Rhymes and Reactions (Dec 1925)
By George Sterling
I have just read a most depressing book, the biography of Edgar Saltus, by his widow, Marie Saltus. It is a ghastly, if naive, description of the deliquesence of the reason of a man fundamentally timid and hypersensitive, confronted by the prospect of annihilation.
The mind of Saltus, gazing on the universe as though through crystal, saw that lens gradually obscured by the mist of mortality, until at last he looked out on the kindly mirage of Theosophy.
And why not? some will say. There is mental as well as physical dope, and are not the concluding miseries of a mind as much entitled to anaesthesia as those of the body?
I am not one to sit in judgment on the matter, but even as the banker confronted by cubism, I know what I like, and it is distinctly disconcerting to realize that old age can so "make cowards of us all" that, rather than face the bleak horrors of probability, we turn to the soothing drugs of the irrational. It happened to such a mind as Huysman's: why cannot it happen, then, to any of us? The possibilities, as I have said, are distinctly depressing. Imagination sees me in the ranks of Fundamentalists, loudly proclaiming that God is good and that I'm darned if I'm not immortal.
The biography saddens on other accounts. It is not the first time that a man of genius (I am not referring to his novels) has been made ridiculous to gratify a woman's vanity. It has happened to a greater man than Saltus, to my knowledge. But what desirable end is served by giving continual samples of a man's "baby talk," which included the frequent use of "miaows" and "bow wows," would be evident only to those who delight in news of the idiotic side of genius. Most of us talk the "little language," as Wells terms it, and folly, as well as misery, loves company.
It would be hard to conceive of a more unsocial sort than Saltus. His ivory tower had barbed-wire entanglements at all four points of the compass, nor would ten times his genius have justified such a recoil from human relationship. But he pampered himself like a satrap, and expected that treatment from others. He got it, at that, until he encountered (that's the word) the girl who was to become his second wife. She was the very astringent his flabby soul required, a prescription from the hand of a satiric God, and on more than one occasion he was forced to "buck up and do his stuff." She knew her man; more over, if the veteran chorus-girl is a tenminute egg, Marie Saltus was a dinosaur's.
* * *
My good friend Ahashuerus Jones has given me permission to print a few more of the fables which, with loving labor, he is now rendering from the quaint diction of the Venerable Bede. One notes with admiration the modern atmosphere of the parables.
A Key Route train having been brought to a standstill by the Ministrations of a band of Robbers, the Leader of the Gang, entering a car, began a systematic course of spoliation of the Inmates. But after depriving a Certain Gent of a sizable roll, he was addressed by a gentleman in his immediate vicinity.
"Sir," this one said, "are you aware that you have just robbed the president of the road?"
"Indeed!" cried the robber; and approaching the robbed, he returned to him a handful of the kale.
"But why," said the Gent, "why have you returned to me this money?"
"Ah!" said the robber, smiling be-nignantly beneath his mask, and bowing most humbly; "that is our regular discount to the profession."
* * *
An actor who, after peregrinations in southern Africa, had returned to his native land, was met by a former employer, who inquired as to the cause of the expression of gloom then present upon his countenance.
"Why this sadness of face?" asked he.
"I bemoan," replied the actor, "the hardships incident to the practice of our profession in the Dark Continent. At each town in which we essayed to give performances, we were bombarded with eggs of undoubted antiquity."
"Yet this small drawback," interposed his friend, "is to be encountered in climes even more civilized. And why mind a few eggs?"
"But dammit, man!" cried the actor, "they use ostrich eggs!"
* * *
A traveller in a western land came suddenly upon a fellow mortal who was intently regarding the evolutions of an animal, which, rushing about on its hind legs in a cloud of dust, made the surrounding hills re-echo with its terrific brays.
"Can you explain, he inquired with curiosity, "the cause or causes of this phenomenon?"
"Yonder phenomenon," replied the fellow mortal, "is my ass—a mild-mannered and well-meaning animal. At times, however, he partakes unsparingly of the loco-weed, with the results now apparent."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed the traveller . "And what can be the name of this remarkable beast?"
"In his saner moments," replied the fellow mortal, "he is named Paresis. During his indulgence in the present antics I call him Fundamentalist."
* * *
A Polecat and a Fundamentalist met by chance upon a narrow path. The former animal at once stepped some distance aside, and allowed the other to pass.
"Accept my thanks, little friend," said the Fundamentalist, "for the respect you show me. It were well that Darrow might emulate your courtesy."
"Keep your gratitude," responded the Polecat, "cover it well, and set it in a cool place; any respect I may have shown was self-respect."
* * *
"Full many a flower," said the spokes man of a committee of the Sugar Trust to the gentleman from Massabraska, "is born to blush unseen. Would that we all knew your true worth!"
"While my position," gracefully responded the Senator, "is analogous to that of the pearl which was cast before swine, I would yet disclaim too decided a resemblance to the pearl of great price. Still, I have brought as high as ten thousand."
The fear of a Constituency is the root of all evil.