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[The following passage from the diary of Capt Dawson, father of the British historian Christopher Dawson (18891970), shows a literary power of description well beyond an ordinary soldier’s account of a military mission. Though he never saw combat, Dawson’s army career led him from Jamaica to Cuba and Havana, and to more wild and distant places such as the high passes of the Andes leading to Quito. The ‘paramo,’ mentioned below, refers to the high treeless plateau in tropical South America.]

It is a place utterly destitute of beauty and terrible in its desolation. Up the whole of the steep ascent, the skeletons of horses and other animals and human skulls covered the ground; to the right, the range shot up into rocky crags; high above to the left, appearing here and there through the clouds, were the snowfields of Chimborazo, while all around stretched the bare inhospitable paramo, all rock, sand and coarse grass, everlastingly swept by the icy wind that has proved fatal to so many travellers. The white swirling mists that eddied up through the valleys behind us, shutting out all view of the inhabited world and winding shroudlike over the skeleton covered slope increased a hundred fold the wildness of a scene that would well have suited the approach to Hades.

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