The Conqueror of Tibet
Francis Younghusband ; Explorer and Mystic. By George Seaver. (John Murray. 25s.) Francis Younghusband ; Explorer and Mystic. By George Seaver. (John Murray. 25s.) THE figure that emerges from this book—which its author describes as "edited autobiography rather tlian biography "—is saintly, chivalrous and wooden. Younghusband was a very simple and a very conventional man, and one suspects that Dr. Seaver shares these attributes. There is accordingly a certain flatness, a lack of depth, about the story which they. jointly (for much of the book consists of extracts from Younghusband's own writings) tell, and we read the record of an extraordinary life without ever becoming greatly interested in the man who lived it.
The Younghusbands are a Northumbrian family of great antiquity. Sir Francis' upbringing was" Victorian in the best sense of an often misused term " ; piety and discipline at home, rugged mediocrity at Clifton. He ran and played rugger for Sandhurst, and at the age of nineteen, physically much tougher and spiritually much deeper than most young cavalry officers, he joined the King's Dragoon Guards at Meerut. He very quickly made his mark as a regimental officer and during his leaves acquired some reputation as a traveller ; and this blend of responsibility and enterprise earned for him the chance of accompanying a senior Indian Civil Servant on a journey to Manchuria, a territory in which Russia's designs and dispositions were then of considerable interest both to Simla and Whitehall.
Returning from Manchuria early in 1857, he met the redoubtable Colonel Bell in Peking. Colonel Bell was planning to return to India overland through Chinese Turkestan, and Younghusband got per- mission to do likewise, though by a different route. They arranged a rendezvous at Harm, roughly halfway between Peking and the Himalayas. Bell, who was a thruster, got there three weeks ahead of Younghusband and, to the wonder of those who knew him best, actually waited a whole day for his fellow-countryman before press- ing on. Younghusband wound up what was by any standards a remarkable journey by reconnoitring a new and untried route over the Karakoram and rejoined his regiment on the day on which his leave expired.
He was now launched upon a career of officially-sponsored explor- ation with objectives which were political as well as geographical. This was interrupted by a digression to South Africa, where he served as special correspondent of The Times, at the time of the Jameson Raid, In 1897 he made a marriage which lasted 55 years but seems not to have been particularly happy ; and after holding various appointments in India he was given, in 1903, command of the military expedition to Lhasa on which his fame chiefly rests. The story of this extraordinary campaign, in which (among other odd occurrences) a mountain battery was brought into action at a height of 19,000 feet above sea-level, is fairly well known ; but Dr. Seaver, using extracts from many different accounts of the affair, retells it admirably. Younghusband emerges as an inspiring leader of exceptional judge- ment and resource. "Risk pays," he wrote afterwards ; and added a corollary which the present writer has long held to be valid : "Shrink from running a necessary risk, and danger will relentlessly pursue you, hunt you down and crush you."
The rest of his career was anti-climax. In the 1914-18 war he was given nothing of significance to do, and although, after it, he played a leading and invaluable part in organising the early Everest Expeditions, the life of action had given place to the life of the spirit. The World Congress of Faiths, the Religious Drama Society, the Men of the Trees—in the company of idealists and with a camp- following of cranks Sir Francis indefatigably pursued ends which perhaps he instinctively apprehended rather than fully understood. He found, and imparted, much happiness in the process, and died