Colonel Percy Fawcett
By Felipe Fernández-Armesto
"Adventure”, wrote Peter Fleming in 1933, “is really a soft option.” He knew something about it, having sought the mad, dangerous sportsman Colonel Percy Fawcett, who disappeared on an ill-starred expedition in 1925.
Fawcett sought an imaginary El Dorado in non-existent mountains in the depths of Amazonia. Speculation about his fate inspired the black-comic debacle of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, and the less well-known novel by V. S. Pritchett, Dead Man Leading.
The experience with Fawcett convinced Fleming that “it requires far less courage to be an explorer than to be a chartered accountant”.
Now that we are back in times of depression and austerity we can see what he meant. The financial world is a jungle, full of snake-pits and poisoned darts.
Financiers, often unprepared for serious difficulty, must survive the crash, when it comes, with unaided bravery.
For a crazed obsessive like Fawcett, madness numbs or transcends fear. His last note to his wife said (as Raymond Howgego reminds us in the new volume of his Encyclopedia of Exploration), “You need have no fear of failure”. By the time Fleming embraced adventure, the traditional terrors really had diminished.