It has been proved conclusively that West Africa is a rich and promising gold-field, but therein lies a great danger to the imprudent investor and speculator. Although we have heard so much of West Africa during the present year, it is not a new gold-field, as the ignorant may assume, for the precious metal was discovered there centuries ago, and as far back as the eighties several companies were formed to take up properties, some of which have been working quietly ever since. But the West Coast of Africa has always had a bad reputation. Its climate has hitherto been considered far too deadly for Europeans to venture there or to live there permanently; but all these drawbacks have been suddenly forgotten, or they have been hidden for the time being by the effulgence of gold. Intrepid adventurers are going there by the score, whilst others are returning here full of enthusiasm, delighted with their brief sojourn in the country, assuring us that they have discovered it to be the land of promise and delight.

How this sudden transformation came about seems like a dream. All we can now remember is that we woke up one morning to find ourselves in the midst of a West African boom, to find the world excited over its marvellous gold wealth; but how it all actually came about we have no distinct recollection. Most of us never dreamt of such a thing as a West African boom, for though we may have known that gold was there, we felt sure no one could live long enough to extract it, or even if one could, we could not persuade the public of its possibility. Moreover, it seemed impossible to establish a gold-mining industry in a place where the necessary facilities for its successful exploitation did not exist. To penetrate a dense, fever-breeding jungle seemed so hazardous a task as not to be worth the attempt; and yet all these formidable difficulties vanished before our eyes one day like magic, and our imaginations pictured a change from a sterile, unhealthy bog to a land of beauty and joy. But the most wonderful thing of all was the magical way in which the treasures of this land were heaped into the laps of promoters, and one can only liken the scene to the fairy-stories we read of in our childhood's days, in which fairies would heap upon some favoured protege of theirs all the wealth and gifts of this earth, and of fairyland besides.

These miracles do not happen out of fairy-books, no matter how promoters would cajole us into other beliefs. They are dazzling our eyes by nothing but vain and empty show, and we shall wake up from our happy dream one day to find we have delighted ourselves with illusions only, with insubstantial hopes, with too extravagant expectations, and the disappointment will be bitter. It would be well if we were awakened from our dreams now, even though it be by no gentle shaking, for though it may be no pleasant shock, it will save us from more painful shocks hereafter. As in fairy-stories the wealth that is showered upon the favoured ones is illusory and visionary, and the fairy herself a creation of the imagination, still, the Earth herself may take her place in the world of reality, and may bestow upon us many of her bountiful treasures if we will but merit them. Therefore, if promoters have as yet only dazzled our imaginations with an intangible brilliance, we must not conclude that the imaginary picture does not reflect some substantial reality in the background. There is gold in West Africa, and there will be many fortunate enough to get it; but all will not be fortunate who seek, for many may seek in the wrong places, and their searchings will end only in disappointment. That many are now searching diligently in the wrong places is true, but before we know who are the fortunate and the unfortunate we must wait patiently to learn. Impatience would lead us to commit many disastrous errors, and if we would be wise we would avoid these possibilities. Moreover, when the fortunate ones have found their treasure it may be still far from their reach. They may see it only with the eye of joy and eagerness, but the mere gazing at it will not put it in their possession. Many perils may have to be faced before it can be reached, and those perils may lead to destruction even at the moment of success. So we must wait, expectantly, but not impatiently, for the mere impatience itself may increase the difficulties rather than diminish them.

Putting figurative language aside, it cannot be disputed that this boom in West Africa has already been overdone. Promoters have already reaped a fairly rich harvest, but they are all looking to a richer harvest still. Hundreds of companies have been floated in an incredibly short time, and the majority of them are the wildest of cats, and the most unblushing frauds ever offered to a credulous public. No one would be better pleased than myself to see a flourishing gold-mining industry established in West Africa or elsewhere. The benefits from it would be great. But those benefits would be nullified if it were used as a means of enriching scoundrels. But I cannot believe that the public have put money into it to the extent that is supposed. I think they have had more sense. The enormous premiums to which many of the shares have gone is no evidence of public buying on a large scale. If the public had bought freely we should see a great fall in those prices. For promoters and vendors would speedily unload, and those who bought shares would be only too anxious to get rid of them again. The prices are not only enormously inflated, but they are fictitious. They are held by a few, and these few rig them to any prices they please. Therefore I warn the public not to run away with wrong impressions. And I warn them even more solemnly not to buy shares at the colossal premiums at which they stand. If they do buy, they will not only be landed with rubbish, but they will be chagrined to see a great fall in those insubstantial prices. There are exceptions, of course. But the exceptions are very few, and they are not overeasy to find.