19 June 2013

Reverend Kerby Comes Upon a Blazing Bosom

Being the last of three posts on George W. Kerby's The Broken Trail.
I think I've been more than fair with Rev Kerby, accepting his stories while others, like Kenneth B. Leyton-Brown, question their veracity. I won't be so gentle here.

Rev Kerby's last tale, "The Outcast", is the shortest; there's not much to tell. Solly,  "a well-built, clean-shaven Hebrew" tells the pastor of a cabin on the outskirts of town in which a young woman named Esther lies dying. And then she does. Never mind. The important thing is that Rev Kerby was there to comfort and guide during Esther's final hours. "Her soul was struggling in the vortex of incredible sorrow", he writes. "The fires of hell were ablaze in her bosom."

The inferno's origin is explained in this exchange with able-bodied Solly:
     "She is your wife, I suppose?"
     "Nay, sir," he replied, raising his heavy eyebrows, and with a look of surprise. "She is my luve."
     "Your love?" I repeated. "You mean — "
     "My luve," he again interjected, and there was a slight agitation in. his manner. "I've luved her for four years."
     " Four years — not so bad, sir, for a Hebrew..."
Yep, not so bad. But the pastor believes he's found further fuel feeding the raging breast fire in another visitor, "a woman of prepossessing appearance":
She bowed gracefully and shook hands with both of us. "This is her friend," he continued. "She don't talk much English," and forthwith they began an animated conversation in French.
     I observed her very closely. She was elaborately made up with paint and powder, and was heavily perfumed with parme violets. Almost immediately the awful conviction dawned on me that the bundle of humanity in the comer was a unit in the vast army of degraded and blighted womanhood.
One of two things we learn of Rev Kerby's character through this book is that he was quick to judge. His consideration of Solly serves as an example of the second:

Yes, not even for a Hebrew.

Hollander Wilbur Wolfendon, whose "physical prowess was the primal glory of the race", and  Solly, forever "gesticulating wildly after the manner of his race", are the two ends of a thread of racism that runs through Rev Kerby's book. Lest I be judged too quick to judge, consider this passage in which the author sets down his thoughts on immigration:
These men and women coming to us, so different in language, customs and ideals, constitute one of the most serious of our national problems. But the initial, experimental stage has already passed, and the immigrants from the northern countries of Europe have so readily adapted themselves to our conditions, and so easily assimilated our ideas, that we have nowhere in the empire a more contented, thrifty and patriotic people, and none more worthy of the privileges of citizenship.
     On the other hand, we have to reckon with a very grave peril in receiving the ignorant and inefficient — the lazzaroni from the slums of Southern Europe, born to be seekers for a soft job, preferring to extort money rather than to work for it, and forever sowing the seeds of anarchy and moral degeneracy, and who breed crime, disease and death wherever they go.
I don't see that The Broken Trail features any anarchist immigrants. Moral degenerates? I suppose in Rev Kerby's eyes that would be Solly, Esther and Ernest Cashel (the sweet-smelling, prepossessing prostitute might count, but I'm betting she's from Quebec and not an immigrant). Crime? Well, that would be Ernest and Esther (providing the pastor is correct in assuming her to be a fallen woman). Disease? What's Esther dying from anyway? We're never told. Death? Easy – Ernest killed a man.

The thing is that Ernest, Esther and Solly weren't from Southern Europe, but the United States.

In the end, The Broken Trail proves itself a degraded book, a blighted book... but it is prepossessing.

Object: An 189-page hardcover with seven plates by A.M.  Wickson. My copy, bought last January at London bookstore – price: $6 – once belonged to G.H. Millar of Thorold, Ontario. I've not been able to find anything about Mr Millar beyond the fact that he was a Mason. I like to think that he was in some way related to Kenneth Millar.

Access: Held by most of our better universities and colleges, including Mount Royal University (né College), at which Kerby served as principal. The fine folk of Toronto, Edmonton and, of course, Calgary are also in luck. While the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec has a copy, Library and Archives Canada does not.

The Broken Trail enjoyed two separate editions – in 1909 and 1910 – both published by William Briggs. I've not seen the second, so can't speak to whether there are any differences in text.

Ten copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price between US$8.60 (Very Good second edition) to US$82.50 (Very Good inscribed first edition). Those looking to add a copy to their collections are advised to keep in mind that Rev Kerby not only had a flock, but headed a college – of those ten copies, three are signed. Rest assured there are plenty more out there.

Being in the public domain, the print on demand vultures are apickin'. For C$25.39, Nabu Press offers an edition that is graced with a lovely image of sailboats on what all Canadians will recognize as the Great Alberta Sea.

Don't get me started on E-Books Delivery Service, which for US$9.99 will happily email you pdf download instructions for something available gratis through the Internet Archive.

You can download it for free here.

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