Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Review of 'Panama: Past and Present'

Far From the Canal in Panama


Published: April 16, 1922 Copyright ©The New York Times

PANAMA: PAST AND PRESENT. By A. Hyatt Vcrrill. Illustrated with

Photographs by the Author. 262 pp. New York: Dodd, Mead Co.

NO popular book," says Mr. Verrill, "has ever been written which describes the country, its fauna and flora, its people and the thousand and one interesting features of this little republic. * * * Thousands of people of all nations yearly travel from ocean to ocean by huge steamships or by roaring trains, and yet today the world knows scarcely more of Panama than did Balboa and his companions. The marvelous feat that linked the oceans is known to all the world; the fame of the great ditch has spread to the uttermost ends of the earth; but, aside from the canal, few people know anything about the Isthmus. To the average man Panama is synonomous with the canal and the canal is Panama."

So this volume is written and issued to perform this popular service, rich with facts and flowing of phrase.

Since Balboa marched inland from one ocean and stood in wild surmise at discovering another greater than that he had left, "the Bridge of the World" as Bolivar called it, has been a passageway. This narrow neck of land that connects continent with continent has been traversed, however, not from North America, to South as a bridge, but crossed at its smallest width, because it is fortunate in being the smallest land barrier between Atlantic and Pacific. Spain built a "Gold Road" to facilitate the transport of treasure, and in 1534 actually dreamed of digging a canal. For years the Spaniards fought the Indians, and then the pirate Morgan, and finally a party of Scotch who settled for a while in Caledonia Bay. Then came the revolution of 1821, and Panama's decision to join Colombia. Then in 1849 the Argonauts stampeded across the Isthmus on the way to California, traveling by boat and by mule and struggling with mud and filth and disease. To accommodate this tremendous traffic the Panama Railway was built over swamp and hill and “the Bridge of the World became the world's highway." Then came the French, and left rusting records of failure. Then came the Americans, who conquered the tropical malaria and yellow fever, built the canal, and fathered the young republic "pro mundi beneficio," If we can borrow the phrase from the coat of arms of Panama.

Picturesque ruins and curious traditions abound on the Isthmus. Strange cosmopolites from all nations of the earth have come to settle and call themselves Panamanians —Hindus, Chinese, Japs, Jamaican negroes, Slavs, Spaniards, Greeks, Italians and Germans, French and English, Swedes and Dutch. The town of Colon itself is an instance of the variety of life. Here is a splendid Masonic Building, half surrounded by miserable, flimsy wooden tenements. Here are some half-rotting docks, still in use by native coasting schooners, there a line of modern piers of steel and concrete. Here is a pretty plaza, and. across the street dirty negro shops. Here are the counters of a dealer in beautiful Oriental goods and a modern department store beside it; a stone's throw away are “tiny malodorous holes-in-the-wall where repulsive-looking viands, cheap fruits, cane juice and charcoal are sold." Back of the electric - lighted, well - paved town stretches the jungle, and into the heart of the hills reaches the ribbon of water that carries the bottoms of seagoing ships over the mountain range.

The author thus introduces us to Panama, takes us to see the modern sights of Canal Zone workshop and military post and the ruins of old Fort San Lorenzo, whose dungeons are now clear of prisoners but not of shackles and chains, and Porto Bello, where one may gaze upon “the old castle that once guarded the famed Gold Road and defied the powers of the world but fell to the reckless buccaneers.” After describing the trip across the Isthmus by boat and by rail and telling of the notable features of modern Panama City, Mr. Verrill heads again for the picturesque and halts for a reminiscent moment at the ancient Treasury vaults in Old Panama.

It was within these dark stone cells that all that vast treasure of gold, silver and precious stones; of plate and ingot, of loot from Incas and Aztecs; of bullion, wrought literally by blood, from a thousand mines, was stored to await the treasure trains of mules, slaves and armed men which transported the wealth of the West across the Gold Road to the ships waiting in the harbors of Nombre de Dios and Porto Bello. One's imagination cannot conceive the fortunes which have filled these vaults; one cannot picture the awful sufferings, the untold horrors and incredible tortures which were undergone and inflicted in getting together the millions which have passed through the low, arched portals of these dismal chambers. If only the ancient stones could, speak, what a marvelous story they could tell! What wonderful scenes they have witnessed! What incalculable fortunes they have hoarded in the bloody days of yore! But today they are empty; their damp stone steps no longer ring to the tread of armored men; no longer do boxes and bales and bars of dull gold fill them from floor to arched roof; never again will the fitful glow of sputtering torches gleam in many-colored fires from piles of gems torn from the writhing, tortured bodies of Indian princesses and kings. Their floors are deep with dirt, filth and debris; loathsome crawling things hide among the crevices of the masonry; their once strong doors have disappeared and left them open to the elements, and bats by thousands make them their roosting place.

Thereupon, we leave the beaten track and learn of the remote and almost inaccessible interior provinces. Across the grassy pasture land dotted with giant ant hills we proceed into Cocle, then through the rugged country of Veraguas the Golden, noting the marvels of tropical vegetation, the salt industries, the cattle ranches, the sugar mills. Roads get bad, then worse, then disappear almost altogether, until in the midst of what was once the world's richest gold-producing district we find the land as a whole deserted. “The rich soil of the foothills and river sides is a waste of brush and trees; the wide, grassy prairies support only a few hundred miserable cattle, and the few natives one sees are ragged, dirty, forlorn-looking and poverty-stricken." There are, though, occasional little isolated villages like La Colorada, "where time has stood still and one seems to have stepped back 400 years." The customs, the gold coins, the horse equipment, the festivals, the sports, are those of old Spanish times.

Nations may rise and fall, great wars may be fought and peace made; the outside world may marvel at some wonderful invention; man may conquer the air or the deep sea; pestilences may sweep off thousands or some great cataclysm may destroy whole cities; but these happy people neither know nor care. Their world is their village, and no doubt a century hence they will, still be living as they are today—as they did three centuries and more ago.

Going next to the other end of the Isthmus, toward South America, one enters the region of Darien, vague and indefinite, little explored and practically ungoverned, harboring the San Bias Indians and the Chokois, who abhor gold but load themselves to the limit with silver earrings, arm bands, wristlets and necklaces of their own crude manufacture, and also—near where the Scots landed in 1699—a shrewd and canny lot of Kunas Indians, who resist invasion and strive to maintain the purity of their race. “While Panamanian villages are near, while the Chokois speak Spanish and are in constant touch with civilization, while we are only on the borders of the wilderness, yet, near at hand is the untrodden, unexplored, utterly unknown country of the Kunas, the forbidden district whose secrets no white man has ever solved, whose untold natural riches lie untouched, undreamed of, guarded by the fierce tribesmen and their poisoned arrows as they have been guarded and kept hidden since the first Spaniards set foot on the shores of the Isthmus."

Mr. Verrill wields a fascinating pen, ever willing to elaborate the charming and the fantastic. Thus he pictures a bit of the journey on the Panama Railway:

From Summit the way is all down hill with marvelous views of deep valleys, like seas of green, steep hillsides clothed with impenetrable forests and majestic mountains looming blue against the sky, while swinging about the hillsides, clinging to the steep slopes, spanning ravines and winding in and out of the jungle, is the white thread of concrete automobile road that extends from Gamboa to Panama.

Here is a panorama viewed from the forts in Panama Bay;

Like a steel-blue ribbon the canal stretches from beneath one's feet to Miraflores, with Balboa, like a toy town amid its lawns and Fort Amador connecting it in a narrow tongue of land with the causeway. To the north, the City of Panama basks in the sun—a sea of red roofs and church towers— backed by range after range of misty mountains stretching into the dim distance. To the south, Taboga rears its green hills above the turquoise sea with still greener Taboguilla just beyond, while to the east, phantasmal, elusive and wraithlike, the opalescent outlines of the Pearl Islands shimmer upon the far horizon.

He concludes his volume with sixty-three pages of useful data, and statistics in classified form, telling of the resources, the activities and the characteristics of the nation, the roads, the hotels, the flora and fauna, the products, the points of historic interest, the communications and the transportation facilities, which last in the provinces are almost non-existent.

One thing Mr. Verrill states inaccurately: "Her sovereignty has become little more "than a name" (p. 40). He leaves his reader with the impression that Panama is absolutely controlled and run by the United States, while as a matter of fact that independent little nation is as jealous of its sovereignty as ever Belgium was, and engages in many brisk diplomatic tilts with the too-eager and overbearing Americans. He is again in error when he states that "elections are guarded, supervised and judged by United States officials" (p. 9). They have been at times, but this is not the law, nor even the rule, and something of the sort happens only when Panama invites assistance. It is sad but true that Mr. Verrill may have to revise his statement (p. 87) that “quarters are free” to canal employes, for orders have gone forth to abolish that privilege. It is strange to find a man so well informed on Panama as Mr. Verrill, who indeed elsewhere says it is "the only spot in the world where one may see the sun rise from the Pacific and set in the Atlantic” (p. 57), remarking at the limitless Pacific like a sheet of burnished gold in the rays of the setting sun " (p. xi).

Let us not, though, be meticulous of praise. Mr. Verrill has produced a more interesting book than the usual account of a traveler. He has subordinated or eliminated the personal, in the interests of clear exposition, and even though he sometimes indulges in profuse rhetoric and unduly sentimental descriptions and florid adjectives, he has rendered distinct service.

“Accommodations for the traveler are conspicuous by their absence, although there are hotels of a sort in many of the larger towns. * * * But despite the discomforts of bad roads, worse steamers, and inadequate accommodations, a journey through the interior of Panama is well worth while for any one fond of beautiful scenery, picturesque people, quaint customs and out-of-door life or for those interested in obtaining a true idea of the little-known republics."

This is his thesis. This his book proves.

Recorder notes that both of the criticisms of Verrill’ book appear to be incorrect. The United States Government did not have a hands off policy wrt to Panama. The sun can be seen to set in the Pacific from Panama; maybe I missed his meaning. /drf

Monday, 27 October 2008

All Verrill Works (mostly books for now)

Title Year f/nf bk/mag Publisher own? web My Web Comment #words

A-B-C of Automobile Driving 1916 n b
n n

Along New England Shores 1936 n b
n n

Amateur Carpenter The 1917 n b DoddMead y AmCarp

America's Ancient Civilizations 1953 n b

w Ruth Verrill

An American Crusoe 1914 f b
n n

American Indian; North, South and Central America, The 1927 n b Appleton y Americanindian
my edition from 1943 New Home Library

Barton's Mills : A Saga of the Maine Pioneers 1932 (fictionalized family history) 1932 f b Appleton y n
fictionalized family history, also published as The Savage Land, mine Courier of Maine reprint

Before the Conquerors: a Modern Adventure in the Land of the Incas 1935 (fiction) 1935 f b DoddMead y

consider to web

Book of the Sailboat, The: How to Rig, Sail and Handle Small Boats 1916 1916 n b Appleton y

Book of Camping 1917 1917 n b Knopf n Camping

Book of The Motor-Boat The 1916 1916 n b

Book of the West Indies, The 1917 Web Available 1917 n b Dutton y WIndies

Boy Adventurers In The Forbidden Land, The 1922 1922 f b Putman y

Boy Adventurers In the Land of the Monkey Men, The 1923 1923 f b Putman y
BA Monkey

Boy Adventurers In The Land Of El Dorado, The 1923 1923 f b Putman y

Boy Adventurers In The Unknown Land, The 1924


Boys' Book of Buccaneers The 1923 (fiction) 1924 n b DoddMead y

Boys' book of Carpentry, The 1915


Boys Book of Whalers 1922 1922 n b DoddMead n BBWhal

Boy Collector’s Handbook The 1915 1915 n b McBride y

Boys Outdoor Vacation Book. The 1915


Bridge of Light The 1950 (first was pulp Amazing Stories Quarterly 1929 Fall then a book) 1929 f b AS y n n first was pulp Amazing Stories Quarterly 1929 Fall then a book, own two book vsn.

Carib Gold 1938 (fiction) (see also Treasure of Bloody Gut, same book retitled) 1938 f b Childrens y

Cruise of the Cormorant 1915


Cuba of Today 1931 1931 n b DoddMead n Cuba

Cuba Past and Present 1914 1914 n b DoddMead n CubaPast

Deep Sea Hunters in the Frozen Seas 1923 (Juvenile)


Deep Sea Hunters In The South Seas 1924


Deep Sea Hunters Adventures on a Whaler, The 1922 1922 f b Appleton y

Exterminator, The
f m AS y

in book 100 astounding little Alien Stories

Foods America Gave the World 1937 1937 n b Page y Foods
w dj

Gasoline Engine Book for Boys 1930


Gasolene Engines Their operation, use and care The Norman W. Henley Publishing Company., 1912 1912 n b Henley n Gasoline

Getting together with Latin America 1918 Web Available 1918 n b Dutton n Getting

Golden City, The 1916 f b Duffield y

consider to web

Great Conquerors of South and Central America 1929 1929 n b Appleton y

New Home Library Edition

Harper's Aircraft Book, Why Aeroplanes Fly, How to Make Models, And All About Aircraft, Little and Big 1913 1913 n b Harpers y HAircraft

Harper's Book for Young Gardeners 1914 1914 n b Harpers y

Harper's Book for Young Naturalists 1913 1913 n b Harpers n HYungNat

Harper’s Gasoline Engine Book 1914 n b Harpers y

Harper's Wireless Book/ How to Use Electricity in Telegraphing, Telephoning, and the Transmission of Power 1913 1913 n b Harpers y HWire

Heart of Old New England, The 1936


Home Radio, The: Up to Date. How to Make and Use It 1922 – a bestselling book on radio in Canada in 1922 according to Listening in: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting, 1922-1932 By Mary Vipond. 1922 n b Harpers y HomeRadio
– a bestselling book on radio in Canada in 1922 according to Listening in: The First Decade of Canadian Broadcasting, 1922-1932 By Mary Vipond.

How to Operate a Motor Car 1918


In Morgans Wake 1915 1915 f b Holt y

In the Wake of the Buccaneers 1923 (Childrens)see the universal digital library for HTML copy 1923 f b Century y

Incas Treasure House, The 1936 (fiction) Herrap (UK) 1936 f b Harrap y

Inquisition, The 1931 1931 n b Appleton y

Islands & Their Mysteries 1920 Web Available 1920 n b Duffield y Islands

Isles of Spice and Palm 1915 1915 n b Appleton y Isles

Jamaica of today 1931


Jungle Chums; A Story Of A Boy's Adventures In British Guiana 1916 (Juvenile) 1916 f b Holt y

Knots, Splices and Rope Work 1912 1912 n b


Lost Treasure: True Tales of Hidden Hoards. 1930


Love Stories Of Some Famous Pirates 1924 1924 n b Collins y

Marooned in the Forest: The Story of a Primitive Fight for Life 1916 (fiction) 1916 f b Harpers y

Minerals, metals and gems 1939 1939 n b Page y

Grosset Edition

My Jungle Trails 1937 1937 n b Harrap y

Ocean and its Mysteries The 1916 1916 n b Duffield
Ocean Myst

Old Civilizations in the New World 1929 Web Available 1929 n b Bobbs y Old

Our Indians: The Story of the Indians of The United States 1935


Panama Of Today 1927


Panama Past and Present 1921 1921 n b DoddMead n Panama

Peter, a Pet Woodchuck 1915 n a

from Pets for Pleasure and Profit, in Dinty the Porcupine

Pets for Pleasure and Profit 1915


Perfumes and Spices: Including an Account of Soaps and Cosmetics 1940 1940 n b Page y

Porto Rico past and present and San Domingo of today 1914


Radio for Amateurs 1922 – This book appears to be the initiating book to ‘Radio Amateurs Handbook’, the bible for ‘ham’ radio.


Radio Detectives In The Jungle, The 1922 Appleton 1922 f b Appleton y
RD Jungle #4 of 4, our web

Radio Detectives The (Childrens series) 1922 (juvenile fiction)


Radio Detectives Southward Bound 1922 1922 f b Appleton y

Radio Detectives under the Sea, The 1922


Real Americans, The 1954


Real Story of the Pirate, The 1923 1923 n b Appleton y

Real Story of the Whaler 1916


Rivers and Their Mysteries 1922 1922 n b Duffield n Rivers

Romantic and historic Florida 1935


Romantic and historic Maine 1933 (Maine Folk Tales)


Romantic and historic Virginia 1935


Savage Land, The 1955 f b Panther y

Republished vsn of Barton's Mills

Secret Treasure: Hidden Riches of the British Isles - 1931


Shell collector's handbook 1950 1950 n b Putman y

Smugglers and Smuggling - 1924 1924 n b Duffield y

South and Central American trade conditions of to day. 1914 1914 n b DoddMead y

mine 1919 updated

Strange Animals and their stories. Animals in armor. The land of Marsupials. Topsyturvy creatures. Behemoths of Scripture. Giants who took to the sea. Camels of the Andes. The strangest animal of all. 1939 1939 n b Page y

mine Grosset edition w dj

Strange birds and their stories. Mysteries of bird life. Migrations. Nesting habits. Birds of beaches and deserts. Winged jewels. Clowns of birddom. Valuable birds. Bird law courts. Bird communists. Flightless birds 1938


Strange creatures of the sea 1955


Strange Customs, Manners, and Beliefs: A Remarkable Account of Curious Beliefs and Odd Superstitions, Strange Ways of Living, and Amazing Customs and 1946 1946 n b Page y

w dj

Strange Fish and Their Stories 1938


Strange Insects and Their Stories 1937 1937 n b page y

mine Grosset edition

Strange prehistoric animals and their stories... 1948


Strange Reptiles And Their Stories 1937 1937 n b Page y

Strange Sea Shells and their stories. How they are made and grow. How they are colored and the patterns produced. Rare shells. Shells that build a raft. Shells that bore in rocks. Giant shells. The shell that sinks ships, etc., etc. 1936


Strange Story of our Earth, The; a panorama of the growth of our planet as revealed by the sciences of geology and paleontology. 1952


They Found Gold; the story of successful treasure hunts. 1936 1936 n b Putman n Gold n republished 1972

Thirty years in the jungle 1929 1929 n b Bodley y

Trail of the Cloven Foot, The 1918 1918 f b Dutton y

Trail of the White Indians 1920 This is the sequel of Trail of the Cloven Foot, not bad, this takes place in Columbia and is mostly about trouble with the German’s and a U-Boat during the World War 1. 1920 f b Dutton y

sequel to Trail of the Cloven Foot

Treasure of Bloody Gut, The 1937 (Juvenile Fiction) (see Carib Gold, same book retitled) 1937 f b Putman y

Carib Gold 1938 (fiction) (see also Treasure of Bloody Gut, same book retitled)

Uncle Abner's Legacy 1915 (Juvenile) 1915 f b Holt y

Under Peruvian Skies 1930 1930 n b Hurst y

West Indies of Today 1931


When the Moon Ran Wild (serial) UK Paperback 1962 (Ray Ainsbury) Amazing Quarterly 1931 Winter 1931 f m AS y
When as paperback UK Book and magazine AS

Wonder Creatures of the Sea 1940 n b Appleton n WonSea

Wonder Plants and Plant Wonders 1939 1939 n b Appleton y n n

Young Collector's Handbook, The


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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.