Welcome to Part Five of our current Tale for Our Time: a summer audio entertainment by Jack London, Burning Daylight. As I've mentioned, this yarn is not "about" the Great White North, but it contains some of London's all-time best Northern writing. In tonight's episode, this passage was an absolute pleasure to read:
As if through a wall, Daylight had passed from the hum and roar of the Tivoli into another world—a world of silence and immobility. Nothing stirred. The Yukon slept under a coat of ice three feet thick. No breath of wind blew. Nor did the sap move in the hearts of the spruce trees that forested the river banks on either hand. The trees, burdened with the last infinitesimal pennyweight of snow their branches could hold, stood in absolute petrifaction. The slightest tremor would have dislodged the snow, and no snow was dislodged. The sled was the one point of life and motion in the midst of the solemn quietude, and the harsh churn of its runners but emphasized the silence through which it moved.
It was a dead world, and furthermore, a gray world. The weather was sharp and clear; there was no moisture in the atmosphere, no fog nor haze; yet the sky was a gray pall. The reason for this was that, though there was no cloud in the sky to dim the brightness of day, there was no sun to give brightness. Far to the south the sun climbed steadily to meridian, but between it and the frozen Yukon intervened the bulge of the earth. The Yukon lay in a night shadow, and the day itself was in reality a long twilight-light. At a quarter before twelve, where a wide bend of the river gave a long vista south, the sun showed its upper rim above the sky-line. But it did not rise perpendicularly. Instead, it rose on a slant, so that by high noon it had barely lifted its lower rim clear of the horizon. It was a dim, wan sun. There was no heat to its rays, and a man could gaze squarely into the full orb of it without hurt to his eyes. No sooner had it reached meridian than it began its slant back beneath the horizon, and at quarter past twelve the earth threw its shadow again over the land.
Jack London on tip-top form there. Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part Five of our adventure simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes of Burning Daylight can be found here, and previous Tales for Our Time here.
Yesterday's episode featured a Klondiker who "titubated" across the barroom floor to greet Daylight, and, as it's not a word I hear often in 2021, I provided a brief explanation. Robert, a First Fortnight Founding Member from Ottawa, begged to differ:
Isn't titubating derived from a character in The Crucible?
I wasn't entirely sure how serious a question that was. Obviously, Jack London didn't derive "titubating" from The Crucible, because Arthur Miller didn't write the play until forty-three years after London wrote his novel. But Miller's Tituba is based on the real-life Tituba, a lady of Barbadian origin and the first woman to be accused of sorcery during the 1692 Salem witch trials. And Jack London could have been familiar with Tituba from Longfellow and various other cultural representations.
So it occurred to me that Tituba and titubation could conceivably be connected. Titubation comes from the Latin titubare - to totter - and most dictionaries date its emergence in English to the mid-seventeenth century, or just before Tituba showed up in Massachusetts.
Yet there appears to be no link whatsoever between the two. And now I regret even letting Robert introduce the thought - because my brief riffle through The Crucible after many years reminded me (especially after the Jack London passage above) just what a stinker of a writer Arthur Miller is.
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Please join me tomorrow evening for Part Six of Burning Daylight.
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