Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Letters from High Latitudes by Lord Dufferin

Letters from High Latitudes by Lord Dufferin (US Edition) (UK Edition) (DE Edition), published in 1856, came to my attention because I have a travel book published in 1999 in which the author attempts to recreate Lord Dufferin’s trip to Iceland and the Arctic Circle.  Because I have so many free classic Kindle books that I want to read, I am clearing my bookshelves of DTB’s (Dead Tree Books) and coming across this more recent travel book, Frost on my Moustache by Tim Moore – I realized the book the author was following might be available free for the Kindle. (I took six boxes of books to donate to the library, some read and some never read, but I kept Moore's book.)

Lord Dufferin’s book is an early entry in the travel literature genre, which is one of my favorites. 
[On his butler] His countenance corresponds with the prevailing character of his thoughts, always hopelessly chapfallen; his voice is as of the tomb. He brushes my clothes, lays the cloth, opens the champagne, with the air of one advancing to his execution. I have never seen him smile but once, when he came to report to me that a sea had nearly swept his colleague, the steward, overboard. The son of a gardener at Chiswick, he first took to horticulture; then emigrated as a settler to the Cape, where he acquired his present complexion, which is of a grass-green; and finally served as a steward on board an Australian steam-packet.

Thinking to draw consolation from his professional experiences, I heard Fitz's voice, now very weak [he is seasick], say in a tone of coaxing cheerfulness,—

"Well, Wilson, I suppose this kind of thing does not last long?"

The Voice, as of the tomb. "I don't know, Sir."

Fitz.—"But you must have often seen passengers sick."

The Voice.—"Often, Sir; very sick."

Fitz.—"Well; and on an average, how soon did they recover?"

The Voice.—"Some of them didn't recover, Sir."
So this is not only an early example of travel literature, but like the modern travel books I enjoy most, it is funny.
But it is also descriptive:
The effects of light and shadow are the purest I ever saw, the contrasts of colour most astonishing,—one square front of a mountain jutting out in a blaze of gold against the flank of another, dyed of the darkest purple, while up against the azure sky beyond, rise peaks of glittering snow and ice. The snow, however, beyond serving as an ornamental fringe to the distance, plays but a very poor part at this season of the year in Iceland.

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