Page Seventeen III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The sea lost nothing of the swallowing identity of its great outer mass of waters in the emphatic, individual character of each particular wave. Each wave, as it rolled in upon the high-pebbled beach, was an epitome of the whole body of the sea, and carried with it all the vast mysterious quality of the earth’s ancient antagonist.

“And I’m Newton Channing. Ever hear of Newton Channing? Does the name mean anything?”

“I wish it were so,” said Mr Escot; “but to me the very reverse appears to be the fact. The progress of knowledge is not general: it is confined to a chosen few of every age. How far these are better than their neighbours, we may examine by and bye. The mass of mankind is composed of beasts of burden, mere clods, and tools of their superiors. By enlarging and complicating your machines, you degrade, not exalt, the human animals you employ to direct them. When the boatswain of a seventy-four pipes all hands to the main tack, and flourishes his rope’s end over the shoulders of the poor fellows who are tugging at the ropes, do you perceive so dignified, so gratifying a picture, as Ulysses exhorting his dear friends, his ΕΡΙΗΡΕΣ ’ΕΤΑΙΡΟΙ, to ply their oars with energy? You will say, Ulysses was a fabulous character. But the economy of his vessel is drawn from nature. Every man on board has a character and a will of his own. He talks to them, argues with them, convinces them; and they obey him, because they love him, and know the reason of his orders. Now, as I have said before, all singleness of character is lost. We divide men into herds like cattle: an individual man, if you strip him of all that is extraneous to himself, is the most wretched and contemptible creature on the face of the earth. The sciences advance. True. A few years of study puts a modern mathematician in possession of more than Newton knew, and leaves him at leisure to add new discoveries of his own. Agreed. But does this make him a Newton? Does it put him in possession of that range of intellect, that grasp of mind, from which the discoveries of Newton sprang? It is mental power that I look for: if you can demonstrate the increase of that, I will give up the field. Energy—independence—individuality—disinterested virtue—active benevolence—self-oblivion—universal philanthropy—these are the qualities I desire to find, and of which I contend that every succeeding age produces fewer examples. I repeat it; there is scarcely such a thing to be found as a single individual man; a few classes compose the whole frame of society, and when you know one of a class you know the whole of it. Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none. Sir, if I fall into a river, an unsophisticated man will jump in and bring me out; but a philosopher will look on with the utmost calmness, and consider me in the light of a projectile, and, making a calculation of the degree of force with which I have impinged the surface, the resistance of the fluid, the velocity of the current, and the depth of the water in that particular place, he will ascertain with the greatest nicety in what part of the mud at the bottom I may probably be found, at any given distance of time from the moment of my first immersion.”

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little: but some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hushed and smooth! O unconfined
Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
Echoing grottoes, full of tumbling waves
And moonlight; aye, to all the mazy world
Of silvery enchantment.

He had been working for what seemed to him about a quarter of an hour, when he was informed that New York wanted him on the telephone again. And presently, across three thousand miles of land and water, there floated to his ears the musical voice of a young girl.

On March 7th, 1741, with the holds already stinking of scurvy, Anson sailed the Centurion through the Straits Le Maire, from the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean. As he rounded the tip of Cape Horn, a storm blew up from the west. It shredded the sails and pitched the ship so violently that the men who lost their holds were dashed to death. The storm abated from time to time only to gather its strength, and punished the Centurion for fifty-eight days without mercy. The winds carried rain, sleet, and snow. And scurvy all the while whittled away at the crew, killing six to ten men every day.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens on vaguely nautical or aquatic themes.

Weymouth Sands by John Cowper Powys; The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis; Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock; The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, from Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos edited by August Derleth;; Endymion by John Keats quoted in The Poetic Mind by Dr. Frederick Clarke Prescott; Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse; Longitude by Dava Sobel.

7 Responses to “Page Seventeen III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”

  1. The distance between Lovecraft at full boil and not-quite-prime Keats is a little too close for comfort…

  2. Just bought an Ellery Queen collection featuring a short murder mystery by Wodehouse (who was a huge mystery fan, particularly of the works of Rex Stout, a passion he shares with his creation Bertie Wooster.)

    And there’s a book out there that fuses Wodehouse with Lovecraft (H.G. Woodlouse?) with admittedly uncertain results. Lovecraft is easy to pastiche, Wodehouse is a genius and therefore impossible to authentically emulate.

  3. During the “You got anything else?” section of a failed pitch, I suggested inserting Alistair Crowley into the plot of “Code of the Woosters”(he believes the cow creamer may possess occult properties). It was practically writing itself when we moved into the “thanks for coming down” section of the meeting..

  4. Wodehouse does have an uncanny mode, which he uses for the cow creamer: “it seemed to offer a glimpse of another, more terrible world.”

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