Iter et adventures baronis Trump et canis mirandus Bulger—II

CAPUT III.

Hic manus tremit, et stylo titubans atramentum fluit.

Quas res gestas profiteor, Lector mihi pro certo assentior, cum considerans maxime interesting meae vitae alienae ac variae. Forsitan mihi studium dicat; Nam, Lector benevole, unum ex his “quaedam eventa” supra citata non minoris momenti evenit quam nativitas mea in hunc magnificum et pulcherrimum mundum, quem mundum mirabilibus et mirabilioribus, sicut tu, plenum esse probavit. Videbunt ut ego pergam cum mea fabula.

Aestate natus sum. Nox erat tempus.

Milia per cunabula miselli Scintillata, parva, inops, argillae gleba; sed clarior omnibus, ut purpurea taeda in sethera flammea, Sirius, caniculae stella, super me effulsit!

Ad coelum aspiciens pater subridens, murmurat: «Parve peregrine, canum semper eris amator. Risus erit illis laetitia, musica verba tua, et in aliqua bestia quadrupedia generis sui, optimum, fidelissimum, amicum tuum invenies.

Quasi in verbis patris mei ipsum veritatis pressum poneret, eo ipso momento clamor matris canis in contiguo cubiculo auditus est et unus e regiae familiae Chew-lâ-â in meam praesentiam accurrit cum calatho parvo catuli. Pater meus viminea cunabula noviter advenientis familiae ridens rapuit eamque ad me clamabat;

Elige, parve baro, amicum et socium elige tibi. Manum meam parvulam porrigi parvulam et in una cum maximo capite recumbens. “Ha! ha!” risit pater, “Bone te, parve baro, elegisti, cui tu tantum cerebrum elegisti, ut bene torvum caput.”

Et cum ad luctandum cum illo verbo infantulus lingua mea venit, tortum est in “Bulger.” Sicque Bulger et eodem fere momento in vitae itinere profectus sum! Postera die pater patefecit aquas nocte recedere coepisse, et prospiciens ab excelso domicilio nostro, vidit in medio satis amplae insulae stetisse. Pater meus post prandium, secundum morem patriae, duos Chew-lô regi calceos ligneos ligneos, quibus omnes canorum scularium usos erant, in superficie molli luto movere conabantur, imposuit inundatio.

Hi calcei lignei perquam leves sunt, quamquam tam longi et tam lati quam calcei nivei sunt. Expolitione pedum, velatos perlabier in lutum, quod natura terrae est pinguissimum, eadem celeritate qua currit ad calceos nivis.

Post aliquot horarum excursus in montem et descendentem, pater meus cum hac mirae intelligentiae particula rediit, scilicet, quod proculdubio habitatio eorum, ante descensum aquarum in stagno posita; sed paulatim, cum recessissent aquae, factam esse insulam, quae paulo post in peninsulam fuerat, quae rursus adhuc demersa aquarum in verticem montis conversa erat. Leniter acclivis lateribus ut, referens matri meae, pereuntem diem neque dicere posset, si natus esset in lacu, in insula, in paeninsula, an in summo monte, factum esse. Quod eum gravissime angebat, nam, ut omnes eius familiae sodales, summa rerum memorandarum summa diligentia usque ad minutissimas rerum gestarum fastus summa cum diligentia sumpsit.

Dissimilis plerisque infantibus, qui primum dimidium annum transire contenti videntur, aut vitae suae edentes, dormientes et clamantes, ab ipso exordio praecocentiam mirabilem prae se ferunt.

Cum paucae tantum hebdomades, quamvis loqui non possem, sibilo tamen didicerant Bulgerum, cuius progressus in animo et corpore etiam gressum meam tenere visus est, et qui plurimam aetatem aspiciens in puerilem vultum transiit. Quod significat, “O, gaudebo, cum ista lingula soluta est, ut me vocas Bulgerum et iubeas me facere voluntatem tuam.”

Nec mora.

Illud unum, quod in hac aetate vitae meae mihi gratissimum gaudium dedit, lux erat.

Fui intus fores morosus, morosus, iracundus, sed sub divo semel emissus, tota natura mutatur. Bibi mollem et mollem acrem vigorem et oblectamentum patris mei delectantis. Facies mea clara est, oculi mei de valle ad collem, a summo usque ad celum gradiebantur.

In tantam ecstasim voluptatis me hoc conspectus mundi magni proiecit, quod mater mea anxia facta est, ne praevideret aliquod magnum malum mihi evenire.

Sed magnificus baro tantum risit. “Nihil timeas, uxor, solum significat quod intra caputculum illud miro modo activum animum prolis mensibus habitare.”

Quotiens Bulgerum dominum suum laetis vocibus ad aspectum mundi pulchri clamantis audiebat, certo vehemens latratu correptus erat, in quo circum me evagabatur cum asperrimis et profusissimis sympathiae manifestationibus.

Sine dubio mira inter nos fuit dilectionis vinculum.

Matris meae paene horrorem dixeram, ego quadam die cum mecum in brachiis suis in latis verandis ambularet, quae aedes Chewchewlô cingebat, me ex brachiis iactare conatus sum, Germanice clamans: Los! Los! Dimitte me! Sine me!

Habui usque ad id tempus, ut videtur, plus studii fuisse in lingua mea regiae nutricis Chewlae molli et canora, in qua facillime me intellegere potui. Circa hoc tempus accidit mihi, quod, licet non effecit, valde festinavit emissio parentis continentiam, tam ardenter desideratam, tam a Bulgero quam a me, nam ab ipso ingressu in hunc mundum aliquid mihi dixit me esse. Puer clarus debet esse, non mera et praecocia iuventus, qui a parentibus in coetu socialium adhibitus est ad portandos homines iam in pauperes spirituum, ascendendo super sellam vel mensam et versus declamando, parrotsos, cum dimidia duodecim lignea, hiulca gestus; sed verus heros, verus viator, non formidans tempestatem, feram, saevum, barbarum, ut faceret, quod vellet.

Solebat matris meae in auram diei sedere mecum in latis verandis, dum patris mei tibialia arridebat; Nam, licet generosa, ita consueverat, cum puella in omnibus rebus Germanicis parsimoniam exerceret, ut nunc, quamvis verae baronis uxor facta esset, non posset in illis bonis rebus agendarum delectationem praetermittere vias.

Sicque patrem meum multis pfennigibus servavit, quod vir bonus pauperibus dignis largitus est, et bonis onustus ad sepulchrum descendit.
Tali tempore subito Sternutatio matris rapuit, et infandum horrorem e manibus emisit. Decidi, decidi, lutum molle feriens, et visu evanescens.

Misera quasi plumbum ad solum cecidit.

Adstitit ei proceras ad pedes stabantque pedesque, fugitque virilem genae color.

Sed Chew-lô, qui ad patrem feliciter salutabat, risit.

“Agnus barbarus!” fremebat magnus baro, “Nisi despicis lachrymas patris, angorem matris? Ex te. Utinam nunquam regnum tuum intrassem in coelum! Chew-lô ne verbum quidem. Conversus imperioso more ac iure regio in turbam clientium manum quassat.

Citius quam cogitatio Sutulae canororum cohors ad calceos ligneos prosiluit.

Ite, procul, iaculantes sicut nigrae in ala vespertiliones.

Baro videbat in tremendo maerore emissum iudicium melius elabi, et vultu pallente caputque inclinatum stabat languida forma coniugis.

Sensit, sciebat, praesentiam suam apud Melodios Snutores hoc momento solum perturbare, impedire progressum, ac fortasse ita confundere, ut frustra omnis conatus esset. Illi ab infantia ita consueverunt ligneos illos calceos ingentes gestare, ut in hoc luto perfidiae versarentur, ut, si fieri posset, manus humanas filium ad bracchia restitueret, id facerent.

Itaque pauca adhortatus ad aurem matris fatur, et instar statuae stare pergit, voltu melodiae snuculorum longis scriniis defixit, dum circumvoluti cacumen montis locum obtineret, judicabant, interissem.

Luce lato, ligneo scopulo armato, armisque obscuris surrexerunt, et mira subtilitate ac constantia ceciderunt, notis musicis sternutationis commorantes; nunc mollis et humilis, nunc erumpens in modum truculenti ac putrefactus.

Descende! Descende! Descende!

Et tamen frustra elaboraverunt!

Nullum ibi erat indicium miserae moeroris aegrae.

Sed cor!

Quid est clamor iste?

Non est humanus!

Nullus; est enim cortex Bulgeri, vel potius latrantium Bulgeri est.

Spectaverat Sutulae canorae thiasos, ceu candida scopas, Omniaque incassum concidit, pergula pergula capite impulit.

Nemo satis erat mente et corde ad capiendum sensum illius miselli latrantis.

Chew-lô vidit suos stantem in scopis innixum, oculis dubiis et haesitationibus.

Rex tacuit.

Erat baro ille magnus, qui loquebatur;

“O ne des! Mea vita, opes, omnia tua sunt bona, bona Chew-Chew.

Sternumenta appellatio.

Iterum clamor Bulgerorum sublatus est, et hoc tempore rex eam exaudivit.

Famulus regis videns nutum, et festinans ad pedes canis ligneos calices ligandos, in superficie luto solutus est.
Quid est homo intelligentia gloriata?

Erant decem passus vel amplius ab eo loco ubi disparui.

Gannita, latratu, et ploro per vices, mi Bulger, properavit ad eum locum, quo evagatus odor narravit carissimum dominum suum descendisse.
Iterum canororum snuariorum cohors renovato vigore laboratur, scopae albae miro opere fulgentes contra atram caeni nigredinem.

Bulger eos magnis et laetis latratibus hortabatur.

Subito serenus, tinnitus, canorus “rumdere” aerem discidit.

Me viderant!

Rara providentia per unum mensem, una manu nares clauseram priusquam ad lutum perveniam, et sic pulmonem a repletione servaverim.
Sed quam inutilis fuisset haec cautio, nisi bulger meus fidelis subveniret!

Nunc gaudens modum non noverat.

Putabam me subridentem veteris baronis lacrimosa maxillam prehendi, dum puer ad verandam ferebatur, animati massae terrae magis quam alia re, nam me aerem recreaverat. Oculi mei non modo aperti erant, sed solum in toto corpore mundo.

Convulsa mater mea me pressit pectore pectus, et equidem caeno pressisse caput et ora, ora, ni latam suspectam vidissem baro palmam; dum matris cor se verbis effundit. Pelves paucae aquae calidae, et ego ipse iterum.

Imo numquam ipse iterum fui. Balneum meum in luto calido Lâ-aah-chew-lâ maximam mihi mutationem fecit; incrementum corporis mei compressit et omnes vires meas in caput et cerebrum convertit.

Caput meum in uno brevi mense fere magnitudine duplicatum.

Infans vultus vultusque meus recessit!

Et prius alia luna impleverat cornua sua: Crevi mirandum!

Non solum magnitudine capitis mei aliquid praeclarum fuit, sed etiam ex oculis mirificam intelligentiam eluxit.

Mulieres pauperculae de Lâ-aah-chew-lâ ante me oraverunt quasi ens essem ab alio mundo, et deinde frontibus percutientes matri meae appropinquaverunt et susurrabant:

“Gracissime Magnus Spiritus Chew-lâ-â-â-â-â-â erravit et duas animas ibi pro una posuit!”

Et tunc decora corpora inclinaverunt donec frontes matris meae tangebant pedes et recesserunt retro exeuntis sicut dominae curiae optimae, unusquisque digitum suum ad me adaequans et oculos suos per ianuam evanuit aperiens.

Tota res adeo deridiculo erat, ut in risus clamorem erumperet.

Quo audito, miserae bestiae inter se praecipites ruebant, insano conatu, ut extra domum exirent, stridentibus in summa vocibus;

“Serva nos! Salva nos! Llle nos fascinabit!

“Parvus baro!” Pater meus irae voce subsannans dixit, “Dominas regis Chew-chew-lô’s aulam non terrere!”

Chew-pa! Chew-pa! (Idiotae! Idiotae!) Respiciebam e tabula mea, in qua exemplum arithmeticae faciebam, nam figurarum valde cupiebam.
Nam pater meus iam me adiectionem docebat, ostendens mihi quam vilia globuli vitrei pro ebore pretioso mercari, et dividendo, auferendo nonaginta cents de quolibet dollario quod feci. Multo ante quam legere aut scribere potui, epistolas plurium linguarum noui nominatim, nec verbum ullum exarare potui, quod nullas in ea litteras taceret. Nemo miris artibus magis delectabatur quam Bulger.

Is suapte natura videbatur scire parvum dominum suum non esse vulgarem hominem, et eum honoratum esse. Nunc valedicere Landam La-aah-chew-lâ et Sut.

Rex Chew-chew-lô cum valida manu clientium nos ad suum fines comitatur, sylvas canoras masticando ruminando resonant. Super humeros baronum veterum stans, ultimum vale eos vibravi ad quod tam perfecto turbine Chew-chew-â responderunt quod Bulgerus satis jucunde ululaverat.

Quilibet praecipuus honor domino suo semper fuit ei materia personalis. Senior baro ulterius penetrare in cor Africae destinaverat; sed plane, tam mirabile mentis meae incrementum, ut a mane usque ad noctem animum suum occupaverit. Conatus est hoc a me celare; sed omnes inaniter.

Priusquam biennium essem, cerebrum meum adeo grave erat ut mater mea in plantas calceamentorum meorum suere plumbeos, ut me rectum finem sursum teneret, et tamen in hac cautione saepe stans inveniebam. Caput meum difficiles difficultates mathematicas operando utendo digitos meos, sicut Sinenses faciunt machinas numerandas.

Primum quod pater meus domum attigit, me ad phrenologum duceret ut chartulam capitis mei haberem.
Examen fuit unum mensem.

Tandem, chartula completa, repertum est me habere triginta duas labeculas distinctas.

Bene intellegitur etiam!

Statutum est igitur statim instituisse tutores duos et triginta doctos, ut quisque paedagogus habeat singulas personas gibba, et operam navare, ut si cornu sit crescat.

Pater meus decrevit nihil omittere, ut meae mentis vires usque ad ultimum evolveret. Nihil dixi aut ad consilium aut contra.

In uno brevi anno didici omnia, quae me docere possent triginta duos paedagogos, et, quod plus est, unumquodque eorum quinquaginta docuissem, quae ante non cognoveram, et quae peregrinando in exteris regionibus didiceram. cum parentibus meis.

Tutores triginta duos uno mane cum magna admiratione eorum totum functus sum.

Senior baro ad suggestionem meam nunc misit libellum cuilibet tutori pro servitiis sibi per me redditis.

Quisque tutor solvere noluit.

Senior baro, meo suggestione, nunc fecit processum juris unicuique eorum serviendum.

Curia, audito testimonio meo, sententiam reddidit, quae quinque millia paginarum chartarum legalium operiebat, et totam hebdomadem ad legendum requirebat, in qua singula, quae singulis triginta et duobus paedagogis docuerat, mirum in modum erat et peculiare, ut in oculo legis saltem centum dollariorum valebat. Qui rogationem cuiusque paedagogi fecit ad quinque milia dollariorum, vel omnium centum sexaginta milia dollariorum.

Curia deinde per annum dimittitur, omnes tres iudices mente et corpore ita fatigati ut duodecim mensibus reliquis egent antequam aliud negotium suscipiant.

Plures casus venire…

Lege pars I

Tocsin of the Absolute: Armel Guerne

Armel Guerne (1911-1980) was a French poet and translator. A friend of Mounir Hafez, Georges Bernanos and Emil Cioran, he is the author of numerous translations, including those of Kawabata, Hölderlin, Novalis, Woolf, The Book of a Thousand and One Nights and Moby Dick, to name only the most famous. The fame of his work as a translator has somewhat obscured his own immense poetic work. Yet, according to his own admission, he had no other ambition “than to be welcomed and received as a poet, to be able to count myself one day among the holy number of those divine ruffians of love.”

In the midst of an indigent modernity, dominated by the “absurd and monstrous accumulation of the things without souls,” Armel Guerne knew how to tear open an irredentist breach—a breakthrough “against the world” to sound the tocsin of the Absolute. From his first arrow to his final salvo, his work never deviated from its outgrowth—all were charitably oriented towards a poetic star, the only herald of a “truth that lasts, that begins at the ground level and goes to the sky, and that remains.” And as a cliff carries its other side, his work as a translator and poet are rooted in the same mythical Vale of Tempe—that land of the German Romantics, on which they silently set the “very seal of eternity” on poetry.

Of Armel Guerne’s critical writings (collected in Le Verbe nu [The Naked Word] and L’Ame insurgée [The Insurgent Soul]), chanted at the edge of inner constellations, one could say what Bettina von Arnim said of Hölderlin’s poetry: they are “in the eternal fermentation of restless poetry.” Without ever feeding on any “flavor of the day”—whose constant frenzy is only a proof of its latent paralysis—Armel Guerne watched over a branch of speech, which it is up to each generation to revive in a “grace of living charity” (Lettres Dom ClaudeLetters Dom Claude). Like a guardian of the Pyrenees, like the crypt where the Mazdean priests maintained a sacred fire for a thouysand years, Armel Guerne praised and preserved this heritage of “incessant orations”—thus re-establishing the preeminence of the poem, this “brazen shaft of all words, this axis around which all the worlds revolve and all the ages turn.” (La Nuit veilleNight Watch).

In fidelity to this stellar decree, one finds in each of Armel Guerne’s poems the destined reflection of the “infinite Silentiary” (JournalDiary), which gave his poetry a vesperal and definitive character—in the image of the burnt sky which culminated above Tourtrès, where Guerne sat with his mill, like a watchman on an inalterable Acropolis. It is from this “mill of miracles,” rooted in “the mineral of the wind and forgotten times” that Armel Guerne wrote his greatest poetic work, including Les Jours de l’Apocalypse [The Days of Apocalypse], Le Jardin colérique [The Angry Garden], or the Rhapsodie des fins dernières [Rhapsody of the End Times].

In spite of the overwhelming confidentiality in which his work remains walled up, Guerne remains a sentinel in our night, reminding us of the imperative necessity of poetry, this “Ravenous hunger of the Holy Spirit” which never gives up its weapons to any world, and only gives its eyes to the expectation of a Word—without ever dimming its “purple wing” (St. John of the Cross).

If the poets are immutable and that they alone “found what remainsm” as Hölderlin said, the conservation of their voices seems however to be endangered by the modern pandemonium, which does not cease to reduce the range of their insolent brisures. Guerne hurled in particular violent anathemas at the prolific critical logorrhea which, contrary to its initial mission of “passer-by,” is now happy to palaver blissfully, by assembling and disassembling the great texts upon a mechanical and inert frame. In this necropolis of the word, erected by these merchants of contraband, we find “Nothing true. Nothing alive. Nothing lived. Death put in tomes. Death. Easy to recognize: it cannot be silent, since it exists only in its chatter” (Le Verbe nu). By thus spatulating its plaster of quibbles, this “necrophilic literature of professors, doctors, commentators, exegetes, analysts, biographers, historiographers, anecdotists, nomenclators” proves in the same gesture that it does not actually reside in the poem—its learned objectivity was thus only a scarecrow, upon which it leaned its disarmament—its escape before a sovereign Word. According to Guerne, this denial is the very sting of this pantomime modernity, which, by fear or by cowardice, gesticulates ceaselessly on its own rubble: “For there is a modern thought… clothed in a barbaric or zany language, caught in a corset, a thought without breath; its circle has been reduced to the dimensions of a tiny circus… without ever risking a glance outside” (Le Verbe nu). From then on, we have to consider, following Guerne, that this tropism to the dismantling of the poets is only an umpteenth modality of the “technical Moloch” demystified by Bernanos—this specter of orphaned ashes, which voluntarily forgets as its corruption of the world advances, the vital ferments which made it get born.

Drained and brutalized, the modern soul—whose each edges seems dedicated to the countable osculation of the world—does not know how to measure itself with this sibylline and elusive truth deposited by poetry. It is against this seated deciphering that Guerne crystallizes his rock of insurgency: his anger has no other aim than the fight against all these debilitating deadlocks—tightened every day by the modern dementia, “whose characteristic is to never think, but to turn in circles, faster and faster, in the sawdust and the dung of the time, with the other civil servants, without ever risking a glance outside” (Le Verbe nu).

It is thus against the grain that Guerne reveals to us the dawn of an interior vox cordis, that of poetry—since it is “the only language still alive enough, still armed enough, still powerful and whole enough, close enough to the mystery also of the word, to carry away the fortresses of the inertia and to burst the concrete of the lie, carrying in it a grain of human truth which can still germinate, a seed of beauty which will bloom in the hideousness” (L’âme insurgée).

“All true language is silence”

In response to this deadlocked language, padlocked in its own corrosion, Guerne enjoins us to scrutinize the incandescent hearth of poetry, where only “silence” crackles—this pneuma of an unconquerable breath that whispers its “Unavowable absence impossible to grasp” (Le Jardin colérique). This absence—unavowable because unforgivable—is not this withdrawn mutism that a certain poetry obscure to itself claimed in a self-sufficient glory. On the contrary, with Guerne, silence is an immemorial tear to be safeguarded, a mythical Palladium which guarantees to the world the perpetuation of an island of freedom: “Silence is not what one believes, an extinction, an immobility, a not closed in a yes wide open. Silence is a movement that contains itself, of such power and intensity that to move beside it becomes a grotesque caricature, a stunning simulacrum. The movement of movement, the universal source… The hand of all caresses, of all pains, beyond evil and good, of all acts” (Fragments).

To be disposed to this poetic grammar, it is necessary to imagine that poetry shelters in its torn center a baptistry of silence, where is imperially maintained the forefinger of Angerona, that ancient goddess whose finger affixed to lips—symbol of an ordered silence—is an insolence opposed to all the noises of the world, be they the sweetest. And it is from this preserved archipelago—where the eternal and the temporal intersect—that Armel Guerne composed his Adamic alphabet, wherein culminates in its summit “the unique human voice that stands behind the words and that resounds, mysteriously, each time man reaches out to himself… Sometimes open to the heavy night and echoing in the depths of the abyss, sometimes torn by supernatural gleams, this authentic voice of man, which reappears suddenly at the crucial hours, pierces and disperses his languages” (L’Ame insurgée). For Guerne, perhaps even more than an inapparent heart or a founding axis, silence is the very strength of the poet—indeed, the only one he truly possesses. [“That the most sublime poetry is really, in the end, only the learning of silence” (Le Verbe nu)].

And to connect the corolla of the diamond cutters, who set poetry with an aura of silence, it is appropriate to quote Max Picard and his Monde du silence (World of Silence), in which he writes that “Poetry comes from silence and for the nostalgia of silence.” [Max Picard wrote of Hölderlin that his words “seem to come from a space that existed before creation” (Le Monde du silence)].This echo without return acts thus in the manner of a liturgical screen, by which the poet sifts the relics of a word which precedes the creation, to collect the deposit of a new clarity—opened in the immobile one. This is what Guerne’s poem Le Poids vivant de la parole (The Living Weight of the Word) evokes, in which he dips his hieratic blade, ever more deeply into the “amassed” powers of silence [“The most difficult thing is still to gather the silences, all the silences of the most diverse kinds, and to bring them back intact, one by one, by the dozens, by the thousands, the smallest and the largest, to collect them carefully as they pass and to bring them home delicately. Without breaking them, without tarnishing them, without crumpling them” (La nuit veille)]:

You can write, and you write;
You can be silent, and you are silent.
But to know that silence
Is the great and only key,
One must pierce all the symbols.
To devour the images,
To listen in order not to hear,
To undergo until death
Like a crushing
The living weight of the word.

It is thus about poetry as about an asceticism: a constant and heroic “mine of will” which arms itself in a column of silence. In these two secret nobilities, the same language of oracle is whispered: an awakener of the Spirit who goes “to seek behind the noise; who picks it up and who collects it for all those who are exiled from it. In such a poetic alchemy, there is no place for embellishment or ornament: each word, however simple, is chanted at its “maximum flavor“—thus crystallizing this concretion of the poem into a secret pearl, which testifies before its living weight: “The silent meditation of the most silent of monks is, in this sense, a listening of the word until the finest of the ineffable. Almost perfection” (Fragments).

The Abyss of Time

For Guerne, much more than a simple aggregate of captious and scattered words, the poem is a tension—torn at the two points of the infinite, between the previous Word and the words that seek it. This caesura of abyss, as violent as a “silent storm,” reminds us of the famous letter of the American poet William Carlos Williams [1913 letter to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry magazine], where he, after having written that ” Now life is above all things else at any moment subversive of life,” indicates that it is the same for the poem: ” Verse to be alive must have infused into it something of the same order, some tincture of disestablishment, something in the nature of an impalpable revolution.” With Guerne, it is a question of the same perseverance of the poem in a stellar conatus, of the same light accentuating itself in a coruscating force—all these ardent powers concur to this “oxidation of the infinite, of the eternity or of the things” carried by the poetry.

Detecting then a “source of all fires,” the poet fans the mythical remains of it to the point of setting his own word ablaze in a burning firebrand—to be able to welcome “the deposit of a truth” which is not his own. It is this lightning rearrangement that the poem Soudain [Suddenly] encloses, spurring even more deeply this “urge for renewal is gaining ground in the aftermath of monstrous destruction,” of which the poem is only one meteor:

Words, just to put them down
One next to the other,
That say more and go further
Than we go; words
Suddenly no longer ours
And stand so close
Close to a supreme truth.
Words that cease to be said
To better come, suddenly, to become again.
Words of the word.
(Le Poids vivant de la parole)

And if “the ark of the world is on the waters of time,” as Guerne writes in his Jours de l’Apocalypse, it is because it is the poet’s responsibility to go up the tubular corridors of time—themselves linked to the “pillar of Eternity”—to ring the bell of the unalterable. Split between these two temporal poles, his own and that of the word, the poet condenses a “hurricane above the deserts” and breaks the anthropic bodice by a ray of lightning—such as the “interior blood and its irrevocable mystery, until then contained in the night of the body” (La Nuit veille). For, contrary to a modern taxonomy, which requires of the poet a hectic inventiveness turned towards artifice or imagination, Guerne teaches us that the “clairvoyance” of the poet is above all an inclination of the soul towards itself—a sovereign expectation of the living Weight of the word: “The true mystery of all poetry, it is that the poet is in us; the other one, the one who speaks, doesn’t speak; it’s not true: it’s not him, it’s just the Word. Thus, it is by an august gesture of allegiance that the poet makes himself Sphinx, by putting himself in tune with an anterior sovereignty—being able thus only “to give his voice—even if it is breathless—to the voice which calls” (Au bout du tempsAt the end of time).

And it is in this beginning of a rediscovered word that we detect the first strain of Guerne’s thought—the vital point from which all its foliage branches out. It is based on the intuition that poetry should not “second the world” as Kafka said about the novel, but that it aspires to be a mirror of the Apocalypse, taken in its primary sense of “revelation” and “unveiling”: “We have passed the threshold of the Apocalypse and, in my opinion, we are mistaken when we want to look at or read the Apocalypse as a prophecy. In reality we should read and understand it as a lived history, already past in part, and in the depths of which we are charitably engaged. This is what is happening every day. It is more than at our doors; it has entered our lives, we are living it, absolutely.” This apocalyptic bottom generates a deep caesura in his poetic thought—it calls him to a conversion, which carries the word on the imperious way of necessity. As if, by the tear that it would impose, the Apocalypse definitively breaks the vitiated fabrics of the babble, so that poetry finds its innocence of the aerolith. It is with this breaking star that Armel Guerne hoped to hang poetry, as shown in one of his confessions, written in the beating of a revealed abyss: “About poetry, I have ambitious and clear ideas which put it a little higher than the ditty: I want to say, today, vigil of the end time” (Letter to his editor).

The Open Palms

“On a sinking ship, panic comes from the fact that all the people, and especially the sailors, obstinately speak only the language of navigation; and no one speaks the language of shipwrecks. Only prophets and poets know how to use this language of meltdown panic, according to Guerne. In a disoriented universe, where dissolution and siltation seem to be the only avenues of the future, these two passers-by of the absolute raise the lost by only their glances “turned right side up.” It is one of the multiple possible meanings that we give to the Apocalypse evoked by Guerne—beyond a material state of the world, it is an interior accentuation by which the poet does not write any more for himself, nor for the others, but in front of the end of times. Howling thus his Rhapsodie des fins dernières, under the porch of the agony of the world, his verses are consumed in an irrevocable detonation, which tremble with equal intensity with all the “revelations”—”For the poet, the universe is an incandescent drama. Its tragedy enlightens” (Fragments).

Guerne initiates us then into a blessing by the desert—understood as the voluntary desiccation of the poet where the waiting and the attention become his only prayers, his only consoling sources. In these latitudes—dug in an unfathomable abyss that summons all the chasms of silence and night—the freedom of the poet is strangled by the very power of the word: “The word speaks; and I listen to it speak. It sings; and I listen to it sing. It commands; and I listen to it obey and I see it obey. This is the School of the Seer.” And it is from these specular sighs, which reflect even more deeply the received light, that the poet abandons his lower maneuvers to receive the break of a superior verb: “The writing is only a bark of which one makes a divine cup; remains the One who fills it and the one who is thirsty and who takes it to drink. Begging before the one and begging before the other, the poet is between the two ” (Rhapsodie des fins dernières). It is this hieratic snatch of which each poem is the palpitating witness that makes Guerne’s poetic thought so necessary. It reminds us that beyond the dislocation of the poet, between supplications and thundering, it is the simple word carried by poetry which bequeaths to us an effulgent crystal—”The poet did nothing but open his blood, source of word” (Le Verbe nu).

It is up to the poet alone to hold out this open palm of the beggar—whose bruised phalanxes are only the pulverized reflection of his own charity—to pick up this immemorial tear of the word. Like a herald, the poet then remembers this mythical needle by affixing it on all the ruins of the world—and carries in front of a new Axis Mundi, like an Atlas armed with the sword of the Archangel: “All set their traps for you, scholars, politicians, bankers; the traps in which they themselves are caught. The poet holds out to you his buoy, and if he can, his hand”. (Preface to his translation of the Disciples at Sais, Hymns to the Night, religious songs of Novalis).


Henri Rosset writes from France. “Everyone wants to own the end of the world.” This articles through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

A Bird in the Snow

This story by Armando Palacio Valdés (1853—1938) was published in 1925.


He was born blind, and had been taught the one thing which the blind generally learn,—music; for this art he was specially gifted. His mother died when he was little more than a child, and his father, who was the first cornetist of a military band, followed her to the grave a few years later. He had a brother in America from whom he had never heard; still, through indirect sources he knew him to be well off, married, and the father of two fine children. To the day of his death the old musician, indignant at his son’s ingratitude, would not allow his name to be mentioned in his presence; but the blind boy’s affection for his brother remained unchanged. He could not forget that this elder brother had been the support of his childhood, the defence of his weakness against the other boys, and that he had always spoken to him with kindness. The recollection of Santiago’s voice as he entered his room in the morning, shouting, “Hey there, Juanito! get up, man; don’t sleep so!” rang in the blind boy’s ears with a more pleasing harmony than could ever be drawn from the keys of a piano or the strings of a violin. Was it probable that such a kind heart had grown cold? Juan could not believe it, and was always striving to justify him. At times the fault was with the mail, or it might be that his brother did not wish to write until he could send them a good deal of money; then again, he fancied that he meant to surprise them by presenting himself some fine day, laden with gold, in the modest entresol in which they lived. But he never dared communicate any of these fancies to his father; only when the old man, wrought to an unusual pitch of exasperation, bitterly apostrophized the absent one, he found the courage to say: “You must not despair, father. Santiago is good, and my heart tells me that we shall hear from him one of these days.”

The father died, however, without hearing from his son, between a priest, who exhorted him, and the blind boy, who clung convulsively to his hand, as if he meant to detain him in this world by main force. When the old man’s body was removed from the house, the boy seemed to have lost his reason, and in a frenzy of grief he struggled with the undertaker’s men. Then he was left alone. And what loneliness was his! No father, no mother, no relatives, no friends; he was even deprived of the sunlight, which is the friend of all created things. He was two whole days in his room pacing the floor like a caged wolf, without tasting food. The chamber-maid, assisted by a compassionate neighbor, succeeded in saving him from this slow process of suicide. He was prevailed upon to eat. He spent the rest of his life praying, and working at his music.

His father, shortly before his death, had obtained for him a position as organist in one of the churches of Madrid, with a salary of seventy cents a day. This was scarcely sufficient to meet the running expenses of a house, however modest; so within a fortnight Juan sold all that had constituted the furniture of his humble home, dismissed his servant, and took a room at a boarding-house, for which he paid forty cents a day; the remaining thirty cents covered all his other expenses. He lived thus for several months without leaving his room except to fulfil his obligations. His only walks were from the house to the church, and from the church back again. His grief weighed upon him so heavily that he never opened his lips. He spent the long hours of the day composing a grand requiem Mass for the repose of his father’s soul, depending upon the charity of the parish for its execution; and although it would be incorrect to say that he strained his five senses,—on account of his having but four,—it can at least be said that he threw all the energies of his body and soul into his work.

The ministerial crisis overtook him before his task was half finished. I do not remember who came into power, whether the Radicals, Conservatives, or Constitutionals; at any rate, there was some great change. The news reached Juan late, and to his sorrow. The new cabinet soon judged him, in his capacity as an organist, to be a dangerous citizen, and felt that from the heights of the choir, at vespers or in the solemnity of the Mass, with the swell and the roar from all the stops of the organ, he was evincing sentiments of opposition which were truly scandalous. The new ministers were ill disposed, as they declared in Congress through the lips of one of their authorized members, “to tolerate any form of imposition,” so they proceeded with praiseworthy energy to place Juan on the retired list, and to find him a substitute whose musical manœuvres might offer a better guarantee,—a man, in a word, who would prove more loyal to the institutions. On being officially informed of this, the blind one experienced no emotion beyond surprise. In the deep recesses of his heart he was pleased, as he was thus left more time in which to work at his Mass. The situation appeared to him in its real light only when his landlady, at the end of the month, came to him for money. He had none to give her, naturally, as his salary had been withdrawn; and he was compelled to pawn his father’s watch, after which he resumed his work with perfect serenity and without a thought of the future. But the landlady came again for money at the end of another month, and he once more pawned a jewel of the scant paternal legacy; this was a small diamond ring. In a few months there was nothing left to pawn. So the landlady, in consideration of his helplessness, kept him two or three days beyond the time and then turned him out, with the self-congratulatory feeling of having acted generously in not claiming his trunk and clothes, from which she might have realized the few cents that he still owed her.

He looked for another lodging, but was unable to rent a piano, which was a sore trial to him; evidently he could not finish his Mass. He knew a shopkeeper who owned a piano and who permitted him to make use of it. But Juan soon noticed that his visits grew more and more inopportune, so he left off going. Shortly, too, he was turned out of his new lodgings, only this time they kept his trunk. Then came a period of misery and anguish,—of that misery of which it is hard to conceive. We know that life has few joys for the homeless and the poor, but if in addition they be blind and alone, surely they have found the limit of human suffering. Juan was tossed about from lodging to lodging, lying in bed while his only shirt was being washed, wandering through the streets of Madrid with torn shoes, his trousers worn to a fringe about his feet, his hair long, and his beard unshaven. Some compassionate fellow-lodger obtained a position for him in a café, from which, however, he was soon turned out, for its frequenters did not relish his music. He never played popular dances or peteneras, no fandangos, not even an occasional polka. His fingers glided over the keys in dreamy ecstasies of Beethoven and Chopin, and the audience found some difficulty in keeping time with their spoons. So out he went again through the byways of the capital. Every now and then some charitable soul, accidentally brought in contact with his misery, assisted him indirectly, for Juan shuddered at the thought of begging. He took his meals in some tavern or other in the lowest quarter of Madrid, ate just enough to keep from starving, and for two cents he was allowed to sleep in a hovel between beggars and evil-doers. Once they stole his trousers while he was asleep, and left him a pair of cotton ones in their stead. This was in November.

Poor Juan, who had always cherished the thought of his brother’s return, now in the depths of his misery nursed his chimera with redoubled faith. He had a letter written and sent to Havana. As he had no idea how his brother could be reached, the letter bore no direction. He made all manner of inquiries, but to no effect, and he spent long hours on his knees, hoping that Heaven might send Santiago to his rescue. His only happy moments were those spent in prayer, as he knelt behind a pillar in the far-off corner of some solitary church, breathing the acrid odors of dampness and melting wax, listening to the flickering sputter of the tapers and the faint murmur rising from the lips of the faithful in the nave of the temple. His innocent soul then soared above the cruelties of life and communed with God and the Holy Mother. From his early childhood devotion to the Virgin had been deeply rooted in his heart. As he had never known his mother, he instinctively turned to the mother of God for that tender and loving protection which only a woman can give a child. He had composed a number of hymns and canticles in her honor, and he never fell asleep without pressing his lips to the image of the Carmen, which he wore on his neck.

There came a day, however, when heaven and earth forsook him. Driven from his last shelter, without a crust to save him from starvation, or a cloak to protect him from the cold, he realized with terror that the time had come when he would have to beg. A great struggle took place in his soul. Shame and suffering made a desperate stand against necessity. The profound darkness which surrounded him increased the anguish of the strife; but hunger conquered in the end. He prayed for strength with sobs, and resigned himself to his fate. Still, wishing to disguise his humiliation, he determined to sing in the streets, at night only. His voice was good, and he had a rare knowledge of the art of singing. It occurred to him that he had no means of accompaniment. But he soon found another unfortunate, perhaps a trifle less wretched than himself, who lent him an old and broken guitar. He mended it as best he could, and with a voice hoarse with tears he went out into the street on a frosty December night. His heart beat violently; his knees trembled under him. When he tried to sing in one of the central thoroughfares, he found he could not utter a sound. Suffering and shame seemed to have tied a knot in his throat. He groped about until he had found a wall to lean against. There he stood for awhile, and when he felt a little calmer he began the tenor’s aria from the first act of “Favorita.” A blind singer who sang neither couplets nor popular songs soon excited some curiosity among the passers-by, and in a few minutes a crowd had gathered around him. There was a murmur of surprise and admiration at the art with which he overcame the difficulties of the composition, and many a copper was dropped in the hat that dangled from his arm. After this he sang the aria of the fourth act of “Africana.” But too many had stopped to listen, and the authorities began to fear that this might be a cause of disturbance; for it is a well-established fact with officials of the police force that people who congregate in the streets to hear a blind man sing are always prompted by motives of rebellion,—it means a peculiar hostility to the institutions; in a word, an attitude thoroughly incompatible with the peace of society and the security of the State. Accordingly, a policeman caught Juan energetically by the arm and said, “Here, here! go straight home now, and don’t let me catch you stopping at any more street corners.”

“I’m doing no harm!”

“You are blocking the thoroughfare. Come, move on, move on, if you don’t want to go to the lock-up.”

It is really encouraging to see how careful our authorities are in clearing the streets of blind singers; and I really believe, in spite of all that has been said to the contrary, that if they could keep them equally free from thieves and murderers, they would do so with pleasure. Juan went back to his hovel with a heavy heart, for he was by nature shrinking and timid, and was grieved at having disturbed the peace and given rise to the interference of the executive power. He had made twenty-seven cents. With this he bought something to eat on the following day, and paid rent for the little pile of straw on which he slept. The next night he went out again and sang a few more operatic arias; but the people again crowded around him, and once more a policeman felt himself called upon to interfere, shouting at him to move on. But how could he? If he kept moving on, he would not make a cent. He could not expect the people to follow him. Juan moved on, however, on and on, because he was timid, and the mere thought of infringing the laws, of disturbing even momentarily the peace of his native land, was worse than death to him. So his earnings rapidly decreased. The necessity of moving on, on the one hand, and the fact that his performances had lost the charm of novelty, which in Spain always commands its price, daily deprived him of a few coppers. With what he brought home at night he could scarcely buy enough food to keep him alive. The situation was desperate. The poor boy saw but one luminous point in the clouded horizon of his life, and that was his brother’s return to Madrid. Every night as he left his hovel with his guitar swinging from his shoulder he thought, “If Santiago should be in Madrid and hear me sing, he would know me by my voice.” And this hope, or rather this chimera, alone gave him the strength to endure life. However, there came again a day in which his anguish knew no limit. On the preceding night he had earned only six coppers. It had been so cold! This was Christmas Eve. When the morning dawned upon the world, it found Madrid wrapped in a sheet of snow six inches thick. It snowed steadily all day long, which was a matter of little consequence to the majority of people, and was even a cause of much rejoicing among æsthetes generally. Those poets in particular who enjoy what is called easy circumstances spent the greater part of the day watching the flakes through the plate-glass of their study windows, meditating upon and elaborating those graceful and ingenious similes that cause the audiences at the theatre to shout, “Bravo, bravo!” or those who read their verses to exclaim, “What a genius that young fellow is!”

Juan’s breakfast had been a crust of stale bread and a cup of watery coffee. He could not divert his hunger by contemplating the beauty of the snow,—in the first place, because he was blind, and in the second, because, even had he not been blind, he would have had some difficulty in seeing it through the patched and filthy panes of his hovel. He spent the day huddled in a corner on his straw mattress, evoking scenes of his childhood and caressing the sweet dream of his brother’s return. At nightfall he grew very faint, but necessity drove him into the streets to beg. His guitar was gone. He had sold it for sixty cents on a day of similar hardship. The snow fell with the same persistence. His legs trembled as they had when he sang for the first time, but now it was from hunger rather than shame. He groped about as best he could, with great lumps of mud above his ankles. The silence told him that there was scarcely a soul on the street. The carriages rolled noiselessly along, and he once came near being run over. In one of the central thoroughfares he began to sing the first thing that came to his lips. His voice was weak and hoarse. Nobody stopped to listen. “Let us try another street,” thought he; and he went down the Avenue of San Jerónimo, walking awkwardly in the snow, with a white coating on his shoulders and water squirting from his shoes. The cold had begun to penetrate into his very bones, and hunger gave him a violent pain. For a moment with the cold and the pain came a feeling of faintness which made him think that he was about to die, and lifting his spirit to the Virgin of the Carmen, his protectress, he exclaimed in his anguish, “Mother, have pity!” And after pronouncing these words he felt relieved and walked, or rather dragged himself, to the Plaza de las Cortes. There he grasped a lamp-post, and under the impression of the Virgin’s protection sang Gounod’s “Ave Maria.” Still nobody stopped to hear him. The people of Madrid were at the theatres, at the cafés, or at home, dancing their little ones on their knees in the glow of the hearth,—in the warmth of their love. The snow continued to fall steadily, copiously, with the evident purpose of furnishing a topic for the local column of the morning paper, where it would be described in a thousand delicate phrases. The occasional passers-by hurried along muffled up to their ears under their umbrellas. The lamp-posts had put on their white night-caps, from under which escaped thin rays of dismal light. The silence was broken only by the vague and distant rumble of carriages and by the light fall of the snowflakes, that sounded like the faint and continuous rustle of silk. The voice of Juan alone vibrated in the stillness of the night, imploring the mother of the unprotected; and his chant seemed a cry of anguish rather than a hymn of praise, a moan of sadness and resignation falling dreary and chill, like snow upon the heart.

And his cry for pity was in vain. In vain he repeated the sweet name of Mary, adjusting it to the modulations of every melody. Heaven and the Virgin were far away, it seemed, and could not hear him. The neighbors of the plaza were near at hand, but they did not choose to hear. Nobody came down to take him in from the cold; no window was thrown open to drop him a copper. The passers-by, pursued, as it were, by the fleet steps of pneumonia, scarcely dared stop. Juan’s voice at last died in his throat; he could sing no more. His legs trembled under him; his hands lost their sense of touch. He took a few steps, then sank on the sidewalk at the foot of the grating that surrounds the square. He sat with his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands. He felt vaguely that it was the last moment of his life, and he again prayed, imploring the divine pity.

At the end of a few minutes he was conscious of being shaken by the arm, and knew that a man was standing before him. He raised his head, and taking for granted it was the old story about moving on, inquired timidly,—

“Are you an officer?”

“No; I am no officer. What is the matter with you? Get up.”

“I don’t believe I can, sir.”

“Are you very cold?”

“Yes, sir; but it isn’t exactly that,—I haven’t had anything to eat to-day.”

“I will help you, then. Come; up with you.”

The man took Juan by both arms and stood him on his feet. He seemed very strong.

“Now lean on me, and let us see if we can find a cab.”

“But where are you going to take me?”

“Nowhere where you wouldn’t want to go. Are you afraid?”

“No; I feel in my heart that you will help me.”

“Come along, then. Let’s see how soon I can get you something hot to drink.”

“God will reward you for this, sir; the Virgin will reward you. I thought I was going to die there, against that grating.”

“Don’t talk about dying, man. The question now is to find a cab; if we can only move along fast enough—What is the matter? Are you stumbling?”

“Yes, sir. I think I struck a lamp-post. You see—as I am blind—”

“Are you blind?” asked the stranger, anxiously.

“Yes, sir.”

“Since when?”

“I was born blind.”

Juan felt his companion’s arm tremble in his, and they walked along in silence. Suddenly the man stopped and asked in a voice husky with emotion,—

“What is your name?”

“Juan.”

“Juan what?”

“Juan Martínez.”

“And your father was Manuel Martínez, wasn’t he,—musician of the third artillery band?”

“Yes, sir.”

The blind one felt the tight clasp of two powerful arms that almost smothered him, and heard a trembling voice exclaim,—

“My God, how horrible, and how happy! I am a criminal, Juan! I am your brother Santiago!”

And the two brothers stood sobbing together in the middle of the street. The snow fell on them lightly. Suddenly Santiago tore himself from his brother’s embrace, and began to shout, intermingling his words with interjections,—

“A cab! A cab! Isn’t there a cab anywhere around? Curse my luck! Come, Juanillo, try; make an effort, my boy; we are not so very far. But where in the name of sense are all the cabs? Not one has passed us. Ah, I see one coming, thank God! No; the brute is going in the other direction. Here is another. This one is mine. Hello there, driver! Five dollars if you take us flying to Number 13 Castellana.”

And taking his brother in his arms as though he had been a mere child, he put him in the cab and jumped in after him. The driver whipped his horse, and off they went, gliding swiftly and noiselessly over the snow. In the mean time Santiago, with his arms still around Juan, told him something of his life. He had been in Costa Rica, not Cuba, and had accumulated a respectable fortune. He had spent many years in the country, beyond mail service and far from any point of communication with Europe. He had written several letters to his father, and had managed to get these on some steamer trading with England, but had never received any answer. In the hope of returning shortly to Spain, he had made no inquiries. He had been in Madrid for four months. He learned from the parish record that his father was dead; but all he could discover concerning Juan was vague and contradictory. Some believed that he had died, while others said that, reduced to the last stages of misery, he went through the streets singing and playing on the guitar. All his efforts to find him had been fruitless; but fortunately Providence had thrown him into his arms. Santiago laughed and cried alternately, showing himself to be the same frank, open-hearted, jovial soul that Juan had loved so in his childhood. The cab finally came to a stop. A man-servant opened the door, and Juan was fairly lifted into the house. When the door closed behind him, he breathed a warm atmosphere full of that peculiar aroma of comfort which wealth seems to exhale. His feet sank in the soft carpet. Two servants relieved him of his dripping clothes and brought him clean linen and a warm dressing-gown. In the same room, before a crackling wood fire, he was served a comforting bowl of hot broth, followed by something more substantial, which he was made to take very slowly and with all the precautions which his critical condition required. Then a bottle of old wine was brought up from the cellar. Santiago was too restless to sit still. He came and went, giving orders, interrupting himself every minute to say,—

“How do you feel now, Juan? Are you warm enough? Perhaps you don’t care for this wine.”

When the meal was over, the two brothers sat silently side by side before the fire. Santiago then inquired of one of the servants if the Señora and the children had already retired. On learning that they had, he said to Juan, beaming with delight,—

“Can you play on the piano?”

“Yes.”

“Come into the parlor, then. Let us give them a surprise.”

He accordingly led him into an adjoining room and seated him at the piano. He raised the top so as to obtain the greatest possible vibration, threw open the doors, and went through all the manœuvres peculiar to a surprise,—tiptoeing, whispering, speaking in a falsetto, and so much absurd pantomime that Juan could not help laughing as he realized how little his brother had changed.

“Now, Juanillo, play something startling, and play it loud, with all your might.”

The blind boy struck up a military march. A quiver ran through the silent house like that which stirs a music-box while it is being wound up. The notes poured from the piano, hurrying, jostling one another, but never losing their triumphant rhythm. Every now and then Santiago exclaimed,—

“Louder, Juanillo! Louder!”

And the blind boy struck the notes with all his spirit and might.

“I see my wife peeping in from behind the curtains. Go on, Juanillo. She is in her night-gown,—he, he! I am pretending not to see her. I have no doubt she thinks I am crazy,—he, he! Go on, Juanillo.”

Juan obeyed, although he thought the jest had been carried far enough. He wanted to know his sister-in-law and kiss his nephews.

“Now I can just see Manolita. Hello! Paquito is up too. Didn’t I tell you we should surprise them? But I am afraid they will take cold. Stop a minute, Juanito!”

And the infernal clamor was silenced.

“Come, Adela, Manolita, and Paquito, get on your things and come in to see your uncle Juan. This is Juanillo, of whom you have heard me speak so often. I have just found him in the street almost frozen to death. Come, hurry and dress, all of you.”

The whole family was soon ready, and rushed in to embrace the blind boy. The wife’s voice was soft and harmonious. To Juan it sounded like the voice of the Virgin. He discovered, too, that she was weeping silently at the thought of all his sufferings. She ordered a foot-warmer to be brought in. She wrapped his legs in a cloak and put a soft cushion behind his head. The children stood around his chair, caressing him, and all listened with tears to the accounts of his past misery. Santiago struck his forehead; the children stroked his hands, saying,—

“You will never be hungry again, will you, uncle? Or go out without a cloak and an umbrella? I don’t want you to, neither does Manolita, nor mamma, nor papa.”

“I wager you will not give him your bed, Paquito,” said Santiago, trying to conceal his tears under his affected merriment.

“My bed won’t fit him, papa! But he can have the bed in the guests’ chamber. It is a great bed, uncle, a big, big bed!”

“I don’t believe I care to go to bed,” said Juan. “Not just now at any rate, I am so comfortable here.”

“That pain has gone, hasn’t it, uncle?” whispered Manolita, kissing and stroking his hand.

“Yes, dear, yes,—God bless you! Nothing pains me now. I am happy, very happy! Only I feel sleepy, so sleepy that I can hardly raise my eyelids.”

“Never mind us; sleep if you feel like it,” said Santiago.

“Yes, uncle, sleep,” repeated the children.

And Juan fell asleep,—but he wakened in another world.

The next morning, at dawn, two policemen stumbled against a corpse in the snow. The doctor of the charity hospital pronounced it a case of congealing of the blood.

As one of the officers turned him over, face upward,—

“Look, Jiménez,” said he; “he seems to be laughing.”


Featured: “A Recess on a London Bridge,” by Augustus Edwin Mulready; painted 1879.

The Holy Night

This story, by Selma Lagerlöf (1858—1940), was first published in 1908.


When I was five years old I had such a great sorrow! I hardly know if I have had a greater since.

It was then my grandmother died. Up to that time, she used to sit every day on the corner sofa in her room, and tell stories.

I remember that grandmother told story after story from morning till night, and that we children sat beside her, quite still, and listened. It was a glorious life! No other children had such happy times as we did.

It isn’t much that I recollect about my grandmother. I remember that she had very beautiful snow-white hair, and stooped when she walked, and that she always sat and knitted a stocking.

And I even remember that when she had finished a story, she used to lay her hand on my head and say: “All this is as true, as true as that I see you and you see me.”

I also remember that she could sing songs, but this she did not do every day. One of the songs was about a knight and a sea-troll, and had this refrain: “It blows cold, cold weather at sea.”

Then I remember a little prayer she taught me, and a verse of a hymn.

Of all the stories she told me, I have but a dim and imperfect recollection. Only one of them do I remember so well that I should be able to repeat it. It is a little story about Jesus’ birth.

Well, this is nearly all that I can recall about my grandmother, except the thing which I remember best; and that is, the great loneliness when she was gone.

I remember the morning when the corner sofa stood empty and when it was impossible to understand how the days would ever come to an end. That I remember. That I shall never forget!

And I recollect that we children were brought forward to kiss the hand of the dead and that we were afraid to do it. But then some one said to us that it would be the last time we could thank grandmother for all the pleasure she had given us.

And I remember how the stories and songs were driven from the homestead, shut up in a long black casket, and how they never came back again.

I remember that something was gone from our lives. It seemed as if the door to a whole beautiful, enchanted world—where before we had been free to go in and out—had been closed. And now there was no one who knew how to open that door.

And I remember that, little by little, we children learned to play with dolls and toys, and to live like other children. And then it seemed as though we no longer missed our grandmother, or remembered her.

But even to-day—after forty years—as I sit here and gather together the legends about Christ, which I heard out there in the Orient, there awakes within me the little legend of Jesus’ birth that my grandmother used to tell, and I feel impelled to tell it once again, and to let it also be included in my collection.

It was a Christmas Day and all the folks had driven to church except grandmother and I. I believe we were all alone in the house. We had not been permitted to go along, because one of us was too old and the other was too young. And we were sad, both of us, because we had not been taken to early mass to hear the singing and to see the Christmas candles.

But as we sat there in our loneliness, grandmother began to tell a story.

“There was a man,” said she, “who went out in the dark night to borrow live coals to kindle a fire. He went from hut to hut and knocked. ‘Dear friends, help me!’ said he. ‘My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“But it was way in the night, and all the people were asleep. No one replied.

“The man walked and walked. At last he saw the gleam of a fire a long way off. Then he went in that direction, and saw that the fire was burning in the open. A lot of sheep were sleeping around the fire, and an old shepherd sat and watched over the flock.

“When the man who wanted to borrow fire came up to the sheep, he saw that three big dogs lay asleep at the shepherd’s feet. All three awoke when the man approached and opened their great jaws, as though they wanted to bark; but not a sound was heard. The man noticed that the hair on their backs stood up and that their sharp, white teeth glistened in the firelight. They dashed toward him. He felt that one of them bit at his leg and one at his hand and that one clung to his throat. But their jaws and teeth wouldn’t obey them, and the man didn’t suffer the least harm.

“Now the man wished to go farther, to get what he needed. But the sheep lay back to back and so close to one another that he couldn’t pass them. Then the man stepped upon their backs and walked over them and up to the fire. And not one of the animals awoke or moved.”

Thus far, grandmother had been allowed to narrate without interruption. But at this point I couldn’t help breaking in. “Why didn’t they do it, grandma?” I asked.

“That you shall hear in a moment,” said grandmother—and went on with her story.

“When the man had almost reached the fire, the shepherd looked up. He was a surly old man, who was unfriendly and harsh toward human beings. And when he saw the strange man coming, he seized the long spiked staff, which he always held in his hand when he tended his flock, and threw it at him. The staff came right toward the man, but, before it reached him, it turned off to one side and whizzed past him, far out in the meadow.”

When grandmother had got this far, I interrupted her again. “Grandma, why wouldn’t the stick hurt the man?” Grandmother did not bother about answering me, but continued her story.

“Now the man came up to the shepherd and said to him: ‘Good man, help me, and lend me a little fire! My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“The shepherd would rather have said no, but when he pondered that the dogs couldn’t hurt the man, and the sheep had not run from him, and that the staff had not wished to strike him, he was a little afraid, and dared not deny the man that which he asked.

“‘Take as much as you need!’ he said to the man.

“But then the fire was nearly burnt out. There were no logs or branches left, only a big heap of live coals; and the stranger had neither spade nor shovel, wherein he could carry the red-hot coals.

“When the shepherd saw this, he said again: ‘Take as much as you need!’ And he was glad that the man wouldn’t be able to take away any coals.

“But the man stooped and picked coals from the ashes with his bare hands, and laid them in his mantle. And he didn’t burn his hands when he touched them, nor did the coals scorch his mantle; but he carried them away as if they had been nuts or apples.”

But here the story-teller was interrupted for the third time. “Grandma, why wouldn’t the coals burn the man?”

“That you shall hear,” said grandmother, and went on:

“And when the shepherd, who was such a cruel and hard-hearted man, saw all this, he began to wonder to himself: ‘What kind of a night is this, when the dogs do not bite, the sheep are not scared, the staff does not kill, or the fire scorch?’ He called the stranger back, and said to him: ‘What kind of a night is this? And how does it happen that all things show you compassion?’

“Then said the man: ‘I cannot tell you if you yourself do not see it.’ And he wished to go his way, that he might soon make a fire and warm his wife and child.

“But the shepherd did not wish to lose sight of the man before he had found out what all this might portend. He got up and followed the man till they came to the place where he lived.

“Then the shepherd saw that the man didn’t have so much as a hut to dwell in, but that his wife and babe were lying in a mountain grotto, where there was nothing except the cold and naked stone walls.

“But the shepherd thought that perhaps the poor innocent child might freeze to death there in the grotto; and, although he was a hard man, he was touched, and thought he would like to help it. And he loosened his knapsack from his shoulder, took from it a soft white sheepskin, gave it to the strange man, and said that he should let the child sleep on it.

“But just as soon as he showed that he, too, could be merciful, his eyes were opened, and he saw what he had not been able to see before and heard what he could not have heard before.

“He saw that all around him stood a ring of little silver-winged angels, and each held a stringed instrument, and all sang in loud tones that to-night the Saviour was born who should redeem the world from its sins.

“Then he understood how all things were so happy this night that they didn’t want to do anything wrong.

“And it was not only around the shepherd that there were angels, but he saw them everywhere. They sat inside the grotto, they sat outside on the mountain, and they flew under the heavens. They came marching in great companies, and, as they passed, they paused and cast a glance at the child.

“There were such jubilation and such gladness and songs and play! And all this he saw in the dark night, whereas before he could not have made out anything. He was so happy because his eyes had been opened that he fell upon his knees and thanked God.”

Here grandmother sighed and said: “What that shepherd saw we might also see, for the angels fly down from heaven every Christmas Eve, if we could only see them.”

Then grandmother laid her hand on my head, and said: “You must remember this, for it is as true, as true as that I see you and you see me. It is not revealed by the light of lamps or candles, and it does not depend upon sun and moon; but that which is needful is, that we have such eyes as can see God’s glory.”


Featured: “The Shepherds and the Angel,” Carl Bloch; painted in 1879.

Iter et adventures baronis Trump et canis mirandus Bulger—I

Praefatio

The following stories hail from the pen of Ingersoll Lockwood (1841—1918), an American barrister of the late 19th Century. These travels and adventures were published right in the middle of a remarkable period of English letters. For a generation before the 1889 release of Lockwood’s first Trump installment, and continuing from strength to strength for another generation afterwards, these stories were part of the burgeoning collections of children’s and fantasy fiction which was received with such interest at the time.

But time and fame are fickle, and poor Baron Trump was soon forgotten, despite all his marvelous journeys. It was not until there was a real Barron Trump living lately in the White House that Lockwood’s stories were rediscovered. (Fickle, it turns out, is not always a bad thing!)

And while the coincidences between the fleshly Barron Trump and his inky double gave rise to all sorts of jabber about time traveling orange tycoons (perhaps playing 5D chess in transit), we have an even better time travel for you: journey with little Baron Trump in Latin! No matter how old it is, literature is always a living thing. It is a delight to welcome back into the imagination not only young Mr. Trump and Bulger, but also to contribute to the growing corpus of new and republished Latin literature.

John Coleman

CAPUT I.

Brevis relatio cuiusdam parvi baronum maiorum celeberrimi, qui “Eques Inermem (literally, armless)” vocatur. Mira eius fortitudo et fortitudo. Quam secutus est Cordis Leonis ad Orientem. Res egregie gestae in campo sub Ioppe moenibus. Eius matrimonium in praesentia Saladini et Cordis Leonis.

Venio ex una ex vetustissimis et honestissimis Germaniae septentrionalibus familiis, virtute et amore periculi clarus.

Unus antecessorum meorum, cum viginti intrasset, uno mane audiverat in mensa patris sui, magnum regem Angliae Cœur de Lion exercitum contra infideles ducturum esse.

“Miserere parens,” adulescens e sede evigilans, oculi ardentes, genae ardentes, “Adiungam Peregrinus et auxilium in hostium sanctae religionis interitum?” “Heu miser puer!” respondit pater, miserata iuventutis intuitu, qui per novum quendam naturae lusum sine armis natus, « non es destinatus ad gravissimas pugnas, quales exspectant patruelem nostrum Cœur de Leonem. Omnia ensem gerendi ratio detinet, lancea cubile.

“Oportet homicidium deponere corpus tuum inermum ante cimeterium miserorum Moslemi elevatum! Fili carissime, ab animo talia cogita, et te ad poemata et philosophiam converte, novo generi nomen tuum eruditione addes. “Immo vero clemens parens, exaudi me!” diserto iuvenem ocello hortatus est: “Vera, arma mihi natura negavit, at illa non fuit tam crudelis quam credi posset, in ima membro vires gigas ad recompensationem dedit.

Non meministi quo tandem mense aprum uno ictu e planta venantis percussi? “Faciam,” subridens truci sene baro, “sed—” “Ignosce pater egregius iuveni interruptio venit, “Ibo in pugnam duplicem armatum, cuivis enim strepitori figam ensem et vae Mussulmano, qui me in acie audet occurrere.

“Ite ergo, fili mi!” Clamavit senex baro, ut lachrymae pictae manant genae, “Ite, iunge patruelem nostrum Cœur de Lion, et si tu inermis resistas incredulorum furorem, adjicietur alia gloria BUCINUM nomine; et in hac avita sede pendebit effigiem equitis inermi, cui mirantibus ocellis in aevum recumbent amatores fortium factorum.

Gaudium proavi mei nullum modum cognovi.

Vix moratus, ut ad iter opus faciendum appararet, cum nonnullis fidelibus stipatoribus, ab castelli navale plausibus evectus inter millia pulchrarum virginum, quae ex vicina civitate convenerant, ad Deum inermem equitem properat.

Non nisi egregium illud sub Ioppe moenibus dimicatum est, quod antecessor meus occasionem praebendae fortitudinis, eximiae virtutis, et impetus impetus inexsuperabilis.

Non unus, non quinque, non decem miles gregarius ausi sunt armati equitis.

Totae turmae expavescebant ante hunc arcanum ultorem iniuriarum Christianae, qui sine manibus Moslemi milites perculit, ut granum ante flatum cadit.

Iterum atque iterum, Saladinus florem suorum misit inermem equitem, cuius iam vires ac virtus nomen suum terrori militi superstitioso fecerat. Parum terribilem fatum illum exspectantem animadvertens,

Mahometanorum belligerem sublato cimeterium antecessorem meum rueret, cum uno ense armato ictu arma equitis inermis equi ferire pectus, deinde infideles proterere. morte provolutus humi.

Iam meridies erat.

In edito loco Saladinus, aestum pugnae spectans, ingentis exercitus florem stragem anxius oculis horrendam vidit.

Iam nomen, ordo, et natio iuvenum antecessoris mei Moslemi ducis innotuerunt.

“La, il la! Mahomed ul Becullah!” clamavit barbam gerens. Beatus vir qui potest vocare Christianum militem suum filium. Quot prophetae infantes hodie occiderunt?

“Sexcentesimo quinquagesimo nono!” responsum datum.

“Sexcenti et quinquaginta novem” Saladinus resonavit, “et meridies est!” Cum nox accessisset, numerus ad mille et septem auctus fuerat.

Audito diro diei opere “Inermem equitis” Saladini magnum cor fudit, et tamen admirationem tantae sollertiae et fortitudinis retinere non potuit.

“Ite!” Clamavit magnanimus infidelis dux, “Ite, e familia formosae Kohilat ancillae meae, eam orbibus nigredinis nigris, florem gratiae ac florem reginae venustatis. Duc eam ad eques inermem, Saladino cum regia salutatione; virtus facit fratrem meum, Giaour, licet sit! Discedite!”

Cum speciosus Kohilât in conspectum adulescentis antecessoris mei ductus est, eique denuntiatum est Saladinum ei munera misisse, “Eques impotens,” salutationis regiae in signum reverentiae tam iuvenis. Et tamen tantae fortitudinis prima Christianae iuventutis cogitatio indignationem suam ab eius praesentia iactaret.

In illo autem momento, Kohilât oculos suos magnos et splendidos elevavit eosque plenos in facie adulescentis defixit.

Plus erat quam cor hominis stare posset.

Mota comitate ut de tentorio suo processit ad eam partem cum honore, et dixit:

“Kohilat, aliena te fata ad me misit. Magnus Saladinus nuntius mihi impertit scientiam bonitatis tuae, amabilitatis tuae, et mentis doctae, quae in suo thesauro jucundissimas imagines et utiles scientias continet. Docet me stas in directa propagine ab illa inclyta reginae terrae tuae Scheherezada, quae per mille et una noctes cogitationum Soldani Indiarum ita teneri ludibrio praeclari phantasiae tenuit. avertite eum a gravi ultionis consilio. Putasne, Kohilat, te posse oblivisci falsi dei tui et solum verum amare?”

“Ita, domine,” murmuravit mitis Kohilat, “Si ita est dominus meus.”

Risus increbruit formosam faciem juvenis antecessoris mei. Magis repugnare cupiebat in convertendo pulchram infidelem ad veram fidem, sed quamvis speciosam faciem diu et cuilibet subtilitatis signo scrutaretur, non tamen vidit.

Bene, Kohilat, dixit, et nunc responde mihi, et ex corde tuo loquere. Vis fieri uxor mea secundum ritus Ecclesiae Christianae et leges patriae meae?

Iterum pulcher Kohilât respondit:

“Ita, domine mi; si sic placet.”

Sequenti die induciae indictae sunt, et coram duobus magnis ducibus exercitus, Cœur de Lion et Saladino, ambo gloriosissimo comitatu circumventi, juvenis antecessor meus et princeps Kohilat in virum et uxorem conjuncti sunt. a regii confessoris “eques inerme,” supra circumfusam multitudinem eminens in lorica sua fulgenti loricae instar columnae argenti politae. Cum obviam prodiret lusca sponsa, anulo inter labra connubio obtentus, ingens ab utroque exercitu clamor ortus est.

Saladinus barbam permulsit. Cœur de Lion fecit signum crucis. Brevi semihora duces in castra redierant, bellumque atrociter exitio reparaverat.

Huic praeclari antecessoris mei, equitis inermi, cum Mahometani ancilla, possessionem meam prope Orientales phantasiae tribuo.

CAPUT II.

Senior baro incertus de loco certo nativitatis meae. Causae cur postea dabuntur. Parentes mei hoc tempore in Africam iter fecerunt. Senior Baronis mirabilis ascensus Montium Lunae. Miracula fugae nebulonis impenetrabilis. Ut efficitur. In terra Sut. Omnia quae ibi contigerunt. Qualiter canororum rex Snutores parentes meos in magno honore ad palatium suum deduxerunt, et quomodo ab eo habiti sunt.

Dum in mea potestate est, ut curiositati legentium indulgeam, in qua parte mundi sit, in qua tenebras primum vidi, nocte enim natus sum, tamen, quantum ad naturam statim in qua eram natus, nam dolor, possum plura facere quam verba patris mei hac de re interrogati repetere.

“Fili mi, si essem in lecto meo, tantum dicere possem te aut in medio genitum esse in magno lacu, aut in insula, aut in paeninsula, aut in summo monte altissimo, sicut saepe saepius. Explicavit tibi.“

Sufficiat ergo, lector benevole, in praesentia tibi certiorem facere, quod tempore nativitatis meae in Africa parentes mei proficiscerentur; Pater meus unum de mirabilibus gestis in monte ascensu, scilicet ascensu celsissimi Lunæ Montium, feliciter perfecit; duces eius cum maxime periculoso loco in ascensu deseruissent; sed sine illis profugisse, et post aliquot dies terribilem inopiam et famem et sitim adsumere; proprium aeris aliquantum altitudinis emensum, quod os faucesque musculi resoluti sunt. Infelix viator vel fame vel siti perit, ipso praesente fructu dulci et aqua frigida et limpida.

Ita materna, quae cum eo usque in montis partem instructa et certissima pedis steterat, iter facere perrexerunt, ut putabant, in vallem, de qua primogenita habebant, iter facere profectus.

Impetrabilis iam nebula eos claudit, et mox inermes et inermes vagantes se reperit.

Mane diei tertiae caligo etiam in crassitudine creverat, circum eas quasi pallium claudens, lucem diei fere praecluserat.

Palpando pater meus cum duobus iumentis quae sibi in ascensu partibus facilioribus ministraverant conveniebat. Quiete et incuriosi dulces et teneros frutices carpebant, quae in latere montis nascebantur.

Subito cogitatus ad patrem venit. Natum est ex ea desperatione quae hominem longum putat et durum antequam moriatur.

Sic enim cogitabat: Si haec animalia, si quando appetitus exigunt, saturitatem suam edant, ubinam sint, maximeque ubi se circumventum reperiant tam excellentibus pascuis, et, praeter ea, satis levantur ab omni labore. Sentiant tamen famem stimuli, vel potius dentem famis in visceribus suis, et cogitationes eorum statim revertantur ad domos, dominos, pabulos, et non perdent tempus profectionis ad villam ubi pertinent. Ad desperationis vigorem, pater raptim os suum osculum prensabat, ut nec pasci nec bibere posset, et eventus experimenti sui expectabat, anhelitus, propter lacrimas et gemitus miserae matris, cuius vis erat. Perculit ipsae animae refluxum ieiunium.

Post paucas horas animalia ad pedes stabant et valde laborabant, et in alia hora adeo invaluerat fames, ut cibos insanas molirentur, ut facile pater ex insidiosa linea, quam diligenter curaverat, cognosceret capitibus suis apponere.

Post horam quartam longum silentium fuit, per quod quidnam sequerentur, deliberare videbantur.

Quinta hora venit.

Mater infirma et lassa in ulnis patris quieverat. Subito constringebatur acies. Pater meus sensim dormientem excitavit, pauca susurrans solatii verba.

Iterum lineae contractae sunt.

Parentes mei iam pedibus erant in profundis inpenetrabilis nebulae prospiciens, quae eos circumvolvit et inter se etiam invisibiles fecit.

Hist! Bestiae iterum moventur! Subito impetu, quasi tandem rem aliquam, quae per aliquot horas mentes eorum solverant, bestiae, vehementibus narium stimulis, obnixi e vestigio, per virgulta coniciebant, et parentes obversabantur.

Constat plane inter conclusiones ingenio vel instinctu perductas, non enim semel distrahuntur aut subsistunt, nisi a patre cohibitus. Sicque cari parentes mei servati sunt! Totis eo die ac parte proximi premebantur.

Nebula tandem elevata est, et patuit illico patri meo quod, quamvis animalia ad habitacula humana ea regerent, tamen terra in cacumine montis iter profecturus non erat. Semita nunc tam perspicua facta est ut pater meus a duobus animalibus capistras tumultuosos removit eosque famem suam expleret, quod cum summa voluptate ageret, permisit. Mater adeo fessa fuit ut inertem procumberet. Reficiensque eam haustu fontis aquae et suco agrestis uvae, praeparato propere cubile mollia fronde, in quo tam longo fessumque cornipetu se iactare gaudebant.

Mox in altum et jucundissimum somnum inciderunt. Quamdiu in lecto frondoso iacebant, somno reficiendo involuti, nesciebant.

Longa certe hora fuit; nam cum evigilarent, stomachus fames rodebat. Libet statim colligere fructus, nisi auribus insolitis crepitibus repente salutares fuissent. Oculos terebant et se mutuo circumspiciebant, reputantes se ludibrium jucundi asini somnii.

Sed non; erant vigilantes et in plena possessione sensuum. Iterum audiuntur insoliti soni et hoc tempore propiores et clariores.

Oritur et lapsus, tumor et dein intermissio.

Soni sunt hinnuli et snappy sicut et in eis musica singularis est.

Propius propiusque veniunt. Maiore ac maiore crescunt. “Ferae?” susurrabant matrem meam medium inquirendo.

“Immo!” de ore patris mei cadit. “Non nisi homines ita ferae sint ut bestiarum nomen mereatur.”

“Hark iterum!” murmuravit mater mea.

Soni iam nullus error erat; nam, ut concentus plurium vocum, argutae et fistulae, altae et murmurantes, molles et canorae, asperae et gutturales, omnia tamen inconditam et agrestem quandam harmoniam, uno modo magnoque miscentes. Nunc demissa ac vix audita, nunc erumpente atrox ac velut ingruente vigore, cantores, ululatores, quidnamque essent, in vallem infra nos ferocem ac semianimem inordinate prosilire.

Homines erant habitu barbato, facies et fustibus pictis leviter per humeros tortis. Sive intermissa sive progressa, adhuc suum cantum incultum et arcanum, vertices, hiulcas et snappy pro toto orbe servaverunt sicut mille homines, qui ex mille capsulis emunctas modo hauserant.

“Serva me, vir!” exclamavit vultu pallida mater. “Ab his feris liberis silvae plectemur diris cruciatibus.” Risus tam mitis, et tamen tam placidus, ut lenitatem patris mei diffundi non possit.

“Numquam timete!” “scio,” inquit, “Quos quaesivi! Quod viator fortius et audacius quam me multis negatum est, sodali Trump familiae miro modo donatum est. Cum omnem Monarcham in Europam redimus, omnis erudita societas, numisma in pectore meo ligare festinabit, nam, cara uxor, vir tuus primus albus est in terram ingrediendi— “

“Ille—?” reboabat mater mea procumbens et apprehendens brachium viri sui.

“Melodious Sneezers!”

“Melodious Sneezers?” identidem mater aperitur ocello, et in omni sedet ludibrio pluma.

“Melo—“

Ipsa nihil sed porro. Infinito gaudio patris mei vehementissime sternutatio cecidit. In tam celeri successione fluit sternutatio, ut perquam minutivi machinam sub praeceps sonaret.

Tandem idoneum visum est transisse. Melo—, sed frustra; secundam syllabam attingere non poterat.

Et nunc ille vicissim, pater profectus est, lentus primo, sed ocius et ociusiens.

Mirum dictu sternutamentum mox cepit vias agrestium permixtasque penitus capere, invito conatu arcendo tempus coercere.

“Cogite ergo, cara uxor,” exclamat pater anhelans cum decuit, “Hos homines alienigenas in herbam inferiorem extensos esse “Snutores canoros”; eos non modo innoxios, sed modestos, mansuetosque ac placidos esse. Ne timeas eos! Fustibus suis solum ad ludum.” “Sed quid?” caute matrem meam rogat ne alius idoneus accipiat eam.

Responsum est, “Intelligo te.” “Audi. Scito, quod in hac valle et in majoribus infra, semper aerem myriadibus impletum super myriadibus insectorum infinitae magnitudinis; Solus microscopio validissimus probationem praebere potest ad conspectum eorum exsistentiae suae. Hic enim titillari sensus quos tu et ego innumeros aetatibus isti pacifici barbari subiectae sunt.

Rursum miserae parens meus cecidit sternutatio regularis et canorae clausulae, sursum et deorsum, altae et argutae, nunc celeriter et ocius, nunc tardus et tardius usque ad silentium.

“Sicut expertus sum,” inquit pater, “dum sternutationis tam facilem quam respirationem reddidit, ususque eventus, quos vitari non posse mox cernebant, non segniter deponere solitae naturae liberi erant. loquela et littera loqui per sternutatio “

“Sternumentum est apud eos tot intonationes, tot inflexiones, ut omnes necessarios sensus sensusque exprimendi difficultatem habeant, saltem necessaria in simplici vita, sicut postea videbis.”

Volebat miseranda mater hic transitum exprimere, Mirari non audebat os suum. “Age, coniux charissime, pater hilariter clamavit.

“Confortamini! Descendamus in hanc pulchram vallem, nam adhuc tantum in terminis “terrae canorum Sutinorum” in molli et canora lingua Lâ-aah-chew-lâ vocati sumus.

Pronunciatio huius verbi iterum parentes miseros in perfecta turbine sternumenta proiecit; sed nihil perterriti obviam ierunt, qui prima facie prostratus in uultu, per aliquot momenta sternutationis stridore humilem demissa, naribus in gramen detrusit.

Paulatim tamen pater adfirmans se haudquaquam pacatum fuisse.

Unde canororum snuetrorum tripudium singularissimum ac gratiosissimum gaudium peragebant, pedes eorum pertinuo tempore cum sternutationis choro servabant.

Chorus, ut postea pater didicit, immensam gratiam suis spiritibus albis exprimere, quod vivos non edisset.

Iter domum iam ingressus est, pater meus ambulans in manu cum rege Chew-chew-lô, et mater mea comitante nomine uxorum vel plurium, domus regiae deliciarum nomine Chew-lâ-â-. â-â- et quisque successivus, prout minus editum locum occupabat in affectibus regis nomine breviore, donec tandem Chew-lâ paulo melius quam ancilla serviens significabat.

Pater meus invenit villas Melodiorum Sutinorum ob frequentiam et vim inundationum a retis fluminum, quae penitus in terra eorum inclusa erant, domibus vel habitationibus in arboribus vel in altis acervis constructis constabat.

Ipse et mater in una commodissima domorum regiarum habitae, tot servi ac servi ad curam rerum suarum deputati, ut parum aut nullus locus movendi esset.

Pater magno cum dolore magno cum dolore aliquot centenis emisit, ut matri meae satis sine holloaing colloqui posset, ac deinde ad regem Chew-chew-lô mandavit ut tam ipse quam mater saltem hebdomade opus esset. Perfectae quietis et requies ad sanitatem et fortitudinem recuperandam post horribiles cruciatus suos in Lunae Montosis.

Plures casus venire…

The Debt to Beauty

It is the undoubted attraction, the beauty of women that leads men to become entangled in the combats of the eternal war of the sexes, never finished, never won.

There are those who have defined woman as a sphinx without mystery, without enigma, whose fascination is enclosed in appearance. Mystery or no mystery, it is her unquestionable attraction, her beauty, that leads men to become entangled in the combats of the eternal war of the sexes, never finished, never won, full of battles of attrition, of a few triumphant blows of the hand and of many months and years of trenches, barbed wire and constant, monotonogamous, stultifying bombardments. So much wastage and abundance of hendecasyllables, so many flaming and sublimated madrigals to always end up in a barren and soured bedlam: Dulcinea is always Aldonza and not vice versa. Such is the force and seduction of a simple, imaginary and unrealizable promesse de bonheur [promise of happiness], as the divine Stendhal would write. The beloved is a screen on which the lover projects his dreams, that is the quixotic misunderstanding essential to the whole love struggle, where animal impulses mingle with the fantasies of the spirit: the centaur in search of his Pallas.

For the other side—that of the sphinxes—which is the one with the strategic superiority and the most practical design, this war was resolved in a prosaic and binding objective, but very necessary for society: the family, the house, the polis, the market. That they lived happily ever after culminates all the narratives of the West, and it covers with illusion the inexorable need to reproduce the social body, to give continuity to something that is much more important than the vain and impossible happiness of individuals. Or, at least, this had been so until some members of the high castes decided to change the rules of the game and pervert the natural inclinations of human livestock with the spread of a poison that acts as a solvent of societies and civilizations: the search for an impossible abolition of reality so that even the most delirious fantasies, almost all of them purely corporeal and erotic, become real, something that, of course, cannot happen, but that makes the sphinxes stop thinking about their essential objective and replace it with a phantasm that only produces neurosis for them and great profits for those who invoke it. And when one of the sides—the strongest—is upset, the other is disoriented; the subtle balance is broken. This, fundamentally, is what El deber de lo bello [The Debt to Beauty], the recent novel by Javier R. Portella, is about.

Since the last century we knew that absurdity was the essential note of existence. But it is in this century that it has gone from being a simple intellectual or historical reference to become everyday life—the usual scenario of an increasingly ugly, puritanical, hysterical and imbecilic existence, a product imported from America but with European roots, especially Anglo-Saxon.

The protagonist of the novel, Hector, is overwhelmed (and how!) by the plagues of our time: political correctness, gender superstition and delirious feminism. Hector is the fulminated man, whose true love life was annihilated by Cristina, his former partner, and who seeks in extraordinary adventures the meaning of an existence that moves in a field of shadows where he longs for the light, but has the mania of looking for it inside all the tunnels. His erotic epiphany comes at the hand of Angelica, a prototype of the feminine ideal of our time, liberated but seductive, whose name comes in handy if we take into account that demons are also angels. Fantasy becomes reality for Hector, but it only brings him mild joys and constant ashes. Wounded by beauty and hopelessly addicted to its affairs, our postmodern Werther becomes entangled in a skein of sensual labyrinths that torment him. This comes to an extreme when he encounters a sophisticated sphinx, Margot, with echoes of Faust and Bulgakov, who leads him to his inevitable Walpurgis Night.

All of this is told with humor and with a tone that is more French than Spanish, for it is not a traditional thing to describe with elegance the deviations of the flesh, to untie with care such tender ties. Portella draws a humorous but deep portrait of an empty and full society, satisfied to the point of stupidity, a portrait that takes us from the classrooms of the pathetic Santiago Carrillo High School or from a sordid back room of the Ministry of Equality to the mansions of the European oligarchy; Hector goes through all the circles of the amorous hell of our time, of this unbridled chaos, of the glorified vulgarity that can only be redeemed by the cult of beauty, something that the protagonist misses throughout the novel and that only shines in a few moments—as that which they call “happiness.”


Sertorio lives, writes and thinks in Spain. this review comes through the kind courtesy of El Manifesto.

The Marching Morons

This story first appeared in the April 1951 issue of the science fiction magazine, Galaxy.


In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man, of course, is king. But how a live wire, a smart businessman, in a civilization of 100% pure chumps?

Some things had not changed. A potter’s wheel was still a potter’s wheel and clay was still clay. Efim Hawkins had built his shop near Goose Lake, which had a narrow band of good fat clay and a narrow beach of white sand. He fired three bottle-nosed kilns with willow charcoal from the wood lot. The wood lot was also useful for long walks while the kilns were cooling; if he let himself stay within sight of them, he would open them prematurely, impatient to see how some new shape or glaze had come through the fire, and—ping!—the new shape or glaze would be good for nothing but the shard pile back of his slip tanks.

A business conference was in full swing in his shop, a modest cube of brick, tile-roofed, as the Chicago- Los Angeles “rocket” thundered overhead—very noisy, very swept-back, very fiery jets, shaped as sleekly swift-looking as an airborne barracuda.

The buyer from Marshall Fields was turning over a black-glazed one liter carafe, nodding approval with his massive, handsome head. “This is real pretty,” he told Hawkins and his own secretary, Gomez-Laplace. “This has got lots of what ya call real est’etic principles. Yeah, it is real pretty.”

“How much?” the secretary asked the potter.

“Seven-fifty each in dozen lots,” said Hawkins. “I ran up fifteen dozen last month.”

“They are real est’etic,” repeated the buyer from Fields. “I will take them all.”

“I don’t think we can do that, doctor,” said the secretary. “They’d cost us $1,350. That would leave only $532 in our quarter’s budget. And we still have to run down to East Liverpool to pick up some cheap dinner sets.”

“Dinner sets?” asked the buyer, his big face full of wonder.

“Dinner sets. The department’s been out of them for two months now. Mr. Garvy-Seabright got pretty nasty about it yesterday. Remember?”

“Garvy-Seabright, that meat-headed bluenose,” the buyer said contemptuously. “He don’t know nothin’ about est’etics. Why for don’t he lemme run my own department?” His eye fell on a stray copy of Whambozambo Comix and he sat down with it. An occasional deep chuckle or grunt of surprise escaped him as he turned the pages.

Uninterrupted, the potter and the buyer’s secretary quickly closed a deal for two dozen of the liter carafes. ”I wish we could take more,” said the secretary, “but you heard what I told him. We’ve had to turn away customers for ordinary dinnerware because he shot the last quarter’s budget on some Mexican piggy banks some equally enthusiastic importer stuck him with. The fifth floor is packed solid with them.”

“I’ll bet they look mighty est’etic.”

“They’re painted with purple cacti.”

The potter shuddered and caressed the glaze of the sample carafe.

The buyer looked up and rumbled, “Ain’t you dummies through yakkin’ yet? What good’s a seckertary for if’n he don’t take the burden of de-tail off’n my back, harh?”

“We’re all through, doctor. Are you ready to go?”

The buyer grunted peevishly, dropped Whambozambo Comix on the floor and led the way out of the building and down the log corduroy road to the highway. His car was waiting on the concrete. It was, like all contemporary cars, too low-slung to get over the logs. He climbed down into the car and started the motor with a tremendous sparkle and roar.

“Gomez-Laplace,” called out the potter under cover of the noise, “did anything come of the radiation program they were working on the last time I was on duty at the Pole?”

“The same old fallacy,” said the secretary gloomily. “It stopped us on mutation, it stopped us on culling, it stopped us on segregation, and now it’s stopped us on hypnosis.”

“Well, I’m scheduled back to the grind in nine days. Time for another firing right now. I’ve got a new luster to try . . .”

“I’ll miss you. I shall be ‘vacationing’—running the drafting room of the New Century Engineering Corporation in Denver. They’re going to put up a two hundred-story office building, and naturally somebody’s got to be on hand.”

“Naturally,” said Hawkins with a sour smile.

There was an ear-piercingly sweet blast as the buyer leaned on the horn button. Also, a yard-tall jet of what looked like flame spurted up from the car’s radiator cap; the car’s power plant was a gas turbine, and had no radiator.

“I’m coming, doctor,” said the secretary dispiritedly. He climbed down into the car and it whooshed off with much flame and noise.

The potter, depressed, wandered back up the corduroy road and contemplated his cooling kilns. The rustling wind in the boughs was obscuring the creak and mutter of the shrinking refractory brick. Hawkins wondered about the number two kiln—a reduction fire on a load of lusterware mugs. Had the clay chinking excluded the air? Had it been a properly smoky blaze? Would it do any harm if he just took one close—?

Common sense took Hawkins by the scruff of the neck and yanked him over to the tool shed. He got out his pick and resolutely set off on a prospecting jaunt to a hummocky field that might yield some oxides. He was especially low on coppers.

The long walk left him sweating hard, with his lust for a peek into the kiln quiet in his breast. He swung his pick almost at random into one of the hummocks; it clanged on a stone which he excavated. A largely obliterated inscription said:

ERSITY OF CHIC
OGICAL LABO
ELOVED MEMORY OF
KILLED IN ACT

The potter swore mildly. He had hoped the field would turn out to be a cemetery, preferably a once- fashionable cemetery full of once-massive bronze caskets moldered into oxides of tin and copper.

Well, hell, maybe there was some around anyway.

He headed lackadaisically for the second largest hillock and sliced into it with his pick. There was a stone to undercut and topple into a trench, and then the potter was very glad he’d stuck at it. His nostrils were filled with the bitter smell and the dirt was tinged with the exciting blue of copper salts. The pick went clang!

Hawkins, puffing, pried up a stainless steel plate that was quite badly stained and was also marked with incised letters. It seemed to have pulled loose from rotting bronze; there were rivets on the back that brought up flakes of green patina. The potter wiped off the surface dirt with his sleeve, turned it to catch the sunlight obliquely and read:

“HONEST JOHN BARLOW
“Honest John,” famed in university annals, represents a challenge which medical science has not yet answered: revival of a human being accidentally thrown into a state of suspended animation.

In 1988 Mr. Barlow, a leading Evanston real estate dealer, visited his dentist for treatment of an impacted wisdom tooth. His dentist requested and received permission to use the experimental anesthetic Cycloparadimetbanol-B-7, developed at the University.

After administration of the anesthetic, the dentist resorted to his drill. By freakish mischance, a short circuit in his machine delivered 220 volts of 60-cycle current into the patient. (In a damage suit instituted by Mrs. Barlow against the dentist, the University and the makers of the drill, a jury found for the defendants.) Mr. Barlow never got up from the dentist’s chair and was assumed to have died of poisoning, electrocution or both.

Morticians preparing him for embalming discovered, however, that their subject was—though certainly not living—just as certainly not dead. The University was notified and a series of exhaustive tests was begun, including attempts to duplicate the trance state on volunteers. After a bad run of seven cases which ended fatally, the attempts were abandoned.

Honest John was long an exhibit at the University museum, and livened many a football game as mascot of the University’s Blue Crushers. The bounds of taste were overstepped, however, when a pledge to Sigma Delta Chi was ordered in ’03 to “kidnap” Honest John from his loosely guarded glass museum case and introduce him into the Rachel Swanson Memorial Girls’ Gymnasium shower room.

On May 22nd, 2003, the University Board of Regents issued the following order: “By unanimous vote, it is directed that the remains of Honest John Barlow be removed from the University museum and conveyed to the University’s Lieutenant James Scott III Memorial Biological Laboratories and there be securely locked in a specially prepared vault. It is further directed that all possible measures for the preservation of these remains be taken by the Laboratory administration and that access to these remains be denied to all persons except qualified scholars authorized in writing by the Board. The Board reluctantly takes this action in view of recent notices and photographs in the nation’s press which, to say the least, reflect but small credit upon the University.”

It was far from his field, but Hawkins understood what had happened—an early and accidental blundering onto the bare bones of the Levantman shock anesthesia, which had since been replaced by other methods. To bring subjects out of Levantman shock, you let them have a squirt of simple saline in the trigeminal nerve. Interesting. And now about that bronze—

He heaved the pick into the rotting green salts, expecting no resistence, and almost fractured his wrist. Something down there was solid. He began to flake off the oxides.

A half hour of work brought him down to phosphor bronze, a huge casting of the almost incorruptible metal. It had weakened structurally over the centuries; he could fit the point of his pick under a corroded boss and pry off great creaking and grumbling striae of the stuff.

Hawkins wished he had an archeologist with him, but didn’t dream of returning to his shop and calling one to take over the find. He was an all-around man: by choice and in his free time, an artist in clay and glaze; by necessity, an automotive, electronics and atomic engineer who could also swing a project in traffic control, individual and group psychology, architecture or tool design. He didn’t yell for a specialist every time something out of his line came up; there were so few with so much to do…

He trenched around his find, discovering that it was a great brick-shaped bronze mass with an excitingly hollow sound. A long strip of moldering metal from one of the long vertical faces pulled away, exposing red rust that went whoosh and was sucked into the interior of the mass.

It had been de-aired, thought Hawkins, and there must have been an inner jacket of glass which had crystalized through the centuries and quietly crumbled at the first clang of his pick. He didn’t know what a vacuum would do to a subject of Levantman shock, but he had hopes, nor did he quite understand what a real estate dealer was, but it might have something to do with pottery. And anything might have a bearing on Topic Number One.

He flung his pick out of the trench, climbed out and set off at a dog-trot for his shop. A little rummaging turned up a hypo and there was a plasticontainer of salt in the kitchen.

Back at his dig, he chipped for another half hour to expose the juncture of lid and body. The hinges were hopeless; he smashed them off.

Hawkins extended the telescopic handle of the pick for the best leverage, fitted its point into a deep pit, set its built-in fulcrum, and heaved. Five more heaves and he could see, inside the vault, what looked like a dusty marble statue. Ten more and he could see that it was the naked body of Honest John Barlow, Evanston real estate dealer, uncorrupted by time.

The potter found the apex of the trigeminal nerve with his needle’s point and gave him 60 cc.

In an hour Barlow’s chest began to pump.

In another hour, he rasped, “Did it work?”

Did it!” muttered Hawkins. Barlow opened his eyes and stirred, looked down, turned his hands before his eyes—

“I’ll sue!” he screamed. “My clothes! My fingernails!” A horrid suspicion came over his face and he clapped his hands to his hairless scalp. “My hair!” he wailed. “I’ll sue you for every penny you’ve got! That release won’t mean a damned thing in court—I didn’t sign away my hair and clothes and fingernails!”

“They’ll grow back,” said Hawkins casually. “Also your epidermis. Those parts of you weren’t alive, you know, so they weren’t preserved like the rest of you. I’m afraid the clothes are gone, though.”

“What is this— the University hospital?” demanded Barlow. “I want a phone. No, you phone. Tell my wife I’m all right and tell Sam Immerman—he’s my lawyer—to get over here right away. Greenleaf 7-4022. Ow!” He had tried to sit up, and a portion of his pink skin rubbed against the inner surface of the casket, which was powdered by the ancient crystalized glass. “What the hell did you guys do, boil me alive? Oh, you’re going to pay for this!”

“You’re all right,” said Hawkins, wishing now he had a reference book to clear up several obscure terms. “Your epidermis will start growing immediately. You’re not in the hospital. Look here.”

He handed Barlow the stainless steel plate that had labeled the casket. After a suspicious glance, the man started to read. Finishing, he laid the plate carefully on the edge of the vault and was silent for a spell.

“Poor Verna,” he said at last. “It doesn’t say whether she was stuck with the court costs. Do you happen to know—”

“No,” said the potter. “All I know is what was on the plate, and how to revive you. The dentist accidentally gave you a dose of what we call Levantman shock anesthesia. We haven’t used it for centuries; it was powerful, but too dangerous.”

“Centuries . . .” brooded the man. “Centuries . . . I’ll bet Sam swindled her out of her eyeteeth. Poor Verna. How long ago was it? What year is this?”

Hawkins shrugged. “We call it 7-B-936. That’s no help to you. It takes a long time for these metals to oxidize.”

“Like that movie,” Barlow muttered. “Who would have thought it? Poor Verna!” He blubbered and sniffled, reminding Hawkins powerfully of the fact that he had been found under a flat rock.

Almost angrily, the potter demanded, “How many children did you have?”

“None yet,” sniffed Barlow. “My first wife didn’t want them. But Verna wants one—wanted one—but we’re going to wait until—we were going to wait until— ”

“Of course,” said the potter, feeling a savage desire to tell him off, blast him to hell and gone for his work. But he choked it down. There was The Problem to think of; there was always The Problem to think of, and this poor blubberer might unexpectedly supply a clue. Hawkins would have to pass him on.

“Come along,” Hawkins said. “My time is short.”

Barlow looked up, outraged. “How can you be so unfeeling? I’m a human being like—”

The Los Angeles-Chicago “rocket” ‘thundered overhead and Barlow broke off in mid-complaint. “Beautiful!” he breathed, following it with his eyes. “Beautiful!”

He climbed out of the vault, too interested to be pained by its roughness against his infantile skin. “After all,” he said briskly, “this should have its sunny side. I never was much for reading, but this is just like one of those stories. And I ought to make some money out of it, shouldn’t I?” He gave Hawkins a shrewd glance.

“You want money?” asked the potter. “Here.” He handed over a fistful of change and bills. “You’d better put my shoes on. It’ll be about a quarter-mile. Oh, and you’re—uh, modest?—yes, that was the word. Here.” Hawkins gave him his pants, but Barlow was excitedly counting the money.

“Eighty-five, eighty-six—and it’s dollars, too ! I thought it’d be credits or whatever they call them. ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ’Liberty’—just different faces. Say, is there a catch to this? Are these real, genuine. honest twenty-two-cent dollars like we had or just wallpaper?”

“They’re quite all right, I assure you,” said the potter. “I wish you’d come along. I’m in a ‘hurry.”

The man babbled as they stumped toward the shop. “Where are we going—The Council of Scientists, the World Coordinator or something. like that?”

“Who? Oh, no. We call them ‘President’ and ‘Congress.’ No, that wouldn’t do any good at all. I’m just taking you to see some people.”

“I ought to make plenty out of this. Plenty! I could write books. Get some smart young fellow to put it into words for me and I’ll bet I could turn out a best-seller. What’s the setup on things like that?”

“It’s about like that. Smart young fellows. But there aren’t any best-sellers any more. People don’t read much nowadays. We’ll find something equally profitable for you to do.”

Back in the shop, Hawkins gave Barlow a suit of clothes, deposited him in the waiting room and called Central in Chicago. “Take him away,” he pleaded. “I have time for one more firing and he blathers and blathers. I haven’t told him anything. Perhaps we should just turn him loose and let him find his own level, but there’s a chance—”

“The Problem,” agreed Central. “Yes, there’s a chance.”

The potter delighted Barlow by making him a cup of coffee with a cube that not only dissolved in cold water but heated the water to boiling point. Killing time, Hawkins chatted about the “rocket” Barlow had admired, and had to haul himself up short; he had almost told the real estate man what its top speed really was—almost, indeed, revealed that it was not a rocket.

He regretted, too, that he had so casually handed Barlow a couple of hundred dollars. The man seemed obsessed with fear that they were worthless since Hawkins refused to take a note or I.O.U. or even a definite promise of repayment. But Hawkins couldn’t go into details, and was very glad when a stranger arrived from Central.

“Tinny-Peete, from Algeciras,” the stranger told him swiftly as the two of them met at the door. “Psychist for Poprob. Polasigned special overtake Barlow.”

“Thank Heaven,” said Hawkins. “Barlow,” he told the man from the past, “this is Tinny-Peete. He’s going to take care of you and help you make lots of money.”

The psychist stayed for a cup of the coffee whose preparation had delighted Barlow, and then conducted the real estate man down the corduroy road to his car, leaving the potter to speculate on whether he could at last crack his kilns.

Hawkins, abruptly dismissing Barlow and the Problem, happily picked the chinking from around the door of the number two kiln, prying it open a trifle. A blast of heat and the heady, smoky scent of the reduction fire delighted him. He peered and saw a corner of a shelf glowing cherry-red, becoming obscured by wavering black areas as it lost heat through the opened door. He slipped a charred wood paddle under a mug on the shelf and pulled it out as a sample, the hairs on the back of his hand curling and scorching. The mug crackled and pinged and Hawkins sighed happily.

The bismuth resinate luster had fired to perfection, a haunting film of silvery-black metal with strange bluish lights in it as it turned before the eyes, and the Problem of Population seemed very far away to Hawkins then.


Barlow and Tinny-Peete arrived at the concrete highway where the psychist’s car was parked in a safety bay.

“What—a—boat!” gasped the man from the past.

“Boat? No, that’s my car.”

Barlow surveyed it with awe. Swept-back lines, deep-drawn compound curves, kilograms of chrome. He ran his hands futilely over the door—or was it the door?—in a futile search for a handle, and asked respectfully, “How fast does if go?”

The psychist gave him a keen look and said slowly, “Two hundred and fifty. You can tell by the speedometer.”

“Wow! My old Chevvy could hit a hundred on a straightaway, but you’re out of my class, mister!”

Tinny-Peete somehow got a huge, low door open and Barlow descended three steps into immense cushions, floundering over to the right. He was too fascinated to pay serious attention to his flayed dermis. The dashboard was a lovely wilderness of dials, plugs, indicators, lights, scales and switches.

The psychist climbed down into the driver’s seat and did something with his feet. The motor started like lighting a blowtorch as big as a silo. Wallowing around in the cushions, Barlow saw through a rear-view mirror a tremendous exhaust filled with brilliant white sparkles.

“Do you like it?” yelled the psychist.

“It’s terrific!” Barlow yelled back. “It’s—”

He was shut up as the car pulled out from the bay into the road with a great voo-ooo-ooom! A gale roared past Barlow’s head, though the windows seemed to be closed; the impression of speed was terrific. He located the speedometer on the dashboard and saw it climb past 90, 100, 150, 200.

“Fast enough for me,” yelled the psychist, noting that Barlow’s face fell in response. “Radio?”

He passed over a surprisingly light object like a football helmet, with no trailing wires, and pointed to a row of buttons. Barlow put on the helmet, glad to have the roar of air stilled, and pushed a push- button. It lit up satisfyingly and Barlow settled back even farther for a sample of the brave new world’s super-modern taste in ingenious entertainment.

“TAKE IT AND STICK IT!” a voice roared in his ears.

He snatched off the helmet and gave the psychist an injured look. Tinny-Peete grinned and turned a dial associated with the pushbutton layout. The man from the past donned the helmet again and found the voice had lowered to normal.

“The show of shows! The super-show! The super-duper show! The quiz of quizzes! Take it and stick it!

There were shrieks of laughter in the background.

“Here we got the contestants all ready to go. You know how we work it. I hand a contestant a triangle-shaped cutout and like that down the line. Now we got these here boards, they got cut-out places the same shape as the triangles and things, only they’re all different shapes, and the first contestant that sticks the cutouts into the board, he wins.

“Now I’m gonna innaview the first contestant. Right here, honey. What’s your name?’’

“Name? Uh—”

“Hoddaya like that, folks? She don’t remember her name! Hah? Would you buy that for a quarter?” The question was spoken with arch significance, and the audience shrieked, howled and whistled its appreciation.

It was dull listening when you didn’t know the punch lines and catch lines. Barlow pushed another button, with his free hand ready at the volume control.

” — latest from Washington. It’s about Senator Hull-Mendoza. He is still attacking the Bureau of Fisheries. The North California Syndicalist says he got affidavits that John Kingsley-Schultz is a bluenose from way back. He didn’t publistat the affydavits, but he says they say that Kingsley-Schultz was saw at bluenose meetings in Oregon State College and later at Florida University. Kingsley-Schultz says he gotta confess he did major in fly-casting at Oregon and got his Ph.D. in game-fish at Florida.

“And here is a quote from Kingsley-Schultz: ‘Hull-Mendoza don’t know what he’s talking about. He should drop dead.’ Unquote. Hull-Mendoza says he won’t publistat the affydavits to pertect his sources. He says they was sworn by three former employes of the Bureau which was fired for in-com-petence and in-com-pat-ibility by Kingsley-Schultz.

“Elsewhere they was the usual run of traffic accidents. A three-way pileup of cars on Route 66 going outta Chicago took twelve lives. The Chicago-Los Angeles morning rocket crashed and exploded in the Mo-have—Mo-jawy—what-ever-you-call-it Desert. All the 94 people aboard got killed. A Civil Aeronautics Authority investigator on the scene says that the pilot was buzzing herds of sheep and didn’t pull out in time.

“Hey! Here’s a hot one from New York! A Diesel tug run wild in the harbor while the crew was below and shoved in the port bow of the luck-shury liner S. S. Placentia. It says the ship filled and sank taking the lives of an es-ti-mated 180 passengers and 50 crew members. Six divers was sent down to study the wreckage, but they died, too, when their suits turned out to be fulla little holes.

“And here is a bulletin I just got from Denver. It seems—”

Barlow took off the headset uncomprehendingly. “He seemed so callous,” he yelled at the driver. “I was listening to a newscast — ”

Tinny-Peete shook his head and pointed at his ears. The roar of air was deafening. Barlow frowned baffledly and stared out of the window.

A glowing sign said:

MOOGS!
WOULD YOU BUY IT
FOR A QUARTER?

He didn’t know what Moogs was or were; the illustration showed an incredibly proportioned girl, 99.9 per cent naked, writhing passionately in animated full color.

The roadside jingle was still with him, but with a new feature. Radar or something spotted the car and alerted the lines of the jingle. Each in turn sped along a roadside track, even with the car, so it could be read before the next line was alerted.

IF THERE’S A GIRL
YOU WANT TO GET
DEFLOCCULIZE
UNROMANTIC SWEAT.
“A*R*M*P*I*T*T*O*”

Another animated job, in two panels, the familiar “Before and After.” The first said, “Just Any Cigar?” and was illustrated with a two-person domestic tragedy of a wife holding her nose while her coarse and red-faced husband puffed a slimy-looking rope. The second panel glowed, “Or a VUELTA ABAJO?” and was illustrated with—

Barlow blushed and looked at his feet until they had passed the sign.

“Coming into Chicago!” bawled Tinny-Peete.

Other cars were showing up, all of them dreamboats.

Watching them, Barlow began to wonder if he knew what a kilometer was, exactly. They seemed to be traveling so slowly, if you ignored the roaring air past your ears and didn’t let the speedy lines of the dreamboats fool you. He would have sworn they were really crawling along at twenty-five, with occasional spurts up to thirty. How much was a kilometer, anyway?

The city loomed ahead, and it was just what it ought to be: towering skyscrapers, overhead ramps, landing platforms for helicopters—

He clutched at the cushions. Those two ‘copters. They were going to—they were going to—they—

He didn’t see what happened because their apparent collision courses took them behind a giant building.

Screamingly sweet blasts of sound surrounded them as they stopped for a red light. “What the hell is going on here?” said Barlow in a shrill, frightened voice, because the braking time was just about zero, he wasn’t hurled against the dashboard. “Who’s kidding who?”

“Why, what’s the matter?” demanded the driver.

The light changed to green and he started the pickup. Barlow stiffened as he realized that the rush of air past his ears began just a brief, unreal split-second before the car was actually moving. He grabbed for the door handle on his side.

The city grew on them slowly: scattered buildings, denser buildings, taller buildings, and a red light ahead. The car rolled to a stop in zero braking time, the rush of air cut off an instant after it stopped, and Barlow was out of the car and running frenziedly down a sidewalk one instant after that.

They’ll track me down, he thought, panting. It’s a secret police thing. They’ll get you— mind-reading machines, television eyes everywhere, afraid you’ll tell their slaves about freedom and stuff. They don’t let anybody cross them, like that story I once read.

Winded, he slowed to a walk and congratulated himself that he had guts enough not to turn around. That was what they always watched for. Walking, he was just another business-suited back among hundreds. He would be safe, he would be safe—

A hand tumbled from a large, coarse, handsome face thrust close to his: “Wassamatta bumpinninna people likeya owna sidewalk gotta miner slamya inna mushya bassar!” It was neither the mad potter nor the mad driver.

“Excuse me,” said Barlow. “What did you say?”

“Oh, yeah?” yelled the stranger dangerously, and waited for an answer.

Barlow, with the feeling that he had somehow been suckered into the short end of an intricate land- title deal, heard himself reply belligerently, “Yeah!”

The stranger let go of his shoulder and snarled, “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” said Barlow, yanking his jacket back into shape.

“Aaah!” snarled the stranger with more contempt and disgust than ferocity. He added an obscenity current in Barlow’s time, a standard but physiologically impossible directive, and strutted off hulking his shoulders and balling his fists.

Barlow walked on, trembling. Evidently he had handled it well enough. He stopped at a red light while the long, low dream-boats roared before him and pedestrians in the sidewalk flow with him threaded their ways through the stream of cars. Brakes screamed, fenders clanged and dented, hoarse cries flew back and forth between drivers and walkers. He leaped backward frantically as one car swerved over an arc of sidewalk to miss another.

The signal changed to green, the cars kept on coming for about thirty seconds and then dwindled to an occasional light-runner. Barlow crossed warily and leaned against a vending machine, blowing big breaths.

Look natural, he told himself. Do something normal. Buy something from the machine.

He fumbled out some change, got a newspaper for a dime, a handkerchief for a quarter and a candy bar for another quarter.

The faint chocolate smell made him ravenous suddenly. He clawed at the glassy wrapper printed “CRIGGLIES” quite futilely for a few seconds, and then it divided neatly by itself. The bar made three good bites, and he bought two more and gobbled them down.

Thirsty, he drew a carbonated orange drink in another one of the glassy wrappers from the machine for another dime. When he fumbled with it, it divided neatly and spilled all over his knees. Barlow decided he had been there long enough and walked on.

The shop windows were—shop windows. People still wore and bought clothes, still smoked and bought tobacco, still ate and bought food. And they still went to the movies, he saw with pleased surprise as he passed and then returned to a glittering place whose sign said it was THE BIJOU.

The place seemed to be showing a quintuple feature, Babies Are Terrible, Don’t Have Children, and The Canali Kid.

It was irresistible; he paid a dol- lar and went in.

He caught the tail-end of The Canali Kid in three-dimensional, full-color, full-scent production. It appeared to be an interplanetary saga winding up with a chase scene and a reconciliation between estranged hero and heroine. Babies Are Terrible and Don’t Have Children were fantastic arguments against parenthood—the grotesquely exaggerated dangers of painfully graphic childbirth, vicious children, old parents beaten and starved by their sadistic offspring. The audience, Barlow astoundedly noted, was placidly champing sweets and showing no particular signs of revulsion.

The Coming Attractions drove him into the lobby. The fanfares were shattering, the blazing colors blinding, and the added scents stomach-heaving.

When his eyes again became accustomed to the moderate lighting of the lobby, he groped his way to a bench and opened the newspaper he had bought. It turned out to be The Racing Sheet, which afflicted him with a crushing sense of loss. The familiar boxed index in the lower left hand corner of the front page showed almost unbearably that Churchill Downs and Empire City were still in business—

Blinking back tears, he turned to -the Past Performances at Churchill. They weren’t using abbreviations any more, and the pages because of that were single-column instead of double. But it was all the same—or was it?

He squinted at the first race, a three-quarter-mile maiden claimer for thirteen hundred dollars. Incredibly, the track record was two minutes, ten and three-fifths seconds. Any beetle in his time could have knocked off the three-quarter in one-fifteen. It was the same for the other distances, much worse for route events.

What the hell had happened to everything?

He studied the form of a five-year-old brown mare in the second and couldn’t make head or tail of it. She’d won and lost and placed and showed and lost and placed without rhyme or reason. She looked like a front-runner for a couple of races and then she looked like a no-good pig and then she looked like a mudder but the next time it rained she wasn’t and then she was a stayer and then she was a pig again. In a good five-thousand-dollar allowances event, too!

Barlow looked at the other entries and it slowly dawned on him that they were all like the five-year-old brown mare. Not a single damned horse running had the slightest trace of class.

Somebody sat down beside him and said, “That’s the story.”

Barlow whirled to his feet and saw it was Tinny-Peete, his driver.

“I was in doubts about telling you,” said the psychist, “but I see you have some growing suspicions of the truth. Please don’t get excited. It’s all right, I tell you.”

“So you’ve got me,” said Barlow.

Got you?”

“Don’t pretend. I can put two and two together. You’re the secret police. You and the rest of the aristocrats live in luxury on the sweat of these oppressed slaves. You’re afraid of me because you have to keep them ignorant.”

There was a bellow of bright laughter from the psychist that got them blank looks from other patrons of the lobby. The laughter didn’t sound at all sinister.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Tinny-Peete, still chuckling. “You couldn’t possibly have it more wrong.” He engaged Barlow’s arm and led him to the street. “The actual truth is that the millions of workers live in luxury on the sweat of the handful of aristocrats. I shall probably die before my time of overwork unless—” He gave Barlow a speculative look. “You may be able to help us.”

“I know that gag,” sneered Bar- low. “I made money in my time and to make money you have to get people on your side. Go ahead and shoot me if you want, but you’re not going to make a fool out of me.”

“You nasty little ingrate!” snapped the psychist, with a kaleidoscopic change of mood. “This damned mess is all your fault and the fault of people like you! Now come along and no more of your nonsense.”
He yanked Barlow into an office building lobby and an elevator that, disconcertingly, went whoosh loudly as it rose. The real estate man’s knees were wobbly as the psychist pushed him from the elevator, down a corridor and into an office.

A hawk-faced man rose from a plain chair as the door closed behind them. After an angry look at Barlow, he asked the psychist, “Was I called from the Pole to inspect this—this—?’’

“Unget updandered. I’ve dee-probed etfind quasichance exhim Poprobattackline,” said the psychist soothingly.

“Doubt,” grunted the hawk-faced man.

“Try,” suggested Tinny-Peete.

“Very well. Mr. Barlow, I understand you and your lamented had no children.”

“What of it?”

“This of it. You were a blind, selfish stupid ass to tolerate economic and social conditions which penalized child-bearing by the prudent and foresighted. You made us what we are today, and I want you to know that we are far from satisfied. Damn-fool rockets! Damn-fool automobiles! Damn-fool cities with overhead ramps!”

“As far as I can see,” said Barlow, “you’re running down the best features of time. Are you crazy?”

“The rockets aren’t rockets. They’re turbo-jets — good turbo-jets, but the fancy shell around them makes for a bad drag. The automobiles have a top speed of one hundred kilometers per hour—a kilo- meter is, if I recall my paleolinguistics, three-fifths of a mile—and the speedometers are all rigged accordingly so the drivers will think they’re going two hundred and fifty. The cities are ridiculous, expensive, unsanitary, wasteful conglomerations of people who’d be better off and more productive if they were spread over the countryside.

“We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children—breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!”

“Wait a minute,” objected Barlow. “There were lots of people in our crowd who had two or three children.”

“The attrition of accidents, illness, wars and such took care of that. Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they’ll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is 45.”

“But that’s far in the future—” “So are you,” grunted the hawk-faced man sourly.

“But who are you people?”

“Just people—real people. Some generations ago, the geneticists realized at last that nobody was going to pay any attention to what they said, so they abandoned words for deeds. Specifically, they formed and recruited for a closed corporation intended to maintain and improve the breed. We are their descendants, about three million of us. There are five billion of the others, so we are their slaves.

“During the past couple of years I’ve designed a skyscraper, kept Billings Memorial Hospital here in Chicago running, headed off war with Mexico and directed traffic at LaGuardia Field in New York.”

“I don’t understand! Why don’t you let them go to hell in their own way?”

The man grimaced. “We tried it once for three months. We holed up at the South Pole and waited. They didn’t notice it. Some drafting-room people were missing, some chief nurses didn’t show up, minor government people on the non-policy level couldn’t be located. It didn’t seem to matter.

“In a week there was hunger. In two weeks there were famine and plague, in three weeks war and anarchy. We called off the experiment; it took us most of the next generation to get things squared away again.”

“But why didn’t you let them kill each other off?”

“Five billion corpses mean about five hundred million tons of rotting flesh.”

Barlow had another idea. “Why don’t you sterilize them?”

“Two and one-half billion operations is a lot of operations. Because they breed continuously, the job would never be done.”

“I see. Like the marching Chinese!”

“Who the devil are they?”

“It was a—uh—paradox of my time. Somebody figured out that if all the Chinese in the world were to line up four abreast, I think it was, and start marching past a given point, they’d never stop because of the babies that would be born and grow up before they passed the point.”

“That’s right. Only instead of ‘a given point,’ make it ‘the largest conceivable number of operating rooms that we could build and staff. There could never be enough.”

“Say!” said Barlow. “Those movies about babies—was that your propaganda?”

“It was. It doesn’t seem to mean a thing to them. We have abandoned the idea of attempting propaganda contrary to a biological drive.”

“So if you work with a biological drive—?”

“I know of none which is consistent with inhibition of fertility.”

Barlow’s face went poker-blank, the result of years of careful discipline. “You don’t, huh? You’re the great brains and you can’t think of any?”

“Why, no,” said the psychist innocently. “Can you?”

“That depends. I sold ten thousand acres of Siberian tundra—through a dummy firm, of course—after the partition of Russia. The buyers thought they were getting improved building lots on the outskirts of Kiev. I’d say that was a lot tougher than this job.”

“How so?” asked the hawk- faced man.

“Those were normal, suspicious customers and these are morons, born suckers. You just figure out a con they’ll fall for; they won’t know enough to do any smart checking.”

The psychist and the hawk-faced man had also had training; they kept themselves from looking with sudden hope at each other.

“You seem to have something in mind,” said the psychist.

Barlow’s poker face went blanker still. “Maybe I have. I haven’t heard any offer yet.”

“There’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve prevented Earth’s resources from being so plundered,” the hawk-faced man pointed out, “that the race will soon become extinct.”

“I don’t know that,” Barlow said bluntly. “All I have is your word.”

“If you really have a method, I don’t think any price would be too great,” the psychist offered.

“Money,” said Barlow.

“All you want.”

“More than you want,” the hawk-faced man corrected.

“Prestige,” added Barlow. “Plenty of publicity. My picture and my name in the papers and over TV every day, statues to me, parks and cities and streets and other things named after me. A whole chapter in the history books.”

The psychist made a- facial sign to the hawk-faced man that meant, “Oh, brother!”

The hawk-faced man signaled back, “Steady, boy!”

“It’s not too much to ask,” the psychist agreed.

Barlow, sensing a seller’s market, said, “Power!”

“Power?” the hawk-faced man repeated puzzledly. “Your own hydro station or nuclear pile?”

“I mean a world dictatorship with me as dictator!”

“Well, now —” said the psychist, but the hawk-faced man interrupted, “It would take a special emergency act of Congress but the situation warrants it. I think that can be guaranteed.”

“Could you give us some indication of your plan?” the psychist asked.

“Ever hear of lemmings?”

“No.”

“They are—were, I guess, since you haven’t heard of them—little animals in Norway, and every few years they’d swarm to the coast and swim out to sea until they drowned. I figure on putting some lemming urge into the population.”

“How?”

“I’ll save that till I get the right signatures on the deal.”

The hawk-faced man said, “I’d like to work with you on it, Barlow. My name’s Ryan-Ngana.” He put out his hand.

Barlow looked closely at the hand, then at the man’s face. “Ryan what?”

“Ngana.”

“That sounds like an African name.”

“It is. My mother’s father was a Watusi.”

Barlow didn’t take the hand. “I thought you looked pretty dark. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t think I’d be at my best working with you. There must be somebody else just as well qualified, I’m sure.”

The psychist made a facial sign to Ryan-Ngana that meant, “Steady yourself, boy!”

“Very well,” Ryan-Ngana told Barlow. “We’ll see what arrangement can be made.”

“It’s not that I’m prejudiced, you understand. Some of my best friends—”

“Mr. Barlow, don’t give it another thought. Anybody who could pick on the lemming analogy is going to be useful to us.”

And so he would, thought Ryan- Ngana, alone in the office after Tinny-Peete had taken Barlow up to the helicopter stage. So he would. Poprob had exhausted every rational attempt and the new Poprobattacklines would have to be irrational or sub-rational. This creature from the past with his lemming legends and his improved building lots would be a fountain of precious vicious self-interest.

Ryan-Ngana sighed and stretched. He had to go and run the San Francisco subway. Summoned early from the Pole to study Barlow, he’d left unfinished a nice little theorem. Between interruptions, he was slowly constructing an n-dimensional geometry whose foundations and superstructure owed no debt whatsoever to intuition.

Upstairs, waiting for a helicopter, Barlow was explaining to Tinny-Peete that he had nothing against Negroes, and Tinny-Peete wished he had some of Ryan-Ngana’s imperturbability and humor for the ordeal.

The helicopter took them to International Airport where, Tinny-Peete explained, Barlow would leave for the Pole.

The man from the past wasn’t sure he’d like a dreary waste of ice and cold.

“It’s all right,” said the psyehist. “A civilized layout. Warm, pleasant. You’ll be able to work more efficiently there. All the facts at your fingertips, a good secretary—”

“I’ll need a pretty big staff,” said Barlow, who had learned from thousands of deals never to take the first offer.

”I meant a private, confidential one,” said Tinny-Peete readily, “but you can have as many as you want. You’ll naturally have top-primary-top priority if you really have a workable plan.”

“Let’s not forget this dictatorship angle,” said Barlow.

He didn’t know that the psychist would just as readily have promised him deification to get him happily on the “rocket” for the Pole. Tinny-Peete had no wish to be torn limb from limb; he knew very well that it would end that way if the population learned from this anachronism that there was a small elite which considered itself head, shoulders, trunk and groin above the rest. The fact that this assumption was perfectly true and the fact that the elite was condemned by its superiority to a life of the most grinding toil would not be considered; the difference would.

The psychist finally put Barlow aboard the “rocket” with some thirty people—real people—headed for the Pole.

Barlow was airsick all the way because of a post-hypnotic suggestion Tinny-Peete had planted in him. One idea was to make him as averse as possible to a return trip, and another idea was to spare the other passengers from his aggressive, talkative company.

Barlow during the first day at the pole was reminded of his first day in the Army. It was the same now-where-the-hell-are-we-going-to-put-you? business until he took a firm line with them. Then instead of acting like supply sergeants they acted like hotel clerks.

It was a wonderful, wonderfully calculated buildup, and one that he failed to suspect. After all, in his time a visitor from the past would have been lionized.

At day’s end he reclined in a snug underground billet with the 60-mile gales roaring yards over-head, and tried to put two and two together.

It was like old times, he thought—like a coup in real estate where you had the competition by the throat, like a 50-per cent rent boost when you knew damned well there was no place for the tenants to move, like smiling when you read over the breakfast orange juice that the city council had decided to build a school on the ground you had acquired by a deal with the city council. And it was simple. He would just sell tundra building lots to eagerly suicidal lemmings, and that was absolutely all there was to solving the Problem that had these double-domes spinning.

They’d have to work out most of the details, naturally, but what the hell, that was what subordinates were for. He’d need specialists in advertising, engineering, communications—did they know anything about hypnotism? That might be helpful. If not, there’d have to be a lot of bribery done, but he’d make sure—damned sure—there were unlimited funds.

Just selling building lots to lemmings…

He wished, as he fell asleep, that poor Verna could have been in on this. It was his biggest, most stupendous deal. Verna—that sharp shyster Sam Immerman must have swindled her…

It began the next day with people coming to visit him. He knew the approach. They merely wanted to be helpful to their illustrious visitor from the past and would he help fill them in about his era, which unfortunately was somewhat obscure historically, and what did he think could be done about the Problem? He told them he was too old to be roped any more, and they wouldn’t get any information out of him until he got a letter of intent from at least the Polar President, and a session of the Polar Congress empowered to make him dictator.

He got the letter and the session. He presented his program, was asked whether his conscience didn’t revolt at its callousness, explained succinctly that a deal was a deal and anybody who wasn’t smart enough to protect himself didn’t deserve protection—”Caveat emp- tor,” he threw in for scholarship, and had to translate it to “Let the buyer beware.’’ He didn’t, he stated, give a damn about either the morons or their intelligent slaves; he’d told them his price and that was all he was interested in.

Would they meet it or wouldn’t they?

The Polar President offered to resign in his favor, with certain temporary emergency powers that the

Polar Congress would vote him if he thought them necessary. Barlow demanded the title of World Dictator, complete control of world finances, salary to be decided by himself, and the publicity campaign and historical writeup to begin at once.

“As for the emergency powers,” he added, “they are neither to be temporary nor limited.”

Somebody wanted the floor to discuss the matter, with the declared hope that perhaps Barlow would modify his demands.

“You’ve got the proposition,” Barlow said. “I’m not knocking off even ten per cent.”

“But what if the Congress refuses, sir?” the President asked.

“Then you can stay up here at the Pole and try to work it out yourselves. I’ll get what I want from the morons. A shrewd operator like me doesn’t have to compromise; I haven’t got a single competitor in this whole cockeyed moronic era.”

Congress waived debate and voted by show of hands. Barlow won unanimously.

“You don’t know how close you came to losing me,” he said in his first official address to the joint Houses. “I’m not the boy to haggle; either I get what I ask or I go elsewhere. The first thing I want is to see designs for a new palace for me—nothing unostentatious, either—and your best painters and sculptors to start working on my portraits and statues. Meanwhile, I’ll get my staff together.”

He dismissed the Polar President and the Polar Congress, telling them that he’d let them know when the next meeting would be.

A week later, the program started with North America the first target.

Mrs. Garvy was resting after dinner before the ordeal of turning on the dishwasher. The TV, of course, was on and it said: “Oooh!”—long, shuddery and ecstatic, the cue for the Parfum Assault Criminale spot commercial. “Girls,” said the announcer hoarsely, “do you want your man? It’s easy to get him—easy as a trip to Venus.”

“Huh?” said Mrs. Garvy.

“Wassamatter?” snorted her husband, starting out of a doze.

“Ja hear that?”

“Wha’?”

“He said ’easy like a trip to Venus.’”

“So?”

“Well, I thought ya couldn’t get to Venus. I thought they just had that one rocket thing that crashed on the Moon.”

“Aah, women don’t keep up with the news,” said Garvy righteously, subsiding again.

“Oh,” said his wife uncertainly.

And the next day, on Henry’s Other Mistress, there was a new character who had just breezed in: Buzz Rentshaw, Master Rocket Pilot of the Venus run. On Henry’s Other Mistress, “the broadcast drama about you and your neighbors, folksy people, ordinary people, real people!”

Mrs. Garvy listened with amazement over a cooling cup of coffee as Buzz made hay of her hazy convictions.

MONA: Darling, it’s so good to see you again!

BUZZ: You don’t know how I’ve missed you on that dreary Venus run.

SOUND: Venetian blind run down, key turned in door lock.

MONA: Was it very dull, dearest?

BUZZ: Let’s not talk about my humdrum job, darling. Let’s talk about us.

SOUND: Creaking bed.

Well, the program was back to normal at last. That evening Mrs. Garvy tried to ask again whether her husband was sure about those rockets, but he was dozing right through Take It and Stick It, so she watched the screen and forgot the puzzle.

She was still rocking with laughter at the gag line, “Would you buy it for a quarter?” when the commercial went on for the detergent powder she always faithfully loaded her dishwasher with on the first of every month.

The announcer displayed mountains of suds from a tiny piece of the stuff and coyly added: “Of course, Cleano don’t lay around for you to pick up like the soap root on Venus, but it’s pretty’ cheap and it’s almost pretty near just as good. So for us plain folks who ain’t lucky enough to live up there on Venus, Cleano is the real cleaning stuff!”

Then the chorus went into their “Cleano-is-the-stuff” jingle, but Mrs. Garvy didn’t hear it. She was a stubborn woman, but it occurred to her that she was very sick indeed. She didn’t want to worry her husband. The next day she quietly made an appointment with her family freud.

In the waiting room she picked up a fresh new copy of Readers Pablum and put it down with a faint palpitation. The lead article, according to the table of contents on the cover, was titled “The Most Memorable Venusian I Ever Met.”

“The freud will see you now,” said the nurse, and Mrs. Garvy tottered into his office.

His traditional glasses and whiskers were reassuring. She choked out the ritual: “Freud, forgive me, for I have neuroses.”

He chanted the antiphonal: “Tut, my dear girl, what seems to be the trouble?”

“I got like a hole in the head,” she quavered. “I seem to forget all kinds of things. Things like everybody seems to know and I don’t.”

“Well, that happens to everybody occasionally, my dear. I suggest a vacation on Venus.”

The freud stared, open-mouthed, at the empty chair. His nurse came in and demanded, “Hey, you see how she scrammed? What was the matter with her?

He took off his glasses and whiskers meditatively. “You can search me. I told her she should maybe try a vacation on Venus.” A momentary bafflement came into his face and he dug through his desk drawers until he found a copy of the four-color, profusely illustrated journal of his profession. It had come that morning and he had lip-read it, though looking mostly at the pictures. He leafed through to the article Advantages of the Planet Venus in Rest Cures.

“It’s right there,” he said.

The nurse looked. “It sure is,” she agreed. “Why shouldn’t it be?” “The trouble with these here neurotics,” decided ‘the freud, “is that they all the time got to fight reality. Show in the next twitch.”

He put on his glasses and whiskers again and forgot Mrs. Garvy and her strange behavior.

“Freud, forgive me, for I have neuroses.”

“Tut, my dear girl, what seems to be the trouble?”

Like many cures of mental disorders, Mrs. Garvy’s was achieved largely by self-treatment. She disciplined herself sternly out of the crazy notion that there had been only one rocket ship and that one a failure. She could join without wincing, eventually, in any conversation on the desirability of Venus as a place to retire, on its fabulous floral profusion. Finally she went to Venus.

All her friends were trying to book passage with the Evening Star Travel and Real Estate Corporation, but naturally the demand was crushing. She considered herself lucky to get a seat at last for the two-week summer cruise. The space ship took off from a place called Los Alamos, New Mexico. It looked just like all the spaceships on television and in the picture magazines, but was more comfortable than you would expect.

Mrs. Garvy was delighted with the fifty or so fellow-passengers assembled before takeoff. They were from all over the country and she had a distinct impression that they were on the brainy side. The captain, a tall, hawk-faced, impressive fellow named Ryan-Something or other, welcomed them aboard and trusted that their trip would be a memorable one. He regretted that there would be nothing to see because, “due to the meteorite season,” the ports would be dogged down. It was disappointing, yet re- assuring that the line was taking no chances.

There was the expected momentary discomfort at takeoff and then two monotonous days of droning travel through space to be whiled away in the lounge at cards or craps. The landing was a routine bump and the voyagers were Issued tablets to swallow to immunize them against any minor ailments.

When the tablets took effect, the lock was opened and Venus was theirs.

It looked much like a tropical island on Earth, except for a blanket of cloud overhead. But it had a heady, other-worldly quality that was intoxicating and glamorous.

The ten days of the vacation were suffused with a hazy magic. The soap root, as advertised, was free and sudsy. The fruits, mostly tropical varieties transplanted from Earth, were delightful. The simple shelters provided by the travel company were more than adequate for the balmy days and nights.

It was with sincere regret that the voyagers filed again into the ship, and swallowed more tablets doled out to counteract and sterilize any Venus illnesses they might unwittingly communicate to Earth.

Vacationing was one thing. Power politics was another.

At the Pole, a small man was in a soundproof room, his face deathly pale and his body limp in a straight chair.

In the American Senate Chamber, Senator Hull-Mendoza (Synd., N. Cal.) was saying: “Mr. President and gentlemen, I would be remiss in my duty as a legislature if’n I didn’t bring to the attention of the au-gust body I see here a perilous situation which is fraught with peril. As is well known to members of this au-gust body, the perfection of space flight has brought with it a situation I can only describe as fraught with peril. Mr. President and gentlemen, now that swift American rockets now traverse the trackless void of space between this planet and our nearest planetarial neighbor in space—and, gentlemen, I refer to Venus, the star of dawn, the brightest jewel in fair Vulcan’s diadome—now, I say, I want to inquire what steps are being taken to colonize Venus with a vanguard of patriotic citizens like those minutemen of yore.

“Mr. President and gentlemen! There are in this world nations, envious nations—I do not name Mexico—who by fair means or foul may seek to wrest from Columbia’s grasp the torch of freedom of space; nations whose low living standards and innate depravity give them an unfair advantage over the citizens of our fair republic.

“This is my program: I suggest that a city of more than 100,000 population be selected by lot. The citizens of the fortunate city are to be awarded choice lands on Venus free and dear, to have and to hold and convey to their descendants. And the national government shall provide free transportation to Venus for these citizens. And this program shall continue, city by city, until there has been deposited on Venus a sufficient vanguard of citizens to protect our manifest rights in that planet.

“Objections will be raised, for carping critics we have always with us. They will say there isn’t enough steel. They will call it a cheap give-away. I say there is enough steel for one city’s population to be transferred to Venus, and that is all that is needed. For when the time comes for the second city to be transferred, the first, emptied city can be wrecked for the needed steel! And is it a giveaway? Yes! It is the most glorious giveaway in the history of mankind! Mr. President and gentlemen, there is no time to waste—Venus must be American!”

Black-Kupperman, at the Pole, opened his eyes and said feebly, “The style was a little uneven. Do you think anybody’ll notice?’’

“You did fine, boy; just fine,” Barlow reassured him.

Hull-Mendoza’s bill became law. Drafting machines at the South Pole were busy around the clock and the Pittsburgh steel mills spewed millions of plates into the Los Alamos spaceport of the Evening Star Travel and Real Estate Corporation. It was going to be Los Angeles, for logistic reasons, and the three most accomplished psycho-kineticists went to Washington and mingled in the crowd at the drawing to make certain that the Los Angeles capsule slithered into the fingers of the blind-folded Senator.

Los Angeles loved the idea and a forest of spaceships began to blossom in the desert. They weren’t very good space ships, but they didn’t have to be.

A team at the Pole worked at Barlow’s direction on a mail setup. There would have to be letters to and from Venus to keep the slightest taint of suspicion from arising. Luckily Barlow remembered that the problem had been solved once before—by Hitler. Relatives of persons incinerated in the furnaces of Lublin or Majdanek continued to get cheery postal cards.

The Los Angeles flight went off on schedule, under tremendous press, newsreel and television coverage. The world cheered the gallant Angelenos who were setting off on their patriotic voyage to the land of milk and honey. The forest of spaceships thundered up, and up, and out of sight without untoward incident. Billions envied the Angelenos, cramped and on short rations though they were.

Wreckers from San Francisco, whose capsule came up second, moved immediately into the city of the angels for the scrap steel their own flight would require. Senator Hull-Mendoza’s constituents could do no less.

The president of Mexico, hypnotically alarmed at this extension of yanqui imperialismo beyond the stratosphere, launched his own Venus-colony program.

Across the water it was England versus Ireland, France versus Germany, China versus Russia, India versus Indonesia. Ancient hatreds grew into the flames that were rocket ships assailing the air by hundreds daily.

Dear Ed, how are you? Sam and I are fine and hope you are fine. Is it nice up there like they say with food and close grone on trees? I drove by Springfield yesterday and it sure looked funny all the buildings down but of coarse it is worth it we have to keep the greasers in their place. Do you have any truble with them on Venus? Drop me a line some time. Your loving sister, Alma.

Dear Alma, I am fine and hope you are fine. It is a fine place here fine climate and easy living. The doctor told me today that I seem to be ten years younger. He thinks there is something in the air here keeps people young. We do not have much trouble with the greasers here they keep to theirselves it is just a question of us outnumbering them and staking out the best places for the Americans. In South Bay I know a nice little island that I have been saving for you and Sam with lots of blanket trees and ham bushes. Hoping to see you and Sam soon, your loving brother, Ed.

Sam and Alma were on their way shortly.

Poprob got a dividend in every nation after the emigration had passed the halfway mark. The lonesome stay-at-homes were unable to bear the melancholy of a low population density; their conditioning had been to swarms of their kin. After that point it was possible to foist off the crudest stripped-down accommodations on would-be emigrants; they didn’t care.

Black-Kupperman did a final job on President Hull-Mendoza, the last job that genius of hypnotics would ever do on any moron, important or otherwise.

Hull-Mendoza, panic-stricken by his presidency over an emptying nation, joined his constituents. The Independence, aboard which traveled the national government of America, was the most elaborate of all the spaceships—bigger, more comfortable, with a lounge that was handsome, though cramped, and cloakrooms for Senators and Representatives. It went, however, to the same place as the others and Black-Kupperman killed himself, leaving a note that stated he “couldn’t live with my conscience.”

The day after the American President departed, Barlow flew into a rage. Across his specially built desk were supposed to flow all Poprob high-level documents and this thing—this outrageous thing—called Poprobterm apparently had got into the executive stage before he had even had a glimpse of it!

He buzzed for Rogge-Smith, his statistician. Rogge-Smith seemed to be at the bottom of it. Poprobterm seemed to be about first and second and third derivatives, whatever they were. Barlow had a deep distrust of anything more complex than what he called an “average.”

While Rogge-Smith was still at the door, Barlow snapped, “What’s the meaning of this? Why haven’t I been consulted? How far have you people got and why have you been working on something I haven’t authorized?”

“Didn’t want to bother you, Chief,” said Rogge-Smith. “It was really a technical matter, kind of a final cleanup. Want to come and see the work?”

Mollified, Barlow followed his statistician down the corridor.

“You still shouldn’t have gone ahead without my okay,” he grumbled. “Where the hell would you people have been without me?”

“That’s right, Chief. We couldn’t have swung it ourselves; our minds just don’t work that way. And all that stuff you knew from Hitler—it wouldn’t have occurred to us. Like poor Black-Kupperman.”
They were in a fair-sized machine shop at the end of a slight upward incline. It was cold. Rogge-Smith pushed a button that started a motor, and a flood of arctic light poured in as the roof parted slowly. It showed a small spaceship with the door open.

Barlow gaped as Rogge-Smith took him by the elbow and his other boys appeared: Swenson-Swenson, the engineer; Tsutsugimushi-Duncan, his propellants man; Kalb-French, advertising.

“In you go, Chief,” said Tsutsugimushi-Duncan. “This is Poprobterm.”

“But I’m the world Dictator!”

“You bet, Chief. You’ll be in history, all right—but this is necessary, I’m afraid.”

The door was closed. Acceleration slammed Barlow cruelly to the metal floor. Something broke and warm, wet stuff, salty-tasting, ran from his mouth to his chin. Arctic sunlight through a port suddenly became a fierce lancet stabbing at his eyes; he was out of the atmosphere.

Lying twisted and broken under the acceleration, Barlow realized that some things had not changed, that Jack Ketch was never asked to dinner however many shillings you paid him to do your dirty work, that murder will out, that crime pays only temporarily.

The last thing he learned was that death is the end of pain.


Cyril M. Kornbluth (1923-1958) was an American writer who shot to fame by publishing his stories in various science fiction magazines. He was associated with the Futurians. His stories are often dystopic warnings of what is to come in the future.


The Nobel to Annie Ernaux: Whining is my Profession

Jean Baudrillard said of democracy that it is the menopause of Western societies. I don’t know why, but this remark makes me think of the books of Annie Ernaux, the new darling of the Left, who was awarded the Nobel Prize at the age of 82, for a work as thick as a feminist leaflet. In the past, the Nobel Prize has often rewarded third-rate writers, starting with Sully Prudhomme, a poet of the unctuous kind, the first Nobel Prize winner in literature, who inaugurated the long list of French authors who have won the prize, all of them male. One woman was missing from the list: the tricolored suffragette. First name: Annie; last name: Ernaux.

The Swedish committee’s trademark is to be in perfect trigonometric alignment with the spirit of the times, like a barometer that measures the atmospheric pressure with a Nordic and Lutheran rigor. This year, the atmosphere is boring, feminist and stubborn—the spit-and-image of Annie Ernaux, a pretty woman by the way, very well preserved in spite of the withering of time, except for the disdainful lips that have long collected the poisonous fruit of a bitterness that no longer has any place.

A Purging and a Punishment

Annie Ernaux deserves our recognition. She is the most powerful sedative and laxative in contemporary literature. To read her is to experience a journey to the end of boredom to Cergy-Pontoise, the new city of the Pompidolian era, where she settled eons ago as a watchdog of progressivism. The rhythm of her prose reminds the oldest among us of the throbbing sway of the suburban railroads of yesteryear, which made the traveler seasick and predisposed him to drowsiness.

Experience it for yourself. Start reading one of her books in the underbelly of Paris, as the devil himself, Richard Millet, calls it, for example on the platform of the RER A at Châtelet-Les Halles, and finish it at the Cergy train station, in the prematurely aged university Luna Park that Annie makes it a point of honor to never leave. You will come out of the experience exhausted. If Cergy-Pontoise is a sleepy town, Annie Ernaux is its pharmaceutical version, its sleeping pill, more literal than literary, it goes without saying.

Cergy-Pontoise is for her the center of the world. For the past 40 years, she has walked the alleys, the pedestrian streets, the groves between two bodies of water, the shops, including the Auchan hypermarket, which she describes with the enthusiasm of a novice bailiff and the diligence of an Auchan department manager updating his inventory. Annie has always made lists. Lists are her thing. She even made one in 2012 to send Richard Millet to the gallows, who had just published his Éloge littéraire d’Anders Breivik with Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, preceded by his magnificent Langue fantôme. As in the good old days of the Soviet Writers’ Union, she launched a petition in Le Monde against this “fascist pamphlet.” 128 watchdogs rushed to sign it, poodles and chihuahuas of the worst kind that came to the roaring lion. Liste Otto in 1940, Ernaux list in 2012. From one occupation to another.

Cosette is not Colette

In the land of Stieg Larsson and his antifa saga Millennium, the Nobel Prize could only go to Annie Ernaux. But if she had to be awarded a prize based on her literary qualities alone, it would be the prize of the Normandy knitters’ union or that of the nightcap makers of Yvetot, in the Seine-Maritime region, where she was born 82 years ago, at her family’s grocery store, where her novel of her origins begins—black, cruel, terribly unjust. Since then, she has alternated between the misfortunes of Calimero and the misfortunes of Cosette. Now Cosette is elevated by critics to the rank of Colette, while she is content to write feminist bluets with her hairbrush, tracing sullen lives threatened by depression and resentment.

It’s like reading one of those letters from a listener that Menie Grégoire read on RTL in the 1970s. You remember—the cultic “Allô, Menie! The radio letter from the heart. It had everything—men who don’t understand anything about women, sentimental dreams, unjust fate. Menie Grégoire and Annie Ernaux—the voice-over of sentimental bovarysm in the age of the feminist crowd. An exhaustive exegesis of commonplaces, but not in the sense that Léon Bloy meant it, as a monument of stupidity. No! In Annie Ernaux’s case, it is a monument of neo-Sulpine devotion and leftist self-righteousness. Because between Menie Grégoire and her, Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology has crept in—scholarly miserabilism, coupled with a spirit of sociological cumbersomeness. Annie Ernaux is Menie Grégoire’s letter from the heart in the format of a sociology course at the faculty of Jussieu. No literature here. The Nobel Prize winner of 2022 claims a flat, stodgy, atonic writing, which only transcribes the banality of a feminist’s daily life, without ever transfiguring it, as the moving Virginia Woolf was able to do.

Embracing Miserabilism

Marriage or abortion, this is how she summed up the dilemma of young girls at the threshold of the 1960s. She experienced both, without sparing us anything of her martyrdom. Her CV is a way of the cross, whose stations she groans out as she goes along. There was once the figure of the Christian Mater dolorosa; today, it is the #MeToo dolorosa and its hypertrophied tear glands. Women’s lives are a valley of tears. Annie wipes them away.

Victimology is a profession. So is crying. It is even one of the oldest professions in the world, if we are to believe the discoveries of archaeologists who have brought to light weeping women on Egyptian bas-reliefs. The goddess Isis herself is sometimes represented as a weeper. Wealthy families paid female mourners to feign grief, both among the Pharaohs and in Mesopotamia. In Rome, there was a choir of mourners with a leader who sang the laments while beating her chest. The mourning was all the more theatrical, sonorous and demonstrative. The last mourners logically disappeared when the feminists appeared in the 1960s. Annie is their heir. Her literature, which is presented in the manner of an electoral pamphlet, is not committed, but is a member—of LFI, to be precise.

When Lady Bosses read Télérama

Her books are like the empirical proof of the incapacity of sociological concepts to be transformed into literature. Annie may put them to music, but they remain hopelessly monotonous. If Pierre Bourdieu provided her with the instructions for her worldview, it is Didier Eribon, another sociologist, who provided her with her identity papers by making her a “class defector.” A class defector is someone who is a bit of a slob who manages to become very chic. A nouveau riche, like Annie Ernaux. She, who belongs to the champagne Left, constantly reminds us that, in her unhappy childhood, she only ate bits of cod, the fish of the poor. Every class defector is condemned to counterfeit his original culture and to specialize in sociological navel-gazing.

A remark to finish. Bourdieusian sociology is the continuation of the work of the lady bosses of yesteryear, who were the first social workers. Annie Ernaux is a lady patroness. She wants to restore the daily life of the people, even though she has lost track of it for a good half-century. She never finds the right distance. Her indignation is that of a reader of Télérama strolling through a Grévin museum of the working world where no piece is original. Why are there dominated people? Why are there right-wing bastards? Why did the working classes prefer Marine Le Pen to Jean-Luc Mélenchon? One shudders in front of such unfathomable questionings that make Plato’s, Pascal’s and Leibniz’s interrogations seem old-fashioned? Why is there something rather than nothing, eh? Why is there nothing rather than Annie Ernaux, eh? Why is there Annie Ernaux rather than literature, eh? Dizzying, isn’t it!


François Bousquet is the editor-in-chief of the revue Éléments and also the ditrector of the Nouvelle Librairie. This article appears through the kind courtesy of revue Éléments.


Paul Cantor (1945-2022): The Philosopher, Tricked out as Clown

By a twist of fate, our eulogy of Professor Paul Cantor was first drafted shortly after the death of Elizabeth II. [Note: This article assesses Mr. Cantor’s contribution to Shakespearean scholarshipit is not an endorsement of his politics].

Struck down by the same malady which killed Paul Cantor, only now have I learnt of his death. Professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia and guest Professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, he died in February 2022 at the age of 76, having devoted his life to teaching Shakespeare.

Here is our first enigma: for 45 years and to over ten thousand students, Cantor taught a Shakespeare and Politics seminar, erudite and above all, thought-provoking. That notwithstanding, he was greeted with stony silence in Europe and even in England. Not once, saving error, was he engaged as consultant to a history play, not once was he invited to speak before a European scholarly society.

Through all those years, Cantor’s international contacts were restricted, if that is the word, to hundreds of telephone and e-mail exchanges with foreign students, including students from the PR of China. What could possibly explain the void in academe?

As it happens, Paul Cantor lived a double-life: one as a neo-conservative ideologue in economic matters, a friend to avowed war-mongers such as William Kristol. Apologist to Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, Cantor espoused the Austrian School of Economics, notorious for players like Milton Friedman or Margaret Thatcher, who would have wreaked rather less harm in vaudeville.

That said, Cantor’s role in that côterie was rather that of the Court Fool, whom he much resembled physically. Short, well-padded and ever-jolly, Cantor spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent and wore his coat-sleeves dangling to the fingertips. Hardly the image projected by notable Shakespeareans such as Jonathan Bate, now Sir Jonathan—tall, slender, elegant, with thoughts as gracefully policed as their every gesture.

Court Fool, perhaps. But another enigma: how did a scholar and polymath of such calibre (at Harvard, he nearly opted to study astronomy), take up with a clique of the gimlet-eyed fanatics who lie behind every major US policy disaster since Dallas, November 22, 1963?

Scroll back the decades.

Paul Cantor’s birth-year was 1945, the year of the US atomic firestorm at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Meanwhile, in a New York putatively at peace, the child Cantor had access to his father’s and grand-father’s large private libraries. Very evidently a victim neither of material nor cultural deprivation, Cantor’s childhood and teenage years were nevertheless marked by two other firestorms sowing fear amongst American Jews, of whom many had recently fled Germany or Eastern Europe: the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage in 1953, and the allegedly “anti-Communist” terror campaign (circa 1949-1955), spear-headed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. The targets were “Communists,” or “homosexuals”—whether real or imagined is irrelevant—largely Jewish intellectuals from the East Coast, theatre people and Hollywood script-writers, as well as leading academics and State Department career diplomats; what that motley crew had in common was opposition to the Doctor Strangeloves of this world.

The elephant in the room in Cantor’s youth was thus the hell unleashed by HUAC; its figure-head was a drug-addict and doubtless blackmail victim, Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose substances for abuse are now known to have been procured by the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

HUAC’s hearings in the US Senate led to suicides, countless dismissals, and exile for some of the country’s most remarkable citizens. Amongst HUAC’s celebrated victims one finds the actor and producer Sam Wanamaker (Wattenmacher in Yiddish), who left for London with his family and never returned; it was Wanamaker who had the Globe Theatre, of which Shakespeare had been shareholder, rebuilt on Bankside. Another victim was Jerome (Rabinowitz) Robbins, dancer and choreographer of West Side Story. Crumbling under the pressure, Robbins denounced to HUAC a string of real (?) or make-believe (?) “Communists” among his fellow artists, with disastrous results.

From a press release by a HUAC victim, the blacklisted Shakespearean actor Morris Carnovsky, one gets a whiff of the pornography of violence that typifies HUAC: “an inquisition into the inviolable areas of one’s deepest manhood and integrity—the end result is the blacklist, the deprivation by innuendo of one’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in work. And here we have what the black opera singer and actor Paul Robeson threw back at HUAC.

As it happens, Paul Cantor knew Carnovsky well, of whom he recalls: “at the then flourishing American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut, among the many performances I experienced there, the highlight was seeing Morris Carnovsky in the role of King Lear (twice!). To this day, I consider this the greatest Shakespeare performance I ever saw and it inspired my devotion to King Lear and Shakespeare in general.”

In 1956, a sensational film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was released. Cunningly disguised as a horror-film, it is an allegory of the conformism disfiguring US society, turning citizens into zombies, as HUAC’s Iron Curtain slammed down on independent thought.

Thence emerged what now goes by the terms “Wokism” and “Political Correctness”: once the thought-police had dealt with so-called “Communists,” or whatever, backing into the same tight corner the so-called Right and traditionalists was like taking candy from a baby.

Moreover, something one might readily forget here in Europe: until the year 1965, Apartheid reigned in the USA under the term “Segregation”—and again, amongst the White activists in the Civil Rights Movement, Jews were the majority. Slandered, assaulted and sometimes murdered, these intellectuals, dixit Earl Lively of the John Birch Society, intended to set up an “independent Negro-Soviet Republic”[sic] (Invasion of Mississippi).

As for Cantor’s adolescence in the 1960s, it was marked by a series of murders designed to throw open the citadel to the Strangeloves: John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963); Malcolm X (1965), Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King (1968), and a host of small-fry such as Jack Ruby, “disappeared” for having gleaned bits and pieces of the puzzle.

The Articles of Faith, 1536—2022

As a subject of His Britannic Majesty, the author of these lines is well-acquainted with the leaden cape cast over the Kingdom since Henry VIII and his Articles of the Faith (1536) which were imposed by extortion, intolerance and violence. A Kingdom, where since the theocrat Henry, freedom of thought and political action have lived on only in Shakespeare’s theatre.

Although the USA may for a moment in history, have been a temple of liberty, since that day at Hiroshima in 1945, the people of the USA have cowered in a Don’t-Go-There mind-set, feverishly seeking to comply with whatever the day’s Articles of the Faith may enjoin.

Accordingly, and without pressing the point, I would venture to suggest that Paul Cantor may have unconsciously sought shelter under the wings of a clique seen as both fearsome and eminently respectable. And as Cantor lived in the cool shade of the Ivy League’s ivy leaves, he had never to confront in person the reality of the dead, the mutilated, the bankrupt, the exiled, strewn in the wake of his self-satisfied, war-mongering friends.

In Europe, the academic milieu, leaning “centre-left,” appears to have resolved to stonewall a Shakespearean who, unlike his more duplicitous colleagues, owned very frankly to such untoward acquaintances. Error! For Paul Cantor—another enigma—is amongst the few who have understood why Shakespeare wrote what he did, and among the few who have inspired tens of thousands of youths to serious study.

Academic, and Mountebank

To his students, Paul Cantor was an interpretative artist like Dinu Lipatti or Pau Casals; he neither “explained” Shakespeare, nor “criticised” him, but tried to think his way into his thoughts.

In the best sense of the term, Cantor remained a child all his life, gazing at the world through the eyes of his idol. He rejoiced like a child at a student’s awkward question; riding the waves of his idol’s ideas, he cheerfully took a slap in the face whenever Shakespeare wrecked a fond neo-con belief. When William Kristol asked whether Shakespeare might be neo-con compatible? Cantor retorted—no—would have been nice, but Shakespeare will not be pigeon-holed.

As mountebank, Cantor, who wrote extensively on US television, had seen classical theatre collapse through lack of subsidy and an apprentice-system, and had realised that for his own lifetime, the class-room would have to be the theatre, and the professor, an actor on that stage.

The groundlings standing on their own two feet before the stage, and who in Shakespeare’s day made up the bulk of the audience—were Cantor’s students, lucky to have access to a master free of cynical utilitarianism. The good news for posterity is that while Cantor’s writings may not perhaps be ground-breaking, his true and irreplaceable contribution, those marvelous in-person seminars where Cantor, thinking out loud, revels in the to-and-fro with students, have largely been filmed.

“Idiocene” or Ideas?

In his life as a Shakespearean, Cantor knew that it was the average citizen’s intellect would decide the fate of the republic. In July, the Italian politician Pino Cabras summarized the point thusly: “though the notion of staking our hopes on the optimism of will-power may be attractive, I would nonetheless suggest that this crisis is without precedent, and that consequently, the ruling classes, frightened out of their wits, will concede nothing, not an inch. Meanwhile, those who object to their rule suffer from backwardness, be it cognitive, cultural or political, while we are the ‘first generation which cannot afford to make mistakes.’” (See also Teresita Dussart). Taking on that backwardness was Cantor’s mission, and this is what he said of his 40 years’ teaching:

“…the only thing I teach where the students continue to respond with the same enthusiasm is Shakespeare. With other things, things vary in time—and you can see trends and fashions—but Shakespeare is a sure-fire hit. Shakespeare doesn’t need our help. You know it’s John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, they need our help; that’s where you see the curriculum collapsing.

“Shakespeare stands on his own two feet and basically you can’t keep students away from Shakespeare courses. They’re the most heavily enrolled at the University of Virginia… The poetry is so beautiful, the drama is so powerful, and they all can relate to it on some of the most basic levels.”

(Of course, Cantor refrains from concluding that it was his seminars that had students piled to the rafters).

Cantor, an Anti-Exceptionalist on the US Island

Through Cantor’s study of Shakespeare, he came to see that the USA was a sort of island, remote from the realities of this world, and that his students needed to grasp this as a peril rather than a privilege: “Shakespeare understood that different forms of government shape different kinds of people … his Romans are different from his Englishmen and in fact his Republican Romans are different from his Imperial Romans. He understood that not all human types are available at all times. So, for example, he’s very aware of how living in a pagan republic as his characters do in Coriolanus is very different from living in a Christian monarchy as, say, his characters do in his history plays.”

Thus, in Cantor’s seminars on the Venetian plays—Othello, The Merchant of Venice—he notes that Shakespeare weighs arguments asserted variously by Muslims, Jews and Christians. Taking no sides, he scrutinises the impact on public life of each thought-system, comparing Venice, a thoroughly oligarchical republic practising religious tolerance for commercial motives, to the tottering theocracy of Elizabeth I, as the latter took the worst possible path to stabilise the state, i.e., empire-building.

In so doing, Cantor led his students to wonder whether their own, American personality, sprung from a given time and place in the reign of imperial exceptionalism, might truly be an Ideal of Man, in an Ideal State?

“Not all human types are available at all times” … Quite. But would the American Regina Dugan perhaps be a latter-day replica of the condottiere Gilles de Ré? A point to ponder.

Monarchist? Republican?

Which brings us to the republican question. From Cantor’s standpoint, neither was Shakespeare Calvin, nor England, his Geneva:

“Now, traditionally in literary criticism, people assume Shakespeare was an uncritical supporter of the English monarchy. I think he really was thinking about the monarchy and how it might be reformed.… I think he understood the greatest defect of monarchy was succession. That no matter how good a king might be, there was no guarantee that his son or daughter would be equal.… Moreover, I think Shakespeare was interested in the way being brought up to the throne is a corrupting influence, and something he shows about Richard II, and much of the Henry IV plays, I think, are designed to show how a king might get a good education.

“So, I don’t think Shakespeare was an uncritical supporter of monarchy as a form of government in the abstract.… he shows an unusual interest in republics for someone who’s supposed to be just supporting monarchy.

“I think that Shakespeare is accepting the fact that England is a monarchy. He’s not going to try to bring about a revolution and institute a republic … But he was interested in how could we reform the monarchy and maybe move it more in the direction of a republic? And that I think is the key to the story of Henry IV and Henry V.”

The Professor remarks that Shakespeare was well aware of the keen interest with which the élite, up to the Monarch herself, followed his plays (on Richard II, Elizabeth I famously declared in private conversation “I am Richard, know you not that?”), and that accordingly, his scrutiny of Rome’s systems of government from the primitive Republic (Coriolanus), to its fall and the premises of Empire (Julius Caesar) and the Empire itself (Anthony and Cleopatra) would—eventually—most likely have political repercussions.

To Cantor, Shakespeare is a tough realist, who saw England as too immature politically for a republican revolution in his time without smashing the crockery; pig-headed and pitiless, Malvolio in Twelfth Night is a kind of premonition of Oliver Cromwell, dictator. Conversely, how might one sow the seeds of an ideal republic and throw a few sops to the nobility, without cracking the State’s foundations? Can this succeed with a starving, desperate, dangerous people? In Coriolanus, Shakespeare concludes that where a purportedly republican élite holds its own people to be “rabble,” they will give the State over to treachery, civil war and war. A state of affairs we are currently come up against.

Philosopher in a Clown Suit

Despite being surrounded, some might say fenced in, by neo-cons entangled with a certain small state in the Middle East, Professor Cantor was anything but a Professional Jew, and he always refused to howl with the wolves. Few save Cantor have noted that in The Merchant of Venice, the Christians are depicted as liars, hypocrites and self-righteous in their cruelty, whereas Shylock unashamedly advertises his nastiness. Translated into Yiddish in 1900, the play had the great Jewish actors all vying to play Shylock, including the aforesaid Morris Carnovsky.

Cantor had no time for the ludicrous authorship controversy. Perusal of the abundant and coherent documentation and especially, the internal evidence, left him in no doubt that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. In this context, we cannot resist quoting Robert Gore-Langton’s delightful article on the launch of Shakespeare North; here he is questioning the Trust’s Chairman, Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby: “Is there any belief in the family that Shakespeare was actually a cover name for the 6th Earl of Derby, as some believe? The short answer is an emphatic no. “I once asked my uncle and he said: ‘have a straightforward answer to that: we could have never been bright enough; it couldn’t have been any of us.’”

Bright, Paul Cantor certainly was. In an essay he penned in 2014 on Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy between the Lines, intitled “Philosophy in a Clown Suit,” and which I came across only after formulating the thoughts above on his double life, Cantor appears to give us the key:

“Imagine, then, the plight of philosophers who commit their dangerous thoughts to writing and thereby threaten to publicize their disagreements with the political and religious establishments. Philosophers had to learn an art of writing that would enable them at one and the same time to conceal and reveal their thoughts—to conceal their unorthodox ideas from a potentially hostile public and yet reveal them to like-minded, potential philosophers whom they wished to develop as students. The result was the famous ‘double doctrine of the ancient philosophers.’ They learned to write in such a way that their works had an exoteric and an esoteric meaning, a conventional meaning on the surface that would placate would-be censors and persecutors, and an unconventional meaning tucked away between the lines.”


Mendelssohn Moses is a Paris-based writer.

Mount Wonder: An Excerpt

This is a selection from the recently published novel, Mount Wonder, by Scott J. Bloch, based on the radical experiment in liberal arts education at the University of Kansas in the 1970s, the Integrated Humanities Program, taught by noted Catholic educator and writer, John Senior, and his colleagues, Dennis Quinn and Frank Nelick. They took radicals from the 1960s and early 1970s and exposed them to delight in education, in poetry, star gazing, and the ideas in the great books, as if truth were possible. They focused on drawing out students’ innate sense of wonder and awe. The narrator is an agnostic student who encounters these three controversial professors who challenge his understanding of the purposes of education and his own life.

Mr. Bloch grew up in Woodland Hills, California, and his parents were active in Hollywood. His grandfather was Albert Bloch, who was a member of Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) association of German expressionist artists. Mr. Bloch wrote and produced a documentary film about his grandfather, AB. He is also the author of The Essential Belloc: A Prophet for Our Times.

Mount Wonder is a wonderfully engaging novel, and we strongly encourage our readers to buy a copy and support Mr. Bloch’s excellent talent.

Metaphysical Streaking

“Is the Good being able to do whatever you please, whenever you please?” asked Courtney. “Rousseau says that men were born free, but ‘everywhere I see them in chains.’ He thinks that the Good is returning to a state of being where laws are made to fit our pursuit of nature, of the savage pursuit of happiness. Certainly, that is what Lucretius saw. But what does Plato say about that?”

We were intently participating in the conversation even though we said nothing, silent acolytes to the sacrament of pure reason.

“Why is it you are unhappy, when you spend so much time pursuing happiness?” asked Marin. I leaned forward. “Is it because of civilization and its discontents? Are you simply Freudian fruits, destined to be unhappy? Or is it your way of looking at happiness that sows your discontent? Instead of looking inward for the good of your own navel, how about the common good? What ever became of virtue? Ordering yourself to what is good. Or have you forgotten about that? There was a time when it was a betrayal of your country to protest in favor of your country’s enemy.”

“O, Fred, don’t attack their war protests,” said Whelan. “They’re primed for betrayal of the West. They have already determined that Judas was just a guy who needed therapy. Just a higher dose of Thorazine.”

Marin stood, bellicose, ready to pounce: “Is there anything . . . or anyone . . . you atomists would not betray?” Courtney came back in, rescued us, and drew us back to Plato.

“Plato has a rhetoric. It is the pursuit of Truth through the appeal to knowledge, empathy, and emotions. This is an order of Truth, you see. So Plato’s answer is to ask about the common good. What is justice?”

“Well, what is it?” asked Marin. He turned to Courtney and sneered, “They didn’t read the text, did they? All of you are little Thrasymachuses from the Republic. Socrates tells you, mind your own business. That’s justice. Every person doing his own business. Know thyself, all you Greeks. Are you minding your own business, or are you poking in the business of others?”

I was supposed to be pursuing business all right, but it wasn’t my business. It was the Floor King’s business, and the university wanted to make my business the business of everyone else.

“We’re asking you to take Plato and Western civilization seriously,” said Whelan. “We’re asking you to do something your generation does not like to do. It does not like to look at the past and ask, What did these people think? and take what they say on their own terms.”

“To think presupposes that there is a form for thought,” interjected a quiet Courtney, rescuing us from Marin’s diatribe, “that there is a human nature to think about. That is, you are constantly under a barrage of democratic talk, such as ‘That’s all a matter of opinion.’ ‘One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.’ And while these things have some application to our emotions and the way in which we choose houses and clothes, they have no real application to reality and the ethical choices we make in our lives.”

Courtney stopped and stared at the ground, just warming up.

“That is,” he resumed with greater excitement, “when we make these choices, we act as if there is Truth. When you leave this lecture hall, you’re going to open the door—aren’t you?—and walk through it.”

“You’re all either agnostics or Gnostics,” said Marin. “Chester, I don’t think they understand the words.” He smiled sarcastically and looked at the class. “You think it’s all in your head—reality—don’t you? You’re all a bunch of damn angels. But when you drive your car, all of you follow Newton’s laws to a tee. You don’t jump off buildings, do you?” Marin spat the words out contemptuously.

“You see,” said Whelan, “either this is a room or it is not. It is not both true for me and untrue for you that I am speaking right now. And when you say ‘There is no Truth’ you have uttered Truth, a categorical imperative.”

“The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other side,” said Courtney.

“You could not get up in the morning if you questioned that,” Marin said. “You think Pythagoras is math? It’s Beauty. only Euclid has looked on Beauty bare. They’re blushing, Paul.”

“Plato wants us to examine Beauty,” said Courtney, “and he shows us Aphrodite, the goddess of love, both of spiritual and physical beauty.”

Aphrodite was the Greek name for Venus.

“Consider what Plato said, that the unexamined life is not worth living.” Courtney was looking out at us now, not looking down in his usual detached way. “You read in Herodotus about Croesus. He is you. You look out on your life and wonder, ‘How will I live my life? will I be successful, rich, liked by people? Will I marry, will I be a good husband or wife, a good parent?’ Does leading a life dedicated to the pursuit of wealth bring happiness? Herodotus asked that question. Croesus had it all. But was he happy? Remember what Herodotus said: until a man is dead, reserve the question of whether he is happy.”

“Socrates says that all philosophy is a meditation on death,” said Whelan. “And that meditation is about life and happiness in light of the end of man. We dare to ask these questions. We have not given up on the examined life or on the pursuit of the Good—of real happiness, contentment, and even something the Greek and Roman culture saw as transcendent. Here’s the real question: Is the West worth preserving?”

Then the whistle screeched on campus, upsetting a lacuna of silence.

“At least go to the world of poetry,” said Marin. “Don’t you know, your love really is like a red, red rose, and her enduring young charms are fairy-gifts fading away? Wake up, damn it, youth’s a stuff ‘twill not endure.”

Not a body moved.

“What does Plato say about Beauty?” asked Courtney. He pulled out his Plato and read to us: “‘When a man has been thus far tutored in the love of love, passing from view to view of beautiful things, in the right and regular ascent, suddenly he will have revealed to him, as he draws to the close of his dealings with love, a wondrous vision, beautiful in its nature.’” Courtney looked up: “What is he talking about? Isn’t it the state of wonder, awe? And when in that state, you will begin to see beyond passion or emotion—to something more beautiful and delightful—you begin to see the Truth.”

“Oh, Paul . . . you shouldn’t say that word—Truth—without qualifiers.” Whelan had a mocking, sarcastic tone. “I mean, it’s not right—no parenthesis, no quote marks, just naked Truth. My God, it’s metaphysical streaking.”

The class erupted at the mention of what so typified this generation. The emperor may have had no clothes, but now, neither did his pupils.

“It catches up with you,” said Courtney. “You will want the Good even as you realize you lack the virtue to achieve the Good. And then your life will really start. After you really read Plato, you will never be the same again.”