Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Sixteen



BUT WHY this everlasting attempt to solve something? -- whereas it is our acceptance that, in a final sense, there is, in phenomenal affairs, nothing -- or that there is only the state of something-nothing -- so that all problems are only soluble-insoluble -- or that most of the social problems we have, today, were at one time conceived of as solutions of preceding problems -- or that every Moses leads his people out of Egypt into perhaps a damn sight worse -- Promised Lands of watered milk and much-adulterated honey -- so why these everlasting attempts to solve something?

But to take surgical operations upon warders of Sing Sing Prison, and the loss of rectitude by lace curtains, and the vanishing man of Berlin; "Typhoid Mary", and a Chinese hair-clipper, and explosions of coal, and bodies on benches in a Harlem Park --

Robert Browning's conception was to take three sounds, and make, not a fourth, but a star.(1) [175/176]

Out of seven colors, not to lay on daubs, but to paint a picture.

Out of seven million Americans, Russians, Germans, Irishmen, Italians, and on, or so long as geography holds out, not to pile a population, but to organize -- more or less -- into New York City.

Sulphur and lava in a barren plain, and a salty block of stone, shaped roughly like a woman -- signs of erosion on rocks far above water-level -- a meteor that had set a bush afire -- the differences of languages of peoples -- and all the other elements that organized into Genesis.

Data of variations and heredity and adaptations; of multiplications and of checks and of the doctrine of Malthus; of acquired characters and of transmissions -- and they organized into The Origin of Species --

Just as, once upon a time, minerals that had affinity for one another came together and took on geometrical appearances. But a crystal is not supposed to be either a prohibition or an anti-prohibition argument. I know of a crystal of quartz that weighs several hundred pounds. But it has not been mistaken for propaganda --

Or all theories -- theological, scientific, philosophical -- and that they represent the same organizing process -- but that self-conscious theorists, instead of recognizing that thought-forms were appearing in their minds, as in wider existence have appeared crystalline constructions, have believed that it was immortal Truth that they were conceiving.

Oxygen and sulphur and carbon -- [176/177]

Or Emma Piggott and Ambrose Small and Rose Smith --

Or let's have just a little, minor expression, or organization, a small composition, arranging the data of poltergeist girls. The elements of this synthesis are moving objects, fires, girls in strange surroundings, youth and the atavism of youth.

Case of Jennie Bramwell -- she was an adopted daughter. The Antigonish girl was an adopted daughter. See the Dagg case -- adopted daughter.(2) "Adoption" is a good deal of a disguise for getting little girls to work for not much more than nothing. It is not so much that so many poltergeist girls have been housemaids and "adopted daughters", as that so many of them have been not in their own homes; lost and helpless youngsters, under hard task-masters, in strange surroundings --

Or the first uncertain and precarious appearances of human beings upon this earth -- and a need for them, and a fostering, a nurturing, a protection, far different from conditions in these swarming times, when the need is for eliminations --

A lost child in primordial woods -- and the value of her, which no genius, king, or leveller of kings, has today --

That objects moved in her presence -- fruits of trees that came down from the trees and set themselves beside her -- the shaking of bushes that cast, to her, berries -- then night and coldness -- faggots joining twigs, and dancing around her -- heaping -- the crackling of flames to warm her --

Or that, to this day, grotesque capers of chairs, the [177/178] antics of sofas, and the seeming wantonness of flames are survivals of co-operations that once upon a time moved even the trees, when a child was lost in the forest.

The old mathematicians has this aesthetic appraisal of their thoughts: they wrought theorems and calculi "for elegance," and were scornful of uses. But virtually everything that they produced "for elegance" was put to work by astronomers, navigators, surveyors. I assemble, compositionally, what I call data; but I am much depressed, perhaps, fearing that they have meaning outside themselves, or may be useful.

There is, upon this earth, today, at least one artist. Prof. Albert Einstein put together, into what he called one organic whole, such a diversity of elements as electromagnetic waves and irregularities in the motions of the planet Mercury; the fall of a stone from a train to an embankment, the geometry of hyper-space, and accelerated co-ordinate systems, and Lorentz transformations, and the displacement of stars during eclipses --

And the exploitation of everything by something, or, more or less remotely, by everything else -- the need of astronomers for Einsteinism, because it was so encouragingly unintelligible, whereas schoolboys were beginning to pick Newtonism to pieces -- and in the year 1918 it was announced that the useful Einstein had predicted displacements of stars, according to his theory, and that his predictions had been confirmed.

For purposes of renewed confirmation -- or maybe in innocence of trying to confirm anything, or at least not consciously intending to observe whatever was wanted -- [178/179] an expedition was sent by Lick Observatory to report upon the displacement of stars during the solar eclipse of October, 1922. The astronomers of this expedition agreed that the displacements of stars confirmed Einstein, the Prophet. Einstein was said to be useful, and, in California, school children, dressed in white, sang unto him kindred unintelligibilities. In New York, mounted policemen roughly held back crowds from him, just as he, to make his system of thoughts, had clubbed many astronomical data into insensibility. He had taken into his system of thoughts irregularities of the planet Mercury, but had left out irregularities of the planet Venus. Crowds took him into their holiday-making, but omitted asking what it was all about.

Upon June 12, 1931, Prof. Erwin Freundlicher reported to the Physics Association of Berlin that, according to his observations, during the eclipse of May 9, 1929, stars were not displaced, as, according to Einstein, they should be -- or that, outside itself, Einsteinism is meaningless.(3)

There was no excitement over this tragedy, or comedy, because this earth's intellectuals, mostly, take notice only when they're told to take notice; and to orthodoxy it seemed wisest that this earth's thinkers should not think about this. Prof. Freundlicher explained the astronomers of the Lick expedition, quite as I explain all astronomers. He gave his opinion that they had confirmed Einstein because "they had left out of consideration observations that did not fit in with the results that they wanted to obtain." If there be much more of such agreements with me, I shall have to hunt me some new heresies. For an account [179/180] of Prof. Freundlicher's report, see the New York Herald Tribune, June 14, 1931.(4)

Outside itself Einsteinism has no meaning.

As a worthless thing -- As an unrelated thing its state is that of which artists have dreamed, in their quest for absoluteness -- the dream of "art for art's sake."

Up to Dec. 6, 1931, I thought of Prof. Einstein's theories as almost alone, or as representing almost sublime worthlessness. But New York Times, Dec. 6, 1931 -- scientists of the University of California, experimenting upon an admixture of phosphorus in the food of swine, were developing luminous pigs.(5) "Just what they will be good for has not yet been announced."

Mine is a dream of being not worth a displaced star to anybody. I protest that with the elements of this book my only motive is compositional -- but comes the suspicion that I protest too much.

There has been a gathering of suggestions -- that there are subtler "rays" than anything that is known in radioactivity, and that they may be developed into usefulness. The Ascot Cup and the Dublin jewels -- and, if they were switched away by a means of transportation now not commonly known, a common knowledge may be developed to enormous advantage in commercial and recreational and explorative transportations.

In the period of my writing of this book, Californian scientists were trying to make pigs shine at night. Another scientist, who could not yet announce much usefulness, was feeding skimmed milk to huckleberries. For all I know one of us may revolutionize something or another. [180]

1. Fort refers to the seventh verse of Robert Browning's poem, "Abt Vogler":

"But here is the finger of God, a flash of the will that can,

Existent behind all laws, that made them, and, lo, they are!

And I know not if, save in this, such gift be allowed to man,

That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star.

Consider it well: each tone of our scale in itself is naught;

It is everywhere in the world -- loud, soft, and all is said:

Give it to me to use! I mix it with two in my thought:

And, there! Ye have heard and seen: consider and bow the head!"

Three sounds by themselves are considered nothing; but, taking three specific notes can produce a chord, which, when played upon Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler's musical invention, (the "orchestrion"), create music and make its composer a "star." Robert Browning. John Pettigrew, Ed. Robert Browning: The Poems. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, v.1; 777-81, 1153.

2. Fort's thoughts of relatedness in the case of Jennie Bramwell and Dina McLean may have been closer than supposed; for, both girls were adopted in Belleville, Ontario, and they were only a year apart in age.

3. Erwin Freundlich, (not Freundlicher), obtained displacements of stellar light during an eclipse approximating 2.2 degrees, which according to Einstein's calculations should have been displaced by 1.745 degrees.

4. "Einstein accepts corrections on error in theory." New York Herald Tribune, June 14, 1931, p.11 c.4-5. Correct quote: "...the American astronomers had committed an error of prime importance by leaving out of consideration observations that did not fit in with the results they wanted to obtain."

5. "California scientists seek to develop luminous porkers." New York Times, December 6, 1931, s.3 p.5 c.7. Correct quote: "...has not been announced."

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