Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Terminal Progress -- Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop

I just finished reading Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop on Sunday night.

The plot is pretty interesting. The book starts with a character from Dickens, Master Humphrey, meeting with Little Nell, who turns out to be the main character of the book. Master Humphrey is surprised to hear that Little Nell has been out running an errand late at night. So he takes her home to her caretaker, an old man, who is Little Nell's grandfather.

Master Humphrey leaves the story at this point. Another character comes in: Dick Swiveller, who is Little Nell's cousin. Little Nell isn't terribly little: she's maybe thirteen years old. Dick is about eighteen. Dick resents the old man and plans to spend more time around Nell, despite the old man's wishes. Dick is seen by the old man to be a bit of a waster, since he seems to be more interested in singing and drama, rather than in business.

But, through a few other scenes, it's revealed that the old man himself is a bit of a waster. He's wasted all of his money on gambling. He's even run up huge debts in gambling. He owes a lot of money to the main villain of the story, Daniel Quilp. Quilp is a "dwarf" who has had to deal all his life with people making fun of him. Now he revels in filth and villainy, all the while using his money and resources to get into and mess up the lives of people who had made fun of him.

One of these people is Dick. Quilp plays a little love game on Dick, making Dick feign a love interest for his little cousin Nell. Quilp claims this will make Dick's real love interest jealous. But it only makes her go off and marry some other man. But throughout the story, Quilp keeps Dick on the hook by making Dick believe that his real love interest will evetnually love him.

Another character Quilp has it in for is a man named Kit. He's a bit older than Nell, a bit younger than Dick, I believe. He acts as a kind of servant for Nell and the old man. But he gets into a fight with Quilp and does end up beating him a bit, also throwing some insults at him. So Quilp plans for Kit's ruin as well.

Quilp, in the meantime, plans to run Little Nell's already meagre fortune into the ground. One reason he plans to do this is because he wants Dick to think Nell is really rich, so that he might be interested in marrying her (he never really seems to be, as far as I can tell), but then to reveal to Dick that she's really poor.

Quilp gets into Nell's good graces by using his beautiful, kind wife, who is both terribly afraid of and, for some reason, actually in love with, Quilp. Nell has been upset of late. Mrs. Quilp, while Quilp is within range of hearing, asks why. Nell says why. Dickens reveals the reason to the audience in a scene between Quilp and the old man. It turns out Nell has discovered that the old man has been using all their money, including money lent by Quilp, for gambling.

Quilp now calls on the old man for all his debt. He also, to get at Kit, allows the old man to think that Kit was the one who gave away all the information about the old man gambling. The old man is so shocked by these circumstances that he falls into an illness and seems about to die.

While the old man is lying, apparently on his death bed, Quilp takes over the old man's house, leaving only the old man's room for the old man and Nell. Nell cares for the old man, nursing him back to health. Quilp then informs Nell and the old man that he has taken possession of all their belongings, and that he will be selling it all within a few days.

Nell has a suspicion that Quilp will try to keep her and the old man in his clutches once they have no money or possessions. So, the night before the possessions are all to be sold, Nell has herself and the old man escape London. The two wander on foot, out of the city and far away, before Quilp has even woken.

In the meantime Kit, who was never suspected by Nell, was still requested never to be around the old man again, as any mention of Kit sent the now somewhat feeble-minded old man into hysterics and sickness. But Kit was able to keep some contact with Nell, and he knows her situation. He keeps believing that Nell and the old man will come to live with his family.

Kit had been paid a little, here and there, by the services he'd rendered to the old man and Nell. But he'd mostly done what he'd done, not out of romantic love for Nell, but because he'd thought of Nell as something special, as a sort of angel. But Kit also earns money for his family by working as a horse-holder. He'd wander through all of London, asking people if he could hold their horses while they went inside to take care of business. Then, when they came back, he'd get a few pence from them.

But one day Kit meets up with a couple of men who go by the name of Garland. They have a wild, little pony named Whisker. Whisker doesn't listen to anybody. But he seems to love Kit. Kit holds the horse for the two Mister Garlands. But when they come back, they only have a large coin (I can't remember what) to give to Kit. Kit promises to bring them change the next time they come here.

Kit holds to his promise. The Garlands, so impressed by Kit's honesty, decide to put him in their service. So Kit now makes a decent amount of money (again -- I can't remember how much. It may be six pounds a year). Kit is astonished by this amount of money, and he is excited by how he'll be able to take care of his family, and even take them to the theatre and out for an oyster dinner.

Little Nell and the old man, in the meantime, have wandered far beyond London. On the road, they meet up with a troupe of actors who put on a Punch and Judy show. The leaders of the troupe, Codlin and Trotters, take Nell and the old man up with them. They all head to an inn together. By this time the old man and Nell are quite worn down, starving, and desolate. They are happy to be in an inn with kind people, eating a good meal. At one point, the conviviality is supplemented by another entertaining troupe -- this one of singing and dancing dogs, all led by a stern, human master.

Codlin and Trotters ask Nell and the old man to come with the Punch and Judy troupe the next day. They're heading to Derby Day. Apparently entertainers like the troupe of puppeteers can make good money at the festival of horse races. But Codlin and Trotters, as far as I can tell, each have their own motives for asking Nell and the old man along. Trotters, I believe, feels sorry for Nell and wants to help her out. Codlin, on the other hand, recognizes that Nell and the old man seem to be running for something. Codlin thinks he can get a reward by keeping Nell and the old man until he can hand them over to the person chasing them.

Nell catches onto this idea and decides to escape, yet again, with the old man. Nell and the old man sneak away from the Punch and Judy troupe at night. They go out on the road and make a quick stop at an old, kind of abandoned, run-down town. At the town they meet a schoolmaster whose favorite pupil is dying from a sickness. Nell helps the schoolmaster cope with what eventually turns out to be the death of the pupil.

Nell and the old man strike out on the road again. While out on the road, they meet with a woman named Mrs. Jarley. Mrs. Jarley owns a wax museum. Mrs. Jarley takes a liking to Nell and has Nell work for her as a tour guide in the wax museum. The wax museum is full of wax replicas of notorious brigands and criminals. But on schooldays, Mrs. Jarley re-dresses all the brigands as illustrious historical figures. Nell learns and performs her job so well that she draws crowds every day.

Back in London, Kit gets his chance to take his mother out to the theatre and an oyster restaurant. While serving the Garlands, Kit has met another servant, named Barbara, about Kit's age. Kit is attracted to Barbara, although he doesn't quite admit it. But when Kit takes his family out on the town, he also takes Barbara and her mom. They all have a great time, and it's obvious that Barbara loves Kit, too.

Dick, however, frustrated in love, is still under the spell of the evil Mr. Quilp. Quilp, in order to keep a tight rein on Dick, puts Dick under the charge of a Mr. Brass, a lawyer who answers to the evil financier's beck and call. Dick doesn't enjoy his job too much. And he's not too happy with his love life. But, being a devout disciple of popular music, he looks at his dire straits as the subject of his favorite top tunes. In this way, seeing himself as a hero of song, he is satisfied.

Mr. Brass and his sister Sally, who also acts as a lawyer, also have a room for rent that is vacant. One day a mysterious stranger comes to fill the room. As the mysterious stranger arrives, while Dick is alone in the office, Dick meets, for the first time, the Brass' maid. The maid is a tiny girl, her growth kept stunted by the cruel treatment she receives from the Brasses, although she also seems to be kind of pretty.

The mysterious stranger, or "the single gentleman," as he becomes known, is rather large, gruff, though not bullying, and reticent. He takes the room on the inflated terms Dick offers him, and goes upstairs immediately. He ends up causing quite a worry among the Brasses, as he seldom leaves his room and seems to have made quite a startling impression on Dick from the beginning. But the single gentleman takes Dick into his confidence and, through Dick, makes the Brasses a bit easier.

By this time, Nell has begun earning a pretty steady income at Mrs. Jarley's wax museum. Her earnings should be able to support her and the old man, especially since the two are living with Mrs. Jarley. But Nell finds out that the old man is actually back into his old habit of gambling. The old man is actually so desperate and addicted that he ends up stealing even threw paltry money that Nell does not give directly to the old man.

Finally it even turns out that the old man seems to be making a plan to steal money directly from Mrs. Jarley's cash box. Nell, feeling such gratitude to Mrs. Jarley, decides it would be better to run away from Mrs. Jarley than to have the old man steal from her. So she and the old man escape, yet again, into the night.

In London, the single gentleman, Dick and the Brasses discover, has a thing for Punch and Judy troupes. Any time he hears the advertising sounds of the puppet show come by, he runs down to the street, finds the leader of the troupe, and takes them upstairs for a private party.

One day, the single gentleman comes upon the troupe run by Codlin and Trotters. Dickens lets us in on the party the single gentleman throws for these two. It's shown that the single gentleman has been looking for these two men all this time. They can give him more information on -- the whereabouts of Nell. It turns out that Nell is the heir to a previously unknown family fortune.

The single gentleman learns that Nell ran off from Codlin and Trotters in the night. However, Codlin and Trotters also relate that they heard that Nell ended up working at a wax museum in another town. The gentleman also learns how important Kit was to Nell. So the single gentleman, in hopes of more easily getting in touch with Nell, plans to bring Kit with him.

Nit Kit remembers that Nell's grandfather appears to be almost mortally afraid of Kit. But Kit's mother is still beloved of both Nell and the old man. So the single gentleman says he'll take Kit's mother with him. Kit runs off to get his mother. But his mother is in some new-age style church that she's kind of addicted to. For some reason, Quilp is there, too. When Kit grabs his mom out of church, Quilp wonders why, and he decides to follow Kit and his mother.

Kit's mother and the single gentleman go off on their journey. They get as far, I think, as Mrs. Jarley's wax museum. The word on Nell runs out from there. But, at the same time, Quilp reveals himself as having been following Kit's mom. He causes such a stir with things that he probably makes Kit's mother too afraid to continue on the journey any longer. So Kit's mother and the single gentleman go back to London.

But Quilp follows Kit's mother back to London, taunting her all the way. Kit confronts Quilp and threatens to beat Quilp up next time he does anything to Kit's mother. This throws Quilp off the trail of Kit's mother, but sets Quilp even more against Kit. Quilp plans to get back at Quilp.

But first Quilp goes home to find out the Mrs. Quilp and all her female friends and relatives, as well as Mr. Brass, have come to the conclusion that Quilp is dead. Quilp surprises everybody, blames his wife for what Quilp believed was her throwing a party to celebrate Quilp's death, and decides that he's going to live the bachelor life in his own counting-house. But he threatens Mrs. Quilp never to appear like she's having fun again, lest he come and terrorize her worse than he'd done already.

Quilp, living the life of a bachelor, now invites Mr. Brass and his sister Sally over for tea. This is a wretched affair, at which Quilp explains that he wishes to have Kit ruined. The three decide on a way to do this.

While the Brasses are out and about, Dick is again alone in the office. He has another chance to meet the pretty, but stunted and undernourished maid. He gives the maid a bit of food and some beer and teaches the maid how to play cribbage. The maid, a naturally cunning girl, though her mental faculties have never been attended to, manages to beat Dick at cribbage. But she also gains a fondness for Dick, as he has been the only person ever to have treated her as a real person.

Nell and the old man have, by this time, been wandering for some while, going and going without stopping, as if Nell were afraid to set roots down anywhere, lest the old man should start up with his gambling addiction again. But finally Nell catches a terrible illness and faints away.

Nell is sick for quite a while. She awakes from her sickness to find herself and the old man in the care of the people of a small town. A schoolmaster has taken a liking to Nell. The schoolmaster has recently obtained a new position in another town. Knowing how intent Nell is on keeping moving, the schoolmaster asks Nell to come along with him. So Nell and the old man go along.

The town in which the schoolmaster is set to work is small, indeed. But the schoolmaster gets a large, though old and worn-down, house. The schoolmaster also gets Nell a job. Nell now holds the keys to the doors of the old church. She opens the church for people. She is also taught the lore of the church, which she provides to people who visit the church. In return, Nell and the old man get to live in rooms inside the old church.

The church is full of old statues and relics, a kind of museum of people great and honored at the time of the church's building, centuries ago. The church, Nell's house, is large, but worn down, a bit unhealthy, all the wise, old people of the small, old town say, for a young, potentially cheerful girl, such as Nell is.

But Nell gets along well with all the people in the small town. And all the schoolmasters pupils love and adore Nell, thinking of the girl as an angel, like Kit did.

Back in London, Kit finds himself unexpectedly befriended by Mr. Brass, who pays Kit unheard of sums to run trifling errands. But the game soon makes itself apparent. Mr. Brass one day pretends to be missing a few items around the office. He then pretends to be missing a whole five pound note, which, through a ruse with Kit's hat, he manages to blame Kit for stealing. This is a rather huge crime to pin on Kit -- if you consider that his annual salary under the Garlands is six pounds!

Kit is hauled off to jail. But before he goes, he is given the chance to tell the Garlands what happened. The single gentleman also finds out. So does Quilp, who is quite happy with the news. Quilp is, in fact, so happy with the news that he goes and buys a giant sculpture from a ship's mast, which is shaped like some kind of captain. Quilp associates this strange figure with Quilp, and proceeds to unleash an orgy of beating upon the poor wooden figure.

The trial goes terribly for Kit. Even the Garlands, who have faith in Kit, don't know how to help him. The Brasses standing against Kit, the old gentleman, who loves Kit, moves out of the Brass house. Mr. Brass complains of this to Quilp. Quilp, who was the only reason Dick had a job in the first place, tells Brass to fire Dick.

Dick, being fired, finally succumbs to an illness. He is delirious and bed-ridden for weeks. But when he wakes, he finds that the Brass' maid has been caring for him all this time. The maid also lets on that she found out the conspiracy between Quilp and the Brasses to ruin Kit.

Dick gets the maid to tell her story to the Garlands. The Garlands confront Sally Brass on the matter. Sally would remain silent to defend herself and her brother. But Mr. Brass comes in, having been eavesdropping, and confesses to everything. Sally manages to escape while her brother is actually spending his time writing out his confession.

Quilp, unaware of anything going on against him, is partying in a favorite run-down, secluded building of his. But, receiving a warning letter from Sally, Quilp decides to leave town immediately. Then, seeing what a horribly foggy day it is, he decides to stay overnight and leave early in the morning.

Quilp locks the gates around the secluded area right before the police come to apprehend him. So they cannot get in. But Quilp accidentally knocks down a stove he was using for heat. Smoke from the stove spreads all over the place, causing Quilp to stumble around madly. In his stumbling, Quilp falls down into a nearby river, is actually carried underneath a passing boat, is drowned and washes up on shore.

Kit is freed from prison. The single gentleman takes Kit with him to retrieve Nell. On the way to find Nell, the single gentleman gives Kit the story of Nell. The story was hard for me to understand. Apparently Nell's father was brother to a rich man who loved Nell's mother. Since Nell's father got Nell's mother, Nell's uncle cut off communication with him. But when Nell's parents died, and Nell went to live with her grandfather, the uncle saw what a mistake he'd made, not to take care of Nell himself. So now he'd left his money for Nell, so Nell could care for herself.

But by the time Kit and the single gentleman find Nell, Nell has died. She died only a day or two previously. The old man, his wits totally gone, is too astonished even to comprehend Nell's death. Nell is buried the next day. The old man dies not long after. He is buried beside Nell, in the floor of the old church, Nell's last home.

Kit goes back home and marries Barbara, who truly has been his love interest. Later, the Garlands help Kit get a better living than he could earn under them. The single gentleman wanders along the path of Nell's journey, finding our more about her travels and what kind of a person she was. And Dick, who was also a relative of the deceased uncle, receives an annuity of 150 pounds in the will! He uses this money to send the poor maid to school. And after the maid gets out of school, she and Dick get married.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

From Excluded to Exclusive -- Frederic Morton's Rothschilds

I guess that my strongest feeling regarding the Rothschilds coming into this book was the MX-80 Sound song, from the late 1970s, called "Natty Rothschild." The song is in the lovely MX-80 Sound tradition of absurd, kind of poetic, almost spoken-word type lyrics. It's all about the kind of absurdly rich and lifestyle of the Rothschilds, from the embittered view of a post-punk rock band.

Morton's representation of the Rothschilds also gives a portrait of rather lavish, sometimes absurdly lavish, lifestyles. Certain members of the Rothschilds, for instance, owned their own circuses, funded their own private symphonies, or received entire schools as sweet-sixteen birthday presents. Morton even gives an episode of an entire private train being sent after one Rothschild, to give him a change of clothes for a royal dinner.

Of course, the Rothschilds, being a rather exclusive group of people controlling a large amount of wealth all across the world, provide fodder for all kinds of conspiracy theorists' imaginations. And, since I find conspiracy theory as interesting as the next guy does, I've lately wanted to know more about the Rothschilds.

Also, over the past two or so years, I've become more and more interested in the lives of the legends of business and finance. These people have done as much or more as politicians and generals to shape history. But a lot of times, I've thought of these people as "just" business people. The Rothschilds weren't on the top of my list -- for some reason I was more interested in the Americans.

But one day I found Frederic Morton's 1961 history of The Rothschilds at my favorite New York City bookstore, the Housing Works Used Bookstore Cafe. I brought it home with me. And I tried to read it once, after I'd finished my reading of Moll Flanders. I got about fifty pages through it and had to stop. It's not too terribly well written.

But, for some reason I decided again, after having finished Dickens' American Notes, that I would really try to read The Rothschilds. So I started it yesterday and found the same kind of difficulty. But this time I just pressed through the difficulty.

The story of the Rothschilds is very interesting. But, as it was really hard for me to understand, I think I'd like to spend all my effort in this post on a summary of the history, as I understood it from Morton's book.

The story starts with Mayer Amschel Rothschild. He was living, I think, in Hanover, being put through school to become a Rabbi, in Hanover. But his parents, who lived in Frankfort, died. And so, around 1764, Rothschild had to stop his studies. He could have gone to work with a counting-house in Hanover. But he decided to go back to Frankfort.

In Frankfort, Rothschild had to live on the Judenstrasse, or Jew-Street. He, like all the other Jews in Frankfort, experienced all kinds of racial bigotry. But Rothschild got started working for himself. His scholarly attitude enabled him to get an edge in collecting and creating portfolios of old coins. Rothschild eventually began to peddle his coins to wealthier people.

Eventually, through his coin-selling business, Rothschild formed a relationship with the Frankfurter Prince William at Hesse. By 1769, Rothschild was given a Factorship by Prince William. Encouraged by this business, Rothschild expanded his business into a "Wechselstube," basically a currency-exchanging sort of bank.

Prince William, like his father, made a large amount of his money by conscripting, training, and then selling as soldiers, the young male subjects in his realm. Prince William's treasury official, a man named Carl Buderus, took a liking to Mayer Rothschild. He therefore convinced Prince William to give Rothschild some of his money-changing business. In 1785, Prince William's father died, and Prince William became Landgrave.

Rothschild also ran other businesses, such as a dry goods and second-hand goods shop. Rothshchild managed most of his banking affairs in a small, underground counting-house, which was actuallly composed of two secret rooms, the deeper of which held all of the contracts for the business Rothschild did with Landgrave William.

From this point, Morton discusses Rothschild's business strengths. One business strength is that Rothschild made a point of conducting business with some of the highest nobility in his region. The second is that, with Landgrave William, Rothschild gave very good rates on his services -- this made Carl Buderus trust Rothschild even more with Landgrave William's accounts.

The third business strength Morton gives is the fact that Rothschild had five sons, which became for him something like a financial army, as well as a reason to keep working at all: posterity.

By this point, Rothschild had been carrying on trades of goods with England. Rothschild would buy goods in England and sell them in Frankfurt. At the same time, Landgrave William was training soldiers in Frankfurt and selling them in England. Rothschild got the idea that his sons could act as a middle-man for Landgrave William's activities in England. Carl Buderus agreed to this idea. And this set Rothschild's sons in motion.

Then one of Landgrave William's uncles, the King of Denmark, got into financial troubles which could have bankrupted his nation. Landgrave William wanted to bail out Denmark. But he didn't want to be known as the person to have done it. Again, Rothschild was able to act as a middleman on the loan that was given to the King of Denmark.

In 1806, just as Rothschild and his sons were becoming the chief bankers for Landgrave William, Napoleon took over Frankfurt and sent Landgrave William into exile, in Denmark.

But Landgrave William's business operations were still operating all over Europe. The money William had made from selling conscripted soldiers had been invested in other areas. Landgrave William now wanted the money from those investments. And he needed somebody to go get it for him. Carl Buderus again chose to use Rothschild and his sons as managers for William's business activities.

But, at the same time, one of Rothschild's sons, Nathan, who lived in London, began trading contraband goods from England to the European continent. Napoleon had banned all sorts of goods, even in France. But Nathan had found some way to get them to the continent. And he was now selling them at "famine prices."

It took a while, but the Rothschilds were, also getting William's investment money back for him. But Mayer Rothschild asked Carl Buderus to convince William to let the Rothschilds use William's money for currency trading. William agreed to this. The money was given to Nathan, in London. Nathaniel was a gifted trader. And he multiplied William's money and made plenty of profits himself. However, William soon tired of this kind of investment and asked to be given what he'd gotten.

Now, however, Nathan Rothschild had developed quite a stable reputation among a number of other extremely influential people. When 800,000 pounds sterling in worth of gold went on sale in India, the Duke of Wellington assigned Nathan to get the gold for him. Nathan had already been of the same idea. The only problem was how to get the gold from India, through Napoleon, and into England.

Another one of Nathan's sons, Jacob, or "James," as he came to be known, was living in France. He helped Nathan by setting up a campaign of misinformation. He made it seem as if there were an inflow of gold arriving into France, which the English were trying to stop. By giving the details of this supposed inflow, he made it so that there was basically free access for the gold that was traveling from India to flow through and out of France, and in to England, where it reached Nathan and then the Duke of Wellington.

Nathan was also famous for a rather notorious trade he made, based on the news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Everybody had their eyes glued to how Nathan was investing. He invested all his money one way. Everybody followed him. Prices became very cheap. Nathan bought everything he could at a cheap price. Then it was announced that Napoleon had been defeated. And everything that Nathan had bought skyrocketed. A ton of people lost entire fortunes by following Nathan's first move. But Nathan made a whole lot of money in his own follow-up moves.

After Napoleon's defeat, peace came back to Europe. The Rothschilds had been key financial agents during the War, due to their widespread reach, speed, and flexibility. But when peace came, the more refined gentlemen, more like courtiers than bankers, moved back into the scene, and edged out the Rothschilds.

But the Rothschilds found a way to edge their way right back into the financial world. France had issued about 610 million francs in loans, without using the Rothschilds. But the Rothschilds had made a lot of money during the War. They now bought up those bonds, all in secret. And, at the right moment, they began selling everything.

The bond prices were depressing so much, it threatened to cause a financial crisis in France. The Rothschilds revealed what they had done. The French banking world decided to let the Rothschilds have their place in the financial world again. And the Rothschilds brought everything back to a state of order.

At this point in the story, Morton gives character sketches of Mayer Rothschild's five sons. He first describes Nathan, the Rothschild son who operated out of London. But Morton described Nathan in kind of general terms, which sort of makes sense, since Nathan has, up to this point in the book, played a pretty big role already.

Morton then describes Jacob, or, as he was later known, "James," the Rothschild son who operated out of Paris. The most interesting thing, to me, about James, is that he was a friend for so many artists. He was friends with Heine, Rossini, Balzac, Delacroix, and others. But he was also very shrewd in working with the various parties that oversaw France during the tempestuous first half of the nineteenth century.

Salomon is the next son described. He operated out of Vienna. In Vienna, Salomon formed a strong relationship with Prince Metternich, as well as with Marie Louise Bonaparte, wife of the exiled Napoleon. With this influence, as well as through his own skill, Salomon was able to accumulate a number of real estate possessions, including the Vitkovitz coal and iron works.

Carl, the head of the Rothschild's Naples operations, is described next, in a vignette about meeting with the Pope, and being given his hand to kiss, instead of being required to kiss his foot.

Amschel, who ran his father's Frankfurt business, is described as being a bit like his father -- the courtier of the family, the one who would soften the hard edges of his other brothers. The character sketch of Amschel also ends with a nice, little sketch of Mayer Rothschild's wife, Gutele, the mother of the family, who lived to be ninety-six years old.

Morton next moves into a small description of the various ways that the Rothschilds controlled the flow of information in various parts of Europe, as well as manipulating people of political influence in Europe, through the second quarter of the nineteenth century, in order to avert the outbreak of large-scale war.

From this point, Morton describes some of the activities the Rothschild brothers carried out with railroads. Nathan, Morton says, was a bit too late to make money on the railroad boom in England. But he was able to alert Salomon in Vienna and James in Paris about the coming railroad booms there.

In Vienna, Salomon first encountered resistance against railroads through what we might think of as the "Not In My BackYard," or "NIMBY" mentality. Also, most people thought that travel by railroad was too fast. People seriously thought the speeds of the railroad would kill human beings.

While Salomon and Metternich were battling public opinion, another financial institution, Sina, was also working to build railway lines. Salomon was building lines in the North. Sina wanted to build lines in the South, and then beat Salomon out of the business through competition. But Metternich helped Salomon's northern railroad get royal approval, and, thus, more credibility than Sina's railroad. Sina attempted to attack the credibility of Salomon's railroad through quasi-scientific propaganda. But Salomon beat Sina at that game, too.

Morton then gives an interesting story of how one of the Rothschild workers in France, a man named Carpentier, with a few other people in the Rothschild office in France, managed to extort thirty-one million francs from the Rothschild office.

Morton continues the railroad story with James. James was also meeting a lot of resistance in France. People thought railroads were either extravagant and impractical, or outright dangerous. They felt that people were only putting up railroads to exploit the new mechanisms and make money. So James had to hire as many pro-railroad propaganda-spreaders as he could, to meet the resistance coming from the anti-railroad propaganda-spreaders.

One of the propaganda spreaders James hired was a Portugese man named Jacob Emile Pereire. Pereire served James pretty well. But Achille Fould, one of James' finance-world rivals, once the railroad controversy was over, won Pereire over to his own side. Achille Fould used Pereire to spearhead the Credit Mobiliere, an investment firm that would open itself up to the common people, allowing people to make investments of as low as one thousand francs.

The Credit Mobiliere became extremely popular, and Pereire went very actively into the finance world. He also worked his way into the world of the court. When Napoleon III fell in love with Eugenie de Montijo, a woman with few social credentials, the nobility of France was in a rage. James stood by Napoleon. And Napoleon eventually married Eugenie. But Pereire stood by the nobility. And, as a result, he got a lot more friends than James did.

It appeared that, because of this, Pereire, with his Credit Mobiliere funds, would be the chief banker of France. And, in fact, Pereire did win a number of really good deals, including power over the Austrian State Railways.

And now, in 1855, the aging Rothschild brothers were beginning to pass away. Nathan, Carl, Salomon, and Amchel all died in 1855. James was suddenly the only Rothschild brother left.

But the next generation of Rothschilds were ready to join in the fight against Pereire. Salomon's son Anselm started the fight. He took the Credit Mobiliere idea and started up a similar kind of institution, the Creditanstalt, in Vienna, effectively debilitating Pereire in Austria.

Then Nathan's son Lionel, in London, and James' son Alphonse, in France, both began fighting for railroad investments. They brought down a number of deals on Pereire's head. They also began using the old Nathan Rothschild bid of driving an investment price in one direction, then getting out of the investment, watching it move in the other direction, then re-collecting on it from that direction. All these moves eventually exhausted the solitary Pereire. His funds basically collapsed. And the Rothschilds were back in charge.

Morton now gives a bit more information on this generation of Rothschild brothers. He begins with Lionel, who, like his father, was instrumental in a lot of the great financial transactions that occurred in England. In 1847, Lionel raised eight million pounds for the British government in its efforts to aid the Irish during their famine. And in 1854, Lionel raised another sixteen million pounds for the British government, so that it could enter into the Crimean War.

Lionel became friends with British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. And, in 1875, when the Egyptian Khedive, overwhelmed with debts, put his shares of ownership of the Suez Canal up for sale, Disraeli worked with Lionel to secure those shares for Britain. Lionel eventually ended up, on very short notice, and against conventional British procedures, providing the British government with the 400 million pounds necessary to purchase the shares of the Suez Canal.

Even with all their wealth and influence, the Rothschilds still faced anti-Semitism. Lionel did his best to fight for equal treatment of Jewish people in Europe. But probably one of the greatest steps he took was getting himself into Parliament.

In these days, Jews were not allowed into Parliament. But Lionel, flouting convention, campaigned for election and got himself elected into the House of Commons in 1850. But the ceremony and oaths that Lionel had to go through were filled with Christian-oriented language. Lionel, being Jewish, couldn't agree to the oaths -- they went against his religion. So it was determined that he couldn't sit in Parliament.

For eight years, Lionel fought for the right of Jews to take a different oath from Christians, so that they could sit in Parliament. Finally, Lionel won this right for the Jews. And he sat in Parliament for eleven years.

Lionel later tried to get into the House of Lords. But, in this case, Queen Victoria was the sole determinant regarding Lionel's acceptance. And Queen Victoria was too steeped in convention to allow the rules to change for Lionel. Nevertheless, Lionel's son, Nathaniel Mayer, did get into the House of Lords, in 1885.

Morton then moves on to character sketches of the other Rothschild brothers. Natty Rothschild -- I guess he'd be the Natty Rothschild of MX-80 Sound's song -- also ran for parliament. He gave a lot to charities, and he did a lot for Jewish causes. But he seems to have been a bit of an imposing character.

Leo was a bit more easygoing. He raised horses and competed in Derbies. His house was incredibly extravagant. But he was a very approachable and helping kind of person.

Alfred was an interesting character. He had his own private symphony. And he'd hold what he called "adoration dinners," where greatly admired young women were invited as the sole female dinner guests. At these dinners, the solitary women would be wooed by three or four wealthy, individual men. It seems like an ultra-elite version of the Dating Game.

James' son Alphonse was able to maintain the Paris business, as his father had, through the various changes in government in France. Also, when France was reeling under the effects of losing the Franco-Prussian War, Alphonse was able to raise the funds to provide France with the means of sustaining itself and rebuilding.

Edmond's great effort was to back the efforts of the Jewish people to establish colonies in Palestine. This was largely against the general sentiment of the rest of the Rothschilds, who weren't necessarily for the Zionist movement. Even Edmond didn't consider himself -- I'm pretty sure -- a Zionist. But he provided the movement with funds all through his life.

After discussing a few more elements of the Rothschilds' lives and business activities, Morton moves into a discussion of the Rothschilds' attempts to avert World War I. These entreaties from the Rothschilds were heeded by people of influence. But the momentum of the war was too strong, even for the Rothschilds. Rothschild men fought -- and died -- in the War.

After the War, Morton says, the Rothschilds, like the rest of the world, were changed. Morton paints a picture of the Rothschilds family values being shaken and shimmied away by the Jazz Age. More than anything else, it just seems like the young Rothschilds, following the War, didn't lose their values, but determined what the new, more fashionable ways were of being extravagant with their wealth.

Morton then follows Louis Rothschild, who was thirty years old at the end of the first World War, through the years of the Depression (as well as through an accident on the New York City subway station!) and into the years preceding the second World War. Louis was in charge of the Vienna operations for the Rothschilds during this time.

Louis Rothschild's story is the most dramatic of all, in my opinion. In 1937, Louis was arrested by the Gestapo. Louis was imprisoned for a ransom, which included the signing over of the Vitkovitz coal and iron works to the Nazis. But Louis would not accede to these terms, and he advised the rest of the Rothschilds not to comply. Besides, Vitkovitz -- on the surface, anyway -- no longer belonged to the Rothschilds. It had been ostensibly transferred into the hands of the British.

Louis went through a number of rather opulent trials with some of the Nazi elite, including Herman Goring and Heinrich Himmler. Goring and Himmler basically tried to bribe Rothschild into complying with the ransom demands. But Louis remained steadfast and was let out of custody of the Nazis.

Morton then discusses the achievements of some of the younger generation of Rothschilds in the second World War. Guy de Rothschilds and Philippe de Rotshschild had spectacular, unbelieveable careers with the French military. The splendid of Edmund Rothschild with the British military and of Victor, Lord Rothschild with the British (and the American?) military, are also described.

Another interesting story Morton gives is about the search, following the War, for the Rothschilds' stolen art. Hitler had pillaged a number of art collections. The Rothschilds' collections were, of course, among the larges. But, through the work of invetigator James J. Rorimer, the work was located.

Rorimer worked off of tips from Rose Valland, an art student in occupied France who had been recruited to appraise art for Hitler and had, consequently, heard Hitler's men discussing where they would hide this art. Rorimer went to one location and found a series of cipher-stamps which gave him clues as to the location of a large number of other hiding places for Hitler's collection of stolen art.

Morton then concludes the book with a discussion of the younger generation of Rothschilds. This includes Guy de Rothschild, who, at the time of Morton's writing, was running the de Rothschilds Freres bank in France, and maintaining its position as largest private bank in France. Morton gives a portrait of the lives of the Rothschilds in the 1960s, and of the role of women in the Rothschild family. Morton then ends the book with a description of how exclusive the Rothschild banking institutions remain, to this day. Only the most elite work with the Rothschilds.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sensational Institutions -- Dickens' American Notes and the Brooklyn Museum

(NOTE: The quotes below are from the Project Gutenberg edition of American Notes, by Charles Dickens. A link to a rights-free download of American Notes is below.

Charles Dickens' American Notes)

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope you have a great year.

Over the New Year holiday, I read Charles Dickens' American Notes. During the daytime on New Year's Eve I went to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It's near my neighborhood, and right now I'm not really comfortable with spending money on a subway pass to go to the different museums in Manhattan. On New Year's Eve night, I hung out with a friend of mine. We had some Indian food.

The exhibit I went to go see was called Hide/Seek. As far as I could tell from what I was reading of it, it was supposed to be an exploration of sexual identity in art in the 20th century. It seemed to me like it was supposed to be a really sexual kind of exhibit.

I don't think this was just my imagination. I'm pretty sure the exhibit tried to push itself as sensational. Even at the front doors to the exhibit room, there was a big sign saying that parents should really consider carefully before bringing their kids inside.

But the exhibit was hardly sexual at all. I kept waiting for something really strikingly sexual. I never found anything that was even overtly sexual or shocking.

There's another exhibit going on at the Brooklyn Museum right now. It's called Youth and Beauty. I wrote a post about that exhibit a couple weeks ago. I would say that the best things about the Hide/Seek exhibit, which is one floor below the Youth and Beauty exhibit, are like trickle-downs from the Youth and Beauty exhibit.

It seems to me that somebody in the museum must really be loving a few artists right now. Those artists would be Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Romaine Brooks, Florine Stettheimer, and Georgia O'Keefe. There are works by all these artists, I believe, in both exhibits. But, with the exception of Romaine Brooks' work, everything by these artists in the Youth and Beauty exhibit is far superior to everything by these artists in the Hide/Seek exhibit.

There are some interestingly sexual works, however. There's a nice drawing of a nude man by John Singer Sargent. It's very alluring. The man is posed in a dignified, but sleek and sexy position.

There are a few interesting works by George Bellows. One is a drawing of men at a shower-bath. There are men plunging into a swimming pool, standing outside the pool, laughing and joking with each other, or, in the far background, taking showers. Some of the men are very overtly sexual toward other men. Some are incredibly shy. Some are just enjoying themselves. But the overall mood is very unabashedly homoerotic.

There's also a painting by Bellows of boys bathing at the waterfront in New York City. This painting is beautiful in itself, just because of its color. But it is also very erotic. There are a lot of half naked or fully naked boys, laying on the waterfront, playing on docks, jumping in the water, or hanging around with each other. There are some clothed adults looking on.

The atmosphere of this painting is fun and erotic, while also being kind of dismal and dirty -- these are working class boys who aren't really welcome at the beaches, where more well-off people go to bathe. So they have to have their "fun at the beach" at the waterfront.

There is a photo of Djuna Barnes which I like a lot. But nothing about it is too terribly erotic. It's just Djuna Barnes sitting there. Nevertheless, Djuna Barnes is really cool. She was, I think, a lesbian, or bisexual. She was raised in a polygamous household. And she wrote a whole book of lesbian poetry in 1915.

She also made a statement that I really love about the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, which comes to me from my reading of Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. Barnes said that the secret of that story is that really, little girls like the idea of sleeping in bed with the big, bad wolf, while he's disguising himself as the innocent grandma. It's a dimension of sexuality most people don't see or admit they see.

Right next to the photo of Djuna Barnes is a lovely self-portrait by Romaine Brooks. It's almost all in black and white. There are just some tinges of red here and there. Romaine Brooks looks like some gangly character out of a Tim Burton movie.

Another work in the exhibit that I really liked was by a man named Paul Cadmus. This was a fantastical painting of the composer Reynaldo Hahn. Hahn is sitting in a park, composing music, at the top of a set of steps. The afternoon is approaching night. A semi-transparent moon hovers in the sky.

Down along the steps is the satyr Pan, his torso loosely wrapped in a red and black length of fabric that trains off behind him, back into the park, and up toward Reynaldo Hahn. Hahn is also accompanied by a white and iridescent-skinned fairy-boy, who is flying up over Hahn's seat. The fairy boy has poked his face down so that he can kiss Hahn.

Hahn is so moved by his kiss that he lifts his pen from his sheets of music. A couple sheets flow off into the wind, becoming iridescent, as if transformed into magic through the fairy-boy's powers.

This painting is nice. It's pretty skilfully done. And it's pretty imaginative. But what I like most of all about it is the looks on the characters' faces. Looking at Reynaldo Hahn's style of dress, I at first thought that the painting had been done in the late 1800s or early 1900s. But looking at the faces of the characters, I got the distinct impression that they could have been in an Andy Warhol movie. The painting was done in the early 1960s. So the characters could have been characters from an Andy Warhol movie.

I spent some time with a set of photos by a woman photographer. But I can't remember the photographer's name. The photos were all of drag kings. I feel like the community of women who like to dress as men is still looked down upon in the United States. But I like drag kings. I spent a while looking at these photos. But I guess I wasn't very moved by them. I can't remember very much about them.

There was a small section devoted to some of Andy Warhol's screen tests -- which was just kind of the epitome of how unimaginative this exhibit was. Out of all the sexual films by Andy Warhol, the choice went to the screen tests. The screen tests are awesome! But MoMA had them up a year ago, in a huge room, all to themselves. And that was incredible. Something else could have bee in this space.

Coming into this exhibit, I was hoping to god that I'd see some work by Nan Goldin. Thankfully, I did. There was one color photo of two transvestites, after the New York City Gay Pride Parade in 1991 or 1992, I think. They're both fabulously dressed -- one with a blue with and a silver, sleeveless top; the other with a wig of sexy, blonde ringlets, a white-mesh shirt, and a gold bra.

And there's another photo of one of Nan Goldin's transvestite roommates, in the 1970s, I think, sitting in a tanktop that's slinking off her shoulders, hunching forward, meditating over a cup of tea. That's one of my favorite photos in the world. So I was happy to see that.

But the best work of the entire exhibit is along the back wall. It's called "Felix, June 5, 1994." I can't remember who it's by. It takes up almost the entire back wall of the exhibit. It's one photo, enlarged to maybe five meters in width and three meters in height.

The photo shows a man lying in bed. The man is dead, but he has his eyes open. When I first saw the picture, I thought the man was alive. I figured -- because he was so thin and wasted away -- that he was in the final stages of AIDS. He's laying on a colorful pile of pillows, half-covered in a colorful quilt. He's wearing a nice, button-up shirt with circular, eye-dazzling, black and white designs. He's terribly emaciated.

It was a terribly disturbing, but very compelling photo.

But I suppose my favorite part of the day at the Brooklyn Museum was the installation by Moroccoan-French artist Mounir Fatmi, called "Maximum Sensation." This installation is of fifty-one skateboards. All the skateboards' tops are covered with segments of rugs which were, I believe, designed by Fatmi.

The segments are all very colorful. There are lovely greens -- emerald greens and bright pine greens. There are some incredible reds -- like rubies, just so red, it's like it's transparent. There are a few different shades of blue. Some very vivid blue. Some blue that's like snow or ice. And some of the rugs contrast the bright green with the vivid blue in a way that's just as cool and fresh as a snowy mountain.

Various designs repeat themselves. There are scenes of a building, maybe a mosque?, with a domed roof. There are scenes, I believe, of the Qa'aba. And I think there is one more kind of city scene. Then there are various abstract, rug-like designs that repeat themselves.

Also, the broader designs on the boards are often interrupted by various design motifs. One motif is a kind of crystal ball or bubble, that cuts a new scene into the background scene. Another is a set of chains that runs down one side of the scene. There are these beautiful, blue, eye-like flowers that occasionally act like bars across certain backgrounds. I called them "blue eyes." There are also golden flowers, kind of square shaped, which I called "orange suns." And I believe there were also smallish, pinkish flowers.

The designs were all really lovely.

So, over the past couple days, I've been reading Charles Dickens' American Notes. The book is an account of the six months Dickens and his wife spent traveling to and around America. The story basically follows Dickens from Boston, to New York, then to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, down to Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Baltimore.

From here, Dickens takes travels along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and journeys through Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and Columbus. He then visits the Niagara Falls and spends a bit of time in Canada, before heading back to New York, then taking a ship back to London.

The feeling I got from the book is that Dickens wanted to go to America to see the condition of the Southern states in America -- the states that, at that time, still allowed the enslavement of African Americans. But Dickens discovered, as he was heading down south, that he wasn't going to be able to see slavery as it really was. When Dickens discovered that he wasn't going to be able to get a real view of the conditions of the Southern states, Dickens decided to head west, instead, into some of the less developed areas of America. Dickens says:

"I had at first intended going South -- to Charleston. But when I came to consider the length of time which this journey would occupy, and the premature heat of the season, which even at Washington had been often very trying; and weighed moreover, in my own mind, the pain of living in the constant contemplation of slavery, against the more than doubtful chances of my ever seeing it, in the time I had to spare, stripped of the disguises in which it would certainly be dressed, and so adding any item to the host of facts already heaped together on the subject; I began to listen to old whipserings which had often been present to me at home in England, when I little thought of ever being here; and to dream again of cities growing up, like palaces in fairy tales, among the wilds and forests of the west."

This decision of Dickens' really marks the division between the first half and second half of the book. In the first half of the book, Dickens' aim seems to be to explore all the institutions he can. But these institutions mainly end up being mental hospitals and prisons. And I think Dickens was, really, so interested in describing how prisons were run in America, simply because he was so disappointed that he wasn't going to be able to criticize, from first-hand experience, the way that plantations were run in the cruel slavery conditions of the Southern states.

Nevertheless, Dickens devotes a whole chapter near the end of his book to his beliefs regarding slavery. I feel like this chapter is extremely important. It gives a very quick overview of the ideas held by people who, either half-heartedly or whole-heartedly, supported slavery. Dickens exposes the hypocrisy of these ideas.

But even more important than Dickens' exposure of the hypocrisy of these ideas is, I believe, a horrendous list of descriptions, printed in newspapers, of runaway slaves. These slaves were all to be recognized by marks of torture they'd received: knife-wounds, bullet-wounds, brandings, dismembermenents, whippings, and punched-out teeth! It's really terrible.

Another idea that Dickens discusses, though not in this specific chapter of the book, deals with the mental disfigurement of the African American slaves. He gives an idea of the effect of the slaves of the laws prohibiting even the basic education of slaves. It's a really bleak situation.

But Dickens makes another argument, which I think is just as important. Dickens argues that the moral effect of slavery -- of creating a social situation wherein human beings are not only allowed, but often required, to treat other human beings like nothing more than property animals -- leads to an overall situation of moral corruption and decay, even among members of the community who are not -- ostensibly, at least -- supposed to treat each other like property or animals.

In an earlier chapter of this book, Dickens gives a good portrait of the situation, as he saw it personally:

"In this district, as in all others where slavery sits brooding, (I have frequently heard this admitted, even by those who are its warmest advocates:) there is an air of ruin and decay abroad, which is inseparable from the system. The barns and outhouses are mouldering away; the sheds are patched and half-roofless; the log cabins (built in Virginia with external chimneys made of clay or wood) are squalid in the last degree. There is no look of decent comfort anywhere. The miserable stations by the railway side; the great wild wood-yards, whence the engine is supplied with fuel; the negro children rolling on the ground before the cabin doors, with dogs and pigs; the biped beasts of burden slinking past: gloom and dejection are upon them all."

In the slavery chapter of the book, Dickens reasons why this atmosphere of moral dejection should prevail in states supporting slavery:

"Do we not know that the worst deformity and ugliness of slavery are at once the cause and effect of the reckless license taken by these freeborn outlaws? Do we not know that the man who has been born and bred among its wrongs; who has seen in his childhood husbands obliged at the word of command to flog their wives; women, indecently compelled to hold up their own garments that men might lay the heavier stripes upon their legs, driven and harried by brutal overseers in their time of travail, itself; who has read in youth, and seen his virgin sisters read, descriptions of runaway men and women, and their disfigured persons, which could not be published elsewhere, of so much stock upon a farm, or at a show of beasts: -- do we not know that that man, whenever his wrath is kindled up, will be a brutal savage?"

I believe that Dickens really wanted to see the conditions on the plantations, so that he could put his vehement disagreement with slavery into a much more powerful, first-hand kind of account. But, since he wasn't able to do that, I think he fell back onto the conditions of prisons in the United States.

However, I think that prison conditions are tied up, in America and in England, with slavery in the United States. As one can see from the book Moll Flanders, which I wrote a post about a few days ago, the plantation states in America were regarded, for a long time, by Britain, as states where prisoners were sent to work, as a punishment. When these British prisoners came to America, they themselves were slaves. They were even sold to plantation owners.

So I think that in Dickens' time, the Southern states were still associated in the British mind with the prisoners who had come to America as punishments for their crimes. Since Dickens wasn't able to see the treatment of the African American slaves, he might as well see the equivalent in his mind of slaves: prisoners in jails, like the prisoners who had been sent to these shores by England over the seventeenth and eighteent centuries.

Dickens visits a number of prisons -- but they're almost all in New England. There are a few prisons that Dickens actually approves of. But the prisons in the main, are run poorly. The two most ghastly prisons are The Tombs, in New York City, and the Eastern Penitentiary, in Philadelphia.

The Tombs is a horrid place, where wardens rule over all the prisoners, some convicted, some awaiting trial, and some acting only as witnesses!, with a severe degree of cruelty, never letting any of these dwellers out to walk, or even to see the sun.

The Eastern Penitentiary is a horrid place as well. But it has a much more sanitary atmosphere about it. It almost feels like an involuntary monastery. All the prisoners are sentenced to solitary confinement. Some of them eventually get work to do. But none of them is ever allowed to speak to other prisoners, to go outside, or to see anybody they knew -- including spouses and family members -- before they went to prison.

The result of this is that some of the prisoners go quite insane. Almost none of the prisoners are prepared for the shock that awaits them once they enter back into the wider world. And, Dickens notes, most of the really hardened criminals, who leave only to come right back, seem to be the least affected by the punishment; while the criminals who would have dealt much better with a more constructive, rehabilitative punishment, are basically shattered souls once they leave confinement.

However, Dickens' discussions of these institutions doesn't begin on such a negative note. When Dickens arrives in America, the first major city he visits is Boston. And almost the very first thing Dickens describes is the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. Dickens spends, I believe, more time on this one institution than he does on any other portion of his tour through America. And he is very positively impressed by the favorable conditions of the place.

It definitely surprised me, while I read this passage of the book, to know that this kind of place existed in America, in 1842. At this institution, children who are blind, deaf, and dumb, are taught to communicate, even to practice handwriting. Being a rather sedentary, conventional mind, I've always figured that the first blind, deaf, and dumb person to have learned this method of communication was Helen Keller, at the end of the century. But here are children learning to communicate this way -- in the middle of the century!

Some of Dickens' descriptions of this institution are also quite remarkable:

"Good order, cleanliness, and comfort, pervaded every corner of the building. The various classes, who were gathered round their teachers, answered the questions put to them with readiness and intelligence, and in a spirit of cheerful contest for precedence which pleased me very much. Those who were at play, were gleesome and noisy as other children. More spiritual and affectionate friendships appeared to exist among them, than would be found among other young persons suffering under no deprivation; but this I expected and was prepared to find. It is a part of the great scheme of Heaven's merciful consideration for the afflicted."

Descriptions such as this are very reminiscent of Bruno Bettelheim's work with autistic children in Chicago, as exemplified best in his book A Home for the Heart. Again -- I thought that Bettelheim was really the one who pioneered this kind of work. I knew that John Dewey and Jane Addams (also Chicagoans, I believe) did work along these lines. But I thought that the person who really pioneered the concept of a therapeutic atmosphere was Bettelheim. But here we see a therapeutic atmosphere, right in Boston, in 1842!

Dickens gives some other impressive examples of institutions in Boston, such as the State Hospital asylum for mentally disturbed people, and the House of Industry, for impoverished people. He even gives some examples of prisons practising constructive and rehabilitative methods with their prisoners.

It feels like what Dickens is doing here is showing that America works as an experiment in social institutions, while also showing that, where its social institutions are corrupt, the moral, as well as the physical, situations are also corrupt. And I believe the reason that Dickens begins with the more exemplary institutions is because he wants to show that he is optimistic about the success of the American social experiment.

Another wonderful illustration of a positive experience Dickens had with American social institutions is the town of Lowell, Massachusetts. This is a young town, where women comprise a large percentage of the working population. The women don't just work -- they also write -- printing the journal the Lowell Offering, of their own efforts.

Dickens reflects that these two elements of these womens' lives would be quite shocking in England. But Dickens found nothing to be shocked or appalled by. In fact, conditions in Lowell were rather good.

"These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed: and that phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness. They had serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls; and were not above clogs and pattens. Moreover, there were places in the mill in which they could deposit these things without injury; and there were conveniences for washing. They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment of young women: not of degraded brutes of burden."

Dickens then describes the actual working conditions.

"The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as themselves. In the windows of some, there were green plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the occupation would possibly admit of. Out of so large a number of females, many of whom were only then just verging upon womanhood, it may be reasonably supposed that some were delicate and fragile in appearance: no doubt there were. But I solemnly declare, that from all the crowd I saw in the different factories that day, I cannot recall or separate one young face that gave me a painful impression; not one young girl whom, assuming it to be a matter of necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour of her hands, I would have removed from those works if I had had the power."

It's really interesting to hear of such conditions in the middle of the nineteenth century in America. The only place I can think of that sounds similar to this town is the town of Pullman, which, I believe, was around in the late 1800s or early 1900s. But that town was built around male labor. And the whole experment didn't really turn out well, after all.

When one hears of positive stories of women working, before the present coupld of decades, one thinks of World War II, when all the men were at war, and the women had to work. Of course, the women did an incredible job. But they were forced right back out of work when the men all came back home.

And, of course, one always remembers the ghastly situations that led to the Triangle fire in New York City, which basically killed a whole building full of female workers.

So it was really surprising to me to hear of the town of Lowell.

But I think another reason that Dickens focuses so much on institutions in the first part of his book is that he has resolved, from the very beginning of his book not to talk about the character of any people of standing in the United States. He doesn't want to give any character sketches, apparently, because he doesn't want to offend anybody.

So, because Dickens voluntarily lops that entire aspect (one would assume it's a rather large portion) of his visit to America out of his trip, and since Dickens is a person so concerned with vital, human character, it only makes sense that Dickens would fall back onto the points of his visit in which he was given the freedom to represent characters, without having to worry about offending characters of any standing. These would all be inmates of one kind of institution or another -- at least in the first half of the book.

Once Dickens gets to D.C., he is a little freer in his description of characters. But he still keeps his description of characters rather broad. He describes people in a rather caricatured tone. And his biggest complaint about people -- a rather valid one -- is that they're always spitting tobacco all over the place.

But once Dickens really gets headed West, he opens up a bit more with descriptions of characters. I think this is because he's less worried about offending people in these smaller, newer, towns -- towns outside of New England.

But a lot of these descriptions, while often being engaging and humorous, often seem a bit more like caricatures than actual character descriptions. There's only one person in the whole book -- outside of the people in institutions, and the President of the United States -- and other than Dickens himself! -- who seems really, genuinely intelligent.

This is a man named Pitchlynn, chief of the Native American tribe of the Choctaw. Dickens meets Pitchlynn on a steamboat heading from Cincinnati to Louisville. The description of Pitchlynn is really wonderful:

"He spoke English perfectly well, though he had not begun to learn the language, he told me, until he was a young man grown. He had read many books; and Scott's poetry appeared to have left a strong impression on his mind: especially the opening of The Lady of the Lake, and the great battle scene in Marmion, in which, no doubt from the congeniality of the subjects to his own pursuits and tastes, he had great interest and delight. He appeared to understand correctly all he had read; and whatever fiction had enlisted his sympathy in its belief, had done so keenly and earnestly, I might almost say fiercely. He was dressed in our ordinary everyday costume, which hung about his fine figure loosely, and with indifferent grace. On my telling him that I regretted not to see him in his own attire, he threw up his right arm, for a moment, as though he were brandishing a heavy weapon, and answered, as he let it fall again, that his race were losign many things besides their dress, and would soon be seen upon the earth no more: but he wore it at home, he added proudly."

Dickens has painted himself into a corner by not talking about anybody of standing in America. And because of this -- other than in his interaction with Pitchlynn, Dickens seems to be, at least from an intellectual standpoint, an island unto himself in America. One hardly even ever hears of Dickens' wife, who, I'm pretty darn sure, did, after all, accompany Dickens everywhere!

Thankfully, however, Dickens does have a rather boisterous character of his own. And he adds a lot of his own personality to the accounts of his travels. Some of the portions of the book where Dickens gives his own character to the experiences are the most interesting.

One thing that I find really intriguing about the book is that there are just these times when Dickens gives over to pure imagination. There are times when Dickens reveals his imaginations as things that overwhelm him. He doesn't control his imaginations. They just flow from somwhere else, and come to him. One really great example of this is when Dickens talks about looking out over the sea in the late hours of the night on the sea-voyage from England to America:

"At first, to, and even when the hour, and all the objects it exalts, have come to be familiar, it is difficult, alone and thoughtful, to hold them to their proper shapes and forms. They change with the wandering fancy; assume the semblance of things left far away; put on the well-remembered aspect of favorite places dearly loved; and even people them with shadows. Streets, houses, rooms; figures so like their usual occupants, that they have startled me by their reality, which far exceeded, as it seemed to me, all power of mine to conjure up the absent; have, many and many a time, at such an hour, grown suddenly out of objects with whose real look, and use, and purpose, I was as well acquainted as with my own two hands."

In this passage, Dickens may be less in control of his imaginations because he is dozing off, in spite of himself. He's in a stagecoach, traveling from Columbus to Sandusky. The road is extremely rough, and one of the biggest obstacles in it is tree stumps. These tree stumps, however, late at night, as Dickens is half-dozing, take on all different kinds of appearances:

"These stumps of trees are a curious feature in American travelling. The varying illusions they present to the unaccustomed eye as it grows dark, are quite astonishing in their number and reality. Now there is a Grecian urn erected in the centre of a lonely field; now there is a woman weeping at a tomb; now a very common-place old gentleman in a white waistcoat, with a thumb thrust into each arm-hole of his coat; now a student poring on a book; now a crouching negro; now, a horse, a dog, a cannon, an armed man; a hunch-back throwing off his cloak and stepping forth into the night. They were often as entertaining to me as so many glasses in a magic lantern, and never took their shapes at my bidding, but seemed to force themselves on me, whether I would or no; and strange to say, I sometimes recognised in them counterparts of figures once familiar to me in pictures attached to childish books, forgotten long ago."

In another passage, when Dickens arrives in Philadelphia late at night, he's very tired, and he heads straight to his hotel, holding off any kind of tour of the city until the next day. But, looking out the window at a ghostly building, Dickens is stricken with an almost irresistible imagination, which turns out to have a little bit of precognition in it:

"Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to be, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a hnadsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed; and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within it gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.

"The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits."

But Dickens also has some fancies of his own, which are obviously under his control. But these are just as fantastic, if not more fantastic, than the uncontrolled fancies. My favorite one of these is when discusses one of the peculiarities of a train trip he took from Harrisburg to Pittsburg:

"It was amusing, too, when we had dined, and rattled down a steep pass, having no other moving power than the weight of carriages themselves, to see the engine released, long after us, come buzzing down alone, like a great insect, its back of green and gold so shining in the sun, that if it had spread a pair of wings and soared away, no one would have had occasion, as I fancied, for the least surprise. But it stopped short of us in a very business-like manner when we reached the canal: and, before we left the wharf, went panting up this hill again, with the passengers who had waited our arrival for the means of traversing the raod by which we had come."

Dickens is also good at picking out some of the fanciful events he sees around him. My absolute favorite is when Dickens is in Cincinnati. Of all the big towns other than Boston, I feel that Cincinnati is probably Dickens' favorite. Dickens says:

"Cincinnati is a beautiful city; cheerful, thriving, and animated. I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favourably and pleasantly to a stranger at the first glance as this does: with its clean houses of red and white, its well-paved roads, and footways of bright tile. Nor does it become less prepossessing on a closer acquaintance. The streets are broad and airy, the shops extremely good, the private residences remarkable for their elegance and neatness."

But in Cincinnati, Dickens witnesses a Temperance Convention. One tradition in America, it seems, up through the end of the Prohibition Era, has been the promotion of moderate drinking of alcohol. In these days, there was such a movement behind the promotion of moderate drinking that, apparently, it could have its own convention, and even a parade!

Now, Dickens had spent some time on a steamboat before he'd gotten to Cincinnati. And it was a rather harrowing experience. Steamboats were known to blow up on a regular basis, and Dickens always had to keep in mind the possibility of his exploding on a steamboat. And now -- at this Temperance Convention -- Dickens gets to see an fantastical allegory of -- exploding steamboats!

"The chief feature of this part of the show was a huge allegorical device, borne among the ship-carpenters, on one side whereof the steamboat Alcohol was represented bursting her boiler and exploding with a great crash, while upon the other, the good ship Temperance sailed away with a fair wind, to the heart's content of the captain, crew, and passengers."

Dickens also has moments when his power of description combines with his power of fancy -- but when his power of description definitely has the upper hand, as fanciful as the description may seem. Probably the best example of this is Dickens' description of the Mississippi River:

"But what words shall describe the Mississippi, great father of rivers, who (praise be to Heaven) has no young children like him! An enormous ditch, sometimes two or three miles wide, running liquid mud, six miles an hour: its strong and frothy current choked and obstructed everywhere by huge logs and whole forest trees: now twining themselves together in great rafts, from the interstices of which a sedgy lazy foam works up, to float upon the water's top; now rolling past like monstrous bodies, their tangled roots showing like matted hair; now glancing singly by like giant leeches; and now writhing round and round in the vortex of some small whirlpool, like wounded snakes. The banks low, the trees dwarfish, the marshes swarming with frogs, the wretched cabins few and far apart, their inmates hollow-cheeked and pale, the weather very hot, mosquitoes penetrating into every crack and crevice of the boat, mud and slime on everything: nothing pleasant in its aspect, but the harmless lightning which flickers every night upon the dark horizon."

But Dickens' powers of fancy blend together with his powers of perceptive description and reflection, creating some really sublime moments, in certain passages relating Dickens' experience of Niagara Falls. Here is the passage about Dickens' arrival to the Falls:

"It was a miserable day; chilly and raw; a damp mist falling; and the trees in that northern region quite bare and wintry. Whenever the train halted, I listened for the roar; and was constantly straining my eyes in the direction where I knew the Falls must be, from seeing the river rolling on towards them; every moment expecting to behold the spray. Within a few minutes of our stopping, not before, I saw two great white clouds rising up slowly and majestically from the depths of the earth. That was all. At length we alighted: and then, for the first time, I heard the mighty rush of water, and felt the ground tremble underneath my feet."

And here is Dickens, right in the moment of perception and reflection:

"When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the swollen river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on the Table Rock, and looked -- Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-green water! -- that it came upon me in its full might and majesty.

"Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, and the enduring one -- instant and lasting -- of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace. Peace of Mind, tranquility, calm recollections of the Dead, great thoughts of Eternal Rest and Happiness: nothing of gloom or terror. Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wild Man's Diapers and Goddess' Lingerie -- Charles Fort's Lo!

(NOTE: The quotes below are from the Sacred Texts version of Lo!, by Chalres Fort. A link to a download of the rights-free version of the text is below

Charles Fort's Lo!)

Throughout Charles Fort's previous book, New Lands, the adult baby in me was pleased to see a philosophy which claimed that we were all part of some great cosmic embryo, living in a gigantic womb. I figured that that was about as close to my fetish as Charles Fort was going to get for me.

Then... Charles Fort basically opens his third book of paranormal studies, Lo!, with a naked man actually being put in a diaper! Here's Fort's scenario:

"An unclothed man shocks a crowd -- a moment later, if nobody is generous with an overcoat, someobdy is collecting handkerchiefs to knot around him.

"A naked fact startles a meeting of a scientific society -- and whatever it has for loins is soon diapered with conventional explanations."

Of course, in my mind, I'd be much happier for this naked man not to have received a cloth nappy, but a paper one.

My view nowadays would be that the unclothed man shocks a crowd. But a mommy pushing a stroller in the crowd says, "Hey, don't worry. Just pin him to the ground. I'll get one of my baby's diapers out of my bag and tape it onto him."

Of course, this would have to be a small naked man. Thankfully I'm small enough for baby diapers. I know this for a fact.

But -- why on earth would Charles Fort put a naked man in diapers right at the beginning of the book? Not to get my rocks off, I'm pretty sure.

Fort, as I've said in my earlier posts on him, collects all kinds of data regarding anomalous phenomena. He has found these data in newspapers, scientific journals, and other sources of information. Fort spend decades, in libraries in New York and London, reading articles from all over the world, collecting this data. And much of the evidence he relates to us regarding these strange, unexplained phenomena, include direct quotes from the sources.

However, Fort arranges his data with what I believe is something almost like a narrative structure. Actually, one might think of it more like a poem cycle, or a dream cycle. But poem cycles and dream cycles can be analyzed as if they were telling a story, or as if they had a narrative.

In this sense, even though I do regard the data Fort presents as having a basis in reality, I also look at Fort's works as a kind of narrative of his own psychological processes. These works can be seen as Fort's own search for his self.

And, in the sense that Fort's works share something in common with poetry, I think of Fort as a sort of Outsider Artist, like Joseph Cornell and Henry Darger. I also think of him as something like a found-footage filmmaker.

Thankfully, from Lo!, I was finally able to glean a quote which gives me the idea that Fort feels the same way about himself:

"I confess to a childish liking for making little designs, or arrangements of data, myself."

Now, my idea has been that in Fort's first book, Book of the Damned, Fort was trying to integrate the shadow side of himself, the dark side, or the side of himself he didn't want to admit existed, into his psyche. He may have done this. But what I found was that, as human-like images approached Fort's mental world, they were suddenly shot back -- all the way to the sun! They had to work their way back toward the earth.

But once these elements of Fort's personality returned to earth, they were as huge as planets. My idea changed, from there, to a belief that maybe what Fort was really trying to integrate was the collective unconscious. Fort gave some pieces of evidence that seemed to point to whole planets occasionally approaching the earth, causing an exchange of matter between the two bodies.

But the Book of the Damned ended with Fort still seeming to want to avoid any evidence of human-like creatures approaching the earth. And I believed that the human-like creatures would have to be seen in his second book, New Lands.

The human-like creatures did appear in New Lands. But they were all ghosts, part of a phenomenon Fort described as mirages up in the sky, of cities, forests, troops of soldiers, and so forth. However, finally, at the end of his book, Fort brought an alien creature down to the earth. But this creature wasn't a part of Fort's data -- it was a part of his own imagination -- a story he was telling as the hypothetical result of a space traveler's journeys.

This astronaut had brought back a space-pig with him, and paraded it up Broadway.

The space-pig does come back in Lo!, by the way. Only, in Lo! the space pig is a piece of real evidence. And it's not the grand, ten-foot long being that it was in New Lands. And his parade is not on Broadway, but on the road to the London Aquarium. This space-pig was found in the year 1878.

"Mr. Davy, a naturalist, who was employed at the London Aquarium, took a stroll with a new animal. ... The creature was about two feet high and two feet long, and was formed like nothing known to anatomists -- anyway to anatomists of this earth. It was covered with wiry hair: head like a boar's, and curly tail like a boar's. It was described as 'a living cube.' As if with abdomen missing, its hind legs were close to its forelegs. ... At the Aquarium, Davy told that an acquaintance of his, named Leman, had seen this creature with some peasants, in the South of France, and had bought it, but, unable to speak the patois of the district, had been unable to learn anything of its origin. At the Aquarium the only explanation that could be thought of was that it was a dog-boar hybrid."

Davy was followed back from the Aquarium to his house by a crowd of people who were curious to see the strange animal. But when Davy reached home, his landlord "ran to his room, and from behind closed doors, ordered Davy to take away the monster."

This is one of the cuter monstrosities Fort presents to us in his work Lo! The book is filled with many other instances of monsters -- most of them in the sea, but some of them on the ground. Some of the monsters are, actually, quite dangerous. And Fort gives us a couple grisly chapters regarding these monsters.

So Fort has gone from, in the Book of the Damned, being completely unable to fathom the idea of living beings on this planet, to, in Lo!, showing us quite a few monsters and humans having been here.

Most of these beings show up through teleportation. According to Fort, these beings have been transported from one part of this earth, or one part of our so-called Solar System (which Fort thinks of as a Geo System, since, in his cosmology, the earth is at the center). Human beings are often involved in the teleporation. Fort argues that many missing people may have been victims of teleportation.

Fort gives us whole chapters, toward the middle of his book, regarding teleported individuals. The really central character of these chapters, however, is the "Wild Man": a man who appears naked, sometimes with complete amnesia, in a completely unfamiliar area. Fort gives some cases where the man teleported was obviously from earth. But some instances Fort leaves open, I believe, to the possibility that this person came from another planet.

So finally, after three whole books, Fort is finally allowing human elements, as alien elements, to be a part of his psyche. The "Wild Man" is the really central character of this kind of alien element.

So why does fort have the "Wild Man" wearing a diaper at the beginning of the book?

Well, like I've said before, Fort has a huge imagination. He's liable to get carried away with his imagination. And, since Fort's work is, like the work of the alchemists, about developing the processes of his own psyche, if he gets too carried away with his imagination, he's liable to drive himself insane.

This is why, in my opinion, Fort is so adamant about a cosmology in which the universe is much, much smaller than conventional scientists say, and where the earth is stationary. Fort needs to have a small universe and a stationary world, to give his imagination stable coordinates to work with. If these elements are stable for Fort, then he can allow his imagination to expand into them.

I think some statements that Fort has made in Lo! do a really good job of pointing to this:

"If we can think of our existence as a conceivable-sized formation -- perhaps one of countless things, beings, or formations in the cosmos -- we have graspableness, or we have the outlines or the limits within which to think."

Which is basically Fort's way of saying right out that he's trying to give some grounding to his imagination, so that it can expand with some sort of order. Here's one along similar lines:

"All that is required for thinkableness, instead of bafflement, is to give up attempted notions upon Nature, as Universality, and conceive of one thinkable-sized existence, of shape that is representable in thought, and conceive of an organic orthogenesis within that."

But one of the more telling passages is in the final chapter of the book, when Fort gives us the idea of the great things we could do -- if only our earth were stationary:

"The searchlights of the sun play upon a celebration in the sky. It has been waiting ages to mean something. Just at present known as the Milky Way, it's the Broadway of the Sky, and some day explorers of this earth may parade it --

"If this earth is stationary."

A strange condition for a parade: the parade will only be held if the earth holds still. But this is Fort's condition. Interestingly enough, though, Fort again mentions Broadway. When Fort closed New Lands, he imagined an astronaut, back from the hunt, parading a space-pig down the Broadway of New York. Now, Fort closes Lo! with the imagination of an astronaut parading down the Broadway of the Sky.

But this passage really highlights, I believe, the conflict in Fort's mind between having an incredible expansive imagination and having the need to have his imagination stabilized, so it doesn't carry him away altogether. Psychologically, Fort really needs a solid earth.

But in the third to last chapter of the book, Fort has already stated that he's willing to compromise on the centrality of the concept of a stationary earth to the overall theme of his works. Fort says:

"I am thinking of an abstraction that was noted by Aristotle, and that was taken by Hegel, for the basis of his philosophy: That wherever there is a conflict of extremes, there is an outcome that is not absolute victory on either side, but is a compromise, or what Hegel called 'the union of complementarities.'"

Fort continues:

"The idea of stationariness came first. Then, as a sheer, mechanical reaction -- inasmuch as Copernicus had not one datum that a conventionalist of today would accept as meaning anything -- came the idea of a swiftly moving earth. An intermediate view will probably appear and prevail."

Fort gives us, as a compromise, his idea of this intermediate view:

"This roundish earth is almost central, but is not absolutely stationary, having various slight movements. Perhaps it does rotates, but within a period of a year."

So Fort's earth gets moving in the third to last chapter of the book, then kind of stops moving again, at the end of the book, even though Fort admits that at the end of it all, his concept of a stationary earth, "according to a great deal in this book, ... may be a matter of no importance, or bearing."

It's interesting that he says "bearing," since the stationary earth is what has given him bearing in the past.

But the final passage of the book points, I believe, to why Fort may be willing to let the earth move in his cosmology.

In New Lands, Fort gave us a picture, as well as evidence to back up his picture, for a universe which was small enough so that the sun's light could occasionally bounce off the back wall, so to speak, of this womb-like system, and be seen on earth. At the end of Fort's Lo!, however, the atmosphere of the earth itself has this reflective capability. Fort says:

"According to data collected by the Naval Research Laboratory there is something, somewhere in the sky, that is deflecting electro-magnetic waves of wireless communications, in a way that is similar to the way in which sound waves are sent back by the dome of the Capitol, at Washington. The published explanation is that there is an 'ionized zone' around the earth. These waves are rebounding from something."

The "ionized zone" puts Fort, a man of many traditions, in touch with another tradition -- that of Nikola Tesla. Fort continues:

"A paper read by Prof. E.V. Appleton, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The 'ionized zone' is not satisfactory. 'The subject is as puzzling as it is fascinating, and no decisive answer to the problem can be given at present.' From Norway had been reported experiments upon short-wave transmissions, which had been reflected back to this earth. They had come back, as if from a shell-like formation, around this earth, not unthinkably far away."

Now, ever since Book of the Damned, Fort has imagined solid, gelatinous, or watery patches in the sky, floating over certain areas of the earth. However, this is, I believe, the first time that Fort has spoken of the entire earth as having something like a "shell-like formation."

And, since I believe that part of Fort's real tasks in his psychological development is the integration of the collective unconscious into his psyche (a very advanced task, in my opinion), Fort's earth is really Fort's psyche. So, if Fort is saying that he has enabled his earth to have a shell around it, like his universe was a shell around -- basically his entire existence! --, then, it seems to me that Fort has made a really incredible step.

But the shell which Fort's data has formed around his universe, and then around his earth, has been a container. Diapers are also containers. This idea -- I mean the more subtle aspect of it -- is not my own. My psychiatrist told me that one of the reasons I like wearing diapers is because I like having "emotional containment." She got her idea of containment from the psychological theories of Nathan Schwartz-Salant.

Fort's Wild Man doesn't show up, in the hard evidence of the book, in all his naked glory and confusion, until about a third of the way through the book. But Fort, as if striking the theme for his book, has his Wild Man show up right at the very beginning. The same thing can be seen to happen with themes, say, in the overture of an opera, or the opening poem of a poem cycle, or the first dream of a dream cycle.

But it also seems to me that the step Fort has taken has been pretty brave. This Wild Man is still full of force that Fort isn't yet strong enough to deal with yet. And so the crowd around this man dresses him in a makeshift diaper. They are putting the man into containment, until he can reappear, later in the story, with a bit more continence.

The diaper isn't necessarily put on the Wild Man to prevent the Wild Man from going to the bathroom all over the place, but to cover up the nakedness of the Wild Man. Nevertheless, I believe that what Fort is more worried about, in this case is, if not the flowings of evacuation, then, at least, the flowings of sexuality.

The diaper of the Wild Man is, I believe, a direct parallel to the lingerie that Fort puts on the goddess of destruction. But the goddess of destruction is all water -- her body really is all nothing but churnings and wetness and mud. And the Wild Man is still, for Fort, still so closely identified with the goddess, or the feminine, or Fort's mother-image, that he needs to wear a diaper to contain his force, as -- it seems -- the goddess of destruction wears her lingerie to adorn her force.

Fort describes the lingerie of the goddess as a means of illustrating the havoc created by an earthquake and flood that occurred in Peru, in 1868:

"Vast volumes of water fell from the sky. It was appalling providence: this water was needed. The waters soaked into the needful earth, and surplus beneficences made new rivers. In the streams there was a ghastly frou-frou of torrents of corpses, and the coast of Peru was frilled with fluttering bodies. Almost Ultimate Evil could be stimulated by such a lingerie. These furbelows of dead men, flounced in the waves, were the drapery of Providence."

Fortean lingerie? I could see it in a Pedro Almodovar film.

But, obviously, the feminine is really frightening to Fort. Fort does propose a sort of god all throughout his book. But I believe that Fort doesn't think of this god as a man, but as a woman. Yet Fort is afraid of calling this female god a goddess. So he takes the sexuality out of her name by calling her a "godness."

But I'm pretty sure that Fort thinks of this "godness" actually as a goddess, and that he's rather resentful at the fact that this goddess is feminine. I don't know why, but I'm having trouble finding the passage now -- but I'm almost certain that somewhere near the beginning of the book, Fort describes God as possibly being a female. He gives woman's cruelty and indifference as a reason for God to be a female.

This is just a joke. But Fort's book is full of jokes agains women. Fort claims, for instance, that the only people who don't believe in witches are unmarried men. In another passage, Fort states that Feminism only has to continue its triumph, before female Bluebeards show up in society alongside male Bluebeards.

Fort also has a weird passage in which he claims that, if feminism develops farther, women will likely try to show instances where they were impregnated without men. That's a wonderfully erotic idea, to me -- since it has lesbian overtones. But for Fort it's some kind of nightmare.

But the fact is that Fort still looks at this Geo System as a gigantic womb. And a womb -- other than, I suppose in Zeus' pregnancies -- is in a woman. So if there is a god over this womb, one would assume that this god is a goddess.

So I would argue that Fort's god is a goddess, and that Fort's goddess has so much power that he has to de-sex her. Thus she goes from being a goddess to being a "godness."

But this image of godness is an image of idiocy for Fort. Fort says:

"So many of our data are upon a godness that so much resembles idiocy that to attribute intelligence to it may even be blasphemous."

Fort, when first speaking of his god as a god, also speaks of its capacity for both good and evil:

"Let a god change anything, and there will be reactions of evil as much as of good. Only stupidity can be divine."

Fort eventually describes his god as an "automatic Jehovah": this is a force in the universe that responds to needs. If something is lacking, it will be replaced. But it might not be replaced until there is an extremely great need for the thing. And then, once it is replaced, it might be so overly replaced, that it causes just as much of a disaster as the lack had caused.

The transportation of things needed occurs through what Fort calls teleportation: the moving of things from one place to another. This movement may take place immediately, or it may take place in the conventional sense of things moving from one place to another. However, in this latter, case, things are usually moving from some planet or star near the earth, which has all these elements stock-piled -- so that the conventional concept of movement facilitates the very unconventional, Fortean concept of providence.

Fort says that this kind of teleportation is a "distributive force":

"In every organism, there are, in its governance as a whole, mysterious transportations of substances and forces, sometimes in definite, circulatory paths, and sometimes specially, for special needs. In the organic view, Teleportation is a distributive force that is acting to maintain the balances of a whole; with the seeming wastefulness sometimes, and niggardliness sometimes, of other forces; providing, or sometimes providing, new islands with vegetation, and new ponds with fishes: Edens with Adams, and Adams with Eves; always dwindling when other mechanisms become established, but surviving sporadically."

But this distributive force can be controlled, to a certain degree, by the desires and needs of the beings in the environment. These beings can be human, animal, plant, or even supposedly inanimate. Fort says:

"In the organic sense, I conceive of people and forests and dwindling lakes all expressing a need, and finally compelling an answer."

But Fort believes that the deadly need is often answered as severe as the conditions:

"Down upon monstrous need came relief that was enormous."

The cases Fort speaks of in this context are generally droughts that were so intense that a lot of people were dying. But when the need for water is finally satisfied -- there are usually floods that kill just as many people -- if not more -- than the droughts themselves did! Fort, reflecting on a severe drought, followed by an equally catastrophic flood, in Canton, says:

"At Canton, every pietist proclaimed the efficacy of prayer, and I think he was right about all that: but the problem is to tone down all this efficacy. If we will personify what I consider an organism, what he, or more likely she, has not, is any concept of moderation."

And I think that statement, right there, encapsulates my ideas pretty nicely. Fort then continues with another interesting passage:

"Show me a starving man -- I pay no attention. Show me the starving man -- I can't be bothered. Show me the straving man, on the point of dying -- I grab up groceries and jump on him. I cram bread down his mouth, and stuff his eyes and his ears with potatoes. I rip open his lips to hammer down more food, and bung in his teeth, the better to stuff him. The explanation -- it is the god-like in me."

So, from this angle of Fort's cosmology, there is a goddess that has no concept of moderation, that doesn't feed her children until they are on the point of death, and then overfeeds them, almost to the point of death! This, I would argue, would lead to exactly what Fort is suffering from -- a state of being completely overwhelmed by his passions.

Throughout his books, one of Fort's major arguments against conventional scientists is that, while they claim that the real value of their work lies in their ability to predict phenomena, they actually have not been able to predict any phenomena with a great degree of accuracy. And yet, Fort says, these scientists, who can, for instance, get a solar eclipse wrong by four seconds, have the ability to tell us what specific motions are taking place from particles of two stars that have crashed into each other millions of light years away from us!

So, it seems to me, the last third of Fort's book is entirely devoted to the formulation of a predictive cosmological system of his own. Fort cites very famous volcanoes, such as Vesuvius and Krakatoa. But he also cites less well-known, though extremely disastrous, natural events from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fort claims that, by using his observations, he has formulated a way to predict these disasters.

These disasters are often foretold, Fort says, by the appearance of a new star in the sky. This new star, Fort claims, is actually a volcano igniting in some distant area of our womb-like Geo System. The next thing to happen, usually, is for a great spread of ash or rain of mud-like or ash-like material, to be seen on the earth. After that, Fort says, earth might experience some minor volcanic or seismic activity. And, finally, there is a great catastrophe.

So there seems to be a way to predict these catastrophes, and to save people from being involved in them. Nevertheless, Fort says, the goddess has seen to it that, for all the warnings she gives mankind, she will also put enough stupid people on earth to stop all the smart people from taking action on time. Fort says:

"Often before disasters upon this earth, there have been appearances that were interpretable as warnings.

"But if a godness places kindly lights in the sky, also it is spreading upon the minds of this earth a darkness of scientists. This is about the beneficence of issuing warnings, and also seeing to it that the warnings shall not be heeded. This may not be idiocy. It may be 'divine plan' that surplus populations shall be murdered. In less pious terms we may call this maintenance of equilibrium."

Fort gives a rather powerful instance of this, with one of the distasters he relates to us, of the eruption of the volcano of Mount Pelee, in St. Pierre. Plenty of people in town were certain that they needed to get out. But the officials of the town were so confident in the word of the scientists, who said the volcano wasn't going to occur, that they kept as many citizens in the town as they could -- by military force! But Mount Pelee erupted:

"There was a rush of flames. In the volcanic fires that burned the city, 30,000 persons perished."

Now, it's pretty easy to see that Fort has gone from the concept of a need expressed and an answer compelled -- which one would think would be the thing he would try to predict, if he were going to predict something scientifically -- and has ended up with the eruption of a distant volcano and its ravaging effects upon some part of the earth, regardless (as far as I can tell) of the needs expressed.

What I believe is happening here, psychologically, is that Fort has recognized a situation where he did express a need from his mother -- a need for nourishment and care. This need may not have been satisfactorily answered. So Fort's psyche now really has no sense of how to modulate his emotions.

So Fort's idea of need for nourishment has developed into an emotional life of what seem to him to be sudden inflows of rather catastrophic passions. These passions seem to be parallel with his needs for nourishment and care. Even if they aren't parallel with his needs, they are the elements of his life that are now of the most import.

When he's invaded by these emotions, he's really terribly frightened. So his idea isn't how to predict a flood by a drought. It's how to stop the distant rumblings in his psyche from creating horrible volcanoes and upheavals in his more immediate life. In order to do this, he needs to see those distant volcanoes, to be vigilant enough about them to recognize that they're occurring as soon as they're occurring.

In order to have this vigilance, Fort brings the character of the schoolboy-amateur into his narrative. For many of the catastrophes Fort lists, Fort also seems to find amateur astronomers, most of them teenage boys, who have found the new stars in the sky that would have, had anybody been thinking about it, heralded the coming disaster.

Fort believes that the amateurs will really be the ones to change astronomy:

"Back in times when little boys were playing hopscotch and marbles, and had not yet taken up the new sport of giving astronomers astronomical information, or in those times when only astronomers were attending somewhat to astronomical matters, and when therefore changes in stars were unheard of, arose the explanation of vast distances, to account for unobserved changes."

Fort, in another passage, ridiculing the astronomers for their use of "old news," gives an indication that what he's really looking for in the sky is a way to predict the emotional overflows of his own childhood:

"If newspaper editors were like astronomers, they'd send out photographers, rather busily, and, perhaps years later, if they could condescend from journalism into doing some newspaper work, they'd examine plates. They'd tell of a fire that had occurred long before. They'd write up some fashion notes upon the modes in their readers' childhood. Like dealers in stale stars, they'd wonder at a lack of public interest."

But in this passage, Fort implies that the astronomers are beaten by the schoolboys:

"We are beguiled by snoozers, who have been beaten time after time by the schoolboys."

Now, of course, in that passage, "beaten" simply means "beaten to the finish line," so to speak. But this idea of the schoolboys beating the "snoozing" astronomers connects this section of the book with the first section of the book.

Lo! is basically divided into two sections. The second section of the book is all about large-scale disasters, which Fort believes are caused by, and so can be predicted by, the eruptions of volcanoes on distant celestial bodies. I would equate this with the more cosmic sections that comprise the second half of Book of the Damned.

The first section is, rather, about visitations of beings to this earth. These beings first visit in the form that most people would think of as poltergeists. Fort gives various examples of stones thrown, loud rapping noises in houses, strange emanations of materials in houses, all of which would be attributalble, by the spiritualists, to poltergeists -- ghosts, in a sense.

Fort, however, claims that these phenomena are the effects of teleportations from one place in the Geo System to another place.

Fort then moves on to a discussion of strange monsters which have appeared in different places in the earth. Fort seems to claim, again, that these monsters are aliens to our planet, and that they have been teleported to our earth.

But from here, Fort begins to discuss the teleportations of human beings, or of human-like beings. From here, Fort moves into human adults (or adolescents, sometimes), who have suffered from amnesia due to their supposed teleportations. Fort also discusses the "Wild Men" and "Wolf Children," who seem to have been so affected by their experiences that everything about them was wiped out.

These people actually were reduced to the infantile state, Fort says. So -- in that case, the diaper image makes even more sense.

But, as a final chapter to all this discussion, Fort discusses the story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who appeared in Germany, naked, barely able to walk, with the mentality of an infant. Hauser (like many of the people in the stories Fort mentions) learned very quickly, and was rather intelligent.

But, after a few years, Hauser began to be pursued by -- something. He ended up getting stabbed on a number of occasions -- rather mysteriously. The final time he was stabbed, he was killed. From this story, Fort moves into the cosmic discussion.

It seems to me that Fort has taken Kaspar Hauser as the alien man -- the Wild Man who has finally appeared on the earth of Fort's psyche. But something continues to attack the man. So the man must die, in my opinion, so that he can have a "cosmic dream" and face whatever it is that has been attacking him, stabbing him.

The result of this "cosmic dream," Kaspar Hauser's attempt to defeat the attacking force in his life, is, I believe, the birth of the schoolboy astronomer, who "beats" or "attacks" the professional astronomers.

But it would seem to me that what the schoolboy astronomer is beating is only one aspect of the conflict in Fort's psyche. He's defeating the astronomers, which have served, through all of Fort's books, as the masculine, conscious side of his personality. The astronomers have always been the observers. The schoolboy, taking on Fort's power, is able to beat his fear of the father, as it is embodied in the father.

But the mother -- the goddess -- the real force -- is still left! He must either reconcile himself to that force or defeat it.

And the schoolboy is, I believe, Fort's conscious answer to characters in the narrative of the first half of his book who eventually kind of dissolved away from his story: the psychic girls. These girls take a lot of abuse from society. They are usually tortured into "confessing" that they were actually just committing some kind of hoax, rather than that they were actually involved in a paranormal event.

In this passage, Fort gives his ideas on the phenomena, as well as an illustration of the tortures that the young girls go through:

"Nobody can investigate the reported phenomena that we're taking up, without noticing the number of cases in which boys and girls, but a great preponderance of girls, appear. An explanation by those who disregard a great deal -- or disregard normally -- is that youngsters are concerned so much, because it is their own mischief. Poltergeist-phenomena, or teleportations of objects, in the house of Mr. Frost, 8 Ferrostone-road, Hornsey, London, for several months, early in the year 1921, cannot be so explained. There were three children. Phenomena so frightened one of them that, in a nervous breakdown, she died. Another, in a similar condition, was taken to the Lewisham Hospital."

Fort gives another example, of a girl in Johannesburg, who was involved with poltergeist phenomena at a house where she served as a maid. She was allegedly beaten -- slapped and punched in the face -- until she "confessed" to having been involved in some kind of hoax. She later took back her confession. But by that time, nobody cared.

So I think that for some time, Fort actually tries to fix his focus, with the phenomena of teleportation, on human beings as agents of this force. He sees young people, mostly young girls, as the real agents of this ability. First he argues that this may be because, in line with his ideas on paranormal phenomena in general, teleportation is something atavistic, that manifests less and less as it is less and less needed in an existence of higher organization:

"My suggestion as to the frequently reported 'agency' of children, is that 'occult forces' were, in earlier times of human affairs, far more prevalent, and far more necessary to the help and maintenance of human communities than they are now, with political and economic mechanisms somewhat well-established, or working, after a fashion; and tht, wherein children are atavistic, they may be in rapport with forces that mostly human beings have outgrown."

But Fort counters his own argument by saying that these powers could be a sign of advance -- of an evolution to come:

"There are, of course, other explanations of the 'occult powers' of children. One is that children, instead of being atavistic, may occasionally be far in advance of adults, foreshadowing coming human powers, because their minds are not stifled by conventions. After that, they go to school and lose their superiority. Few boy-prodigies have survived an education."

I guess that shows that Fort's boy-astronomer was dead, in the first part of the book, and was still trying to be revived.

Interestingly, Fort even mentions a possible commercial use for teleportation:

"If teleportation exists, it may be used. It may be criminally used, or it may be commercially used. Cargoes, without ships, and freights, without trains, may be of the traffics of the future. There may be teleportative voyages from planet to planet."

But this is about as close as Fort can get to paranormal phenomena involving human beings as the actual agents for some time. In fact, from this point forward, Fort deals with his catalog of monsters, then works into basically two chapters worth of discussions of rather gruesome sheep-killings.

Interestingly -- these sheep killings are not very different from the sheep-killings that are mentioned nowadays in connection with UFOs.

But, in the second chapter of the discussion of sheep killings, I believe, Fort brings back the idea of humans as agents of paranormal events. Fort gives a real bloodbath -- tons of sheep killings in the years 1904 and 1905. And he says that, all this time, while these killings were going on, people were in the grip of religious revivalism, to the point of mania. Fort even quotes one paper in Wales as saying that Wales was "in the Grip of Supernatural Forces!"

Fort points out that, while people were in the grip of this religious mania, the sheep-killings were only one kind of paranormal phenomena occurring. There were a whole host of other phenomena, including luminous objects, flying objects, poltergeist-like phenomena, phantom sightings, and animals shape-shifting. "But," says Fort, "the outstanding phenomenon of this period was the revival." The religious revivalism -- the desires of humans -- was what caused this activity. Fort says:

"The grip was a grab by a craze. The excitement was combustion, or psycho-electricity, or almost anything except what it was supposed to be, and perhaps when flowing from human batteries there was a force that was of use to the luminous things that hung around. Maybe they fed upon it, and grew, and glowed, brilliant with nourishing ecstasies. See data upon astonishing growths of plants, when receiving other kinds of radioactive nourishment, or stimulation. If a man can grow drunk on God, he may usefully pass along his exhilarations to other manifestations of godness."

And it's at this point that people start spontaneously combusting.

It's kind of unbelievable how many different instances Fort gives of people spontaneously combusting between 1904 and 1905. But, from the perspective of Fort's narrative, I believe that this shows that Fort, as soon as he has brought that human element of agency back to his concept of teleportation, has found the passions involved in it so strong, that they actually manage to explode the people under their influence.

Fort steps back again, from this point, and begins relating stories that are about humans, but not humans acting as agents of this force, but rather as victims of it. In some of these instances, the human victims simply disappear from the earth altogether, as in the case of the passengers of the ship the Marie Celeste. Fort gives enormous records of significant numbers of people who had gone missing from specific areas in short spans of time.

But there are also the humans who suddenly appear in places. These people don't have to be from this earth. In fact, Fort even gives us this suggestion:

"If there ever have been instances of teleportations of human beings from somewhere else to this earth, an examination of inmates of infirmaries and workhouses and asylums might lead to some marvelous astronomical disclosures."

But these humans, earthly or alien, don't act as agents, either. They act as victims. They are dazed, disoriented. The humans may be very strange. They may speak different languages, like Princess Caraboo and Rinoldo Agostino. Or they may be completely reduced to an infant state. But they don't have the power, say, of the religious revivalists who, in Fort's narrative, transformed Wales and England into a paranormal maelstrom in 1904 and 1905.

However, even this image, the harmless human, in Fort's final narrative form, as Kaspar Hauser, is attacked by passion. The passion is the first half of the force behind Fort's concept of teleportation: it's the force of the religious revival, the force of prayer to a goddess, a mother-figure, to whom the infant or child is looking for nourishment.

Regardless of how Fort may try to disguise the fact, the fact still remains that humans can act as agents for Fort's teleportative force. But if they are so overwhelmed by passions that they associate to the mother-goddess, the teleportative forces will destroy them, rather than helping them.

It could lead to chaos, as in the maelstom of 1904 and 1905. It could even lead to the spontaneous combustion of individuals -- a complete fireball of passion exploding a person. Or it could lead to the mysterious stab wounds sustained by Kaspar Hauser.

It seems to me as if the human side of Fort's story had to end here, so that Fort could drop down into the deeper regions of his unconscious and face the more cosmic conflict. But -- now that he seems to have faced the cosmic conflict, will he rise back up into the realm of the human in his final book, Wild Talents?

Well -- the title seems to indicate that the answer is yes. Also, the little teaser paragraphs I've read from the Sacred Texts website seem to point to magical girls playing some part in the book. So it definitely seems that the answer is yes. Although... I'd be interested to see if the boy-astronomer has any interactions with the magical girls!

But there's also the fact that Fort, at the end of Lo!, gives us another glimpse into the possible constructive uses of teleportation:

"If we accept that Teleportation, as a 'natural force,' exists, and suspect that some human beings have known this and have used it; and, if we think that the culmination of a series of teleportations will be the commercial and recreational teleportation of objects and beings, we are concerned little with other considerations, and conceive of inhabitants of this earth willing themselves -- if that's the way it's done -- to Mars, or the Moon, or Polaris. But I take for a proposition that there is an underlying irony, if not sadism, in our existence, which rejoices in driving the most easily driven beings of this earth into doing, at enormous pains and expenses, the unnecessary -- the building of complicated telegraph systems, with the use of two wires -- then reducing to one wire, then the discovery that the desired effects could be achieved wirelessly."