Sunday, March 14, 2010

In the Land of Superstition

Calamitous Newes, from Georgia! That penurious Colony, with few enough Blushes to sweeten its tuberiform Appearance, offers up a Tale of Woe, & injurious Mischief.

Monsieur Please Please Me, the Soul Brother No. One, the Cotton Gin of Romance - a dancing embodiment of Burke's Sublime - James Browne, has failed to keep Hours at his Tomb, preferring instead to walk divers Fields & Streets.

I have monitor'd the Progress of M. Browne & His Famous Flames for some years, ever since I first sight'd him at a Cock-Tussle in Gloucester Co. Business demanded that I appear north of the James, & I was kidnapped by a penurious Gent. by the Name of Churm. This Churm had draggled me about his Lands for nearly a full Rotation of the Clock. Twelve hours of tedious marching, measuring, fretting; twelve wasted Hours, better spent in the Company of Mme Bainton!

But at last, as a Diversion, he suggest'd we view an Exhibition of Cock-Strength, and watch the Battle of two Noble Spurs - El Gallo, and Mickey. Mickey was a fine Black cock, festoon'd with a red Chapeau; El Gallo another sable, but with Sprays of wild Auburn decorating his obsidian Coat. A whole rawkous Mess of Activity surrounded; a human Ring of shouts, whistles, calls, & the occasional glubbing jug, toss'd up in the Air, only to meet a pair of receptive Lips. Few were the Maids present that Day (for the Cock-Match is a grim, manly Specktacle), but many a Man kiss'd his Bottle as tho' it had been his dearest Sweet-heart.

As a Gentleman's Sport, I find it difficult to recommend the Cockfight. Generally the Contest is held on a summer's Day, which contributes to a Slew of insalubrious Influences. Dust fills the Air & grimes the Eyes with a teary mud; Heat penetrates the deepest Folds of a Gent's cotton, crowding the gaps & Spaces of any garment with Oven's-breath; Spirits, easily pass'd from Hand to hand in jolly Fellowship, soon clouds the Senses & goggles the Mind with unwelcome Distortions. At such a Cockfight did I see a man, undone by drink, approach a Barrel with all the tendernesses of a Don Juan, and embark on a commendably earnest Courtship of the Tub - a pretty Figure for some of our Society Fops!

But I distract myself down follied Roads of Thought. This Churm, in one of the few decent Turns he ever stood me, gave me to understand that he wou'd soon be sick, having imbibed entirely too much Plum Wine. He pull'd me off the Crowd, begging to be his Support, that he might not festoon himself with the Contents of his Belly. Instead, under a Linden's bowers, he collapsed, as though the Hand of an Angry God had crush'd his frail Frame to Dust.

Glad to be dispos'd of my noisome Companion, I found myself charm'd by a peculiar Tune - one whose singular Rhythm beseech'd my Breeches to boogie.

The Browne caper'd & frolick'd, gliding from one side of the Stage to another on frantic Legs. And such golden Phrases, such epigrammatic Wisdom, is rarely seen, aside from a Plutarch, or a Rochefoucauld. Such lines as -
"Gotta have a mother for me!"
"Stay on the scene, like a loving machine..."
"Night Train, Night train, all aboard night train."
recall the lapidary Style of a Horace.

All the which stirs me more, when I hear that the Browne has slid aside the Door of his Crypt & ventur'd into the scalp'd wintry Fields of Georgia. But ought we to be surprized? For

“Men who leave their mark on the world are very often those who, being gifted and full of nervous power, are at the same time haunted and driven by a dominant idea, and are therefore within a measurable distance of insanity” --Francis Galton

The recent Experiments of Galvani have shown that our Muscles are but a Tissue of Threads, pluck'd by Electricity as easily as a Maid's finger might tug her Sewing. The Lightning that blasts apart Trees, that shatters the Silence of an insistent Rain, that flashes a Sun's brightness into every Corner of Nature - of such Jolts are we made. In eastern Virginia, a Tale was told in my Father's time of a peculiar Printing. A man had stood at his Window, watching a Storm curdle out of summer's eve Heat. Suddenly a blasting Bolt struck at his window, demolishing the Wall & the man. But opposite his former Stance, the white-wash'd Wall had been stamp'd with his likeness - a Silhouette cut in the Air by an electric Blade.

Such is the sublime Power of the Electric, and such the Strength necessary to power our Limbs & Lungs. Might perhaps this wandering Browne be merely an electric Figment? - for as Galton has stated, the Extraordinary are most often those men of tremendous nervous Power. Stonewall Jackson, altho' a commended Commander, was afflict'd so terribly by the Imbalance of Electricity, that he wou'd stand, hourly, with his right Hand above him, to harmonize the trembling Currents in his Nerves. Many Gents. in this Valley assure me that, nightly, they have seen the Ghost of Jackson riding thro' the wreathed Darkness, searching for his long-dead Armies.

But this is a superstitious Valley, & plagued with Credulity.