The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter X

EARLY explorers have Florida mixed up with Newfoundland.(1) But the confusion is worse than that still earlier. It arises from simplicity. Very early explorers think that all land westward is one land, India: awareness of other lands as well as India comes as a slow process. I do not now think of things arriving upon this earth from some especial other world. That was my notion when I started to collect our data. Or, as is a commonplace of observation, all intellection begins with the illusion of homogeneity. It's one of Spencer's data: we see homogeneousness in all things distant, or with which we have small acquaintance. Advance from the relatively homogeneous to the relatively heterogeneous is Spencerian Philosophy -- like everything else, so-called: not that it was really Spencer's discovery, but was taken from von Baer, who, in turn, was continuous with preceding evolutionary speculation.(2) Our own expression is that all things are acting to advance to the homogeneous, or are trying to localize Homogeneousness. Homogeneousness is an aspect of the Universal, wherein it is a state that does not merge away into something else. We regard homogeneousness as an aspect of positiveness, but it is our acceptance that infinite frustrations of attempts to positivize manifest themselves in infinite heterogeneity: so that though things try to localize homogeneousness they end up in heterogeneity so great that it amounts to infinite dispersion or indistinguishability.

So all concepts are little attempted positivenesses, but soon have to give in to compromise, modification, nullification, merging away into indistinguishability -- unless, here and there, in the world's history, there may have been a super-dogmatist, who, for only an infinitesimal of time, has been able to hold out against heterogeneity or modification or doubt or "listening to reason," or loss of identity -- in which case -- instant translation to heaven or the Positive Absolute.

Odd thing about Spencer is that he never recognized that "homogeneity," "integration," and "definiteness" are all words for the same state, or the state we call "positiveness." What we call [130/131] his mistake is in that he regarded "homogeneousness" as negative.

I began with a notion of some one other world, from which objects and substances have fallen to this earth; which had, or which, to less degree, has a tutelary interest in this earth; which is now attempting to communicate with this earth -- modifying, because of data which will pile up later, into acceptance that some other world is not attempting but has been, for centuries, in communication with a sect, perhaps, or a secret society, or certain esoteric ones of this earth's inhabitants.

I lose a great deal of hypnotic power in not being able to concentrate attention upon some one other world.

As I have admitted before I'm intelligent, as contrasted with the orthodox. I haven't the aristocratic disregard of a New York curator or an Eskimo medicine-man.

I have to dissipate myself in acceptance of a host of other worlds: size of the moon, some of them: one of them, at least, -- tremendous thing: we'll take that up later. Vast, amorphous aerial regions, to which such definite words as "worlds" and "planets" seem inapplicable. And artificial constructions that I have called "super-constructions": one of them about the size of Brooklyn, I should say, off hand. And one or more of them wheel-shaped things, a goodly number of square miles in area.

I think that earlier in this book, before we liberalized into embracing everything that comes along, your indignation, or indigestion would have expressed in the notion that, if this were so, astronomers would have seen these other worlds and regions and vast geometric constructions. You'd have had that notion: you'd have stopped there.

But the attempt to stop is saying "enough" to the insatiable. In cosmic punctuation there are no periods: illusions of periods is incomplete view of colons and semi-colons.

We can't stop with the notion that if there were such phenomena, astronomers would have seen them. Because of our experience with suppression and disregard, we suspect, before we go into the subject at all, that astronomers have seen them; that navigators and meteorologists have seen them; that individual scientists and other trained observers have seen them many times --

That it is the System that has excluded data of them.

As to the Law of Gravitation, and astronomers' formulas, remember that these formulas worked out in the time of La Place as [131/132] well as they do now. But there are hundreds of planetary bodies now known that were then not known. So a few hundred worlds more of ours won't make any difference. La Place knew of about only thirty bodies in this solar system: about six hundred are recognized now --(3)

What are the discoveries of geology and biology to a theologian?

His formulas still work out as well as they ever did.

If the Law of Gravitation could be stated as a real utterance, it might be a real resistance to us. But we are told only that gravitation is gravitation. Of course to an intermediatist, nothing can be defined in terms of itself -- but even the orthodox, in what seems to me to be the innate premonitions of realness, not founded upon experience, agree that to define a thing in terms of itself is not real definition. It is said that by gravitation is meant the attraction of all things proportionately to mass and inversely as the square of the distance. Mass would mean inter-attraction holding together final particles, if there were final particles. Then, until final particles be discovered, only one term of this expression survives, or mass is attraction. But distance is only extent of mass, unless one holds out for absolute vacuum among planets, a position against which we could bring a host of data. But there is no possible means of expressing that gravitation is anything other than attraction. So there is nothing to resist us but such a phantom as -- that gravitation is the gravitation of all gravitations proportionately to gravitation and inversely as the square of gravitation. In a quasi-existence, nothing more sensible than this can be said upon any so-called subject -- perhaps there are higher approximations to ultimate sensibleness.

Nevertheless we seem to have a feeling that with the System against us we have a kind of resistance here. We'd have felt so formerly, at any rate: I think the Dr. Grays and Prof. Hitchcocks have modified our trustfulness toward indistinguishability. As to the perfection of this System that quasi-opposes us and the infallibility of its mathematics -- as if there could be real mathematics in a mode of seeming where twice two are not four -- we've been told over and over again of their vindication in the discovery of Neptune.

I'm afraid that the course we're taking will turn out like every other development. We began humbly, admitting that we're of the damned --

But our eyebrows --

Just a faint flicker in them, or in one of them, every time we [132/133] hear of the "triumphal discovery of Neptune" -- this "monumental achievement of theoretical astronomy," as the text books call it.(4)

The whole trouble is that we've looked it up.

The text-books omit this:

That, instead of the orbit of Neptune agreeing with the calculations of Adams and Leverrier, it was so different -- that Leverrier said that it was not the planet of his calculations.(5)

Later it was thought best to say no more upon that subject.

The text-books omit this:

That, in 1846, everyone who knew a sine from a cosine was out sining and cosining for a planet beyond Uranus.

Two of them guessed right.(6)

To some minds, even after Leverrier's own rejection of Neptune, the word "guessed" may be objectionable -- but, according to Prof. Peirce, of Harvard, the calculations of Adams and Leverrier would have applied quite as well to positions many degrees from the position of Neptune.

Or for Prof. Peirce's demonstration that the discovery of Neptune was only a "happy accident," see Proc. Amer. Acad. Sciences, 1-65.(7)

For references, see Lowell's Evolution of Worlds.(8)

Or comets: another nebulous resistance to our own notions. As to eclipses, I have notes upon several of them that did not occur upon scheduled time, though with differences only of seconds -- and one delightful lost soul, deep-buried, but buried in the ultra-respectable records of the Royal Astronomical Society, upon an eclipse that did not occur at all. That delightful, ultra-sponsored thing of perdition is too good and malicious to be dismissed with passing notice: we'll have him later.

Throughout the history of astronomy, every comet that has come back upon predicted time -- not that, essentially, there was anything more abstruse about it than is a prediction that you can make of a postman's periodicities to-morrow -- was advertised for all it was worth. It's the way reputations are worked up for fortune-tellers by the faithful. The comets that didn't come back -- omitted or explained. Or Encke's comet. It came back slower and slower. But the astronomers explained. They had it all worked out and formulated and "proved" why that comet was coming back slower and slower -- and there the dam thing began coming faster and faster.(9)

Halley's comet. [133/134]

Astronomy -- "the perfect science, as we astronomers like to call it." (Jacoby.)

It's my own notion that if, in a real existence, an astronomer could not tell one longitude from another, he'd be sent back to this purgatory of ours until he could meet that simple requirement.

Halley was sent to the Cape of Good Hope to determine its longitude. He got it degrees wrong. He gave to Africa's noble Roman promontory a retroussé twist that would take the pride out of any Kaffir.(10)

We hear everlastingly of Halley's comet. It came back -- maybe. But, unless we look the matter up in contemporaneous records, we hear nothing of -- the Leonids, for instance. By the same methods as those by which Halley's comet was predicted, the Leonids were predicted. Nov., 1898 -- no Leonids. It was explained. They had been perturbed. They would appear in November, 1899. Nov., 1899 -- Nov., 1900 -- no Leonids.

My notion of astronomic accuracy:

Who could not be a prize marksman, if only his hits be recorded?

As to Halley's comet, of 1910 -- everybody now swears he saw it. He has to perjure himself: otherwise he'd be accused of having no interest in great, inspiring things that he's never given attention to.

Regard this:

That there was never a moment when there is not some comet in the sky. Virtually there is no year in which several new comets are not discovered, so plentiful are they. Luminous fleas on a vast black dog -- in popular impressions, there is no realization of the extent to which this solar system is flea-bitten.

If a comet has not the orbit that astronomers have predicted -- perturbed. If -- like Halley's comet -- it be late -- even a year late -- perturbed. When a train is an hour late, we have small opinion of the prediction of timetables. When a comet's a year late, all we ask is -- that it be explained. We hear of the inflation and arrogance of astronomers. My own acceptance is not that they are imposing upon us: that they are requiting us. For many of us priests no longer function to give us seeming rapport with Perfection, Infallibility -- the Positive Absolute. Astronomers have stepped forward to fill a vacancy -- with quasi-phantomosity -- but, in our acceptance, with a higher approximation to substantiality than had the attenuations that preceded them. I should say, my- [134/135] self, that all that we call progress is not so much response to "urge" as it is response to a hiatus -- or if you want something to grow somewhere, dig out everything else in its area. So I have to accept that the positive assurances of astronomers are necessary to us, or the blunderings, evasions and disguises of astronomers would never be tolerated: that, given such latitude as they are permitted to take, they could not be very disastrously mistaken. Suppose the comet called Halley's had not appeared --

Early in 1910, a far more important comet than the anaemic luminosity said to be Halley's, appeared.(11) It was so brilliant that it was visible in daylight. The astronomers would have been saved anyway. If this other comet did not have the predicted orbit -- perturbation. If you're going to Coney Island, and predict there'll be a special kind of pebble on the beach, I don't see how you can disgrace yourself, if some other pebble will do just as well -- because the feeble thing said to have been seen in 1910 was no more in accord with the sensational descriptions given out by astronomers in advance than is a pale pebble with a brick-red bowlder.(12)

I predict that next Wednesday, a large Chinaman, in evening clothes, will cross Broadway, at 42nd Street, at 9 P.M. He doesn't, but a tubercular Jap in a sailor's uniform does cross Broadway, at 35th Street, Friday, at noon. Well, a Jap is a perturbed Chinaman, and clothes are clothes.

I remember the terrifying predictions made by the honest and credulous astronomers, who must have been themselves hypnotized, or they could not have hypnotized the rest of us, in 1909.(13) Wills were made. Human life might be swept from this planet. In quasi-existence, which is essentially Hibernian, that would be no reason why wills should not be made. The less excitable of us did expect at least some pretty good fireworks.

I have to admit that it is said that, in New York, a light was seen in the sky.

It was about as terrifying as the scratch of a match on the seat of some breeches half a mile away.

It was not on time.

Though I have heard that a faint nebulosity, which I did not see, myself, though I looked when I was told to look, was seen in the sky, it appeared several days after the time predicted.

A hypnotized host of imbeciles of us: told to look up at the sky: we did -- like a lot of pointers hypnotized by a partridge. [135/136]

The effect:

Almost everybody now swears that he saw Halley's comet, and that is was a glorious spectacle.

An interesting circumstance here is that seemingly we are trying to discredit astronomers because astronomers oppose us -- that's not my impression. We shall be in the Brahmin caste of the hell of the Baptists. Almost all our data, in some regiments of this procession, are observations by astronomers, few of them mere amateur astronomers. It is the System that opposes us. It is the System that is suppressing astronomers. I think we pity them in their captivity. Ours is not malice -- in a positive sense. It's chivalry -- somewhat. Unhappy astronomers looking out from high towers in which they are imprisoned -- we appear on the horizon.

But, as I have said, our data do not relate to some especial other world. I mean very much what a savage upon an ocean island might think of in his speculations -- not upon some other land, but complexes of continents and their phenomena: cities, factories in cities, means of communication --

Now all the other savages would know of a few vessels sailing in their regular routes, passing this island in regularized periodicities. The tendency in these minds would be expression of the universal tendency toward positivism -- or Completeness -- or conviction that these few regularized vessels constituted all. Now I think of some especial savage who suspects otherwise -- because he's very backward and unimaginative and insensible to the beautiful ideals of the others: not piously occupied, like the others, in bowing before impressive-looking sticks of wood; dishonestly taking time for his speculations, while the other are patriotically witch-finding. So the other higher and nobler savages know about the few regularized vessels: know when to expect them; have their periodicities all worked out; just about when vessels will pass, or eclipse each other -- explaining all vagaries were due to atmospheric conditions.

They'd come out strong in explaining.

You can't read a book upon savages without noting what resolute explainers they are.

They'd say all this mechanism was founded upon the mutual attraction of vessels -- deduced from the fall of a monkey from a palm tree -- or, if not that, that devils were pushing the vessels -- something of the kind.


Débris, not from these vessels, cast up by the waves. [136/137]


How can one think of something and something else, too?

I'm in a state of mind of a savage who might find upon a shore, washed up by the same storm, buoyant parts of a piano and a paddle that is carved by cruder hands than his own: something light and summery from India, and a fur overcoat from Russia -- or all science, though approximating wider and wider, is attempt to conceive of India in terms of an ocean island, and of Russia in terms of India so interpreted. Though I am trying to think of Russia and India in world-wide terms, I cannot think that that, or the universalizing of the local, is cosmic purpose. The higher idealist is the positivist who tries to localize the universal, and is in accord with cosmic purpose: the super-dogmatist of a local savage who can hold out, without a flurry of doubt, that a piano washed up on a beach is the trunk of a palm tree that a shark has bitten, leaving his teeth in it. So we fear for the soul of Dr. Gray, because he did not devote his whole life to that one stand that, whether possible or inconceivable, thousands of fishes had been cast from one bucket.

So, unfortunately for myself, if salvation be desirable, I look out widely but amorphously, indefinitely and heterogeneously. If I say I conceive of another world that is now in secret communication with certain esoteric inhabitants of this earth, I say I conceive of still other worlds that are trying to establish communication with all the inhabitants of this earth. I fit my notions to the data I find. That is supposed to be the right and logical and scientific thing to do; but it is no way to approximate to form, system, organization. Then I think I conceive of other worlds and vast structures that pass us by, within a few miles, without the slightest desire to communicate, quite as tramp vessels pass many islands without particularizing one from another. Then I think I have data of a vast construction that has often come to this earth, dipped into an ocean, submerged there a while, then going away -- Why? I'm not absolutely sure. How would an Eskimo explain a vessel, sending ashore for coal, which is plentiful upon some Arctic beaches, though of unknown use to the natives, then sailing away, with no interest in the natives?

A great difficulty in trying to understand vast constructions that show no interest in us:

The notion that we must be interesting.

I accept that, though we're usually avoided, probably for moral [137/138] reasons, sometimes this earth has been visited by explorers. I think that the notion that there have been extra-mundane visitors to China, within what we call the historic period, will be only ordinarily absurd, when we come to that datum.

I accept that some of the other worlds are of conditions very similar to our own. I think of others that are very different -- so that visitors from them could not live here -- without artificial adaptations.

How some of them could breathe our attenuated air, if they came from a gelatinous atmosphere --


The masks that have been found in ancient deposits.

Most of them are of stone, and are said to have been ceremonial regalia of savages --

But the mask that was found in Sullivan County, Missouri, in 1879 (American Antiquarian, 3-336).(14)

It is made of iron and silver. [138]

1. There does not appear to be confusion between Florida and Newfoundland on the part of the explorers in the 16th century. Although Columbus mistook the lands he explored for the "Occidental Indies," this confusion between Asia and the Americas is a separate matter; and, the continued identification of North America by Spanish historians, such as Andrés González de Barcia Carballido Y Zuñiga and others, from the Floridian peninsula (Tegesta province) northwards to "even Labrador," until the end of the 18th century, appears less a confusion of geography and more a reluctance to surrender claims to the territories west of "la Raya," placed 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands by the Treaty of Tordesillas. The Chinese might likewise be said to still confuse "Florida" with the whole of the United States of America, called "Mei Guo," or "flower country." Spanish explorers became well acquainted with the coasts of Florida and of Newfoundland. One of the principal reasons for the expedition by Estevan Gomez in 1525 was to discover any passage to China "between the Bacallaos and Florida," (the "Bacallaos," or "Terra de Baccalhaos," being Newfoundland). "The coast of Florida had been discovered and explored in 1512 and 1520, as high as 33 N., by Ponce de Leon and Ayllon; by which it was known in Spain, says Herrera, that no passage existed there. Newfoundland, Labrador, and the other coasts in that region, had been reconnoitered by Sebastian Cabot, the Cortereals, and others. But in the wide region between Florida and Cape Breton `no Castilian vessel had sailed as yet.'" Earlier, in 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano explored the intervening coastline for France and thought that an isthmus on the Carolina coast might be crossed to another sea that might reach to the Pacific; thus, the "Sea of Verrazano" appeared on many early maps between Florida and Newfoundland. In 1527, an expedition led by John Rut explored the coast for England, but he also failed to find any passage between by which to reach China and the Indies. J.G. Kohl. A History of the Discovery of the East Coast of North America. William Willis, ed. Vol. 1 of Documentary History of the State of Maine. Portland, Maine: Bailey and Noyes, 1869: 243, 274.

2. Spencer's philosophy actually preceded his knowledge of von Baer's work; but, when it came to his attention, it was duly acknowledged as evidence of Spencer's beliefs in evolution and the biological sciences. Karl Ernst von Baer stated that the development of embryos progressed from a homogeneous egg and developed along similar lines to their respective phyla and species; and, though von Baer may have accepted that evolution took place, he rejected Darwin's advocacy of natural selection as its cause.

3. Although Laplace provided equations to explain the effects of gravitation within the solar system, (which included the sun, seven major planets and their satellites), his work declared the effects of the fixed stars to be "wholly insensible" and any aether or "ethereal fluid" to be "yet insensible" to the system; and, Bowditch, who added four periodical comets and minor planets in his translation of Laplace's work, found the effects of comets and minor planets to be "wholly insensible" to the system. The equations may still be used for determining gravitational effects; yet, according to modern measures, the masses of Mercury and Mars have been reduced to about a third and three-fifths of their respective masses, as determined by Laplace. Simon Pierre de Laplace. Nathaniel Bowditch, trans. Celestial Mechanics. Reprint. Bronx, New York: Chelsea Publishing Company, 1966, v. 3; 179-81, 343-55, 678-694.

4. "This discovery may be justly considered one of the greatest triumphs of theoretical astronomy," wrote J.R. Hind, who may have pioneered this claim. "Discovery of Le Verrier's planet." London Times, October 1, 1846, p. 8 c. 6.

5. Fort marked in the margin next to the following paragraphs: "See Lowell misleading interpretation Ev. of World. I think." Lowell states: "Instead of a mean distance of 36 astronomical units or more, the stranger (Neptune) was only at 30. The result so disconcerted Leverrier that he declared that `the small eccentricity which appeared to result from Mr. Walker's computations would be incompatible with the nature of the pertrubations of the planet Herschel," as he called Uranus. In other words, he expressly denied that Neptune was his planet." Percival Lowell. The Evolution of Worlds. New York: Macmillan Co., 1909, 124.

6. Fort may have exaggerated the number of searchers for a trans-Uranian planet, unless one considers that only two geometers (Leverrier and Adams) "knew a sine from a cosine" and could develope methods to formulate the location of the hypothetical planet.

7. "Two hundred and ninety-third meeting." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Boston): 1, 57-68, at 65. The article concludes its review of Peirce's examination of the discovery of Neptune, with its own emphasis: "From these data, without any hypothesis in regard to the character of the orbit, he has arrived at the conclusion, that THE PLANET NEPTUNE IS NOT THE PLANET TO WHICH GEOMETRICAL ANALYSIS HAD DIRECTED THE TELESCOPE; that its orbit is not contained within the limits of space which have been explored by geometers searching for the source of the disturbances of Uranus; and that its discovery by Galle must be regarded as a happy accident."

8. Percival Lowell. The Evolution of Worlds. New York: Macmillan Co., 1909, 121-6.

9. Sic, damn thing. Encke had originally assigned an orbital period of 12.12 years to the comet observed in 1805 by Thulis; however, when observed again by Pons, in 1818, Encke recalculated the orbit as having an orbital period of 3.5 years and "was struck by the similarity which the elements obtained by him bore to those Comets of 1786 (i.), 1795 and 1805. Encke, by "calculating backwards the effects of planetary perturbation," identified the comet as being the same one and predicted its return in 1822. George Frederick Chambers. The Story of the Comets. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909, 59-67. The observed diminuation of the period of Encke's Comet during several periods led to an explanation of a "resisting medium," which retarded the speed of the comet and consequently shortened its period. In 1880, Oppolzer claimed that Pons' Comet exhibited the same phenomenon; and, the main opponents to the "resisting medium" were Von Asten and Backlund, who attempted to account for the changes in these comets' periods by planetary perturbations. Belief in a resisting medium was further put into doubt when it was found, from 1865 to 1881, the acceleration of the period was "progressively diminishing," whereas "uniformity of action" was expected of the resisting medium. The comet did not change to "faster and faster," as Fort states, but more slowly than was expected by Encke's theory. Agnes Mary Clerke. A Popular History of Astronomy. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1886, 122-3.

10. Halley never did go to the Cape of Good Hope. His catalog of southern stars, Catalogus Stellarum Australium..., was compiled from observations made at St. Helena, from 1677 to 1678. During his second voyage on the H.M.S. Paramore, on February 27, 1700, Halley decided to go to St. Helena, rather than continue to the Cape of Good Hope, to be certain of his water supply and of a favourable voyage home to England. Halley did provide his calculated longitude of the Cape of Good Hope to Cassini, for the latter's world map. According to Halley, the Cape of Good Hope was about 16 East of London (Greenwich), and he disputed the longitude of about 20 East calculated by Jesuit missionaries travelling from France to Siam, who were assigned the task of determining the longitude of various locations on their route. Halley's calculations were based upon shipboard observations and estimates of distances sailed. Edmund Halley. Norman J.W. Thrower, ed. The Three Voyages of Edmond Halley in the Paramore 1678-1701. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1981; 19-20, 174-5. "A remark concerning the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 16 (November and December, 1686): 253-4. E. Halley. "An observation of the end of the total lunar eclipse on the 5th of March 1718, observed near the Cape of Good Hope...." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 30 (June, July, and August, 1719): 992-4.

11. "New comet seen." New York Times, January 18, 1910, p. 1 c. 5. "New comet visible to-day." New York Times, January 20, 1910, p. 1 c. 6. "Not much is known of daylight comet." New York Times, January 30, 1910, s. 3 p. 3 c. 7.

12. Sic, boulder.

13. Two principal fears were that the comet would possible collide with the earth and that poisonous cyanogen was discovered to be in the comet's tail, which was expected to sweep over the earth as the comet passed between the earth and the sun. Though most astronomers dismissed the public's fears as ignorance and superstitious nonsense, Flammarion did express his concern of the poisonous nature of the comet's tail, which "would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet." "Comet's poisonous tail." New York Times, February 8, 1910, p. 1 c. 4. "No danger from comet." New York Times, February 10, 1910, p. 1 c. 6. "Poison in the tail of a comet." New York Times, February 11, 1910, p. 10 c. 4. "Says earth is in no danger." New York Times, May 5, 1910, p. 6 c. 5. Mary Proctor. "Fears of the comet are foolish and ungrounded." New York Times, May 8, 1910, s. 5 p. 7. "Comet scares the French." New York Times, May 13, 1910, p. 1 c. 2. "Mitchell ridicules fear of the comet." New York Times, May 14, 1910, p. 7 c. 4-5. "Six hours to-night in the comet's tail." New York Times, May 18, 1910, p. 1 c. 7 & p. 2 c. 1-2 "Sun spots appear; not due to comet?" New York Times, May 19, 1910, p. 1 c. 5. "Comet gazers see flashes." New York Times, May 19, 1910, p. 1 c. 7 & p. 2 c. 1-2.

14. "A silver and iron mask found in Missouri." American Antiquarian, 3 (July 1881): 336.

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