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Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic

Francis Younghusband: Explorer and Mystic, by George Seaver. 391 pages, maps and illustrations. London: John Murray, 1952. Price, 25/—.

Sir Francis Younghusband came of an old fighting family, with established traditions in the Indian army, but he himself seems never to have been entirely happy as a regimental officer. The phrase “wide open spaces” has today something of a phony ring, suggestive of the worst that Hollywood can produce; yet the draw of such spaces is undeniably felt by many, and in Younghusband may be regarded as the product of his adventurous spirit on the one hand and the strain of mysticism in his character on the other. Such a man might not fit easily into army life, but, with his abundant self-confidence, he was well equipped for exploration in Central Asia and the Karakoram-Himalaya regions at a time when they were almost unknown ground.

The author relates graphically the story of Younghusband’s great journey from Peking to India in 1887, which he himself described in a fascinating book, The Heart of a Continent. Explorations in the Pamirs, Gilgit, Chitral, and elsewhere followed, and in 1904 he commanded the Tibet Mission with patience and judgment. He incurred the disapproval of the then Secretary of State for India by signing the Tibet Treaty, and Dr. Seaver in a useful chapter brings out clearly how justified Younghusband had been and how unfairly he was treated.

The mystical strains in his character found vent in later years in founding the World Congress of Faiths, and he corresponded with philosophers such as McTaggart in his efforts to sift and straighten out his religious convictions which the silences of great mountain regions had for long been etching into his mind. He never lost his interest in mountain exploration, and as President of the Royal Geographical Society and as Chairman of the Mt. Everest Committee he brought all his enthusiasm to bear.

This is a good biography of a remarkable man and very well worth reading.

T. S. Blakeney