Wow! This is excellent. How had I not heard about it before?
I only happened on the Quest for Corvo serendipitously while reading about the Dickens-Dostoevsky kerfluffle.
The book is nominally a biography, but so much better structured than the usual soup-to-nuts (or cradle-to-grave) bio.
Symmons sets out to learn about Fredrick Rolfe, author of Hadrian the Seventh, among other books, and uncovers quite a character. Rolfe is charming and talented, but also self-destructive, inevitably turning on those who try to help him. He wants to be a clergyman, but cannot, wants to paint, but fails, wants to write, but never makes any money--he is throughout his life desperately poor. He is a man out of time, addicted to the Renaissance and a homosexual in Victorian England.
The story is structured, roughly, around Symmon's quest, what he finds out when, the lucky breaks that lead him to insights, the nagging holes that he cannot fill but that the reader might do so imaginatively.
The only criticism is that by the end, when we know Rolfe's tendencies, it becomes a bit tedious to learn of yet another patron he cultivated and then turned on--some of that could certainly have been glossed. Otherwise, though, excellent.
Buhs in New Jersey.
Although you have to get to page three for me, and this is the third in a series of three. So.
Plus, she gets my last name wrong. What's that about any publicity being good publicity? At least she gets the name of the book right.
Now I start to wonder about Tiffany Thayer’s list of regional correspondents in the first issue of Doubt
: how accurate was it? Were the correspondents just people he had once written? Was he even in contact with all of them?
The reason for the questions? Maximilian Rudwin.
Rudwin was an interesting character--Fortean in that sense, if no other. Just recently, Douglas A. Anderson wrote up a piece on him
Born in Russia Joseph Maccabee Rubin, he emigrated to the US, changed his name, and took degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, and Columbia University (two Ph.D.s!). Rudwin is most known for his work on European folktales and stories about the devil. Anderson writes
“Rudwin was a pioneering scholar of the fantastic, and his best work deserves to be read and remembered ....
The Devil in Legend and Literature ... is one of those classic works of romantic scholarship which is entitled to sit on the bookshelf alongside of Clark B. Firestone’s The Coasts of Illusion (1924), John Livingston Lowes’s The Road to Xanadu (1927), and Odell Shepard’s The Lore of the Unicorn (1930), among many others. Rudwin approaches the lore of the Devil from many sides and many cultures, covering belief in the Devil, the names and forms of various Devils, the legend of Lilith, the Devil-compact in tradition as well as in literature, and the Devil in literature and poetry. Illustrations by Dührer, Doré, William Blake and others complement the text. Rudwin’s book is well-documented, with an unusually thorough thirty-five page analytical index which makes it very useful for reference.”
LIkely, Rudwin died in 1946, which may account for his vanishing from the pages of Doubt
But, there’s also an odd discrepancy.
Rudwin moved very often, and seemingly Thayer could not keep up. In Doubt
, Thayer said Rudwin was at the University of Wyoming. That was 1937. But, he had left Laramie by the early 1930s and at the time of Thayer’s writing was in New York.
Maybe it was juts a mistake on Thayer’s part. But the discrepancy also raises the possibility that Thayer was bolstering the Fortean Society’s membership rolls with people he had--at the very least--lost contact with.
Nonetheless, it does seem likely that Rudwin had at some point expressed an interest in Fort and Forteanism.
Sprinkled throughout Doubt are references to various members of the Fortean Society. Some of these members appear only once or twice, and then never again. Vanishing is an especially likely risk for those Tiffany Thayer listed in the first issue as "regional correspondents." Here's what I have found on a few of these disappearing Forteans.
It is, of course, easy to dismiss Thayer and Doubt--even Forteans found reasons to do so. But there is at least one crime for which the writer is not guilty--Doubt (and the Fortean Society generally) were not meant to bilk people. Thayer was almost certainly losing money on the enterprise.
One way he sought to defray his expenses was selling books. Thayer would point out books of interest to Forteans in the pages of Doubt, and then offer to sell them. I have not yet made a study of this, but my sense is that even this sales department lost him money--it was more a way for him to share ideas he thought deserved sharing. His business brought him into contact with a number of booksellers. It may even be that Fort particularly appealed to book enthusiasts, who themselves might have stored up many strange facts they read about in the course of their careers.
One bookseller Thayer knew was Irving Kaden. Kaden is only mentioned once in Doubt. The very first issue lists him as a ‘regional correspondent’ for the Boston area. Since his name never appears again, it is hard to gauge just how committed he was to Forteanism. Still, a bit on Kaden.
Irving Kaden was the son of Russian immigrants, born in New York in 1905. By 1920, the family lived in the Boston area. Irving started the business that would become the Book Clearing House in 1932, on 186 Tremont Street. The shop grew, and merged with another, so that by 1943 Kaden needed a new place, relocating The Book Clearing House to 423 Boylston Street. In 1947, Kaden and his partner focused more on art books, binding, and rare editions.
The business continued on at least until Kaden’s death in 1970.
Roy Petran Lingle:
Roy Petran Lingle was another of the regional correspondents Thayer listed in the first issue of Doubt whose name never again appeared in the pages of the magazine. Still, something must have drawn him to Forteanism, even if he may not have liked the turn around which Thayer steered it. And there is room to speculate on what that might be.
Lingle was born in Philadelphia in 1885 to James Monroe Lingle of Harrisburg and Mary Petran Lingle of Minneapolis. He attended Central High School, and then matriculated at Princeton. Illness interrupted his studies, and he did not graduate until 1913. In the meantime, he was a salesman for the Stromberg Electric Company and a high school teacher. After graduating with a degree in English from Princeton he taught again in Philadelphia, took a jobs at Rice University in Houston--where he was married--and Baylor, earned his MA at the University of Pennsylvania, and taught at the University of Chicago, before ending up near home, a professor of English at Swarthmore.
Lingle traveled extensively through the U.S., read his Nietzsche, Arnold, and Chesterton, and enjoyed sports. He especially liked poetry, both frivolous (he wrote a football song for Rice) and serious.
His hobby, he said in 1913, “To help Princeton discover a scientific, philanthropical interpretation of religion that will eliminate superstition, destroy unbelief and tend to unite existing creeds and sects.”
Thirteen years later, he published “The Speed People: A Transcendental Stenographic Fantasy” in The Open Court, “a monthly magazine devoted to the science of religion, the religion of science, and the extension of the religious parliament of ideas.” The story told of a lucid dream Lingle experienced, in which he watched the the characters in some shorthand notes he had taken debate the existence--and necessity--of man. Eventually, they concluded that man was a necessary concept for keeping order and understanding the majesty of existence. An interpretation of religion, then, that had no need for superstition that, while not destroying unbelief, showed its dangers and minimized creedal differences.
There are certainly Fortean elements here: most notably, the distrust of superstition. Also the fantastic premise--it’s like so many of Fort’s own analogies and examples from his books. But the main argument, and Lingle’s enterprise, would have been foreign to both Fort and Thayer, and so it is little surprise that there was a parting of the ways--or, at least, that Lingle never appeared again in Doubt.
Charles W. Ward:
Another disappearing regional correspondent. This one from Brandenton, Florida. His name was Charles W. Ward, and he was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1885. Ward made his way south, with stops in Ohio and Missouri; he seems to have married twice. In Bradenton, he became the city’s electrical engineer.
And while he never again appeared in Doubt, he retained his Fortean skepticism. The July 1950 issue of Popular Science printed a letter from Ward. He was wondering about the picture of switch which had been carried in a rocket 250 miles above the earth. There was no evidence from the switch that the rocket had drifted westward at all, and Ward found this intriguing. Objects on the ground, he said, moved eastward at 750 miles per hour. And even objects slightly above the ground moved at this peed because they were swept along by the earth’s atmosphere. But a rocket outside of the atmosphere, that should move west, like the spirals in a nebula.
Isn’t this “proof,” he asked, “that, actually, the earth has little if any movement?”
(It is worth noting here that Ward’s letter was printed alongside an ad for the Rosicrucians.)
No, the magazine explained. The rocket had been moving east when it left the atmosphere, and there nothing had altered that when it went up: it was still moving east. Another force would be required to make it move west.
The answer, though, is less interesting than the question. An engineer, working for a city, was trying to show that the earth did not move. In 1950!
Wallace A. Clemmons:
Clemmons, too, was one of the original regional correspondents listed in Doubt’s first issue. Unlike most of them, though, he did not disappear after that issue. No, his name appeared twice more.
Clemmons was born in Missouri in 1892. He was postmaster for a time. Married in 1914, by Clemmons 1930 lived in New Orleans with his wife, two daughters, a servant, and four lodgers. He owned the Gulf Radio School (and all four of the boarders were teachers there). A few years later, he was one of the early investors in tractors that could mechanically harvest cotton.
Clemmons died in 1956.
Thayer thanked Clemmons (and others) in the third issue of Doubt for sending in clippings, which, he said, he had not been able to discuss. This was 1940, so Clemmons had been a member for three years.
He next appeared in Doubt five years later, credited for sending in a clip on an unexplained explosion in the air. Thayer commented, Clemmons “is one of our earliest members. The first data we have from him arrived early in the year 1.”
It is not immediately clear what this means. Year one, according to Thayer’s calendar, was the year the Fortean Society was founded, 1931. But at the time, as far as I know, the Society was not soliciting clippings. Did Clemmons send him material then anyway? Or was it meant for Fort, who would have still been alive? And then did Thayer recruit him for the Fortean Society once he decided to revive it--in 1936--and start sending out a magazine, in 1937?
Or did he simply mean that the first data arrived after issue one?
And if Clemmons was so enthusiastic, why did he never appear in Doubt again after 1945?
Like so much Forteana--more questions than answers.
Fort thought that humanity was controlled by beings beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
This was in the mid-1910s, when he was working on the manuscript that would become The Book of the Damned
but was then called "X." X was the name of the force, projected from Mars, or some other distant place, that compelled us to play out our dramas. The stars are projectors
, we their movies.
Tiffany Thayer twisted this notion around, finding the directors closer to home.** It wasn't Martians controlling us, it was the OSS
. They were bureaucrats were the scriptwriters, we merely actors.
The paranoia is not surprising. Michael D. Gordin, in his book on Immanuel Velikovsky
, argues that the Cold War injected debates over science and pseudoscience with a healthy dose of paranoia. Thayer was reflecting his times.
But the paranoia should not be dismissed, either. I reviewed
Mark Pilkington's Mirage Men
two years ago, and he used paranoia as a tool to productively explore the UFO sub-culture. Sure, he said, the government is interested in flying saucers--but often only to spread disinformation. They can make interest in the saucers work for them, hiding important tests or throwing off critics. It is an interesting, if not fully proved, argument.
Thayer isn't quite as straight-forward in his argument. He clearly wants to make villains of the government (as well as an establishment that is in cahoots with it). He starts off and closes his rant with the claim that the Fortean Society has no official stand on what the flying saucers are--hoaxes, hallucinations, visitors. But then clearly advances his notion that we are all the OSS's puppets.
From Doubt 30, p. 43:
“More members than you could shake a stick at have called attention to a book by L. Ron Hubbard--Dianetics. Many are enthusiastic, hailing the subject as away beyond psychiatry, etc., etc.
“Unfortunately, the author appears to have been impressed by recollection that Knut Hamsun was one a street car motorman, and he presents his matter in a stream-of-consciousness manner as if in answer to the question: ‘What does a streetcar motorman think about?’ Maybe it’s great stuff, but YS suggests a reading of Hunger as a more profitable answer to the question.”
From Doubt 28 (1950), pages 25-6:
“Perpetual Peace Plan (continued)” 25-6:”For a long time now, not even a luscious sex murder or a rip-snorting train wreck--not even the opening of the baseball season--has been permitted to crowd ‘REDS’ out of the front-page headlines, day after day after day. Phoney [sic] trials in various courts, spurious inquiries by dummy Committees, all dealing with rigged evidence delivered in double-talk, have been conducted for no other purpose than to create this false ‘news.’ Nobody connected with these turkey melodramas-neither their authors, producers, principals, prisoners, witnesses or judges--has cared how any of their follies ended. As long as the ‘REDS’ are kept in the headlines, it does not matter who lied first, second or third. The people who read the papers have had their daily does of dope.
“The Russian press calls this ‘warmongering,’ and thinks that this is the old razzle-dazzle build up for World Fraud III. Hardly anybody believes the tripe as printed, but lots and lots of people who have been put through these same hoops before think they recognize the signs of impending hostilities. Many are afraid. Mothers are organizing, preachers are decrying the manufacture of some bogey called an “H-bomb,” individuals are buying tiny plots of ground away fro the cities--a place to run when the bombing starts--and so on.
“Oddly, perhaps, YS does not share these fears or expectancies. Not notably successful as a seer, YS predicts that no nam living will see another so-called ‘war’ of any proportions. That was the last one, It’s all over--and we can relax. What’s more, this is understood (and agreed to) as fully by the top brass////////////26///////////// in Moscow as by the O.S.S. in Washington. The rest of us are at the bodily disposal of the boys in the two saddles, and the only way to avoid their rivalry for mental supremacy, as well as physical, is through Forteanism.
“This guess is based upon the following logic, which can be verified only be events, inasmuch as nobody has developed a means to document a wink . . . Modern technology has made nationalism completely obsolete, but the nationalists will cling to their sinecures as long as possible. Ideologically the world is already divided into two blocs, and no fewer than two is possible. This is not stated dogmatically, but by way of definition. How else to define any idea save by contrast to what it is not?
“Now, there are they, and here we are: neither ‘side’ can win, and both ‘sides’ know it, so that issue will never be tested, but ordinary slobs--in the Soviets as well as in the States--are condemned to live from now on in an atmosphere of Hissing--Chandlers, Titoring-Mindzentys and mutual recriminations--perpetually. The only way to escape is via Forteanism."
So, I lost my mind for the great majority of this year. It came back in August, and I was able to start researching again. Here is my set-up for taking notes from Doubt.
Inspired, my 7-year-old daughter grabbed a piece of paper from the printer and started taking notes, too. This is what resulted. It is unbearably cute.
Good Lord. It's been a month-and-a-half. I thought I was more diligent. Anyway, here's a reprint from a column by Gomer Bath, who wrote for the Peoria, IL, Star. It was reprinted in Doubt.
“Laughing Charles Fort” “‘Progress,’ said Benjamin de Casseres, ‘is nothing but the victory of laughter over dogma.’
“The most civilized erudite and literate laughter at dogma of the present generation was Charles Fort. It should follow, therefore, that the disciples of modern progress hail Charles Fort as their prophet. But I seldom meet a person who responds with any sign of recognition at the mention of the name Fort.
“There may be several reasons for the relative obscurity of this great American thinker, including the fact that he did not seek popular acclaim. One of those reasons, I think, is the failure of Forteans to proclaim Fort’s delightful and malicious sense of humor. I know of no writer of this century who has so joyfully amused himself at the expense of dogmatic wiseacres as Charles Fort. This poking fun at dignity in high places he does with such finesse that a discriminating sense of humor is needed for full appreciation of it. But his delicate laughter is enduring. The reader who finds For in “The Book of the Damned” or any of his other three major works, may be sure that he has discovered a lifetime retreat from the wearying dignity of stuffed shirts. Reading a few pages of Fort almost at random will restore one’s good humor as surely as a cloth restores the polish of a waxed surface.
“One may read logical presentations of, attacks against and defenses of any idea ever known to mankind and find the scales well balanced on controversial questions of the ages. Such is the power of logic that it may defend a false position as ably as attack it. But against the power of laughter there is no defense.
“It is perhaps a god thing that the gift of humor is not widespread. ‘Humor is a divine attribute,” said George Bernard Shaw. Upon but a few is the great gift bestowed. If many possessed it, what we know as order in the world would vanish.
“‘The Book of the Damned’ is about countless things that have happened, things that people have seen, felt and heard, things that have been recorded in newspapers, things that have excited cities and nations (remember the unexplained ‘flying disks’ of the summer of 1947?) but have nevertheless been declared not to have happened. Why? Because they could not be explained by any principles accepted by orthodox science.
“‘A procession of the damned,’ Charles Fort calls these things. “By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.”
“And what a procession it is! In the four books (the other three are ‘New Lands,’ ‘Lo!,’ and ‘Wild Talents’) there are 1,062 pages of these unexplained happenings, the data ‘damned’ by science because it would not fit into any of the theories which scientists currently agree are true.
“Science’s ‘seeming approximation to consistency, stability, system--positiveness or realness--is sustained by damning the irreconcilable or the unassimilable,’ says Fort. ‘All would be well. All would be heavenly--if the damned would only stay damned.’
“So Fort spent his life digging up thousands of facts that had not and could not be explained, and writing them with great gusto, poking fun all the while at dogmatic theorists who turned their backs on these facts rather than admit that unexplainable mysteries existed.
“Fort’s books are not attacks on science. They attack the dogmas of science which are held to be final and absolute truths. And in so attacking, Fort proved himself more the true scientist than many scientific bigwigs who scorned him and his work. ‘Certitude is not the test of certainty,’ said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, himself a Fortean. [Not really, JBB.] ‘We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.’
“And so Charles Fort laughed at dogma and his quiet laughter will echo through the years. And if more people knew of his great sense of humor, the books of Charles Fort would be more widely read than they are.”
I'll be at the ASE (Association for the Study of Esotericism) meeting this weekend. It's held at U.C. Davis from 19-22 July, in the Alumni Center. I'll be on the "Esotericism in California" panel from 3:45-5:15 Saturday, talking about Garen Drussai and the Fortean Fantasy in San Francisco.