Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 377–84.

Roundabout Papers.—No. XVI. On Two Roundabout Papers Which I Intended to Write

[William M Thackeray]


Regular Feature, Editorial, Essay, Drollery

Relevant illustrations:



Imperialism, Exploration, Zoology, Race, Anthropomorphism, Descent, Natural Imperialism, Monographs

    Gives an outline of an abandoned roundabout paper in which the narrator 'was going to imagine myself to be a young surgeon-apprentice' (381) who joins an expedition 'down the Pdodo river' in Central Africa and encounters a gorilla civilization (382). While the surgeon-apprentice initially mistakes a family of gorillas for 'three negroes' (382), his trigger-happy companion soon shoots two of them and is suddenly 'felled, brained, and torn into ten thousand pieces' by a 'whole army of Gorillas'. The surgeon-apprentice, however, begins to treat one of the wounded gorillas which is 'stretching out its little hands, with movements and looks so strangely resembling human', who turns out to be 'the young Prince of the Gorillas', and as a reward for his kindness is taken back to meet the King and Queen of the Gorillas (383). There he is able to observe 'the manners and habits of the Gorillas chez eux', many of which resemble those of humans (i.e. parliamentary democracy, hegemony of a privileged class, suspicion of neighbouring tribes). The rest of the narrative is summarised in ironic chapter headings ('In a part of the country (its geographical position described) I see several negroes under Gorilla domination'.) which satirize the conventions of books on travel and exploration. The narrator reveals that the imaginary narrative will never be completed because recently a friend showed him 'a portrait, executed in photography, of your humble servant, as an immense and most unpleasant-featured baboon, with long hairy hands, and called by the waggish artist "A Literary Gorilla"'. (384)


Thackeray 1863

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