Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Fifteen



NOW I HAVE a theory that our existence is a hermaphrodite --

Or the unproductivity of it, in the sense that the beings, and seas, and houses, and trees, and the fruits of trees, its "immortal truths", and "rocks of ages" that it seems to produce are only flutters that seem to be real productions to us, because we see them very slow-motioned.

My interpretation of theology is that, though mythologically much confused, it is an awareness of the wholeness of one existence -- perhaps one of countless existences in the cosmos -- and that its distortions are founded upon intuitive knowledge of the unproductive state of this one existence, as a whole -- and so its visions of a divine sterility, which are illustrated with figures of blonde hermaphrodites. Of course there are stray legends of male angels, but such stories are symbols of the inconsistency that co-exists with the consistency of all things phenomenal -- [160/161]

Or that parthenogenesis is the essential principle of all things, beings, thoughts, states, phenomenal.

I'd be queried, if I should say, of the consummation of any human romance, that it is parthenogenetic: but humanity, regarded as a whole, is sustained by self-fertilization. Except for occasional, vague stories of external enrichments, there are no records of invigorations imparted to the human kind from gorillas, hyenas, or swine. Elephants fertilize elephants. I conceive of no bizarre, little love story, with a fruitful outcome, of the attractions of a rhinoceros to a humming bird. Though I have a venerable, little story -- account sent to me by Mr. Ernest Doerfler, Bronx, N.Y. -- of an eighteenth-century scientist, whose theory it was that human females can be pollinated., and who experimented, by exposing a buxom female to the incidence of the east wind, and of course was successful in establishing his theory, I have no other datum of human and vegetable unions: so this reported occurrence must be considered one of the marvels from which this book of not uncommon events holds aloof.

The parthenogenetic triumphs of the human intellect are circular stupidities. The mathematicians, in their intuitions of the state of a whole, have represented what to the devout is divinity, with the circle, which, to them the "perfect figure," symbolizes getting nowhere.

Much of the argument in this book will depend upon our acceptance that nothing in our existence is real. The Whole may be Realness. Out of its phenomena, it may be non-phenomenally producing offspring-realnesses. That is not our present subject. But up comes the question: If [161/162] nothing phenomenal is real, is everything phenomenal really unreal? But, if I accept that nothing is real, in phenomenal existence, I cannot accept that anything, therein, is really unreal. So my acceptance, in accordance with our general philosophy of the hyphen, is that all things perceptible to us are real-unreal, varying from the direction of one extreme to the other, according to whatever may be the degree of their appearance of individuality. If anybody has the notion that he is a real being -- and by realness I mean individuality, or call it entity, or unrelatedness -- let him try to tell why he thinks he exists, in a real sense. Recall the most celebrated of the parthenogenetic attempts to make this demonstration:

I think: therefore I am.

We have to accept that in order to think, the thinker must be of existence prior to the thought.

Why do I think?

Because I am.

Why am I?

Because I think.

The noblest triumphs of the human intellect are about as sublime as would be the description of a house in terms of its roof, whereas the description would be equally sublime, if in terms of the cellar, or the bath room. That is Newtonism -- or a description of things in terms of one of its aspects, or gravitation. It is Darwinism -- a description of all life in terms of selection, one of its aspects. Gravitation is only another name for attraction. Sir Isaac Newton's contribution to the glories of human knowledge is that an apple falls because it drops. All living things are [162/163] selected by environment, said Darwin. Then, according to him, when he shifted aspects, all things constituting living environment are selected. Darwinism -- that selection selects.

The materialists explain all things, except what they deny, or disregard, in terms of the material. The immaterialists, such as the absolute and the subjective idealists, explain all things in terms of the immaterial. My expression is in terms of the continuity of the material and the immaterial -- or that one of these extremes is only an accentuation on one side, and the other only an accentuation on the other side, of the hyphenated state of material-immaterial.

I am a being who thinks: therefore I am a being who thinks. In this circular stupidity there is a simple unity that commends it conventional lovers of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

I do not think. I have never had a thought. Therefore something or another. I do not think, but thoughts occur in what is said to be "my" mind -- though, instead of being "in" it, they are it -- just as inhabitants do not occur in a city, but are the city. There is a governing tendency among these thoughts, just as there is among people in any community, or as there is in the movements of the planets, or in the arrangements of cells constituting a plant, or an animal. So far as goes any awareness of "mine," "I" have no soul, no self, no entity, though at times of something like a harmonization of "my" elements, "I" approximate to a state of unified being.

When I see -- as for convenience "I" shall say, even [163/164] though there is no I that is other than a very imperfectly co-ordinated aggregation of experience-states, sometimes ferociously antagonizing one another, but mostly maintaining a kind of civilization -- but when I see that my thoughts are ruled by tendencies, such as to harmonize, organize, or co-ordinate: that they tend to integrate, segregate, nucleate, equilibrate -- I am conscious of mere mechanical processes that mean no more in the arrangements of my ideas than they mean in the arrangements of my bones. I'd no more think of offering my ideas as immortal truth than I'd think of publishing X-ray photographs of my bones, as eternal. But the organizing tendency implicit in all things -- along with the disorganizing tendency implicit in all things -- has admirably expressed itself in the design that is my skeleton. I think so. I have no reason to think that my skeleton is in any way inferior to anybody else's skeleton. I feel that if I could arrange my ideas with the art that has arranged my bones, I'd have, for writing a book, the justification that all writers feel the need of, trying to excuse themselves for writing books.

But I do not think that mechanism is all that there is in our existence. Only the old-fashioned absolutist conceives, or says he conceives, of our existence as absolutely mechanical. There is an individuality in things that is not of mechanical relations, because individuality is unrelatedness. I conceive of our existence as positive-negative, or as mechanical-immechanical.

But my methods are the largely mechanical methods of everybody, and of everything, that harmonizes, or organ- [164/165] izes. One of these methods is classification. I am impelled to arrange my materials under headings -- quite as a wind arranges fallen leaves, of various sizes, into groups -- as a magnet makes selections from a pile of various things. So, again, when I see that my thoughts are coerced by conventional processes, I can think of my thoughts as nothing but the products of coercions. I'd not do these slaves the honor of believing them. They impose upon me only to the degree of temporary acceptance of some of them.

Merely thoughtfully, or only intellectually, I have made a collection of notes, under the classification of "Explosions." Some of the occurrences look as if explosive attacks, of an occult order, have been made upon human beings; or as if psychic bombs have been thrown invisibly at people, or at their property.

In the New York Tribune, Jan. 7, 1900, there is an account of poltergeist disturbances in a house, in Hyde Park, Chicago.(1) According to the now well-known ways of chairs and tables, at times, these things hopped about, or moved with more dignity. It was if into this house stole an invisible but futile assassin. See back to accounts of visible but futile bullets. Time after time there was a sound like the discharge of a revolver. It was noted that this firing always occurred "at about the height of a man's shoulder." In a booklet, A Disturbed House and its Relief, Ada M. Sharpe tells of a seeming psychic bombardment of her home in Tackley, Oxen, England.(2) Beginning upon April 24, 1905, and continuing three years, at times, detonations, as if of exploding bombs, were heard in this [165/166] house. Upon the first of May, 1911 (Lloyd's Weekly News, July 30; Wandsworth Borough News, July 21) unaccountable fires broke out in the house of Mr. J.A. Harvey, 356 York-road, Wandsworth, London.(3) Preceding one of these fires, there were three explosions of unknown origin. In January, 1892 (Peterborough Advertiser, Jan. 10, 1892), a house in Peterborough, England, occupied by a family named Rimes, was repeatedly shaken, as if bombed, and as if bombed futilely.(4) Nobody was injured, and there was no damage.

In the Religio-Philosophical Journal, Dec. 25, 1880 -- copied from the Owatonna (Minn.) Review -- there is a story maybe of a psychic bomb that was tossed through the wall of a house, in Owatonna, penetrating the wall, without leaving a sign of its passage through the material.(5) It was in a house occupied by a family named Dimant. There had been petty persecutions by an uncatchable: such as persistent ringing of the doorbell. One evening members of this family were in one of the rooms, when something exploded. Mrs. Dimant was knocked insensible. Fragments of a cylindrical glass object were found. But no window had been open, and there had been no other way by which, by known means, this object could have entered this house.

I note something of agreement between notions that are now developing -- notions that will be called various names, one of which is not "practical" -- and experiments by inventors that are attempts to be very practical. It is said that by means of "rays" inventors have been able to set off distant explosives. If by other means, or by subtler [166/167] "rays", explosions at a distance can be made to occur, whatever the practical ones are trying to do may be far more effectively accomplished -- if the data of this chapter do mean that there have been explosions that were the products of means, or powers, that are at present mysterious.

There are stories of brilliantly luminous things that are called "globe lightning" that have appeared in houses, and have moved about, before exploding, as if guided by intelligence of their own, or as if directed by a distant control. These stories are easily findable in books treating of lightning and the freaks of lightning. I pick out an account from a periodical. There seems to be no relation with lightning. In the English Mechanic, 90-140, Col. G.T. Plunket tells of an experience, in July, 1909, in his home, in Wimbledon, London.(6) He and his wife were sitting in one of their rooms, when his wife saw a luminous thing moving toward them. It went to a chair, upon the back of which it seemed to rest, for a moment. It exploded. Col. Plunket did not see this thing, but he heard the explosion. As to the lightning-explanation, he writes that it was a fine evening.

London Daily Mail, July 23, 1925 -- "Explosion riddle -- mystery of a boy's wounds."(7) "Injured by a mysterious explosion, which occurred in his mother's house, at Riverhall-street, South Lambeth, S.W., yesterday morning, Charley Orchard, 5, was conveyed to hospital in a serious condition. He was hurt on the face and chest, and some of his fingers were blown away. [167/168]

"His mother had just called him to breakfast when the explosion occurred.

"Neighbors who heard the report of the explosion thought there was an outbreak of fire and summoned the fire brigade.

"An all-day search failed to discover the cause of the explosion."

The London newspapers, Sept. 26, 1910, told of a tremendous, unexplained explosion in a house in Willesden, London. I take from the local newspaper, the Willesden Chronicle, Sept. 30 -- "a fire of a most mysterious character...absolutely no cause can be assigned for the outbreak, which was followed by a terrific explosion, completely wrecking the premises."(8) But in no account is it made clear that first there was a fire, and that the explosion followed. A policeman, standing on a nearby corner, saw this house, 71 Walm-lane, Willesden, flame and burst apart. "Windows and doors in the back of the house were blown a distance of 60 feet." "On examination of the premises, it was found that the two gas meters under the stairs had been shut off: so it was evident that the explosion was not caused by gas. Representatives of the Salvage Corps and of the Home Office investigated, but could conclude nothing except that chemicals, or petrol, might have exploded."

The occupants of this house, named Reece, were out of town, week-ending. Mr. Reece was communicated with, and it was his statement that there had been nothing in the house that could have exploded.

Willesden Chronicle, Oct. 7 -- "Mystery cleared up. A [168/169] charred sofa in the drawing room and other evidence reveal the cause of the outbreak."(9) Before leaving the house, Saturday morning (Sept. 24th), Mr. Reece, while smoking a pipe, had leaned over this sofa, and sparks from his pipe had fallen upon it. For 36 hours a fire, so caused, had smouldered, before bursting into flames. There were two standard spirit lamps in the room. In the fire, they must have exploded simultaneously.

The writer of this explanation picked the remains of a sofa out of a wreck of charred furniture. He leaned Reece over the sofa, because that would make his explanation work out as it should work out. Reece made no such statement, and he was not quoted. The explosion of two spirit lamps could do much damage, but this explosion was tremendous. The house was wrecked. The walls that remained standing were in such a toppling condition that the ruins were roped off.

The jagged walls of this wrecked house are more of our protrusions from vacancy. We visualize them in an environment of blankness. Somewhere there may have been a witch or a wizard.

Upon June 13, 1885, a resident of Pondicherry, Madras, India, was sitting in a closed room, when a mist appeared near him. At the same time there was a violent explosion. This man, M. André, sent an account to the French Academy. I take from a report, in L'Astronomie, 1886-310.(10) M. André tried to explain in conventional terms, mentioning that at the time the weather was semi-stormy, and that an hour later rain fell heavily.

In times still farther back, the mist would have been [169/170] told of, as the partly materialized form of an enemy, who had expressed his malices explosively. In times, still somewhere in the future, this may seem the most likely explanation.

Or the mist was something like the partly visible smoking fuse of an invisible bomb that had been discharged by a distant witch or wizard. And that does not seem to me to be much more of a marvel than would be somebody's ability to blow up a quantity of dynamite, though at a distance, and with no connecting wires.

In the New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 29, 1931, there is an account of the doings of Kurt Schimkus, of Berlin, who had arrived, in Chicago, to demonstrate his ability to discharge, from a distance, explosives, by means of what he called his "anti-war rays."(11) According to reports from Germany, Schimkus had so exploded submarine mines and stores of buried cartridges. Herr Schimkus will have success and renown, I think: he knows that nothing great and noble and of benefit to mankind has ever been accomplished without much lubrication. He announced that slaughter was far-removed from his visions: that he was an agency for peace on earth and good will to man, because by exploding an enemy's munitions, with his "anti-war rays," he would make war impossible. Innocently, myself, I speculate upon the possible use of "psychic bombs," in blowing up tree stumps, in the cause of new pastures.

In the New York Herald Tribune, March 25, 1931, there is a story of an explosion that may have been set off by "rays" that at present are not understood.(12) It is the [170/171] story of the explosion that wrecked the sealing ship, Viking, off Horse Island, north of New Brunswick. It reminds me of the woman, who, in the New York hotel, feared fire. This ship was upon a moving picture expedition. Varrick Frissell, film producer, aboard this vessel, started to think of the kegs of powder aboard, and he became apprehensive. He started to make a warning sign to hang on the door of the powder room. Just then the ship blew up.

New York Herald Tribune, Dec. 13, 1931 -- an account of disasters to two wives of a man -- not a datum of his relations, or former relations, with anybody else.(13) In the year 1924, illness was upon the wife of W.A. Baker, an oil man, who lived in Pasadena, California. It was said that her affliction was cancer. She was found, hanged, in her home. It was said that despondency had driven her to suicide. In the year 1926, Baker married again. Upon the night of Dec. 12, 1931, there was an explosion, somewhere under the bed of the second Mrs. Baker, or in the room underneath. The bed was hurled to the ceiling, and Mrs. Baker was killed. It was a tremendous explosion, but nobody else in the house was harmed.

Bomb experts investigated. They concluded that no known explosive had been used. They said that there had been no escape of gas. "The full force of the explosion seemed concentrated almost beneath Mrs. Baker's room."

In the years 1921-22, and early in the year 1923, there were, in England and other countries, explosions of coal such as had never occurred before. There was a violent [171/172] explosion in a grate in a house in Guildford, near London, which killed a woman, and knocked down walls of the house (London Daily News, Sept. 16, 1921).(14) There were other explosions of coal, during this year, but in 1922 attention was attracted by many instances.

In this period there was much disaffection among British coal miners. There was a suspicion that miners were mixing dynamite into coal. But, whether we think that the miners had anything to do with these explosions, or not, suspicions against them, in England, were checked by the circumstances that no case of the finding of dynamite in coal was reported, and that there were no explosions of coal in the rough processes of shipments.

There came reports from France. Then stoves, in which was burned British coal, were blowing up in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The climax came about the first of January, 1923, when in one day there were several of these explosions in Paris, and explosions in three towns in England.

About the first of January, 1921, Mr. T.S. Frost, of 8 Ferristone-road, Hornsey, London, bought a load of coal. In his home were three children, Gordon, Bertie, and Muriel. I take data from the London newspapers, but especially from the local newspapers, the Hornsey Journal, and the North Middlesex Chronicle.(15) In the grates of this house, coal exploded. Also, coal in buckets exploded. A policeman was called in. He made his report upon coal that not only exploded, but hopped out of grates, and sauntered along floors, so remarkable that an Inspector of Police investigated. According to a newspaper, it was [172/173] this Inspector's statement that he had picked up a piece of coal, which had broken into three parts, and had then vanished from his hands. It was said that burning coals leaped from grates, and fell in showers in other rooms, having passed through walls, without leaving signs of this passage. Flat irons, coal buckets, other objects "danced." Ornaments were dislodged, but fell to the floor, without breaking. A pot on a tripod swung, though nobody was near it. The phenomena occurred in the presence of one of the boys, especially, and sometimes in the presence of the other boy.

There has been no poltergeist case better investigated. I know of no denial of the phenomena by any investigator. One of the witnesses was the Rev. A.L. Gardiner, vicar of St. Gabriel's, Wood Green, London. "There can be no doubt of the phenomena. I have seen them, myself." Another witness was Dr. Herbert Lemerle, of Hornsey. Dr. Lemerle told of a clock that mysteriously vanished. Upon the 8th of May, a public meeting was held in Hornsey, to discuss the phenomena.

In the newspapers there was a tendency to explain it all as mischief by the children of this household.(16)

The child, Muriel, terrified by the doings, died upon April 1st.(17) The boy, Gordon, frightened into a nervous breakdown, was taken to Lewisham Hospital.

The coal in all these cases was coal from British coal mines. The newspaper that told of these explosions told of the bitterness and vengefulness of British coal miners, enraged by hardships and reduced wages, uncommon in even their harsh experiences -- [173/174]

Or see back --

There's a shout of vengefulness, in Hyde Park, London -- far away, in Gloucestershire, an ancient mansion bursts into flames. [174]

1. "Mrs. Ford's ghost story." New York Tribune, January 7, 1900, s.3 p.9 c.4.

2. Ada M. Sharpe. Disturbed House and Its Relief. Oxford: Parker & Co., 1914. 57pp.

3. "House of fires." Lloyd's Weekly News, July 30, 1911, p.9 c.5. "Mysterious outbreak of fire." Wandsworth Borough News, July 21, 1911, p.6 c.6.

4. There is no issue for January 10, 1892, which Fort may have misread from his notes instead of January 16. For reports of the phenomena: "Mysterious manifestations in a Peterborough cottage." Peterborough Advertiser (England), January 9, 1892, p.6 c.3-4. "The Peterborough ghost story." Peterborough Advertiser, January 16, 1892, p.6 c.4-5. "The Peterborough ghost story." Peterborough Advertiser, January 23, 1892, p.6 c.3-4.

5. "Remarkable manifestations." Religio-philosophical Journal, 29 (n.17; December 25, 1880): p.4 c.4.

6. G.T. Plunkett. "Ball lightning." English Mechanic and world of science, 90 (September 10, 1909): 140.

7. "Explosion riddle." London Daily Mail, July 23, 1925, p.9 c.6.

8. "Mysterious fire at Willesden Green." Willesden Chronicle (London), September 30, 1910, p.5 c.7. Correct quotes: "Another account says that the force of the explosion had the effect of blowing the Venetian blinds and the glass of the windows across the road, while the French windows and doors at the back of the house were blown across the lawn to the rear fence, a distance of about 60 feet," and, "...the two gas meters under the stairs were shut off, so that it was evident...." There is no quote as given by Fort regarding the representatives of the Salvage Corps and Home Office.

9. "Willesden Green fire mystery explained." Willesden Chronicle, October 7, 1910, p.5 c.3. Correct quotes: "The mystery of the fire and explosion which occurred last Sunday week at the corner of Walm-lane and Grosvenor-gardens, Willesden Green, has now been cleared up." "A charred sofa in the drawing-room and other evidence revealed the cause of the outbreak."

10. "Curieux phénomène meteorologique." Astronomie, 5 (1886): 311. C. André. "M. C. André transmet à l'Académie la relation d'un phénomène dont il a été témoin à Pondichéry." Comptes Rendus, 101 (November 2, 1885): 899-900.

11. "Inventor says his ray blasts foe's explosives." New York Herald Tribune, November 29, 1931, s.1 p.13.

12. "Viking exploded just as Frissell warned of peril." New York Herald Tribune, March 25, 1931, p. 10 c. 2. Frissell was with the ship's captain, radio operator, and a cameraman, when the boatswain came to their cabin and warned them of the danger of exposed powder in the ship's magazine. In response to this warning, Frissell began to write out a warning sign, and, then, the magazine exploded. The ship was located off Horse Island, White Bay, Newfoundland, (not New Brunswick).

13. New York Herald Tribune, (December 13, 1931).

14. "Cottage explosion mystery." London Daily News, September 16, 1921, p.5 c.3.

15. These incidents are repeated by Fort from Lo! For reports from local newspapers and two city newspapers cited by Fort: "Hornsey house of flying tables." Bowes Park Weekly News, (Enfield, London), February 19, 1921, p.5 c.4. "Hornsey's house of mystery." Bowes Park Weekly News, (Enfield, London), March 5, 1921, p.3 c.1-4. "A haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, February 18, 1921, p.8 c.5. "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, March 11, 1921, p.8 c.4. J. Lockart. "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, March 25, 1921, p.3 c.2. "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, April 8, 1921, p.8 c.3. "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, April 15, 1921, p.8 c.3. "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, May 13, 1921, p.7 c.1-2): "The haunted house at Hornsey." Hornsey Journal, May 20, 1921, p.8 c.5. "Haunted coal." North Middlesex Chronicle, February 12, 1921, p.3 c.2. "Hornsey house of flying tables." North Middlesex Chronicle, February 19, 1921, p.4 c.5. "Hornsey's house of mystery." North Middlesex Chronicle, February 26, 1921, p.3 c.5. "Hornsey's house of mystery." North Middlesex Chronicle, March 12, 1921, p.4 c.5. "Hornsey's house of mystery." North Middlesex Chronicle, March 19, 1921, p.4 c.4. "The haunted house at Hornsey." North Middlesex Chronicle, March 26, 1921, p.4 c.5. "Death at haunted house." North Middlesex Chronicle, April 2, 1921, p.4 c.4. "Hornsey's haunted house." North Middlesex Chronicle, April 16, 1921, p.3 c.6. "Hornsey's haunted house." North Middlesex Chronicle, May 14, 1921, p.3 c.5. "Agitated milk can at Hornsey." London Daily News, April 30, 1921, p.5 c.3.

16. Fort does not mention the reported apparition of the children's dead mother; and, the newspapers make no mention of the fact the house is adjacent to an old cemetary, which has long ago been abandoned by its caretakers.

17. "Ghosts cause a child's death." London Daily Express, April 2, 1921, p.5 c.2.

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