The Book of the Damned
Chapter 2
By Charles Fort (1874-1932)
Noded by panamaus

IN the autumn of 1883, and for years afterward, occurred brilliant-colored sunsets, such as had never been seen before, within the memory of all observers. Also there were blue moons.

I think that one is likely to smile incredulously at the notion of blue moons. Nevertheless they were as common as were green suns in 1883.

Science had to account for these unconventionalities. Such publications as Nature and Knowledge were besieged with inquiries.

I suppose, in Alaska and in the South Sea Islands, all the medicine men were similarly upon trial.

Something had to be thought of.

Upon the 28th of August, 1883, the volcano of Krakatoa, of the Straits of Sunda, had blown up.


We're told that the sound was heard 2,000 miles, and that 36,380 persons were killed. Seems just a little unscientific, or impositive, to me: marvel to me we're not told 2,163 miles and 36,387 persons. The volume of smoke that went up must have been visible to other planets — or, tormented with our crawlings and scurryings, the earth complained to Mars; swore a vast black oath at us.

In all text-books that mention this occurrence — no exception so far so I have read — it is said that the extraordinary atmospheric effects of 1883 were first noticed in the last of August or the first of September.

That makes a difficulty for us.

It is said that these phenomena were caused by particles of volcanic dust that were cast high in the air by Krakatoa.

This is the explanation that was agreed upon in 1883 —

But for seven years the atmospheric phenomena continued —

Except that, in the seven, there was a lapse of several years — and where was the volcanic dust all that time?

You'd think that such a question as that would make trouble?

Then you haven't studied hypnosis. You have never tried to demonstrate to a hypnotic that a table is not a hippopotamus. According to our general acceptance, it would be impossible to demonstrate such a thing. Point out a hundred reasons for saying that a hippopotamus is not a table: you'll end up agreeing that neither is a table a table — it only seems to be a table. Well, that's what the hippopotamus seems to be. So how can you prove that something is not something else, when neither is something else some other thing? There's nothing to prove.

This is one of the profundities that we advertised in advance.

You can oppose an absurdity only with some other absurdity. But Science is established preposterousness. We divide all intellection: the obviously preposterous and the established.

But Krakatoa: that's the explanation that the scientists gave. I don't know what whopper the medicine men told.

We see, from the start, the very strong inclination of science to deny, as much as it can, external relations of this earth.

This book is an assemblage of data of external relations of this earth. We take the position that our data have been damned, upon no consideration for individual merits or demerits, but in conformity with a general attempt to hold out for isolation of this earth. This is attempted positiveness. We take the position that science can no more succeed than, in a similar endeavor, could the Chinese, or than could the United States. So then, with only pseudo-consideration of the phenomena of 1883, or as an expression of positivism in its aspect of isolation, or unrelatedness, scientists have perpetrated such an enormity as suspension of volcanic dust seven years in the air — disregarding the lapse of several years — rather than to admit the arrival of dust from somewhere beyond this earth. Not that scientists themselves have ever achieved positiveness, in its aspect of unitedness, among themselves — because Nordenskiold, before 1883, wrote a great deal upon his theory of cosmic dust, and Prof. Cleveland Abbe contended against the Krakatoan explanation — but that this is the orthodoxy of the main body of scientists.

My own chief reason for indignation here:

That this preposterous explanation interferes with some of my own enormities.

It would cost me too much explaining, if I should have to admit that this earth's atmosphere has such sustaining power.

Later, we shall have data of things that have gone up in the air and that have stayed up — somewhere — weeks — months — but not by the sustaining power of the earth's atmosphere. For instance, the turtle of Vicksburg. It seems to me that it would be ridiculous to think of a good-sized turtle hanging, for three or four months, upheld only by the air, over the town of Vicksburg. When it comes to the horse and the barn — I think that they'll be classics some day, but I can never accept that a horse and a barn could float several months in this earth's atmosphere.

The orthodox explanation:

See the Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society. It comes out absolutely for the orthodox explanation — absolutely and beautifully, also expensively. There are 492 pages in the "Report," and 40 plates, some of them marvellously colored. It was issued after an investigation that took five years. You couldn't think of anything done more efficiently, artistically, authoritatively. The mathematical parts are especially impressive: distribution of the dust of Krakatoa; velocity of translation and rates of subsidence; altitudes and persistences —

Annual Register, 1883-105:
That the atmospheric effects that have been attributed to Krakatoa were seen in Trinidad before the eruption occurred;

Knowledge, 5-418:
That they were seen in Natal, South Africa, six months before the eruption.

Inertia and its inhospitality.

Or raw meat should not be fed to babies.

We shall have a few data initiatorily.

I fear me that the horse and the barn were a little extreme for our budding liberalities.

The outrageous is the reasonable, if introduced politely.

Hailstones, for instance. One reads in the newspapers of hailstones the size of hens' eggs. One smiles. Nevertheless I will engage to list one hundred instances, from the Monthly Weather Review, of hailstones the size of hens' eggs. There is an account in Nature, Nov. 1, 1894, of hailstones that weighed almost two pounds each. See Chambers' Encyclopedia for three-pounders. Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1870-479 — two-pounders authenticated, and six-pounders reported. At Seringapatam, India, about the year 1800, fell a hailstone —

I fear me, I fear me: this is one of the profoundly damned. I blurt out something that should, perhaps, be withheld for several hundred pages — but that damned thing was the size of an elephant.

We laugh.

Or snowflakes. Size of saucers. Said to have fallen at Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 24, 1891. One smiles.

"In Montana, in the winter of 1887, fell snowflakes 15 inches across, and 8 inches thick." (Monthly Weather Review, 1915-73.)

In the topography of intellection, I should say that what we call knowledge is ignorance surrounded by laughter.

Black rains — red rains — the fall of a thousand tons of butter.

Jet-black snow — pink snow — blue hailstones — hailstones flavored like oranges.

Punk and silk and charcoal.

About one hundred years ago, if anyone was so credulous as to think that stones had ever fallen from the sky, he was reasoned with:

In the first place there are no stones in the sky:

Therefore no stones can fall from the sky.

Or nothing more reasonable or scientific or logical than that could be said upon any subject. The only trouble is the universal trouble: that the major premise is not real, or is intermediate somewhere between realness and unrealness.

In 1772, a committee, of whom Lavoisier was a member, was appointed by the French Academy, to investigate a report that a stone had fallen from the sky at Luce, France. Of all attempts at positiveness, in its aspect of isolation, I don't know of anything that has been fought harder for than the notion of this earth's unrelatedness. Lavoisier analyzed the stone of Luce. The exclusionists' explanation at that time was that stones do not fall from the sky: that luminous objects may seem to fall, and that hot stones may be picked up where a luminous object seemingly had landed — only lightning striking a stone, heating, even melting it.

The stone of Luce showed signs of fusion.

Lavoisier's analysis "absolutely proved" that this stone had not fallen: that it had been struck by lightning.

So, authoritatively, falling stones were damned. The stock means of exclusion remained the explanation of lightning that was seen to strike something — that had been upon the ground in the first place.

But positiveness and the fate of every positive statement. It is not customary to think of damned stones raising an outcry against a sentence of exclusion, but, subjectively, aerolites did — or data of them bombarded the walls raised against them —

Monthly Review, 1796-426:
"The phenomenon which is the subject of the remarks before us will seem to most persons as little worthy of credit as any that could be offered. The falling of large stones from the sky, without any assignable cause of their previous ascent, seems to partake so much of the marvellous as almost entirely to exclude the operation of known and natural agents. Yet a body of evidence is here brought to prove that such events have actually taken place, and we ought not to withhold from it a proper degree of attention."

The writer abandons the first, or absolute, exclusion, and modifies it with the explanation that the day before a reported fall of stones in Tuscany, June 16, 1794, there had been an eruption of Vesuvius

Or that stones do fall from the sky, but that they are stones that have been raised to the sky from some other part of the earth's surface by whirlwinds or by volcanic action.

It's more than one hundred and twenty years later. I know of no aerolite that has ever been acceptably traced to terrestial origin.

Falling stones had to be undamned — though still with a reservation that held out for exclusion of outside forces.

One may have the knowledge of a Lavoisier, and still not be able to analyze, not be able even to see, except conformably with the hypnoses, or the conventional reactions against hypnoses, of one's era.

We believe no more.

We accept.

Little by little the whirlwind and volcano explanations had to be abandoned, but so powerful was this exclusion-hypnosis, sentence of damnation, or this attempt at positiveness, that far into our own times some scientists, notably Prof. Lawrence Smith and Sir Robert Ball, continued to hold out against all external origins, asserting that nothing could fall to this earth, unless it had been cast up or whirled up from some other part of the earth's surface.

It's as commendable as anything ever has been — by which I mean it's intermediate to the commendable and the censurable.

It's virginal.

Meteorites, data of which were once damned, have been admitted, but the common impression of them is only a retreat of attempted exclusion: that only two kinds of substance fall from the sky: metallic and stony: that the metallic objects are of iron and nickel —

Butter and paper and wool and silk and resin.

We see, to start with, that the virgins of science have fought and wept and screamed against external relations — upon two grounds:

There in the first place;

Or up from one part of this earth's surface and down to another.

As late as November, 1902, in Nature Notes, 13-231, a member of the Selborne Society still argued that meteorites do not fall from the sky; that they are masses of iron upon the ground "in the first place," that attract lightning; that the lightning is seen, and is mistaken for a falling, luminous object —

By progress we mean rape.

Butter and beef and blood and a stone with strange inscriptions upon it.

PreviousNext     The Book of the Damned Chapter Index:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.