Monday, March 31, 2014

Life Expectancy for Humorists in the Early 20th Century

This past month I have researched British and American humorists who were writing around the time of The Great War.  For the sake of idle curiosity, I have compared their life spans.  (Please forgive the garish graph.  My Excel graphics skills are rudimentary.)

The humorists had life spans that ranged from 44 years for poor F. Scott Fitzgerald to 93 years for the phenomenally durable and productive P. G. Wodehouse.  The average life span for these twenty-three humorists was nearly 67 years, corresponding to the life span of Irvin Cobb in the graph above. 

To put these numbers into context, I consulted tables for life expectancy by age for white males born in the late 19th century (add about 2 years for females).  From the Infoplease website ( "The expectation of life at a specified age is the average number of years that members of a hypothetical group of people of the same age would continue to live if they were subject throughout the remainder of their lives to the same mortality rate."

Calendar period
White males


During this period, men reaching the age of 30 could expect to live, on average, another 34 years.  (Life expectancy calculated from birth was much lower because of infant mortality.)

What can one deduce from this limited set of humorist data?  Well, leaving aside Saki, who was killed in The Great War, one would note that the compulsive drinkers (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, O. Henry, Heywood Broun, and Robert Benchley) died relatively young, as one might expect. 

And what can be learned from those who beat the life expectancy odds?  Well, time and chance happen to all, of course, but writers who kept up a steady output of fiction (or theatre criticism in the case of W. A. Darlington) and cultivated moderation were generally blessed with longer lives.  A simple love of writing, as opposed to love of fame or money or excitement, appears to have been their fountain of youth.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Young F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have devoted March to making a survey of humor writers who were active during the period from about 1900 until the end of The Great War.  F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) belongs to the literary period right after, the period labelled by Fitzgerald himself as The Jazz Age.  So, why do I rope F. Scott Fitzgerald into my survey?  Back in 1916, Fitzgerald, then an undergraduate at Princeton University, wrote a burlesque in an attempt to imitate the style of Stephen Leacock.  The burlesque was retitled "Jemina, the Mountain Girl" and reprinted (presumably to capitalize on Fitzgerald's growing fame) in Vanity Fair in 1921.

Fitzgerald burst onto the American literary scene in 1920 with the publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and his first collection of short stories, Flappers and Philosophers.  After the burlesque I have included some introductory paragraphs from each of these works to show how much Fitzgerald's style matured by 1920.

Initial publication: The Nassau Literary Magazine , Issue 72, pp. 210-215, Dec 1916
Reprinted: Vanity Fair vol 15, no 5, January 1921

Jemina, the Mountain Girl

One of Those Family Feud Stories of the Blue Ridge Mountains
with Apologies to Stephen Leacock

It was night in the mountains of Kentucky.  Wild hills rose on all sides.  Swift mountain streams flowed rapidly up and down the mountains.

Jemina Tantrum was down at the stream, brewing whiskey at the family still.

She was a typical mountain girl.

Her feet were bare.  Her hands large and powerful, hung down below her knees.  Her face showed the ravages of work.  Although but sixteen, she had for over a dozen years been supporting her aged pappy and mappy by brewing mountain whiskey.

From time to time she would pause in her task, and, filling a dipper full of the pure invigorating liquid, would drain it off — then pursue her work with renewed vigor.

She would place the rye in the vat, thresh it out with her feet and, in twenty minutes, the completed product would be turned out.

A sudden cry made her pause in the act of draining a dipper and look up.

"Hello," said a voice.  It came from a man clad in hunting boots reaching to his neck, who had emerged from the wood.

"Hi, thar", she answered sullenly.

"Can you tell me the way to the Tantrums' cabin?"

"Are you uns from the settlements down thar?"

She pointed her hand down to the bottom of the hill, where Louisville lay.  She had never been there; but once, before she was born, her great-grandfather, old Gore Tantrum, had gone into the settlements in the company of two marshalls, and had never come back.  So the Trantrum, from generation to generation, had learned to dread civilization.

The man was amused.  He laughed a light tinkling laugh: the laugh of a Philadelphian.  Something in the ring of it thrilled her.  She drank off another dipper of whiskey.

"Where is Mr. Trantrum, little girl?" he asked not without kindness.

"She raised her foot and pointed her big toe toward the woods.

"That in the cabing behind those thar pines.  Old Tantrum air my old man."

The man from the settlements thanked her and strode off.  He was fairly vibrant with youth and personality.  As he walked along he whistled and sang and turned handsprings and flapjacks, breathing in the fresh, cool air of the mountains.

The air around the still was like wine.

Jemina Tantrum watched him entranced.  No one like him had ever come into her life before.

She sat down on the grass and counted her toes.  She counted eleven.  She had learned arithmetic in the mountain school.

A Mountain Feud

The years before a lady from the settlements had opened a school on the mountain.  Jemina had no money, but she had paid her way in whiskey, bringing in a pailful to school every morning and leaving it on Miss Lafarge's desk.  Miss Lafarge had died of delirium tremens after a year's teaching, and so Jemina's education stopped.

Across the stream there stood another still.  It was that of the Doldrums.  The Doldrums and the Tantrums never exchanged calls.

They hated each other.

Fifty years before old Jem Doldrum and old Jem Tantrum had quarreled in the Tantrum cabin over a game of slapjack.  Jem Doldrum had thrown the king of hearts in Jem Tantrum's face, and old Tantrum, enraged, had felled the old Doldrum with the nine of diamonds.  Other Doldrums and Tantrums had joined in and the little cabin was soon filled with flying cards.  Harstrum Doldrum, one of the younger Doldrums, lay stretched on the floor writhing in agony, the ace of hearts crammed down his throat.  Jem Tantrum, standing in the doorway, ran through suit after suit, his face alight with fiendish hatred.  Old Mappy Tantrum stood on the table wetting down the Doldrums with hot whiskey.  Old Heck Doldrum, having finally run out of trumps, was backed out of the cabin, striking left and right with his tobacco pouch, and gathering round him the rest of his clan.  Then they mounted their steers and galloped furiously home.

That night old man Doldrum and his sones, vowing vengeance, had returned, put a tick-tock on the Tantrum window, stuck a pin in the doorbell and beaten a retreat.

A week later the Tantrums had put Cod Liver Oil in the Doldrum's still, and so, from year to year, the feud had continued, first one family being entirely wiped out, then the other.

The Birth of Love

Every day little Jemina worked the still on her side of the stream, and Boscoe Doldrum worked the still on his side.

Sometimes, with automatic inherited hatred, the feudists would throw whiskey at each other, and Jemina would come home smelling like a French table d'hote.

But now Jemina was too thoughtful to look across the stream.

How wonderful the stranger had been and how oddly he was dressed!  In her innocent way she had never believed that there were any civilized settlements at all, and she had put the belief in them down to the dredulity of the mountain people.

She turned to go up to the cabin, and, as she turned something struck her in the neck.  It was a sponge soaked in whiskey, thrown by Boscoe Doldrum — a sponge soaked in whiskey from his still on the other side of the stream.

"Hi, thar, Boscoe Doldrum," she shouted in her deep bass voice.

"Yo! Jemina Tantrum.  Gosh ding yo'!" he returned.

She continued her way to the cabin.

The stranger was talking to her father.  Gold had been discovered on the Tantrum land, and the stranger, Edgar Edison, was trying to buy the land for a song.  He was considering what song to offer.

She sat upon her hands and watched him.

He was wonderful.  When he talked his lips moved.

She sat upon the stove and watched him.

Suddenly there came a blood-curdling scream.  The Tantrums rushed to the windows.

It was the Doldrums.

They had hitched their steers to trees and concealed themselves behind the bushes and flowers, and soon a perfect rattle of stones and bricks beat against the windows, bending them inward.

"Father, father," shrieked Jemina.

Her father took down his slingshot from his slingshot rack on the wall and ran his hand lovingly over the elastic band.  He stepped to a loophole.  Old Mappy Tantrum stepped to the coalhole.

A Mountain Battle

The stranger was aroused at last.  Furious to get at the Doldrums, he tried to escape from the house by crawling up the chimney.  Then he thought there might be a door under the bed, Jemina told him there was not.  He hunted for doors under the beds and sofas, but each time Jemina pulled him out and told him there were no doors there.  Furious with anger, he beat upon the door and hollered at the Doldrums.  They did not answer him, but kept up their fusillade of bricks and stones against the window.  Old Pappy Tantrum knew that as soon as they wre able to effect an aperture they would pour in and the fight would be over.

Then old Heck Doldrum, foaming at the mouth and expectorating on the ground, left and right, led the attack.

The terrific slingshots of Pappy Tantrum had not been without their effect.  A master shot had disabled one Doldrum, and another Doldrum, shot three times through the abdomen, fought feebly on.

Nearer and nearer they approached the house.

"We must fly," shouted the stranger to Jemina.  "I will sacrifice myself and bear you away."

"No," shouted Pappy Tantrum, his face begrimed.  "You stay here and fit on.  I will bar Jemina away.  I will bar Mappy away.  I will bar myself away."

The man from the settlements, pale and trembling with anger, turned to Ham Tantrum, who stood at the door throwing loophole after loophole at the advancing Doldrums.

Soon smoke began to filter through the floor and ceiling.  Shem Doldrum had come up and touched a match to old Japhet Tantrum's breath as he leaned from a loophole, and the alcoholic flames shot up on all side.

The whiskey in the bathtub caught fire.  The walls began to fall in.

Jemina and the man from the settlements looked at each other.

"Jemina," he whispered.

"Stranger," she answered.

"We will die together," he said.  "If we had lived I would have taken you to the city and married you.  With your ability to hold liquor, your social success would have been assured."

She caressed him idly for a moment, counting her toes softly to herself.  The smoke grew thicker.  Her left leg was on fire.

She was a human alcohol lamp.

Their lips met in one long kiss and then a wall fell on them and blotted them out.


Very well, compare the preceding burlesque with Fitzgerald's Jazz-age prose — replete with pumped-up adjectives and dashes — at the start of his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise:

Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while.  His father, an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica, grew wealthy at thirty through the death of two elder brothers, successful Chicago brokers, and in the first flush of feeling that the world was his, went to Bar Harbor and met Beatrice O'Hara.  In consequence, Stephen Blaine handed down to posterity his height of just under six feet and his tendency to waver at crucial moments, these two abstractions appearing in his son Amory.  For many years he hovered in the background of his family's life, an unassertive figure with a face half-obliterated by lifeless, silky hair, continually occupied in "taking care" of his wife, continually harassed by the idea that he didn't and couldn't understand her.

But Beatrice Blaine!  There was a woman!  Early pictures taken on her father's estate at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, or in Rome at the Sacred Heart Convent — an educational extravagance that in her youth was only for the daughters of the exceptionally wealthy — showed the exquisite delicacy of her features, the consummate art and simplicity of her clothes. A brilliant education she had — her youth passed in renaissance glory, she was versed in the latest gossip of the Older Roman Families; known by name as a fabulously wealthy American girl to Cardinal Vitori and Queen Margherita and more subtle celebrities that one must have had some culture even to have heard of.  She learned in England to prefer whiskey and soda to wine, and her small talk was broadened in two senses during a winter in Vienna.  All in all Beatrice O'Hara absorbed the sort of education that will be quite impossible ever again; a tutelage measured by the number of things and people one could be contemptuous of and charming about; a culture rich in all arts and traditions, barren of all ideas, in the last of those days when the great gardener clipped the inferior roses to produce one perfect bud.

In her less important moments she returned to America, met Stephen Blaine and married him — this almost entirely because she was a little bit weary, a little bit sad.  Her only child was carried through a tiresome season and brought into the world on a spring day in ninety-six.



Fitzgerald's next book, the short story collection Flappers and Philosophers (1920), continued his modern style.  Here is the beginning to his story "The Offshore Pirate":

This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children's eyes.  From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea — if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset.  About half-way between the Florida shore and the golden collar a white steam-yacht, very young and graceful, was riding at anchor and under a blue-and-white awning aft a yellow-haired girl reclined in a wicker settee reading The Revolt of the Angels, by Anatole France.

She was about nineteen, slender and supple, with a spoiled alluring mouth and quick gray eyes full of a radiant curiosity.  Her feet, stockingless, and adorned rather than clad in blue-satin slippers which swung nonchalantly from her toes, were perched on the arm of a settee adjoining the one she occupied.  And as she read she intermittently regaled herself by a faint application to her tongue of a half-lemon that she held in her hand.  The other half, sucked dry, lay on the deck at her feet and rocked very gently to and fro at the almost imperceptible motion of the tide.

The second half-lemon was well-nigh pulpless and the golden collar had grown astonishing in width, when suddenly the drowsy silence which enveloped the yacht was broken by the sound of heavy footsteps and an elderly man topped with orderly gray hair and clad in a white-flannel suit appeared at the head of the companionway.  There he paused for a moment until his eyes became accustomed to the sun, and then seeing the girl under the awning he uttered a long even grunt of disapproval.

If he had intended thereby to obtain a rise of any sort he was doomed to disappointment.  The girl calmly turned over two pages, turned back one, raised the lemon mechanically to tasting distance, and then very faintly but quite unmistakably yawned.

"Ardita!" said the gray-haired man sternly.

Ardita uttered a small sound indicating nothing.

"Ardita!" he repeated. "Ardita!"

Ardita raised the lemon languidly, allowing three words to slip out before it reached her tongue.  "Oh, shut up."



"Will you listen to me — or will I have to get a servant to hold you while I talk to you?"

The lemon descended very slowly and scornfully.  "Put it in writing."

"Will you have the decency to close that abominable book and discard that damn lemon for two minutes?"

"Oh, can't you lemme alone for a second?"

"Ardita, I have just received a telephone message from the shore —"

"Telephone?"  She showed for the first time a faint interest.

"Yes, it was —"

"Do you mean to say," she interrupted wonderingly, "'that they let you run a wire out here?"

"Yes, and just now —"

"Won't other boats bump into it?"

"No.  It's run along the bottom.  Five min——"

"Well, I'll be darned!  Gosh!  Science is golden or something — isn't it?"

"Will you let me say what I started to?"


"Well it seems — well, I am up here—"  He paused and swallowed several times distractedly.  "Oh, yes. Young woman, Colonel Moreland has called up again to ask me to be sure to bring you in to dinner.  His son Toby has come all the way from New York to meet you and he's invited several other young people.  For the last time, will you —"

"No," said Ardita shortly, "I won't.  I came along on this darn cruise with the one idea of going to Palm Beach, and you knew it, and I absolutely refuse to meet any darn old colonel or any darn young Toby or any darn old young people or to set foot in any other darn old town in this crazy state.  So you either take me to Palm Beach or else shut up and go away."


Stephen Leacock in 1914

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) found fame as a particularly joyful humorist prior to the Great War with the success of his early collections of sketches: Literary Lapses (1910), Nonsense Novels (1911), and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912).

Here are two 1914 sketches from his Vanity Fair series, "Afternoon Adventures at My Club."  The entire series of nine sketches was later included in Leacock's collection Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915).

Vanity Fair, Vol 2, no. 4, June 1914, p. 55
Vanity Fair, Vol 2, no. 6, August 1914, p. 146

Afternoon Adventures at My Club

2.  The Shattered Health of Mr. Podge

"How are you, Podge?" I said, as I sat down in a leather armchair beside him.

I only meant "How-do-you-do?" but he rolled his big eyes sideways at me in his flabby face (it was easier than moving his face) and he answered: "I'm not as well to-day as I was yesterday afternoon.  Last week I was feeling pretty good part of the time, but yesterday about four o'clock the air turned humid, and I don't feel so well."

"Have a cigarette?" I said.

"No, thanks; I find they affect the bronchial toobes."

"Whose?" I asked.

"Mine," he answered.

"Oh, yes," I said, and I lighted one.  "So you find the weather trying," I continued cheerfully.

"Yes, it's too humid.  It's up to a saturation of sixty-six.  I'm all right till it passes sixty-four.  Yesterdayafternoon it was only about sixty-one, and I felt fine.  But after that it went up.  I guess it must be a contraction of the epidermis pressing on some of the sebaceous glands, don't you?"

"I'm sure it is," I said. "But why don't you just sleep it off till it's over?"

"I don't like to sleep too much," he answered.  "I'm afraid of it developing into hypersomnia.  There are cases where it's been known to grow into a sort of lethargy that pretty well stops all brain action altogether —"

"That would be too bad," I murmured.  "What do you do to prevent it?"

"I generally drink from half to three-quarters of a cup of black coffee, or nearly black, every morning at from eleven to five minutes past, so as to keep off hypersomnia.  It's the best thing, the doctor says."

"Aren't you afraid," I said, "of its keeping you awake?"

"I am," answered Podge, and a spasm passed over his big yellow face.  "I'm always afraid of insomnia.  That's the worst thing of all.  The other night I went to bed about half-past ten, or twenty-five minutes after — I forget which — and I simply couldn't sleep.  I couldn't.  I read a magazine story, and I still couldn't; and I read another, and still I couldn't sleep.  It scared me bad."

"Oh, pshaw," I said; "I don't think sleep matters as long as one eats properly and has a good appetite."

He shook his head very dubiously. "I ate a plate of soup at lunch," he said, "and I feel it still."

"You FEEL it!"

"Yes," repeated Podge, rolling his eyes sideways in a pathetic fashion that he had, "I still feel it. I oughtn't to have eaten it.  It was some sort of a bean soup, and of course it was full of nitrogen.  I oughtn't to touch nitrogen," he added, shaking his head.

"Not take any nitrogen?" I repeated.

"No, the doctor — both doctors — have told me that. I can eat starches, and albumens, all right, but I have to keep right away from all carbons and nitrogens.  I've been
dieting that way for two years, except that now and again I take a little glucose or phosphates."

"That must be a nice change," I said, cheerfully.

"It is," he answered in a grateful sort of tone.

There was a pause.  I looked at his big twitching face, and listened to the heavy wheezing of his breath, and I felt sorry for him.

"See here, Podge," I said, "I want to give you some good advice."

"About what?"

"About your health."

"Yes, yes, do," he said.  Advice about his health was right in his line.  He lived on it.

"Well, then, cut out all this fool business of diet and drugs and nitrogen.  Don't bother about anything of the sort.  Forget it.  Eat everything you want to, just when you want it.  Drink all you like.  Smoke all you can — and you'll feel a new man in a week."

"Say, do you think so!" he panted, his eyes filled with a new light.

"I know it," I answered.  And as I left him I shook hands with a warm feeling about my heart of being a benefactor to the human race.

Next day, sure enough, Podge's usual chair at the club was empty.

"Out getting some decent exercise," I thought. "Thank Heaven!"

Nor did he come the next day, nor the next, nor for a week.

"Leading a rational life at last," I thought.  "Out in the open getting a little air and sunlight, instead of sitting here howling about his stomach."

The day after that I saw Dr. Slyder in black clothes glide into the club in that peculiar manner of his, like an amateur undertaker.

"Hullo, Slyder," I called to him, "you look as solemn as if you had been to a funeral."

"I have," he said very quietly, and then added, "poor Podge!"

"What about him?" I asked with sudden apprehension.

"Why, he died on Tuesday," answered the doctor.  "Hadn't you heard?  Strangest case I've known in years.  Came home suddenly one day, pitched all his medicines down the kitchen sink, ordered a couple of cases of champagne and two hundred havanas, and had his housekeeper cook a dinner like a Roman banquet!  After being under treatment for two years!  Lived, you know, on the narrowest margin conceivable.  I told him and Silk told him — we all told him — his only chance was to keep away from every form of nitrogenous ultra-stimulants.  I said to him often, 'Podge, if you touch heavy carbonized food, you're lost.'"

"Dear me," I thought to myself, "there ARE such things after all!"

"It was a marvel," continued Slyder, "that we kept him alive at all. And, of course" — here the doctor paused to ring the bell to order two Manhattan cocktails — "as soon as he touched alcohol he was done."

So that was the end of the valetudinarianism of Mr. Podge.

I have always considered that I killed him.

But anyway, he was a nuisance at the club.

3.  The Amazing Travels of Mr. Yarner

There was no fault to be found with Mr. Yarner till he made his trip around the world.

It was that, I think, which disturbed his brain and unfitted him for membership in the club.

"Well," he would say, as he sat ponderously down with the air of a man opening an interesting conversation, "I was just figuring it out that eleven months ago to-day I was in Pekin."

"That's odd," I said, "I was just reckoning that eleven days ago I was in Poughkeepsie."

"They don't call it Pekin over there," he said. "It's sounded Pei-Chang."

"I know," I said, "it's the same way with Poughkeepsie, they pronounce it P'Keepsie."

"The Chinese," he went on musingly, "are a strange people."

"So are the people in P'Keepsie," I added, "awfully strange."

That kind of retort would sometimes stop him, but not always.  He was especially dangerous if he was found with a newspaper in his hand; because that meant that some item of foreign intelligence had gone to his brain.

Not that I should have objected to Yarner describing his travels.  Any man who has bought a ticket round the world and paid for it, is entitled to that.

But it was his manner of discussion that I considered unpermissible.

Last week, for example, in an unguarded moment I fell a victim. I had been guilty of the imprudence — I forget in what connection — of speaking of lions.  I realized at once that I had done wrong — lions, giraffes, elephants, rickshaws and natives of all brands, are topics to avoid in talking with a traveller.

"Speaking of lions," began Yarner.

He was right, of course; I HAD spoken of lions.

"— I shall never forget," he went on (of course, I knew he never would), "a rather bad scrape I got into in the up-country of Uganda.  Imagine yourself in a wild, rolling country covered here and there with kwas along the sides of the nullahs."

I did so.

"Well," continued Yarner, "we were sitting in our tent one hot night — too hot to sleep — when all at once we heard, not ten feet in front of us, the most terrific roar that ever came from the throat of a lion."

As he said this Yarner paused to take a gulp of bubbling whiskey and soda and looked at me so ferociously that I actually shivered.

Then quite suddenly his manner cooled down in the strangest way, and his voice changed to a commonplace tone as he said, "Perhaps I ought to explain that we hadn't come up to the up-country looking for big game.  In fact, we had been down in the down country with no idea of going higher than Mombasa.  Indeed, our going even to Mombasa itself was more or less an afterthought.  Our first plan was to strike across from Aden to Singapore.  But our second plan was to strike direct from Colombo to Karuchi —"

"And what was your THIRD plan?" I asked.

"Our third plan," said Yarner deliberately, feeling that the talk was now getting really interesting, "let me see, our third plan was to cut across from Socotra to Tananarivo."

"Oh, yes," I said.

"However, all that was changed, and changed under the strangest circumstances.  We were sitting, Gallon and I, on the piazza of the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo — you know the Galle Face?"

"No, I do not," I said very positively.

"Very good. Well, I was sitting on the piazza watching a snake charmer who was seated, with a boa, immediately in front of me.

"Poor Gallon was actually within two feet of the hideous reptile.  All of a sudden the beast whirled itself into a coil, its eyes fastened with hideous malignity on poor Gallon, and with its head erect it emitted the most awful hiss I have heard proceed from the mouth of any living snake."

Here Yarner paused and took a long, hissing drink of whiskey and soda: and then as the malignity died out of his face—

"I should explain," he went on, very quietly, "that Gallon was not one of our original party.  We had come down to Colombo from Mongolia, going by the Pekin Hankow and the Nippon Yushen Keisha."

"That, I suppose, is the best way?" I said.

"Yes. And oddly enough but for the accident of Gallon joining us, we should have gone by the Amoy, Cochin, Singapore route, which was our first plan.  In fact, but for Gallon we should hardly have got through China at all.  The Boxer insurrection had taken place only fourteen years before our visit, so you can imagine the awful state of the country.

"Our meeting with Gallon was thus absolutely providential.  Looking back on it, I think it perhaps saved our lives.  We were in Mongolia (this, you understand, was before we reached China), and had spent the night at a small Yak about four versts from Kharbin, when all of a sudden, just outside the miserable hut that we were in, we heard a perfect fusillade of shots followed immediately afterwards by one of the most blood-curdling and terrifying screams I have ever imagined—"

"Oh, yes," I said, "and that was how you met Gallon.  Well, I must be off."

And as I happened at that very moment to be rescued by an incoming friend, who took but little interest in lions, and even less in Yarner, I have still to learn why the lion howled so when it met Yarner.  But surely the lion had reason enough.

Lord Dunsany in 1915/1916

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878–1957), who published as Lord Dunsany, was primarily known as a writer of high fantasy.  But now and then he would lay aside his loftly tales of strange gods and eternity to write short ironic sketches, such as these next two from his collection, Fifty-one Tales (1915).  Also, I have included below a wry short story from his 1916 collection, Tales of Wonder.

The Demagogue and the Demi-monde

A demagogue and a demi-mondaine chanced to arrive together at the gate of Paradise.  And the Saint looked sorrowfully at them both.

"Why were you a demagogue?" he said to the first.

"Because," said the demagogue, "I stood for those principles that have made us what we are and have endeared our Party to the great heart of the people.  In a word I stood unflinchingly on the plank of popular representation."

"And you?" said the Saint to her of the demi-monde.

"I wanted money," said the demi-mondaine.

And after some moments' thought the Saint said: "Well, come in; though you don't deserve to."

But to the demagogue he said: "We genuinely regret that the limited space at our disposal and our unfortunate lack of interest in those Questions that you have gone so far to inculate and have so ably upheld in the past, prevent us from giving you the support for which you seek."

And he shut the golden door.

*          *          *         *          *

The True History of the Hare and the Tortoise

For a long time there was doubt with acrimony among the beasts as to whether the Hare or the Tortoise could run the swifter.  Some said the Hare was the swifter of the two because he had such long ears, and others said the Tortoise was the swifter because anyone whose shell was so hard as that should be able to run hard too.  And lo, the forces of estrangement and disorder perpetually postponed a decisive contest.

But when there was nearly war among the beasts, at last an arrangement was come to and it was decided that the Hare and the Tortoise should run a race of five hundred yards so that all should see who was right.

"Ridiculous nonsense!" said the Hare, and it was all his backers could do to get him to run.

"The contest is most welcome to me," said the Tortoise, "I shall not shirk it."

O, how his backers cheered.

Feeling ran high on the day of the race; the goose rushed at the fox and nearly pecked him.  Both sides spoke loudly of the approaching victory up to the very moment of the race.

"I am absolutely confident of success," said the Tortoise.  But the Hare said nothing, he looked bored and cross.  Some of his supporters deserted him then and went to the other side, who were loudly cheering the Tortoise's inspiriting words. But many remained with the Hare.  "We shall not be disappointed in him," they said.  "A beast with such long ears is bound to win."

"Run hard," said the supporters of the Tortoise.

And "run hard" became a kind of catch-phrase which everybody repeated to one another. "Hard shell and hard living.  That's what the country wants. Run hard," they said.  And these words were never uttered but multitudes cheered from their hearts.

Then they were off, and suddenly there was a hush.

The Hare dashed off for about a hundred yards, then he looked round to see where his rival was.

"It is rather absurd," he said, "to race with a Tortoise." And he sat down and scratched himself.  "Run hard! Run hard!" shouted some.

"Let him rest," shouted others.  And "let him rest" became a catch-phrase too.

And after a while his rival drew near to him.

"There comes that damned Tortoise," said the Hare, and he got up and ran as hard as could be so that he should not let the Tortoise beat him.

"Those ears will win," said his friends. "Those ears will win; and establish upon an incontestable footing the truth of what we have said."  And some of them turned to the backers of the Tortoise and said: "What about your beast now?"

"Run hard," they replied. "Run hard."

The Hare ran on for nearly three hundred yards, nearly in fact as far as the winning-post, when it suddenly struck him what a fool he looked running races with a Tortoise who was nowhere in sight, and he sat down again and scratched.

"Run hard. Run hard," said the crowd, and "Let him rest."

"Whatever is the use of it?" said the Hare, and this time he stopped for good.  Some say he slept.

There was desperate excitement for an hour or two, and then the Tortoise won.

"Run hard. Run hard," shouted his backers.  "Hard shell and hard living: that's what has done it."  And then they asked the Tortoise what his achievement signified, and he went and asked the Turtle.  And the Turtle said, "It is a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness."  And then the Tortoise repeated it to his friends.  And all the beasts said nothing else for years.  And even to this day, "a glorious victory for the forces of swiftness" is a catch-phrase in the house of the snail.

And the reason that this version of the race is not widely known is that very few of those that witnessed it survived the great forest-fire that happened shortly after.  It came up over the weald by night with a great wind.  The Hare and the Tortoise and a very few of the beasts saw it far off from a high bare hill that was at the edge of the trees, and they hurriedly called a meeting to decide what messenger they should send to warn the beasts in the forest.

They sent the Tortoise.

*          *          *         *          *

How Ali Came to the Black Country

Shooshan the barber went to Shep the maker of teeth to discuss the state of England.  They agreed that it was time to send for Ali.

So Shooshan stepped late that night from the little shop near Fleet Street and made his way back again to his house in the ends of London and sent at once the message that brought Ali.

And Ali came, mostly on foot, from the country of Persia, and it took him a year to come; but when he came he was welcome.

And Shep told Ali what was the matter with England and Shooshan swore that it was so, and Ali looking out of the window of the little shop near Fleet Street beheld the ways of London and audibly blessed King Solomon and his seal.

When Shep and Shooshan heard the names of King Solomon and his seal both asked, as they had scarcely dared before, if Ali had it.  Ali patted a little bundle of silks that he drew from his inner raiment.  It was there.

Now concerning the movements and courses of the stars and the influence on them of spirits of Earth and devils this age has been rightly named by some The Second Age of Ignorance.  But Ali knew.  And by watching nightly, for seven nights in Bagdad, the way of certain stars he had found out the dwelling place of Him they Needed.

Guided by Ali all three set forth for the Midlands.  And by the reverence that was manifest in the faces of Shep and Shooshan towards the person of Ali, some knew what Ali carried, while others said that it was the tablets of the Law, others the name of God, and others that he must have a lot of money about him.  So they passed Slod and Apton.

And at last they came to the town for which Ali sought, that spot over which he had seen the shy stars wheel and swerve away from their orbits, being troubled.  Verily when they came there were no stars, though it was midnight.  And Ali said that it was the appointed place.  In harems in Persia in the evening when the tales go round it is still told how Ali and Shep and Shooshan came to the Black country.

When it was dawn they looked upon the country and saw how it was without doubt the appointed place, even as Ali had said, for the earth had been taken out of pits and burned and left lying in heaps, and there were many factories, and they stood over the town and as it were rejoiced.  And with one voice Shep and Shooshan gave praise to Ali.

And Ali said that the great ones of the place must needs be gathered together, and to this end Shep and Shooshan went into the town and there spoke craftily.  For they said that Ali had of his wisdom contrived as it were a patent and a novelty which should greatly benefit England.  And when they heard how he sought nothing for his novelty save only to benefit mankind they consented to speak with Ali and see his novelty.  And they came forth and met Ali.

And Ali spake and said unto them: "O lords of this place; in the book that all men know it is written how that a fisherman casting his net into the sea drew up a bottle of brass, and when he took the stopper from the bottle a dreadful genie of horrible aspect rose from the bottle, as it were like a smoke, even to darkening the sky, whereat the fisherman..."  And the great ones of that place said: "We have heard the story."  And Ali said: "What became of that genie after he was safely thrown back into the sea is not properly spoken of by any save those that pursue the study of demons and not with certainty by any man, but that the stopper that bore the ineffable seal and bears it to this day became separate from the bottle is among those things that man may know."  And when there was doubt among the great ones  Ali drew forth his bundle and one by one removed those many silks till the seal stood revealed; and some of them knew it for the seal and others knew it not.

And they looked curiously at it and listened to Ali, and Ali said: "Having heard how evil is the case of England, how a smoke has darkened the country, and in places (as men say) the grass is black, and how even yet your factories multiply, and haste and noise have become such that men have no time for song, I have therefore come at the bidding of my good friend Shooshan, barber of London, and of Shep, a maker of teeth, to make things well with you."

And they said: "But where is your patent and your novelty?"

And Ali said: "Have I not here the stopper and on it, as good men know, the ineffable seal?  Now I have learned in Persia how that your trains that make the haste, and hurry men to and fro, and your factories and the digging of your pits and all the things that are evil are everyone of them caused and brought about by steam."

"Is it not so?" said Shooshan.

"It is even so," said Shep.

"Now it is clear," said Ali, "that the chief devil that vexes England and has done all this harm, who herds men into cities and will not let them rest, is even the devil Steam."

Then the great ones would have rebuked him but one said: "No, let us hear him, perhaps his patent may improve on steam."

And to them hearkening Ali went on thus: "O Lords of this place, let there be made a bottle of strong steel, for I have no bottle with my stopper, and this being done let all the factories, trains, digging of pits, and all evil things soever that may be done by steam be stopped for seven days, and the men that tend them shall go free, but the steel bottle for my stopper I will leave open in a likely place.  Now that chief devil, Steam, finding no factories to enter into, nor no trains, sirens nor pits prepared for him, and being curious and accustomed to steel pots, will verily enter one night into the bottle that you shall make for my stopper, and I shall spring forth from my hiding with my stopper and fasten him down with the ineffable seal which is the seal of King Solomon and deliver him up to you that you cast him into the sea."

And the great ones answered Ali and they said: "But what should we gain if we lose our prosperity and be no longer rich?"

And Ali said: "When we have cast this devil into the sea there will come back again the woods and ferns and all the beautiful things that the world hath, the little leaping hares shall be seen at play, there shall be music on the hills again, and at twilight ease and quiet and after the twilight stars."

And "Verily," said Shooshan, "there shall be the dance again."

"Aye," said Shep, "there shall be the country dance."

But the great ones spake and said, denying Ali: "We will make no such bottle for your stopper nor stop our healthy factories or good trains, nor cease from our digging of pits nor do anything that you desire, for an interference with steam would strike at the roots of that prosperity that you see so plentifully all around us."

Thus they dismissed Ali there and then from that place where the earth was torn up and burnt, being taken out of pits, and where factories blazed all night with a demoniac glare; and they dismissed with him both Shooshan, the barber, and Shep, the maker of teeth: so that a week later Ali started from Calais on his long walk back to Persia.

And all this happened thirty years ago, and Shep is an old man now and Shooshan older, and many mouths have bit with the teeth of Shep (for he has a knack of getting them back whenever his customers die), and they have written again to Ali away in the country of Persia with these words, saying: "O Ali.  The devil has indeed begotten a devil, even that spirit Petrol.  And the young devil waxeth, and increaseth in lustihood and is ten years old and becoming like to his father.  Come therefore and help us with the ineffable seal.  For there is none like Ali."

And Ali turns where his slaves scatter rose-leaves, letting the letter fall, and deeply draws from his hookah a puff of the scented smoke, right down into his lungs, and sighs it forth and smiles, and lolling round on to his other elbow speaks comfortably and says, "And shall a man go twice to the help of a dog?"

And with these words he thinks no more of England but ponders again the inscrutable ways of God.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

O. Henry The Ransom of Red Chief

William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), known by his pseudonym "O. Henry", was a very prolific short story writer in the early years of the twentieth century.  To me his work seems to reach back to the style of American humor popular in the late 1800s (e.g., the dialect stories of Artemus Ward or Mark Twain's stories in a folksy mood) rather than the later style I am currently researching — the sophisticated urban style coming to the fore by the time of the Great War. 

"The Ransom of Red Chief" is one of O. Henry's most famous stories, first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1907.  It was included in his collection Whirligigs (1910).  The story is fairly long, so I have transcribed only the first part.  The Whirligigs collection can be found at

The Ransom of Red Chief

It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down South, in Alabama—Bill Driscoll and myself—when this kidnapping idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, "during a moment of temporary mental apparition"; but we didn't find that out till later.

There was a town down there, as flat as a flannel-cake, and called Summit, of course. It contained inhabitants of as undeleterious and self-satisfied a class of peasantry as ever clustered around a Maypole.

Bill and me had a joint capital of about six hundred dollars, and we needed just two thousand dollars more to pull off a fraudulent town-lot scheme in Western Illinois with. We talked it over on the front steps of the hotel. Philoprogenitiveness, says we, is strong in semi-rural communities; therefore and for other reasons, a kidnapping project ought to do better there than in the radius of newspapers that send reporters out in plain clothes to stir up talk about such things. We knew that Summit couldn't get after us with anything stronger than constables and maybe some lackadaisical bloodhounds and a diatribe or two in the Weekly Farmers' Budget. So, it looked good.

We selected for our victim the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset. The father was respectable and tight, a mortgage fancier and a stern, upright collection-plate passer and forecloser. The kid was a boy of ten, with bas-relief freckles, and hair the colour of the cover of the magazine you buy at the news-stand when you want to catch a train. Bill and me figured that Ebenezer would melt down for a ransom of two thousand dollars to a cent. But wait till I tell you.

About two miles from Summit was a little mountain, covered with a dense cedar brake. On the rear elevation of this mountain was a cave. There we stored provisions. One evening after sundown, we drove in a buggy past old Dorset's house. The kid was in the street, throwing rocks at a kitten on the opposite fence.

"Hey, little boy!" says Bill, "would you like to have a bag of candy and a nice ride?"

The boy catches Bill neatly in the eye with a piece of brick.

"That will cost the old man an extra five hundred dollars," says Bill, climbing over the wheel.

That boy put up a fight like a welter-weight cinnamon bear; but, at last, we got him down in the bottom of the buggy and drove away. We took him up to the cave and I hitched the horse in the cedar brake. After dark I drove the buggy to the little village, three miles away, where we had hired it, and walked back to the mountain.

Bill was pasting court-plaster over the scratches and bruises on his features. There was a fire burning behind the big rock at the entrance of the cave, and the boy was watching a pot of boiling coffee, with two buzzard tail-feathers stuck in his red hair. He points a stick at me when I come up, and says:

"Ha! cursed paleface, do you dare to enter the camp of Red Chief, the terror of the plains?

"He's all right now," says Bill, rolling up his trousers and examining some bruises on his shins. "We're playing Indian. We're making Buffalo Bill's show look like magic-lantern views of Palestine in the town hall. I'm Old Hank, the Trapper, Red Chief's captive, and I'm to be scalped at daybreak. By Geronimo! that kid can kick hard."

Yes, sir, that boy seemed to be having the time of his life. The fun of camping out in a cave had made him forget that he was a captive himself. He immediately christened me Snake-eye, the Spy, and announced that, when his braves returned from the warpath, I was to be broiled at the stake at the rising of the sun.

Then we had supper; and he filled his mouth full of bacon and bread and gravy, and began to talk. He made a during-dinner speech something like this:

"I like this fine. I never camped out before; but I had a pet 'possum once, and I was nine last birthday. I hate to go to school. Rats ate up sixteen of Jimmy Talbot's aunt's speckled hen's eggs. Are there any real Indians in these woods? I want some more gravy. Does the trees moving make the wind blow? We had five puppies. What makes your nose so red, Hank? My father has lots of money. Are the stars hot? I whipped Ed Walker twice, Saturday. I don't like girls. You dassent catch toads unless with a string. Do oxen make any noise? Why are oranges round? Have you got beds to sleep on in this cave? Amos Murray has got six toes. A parrot can talk, but a monkey or a fish can't. How many does it take to make twelve?"

Every few minutes he would remember that he was a pesky redskin, and pick up his stick rifle and tiptoe to the mouth of the cave to rubber for the scouts of the hated paleface. Now and then he would let out a war-whoop that made Old Hank the Trapper shiver. That boy had Bill terrorized from the start.

"Red Chief," says I to the kid, "would you like to go home?"

"Aw, what for?" says he. "I don't have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won't take me back home again, Snake-eye, will you?"

"Not right away," says I. "We'll stay here in the cave a while."

"All right!" says he. "That'll be fine. I never had such fun in all my life."

We went to bed about eleven o'clock. We spread down some wide blankets and quilts and put Red Chief between us. We weren't afraid he'd run away. He kept us awake for three hours, jumping up and reaching for his rifle and screeching: "Hist! pard," in mine and Bill's ears, as the fancied crackle of a twig or the rustle of a leaf revealed to his young imagination the stealthy approach of the outlaw band. At last, I fell into a troubled sleep, and dreamed that I had been kidnapped and chained to a tree by a ferocious pirate with red hair.

Just at daybreak, I was awakened by a series of awful screams from Bill. They weren't yells, or howls, or shouts, or whoops, or yawps, such as you'd expect from a manly set of vocal organs—they were simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams, such as women emit when they see ghosts or caterpillars. It's an awful thing to hear a strong, desperate, fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.

I jumped up to see what the matter was. Red Chief was sitting on Bill's chest, with one hand twined in Bill's hair. In the other he had the sharp case-knife we used for slicing bacon; and he was industriously and realistically trying to take Bill's scalp, according to the sentence that had been pronounced upon him the evening before.

I got the knife away from the kid and made him lie down again. But, from that moment, Bill's spirit was broken. He laid down on his side of the bed, but he never closed an eye again in sleep as long as that boy was with us. I dozed off for a while, but along toward sun-up I remembered that Red Chief had said I was to be burned at the stake at the rising of the sun. I wasn't nervous or afraid; but I sat up and lit my pipe and leaned against a rock.

"What you getting up so soon for, Sam?" asked Bill.

"Me?" says I. "Oh, I got a kind of a pain in my shoulder. I thought sitting up would rest it."

"You're a liar!" says Bill. "You're afraid. You was to be burned at sunrise, and you was afraid he'd do it. And he would, too, if he could find a match. Ain't it awful, Sam? Do you think anybody will pay out money to get a little imp like that back home?"

"Sure," said I. "A rowdy kid like that is just the kind that parents dote on. Now, you and the Chief get up and cook breakfast, while I go up on the top of this mountain and reconnoitre."

I went up on the peak of the little mountain and ran my eye over the contiguous vicinity. Over toward Summit I expected to see the sturdy yeomanry of the village armed with scythes and pitchforks beating the countryside for the dastardly kidnappers. But what I saw was a peaceful landscape dotted with one man ploughing with a dun mule. Nobody was dragging the creek; no couriers dashed hither and yon, bringing tidings of no news to the distracted parents. There was a sylvan attitude of somnolent sleepiness pervading that section of the external outward surface of Alabama that lay exposed to my view. "Perhaps," says I to myself, "it has not yet been discovered that the wolves have borne away the tender lambkin from the fold. Heaven help the wolves!" says I, and I went down the mountain to breakfast.


Saki The Background

Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), known by his pseudonym "Saki", was a writer of marvelously concise short stories that often took humor in a macabre direction.  I must acknowledge his tortured genius, but I generally find his comedy to be so devoid of joy that it must be taken in small quantities, like some kind of pungent spice.

His story "The Background" shows his gifts of irony and precision.  The story was published in the collection The Chronicles of Clovis (1911).  Fortunately, the nasty young Clovis — a sort of malicious opposite of P. G. Wodehouse's sunny Bertie Wooster — only appears in the opening sentences and is not allowed to detract from the story.

The Background

"That woman's art-jargon tires me," said Clovis to his journalist friend. "She's so fond of talking of certain pictures as 'growing on one,' as though they were a sort of fungus."

"That reminds me," said the journalist, "of the story of Henri Deplis. Have I ever told it you?"

Clovis shook his head.

"Henri Deplis was by birth a native of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. On maturer reflection he became a commercial traveller. His business activities frequently took him beyond the limits of the Grand Duchy, and he was stopping in a small town of Northern Italy when news reached him from home that a legacy from a distant and deceased relative had fallen to his share.

"It was not a large legacy, even from the modest standpoint of Henri Deplis, but it impelled him towards some seemingly harmless extravagances. In particular it led him to patronize local art as represented by the tattoo-needles of Signor Andreas Pincini. Signor Pincini was, perhaps, the most brilliant master of tattoo craft that Italy had ever known, but his circumstances were decidedly impoverished, and for the sum of six hundred francs he gladly undertook to cover his client's back, from the collar-bone down to the waistline, with a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus. The design, when finally developed, was a slight disappointment to Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of being a fortress taken by Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War, but he was more than satisfied with the execution of the work, which was acclaimed by all who had the privilege of seeing it as Pincini's masterpiece.

"It was his greatest effort, and his last. Without even waiting to be paid, the illustrious craftsman departed this life, and was buried under an ornate tombstone, whose winged cherubs would have afforded singularly little scope for the exercise of his favourite art. There remained, however, the widow Pincini, to whom the six hundred francs were due. And thereupon arose the great crisis in the life of Henri Deplis, traveller of commerce. The legacy, under the stress of numerous little calls on its substance, had dwindled to very insignificant proportions, and when a pressing wine bill and sundry other current accounts had been paid, there remained little more than 430 francs to offer to the widow. The lady was properly indignant, not wholly, as she volubly explained, on account of the suggested writing-off of 170 francs, but also at the attempt to depreciate the value of her late husband's acknowledged masterpiece. In a week's time Deplis was obliged to reduce his offer to 405 francs, which circumstance fanned the widow's indignation into a fury. She cancelled the sale of the work of art, and a few days later Deplis learned with a sense of consternation that she had presented it to the municipality of Bergamo, which had gratefully accepted it. He left the neighbourhood as unobtrusively as possible, and was genuinely relieved when his business commands took him to Rome, where he hoped his identity and that of the famous picture might be lost sight of.

"But he bore on his back the burden of the dead man's genius. On presenting himself one day in the steaming corridor of a vapour bath, he was at once hustled back into his clothes by the proprietor, who was a North Italian, and who emphatically refused to allow the celebrated Fall of Icarus to be publicly on view without the permission of the municipality of Bergamo. Public interest and official vigilance increased as the matter became more widely known, and Deplis was unable to take a simple dip in the sea or river on the hottest afternoon unless clothed up to the collarbone in a substantial bathing garment. Later on the authorities of Bergamo, conceived the idea that salt water might be injurious to the masterpiece, and a perpetual injunction was obtained which debarred the muchly harassed commercial traveller from sea bathing under any circumstances. Altogether, he was fervently thankful when his firm of employers found him a new range of activities in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux. His thankfulness, however, ceased abruptly at the Franco-Italian frontier. An imposing array of official force barred his departure, and he was sternly reminded of the stringent law which forbids the exportation of Italian works of art.

"A diplomatic parley ensued between the Luxemburgian and Italian Governments, and at one time the European situation became overcast with the possibilities of trouble. But the Italian Government stood firm; it declined to concern itself in the least with the fortunes or even the existence of Henri Deplis, commercial traveller, but was immovable in its decision that the Fall of Icarus (by the late Pincini, Andreas) at present the property of the municipality of Bergamo, should not leave the country.

"The excitement died down in time, but the unfortunate Deplis, who was of a constitutionally retiring disposition, found himself a few months later, once more the storm-centre of a furious controversy. A certain German art expert, who had obtained from the municipality of Bergamo permission to inspect the famous masterpiece, declared it to be a spurious Pincini, probably the work of some pupil whom he had employed in his declining years. The evidence of Deplis on the subject was obviously worthless, as he had been under the influence of the customary narcotics during the long process of pricking in the design. The editor of an Italian art journal refuted the contentions of the German expert and undertook to prove that his private life did not conform to any modern standard of decency. The whole of Italy and Germany were drawn into the dispute, and the rest of Europe was soon involved in the quarrel. There were stormy scenes in the Spanish Parliament, and the University of Copenhagen bestowed a gold medal on the German expert (afterwards sending a commission to examine his proofs on the spot), while two Polish schoolboys in Paris committed suicide to show what THEY thought of the matter.

"Meanwhile, the unhappy human background fared no better than before, and it was not surprising that he drifted into the ranks of Italian anarchists. Four times at least he was escorted to the frontier as a dangerous and undesirable foreigner, but he was always brought back as the Fall of Icarus (attributed to Pincini, Andreas, early Twentieth Century). And then one day, at an anarchist congress at Genoa, a fellow-worker, in the heat of debate, broke a phial full of corrosive liquid over his back. The red shirt that he was wearing mitigated the effects, but the Icarus was ruined beyond recognition. His assailant was severely reprimanded for assaulting a fellow-anarchist and received seven years' imprisonment for defacing a national art treasure. As soon as he was able to leave the hospital Henri Deplis was put across the frontier as an undesirable alien.

"In the quieter streets of Paris, especially in the neighbourhood of the Ministry of Fine Arts, you may sometimes meet a depressed, anxious-looking man, who, if you pass him the time of day, will answer you with a slight Luxemburgian accent. He nurses the illusion that he is one of the lost arms of the Venus de Milo, and hopes that the French Government may be persuaded to buy him. On all other subjects I believe he is tolerably sane."