Sunday, December 31, 2017

Myths and Medicine by Charles H. M'Cully M.D. 1898

Myths and Medicine by Charles H. M'Cully M.D. 1898

Solomon, the widest of wise men, has said: "There is no new thing under the sun," and so new truths are not here to be presented. Indeed, the subject under consideration precludes the idea of newness, and he who speaks of these strange and closely allied systems speaks of that which antedates the most remote records and bids fair to outlast all time. Strange, entrancing, bewildering and ever becoming more strange, more entrancing, more bewildering, these twin sisters of our perplexity stand daily before us, ever changing places and ever smiling at our vain efforts to know them. That which to-day we call myth was yesterday medicine; that which to-day we call medicine is to-morrow myth. May we not go further and say that which yesterday was myth we to-day call medicine and that which to-day we call myth to-morrow may be medicine? Thus, ever the same, yet ever appearing in new likeness, myths and medicine are to engage our attention. Facts and fancies grown moldy with age are to be reviewed, regrouped and in some instances reconstructed to suit modern ideas, and if at the end some one shall have been interested or some one shall have been stimulated to an investigation which shall enable him to lay his hand on one theory and say this is medicine or this is a myth, without possibility or even probability of being disproven, then will this paper have accomplished its purpose.

From time immemorial have myths and medicine been related. The ancients who knew no religion save that of tradition, who had a separate and distinct god for everything, sought cleansing at the hands of the priests and offered sacrifice in times of epidemics, that the anger of the gods might be appeased. AEsculapius, the Greek god of the healing art, was a son of Apollo and Coronis, and was instructed in the art of healing by his father. An apt scholar, he soon outrivaled his tutor, and, it is said, even recalled the dead to life, for which act he was slain by the god of gods, Jupiter—a warning to all modern physicians who feel themselves competent to conquer the silent messenger. Apollo, the god of the sun—Coronis, the goddess of dawn—what more fitting than that the physician should be associated with the coming of light? But even before the need of a physician, the entrance of evil, cold, hunger, pain and disease into the world is beautifully set forth in myth lore. Prometheus and Epimetheus had been commissioned by the gods to distribute gifts to all creation. This was done with such lavish hand that for man, the creation of Prometheus, nothing was left. Proud of his work, Prometheus determined on a great gift, and stole for man from Mount Olympus a brand of fire, for which act he was subjected to great torture, and punishment was planned for man for having accepted a gift so far above his station. A council of the gods resulted in the creation of woman—to be known as Pandora and to be conveyed to earth as the special gift of the gods. After Pandora had been received and mated, Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was sent to earth with a beautiful box of cunning workmanship and intricate fastening, begging to be allowed to leave it in the care of Pandora for a short time on a plea of fatigue. Pandora, with woman's curiosity, soon began to examine the box and to speculate on its contents. Finding the fastening puzzling, her pride was touched and she at once sought to undo it. Voices called to her from within, pleading for freedom, and at last freedom came. The box opened, myriads of small insects came swarming forth and began at once most cruelly to bite and sting all mankind, whilst from their very midst, promising to heal the wounds of her fellow-visitors, cried for liberty the voice of Hope, who had been more closely imprisoned in a second box within the larger, and to be opened later with great labor. Thus entered evil, cold, hunger, pain and disease into the world. Thus, likewise, was the advent of Hope, and thus have they continued as inseparable companions since that time. Whoever witnessed the ravages of disease that Hope hovered not close at hand? "Whoever bore the sad message, Death must ensue, and witnessed the departure of Hope? Rather did she not draw the nearer and heal broken hearts, whispering of a world where sickness and death come not nigh?

Primitive minds have always associated the doctor with the superhuman. The Indian regards his medicine man as second to none in his tribe, and to him absolutely nothing is impossible, even to the bringing of the dead to life where he so chooses. Not only is he concerned with the cure and alleviation of disease by his charms, his dances, his incantations and his exactions, but likewise is he credited with holding in his hand the issue of the hunt and the scourging of his people with plagues. To the Indian, medicine means the power possessed by a man's fetish or charmed object, which may be a bear's claw, a stuffed snake, a drum or what not. The Indian, too, has met, in a way, without sacrificing his fanciful notions, the modern idea of special departments in medicine, for among the Ojibwa Indians of Minnesota are found four classes of medicine or mystery men: First, medicine men whose profession is incantation, exorcism of demons and the administration of magic remedies; second the juggler, who professes prophecy and antagonizes the evil charms of rivals; third, the easterner or daylight man, whose orgies are continued throughout the night and cease at daylight, who professes ability to prepare lucky charms for the hunter and potent love powders for the disappointed lover; fourth, the herbalist, who professes knowledge of the properties of plants and administers, as the name implies, "medicine broths" or decoctions and infusions. All these, save the first, practice their professions singly and alone, having no regularly organized societies. The first class, however, has a regularly organized society, which is graduated into four degrees, admission into which is a matter of considerable importance and attended with no little difficulty. But not all superstition lies in the mind of the savage. Who cannot recall some good, kind, but ignorant friend, who believes he can do everything, even almost to the raising of the dead? What physician but is consulted about matters entirely foreign to medicine? Who has not been cautioned of the greater danger of wounds during the period at which the dog star rages? Who cannot recall a score of signs learned of the old ladies in the parturient chamber? What child but does not or has not at some time believed that the doctor has an unlimited supply of babies on hands and scatters them out from his satchel here and there and everywhere, or wherever little boys and little girls are most deserving?

Not a few of these old-time legends are a source of pleasing interest, since they help to round off the rough corners of mere memory work and make brighter what would otherwise be plain, unvarnished facts. Venereal diseases have not that same repugnance when we consider the character from which the word venereal is derived. Venus and her love for Adonis help to relieve this class of disease of much of its odium, and how beautifully is the association of myth and medicine still further demonstrated in this same story when we follow Adonis to the hunt and see Venus weeping over his life-blood as drop by drop it is changed to the beautiful anemone, and then recall that this same anemone is the remedy par excellence in cases of extreme nervous affections characterized by melancholia and passionate despair. Morphia assumes the character of a personal friend when we recall Morpheus, the god from whom it took its name, and see him in peaceful drowsiness clinging to his bunch of poppies—to him the source of complete happiness. Death loses half its terror when we reflect that in ancient myths the god of death is the twin brother of the god of sleep and shares with him the same cave. The arachnoid becomes more to us than a mere spider-web-like membrane with its fibers, its interstices, its vessels, its nerve filaments and its processes, when we consider that the spider from whose web the membrane took its name was once a beautiful maiden named Arachne, who dared to challenge Minerva to contest in needlework, and when after the weaving was completed, saw her failure, hanged herself, and was at once transformed into a spider, condemned to weave and to spin unceasingly. Hygiene and medicine appear in their true relation when we read that Hygia, the goddess of health preserving, and AEsculapius were full brother and sister.

True, man has an investigative turn of mind, and has spoiled many of these choice theories, but modern medicine is far from being free from the influence of ancient and modern mythology, as is witnessed by the above instances in nomenclature and the scores of signs presumed, not only by laity, but by members of the profession, also to influence pathological conditions. The charmer, the voodoo, the seventh son of a seventh son, have their clientage to-day, just as they ever have had and ever will have. The little one must be measured for the undergrowth, the clock must be stopped when the spirit takes its flight, and the boy who handles toads must expect to wear warts on his hands, to say nothing of the conversion of the stomach into an aquarium for the rearing of lizards and toads and the popular idea as to the causation of a sty. How many of us stop to consider we are paying tribute to an ancient god of the Greeks every time we head our prescription with the usual sign, which character is but an abbreviated prayer to this god that the remedies thereinafter named may be effectual in the prevention, alleviation or cure of the disease for which it is written? Of course, there are other theories as to the origin and significance of this sign, but this view, in the matter of authenticity, is on a par with the others and is very generally accepted.

It is equally true that we are inclined to scoff and place in ridicule these old ideas that are really not entirely foreign to truth, as we now see it. It does not require a philosopher to see in the Pandora with a box of insects a Pandora with a culture tube filled to running over with pathogenic microbes. Neither does it require a close reasoner to see that as from the midst of insects came forth Hope to heal and sooth, so from microbes come forth antitoxins, serums, modifying, soothing and healing the diseases causes by these same microbes. The medical world to-day has hardly ceased to be agitated over the recent discovery, if such we may term it, of the Plasmodium of malaria, its haunts and its habits; and yet in ancient mythology we have much the same theories, given as follows, in the story of Apollo and Python: Python, a monster serpent, was born of the slime and stagnant waters from the deluge, and had long terrorized the inhabitants, making great inroads on their number. None had dared to approach the monster, but at last Apollo went boldly forth, met and slew this demon with his golden shafts. Note the similarity. Python, born of stagnant water—malaria, the inevitable result of stagnant water. Python, defeated by none so long as his favorite haunts were undisturbed—malaria a constant companion until drainage gave Apollo, the sun, a chance to dry up the slime of these stagnant pools, and by his golden shafts (rays of light and heat) slay Python, the germ of malaria. Who shall say that these ancients were not nearer the truth than we have supposed? Who shall say they were not in possession of the whole and the exact truth, just as they were in possession of many other truths which are to-day to us a lost art? And who shall say that these simple stories were not a series of allegories only, intended to simplify these complex theories until the minds of the masses could grasp them? It may be ours to dwell on what we choose to term an enlarged and more exact science. It may be ours to discredit, but it is not ours to scoff so long as we have hosts who will consult a faith cure and Christian scientist, and it is not ours to ridicule so long as we have enlightened men and women who will suffer themselves to be physically injured and operated upon or who will perform an act tomorrow or next week simply because some one has made a few meaningless passes before them and pronounced them hypnotized. I would not be understood as questioning the verity of a hypnotic state, but I do claim it appeals not more strongly to reason than do many of these old theories.

Scores of remedies once sheet-anchors of practice are now passing out of use. The excessive doses of calomel and antimony are no longer heard of. Venesection, the one time cure-all, is now far from being regarded as a panacea as to be scarcely ever mentioned, many of the younger members of the profession never having witnessed the operation. Likewise, many remedies once laughed at or regarded as especially dangerous are now in general use. Water is no longer withheld from the parched lips of a feverish patient. Instead of reducing, we endeavor to conserve strength. Vaccine virus is no longer a remedy of questionable utility. In short, as stated above, myth has come to be regarded as medicine and medicine as myth.

Great waves of reformation have swept over the globe, marking epochs in the history of medicine, and in many instances, in a few months or years much of the work of these so-called reformations has had to be undone. Alas! the many lives sacrificed yearly on this altar of experimentation can never be recalled. Within the memory of all is the discovery of the coal-tar products and the great epidemic of la grippe of about the same date. Likewise, within the memory of all is the great mortality of those first few years wherein so much of these coal-tar antis were used till this same great mortality sounded the alarm, and it was found the heart failure so often met was largely due to these depressants, then thought to be sovereign remedies. A few years ago water was carefully kept from our typhoids, whilst to-day water is indispensable in its treatment. Water to drink, water to cleanse, water to reduce temperature, water for almost everything. The realm of surgery, also, has been almost entirely revolutionized by the advent of asepsis and antisepsis, and yet much that was early advocated is now discarded. Thus, pendulum-like, remedial measures and medicinal theories sway to and fro from the side of myth to medicine, from medicine to myth, never remaining long on either side, never still and yet hovering near the truth. To-day the microbic origin and the serum treatment of disease swings far toward the side of medicine. Who can say where it will be to-morrow, next week or in centuries to come? Is it not possible—aye, probable—that in future years we, too, will be laughed at and ridiculed and that our pet theories shall have faded into nothingness?

Finally, brethren, as the minister would say, a few words by way of practical admonition, and we have done. Either in fact or in fancy our societies are bound in professional brotherhood by ties of duty, respect, honor and love. If in fact, the harsh and wrangling words that sometimes creep into business sessions have no place and should not be repeated. If alone in fancy, then have we been worshiping a myth—a mere tradition of the fathers in medicine, and it is high time the pendulum be allowed to settle till our true position be ascertained; till all difference may be equitably adjusted; till brother shall be as brother; till when, as one by one we shall seek other fields or shall be called to join the silent majority, we shall say, in the language of the poet:

 "Farewell; but whenever you welcome the hour
 That awakens the night song of mirth in your bower,
    Then think of the friend who once welcomed it, too,
    And forgot his own griefs to be happy with you.
 His griefs may return—not a hope may remain
 Of the few that have brightened his pathway of pain;
    But he ne'er will forget the short vision that threw
      Its enchantment around him while lingering with you.

"And still on each evening when pleasure tills up
 To the highest top sparkle each heart and each cup,
    Where'er my path lies, lie it gloomy or bright,
My soul, happy friends, shall be with you that night;
 Shall join in your revels, your sports and your wiles,
And return to me, beaming all o'er with your smiles.
    Too blest if it tells me that, 'mid the gay cheer.
   Some kind voices murmured: 'I wish he were here.'

"Let Kate do her worst, there are relics of joy,
 Bright dreams of the past, which she cannot destroy,
    Which come in the night-time of sorrow and care.
    And bring back the features that joy used to wear.
 Long, long be my heart with such memories tilled.
 Like the vase in which roses have once been distilled!
    You may break, you may shatter the vase, if you will,
    But the scent of the roses will hang round it still."

Why People are Interested in Crime by Anna Katharine Green 1919

Why Human Beings are Interested in Crime by Anna Katharine Green 1919

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HAVE been writing detective stories for about forty years; and in that time I have come, to believe that practically everybody is interested in crime. You may say that you are not. But if I could watch your reading and listen to your conversation for a few months, or a year, I could prove to you that you are decidedly interested in crime, provided it has certain characteristics.

If a drunken negro kills another negro, or an Italian section hand stabs a fellow workman, you take no notice of it. But if a crime is committed by people you know, it blots out every other subject in your mind. If your next-door neighbor kills his wife, you are more interested in that than in anything else he might do.

Just suppose that your neighbor's young daughter is caught in the act of shoplifting. Do you mean to say that you wouldn't be incredibly more interested than you would if the young lady won the highest honors at school, or announced her engagement, or even died? If a young man in the next block should poison his sweetheart, wouldn’t you be more excited than if he won a decoration on the battlefield? I don't think there is the slightest doubt of it.

Even if a crime is committed, not by someone we know personally, but by people like ourselves, or like the kind of people we want to be, we are intensely stirred. If a society woman shoots her husband, or a college student murders a young girl, or a big business man is killed by one of his competitors, the story of it-—in ordinary times——is the first thing we read in the papers.

And if, in addition, there is some mystery about the motive, or about the act itself, we follow every detail of the case with what is commonly called “morbid curiosity."

It isn't morbid. It is perfectly natural and legitimate. These people are like us; or, as said before, they are what we perhaps only dream of being-—rich, cultivated, powerful. That they should commit murder, for instance, seems as strange as that we should ourselves. It is this strangeness that interests us.

It is as if a member of our own family should suddenly betray an unexpected and terrible trait; should do something so grotesquely horrible that we cannot reconcile it with what we know of them. Crime must touch our imagination by showing people, like ourselves, but incredibly transformed by some overwhelming motive.

The thing which interests us most in human beings is their emotions, especially their hidden emotions. We know a good deal about what they do; but we don’t know much about what they feel. And we are always curious to get below the surface and to find out what is actually going on in their hearts. Crime in people who are normal and have been trained to self-control must be the result of some tremendous emotion. It happens because of some great upheaval in human nature. No wonder we are interested in it.

There is another thing about crime which interests an amazing number of people. It helps to account for the fact that so many people read detective stories and follow the newspaper accounts of strange criminal cases. In reading an ordinary novel, they simply let the current of the story flow through their minds. But when they read a detective story, they are all the time figuring on the solution of the mystery, trying to guess how it is coming out. And they do the same thing when they follow a criminal case in the papers.

There is a rather general impression, I think, that men are more interested in this sort of thing than women are, but this is not my experience. And I believe that women are often more keen than men in sensing the solution of these mysteries. Women have more subtle intuitions than men have, a fact which should make them valuable in actual detective work.

I have often heard women say that they would like to be detectives; and they were women you could never have suspected of any such desire. I know of one woman, a member of the best society in one of our large cities, who helped in the investigation of a mysterious crime and was largely responsible for solving the case. Her name never appeared in connection with it, and her friends would be amazed if they knew she worked on it. She did it simply because she has the kind of mind which enjoys unraveling a mystery. And that kind of mind is by no means uncommon. The number of persons who have offered to help the Government in running down spies and uncovering plots would astonish you, I know, if the figures were given out. People love mystery. They like to think that they have "smelled a mouse." In one city alone during the past year fifty thousand “suspicious" incidents or persons were reported to the authorities. Of course, a patriotic desire to guard the country’s interests was party responsible for this. But not altogether. There was also that common human interest in mystery and crime which is so strong in all of us.

I am constantly having proofs of the existence of this interest. Total strangers write to me about some “extraordinary crime” which has been committed in their own town. They are sure it will give me material for a “wonderful” book. As a rule, these letters only prove what I have been saying: that crime is intensely interesting to people, provided it comes close enough to them. For when people write me of some “extraordinary case” I almost invariably find that it is a very ordinary one indeed, without mystery in either the motive or the circumstances. The thing that made it interesting to my correspondent was that it came close to him or to her.

Then there are people who send me newspaper clippings. They are another proof that crime appeals to the human imagination; and from this source I do occasionally get valuable suggestions. My nephew once sent me a clipping which told of the deathbed confession of a physician in a small Western town. Years before, a woman patient of this doctor had died of some mysterious ailment and he had been so puzzled by it that the night after she was buried he went to the cemetery, bent on finding out the cause of her death.

He dug down until he reached the coffin, and was just about to open it, when he looked up and found himself face to face with the dead woman's husband! In his fright at being discovered, he struck the man with a spade and killed him. Of course he was horrified by what he had done, and his only thought was to cover up his crime.

Can you guess what he did? Even in his terror he did not lose sight of the motive which had brought him there. He opened the coffin, took out the body of the woman, put the husband's body there instead, filled up the grave, and carried the woman's body home with him. Later, he buried it in his cellar.

The mystery of the man's disappearance was never explained until the doctor confessed on his deathbed. I think they must have had very poor detectives. But they evidently accepted the natural theory that the man went off and committed suicide through grief over his wife's death. The couple left two children and the doctor brought them up—which is an illustration of a point I want to make later.

The interesting thing about my connection with this case is that three persons sent me copies of that clipping. At that time my books were published in Germany. But when this story was sent to my agents there, they wrote that they had just accepted a novel dealing with the same incident. And my agents in England wrote that they, too, had just produced a book on that theme. Evidently that clipping had traveled pretty widely. It is an example of the universal appeal of certain crimes.

Normal people are not so much interested in crime itself as they are in the motive behind the act, or in the person committing it, or in the mystery surrounding it, or in some extraordinary circumstance connected with it. To be interested simply in crime, merely as crime, is either morbid or scientific. Most of us are neither. We are just human; and with us it is the motive which rouses our curiosity. Acts are not especially interesting in themselves. But the motives back of the commonest act may be tremendously interesting. Apply this to your own lives and see if it is not true.

For example, suppose your daughter goes to see a friend in the evening and, instead of taking the shortest way follows some roundabout route. If she does this simply because she wants fresh air and exercise, that isn’t interesting. But if she does it because she wants to meet her lover, who has been forbidden at the house, her simple act is at once full of exciting possibilities. If you go into the city to do some shopping, that is a very commonplace thing. But if you are going there to meet your son, in secret, and to give him your savings so that he may replace money he has stolen from his employer, your little journey is the most thrilling one you ever have taken.

AND consider his own act. If he tells you that he took the money to bet on the races, you are shocked and grieved, but there is no mystery in it. If, however, he will not tell you why he did it, if he seems haunted by some strange fear which he will not explain to you, his motive at once looms larger than the act itself. Why did he want the money? What did he do with it? What sinister influence is proving stronger than all your training?

In nine times out of ten the motive can be put down as Selfishness. It takes many forms. It is responsible for those crimes which have money as their object. The young man who cannot wait for some relative to die so that he may inherit property; the people who murder in order to collect life insurance; those who kill in order to rob; all the crimes committed to gain money—theft, embezzlement, forgery—all of these are rooted in selfishness, in greed for one's own self.

So are the crimes people commit to be freed from some obligation or duty which they are too selfish to meet. Men kill their wives, women kill their husbands, because they want liberty to go with someone else. Young men kill the girls they have betrayed, because they want to escape the situation they have brought about. Or a man kills someone who possesses some secret which would disgrace the murderer if it were known. Jealous men, jealous women, kill because they can't have the love they want. And they kill because they want revenge.

It is self, self, self, all the way through. If mothers and fathers would analyze  crime as I have, it would be a terrible warning to them not to bring up their children to think that their desires and their feelings are the supreme consideration. Root out Self and you would practically eliminate crime. Even those acts which are committed in sudden passion can be laid to the same fundamental cause—lack of training which makes us tolerant of things contrary to our convenience or liking.

CRIMES which are the result of sudden passion are less “interesting” than premeditated ones, because real motive is lacking. That is why I seldom use them in my books. But there may be poignant situations following such an act.

In “Dark Hollow,” for example, I took the case of the judge who, in a fit of anger, has killed a man twenty years before the story opens. But I make the man a close friend of the murderer. No one knows that the judge is a real criminal. He presides at the trial of a man who is wrongly accused; and when the man is convicted, he—the real murderer— pronounces sentence. He lacks courage to take the punishment himself; but he does penance secretly, for twenty years, in a convict's cell of his own building in his house.

This attempt to compromise with conscience is absolutely true to life. That is the point I referred to in the case of the doctor who brought up the children of the man he murdered. That might have been a significant clue to a detective with imagination. I don't mean that all kindhearted people who take care of the children of mysteriously missing parents are to be suspected of murder! I only say that this might have been an important point in that case.

But it seems to me that the ordinary detective is not gifted with an imagination. I am judging only by results, for I have known personally only one detective. Years ago, the man who was then chief of police in New York City was a friend of my father's, and I remember his driving us out one day to his home on Long Island. On the way we passed a house with a plank nailed across the front door. As people were evidently living there, my imagination immediately seized on that curious feature and I asked the chief about it. He must have passed the place dozens of times. Yet apparently he had not felt the slightest curiosity about it. The barred door did not necessarily indicate crime. But the trained detective mind should be on the alert for the unusual, the mysterious, and should at least be curious about the motive behind the mystery. To this day, that barred door appeals to my imagination.

Certain houses, certain spots, have an atmosphere of mystery. And you cannot always trace it to a definite detail, such as that door. More often it is only a feeling. Just as some houses give you a feeling of comfort, others give you one of dread. Haven't you ever exclaimed, “That house looks as if a crime had been committed there!”

I believe the impression can be accounted for—sometimes at least. The scene of a crime is scarcely a place loved by the people concerned. Yet it may be the old home of a family and they cannot, or will not, abandon it. So they go on
living there. But the attention given it is an austere and unwilling thing. You feel it and you come under the same spell of repulsion which the people themselves must have.

Then there are the freak houses which always excite our curiosity. The house in “Dark Hollow” in which the judge tried to expiate his crime was enclosed in a double tight-board fence. I suppose people thought I invented that detail. Yet it was taken from real life. I have found that the incidents in books which people pick out as improbable are the very ones which are founded on fact. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Murder is the most interesting crime in the whole category; and for two reasons: First, it is the supreme crime. It is the only irreparable one. It may be true that he who filches from you your good name robs you of something better than life itself. But you always have the chance of getting your good name back again. Robbery, forgery, kidnapping - none of these is absolutely irretrievable. But a life that is taken can never be restored. There is complete finality about such a crime. And as the motive must be correspondingly overwhelming, it is, therefore, of the most vital interest.

The other reason why murder is the most interesting theme for a mystery story is that the act involves two persons. They alone have held the explanation. And one of them has been silenced forever! That lifeless body, with its lips sealed on the great secret, becomes an object of thrilling interest. There is no other crime in which you have that situation. That in itself appeals with tremendous force to your imagination. You feel that you must know what those silent lips would tell if they could only speak. And when, in the story, you come to the actual telling of just how the murder was committed, you read it as if it were being spoken by the dead man himself. Isn’t that true? Haven’t you felt, when reading, perhaps, the account of a mysterious murder: “Oh! if only the dead could speak!” And you try to think, to imagine, what they would have to tell.

There is an old saying that “Murder will out;” and it has been confirmed in the vast majority of cases. Even when the criminal has not been convicted in the courts, I believe you would find, if you knew the inner history of these cases, that he is known to certain persons. I have in mind now certain murders, sensational trials, where the accused persons were not convicted; but there is no doubt in my mind as to their guilt.

However, I think it is very rare for a murderer to escape detection. No matter how carefully a crime may be planned, or covered up, the criminal almost invariably forgets some significant detail. Curiously enough, Nature herself seems to be in league with circumstances to convict him. She puts a little muddy spot in his path so that he leaves a footprint. Or she blows a curtain aside at the very instant that a passer-by can catch a glimpse of his face. Or she twists the current of a stream so that some evidence of his guilt floats to the surface. Crime is contrary to Nature. And Nature often seems bent on punishing it.

In writing detective stories, the less one resorts to arbitrary helps in the mystery, the better. I mean that people are not interested in a crime that depends on some imaginary mechanical device, some unknown poison, or some legendary animal. To resort to such expedients for your mystery is a weakness. To employ imagination in making use of natural laws, however, is another matter.

Take the famous French story of a man found in a studio with a bullet through his heart. It was supposed to be a mysterious murder. But the solution was that a manikin, which the artist used as a model in painting, had held a pistol placed there by the artist himself—in its wooden hand; that there was a leak in the skylight; and that the water dropping on the mechanical hand had caused the fingers to contract, pulling the trigger. The pistol happened to be pointed at the man asleep on the couch and the bullet went through his heart. The pistol dropped on the floor. The story was an ingenious one, but the interest in it was chiefly one of curiosity, because there was no motive, no deep human feeling there.

I HAVE been asked whether I am not afraid that real criminals will study my stories to get pointers on committing and concealing crimes. No, I am not; because I do not put the emphasis on the manner of the act, but on the motives behind it and on the novel and strange situations which come in working out the mystery.

Once I did write a story about which I had anxious moments after it was published. In that story a murder was committed with a hatpin; and at that time I had never heard of such a case. It worried me lest I had suggested a new way of crime. When I found that murders had actually been committed in that way before I wrote the book, I was intensely relieved. That was the only time I ever suggested what I thought was a new instrument for crime, and I shall never do it again.

It is curious how the “mechanism” of detective stories has changed since I began writing them. Sometimes I think that no one can appreciate, as the writer of detective stories does, the march of science in the past four decades. For he must make use of everyone of these modern inventions in building up his plots. When I began writing, we used gas for illumination, carriages for riding, and so on. Now we have electricity, telephones, wireless telegraph, automobiles, airplanes, submarines, motor boats, and so on. Do you realize how completely the machinery of life has changed in forty years? You would if you had been writing mystery novels.

But motives do not change! Character remains the same-built of the eternal qualities of good and evil. And the great truth which I have learned through my study of crime and its motives is that evil qualities are inevitably those which center in Self. They are overweening ambition, avarice, covetousness, jealousy, revenge, passion. Some one of these is in command when the ship of your life drives on to the rocks. Wipe out Self, and you will wipe out crime.

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The Three Languages - A Grimm Fairy Tale

THERE once lived in Switzerland an old Count, who had an only son; but he was very stupid, and could learn nothing. So his father said to him: ‘Listen to me, my son. I can get nothing into your head, try as hard as I may. You must go away from here, and I will hand you over to a renowned Professor for a whole year.’ At the end of the year he came home again, and his father asked: ‘Now, my son, what have you learnt?’

‘Father, I have learnt the language of dogs.’

‘Mercy on us!’ cried his father, ‘is that all you have learnt? I will send you away again to another Professor in a different town.’ The youth was taken there, and remained with this Professor also for another year. When he came back his father asked him again: ‘My son, what have you learnt?’

He answered: ‘I have learnt bird language.’

Then the father flew into a rage, and said: ‘Oh, you hopeless creature, have you been spending all this precious time and learnt nothing? Aren’t you ashamed to come into my presence? I will send you to a third Professor, but if you learn nothing this time, I won’t be your father any longer.’

The son stopped with the third Professor in the same way for a whole year, and when he came home again and his father asked, ‘My son, what have you learnt?’ he answered—

‘My dear father, this year I have learnt frog language.’

Thereupon his father flew into a fearful passion, and said: ‘This creature is my son no longer. I turn him out of the house and command you to lead him into the forest and take his life.’

They led him forth, but when they were about to kill him, for pity’s sake they could not do it, and let him go. Then they cut out the eyes and tongue of a Fawn, in order that they might take back proofs to the old Count.

The youth wandered about, and at length came to a castle, where he begged a night’s lodging.

‘Very well,’ said the Lord of the castle. ‘If you like to pass the night down there in the old tower, you may; but I warn you that it will be at the risk of your life, for it is full of savage dogs. They bark and howl without ceasing, and at certain hours they must have a man thrown to them, and they devour him at once.’

The whole neighbourhood was distressed by the scourge, but no one could do anything to remedy it. But the youth was not a bit afraid, and said: ‘Just let me go down to these barking dogs, and give me something that I can throw to them; they won’t do me any harm.’

As he would not have anything else, they gave him some food for the savage dogs, and took him down to the tower.

The dogs did not bark at him when he entered, but ran round him wagging their tails in a most friendly manner, ate the food he gave them, and did not so much as touch a hair of his head.

The next morning, to the surprise of every one, he made his appearance again, and said to the Lord of the castle, ‘The Dogs have revealed to me in their own language why they live there and bring mischief to the country. They are enchanted, and obliged to guard a great treasure which is hidden under the tower, and will get no rest till it has been dug up; and how that has to be done I have also learnt from them.’

Every one who heard this was delighted, and the Lord of the castle said he would adopt him as a son if he accomplished the task successfully. He went down to the tower again, and as he knew how to set to work he accomplished his task, and brought out a chest full of gold. The howling of the savage Dogs was from that time forward heard no more. They entirely disappeared, and the country was delivered from the scourge.

After a time, he took it into his head to go to Rome. On the way he passed a swamp, in which a number of Frogs were croaking. He listened, and when he heard what they were saying he became quite pensive and sad.

At last he reached Rome, at a moment when the Pope had just died, and there was great doubt among the Cardinals whom they ought to name as his successor. They agreed at last that the man to whom some divine miracle should be manifested ought to be chosen as Pope. Just as they had come to this decision, the young Count entered the church, and suddenly two snow-white doves flew down and alighted on his shoulders.

The clergy recognised in this the sign from Heaven, and asked him on the spot whether he would be Pope.

He was undecided, and knew not whether he was worthy of the post; but the Doves told him that he might accept, and at last he said ‘Yes.’

Thereupon he was anointed and consecrated, and so was fulfilled what he had heard from the Frogs on the way, which had disturbed him so much—namely, that he should become Pope.

Then he had to chant mass, and did not know one word of it. But the two Doves sat upon his shoulders and whispered it to him.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Voltaire on the Power of Books

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You despise them, books, you whose whole life is plunged in the vanities of ambition and in the search for pleasure or in idleness; but think that the whole of the known universe, with the exception of the savage races is governed by books alone. The whole of Africa right to Ethiopia and Nigritia obeys the book of the Alcoran, after having staggered under the book of the Gospel. China is ruled by the moral book of Confucius; a greater part of India by the book of the Veidam. Persia was governed for centuries by the books of one of the Zarathustras.

If you have a law-suit, your goods, your honour, your life even depends on the interpretation of a book which you never read.

Robert the Devil, the Four Sons of Aymon, the Imaginings of Mr. Oufle, are books also; but it is with books as with men; the very small number play a great part, the rest are mingled in the crowd.

Who leads the human race in civilized countries? those who know how to read and write. You do not know either Hippocrates, Boerhaave or Sydenham; but you put your body in the hands of those who have read them. You abandon your soul to those who are paid to read the Bible, although there are not fifty among them who have read it in its entirety with care.

To such an extent do books govern the world, that those who command to-day in the city of the Scipios and the Catos have desired that the books of their law should be only for them; it is their sceptre; they have made it a crime of lèse-majesté for their subjects to look there without express permission. In other countries it has been forbidden to think in writing without letters patent.

There are nations among whom thought is regarded purely as an object of commerce. The operations of the human mind are valued there only at two sous the sheet.

In another country, the liberty of explaining oneself by books is one of the most inviolable prerogatives. Print all that you like under pain of boring or of being punished if you abuse too considerably your natural right.

Before the admirable invention of printing, books were rarer and more expensive than precious stones. Almost no books among the barbarian nations until Charlemagne, and from him to the French king Charles V., surnamed "the wise"; and from this Charles right to François Ier, there is an extreme dearth.

The Arabs alone had books from the eighth century of our era to the thirteenth.

China was filled with them when we did not know how to read or write.

Copyists were much employed in the Roman Empire from the time of the Scipios up to the inundation of the barbarians.

The Greeks occupied themselves much in transcribing towards the time of Amyntas, Philip and Alexander; they continued this craft especially in Alexandria.

This craft is somewhat ungrateful. The merchants always paid the authors and the copyists very badly. It took two years of assiduous labour for a copyist to transcribe the Bible well on vellum. What time and what trouble for copying correctly in Greek and Latin the works of Origen, of Clement of Alexandria, and of all those other authors called "fathers."

The poems of Homer were long so little known that Pisistratus was the first who put them in order, and who had them transcribed in Athens, about five hundred years before the era of which we are making use.

To-day there are not perhaps a dozen copies of the Veidam and the Zend-Avesta in the whole of the East.

You would not have found a single book in the whole of Russia in 1700, with the exception of Missals and a few Bibles in the homes of aged men drunk on brandy.

To-day people complain of a surfeit: but it is not for readers to complain; the remedy is easy; nothing forces them to read. It is not any the more for authors to complain. Those who make the crowd must not cry that they are being crushed. Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! and if one read profitably, one would see the deplorable follies to which the common people offer themselves as prey every day.

What multiplies books, despite the law of not multiplying beings unnecessarily, is that with books one makes others; it is with several volumes already printed that a new history of France or Spain is fabricated, without adding anything new. All dictionaries are made with dictionaries; almost all new geography books are repetitions of geography books. The Summation of St. Thomas has produced two thousand fat volumes of theology; and the same family of little worms that have gnawed the mother, gnaw likewise the children.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Rodolphus Dickinson's Snobbish Bible

Rodolphus Dickinson's Strange Bible

Quirky and queer Bible Versions are not new. In a world where we have Gay Bibles, Twitter Bibles, Klingon Bibles, Rodolphus Dickinson's Bible (1833) may not seem so strange after all. Rodolphus Dickinson (1787-1863) only sought to make a version of the New Testament agreeable to the well-born, or as he put it: 

"Accomplished and refined persons...And when it is considered what an antiquated, and in other particulars forbidding aspect, the inspired writings, in their usual style and conformation, present to the view of many intelligent, refined and amiable persons, who might be induced to peruse them in a less interrupted and more inviting form, in connexion with the typographical execution here displayed, which, it is presumed, will be regarded by such, as no small improvement; can any valid objection be urged to the prevalent spirit and character of this undertaking? Why should the inestimable gift of God to man, be proffered in a mode that is unnecessarily repulsive? Why should the received translation be permitted to perpetuate, to legalize, and almost to sanctify, many and unquestionable defects? While various other works, and especially those of the most trivial attainment, are diligently adorned with a splendid and sweetly flowing diction, why should the mere, uninteresting identity and paucity of language be so exclusively employed, in rendering the word of God? Why should the Christian scriptures be divested even of decent ornament? Why should not an edition of the heavenly institutes be furnished for the reading-room, saloon, and toilet, as well as for the church, school, and nursery? for the literary and accomplished gentleman, as well as for the plain and unlettered citizen? Why should the Bible be stationary, amid the progress of refinement and letters? Why, in antique fashion, should it remain solitary, in the enchanting and illimitable field of modern improvements?"

And speaking of himself:

"It is a source of self-gratulation, that a happy concurrence of events has, for a considerable period, placed me in a situation, which by withdrawing me from the contentions on theological topics, that have long distracted so great a portion of our country, has conduced to cherish a dispassionate spirit, and enabled me, in coincidence with my course of reading and reflection, to approach this undertaking, with views propitious to the cause of ingenuousness, truth, integrity, and impartial observation; and with a mind unperverted by disgusting, sectarian singularities I have also disdained the obsequious and servile predicament, of floating, at random, in the wake of others. The original has been my compass, the commentaries, my explanatory chart; and the principles of the highest authorities, my general guide; and ever reserving to myself, in its most unshackled exercise, the invaluable privilege of private judgment."

It is no wonder that Michael Marlowe wonderfully calls this New Testament, "A foppish translation by an Episcopal rector."

Let us then take a look at some examples of this translation:

From Matthew 5: You have heard that it was announced to the ancients. Thou shalt do no murder, and he who commits it, will be amenable to the judges. But I affirm to you, that every one, malignantly incensed with his brother, will be liable to the judges; and he who shall denounce his brother as a miscreant, will be subject to the sanhedrin; but he who shall denounce him as an abandoned apostate, will be exposed to the gehenna of fire.

From Matthew 13: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a field, in which the proprietor had sown good grain; but while people were asleep, his enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat, and departed. And when the blade germinated and put forth the ear, then the darnel also appeared.

From Matthew 25: [My arrival] may, therefore, be illustrated by a man, who intending to take a distant journey, called his own servants, and delivered to them his effects....And his master said to him. Well-done, good and provident servant! you was faithful in a limited sphere, I will give you a more extensive superintendence; participate in the happiness of your master.

From Luke 1: And it happened, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the embryo was joyfully agitated; and Elizabeth was pervaded by the Holy Spirit; and she exclaimed with a loud voice, and said, Blessed are you among women! and blessed is your incipient offspring! And whence this occurrence to me, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? For behold, when the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the embryo was enlivened with joy.

From Luke 2: And all who heard him, were in a transport of admiration at his intelligence and replies.

From Luke 2: And the approbation of all was awarded him; and they admired the elegance of language, that flowed from his lips.
From Luke 4:  And the approbation of all was awarded him; and they admired the elegance of language, that flowed from his lips.

From Luke 8: And it afterwards occurred, that Jesus travelled through every city and village [of Galilee], proclaiming and elucidating the joyful intelligence of the kingdom of God

From John 3: Teacher, we know that thou art an instructer emanated from God; for no one can achieve these miracles which thou performest, unless God be with him. Jesus answered and said to him. Indeed, I assure you, that except a man be reproduced, he cannot realize the reign of God. Nicodemus says to him, How can a man be produced when he is mature? Can he again pass into a state of embryo, and be produced? Jesus replied, I most assuredly declare to you, that unless a man be produced of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

From Acts 1: Moreover, this man, indeed, caused a field to be purchased with the recompense of his iniquity; and falling prostrate, a violent, internal spasm ensued, and all his viscera were emitted.

From Acts 17: Paul then stood in the centre of the court of Areopagus, and remarked; Men of Athens, I perceive that you are greatly devoted to the worship of invisible powers.

From Acts 26: Festus declared with a loud voice, Paul, you are insane! Multiplied research drives you to distraction.

From Acts 28: And the Barbarians displayed towards us no ordinary philanthropy.

Matthew 22: And while the pharisees were assembled, Jesus thus questioned them. What are your views relative to the Messiah? whose son should he be? They answer him. The son of David. He says to them. How then does David, by inspiration, call him His Lord; saying, Jehovah said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thy foes thy footstool? If the Messiah were David's son, would David call him his Lord? And to this no one could answer him; nor did any one from that time, presume further to question him.

And from Ephesians we have this very long sentence:

"On this account, I also, having heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, cease not to offer thanks for you, particularly referring to you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,  the Father of glory, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the acknowledgment of him; cause the eyes of your heart to be enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his invitation, and what is the glorious abundance of his proffered inheritance among the saints; and what is the transcendent greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the operation of his powerful energy, which he exerted in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and seated him at his own right hand in the celestial regions; far above all empire, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is given, not only in this, but also in the future world; and has subjected all things under his feet, and constituted him head over all things to the church, which is his body, the plenitude of him who accomplishes all things: and has reanimated you, who were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the practice of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now operates powerfully in the sons of disobedience: among whom we all likewise once lived, in the propensities of our flesh, fulfilling the dictates of the flesh and of the passions; and were by nature children of displeasure, even as others."

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The Dark History of Pope Boniface VIII by Lewis Spence 1920

The Dark History of Pope Boniface VIII by Lewis Spence 1920

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Pope Boniface VIII., who gained an unenviable notoriety in Dante's Inferno has been regarded by many as an exponent of the black art, and so romantic are the alleged magical circumstances connected with him that they are worthy of repetition. Boniface, a noted jurisconsult, was born at Anagni, about 1228, and was elected Pope in 1294. He was a sturdy protagonist of papal supremacy, and before he had been seated two years on the throne of St. Peter he quarrelled seriously with Phillippe le Bel, King of France, whom he excommunicated. This quarrel originated in the determination of the king to check in his own dominions the power and insolence of the church and the ambitious pretensions of the see of Rome. In 1303, Phillippe's ministers and agents, having collected pretended evidence in Italy, boldly accused Boniface of heresy and sorcery, and the king called a council at Paris to hear witnesses and pronounce judgment. The pope resisted, and refused to acknowledge a council not called by himself; but the insults and outrages to which he was exposed proved too much for him, and he died the same year, in the midst of these vindictive proceedings. His enemies spread abroad a report, that in his last moments he had confessed his league with the demon, and that his death was attended with "so much thunder and tempest, with dragons flying in the air and vomiting flames, and such lightning and other prodigies, that the people of Rome believed that the whole city was going to be swallowed up in the abyss." His successor, Benedict xi. undertook to defend his memory but he died in the first year of his pontificate (in 1304), it was said by poison, and the holy see remained vacant during eleven months. In the middle of June, 1305, a Frenchman, the archbishop of Bordeaux, was elected to the papal chair under the title of Clement V.

It was understood that Clement was raised to the papacy in a great measure by the king's influence, who is said to have stipulated as one of the conditions, that he should allow of the proceedings against Boniface, which were to make his memory infamous. Preparations were again made to carry on the trial of Boniface, but the king's necessities compelled him to seek other boons of the supreme pontiff, in consideration of which he agreed to drop the prosecution, and at last, in 1312, Boniface was declared in the council of Vienne, innocent of all the offences with which he had been charged.

If we may place any faith at all in the witnesses who were adduced against him, Boniface was at bottom a freethinker, who concealed under the mitre the spirit of mockery which afterwards shone forth in his countryman Rabelais, and that in moments of relaxation, especially among those with whom he was familiar, he was in the habit of speaking in bold—even in cynical—language, of things which the church regarded as sacred. Persons were brought forward who deposed to having heard expressions from the lips of the pope, which, if not invented or exaggerated, savour of infidelity, and even of atheism. Other persons deposed that it was commonly reported in Italy, that Boniface had communication with demons, to whom he offered his worship, whom he bound to his service by necromancy, and by whose agency he acted. They said further, that he had been heard to hold conversation with spirits in the night; that he had a certain "idol," in which a "diabolical spirit" was enclosed, whom he was in the habit of consulting; while others said he had a demon enclosed in a ring which he wore on his finger. The witnesses in general spoke of these reports only as things which they had heard; but one a friar, brother Bernard dc Sorano, deposed, that when Boniface was a cardinal, and held the office of notary to Nicholas III., he lay with the papal army before the castle of Puriano, and he (brother Bernard) was sent to receive the surrender of the castle. He returned with the cardinal to Viterbo, where he was lodged in the palace late one night, as he and the cardinal's Chamberlain were looking out of the window of the room he occupied, they saw Benedict of Gaeta (which was Boniface's name before he was made pope) enter a garden adjoining the palace, alone, and in a mysterious manner. He made a circle on the ground with a sword, and placed himself in the middle, having with him a cock, and a fire in an earthen pot (in quadam olla terrea). Having seated himself in the middle of the circle, he killed the cock and threw its blood in the fire, from which smoke immediately issued, while Benedict read in a certain book to conjure demons. Presently brother Bernard heard a great noise (rumorem magnum) and was much terrified. Then he could distinguish the voice of some one saying, "Give us the share," upon which Benedict took the cock threw it out of the garden, and walked away without uttering a word. Though he met several persons on his way, he spoke to nobody, but proceeded immediately to a chamber near that of brother Bernard, and shut himself up. Bernard declared that, though he knew there was nobody in the room with the cardinal, he not only heard him talking all night, but he could distinctly perceive a strange voice answering him. 

The Mystery of the Furnished Room by O'Henry 1911

The Mystery of the Furnished Room by O'Henry 1911

Restless, shifting, fugacious as time itself is a certain vast bulk of the population of the red brick district of the lower West Side. Homeless, they have a hundred homes. They flit from furnished room to furnished room, transients forever—transients in abode, transients in heart and mind. They sing "Home, Sweet Home" in ragtime; they carry their lares et penates in a bandbox; their vine is entwined about a picture hat; a rubber plant is their fig tree.

Hence the houses of this district, having had a thousand dwellers, should have a thousand tales to tell, mostly dull ones, no doubt; but it would be strange if there could not be found a ghost or two in the wake of all these vagrant guests.

One evening after dark a young man prowled among these crumbling red mansions, ringing their bells. At the twelfth he rested his lean hand-baggage upon the step and wiped the dust from his hatband and forehead. The bell sounded faint and far away in some remote, hollow depths.

To the door of this, the twelfth house whose bell he had rung, came a housekeeper who made him think of an unwholesome, surfeited worm that had eaten its nut to a hollow shell and now sought to fill the vacancy with edible lodgers.

He asked if there was a room to let.

"Come in," said the housekeeper. Her voice came from her throat; her throat seemed lined with fur. "I have the third floor back, vacant since a week back. Should you wish to look at it?"

The young man followed her up the stairs. A faint light from no particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter. At each turn of the stairs were vacant niches in the wall. Perhaps plants had once been set within them. If so they had died in that foul and tainted air. It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.

"This is the room," said the housekeeper, from her furry throat. "It's a nice room. It ain't often vacant. I had some most elegant people in it last summer—no trouble at all, and paid in advance to the minute. The water's at the end of the hall. Sprowls and Mooney kept it three months. They done a vaudeville sketch. Miss B'retta Sprowls—you may have heard of her—Oh, that was just the stage names—right there over the dresser is where the marriage certificate hung, framed. The gas is here, and you see there is plenty of closet room. It's a room everybody likes. It never stays idle long."

"Do you have many theatrical people rooming here?" asked the young man.

"They comes and goes. A good proportion of my lodgers is connected with the theatres. Yes, sir, this is the theatrical district. Actor people never stays long anywhere. I get my share. Yes, they comes and they goes."

He engaged the room, paying for a week in advance. He was tired, he said, and would take possession at once. He counted out the money. The room had been made ready, she said, even to towels and water. As the housekeeper moved away he put, for the thousandth time, the question that he carried at the end of his tongue.

"A young girl—Miss Vashner—Miss Eloise Vashner—do you remember such a one among your lodgers? She would be singing on the stage, most likely. A fair girl, of medium height and slender, with reddish, gold hair and a dark mole near her left eyebrow."

"No, I don't remember the name. Them stage people has names they change as often as their rooms. They comes and they goes. No, I don't call that one to mind."

No. Always no. Five months of ceaseless interrogation and the inevitable negative. So much time spent by day in questioning managers, agents, schools and choruses; by night among the audiences of theatres from all-star casts down to music halls so low that he dreaded to find what he most hoped for. He who had loved her best had tried to find her. He was sure that since her disappearance from home this great, water-girt city held her somewhere, but it was like a monstrous quicksand, shifting its particles constantly, with no foundation, its upper granules of to-day buried to-morrow in ooze and slime.

The furnished room received its latest guest with a first glow of pseudo-hospitality, a hectic, haggard, perfunctory welcome like the specious smile of a demirep. The sophistical comfort came in reflected gleams from the decayed furniture, the ragged brocade upholstery of a couch and two chairs, a foot-wide cheap pier glass between the two windows, from one or two gilt picture frames and a brass bedstead in a corner.

The guest reclined, inert, upon a chair, while the room, confused in speech as though it were an apartment in Babel, tried to discourse to him of its divers tenantry.

A polychromatic rug like some brilliant-flowered rectangular, tropical islet lay surrounded by a billowy sea of soiled matting. Upon the gay-papered wall were those pictures that pursue the homeless one from house to house—The Huguenot Lovers, The First Quarrel, The Wedding Breakfast, Psyche at the Fountain. The mantel's chastely severe outline was ingloriously veiled behind some pert drapery drawn rakishly askew like the sashes of the Amazonian ballet. Upon it was some desolate flotsam cast aside by the room's marooned when a lucky sail had borne them to a fresh port—a trifling vase or two, pictures of actresses, a medicine bottle, some stray cards out of a deck.

One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph become explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room's procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely woman had marched in the throng. Tiny finger prints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name "Marie." It seemed that the succession of dwellers in the furnished room had turned in fury—perhaps tempted beyond forbearance by its garish coldness—and wreaked upon it their passions. The furniture was chipped and bruised; the couch, distorted by bursting springs, seemed a horrible monster that had been slain during the stress of some grotesque convulsion. Some more potent upheaval had cloven a great slice from the marble mantel. Each plank in the floor owned its particular cant and shriek as from a separate and individual agony. It seemed incredible that all this malice and injury had been wrought upon the room by those who had called it for a time their home; and yet it may have been the cheated home instinct surviving blindly, the resentful rage at false household gods that had kindled their wrath. A hut that is our own we can sweep and adorn and cherish.

The young tenant in the chair allowed these thoughts to file, soft-shod, through his mind, while there drifted into the room furnished sounds and furnished scents. He heard in one room a tittering and incontinent, slack laughter; in others the monologue of a scold, the rattling of dice, a lullaby, and one crying dully; above him a banjo tinkled with spirit. Doors banged somewhere; the elevated trains roared intermittently; a cat yowled miserably upon a back fence. And he breathed the breath of the house—a dank savour rather than a smell—a cold, musty effluvium as from underground vaults mingled with the reeking exhalations of linoleum and mildewed and rotten woodwork.

Then, suddenly, as he rested there, the room was filled with the strong, sweet odour of mignonette. It came as upon a single buffet of wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost seemed a living visitant. And the man cried aloud: "What, dear?" as if he had been called, and sprang up and faced about. The rich odour clung to him and wrapped him around. He reached out his arms for it, all his senses for the time confused and commingled. How could one be peremptorily called by an odour? Surely it must have been a sound. But, was it not the sound that had touched, that had caressed him?

"She has been in this room," he cried, and he sprang to wrest from it a token, for he knew he would recognize the smallest thing that had belonged to her or that she had touched. This enveloping scent of mignonette, the odour that she had loved and made her own—whence came it?

The room had been but carelessly set in order. Scattered upon the flimsy dresser scarf were half a dozen hairpins—those discreet, indistinguishable friends of womankind, feminine of gender, infinite of mood and uncommunicative of tense. These he ignored, conscious of their triumphant lack of identity. Ransacking the drawers of the dresser he came upon a discarded, tiny, ragged handkerchief. He pressed it to his face. It was racy and insolent with heliotrope; he hurled it to the floor. In another drawer he found odd buttons, a theatre programme, a pawnbroker's card, two lost marshmallows, a book on the divination of dreams. In the last was a woman's black satin hair bow, which halted him, poised between ice and fire. But the black satin hair-bow also is femininity's demure, impersonal, common ornament, and tells no tales.

And then he traversed the room like a hound on the scent, skimming the walls, considering the corners of the bulging matting on his hands and knees, rummaging mantel and tables, the curtains and hangings, the drunken cabinet in the corner, for a visible sign, unable to perceive that she was there beside, around, against, within, above him, clinging to him, wooing him, calling him so poignantly through the finer senses that even his grosser ones became cognisant of the call. Once again he answered loudly: "Yes, dear!" and turned, wild-eyed, to gaze on vacancy, for he could not yet discern form and colour and love and outstretched arms in the odour of mignonette. Oh, God! whence that odour, and since when have odours had a voice to call? Thus he groped.

He burrowed in crevices and corners, and found corks and cigarettes. These he passed in passive contempt. But once he found in a fold of the matting a half-smoked cigar, and this he ground beneath his heel with a green and trenchant oath. He sifted the room from end to end. He found dreary and ignoble small records of many a peripatetic tenant; but of her whom he sought, and who may have lodged there, and whose spirit seemed to hover there, he found no trace.

And then he thought of the housekeeper.

He ran from the haunted room downstairs and to a door that showed a crack of light. She came out to his knock. He smothered his excitement as best he could.

"Will you tell me, madam," he besought her, "who occupied the room I have before I came?"

"Yes, sir. I can tell you again. 'Twas Sprowls and Mooney, as I said. Miss B'retta Sprowls it was in the theatres, but Missis Mooney she was. My house is well known for respectability. The marriage certificate hung, framed, on a nail over—"

"What kind of a lady was Miss Sprowls—in looks, I mean?"

"Why, black-haired, sir, short, and stout, with a comical face. They left a week ago Tuesday."

"And before they occupied it?"

"Why, there was a single gentleman connected with the draying business. He left owing me a week. Before him was Missis Crowder and her two children, that stayed four months; and back of them was old Mr. Doyle, whose sons paid for him. He kept the room six months. That goes back a year, sir, and further I do not remember."

He thanked her and crept back to his room. The room was dead. The essence that had vivified it was gone. The perfume of mignonette had departed. In its place was the old, stale odour of mouldy house furniture, of atmosphere in storage.

The ebbing of his hope drained his faith. He sat staring at the yellow, singing gaslight. Soon he walked to the bed and began to tear the sheets into strips. With the blade of his knife he drove them tightly into every crevice around windows and door. When all was snug and taut he turned out the light, turned the gas full on again and laid himself gratefully upon the bed.


It was Mrs. McCool's night to go with the can for beer. So she fetched it and sat with Mrs. Purdy in one of those subterranean retreats where house-keepers foregather and the worm dieth seldom.

"I rented out my third floor, back, this evening," said Mrs. Purdy, across a fine circle of foam. "A young man took it. He went up to bed two hours ago."

"Now, did ye, Mrs. Purdy, ma'am?" said Mrs. McCool, with intense admiration. "You do be a wonder for rentin' rooms of that kind. And did ye tell him, then?" she concluded in a husky whisper, laden with mystery.

"Rooms," said Mrs. Purdy, in her furriest tones, "are furnished for to rent. I did not tell him, Mrs. McCool."

"'Tis right ye are, ma'am; 'tis by renting rooms we kape alive. Ye have the rale sense for business, ma'am. There be many people will rayjict the rentin' of a room if they be tould a suicide has been after dyin' in the bed of it."

"As you say, we has our living to be making," remarked Mrs. Purdy.

"Yis, ma'am; 'tis true. 'Tis just one wake ago this day I helped ye lay out the third floor, back. A pretty slip of a colleen she was to be killin' herself wid the gas—a swate little face she had, Mrs. Purdy, ma'am."

"She'd a-been called handsome, as you say," said Mrs. Purdy, assenting but critical, "but for that mole she had a-growin' by her left eyebrow. Do fill up your glass again, Mrs. McCool." 

Jane Austen Vindicates the Rights of Women

Jane Austen’s Lady Susan is a wrecking ball in petticoats.

Jane Austen's Lady Susan is a powerful adjunct to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women

The main character of the new film Love and Friendship, drawn from Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, is a widowed mother of a marriageable daughter. She is also widely known as “the most accomplished Coquette in England.” She has a married lover. She seduces wealthy young men who are courting eligible young women — including her own daughter. She tries to force her daughter into marriage with a young man who would take a blue ribbon in Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit of the Year” competition. She lies. She runs out on her debts. She is thoroughly reprehensible. And she is enormous fun to watch.

The Austen industry has, of late, presented us with a soft-focus image of Austen and her works — concentrating on the romance, the handsome young heroes, and the charming heroines — and given us (often excellent) film adaptations that provide Pinterest with scores of drool-worthy interiors, covetable gowns, and inspiration for themed weddings. But Love and Friendship and Lady Susan are antidotes to that limiting vision of Jane Austen as “quaint and darling, doe-eyed and demure, parochial if not pastoral, and dizzily, swooningly romantic,” as novelist Robert Rodi put it.
But I’m not interested in Lady Susan just because she’s one of the great antiheroines of English literature — up there with Thackeray’s Becky Sharp and Trollope’s Lizzie Eustace. I’m not interested just because she highlights Austen’s often overlooked sharp intelligence and acerbic wit. I’m interested because I am persuaded that in her creation of Lady Susan, Austen was drawing heavily on the work of one of the great early classical liberal feminists — Mary Wollstonecraft.

Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792. Austen, it seems likely, composed Lady Susan around 1793 or 1794. Austen scholars agree that she must have read Wollstonecraft’s work. But reading A Vindication and Lady Susan together makes me think that Austen wasn’t just influenced by reading Wollstonecraft’s book; she seems to have used it as a template for the main character’s behavior. And that makes Lady Susan a lot more interesting.
Wollstonecraft argues that the women of her time — and Austen’s time — were “weak, artificial beings, raised above the common wants and affections of their race, in a premature unnatural manner, [who] undermine the very foundation of virtue, and spread corruption through the whole mass of society.”

Their corrupting influence, though, is not due to some sort of original sin handed down from Eve after the Garden of Eden. It is the result of the conscious and intentional educating of women out of natural virtue and into habituated weakness, dependence, and immorality.

She continues:
Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert, that this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannize, and gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which leads them to play off those contemptible infantine airs that undermine esteem even whilst they excite desire.
This is Lady Susan in a nutshell. Her tyrannical hold over her daughter’s future, her constant deceptions in matters large and small, and her pretended helplessness and innocence, which her male acquaintances interpret as charm — these are all hallmarks of her character.

Even more a propos is Wollstonecraft’s description of women who have been educated in this fashion and who are then left, as is Lady Susan, widowed and with a family to care for.

But supposing, no very improbable conjecture, that a being only taught to please must still find her happiness in pleasing; — what an example of folly, not to say vice, will she be to her innocent daughters! The mother will be lost in the coquette, and, instead of making friends of her daughters, view them with eyes askance, for they are rivals — rivals more cruel than any other, for they invite a comparison, and drive her from the throne of beauty, who has never thought of a seat on the bench of reason.
Wollstonecraft adds that it doesn’t take a literary genius to imagine the “domestic miseries and petty vices” occasioned by such a mother.

A world without real education for women, a world without legal equality for women — this is a world that is rife with Lady Susans.

But in Austen’s imagining of Lady Susan, we have precisely that — a literary genius turning her considerable talents (though in early days) to delineating a portrait of a woman who has become precisely what she has been educated to be. In that way, Lady Susan becomes a powerful adjunct to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication. A world without real education for women, a world without legal equality for women — this is a world that is rife with Lady Susans, grappling for power and money in the marriage market and in the gray market of sexual favors, because that is the only sphere open to women with ambition.

While Austen’s and Wollstonecraft’s works are more than capable of standing on their own, taken together they provide a persuasive argument — philosophical and artistic — for the importance of women’s liberty and for the crippling effects of denying that liberty.
Sarah Skwire
Sarah Skwire
Sarah Skwire is a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network. Email
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