George Meredith (1828-1909)

Willoughby Patterne was the lord/ inheritor of a vast estate in rural England.  In his early twenties, he sought to fulfill his ancestral obligations by getting married and providing scions for the future.  He met Letitia Dale, the daughter of a local land owner, and began to court her with marital prospects in mind.  But he happened to meet Constantia Durham with whom he fell deeply in love and who henceforth attracted his attention, to the sorrow of Letitia, who continued caring for her sick father and occupying her time with routine tasks.

Sir Willoughby in turn received a jolt when Constantia eloped with Harry Oxford,  Captain in a local regiment.  Stunned, Willoughby looked to Letitia for consolation and love, but, understandably, she maintained a cool attitude toward his urgent protestations.  Ten days later he embarked on a world tour with his long time friend, Vernon Whitford.

Three years later the two travelers returned and Willoughby resumed his search for a mate.  He fixed on Clara Middleton, the daughter of a visiting scholar and professor famous for his Latinity and researches into Classical culture.  Clara, overwhelmed and young, agreed to marry him, but soon after reneged on her promise as a result of realizing that she didn’t love him, and that he was a confirmed Egoist.

Willoughby viewed his estate as his own personal kingdom,  a buffer of sorts against what he considered the “outside world”.  He was convinced that unnamed cultural and social forces harbored malevolent intent inimical to his interests, and that he had to guard himself at all times from incursions by evil influences.

One of the frequent visitors to Patterne Hall was Lady Montstuart Jenkinson, an astute observer, who characterized Willoughby tersely:  “You see he has a leg”.  Meaning that he was egoistic and possessed of a certain narrowness of vision.  She also had an opinion of Clara, that she was “a rogue captured in a porcelain vase”, alluding to her hidden resolve to follow her own star.  Both of these analyses were proven to be accurate in the sequence.

Clara soon realized that she could never marry someone like Willoughby, but every aunt, uncle, father and friend were shocked by her attitude, and pressed her to fulfill what they considered to be her obligations.  She felt alone and oppressed and could only relieve her misery by helping a local child, the son of a naval officer who had once walked ten miles to visit the Patternes but was turned away at the gate.  The boy, Crossjay, played a critical role later in the book when he was witness to an attempt by Willoughby to propose marriage to his former love interest, Letitia.  This occurred after Willoughby finally gave up trying to force Clara into marriage and evolved a plot to marry her to Vernon instead, while he convinced himself that he really had loved Letitia all along.  (spoilers ahead)

Characteristically, after a long series of misunderstandings, complications, heart-rendings, and quarrels, Vernon and Clara, Willoughby and Letitia marry each other, and a certain resolution is arrived at.  The first couple honeymoon in the Alps and the second pair travel to Italy.

This is a very complicated book.  After reading about half of it i kept thinking about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in which the speed and location of a quantum particle cannot both be measured at the same time.  Willoughby’s uncertainty about his marital prospects, Clara’s waffling over her emotional state, Letitia’s responsibilities to her sick father versus her duty to her former lover, the Reverend Doctor Middleton’s difficulties with preferring port wine to dealing with his daughter’s welfare, Crossjay’s attempts to behave at odds with his natural egg-stealing instincts, aunts Isabel and Eleanor having to change their minds over their nephew’s amatory variations, Ms. Busshe’s predicament over what to do with her wedding present…  these all pend throughout the length of the novel, changing with the emotional ambiance experienced by the principal actors in unpredictable and sometimes exasperating ways.

Meredith is a great writer undoubtedly, but sometimes that judgment is more justified in quantity as opposed to quality.  One of his sentences in Chapter 32 is 227 words long.  But in general he tells an interesting tale and he has a lot of insight into how humans relate to each other and how they cope with their own internal demons.  It’s characteristic of  his overall conception that almost at the very end of the book, Letitia, Clara, and Willoughby all confess to being Egoists.

I think if i read this book again i’d get more out of it, but i can’t see that happening right away.




Simon Winchester (b. 1944)

The above picture is of William Smith, not Simon Winchester.  William was born in Churchill, England in 1769, the son of the local blacksmith.  This was a time when new discoveries in mechanics and the natural world were fomenting progress in science and industry.  Steam engines, trains, sciences and even global finance were burgeoning and disrupting centuries of entrained thought.  One of the innovations was the concept of canal building.  With the discovery and increased utilization of coal, a method was needed to get the fuel to factories and smelters faster than the old muddy rutted roads would allow.  The first canal was planned near the city of Bath.  William, having lost his father at the age of eight, was early introduced to the world of working, and through self-study, was eventually hired to survey the proposed route.  He had studied surveying on his own, working through Fennig’s “Art of Measuring”.  He impressed the head surveyor, Ed Webb, as an eager and intelligent lad, with his energy and curiousity, and was soon handling most of the work which involved lots of walking and route-finding.  In the process of excavating the planned route, William noticed the different sorts of rock and soil they were digging through, and came to understand that not only were there varying layers under the surface, one on top of another, but they all appeared to be slanting toward the east.  And he began to find that each of the different layers seemed to have its own type of fossil.  He went on to identify brachiopods and echinoderms as inhabitants of the Paleozoic era, and soon realized that each stratum could be identified by the type of fossil it contained.  His genius allowed him to imaginatively extrapolate the strata to cover the entire country of England, and even the whole planet.

Once William understood the basics of what he’d been observing, he was able to begin the construction of a map of the complete vertical section of rock revealed by the walls of the unearthed canal.  In the oncoming years he traveled tens of thousands of miles all over England, analyzing and collecting fossils, all directed toward his great plan:  revealing the stratigraphy underlying the island of Great Britain and creating a master map of the same.  He continued studying and was able to support himself as a drainage engineer.  Whenever a farmer wanted to drain a sodden field, William was there to help him do it.  He repaired city drainage systems and helped remote households search for likely sources of water.  Once when the Roman Baths in Bath stopped flowing, he was hired to fix the problem.  With a team of navvies, he dug down where the well was located and found, at a considerable depth, a large ox bone covered with pyrite that had been gradually cutting off the flow.  Upon its removal, the water returned, flowing with greater pressure and volume than it had had before the excavation.

Smith’s map was appropriated and used by several other persons, mostly notedly a Mr. Greenough, the president of the London Geological Society.  Greenough was a fossil collector but had no concept or interest in fundamental geology.  He was a social butterfly with no concept of science or morality.  He not only stole William’s map, he barred him from being admitted to the echelons of the Society because he was a mere laborer and not a “gentleman”.  In paying for his years of research, William had spent all his money and was eventually incarcerated in King’s Bench prison for debt.  A benefactor had him released after eleven weeks, but, discouraged, William stayed away from the city for fifteen years.  He finally saved enough money to buy a small house in Scarborough, where he spent his declining years.  He was popular there because he’d repaired their ailing water system and built a fossil museum in addition.

After many years had passed, Greenough lost his status as a “geologist” as the science began to assume a more professional aspect.  Before he died, Smith was recognized as the founder of Stratigraphy in England and received a gold medal from the British Museum for his work and his Map.

Simon Winchester has a degree in geology.  He became interested in writing and is the author of many books and articles, being featured as a columnist in several newspapers, including the Guardian.

I decided to join the Classics Club in one of their periodic “spins”:  here’s my list of twenty books:

Voyage Around The World:  Lord Anson

Portugese Voyages

The Antiquity of Man:  Lyell

The Old Yellow Book

Mandeville’s Travels

Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers:  Blakeney

The Skeptical Chemyst:  Boyle

Letters to His Son:  Chesterfield

Life of Nelson:  Southey

Diary:  Evelyn

Travels in France and Italy:  Young

Evelina:  Fanny Burney

The Egoist:  Meredith

The Tin Trumpet:  Horace Smith

Felix Holt:  Eliot

Persian Letters:  Montesquieu

Rural Rides:  Cobbet

Tour of Britain:  DeFoe

Orlando Furioso:  Ariosto

Tirant Lo Blanc

So naturally, the one i have to read is number 13, my least favorite author, G. Meredith…  i’d better start cramming, lol



SHERPA: Memoir of Ang Tharkay

Ang Tharkay (1908-1981)  with Basil P. Norton

He was born in Khunde village near the Teng-Boche monastery in SoluKhumbu province, northern Nepal.  The family was very poor and Ang was sent to live with his aunt in Tibet until he was twelve.  His father died and Ang worked at varying occupations to support his family:  herder, wood cutter, day labor of all sorts.  At 25, being ambitious and dissatisfied with insecurity and the daily grind, he walked to Darjeeling, hoping to get hired as a porter on an expedition to one of the high mountains.    But nothing was immediately available so he took work with a contractor hauling rocks by hand for the new Victoria Hospital.  Then he was hired as a courier delivering staples and tobacco to inland villages.  Crossing the Nangpa La (a high pass – 5800 meters) he developed a splitting headache and became nauseated with double vision, so he threw a rock at the neighboring mountain (Sharmi Lo) to wake the god up and the symptoms went away.  He was hungry and cold most of the time and often ate bark and roots to survive.  He took sand baths when he could to get warm or swam in naturally heated lakes.  Hearing of a German expedition to Kangchenjunga, he walked several hundred miles to base camp to apply for a job, but all the positions were filled.

Ang continued carrying supplies and tobacco to remote locations for the next few years.  Then he was informed by a friend that a new venture was  hiring in Darjeeling for another Everest attempt and he decided to walk there with a friend, hoping to be hired.  But he got jaundice on the way and after a grueling trek in spite of his sickness and lack of care, arrived too late, as he thought, to get a job.  But he went and interviewed anyway and was hired.  Sherpas in those early days were treated like slaves, and Ang was bullied by the head porter (the sirdar) even though he was ill and undernourished.  But he persisted and made it to base camp, where most of his time was taken up by collecting wood.  Slowly acclimatizing and improving his strength and skill, he learned how to walk with crampons and how to cut steps with an ice axe, and how to navigate on glaciers and rocks.  Eventually he reached Camp VI, hauling supplies and taking care of the climbers and developing his route-finding abilities.  The final assent from the North Col was abandoned because of the weather.

Ang, now being an experienced sherpa and climber, continued working for expeditions to the mountains and beyond.  In 1935 he went again to Everest on a Shipton expedition and met Tenzing Norgay, who later summited the mountain with Edmund Hillary in 1953.  Tenzing gave him a sleeping bag.  In 1936 he was made sirdar over 10 porters and was officially registered as a climber.

He was hired in 1938 as sirdar and cook (he studied cooking for two months with a Mrs. Odling in Kalimpong) on a reconnaissance mission to the environs of Everest, and for another attempt at ascending the mountain.  Once again they established Camp VI at the North Col, but the weather defeated any further attempts.  Ang was instrumental in rescuing a sherpa who had become paralyzed at Camp VI.  They had to bundle him up like a sausage and lower him down the cliffs and through the ice field to base camp, and then transport him over ridges and across swollen rivers back to Kalimpong.  The bridges were that in name only.  Frequently they would consist of two ropes, one to hang onto and the other tied into loops in which feet were inserted;  this at an alarmingly elevated distance above a torrential and rock-bound river.  Ang received a lot of recognition for his role in this arduous trek.

The most admiration and gratitude he garnered was with the Herzog expedition that ascended Annapurna in 1950.  In addition to route-finding and supply-hauling up to the the 8,000 meter level, he was in large measure responsible for enabling the stricken climbers to reach base camp after their heroic ascent.  Herzog had frozen fingers and feet and Lachenal had frozen hands.  Lionel Terray was snow-blind.They were not capable of handling ropes or ice axes and steps had to be chopped out for them and ingenuity was needed figuring out how to get them from one stance to another.  Once at base camp, the two climbers had to be carried out to safety:  no helicopters in those days.  The French were so grateful that they awarded Ang an Alpine Club gold medal and paid his way to Paris for a week of celebration.  Herzog lost all his fingers and toes and Lachenal all of his toes.  Annapurna was the first mountain above 8,000 meters that was ever climbed, and the two did it without oxygen.

In Between his jobs as climber and sirdar for mountain climbing expeditions, Ang journeyed with Shipton, Tilman and others in long surveying treks into the western Himalayas, the Hindu Kush region and to the various Karakorum peaks.  The parties blundered through dense jungles, climbed 18,000 foot passes and often lived on what they could shoot, even though they started out with two and a half tons of  food and supplies.  Encounters with Yetis were not unknown:  Ang was wakened more than once by yetis growling outside his tent, and the party members saw them several times in the distance.  Once three sherpas  fell into a giant wasp nest and were stung all over;  one of them lost an eye due to the stings.  Ang was swept away during a river crossing and only survived because he accidentally washed up onto a rock.  While climbing Nun Kun with four Europeans and a lady (Claude Kogan), he was caught with three others in an avalanche.  Later it happened again and the climbers were only saved by their dog, Togo, who grabbed the rope with his teeth and slowed them down enough so they could use ice axes to halt their fall.

In 1954, Ang was appointed instructor at the Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering in Darjeeling.  He was on the first Indian Everest Expedition in 1960.  In 1968 he semi-retired, but participated in a last, unsuccessful attempt on Dhaulagiri when he was 70.  The time of his death is variously given as 1978 and 1981.

Ang never learned to read or write, but his reputation was only second to that of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa that first climbed Everest with Hillary.  According to those he worked with, he was always smiling, never complained about over work and had a natural talent for disseminating disagreements and violence among and between Sherpas and expedition members.  The many hazards and difficulties he was instrumental in surmounting is only hinted at in this post;  he was greatly respected and admired by almost everyone he worked with.

My only complaint was with how the book is organized:  episodes are broken up in time, so that the reader is frequently taken back to a former period in Ang’s life in order to describe some particular event that occurred ancillary to some that were previously depicted.  But overall, it was a revealing look into the life of one of the foremost, albeit unknown, participators in the exploration of the Himalayas.


Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Traveling with a friend in Italy, Mary happens upon a cave hidden in the hills behind Naples.  They enter and squeeze through several holes in succession until they find themselves in a fairly large grotto with a hole in the roof leading to the outside air.  With the light thus furnished they notice a lot of bark fragments and leaves littering the floor with curious inscriptions on them.  Taking them up, the couple sees that the markings are writings in an ancient script.  Collecting all that they could hold in their arms, they exit the caverns but return repeatedly until they’ve gathered up all the scraps they could find.  After a long struggle, they determine that the writing is that of the ancient Sybil of Cumea, and that a story is told of the future of humankind in the latter part of the 21st century, as follows:

When Lionel Verney was five, his parents died.  The father had been a rakish sort of man, wasting his money and energies in gambling, horse racing and the like.  When he struck himself with poverty, he moved the family to the Lake District, where they lived simply for a while until he passed on shortly followed by his wife.  Lionel got work as a sheepherder and ran wild in the countryside for years, unlettered and angry:  a feral child with no social instincts.  His sister Perdita stayed in the family cottage on the edge of the Ullswater, house-keeping in a desultory kind of way, and surviving with the reluctant aid of neighbors.

Lionel is caught poaching on the Earl of Windsor’s land and sent to prison.  After his release and return he meets Earl Adrian and they become friends.  Adrian has been sent to the Lakes to recover from his love for Evadne, a Greek Princess, and he educates and civilizes Lionel, attaching him to his household and finding him a job as secretary to the Ambassador to Vienna.  Court life doesn’t greatly appeal and Lionel returns to England, where he finds that Adrian has vanished, partly because he has discovered that  Evadne is in love with Raymond, a Greek general who has achieved a military reputation in the wars with the Turks.

Raymond runs against Ryland, a local politician, for the position of Lord Protector of England and wins.  He marries Perdita and establishes a benevolent dictatorship over the country.  Idris, Adrian’s sister, wants to marry Lionel and her mother, the gaunt and robotic Countess, forbids it.  In fact she plans to have her kidnapped and carried off to Austria to marry a Count at the Royal Court.  Meanwhile Evadne has disappeared.  Lionel and Idris marry regardless, and the Countess, distraught, returns to Austria, where her family originated.

Five years pass.  Raymond discovers Evadne, living in poverty in a hovel in London and secretly helps her with money.  They become lovers, Perdita finds out about it, and Raymond leaves the country and returns to Greece, where he leads the army against Turkey in another war and disappears.  Adrian has returned and four friends, Adrian, Lionel, Perdita, and Perdita’s daughter Clara travel to Greece to find Raymond.  Adrian is wounded and returns to England.  They follow the army to Constantinople and Raymond dies in a gigantic explosion, the result of a booby trap set by the retreating Turks.  They find Evadne on the battlefield just before the blast and she foretells Raymond’s death and then dies herself.  Clara, a child of five or so,  runs merrily about the scene of battle with her dog, Florio.  They bury Raymond’s remains by the sea and Perdita stays to tend the grave.  Lionel and Clara go back to England via flying balloon (the major type of long-distance travel:  hot air balloon with wings and a motor).

The weather becomes violent.  Huge winds decimate the planet for four months and earthquakes, famine and pestilence harry the globe.  Plus the plague, which had begun in Constantinople, has flamed through Europe like an avenging angel, reducing the population by millions of victims.  Trade is disrupted world-wide and farming and industry are quelled in almost all countries.  Ryland, who had assumed the Protectorship upon Raymond’s death, resigns and Adrian takes over.  The situation of the country is dire, with the plague causing death and havoc in every city and town.  The countryside is almost as bad, with families dying wholesale in their farmhouses.

At last, Adrian, Lionel and their friends decide to leave England to try to find a place where the plague has not yet reached.  About 2000 people are all that’s left in England and they make their way to Paris.  Their trail is littered with corpses and by the time they get there  only 1500 persons are still alive.  After some difficulty with a fanatical leader who is promising salvation to his adherents, the remnants decide to head toward the Alps, where the colder climate might dispel or slow down the deadly disease.  By the time they get to Mt. Blanc, however, only four of them are left:  Lionel, Adrian, Clara, and Evelyn, Lionel’s youngest son.

(spoilers ahead)  It has been seven years since the plague began, and suddenly it seems to have ceased.  The four make their way down through Italy to the east coast and decide to appropriate a boat and sail to Greece to see if Perdita is still alive.  But the boat is caught in a storm and all are drowned except Lionel, who is thrown back onto the Italian coast.  He desperately searches the beach for survivors, but finds nothing, not even bodies.  Holding his grief off as well as he can, he walks to Rome where he spends a year looking for living persons and admiring the ruins and artistic productions of the ancient Romans.  Finally he decides to tour the world, seeking possible dwellers along the shores, as that would seem the most reasonable place to discover remnants of humanity.  At this stage the book ends.

I have to admit i was moved  by this book.  The language is heartland romantic, lush, florid, and detailed in its descriptions, and occasionally splashes over into maudlinism, but the total effect sweeps one along in its path like one of the storms Ms. Shelley describes.  The plot is complex and it’s hard to keep track of all the characters at times, but it’s somewhat episodic in its development, which assuages the beleaguered mind somewhat.  Reading along, i was periodically reminded of that extraordinary  novel by M.P. Shiel, “The Purple Cloud”, about a similar situation, dealing with the sole survivor of the planet, and his reactions and behavior as the sole occupant of all he surveys.  I’m sure there are other novels with the same premise;  it’s an interesting niche of science fiction that has possibilities for the inquiring mind, philosophically speaking.



Ed Viesturs (1959- ) with David Roberts

Ed was born in Ft. Wayne Indiana and raised in Rockford, Illinois.  He was energetic and ambitious, learning persistence and grit from his experiences as a competitive swimmer in high school.  He loved animals and after graduation moved to Seattle to study veterinary medicine.  To support himself in college he took whatever jobs he could find, but soon connected with a house builder and learned carpentry, which supported him in his idle moments for years.  He had a friend with a disreputable orange VW bug, a convertible, and they explored the Cascade mountains on the weekends.  The first mountain they climbed was St. Helens, about three years before it erupted.  (Curiously enough, i climbed it a year before the explosion, and i had a disreputable black VW bug). By the time Ed was in vet school (he was a fully-accredited veterinarian), he was working as a guide on Mt. Rainier and doing carpentry in his off hours.  He climbed Rainier 194 times.  And he was constantly improving his physical condition by exercising:  running and working out in the gym.

The book opens with Ed and his partner Scott Fischer waiting in Camp III at the 24,300 foot level of K2 in the Himalayas for two team-mates to return from a summit attempt.  They were wakened by a roaring sound and an avalanche swept over them, wiping out their tent and propelling them down the mountain.  Ed managed to take advantage of a small dip in the snow and jammed in his ice axe, thereby arresting their descent.  (Curiousier enough, the same thing happened to me on St. Helens, when i slipped while descending a couloir:  i managed to drive the sharp end of my axe into the sidewall thus slowing myself down so could avoid being killed by falling several thousand feet, haha).

Ed goes on to describe the salient features of the Himalayas:  Mt. Everest is the highest of 14 peaks that are above 8000 meters in height:  that’s about 26,000 feet.  Access is not easy, requiring up to weeks of hiking to reach base camp unless one spends lots of money for helicopters or in some cases cargo planes.  The climbing difficulties are formidable, most successful ascents requiring staged planning and almost military adherence to whatever route or procedure is adopted by the team leaders.  The world’s attention was first directed toward the Himalayas by the 1950 French expedition that first successfully climbed Annapurna.  The published accounts tell of Lionel Terray, Gustav Rebuffat, Louis Lachenal and Maurice Herzog, four of the most accomplished alpinists of the day, and their struggles against technical difficulties, treacherous avalanches, steep glaciers, and temperatures well below zero.  Lachenal and Herzog both lost toes and fingers from frostbite.  The mountain wasn’t climbed again for years.  Ed made his ascent in 2005 with Viekka Gustafson, a Finnish climber and known for his endurance.  Annapurna was thought by Ed to be the hardest 8K peak to climb, partly because the only feasible route required crossing a giant couloir with avalanches constantly roaring down it (they called it the shooting gallery), and partly because once on top they had to traverse four miles of jagged peaks to get to the highest one.  At 26,000 feet without bottled oxygen, that was prohibitively arduous.  During Ed and Viekka’s successful attempt, Viekka led, breaking trail through snow and ice, and climbing the inevitable ice-bound cliffs that seemed to bar their way in a never-ending series.  Ed stated at several points previously, that progress at that height required fifteen breaths to every step.  Once Ed was willing to give up, but Viekka just kept relentlessly placing one foot after the other.  At last they stood on top.

One of the points Ed kept repeating, and was really his mantra for mountain climbing in general, was that the most important part of planning a climb was getting back down.  Reaching the summit was meaningless if you died doing it.

After descending successfully, they were devastated to hear that one of their fellow climbers, Christian Kuntner, had been killed by an ice block in the shooting gallery.

Ed had a lot of experience climbing Everest, and was hired as guide numerous times.  At the end of 20th century, all sorts of persons were cuing up to climb the highest mountain in the world.  One Swedish climber, Goran Kopp, bicycled from Sweden all the way to base camp in order to make the ascent.  Selling permits became a money maker for the surrounding nations, and too often monetary gains superseded safety considerations.  Some persons who weren’t really capable of the intense effort required were allowed on the mountain.  In 1996, there was a major disaster in which 12 Climbers died on one day, mainly due to a sudden storm, but also due to the overwhelming desire for success on the part of some of the climbers.  Two of Ed’s friends froze to death near the top, and he had to observe their bodies every time he climbed the mountain.  (It was too high for helicopter rescue, and they were too heavy to bring down over the steep descents and glaciers, even with the rescuers using bottled oxygen.)

One of the friends Ed made in those mountains was Jean-Christophe Lafaille, a French climber who eventually became recognized as perhaps the best Himalayan climber in the world.  The two were partners more than once.  After Ed finished his goal of climbing all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks, he heard that Jean-Christophe had died on Makalu.  He’d been trying to climb it solo without oxygen, and apparently did so, but on the way down was last heard from at the 24,000 foot level, where he was evidently overcome by pulmonary edema ( in which the lungs fill with fluid), cerebral edema (the brain swells up), or was simply too tired to continue…  At any rate he was never heard from again.  Contrary to most idealized impressions of mountaineers, Lafaille was only 5’2″ tall.

Mountain climbing books can be addictive.  This one was more in the nature of an autobiography than a strictly technical description of ascents and techniques, but was well written and fascinating.  It’s amazing what a human being can do if he devotes his life single-mindedly to one achievement.  Ed was so taken by the mountains that he abandoned his veterinary career after only three years (he did get his degree from Washington State University, where my father taught, btw) to follow his hunger for heights.  He no longer is so avid about his career, and has adopted another role, that of husband and father.  He gives inspirational lectures in public and private sectors, and continues guiding on Mt. Rainier in his spare time.




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.


Henry Fielding (1707-17540

William Booth was arrested and thrown in jail when he interfered with two footpads trying to rob an old feeble person one night in London.  Judge Thrasher sentenced him because he thought he was Irish.  Thrasher’s legal background was non-existent;  he obtained his position through bribery and political back-stabbing.  His principal talents were greed and opportunism, and his bench decisions were based on prejudice (everyone knew that the Irish were trouble-makers) and profit (bail money from accused persons).

In prison, Booth met Mr. Robinson, who was an entrepreneurial card-player, and Mrs. Matthews, an old flame he hadn’t seen for ten years, and who he became overly familiar with. Booth’s position was somewhat precarious, as he had no money, so he was grateful for Mrs. M’s friendship.  During their small dinners, which she funded, he attended to her conversation, which related the troubles and misfortunes she had suffered since the last time they had met.  Suffice it to say that she had loved and been abandoned numerous times.

After several weeks, Amelia arrives and bails William out.  She and her sister, Betty, were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Harris, a couple living a comfortable existence as an upper-class family in their country estate.  Mrs. Harris had ambitions for her Amelia, involving marriage to a local peer, but through inadvertent circumstances, she and William fall in love, to the horror of mom.  On the brink of marriage, Amelia runs off and with the help of Dr. Harrison, a friendly cleric, she marries Booth.  Soon the father dies (Amelia’s), and Booth is called into service to fight the Spanish in Gibraltar.  He is wounded twice and Amelia journeys to Gibraltar to nurse him.  Booth recovers, takes leave from the army, borrows 12 lbs from Sergeant Atkinson, and the couple travel to Montpelier to recoup their strength.  They receive word that Amelia’s mother has died, so they return to her house and, with the 100 lbs Amelia inherited, they started farming.  But Booth bought a horse and carriage with some of their money which enraged their neighbors, because they resented his apparent snobbishness.  They used every opportunity to harass the newly-weds, sabotaging their farm equipment and damaging their reputation amidst the local produce retailers, so that at the end of four years they were 300 lbs in debt.  Leaving Amelia to shut down the farm and pay off the employees, Booth traveled to London to raise money.  And was almost immediately arrested.

The Booths move into a cheap apartment financed by a Colonel James, William’s former commanding officer in the army, and Booth looks for work.  But he gets enticed into card games and loses all his money several times, from which predicament he’s rescued by Dr. Harrison and others.  At one point the family is befriended by a rich lord (unnamed in the book) who helps them, but, as they eventually discover, actually is doing it because he’s in love with Amelia.  Sergeant Atkinson saves them from ruin several times.

There are a lot of ancillary characters who complicate the story-line:  Mrs. Ellison, who apparently is in the pay of the unidentified lord, Mrs. Bennett, a friend of Amelia’s with a notorious history, and Colonel James’ sister, who warns Amelia against the dread lord.

Booth repeatedly loses his money and needs rescuing;  Amelia escapes the clutches of amoral seducers, Sergeant Atkinson marries Mrs. Bennett, and finally Booth is imprisoned again for debt.  (spoiler ahead):  Amelia finds out that her sister Betty, with the help of Robinson and a crooked lawyer, Murphy, had forged their father’s will, leaving Amelia with only 100 lbs and taking the balance of the estate for herself.  With the help of Dr. Harrison and another attorney, the forgery is revealed and Amelia comes into her father’s fortune and bails out her husband.  The family (with two children by this point) moves into her father’s estate and they live happily ever after.

There are numerous subplots adjoining the main one:  Mrs. Bennett’s history, Mrs. Matthews role in avenging herself on various parties, Colonel James intransigent but flickering  devotions to assorted ladies, Major James’ bloodthirsty hunger for dueling, Dr. Harrison’s multitudinous charitable endeavours, Sergeant Atkinson’s efforts to deliver his friends from indigence, and more.  And more.

This was Fielding’s last book, although not his last play (he wrote a great many dramas, not all of which were successful).  The action in this book seemed secondary to Fielding’s principal object:  to expose and reveal the corruption and greed of the higher social classes, and how this amorality trickled down through the lower strata to contaminate all of English society.  He was at one time the chief judge of London, and was overtly concerned over the unscrupulous and Machievellian manipulations practiced by the legal professions and the merchant classes and how they were destroying the ethical and   moral fabric of English culture.  Interestingly enough, Fielding’s brother was also a judge (John Fielding), and they both were among the founders of London’s first police force:  the Bow Street Runners.

I must admit that this book became rather tedious with all the complicated and changing relationships and the seemingly endless and somewhat brainless predicaments that the assorted characters managed to entwine themselves in.  I suppose that persons in those days were more naive than they would be today, but, still,  it’s hard not to believe that even a person of average intelligence would know enough to stay out of card games with suspicious appearing strangers, particularly when they had a family to support.  But it was fun to read Fielding’s sometimes sarcastic and wry opinions about the diverse inhabitants of his London with its carriages, flouncy skirts, lace cuffs, and exaggerated mannerisms.