Monday, July 29, 2013

National Geographic Adventure Classics: The Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Journals of Lewis and Clark (2002)published by National Geographic, is part of its Adventure Classics series. The original journals, which run to over one million words of text, have here been abridged by author and editor Anthony Brandt. In his forward, Brandt tells the reader that he has modernized the spelling, grammar and punctuation in the interests of readability.

I am all for that. I am not a scholar and don't really need to read every word of the accounts of the two-and-a-half year expedition in their original form. I also appreciate that between the actual journal entries he has written summaries, of times during periods of wintering or inactivity, detailing any information that seemed important. 

This edition also contains sketches and maps from the original journals. The letter outlining the mission of the expedition written by President Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis is here. There is a list of the expedition members - including Lewis's dog, Seaman - and a six page list of supplies needed for the journey: mathematical instruments, arms and accoutrements, ammunition, camping and clothing supplies, Indian presents, medicines, and provisions.  

That list alone makes for fascinating reading.

The book begins with entries from Lewis's journal of his journey from Pittsburgh, in September 1803, on his way to meet with William Clark and begin the expedition the coming spring. The immediacy of the entries is mesmerizing. He writes of the difficulty of traversing riffles (I guess he means rapids) in the Ohio River, the deep morning fogs, and days of rain that soak supplies and self. 

September 17, 1803
I found on opening the goods that many of the articles were much injured (from the rains and leaking canoes), particularly the articles of iron, which were rusted very much. My guns, tomahawks, and knives were of this class. I caused them to be oiled and exposed to the sun. The clothing of every description 
also was opened and aired. 

This work kept me so busy that I ate not anything until after dark, being determined to have everything in readiness for an early start in the morning. 

All this before the true adventure even begins. 

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