I Wonder

I wonder why Joseph Banks never finished his book Endeavor Voyage.

I wonder —

Banks, at age 26, was the official botanist aboard the bark Endeavor, commanded by James Cook. The mission of the voyage was to travel to Tahiti and record the transit of Venus across the face of the sun on June 3, 1769. They stayed for three months, during which Banks was welcomed into many hidden aspects of Tahitian society. He was a scientist who recorded all the flora and fauna he found. He learned the language and island customs. He become a diplomat between the Englishmen and the natives. He participated in — let us say — all the freedoms offered by the islanders and enjoyed by the rest his shipmates. His journal records the girl with “fire in her eyes” and hibiscus in her hair, whom he spotted while dining with the Tahitian queen.

It was paradise. He planned to write a great record of the trip called Endeavor Voyage, but through all the decades he lived afterwards — as he settled in as president of the Royal Society, his adventures over, with voyages of discovery to be continued only by proteges — it was never finished.

“Joseph Banks never finally published his long-dreamed-of Endeavor Voyage, or any full account of his time in Paradise,” wrote Richard Holmes in The Age of Wonder. “Despite the death of his great friend Solander there is no real explanation for this failure, though perhaps it was a deliberate refusal. His journal exists in several manuscript drafts …. But Banks’ Endeavor Voyage may count as one of the great unfinished masterpieces of Romanticism, as mysterious in its own way as Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan,’ with which it bears some curious similarities, as an account of a sacred place which has been partly lost, and to which there is no return.”

I wonder why Joseph Banks never finished his book Endeavor Voyage. I wonder about the girl with “fire in her eyes” and hibiscus in her hair.

I wonder —

I wonder if Banks just preferred to keep it all to himself, because sharing it would spoil it.

I wonder.

But I don’t wonder for long.

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Photo: ACF