The Quotable Fort
Charles Hoy Fort (b. 1874) published four
monumental collections of the odd and unusual during his lifetime: The
Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo!
(1931), and Wild Talents (1932), the last appearing in the
year of his death. In 1941, all four were collected into a massive
posthumous volume, The Books of Charles Fort, published by
Henry Holt and Company of New York, with an introduction by Tiffany
Thayer, then Secretary of the Fortean Society, which Fort himself had
previously and politely declined to join. The pages were numbered
consecutively and it is this convention that the present editor follows
here. Thus a reference to, say, Wild Talents, page 850,
refers to the omnibus collect ion of Fort's works and not to the
individual title itself. Similarly, individual works will simply be
referred to as Damned, Lands, Lo! and Talents.
The following extracts are taken from a work in
progress, provisionally titled The Shorter Fort (but maybe
also the Portable, or Quotable, Fort),
begun by me and Bob Rickard, one half of the editing team of Forte
an Times, before the demands of publishing the latter on a regular
commercial basis and other associated projects necessitated his
withdrawal. Most of the selections and caption headings, then, are my
own. (Fort himself didn't do captions.) The empha sis here, I should
point out, is on Fort's witticisms, epigrams, and overall philosophy,
as opposed to the specific "Fortean" events themselves, although the
two are obviously hopelessly intertwined. But a good index exists for
the events themselves, wher eas there is no index for a particularly
felicitous turn of thought or phrasing--the quotable quote. The
electronic "Quotable Fort" will be added to on a regular basis. --Dennis
A procession of the damned.
By the damned, I mean the excluded.
We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.
Battalions of the accursed, captained by pallid
data that I have exhumed, will march. You'll read them--or they'll
march. Some of them livid and some of them fiery and some of them
Some of them are corpses, skeletons, mummies,
twitching, tottering, animated by companions that have been damned
alive. There are giants that will walk by, though sound asleep. There
are things that are theorems and things that are rags; they'll go by
lik e Euclid, arm in arm with the spirit of anarchy. Here and there
will flit little harlots. Many are clowns. But many are of the highest
respectability. Some are assassins. There are pale stenches and gaunt
superstitions and mere shadows and lively malices: whims and
amiabilities. The naive and the pedantic and the bizarre and the
grotesque and the sincere and the insincere, the profound and the
(Damned, p. 3)
So, by the damned, I mean the excluded.
But by the excluded I mean that which will some day be the excluding.
Or everything that is, won't be.
And everything that isn't, will be --
But, of course, will be that which won't be --
Secrets of Success
A secret of power --
I think it's another profundity.
Do you want power over something?
Be more nearly real than it.
(Damned, p. 23)
In mere impressionism we take our stand. We have
no positive tests nor standards. Realism in art: realism in
science--they pass away. In 1859, the thing to do was to accept
Darwinism; now many biologists are revolting and trying to conceive of
somet hing else. The thing to do was to accept it in its day, but
Darwinism of course was never proved:
The fittest survive.
What is meant by the fittest?
Not the strongest; not the cleverest--
Weakness and stupidity everywhere survive.
There is no way of determining fitness except in that a thing does
"Fitness," then, is only another name for "survival."
That survivors survive.
(Damned, pp. 23-24)
A Scientific Procedure
In days of yore, when I was an especially bad
young one, punishment was having to go to the store, Saturdays, and
work. I had to scrape off labels of other dealers' canned goods, and
paste on my parents' label. Theoretically, I was so forced to labor to
teach me the errors of deceitful ways. A good many brats are brought
up, in the straight and narrow, somewhat deviously.
One time I had pyramids of canned goods,
containing a variety of fruits and vegetables. But I had used all
except peach labels. I pasted the peach label on peach cans, and then
came to apricots. Well, aren't apricots peaches? And there are plums
that are virtually apricots. I went on, either mischievously, or
scientifically, pasting the peach labels on cans of plums, cherries,
string beans, succotash. I can't quite define my motive, because to
this day it has not been decided whether I am a humoris t or a
scientist. I think that it was mischief, but, as we go along, there
will come a more respectful recognition that also it was a scientific
(Talents, p. 850)
Not a bottle of catsup can fall from a
tenement-house fire-escape in Harlem, without being noted--not only by
the indignant people downstairs, but--even though
Affecting the price of pajamas, in Jersey City:
the temper of somebody's mother-in-law, in Greenland; the demand, in
China, for rhinoceros horns for the cure of rheumatism (...)
Because all things are
inter-related--continuous--of an underlying oneness.
(Talents, p. 857)
If "mass psychology" applies definitely to one
occurrence, it must, even though almost imperceptibly, apply to all
occurrences. Phenomena of a man alone on a desert island can be
explained in terms of "mass psychology" -- inasmuch as the mind of no
ma n is a unit, but is a community of mental states that influence one
(Talents, p. 858)
A Collector of
Sometimes I am a collector of data, and only a
collector, and am likely to be gross and miserly, piling up notes,
pleased with merely numerically adding to my stores. Other times I have
joys, when unexpectedly coming upon an outrageous story that may not be
altogether a lie, or upon a macabre little thing that may make some
reviewer of my more or less good works mad. But always there is present
a feeling of unexplained relations of events that I note, and it is
this far-away, haunting, or often taunt ing, awareness, or suspicion,
that keeps me piling on.
(Talents, p. 862)
There is not a physicist in the world who can
perceive when a parlor magician palms off playing-cards.
(Lands, p. 360)
I now have a theory that our existence, as a
whole, is an organism that is very old--a globular thing within a
starry shell, afloat in a super-existence in which there may be
countless other organisms--and that we, as cells in its composition,
partake of, and are ruled by, its permeating senility. The theologians
have recognized that the ideal is the imitation of God. If we be a part
of such an organic thing, this thing is God to us, as I am God to the
cells that compose me. When I see myself, and c ats, and dogs losing
irregularities of conduct and approaching the irreproachable, with
advancing age, I see that what is ennobling us is senility. I conclude
that the virtues, the austerities, the proprieties are ideal in our
existence, because they are imitations of the state of a whole
existence, which is very old, good, and beyond reproach. The ideal
state is meekness, or humility, or the semi-invalid state of the old.
Year after year I am becoming nobler and nobler. If I can live to be
decrepit e nough, I shall be a saint.
(Talents, p. 878)
The Future of Warfare
Girls at the front--and they are discussing their
usual not very profound subjects. The alarm--the enemy is advancing.
Command to the poltergeist girls to concentrate--and under their chairs
they stick their wads of chewing gum.
A regiment bursts into flames, and the soldiers
are torches. Horses snort smoke from the combustion of their entrails.
Reinforcements are smashed under cliffs that are teleported from the
Rocky Mountains. The snatch of Niagara Falls--it pours upon t he
battlefield. The little poltergeist girls reach for their wads of
(Talents, p. 1042)
The above extractions and captions Copyright
©1995 by Dennis Stacy
Go to Part 2 of Fort Quotes.