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The Book of the Damned
By Charles Fort (1874-1932)
Noded by panamaus
I ACCEPT that, when there are storms, the damnedest of excluded, excommunicated things — things that are leprous to the faithful — are brought down — from the Super-Sargasso Sea — or from what for convenience we call the Super-Sargasso Sea — which by no means has been taken into full acceptance yet.
That things are brought down by storms, just as, from the depths of the sea things are brought up by storms. To be sure it is orthodoxy that storms have little, if any, effect below waves of the ocean — but — of course — only to have an opinion is to be ignorant of, or to disregard a contradiction, or something else that modifies an opinion out of distinguishability.
Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 47-180:
That, along the coast of New Zealand, in regions not subject to submarine volcanic action, deep-sea fishes are often brought up by storms.
Iron and stones that fall from the sky; and atmospheric disturbances:
"There is absolutely no connection between the two phenomena." (Symons.)
The orthodox belief is that objects moving at planetary velocity would, upon entering this earth's atmosphere, be virtually unaffected by hurricanes; might as well think of a bullet swerved by someone fanning himself. The only trouble with the orthodox reasoning is the usual trouble — its phantom-dominant — its basing upon a myth — data we've had, and more we'll have, of things in the sky having no independent velocity.
There are so many storms and so many meteors and meteorites that it would be extraordinary if there were no concurrences. Nevertheless so many of these concurrences are listed by Prof. Baden-Powell (Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1850-54) that one — notices.
See Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1860 — other instances.
The famous fall of stones at Siena, Italy, 1794 — "in a violent storm."
See Greg's Catalogues — many instances. One that stands out is — "bright ball of fire and light in a hurricane in England, Sept. 2, 1786." The remarkable datum here is that this phenomenon was visible forty minutes. That's about 800 times the duration that the orthodox give to meteors and meteorites.
See the Annual Register — many instances.
In Nature, Oct. 25, 1877, and the London Times, Oct. 15, 1877, something that fell in a gale on Oct. 14, 1877, is described as a "huge ball of green fire." This phenomenon is described by another correspondent, in Nature, 17-10, and an account of it by another correspondent was forwarded to Nature by W.F. Denning.
There are so many instances that some of us will revolt against the insistence of the faithful that it is only coincidence, and accept that there is connection of the kind called causal. If it is too difficult to think of stones and metallic masses swerved from their courses by storms, if they move at high velocity, we think of low velocity, or of things having no velocity at all, hovering a few miles above this earth, dislodged by storms, and falling luminously.
But the resistance is so great here, and "coincidence" so insisted upon that we'd better have some more instances:
Aerolite in a storm at St. Leonards-on-sea, England, Sept. 17, 1885 — no trace of it found (Annual Register, 1885); meteorite in a gale, March 1, 1886, described in the Monthly Weather Review, March 1886; meteorite in a thunderstorm, off coast of Greece, Nov. 19, 1899, (Nature, 61-111); fall of a meteorite in a storm, July 7, 1883, near Lachine, Quebec (Monthly Weather Review, July 1883); same phenomenon noted in Nature, 28-319; meteorite in a whirlwind, Sweden, Sept. 24, 1883, (Nature, 29-15).
London Roy. Soc. Proc., 6-276:
A triangular cloud that appeared in a storm, Dec. 17, 1852; a red nucleus, about half the apparent diameter of the moon, and a long tail; visible thirteen minutes; explosion of the nucleus.
Nevertheless, in Science Gossip, 6-65, it is said that, though meteorites have fallen in storms, no connection is supposed to exist between the two phenomena, except by the ignorant peasantry.
But some of us peasants have gone through the Report of the British Association, 1852. Upon page 239, Dr. Buist, who had never heard of the Super-Sargasso Sea, says that, though it is difficult to trace connection between the phenomena, three aerolites had fallen in five months, in India, during thunderstorms, in 1851 (may have been 1852). For accounts by witnesses, see page 229 of the Report.
Or — we are on our way to account for "thunderstones."
It seems to me that, very striking here, is borne out the general acceptance that ours is only an intermediate existence, in which there is nothing fundamental, or nothing final to take as a positive standard to judge by.
Peasants believed in meteorites.
Scientists excluded meteorites.
Peasants believe in "thunderstones."
Scientists exclude "thunderstones."
It is useless to argue that peasants are out in the fields, and that scientists are shut up in laboratories and lecture rooms. We can not take for a real base that, as to phenomena with which they are more familiar, peasants are more likely to be right than are scientists: a host of biologic and meteorologic fallacies of peasants rises against us.
I should say that our "existence" is like a bridge — except that that comparison is in static terms — but like the Brooklyn Bridge, upon which multitudes of bugs are seeking a fundamental — coming to a girder that seems firm and final — but the girder is built upon supports. A support then seems final. But it is built upon underlying structures. Nothing final can be found in all the bridge, because the bridge itself is not a final thing in itself, but is a relationship between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If our "existence" is a relationship between the Positive Absolute and the Negative Absolute, the quest for finality in it is hopeless: everything in it must be relative, if the "whole" is not a whole, but is, itself, a relation.
In the attitude of Acceptance, our pseudo-base is:
Cells of an embryo are in the reptilian era of the embryo;
Some cells feel stimuli to take on new appearances.
If it be of the design of the whole that the next era be mammalian, those cells that turn mammalian will be sustained against resistance, by inertia, of all the rest, and will be relatively right, though not finally right, because they, too, in time will have to give way to characters of other eras of higher development.
If we are upon the verge of a new era, in which Exclusionism must be overthrown, it will avail thee not to call us base-born and frowsy peasants.
In our crude, bucolic way, we now offer an outrage upon common sense that we think will some day be an unquestioned commonplace:
That manufactured objects of stone and iron have fallen from the sky:
That they have been brought down from a state of suspension, in a region of inertness to this earth's attraction, by atmospheric disturbances.
The "thunderstone" is usually "a beautifully polished, wedge-shaped piece of solid greenstone," says a writer in the Cornhill Magazine, 50-517. It isn't: it's likely to be of almost any kind of stone, but we call attention to the skill with which some of them have been made. Of course this writer says it's all superstition. Otherwise he'd be one of us crude and simple sons of the soil.
Conventional damnation is that stone implements, already on the ground — "on the ground in the first place" — are found near where lightning was seen to strike: that are supposed by astonished rustics, or by intelligence of a low order, to have fallen in or with lightning.
Throughout this book, we class a great deal of science with bad fiction. When is fiction bad, cheap, low? If coincidence is overworked. That's one way of deciding. But with single writers coincidence seldom is overworked: we find the excess in the subject at large. Such a writer as the one of the Cornhill Magazine tells us vaguely of beliefs of peasants: there is no massing of instance after instance after instance. Here ours will be the method of mass-formation.
Conceivably lightning may strike the ground near where there was a wedge-shaped object in the first place: again and again and again: lightning striking ground near wedge-shaped object in China; lightning striking ground near wedge-shaped object in Scotland; lightning striking ground near wedge-shaped object in Central Africa: coincidence in France; coincidence in Java; coincidence in South America —
We grant a great deal but note a tendency to restlessness. Nevertheless this is the psycho-tropism of science to all "thunderstones" said to have fallen luminously.
As to greenstone, it is in the island of Jamaica, where the notion is general that axes of a hard greenstone fall from the sky — "during the rains." (Jour. Inst. Jamaica, 2-4.) Some other time we shall inquire into this localization of objects of a specific material. "They are of a stone nowhere else to be found in Jamaica." (Notes and Queries, 2-8-24.)
In my own tendency to exclude, or in the attitude of one peasant or savage who thinks he is not to be classed with other peasants or savages, I am not very much impressed with what natives think. It would be hard to tell why. If the word of a Lord Kelvin carries no more weight, upon scientific subjects, than the word of a Sitting Bull, unless it be in agreement with conventional opinion — I think it must be because savages have bad table manners. However, my snobbishness, in this respect, loosens up somewhat before very widespread belief by savages and peasants. And the notion of "thunderstones" is as wide as geography itself.
The natives of Burma, China, Japan, according to Blinkenberg (Thunder Weapons, p. 100) — not, of course, that Blinkenberg accepts one word of it — think that carved stone objects have fallen from the sky, because they think they have seen such objects fall from the sky. Such objects are called "thunderbolts" in these countries. They are called "thunderstones" in Moravia, Holland, Belgium, France, Cambodia, Sumatra, and Siberia. They're called "storm stones" in Lausitz; "sky arrows" in Slavonia; "thunder axes" in England and Scotland; "lightning stones" in Spain and Portugal; "sky axes" in Greece; "lightning flashes" in Brazil; "thunder teeth" in Amboina.
The belief is as widespread as is belief in ghosts and witches, which only the superstitious deny to-day.
As to beliefs by North American Indians, Tyler gives a list of references (Primitive Culture, 2-237). As to South American Indians — "Certain stone hatchets are said to have fallen from the heavens." (Jour. Amer. Folk Lore, 17-203.)
If you, too, revolt against coincidence after coincidence after coincidence, but find our interpretation of "thunderstones" just a little too strong or rich for digestion, we recommend the explanation of one, Tallius, written in 1649:
"The naturalists say they are generated in the sky by fulgureous exhalation conglobed in a cloud by the circumfixed humor."
Of course the paper in the Cornhill Magazine was written with no intention of trying really to investigate this subject, but to deride the notion that worked-stone objects have ever fallen from the sky. A writer in the Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-21-325, read this paper and thinks it remarkable "that any man of ordinary reasoning powers should write a paper to prove that thunderbolts do not exist."
I confess that we're a little flattered by that.
Over and over:
"It is scarcely necessary to suggest to the intelligent reader that thunderstones are a myth."
We contend that there is a misuse of a word here: we admit that only we are intelligent upon this subject, if by intelligence is meant the inquiry of inequilibrium, and that all other intellection is only mechanical reflex — of course that intelligence, too, is mechanical, but less orderly and confined: less obviously mechanical — that as an acceptance of ours becomes firmer and firmer-established, we pass from the state of intelligence to reflexes in ruts. An odd thing is that intelligence is usually supposed to be creditable. It may be in the sense that it is mental activity trying to find out, but it is confession of ignorance. The bees, the theologians, the dogmatic scientists are the intellectual aristocrats. The rest of us are plebians, not yet graduated to Nirvana, or to the instinctive and suave as differentiated from the intelligent and crude.
Blinkenberg gives many instances of the superstition of "thunderstones" which flourishes only where mentality is in a lamentable state — or universally. In Malacca, Sumatra, and Java, natives say that stone axes have often been found under trees that have been struck by lightning. Blinkenberg does not dispute this, but says it is coincidence: that the axes were of course upon the ground in the first place: that the natives jumped to the conclusion that these carved stones had fallen in or with lightning. In Central Africa, it is said that often have wedge-shaped, highly polished objects of stone, described as "axes," been found sticking in trees that have been struck by lightning — or by what seemed to be lightning. The natives, rather like the unscientific persons of Memphis, Tenn., when they saw snakes after a storm, jumped to the conclusion that the "axes" had not always been sticking in the trees. Livingstone (Last Journals, pages 83, 89, 442, 448) says that he has never heard of stone implements used by natives of Africa. A writer in the Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1877-308, says that there are a few.
That they are said, by the natives, to have fallen in thunderstorms.
As to luminosity, it is my lamentable acceptance that bodies falling through this earth's atmosphere, if not warmed even, often fall with a brilliant light, looking like flashes of lightning. This matter seems important: we'll take it up later, with data.
In Prussia, two stone axes were found in the trunks of trees, one under the bark. (Blinkenberg, Thunder Weapons, p. 100).
The finders jumped to the conclusion that the axes had fallen there.
Another stone ax — or wedge-shaped object of worked stone — said to have been found in a tree that had been struck by something that looked like lightning. (Thunder Weapons, p. 71.)
The finder jumped to the conclusion.
Story told by Blinkenberg of a woman, who lived near Kulsbjaergene, Sweden, who found a flint near an old willow — "near her house." I emphasize "near her house" because that means familiar ground. The willow had been split by something.
Cow killed by lightning, or by what looked like lightning, (Isle of Sark, near Guernsey). The peasant who owned the cow dug up the ground at the spot and found a small greenstone "ax." Blinkenberg says that he jumped to the conclusion that it was this object that had fallen luminously, killing the cow.
A flint ax found by a farmer, after a severe storm — described as a "fearful storm" — by a signal staff, which had been split by something. I should say that nearness to a signal staff may be considered familiar ground.
Whether he jumped, or arrived at the conclusion by a more leisurely process, the farmer thought that the flint object had fallen in the storm.
In this instance we have a lamentable scientist with us. It's impossible to have positive difference between orthodoxy and heresy: somewhere there must be a merging into each other, or an overlapping. Nevertheless, upon such a subject as this, it does seem a little shocking. In most important works upon meteorites, the peculiar, sulphurous odor of things that fall from the sky is mentioned. Sir John Evans (Stone Implements, p. 57) says — with extraordinary reasoning powers, if he could never have thought such a thing with ordinary reasoning powers — that this flint object "proved to have been the bolt, by its peculiar smell when broken."
If it did so prove to be, that settles the whole subject. If we prove that only one object of worked stone has fallen from the sky, all piling up of further reports is unnecessary. However, we have already taken the stand that nothing settles anything; that the disputes of ancient Greece are no nearer solution now than they were several thousand years ago — all because, in a positive sense, there is nothing to prove or solve or settle. Our object is to be more nearly real than our opponents. Wideness is an aspect of the Universal. We go on widely. According to us the fat man is nearer godliness than is the thin man. Eat, drink, and approximate to the Positive Absolute. Beware of negativeness, by which we mean indigestion.
The vast majority of "thunderstones" are described as "axes," but Meunier (La Nature, 1892-2-381) tells of one that was in his possession; said to have fallen at Ghardia, Algeria, contrasting "profoundment" (pear-shaped) with the angular outlines of ordinary meteorites. The conventional explanation that it had been formed as a drop of molten matter from a larger body seems reasonable to me; but with less agreeableness I note its fall in a thunderstorm, the datum that turns the orthodox meteorologist pale with rage, or induces a slight elevation of his eyebrows, if you mention it to him.
Meunier tells of another "thunderstone" said to have fallen in North Africa. Meunier, too, is a little lamentable here: he quotes a soldier of experience that such objects fall most frequently in the deserts of Africa.
Rather miscellaneous now:
"Thunderstone" said to have fallen in London, April, 1876: weight about 8 pounds: no particulars as to shape (Timb's Year Book, 1877-246).
"Thunderbolt" said to have fallen at Cardiff, Sept. 26, 1916, (London Times, Sept. 28, 1916). According to Nature, 98-95, it was coincidence; only a lightning flash had been seen.
Stone that fell in a storm, near St. Albans, England: accepted at the Museum of St. Albans; said, at the British Museum, not to be of "true meteoritic material." (Nature, 80-34.)
London Times, April 26, 1876:
That, April 20, 1876, near Wolverhampton, fell a mass of meteoritic iron during a heavy fall of rain. An account of this phenomenon in Nature, 14-272, by H.S. Maskelyne, who accepts it as authentic. Also, see Nature, 13-531.
For three other instances, see the Scientific American, 47-194; 52-83; 68-325.
As to wedge-shaped larger than could very well be called an "ax":
That, May 27, 1884, at Tysnas, Norway, a meteorite had fallen: that the turf was torn up at the spot where the object had been supposed to have fallen; that two days later "a very peculiar stone" was found near by. The description is — "in shape and size very like the fourth part of a large Stilton cheese."
Description of the thunderstones of Burma (Proc. Asiatic Soc. of Bengal, 1869-183): said to be a kind of stone unlike any other found in Burma; called "thunderbolts" by the natives. I think there's a good deal of meaning in such expressions as "unlike any other found in Burma" — but that if they said anything more definite, there would have been unpleasant consequences to writers in the 19th century.
More about the thunderstones of Burma, in the Proc. Soc. Antiq. of London, 2-3-97. One of them, described as an "adze," was exhibited by Captain Duff, who wrote that there was no stone like it in the neighborhood.
Of course it may not be very convincing to say that because a stone is unlike neighboring stones it had foreign origin — also we fear it is a kind of plagiarism: we got it from the geologists, who demonstrate by this reasoning the foreign origin of erratics. We fear we're a little gross and scientific at times.
But it's my acceptance that a great deal of scientific literature must be read between the lines. It's not everyone who has the lamentableness of a Sir John Evans. Just as a great deal of Voltaire's meaning was inter-linear, we suspect that a Captain Duff merely hints rather than to risk having a Prof. Lawrence Smith fly at him and call him "a half-insane man." Whatever Captain Duff's meaning may have been, and whether he smiled like a Voltaire when he wrote it, Captain Duff writes of "the extremely soft nature of the stone, rendering it equally useless as an offensive or defensive weapon."
Story, by a correspondent, in Nature, 34-53, of a Malay, of "considerable social standing" — and one thing about our data is that, damned though they be, they do so often bring us into awful good company — who knew of a tree that had been struck, about a month before, by something in a thunderstorm. He searched among the roots of this tree and found a "thunderstone." Not said whether he jumped or leaped to the conclusion that it had fallen: process likely to be more leisurely in tropical countries. Also I'm afraid his way of reasoning was not very original: just so were fragments of the Bath-furnace meteorite, accepted by orthodoxy, discovered.
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 his 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 afterward 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.
We did read of a man who, in the matter of snails, did travel some distance to assure himself of something that he had suspected in advance; and we remember Prof. Hitchcock, who had only to smite Amherst with the wand of his botanical knowledge, and lo! two fungi sprang up before night; and we did read of Dr. Gray and his thousands of fishes from one pailful of water — but these instances stand out; more frequently there was no "investigation." We now have a good many reported occurrences that were "investigated." Of things said to have fallen from the sky, we make, in the usual scientific way, two divisions: miscellaneous objects and substances, and symmetric objects attributable to beings like human beings, sub-dividing into — wedges, spheres, and disks.
Jour. Royal Met. Soc., 14-207:
That, July 2, 1866, a correspondent to a London newspaper, wrote that something had fallen from the sky, during a thunderstorm of June 30, 1866, at Notting Hill. Mr. G.T. Symons, of Symons' Meteorological Magazine, investigated, about as fairly, and with about as unprejudiced a mind, as anything ever has been investigated.
He says that the object was nothing but a lump of coal: that, next door to the home of the correspondent coal had been unloaded the day before. With the uncanny wisdom of the stranger upon unfamiliar ground that we have noted before, Mr. Symons saw that the coal reported to have fallen from the sky, and the coal unloaded more prosaically the day before, were identical. Persons in the neighborhood, unable to make this simple identification, had bought from the correspondent pieces of the object reported to have fallen from the sky. As to credulity, I know of no limits for it — but when it comes to paying our money for credulity — oh, no standards to judge by, of course — just the same —
The trouble with efficiency is that it will merge away into excess. With what seems to me to be super-abundance of convincingness, Mr. Symons then lugs another character into his little comedy:
That it was all a hoax by a chemist's pupil, who had filled a capsule with an explosive, and "during the height of the storm had thrown the burning mass into the gutter, so making an artificial thunderbolt."
Or even Shakespeare, with all his inartistry, did not lug in King Lear to make Hamlet complete.
Whether I'm lugging in something that has no special meaning, myself, or not, I find that this storm of June 30, 1866, was peculiar. It is described in the London Times, July 2, 1866: that "during the storm, the sky, in many places remained partially clear while hail and rain were falling." That may have more meaning when we take up the possible extra-mundane origin of some hailstones, especially if they fall from a cloudless sky. Mere suggestion, not worth much, that there have been falls of extra-mundane substances, in London, June 30, 1866.
Clinkers, said to have fallen, during a storm, at Kilburn, July 5, 1877:
According to the Kilburn Times, July 7, 1877, quoted by Mr. Symons, a street had been "literally strewn," during the storm, with a mass of clinkers, estimated at about two bushels: sizes from that of a walnut to that of a man's hand — "Pieces of the clinker can be seen at the Kilburn Times office."
If these clinkers, or cinders, were refuse from one of the super-mercantile constructions from which coke and coal and ashes occasionally fall to this earth, or, rather, to the Super-Sargasso Sea, from which dislodgment by tempests occurs, it is intermediatistic to accept that they must merge away somewhere with local phenomena of the scene of precipitation. If a red-hot stove should drop from a cloud into Broadway, some one would find that at about the time of the occurrence, a moving van had passed, and that the moving men had tired of the stove, or something — that it had not been really red-hot, but had been rouged instead of blacked, by some absent-minded housekeeper. Compared with some of the scientific explanations that we have encountered, there's considerable restraint, I think, in that one.
Mr. Symons learned that in the same street — he emphasizes that it was a short street — there was a fire-engine station. I had such an impression of him hustling and bustling around at Notting Hill, searching cellars until he found one with newly arrived coal in it; ringing door bells, exciting a whole neighborhood, calling up to second-story windows, stopping people in the streets, hotter and hotter on the trail of a wretched imposter of a chemist's pupil. After his efficiency at Notting Hill, we'd expect to hear that he went to the station, and — something like this:
"It is said that clinkers fell, in your street, at about ten minutes past four o'clock, afternoon of July fifth. Will you look over your records and tell me where your engine was at about ten minutes past four, July fifth?"
Mr. Symons says:
"I think that most probably they had been raked out of the steam fire-engine."
June 20, 1880, it was reported that a "thunderbolt" had struck the house at 180 Oakley Street, Chelsea, falling down the chimney, into the kitchen grate.
Mr. Symons investigated.
He describes the "thunderbolt" as an "agglomeration of brick, soot, unburnt coal and cinder."
He says that, in his opinion, lightning had flashed down the chimney, and had fused some of the brick of it.
He does not think it remarkable that the lightning did not then scatter the contents of the grate, which were disturbed only as if a heavy body had fallen. If we admit that climbing up the chimney to find out, is too rigorous a requirement for a man who may have been large, dignified and subject to expansions, the only unreasonableness we find in what he says — as judged by our more modern outlook, is:
"I suppose that no one would suggest that bricks are manufactured in the atmosphere."
Sounds a little unreasonable to us, because it is so of the positivistic spirit of former times, when it was not so obvious that the highest incredibility and laughability must merge away with the "proper" — as the Sci. Am. Sup. would say. The preposterous is always interpretable in terms of the "proper," with which it must be continuous — or — clay-like masses such as have fallen from the sky — tremendous heat generated by their velocity — they bake — bricks.
We begin to suspect that Mr. Symons exhausted himself at Notting Hill. It's a warning to efficiency-fanatics.
Then the instance of three lumps of earthy matter, found upon a well-frequented path, after a thunderstorm, at Reading, July 3, 1883. There are so many records of the fall of earthy matter from the sky that it would seem almost uncanny to find resistance here, were we not so accustomed to the uncompromising stands of orthodoxy — which, in our metaphysics, represent good, as attempts, but evil in their insufficiency. If I thought it necessary, I'd list one hundred and fifty instances of earthy matter said to have fallen from the sky. It is his antagonism to atmospheric disturbance associated with the fall of things from the sky that blinds and hypnotizes a Mr. Symons here. This especial Mr. Symons rejects the Reading substance because it was not "of true meteoritic material." It's uncanny — or it's not uncanny at all, but universal — if you don't take something for a standard of opinion, you can't have any opinion at all: but, if you do take a standard, in some of its applications it must be preposterous. The carbonaceous meteorites, which are unquestioned — though avoided, as we have seen — by orthodoxy, are more glaringly of untrue meteoritic material than was this substance of Reading. Mr. Symons says that these three lumps were upon the ground "in the first place."
Whether these data are worth preserving or not, I think that the appeal that this especial Mr. Symons makes is worthy of a place in the museum we're writing. He argues against belief in all external origins "for our credit as Englishmen." He is a patriot, but I think that these foreigners had a small chance "in the first place" for hospitality from him.
Then comes a "small lump of iron (two inches in diameter)" said to have fallen, during a thunderstorm, at Brixton, Aug. 17, 1887. Mr. Symons says: "At present I can not trace it."
He was at his best at Notting Hill: there's been a marked falling off in his later manner:
In the London Times, Feb. 1, 1888, it is said that a roundish object of iron had been found, "after the violent thunderstorm," in a garden at Brixton, Aug. 17, 1887. It was analyzed by a chemist, who could not identify it as true meteoritic material. Whether a product of workmanship like human workmanship or not, this object is described as an oblate spheroid, about two inches across its major diameter. The chemist's name and address are given: Mr. J. James Morgan: Ebbw Vale.
Garden — familiar ground — I suppose that in Mr. Symons' opinion this symmetric object had been upon the ground "in the first place," though he neglects to say this. But we do note that he described this object as a "lump," which does not suggest the spheroidal or symmetric. It is our notion that the word "lump" was, because of its meaning of amorphousness, used purposely to have the next datum stand alone, remote, without similars. If Mr. Symons had said that there had been a report of another round object that had fallen from the sky, his readers would be attracted by an agreement. He distracts his readers by describing in terms of the unprecedented —
"Iron cannon ball."
It was found in a manure heap, in Sussex, after a thunderstorm.
However, Mr. Symons argues pretty reasonably, it seems to me, that, given a cannon ball in a manure heap, in the first place, lightning might be attracted by it, and, if seen to strike there, the untutored mind, or mentality below the average, would leap or jump, or proceed with less celerity, to the conclusion that the iron object had fallen.
Except that — if every farmer isn't upon very familiar ground — or if every farmer doesn't know his own manure heap as well as Mr. Symons knew his writing desk —
Then comes the instance of a man, his wife, and his three daughters, at Casterton, Westmoreland, who were looking out at their lawn, during a thunderstorm, when they "considered," as Mr. Symons expresses it, that they saw a stone fall from the sky, kill a sheep, and bury itself in the ground.
They found a stone ball.
Coincidence. It had been there in the first place.
This object was exhibited at a meeting of the Royal Meteorological Society by Mr. C. Carus-Wilson. It is described in the list of exhibits as a "sandstone" ball. It is described as "sandstone" by Mr. Symons.
Now a round piece of sandstone may be almost anywhere in the ground — in the first place — but, by our more or less discreditable habit of prying and snooping, we find that this object was rather more complex and of material less commonplace. In snooping through Knowledge, October 9, 1885, we read that this "thunderstone" was in the possession of Mr. C. Carus-Wilson, who tells the story of the witness and his family — the sheep killed, the burial of something in the earth, the digging, and the finding. Mr. C. Carus-Wilson describes the object as a ball of hard, ferruginous quartzite, about the size of a cocoanut, weight about twelve pounds. Whether we're feeling around for significance or not, there is a suggestion not only of symmetry but of structure in this object: it had an external shell, separated from a loose nucleus. Mr. Carus-Wilson attributes this cleavage to unequal cooling of the mass.
My own notion is that there is very little deliberate misrepresentation in the writings of scientific men: that they are quite as guiltless in intent as are other hypnotic subjects. Such a victim of induced belief reads of a stone ball said to have fallen from the sky. Mechanically in his mind arise impressions of globular lumps, or nodules, of sandstone, which are common almost everywhere. He assimilates the reported fall with his impressions of objects in the ground, in the first place. To an intermediatist, the phenomena of intellection are only phenomena of universal process localized in human minds. The process called "explanation" is only a local aspect of universal assimilation. It looks like materialism: but the intermediatist holds that interpretation of the immaterial, as it is called, in terms of the material, as it is called, is no more rational than interpretation of the "material" in terms of the "immaterial": that there is a quasi-existence neither the material nor the immaterial, but approximations one way or the other. But so hypnotic quasi-reasons: that globular lumps of sandstone are common. Whether he jumps or leaps, or whether only the frowsy and baseborn are so athletic, his is the impression, by assimilation, that this especial object is a ball of sandstone. Or human mentality: its inhabitants are conveniences. It may be that Mr. Symons' paper was written before this object was exhibited to the members of the Society, and with the charity with which, for the sake of diversity, we intersperse our malices, we are willing to accept that he "investigated" something that he has never seen. But whoever listed this object was uncareful: it is listed as "sandstone."
We're making excuses for them.
Really — as it were — you know, we're not quite so damned as we were.
One does not apologize for the gods and at the same time feel quite utterly prostrate before them.
If this were a real existence, and all of us real persons, with real standards to judge by, I'm afraid we'd have to be a little severe with some of these Mr. Symonses. As it is, of course, seriousness seems out of place.
We note an amusing little touch in the indefinite allusion to "a man," who with his un-named family, had "considered" that he had seen a stone fall. The "man" was the Rev. W. Carus-Wilson, who was well-known in his day.
The next instance was reported by W.B. Tripp, F.R.M.S. — that, during a thunderstorm, a farmer had seen the ground in front of him plowed up by something that was luminous.
My own notion is that an expedition to the north pole could not be so urgent as that representative scientists should have gone to that farmer and there spent a summer studying this one reported occurrence. As it is — un-named farmer — somewhere — no date. The thing must stay damned.
Another specimen for our museum is a comment in Nature, upon these objects: that they are "of an amusing character, thus clearly showing that they were of terrestrial, and not a celestial, character." Just why celestiality, or that of it which, too, is only of Intermediateness should not be quite as amusing as terrestriality is beyond our reasoning powers, which we have agreed are not ordinary. Of course there is nothing amusing about wedges and spheres at all — or Archimedes and Euclid are humorists. It is that they were described derisively. If you'd like a little specimen of the standardization of orthodox opinion —
Amer. Met. Jour., 4-589:
"They are of an amusing character, thus clearly showing that they were of a terrestrial and not a celestial character."
I'm sure — not positively, of course — that we've tried to be as easy-going and lenient with Mr. Symons as his obviously scientific performance would permit. Of course it may be that sub-consciously we were prejudiced against him, instinctively classing him with St. Augustine, Darwin, St. Jerome, and Lyell. As to the "thunderstones," I think that he investigated them mostly "for the credit of Englishmen," or in the spirit of the Royal Krakatoa Committee, or about as the commission from the French Academy investigated meteorites. According to a writer in Knowledge, 5-418, the Krakatoa Committee attempted not in the least to prove what had caused the atmospheric effects of 1883, but to prove — that Krakatoa did it.
Altogether I should think that the following quotation should be enlightening to any one who still thinks that these occurrences were investigated not to support an opinion formed in advance:
In opening his paper, Mr. Symons says that he undertook his investigation as to the existence of "thunderstones," or "thunderbolts" as he calls them — "feeling certain that there was a weak point somewhere, inasmuch as 'thunderbolts' have no existence."
We have another instance of the reported fall of a "cannon ball." It occurred prior to Mr. Symons' investigations, but it not mentioned by him. It was investigated, however. In the Proc. Roy. Soc. Edin., 3-147, is the report of a "thunderstone," "supposed to have fallen in Hampshire, Sept., 1852." It was an iron cannon ball, or it was a "large nodule of iron pyrites or bisulphuret of iron." No one had seen it fall. It had been noticed, upon a garden path, for the first time, after a thunderstorm. It was only a "supposed" thing, because — "The mineral had not the characters of any known meteorite."
In the London Times, Sept. 16, 1852, appears a letter from Mr. George E. Bailey, a chemist of Andover, Hants. He says that, in a very heavy thunderstorm, of the first week of September, 1852, this iron object had fallen in the garden of Mr. Robert Dowling, of Andover; that it had fallen upon a path "within six yards of the house." It had been picked up "immediately" after the storm by Mrs. Dowling. It was about the size of a cricket ball: weight four pounds. No one had seen it fall. In the Times, Sept. 15, there is an account of this thunderstorm, which was of unusual violence.
There are some other data relative to the ball of quartz of Westmoreland. They're poor things. There's so little to them that they look like ghosts of the damned. However, ghosts, when multiplied, take on what is called substantiality — if the solidest thing conceivable, in quasi-existence, is only concentrated phantomosity. It is not only that there have been other reports of quartz that has fallen from the sky; there is another agreement. The round quartz object of Westmoreland, if broken open and separated from its loose nucleus, would be a round, hollow, quartz object. My pseudo-position is that two reports of similar extraordinary occurrences, one from England and one from Canada — are interesting.
Proc. Canadian Institute, 3-7-8:
That, at the meeting of the Institute, of Dec. 1, 1888, one of the members, Mr. J.A. Livingston, exhibited a globular quartz body which he asserted had fallen from the sky. It had been split open. It was hollow.
But the other members of the Institute decided that the object was spurious, because it was not of "true meteoritic material."
No date; no place mentioned; we note the suggestion that it was only a geode, which had been upon the ground in the first place. Its crystalline lining was geode-like.
Quartz is upon the "index prohibitory" of Science. A monk who would read Darwin would sin no more than would a scientist who would admit that, except by "up and down" process, quartz has ever fallen from the sky — but Continuity: it is not excommunicated if part of or incorporated in a baptized meteorite — St. Catherine's of Mexico, I think. It's as epicurean a distinction as any ever made by theologians. Fassig lists a quartz pebble, found in a hailstone (Bibliography, part 2-355). "Up and down," of course. Another object of quartzite was reported to have fallen, in the autumn of 1880, at Schroon Lake, N. Y. — said in the Scientific American, 43-272, to be a fraud — it was not — the usual. About the first of May, 1899, the newspapers published a story of a "snow-white" meteorite that had fallen, at Vincennes, Indiana. The Editor of the Monthly Weather Review ("M. W. R." April, 1899) requested a local observer, at Vincennes, to investigate. The Editor says that the thing was only a fragment of a quartz bowlder. He says that any one with at least a public school education should know better than to write that quartz has ever fallen from the sky.
Note and Queries, 2-8-92:
That, in the Leyden Museum of Antiquities, there is a disk of quartz: 6 centimeters by 5 millimeters by about 5 centimeters; said to have fallen upon a plantation in the Dutch West Indies, after a meteoric explosion.
I think this is a vice we're writing. I recommend it to those who have hankered for a new sin. At first some of our data were of so frightful or ridiculous mien, as to be hated, or eyebrowed, was only to be seen. Then some pity crept in? I think that we can now embrace bricks.
The baked-clay-idea was all right in its place, but it rather lacks distinction, I think. With our minds upon the concrete boats that have been building terrestrially lately, and thinking of wrecks that may occur to some of them, and of a new material for the deep-sea fishes to disregard —
Object fell at Richland, South Carolina — yellow to gray — said to look like a piece of brick (Amer. Jour. Sci., 2-34-298).
Pieces of "furnace-made" brick" said to have fallen — in a hailstorm — at Padua, Aug. 26, 1834 (Edin. New Phil. Jour., 19-87). The writer offered an explanation that started another convention: that the fragments of brick had been knocked from buildings by the hailstones. But there is here a concomitant that will be disagreeable to anyone who may have been inclined to smile at the now digestible-enough notion that furnace-made bricks have fallen from the sky. It is that in some of the hailstones — two per cent of them — that were found with the pieces of brick, was a light grayish powder.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 337-365:
Padre Sechi explains that a stone said to have fallen, in a thunderstorm, at Supino, Italy, Sept. 4, 1875, had been knocked from a roof.
That it had been reported that a good-sized stone, of form clearly artificial, had fallen at Naples, Nov., 1885. The stone was described by one of two professors at Naples, who had accepted it as inexplicable but veritable. They were visited by Dr. H. Johnstone-Lavis, the correspondent to Nature, whose investigations had convinced him that the object was a "shoemaker's lapstone."
Now to us of the initiated, or to us of the wider outlook, there is nothing incredible in the thought of shoemakers in other worlds — but I suspect that this characterization is tactical.
This object of worked stone, or this shoemaker's lapstone, was made of Vesuvian lava, Dr. Johnstone-Lavis thinks: most probably of lava of the flow of 1631, from the La Scala quarries. We condemn "most probably" as bad positivism. As to the "men of position," who had accepted that this thing had fallen from the sky — "I have now obliged them to admit their mistake," says Dr. Johnstone-Lavis — or it's always the stranger in Naples who knows La Scala lava better than the natives know it.
That the thing had been knocked from, or thrown from, a roof.
As to attempt to trace the occurrence to any special roof — nothing said upon that subject. Or that Dr. Johnstone-Lavis called a carved stone a "lapstone," quite as Mr. Symons called a spherical object a "cannon ball": bent upon a discrediting incongruity:
Shoemaking and celestiality.
It is so easy to say that axes, or wedge-shaped stones found on the ground, were there in the first place, and that it is only coincidence that lightning should strike near one — but the credibility of coincidences decreases as the square root of their volume, I think. Our massed instances speak too much of coincidences of coincidences. But the axes, or wedge-shaped objects that have been found in trees are more difficult for orthodoxy. For instance, Arago accepts that such finds have occurred, but he argues that, if wedge-shaped stones have been found in tree trunks, so have toads been found in tree trunks — did the toads fall there?
Not at all bad for a hypnotic.
Of course, in our acceptance, the Irish are the Chosen People. It's because they are characteristically best in accord with the underlying essence of quasi-existence. M. Arago answers a question by asking another question. That's the only way a question can be answered in our Hibernian kind of existence.
Dr. Bodding argued with the natives of the Santal Parganas, India, who said that cut and shaped stones had fallen from the sky, some of them lodging in tree trunks. Dr. Bodding, with orthodox notions of velocity of falling bodies, having missed, I suppose, some of the notes I have upon large hailstones, which, for size, have fallen with astonishingly low velocity, argued that anything falling from the sky would be "smashed to atoms." He accepts that objects of worked stone have been found in tree trunks, but he explains:
That the Santals often steal trees, but do not chop them down in the usual way, because that would be to make too much noise: they insert stone wedges, and hammer them instead; then, if they should get caught, wedges would not be the evidence against them that axes would be.
Or that a scientific man can't be desperate and reasonable too.
Or that a pickpocket, for instance, is safe, though caught with his hand in one's pocket, if he's gloved, say: because no court in the land would regard a gloved hand in the same way in which a bare hand would be regarded.
That there's nothing but intermediateness to the rational and the preposterous: that this status of our own ratiocination is perceptible wherein they are upon the unfamiliar.
Dr. Bodding collected 50 of these shaped stones, said to have fallen from the sky, in the course of many years. He says that the Santals are a highly developed race, and for ages have not used stone implements — except in this one nefarious convenience to him.
All explanations are localizations. They fade away before the universal. It is difficult to express that black rains in England do not originate in the smoke of factories — less difficult to express that black rains in South Africa do not. We utter little stress upon the absurdity of Dr. Bodding's explanation, because, if anything's absurd everything's absurd, or, rather, has in it some degree or aspect of absurdity, and we've never had experience with any state except something somewhere between ultimate absurdity and final reasonableness. Our acceptance is that Dr. Bodding's elaborate explanation does not apply to cut-stone objects found in tree trunks in other lands: we accept that for the general, a local explanation is inadequate.
As to "thunderstones" not said to have fallen luminously, and not said to have been found sticking in trees, we are told by faithful hypnotics that astonished rustics come upon prehistoric axes that have been washed into sight by rains, and jump to the conclusion that the things have fallen from the sky. But simple rustics come upon many prehistoric things: scrapers, pottery, knives, hammers. We have no record of rusticity coming upon old pottery after a rain, reporting the fall of a bowl from the sky.
Just now, my own acceptance is that wedge-shaped stone objects, formed by means similar to human workmanship, have often fallen from the sky. Maybe there are messages upon them. My acceptance is that they have been called "axes" to discredit them: or the more familiar a term, the higher the incongruity with vague concepts of the vast, remote, tremendous, unknown.
In Notes and Queries, 2-8-92, a writer says that he had a "thunderstone," which he had brought from Jamaica. The description is of a wedge-shaped object; not of an ax:
"It shows no mark of having been attached to a handle."
Of ten "thunderstones," figured upon different pages in Blinkenberg's book, nine show no sign of ever having been attached to a handle: one is perforated.
But in a report by Dr. C. Leemans, Director of the Leyden Museum of Antiquities, objects, said by the Javanese to have fallen from the sky, are alluded to throughout as "wedges." In the Archaeologic Journal, 11-118, in a paper upon the "thunderstones" of Java, the objects are called "wedges" and not "axes."
Our notion is that rustics and savages call wedge-shaped objects that fall from the sky, "axes": that scientific men, when it suits their purposes, can resist temptations to prolixity and pedantry, and adopt the simple: that they can be intelligible when derisive.
All of which lands us in a confusion, worse, I think, than we were in before we so satisfactorily emerged from the distresses of — butter and blood and ink and paper and punk and silk. Now it's cannon balls and axes and disks — if a "lapstone" be a disk — it's a flat stone, at any rate.
A great many scientists are good impressionists: they snub the impertinences of details. Had he been of a coarse, grubbing nature, I think Dr. Bodding could never have so simply and beautifully explained the occurrence of stone wedges in tree trunks. But to a realist, the story would be something like this:
A man who needed a tree, in a land of jungles, where, for some unknown reason, every one's selfish with his trees, conceives that hammering stone wedges makes less noise than does the chopping of wood: he and his descendants, in a course of many years, cut down trees with wedges, and escape penalty, because it never occurs to a prosecutor that the head of an ax is a wedge.
The story is like every other attempted positivism — beautiful and complete, until we see what it excludes or disregards; whereupon it becomes the ugly and incomplete — but not absolutely, because there is probably something of what is called foundation for it. Perhaps a mentally incomplete Santal did once do something of the kind. Story told to Dr. Bodding: in the usual scientific way, he makes a dogma of an aberration.
Or we did have to utter a little stress upon this matter, after all. They're so hairy and attractive, these scientists of the 19th century. We feel the zeal of a Sitting Bull when we think of their scalps. We shall have to have an expression of our own upon this confusing subject. We have expressions: we don't call them explanations: we've discarded explanations with beliefs. Though every one who scalps is, in the oneness of allness, himself likely to be scalped, there is such a discourtesy to an enemy as the wearing of wigs.
Cannon balls and wedges, and what may they mean?
Bombardments of this earth —
Attempts to communicate —
Or visitors to this earth, long ago — explorers from the moon — taking back with them, as curiosities, perhaps, implements of this earth's prehistoric inhabitants — a wreck — a cargo of such things held for ages in suspension in the Super-Sargasso Sea — falling, or shaken, down occasionally by storms —
But, by the preponderance of description, we can not accept that "thunderstones" ever were attached to handles, or are prehistoric axes —
As to attempts to communicate with this earth, by means of wedge-shaped objects especially adapted to the penetration of vast, gelatinous areas spread around this earth —
In the Proc. Roy. Irish Acad., 9-337, there is an account of a stone wedge that fell from the sky, near Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Aug. 2, 1865. The phenomenon is not questioned, but the orthodox preference is to call it, not ax-like, nor wedge-shaped, but "pyramidal." For data of other pyramidal stones said to have fallen from the sky, see Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1861-34. One fell at Segowolee, India, March 6, 1853. Of the object that fell at Cashel, Dr. Haughton says in the Proceedings: "A singular feature is observable in this stone that I have never yet seen in any other: — the rounded edges of the pyramid are sharply marked by lines on the black crust, as perfect as if made by a ruler." Dr. Haughton's idea is that the marks may have been made by "some peculiar tension in the cooling." It must have been very peculiar, if in all aerolites not wedge-shaped, no such phenomenon had ever been observed. It merges away with one or two instances known, after Dr. Haughton's time, of seeming stratification in meteorites. Stratification in meteorites, however, is denied by the faithful.
I begin to suspect something else.
A whopper is coming.
Later it will be as reasonable, by familiarity, as anything else ever said.
If someone should study the stone of Cashel, as Champollion studied the Rosetta stone, he might — or, rather, would inevitably — find meaning in those lines, and translate them into English —
Nevertheless I begin to suspect something else: something more subtle and esoteric than graven characters upon stones that have fallen from the sky, in attempts to communicate. The notion that other worlds are attempting to communicate with this world is widespread: my own notion is that it is not attempt at all — that it was achievement centuries ago.
I should like to send out a report that a "thunderstone" had fallen, say, somewhere in New Hampshire —
And keep track of every person who came to examine that stone — trace down his affiliations — keep track of him —
Then send out a report that a "thunderstone" had fallen at Stockholm, say —
Would one of the persons who had gone to New Hampshire, be met again in Stockholm? But — what if he had no anthropological, lapidarian, or meteorological affiliations — but did belong to a secret society —
It is only a dawning credulity.
Of the three forms of symmetric objects that have, or haven't, fallen from the sky, it seems to me that the disk is the most striking. So far, in this respect, we have been at our worst — possibly that's pretty bad — but "lapstones" are likely to be of considerable variety of form, and something that is said to have fallen at sometime somewhere in the Dutch West Indies is profoundly of the unchosen.
Now we shall have something that is high up in the castes of the accursed:
Comptes Rendus, 1887-182:
That, upon June 20, 1887, in a "violent storm" — two months before the reported fall of the symmetric iron object of Brixton — a small stone had fallen from the sky at Tarbes, France: 13 millimeters in diameter; 5 millimeters thick; weight 2 grammes. Reported to the French Academy by M. Sudre, professor of the Normal School, Tarbes.
This time the old convenience "there in the first place" is too greatly resisted — the stone was covered with ice.
This object had been cut and shaped by means similar to human hands and human mentality. It was a disk of worked stone — "tres regulier." "Il a été assurement travaillé."
There's not a word as to any known whirlwind anywhere: nothing of other objects or débris that fell at or near this date, in France. The thing had fallen alone. But as mechanically as any part of a machine responds to its stimulus, the explanation appears in Comptes Rendus, that this stone had been raised by a whirlwind and then flung down.
It may be that in the whole nineteenth century no event more important than this occurred. In La Nature, 1887, and in L'Année Scientifique, 1887, this occurrence is noted. It is mentioned in one of the summer numbers of Nature, 1887. Fassig lists a paper upon it in the Annuaire de Soc. Met., 1887.
Not a word of discussion.
Not a subsequent mention can I find.
Our own expression:
What matters it how we, the French Academy, or the Salvation Army may explain?
A disk of worked stone fell from the sky, at Tarbes, France, June 20, 1887.
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