STANLEY: The Making of

An African Explorer

By Frank McLynn

Scarborough House. 411 pp.$23.95


The Life Behind the Legend of

Henry Morton Stanley

By John Bierman

Knopf. 416 pp. $24.95

HENRY M. STANLEY, the famous explorer who is the subject of these new biographies, was born in Wales in 1841. Named John Rowlands, after his presumed father, he passed most of his childhood in a Welsh workhouse until at 15 he shipped out on a freighter bound for New Orleans. There he jumped ship and was befriended by Henry Stanley, a prosperous merchant whose name he assumed.

The Civil War found young Stanley clerking in a store in Arkansas. He enlisted in the Confederate army, was captured at Shiloh and imprisoned in Chicago. To escape the horrors of prison he changed sides, but he carried a prison infection with him and was soon discharged as physically unfit. On his recovery, he enlisted in the Union navy, which he deserted before the war's end.

After an ill-planned and ill-fated journey to Turkey, where he was robbed of all he possessed, he found his way to the American Far West, where he free-lanced articles for various newspapers. Impressed by his reports, James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald, sent him (at his own expense) to cover a British military expedition to Abyssinia. Through bribery and good luck, his dispatches brought the first news of the campaign to Europe and America, a coup that won him a permanent place on the Herald payroll.

For the Herald he covered a Carlist war in Spain, reported from the Middle East for several months and then, at Bennett's instigation, set off into the African interior to seek David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer of whom there had been no word for more than a year. Through pluck and great luck, he found Livingstone on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, a meeting immortalized by his words: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

Although he was at first disbelieved, particularly by the fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, Stanley brought back Livingstone's papers and letters, incontrovertible proof of his achievement. When Queen Victoria sent him a jeweled snuff box, his doubters quickly back-pedaled.

Livingstone died while Stanley was in West Africa covering a British campaign against the Ashantis. In 1874 the Herald, in conjunction with the London Daily Telegraph, chose him to complete Livingstone's geographical work. On this expedition he circumnavigated both Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika and then followed the Congo River to the Atlantic. The entire expedition lasted 999 days and was, says Frank McLynn, "the greatest feat in the entire history of the exploration of Africa and one of the greatest achievements in all exploration."

Stanley next returned to Africa, not as a reporter, but as the representative of Leopold II, king of the Belgians, and for five years labored in the Congo basin, laying the foundation for what became the Congo Free State (present-day Zaire).

Stanley's last African expedition was a quixotic mission to rescue or succor Emin Pasha, governor of an Egyptian province in Central Africa, who was thought to be isolated by the Mahdist revolt in the Sudan.

With a handful of Englishmen and several hundred Zanzibaris, he moved a relief expedition up the Congo River to a point some 650 miles from the place where Emin was said to be holding out against the Mahdist hordes. Unfortunately, between Stanley and his goal was the great Ituri rain forest, in John Bierman's words a "frightful place -- dark, dank and treacherous . . . peopled by cannibals and pygmies . . .teeming with poisonous snakes and swarms of relentless insects."

Believing time to be of the essence, Stanley plunged ahead with the most fit members of his expedition, leaving the remainder to find porters and follow. After enduring incredible hardships, his men succumbing to arrows, insects and diseases, he reached Emin Pasha, only to find that he was living well, felt himself in no danger, and was not at all sure he wanted to be rescued. While Emin waffled, Stanley fought his way back through the Ituri to his "rear guard," which had failed to appear. He found it stalled, in disarray, many of his Zanzibaris dead or debilitated, only one European left. Undaunted, he reorganized the remnants and carried them through the Ituri.

He found Emin Pasha still vacillating but carried him off anyway, along with a swarm of his men, their wives and children. The entire mob emerged on the East Coast, where, during a banquet given by German colonial officers, Emin, perhaps tipsy, wandered out on a balcony, fell off and cracked his skull. Stanley left without him and never returned. In England he married a talented and loving young woman, bought a country house in Surrey, was knighted and died in bed at age 63. THIS MUCH of Stanley's life is indisputable. Both authors add considerably more. Both repeat and enlarge on the discovery of Richard Hall, a British journalist who in 1974 found proof that Stanley had embroidered most of his accounts of his boyhood and suppressed many facts of his young manhood. Bierman calls him "paranoid," an "emotional cripple," with repressed homosexual tendencies, the victim of "an extreme form of sexual sadism," and "a liar and a fantistist on a scale to rival his unquestionably heroic achievements as an explorer."

McLynn speaks of his "deeply ambivalent psyche," his "schizoid personality," his "morbid fear of women and his neurotic compulsion towards lies and fantasies." He also speaks of Stanley's "callous brutality" to Africans and accuses him of taking s "lustful pleasure" in beating them. Yet many Africans reenlisted for further expeditions under him.

The two authors do not always describe the same events nor agree on the facts. McLynn says King Mutesa in Uganda was a Muslim; Bierman says "Mutesa had never been a Muslim. . . ." Of Stanley's first New York lecture, Bierman says the Herald damned it with "faint praise"; McLynn says "the review in the Herald next morning was devastating."

Bierman attempts a complete biography; McLynn ends his account with Stanley's second expedition. Neither is a psychiatrist. However, they are both splendid writers, and if the reader takes the psychological verbiage well salted, both books make engrossing reading, for, flaws and all, Stanley was a fascinating man.

Byron Farwell's most recent books are "Armies of the Raj" and "Ball's Bluff: A Small Battle and its Long Shadow."