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SEA ROUTES TO GOLD Oscar Lewis

SEA ROUTES TO GOLD

Oscar Lewis

Published August 12th 1971
ISBN : 9780345223791
paperback
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SEA ROUTES TO THE GOLD FIELDS INTRODUCTION THE tens of thousands who set off for California by water during the first years of the gold rush left behind an un commonly detailed record of their journey, for theirs was one of the most articulateMoreSEA ROUTES TO THE GOLD FIELDS INTRODUCTION THE tens of thousands who set off for California by water during the first years of the gold rush left behind an un commonly detailed record of their journey, for theirs was one of the most articulate migrations in history. The Argo naut who failed to commit his impressions to paper was decidedly an exception. In his eagerness to be among the first to reach the diggings, he might set sail without many things necessary to his safety or comfort in the new land, but rarely was he without a notebook, a quillpen, and a bottle of ink. He provided himself with writing-materials because, to a man, he recognized that the enterprise on which he had embarked was likely to prove the most momentous hap pening of his life, and it was natural that he should want to preserve in black and white a record of his great adventure. To be sure, those who made the journey by land were no less eager to put on paper a day-by-day chronicle of hap penings along the way, but comparatively few were able to carry out that resolve. The westward trek over prairie and desert and mountain was a physical ordeal so grueling that not many had time or energy to keep detailed records. On the other hand, those who traveled by sea found in. their journals a welcome relief from the tedium of idle weeks aboard ship. The consequence is that while overland diaries are comparatively rare, there exist today hundreds of diaries, journals, and collections of letters, all setting forth Introduction aei aji eir. uieo e at sea on the months-long voy ages Q riB lGmbaYkation to San Francisco. In , the nature of things much of this material is of little interest tb present-day readers. To the average 3 49er, wield ing a pen was as unfamiliar a task as building a wing dam or operating a sluice box, and when he opened the virgin pages of his diary and set about describing the impact of a life completely new, he seldom accomplished more than a barren record of the length of each days run, the state of the weather, and a catalogue of meals served, ships sighted, and fishes caught. The result is that one finds a marked similarity in these narratives. Except for the names of the ships on which they sailed, the routes followed, and the stops along the way, scores of such documents are all but indis tinguishable from one another. There were some fortunate exceptions to this rule, how ever. Every now and then one comes across the diary of some long-forgotten traveler who possessed all uncon sciously, one must believe the gift of bringing to life the feel and flavor of these long coast-to-coast passages a century ago. This quality of vividly evoking the past is as diffi cult to define as it is rare. It bears no discoverable relation to the Argonauts familiarity with the process of putting words on paper the most facile diarists are often the most arid. It is not a matter of education some of the most in formative narratives were written by men not many degrees above illiteracy, and the explanation seems to be that for such as these the task of writing at all was too laborious to permit recording commonplace happenings. More than anything else, perhaps, the secret lay in the fact that when certain California-bound emigrants sat down to struggle with their diaries, they brought to bear a native shrewdness VI Introduction of observation, a selective sense that discarded the familiar and obvious and focused unerringly on what seemed to them worthy of note because it lay beyond their former experiences. Thus the Maine farmer who in April 1849 found himself on an island off the coast of Brazil had nothing to write about his relief at regaining land after seven weeks at sea, and little about his first contacts with an alien civilization. These could be taken for granted. But he described in detail an exotic tropical fruit he had never seen before cc . . ...