A while ago a friend lent me a tattered copy of J.W. Buel’s The World’s Unknown, which is an 1898 compilation of sensational articles he wrote for Leslie’s Magazine.
After the lovely etching and photogravure and florid prose, I was struck by the pull quote device (is there a technical term for these?) used throughout, to whit: These crazy snapshots basically tell the whole story and they are, out of context, both ridiculous and terrifying. There’s a game in there somewhere and I’m staking my claim!
As a fan of cannibalism in general, I’m always keen for a good anthropophagy apologia, and The World’s Unknown does not disappoint. Here’s Buel’s exposition on the Greeley disaster – the pull quote is BREAKING HUNGER ON THE BODIES OF THEIR COMRADES. Man, I wish I could write like this!
“No one is able to decide what desperate resources should be availed of in dire extremity. There are recorded in the pages of history such extraordinary experiences in efforts to stay the ravages of starvation that, though we may recoil with disgust at such loathsome practices, we are none the better prepared to declare that under similar circumstances we should have been more circumspect or humane. The eating of snakes, bugs, worms, and reptiles of every species has frequently occurred, all shocking enough to our well-fed senses, but these must be forgotten in the recollection of well-authenticated cases which we have of cannibalism.
An English officer, during a successful campaign in the east, many years ago, expressed a wish for a well-cooked boar’s head. On the following day his table was graced with what was represented to him as a native dish of the food that he desired, prepared with especial care by one of the most noted cooks in India. The officer ate with unusual relish, not neglecting to bestow most extravagant praise on the manner of cooking, and begged that the recipe for preparing boar’s head might be given him. The reader may imagine his horror when the Englishman afterward received incontestable proof that he had dined on a slave’s head, who had been killed for the purpose, instead of a boar, no such animal being known in that country.
It is, therefore, a loathsome thought, rather than any disagreeable in taste, which makes the very heart sick in contemplating a repast on human flesh. Who can say that this disgust is not banished by overpowering hunger, like mirages of crystal waters rise before the vision of those suffering from thirst?
Is it really a matter of wonder that the party, cast away and lost among the ice-crags and pitiless snows of a perpetual wilderness; freezing, starving, dying, with minds distorted by acute suffering, where all nature howled a requiem of despair, and desolation swept round their tattered tents like a ghoul hunting for victims; is it wonderful that, under such desperate circumstances, the surviving members of the party should relieve their famine on the pulseless bodies of those lying under the snow? Self-preservation being, in truth, the first law of nature, every one must answer “No.”
The sense of shame — civilization’s enduring mark — did not abandon these brave men even in the last hour of their dreadful trial, for as hunger drove them to break their fast upon their dead comrades, they waited until the still watches of night and crept in half-bent attitudes to where the bodies lay; then scraping back nature’s winding-sheet, they began the butchery. From arms, legs, and bodies the pale flesh was stripped with keen blades and devoured as only starving men can devour; but that, for grace, god was asked to look down with pity and forgiveness, we cannot doubt. Let us draw a veil of charity over this sad and wretched scene.”