Benjamin DeCasseres was born 3 April 1873 in Philadelphia to David DeCasseres and the former Charlotte (Lottie) Davis. DeCasseres—spelled many ways, though Benjamin preferred it without the spaces—was an old Spanish-Portuguese Jewish family with deep roots in America and a collateral connection to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. David, who had been born in Jamaica, was a bookkeeper; Charlotte had been born in Pennsylvania, to parents from Hungary and Bavaria. Benjamin was the oldest of four children, two sisters and a brother, Irma, Edith, and Walter.
The family faced a good deal of upheaval in the early 1880s. Benjamin was attending the local schools. In 1880, aged only 3, Edith DeCasseres, his youngest sister, died. Two years later, the family had another child—that was Walter. In 1886, when he was 13, Benjamin dropped out of school and went to work for the Philadelphia Press, first as an office boy, but working his way up to proofreader. He stayed in the business until 1899. In early 1900, Walter was apparently trying to follow in Benjamin’s footsteps, and had called at a print shop, but presumably had been turned down, which is when tragedy revisited the family: he went missing February 4th. His body was later found floating in the Delaware River; police assumed he had drowned himself after not being able to find work. He was 18. News reports of the discovery appeared in the newspaper on Benjamin’s 27th birthday.
Looking back on this time to life, DeCasseres wrote—to God: “It was about 1903 or 1904 that there was a fissure in my brain, a sinister slit in my consciousness. A face, humorous, satanic, ferocious, floated up from the depths of that fissure. It was the Spirit of Tragic Humor. I lost Thee, my Enemy, my Friend, my Torturer and my Consoler, in the billows of my laughter. As my consciousness and my brain halved, I saw myself for the first time as a ridiculous little witling, and God, if I thought of Him at all at that time, as a Scaramouch, a roguish blue-behinded ape. Lucifer died that Narcissus might be born. I guffawed with God, with the gods, for I felt also at this time my monotheism dissolving into polytheism. I forgot Heaven and discovered Olympus. I was a gay Narcissus. I looked into the lake of my mind and saw a clown-face. I found the exquisite uses of my flesh. God incarnated as a bawdy Eros. He winked at me out of the ale-pot. I still thundered at times against Him, but I felt I was cursing a phantom. The sense of evil, the sense of sin, vanished.”
He moved to the “New York Herald” at about the time this fissure developed. In due time, DeCasseres would become a widely published writer for magazines and newspapers, cranking out any number of articles, praised for his style, philosophical chops, and bomb-throwing. Meanwhile, though, in 1906, he moved to Mexico for a year and ran a newspaper, “El Diario,” that supported the gathering revolution against President Diaz. (Mexico would draw other Forteans—Malcolm Lowry, Odo B. Stade—and of course the Fortean icon, Ambrose Bierce.) Returned to New York, DeCasseres took up with the Herald again. For all that he had been part of a revolution, DeCasseres stood against revolutionary movements in North America: he was friend of neither socialism or communism, which he saw as opposed to individualism. He was an anarchist and a radical individualist, preferring to imagine a society overseen by a Nietzschean superman—as the Wisconsin Jewish Journal said—to one in which democratic processes gave power to the ignorant, even stupid, masses.
DeCasseres started doing book reviews in 1912, at the Sun, the Herald, and elsewhere. In 1913, he ran for governor of New York—it seems to have been a lark. In 1914, he started writing for H. L. Mencken’s “The Smart Set,” and Mencken would become his intellectual hero, the rightful heir to Voltaire. He would tell the journalist—as well as his drinking buddy and chronicler of the early Fortean Society, H. Allen Smith—in 1930, “For 20 years, [Mencken] has bene following one solid line of thought—a battering ram against sham and humbug and popular idols. My objection to him is that he is monotonously sincere. I wish he would change his record occasionally.” Mencken would tell DeCasseres, “You wrote some of the best stuff I printed in my time . . . I know of no other contributor who was in it more, or produced better stuff. You set its tone as much as I did.” In 1915, he published his first book, a poem, “The Shadow Eater.”
The Great War soured DeCasseres quite a bit—“four years of planetary cannibalism”—though he softened some with the subsequent peace, and found himself drawn to Hellenic polytheism. Likely also turning him toward a Romantic worldview was the situation of his own romance. Mary Jones, the woman whom he had been courting by letter for almost two decades—left her husband. Bio, as she preferred to be called, honoring her Native American ancestry, came back to New York and married Benjamin. They stayed together until his death. That year, as well. Benjamin left the employ of the Herald.
For the next couple of years, he was on the staff of the Famous Players-Laskey Corp. And he evolved, as he approached the age of fifty, what he would consider a more mature relationship with the idea of God. “So at last! Artist and Ironist!—that is God! . . . God has nothing to do with human beings except as characters in an eternal serial, an eternal dream-tale, an eternal fabulous drama. Good and evil are art-motives. God is superhuman, inhuman, inhuman. He dreams scenarios, of which we are the puppets. Our agonies and prayers are situations. He is Spinoza’s God, the Eternal Return of Nietzsche, the Oversoul of Emerson, the Unknowable of Spencer, the Mephistopheles of Goethe. He is All—omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal creator, eternal playboy, eternal incarnation; the great dramaturge. Arriving at this truth, I was released. I, with the rest of the species, am part of the music, drama, farce and mathematics of the Supreme Artist.”
His connection to the theater continued until 1924, when he once more left New York for a year, moving across the continent to Hollywood, where he was head of the title Department at Universal Pictures. Even so, he continued to write for “Arts and Decorations”—including play reviews—after returning to New York. Some obituaries report that he stopped doing book reviews around this time, but I am not sure that is true: it may just be that he did them at a reduced rate. He went to work for Hearst’s papers, and also started contributing to Mencken’s “American Mercury.” After a quarter century of toil, DeCasseres was not necessarily a household name, but he had a reputation: “America’s arch-rebel.” A joke: DeCasseres’s name put the stress on the second syllable, which rhymed with mass. One wag said, if it wasn’t for the “c,” no one would be confused.
He continued to polish his iconoclastic bona fides. He told H. Allen Smith, in 1931, he was going to publish a book arguing that the 1920s were “the most idiotic decade in the history of mankind.” He harrumphed against science and its veneration. He poked at it in public and in private—in 1925, DeCasseres started a journal that he would keep for the rest of his life—some 400,000 words in all. One entry, titled “Proteus,” read, “The atheist-materialist is a fine study in the paradoxes of God. The atheist-materialist finds profound comfort in his disbelief. ‘I am your disbelief too,’ whispers God in his ear. No one can dodge the ruses of the eternal protean Essence.” And another:
“Science the crab—Does Science travel backward? Is its work simply the materialization, the mechanization of the ancient mystics, poets, soothsayers and the ‘nuts’? I believe so.
“Science is always second-hand. It is merely a verifier. A superstition is said to be a false belief. Well, so are all the postulates of science. I am no enemy of science—their fairy-tales are to me the most fascinating in existence; the fairy-tale of the electron, the fairy-tale of the atom, the fairy-tale of the germ, the fairy-tale of history, the fairy-tale of the phonograph, of the radio, of the telephone, of the motion-picture, of the great murder-engines of war, etc.
“Science conceived as a vast network of superstitions is far more fascinating to me than the ‘scientific destruction of superstitions,’ which simply cannot be done. I rather like the idea that Jesus was born of Mary the Virgin. Whether it is ‘true’ or ‘false’ is of no consequence. It’s a beautiful fairy-tale, and will recur again and again when the names of Jesus and Mary are no more and when the superstition that the Earth is round or spheroid and that there are no inhabitants of the space between us and, say, the Moon have been demolished—quite demolished by another superstition, called ‘a scientific verity.’
“The machine-made mind and the mystical imaginative mind are the Sancho Panza and the Don Quixote who ought to be inseparable. But they will not travel together because the machine-made (‘cash-down’) mind refuses to play the part of a servant even to a reckless adventurer and sublime boob like Don Quixote. Being without imagination and the mystical sense, it has a tragic inferiority complex masked under an air of arrogant superiority, for the scientific machine-made mind knows secretly that all it does is based on the imagination, and it also knows that Don Quixote, and not Sancho Panza, is the eternal core of life on this planet. Don Quixote knows the value of his Sancho, and would not lose him for the world; but Sancho is forever forbidden to know the greatness, the grandeur and the magic of Don Quixote.
“Sancho science must serve forever the Quixotic ruler of the world, the imaginative, mystical, intuitional psyche of Man.”
Put more succinctly, and from a slightly different angle: “The difference between Science and Theology is that Science is evolving ignorance and Theology is static ignorance.”
By this time, despite turning out a prodigious number of articles, DeCasseres had also collected a number of manuscripts without homes. He liked to wrote, a lot, and joked to Smith that he was “the most unpublished author in America.” Smith still held DeCasseres in high regards, calling him the “polestar of the American intelligentsia” This was before Smith had turned against authors (and Fort), but his admiration seems to have also been driven by DeCasseres’s fondness for alcohol: they took the first legal drink together, after the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933. At this time, DeCasseres was starting to get some of his backlog of manuscripts to the public, including a book of love letters he had written to Bio.
By the mid-1930s, though, DeCasseres’s rebellion was curdling into a crabbed conservatism—yet another Fortean to follow the path, including the likes of Ben Hecht, John W. Campbell, and George Christian Bump. He wrote two columns for the Hearst papers, “On the Nail” and “The March of Events” that continued his pot-shooting at socialism and communism, and added FDR’s New Deal. (He wasn’t sympathetic to Hitler, though, either, recoiling at the venomous anti-Semitism emerging from Germany.) Upton Sinclair, however, elicited some admiration, his form of socialism open to individualism in ways that DeCasseres favored. His work was more and more self-published, though sometimes under a name that just seemed to be a corporate pseudonym.
Benjamin DeCasseres died 6 December 1945 after an illness of some ten months. He was 72.
Benjamin DeCasseres seems to have come across Charles Fort shortly after Fort published his first book, in very late 1919. He wrote, “To th emental epicurean, the intellectual dilettante, there is no greater joy than to run across a new thinker, a new kind of brain, a novel disassociate of ancient and fish-like mental and emotional association. It is the joy that comes to the astronomer when he discovers a new planet. This mental ecstasy fell upon me when, in 1919, I came across ‘The Book of the Damned,’ by Charles Fort. As I read it I became more and more conscious of the fact that I was in the presence of a genius who, if he has hit a bull’s eye in his overwhelming deductions, will easily jostle Euclid, Columbus and Darwin off their pedestals.”
It took a while for the two men to connect, a correspondence probably prompted by DeCasseres reading “New Lands,” which was published, In 1925, Fort was living in London, and DeCasseres wrote him a fan letter there. The letter is lost, but Fort’s reply is saved at the New York Public Library. He wrote back on 25 October telling DeCasseres, “I’ve had my eye on you some time, now. I am organizing an expedition of Neo-Puritans to set sail for another world, and as soon as I I've finished organizing we shall set out. Because of your theological studies, I offer you the commission of Chaplain. Ben Hecht, because of his knowledge of human beings, is going to be the Entomologist of the expedition.”
DeCasseres wrote back quickly, it seems, warning of the dangers of sinking ships, and asking, instead of chaplaincy, to be the provider of alcohol. Fort retorted 29 November: Having read what DeCasseres said about sinking ships “I am now set more than ever upon having you for the Chaplain of our Expedition. If you want to be the Official Bootlegger, why can’t you be that, too? What’s the use of your theological studies, if you can’t reconcile differences that to ordinary minds would be inconsistencies? I’ve read your revelations on and off for years. I usually think of you and St. John together. I’ve been placed in that category, myself, but it’s a mistake, I think. I’ve been stuck in libraries for ages, and I think that you and the saint went around a lot, gathering material for your studies. I should say that the difference is that you and the saint are sophisticated. I have recollections of striking lines and images of yours. I am very glad to have your good opinion of lines and things that I have let loose.”
There is a lot to unpack in these two short letters. Start with Fort’s cosmology, which they seem to have been riffing on: that expeditions to new worlds would be like sailing ventures—Super-Sargasso Seas, yes, but also the relatively close proximity of the planets. Inside of this discussion, Fort wraps a joke. He calls the expedition “Neo-Puritan,” which evokes, of course, the Puritans leaving England and coming to North America. But Puritan values were also one of the constant enemies of Mencken and his acolytes. Knowing Mencken and DeCasseres’s writing, Fort was likely aware of this connotation and was playing with it. DeCasseres was a anti-Puritan neo-Puritan.
The irony of the remark is important. DeCasseres and Fort were both working in a modernist literary culture that valued irony, though varying authors pushed it in different directions. Irony was a way of highlighting the insufficiencies of traditional culture in a new world—of the hypocrisy of the Puritans, as Mencken had it, or the need for a more authentic citizenry, as Dreiser had it. (No surprise that DeCasseres, Mencken’ admirer, disliked Dreiser.) DeCasseres and Fort were both sure that science itself—which had birthed a lot of the ideas about a new, modern world—was also insufficient for understanding the vastness and weirdness of the universe. Hence the St. John connection—they were apocalyptic writers in anticipating the end of what was known, and in querying after (raiding, in DeCasseres’s parlance) what lay beyond.
This irony manifested itself in their literary endeavors: both were striving for a language that could capture the insufficiency of science and suggest the broader view—even while taking an ironic perspective on their own opinions. (It was a very dizzying set of demands.) They plowed in parallel fields; DeCasseres was considered a “proto-Dadaist,” anticipating some of the innovations of that movement, and Fort was sometimes allied with surrealism, itself connected to Dada. They poked fun at settled opinion, while holding their own opinions lightly (and defending them ferociously). They each admired what the other was attempting to do, and how well they were succeeding, and saw themselves connected to others working int he same vein, such as Ben Hecht. (How interesting that he would alter write a story about an entomologist who became an insect.)
This epistolary horseplay continued in one more exchange, before a long break in the correspondence. On 6 July 1926, Fort wrote to DeCasseres beginning, “It’s pretty hard to keep track of my selves,” which was undoubtedly meant as a reference to DeCasseres’s 1922 book “Chameleon: Being the Book of My Selves.” He went on to recount some of what he’d been reading before remarking how disconcerting it was to receive a note from DeCasseres calling him “Satanic,” which would have been meant approvingly, DeCasseres valuing Satan as a spur to human imagination. “It’s almost bewildering,” Fort continued. “Who’s that fellow, and what has he to do with me and” what he’d been reading? “Then I remember that I am supposed to be hellish. That’s a jolt.”
The letter ended with another compliment of DeCasseres’s writing style, a technique Fort had been trying to get across in his works, too: “I’m a great meteorologist now. There are few deluges or hurricanes, of the past 125 years, that I haven’t record of. That’s why I think so much of your work. Almost, if I knew the exact date of your publications, I’d list them in my records of catastrophes.”
There exist no letters covering the next four years. What accounts for the break, I don’t know. It could be the correspondence is lost. It could be that after the connection was made, the bloom was off the rose, and they turned to other immediacies. It could be the two men became too busy. At this time, Fort had tried and failed to get a book published by Boni & Liveright, and also moved back to New York. Decasseres had recently started with Hearst and the American Mercury. Whatever the reason, the next extant letter from Fort to DeCasseres is dated 26 August 1930. Fort was getting a third book published—whether it was the one Boni & Liveright rejected, I’m not sure—and the publisher, Julian Messner, wanted an advertising blurb from DeCasseres: Fort’s rebellion was meant to be against more than the tyranny of astronomy, and nobody connoted rebellion more than DeCasseres. Fort suggested a line from a letter: “Your satire, your imagination, your originality, your epigrammatic quality simply carried me off my feet.”
There followed two more letters, mostly organized around arranging a meeting, though playing with some of the same themes of the earlier correspondence: that both of them had many selves, and one of Fort’s was a Puritanical taskmaster who kept him to an orderly schedule. Apparently DeCasseres did pass on some kind of blurb, though it seems to have mentioned his dislike of sea serpents, which Fort found shocking—or however shocking anything could be to his ironic sensibility: “Thank you for what I received, this morning. But out of it I got one disillusionment about you, already. It was with sorrow I noted that you despise sea serpents. I hope that you will explain that it is not the sea serpent, but the traditional sea serpent, ‘with eyes as big as saucers’ that you blacklist.” (Fort’s comments, to be sure, could have been about an article or something else DeCasseres wrote, and not a blurb.)
In November of 1930, Fort wrote DeCasseres again. He’d been on the lookout for reviews of DeCasseres’s book, but hadn’t seen any. Presumably Fort was talking about “Mencken and Shaw: The Anatomy of America’s Voltaire and England’s Other John Bull,” which was published 9 October (and had been announced by H. Allen Smith). Fort’s own book, now named “Lo!”, had its publication pushed back until January of 1931, presumably because of the stock market crash. Worser and worser the news got: “There was something rather awful a while ago, but I can’t help it, if I stir up freaks,” Fort confessed. “I new nothing about it, until I received stationery, headed with “The Fortean Society.” I refused to have anything to do with it, but said that, if we all lived in Orange, New Jersey, I’d probably join.” The only comfort he could take was that the dynamo behind the Society’s founding, Tiffany Thayer, was only 29. “Oh. dear me,” he wrote to DeCasseres, “the one consolation that you and I, who are not 29 years old, have, is in those who are.”
As far as I can tell, DeCasseres was not quoted in advertising for “Lo!” And though newspapers would remark on his connection to Fort, and admiration for him, he did not join the Society. I am not sure why that is, exactly, though there is room to speculate: as noted, DeCasseres was no fan of Dreiser, or his sentimentality, calling him an “illiterate sob-sister of American literature.” DeCasseres did not seem to appeal to Thayer, either, or at least I can find few connections. Perhaps, after all, they were too similar. Or perhaps Thayer was afraid that DeCasseres’s association would push Fort into the category of crank, from which Thayer was trying to extract Fort.
The correspondence picked up again after “Lo!” came out and the Fortean Society had its publication party. Fort was not doing so well, health-wise. All the rest of the letters were handwritten, rather than typed, and though he was happy to have gotten a copy of “Mencken and Shaw,” he was reading it slowly. Not because he thought that Mencken had undersold DeCasseres’s writing—though he did think that—downplaying the remarkable intelligence and philosophy of DeCasseres’s writing, which Mencken banally labeled “criticism.” (“Smooth little ponds reflect judiciously, but torrents flash their own images.”) No, the reason Fort was moving through the book slowly was “I can’t read long at a time, nowadays. I am reserving [?] DeC’s little book and “Anathema” [another DeCasseres book] for later reading.”
In early February, Fort wrote confirming a meeting. “I suppose I should teleport myself into your presence. Still, wouldn’t that be a vulgar display of powers? I think that I shall modestly ring the doorbell.” It was another case flighty mocking himself—not only was he a Puritan, he sometimes compared himself the the popular sentimental writer Harold Bell Wright and poked fun at his own modest demeanor, as opposed to his gadflying prose. The letter also introduced DeCasseres to Super-checkers, which Fort promised would be a new cult, Forteans being “old-fashioned,” at three months old, and already superseded by “Neo-Forteans.” It wasn’t on this visit, but probably some other time that DeCasseres played.
Likely, DeCasseres was the link between Fort and H. Allen Smith, who would write about Supercheckers as well as the founding of the Fortean Society—which was what turned Smith off of literary celebrity, he said, because he thought Fort was a crank, and yet famous authors wanted to be associated with him. Smith reported that DeCasseres was nicknamed Napoleon when they played the game. Fort went by Caesar, and Thayer by Hannibal. Not that Fort socialized much. He only rarely took visitors, preferring his routine.
It was during the preparation for the visit that DeCasseres told Fort he’d be writing an article on him. Continuing to (false?) modesty, Fort hoped the piece could be written before they met: “I so revel in being called a satirist. After about five minutes talking with me it would dawn upon you that I am Harold Bell Wright, and no Rabelais, and have a primitive faith in Sea Serpents, and the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of them. Please write that I am a satirist, and when it is too late to recall the article, see me.”
The last letter Fort sent was about three months before his death. It was a little joke, and, in its way, a fine epigraph. “My dear DeCasseres, your correspondence overwhelms me. He asks what I am to do with the moons of Jupiter. What do people usually do with the moons of Jupiter? I hope that I shall do right be them.”
In the meantime, DeCasseres ’s article came out, summing up his feelings on Fort. Given his intellectual predilections, his conclusions were not surprising. As historian Matthew Stratton has noted, DeCasseres understood the world to be in a perpetual state of irony: there was no way out. DeCasseres hated the nation-state, and its regimentation, but he also saw that it could not be abolished. The battle between the individual and the collective was always to go on, and so the antagonism needed to be preserved. I am not trying to write a complete intellectual account of DeCasseres or his development, but it seems to me that he borrowed from the Decadent writers of the late nineteenth century (as Ben Hecht did), and valorized the artificial, the pose. It was the answer to the question, How does one exist in an ironic universe. “To live is to lie. To act is to pose.” And so one could adopt ideas as one chose what to wear—Fort said the same thing, in his last book, Wild Talents (1932): “I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.”
DeCasseres’s essay was titled “The Fortean Fantasy” when it was published in the April 1931 issue of “the Thinker,” and retitled “Charles Fort: The Puck of Mysticism,” when it was packaged with appreciative essays on Lewis Carroll, Spengler, and Rabelais, in the 1937 volume “Raiders of the Absolute.” This was the 12th book in the collected series of works that DeCasseres was mostly self-publishing. The burden of the essays was to prove that though there was an absolute (probably), and it was admirable to try to adduce it—that was why he admired Spengler—it was (probably) wrong to look for too much logic. Carroll caught something of the truth: everything was nonsense. And in that light, one could hardly do better than Rabelais and laugh at it all.
And Fort? Fort provided one of the most amusing ways to look at this quizzical universe. If one were to choose, freely, how to understand life, why not choose an amazing one? Existence, DeCasseres asserted at the beginning, tends toward regimentation and ossification—and Fort stood opposed to this tendency in its newest guise, “against the popery of science.” DeCasseres was one of the few Forteans to take to heart Fort’s ultimate skepticism, not using Fort merely to play with ideas, or as a cudgel to destroy one dogma and impose another, but the way Fort left humanity completely untethered to any ultimate rules and rituals. “We do not know how strange this world is in which we are living—how weird and unearthly we humans are—because familiarity, convention, routine and repetition have dulled the infantile emotions of surprise and wonder in us. The Kingdom of God (by which I mean the Kingdom of Eternal Amazement and Doubt) is still, as ever, the heritage of the little children and poets.”
DeCasseres, as a fellow traveler, understand how Fort applied irony not only to pop the pomposity of others, but even himself: it was the necessary condition of living rightfully in an ironic universe: “Everything is flung open to doubt, including—for Fort is of the high and superior breed of auto-mockers—his own conclusions and guesses. Fort knows that everything is subjective and personal.” He went on to quote Fort from his letter: “Smooth little ponds reflect judiciously, but torrents flash their own images.” He recognized in Fort, too, the apocalyptic visions that were the basis of his own writing, and the craft he brought to his project, rooted in modernist literary experiments. “This style, this rhythm, is cometary, like a rain of celestial bulletins heralding news such as you or I never heard of before, more marvelous than any romance you ever read—and, most marvelous of all, not only plausible but carrying the ring of certainty to come!”
All of which was to say that DeCasseres saw Fort as a mystic—not in the sense that Fort was interested in esoteric laws of magic, say, or Theosophy, which is how mysticism was often understood in the America of the times, but that he was essaying forth into Lewis Carroll’s contradictory metaphysics of nonsense. Science was fine, in its place, but could not understand the full grandeur of the universe. But, even so, Fort new that the world was too big for any one vision, one truth: “The greatness of Fort lies in this: he says his astounding cosmology and universe—built on his data or vice versa—is only his personal yarn. On the threshold of every room of his House of Affirmation stands Doubt. He is the enemy of all dogma.” DeCasseres and Fort, they were intellectual twins, working on the same project from different directions.
That project was to hint at—comprehension was impossible—how “incredible” existence was; and one gets the sense that DeCasseres used that word very carefully. Science was limited in focusing on the useful and pragmatic (even as it was going “Fortward. Its dogmas are crumbling to bits. Its hard-and-fast universe of fact is giving away to a universe of fantasy, myth, incredible possibilities, unknown modes of life”). The only thoughts worth developing were those with “entertainment value”: “Without imagination, intuition, insight, vision and willful credulity, [science] is merely a scavenger of facts without the ability to transmute facts into gorgeous fictions.” Fort could do that, incubating and nurturing facts into “giant butterflies, dragons, and even spiders that catch and eat little scientific flies.”
Again and again, DeCasseres returns to the point that Fort is not cut from the usual cloth of mystics. There is no ultimate right and wrong in Fort’s scheme, and no absolute definition of reality, either, other than it is beyond us to comprehend, and perhaps subject to laws we have not yet imagined—our scientific ideas subject to the laws of growth and aging? But neither is Fort a transcendentalist. “There is something tremendously real, terre-à-terre, annoyingly solid (to the cut-and-dried-herring mind) about Fort. His is the first attempt in the history of human thought to bring mysticism and trans-material phenomena down to (or, maybe, lift up to) something concrete. Fort is essentially scientific-minded. He is not a Plotinus, a Swedenborg or Hegelian. I should say he is not, strictly speaking, even metaphysical. He nowhere announces spirit. Rather, with his feet firmly planted on the earth, he extends the boundaries thereof indefinitely and annexes the unseen by materializing it before our eyes.”
In the end, DeCasseres gave Fort the ultimate compliment available to him. “To each his own illusion! To each one his private car! I have studied many such illusions and yarns—including my own—in the course of my life; but Charles Fort’s is the mightiest, the strangest, the most overwhelming and plausible that I know.” He thrilled at Fort, as he only did at a few other pieces of art. Among these he numbered the opera “Lohengrin” and Ravel’s “Bolero—and two other works for which he did not mention the author: his own “The Shadow-Eater” and “Anathema.”
That final line pointed to DeCasseres’s own egotism, and went did undermine his claims, to a certain extent—there were so many fictions from which to choose, and yet he was choosing those that he thought of as similar—but also to the ultimate similarity of his own thought and Fort’s. Fort recognized that similarity, and understood DeCasseres’s ending line as pointing toward their resemblance, even as he found relief in being let out of the limelight. “It was all very encouraging, all this about myself, but what I felt most was your final line about yourself. I so well know what you mean.”
He began the letter, “As one torrent to another, I splash you my acknowledgments.”