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The Sea and the Jungle by H. M. Tomlinson

The Sea and the Jungle (1912)

by H. M. Tomlinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In the fall of 1909, Tomlinson "chucked" his job at a London newspaper and signed on to the crew of the steamship Capella as purser. The ship was bound for the upper Amazon bearing a load of coal to the men building a railroad in the interior of the continent. This is his account of that journey, first published in 1912. In the beginning, I found The Sea and the Jungle a bit slow but once I became accustomed to Tomlinson's style the book picked up and I enjoyed the journey. He sprinkles his account with tales (some of the tall variety) told by his shipmates and later those told by some of the people he met after reaching the Amazon. This was worth reading for both his descriptions of life at sea and of the Amazon region as it was a hundred years ago.
  hailelib | Jan 30, 2016 |
A travel book unlike any other I've read. It describes the route of a cargo ship, a steamer that in 1909 carried a load of Welsh coal from Swansea to Pará, Brazil and then up the Amazon river and a small tributary to a site near the San Antonio Falls where it sat "in port" for a month while inspections were made and cargo unloaded. The return trip went via Barbados, past Jamaica and landed at Tampa, FL from where our narrator caught a train to New York and made his final way home. He's actually not much of a figure in the story itself- mostly an observer. It begins rather abruptly when Tomlinson is on his way to work, feeling bitterly oppressed by the daily grind, and stops to have conversation with a sailor on the street. This man invites him to take passage on the cargo steamer (it being short a few hands) and our narrator pretty much ditches his job, family and responsibilities in an instant to go along. From there the book is all about the journey. I liked reading it, but the descriptions can be so dense it's hard to keep track of what you're reading about sometimes. The author has interesting insights and musing to share about everything he witnesses. The few momentous events seem to occur to other people, and there are a number of tall tales and travel stories told by other people met along the way. It really does give you a vivid sense of place, the pitch and roll of the ocean, smothering heat inside the belly of the ship, characters of the deckhands (most did not speak English), the changes of weather, the sudden wall of greenery of South American jungle, glimpses of native people, birds and astonishingly gorgeous butterflies, fears of mosquitoes and disease, and a crazy story about this railroad being built deep in the rain forest headed who knows where.

Certain aspects of the book reminded me vividly of The Lord of the Flies, Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary and State of Wonder but it's hard to put my finger on exactly why.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
1 vote jeane | Apr 18, 2015 |
Never having heard of H.M. Tomlinson, and never having read a travel book, it was Time Life's meager introduction which compelled me to purchase this volume for 75 cents. I both liked that it took place mostly on a ship, the Capella, and that the Amazon was visited.

The prose of Tomlinson was not at all that which I had expected it to be. I don't understand why he isn't more recognized. His writing is hauntingly poetic, eloquent, and descriptively detailed. He is never boring. His personality, his most intimate thoughts, his humor, are all offered to us. He gives us the illusion that he holds nothing back from us, hides nothing.

Here is an audio sample of his prose:


I admire Tomlinson's rebellious spirit, which was an Orwellian (Orwell wouldn't write 1984 for another 39 years) result born of his eyes being opened to the chains of modernity. I can't help but notice that Tomlinson was ready to reemerge into society with a new spirit, after having been witness to the desolation of peril-haunted equatorial forests.

He often relates to us that he felt as if within the Amazonian foliage something dark and sinister and nameless sat in wait; that it could afford to wait, being timeless. He sees the building of the railway as futile, but praises the men who carelessly sacrifice their lives in the joint endeavor.

Back in England, Tomlinson notes that the trees seem as toys to him; all greenery seems blunted in contrast to the swelling Jungle.

I felt that Tomlinson was a very empathetic man—he tells us much of animals, and their treatment. Many had "pitiful ends". He tells us too of the "pitiful ends" of many of the workers who had been duped into coming to the Amazon by "the Company". It's postmodernist puerility to think that the cruelties Tomlinson reveals to us are a thing of the past. Horror goes on daily; and unlike many 'evil philosophies', I believe they are collective horrors. It is a defensive mechanism which supposes that the world is not tragic, that tragedy can only happen individually—that the holocaust was no more significant than the event of a single Jew being tortured by the Nazi doctors. I believe that this is the reason why Nietzsche's mind snapped at the moment he saw the old horse being beaten in the street; the reason Tomlinson saw himself reflected in the terror filled suffering eyes of the mortally wounded monkey which was to be dinner. Tomlinson was a Darwinian evolutionist, but no materialist, which explains the despairing beauty of his prose. ( )
  endersreads | Jan 26, 2011 |
4533. The Sea and the Jungle, by H. M. Tomlinson (read 8 Feb 2009) This book was published in 1912 and is Tomlinson's first book. It tells of a trip he made on a steamer, the Capella, from Swansea, Devon, to Porto Vello, on the Madeira River (a tributary of the Amazon), Brazil. He tells of his rather exciting ocean voyage and then of the trip up the Amazon and his adventures on land. It seems like a trip much more fun to read about than to take--especially in 1909-1910, before refrigeration and insect repellant. The writing style is a bit ponderous and I cannot say I was enthralled while reading the book. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 8, 2009 |
I picked up H. M. Tomlinson's The Sea and the Jungle at a booksale on a whim. I didn't know anything about it, but the cover looked interesting and it smelled nice. It is a travel narrative published in 1912 of Tomlinson's trip to the Amazon Basin, "Swansea and Pará of the Brazils," and a few other places as well.

It was quite an engaging read at first. Tomlinson is a sarcastic, slightly humorous, stoic writer who doesn't believe in God but does believe in some mysterious unnameable "Providence." The writing is very sound, though sometimes elliptical. I did enjoy the poetic feel of some passages very much; for example, this description of the ship's wake dazzled me: "Straight beneath the rail the wake is an upheaval of gems, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds, always instantly melting in the sun, always fusing and fleeting in swift coils of malachite and chrysoprase, but never gone." I could just see the many-colored gems of the water tumbling over one another behind the ship...

Tomlinson openly compares his adventures to those of other travel writers of the times with an eye for the humorous and realistic. And his descriptions of the chains of everyday life... it could be seriously depressing if you dwell on it too much! His dedication is delightfully nasty: "DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO DID NOT GO." Nice!

I did get bogged down in the second half of the book. His descriptions and musings on the jungle can be quite densely lengthy at times, though I suppose that is the way the reader is supposed to feel. It was something of an effort to finish the book though. In the end you're comforted to see how much he longs for home... he can't despise us untravelled folk too much if he wants to get home so desperately, can he?

It's a humorous, poetic, cynical, wry, epic, and hardheaded book. Recommended. ( )
2 vote atimco | Nov 12, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. M. Tomlinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Connell, Evan S.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keith, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palmer, GarrickIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pritchett, V SIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedicated to those who did not go.
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Though it is easier, and perhaps far better, not to begin at all, yet if a beginning is made it is there that most care is needed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Suppose you were a quiet, respectable, sedentary business or professional man, and the captain of a tramp steamer bound to South America and up the Amazon suddenly dropped into your peaceful office, invited you to go along with him, got your acceptance by a clever trick, and had you at sea before you could stop to think-wouldn't you expect to find 'something doing'?" Thus begins this classic of travel literature, in which a London journalist sets sail for Brazil and traverses 2,000 miles of wilderness. Part diary and part adventure story, H. M. Tomlinson's eloquent and hauntingly poetic account of his first ocean voyage also constitutes a report on the first successful ascent of the Amazon River and its tributary, the Madeira, by an English steamer.… (more)

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