Thus, practically within our own time, the interior of Africa, where once geographers, as the poet Butler puts it, “placed elephants instead of towns,” has become known, in its main outlines, by successive series of intrepid explorers, who have often had to be warriors as well as scientific men. Whatever the motives that have led the white man into the centre of the Dark Continent—love of adventure, scientific curiosity, big game, or patriotism—the result has been that the continent has become known instead of merely its coast-line. On the whole, English exploration has been the main means by which our knowledge of the interior of Africa has been obtained, and England has been richly rewarded by coming into possession of the most promising parts of the continent—the Nile valley and temperate South Africa. But France has also gained a huge extent of country covering almost the whole of North-West Africa. While much of this is merely desert, there are caravan routes which tap the basin of the Niger and conduct its products to Algeria, conquered by France early in the century, and to Tunis, more recently appropriated. The West African provinces of France have, at any rate, this advantage, that they are nearer to the mother-country than any other colony of a European power; and the result may be that African soldiers may one of these days fight for France on European soil, just as the Indian soldiers were imported to Cyprus by Lord Beaconsfield in 1876. Meanwhile, the result of all this international ambition has been that Africa in its entirety is now known and accessible to European civilisation.
[Authorities: Kiepert, Beitraege zur Entdeckungsgeschichte Afrikas, 1873; Brown, The Story of Africa, 4 vols., 1894; Scott Keltie, The Partition of Africa, 1896.]
Almost the whole of the explorations which we have hitherto described or referred to had for their motive some practical purpose, whether to reach the Spice Islands or to hunt big game. Even the excursions of Davis, Frobisher, Hudson, and Baffin in pursuit of the north-west passage, and of Barentz and Chancellor in search of the north-east passage, were really in pursuit of mercantile ends. It is only with James Cook that the era of purely scientific exploration begins, though it is fair to qualify this statement by observing that the Russian expedition under Behring, already referred to, was ordered by Peter the Great to determine a strictly geographical problem, though doubtless it had its bearings on Russian ambitions. Behring and Cook between them, as we have seen, settled the problem of the relations existing between the ends of the two continents Asia and America, but what remained still to the north of terra firma within the Arctic Circle? That was the problem which the nineteenth century set itself to solve, and has very nearly succeeded in the solution. For the Arctic Circle we now possess maps that only show blanks over a few thousand square miles.