Category Archives: B — READING


24376. (John Hersey) The Algiers Motel Inci­dent
24377. (Dana Sha­ham, et al) A Mous­ter­ian Engraved Bone ― Prin­ci­ples of Per­cep­tion in Mid­dle Pale­olith­ic
. . . . . Art [arti­cle]
24378. (Jacob Sobo­roff) Sep­a­rat­ed ― Inside an Amer­i­can Tragedy
24379. (Eber­hard Zang­ger) Pre­his­toric Coastal Envi­ron­ments in Greece: The Van­ished Land­scapes of Dimi­ni . . . . . Bay and Lake Ler­na [arti­cle]
24380. (Ármann Jakob­s­son & Yoav Tirosh) The “Decline of Real­ism” and Inef­fi­ca­cious Old Norse Lit­er­ary
. . . . . Gen­res and Sub-gen­res [arti­cle]
24381. (Afsoun Afsahi, et al) Democ­ra­cy in a Glob­al Emer­gency: Five Lessons from the COVID-19 Pan­dem­ic . . . . . [arti­cle]
24382. (Robert G. Fran­cis­cus) When Did the Mod­ern Human Pat­tern of Child­birth Arise? New Insights from
. . . . . an Old Nean­derthal Pelvis [arti­cle]
24383. (Jean-Paul Gagnon & Dan­ni­ca Fleuss) The Case for Extend­ing Mea­sures of Democ­ra­cy in the World
. . . . . “Beneath”, “Above”, and “Out­side” the Nation­al Lev­el [arti­cle]
24384. (Michael Scott) Del­phi ― A His­to­ry of the Cen­ter of the Ancient World
24385. (Somdeep Sen) Antag­o­nis­tic Land­scapes [arti­cle]
24386. (John J. Shea) Nean­derthals and Ear­ly Homo Sapi­ens in the Lev­ant [arti­cle]
24387. (José-Miguel Tejero) Sym­bol­ic Emblems of the Lev­an­tine Auri­gna­cians as a Region­al Enti­ty Iden­ti­fi­er . . . . . [arti­cle]
24388. [2] (Alan Moore & Dave Gib­bons) Watch­men #1 [comix]
(William Brei­d­ing –ed.) Portable Stor­age Four:24389. (William Brei­d­ing) Crow’s Caw [pref­ace]
. . . . 24390. (Alvo Svo­bo­da) A Poet’s Life [arti­cle]
. . . . 24391. (Chris Sher­man) A Few Moments [arti­cle]
. . . . 24392. (Dale Nel­son) Pic­tures and an Inner Vision [arti­cle]
. . . . 24393. (Jeanne Bow­man) Hid­den Machines [arti­cle]
. . . . 24394. (Jeff Schalles) Adven­tures in the Wimpy Zone, Pt.1 [arti­cle]
. . . . 24395. (Peter Young) Famil­iar Land­scapes [arti­cle]
. . . . 24396. (Bruce Town­ley) Jour­nal of the Plague Year 2020 [arti­cle]
. . . . 24397. (Michael Gor­ra) A Digres­sion [arti­cle]
. . . . 24398. (Andy Hoop­er) Paper Lives [arti­cle]
. . . . 24399. (Tom Jack­son) Free Books! [arti­cle]
. . . . 24400. (Gary Hub­bard) The Cracked Eye [arti­cle]
. . . . 24401. (Cheryl Cline) The Road to Cim­me­ria [arti­cle]
. . . . 24402. (Jeff Schalles) Adven­tures in the Wimpy Zone, Pt.2 [arti­cle]
. . . . 24403. (A.C. Kolthoff) Aces and Eights at the Hotel Cal­i­for­nia [arti­cle]
. . . . 24404. (Var­i­ous) Let­ters of Com­ment [let­ters]
. . . . 24405. (Don­ald Sid­ney-Fry­er) Cool Grey City of Sex [arti­cle]
. . . . 24406. (G. Sut­ton Brei­d­ing) Gor­gon of Pos­es [poem]
24407. (O. Bar-Yosef & A. Belfer-Cohen) Fol­low­ing Pleis­tocene Road Signs of Human Dis­per­sals across
. . . . . Eura­sia [arti­cle]
24408. (Andrew Van­der­burg, et al) A Giant Plan­et Can­di­date Tran­sit­ing a White Dwarf [arti­cle]


24340. (Yoshi­ta­ka Amano) The Tale of Gen­ji [art­book; text by Anri Ito & Junichi Imu­ra]
24341. (Sören Stark, et al) The Uzbek-Amer­i­can Expe­di­tion in Bukhara. Pre­lim­i­nary Report on
. . . . . the Third Sea­son, 2017 [arti­cle]
24342. (André-Yves Bourgès) Sur deux textes en vers du dossier hagiographique de Tug­dual
. . . . . [arti­cle]
24343. (J. A. Kegerreis, et al) Atmos­pher­ic Ero­sion by Giant Impacts onto Ter­res­tri­al Plan­ets:
. . . . . A Scal­ing Law for any Speed, Angle, Mass, and Den­si­ty [arti­cle]
24344. (Kei­ichi Wada, Yusuke Tsukamo­to & Eiichi­ro Kokubo) For­ma­tion of “Blan­ets” from
. . . . . Dust Grains around the Super­mas­sive Black Holes in Galax­ies [arti­cle]
Read more »


24324. (Juli­et Clut­ton Brock) Ani­mals as Domes­ti­cate ― A World View through His­to­ry
24325. (Andrew Gar­rard, et al) Pre­his­toric Envi­ron­ment and Set­tle­ment in the Azraq Basin:
. . . . . Inter­im Report on the 1987 and 1988 Exca­va­tion [report]
24326. (Adam Gry­de­høj, Ilan Kel­man & Ping Su) Island Geo­gra­phies of Sep­a­ra­tion and
. . . . . Cohe­sion: The Coro­n­avirus Pan­dem­ic and the Geopol­i­tics of Kalaal­lit Nunaat [arti­cle]
24327. (Chris Fox & Paul Wiegert) Exo­moon Can­di­dates from Tran­sit Trim­ing Vari­a­tions ― Six
. . . . . Kepler Sys­tems with TTVs Explain­able by Pho­to­met­ri­cal­ly Unseen Exo­moons [arti­cle]
24328. (Alun M. Ander­son) After the Ice ― Life, Death, and Geopol­i­tics in the New Arc­tic
Read more »


24306. (K. Lan­glois, et al) Vit­a­min D Sta­tus of Cana­di­ans as Mea­sured in the 2007 to 2009
. . . . . Cana­di­an Health Mea­surs Sur­vey [arti­cle]
24307. (S. J. Whit­ing, et all) The Vit­a­min D Sta­tus of Cana­di­ans Rel­a­tive to the 2011 Dietary
. . . . . Ref­er­ence Intakes: An Exam­i­na­tion in Chil­dren and Adults with and with­out
. . . . . Sup­ple­ment Use [arti­cle]
24308. (Matthias Wack­er & Michael F. Holick) Sun­light and Vit­a­min D ― A Glob­al Per­spec­tive
. . . . . for Health [report]
24309. (Sid­dharth Chan­dra & Eva Kassens-Noor) The Evo­lu­tion of Pan­dem­ic Influen­za;
. . . . . Evi­dence from India, 1918–19 [arti­cle]
Read more »


24295. (John Graunt) Nat­ur­al and Polit­i­cal Obser­va­tions Men­tioned in a Fol­low­ing Index, and
. . . . . Made upon the Bills of Mor­tal­i­ty [1662]
24296. (Thomas Piket­ty) Cap­i­tal and Ide­ol­o­gy
24297. (Noel B. Salazar) Anthro­pol­o­gy and Anthro­pol­o­gists in Time of Cri­sis [arti­cle]
24298. (Joyce Mar­cus) The Inca Con­quest of Cer­ro Azul [arti­cle]
24299. (Tobias Richter, et al) Inter­ac­tion before Agri­cul­ture: Exchang­ing Mate­r­i­al and Shar­ing
. . . . . Knowl­edge in the Final Pleis­tocene Lev­ant [arti­cle]
Read more »


24281. (William Shake­speare) Son­net #1 “From fairest crea­tures we desire increase”
24282. (Kather­ine Stew­art) The Pow­er Wor­ship­pers
24283. (Marc Lip­sitch; David L. Swerd­low & Lyn Finel­li) Defin­ing the Epi­demi­ol­o­gy of
. . . . . Covid-19 [arti­cle]
24284. (Jor­rit M. Kelder) A Thou­sand Black Ships: Mar­itime Trade, Diplo­mat­ic Rela­tions, and
. . . . . the Rise of Myce­nae [arti­cle]
24285. (Peter Hagoort) The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of Lan­guage Beyond Sin­gle-Word Pro­cess­ing
. . . . . [arti­cle]
Read more »

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 — Fletcher Pratt’s The Well of the Unicorn

Affi­ciona­dos of fan­ta­sy fic­tion are usu­al­ly famil­iar with the col­lab­o­ra­tive works of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletch­er Pratt col­lec­tive­ly known as the “Harold Shea sto­ries,” writ­ten in the 1940s. Both these men were hard-nosed ratio­nal­ists who enjoyed writ­ing fan­ta­sy, with de Camp par­tic­u­lar­ly keen on build­ing worlds out of the log­i­cal impli­ca­tions of mag­i­cal premis­es, and equal­ly keen on the humour that ensues from such log­ic. De Camp lived until 2000, dying at the age of 92, writ­ing dur­ing most of that time. He pub­lished a sci­ence book on pri­ma­tol­ogy in 1995 and an auto­bi­og­ra­phy in 1996. He remained well known and well loved in the Sci­ence Fic­tion / Fan­ta­sy com­mu­ni­ty for all that time. Pratt, how­ev­er, was born in 1897 and died in 1956, short­ly after the pub­li­ca­tion of these famous col­lab­o­ra­tions. With­out de Camp, he wrote four sci­ence fic­tion and two fan­ta­sy nov­els, as well as six­teen books on naval his­to­ry and many oth­ers on a broad range of sub­ject. He was also a pio­neer “gamer,” cre­at­ing a com­plex math­e­mat­ics-based strate­gic naval war game in 1933 that is con­sid­ered one of the best ever con­ceived. After the pub­li­ca­tion of the revised ver­sion of the game in 1940, he wrote that “wives and girl­friends of male par­tic­i­pants dropped their roles of observers and soon became fear­some tac­ti­cians.” He was, like de Camp, a man of broad inter­ests. He wrote mys­ter­ies, Civ­il War his­to­ries, culi­nary his­to­ries and cook­books, and a con­sid­er­able amount of well-regard­ed poet­ry. While look­ing for a pho­to to illus­trate this post, I found one of him at his New Jer­sey home gam­bol­ing on its lawn with the poet John Cia­r­di and rock­et sci­en­tist Willy Ley.

Fletch­er Pratt

Of the two fan­ta­sy nov­els, I’ve just read The Well of the Uni­corn, first pub­lished in 1948. Three things are strik­ing about the book.

One is the style, which com­bines the clean and crisp sen­tence struc­ture and imagery you would have found in the era’s Sat­ur­day Night or New York­er with some of the pur­ple con­ven­tions of pulp fan­ta­sy nov­el­ists, and a dash of Lord Dun­sany. He delight­ed in insert­ing antique and ana­gog­ic words into this slick matrix, but unlike most of the pulp writ­ers, he actu­al­ly knew what they meant.

Anoth­er thing that struck me is the social, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and polit­i­cal real­ism. The soci­ety depict­ed is actu­al­ly plau­si­ble, resem­bling very close­ly what you would find read­ing the Twelfth Cen­tu­ry Ges­ta Dano­rum of Saxo Gram­mati­cus. The inter­play of local kings and feuda­to­ries with pirate raiders and inde­pen­dent jarls on the fringes of a world pre­vi­ous­ly dom­i­nat­ed by an urban empire is pret­ty much what you would have found in ear­ly medieval Jut­land. Unlike most fan­ta­sy nov­els, Pratt’s imag­i­nary world is one where peo­ple have to eat and make a liv­ing, and peo­ple get hurt when they fight. The pol­i­tics is real­is­tic. Much of the text is con­cerned with the hero Airar strug­gling with com­pet­ing ide­olo­gies, forced into unpleas­ant com­pro­mis­es, and find­ing no social arrange­ment that doesn’t cre­ate some injus­tice. By the end of the book, he comes across some­thing like Duke Louis II de Bour­bon.*

There is, of course, mag­ic in Pratt’s world, but there is an under­ly­ing mes­sage: mag­ic sucks. It doesn’t work very well, doesn’t pro­duce the desired results, and at its best is rather lame. This is what allows the book to main­tain its real­is­tic feel­ing, and also cures the most irri­tat­ing prob­lem of fan­ta­sy fic­tion. Since at any sec­ond some­one might pull out a spell or sum­mon some pow­er that makes what­ev­er hap­pen that the writer wants to hap­pen, the mag­i­cal ele­ment of fan­ta­sy fic­tion essen­tial­ly inflates the cur­ren­cy. The read­er just trudges through the set-pieces and bat­tles, wait­ing for the mag­ic ring or the cos­mic woo-be-doo to do its stuff. Pratt could see this per­il, and instead used mag­ic more as a source of irri­ta­tion and irony than a dri­ving force in the nar­ra­tive. The only oth­er fan­ta­sy writer that I know of tak­ing this approach is R. A. MacAvoy.

This is an enjoy­able old fan­ta­sy, if you know the con­ven­tions of pre-WWII pulp fic­tion estab­lished by Robert E. Howard, and even more if you’ve read a bit of Dun­sany or A. Mer­ritt. A mod­ern read­er might not quite “get it” or see its charm.

* whose life sto­ry has recent­ly been trans­lat­ed by my friend Steven Muhlburg­er (pri­mar­i­ly) and myself (assist­ing). [Chron­i­cle of the Good Duke by Jean Cabaret d’Orville (fl. 1429), trans­lat­ed by Steven Muhlberg­er and Phil Paine]


24342. (Steven Muhlberg­er & Will McLean) Mur­der, Rape, & Trea­son ― Judi­cial Com­bats in
. . . . . the Late Mid­dle Ages
24343. (Rebec­ca M. McLen­nan) The Wild Life of Law: Domes­ti­cat­ing Nature in the Bering Sea,
. . . . . c. 1893 [arti­cle]
24344. (Daniel Fish­er) Spun Dry: Mobil­i­ty and Juris­dic­tion in North­ern Aus­tralia [arti­cle]
24345. (Sarah Song) After Oberge­fell: On Mar­riage and Belong­ing in Car­son McCuller’s Mem­ber
. . . . .  of the Wed­ding [arti­cle]
24346. (Peg­gy Brock) The Many Voy­ages of Arthur Welling­ton Clah
Read more »

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 — “I see day like smoke.”

While the response of Cana­di­an author­i­ties to Covid-19 has not been ide­al, it at least makes a bet­ter-than-aver­age grade, and the ini­tial slug­gish response is quick­ly giv­ing way to a sci­ence-based one. Test­ing lev­els are still woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate. I have to admit that even Ontario’s noto­ri­ous­ly slimy Con­ser­v­a­tive admin­is­tra­tion is show­ing com­pe­tence, and Pre­mier Doug Ford, a con­gen­i­tal fat­head, has been on his best behav­iour. The Prime Min­is­ter is in iso­la­tion because of his wife’s pos­i­tive test, and gives press con­fer­ences alone. Nine­ty per­cent of gov­ern­ment busi­ness is now being con­duct­ed by skype or oth­er vir­tu­al plat­forms. Here in Ontario, pub­lic gath­er­ings are sus­pend­ed, restau­rants are closed except for take-out, and deliv­ery car­ri­ers wear face-masks. Only super­mar­kets and phar­ma­cies remain open. The bor­der is now closed with the Unit­ed States, with var­i­ous eco­nom­ic and med­ical-based excep­tions. There was con­sid­er­able “pan­ic buy­ing” over the week­end, and you can’t find either eggs or toi­let paper for the moment, but even at the height of this pan­ic buy­ing peo­ple remained polite and well-behaved. Super­mar­kets are assur­ing that they will be restocked quick­ly, and prices will remain the same. As of this writ­ing, eight Cana­di­ans have died. The supe­ri­or­i­ty of a sin­gle-pay­er pub­lic health insur­ance sys­tem in such an emer­gency is self-evi­dent beyond the slight­est doubt.

In the U.S., var­i­ous state gov­ern­ments have been tak­ing up the slack of a pathet­i­cal­ly inept and cor­rupt White House, and Amer­i­ca must place it’s hopes in local infra­struc­tures. Notable is Wash­ing­ton State, which has been hard hit and requires dras­tic mea­sures. Wash­ing­ton has about twice as many cas­es as all of Cana­da and has had 52 fatal­i­ties. Washington’s Pub­lic Health author­i­ties are fac­ing a fierce foe. But to demon­strate that state’s cre­ative spir­it, the best online web­site for con­sol­i­dat­ing cur­rent world Covid-19 sta­tis­tics was built as ear­ly as last Decem­ber — by Avi Schiff­man, a sev­en­teen-year-old high school stu­dent in a Seat­tle sub­urb.

Amer­i­can State-lev­el author­i­ties have been respond­ing admirably, but to show you the dif­fer­ence between the two Fed­er­al admin­is­tra­tions, I sub­mit the fol­low­ing image from a White House press con­fer­ence tak­en a few hours ago:

The most basic pro­to­cols in an epi­dem­ic are being vis­i­bly vio­lat­ed by the Pres­i­dent, Vice Pres­i­dent and his staff. This is idio­cy, incom­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion in a nut­shell.

By con­trast, this is a press con­fer­ence, for iden­ti­cal rea­sons, con­duct­ed at the same time by Finance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau and Bank of Cana­da Gov­er­nor Stephen Poloz fol­low­ing the Prime Minister’s solo address:

They are main­tain­ing the prop­er six-foot dis­tance, the few jour­nal­ists present are as well, and the bulk of ques­tions are being asked through the inter­net. This is fol­low­ing pro­to­col. 

Cana­di­ans have had lit­tle expe­ri­ence with epi­demics since the polio out­breaks of the 1950s and the glob­al flu pan­dem­ic of 1918. The most seri­ous recent issue was the SARS event of 2003, which killed 44 Cana­di­ans and was large­ly con­fined to Toron­to. I was work­ing in a med­ical lab­o­ra­to­ry at that time, han­dling poten­tial­ly infec­tious mate­ri­als, so I was kept abreast of the issue and had to fol­low very tight pro­to­cols. To this day, I keep my own home well stocked with dis­pos­able gloves, swabs, clean­ing agents and large quan­ti­ties of hydro­gen per­ox­ide — so I didn’t have to run out and buy any of these items. For that mat­ter, I am also stocked with enough house­hold sup­plies (such as bins of rice, dried beans and peas, flour, cous­cous, mil­let, as well as canned goods) to stay at home for months, if nec­es­sary. Toron­to hos­pi­tals were caught with their pants down dur­ing SARS, and I’m told that stan­dards are con­sid­er­ably bet­ter now. 

But if you go back in his­to­ry, you can learn what hav­ing to deal with the real hor­rors of epi­dem­ic dis­ease is like. I’m present­ly read­ing an amaz­ing book called The Many Voy­ages of Arthur Welling­ton Clah, by Peg­gy Brock. 

Arthur Welling­ton Clah was a Tsimshi­an man born in 1831 in a vil­lage in the Nass Riv­er val­ley of coastal British Colum­bia. At the age of 26, Clah [his hered­i­tary name was Sgała’axł Xsgi­igł] was taught to speak and write Eng­lish by William Dun­can, an Angli­can mis­sion­ary, and adopt­ed a per­son­al ver­sion of a Chris­t­ian reli­gious faith, giv­ing no alle­giance to either the Angli­can or Methodist sects that he was exposed to. Dur­ing his long life, he worked at a wide vari­ety of jobs, was often an ambi­tious entre­pre­neur, and trav­elled wide­ly in B.C., Alas­ka, the Yukon, and Wash­ing­ton State. 

With­in months of learn­ing to write, he began to keep a diary, and he main­tained this diary for the next fifty years. Over this half cen­tu­ry, he pro­duced over 650,000 words of hand-writ­ten entries, the equiv­a­lent of Tolkien’s com­bined Hob­bit, Lord of the Rings, and Sil­mar­il­lion. By 1890 it had evolved into a repos­i­to­ry of his per­son­al philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings and an ambi­tious attempt to write a his­to­ry of his peo­ple. Clah was proud of his work and want­ed to see it pub­lished for pos­ter­i­ty, but the man­u­script lan­guished for a cen­tu­ry in the stacks of the Well­come Library in Lon­don. It presents many dif­fi­cul­ties to researchers because Clah’s Eng­lish was very crude in the begin­ning, and was nev­er the lan­guage he thought in. It con­tains lit­tle punc­tu­a­tion, and because of its idiomat­ic speci­fici­ty can only be puz­zled out by some­one very famil­iar with the com­plex­i­ties of the Tsimshi­an, Nisga’a, Hai­da, Heilt­suk, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Tlin­git cul­tures of the region. Peg­gy Brock’s book draws on the diary and explains its con­text in order to pro­duce a bal­anced biog­ra­phy of Clah. This is admirable and quite dif­fi­cult schol­ar­ly work, so I will not dimin­ish it with any kib­itz­ing.

When Clah began this diary, there were but a hand­ful of Euro­peans in British Colum­bia, and the abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion count­ed hun­dreds of thou­sands. The Tsimshi­an and oth­er coastal peo­ple lived in sub­stan­tial towns of large wood­en build­ings dec­o­rat­ed with art that still daz­zles and amazes the world to this day. By the end of it, the Euro­pean and Asian pop­u­la­tions far out­num­bered them, and most of the 20 or so abo­rig­i­nal nations, who spoke dis­parate lan­guages and pur­sued wide­ly vary­ing lifestyles, had been mas­sive­ly dis­rupt­ed and dimin­ished by the effects of deal­ing with gold-rush­es, incom­ing set­tlers, the impo­si­tion of Colo­nial and then Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment, reli­gious con­ver­sions, the rise of forestry and fish can­ning, urban­ism, the sup­pres­sion of the Pot­latch, and most of all, infec­tious dis­ease. When he made his last entries as a some­what lone­ly and embit­tered man with fail­ing eye­sight, he described the streets of his native vil­lage:

I walk up Git­lax­dan­sk vil­lage. The place half emp­ty, use[d] to be big place. [F]irst time I take my wife in that tribe [,] good many peo­ple [:] strong tribe and rich peo­ple to all tribes on [N]ass riv­er [.] [N]ow tribe very poor. [P]eople very near all out. [G]o easy places the young peo­ple.

While the var­i­ous cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal shocks that abo­rig­i­nal soci­eties in the Pacif­ic North­west (on both sides of the Canadian/American bor­der) expe­ri­enced were seri­ous, noth­ing was as over­whelm­ing­ly destruc­tive as infec­tious dis­ease, par­tic­u­lar­ly small­pox. This began appear­ing as ear­ly as the 1790’s either intro­duced by the Span­ish ships that explored the coast, or more like­ly trav­el­ling up through the Basin & Range regions from the Span­ish set­tle­ments in New Mex­i­co, car­ried by the com­plex trade net­works of the Man­dan. But the real dev­as­ta­tion began in the 1820s, as Amer­i­can set­tlers along the Ore­gon Trail brought small­pox and measles. From then on, the death rate often exceed­ed 80% of the abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion in a sin­gle sea­son, and wave after wave of such pan­dem­ic slaugh­ter drift­ed north­ward into Clah’s home­land. Clah’s vil­lage expe­ri­enced a dis­as­trous small­pox epi­dem­ic when he was five years old.

Arthur Welling­ton Clah [Sgała’axł Xsgi­igł]

Brock writes:

Clah remem­bered the small­pox epi­dem­ic of 1836 and the many who died from the dis­ease. His account of the epi­dem­ic of 1862 is much more detailed. In that year, small­pox, which had been intro­duced to Vic­to­ria via a ship from San Fran­cis­co, quick­ly spread through the Tsimshi­an Reserve at Rocky Bay and then to oth­er camps. Tsimshi­an expelled from Vic­to­ria took the dis­ease north. Fright­ened peo­ple were giv­en a day’s warn­ing to vacate the reserve. They burned their hous­es and blan­kets before leav­ing, and a gun­boat in the bay ensured their depar­ture. Although doc­tors start­ed vac­ci­nat­ing peo­ple in Vic­to­ria, three hun­dred Tsimshi­an had con­tract­ed small­pox and twen­ty had died by late April. Doc­tors also went up the Coast to vac­ci­nate the Abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion, as did Dun­can, who was con­cerned the vac­ci­na­tions were not tak­ing. It is impos­si­ble from the data avail­able to deter­mine their effec­tive­ness. The epi­dem­ic ran its course by Decem­ber, when Clah wrote to Dun­can that there had been 301 deaths and 2,069 sur­vivors among the Fort Simp­son tribes. Pre­sum­ably, Clah had been vac­ci­nat­ed, for he did not get the dis­ease, even though he nursed rel­a­tives with small­pox. The Tsimshi­an also tried treat­ing them­selves with reme­dies such as “woomash” plant, which Clah went up the Nass Riv­er to col­lect in July.

This cat­a­stro­phe rup­tured the spir­i­tu­al cos­mos and social fab­ric of Tsimshi­an soci­ety. Drink­ing and vio­lence were two symp­toms; burn­ing reli­gious para­pher­na­lia and mak­ing sac­ri­fices for abso­lu­tion were oth­ers. Clah believed the Tsimshi­an had angered the Chris­t­ian God by lying, steal­ing, com­mit­ting mur­der, and engag­ing in drunk­en fight­ing. He prayed for God to for­give them and take away the sick­ness. This cri­sis no doubt pushed oth­ers towards Chris­tian­i­ty. Duncan’s mis­sion cer­tain­ly ben­e­fit­ed. 

Epi­dem­ic dis­ease was one of the chief moul­ders of Clah’s life and world­view. Of his dozen chil­dren only three sur­vived to adult­hood. Two sons lived only to the ages of twelve and thir­teen, both killed by measles. Two daugh­ters died in their mid-teens. His last son made it to the age of 23. Far from any fatal­is­tic Sto­icism, the diaries are filled with accounts of the emo­tion­al trau­ma caused by these deaths. But Clah’s res­olute devo­tion to telling his sto­ry is best shown in an entry made as his sight began to fail: “My eyes half blind. I see day like smoke. But I don’t stop writ­ing.” 


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