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Jim’s Missing Book February 26, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

black notebook

Jim was an Iowan, an American Indian, one of a party who in 1844 crossed the Atlantic to see Europe. The Iowans had as their guide in Britain and parts of the Continent George Catlin (obit 1872), the famous American artist and a friend of the first nations, particularly the Mandans with whom he had lived for many months. Catlin described the Iowans trip around Europe in some detail and one of the most exciting facts to emerge from his pages is that Jim, who Catlin describes as the most enthusiastic to learn, kept a little book with notes in.  It is the loss of that book that we wish to lament here: because it would be an extraordinary relic were it to be found again.

What kind of facts did this visitor from beyond the fringe of western civilization record? Apparently an early obsession of Jim’s was the sheer number of gin houses that he found in the streets of London: he began counting these with a tally stick and was soon at several hundred. From the Times he learnt that 29,000,000 gallons of hard drink were consumed a year. He also noted that 50,000 died from drink every year and that half of cases of lunacy and a third of cases of pauperism could be blamed on alcohol. This, it must be remembered, at a time when the Indians were lectured in their homeland about how their delicate systems were unable to take grog.

Alcohol stood as Jim’s introduction to the hypocrisy of the west. But he soon found other statistics that amazed him. He recorded the amount of money Queen Victoria received every year from the State. He recorded how much was spent on the British navy and the army. He also recorded cases of killing, rape, capital punishment, foundlings, game-laws, bigamists, disabilities and, allegedly, the national debt. We say ‘allegedly’ because we have only Catlin’s word to go on and Catlin as an American had his own problems with nineteenth-century Britain, many of which are strikingly mirrored in Jim’s book. Having said that Catlin is generally a reliable witness and he gives so much information around Jim, that we can probably assume that the book did, indeed, exist, though what happened to it we may never know. Catlin tells us that at the beginning Jim could not read or write and knew no English. But he was evidently the quickest learner of the Iowans. At first he asked for things to be written for him in his book, but later he was able to write some details for himself. Any thoughts on the final location of Jim’s notebook: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Catlin said that it passed back across the Atlantic to become the magna carta of his people. Jim we are happy to say survived European microbes: one of the few.