The Correspondence of, and to, Charles Hoy Fort

Fort to Dreiser

19 July 1916

New York, July 19, 1916.

Mr. T.D.:

That the comet-part is like almost everything else in "Y": it is organic.

I mean that it is not written for itself alone, but has significance by relationship, or it is preparatory for the later part wherein I take up the attack upon the rotundity-theory of the earth. So powerfully established is the rotundity-theory or hypnosis that I need some general discrediting of its supporters, the astronomers, in advance.

Here are the positions that I take--they are very different from the positions that your friend the astronomer says I take:

That a comet did appear and was visible to this earth in 1909-10; but that, according to different observers, it was from three to nine days late;

That, in the less presumptious and arrogant sciences this would be amatter that I'd not make much of; but here I am dealing with "the perfect science"; so the Greenwich Observatory is a kind of Vatican to me; so I feel toward this arrogated "perfection" much as I do against the "infallibility" of Rome.


Also this is important: by late I mean late by calculations after it was first sighted, and not relatively to its so-called whole period. I think I forgot to emphasize that point in "Y."

I contest that there is, virtually, never a time when there is not a comet crossing this solar system. Now the matter of that period:

With the inconsistency seen everywhere else, astronomers forget their perfections, or perfection, here, and give themselves a latitude of from one to five years in the returns of "Halley's comet."I contest that, though all comets do not have the Western approach attributed to "Halley's", it would be very unusual not to have such a comet in a period from of one to five years. "Halley's comet" was "picked up" in Sept., 1909. In Jan., 1910, a far more brilliant Western comet appeared unexpectedly. So, if the September comet had not been "identified" as "Halley's", the January one would have been.

Persons who save themselves in one respect usually sacrifice something n some other respect. Astronomers say that "Halley's comet" varies from one to five years because of the pulls of the planets. They thus save themselves in one respect, but commit themselves to just the statement that I need in another respect. They say that they identified "Halley's" by the shape of its orbit: that orbits of comets are either elliptic, hyperbolic, or parabolic. Five years, for instance, goes into seventy five, seventeen times. Any line distorted one seventeenth, for instance, is neither an ellipse nor any other regular form. It's a stranger, or anything else you like to call it or comets do not have geometric orbits


by which they can be identified.

If the Sept. Comet had not been "identified", the January one would have been or, in their inconsistent liberality of time, it would have been almost impossible for the astronomers not to "rediscover" "Halley's comet" in 1909-10, or thereabouts;

That I am, therefore, not especially attacking the mentally anaemic or imaginatively tubercular astronomers of today, but one of the widest-heralded of the main body of astronomic "fact": or the periodicity of comets.

I say that "Halley's comet" could be traced back to 240 B.C. only because of its tremendousness; that there is, virtually never a time when there is no comet: then only an especially stupendous comet could have made a series of profound impressions. In 1682, Halley predicted that his comet would return in 1758. In 1758, a comet appeared. Of course. But it wa snot extraordinary. Then again in 1835 not extraordinary; in fact just about like that seen in 1909-10, according to the bulletins of the Greenwich Observatory, published in the London "Times." Nevertheless, later astronomers have declared that it was a marvellous thing to behold. In this matter, I have quoted them. 1909-10 another faint and commonplace comet --

Then we are asked to believe that a certain comet maintained a stupendous and terrifying appearance mind you, otherwise it would not have been especially recorded for about two thousand years, and then, from the time it was "identified" and "predicted" shrank abruptly to insignificance.

What then did make that long series of profound impressions? The astronomer Chambers says that to go over that would be "tedious."


Oh, say, it' hot, and these geezers make me feel faint, and I wish it were five o'clock, so I could pour buckets of beer into the bath tub, and get in and soak for an hour or so --

Or some more I think your own feeling against this part of "Y" is aesthetic and not scientific. Even though it is organic, it does seem to occur as an interruption. Perhaps this is only because it is too long; I'm conscious myself of something wrong, but am sure it is all only a structural error. The thing may be too long or may be misplaced, but it's as sound as anything else I know of in this beautifully rotten existence of ours, which is ruled by the great god Decomposition.

Charles Fort

Courtesy of the Theodore Dreiser Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania.

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