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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Incidents of travel

Image result for stephens incidents of travel in central americaFrom my first acquaintance, as an adolescent, with the travel writings of John Lloyd Stephens I have longed to see for myself the places he describes so vividly in "Incidents of Travel in Central America", particularly the Mayan ruins at Copan. Last month I had opportunity to do so and, in anticipation, re-read "Incidents of Travel". Stephens' prose is rich as ever and had lost none of its power to excite in the intervening four decades, and it is perfectly complemented by the marvellous drawings of Frederick Catherwood. 

Though Copan bears little resemblance now to the jungle shrouded place Stephens and Catherwood visited I was not disappointed; it was still possible with an effort of imagination to share the sense of wonder they experienced when they looked across the swollen river to see the wall of the acropolis rising before them. And as I reluctantly left the site as darkness was falling the atmosphere intensified and my sense of mystery was stirred again. I am sure that a lot of the feelings I experienced are attributable to my long digestion of Stephens' book. 

Stephens in his writing and Catherwood in his paintings of course exaggerated the romantic aspects of their discoveries, but they never lost sight of their role as accurate recorders of the wonderful things they revealed, and Stephens in particular showed himself to be extremely far-sighted in his prediction that the hieroglyphs on the monuments would one day be deciphered to reveal a lost history of the Mayans. In my view a great service was done by these two remarkable men who, by their work, stimulated the imaginations of many in America and elsewhere, and helped bring the remarkable civilisation of the Mayans to the attention of the world.

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