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And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, ‘followed the sea’ with reverence and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it has borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled – the great knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her round flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests – and that never returned. It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith – the adventurers and the settlers; kings’ ships and the ships of men on ‘Change; captains, admirals, the dark ‘interlopers’ of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned ‘generals’ of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!…The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. (1.6)
The colonists are described in positive light imagery, as altruistic pioneers sallying forth into the dark uncivilized world to bring salvation and civilization to the ignorant races.
[Marlow]: "Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency--the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force--nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea." (1.13)
Marlow undermines everything he just said about the nobility and good intentions of the explorers. Instead, he has seen the brutal truth of colonization and knows that the colonizing countries care only about efficiency and profit; they go about their work with "brute force" which is "nothing to boast of…since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others." He condemns the explorers as mere robbers and murderers, men who were going about their business blindly. The only thing that might justify this brutality is one’s unwavering belief in an unselfish idea that the ends justify the means.
"I had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas - a regular dose of the East - six years or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you." (1.16)
Marlow makes fun of the colonist’s motto – to civilize savages – by comparing it to an idle traveler imposing himself on hosts too generous to make him leave. The implication is that the colonists’ arrival with all their rhetoric of civilization is ultimately undesired by the native African inhabitants.