The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XVI


Hordes upon hordes of them.

Beings massed like the clouds of souls, or the commingling whiffs of spirituality, or the exhalations of souls that Doré pictured so often.

It may be that the Milky Way is a composition of stiff, frozen, finally-static, absolute angels. We shall have data of little Milky Ways, moving swiftly; or data of hosts of angels, not absolute, or still dynamic. I suspect, myself, that the fixed stars are really fixed, and that minute motions said to have been detected in them are illusions. I think that the fixed stars are absolutes. Their twinkling is only the interpretation by an intermediatist state of them. I think that soon after Leverrier died, a new fixed star was discovered -- that, if Dr. Gray had stuck to his story of the thousands of fishes from one pail of water, had written upon it, lectured upon it, taken to street corners, to convince the world that, whether conceivable or not, his explanation was the only true explanation: had thought of nothing but this last thing at night and first thing in the morning -- his obituary -- another "nova" reported in Monthly Notices.

I think that Milky Ways, of an inferior, or dynamic, order, have often been seen by astronomers. Of course it may be that the phenomena that we shall now consider are not angels at all. We are simply feeling around, trying to find out what we can accept. Some of our data indicate hosts of rotund and complacent tourists in inter-planetary space -- but then data of long, lean, hungry ones. I think that there are, out in inter-planetary space Super Tamerlanes, at the head of hosts of celestial ravagers -- which have come here and pounced upon civilizations of the past, cleaning them up all but their bones, or temples and monuments -- for which later historians have invented exclusionist histories. But if something now has a legal right to us, and can enforce its proprietorship, they've been warned off. It's the way of all exploitation. I should say that we're now under cultivation: that we're conscious of it, [206/207] but have the impertinence to attribute it all to our own nobler and higher instincts.

Against these notions is the same sense of finality that opposes all advance. It's why we rate acceptance as a better adaptation than belief. Opposing us is the strong belief that, as to inter-planetary phenomena, virtually everything has been found out. Sense of finality and illusion of homogeneity. But that what is called advancing knowledge is violation of the sense of blankness.

A drop of water. Once upon a time water was considered so homogeneous that it was thought of as an element. The microscope -- and not only that the suppositiously elementary was seen to be of infinite diversity, but that in its protoplasmic life there were new orders of beings.

Or the year 1491 -- and a European looking westward over the ocean -- his feeling that that suave western droop was unbreakable; that gods or regularity would not permit that smooth horizon to be disturbed by coasts or spotted with islands. The unpleasantness of even contemplating such a state -- wide, smooth west, so clean against the sky -- spotted with islands -- geographic leprosy.

But coasts and islands and Indians and bison, in the seemingly vacant west: lakes, mountains, rivers --

One looks up at the sky: the relative homogeneity of the relatively unexplored: one thinks of only a few kinds of phenomena. But the acceptance is forced upon me that there are modes and modes and modes of inter-planetary existence: things as different from planets and comets and meteors as Indians are from bison and prairie dogs: a super-geography -- or celestiography -- of vast stagnant regions, but also of Super-Niagaras and Ultra-Mississippis: and a super-sociology -- voyagers and tourists and ravagers: the hunted and the hunting: the super-mercantile, the super-piratic, the super-evangelical.

Sense of homogeneity, or our positivist illusion of the unknown -- and the fate of all positivism.

Astronomy and the academic.

Ethics and the abstract.

The universal attempt to formulate or to regularize -- an attempt that can be made only by disregarding or denying.

Or all things disregard or deny that which will eventually invade and destroy them --

Until comes the day when some one thing shall say, and enforce upon Infinitude: [207/208]

"Thus far shalt thou go: here is absolute demarcation."

The final utterance:

"There is only I."

In the Monthly Notices of the R. A. S., 11-48, there is a letter from the Rev. W. Read:(1)

That, upon the 4th of September, 1851, at 9.30 a. m., he had seen a host of self-luminous bodies, passing the field of his telescope, some slowly and some rapidly. They appeared to occupy a zone several degrees in breadth. The direction of most of them was due east to west, but some moved from north to south. The numbers were tremendous. They were observed for six hours.

Editor's note:

"May not these appearances be attributed to an abnormal state of the optic nerves of the observer?"

In Monthly Notices, 12-38, Mr. Read answers that he had been a diligent observer, with instruments of a superior order, for about 28 years -- "but I have never witnessed such an appearance before." As to illusion he says that two other members of his family had seen the objects.(2)

The Editor withdraws his suggestion.

We know what to expect. Almost absolutely -- in an existence that is essentially Hibernian -- we can predict the past -- that is, look over something of this kind, written in 1851, and know what to expect from the Exclusionists later. If Mr. Read saw a migration of dissatisfied angels, numbering millions, they must merge away, at least subjectively, with commonplace terrestrial phenomena -- of course disregarding Mr. Read's probable familiarity, of 28 years' duration, with the commonplaces of terrestrial phenomena.

Monthly Notices, 12-183:(3)

Letter from Rev. W. R. Dawes:

That he had seen similar objects -- and in the month of September--that they were nothing but seeds floating in the air.

In the Report of the British Association, 1852-235, there is a communication from Mr. Read to Prof. Baden-Powell:(4)

That the objects that had been seen by him and by Mr. Dawes were not similar. He denies that he had seen seeds floating in the air. There had been little wind, and that had come from the sea, where seeds would not be likely to have origin. The objects that he had seen were round and sharply defined, and with none of the feathery appearance of thistle down. He then quotes from a letter from C. B. Chalmers, F. R. A. S., who had seen a similar stream, [208/209] a procession, or migration, except that some of the bodies were more elongated -- or lean and hungry -- than globular.

He might have argued for sixty-five years. He'd have impressed nobody -- of importance. The super-motif, or dominant, of his era, was Exclusionism, and the notion of seeds in the air assimilates -- with due disregards -- with that dominant.

Or pageantries here upon our earth, and things looking down upon us--and the Crusades were only dust clouds, and glints of the sun on shining armor were only particles of mica in dust clouds. I think it was a Crusade that Read saw -- but that it was right, relatively to the year 1851, to say that it was only seeds in the wind, whether the wind blew from the sea or not. I think of things that were luminous with religious zeal, mixed up, like everything else in Intermediateness, with black marauders and from gray to brown beings of little personal ambitions. There may have been a Richard Coeur de Lion, on his way to right wrongs in Jupiter. It was right, relatively to 1851, to say that he was a seed of a cabbage.

Prof. Coffin, U.S.N., (Jour. Frank. Inst., 88-151):(5)

That, during the eclipse of August, 1869, he had noted the passage, across his telescope, or several bright flakes resembling thistle-blows, floating in the sunlight. But the telescope was so focused that, if these things were distinct, they must have been so far away from this earth that the difficulties of orthodoxy remain as great, one way or another, no matter what we think they were --

They were "well defined," says Prof. Coffin.

Henry Waldner (Nature, 5-304):(6)

That, April 27, 1863, he had seen great numbers of small, shining bodies passing from west to east. He had notified Dr. Wolf, of the Observatory of Zurich, who "had convinced himself of this strange phenomenon." Dr. Wolf had told him that similar bodies had been seen by Sig. Capocci, of the Capodimonte Observatory, at Naples, May 11, 1845.

The shapes were of great diversity -- or different aspects of similar shapes?

Appendages were seen upon them.

We are told some were star-shaped, with transparent appendages.

I think, myself, it was a Muhammad and his Hegira. May have been only his harem. Astonishing sensation: afloat in space with ten million wives around one. Anyway, it would seem that we [209/210] have considerable advantage here, inasmuch as seeds are not in season in April -- but pulling back to earth, the bedraggling by those sincere but dull ones of some time ago. We have the same stupidity -- necessary, functioning stupidity -- of attribution of something that was so rare that an astronomer notes only one instance between 1845 and 1863, to an everyday occurrence --

Or Mr. Waldner's assimilative opinion that he had seen only ice crystals.

Whether they were not very exclusive veils of a super-harem, or planes of a very light material, we have an impression of star-shaped things with transparent appendages that have been seen in the sky.

Hosts of small bodies -- black, this time -- that were seen by the astronomers Herrick, Buys-Ballot, and De Cuppis, (L'Année Scientifique, 1860-25); vast numbers of bodies that were seen by M. Lamey, to cross the moon (L'Année Scientifique, 1874-62); another instance of dark ones; prodigious number of dark, spherical bodies reported by Messier, June 17, 1777 (Arago's Oeuvres, 9-38); considerable number of luminous bodies which appeared to move out from the sun, in diverse directions; seen at Havana, during eclipse of the sun, May 15, 1836, by Prof. Auber (Poey); M. Poey cites a similar instance, of Aug. 3, 1886; M. Lotard's opinion that they were birds (L'Astronomie, 1886-391); large number of small bodies crossing disk of the sun, some swiftly, some slowly; most of them globular, but some seemingly triangular, and some were of more complicated structure; seen by M. Trouvelet, who, whether seeds, insects, birds, or other commonplace things, had never seen anything resembling these forms (L'Année Scientifique, 1885-8); report from the Rio de Janeiro Observatory, of vast numbers of bodies crossing the sun, some of them luminous and some of them dark, from some time in December, 1875, until Jan. 22, 1876 (La Nature, 1876-384).(7)

Of course, at a distance, any form is likely to look round or roundish: but we point out that we have notes upon the seeming of more complex forms. In L'Astronomie, 1886-70, is recorded M. Briguiere's observation, at Marseilles, April 15 and April 25, 1883, upon the crossing of the sun by bodies that were irregular in form. Some of them moved as if in alignment.(8)

Letter from Sir Robert Inglis to Col. Sabine (Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1849-17):(9)

That, at 3 p. m., Aug. 8, 1849, at Gais, Switzerland, Inglis had [210/211] seen thousands and thousands of brilliant white objects, like snowflakes in a cloudless sky. Though this display lasted about twenty-five minutes, not one of these seeming snowflakes was seen to fall. Inglis says that his servant "fancied" that he had seen something like wings on these -- whatever they were. Upon page 18, of the Report, Sir John Herschel says that, in 1845 or 1846, his attention had been attracted by objects of considerable size, in the air, seemingly not far away. He had looked at them through a telescope. He says that they were masses of hay, not less than a yard or two in diameter. Still there are some circumstances that interest me. He says that, though no less than a whirlwind could have sustained these masses, the air about him was calm. "No doubt wind prevailed at the spot, but there was no roaring noise." None of these masses fell within his observation or knowledge. To walk a few fields away and find out more would seem not much to expect from a man of science, but it is one of our superstitions, that such a seeming trifle is just what -- by the Spirit of an Era, we'll call it -- one is not permitted to do. If those things were not masses of hay, and if Herschel had walked a little and found out, and had reported that he had seen strange objects in the air -- that report, in 1846, would have been as misplaced as the appearance of a tail upon an embryo still in its gastrula era. I have noticed this inhibition in my own case many times. Looking back -- why didn't I do this or that little thing that would have cost me little and have meant so much? Didn't belong to that era of my own development.

Nature, 22-64:(10)

That, at Kattenau, Germany, about half an hour before sunrise, March 22, 1880, "an enormous number of luminous bodies rose from the horizon, and passed in a horizontal direction from east to west." They are described as having appeared in a zone or belt. "They shone with a remarkably brilliant light."

So they've thrown lassos over our data to bring them back to earth. But they're lassos that cannot tighten. We can't pull out of them: we may step out of them, or lift them off. Some of us used to have an impression of Science sitting in calm, just judgment: some of us now feel that a good many of our data have been lynched. If a Crusade, perhaps from Mars to Jupiter, occur in autumn -- "seeds." If a Crusade or outpouring of celestial vandals is seen from this earth in the spring -- "ice crystals." If we have [211/212] record of a race of aerial beings, perhaps with no substantial habitat, seen by some one in India -- "locusts."

This will be disregarded:

If locusts fly high, they freeze and fall in thousands.

Nature, 47-581:(11)

Locusts that were seen in the mountains of India, at a height of 12,750 feet -- "in swarms and dying by thousands."

But no matter whether they fly high or fly low, no one ever wonders what's in the air when locusts are passing overhead, because of the falling of stragglers. I have especially looked this matter up -- no mystery when locusts are flying overhead -- constant falling of stragglers.

Monthly Notices, 30-135:(12)

"An unusual phenomenon was noticed by Lieut. Herschel, Oct. 17 and 18, 1870, while observing the Sun at Bangalore, India."

Lieut. Herschel had noticed dark shadows crossing the sun -- but away from the sun there were luminous, moving images. For two days bodies passed in a continuous stream, varying in size and velocity.

The Lieutenant tries to explain, as we shall see, but he says:

"As it was, the continuous flight for two whole days, in such numbers, in the upper regions of the air, of beasts that left no stragglers, is a wonder of natural history, if not of astronomy."

He tried different focusing -- he saw wings -- perhaps he saw planes. He says that he saw upon the objects either wings or phantom-like appendages.

Then he saw something that was so bizarre that, in the fullness of his nineteenth-centuriness, he writes:

"There was no longer any doubt; they were locusts, or flies of some sort."

One of them had paused.

It had hovered.

Then it had whisked off.

The Editor says that at that time "countless locusts had descended upon certain parts of India."

We now have an instance that is extraordinary in several respects -- super-voyagers or super-ravagers; angels, ragamuffins, crusaders, emigrants, aeronauts, or aerial elephants, or bison or dinosaurs -- except that I think the thing had planes or wings -- one of them has been photographed. It may be that in the history of [212/213] photography no more extraordinary picture than this has ever been taken.

L'Astronomie, 1885-347:(13)

That, at the Observatory of Zacatecas, Mexico, Aug. 12, 1883, about 2,500 meters above sea level, were seen a large number of small luminous bodies, entering upon the disk of the sun. M. Bonilla telegraphed to the Observatories of the City of Mexico and of Puebla. Word came back that the bodies were not visible there. Because of this parallax, M. Bonilla placed the bodies "relatively near the earth." But when we find out what he called "relatively near the earth" -- birds or bugs or hosts of a Super-Tamerlane or army of a celestial Richard Coeur de Lion -- our heresies rejoice anyway. His estimate is "less distance than the moon."

One of them was photographed. See L'Astronomie, 1885-349. The photograph shows a long body surrounded by indefinite structures, or by the haze of wings or planes in motion.

L'Astronomie, 1887-66:(14)

Signor Ricco, of the Observatory of Palermo, writes that, Nov. 30, 1880, at 8.30 o'clock in the morning, he was watching the sun, when he saw, slowly traversing its disk, bodies in two long, parallel lines, and a shorter, parallel line. The bodies looked winged to him. But so large were they that he had to think of large birds. He thought of cranes.

He consulted ornithologists, and learned that the configuration of parallel lines agrees with the flight-formation of cranes. This was in 1880: anybody now living in New York City, for instance, would tell him that also it is a familiar formation of aeroplanes. But, because of data of focus and subtended angles, these beings or objects must have been high.

Sig. Ricco argues that condors have been known to fly 3 or 4 miles high, and that heights reached by other birds have been estimated at 2 or 3 miles. He says that cranes have been known to fly so high that they have been lost to view.

Our own acceptance, in conventional terms, is that there is not a bird on this earth that would not freeze to death at a height of more than four miles: that if condors fly three or four miles high, they are birds that are especially adapted to such altitudes.

Sig. Ricco's estimate is that these objects or beings or cranes must have been at least five and a half miles high. [213]

1. "Letter from the Rev. W. Read, Vicarage, South Mimms." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 11, 48. The date was September 4, 1850, not in 1851.

2. "Letter from the Rev. William Read respecting the luminous bodies seen on Sept. 4, 1850." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 12, 38-9. Correct quote: "...but I have never witnessed any such appearance before." Read does not count his witnesses but does say: "...I called in haste the vaious members of my family to witness it, which they did, with me, for many hours."

3. W.R. Dawes. "On luminous meteor-like bodies, telescopically visible in sunshine." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 12, 183-5.

4. Baden Powell. "Report on observations of luminous meteors, 1851-52." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1852, 178-239, at 235-7. Fort takes this data from Charles B. Chalmer's letter to Read, except for Read's denial of the objects being seeds.

5. "Meteoric shower during the eclipse." Journal of the Franklin Institute, s.3, 58, 151. For additional reports: Henry Morton. "Solar eclipse -- August 7, 1869." Journal of the Franklin Institute, s.3, 58, 200-16, at 213-5.

6. Henry Waldner. "On luminous matter in the atmosphere." Nature, 5, 304-5, at 304. Correct quote: "...who convinced himself of the strange phenomenon...." The observation by Capocci and others were made from May 11 to 13, 1845, and were believed by Dawes to be seeds. T.W. Webb. Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. 4th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1881, 45.

7. "Sur l'existence probable d'un nouveau groupe de corps planétaires entre le Soleil et Mercure." Année Scientifique et Industrielle, 4 (1860): 21-5, at 25. "Passage des astéroïdes météoriques sur le disque de la Lune." Année Scientifique et Industrielle, 18 (1874): 62-3. The principal report of these bodies, supposed to be meteors, was on August 7, 1873. "Observation singulier d'une prodigieuse quantité de petits globules qui ont passé au devant du disque du soleil." Mem. Acad. Paris, 1777, 464. Dominique FranÇois Jean Arago. Oeuvres Complètes de FranÇois Arago. Paris, 1857, v. 9, 38. "Meme sujet." Astronomie, 5 (1886): 391-2. Lotard's observation was made on August 8, 1886, at Marseilles. "Passage d'un essaim de corpuscles noirs devant le Soleil." Année Scientifique et Industrielle, 29 (1885): 8-10. "Passage de corpuscles sur le Soleil." Nature, (Paris), 1876, 1, 384.

8. Fort marked "?" in the margin next to this sentence, probably to due to the misspelling of H. Briguière's name. "Passage d'un essaim de corpuscles devant le Soleil." Astronomie, 5 (1886): 70.

9. "Letter from Sir Robert H. Inglis...." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1849, trans., 17-8.

10. "Notes." Nature, 22 (May 20, 1880): 64-6, at 64. Correct quote: "They moved through space like a string of beads, and shone with a remarkably brilliant light."

11. J.D. Hooker. "Locusts at great elevations." Nature, 47 (April 20, 1893): 581. Correct quote: "...dying in thousands."

12. "Dark objects crossing the Sun's disk." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 30, 135-8. Correct quotes: "...left no stragglers is a wonder...," and, "...flies of some kind."

13. José A. Y Bonilla. "Passage sur le disque Solaire." Astronomie, 4 (1885): 347-50. The quotes are from Fort's translation fo the article.

14. Ricco. "Passage d'un essaim de grucs devant le disque solaire." Astronomie, 6 (1887): 66-8.

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