not so nasty as it looks, they say" (198). A good deal of mud is quietly flying around in this sentence. The cheapness suggests an economy less developed than the British, and the idiom demands that "nasty" go with "cheap." Marlow appears to forestall the full insult with the droll save--"not so nasty as it looks"--but the idiomatic pairing of "cheap" and "nasty" is forced on us whether we think of it or not. Just in case we take him seriously and start to imagine the Continent as less nasty than we thought, he adds the disclaimer "they say," and we can hardly believe "them" since they live there. Even the Trading Society is retrospectively tarred with the same brush, since it is "a Continental concern." And this is key to the story's acceptability in Maga: the magazine as a whole encourages its readers, many of whom lived and worked in the empire, to read "The Heart of Darkness" as a critique of foreign--that is, Continental—imperialism and an analysis of why it is inferior to the British variety. Hunt Hawkins made a similar point in 1979 and 1992 (and Homi K. Bhabha reiterated it in 1994), but Hawkins reached his conclusions after a careful reading of the text and, above all, from his extensive knowledge of contemporary writing on imperialism. He establishes what people in general might have known about imperialism and about imperialism in the Congo, but he is not particularly interested in where their knowledge comes from. Blackwood's is for him no more than the site of first publication, rather than, as I am arguing, an entire empire of information and ideology on imperialism, of which "The Heart of Darkness" was one subject. We do not need to go any further afield than the immediate context of Blackwood's to show how easy it is to read Conrad's text as an attack on foreign imperialism and a defense of the British variety because the immediate context bends all the references to imperialism to such an effect.


"So stupid a colonial policy"

In the Company's head office, Marlow sees a large map of Africa marked in various colors, each of which represents a different colonizing power. Marlow's comments are instructive and surely meld with the Blackwood's reader's own prejudices. He sees "a vast amount of red [British]—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done there" the god of efficiency rules. There is "a deuce of a lot of blue"--French, and we should note the irritation implied by "deuce"--"a little green, smears of orange, and, on the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress drink the jolly lager-beer" (199). "Smears" is surely demeaning, and for the Germans Marlow conjures up a familiar and deprecatory stereotype. In the middle is the yellow, where Marlow is going. The color tells the contemporary reader that he is going to King Leopold's Congo. Marlow never offers any place names with regard to his central African adventure—neither Belgium, Brussels, the Congo, nor Stanley Falls. But throughout the 1890s there had been so many news items and magazine articles about King Leopold's Congo that few readers, least of all Blackwood's readers, with their particular interest in all things imperial, would not have known where Marlow was talking about. While such readers would certainly not confuse Belgium with France, it is unlikely that they would regard the two countries as particularly distinct, since French was the language of both. Most readers were probably hazy about Flemish and the Flemings, and French is the language of the trading company that Marlow has joined. Agatha Christie was to make a running joke of how the English take the Belgian Hercule Poirot for a Frenchman and cannot summon up any great concern when their mistake is pointed out.8 If France and Belgium are not the same, they are very similar, so criticism of French imperialism will reflect upon Belgian practice, and criticism of the Congo will reflect upon the French colonial empire.
The Blackwood's reader will not be allowed to forget that the French are the ancestral enemy. The same February number contains "A Letter from Salamanca," describing some incidents in a battle that took place during the war between Britain and the armies of Napoleon in Spain. A short story called "The Sword of Corporal Lacoste" follows. It concerns a cuirassier in the French imperial army who is a werewolf. The Looker-on ventilates about the "Madagascar Papers," which apparently reveal French bad faith and mendacity in a very clear light. We are assured that Lord Salisbury permitted the French protectorate of Madagascar on condition that British trade with the island could continue unabated. The French government, however, proceeded to use its power to destroy Anglo-Malagasy trade.
The March number begins with a memoir by Mrs. Charles Bagot of her father, Josceline Percy, who served under Nelson in the wars against Napoleon. Her uncle, Henry Percy, as aide-de-camp to Wellington at Waterloo, and the gloves that the Iron Duke wore at Waterloo are in her possession. How better to remind the reader of British superiority over the French than by invoking the names of the two men who, at the beginning of the century, finally dispatched them by sea and by land?
In February 1899, relations between Britain and France were at a particularly low point, and the two countries had nearly gone to war a month or two earlier. In July of the previous year, while the British were engaged in a war against the Mahdists in the Sudan, a French contingent, with the cooperation of the Belgian authorities in the Congo, took possession of Fashoda, on the Nile. Having defeated the Mahdi, General Kitchener, claiming the whole of the Sudan for Egypt (which was controlled by Britain), required the French to leave Fashoda. Had France been better prepared, there may well have been war, and Russia would have joined with France. As it was, the French evacuated Fashoda in November 1898. Matters were not finally settled until March 1899. Under the circumstances, Conrad's readership would have been reluctant to hear anything other than criticism of France, and he obliged.
Marlow sails for the Congo on a French steamer, "and she called in every blamed port they have out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-house officers" (202). He implies that the French have too many ports on the African coast and none of them is very significant. Nothing comes out of French Africa; they simply pour in manpower. "Settlements some centuries old, and still no bigger than pin heads on the untouched expanse of their background" (202-03): the French do not appear to have done very much "real work" during their long presence on the coast of the continent, so it is just as well that they have been displaced from the Nile. The customs officers are to levy tolls in a wilderness, and the soldiers are there to protect them. Some are drowned in the surf, but "nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and on we went" (203). Even the place names, Gran' Bassam or Little Popo, "seemed to belong to some sordid farce." At one point they see a French man-of-war "anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears that the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts." Marlow speaks as if the French regularly went to war in a desultory fashion, not even clear about where they were fighting. "Pop, would go one of the eight-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke would disappear, tiny projectile would give a feeble screech--and nothing happened." Most naval guns go boom, and an eight-inch shell is hardly tiny—but not those of the French navy, it seems. Moreover, "There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight."
Further on in the February number we find "A Vagabond Poet," an article that discusses the French poet Rimbaud. A quotation from the young poet is suggestive of the pre-Roman Thames that Marlow has invoked and of the Mr. Kurtz whom Conrad will bring forth two months hence. Rimbaud the poet is comparing himself to the Gauls:

"From them I get idolatry and the love of sacrilege;-oh! All the vices, anger, lust,--'tis magnificent, lust--above all, falsehood and idleness. I have a horror of all trades. Masters and workmen, all are peasants, ignoble. The hand on the pen is stronger than the hand on the plough." And so he sets forth his lack of restraint, his scorn of conduct. (403)

Kurtz, who so notoriously lacks restraint in much the same way, began his career in the Congo with a similar faith in the pen. The author of the article concludes that Rimbaud did not find his true career until he abandoned poetry for a life in Africa, at which point he reveals himself to be every bit as practical as Marlow: "His demand for books is incessant; but it is practical science, not literature, which engrosses him. He is curious concerning tanneries and artesian wells; he orders treatises upon masonry, mineralogy, and naval architecture" (408). In this quest for efficiency, Rimbaud is not, apparently, typical of his nation. The writer considers him "more richly gifted in the art of colonisation than any of his contemporaries" (408). He is not, like Conrad's French and Belgians, simply intent on "the merry dance of death and trade" (204); Rimbaud "was determined to take civilisation wherever he found profit" (408)--hence his demand for practical books. Unlike Kurtz, he sees civilization in practical terms rather than through high-flown rhetoric. The article implies that responsible imperialism does not loot the colony but develops its infrastructure. "Had France many sons as heroic as Rimbaud," we are told, "she would not be compelled to deplore her policy wherever she unfurls her flag" (408). And this judgment is not the mere prejudice of an Englishman. Rimbaud himself is quoted on French imperial practice:

"I believe," said he, "that no country has so stupid a colonial policy as France. If England makes mistakes and incurs expenses, at least she has serious interests and an important outlook. But no power ever knew so well as France how to squander its strength and money for pure loss, and in impossible regions." (409)

Such a view is entirely concurrent with Marlow's tone regarding his cruise along the coasts of French Africa.
Part 2 of "The Heart of Darkness" begins with Marlow's overhearing the manager of the Central Station and his uncle talking about Kurtz, and it then takes us up the river  o the Inner Station and the Harlequin. The same issue (March) ends with "An Unwritten Chapter of History: The Struggle for Borgu," an article about "French aggressions on the territories claimed by us in West Africa, and of our too-long-deferred resistance to those aggressions" (605). We learn something of British ideas about French imperial methods. The French Lieutenant Bretonnet is surrounded by hostile African warriors:

After a severe fight he succeeded in routing them, and the country was terrorised into submission....The Baribas were thoroughly cowed; they hated, but they were afraid. It was very different from the method in which we make war against the savages, sending large expeditions and paying fair or even at times excessive prices for such goods as the natives choose to supply. (611)

While the French, we are assured, "devastated the country" (614), the English did "as English officers always do, their best to make themselves happy and live at peace with their neighbours" (616).9 When informed of the convention signed at Paris on July 14, 1898, which requires them to abandon some of the territory they have taken, the French, the writer tells us, are "very bitter: they said that France had once more been humiliated by England, and all the other things that French officers are accustomed to say in such circumstances" (617).We are to understand that France has been so often humiliated by England that its officers have evolved an entire set of bitter--and predictable--remarks. They are not even allowed originality in their spleen. Between Conrad, this article, the Rimbaud article, and the Looker-on, the French emerge as farcical incompetents and contemptible bullies.


"Push and enterprise"

While "The Heart of Darkness" presents a case study of how badly French-speaking people do imperialism, an article by the very British Ian Malcolm in the February issue, Jamaica: An Impression," offers a positive British alternative. The treatment of native Africans by the Company—the grove of death (206--7) at the Outer Station and the beating of a native after the conflagration of a store hut at the Central Station (213) contrasts with what Ian Malcolm sees at Knockalva, Jamaica, an estate where his brother is subagent:

And amid all this natural profusion live the negroes in their little log-huts, or, if in humbler circumstances, in bothies built of leaves and grass. They all seemed to be busy with something or another. At the doors the women were sewing or men were cobbling; here, a little darkey girl combing out her sister's hair under a great Poinsettia-tree, whose red leaves burned brilliant in the sun; there little picaninnies in a state of nature chasing chickens and pigs; now, where a stream crosses the road, groups of girls washing linen with their sleeves rolled well over their elbows, and their skirts well up to their knees; and all along the road we passed men driving cattle or mule-trains laden with produce to  the nearest market. From each and all we were certain of a "Marnin', massa." (310--11)

The vision is unstintingly idyllic: the adults are represented at worthy labor and the children at play, there are signs of plenty in the "laden" mule trains, and they all know their place without having it beaten into them--that education, no doubt, took place long ago when their ancestors were first brought from Africa. After an early start, the workers take their dinner between 11 and 11:30. Unlike the Italians and Spaniards, who, we are told, idle away the early afternoon in siesta, the Jamaicans get straight back to work and labor "cheerfully" until 5 o'clock (310).
The Blackwood's reader of the February number could take satisfaction in contemplating what the White Man can achieve with natives when the White Man happens to be British rather than Belgian or French. However, such satisfaction should be cautious. Ian Malcolm is no mind- less booster: early in the article, during the course of his rail journey from Kingston to Knockalva, he chatted with a number of passengers about the state of the island. They acknowledge that poverty exists and "blame was heaped on everything except the lethargy and want of push and enterprise which seem to me responsible for much of the existing stagnation and depression" (305). But after this gloomy opening things begin to look up, and before reaching Knockalva, the author describes the estate of Mr. Ellis, where the proprietor, along with two Swiss and a German, is experimenting with banana drying, among other things. These men, who "do not let the grass grow under their feet" (306), are clearly all push and enterprise.
While Malcolm represents Knockalva as a place where the hard-working hands have great fun chasing the cattle for branding, he wants to suggest an element of the Scottish Highlands transplanted to the tropics with the added value of semifeudal tradition. The estate

has been in the possession of the Malcolms for many, many generations: far back into the remote slavery days the record goes to show the forbears of the present employees working for the ancestors of the present owner; whilst a clannish tradition binds master and man as loyally together to-day in this distant island as ever it did in the Highlands of Scotland. (306)

By 1899, the clannish tradition that caused the London government so much trouble in the eighteenth century had been broken up and redirected into the Highland regiments so feared by Britain's imperial enemies. Clans, tartans, and Highlands, with the help of the Queen herself, had become utterly British and quite fashionable. The Scottish lairds became organs of English imperial sway in the Highlands, so it is not such a stretch for Malcolm to move one of them lock, stock, and cultural barrel to Jamaica. The Malcolms have been presiding in benevolent paternalism over their estate long enough to be old gentry, so the reader may contrast them and their subagent (presumably kin of some sort) with Conrad's Romans, who were "no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and for that you want only brute force," or to the Romans' Latin descendents--the hollow denizens of the Central Station. These last are like the unsatisfactory fellow travelers in Jamaica who lack push and enterprise. "They intrigued and slandered and hated each other ..." Marlow tells us, "but as to effectively lifting a little finger--oh, no" (214). At the very end of the first installment of "The Heart of Darkness" the Eldorado Exploring Expedition arrives: "There was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world" (220). In Jamaica or, at all events, in the more select parts, the real work of the world, we are to believe, goes on under British rule.
Although Blackwood's readers would be able to congratulate themselves that Conrad's Africa is not British Africa, there are ominous notes sounded in the magazine, admonitions that might allow "The Heart of Darkness" to be read as a warning to "us." The February number contains a piece called "From the New Gibbon," a pastiche of Edward Gibbon's description of Rome at the time of the Antonines--at the height of its power but already showing symptoms of decline. The article is unsigned, so we may take it to represent the views of the editor.10 The writer perceives a serious decline from the earlier imperialism of Palmerston and Disraeli to the decadence of Joseph Chamberlain: "He became the high-priest of what was fondly saluted as the new Imperialism, on the lips of whose votaries British Empire was synonymous with British commerce" (243). The feckless pilgrims of Conrad's narrative are a warning of where that type of colonialism could lead. And in Britain, this writer observes, the spread of urban industrialism has led to a physical and moral debilitation such that the British are not effective traders anymore. They have become essentially spectators, using mercenaries of the empire to fight their wars and paid athletes to play their sports for them. Like Marlow, the writer cites the time of "Drake and Hawkins" as a "manlier age" (243); Conrad's narrator called the men of that time "messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire" (194). The falling away, the New Gibbon relates, has also affected the culture of letters, and in spite of a huge growth in literacy and a corresponding increase in the volume of published writing, the age has produced not one writer of "original genius" or one "who excelled in the arts of elegant composition" (248).Vulgarity, mediocrity, and cheapness sweep all before them. It is hard to know just how seriously to take all this High Tory snobbism—the piece is, after all, pastiche. The idea that the spread of education had led to the vulgarization of taste was voiced in the February "Noctes Ambrosianae" (184) and is repeated in an article called "The Sins of Education" in the March number (503-13). The importance of active participation in sports, as opposed to spectatorship, is emphasized in "Physical Education in Schools" (573-80), so we can take much of it seriously. A marked tendency to find a sad falling off in the present is the mark of a conservative.
But the Tory--Christopher North, for example—also considered himself a mature realist, in contrast to hysterical radicals, who will only learn moderation "by the lessons of experience" (172). Accordingly, the Blackwood's reader would acknowledge that even Englishmen, when far from the restraints of civilization, might conceivably fail to behave as a white man should. And the same number of Blackwood's that brought forth the final part of "The Heart of Darkness" includes an essay about William Hodson, an Englishman who was accused of such a falling off. Kurtz is, of course, only one quarter English. "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz" (497), observes Marlow. But for a purebred Englishman to behave so? Surely not. And indeed, the article is a spirited defense of Hodson, finally arguing that if he sinned, it was in the pursuit of his imperial duty.
William Hodson died in India in 1858, a year that all Blackwood's readers would think of as the year of the suppression of the Indian "Mutiny." Hodson was a contemporary at Rugby of Tom Hughes, creator of Tom Brown, and the writer hopes some of Tom Brown's glamour might settle on the shoulders of his subject, so he repeats the "legend" that Harry East, Tom Brown's closest friend, was modeled on Hodson."In moral qualities, however," Harry East "is not the equal of Hodson."
Not everyone has the same elevated view of Hodson's character. He has his detractors, and a particularly damaging and widespread charge was that while in command of the Guide Corps in India, Hodson embezzled from the accounts. Even though he was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing and the finding of the initial inquiry overturned, the stigma remained with Hodson to the end of his days.
The writer acknowledges Hodson's guilt on another charge: that "he falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned a border chief in the Mardan district" (527), one Bisharat Ali.  The faults in this case, which led him to his "ruin," are listed as "positiveness, self-will, an aptness to arrogate too much." Such faults could equally be summed up as the virtue of initiative, and the writer would hardly need to point out that they are qualities of most of the world's successful military leaders. Hodson's faults, if "unrestrained, are sufficient to render a man unfit to administer the affairs of an Indian district" (527). Is there not a hint of dismissal here, implying that the administration of mere Indian districts is best left to little men, petty bureaucrats who faithfully and unimaginatively follow the letter of the law? Grander qualities are needed, we might infer, of those who build empires and defend them in their hours of peril.
The writer spends a scant column on the Mardan incident, whereas he devotes more than six to the false accusation of embezzlement. This is necessary because fiddling the regimental books is clearly the action of a bounder and a cad, and shows an unheroic, Chamberlain-like concern for money. It is a small-minded crime that benefits no one other than the perpetrator. Imprisoning an Indian border chief, on the other hand, could be represented as for the good of the empire.
When the native soldiers rebelled against their British masters in what the British called the "mutiny," the writer is able to show Hodson's faults as positive qualities. Various acts of derring-do are recounted, the whole reaching its climax in Hodson's 80-mile ride from Colonel Seaton's camp to the headquarters of the commander-in-chief and back. But before this happened, we hear of another example of Hodson's tendency to arrogate. He had taken captive "three native princes, whom common report at the time declared to have been foremost in instigating the terrible massacres which had marked the outbreak of the mutiny at Delhi" (534). Blocked in a narrow passage and pressed on from behind by a crowd of the princes' supporters, Hodson shot his three prisoners "with his own hand" (535). Not surprisingly, his action generated some controversy. The writer feels compelled to exonerate his subject, and his approach is interesting: "No impartial person will deny that the princes who were shot by him deserved death," he declares, and then acknowledges that the act did Hodson's reputation no good at all. "But, as in the case of Bisharat Ali, so here, no personal feelings would prevent him from doing unflinchingly what he regarded as his duty" (535). The writer is implicitly clearing Hodson of both crimes by showing that he was fulfilling his duty. If this is true, Hodson can hardly have felt that duty as being to any notion of due process, and, we are assured, "the vast majority of Hodson's countrymen, both then and now," applaud him for it. One cannot help but wonder why it is necessary to defend the memory of one who has such overwhelming support.
The end of Hodson's life is entirely satisfactory for the writer's rhetorical needs: he died of wounds received in the assault on the Begum Khoti palace, near Lucknow. He was laid low "by some of the enemy concealed in a room in the palace" (538)-only a group of men, hiding in a cowardly fashion, could have given the death blow to such a man! His last words have apparently been preserved: "It is hard to leave the world just now, when success is so near; but God's will be done. Bear witness for me that I have tried to do my duty to man" (538). That a man will give up his life for his duty--and only a terminally cynical reader, we may be sure, would doubt such a claim made at the point of death--is proof that his earlier questionable judgments were indeed made in good faith. Furthermore, Hodson has fulfilled his duty not only to the empire but to mankind in general. Rather conveniently, the interests of "man" coincide with those of the British empire and exclude the interests of those Indians whose death Hodson had seen to.
The Hodson story would bring out the lesson of Conrad's narrative. Hodson's self-interested embezzlement parallels Kurtz's ivory raids, but Hodson, we are told, was not guilty, whereas Kurtz is. Hodson's imprisonment of Bisharat Ali could well be read as justified post facto because the Indians shortly thereafter "mutinied," and the writer carefully justifies the killing of the three princes. In short, Hodson is justified as having acted against the Indians with the greater good in mind, whereas Kurtz's excesses are purely for his own benefit. Finally, Kurtz's judgment of it all--"The horror! the horror!"--contrasts with Hodson's last words--"I have tried to do my duty to man." Marlow himself has taught us that the Work is what matters and Work is what characterizes British imperialism, so Hodson's devotion to his duty, to the success of the military campaign of which he is a part, shows him to be of the British Party of Work. And just in case we have any doubts about our man, the writer leaves us with a description of his appearance taken from a pencil drawing made shortly before he left England for India: "clean-cut features and strong chin, ... pale yellow hair, steel-blue eyes and fresh complexion" (539). It is a familiar ideal. The only other likeness is a photograph taken shortly before his death. The hair has grown thin at the temples, the "firm mouth" is hidden behind a very long moustache, and the eyes have developed "a sternness engendered by twelve years of danger and hard work" (539).
The reader who remembers the first part of "The Heart of Darkness" will know what to make of Hodson. Like Marlow, he could say, "I've had to strike and to fend off. I've had to resist and to attack sometimes--that's only one way of resisting--without counting the exact cost, according to the demands of such sort of life as I had blundered into" (205). Perhaps Hodson went too far, the reader might concede. But finally he was faithful to ”the idea," the idea of empire, to quote Marlow again: "an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to... ." In Hodson's case, the reader murmurs, the sacrifice was his own life. Another reader, on the other hand, could argue that Hodson was little better than a murderer and was probably "not straight about money" (530). But such a reader would not be reading the rest of Blackwood's with much pleasure.
The April Looker-on claims that "Though not actually at war, we are in a state of war--a state of war that may not be unfairly illustrated by the case of a nation called upon to keep a costly army in the field, very far from home, to hold in check a force mustering for invasion" (762). The Looker-on acknowledges that "the war-charge of today is almost entirely devoted to the defence and acquisition of trade-the means of living. It is to seize markets, fill workshops and factories, that all the world's at strife" (763). Markets and imperial strife preoccupy a significant proportion of the articles and reviews that accompany "The Heart of Darkness," and taken together, they clearly align the text as a whole with a militant proimperial and anti-French attitude, for in early 1899, France as the enemy. Conrad represents the Belgian colonization of the Congo as not so much a moral outrage as a clear case of Continental inefficiency. Furthermore, the various accounts of French incompetence and reminders of their ultimate failure in the Napoleonic wars tell the reader how very beatable France would be.
Marlow's audience on the Nellie, the Director of Companies, the Lawyer, the Accountant, and the Narrator, are, with the exception of the last, notably silent--a sigh, a grunt, and a demand that Marlow be civil is the extent of their contribution. But theirs is the voice of Blackwood's, and it is heard clearly everywhere else in the magazine. Blackwood's projected itself as weighty, considered, and above all realistic. The empire was a complex matter, and a keen eye was essential to keep it working well, so there was   place for criticism. "The Heart of Darkness" acknowledges the complexities of the imperial project, of human imperfections, and of the consequent dangers of being beyond the reins of civilized life. In doing so, it is fully a part of the moral and political discourse of Blackwood's, whose basic rule is that good imperialists are British and bad imperialists are not. Conrad is faithful to this discourse in that while he shows negative examples of imperialism, his exemplars are never British. A few months later, the story of Jim began in Blackwood's, and we are presented with a young Englishman who betrays the code, but like Hodson, he redeems himself in a final act of self-sacrifice.



1. The title did not lose the definite article until the text was republished in book form. I will use the definite article when referring to it in its Blackwood's context.

2. It is likely that Conrad continued to study Blackwood's. Between 1899 and 1907, the magazine published four long editorials on the subject of anarchists with reference to the theories of the celebrated criminologist Cesare Lombroso, and John E. Saveson offers convincing evidence that even if Conrad read
Lombroso for himself, Blackwood's was an important source for his representation of anarchists in The Secret Agent. Thus, writes Saveson, "Conrad's attitudes toward anarchists and toward the prevailing criminology were conventional" and in accord with those of Blackwood's (57).

3. Other magazines where Conrad published had rather wider circulation. James Tye reports that at this period the Cornhill sold about 8,000 copies, the Pall Mall some 35,000 to 40,000, and the Strand's circulation in 1899 was more than 300,000 in England alone (72-73). Blackwood's may not have sold many copies, but Tye's research shows that of the leading periodicals of 1895, none were as widely subscribed to by the leading gentlemen's clubs as Maga. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the rich and influential read it and that like a library copy, one subscription would account for far more than one reader.