Trader Horn: Being the Life and Works of Alfred Aloysius Horn

edited by Ethelreda Lewis. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1927. 8vo. x+302 pp. $4,00.
IN a cheap boarding house in Johannesburg lived an old man of over seventy, known as Zambesi Jack, who made his living by twisting copper wire into gridirons and forks and peddling them from house to house. He was writing his memories, memories of a trader in the French Congo in the 70’s, twenty years after Du Chaillu and twenty years before Mary Kingsley. In them, to use his own words, ‘Romance ran amuck.’ He remembers how he shipped to President Grant in a puncheon of spirits, instead of the gorilla he expected, the body of a trader who wanted to be buried at home; how much he admired Livingston’s wife (without forgetting Livingston’s second and black wife); how Cecil Rhodes got drunk on some of his prickly-pear brandy and almost got eaten by a crocodile while he was sleeping it off; how he picked up in a native village the music box which Du Chaillu had left there half a generation before; how the natives pushed their grandmothers into the river and called them modest if they drowned face down. But chiefly he remembers how he and a schoolmate helped the daughter of a British peer to escape from the throne of a goddess in a native witch house, and how they tossed a gold piece for her hand. (‘ I levelled off the sand. . . . Your shout, I cried. . . .’)
One Tuesday morning he sold a gridiron to Mrs. Lewis — and started to talk to her. She gave him pencil and paper — and this is his book, just as he wrote it in his boarding house. As he got on with it, he would talk over each chapter with her, and in the book she adds his spoken to his written word. Just as pen and ink choked Dr. Johnson with Latinity, so his pad and pencil almost strangles Horn with his ‘literary procedure’ (as he calls it), a style which dates from his early Victorian schooling. However, his tongue gives us such things as ‘The rich are happy when there are no mosquitoes. For the poor there are greater mercies,’ and his opinion of prayer, ‘This constant nudging of the Almighty is a mistake.’ John Galsworthy, in the preface he wrote for this volume, quotes a dishful of hors d’œuvres for a jaded public. Readers of the Atlantic Monthly need none, for they are always hungry for such victuals as this. Let them sit down to it, and take the plums fairly, as they come.