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A House by Any Other Name
What is a house?
It is not possible to say what anything is, as
positively distinguished from anything else, if there are no positive
A barn is a house if one lives in it. If
residence constitutes houseness, because style of architecture does
not, then a bird's nest is a house: and human occupancy is not the
standard to judge by, because we speak of dogs' houses; nor material,
becaus e we speak of snow houses of Eskimos--or a shell is a house to a
hermit crab--or was to the mollusk that made it--or things seemingly so
positively different as the White House at Washington and a shell on
the seashore are seen to be continuous.
All biologic phenomena act to adjust: there are
no biologic actions other than adjustments.
Adjustment is another name for Equilibrium.
Equilibrium is the Universal, or that which has nothing external to
(Damned, p. 14)
It is not possible to define.
Nothing has ever been finally found out.
Because there is nothing final to find out.
(Damned, p. 14)
By "beauty," I mean that which seems complete.
Obversely, that the incomplete, or the mutilated,
is the ugly . . .
A hand thought of only as a hand, may seem
Found on a battlefield--obviously a part--not
. . . every attempt to achieve beauty is an
attempt to give to the local the attribute of the universal.
A seeker of Truth. He will never find it. But the
dimmest of possibilities--he may himself become Truth.
Or that science is more than an inquiry:
That it is a pseudo-construction, or a
quasi-organization: that it is an attempt to break away and locally
establish harmony, stability, equilibrium, consistency, entity--
Dimmest of all possibilities--that it may succeed.
(Damned, p. 14)
I am a collector of notes upon subjects that have
diversity--such as deviations from concentricity in the lunar crater
Copernicus, and a sudden appearance of purple Englishmen--stationary
meteor radiants, and a reported growth of hair on the bald head of a
mummy--and "Did the girl swallow the octopus?"
But my liveliest interest is not so much in
things, as in relations of things. I have spent much time thinking
about the alleged pseudo-relations that are called coincidences. What
if some of them should not be coincidence?
(Talents, p. 846)
A Small Vanishment
Upon Dec. 2, 1919, Ambrose Small, of Toronto,
Canada, disappeared. He was known to have been in his office, in the
Toronto Grand Opera House, of which he was the owner, between five and
six o'clock, the evening of December 2nd. Nobody saw him leave his
office. Nobody--at least nobody whose testimony can be accepted--saw
him, this evening, outside the building. There were stories of a woman
in the case. But Ambrose Small disappeared, and left more than a
million dollars behind.
(Talents, p. 846)
Before I looked into the case of Ambrose Small, I
was attracted to it by another seeming coincidence. That there could be
any meaning in it seemed so preposterous that, as influenced by much
experience, I gave it serious thought. About six years before the
disappearance of Ambrose Small, Ambrose Bierce had disappeared.
Newspapers all over the world had made much of the mystery of Ambrose
Bierce. But what could the disappearance of one Ambrose, in Texas, have
to do with the disappearance of another Ambr ose in Canada? Was
somebody collecting Ambroses? There was in these questions an
appearance of childishness that attracted my respectful attention.
(Talents, p. 847)
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.
We are not realists. We are not idealists. We are
intermediatists that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal: that
all phenomena are approximations one way or the other between realness
So...that our whole quasi-existence is an intermediate stage between
positiveness and negativeness or realness and unrealness.
Like purgatory, I think.
By Realness, I mean that which does not merge away into
something else, and that which is not partly something else: that which
is not a reaction to, or an imitation of, something else. By a real
hero, we mean one who is not partly a coward, or whose actions and
motives do not merge away into cowardice. But, if in Continuity, all
things do merge, by Realness, I mean the Universal, besides which there
is nothing with which to merge.
That, though the local might be universalized, it is not conceivable
that the universal can be localized...
A Bouquet of Hippopotami
In Continuity, it is impossible to distinguish
phenomena at their merging-points, so we look for them at their
extremes. Impossible to distinguish between animal and vegetable in
some infusoria but hippopotamus and violet. For all practicable
purposes they're distinguishable enough. No one but a Barnum or a
Bailey would send one a bunch of hippopotami as a token of regard.
The fate of all explanation is to close one door only
to have another fly wide open.
To think is to conceive incompletely, because all
thought relates only to the local. We metaphysicians, of course, like
to have the notion that we think of the unthinkable.
If the whole world should seem to combine against you,
it is only unreal combination, or intermediateness to unity and
disunity. Every resistance is itself divided into parts resisting one
another. The simplest strategy seems to be never bother to fight a
thing: set its own parts fighting one another.
I shall attempt not much of correlation of dates. A
mathematic-minded positivist, with his delusion that in an intermediate
state twice two are four, whereas, if we accept Continuity, we cannot
accept that there are anywhere two things to start with, would search
our data for periodicities. It is so obvious to me that the mathematic,
or the regular, is the attribute of the Universal, that I have not much
inclination to look for it in the local. Still, in this solar system,
"as a whole," there is considerable approximation to regularity; or the
mathematic is so nearly localized that eclipses, for instance, can,
with rather high approximation, be foretold, though I have notes that
would deflate a little the astronomers' vainglory in this respect or
would if that were possible.
By the statistic method I could "prove" that a black
rain has fallen "regularly" every seven months, somewhere upon this
earth. To do this, I'd have to include red rains and yellow rains, but,
conventionally, I'd pick out the black particles in red substances and
in yellow substances and disregard the rest. Then, too, if here and
there a black rain should be a week early or a month late that would be
"acceleration" or "retardation."
Still, I have had to notice the year 1819, for
instance. I shall not note them all in this book, but I have records of
31 extraordinary events in 1883. Someone should write a book upon the
phenomena of this one year that is, if books should be written. 1849 is
notable for extraordinary falls, so far apart that a local explanantion
seems inadequate not only the black rain of Ireland, May, 1849, but a
red rain in Sicily and a red rain in Wales. Also, it is said (Timb's Year
Book, 1850-241) that, upon April 18 or 20, 1849, shepherds near Mt.
Ararat found a substance that was not indigenous, upon areas measuring
8 to 10 miles in circumference. Presumably it had fallen there.
All "things" are not things, but only relations, or
expressions of relations.
I have data of other falls, in Persia and Asiatic
Turkey, of edible substances. They are all dogmatically said to be
"manna"; and "manna" is dogmatically said to be a species of lichens
from the steppes of Asia Minor. The position that I take is that this
explanation was evolved in ignorance of the fall of vegetable
substances, or edible substances, in other parts of the world: that it
is the familiar attempt to explain the general in terms of the local;
that, if we have shall have data of falls of vegetable substance, in,
say, Canada or India, they were not of lichens from the steppes of Asia
Minor; that, though all falls in Asiatic Turkey and Persia are
sweepingly and conveniently called showers of "manna," they have not
been even all of the same substance.
There is, in Philosophical Transactions,
16-281, an account of a seeming cereal, said to have fallen in
Wiltshire, in 1686 said that some of the "wheat" fell "enclosed in
hailstones" but the writer in Transactions, says that he had
examined the grains, and that they were nothing but seeds of ivy
berries dislodged from holes and chinks where birds had hidden them. If
birds still hide ivy seeds, and if winds still blow, I don't see why
the phenomenon has not repeated in more than two hundred years since.
I have many notes upon the sulphurous odor of
meteorites, and many notes upon phosphorescence of things that come
from externality. Some day I shall look over old stories of demons that
have appeared sulphurously upon this earth, with the idea of expressing
that we have often had undesirable visitors from other worlds; or that
an indication of external derivation is sulphurousness. I expect some
day to rationalize demonology, but just at present we are scarcely far
enough advanced to go so far back.
For a circumstantial account of a mass of burning sulphur, about the
size of a man's fist, that fell at Pultusk, Poland, Jan. 30, 1868, upon
a road, where it was stamped out by a crowd of villagers, see Rept.
Brit. Assoc., 1874-272.
Slag & Cinders
Sometimes cannon balls are found embedded in trees.
Doesn't seem to be anything to discuss; doesn't seem discussable that
anyone would cut a hole in a tree and hide a cannon ball, which one
could take to bed, and hide under one's pillow just as easily. So with
the stone of Battersea Fields. What is there to say except that it fell
with high velocity and embedded in the tree? Nevertheless, there was a
great deal of discussion
Because, at the foot of the tree, as if broken off the stone, fragments
of slag were found.
I have nine other instances.
Slag and cinders and ashes, and you won't believe, and neither will I,
that they came from the furnaces of vast aerial superconstructions.
The damned and the saved, and there's little to choose
between them; and angels are beings that have not obviously barbed
tails to them or never have such bad manners as to stroke an angel
below the waist-line.
A Fall of Fish
The best-known fall of fishes from the sky is that
which occurred at Mountain Ash, in the Valley of Abedare,
Glamorganshire, Feb. 11, 1859.
The Editor of the Zoologist, 2-677, having published a report
of a fall of fishes, writes: "I am continually receiving similar
accounts of frogs and fishes." But, in all the volumes of the Zoologist,
I can find only two reports of such falls. There is nothing to conclude
other than that hosts of data have been lost because orthodoxy does not
look favorably upon such reports. The Monthly Weather Review
records several falls of fishes in the United States; but accounts of
these reported occurrences are not findable in other American
Our own acceptance is that justice cannot be in an intermediate
existence, in which there can be approximation only to justice or to
injustice; that to be fair is to have no opinion at all; that to be
honest is to be uninterested; that to investigate is to admit
prejudice; that nobody has ever really investigated anything, but has
always sought positively to prove or disprove something that was
conceived of, or suspected, in advance.
Conspicuous by Absence
We shall now have an unusual experience. We shall read
of some reports of extraordinary circumstances that were investigated
by a man of science not of course that they were really investigated by
him, but that this phenomena occupied a position approximating higher
to real investigation than to utter neglect. Over and over we read of
extraordinary occurrences no discussion; not even a comment afterwards
findable; mere mention occasionally burial and damnation.
The extraordinary and how quickly it is hidden away.
Burial and damnation, or the obscurity of the conspicuous.
The above extractions and captions Copyright ©1996, 1998 by Dennis
to Part One of The Quotable Fort