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The Quotable Fort

Charles Fort

Selected Quotes From the
Collected Works of Charles Fort

Editor's Note

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 Stacy

Battalions of the Accursed

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 rotten.

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 puerile.

(Damned, p. 3)

The Excluded

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 --

(Damned, p.4)

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)

Darwin & Evolution

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 survive.
"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 procedure.

(Talents, p. 850)

Catsup Chaos

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 infinitesimally--universally--maybe--

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)

"Mass Psychology"

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 another.

(Talents, p. 858)

A Collector of Data

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)

Senility as Sainthood

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 chewing gum.

(Talents, p. 1042)

The above extractions and captions Copyright �1995 by Dennis Stacy

Go to Part 2 of Fort Quotes.