The Book of the Damned Part 12/
The Book of the Damned Part 12
But what went up, from one place, in a whirlwind? Of course, our Intermediatist acceptance is that had this been the strangest substance conceivable, from the strangest other world that could be thought of; somewhere upon this earth there must be a substance similar to it, or from which it would, at least subjectively, or according to description, not be easily distinguishable. Or that everything in New York City is only another degree or aspect of something, or combination of things, in a village of Central Africa. The novel is a challenge to vulgarization: write something that looks new to you: someone will point out that the thrice-accursed Greeks said it long ago. Existence is Appet.i.te: the gnaw of being; the one attempt of all things to a.s.similate all other things, if they have not surrendered and submitted to some higher attempt. It was cosmic that these scientists, who had surrendered to and submitted to the Scientific System, should, consistently with the principles of that system, attempt to a.s.similate the substance that fell at Memel with some known terrestrial product. At the meeting of the Royal Irish Academy it was brought out that there is a substance, of rather rare occurrence, that has been known to form in thin sheets upon marsh land.
It looks like greenish felt.
The substance of Memel:
Damp, coal-black, leafy ma.s.s.
But, if broken up, the marsh-substance is flake-like, and it tears fibrously.
An elephant can be identified as a sunflower--both have long stems. A camel is indistinguishable from a peanut--if only their humps be considered.
Trouble with this book is that we'll end up a lot of intellectual roues: we'll be incapable of being astonished with anything. We knew, to start with, that science and imbecility are continuous; nevertheless so many expressions of the merging-point are at first startling. We did think that Prof. Hitchc.o.c.k's performance in identifying the Amherst phenomenon as a fungus was rather notable as scientific vaudeville, if we acquit him of the charge of seriousness--or that, in a place where fungi were so common that, before a given evening two of them sprang up, only he, a stranger in this very fungiferous place, knew a fungus when he saw something like a fungus--if we disregard its quick liquefaction, for instance. It was only a monologue, however: now we have an all-star cast: and they're not only Irish; they're royal Irish.
The royal Irishmen excluded "coal-blackness" and included fibrousness: so then that this substance was "marsh paper," which "had been raised into the air by storms of wind, and had again fallen."
It was said that, according to M. Ehrenberg, "the meteor-paper was found to consist partly of vegetable matter, chiefly of conifervae."
Meeting of the royal Irishmen: chairs, tables, Irishmen:
Some flakes of marsh-paper were exhibited.
Their composition was chiefly of conifervae.
This was a double inclusion: or it's the method of agreement that logicians make so much of. So no logician would be satisfied with identifying a peanut as a camel, because both have humps: he demands accessory agreement--that both can live a long time without water, for instance.
Now, it's not so very unreasonable, at least to the free and easy vaudeville standards that, throughout this book, we are considering, to think that a green substance could be s.n.a.t.c.hed up from one place in a whirlwind, and fall as a black substance somewhere else: but the royal Irishmen excluded something else, and it is a datum that was as accessible to them as it is to me:
That, according to Chladni, this was no little, local deposition that was seen to occur by some indefinite person living near a pond somewhere.
It was a tremendous fall from a vast sky-area.
Likely enough all the marsh paper in the world could not have supplied it.
At the same time, this substance was falling "in great quant.i.ties," in Norway and Pomerania. Or see Kirkwood, _Meteoric Astronomy_, p. 66:
"Substance like charred paper fell in Norway and other parts of northern Europe, Jan. 31, 1686."
Or a whirlwind, with a distribution as wide as that, would not acceptably, I should say, have so specialized in the rare substance called "marsh paper." There'd have been falls of fence rails, roofs of houses, parts of trees. Nothing is said of the occurrence of a tornado in northern Europe, in January, 1686. There is record only of this one substance having fallen in various places.
Time went on, but the conventional determination to exclude data of all falls to this earth, except of substances of this earth, and of ordinary meteoric matter, strengthened.
_Annals of Philosophy_, 16-68:
The substance that fell in January, 1686, is described as "a ma.s.s of black leaves, having the appearance of burnt paper, but harder, and cohering, and brittle."
"Marsh paper" is not mentioned, and there is nothing said of the "conifervae," which seemed so convincing to the royal Irishmen. Vegetable composition is disregarded, quite as it might be by someone who might find it convenient to identify a crook-necked squash as a big fishhook.
Meteorites are usually covered with a black crust, more or less scale-like. The substance of 1686 is black and scale-like. If so be convenience, "leaf-likeness" is "scale-likeness." In this attempt to a.s.similate with the conventional, we are told that the substance is a mineral ma.s.s: that it is like the black scales that cover meteorites.
The scientist who made this "identification" was Von Grotthus. He had appealed to the G.o.d Chemical a.n.a.lysis. Or the power and glory of mankind--with which we're not always so impressed--but the G.o.ds must tell us what we want them to tell us. We see again that, though nothing has ident.i.ty of its own, anything can be "identified" as anything. Or there's nothing that's not reasonable, if one snoopeth not into its exclusions. But here the conflict did not end. Berzelius examined the substance. He could not find nickel in it. At that time, the presence of nickel was the "positive" test of meteoritic matter. Whereupon, with a supposit.i.tious "positive" standard of judgment against him, Von Grotthus revoked his "identification." (_Annals and Mag. of Nat. Hist._, 1-3-185.)
This equalization of eminences permits us to project with our own expression, which, otherwise, would be subdued into invisibility:
That it's too bad that no one ever looked to see--hieroglyphics?--something written upon these sheets of paper?
If we have no very great variety of substances that have fallen to this earth; if, upon this earth's surface there is infinite variety of substances detachable by whirlwinds, two falls of such a rare substance as marsh paper would be remarkable.
A writer in the _Edinburgh Review_, 87-194, says that, at the time of writing, he had before him a portion of a sheet of 200 square feet, of a substance that had fallen at Carolath, Silesia, in 1839--exactly similar to cotton-felt, of which clothing might have been made. The G.o.d Microscopic Examination had spoken. The substance consisted chiefly of conifervae.
_Jour. Asiatic Soc. of Bengal_, 1847-pt. 1-193:
That March 16, 1846--about the time of a fall of edible substance in Asia Minor--an olive-gray powder fell at Shanghai. Under the microscope, it was seen to be an aggregation of hairs of two kinds, black ones and rather thick white ones. They were supposed to be mineral fibers, but, when burned, they gave out "the common ammoniacal smell and smoke of burnt hair or feathers." The writer described the phenomenon as "a cloud of 3800 square miles of fibers, alkali, and sand." In a postscript, he says that other investigators, with more powerful microscopes, gave opinion that the fibers were not hairs; that the substance consisted chiefly of conifervae.
Or the pathos of it, perhaps; or the dull and uninspired, but courageous persistence of the scientific: everything seemingly found out is doomed to be subverted--by more powerful microscopes and telescopes; by more refined, precise, searching means and methods--the new p.r.o.nouncements irrepressibly bobbing up; their reception always as Truth at last; always the illusion of the final; very little of the Intermediatist spirit--
That the new that has displaced the old will itself some day be displaced; that it, too, will be recognized as myth-stuff--
But that if phantoms climb, spooks of ladders are good enough for them.
_Annual Register_, 1821-681:
That, according to a report by M. Laine, French Consul at Pernambuco, early in October, 1821, there was a shower of a substance resembling silk. The quant.i.ty was as tremendous as might be a whole cargo, lost somewhere between Jupiter and Mars, having drifted around perhaps for centuries, the original fabrics slowly disintegrating. In _Annales de Chimie_, 2-15-427, it is said that samples of this substance were sent to France by M. Laine, and that they proved to have some resemblances to silky filaments which, at certain times of the year, are carried by the wind near Paris.
In the _Annals of Philosophy_, n.s., 12-93, there is mention of a fibrous substance like blue silk that fell near Naumberg, March 23, 1665. According to Chladni (_Annales de Chimie_, 2-31-264), the quant.i.ty was great. He places a question mark before the date.
One of the advantages of Intermediatism is that, in the oneness of quasiness, there can be no mixed metaphors. Whatever is acceptable of anything, is, in some degree or aspect, acceptable of everything. So it is quite proper to speak, for instance, of something that is as firm as a rock and that sails in a majestic march. The Irish are good monists: they have of course been laughed at for their keener perceptions. So it's a book we're writing, or it's a procession, or it's a museum, with the Chamber of Horrors rather over-emphasized. A rather horrible correlation occurs in the _Scientific American_, 1859-178. What interests us is that a correspondent saw a silky substance fall from the sky--there was an aurora borealis at the time--he attributes the substance to the aurora.
Since the time of Darwin, the cla.s.sic explanation has been that all silky substances that fall from the sky are spider webs. In 1832, aboard the _Beagle_, at the mouth of La Plata River, 60 miles from land, Darwin saw an enormous number of spiders, of the kind usually known as "gossamer" spiders, little aeronauts that cast out filaments by which the wind carries them.
It's difficult to express that silky substances that have fallen to this earth were not spider webs. My own acceptance is that spider webs are the merger; that there have been falls of an externally derived silky substance, and also of the webs, or strands, rather, of aeronautic spiders indigenous to this earth; that in some instances it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. Of course, our expression upon silky substances will merge away into expressions upon other seeming textile substances, and I don't know how much better off we'll be--
Except that, if fabricable materials have fallen from the sky--
Simply to establish acceptance of that may be doing well enough in this book of first and tentative explorations.
In _All the Year Round_, 8-254, is described a fall that took place in England, Sept. 21, 1741, in the towns of Bradly, Selborne, and Alresford, and in a triangular s.p.a.ce included by these three towns. The substance is described as "cobwebs"--but it fell in flake-formation, or in "flakes or rags about one inch broad and five or six inches long."
Also these flakes were of a relatively heavy substance--"they fell with some velocity." The quant.i.ty was great--the shortest side of the triangular s.p.a.ce is eight miles long. In the _Wernerian Nat. Hist. Soc.
Trans._, 5-386, it is said that there were two falls--that they were some hours apart--a datum that is becoming familiar to us--a datum that cannot be taken into the fold, unless we find it repeated over and over and over again. It is said that the second fall lasted from nine o'clock in the morning until night.
Now the hypnosis of the cla.s.sic--that what we call intelligence is only an expression of inequilibrium; that when mental adjustments are made, intelligence ceases--or, of course, that intelligence is the confession of ignorance. If you have intelligence upon any subject, that is something you're still learning--if we agree that that which is learned is always mechanically done--in quasi-terms, of course, because nothing is ever finally learned.
It was decided that this substance was spiders' web. That was adjustment. But it's not adjustment to me; so I'm afraid I shall have some intelligence in this matter. If I ever arrive at adjustment upon this subject, then, upon this subject, I shall be able to have no thoughts, except routine-thoughts. I haven't yet quite decided absolutely everything, so I am able to point out:
That this substance was of quant.i.ty so enormous that it attracted wide attention when it came down--