Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

On one level this is the tale of two friends, Alan Fairford and Darsie Latimer.  They’re both law students in Edinburgh, but Alan is sincere and hard-working while Darsie is easily distracted and mischievous.  The story opens with Darsie vacationing in Dumfriesshire near the Solway estuarial system.  He’s left school temporarily and writes letters to Alan detailing his adventures, the first of which involves being given fishing lessons by Benjie, a local rapscallion of ten years or so, who’s mastered the arts of angling, food appropriation, horse-borrowing and money-grabbing.  Roaming the local countryside, Darsie ventures out onto the mudflats beyond the mouth of the Esk river, on foot, not knowing that he’s in danger of being drowned.  The fierce tides of the area are capable of trapping the unwary pedestrian as they wash in at a high rate of speed.  And patches of quicksand dot the flats, lethal snares for the unenlightened.  So he ventures out too far and is running for his life when he’s rescued by a man on a horse.  His savior is the Laird, who is the leader of a small enclave of fishermen, a hamlet named Brokenburn,  residing on the banks of a nearby creek.

Darsie spends the night with his rescuer and meets a beautiful young girl, apparently some relation of the Laird.  The next morning he goes for a walk on the downs and meets  Wandering Willie and his wife Maggie.  Willie is a fiddle-player and is blind.  After some entertaining repartee, the three descend to Brokenburn to attend a dance the same night.  Darsie sees the girl, named Lilias,  again,  and she tells him he’s in danger and to leave forthwith.  On the run, he takes refuge with a local band of Quakers named Geddes, who proffer exemplary hospitality.  The Quakers have installed fishing nets across the Solway Firth and are capturing most of the migrating salmon.  The folk at Brokenburn are upset by this because they depend on the runs of salmon for their livelihood.  So one night they dash out and tear up all the nets.  Darsie is in the wrong place and is taken prisoner and for some reason dressed up as a girl and carted off to an unknown destination.

Meanwhile, Alan Fairford has taken his final exams for being a lawyer and passed them and has been presented with his first case.  Peter Peebles has been trying to get his case resolved for fifteen years.  It concerns the claims of a former business partner over a disputed division of funds mis-distributed upon the dissolution of a partnership.  Alan studies the case and enters the court fully briefed and confident of winning his case, when he’s handed a letter surreptitiously.  All of a sudden, he picks up his coat and dashes out of the building, grabs a horse and gallops off to Dumfriesshire to rescue his friend, who apparently has been kidnapped by unknown parties.

As the plot progresses, the reader discovers that the Laird is actually Darsie’s uncle, and is a rabid adherent to the cause of Charles Edward Stuart, the presumed legitimate King of England and Scotland.  The Laird is fixated on rebellion and the restoration of the Hanoverian throne to the Stuarts.  Darsie is in reality the heir of the Laird’s brother, who had lots of money and a reputation as a leader in the ’45 (the final rebellion of the Highland Clans in their fatal attempt to install Bonnie Prince Charlie as King).  The names of the three are, naturally, Redgauntlet.

Alan takes ship to England and lands on the coast somewhere west of Carlisle and manages to track Darsie to an inn owned and operated by a man named Crackenthorp.  This inn is the center of action for the balance of the plot:  all the characters meet there for a final resolution of the Laird’s attempt to drum up support for his ill-fated plan to overturn the English kingship.  Certain nobles  and peers of England are there, as well as Charles Edward Stuart himself.  There are secret meetings, gun shots, a couple of stabbings, a lot of arguing, but finally the Laird comes to realize that his cause is hopeless and sails off to France with ex-King Stuart.  The other personae marry, inherit wealth, die, or live happily ever after.

This was not the most interesting book of Scott’s i’ve read, but it was more multi-leveled, in my memory anyway, than some of his earlier works.  There was the surface plot:  the trials of Darsie and Alan and the love interest of the former;  there was a subliminal criticism of the extraordinarily complex Scottish legal system;  a wry and slightly sympathetic analysis of the Scottish attitude toward the Hanoverian succession;  a slightly disguised censure of unregulated fishing behaviors; lastly, but not finally, probably, a rather negative analysis of the whole system of class relations common to the British isles, wherein the rich and powerful have everything and the have-nots don’t.  I’m not sure whether Scott was really much of a social rebel himself, but i do think he had thought about the evils of the society he lived in and disliked some of the results:  the injustice and the nationalized poverty imbued in the political structure.  Some of his other books cover the same sort of ground, and i liked them more…  “Old Mortality” was good and i liked “Kenilworth” a lot.  “The Fortunes of Nigel” was excellent, also…



Elizabeth and Nicholas Clinch (Nicholas recently passed away in Palo Alto;  so far as i can determine, Elizabeth is still living)

St. George Littledale was a Liverpudlian and came from a well-to-do family of cotton merchants.  He was an avid hunter and had the means to travel, which he did on a very large scale.  Touring in Japan, he met Teresa Harris, who was married to William Scott, a moderately rich and somewhat somnolent man, but one who was content to follow his peregrinating wife into some of the hidden corners of the globe.  Teresa and St. George struck up an immediate friendship, and, leaving Scott in the proverbial dust, explored India, Afghanistan, and many other Asian locales, seemingly delighted in each other’s company.

Scott died and Teresa married St. George soon after and they honeymooned  in Kashmir.  Teresa rode in a sedan chair and George rode as they traipsed into the eastern Himalayas  toward Ladakh.  St. George shot things and Teresa admired the rare plants and cultivated an indefatigable nonchalance, even after observing a herdsman slip on the ice and fall to his death.  It was the beginning of yearly forays into different countries in all parts of the globe.  While surveying and hunting in the Rockies and the American west they had more adventures.  ST. George stabbed himself in the carotid artery and almost bled to death.  They were unpleasantly surprised while trying to wash their dirty clothes in Old Faithful by seeing their garments disintegrate before their eyes.  Staying in a hotel in Bismarck, North Dakota, all the windows in the building were smashed in a sudden storm by baseball sized hail stones.

As they expanded their investigations into Central Asia, St. George developed his hunting skills into a scientific endeavor by collecting specimens of rare mountain sheep and goats and other endangered species inhabiting the country east of the Caspian Sea. He looked for an aurochs for many years but never found one.  Teresa went along as a plant and insect collector and between the two of them they added largely to the possessions of both the London Natural History Museum and the Liverpool Museum.

The pair typically began their expeditions by taking the train to Samarkand and traveling beyond by wagon, using horses and mules as pack animals.  Sometimes these animals were acquired in the hundreds, and local natives were hired to oversee their management.  They forded rivers, waded through swamps, suffered in intense heat, shivered in sub-zero cold, put up with myriads of hungry insects and coped with avaricious and complaining servants, overseers, governors, tribal leaders, sickness, accidents, bad food, and deep snow.  To cite a few of their hardships.  Frequently the horses died;  sometimes the drovers did, and dealing with acrimonious tribesmen became a standard procedure whenever they entered a new regime.

They arranged for several expeditions into the Himalayas with varying amounts of success.  The normal procedure would be to leave Samarkand and ride to Osh (about 500 miles away) and then take various routes into the mountains.  The climatic conditions were rigorous.  The wind blew so hard once it put out the campfires and covered the tents with sand.  Horses and mules wore out their shoes and became lame as a result.  Local chieftains would rent them animal handlers and keep all the money for themselves, irritating the drovers and herders who would steal food and hardware.  Crossing rivers was a constant challenge.  Once they made a raft out of two cots and a waterproof blanket in order to ferry their personal gear to the other side.  The long hours and troubled nights made for arguments and resentment.  Frequently the hirees were unreliable and stole or destroyed valuable surveying equipment, or disappeared without notice.  Quicksand was not uncommon.  Occasionally they’d be eaten alive by mosquitos.  In the upper elevations it got so cold that a glass of water would freeze before they could get it to their mouths.

The Littledales had long contemplated trying to reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.  Several Frenchmen had managed to travel there earlier in the 19th C., but shortly after that the Lamas had instigated a policy of noninterference by western powers.  But St. George and Teresa decided to give it a try anyway.  The trek followed the usual sequence of dying animals, recalcitrant natives and difficult terrain, but made worse by the effects of the increased elevation.  Above 12,000 feet, energy and health deteriorate for the average person and the Littledales’ route took them over 16 and 18 thousand foot passes.  They had difficulty sleeping and foggy thinking hampered decision-making.  Teresa became sick and it was soon obvious that she was declining in a serious way.  By the time they reached the Tengri Nor (a big lake near Lhasa) their clothes were rotting, they were out of food, and most of their animals were dead.  Many of the helpers had vanished and they were not sure of their location.  It was almost a relief when they were accosted by several Lamas who forbade them to progress any further.  The Lamatic dictates were backed up by several hundred Tibetan tribesmen with loaded flintlocks.  After trying every argument he could think of, St. George finally agreed to turn around.  The condition of the expedition was a major factor in his decision, but he was also aware that Teresa was failing rather dramatically.  He managed to obtain some concessions from the Tibetans as concerned food and animals, as well as getting to let them cross the country in a westerly direction which, in spite of being farther, would be easier due to the route progressing parallel to the high mountain ranges instead of across them.  By the time they reached semi-civilization in Ladakh they had been gone a year, they’d lost 162 animals and Teresa was almost dead.  But St. George had mapped with surveying instruments the whole distance, amounting to 1700 miles of road and surrounding countryside.  It took Teresa two months to recover, and more or less permanently squelched her desire to travel.

As the next few years passed, St. George continued to travel and hunt with his friend, Prince Demidoff of the Russian royal family, but Teresa stayed at home.  They both lived to see the World War.  St. George died at 80 and Teresa lived to be 89.  They both received royal and scientific recognition for their life-long efforts, but memories faded and until the Clinches began researching their lives, little was remembered of their extraordinary travels and discoveries.

This was a fascinating book.  Nicholas Clinch was a Himalayan mountaineer and had several first ascents in that area.  He led a party to climb the highest peak in Antarctica, the Vinson Massif.  Betsy Clinch had a distinguished career working for the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C.  I should like to thank Scott at Six Words For a Hat/blog for recommending this book.




Charles Lever (1806-1872)

Harry was a lieutenant in the army, the fourth Irish Regiment to be exact.  After eight years in Europe, fighting the French, the regiment was encamped near Cork, in Ireland.  The war having terminated with the Battle Royal at Waterloo, the soldiers celebrated with gallons of whiskey and ale.  Amateur theatrics were popular with the troops and since Harry was talented along those lines, he was nominated to portray Othello in an impromptu performance of that play.  After a successful performance, he drank too much and had to be carried home by Desdemona (another artistically inclined Junior Lieutenant).  In the morning he was brought up on charges for behavior unbecoming an officer and transferred to a remote  camp near Kilrush on the Irish coast.  It didn’t help that he hadn’t had time to remove his blackface make-up before being brought up before the Colonel.

Without local contacts or friends, Harry was lonely for a while until he happened to meet the young Lord Kilkee, who invites him to dinner at the family’s mansion.  Kilkee is the son of Sir Callonby, a local squire and rich merchant with upper class connections in England.  Harry falls in love with Jane Callonby, and is received with warmth and hospitality by the father and spends a lot of time with them, shooting, hunting and playing whist.  Harry, attending one of the house parties, accidentally appropriates the cloak of Gile Beamish, local alderman, upon leaving one night and is challenged to a duel  the next morning for aggravation and thievery.  The duel transpires and Giles is shot through the leg;  Harry receives only a hole in his hat.

Meanwhile the Callonby family has travelled to London, the first stage in a prospective European tour, leaving Harry behind to mope.  After thinking about why in the world a rich family should be so friendly with a lowly soldier, he begins to believe that they have mistaken him for his rich cousin, Guy, son of Sir Guy Lorrequer, a rich baronet with estates in England.  He finds out from his uncle that son Guy is traveling with the Callonbys and he’s afraid that Jane will love Guy instead of him.  He successfully applies for leave in order to follow the Callonbys,  and takes coach to London, but the coach crashes and Harry is thrown through a plate glass window and suffers a broken collarbone and three broken ribs.

Recuperating in Cheltenham, he meets a rollicking priest, a doctor, and their bibulous friends and they engage in a number of drunken frolics, en masse.  Mrs. Clanfrizzle’s boarding house is a hotbed of pranks, banter, and practical jokes.  With overturned tables, broken windows and ineffectual fisticuffs, the establishment resembles one of Hogarth’s cartoons.  Harry meets several individuals who appear later in the book:  Arthur O’Leary, Tom O’Flaherty, Garret Cudmore and others.

Harry is transferred again and has more adventures, but eventually he obtains an open-ended assignment on detached duty which enables him to pursue the Callonby family as they perambulate through France , Switzerland and Germany.  But most of his time is spent in Paris, where he becomes involved in political factionism and fights another duel.  He meets Kilkee again and there’s a series of hilarious incidents involving mistaken identities.  Arthur O’Leary reappears and narrates a couple of hair-raising episodes from his checkered past;  later he’s arrested for crimes against the state which incriminate Harry, forcing him to escape Paris with the authorities on his heels.

During his flight, Harrys passport is accidentally exchanged with that of Meyerbeer, the composer, causing Harry to be the recipient of accolades when he attends a concert in Salzburg.  The confusions and misunderstandings pile up until finally he arrives in Munich, where the Calonbys have been in residence for some time.  More mishaps and emotional bafflements occur until, at last, Harry jumps out of a two-story window and grabs his Jane and they marry.

Charles Lever was admired and appreciated by Dickens and Trollope both.  He wrote over thirty books, all of them with the same sort of organization:  a series of violent or/and humorous episodes separated by changes of scene and differing social mores and amenities.  This was his first book in that style, and it showed.  The first half was rather stultifying and tedious, rather like an unfocused photograph, but the second part was quite hilarious and entrancing.  Inevitably Lever’s been compared to Smollett, with some justice, i think, as his rambling accounts entailing flashbacks and identity confusions resembled the good doctor’s work quite a bit.  Both Smollett and Lever were doctors, by the way…
























Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben

In the early 1890’s Tom and Will became friends while attending Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  After graduating they decided they might as well, since they were avid fans of the new “safety” bicycles, ride two of them around the world.  Their goals were to understand the planet better and to study how different societies regulated themselves.

They boarded a train to New York and took ship to Liverpool and then cycled to London.  Catching the boat to Le Havre, they crossed France and the Alps, eventually arriving in Constantinople, where their story really began.  This account covers the 7000 miles between Turkey and the Pacific Ocean.

To begin with, they cruised down the Turkish coast for several hundred miles before turning inland toward Armenia and Iran.  They carried pistols and wore helmets and were accompanied by an armed guard on horseback.  They had little or no trouble with the inhabitants at this stage, and their difficulties were mostly with pedaling through muddy and rutted roads.  Upon arriving in Armenia they observed that their surprising modes of transport caused occasional camel stampedes and sometimes the latter fought back, charging the riders and causing them to veer wildly to avoid camel collisions.  The people mostly lived in mud huts with grassy roofs that served as feeding grounds for the many goats resident in the area.  Approaching the villages, in order to avoid attention, they rode as fast as they could to the local inns, locking themselves inside for protection.  The villagers were curious, no more, but in their hundreds they could cause irreparable damage to luggage and bikes.  Tom and Will usually gave demonstrations, riding in circles and performing simple maneuvers to the delight of the crowds.

Their diet was conformable to that of the populace, consisting, at this point, mainly of huge donut shaped toruses of unleavened bread that they wore around their necks, and a sort of thin garlicky soup full of fat.  Occasionally they suffered slight attacks of typhoid.  Thousands of storks made their nests on top of roofs and telephone poles.  They were not pestered by hunters or farmers because they helped fight the occasional locust invasions.  It was noted that they were crossing ancient and bloody grounds by the presence of multitudinous arrowheads from time to time, particularly in the Caesarea area.

When they got to Erzerum, they decided to have a go at climbing Mt. Ararat.  It was a 13,00 foot ascent from the plain they started from and had only been climbed several times before.  They were accompanied by a pack mule and its attendant to the 7,000 foot level where they spent the night with sticky fingered Kurds, and next day made it to 11,000 feet.  At this point the mule and muleteer refused to go any farther because of ghosts and spirits, so they continued on by themselves.  They were lucky to have the company of Ignaz Raffl, a 63 year old member of the Alpine Club (in the Alps) who just happened to be in the area and agreed to come along.  The three progressed slowly, often cutting steps in the ice as they climbed up an ice field to the edge of an enormous chasm splitting the mountain more or less in two.  They were bothered by the extreme cold, but persevered to the top, dealing with boulder fields and cliffs along the way.  Ignaz got over- tired at one point, but said it was easier going up than going back down, so they were successful in their ascent.

They had to wait six weeks in Teheran for Russian visas, as the route they wanted to follow led through southern Russia and Khorosan to the Altai Mountains and across the Takla-Makan desert before entering China.  They were lucky in obtaining said permissions as the Russian State was actively participating in the “Great Game” even at this late date;  the phrase refers to the sub-political competition between Russia and England for control of those regions and their natural resources.

The two fought headwinds (the bicyclist’s bete noir) all the way to China and beyond and their bikes suffered occasional break-downs:  broken spokes and wheels and worn-out tires.  They had to wait six weeks in Kudj for Sachtleben to return by rail to England to acquire ball bearings which were unavailable in that area.  They managed to average 53 miles a day (they had a cyclometer on one of the bikes), and normally covered ten to twelve miles in an hour.  And that through sand, mud, floods, bogs, swamps, ruts, and curious villagers.

Once at the Great Wall, they were fortunate enough to meet Ling Darin, an educated Chinese person who had once toured the area with Baron Richtofen, the flying ace in WWI.  He helped them with visas and ancillary assistance, food and cultural tips, and wrote letters to aid in their dealings with authorities.

The bikes were beginning to wear out.  One of them broke in two and they were only able to semi-repair it by connecting the pieces with iron rods and binding the halves together with telephone wire.  Since the farmers commonly thought that the newly built telephone lines caused drought, the wire was readily available for bicycle repairs, as well as for farm equipment.   Sometimes they rode on top of mud walls the farmers built to contain their fields as they roads were too boggy.  Station houses in China were located about 12 to 20 miles apart and they provided welcome relief for the latter part of their trip.

Opium was widely present and used by almost everyone in about the same proportions as tobacco.  Thievery was occasionally a problem, along with the sometimes thousands of curious inquirers who dogged their progress.  They needed the pistols to leave one village, as the inhabitants tried to disassemble one of the machines.  Finally, ragged, skinny and weary, they arrived at Peking, where they were suffered to be interviewed extensively by members of the Chinese government.  But at last they entrained to Tsientsin to catch the boat to America.  Riding across the States, they rode into New York three years after starting.  They weren’t the first persons to ride around the world;  Thomas Stevens had performed that feat solo several years earlier, on a penny farthing bicycle…  but that was another story…

This book was a lot fun to read, but horrific in some spots.  The pair dealt with the physical discomforts (lice, fleas, bad roads, bad people, bad terrain) with insouciance and  courage.  The writing was straightforward and easily comprehensible and informative.  The copy i read was down-loaded from Gutenberg.  The original publication was full of photographs, as the two took approximately 2500 pictures on their trip.  I’d love to see a copy of that book, but it’s probably rare and expensive.