by David Stuart
From time to time some small interesting item from the early days of Maya archaeology catches my eye. For example, I recently came across Edgar Allen Poe’s brief review of John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan (1839), from an 1841 issue of Graham’s Magazine. Poe chided Stephens for having mistranslated a couple of lines of Hebrew in his earlier book on Egypt and Arabia, but he had kind things to say about the new work, even though he hadn’t even read it yet(?!):
We are not prepared to say that misunderstandings of this character will be found in the present “Incidents of Travel.” Of Central America and her antiquities Mr. Stephens may know, and no doubt does know, as much as the most learned antiquarian. Here all is darkness. We have not yet received from the Messieurs Harper a copy of the book, and can only speak of its merits from general report and from the cursory perusal which has been afforded us by the politeness of a friend. The work is certainly a magnificent one — perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published. An idea has gone abroad that the narrative is confined to descriptions and drawings of Palenque; but this is very far from the case. Mr. S. explored no less than six ruined cities. The “incidents,” moreover, are numerous and highly amusing. The traveller visited these regions at a momentous time, during the civil war, in which Carrera and Morazan were participants. He encountered many dangers, and his hair-breadth escapes are particularly exciting.