The Wold Newton Meteorite: An Extraordinary Stone and the Birth of a Superhero

The Wold Newton Meteorite: An Extraordinary Stone and the Birth of a Superhero

In a remote part of North-East England called the Yorkshire Wolds, an incident took place on Sunday 13th December 1795 that not only became talking point of late 18th century London society but also gave birth to a modern literary legend. However, as is so often the case, the real facts associated with this event are just as intriguing as the fictional tales that subsequently arose from it!

Wold Newton Fiction: Radioactive Tarzan

In the early 1970s, the American science fiction author Philip José Farmer (1918 - 2009) was engaged writing the ‘biographies’ (as if they were real-life people) of two well-known fictional characters, namely Tarzan and Doc Savage (the latter is better known in the US than the UK). Farmer was toying with the idea of whether they and similar superheroes of pulp and popular fiction were in any way related since, if they were real, their paths would have inevitably crossed in life. In addition, Farmer was intrigued with how these characters originally gained their superpowers.

Book covers for Tarzan novels, 1912 and 1914

His suggestion, explained in Tarzan Alive (1972) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), was that in 1795 a radioactive meteorite fell near Wold Newton, with the radiation causing genetic mutations to the occupants of two passing coaches, which were passed on to their descendants in the form of extremely high intelligence and strength, along with an exceptional capacity and drive to perform either great good – or evil.

According to Farmer, 19 individuals “were riding in two coaches past Wold Newton... A meteorite struck only twenty yards from the two coaches... The bright light and heat and thunderous roar of the meteorite blinded and terrorized the passengers, coachmen, and horses... They never guessed, being ignorant of ionization, that the fallen star had affected them and their unborn.”

The people in the first coach were said to be John Clayton, the third Duke of Greystoke, and his wife Alicia, nee Rutherford, sister of the eleventh Baron Tennington; the eleventh Baron himself, George Edward Rutherford and his wife Elizabeth Cavendish; Honore Delagardie and his wife Philippa Drummond; and Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth Bennett. (And you thought the latter two were just characters in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice !)

In the second coach were Sir Percy Blakeney, better known as The Scarlet Pimpernel, and his second wife Alice Clarke Raffles; Sir Hugh Drummond, brother of Philippa, and his wife Georgia Dewhurst; and Doctor Siger Holmes and his wife Violet Clarke Raffles, the sister of Alice. A friend of Holmes, a young medical student called Sebastian Noel, was accompanying the coaches on horseback and there were also four coachmen present: Louis Lupin, Albert Lecoq, Arthur Blake and Simon MacNichols.

As these families intermarried in the years that followed; this reinforced the radiation-induced mutated gene, eventually producing what Farmer calls a “nova of genetic splendor, this outburst of great detectives, scientists and explorers of exotic worlds, this last efflorescence of true heroes in an otherwise degenerate age.”

That is the fiction but what are the facts? To date, the village of Wold Newton, lying in the heart of the still relatively sparsely-populated, farming region of the Yorkshire Wolds, has had just one serious brush with history and that was in 1795 on Sunday 13th December…

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After the fall: in 1794, a heavenly epistle heralds the study of meteorites.

Everyone knows that rocks don't just fall out of the sky. It goes against common sense. It violates the laws of physics. But don't tell that to the people of this Tuscany resort town. They saw it happen.

Things started going haywire about 7 p.m. today, when a dark, high cloud approaching from the north threatened to spoil a picture-perfect sky. Some heard lightning, others likened the noise to artillery fire. After an earsplitting cannonade, the dark cloud flamed red and stones hissed through the air, landing at the feet of bewildered spectators.

Of course, everyone is trying desperately to find an explanation for what happened. Some believe that the stones must have come from Mount Vesuvius, which erupted just 18 hours earlier. But others point out that Vesuvius lies 320 kilometers southwest of here and that the dark cloud approached from the north.

Just about everyone seems dumbstruck, even those who only heard about the falling stones secondhand. Comments Frederick A. Hervey, the visiting Earl of Bristol: "My first objection was to the fact itself, but of this there are so many eyewitnesses, it seems impossible to withstand their evidence."

Seven years would pass before astronomers discovered the first "minor planet," or asteroid, one of the many rocky objects that roam the region between Mars and Jupiter. It would take nearly 70 more years for scientists to realize that most large meteorites, such as those in the memorable shower that hit Siena, represent asteroids flung into Earth-crossing orbits. And only in the last decade or so have researchers directly examined meteorites known to originate from the moon or Mars--an invaluable link to objects that originate far beyond Earth and may date back to the birth of the solar system.

Historians have often argued that another meteorite fall, the spectacular shower of 3,000 stones at l'Aigle in the French province of Normandy in 1803, sparked the early investigation of meteorites. But last month, Ursula B. Marvin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., presented evidence that the modern science of meteoritics had its roots in the Siena fall 9 years earlier.

Before the Siena event, few believed that a shower of stones could come from the sky. Afterwards, skeptics could no longer dismiss accounts of falling rocks as the tall tales of unschooled peasants, notes Marvin. The time and place of the fall prompted the first serious studies by scientists and astronomers in Italy and England, she maintains.

For these reasons, the Siena event represents the most significant fall in modern times, Marvin asserted in September at the annual meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Washington, D.C.

No backwater town, Siena in 1794 had a population of nearly 30,000 and its own university. Moreover, by the early 1790s, the city had become popular with English tourists. After the fall, visitors returned to England with exciting tales and stony specimens--real or bogus. (A cottage industry in fake stones sprang up in Siena soon after the meteorites fell.) These firsthand accounts "helped to make the idea of fallen stone more acceptable [in England] than it would have been based solely on published reports," Marvin says.

By the end of the year, two treatises had been published on the fall--one by Abbe Ambrogio Soldani, a mathematics professor at Siena, and the other by Abbe Domenico Tata, professor of physics and mathematics at Naples, and William Thomson, an English scientist living in Naples. Both works concluded that the stones had "congealed" in the high, dark cloud and had no link to the eruption of Vesuvius.

Tata and Thomson described, in general terms, the mineral content of the stones and named the material soldanite. Marvin notes that soldanite may well have been "the first official name for meteoritic stone."

Early in 1795, Sir William Hamilton, the English ambassador to the court of Naples, published a brief account of the Siena meteorite fall in a 43-page report on Vesuvius in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He called the event "a very extraordinary circumstance indeed . . . although it might have no relation to the eruption." Indeed, most scientists of the time concluded that the Siena fall had nothing to do with the eruption of Vesuvius.

The fall came at an opportune time--less than 2 months after the publication in Germany of Ernst F.F. Chladni's On the Origin of Ironmasses. Chladni espoused the heretical notion that stones and masses of iron fall from the sky and deserve recognition as natural phenomena. He asserted that the falling masses might create fireballs in the atmosphere or even originate in "cosmic space." What's more, the objects might be remnants of planet formation or planetary debris from explosions or collisions.

In his prescient speculations, Chladni battled the consensus that small bodies did not exist beyond the moon.

Aristotle had said so in the fourth century B.C., and Isaac Newton reiterated the idea in 1704. "[T]o make way for the regular and lasting motions of the planets and comets, it's necessary to empty the heavens of all matter except perhaps . . . a very thin, invisible aether," Newton wrote.

Initially, virtually every German critic vilified Chladni's book. "By all means you must read Chladni's infamous book on iron masses," Alexander von Humboldt wrote to Carl Freisleben in October 1794. The following year, Georg C. Lichtenberg, who had encouraged Chladni to begin his investigation, had even harsher words. According to one account, Lichtenberg said he "wished Chladni had not written his book. He felt as if he had been hit on the head with one of his stones."

After all, who was the upstart Chladni to refute the ideas of the great Newton?

Then Mother Nature struck again.

At 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, 1795, three laborers reported a huge explosion in Wold Newton, England. A black stone emerged from a cloud and gouged a hole in a field outside Wold Cottage. The landowner built a monument over the hole and displayed the stone at the Gloucester Coffee House in London.*

Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, obtained a sample of the stone and noted that it resembled the one he had received from the Siena fall.

Early in 1796, Edward King, a fellow of the Royal Society, published the first English-language book on fallen stones. He cited both the Siena and Wold Cottage events. Rather than attribute the falls to a celestial source, he suggested that the Wold Cottage event might have resulted from the ashes spewed by Mount Hecla, a volcano in Iceland.

At the end of his dissertation, however, King cites "a very singular tract, published in 1794 at Riga by Dr. Chladni." King did not comment on Chladni's claims that the stones represented debris from the heavens, but he asserted that the facts merited further study.

That same year, news of the Siena fall finally reached Germany. At least one scientist, astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers, had begun to accept the notion of a heavenly origin for Chladni's stones. In 1795, Olbers suggested that the fallen chunks might represent debris ejected from lunar volcanoes. Two years later, Lichtenberg, the scholar who had panned Chladni's book, embraced Olbers' hypothesis. Wrote Lichtenberg in 1797: "[T]he moon must be an uncivil neighbor to welcome the Earth with stones."

Two other falls, one near Evora, Portugal, on Feb. 19, 1796, and the other in Benares, India, on Dec. 19, 1798, also garnered wide publicity. Following the spectacular shower of stones from an exploding fireball in Benares, Banks called for a scientific investigation.

He asked the young English chemist Edward Howard to analyze specimens from Siena and Wold Cottage, which Banks conjectured came from meteors. Meteor displays--streaks of light in the atmosphere--were well known to science, but Banks now connected them with the flight of stony objects. He even predicted that the study of the fallen rocks would open a new field of science.

For his comparative study, begun around 1800, Howard also obtained other pieces of stone and metallic material, called native irons, that Chladni deduced must have fallen from the sky. The timing of Howard's study proved opportune: Scientists had published the first quantitative test for nickel--a key component of many meteorites--only 3 years earlier.

Later, French chemist Nicolas-Louis Vauquelin would write: "While all Europe resounded with the report of stones fallen . . . and philosophers divided in opinion were forming hypotheses to explain the origin of them . . . Mr. Howard, an able English chemist, was pursuing in silence the only route which could lead to a solution of the problem."

.Howard analyzed samples whose density and magnetic characteristics had already been assessed by mineralogist Count Jacques-Louis Bournon. Howard found that the iron samples, as well as metal grains from the stones, contained considerable amounts of nickel.

"This linked the irons with the stones and set them both apart from terrestrial rock," Marvin notes.

Howard and Bournon reported their findings in 1802. Echoing the sentiments of Olbers, French scientists Pierre Simon Laplace, Simeon-Denis Poisson, and Jean-Baptiste Biot speculated that the stones and irons came from volcanoes on the moon.

In adopting this view, the researchers still clung to Newton's dictum of a vast void beyond the moon, Marvin notes. But they clearly agreed that the stones came from a heavenly source.

Thus, says Marvin, "the fall at Siena began a line of investigations that led to acceptance of Chladni's hypothesis in 1802--a full year before the famous showers of 3,000 stones in Normandy.

"That is why I conclude that Siena was the most consequential of historic meteorite falls."

* To mark the 200th anniversary of the Wold Cottage meteorite fall, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Mineralogical Society will hold a meeting on Dec. 7 and 8 in London.


Contents

Tarzan is the son of a British lord and lady who were marooned on the Atlantic Coast of Africa by mutineers. When Tarzan was an infant, his mother died, and his father was killed by Kerchak, leader of the ape tribe by whom Tarzan was adopted.

Soon after his parents' death, Tarzan became a feral child, and his tribe of apes is known as the Mangani, great apes of a species unknown to science. Kala is his ape mother. Burroughs added stories occurring during Tarzan's adolescence in his sixth Tarzan book, Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

Jane Edit

As an 18-year-old young adult, Tarzan meets a young American woman named Jane Porter. Her father, others of their party, and she are marooned on the same coastal jungle area where Tarzan's human parents were 20 years earlier. When Jane returns to the United States, Tarzan leaves the jungle in search of her, his one true love. In The Return of Tarzan, Tarzan and Jane marry. In later books, he lives with her for a time in England. They have one son, Jack, who takes the ape name Korak (the Killer). Tarzan is contemptuous of what he sees as the hypocrisy of civilization, so Jane and he return to Africa, making their home on an extensive estate that becomes a base for Tarzan's later adventures.

As revealed in Tarzan's Quest, Tarzan, Jane, Tarzan's monkey friend Nkima, and their allies gained some of the Kavuru's pills that grant immortality to their consumer.

Age Edit

Burroughs' use of dates and of time passing is constantly inconsistent in his novels in fact, downright contradictions are seen in the series. In the first book, Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan is implied to have been born early in 1888, and the arrival of Jane is said to have occurred in 1909, which would make him 20 years old. In chapter 9 of the book, two paragraphs prior to when Mbonga's warriors enter, Burroughs states:

Thus, at eighteen, we find him, an English lordling, who could speak no English, and yet who could read and write his native language. Never had he seen a human being other than himself, for the little area traversed by his tribe was watered by no great river to bring down the savage natives of the interior.

The Return Of Tarzan makes multiple references to the fact that Tarzan’s parents, John and Alice Clayton, were missing for only 20 years, which means that Tarzan would only be 18–19 years of age. Yet, in chapter 5, when the ape man has almost killed the Count de Coude, Tarzan states:

Until I was fifteen I had never seen a human being. I was twenty before I saw a white man.

Numerous authorised movies and novels have all agreed with the notion of Tarzan being 18 years old during the events of the first novel. A later novel, Tarzan the Untamed, faces a similar problem with the novel being set in the year 1914, despite the fact that Tarzan and Jane's son, Jack 'Korak' Clayton is supposed to be 18 years old. It is believed among fans that Burroughs did this deliberately to give an illusion that Tarzan had once been an actual person, and that Burroughs was trying to conceal his real identity, stating that "John Clayton" is itself a fictitious name, invented by Tarzan to mask his real identity.

Name Edit

Tarzan is the ape name of John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke according to Burroughs' Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (Earl of Greystoke in later, less canonical sources, notably the 1984 film Greystoke). In fact, Burroughs' narrator in Tarzan of the Apes describes both Clayton and Greystoke as fictitious names, implying that, within the fictional world that Tarzan inhabits, he may have a different real name.

Burroughs considered other names for the character, including "Zantar" and "Tublat Zan", before he settled on "Tarzan". [5] Though the copyright on Tarzan of the Apes has expired in the United States and other countries, the name Tarzan is claimed as a trademark of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Edgar Rice Burroughs created an elegant version of the wild man figure largely unalloyed with character flaws or faults.

Tarzan is described as being tall, athletic, handsome, and tanned, with grey eyes and long, black hair. He wears almost no clothes, except for a loincloth. Emotionally, he is courageous, intelligent, loyal, and steadfast.

Personality Edit

He is presented as behaving ethically in most situations, except when seeking vengeance under the motivation of grief, as when his ape mother Kala is killed in Tarzan of the Apes, or when he believes Jane has been murdered in Tarzan the Untamed. He is deeply in love with his wife and totally devoted to her in numerous situations where other women express their attraction to him, Tarzan politely but firmly declines their attentions.

When presented with a situation where a weaker individual or party is being preyed upon by a stronger foe, Tarzan invariably takes the side of the weaker party. In dealing with other men, Tarzan is firm and forceful. With male friends, he is reserved, but deeply loyal and generous. As a host, he is, likewise, generous and gracious. As a leader, he commands devoted loyalty.

In keeping with these noble characteristics, Tarzan's philosophy embraces an extreme form of "return to nature." Although he is able to pass within society as a civilized individual, he prefers to "strip off the thin veneer of civilization," as Burroughs often puts it. [6] His preferred dress is a knife and a loincloth of animal hide his preferred abode is any convenient tree branch when he desires to sleep and his favored food is raw meat, killed by himself even better if he is able to bury it a week so that putrefaction has had a chance to tenderize it a bit.

Physical abilities Edit

Tarzan's jungle upbringing gives him abilities far beyond those of ordinary humans. These include climbing, clinging, and leaping as well as any great ape. He uses branches, and swings from vines to travel at great speed, a skill acquired among the anthropoid apes.

His strength, speed, stamina, agility, reflexes, and swimming skills are extraordinary in comparison to normal men. He has wrestled full-grown bull apes and gorillas, lions, rhinos, crocodiles, pythons, sharks, tigers, giant seahorses, and even dinosaurs (when he visited Pellucidar). Tarzan is a skilled tracker, and uses his exceptional hearing and keen sense of smell to follow prey or avoid predators.

Language and literacy Edit

Tarzan/John Clayton is very articulate and reserved, and does not speak in broken English as the classic movies of the 1930s depict him. He can communicate with many species of jungle animals, and has been shown to be a skilled impressionist, able to mimic the sound of a gunshot perfectly.

Extremely intelligent, Tarzan was literate in English before he first encountered other English-speaking people. His literacy is self-taught after several years in his early teens by visiting the log cabin of his infancy and looking at children's primer/picture books. He eventually reads every book in his father's portable book collection, and is fully aware of geography, basic world history, and his family tree. He is "found" by traveling Frenchman Paul d'Arnot, who teaches him the basics of human speech and returns with him to civilization. When Tarzan first encounters d'Arnot, he tells him (in writing): "I speak only the language of my tribe—the great apes who were Kerchak's and a little of the languages of Tantor, the elephant, and Numa, the lion, and of the other folks of the jungle I understand."

Tarzan can learn a new language in days, ultimately speaking many languages, including that of the great apes, French, Finnish, English, Dutch, German, Swahili, many other Bantu languages, Arabic, Ancient Greek, Ancient Latin, and Mayan, as well as the languages of the Ant Men and of Pellucidar.

Tarzan has been called one of the best-known literary characters in the world. [7] In addition to more than two dozen books by Burroughs and a handful more by authors with the blessing of Burroughs' estate, the character has appeared in films, radio, television, comic strips, and comic books. Numerous parodies and pirated works have also appeared.

Critical reception Edit

While Tarzan of the Apes met with some critical success, subsequent books in the series received a cooler reception and have been criticized for being derivative and formulaic. The characters are often said to be two-dimensional, the dialogue wooden, and the storytelling devices (such as excessive reliance on coincidence) strain credulity. According to Rudyard Kipling (who himself wrote stories of a feral child, The Jungle Book's Mowgli), Burroughs wrote Tarzan of the Apes just so he could "find out how bad a book he could write and get away with it." [8]

While Burroughs is not a polished novelist, he is a vivid storyteller, and many of his novels are still in print. [9] In 1963, author Gore Vidal wrote a piece on the Tarzan series that, while pointing out several of the deficiencies that the Tarzan books have as works of literature, praises Burroughs for creating a compelling "daydream figure." [10] Critical reception grew more positive with the 1981 study by Erling B. Holtsmark, Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature. [11] Holtsmark added a volume on Burroughs for Twayne's United States Author Series in 1986. [12] In 2010, Stan Galloway provided a sustained study of the adolescent period of the fictional Tarzan's life in The Teenage Tarzan. [13]

Despite critical panning, the Tarzan stories have remained popular. Burroughs' melodramatic situations and the elaborate details he works into his fictional world, such as his construction of a partial language for his great apes, appeal to a worldwide fan base. [14]

Unauthorized works Edit

After Burroughs' death, a number of writers produced new Tarzan stories. In some instances, the estate managed to prevent publication of such works. The most notable example in the United States was a series of five novels by the pseudonymous "Barton Werper" that appeared 1964–65 by Gold Star Books (part of Charlton Comics). As a result of legal action by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., they were taken off the market. [15] Similar series appeared in other countries, notably Argentina, Israel, and some Arab countries.

Modern fiction Edit

In 1972, science-fiction author Philip José Farmer wrote Tarzan Alive, a biography of Tarzan using the frame device that he was a real person. In Farmer's fictional universe, Tarzan, along with Doc Savage and Sherlock Holmes, are the cornerstones of the Wold Newton family. Farmer wrote two novels, Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar, set in the distant past and giving the antecedents of the lost city of Opar, which plays an important role in the Tarzan books. In addition, Farmer's A Feast Unknown, and its two sequels Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin, are pastiches of the Tarzan and Doc Savage stories, with the premise that they tell the story of the real characters upon which the fictional characters are based. A Feast Unknown is somewhat infamous among Tarzan and Doc Savage fans for its graphic violence and sexual content. [ citation needed ]

In her Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman describes how various people of the time either challenged or upheld the idea that "civilization" is predicated on white masculinity. She closes with a chapter on Tarzan of the Apes (1912) because the story's protagonist is, according to her, the ultimate male by the standards of 1912 White Americans. Bederman does note that Tarzan, "an instinctively chivalrous Anglo-Saxon," does not engage in sexual violence, renouncing his "masculine impulse to rape." However, she also notes that not only does Tarzan kill black man Kulonga in revenge for killing his ape mother (a stand-in for his biological White mother) by hanging him, "lyncher Tarzan" actually enjoys killing black people, for example the cannibalistic Mbongans.

Bederman, in fact, reminds readers that when Tarzan first introduces himself to Jane, he does so as "Tarzan, the killer of beasts and many black men". The novel climaxes with Tarzan saving Jane (who in the original novel is not British, but a White woman from Baltimore, Maryland) from a black ape rapist. When he leaves the jungle and sees "civilized" Africans farming, his first instinct is to kill them just for being Black. "Like the lynch victims reported in the Northern press, Tarzan's victims—cowards, cannibals, and despoilers of white womanhood—lack all manhood. Tarzan's lynchings thus prove him the superior man."

According to Bederman, despite embodying all the tropes of white supremacy espoused or rejected by the people she had reviewed (Theodore Roosevelt, G. Stanley Hall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida B. Wells), Burroughs, in all probability, was not trying to make any kind of statement or echo any of them. "He probably never heard of any of them." Instead, Bederman writes that Burroughs proves her point because, in telling racist and sexist stories whose protagonist boasted of killing black people, he was not being unusual at all, but was instead just being a typical 1912 White American.

Race Edit

The Tarzan books and movies employ extensive stereotyping. With changing social views and customs this has led to criticism, including charges of racism since the early 1970s. [16] The early books give a pervasively negative and stereotypical portrayal of native Africans, including Arabs. In The Return of Tarzan, Arabs are "surly looking" and call Christians "dogs", while black Africans are "lithe, ebon warriors, gesticulating and jabbering".

In regards to race, a superior–inferior relationship with valuation is implied in virtually all interactions between white and black people in the Tarzan stories, and similar relationships and valuations can be seen in most other interactions between differing people. According to James Loewen's Sundown Towns, this may be a vestige of Burroughs' having been from Oak Park, Illinois, a former Sundown town (a town that forbids non-white people from living within it). [ citation needed ]

Tarzan is a white European male who grows up with apes. According to "Taking Tarzan Seriously" by Marianna Torgovnick, Tarzan is confused with the social hierarchy that he is a part of. Unlike everyone else in his society, Tarzan is the only one who is not clearly part of any social group. All the other members of his world are not able to climb or decline socially because they are already part of a social hierarchy which is stagnant. Turgovnick writes that since Tarzan was raised as an ape, he thinks and acts like an ape. However, instinctively he is human and he resorts to being human when he is pushed to. The reason of his confusion is that he does not understand what the typical white male is supposed to act like. His instincts eventually kick in when he is in the midst of this confusion, and he ends up dominating the jungle. In Tarzan, the jungle is a microcosm for the world in general in 1912 to the early 1930s. His climbing of the social hierarchy proves that the European white male is the most dominant of all races/sexes, no matter what the circumstance. Furthermore, Turgovnick writes that when Tarzan first meets Jane, she is slightly repulsed but also fascinated by his animal-like actions. As the story progresses, Tarzan surrenders his knife to Jane in an oddly chivalrous gesture, which makes Jane fall for Tarzan despite his odd circumstances. Turgovnick believes that this displays an instinctual, civilized chivalry that Burrough believes is common in white men. [17] [18]

Gender dynamic Edit

Burroughs' opinions, manifested through the narrative voice in the stories, reflect common attitudes in his time, which in a 21st-century context would be considered racist and sexist. However Thomas F. Bertonneau writes: [19]

[Burroughs'] conception of the feminine that elevates the woman to the same level as the man and that—in such characters as Dian of the Pellucidar novels or Dejah Thoris of the Barsoom novels—figures forth a female type who corresponds neither to desperate housewife, full-lipped prom-date, middle-level careerist office-manager, nor frowning ideological feminist-professor, but who exceeds all these by bounds in her realized humanity and in so doing suggests their insipidity.

The author is not especially mean-spirited in his attitudes. His heroes do not engage in violence against women or in racially motivated violence. In Tarzan of the Apes, details of a background of suffering experienced at the hands of white people by Mbonga's "once great" people are repeatedly told with evident sympathy, and in explanation or even justification of their current animosity toward white people. Although the character of Tarzan does not directly engage in violence against women, feminist scholars have critiqued the presence of other sympathetic male characters who do so with Tarzan's approval. [20] In Tarzan and the Ant Men, the men of a fictional tribe of creatures called the Alali gain social dominance of their society by beating Alali women into submission with weapons that Tarzan willingly provides them. [20] Following the battle, Burroughs (p. 178) states: [20]

To entertain Tarzan and to show him what great strides civilization had taken—the son of The First Woman seized a female by the hair and dragging her to him struck her heavily about the head and face with his clenched fist, and the woman fell upon her knees and fondled his legs, looking wistfully into his face, her own glowing with love and admiration.

While Burroughs depicts some female characters with humanistic equalizing elements, Torgovnick argues that violent scenes against women in the context of male political and social domination are condoned in his writing, reinforcing a notion of gendered hierarchy where patriarchy is portrayed as the natural pinnacle of society. [20]


Out of thin air

He begins with the extraordinary circumstances surrounding several historic meteorite finds and falls, including the Wold Newton stone. But humanity’s fascination with meteorites stretches back much earlier: he describes how an iron dagger found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, from around 1350 bc, was fashioned from a fallen meteorite.

Next comes the history of how clusters of meteorites were discovered in Antarctica and the hot deserts of the world, where low rates of precipitation mean there is little of the erosion that could otherwise degrade the fallen stones. Meteorite-hunting expeditions from countries including the United States and Japan regularly travel to Antarctica, where the movement of ice sheets carries meteorites like a conveyor belt, concentrating them in certain regions.

Researchers with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites programme collect a sample. Credit: Christine Floss/ANSMET/NSF/NASA

Gregory explains how modern analytical tools measure the chemical compositions of meteorites with unprecedented precision and accuracy. He describes “drops of fiery rain” that formed when clumps of primordial dust flash-heated to make round droplets, which quickly solidified and then accreted with other solids into asteroid-sized bodies and planetary embryos. These solidified droplets, or chondrules, are found in some of the most common types of meteorite, called chondrites understanding the processes that formed them gives insights into how planets came together in the early Solar System.

Radiocarbon revolution: the story of an isotope

And meteorites can reveal information even older than our Solar System. They contain clues to the nature of the space between the stars and the dense molecular clouds that can form there, as well as how newborn stars fuse elements. Studies of meteorites and their components have revealed that the place in our Galaxy where the Solar System arose was a much more active star-forming region than our current astrophysical environment.

Gregory also delves into meteorites from the Moon and Mars, as well as significant terrestrial impacts (particularly the one 66 million years ago that extinguished almost three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth, including the non-avian dinosaurs). Along the way, he provides some of the most lucid explanations of the physical and chemical principles of meteoritics and cosmochemistry that I have come across in a popular book. He explains how gravitational tugs between Jupiter and asteroids in the asteroid belt lead to orbital resonances that throw asteroids off course and help to deliver meteorites to Earth. He discusses how scientists can use the oxygen-isotope compositions of meteorites as a ‘fingerprint’ to discover where in the solar nebula they formed, or use rare isotopes of other elements to determine how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic rays in interplanetary space.

Villagers pose around the crater of a meteorite that landed in Bihar state, India, in 2019. Credit: AFP via Getty

A couple of prominent figures who shaped the field are not mentioned. One is Harvey Nininger: self-taught, his extensive research and collection efforts laid the foundations of modern meteoritics in the 1930s. (Amateur collectors continue to have an important role in advancing the field, by making new types of meteorite more readily accessible to researchers.) Another is William Cassidy, who helped to establish systematic meteorite-collection efforts in Antarctica.

This exemplary book deserves a second edition — with more illustrations, photographs, references and citations. After all, meteorites offer a way to unravel the mysteries of our planet, the Solar System and beyond. By studying them, Gregory writes, “We have discovered a story written across light years down the barrel of a microscope, and come face to face with the grandest of timescales.”


Radiocarbon revolution: the story of an isotope

And meteorites can reveal information even older than our Solar System. They contain clues to the nature of the space between the stars and the dense molecular clouds that can form there, as well as how newborn stars fuse elements. Studies of meteorites and their components have revealed that the place in our Galaxy where the Solar System arose was a much more active star-forming region than our current astrophysical environment.

Gregory also delves into meteorites from the Moon and Mars, as well as significant terrestrial impacts (particularly the one 66 million years ago that extinguished almost three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth, including the non-avian dinosaurs). Along the way, he provides some of the most lucid explanations of the physical and chemical principles of meteoritics and cosmochemistry that I have come across in a popular book. He explains how gravitational tugs between Jupiter and asteroids in the asteroid belt lead to orbital resonances that throw asteroids off course and help to deliver meteorites to Earth. He discusses how scientists can use the oxygen-isotope compositions of meteorites as a ‘fingerprint’ to discover where in the solar nebula they formed, or use rare isotopes of other elements to determine how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic rays in interplanetary space.

Villagers pose around the crater of a meteorite that landed in Bihar state, India, in 2019. Credit: AFP via Getty

A couple of prominent figures who shaped the field are not mentioned. One is Harvey Nininger: self-taught, his extensive research and collection efforts laid the foundations of modern meteoritics in the 1930s. (Amateur collectors continue to have an important role in advancing the field, by making new types of meteorite more readily accessible to researchers.) Another is William Cassidy, who helped to establish systematic meteorite-collection efforts in Antarctica.

This exemplary book deserves a second edition — with more illustrations, photographs, references and citations. After all, meteorites offer a way to unravel the mysteries of our planet, the Solar System and beyond. By studying them, Gregory writes, “We have discovered a story written across light years down the barrel of a microscope, and come face to face with the grandest of timescales.”


Want a meteorite? Christie’s set to auction unique space rocks

It’s not everyday you could have the opportunity to buy a piece of space – but Christie’s London auction house will on April 20 offer about 80 meteorite pieces and a bunch of space rock paraphernalia to go along with them.

The meteorite collection is made up of a variety of sample space rocks from private and public collections with some items expected to fetch over a million dollars at the auction.

Arguably the most interesting space rock up for sale is one known as the Valera Meteorite – which is purported to have killed a cow. The Christie’s entry for Valera looks like this:

VALERA METEORITE — THE ONLY DOCUMENTED METEORITE TO HAVE KILLED

One face is cut and polished. The multi-hued variegated matrix is embedded with sparkling metallic grains, and a single large metallic inclusion is at the left margin. Blurred chondrule boundaries evidence heating on its parent asteroid long before its brush with Earth and a cow. An echo in miniature of the devastating asteroid believed to have killed off the dinosaurs, it was on the evening of October 15, 1972 that farmhands in Trujillo, Venezuela were startled by an inexplicable sonic boom. The next day an exotic rock was found alongside a cow’s carcass whose neck and clavicle had been pulverized. It was obvious to the farm’s owner, physician Dr. Argimiro Gonzalez, what had occurred, but he didn’t give it a second thought since mayhem from falling meteorites seemed intuitive. An unplanned steak dinner was enjoyed that night and the celestial boulder was used as a doorstop. More than a decade later scientists confirmed what Dr. Gonzalez had long presumed. However, what Dr. Gonzalez didn’t know was that this was the first and still the only documented fatal meteorite impact. When Dr. Ignacio Ferrin, an astronomer at the University of the Andes, learned of the act of bovicide that had occurred at Valera, he visited the Gonzalez estate and left with an affidavit affirming the aforementioned events as well as the meteorite itself.

Another historic space nugget, The Wold Cottage meteorite is also on the auction package. From Christie’s: The Wold Cottage meteorite played a crucial role in the scientific community’s acceptance that rocks could indeed fall out of the sky—a notion previously met with disbelief or considered heretical. On December 13, 1795, Wold Cottage crashed to Earth just yards from farmworker John Shipley. Edward Topham, the owner of the Wold Cottage estate, was away in London at the time, but he hurried home after reading accounts in the press. Topham was a well-known bon vivant with a sterling reputation. Certain that the stone was of great import, Topham arranged to have Wold Cottage placed on exhibition in London, helping to sway public opinion to embrace Shipley’s extraordinary claim. The scientific community took note, especially after Wold Cottage proved similar to a rock reported to have fallen out of the sky eighteen months earlier in Siena, Italy.The fact that two stones from different localities had common characteristics convinced many scientists of their possible extraterrestrial origin. This is an uncommon offering of an extremely historic meteorite.

The meteorite that might bring the highest bid – because of its size, 1,400 lbs and significance -- is the Brenham meteorite. According to the Christie’s write-up: As evidenced by its shape, this meteorite—unlike the vast majority of other meteorites — did not tumble or change its vertical axis as it plunged through Earth’s atmosphere. The parabolic "heat shield" curvature seen here was sculpted at exceedingly high temperatures, and is the most efficient angle at which heat deflects from a falling object. This is the reason NASA engineers studied this parabola in other oriented meteorites when designing the heat shields for the first manned space capsules. The smoothness of the surface is the result of the melting process in Earth's upper atmosphere in which olivine crystals melted and exposed tendrils of the nickel-iron matrix in a process that repeated until the meteorite slowed to terminal velocity. A significant fraction of the meteorite vaporized or ablated off its edges during its descent. The ablative heat shield-like action pushed the hottest gasses (referred to as the shock layer — which is hotter than the surface of the sun — away from the meteorite).


Meteorites are also sought after as collectibles, aren’t they? Tell us about Harvey Nininger and the “meteorite men.”

Harvey Nininger was an extraordinarily persistent and modest gentleman from the great American Midwest. He didn’t hear about meteorites until he was already married, with three children, teaching biology in Kansas. He comes across a paper describing meteorites. A couple of weeks later he sees a fireball – which is a fairly rare thing. He determined that this fireball exploded over a small town in Kansas and he goes out and puts an ad in the paper asking for anybody who has samples of what fell to earth. He became obsessed with this and devoted the rest of his life to looking for meteorites. He used to drive his car thousands of miles, stopping in little towns to explain to farmers about meteorites coming from space, and if they found any unusual stones in their fields to please let him know. He ended up receiving tons of rock. A lot of it was non- meteorite but some of it was! Because he was self-taught, the scientific community treated him very uncharitably. But he spent a lot of time researching Meteor Crater in Arizona and many of his ideas proved to be true.

Meteorites have an incredibly avid fan base. Most of the collectors and hobbyists are men, though there are women, too. Some make a living from locating fall sites and examining the strewn fields where the meteorites have fallen. Geoffrey Notkin, for example, was a punk rock musician. As a kid, he was interested in geology. Later, he had an epiphany, turned to meteorite hunting and ends up with a TV show. It takes a lot of ingenuity to put these hunts together. Aside from your basic metal detector, they need all-terrain vehicles because fall sites are often remote. The main thing is perseverance. You have to know what you’re looking for and spend hours and hours looking at the ground. But the reward makes it worthwhile: a piece of the solar system at its birth.


Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu

The Wold Newton Meteor
On December 13, 1795, at 3:00 pm, a meteorite plunged to earth. It landed near the English village of Wold Newton in Yorkshire. The impact site became part of the local folklore. The meteorite was named after The Wold Cottage, the house owned by Edward Topham, who was a poet, playwright, landowner, and local magistrate.

Magistrate Topham was instrumental to the Wold Cottage meteorite's role in promoting worldwide acceptance of the fact that some stones are not of this Earth. The Wold Cottage is still privately owned, and is currently the site of a micro-brewery where one can procure the local brew, Falling Stone Bitter. Pieces of the Wold Cottage Meteorite are held at the London Natural History Museum.

In 1799, Edward Topham erected a brick monument to commemorate the event.

Historical Accounts
History records several people observed the object in the sky. Topham's shepherd was within 150 yards of the impact and a farmhand, John Shipley, was so near that he was forcibly struck by mud and earth as the falling meteorite burrowed into the ground. John Shipley signed a deposition, published alongside a reprinted letter by Topham in the Gentleman's Magazine for July 1797, that "he was within eight or nine yards of the stone when it fell, saw it distinct seven or eight yards from the ground, and then strike into the earth, which flew up all about him, and which alarmed him very much."
[ Source Link ]

A contemporaneous account observes that:

Many historians fail to adequately record is the presence of other persons in the immediate vicinity at the time of the Wold Newton meteor strike. We know about these other people through the extraordinary and singular work of one historian. The historian was, of course, Philip José Farmer.

It has since been revealed, by researchers inspired by Farmer's original discoveries, there were several more persons present that fateful day, not named by Farmer.
[ Source Link ]

Placing Dirk Struan in Wold Newton
According to research:

1784 February
Dirk Lochlin Struan is born on a small farm in Struan Kirk, Perthshire, Scotland. He is the son of Parlan Duncan Struan and Bonnie McCloud-Struan.

1794 September
Death of Bonnie McCloud.

1795 May
Marriage of Parlan Struan and Catherine Shipley. Parlan adopts Catherine's son Robb. Lands belonging to the clan of Struan are purchased by the Earl of Struan. Preferring to live near her brothers and sisters, Catherine convinces Parlan to relocate the family to Wold Newton, England.

1795 December
A meteorite plunges to earth, landing near the English village of Wold Newton. This impact site becomes part of local folklore.

  • The young Dirk Struan was working with his step-uncle, John Shipley, when the Wold Newton meteor fell to Earth.

Of course, I am unable conclusively prove such a conclusion. However for matters of law, in absence of evidence to the contrary, any claim that is not rebutted stands as true. That is a position I have adopted in similar matters. With that said, on with our investigation and as Farmer himself suggested "let the reader decide".

When this information is combined with information revealed in "Tai-Pan", "Gai-Jin", "Noble House" by James Clavell and "Hell Cat of Hong Kong" by Marc A. Cerasini & Charles Hoffman, we can build a chronology.

May
Marriage of Parlan Struan and Catherine Shipley.
Parlan adopts Catherine's son Robb. Lands belonging to the clan of Struan are purchased by the Earl of Struan. Preferring to live near her brothers and sisters, Catherine convinces Parlan to relocate the family to Wold Newton, England.
[ Secret History of the Noble House by Dixon Kinqade. ]

October
At the age of twelve, Dirk Struan begins his nautical adventures as a powder monkey on a King's ship of the Royal Navy at the battle of Trafalgar.

By the end of this Year
Dirk Struan finds service as a cabin boy on the East India Company merchant ship "Vagrant Star" to China. Under the command of Tyler Brock, Third Mate and future nemesis, Dirk Struan is whipped mercilessly. Dirk Struan vows to someday destroy Brock.

Dirk Struan is a Captain-Owner of his own ship on the opium run. Tyler Brock is his chief rival.

Marriage of Dirk Struan and Ronalda.
They are married in Scotland, but immediately leave for Macau.


The Wold Newton Meteorite: An Extraordinary Stone and the Birth of a Superhero - History



WHO WAS NOBODY?
The Life and Times of the Man We Knew as "Nemo"

We're going to be looking for a man -- a man with a pronounced Napoleonic complex a man often held to be a villain by Society's standards, yet not evil. A man with prodigious charisma, and usually noble intentions (and we know what paves the Road to Hell. ), as well as a dark sense of humor.

A man who displays prodigious scientific knowledge, especially in the fields of engineering and mathematics. A man who appears to hold the secrets to technology often ahead of his time. A man who shows remarkable organizational skills in creating "secret empires", organizations of loyal men bound to him, sharing his misanthropic ideals.

That man's character flaws are what ultimately bring him in conflict with others, who -- often blindly -- serve Society. That man displays unbearable pride, an all too often frequent lapse in judgment, inflexibility and a steadfast refusal to compromise.

And, let's face it, he chooses his adversaries very poorly.


1. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

A story must begin somewhere, and this chronicle starts in 1836, when a gentleman named Arthur Gordon Pym, claiming to have just returned to the United States, met writer-journalist Edgar Allan Poe, and entrusted him with a Narrative , subsequently published in the January and February 1837 of The Messenger under Poe's name.

The book details the harrowing journey of the American brig Grampus in the South Seas, starting in the month of June, 1827. The narrative includes details of a mutiny, an atrocious massacre, the recapture of the ship by the survivors, their eventual shipwreck, subsequemnt famine and ultimate deliverance by the British schooner Jane Guy .

The Grampus 's journey somewhat paralleled Captain Cook's famous 1772 trip (aboard The Resolution ), or that of the Russian explorers Krusenstern and Lisianski. It actually anticipated the route of Benjamin Morrell, whose 1832 narrative was entitled A narrative of four voyages to the South Sea, North and South Pacific Ocean, Chinese Sea, Ethiopic and Southern Atlantic Ocean, Indian and Antarctic Ocean, from the year 1822 to 1831. There was therefore nothing unusual in Pym's writing of the Narrative , or Poe's publishing the same.

Pym's Narrative then proceeds to tell us of their cruise in the Antarctic Ocean, their encounter with strange creatures and phenomenons, and of the massacre of the crew by a tribe of jet-black natives. Pym and another sailor, named Dirk Peters, escaped that grisly fate, and journeyed further south, encountering increasingly mysterious phenomenons, such as lights in the sky, white birds screaming their enigmatic "tekeli-li", ancient ruins with strange carvings, etc.

There, as it reaches an enigmatic crescendo, the Narrative stops. Poe states that Pym died, or vanished, soon afterwards, without completing his manuscript. He also claims that Peters was living in Illinois, but could not be found.

The unanswered questions raised by The Narrarative of Arthur Gordon Pym are therefore:

1) What did Pym and Peters find in the Antarctic?

2) Where were they, and what did they do, between 1827 and 1836?


2. WHO WAS ARTHUR GORDON PYM?

Before embarking on a search for answers to these questions, let us first speculate on the background and ancestry of Arthur Gordon Pym.

At the opening of his Narrative , Pym states: " My father was a respectable trader in sea-stores at Nantucket, where I was born. My maternal grandfather was an attorney in good practice. " We know that Nantucket was principally settled, first by the Quakers in 1659, then hit its peak just before the Revolutionary War. Whaling was a big industry then, and attracted many immigrants, including French royalists fleeing from the Revolution. We also know that Pym had a relative in New Bedford named Ross -- likely from the mother's side of the family -- and that he was around 17 when he embarked on his fateful journey -- which would place his birth in or around 1810.

The ethymology of the name "Pym" comes from the old french words " pyment " (piment) ou " pomandre " (pomander) (cf. Webster's). The word " pomandre " comes from the French words " pomme d'ambre ", a scented ball made of ambergris, spices, wine and honey, carried in a perforated container carried on the belt or on a string around the neck. This aromatic device was an Italian invention. Even more interesting, it is also a term found in 16th and 17th century alchemical treatises, such as Giovanni Maria Farina's 1732 works.

So there is reasonable evidence to assume that Pym's ancestor on his father's side was of French or Italian origins, possibly by way of England, and when forced to adopt a new name, settled on one that contained a key to his former life.

One likely candidate who springs to mind is none other than Joseph Balsamo, better known as. Cagliostro.

We are fortunate that the life of this fascinating character has been chronicled by various authors: Goethe portrays him as the title character in Der Gross Cophta (1792) and even reportedly visited Joseph Balsamo's birthplace and met his family. Previously, the Countess Von der Recke had featured Balsamo in Nachrichten von der Berüchtigen Cagliostro Aufenthalt im Milan ( Report about the Stay of the famous Cagliosto in Milan 1787). Friedrich Schiller wrote about him in Der Geisterseher ( The Visionary 1787). And he is naturally referred to in the memoirs of his contemporary and sometimes rival, Casanova. But the most interesting accont of his occult carreer is, without a doubt, Alexandre Dumas' Joseph Balsamo (1846-48) and Le Collier de la Reine ( The Queen's Necklace 1849-50). Thanks to the research of Dumas, and his uncredited collaborator, Maquet, we have gained invaluable knowledge of Balsamo's activities during the years 1770-74 and 1784-85.

This is what we know. Joseph Balsamo was born in Palermo, Sicily, on 8 June 1743. His father was a book-seller. Some claim his family had Jewish or Arabic ancestry -- an interesting connection in light of his future alchemical career. Young Joseph was first schooled at the religious academy of Saint-Roch, then went to study at the Convent of Caltagirone.

This is very important, because that convent was administered by the notorious criminal brotherhood of the Brothers of Mercy, a proto-Mafia established in 1640 by Andrea Vitelli, a.k.a. Bel Demonio ( Beautiful Demon ), the rightful heir to the title of Count of Monteleone, but dispossessed by his cousin Ercole. Andrea Vitelli's extraordinary life has been chronicled in detail by Paul Féval.

(The story of Andrea Vitelli, the founder of one of the World's greatest criminal conspiracy of all times, is told in our companion article, Will There Be Light Tomorrow? ) .

It is the Brothers of Mercy who not only enlisted Balsamo -- thereby making him part of a powerful secret empire dedicated to the fall of the Monarchs -- but also acquainted him with alchemy and pharmacology. Some sources claim that it is at Caltagirone that Balsamo met Altothas , an ancient alchemist about little is known. Thanks to Dumas, we know that Altothas claimed to be 100-years old in 1774, and called Balsamo by the name of "Acharat."

A note about alchemy: The popular misconception was that alchemists sought the secret of the philosopher's stone, which was said to have the power to transmute base metal -- usually lead -- into gold. The reality was somewhat more complex. The alchemist was dedicated to the Grand Oeuvre ( great work ), a life-long, time-consuming, spiritual and chemical process whose end-result was the production of an elixir of long life. The so-called philosopher's stone was, by all accounts, a reddish powder dubbed "projection powder." A small portion of it, wrapped in paper, was thrown into molten lead and, according to various witnesses, did turn it into gold. The elixir of long life was, by all accounts, a red liquid, a mere drops of which could revive the sick -- or act as the deadliest of poisons.

Whether alchemy is fact or fantasy may never be fully known however, it is interesting to remark that, in the Dark Ages, when the average life span was 38 years, noted alchemists such as Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), who wrote five books about alchemy, including the treatise De Alchemia Raymond Lulle (1235- 1315), who wrote Ars Magna and the legendary gold-maker Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418), who wrote Explication des Figures Hiéroglyphiques , all lived to reach their eighties.

Balsamo is shown to be in possession of the Elixir in Joseph Balsamo , but in Le Collier de la Reine (Chapter II), he states that he does not have the formula for the Elixir itself, only three or four vials, likely made for him by Altothas.

Before the events chronicled by Dumas in Joseph Balsamo , we know that Balsamo travelled with Altothas throughout Italy, Greece, Malta and the Middle East, probably accomplishing various missions on behalf of the Brotherhood. In Malta, the two men were taken under the protection of Dom Manoel Piato d'Alfonsera, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. Then, they returned to Italy and their trail is found in Naples and Rome. That's where Balsamo met his first wife, the beautiful Lorenza Feliciani , whom he married in April, 1769. They met with Casanova, then travelled to Germany and England, again serving as envoys between various Occult / Criminal societies. There are recorded meetings between Balsamo and Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Illuminati, in Ingolstadt.

Then, Balsamo embarked on his mission to undermine the French Monarchy, chronicled by Alexandre Dumas in Joseph Balsamo . During the course of the novel, Althotas killed Lorenza, and was himself killed by Balsamo. At the end, Balsamo left France -- we are now in 1774 -- and dispatched one of his proteges, young Gilbert, to Boston. Balsamo then went to England and little is known about his activities there. When he returned, ten years later, he called himself "Count of Cagliostro" . Back in Paris, he became the main architect of the scandalous affair of Queen Marie-Antoinette's necklace, narrated by Dumas in Le Collier de la Reine , which was one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution.

At the end of Le Collier de la Reine , Balsamo/Cagliostro was imprisoned in the Bastille, but with the help of his secret protectors, he was merely banished and returned to England by way of Spain. From there, he returned to Italy. We know that on 29 July 1788, a daughter, Josephine, was born in Palermo, her mother being identified only as Josephine de la P., subject of the French crown Thanks to writer Maurice Leblanc's relationship with the notorious Arsène Lupin , and his account of the facts in La Comtesse de Cagliostro , we know that that woman was none other than Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, the maiden name of Josephine de Beauharnais, the future wife of Napoleon.

History records that Balsamo was imprisoned in 1789 in Italy and died in his cell at the Castle of Saint-Leon in Urbin in 1795. However, is it likely that such a man, a high-ranking member of the Brotherhood of Mercy, possibly the right-hand man to their Godfather, a Grand Master in several occult societies, would have meekly surrendered to such a fate?

The pattern of fake deaths established by Bel Demonio is well known -- from Count of Monteleone to Fra Diavolo to Colonel Bozzo and more. There is no reason to think that Balsamo did not benefit from the same methods. In fact, speaking as Balsamo ( Joseph Balsamo , Chapter CLV), and again as Cagliostro ( Le Collier de la Reine , Chapter II), he declared his eventual intention of emigrating to the United States.

Coincidentally, the symbolic year of the "death" of Joseph Balsamo is also the year of the fall of the Wold Newton meteorite. And thanks to Paul Féval's diligent research, we also know that Bel Demonio was in England at the time, as Count Mario de Monteleone, posing as a "descendent" of Andrea, consolidating his new criminal empire, dubbed the Companions of Silence.

It is therefore our contention that both Bel Demonio and Joseph Balsamo were present at Wold Newton in 1795, and that Balsamo emigrated soon afterwards to the United States, where he took the name of Pym. Dumas noted that the Elixir of Life spread a light balsamic scent, not unlike apples -- pommes in French. Was "Balsamo" even a real name? After all, Altothas called him "Acharat" -- a mythical Arabian demon.

(More about Mario de Monteleone and the Wold Newton event of 1795 can be found in our companion article, Will There Be Light Tomorrow? ) .

Balsamo would have been 67 when he fathered Arthur, and in his eighties when his son embarked for his fateful journey, not at all inconceivable for a Grand Master of the Brotherhood of Mercy, having some Elixir of Life at his disposal.

Or is the truth even stranger?


4. A DARING HYPOTHESIS

What if there was no Arthur Gordon Pym?

Or rather, what if Arthur Gordon Pym was Joseph Balsamo?

After all, the only real evidence of young Arthur's existence is the first-person Narrative conveyed to Poe -- then a young man -- by a man who looked lke a prosperous, thirtyish man, then disappeared, leaving a conveniently unfinished manuscript. Why do so, one may well ask. The answer is that it is a well-established alchemical tradition for all alchemists, from Albertus Magnus to the early 20th century Fulcanelli, to write roman à clefs containg clues leading to great secrets for those willing to take up the quest. Certainly, Poe's Narrative can be read as an alchemical journey, with precious but incomplete clues at the end.

Men like Bel Demonio, Adam Weisshaupt and Joseph Balsamo knew that the future belonged to science and technology. They also had access to hidden knowledge, from long-vanished civilizations and races who lived on Earth before Man. If Balsamo was to travel to the Antarctic to find these secrets, long-rumored to exist, the time was right.

Now let us return to our first question: What did Balsamo, now posing as Arthur Gordon Pym, find in the Antarctic?


5. THE SECRET OF THE ANTARCTIC

No one truly knows for certain what kind of fabulous secrets Joseph Balsamo, now posing as Arthur Gordon Pym, found in the Antarctic. In 1897, Jules Verne wrote the novel Le Sphinx des Glaces in which another expedition, twelve years later, travelled to the Antarctic and found Pym dead, impaled on a giant magnet shaped in the form of a Sphinx. Yet, by reading Poe's account, Verne knew that Pym had returned to the United States in 1836. Verne was many things but not a fool -- so why write a complete fabrication? As we will see below, Verne knew well what he was doing, and this was not the first time that he became complicit in helping the man he knew under anoher name.

Another account, At the Mountains of Madness , was written by H. P. Lovecraft in 1936. Likely to be more accurate, it nevertheless did not disclose the nature of the fabulous discoveries of Pym and Peters. In fact we don't even know if there ever was a "Peters". Poe could not locate him, and we only have Pym's word for his existence.

Noted theosophist Helene Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) in her book The Secret Doctrine (1888) dropped tantalizing hints about a mysterious race called the Dzyan, who had unlocked the secrets of controlled matter-to-energy conversion, and more. Lord Bullwer-Lytton also referred to a hiden race having mastered a form of energy dubbed the "Vril" in The Coming Race (1871). All this may be part of the secrets that Pym gained when he finally reached his long-sought goal.

Now let us address our second question: Where was Pym, and what did he do, between 1827 and 1836?


6. SEARCHING FOR PYM (1)

As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck. Having abandoned several identities before, Pym would have indeed reappeared under a new guise. It is therefore by his actions, not his name, that we shall know him.

Searching the historical records, we are struck that the year 1838 -- when according to Poe, Pym "died" -- was the year when a mysterious traveller made his presence known throughout Europe and the Middle-East.

That traveller was a wealthy, enigmatic man identifying himself (as incredible as it may seem) as "Sinbad the Sailor". Once again -- likely not a coincidence! -- we turn to Alexandre Dumas and his infatigable researcher Maquet, who chronicled the life of this man in their 1845-46 novel, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo .

First, what do we know about the so-called Count of Monte-Cristo?

-- That he was a master of disguise.

-- That he used at least three totally different identities: Sinbad the Sailor, Abbot Busoni, and Lord Wilmore.

-- That he had extensive connections with the Italian crime families (as evidenced by his friendship with godfather Luigi Vampa) and Corsican crime families (as evidenced by the presence of ex-convict Bertuccio as his intendent).

-- That he exhibited arcane scientific knowledge.

-- That he had numerous contacts and connections with the Middle-East and the Orient.

-- That he owned a vial filled with a mysterious balsamic-smelling red liquid that could give life or death (and which, in fact, he used to entice Madame de Villefort to poison her family).

-- That he was a misanthropic man, whose actions caused financial panic, social unrest and undermined two governments.

In short, we have every reason to believe that the Count of Monte-Cristo was none other than Joseph Balsamo, a.k.a. the Count of Cagliostro, a.k.a. Arthur Gordon Pym!

But wait! Wasn't Monte-Cristo really Edmond Dantes , a Marseilles sailor unjustly imprisoned at the Chateau d'If in 1815, following the slanderous accusations concocted by the jealous Fernand, the rapacious Danglars and the self-serving Villefort?

Let us examine the reasons why the Dantes-as-Monte-Cristo theory, while widely held due to Dumas' considerable literary prowess, is in fact a convenient fabrication.

-- It is not likely that a barely educated sailor, weakened by fifteen years of imprisonment, could rise from such ashes and become such a phoenix.

-- The tale of a buried treasure told to Dantes by the mad Abbot Faria also stretches believability. This is supposed to be a treasure having belonged to the Borgias. So what happened to it during the intervening centuries between the Borgias (which disappeared from history towards 1500) and the early 1800s when Faria is supposed to have gotten wind of it? Why was such a treasure buried on a godforsaken spot such as Monte-Cristo island? Dubious provenance, unbelievable story, told by a madman. Is it any wonder that one may question the veracity of such a tale?

-- Monte-Cristo ultimately did not "rescue" Dantes' long-lost love Mercedes (in fact, his actions ruined her), nor did he marry her (he already lived with another woman, Haydee). His main plot was directed against Villefort and Fernand, by then two juicy political targets. On the other hand, the man most responsible for Dantes' predicament, Danglars, was spared.

-- Even more interesting, Dumas later reported that he had based the Dantes revenge yarn on a tale of real-life revenge. Dumas credits as his main inspiration an article entitled Le Diamant et la Vengeance written by someone named Peuchet in 1837. According to Peuchet, in 1807 in Paris lived a cobbler named Francois Picaud. He was planning to marry a local girl (who was fairly well off) when an older jealous suitor named Mathieu Loupian (assisted by three barfly friends) wrote a letter to the police accusing Picaud of being a British spy. Picaud was arrested and released only in 1814 (due to the fall of Napoleon). In the meantime, the girl had married Loupian. In jail, Picaud had been befriended by a rich Milanese who had died leaving him a diamond. Once free, as Peuchet tells the story, Picaud used various fake identities to con one of the barflies (a man named Allut) in telling him the true story of what had happened. Then he infiltrated Loupian's family circle and, unrecognized, destroyed them all. But a remorseful Allut who, in the meantime, had put two and two together, captured Picaud and starved him to death trying to get whatever was left of the diamond's money. Allut then fled France, travelled to England and eventually confessed the story on his death bed to a priest. Peuchet claimed that the priest sent the confession to the prefecture of police of Paris where he found it. On this rather sordid tale, Dumas and Maquet grafted additional material, drawn from the former's travel impressions of his trips to Italy, as well as information received from the real Count of Monte-Cristo.

We are led to wonder if Dumas knew, or guessed, who the man he knew as Monte-Cristo truly was if he recognized him as Joseph Balsamo and Cagliostro. If he did, he certainly would have been motivated to obscure the real facts, and wrap them in this lurid, pulpish tale of revenge. It certainly was not the first, nor the last time, that writers were used as willing accomplice by the man we've come to know as Pym.

Now that we have established where Arthur Gordon Pym was in 1838, and what he was doing, it is easier to theorize backwards as to his activities during the preceding decade.

It is not unreasonable to assume that it must have taken Pym a good ten years to understand, then exploit, the secrets that he had found in the Antarctic. Even a modern scientist, if given a wrecked UFO, would spend many years doing reverse engineering.

Also, Pym must have renewed his links with his former associates -- certainly Monte-Cristo appeared to share in his revolutionary zeal -- and created new identities for himself all over the world. It is easy then to assume that Pym was on board the Corsican smuggling vessel that picked up the dying Edmond Dantes after his fateful escape from the Chateau d'If in 1829. Whether Dantes lived or died thereafter is ultimately unknown, but certainly he knew his revenge was in good hands, entrusted to a man such as Pym.

Thanks to Dumas and Maquet's painstaking researtch, we know that Pym, now operating as Monte-Cristo, commissioned the building of special ships, and planned to operate from a special island that would later become one of his bases of operations.

Monte-Cristo's vast fortune deposited with banks such as Thomson & French, Rotschild, and others, and his web of aliases and oriental connections, as well as his anti-imperialist opinions, leads us to postulate another hypothesis: that one of Monte-Cristo's identities was none other than that of the Indian Prince Dakkar, a man involved in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858.


7. PYM AS "NOBODY"

Readers familiar with Jules Verne's accounts of the life of the man known only as Captain Nemo -- 20.000 Lieues sous les Mers and L'Ile Mysterieuse -- will recognize that alias as the name revealed by Verne to be the secret identity of Nemo in the latter volume.

We need not repeat the similarities that exist between Monte-Cristo and Nemo, as they are basically the same as those between Balsamo/Pym and Monte-Cristo.

Monte-Cristo vanished in 1846. The Nautilus was first sighted in 1866. No one knows for certain what Pym did during these twenty years -- in addition to building the Nautilus . Certainly, the nuclear- or vril-powered engines of the Nautilus could only be explained by the discoveries made by Pym in the Antarctic, and it could not have been built in total secrecy overnight. In fact, the building of the Nautilus (and later the Albatros and Captain Mors' ship) is possible only when taking into account Pym's vast criminal underground connections.

Because of his connection with Bel Demonio, now operating as Colonel Bozzo, Godfather of the Black Coats, we certainly can speculate on what role Pym may have played during these twenty years. In London, he must have interfaced with John Devil and later, with Moriarty in France, he had trucking with the Habits Noirs and Rocambole in Germany, he almost certainly trained Captain Mors and in India, he taught Erik in Mazenderan and took part in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858 as Dakkar. He may have met Fu-Manchu in the Far East.

(More about this criminal conspiracy in our companion article, Will There Be Light Tomorrow? ).

Verne's friendship with the man he knew as Nemo helps us solve two mysteries:

-- Verne's deliberate fudging of the dates in L'Ile Mysterieuse -- which became responsible for the rather far-fetched theories of W. H. Starr, reprised by Philip Jose Farmer in The Other Log of Phileas Fogg , that Nemo and Moriarty were one and the same. While Nemo certainly met Moriarty -- after all, they were both Masters of the Black Coats -- they were not the same. They were physically, intellectually and philosophically very different beings. In a note, Verne remarks that his readers may observe " some discrepancy in the dates but later they will understand why the real dates were not given at first ." Yet, there is nothing in the book that leads to any such understanding.

We believe that the basic events of L'Ile Mysterieuse did take place in or before 1874, but were heavily edited by Verne to make them sound as if they had taken place a decade before -- such as dropping in a reference to the American Civil War. And that it was part of an elaborate ploy by Nemo to make the world at large believe that he was dead -- obviously Professor Arronax' report of his demise in the Maelstrom had not been deemed sufficient -- and further, that he was aided and abetted by his confidente, Verne, in such a bit of disinformtion. This is further bolstered by the fact that in L'Ile Mysterieuse , Verne reports that his heroes found a man (Ayerton) that had been abandoned " twelve years earlier " (!) in Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant -- a record dated around 1864!

-- This also explains why the same tactic was employed again, deliberately, by Verne in Le Sphinx des Glaces , now stating that Pym had died in the Antractic, when Poe's own account was that he had met with the man in 1936! Why would Verne even bother telling such a story -- a far cry from his other novels -- if not to help Nemo cover his tracks?


8. FIRST MAN TO THE STARS

Whether Nemo took part in Phileas Fogg's celebrated 1872 journey around the world as Philip Jose Farmer believes remains to be determined. Some also see Nemo's hand in the underground industrial civilization of the " Indes Noires ", and the rise of Captain Mors in Germany.

There is indeed a body of evidence leading us to believe that, starting in the 1870s, Nemo became involved in space travel. He was undoubtedly the man who designed the spaceship the Astronaut and flew to Mars in 1880, as recorded by Percy Greg in Across the Zodiac , thus becoming the first Earthman to fly to Mars under his own power.

Nemo returned in 1882, this time using the alias of Dr. Antekirtt, master hypnotist and lord of the secret island Antekirtta. This account, written by Jules Verne again, under the title Mathias Sandorf , attempted to connect Antekirtt to a wronged Transylvanian nobleman named Mathias Sandorf arrested in 1867. But like Dumas with his Edmond Dantes story, this was but a transparent ploy, in fact one almost literally copied from Dumas.

In 1886, it was under the alias of Robur, that Pym returned, using his advanced science to demonstrate the superiority of his flying machine, the Albatross . Repaying his obligations to Verne, Pym let him chronicle this story under the title of Robur le Conquerant . Robur is merely another alias, just another cryptogram, like "Pym" or "Nemo."

In 1890, Nemo returned to Mars in another spaceship, the Steel Globe -- as recorded by Robert Cromie's A Plunge into Space , which, tellingly, was prefaced by Jules Verne.

In 1894, Nemo teamed up with American multimillionaire John Jacob Astor to build the Callisto , and engaged into more mysterious outer space activities, chronicled by Astor in his book, A Journey to the Other Worlds .

In 1896, Nemo was found again at the helm of another spaceship in yet another Across the Zodiac account, this time penned by British author Edwin Pallander.

Paul d'Ivoi chronicled Nemo's further underwater adventures under the name of " Corsair Triplex " in an eponymous colorful account released in 1898.

That same year, Pym and Astor collaborated with Thomas Alva Edison to launch a counter-attack on Mars, reported under the misleading title Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett Serviss.

There is no doubt that Pym continued to play an active behind-the-scenes role in Earth's space exploration in the early 1900s. Thanks to his Indian connections, he helped young engineer Robert Darvel build a spaceship which travelled to Mars, and helped defend Earth in the ensuing second invasion, chronicled by Gustave Le Rouge in his 1908 novel Le Prisonnier de la Planète Mars . With his friend and business partner John Jacob Astor, he was likely a member of the the Billionaires' Conspiracy whose existence was revealed by Le Rouge in La Conspiration des Milliardaires .

Pym subsequently explored the Solar System with his German pupil Captain Mors in 1908-11, and may have been aboard the spaceship Sannah when it made its first journey to another star in 1911 as recorded by Friedrich Mader in Wunderwelten ( Distant Worlds ).

(For more about the Conquest of Space and Nemo's role in it, refer to our companion article, Manifest Destiny .)


9. THE MAN WHO WAS NOBODY

During World War I, Gaston Leroux found evidence of Pym/Nemo's return, again as another avenging sub-mariner, Captain Hyx, and portrayed him in his romanticized account, Les Aventures Effroyables de Herbert de Renich (1917).

Other aliases are more uncertain:

Pym may have been the man known as Marc "Blackie" DuQuesne who thwarted rocketeer Richard Seaton in 1915, as recorded by Dr. E. E. Smith (later accounts being obviously fictional embellishments).

Was Pym the Leonid Zattan who fought the Nyctalope to a standstill in 1920?

In the late 1930s, Pym may well have been John Sunlight, the only man to have outsmarted Doc Savage. And, more recently, the name of multimillionaire Stormberg, who was ultimately defeated by James Bond, is worth considering.

A thorough combing of the records left by great crime-fighters of the 1930s to today will undoubtedly turn up more evidence of Pym's activities.

Certainly, the notorious Hagbard Celine, whose colorful career was chronicled by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in their Illuminatus Trilogy , is almost certainly one of the latest avatars of the man we knew at various times as Joseph Balsamo, Cagliostro, Arthur Gordon-Pym, Monte-Cristo, Lord Wilmore, Abbot Busoni, Prince Dakkar, Captain Nemo, Dr. Antekirtt, Robur, Triplex, Captain Hyx and more. A man who truly is NOBODY .


Afterforeword – Ian Duhig

A F T E R F O R E W O R D
Why Afterforeword? Well, I felt this was a hybrid of a foreword and afterword, coming
up with this Germanic-sounding compound as a solution. I also thought so much prose
before the body of poetry and art here would deter some readers, while I hope those
interested by the foregoing may continue their investigations here. It is also true that
the making of Digressions has been in many ways a paradoxical process, not least
because in Tristram Shandy, Sterne introduces us to a paradoxical world, reversing
many of a reader’s expectations regarding Tristram Shandy, Horace Walpole wrote
“the great humour of which consists in the whole narration always going backwards”,
and though its chronology might suggest this from time, its structure is nowhere near
as simple as that. Furthermore, the novel itself can be viewed as having risen from the
dead, Samuel Johnson famously declaring it deceased in his lifetime: “Nothing odd will
do long. Tristram Shandy did not last.” The corpse went on to show much greater vigour
than the doctor and it is healthier than ever today.

Bearing that in mind, where should we begin? You’ll notice, should you visit Shandy
Hall, a framed and mounted Krauze cartoon from Stuart Kelly’s The Book of Lost
Books. This shows a copy of Tristram Shandy carved into the shape of a maze, an
appropriate emblem for the course of the Digressions project, which began to take its
labyrinthine shape at the end of 2013, the Tercentenary of Sterne’s birth. Like Gaul and
Yorkshire, Digressions is divided into three parts: poetry, art and prose, appearing both
in this book and magazines, on the internet and at exhibitions scheduled for Yorkshire
and London, as well as travelling events on a smaller scale which are a mixture of
these. To a certain extent, this tripartite division reflects Horace Walpole’s claim that
“Poetry, Painting, and Gardening, or the science of Landscape, will be forever by
men of Taste deemed Three Sisters, or the Three New Graces who dress and adorn
Nature” although we hope that our Sisters will appeal to women of Taste as well, we
couldn’t pretend to be adorning Nature, and certainly not in God’s Own County, as
its natives are pleased to call it, where my Gardening will take the form of pointing at
neglected places within its landscape in a kind of knock-off John Baldessari exhibition.
I’ve always liked the notion of a ‘riding’ as a measure, an unusually dynamic unit which
here and now it puts me in mind Frost’s analogy for a poem’s course as ice riding its
own dissolution. Digressions was measured out by the ridings of my string of hobby
horses and the melting of forms. The only other place I have personally come across
in these islands divided into ridings is Tipperary, where Sterne (and my father) were
born and there is an Irish dimension, among many others, to Digressions. Although
he himself could display virulent anti-Catholicism and use the adjective ‘Irish’ as a
term of abuse in the ecclesiastical and political disputes he became caught up in, it is
worth bearing in mind that he lived through the very real Catholic threat of the Jacobite
rising under the Young Pretender. There is a very real military dimension to Sterne,
a soldier’s son, in his life and work, and it is one that is also reflected in Digressions.
On the question of his bigotry, nevertheless, it is important to remember that Sterne
spoke out for the victims of the slave trade at a time when it was neither fashionable
nor advantageous for him to do so. In 1766, Ignatius Sancho wrote to Sterne asking
him to write something against slavery, encouraged by a passage he read in Sterne’s
sermons, which had recently appeared as The Sermons of Mr Yorick. Sterne replied
to Sancho and kept copies of the letters. We will return later to what Sterne wrote
responding to this in Tristram Shandy.

A vaguely racist undertone lingers in a popular usage word ‘Irish’ as I am going
to invoke it to reclaim it here, meaning quaint, paradoxical, back-to-front, as in the
phrase “That’s very Irish of you”, employed when the speaker has uttered something
in apparent contradiction of common sense, for example in Mahaffey’s explanation
of an ‘Irish bull’ (an expression related to ‘a cock and bull story’) when he said “An
Irish bull is always pregnant”. In this peculiar linguistic sense, it could be said that
Tristram Shandy is one of the most Irish novels ever written. However, I’d go further
in justification of the Irish dimension of Digressions by pointing to Sterne’s real literary
influence on significant Irish writers such as James Joyce and Flann O’Brien especially
in the latter’s novel The Third Policeman, where hobby horses are updated into bicycles
in a world of circular wanderings.

Of course,Tristram Shandy’s influence was felt throughout Europe as well as in the
Anglophone countries—in Russia, for example on Pushkin, while the novel’s discovery
by the Russian Formalists in the 1920s gave it a new lease of life there. Shklovsky
analysed Tristram Shandy as being structured around digressions sabotaging narrative
momentum to a principle that he called “retardation” However, I was more particularly
taken with the playfulness of one German response to Tristram Shandy, Hoffman’s The
Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr, where the composer and author almost out-Shandies
Sterne in his crazy inventiveness. In this book, the eponymous feline has written his
prose and poetry on the back of what he considers to be waste paper, in fact Johannes
Kreisler’s story, in the process confusing and reversing our reading time in that narrative
of the archetypal Romantic Kreisler, whose name invokes ‘Kreis’ meaning circle. Murr
is even involved in some of the same play of identities shown in Tristram Shandy, for
example in Volume VII Chapter 33: “as sure as I am I and you are you—and who are
you? said he.—Don’t puzzle me said I.” In Part 1 of The Life and Opinions of Tomcat
Murr, he muses, “I then fell into a state that, dividing my Self in a curious way from my
Self, yet seemed to be my real self.” Passages like this seem especially contemporary
given our modern interrogation of the lyric I and the persistence of the Ego in literary
criticism. Sterne carried these games into real life when in London he could move
between being Sterne, Tristram and Yorick. This is like a playful version of the fate
of thieves in Dante’s Inferno who, because they made no distinction between ‘meum’
and ‘tuum’, lose even their stable egos. The issue of theft brings calls up a very present
concern with plagiarism, especially in the world of poetry, by which I don’t mean
Détournement, or the use of appropriated texts by Conceptual writers in new ways,
but passing off other people’s work as your own to win prizes in competitions or gain
publication kudos (a digression I don’t have time to pursue would involve an analysis
of gender power relationships in this area and why these kinds of plagiarists seem to
be all male, even though they frequently steal women’s writings). Of a very different
nature is what lies behind Tristram Shandy’s histrionic denunciation of plagiarism—itself
plagiarised from Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.

A tune is a hobby horse that can be ridden by lyrics with very different allegiances in a
practice we can trace from medieval contrafacta to modern football chants. However,
here I am as much concerned with the character of the tune. I wrote an article once
for Poetry Ireland Review connecting Irish song styles with the narrative techniques of
Sterne, Paul Muldoon and Flann O’Brien, among others, quoting Samuel P. Bayard:
“The English singer’s leaning to relatively straightforward and simple melodic lines is
counteracted in Irish tradition by a love of ornament, of multiplying notes, of varying
rhythmic patterns by this sort of multiplication. This ornamental tendency gives Irish
music a ‘wavering and unemphatic movement’ as opposed to the English preference for
the sort of melodic movement that ‘gets somewhere’, while the Irish habit of lingering on
certain notes and tones, ‘repeating them before going on to another tone, thus almost
impeding the onward course of the melody…dwelling on inconclusive or indecisive
scale-tones that do not contribute to resolution or finality in the entire phrase or musical
utterance…” For all the world, this sounds very much like Shklovsky’s principle of
retardation applied to Irish singing.

Researching Digressions involved consideration of, and discoveries in, not only
historical texts, but many at the very forefront of contemporary experimental poetry.
A number of authors who have held residencies at Shandy Hall are of international
standing in the field of Conceptual writing, such as Kenneth Goldsmith, Craig Dworkin
and Christian Bök. I could not fail to find Conceptual writing interesting, not least as it
appears in part to be a hybrid of art and literature as Sterne frequently referred to what
he was doing in Tristram Shandy as “painting”. I decided that if I got the opportunity
to do something sustained with Tristram Shandy, I should set up an artist’s mirror
opposite my own to multiply the creative reflections that would become available. When
Arts Council of England funding made it possible, I immediately thought of Philippa
Troutman. I have enjoyed her own work for many years and responded to some of it in
my last book Pandorama, which contains a sequence based on her travelling exhibition
The Shanties, developed from her research into the lives of the railway navvies and
their families, and the horrors they suffered during the building of the Ribblehead
Viaduct. Her sense of place was important, as I wanted the real place of Shandy Hall,
Coxwold village and its countryside to anchor what I was trying to do in space and time,
however those categories might be fluid. Wallace Stevens wrote that we do not live in
places but in the descriptions of places and I was keen to incorporate new renditions of
locality in Digressions beyond the verbal. However, beyond any notion of her sensitivity
place and history, Philippa is a very versatile, contemporary and experimental artist.
For example, I quickly saw the value of her cut-ups of Tristram Shandy’s text: apart
from being visually interesting, they developed its theme of accident and we called
Sortes Shandeanae, ‘Shandean Lots’, on the analogy of ‘Virgilian Lots’, although I don’t
recommend it as a predictive tool. In printmaking, she introduced me not only to a great
range of techniques, but also to accidents of the process such as ‘foul bite’, where acid
strays into affects unintended areas of the metal, full of intellectual reverberations in
relation to place and trespass in society and genres of art. A reference in a book I read
during this time, Printmaking Today by Jules Heller, seemed particularly relevant:
“The Printmaker is a most peculiar being. He (sic) delights in deferred gratification
and in doing what does not come naturally. He takes pleasure in working backward
or in opposites: the gesture that produces a line of force moving to the right prints to
the left, and vice versa a deeply engraved trench in a copper or zinc plate prints as a
depression in the paper. Left is right. Right is left. Backward is forward. The Printmaker,
peculiar as he is, must see at least two sides to every question.”
Philippa also introduced me to suminagashi (‘floating ink’) marbling techniques
added new dimensions to my understanding of these processes, which I had some
acquaintance with having contributed to Shandy Hall’s The Emblem of My Work
exhibition of 2013, inspired by Tristram Shandy’s marbled page. In one style of
suminagashi, Japanese court artists sought to let ink on prepared paper immersed in
the marbling trough to dissolve and create new patterns on the surface of the liquid,
parallel to processes we were engaged in, immersing the text of Tristram Shandy in
new media, seeing how its ink drifted smokily, reconstituting itself into new meanings.
Alternatively, in the more usual suminagashi technique, where ink is dripped onto the
surface of the liquid, its growing enclosed spheres reminded me of the matryoshka
worlds of the Ptolemaic cosmic model destroyed by the Wold Newton meteorite, which
I will return to shortly. Ptolemy’s tiered and broken worlds also reflected the science
fiction Wold Newton Universe created by Philip José Farmer, another new discovery
entering the creative mix after I chanced upon his writings. Philippa’s flexibility with
techniques and approaches was a perfect foil for me for investigating Sterne’s motley
novel in different settings.

Motley, things being various, hybrid and becoming each other in the world I was
investigating led me to be particularly struck by a passage in Matthew Sperling’s
excellent new book Visionary Philology: Geoffrey Hill and the Study of Words.
Interpreting poem 20 of Speech! Speech! where Hill writes “you wriggle so, / old shapeshifter”,
Sperling interestingly comments “Language itself, therefore, is the ‘old shapeshifter’”.
Hill’s Mercian Hymns hadn’t been long published when I started as a student
at Leeds University in 1974 where Hill was working at the time and it is one of his
collections I have a special affection for as a result. Among other aspects of the book,
I liked the way Offa as presiding genius passed through time and space and modes of
address, and this was certainly in my mind while writing Digressions, although I was
working at a less serious level, in the sense that I wanted a Shandean spirit to permeate
the landscape as well as my words.
I read Sperling’s book at the same time as I was studying the ghost stories collected
by a monk from Byland Abbey in the Middle Ages, which M.R. James brought to the
attention of a wider public at the beginning of the last century. These tales often had
Christian morals tacked on to Scandinavian patterns, for the Viking penetration of
Yorkshire went very deep indeed, linguistically as well as imaginatively. When I was
at Leeds University, its English Department hosted research into the Dialect Atlas of
Great Britain, where I learned, for example, as we keep returning to the notion of ‘play’
here, that the Yorkshire word ‘laikin’, meaning playing, was etymologically related to the
name of the child’s toy Lego. The terror of the Byland tales reside not so much in what
the ghosts do as in the flux of their being, not just from human to animal, but from living
matter into inanimate objects, much like the fate of the thief in Dante’s Inferno. In M.R.
James’ short story Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance, the suggestion is made that the
soul of Humphrey’s damned uncle is transmuted into an Irish yew. For some reason,
I identified this yew with the tree that fell in a storm enabling Byland Abbey to be seen
from Shandy Hall.

A maze plays a central part in this M.R. James story and planning digressions around
Shandy Hall I read about some interesting-sounding local mazes. Alerted by Chris
Pearson at Shandy Hall, Philippa and I attempted to visit one of them, Asenby’s
Maiden’s Bower. I met Philippa for the Asenby trip in Ripon and took the opportunity
to Shandy about in Market Place while I waited for her. In places like that, I see
dead people: it’s witch-smellers, wife-sellers and Catholic recusants gathered for
the disastrous Rising of the North. Appleton’s Butchers is still there, its sausages so
gorgeous Naomi Jacob described them as “poems in skins”, not to be brutally stabbed
by a fork on the frying pan but pierced with a darning needle. This reminded me of
Tomcat Murr’s description of books with mixed poems and prose, where he opines
that the former should be like lumps of bacon in a sausage, to be discovered with
a special glee—which only goes to show that this modern fashion of presenting a
“sausage” as a collapsed pattie betrays its very essence the content and the form have
a vital interdependence as with a poem, be it subject to Oulipian constraint or the rules
governing villanelles.

On arrival at the site of the Asenby maze, located behind the Crab and Lobster pub
according to our information, the landlord told me he’d never heard of it, which I found
hard to believe. On further investigation outside, as I stumbled about like a lost minotaur
looking for its maze, half Irish bull, we discovered the mound on which the maze was
supposed to be located was now part of a miniature or ‘crazy golf’ course. Sorry that
such a feature of topographical interest had been lost in this way, I comforted myself
by remembering that ‘Shandy’ used to mean ‘crazy’ and imagining what Shandean
golf might be like, with bunkers including Toby and Trim’s military earthworks and
holes missing, in the wrong order, or subject to metaphysical speculation with double
entendres about holes being deployed in battalions.

Philippa and I did, however, on another expedition eventually manage to find the City
of Troy, coiled on its hillside like a Cumberland sausage, a humble piece of land art
with that magnificent, legendary name. Modest though it is, and I understand it to be
the smallest such maze in Europe, this turf mandala which never seems to appear on
maps is a perfect location for ‘bewilderment’ in Fanny Howe’s sense: a site physically
reflecting the spirals of poetry in its structures of repetition and refrain, like Bayard’s
Irish music or those ancient recurring spirals Jorn described in his unrealised 10,000
Years of Nordic Folk Art. The circular mazes of Jerusalem Miles in cathedrals were
supposed to replace an actual pilgrimage, but our actual pilgrimages resembled
entering the labyrinth of a Jerusalem Mile after we set off from from Leeds on shuttling
journeys over the life of Digressions.

Leeds is a paradoxical place in itself, its name sounding a pun full of promise to the
seeker while being “completely outside the literary world” according to the former editor
of Granta, John Freeman. The architectural historian Patrick Nuttgens titled his 1979
book about the place Leeds: the Back to Front Inside Out Upside Down City and in its
opening sentences wrote “The first and most constant problem with the City of Leeds
is to find it. There never was a more faceless city or a more deceptive one. It hasn’t a
face because it has too many faces, all of them different it’s a city without logical unity.”
Perfect, therefore, as a springboard for launching an investigation into a Shandean
world. I’m not a native, and it always has been a focus for immigration, with significant
Irish, Caribbean, African and Jewish communities. This has made it a target of
prejudice and regarding the last of these groups it has attracted anti-Semitic nicknames
which include the Holy City and the Jerusalem of the North—paradoxical abuse, you
might think, for an old Puritan town. Leeds’ Jewish communities centred formerly on
Chapeltown, and we’d take the Chapeltown Road where live to get to Ripon, Shandy
Hall and our other digressions including the City of Troy, a road I found out was made
by a blind man, Jack Metcalf. Metcalf was building roads at the same time that Sterne
was writing Tristram Shandy, and it seemed significant in itself that a blind man should
make the straight road I took to get lost in Sterne’s labyrinthine novel and our network
of Digressions from and around Coxwold including the maze of Troy.

After having photographed, made notes on and sketched the City of Troy, we
discovered that leaving it is even more difficult than finding it. It is possible to drive north
or south from there, not easy to drive east and impossible to drive due west, a bit like a
version of Abbott’s Lineland but gathering ancient mythical associations of being cut off
from the land of the dead in the direction of the sunset. I’m assuming this difficulty in the
roads is something to do with the long-gone railway line I’d noticed the Coxwold signalbox
at the bottom of the village, now there only for ghost trains or “trains of ideas”, as
Locke describes them, which complicate so enrichingly the narrative of Tristram
Shandy. I felt as if the imaginary train had been conflated with the fiend at the end of
Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, which was pursuing me from Troy because,
like it, I was too much a creature of the straight line. Film as a medium was much in my
mind while working on Digressions, perhaps because of Michael Winterbottom’s
achievement in his film A Cock and Bull Story, a paradoxically successful version of
what most people would regard as the essentially unfilmable Tristram Shandy achieved
by foregrounding those very problems, among other means. I’ve often thought that film
is closer to poetry than prose as both rely on successions of images, while the non-
Shandean novel, in Eudora Welty’s phrase must attend to the mechanics of getting
people in and out of rooms. Rebecca Solnit, in another book I recommend, her A Field
Guide to Getting Lost, uses the physical image of film-strip for an Ariadne thread,
especially apposite in this context, while Patrick Keiller in The View From The Train
writes “Films even physically resemble railway tracks – long, parallel sided strips divided
laterally by frame lines and perforations, as is the railway by sleepers.” Straight roads
and railway tracks are what busy city people want, not to mention developing
capitalism—Patrick Keiller has made the Wold Newton Meteorite a harbinger of
deracinated mobile labour exploited through the Speenhamland System. This puts me
in mind of how in Das Kapital Marx’s biographer Francis Wheen sees the influence of
Sterne, making that work, like Tristram Shandy, “full of systems and syllogisms,
paradoxes and metaphysics, theories and hypotheses, abstruse explanations and
whimsical tomfoolery.”

I quoted Wallace Stevens earlier and here invoke his definition “A poem is a meteor”. I
think his idea was that they consume themselves with their own fire, rather like Frost’s
ice poem which rides its own melting that I invoked earlier. If part of them make it to
Earth, they become even more laden with symbolism—Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s
grail was a meteorite, for example. The area around Shandy Hall is historically rich
with them and meteorites have a particular appeal now to artists such as Cornelia
Parker and Patrick Keiller. When I had the opportunity to discuss them with Cornelia
Parker, she mentioned her ambition to relaunch one into space, which seems an
appropriately paradoxical and Shandean thing to do. At a literally more mundane level,
Patrick Keiller included the Wold Cottage Stone in his Robinson Institute in the context
already mentioned, but it has always had a particularly Shandean significance for
me. I first came across it, as paradigm-shattering in its scientific sphere as Tristram
Shandy was in literature, in the course of reading Roger Osborne’s A Floating Egg:
Episodes in the Making of Geology. Osborne describes how it landed on the grounds of
Edward Topham in Wold Newton, and quotes Topham’s letter to the Oracle newspaper
published on 12th February 1796:
“At Bridlington, and at different villages, sounds were heard in the air, which the
inhabitants took to be the noise of guns at sea but at two adjoining villages, the noise
was so distinct of something singular passing through the air towards my habitation, that
five or six people came up to see if anything extraordinary had happened to my house
or grounds.

In burying itself in the earth it threw up a greater quantity of soil than a shell would,
and to a much greater extent. When the labourer recovered from the extreme alarm into
which the descent of such a Stone had thrown him, his first description was, “that the
clouds opened as it fell, and he thought HEAVEN and EARTH were coming together!”
Edward Topham is only one of the fascinating characters I stumbled upon during the
Digressions project. He was the son of the model for Sterne’s Didius, Francis Topham,
who first propelled the author into a literary career with his The Adventures of a Watch-
Coat (Didius also appears in Tristram Shandy) directed at Francis, who had attempted
to secure for Edward the living of Sutton-in-the-Forest at York. The boy Edward led the
famous 1768 boys’ revolt at Eton but later, joining the army, he earned the gratitude
of the King by clearing Parliament Square during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots. He
later founded the most scurrilous and successful paper of his day, The World, during
his tenure there establishing the limits of the laws of libel, setting the precedent that the
dead cannot be libelled. Returning to Yorkshire as a magistrate, he took up dog-racing
and bred one of the most famous greyhounds in history, Snowball—with appropriate
paradox for our theme, a black dog.

However, getting back to the significance of his meteorite, it far transcends the literary,
requiring a new scientific understanding of such phenomena: Humphry Davy’s address
on taking the chair for his first ordinary meeting of the Royal Society as President
includes the passage on “meteors which, in passing through our atmosphere, throw
down showers of stones for it cannot be doubted that they belong to the heavens,
and that they are not fortuitous or atmospheric formations”, it having previously been
imagined that such astronomical traffic was impossible due to the legacy of a Ptolemaic
model of our solar system and that meteorites were the result of volcanic eruptions
sending matter into the atmosphere that then fell back to earth. This paradigm shift
necessitated considerable adjustment in some quarters, Thomas Jefferson supposedly
declaring “It is easier to believe that Yankee professors would lie rather than that
stones would fall from Heaven.” The phenomenon stirred later American imaginations
though as the event founded a whole school of US science fiction writing, the Wold
Newton Family centred around the work of Philip José Farmer. Farmer’s conceit was
that passing coach passengers included pregnant women, radioactively affected by
the meteorite at the genetic level so their descendants ultimately included the likes of
Sherlock Holmes’ adversary Moriarty, H.G. Wells’ Time Traveller, Allan Quatermain,
Doc Savage, Tarzan, Raffles, and Leopold Bloom—not the only appearance of Joyce
in Farmer’s oeuvre: his 1967 novella, Riders of the Purple Wage is a pastiche of
Finnegans Wake. That Farmer is keen on unlikely crossover figures can be deduced
from the title of another of his books, Jesus on Mars. I knew I should maintain a
sensitivity to the Christian dimensions of Sterne’s work but I hadn’t imagined it would
take me to the Red Planet.

Having found so much of interest flowing from the Wold Newton Meteorite, a trip to
Byland Abbey and the nearby Kilburn White Horse with Philippa was also attractive
because of the history of the Hambleton Meteorite, a pallasite discovered near there
in 2005, in relation to which I was very interested to come across a widely-held view
now that it is a remnant of the Great Meteor of 1783, the year of a major edition of
Sterne’s life and works (there is a copy in Shandy Hall library). One unlikely report of
the Great Meteor contained in a contemporary issue of The London Magazine concerns
an officer’s account as seen from his warship moored off Ireland, which mentions it
stopping and reversing before continuing its former course, a very Sternean thing for it
to do. So I Shandied about in Google for 1783 to see what other Sternean things were
going on and discovered it to be the year of a stage version of Tristram Shandy as ‘a
bagatelle in two acts’. This adaptation was by the Dublin barrister Leonard McNally, and
“a sentimental and jingoistic celebration of British military might” according to Oakley in
A Culture of Mimicry. McNally’s legal writings fixed the standard of criminal prosecution
at beyond reasonable doubt as well as a playwright, he was a lyricist most famous
for The Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill. McNally was a founder member of the United
Irishmen, betraying them systematically to the Crown at every stage through to offering
to act as defence counsel for its leaders after the failure of the 1798 Rising (which
McNally did so much to bring about), ensuring their convictions by secretly cooperating
with the prosecution. I contacted Donald MacRaild, Professor of British and Irish History
at the University of Ulster, about McNally, who as you can imagine is neither popular
with the Irish or the English, to try and gain some insight into his motives. Money,
Donald said. Britain was one of the richest countries in the world then and paid vast
sums in today’s terms to maintain its security on its vulnerable Irish flank. I didn’t have
more time on the Digressions project to digress further into the story McNally, but there
is surely room for other writers to do so. Famous in his day, vilified by all sides since his
treachery emerged after his death, McNally’s star fell into complete obscurity.
That Sterne’s name puns on the German for star was ingeniously deployed by
contributors to Shandy Hall’s Black Page exhibition of 2009, which reminded me of an
old love poem with the lines “Du bist mein Glück, Du bist mein Stern.” ‘Glück’ puts me
in mind of how luck, chance, accident and design obsessed Sterne as a religious man
whose faith in a divinely-ordained universe is inevitably compromised by their existence,
as Fortuna was such a theologically questionable character to the medieval Church.
The role of chance in modern art, however, has become something of a fetish. I was
always struck by the unlikely story often told about finding a name for dada (its hobby
horse meaning already connecting it with Tristram Shandy in my mind) by randomly
sliding a knife into a dictionary. The blade’s meteoric intrusion into the world of letters is
made in this way to appear part of a grander design than merely thinking up a name or
reclaiming an insult, the work of an artistic Blind Watchmaker, or more appropriately in
the Shandean universe, a Blind Clockmaker.

At Leeds University, one of my art lecturers was Sir Lawrence Gowing, who announced
authoritatively in a lecture on Alexander Cozens of the famous blot-and-paper-crumpling
landscape technique that there is no such thing as chance in art: Cozens’ crumpling of
paper was analogous to the folding of geological strata while the apparently random fall
of ink within it recreated the fall of light and shadow on and from rock. Nevertheless, I
thought, isn’t there a genuine element of chance brought about by the resistance of the
medium if nothing else? Every poet knows the feeling that she is only being allowed
to take particular directions with her writing because of the nature of the language,
especially when trying to box the shadows of rhyme: “Words mean something because
they always threaten to sound like something else” James Longenbach wrote in The
Art of the Poetic Line. The delusion persists that “It rhymes for a reason”, as the saying
goes, which it obviously doesn’t, though a poet may work hard to give the impression
that it does. Perhaps the habitual effort to square circles is one of the things that
distinguishes the artist from the scientist, although in his old age Thomas Hobbes
convinced himself that he had actually managed to achieve this geometrical feat.
Francis Bacon (perhaps coming to mind after thinking of Murr’s comments about
sausages) described something like this in an interview: “In my case all painting…is an
accident. I foresee it and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself
by the actual paint.” And again, “All painting is an accident. But it’s also not an accident,
because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve”
and in a demonstration of the practical artist’s eat-your-cake-and-have-it approach,
“I want a very ordered image, but I want it to come about by chance.” I don’t believe
this argument will ever be settled, an aesthetic equivalent of the Arian controversy
about the nature of divine precedence within the Trinity, where the terms of the debate
eventually become irrelevant. However, I was reading something by Rachel Galvin
in The Boston Review recently where she referred to “Oulipian writers who are anti-
Chance”, reminding me of the suspiciously-convenient story of dada obtaining its
name from a paper knife slid between the pages of a dictionary. This too seemed to
demonstrate Bacon’s desire for a very ordered image brought about by chance, the
hobby horse flushed from linguistic cover to be the Pegasus for machine-age artists.
But the machine we are mostly ghosts in now is intangible itself: “The Internet is a giant
machine that does nothing but generate writing” was a recent Tweet from Kenneth
Goldsmith. Goldsmith makes the Internet sound like the Tarot was to Italo Calvino and
regards Tweets as Oulipian constraints generating a kind of poetry he calls poetweets.
For Raymond Queneau, Oulipo’s co-founder, Oulipians are “Rats who build the labyrinth
from which they will try to escape”, which sounds to me like the attitudes to chance
of Bacon and whoever devised the dada story about its name: it should be fairly easy
to find your way out of the labyrinth you build yourself after all. Sterne writes about
Tristram Shandy as a machine at the beginning of the first chapter of Volume VII, but at
a superficial level it appears to be one jury-rigged with bolted-on features back-to-front,
made from whatever came to hand as a hedge-carpenter might effect rough and ready
repairs from whatever lumber was about.

The internet is the modern writer’s lumber yard, but another writer concerned with the
implications of religion has a more negative view of the Internet, which he thinks his
absence from enhances serendipity: in his recent Oxford lecture, Geoffrey Hill said
“Because I don’t go online in any way, I think and work almost entirely by serendipity.
Serendipity works by the rule that the book which is to change your life stands next
on the shelf to the book that you had intended to take out from the library, and which
as often as not (the book you had wanted I mean) turns out to be a dud. You must
envisage me, then, reading and writing from the centre of a small intense radiance of
apprehension, a miniature vortex of intuition.” Ironies here include that the lecture is
available online, but you know what he means.

In the absence of a better word, I often ended up using ‘desearch’ in talks about the
Digressions project to describe the process that led me to McNally, for example: a semiorganised
serendipity that you could could still not describe by the more purposeful
word research. The book that stands next on the shelf to the book that Geoffrey Hill
intends to get but turns out more valuable to him is, nevertheless, on that shelf
according to the principles of a non-serendipitous classification system. Some other
practice is required to thwart the demons of efficiency even second hand bookshops
can be too organised for such purposes and even some charity bookshops such as
Oxfam present their stock in well-ordered sections. I don’t know if Queneau’s rats were
in the back of my mind when I decided to buy Nick Mays’ book on the care of fancy rats,
a creature I’ve never kept. The National Fancy Rat Society, whose history Mays traces
in passing, struck me as such a wonderful example of hobbyhorsicality that I attended
one of their events in Bradford. Tremendous love and care was lavished on these rats,
which I discovered would laugh when they were tickled, like their owners looking down
warmly on them as they did so, putting me in mind of the notion that people are
supposed to start resembling their pets in a process analogous to that described by
Sterne whereby our prolonged contact with our hobby horses leads to an interchange of
natures. Flann O’Brien took this idea further in The Third Policeman through the book’s
version of “atomic theory”, with this hybridisation an actual physical process at the
molecular level between riders and their bicycles and all this not unlike the idea of
joined beings taking place during the ceremonial coronation rite of sexual intercourse
between Irish kings and horses Gerald of Wales recounts in his Topographica
Hibernica, which I need hardly say is historically controversial, especially in Ireland.
Nevertheless, when I was working on a commission to update the fourteenth century
Fauvel cycle for the Clerks Group about the usurping horse-king in a world turned
upside-down by Dame Fortuna’s wheel, I was fascinated to read Emma Dillon in her
Medieval Music-Making and the ‘Roman de Fauvel’ how in handling its manuscript in
the Bibliothèque nationale de France, “as flesh meets flesh, skin mingles with
skin…readers, also, literally, become part of the object.” In this case it is human skin
touching the animal skin of medieval vellum.

Touching the skins of rats to make them laugh or, to make me laugh again, the calfskin
binding of 1783 Sterne’s Life and Works in the Shandy Hall library (the year of the Great
Meteor) touching the skin of an Appleton’s sausage, testing the poetry inside—but
these actions touch on abuse too: harm is done to creatures routinely on an industrial
scale to provide us with food, especially fast food. Such considerations led to my wife
and son to become vegetarians and me to do my best in that direction as well. Harm
is done to humans too, historically, treating them like animals for reasons that are no
more than skin deep or to do with gender. I alluded at the beginning of this to Sterne’s
opposition to slavery, and there is an affecting episode in Tristram Shandy, written in
response to the letter from Ignatius Sancho where the abuse of a black serving girl who
works in a sausage shop is described, and the following exchange between Trim and
Uncle Toby takes place:
“Why then, an’ please your honour, is a black wench to be used worse than a white
one?
I can give no reason, said my Uncle Toby—
—Only, cried the corporal, shaking his head, because she has no one to stand up for
her.”

This still has the power to stop the reader in her tracks as it did me when I first read the
book: it alerts us to a moral dimension to our consumption. The Slow Food movement
emerged in the 1980s as a critique of Western society, growing from opposition to
McDonald’s, and then everything that chain symbolised. Slow Reading emerged from
this, although some trace the phrase back to Nietzsche, who referred to himself as a
teacher of slow reading. In a 2009 Guardian article, Nick Laird stated “To read poetry
now is to be part of a Slow Language Movement.” Books like Tristram Shandy require
us to read slowly, never demonically straight, but taking in its byways: following Sterne
is a paradoxical pun on his name in itself about chasing tails and often reminded me
of something Blake wrote, “Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads,
without improvement, are roads of Genius.”

Sometimes the language in Tristram Shandy doesn’t move at all but disappears, as
in its missing chapters, black and marbled pages, the murdered darling of the coach
journey or when, to describe the beauty of Widow Wadman, the readers’ imaginations
are directly commissioned by Sterne with a blank page: “paint her to your own mind”
which calls to my mind Botticelli’s climactic blank page for his illustrations to The
Divine Comedy. The white space we have arrived at isn’t Dante’s ‘candida rosa’ but
Yorkshire’s White Rose, whose culture and country we invite you to enjoy, to “Shandy
about” in, to use Sterne’s phrase a strange land of tangled songlines, its anthem,
On Ilkla Moor Baht’at, seeming to invoke the worms of Hamlet as Tristram Shandy
constantly invokes this play about the fatal retardation of its hero’s actions. While
Yorick lives again for Sterne, Hamlet dies uttering “The rest is silence” just before the
thunderous applause of audiences everywhere throughout time. The rest is nearly
silence here too: our final Yorkshire paradox is to welcome you by saying get lost.
Digressions is our record of just how rewarding a process that can be.


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