A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book
Edited and Annotated by Mr. X
Lo! was the third iconoclastic book written by Charles Hoy Fort and was first published in 1931. As the original edition is rare, and, as the book contains many errors, I am making this hypertext edition available with some of my notes. This work is not completed, and I am still seeking out many more of Fort's sources; but, I hope that others may find this a helpful and ready copy for their own reference use. All of the footnotes are the editor's work, the text is that of the 1931 edition, and, the original pagination is identified within square brackets.
[i] "He overwhelmed her with catastrophic endearments---"
author of NEW LANDS and
THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED
Published in New York by
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 9, 1931
SECOND PRINTING MARCH 3, 1931
COPYRIGHT, 1931, CLAUDE KENDALL
DESIGNED BY AARON SUSSMAN, SET
UP, PRINTED AND BOUND BY J.J.
LITTLE AND IVES COMPANY, NEW
YORK. PAPER FURNISHED BY PERKINS
AND SQUIRE, NEW YORK.
"He overwhelmed her with catastrophic endearments---" FRONTISPIECE
"A whirlwind runs amok, and is filled with confusions---" 18
"---and maybe for ages the secret of it has been known by esoteric ones---" 66
"There have been sudden appearances of mice---" 80
"Ordinarily, one pays little if any attention to astronomers---" 100
"An epidemic of fancied observations---" 112
"Recall Voltaire's incredulity as to fossils---" 150
"Everybody is supposed to know his own wolf---" 170
"We have only faith to guide us---" 242
"In rivalry to religious mysticism, a scientific pornography---" 262
"The inhabitants who cried to the heavens prayed to Epilepsy---" 296
"The natives were told there was no danger---" 336
Because it has been discovered that the earth does not revolve about the sun and does not rotate on an axis; because the "stars" have been found to be lights only a few miles away; because almost every pronouncement from this hall of learning issued since its corner-stone was so solemnly laid has been a mistake, a joke, an error or a hoax -- the older and more susceptible of the professors who once played whilst here in the shadow of the refracting telescope have gone away to die of chagrin while the younger of us take a short trip to what we have so often jokingly referred to as "the constellation Orion". Back in thirty days.
(Signed) The Astronomers
Can you imagine the consternation in class room and counting house if the astronomers should suddenly become honest enough and frank enough to post this notice on the door of Yerkes or Mount Wilson Observatory? But rest content. It will not appear until Charles Fort and you and I have mouldered many a year under the sod of this stationary or nearly stationary earth. [1/2]
Charles Fort has published three books. The first, The Book of the Damned, was issued in 1919 by Boni and Liveright. Do you remember how important new books were in 1919? It depended, of course, upon who wrote them. No one had ever heard of Charles Fort. Yet, by my calculations, the stream of data which began to flow from this man's hand in 1919 had been in the process of accumulation since 1904.
Mr. Fort has this one satisfaction, if he cares to enjoy it, that probably no other book had such a select group of readers; and few books have ever stirred their limited audiences to such a degree. The readers were mostly writers. It was that kind of book. Four or five friends of mine took it to their bosoms as a source book, a mine of plots, a text for the study of startling and amazing utterance. Believe it or not, books now current, of very recent date, owe Charles Fort a tremendous but unacknowledged debt.
Wild men, the stormy souls who admitted no masters and no rules, rushed to pay homage to Charles Fort when his first book appeared. The correspondents of Garrett P. Serviss continued to correspond with Garrett P. Serviss. The world went on as usual.
But -- for the first time in written history -- the half conscious reading public had the opportunity, if it cared to take it, to read of ten thousand occurrences on this earth which the Great God Science had failed to explain, had refused to explain or had explained with gross imperfections, from a thoughtful standard.
Ben Hecht reviewed The Book of the Damned in The Chicago Daily News. The review has become almost classic. It appeared before the publication of Erik Dorn, Hecht's first novel.
It began: [2/3]
I am the first disciple of Charles Fort. He has made a terrible onslaught upon the accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries. The onslaught will perish. The lunacy will survive, intrenching itself behind the derisive laughter of all good citizens.... Whatever the purpose of Charles Fort, he has delighted me beyond all men who have written books in this world. Mountebank or Messiah, it matters not. Henceforth I am a Fortean. If it has pleased Charles Fort to perpetuate a Gargantuan jest upon unsuspecting readers, all the better. If he has in all seriousness heralded forth the innermost truths of his soul, well and good. I offer him this testament. I believe.
It is a little difficult to find in the book just what Ben Hecht believed. Mr. Fort was extremely careful to offer no theories or hypotheses of his own to supplant those his data assailed. None, that is, which he cared to develop dogmatically. But regardless of the absence of anything to believe, I was converted too. I "believed" -- anything Charles Fort wished me to.
Mr. Hecht goes on:
Has science by a process of maniacal exclusion of telltale data, of telltale phenomena, foisted an algebraic Mother Goose upon the world in the name of astronomy?
An when we answer "Yes!" -- we have expressed what we believe.
Mr. Hecht again:
...that the theory he has hurled into being is destined, like some phantom gargoyle, to perch itself astride every telescope and laboratory test tube in the land. [3/4]
But this prediction has not come noticeably true. So far as I can observe nothing Mr. Fort has said has had the slightest effect upon dogmatic science. The "accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries," the "algebraic Mother Goose" remain ascendant. All of this was more than eleven years ago.
I tried to learn once, what H. L. Mencken had said of The Book of the Damned. He was going around busting things. One would think there would be some affinity. I could not learn. Now, Mr. Fort tells me that he called it "poppycock" or something similar. Upon analysis that is understandable. Mr. Mencken, like Voltaire, had to "believe" in science and its pronouncements to carry on against religion. It is incomprehensible to him that they may both be products of the same imbecilic urge to worship what is not readily explainable.
In 1923, Liveright published a second volume of "pallid data," New Lands, arranged by Charles Fort from his enormous collection of material and embellished in his individual, sulphurous and vitriolic style. Booth Tarkington wrote an introduction to this book. He, too, "believed" -- to this extent:
(After dipping here and there in The Book of the Damned -- )
I turned back to the beginning and read this vigorous and astonishing book straight through, and then re-read it for the pleasure it gave me in the way of its writing and in the substance of what it told. Doré should have illustrated it, I thought, or Blake. Here indeed was a "brush dipped in earthquake and eclipse"; though the wildest mundane earthquakes are but earthquakes in teapots compared to what goes on in the visions [4/5] conjured up before us by Mr. Charles Fort. For he deals in nightmare, not on the planetary, but on the constellation scale, and the imagination of one who staggers along after him is frequently left gasping and flaccid.
This book was a further digest of newspaper and magazine references to the inexplicable -- usually accompanied with scientists' "explanations". As the title suggested, lands -- not planets -- in the sky, were becoming thinkable. It is Charles Fort's way to confine his thinking to the thinkable, an altogether too obvious method for science to bother with.
It is this nasty habit which separates Mr. Fort from quacks and cranks, doctors and professors and all other mystics. It is this reprehensible practice and his demonic skill at overturning all that is pompous, smug and satisfied with the most surprising of phrases that endear his books to other men cursed with logical or -- as he would prefer it stated -- quasi-logical minds.
In 1924 I wrote to Charles Fort, submitting some data I had come upon. We have corresponded sporadically ever since, until he returned to the United States recently. My first letter found him "searching the British Museum Library for more data." Data, more data, more data. For at least twenty-six years he has been accumulating, weighing, sifting, recording and arranging data. Who cares? Do you? Not a bit. That alarm clock will call you just as monotonously morning after morning no matter what shape the Earth may be. Roast beef will bring about the same price per plate -- no matter. Well, run along. Read something else. Charles Fort is heady stuff, too strong for most stomachs, too bitter for orthodox palates.
But here is his third book which is getting itself recorded on this page of Time we call the twentieth [5/6] century -- just in case it may some day come out scandalously in the tabloids of the future that man did not know so damned much in 1931 as he was pleased to think he did.
But these clippings and records of sources are the greatest single monument to revolt against smug complacency in existence. When the textbooks of another day refer to this, our age, as a time of great mental contentment, of mutual back-slapping and no troublesome doubts, it is just possible that the name Charles Fort will be mentioned as the lone dissenter, the one small voice raised in defense of suspended judgments. It will be best to see that Mr. Fort is thoroughly dead before that day arrives, because he could brook no such honors. If his findings are ever accepted as ultimate or absolute, he will attack himself in a fever of frustration, and attempt to establish that even at his rightest he was wrong. I can see him, still at his interminable game of a personal improvement upon checkers, moving phalanxes and platoons of "men" across a board of more than a thousand squares, planning his own destruction.
This is Charles Fort's third book and it will find some readers. It may even be answered by dogmatic science because -- whereas the two previous volumes were profanations of astronomic deities -- this is the gage thrown down. It is the loudest scream of all. It flouts and taunts and jeers at astronomers who sleep well o'nights, leaving the discoveries to interested amateurs. It records the murder of 30,000 people -- by dogmatic science. What will his next book reveal? It is better not to guess. Nor does it greatly matter. As Charles Fort points out, the velocity of thought is not mensurable because it moves too slowly.
Take your time, little earth people; swallow the [6/7] neat capsules of cut and dried, tailor-made explanations that have sufficed you since the fifteenth century. Send your babies to school to learn that we know the earth is round because the hull of a ship leaving port disappears before the topsail. Go on adding two and two and getting four: this makes you better citizens and jurymen. Don't listen to Charles Fort. He is a maniac. It doesn't matter how many new "stars" appear in the sky just before great volcanic eruptions or disastrous earthquakes here at home. It is all coincidence. But before you decide he belongs in an asylum, make a list of historic maniacs. Begin thus:
The Brothers Wright
Go haphazardly through the ages and note what became of them; note how wrong they were at their rightest; and note what today's historians say about the general placidity and self-satisfaction that prevailed as each of these men reached intellectual maturity. Note especially that. Note how it was pointed out to us in our advancement that the common people of those dark ages were content in their ignorance. Then shudder that you have been asleep so long. Look with horror in your mirror at the eyes without curiosity; at the lips which never question. Read two hundred words in this book and return to your unquestioning, incurious smug and complacent shell if you can. If you can, for [7/8] the sake of decency go die. You are no more than half alive at best. If you can; pray to your God for forgiveness for learning to read. It was a waste of time to teach you. If you can; go back to sleep, go back to your dreams from which your alarm will summon you to another day at your desk or lathe or -- God forgive you -- your books. Go about your business. So long as Charles Fort lives -- and he has lived in every age -- pure knowledge will advance, creepingly, unsupported, unpatronized, scorned. So long as one man among all the millions of the earth is willing to forswear all that life offers and to blind himself by gruelling, nerve-racking, boresome and cruel daily toil over piles of newspapers for twenty-six years and more, without reward or hope of reward either here or in Heaven, just so long will knowledge advance without any support, without any brass bands, without any medals or crowns of laurel.
But -- if you can not go back to sleep, and you finish all that Charles
Fort has written, come, rejoice with us that he was born so constituted
that he could give us this thing. Come, make merry about the cosmic May-pole
he has erected. It was necessary that it be put up so that future Charles
Forts will have something to tear down.
TIFFANY THAYER. 
Or, go to:
Part One 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Part Two 1 2 3 4
Part Three 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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