I was reading a Patricia Cornwell thriller a few weeks back and blinked when I saw these words in a passage about forensic investigation (the novelâ€™s plot revolves around the murderous release of a smallpox-related virus): â€œthe historian McNeill wrote about the interaction of micro and macro parasites. . . .â€œ (in his famous Plagues and Peoples).
I found myself describing this to a friend as placing Bill McNeill, with whom Iâ€™ve had the pleasure and honor of working with for over 10 years now, in the sphere of other great authors in history, as one might say, â€œthe poet Wordsworth,â€ for example. In a fascinating bit of synchronicity I found that Bill McNeillâ€™s son, J.R. McNeill (the other historian McNeill, in fact, author of Something New Under the Sun and a forthcoming book on yellow fever), has a passage from Wordsworth in his email signature:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
–William Wordsworth, 1806