My best excuse for neglecting my blog this late fall  is that I’ve been working non-stop with my colleague Suzanne Cane to send off our new Yellowstone manuscript to a publisher. We’ve translated into English a French book called La Terre des Merveilles. We’ve made the title into Yellowstone, Land of Wonders and brought it up to date with lots of explanatory notes.
Our author, Jules Leclercq, was a Belgian attorney and judge, who spent his time away from the bench in traveling and writing excellent books about far-flung places. He went all over the world between the 1870s and the early 1900s: China, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, remote islands, etc. Of course, his twenty-four travel books were all in French, although he clearly knew a lot of English. As far as we can determine, none of his travel books has ever before been fully translated in English.
Suzanne and I loved his style: well-informed but often humorous, observant of details but never bogged down in them, respectful of his surroundings and his companions if sometimes gently mocking of himself or his situation. His Yellowstone visit was in 1883, but he showed great sensitivity to his environment and was appalled at the vandalism to park features he sometimes observed. We’ve tried to make the English version reflect Leclercq’s typical late-19th-century way of writing: using lots of similes and adjectives, flowery but always sticking to the subject.
I found the book while researching for my Yellowstone anthology of early writings, working title “Magnificent Playground,” which as of now remains unpublished—but that’s another subject. Yellowstone, Land of Wonders will be published by the University of Nebraska Press. Although our work on it is done except for the proofing, it is scheduled for publication in spring of 2013. We’ll just have to wait, but I think everyone with an interest in Yellowstone and western U.S. history will want to read it.
Here’s a sample of Leclercq’s genius for description that will make anyone who has ever seen this spring sigh with longing to go back:
Mute with amazement and astonishment, we gazed upon Grand Prismatic Spring, nature’s most gigantic hot spring. This expanse of steaming, sapphire-colored water is so surpassingly transparent that the thousand fantastical forms on the festooned walls could be distinguished under the crystal liquid. The aqueous layers take on a more and more intense blue color as the eye penetrates deeper into the abyss. Several meters from the edge one loses sight of the bottom of the basin, and the dark color of the water indicates unfathomable depths that are concealed from view. Toward the center of the basin, the water rises several inches high as it boils; agitated by an undulating motion, it regularly spills over from all sides above the reddish and curiously festooned siliceous ring that slightly protrudes around the basin.
An extensive mist of hot vapors rises continually from the bosom of this marvelous expanse of water. Nary a bird glides above it; no tree grows on its banks. Words fail to describe the country surrounding it, sublime in its desolation and nakedness. And yet I need only close my eyes to see it again, for it is unforgettable.