The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XXIV

WE shall have an outcry of silences. If a single instance of anything be disregarded by a System -- our own attitude is that a single instance is a powerless thing. Of course our own method of agreement of many instances is not a real method. In Continuity, all things must have resemblances with all other things. Anything has any quasi-identity you please. Some time ago conscription was assimilated with either autocracy or democracy with equal facility. Note the need for a dominant to correlate to. Scarcely anybody said simply that we must have conscription: but that we must have conscription, which correlates with democracy, which was taken as a base, or something basically desirable. Of course between autocracy and democracy nothing but false demarcation can be drawn. So I can conceive of no subject upon which there should be such poverty as a single instance, if anything one pleases can be whipped into line. However, we shall try to be more nearly real than the Darwinites who advance concealing coloration as Darwinism, and then drag in proclaiming luminosity, too, as Darwinism. I think the Darwinites had better come in with us as to the deep-sea fishes -- and be sorry later, I suppose. It will be amazing or negligible to read all the instances now to come of things that have been seen in the sky, and to think that all have been disregarded. My own opinion is that it is not possible, or very easy, to disregard them, now that they have been brought together -- but that, if prior to about this time we had attempted such as assemblage, the Old Dominant would have withered our typewriter -- as it is the letter "e" has gone back on us, and the "s" is temperamental.

"Most extraordinary and singular phenomenon," North Wales, Aug. 26, 1894; a disk from which projected an orange-colored body that looked like "an elongated flatfish," reported by Admiral Ommanney (Nature, 50-524); disk from which projected a hook-like form, India, about 1838; diagram of it given, disk about size of the moon, but brighter than the moon, visible about twenty minutes; by G. Pettit, in Prof. Baden-Powell's Catalogue (Rept. Brit. [274/275] Assoc., 1849); very brilliant hook-like form, seen in the sky at Poland, Trumbull Co., Ohio, during the stream of meteors, of 1833; visible more than an hour: also, large luminous body, almost stationary "for a time," shaped like a square table, Niagara Falls, Nov. 13, 1833 (Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-25-391); something described as a bright white cloud, at night, Nov. 3, 1886, at Hamar, Norway; from it were emitted rays of light; drifted across the sky; "retained throughout its original form" (Nature, Dec. 16, 1886-158); thing with an oval nucleus, and streamers with dark bands and lines very suggestive of structure; New Zealand, May 4, 1888 (Nature, 42-402); luminous object, size of full moon, visible an hour and a half, Chili, Nov. 5, 1883 (Comptes Rendus, 103-682); bright object near sun, Dec. 21, 1882 (Knowledge, 3-13); light that looked like a great flame, far out at sea, off Ryook Phyoo, Dec. 2, 1845 (London Roy. Soc. Proc., 5-627); something like a gigantic trumpet, suspended, vertical, oscillating gently, visible five or six minutes, length estimated at 425 feet, at Oaxaca, Mexico, July 6, 1874 (Sci. Am. Supp., 6-2365); two luminous bodies, seemingly united, visible five or six minutes, January 3, 1898 (La Nature, 1898-1-127); thing with a tail, crossing moon, transit half a minute, Sept. 26, 1870 (London Times, Sept. 30, 1870); object four or five times size of the moon, moving slowly across sky, Nov. 1, 1885, near Adrianople (L'Astronomie, 1886-309); large body, colored red, moving slowly, visible 15 minutes, reported by Coggia, Marseilles, Aug. 1, 1871 (Chemical News, 24-193); details of this observation, and similar observation by Guillemin, and other instances by de Fonville (Comptes Rendus, 73-297, 755); thing that was large and that was stationary twice in seven minutes, Oxford, Nov. 19, 1847, listed by Lowe (Rec. Sci., 1-136); grayish object that looked to be about three and a half feet long, rapidly approaching the earth at Saarbruck, April 1, 1826; sound like thunder; object expanding like a sheet (Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-26-133; Quar. Jour. Roy. Inst., 24-488); report by an astronomer, N.S. Drayton, upon an object duration of which seemed to him extraordinary, duration three-quarters of a minute, Jersey City, July 6, 1882 (Scientific American, 47-53); object like a comet, but with proper motion of 10 degrees an hour; visible one hour; reported by Purine and Glancy from the Cordoba Observatory, Argentine, March 14, 1916 (Scientific American, 115-493); something like a signal light, reported by Glaisher, Oct. 4, 1844; bright as Jupiter, "sending out quick flickering waves of light" (Year Book of Facts, 1845-278).(1) [275/276]

I think that with the object known as Eddie's "comet," passes away the last of our susceptibility to the common fallacy of personifying. It is one of the most deep-rooted of the positivist illusions -- that people are persons. We have been guilty too often of spleens and spites and ridicules against astronomers, as if they were persons, or final unities, individuals, completenesses, or selves -- instead of indeterminate parts. But, so long as we remain in quasi-existence, we can cast out illusion only with some other illusion, though the other illusion may approximate higher to reality. So we personify no more -- but we super-personify. We now take into full acceptance our expression that Development is an Autocracy of Successive Dominants -- which are not final -- but which approximate higher to individuality or self-ness, than do the human tropisms that irresponsibly correlate to them.

Eddie reported a celestial object, from the Observatory at Grahamstown, South Africa. It was in 1890. The New Dominant was only heir presumptive then, or heir apparent but not obvious. The thing that Eddie reported might as well have been reported by a night watchman, who had looked up through an unplaced sewer pipe.

It did not correlate.

The thing was not admitted to Monthly Notices. I think myself that if the Editor had attempted to let it in -- earthquake -- or a mysterious fire in his publishing house.

The Dominants are jealous gods.

In Nature, presumably a vassal of the new god, though of course also plausibly rendering homage to the old, is reported a comet-like body, of Oct. 27, 1890, observed at Grahamstown, by Eddie. It may have looked comet-like, but it moved 100 degrees while visible, or one hundred degrees in three-quarters of an hour. See Nature, 43-89, 90.(2)

In Nature, 44-519, Prof. Copeland describes a similar appearance that he had seen, Sept. 10, 1891.(3) Dreyer says (Nature, 44-541), that he had seen this object at the Armagh Observatory.(4) He likens it to the object that was reported by Eddie. It was seen by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, Sept. 11, 1891, in Nova Scotia.(5)

But the Old Dominant was a jealous god.

So there were different observations upon something that was seen in November, 1883. These observations were Philistines in 1883. In the Amer. Met. Jour., 1-110, a correspondent reports having seen an object like a comet, with two tails, one up and one [276/277] down, Nov. 10 or 12, 1883.(6) Very likely this phenomenon should be placed in our expression upon torpedo-shaped bodies that have been seen in the sky -- our data upon dirigibles, or super-Zeppelins -- but our attempted classifications are far from rigorous -- or are mere gropes. In the Scientific American, 50-40, a correspondent writes from Humacao, Porto Rico, that, Nov. 21, 1883, he and several other -- persons -- or persons, as it were -- had seen a majestic appearance, like a comet.(7) Visible three successive nights: disappeared then. The Editor says that he can offer no explanation. If accepted, this thing must have been close to the earth. If it had been a comet, it would have been seen widely, and the news would have been telegraphed over the world, says the Editor. Upon page 97 of this volume of Scientific American, a correspondent writes that, at Sulphur Springs, Ohio, he had seen "a wonder in the sky," at about the same date.(8) It was torpedo-shaped, or something with a nucleus, at each end of which was a tail. Again the Editor says that he can offer no explanation: that the object was not a comet. He associates it with the atmospheric events general in 1883. But it will be our expression that, in England and Holland, a similar object was seen in November, 1882.

In the Scientific American, 40-294, is published a letter from Henry Harrison, of Jersey City, copied from the N.Y. Tribune: that upon the evening of April 13, 1879, Mr. Harrison was searching for Brorsen's comet, when he saw an object that was moving so rapidly that it could not have been a comet.(9) He called a friend to look, and his observation was confirmed. At two o'clock in the morning this object was still visible. In the Scientific American Supplement, 7-2885, Mr. Harrison disclaims sensationalism, which he seems to think unworthy, and gives technical details: he says that the object was seen by Mr. J. Spencer Devoe, of Manhattenville.(10) [277]

1. Erasmus Ommanney. "Extraordinary phenomenon." Nature, 50 (September 27, 1894): 524. For an earlier report of a similar observation at Gloucester, of the above phenomenon observed at Llanberis, Wales: John W. Earle. "A remarkable meteor." Nature, 50 (September 6, 1894): 452. Baden Powell. "A catalogue of observations of luminous meteors." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1849, 1-53, at 2, 44. The name is G. Pettitt, not Pettit. Denison Olmsted. "Observation on the meteors of November 13th, 1833." American Journal of Science, s.1, 25 (1834): 363-411, at 391. "Notes." Nature, 35 (December 16, 1886): 157-9, at 159. "Notes." Nature, 42 (August 21, 1890): 401-3, at 403. Nil Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. "Analyse d'une poussière cosmique sur les Crodillères, près San Fernando (Chili)." Comptes Rendus, 103 (October 18, 1886): 682-6. J.E. Gore. "Bright star near the sun." Knowledge, 3 (January 5, 1883): 13. This article refers to an earlier report: Knowledge, 2 (December 29, 1882): 489, c.v. "Science and art gossip." "Extracts of letters from Captain Williams...." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 5, 627. "Ryook Phyoo," in British Aracan, is now identified as Kyaukpyu, Myanmar (Burma). The flame was believed to be either a volcano or a large ship on fire; but, no volcanic eruptions are known in this area at this time, and apparently no ships were reported lost. "An aerial meteorite." Scientific American Supplement, 6 (1878): 2365. "Bolide extraordinaire." Nature (Paris), 1898, 1 (January 22): 127. "Meteor." London Times, September 30, 1870, p.9 c.4. The object was observed to move from Vega to Epsilon Lyrae, not across the Moon. "Bolides ou foudre en boule?" Astronomie, 5 (1886): 309. "Extraordinary meteor seen at Marseilles." Chemical News, 24 (October 20, 1871): 193. For the original articles: Coggia. "Bolide extraordinaire observé à Marseille." Cosmos: Les Mondes, 25 (September 28, 1871): 716-7. Coggia. "Observation d'un bolide faite à l'Observatoire de Marseille." Comptes Rendus, 73 (1871): 397. Not only did Coggia's bolide travel slowly, it stopped in the constellation of Capricorn before changing the direction of its movement. W. De Fonvielle. "Sur quelques apparitions analogues à celles du bolide de Marseille." Comptes Rendus, 73 (1871): 513-4. The records of observations of meteors cited by De Fonvielle include: one of 45 seconds duration, on September 4, 1848, by Lowe, at Nottingham; one of 150 seconds duration, on February 5, 1850, by W.H. Weekes, (as "Welkes"); one of more than 60 seconds duration, on the night of August 10-11, 1849, by Lowe, (as "Laude"), at Nottingham; and, one of 450 seconds duration, on July 9, 1686, by Kirch, at Leipzig. The meteor observed by Lowe on September 4, 1848, left a "streak of blue light," and this trail was indicated to have "lasted 3/4 min. before it finally vanished." None of the meteors observed by Lowe, at Nottingham, and by W.R. Birt, at Bethnal Green, London, during the meteor shower of August 10-11, 1849, were said to persist for a minute; however, both observers noted that second meteors appeared to follow the same path as the first meteor observed as long as two minutes or as little as a few seconds later; for example, Birt reports: "b No. 5. Within a very short interval, I should say less than a minute, another meteor, of precisely the same size and exhibiting precisely the same characters in every respect, not one excepted, appeared just beyond the point of disappearance of b No. 4. Its path appeared to be a prolongation of that of b No. 4, and it disappeared in exactly the same manner...." Baden Powell. "A catalogue of observations of luminous meteors." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1849; 1-53, at 14, 25-9, 48-53. At Sandwich, Kent, on February 5, 1850, Weekes observed a meteor, which was stationary in the sky west of Orion and which grew from a speck of light to a "red-hot iron ball" with about a third of the moon's diameter; the meteor appeared "stationary at first, for 1 min. 45 secs., till explosion, after which main body slowly moved horizontally for 45 secs."; though the path of the "main body" was parallel to the horizon to the east, a shower of fiery red fragments "descended perpendicularly to the earth"; and, this "brillliant shower of variegated fire" remained visible "fully 3 minutes after the primary body had disappeared." Baden Powell. "On observations of luminous meteors." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1851; 1-52, at 2-3, 38. Halley writes, of Gottfreid Kirch's observation, thus: "And though the Observer says of it, immotus perstitit per semi-quadrantem horæ; 'tis not to be understood that it kept its Place like a Fixt Star, all the time of its Appearance; but that it had no very remarkable progressive motion." Edmund Halley. "An account of several extraordinary meteors or lights in the sky." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 29 (October-December 1714; n.341): 159-64, at 163. Am. Guillemin. "Sur deux observations qui paraissent offrir quelque analogie avec celle du météore signalé récemment par M. Coggia." Comptes Rendus, 73 (1871): 755-6. Guillemin provides no duration nor the date of an object seen over Paris in 1853; and, he claims "a globe of fire" was observed over Kilkenny, Ireland, for an hour, on December 26, 1737. However, the date of this observation was December 5, 1737, (not December 26); on this date, a red-coloured auroral display was observed across much of Europe, from Italy to Scotland; and, it is described thus: "This same Phænomenon was of great Extent in the Northern Parts of Europe; and at Kilkenny in Ireland, was seen somewhat like a Globe of Fire suspended in the Air for near space of an Hour; which then bursting, spread Flames around on every Side." Thomas Stack. "An account of a book intitled, Observationes de Aere & Morbis Epidemicis...." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 40 (December 1738; n.451): 429-40, at 437-8. "A collection of the observations of the remarkable red light seen in the air on Dec. 5, 1737, sent from different places to the Royal Society." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 41 (January-March 1741; n.459): 583-606. E.J. Lowe. "Meteors, or falling stars." Recreative Science, 1 (1860): 130-8, at 136. Denison Olmsted. "Observation on the meteors of November 13th, 1833." American Journal of Science, s.1, 26 (1834): 132-74, at 133. "Remarkable meteoric phenomenon, described by Chladni." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Institute of Great Britain, n.s., 2, 288. N.S. Drayton. "A supposed meteor." Scientific American, n.s., 47 (July 22, 1882): 53. "Comet or meteor?" Scientific American, n.s., 115 (December 2, 1916): 493. The object was observed by Perrine, (not Purine), and Glancy on May 4, 1916, not on March 14. "Astronomical puzzle." Timb's Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art, 1843, 278-9.

2. "A new comet(?)" Nature, 43 (November 27, 1890): 89-90. "A new comet." London Times, November 24, 1890, p. 6 c. 2.

3. Ralph Copeland. "A rare phenomenon." Nature, 44 (September 24, 1891): 494. Fort gives the reference to three subsequent reports of the phenomenon on September 10 and 11. "A rare phenomenon." Nature, 44 (October 1, 1891): 519.

4. "A rare phenomenon." Nature, 44 (October 8, 1891): 541.

5. Alexander Graham Bell. "A rare phenomenon." Nature, 45 (November 26, 1891): 79.

6. Jacob Rice. Letter. American Meteorological Journal, 1 (July 1884): 110.

7. "A remarkable phenomenon seen in Porto Rico." Scientific American, n.s., 50 (January 19, 1884): 40. The correspondent wrote from Humacas, Puerto Rico, not from Humacao.

8. "A remarkable phenomenon seen at Sulpur Springs, Ohio." Scientific American, n.s. 50 (February 16, 1884): 97. Correct quote: "...a wonder of the sky...."

9. "A curious astronomical phenomenon." Scientific American, n.s., 40, 294. "A curious phenomenon." New York Tribune, April 17, 1879, p. 2 c. 3. The object was observed on the night of April 12-13, 1879.

10. Henry Harrison. "The curious astronomical phenomenon." Scientific American Supplement, 7 (June 21, 1879): 2884-5.

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