"Personally" (as we are more wont to say in our youth than in any other ages) I find that a book with an Introduction always worries me a little. I want to read the book itself, not the Introduction, but for some reason I have a feeling that it is my unpleasant duty to read the Introduction. Usually I decide to read the book first and the Introduction afterward; but then my reading is tainted throughout by my sense of guilt; for I have learned by experience that I never do read the Introduction afterward. So, in time, I have reached the conclusion that an Introduction ought to inform the reader's mere first glance that he needn't feel guilty if he doesn't read it afterward. Adopting this view, the author of the present Introduction finds himself perfectly equipped for his task. Readers might be made much more uncomfortable if the Introduction of "New Lands" were what such a book might conventionally expect: a professionally scientific writer—preferably an outraged practising astronomer.
A few years ago I had one of those pleasant illnesses that permit the patient to read in bed for several days without self-reproach; and I sent down to a bookstore for whatever might be available upon criminals, crimes and criminology. Among the books brought me in response to this morbid yearning was one with the title, "The Book of the Damned."
I opened it, not at the first page, looking for Cartouche Jonathan Wild, Pranzini, Lacenaire, and read the following passage:
"The fittest survive.
What is meant by the fittest?
Not the strongest; not the cleverest—
Weakness and stupidity everywhere survive.
There is no way of determining fitness except in that a thing does survive.
'Fitness' then, is only another name for 'survival.'"
Finding no Guiteau or Troppmann here, I let the pages slide under my fingers and stopped at this:
"My own pseudo-conclusion:
That we've been damned by giants sound asleep, or by great scientific principles and abstractions that cannot realize themselves: that little harlots have visited their caprices upon us; that clowns, with buckets of water from which they pretend to cast thousands of good-sized fishes have anathemized us for laughing disrespectfully, because, as with all clowns, underlying buffoonery is the desire to be taken seriously; that pale ignorances, presiding over microscopes by which they cannot distinguish flesh from nostoc or fishes' spawn, have visited upon us their wan solemnities. We've been damned by corpses and skeletons and mummies, which twitch and totter with pseudo-life derived from conveniences."
With some astonishment, I continued to dip into the book, sounding it here and there, but did not bring up even so well-damned a sample of the bottom as Benedict Arnold. Instead I got these:
"An object from which nets were suspended—
Deflated balloon with its network hanging from it—
That something was trawling overhead?
The birds of Baton Rouge.
I think that we're fished for. It may be we're highly esteemed by super-epicures somewhere."
. . . "Melanicus.
That upon the wings of a super-bat, he broods over this earth and over other worlds, perhaps deriving something from them: hovers on wings or wing-like appendages, or planes that are hundreds of miles from tip to tip—a super-evil thing that is exploiting us. By Evil I mean that which makes us useful."
. . . "British India Company's steamer Patna, while on a voyage up the Persian Gulf. In May, 1880, on a dark night about 11:30 p. m. there suddenly appeared on each side of the ship an enormous luminous wheel, whirling around, the spokes of which seemed to brush the ship along . . . and although the wheels must have been some 500 or 600 yards in diameter, the spokes could be distinctly seen all the way round."
. . . "I shall have to accept that, floating in the sky of this earth, there are often fields of ice as extensive as those on the Arctic Ocean—volumes of water in which are many fishes and frogs—tracts of land covered with caterpillars—"
. . . "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."
. . . "A race of tiny beings
They crucified cockroaches.
But here I turned back to the beginning and read this vigorous and astonishing book straight through, and then re-read it for the pleasure it gave me in the way of its writing and in the substance of what it told. Dore should have illustrated it, I thought, or Blake. Here indeed was a "brush dipped in earthquake and eclipse"; though the wildest mundane earthquakes are but earthquakes in teapots compared to what goes on in the visions conjured up before us by Mr. Charles Fort. For he deals in nightmare, not on the planetary, but on the constellational scale, and the imagination of one who staggers along after him is frequently left gasping and flaccid.
Now he has followed "The Book of the Damned" with "New Lands" pointing incidentally to Mars as "the San Salvador of the Sky," and renewing his passion for the dismayingly significant "damned—" tokens and strange hints excluded by the historically mercurial acceptances of "Dogmatic Science." Of his attack on the astronomers it can at least be said that the literature of indignation is enriched by it.
To the "university-trained mind" here is wildness almost as wild as Roger Bacon's once appeared to be; though of course even the layest of lay brothers must not assume that all wild science will in time become accepted law, as some of Roger's did. Retort to Mr. Fort must be left to the outraged astronomer. If indeed any astronomer could feel himself so little outraged as to offer a retort. Lay brethren are outside the quarrel and must content themselves with gratitude to a man who writes two such books as "New Lands" and "The Book of the Damned" gratitude for passages and pictures—moving pictures—of such cyclonic activity and dimensions that a whole new area of a reader's imagination stirs in amazement and is brought to life.