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“The historian McNeill,” Patricia Cornwell, and William Wordsworth

PatriciaCornwell_thehistorianMcNeillI was reading a Patricia Cornwell thriller a few weeks back and blinked when I saw these words in a passage about forensic investigation (the novel’s plot revolves around the murderous release of a smallpox-related virus): “the historian McNeill wrote about the interaction of micro and macro parasites. . . .“ (in his famous Plagues and Peoples).

I found myself describing this to a friend as placing Bill McNeill, with whom I’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, “the poet Wordsworth,” for example. In a fascinating bit of synchronicity I found that Bill McNeill’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

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