This week she has been reading Thomas
"Considering our present advanced state of culture, and how the
Torch of Science has now been brandished and borne about,
with more or less effect, for five thousand years and upwards;
how, in these times especially, not only the Torch still burns,
and perhaps more fiercely than ever, but innumerable Rush-
lights and Sulphur-matches, kindled thereat, are also glancing
in every direction, so that not the smallest cranny or doghole in
Nature or Art can remain unilluminated -- it might strike the
reflective mind with some surprise that hitherto little or nothing
of a fundamental character, whether in the way of Philosophy
or History, has been written on the subject of Clothes."
So begins this wonderful send-up on philosophers (and many other
weighty things). No serious treatise on Clothes? What to do?
"But here, as in so many other cases, Germany, learned,
indefatigable, deep-thinking Germany comes to our aid. It
is, after all, a blessing that, in these revolutionary times, there
should be one country where abstract Thought can still take
shelter; that while the din and frenzy of Catholic Emancipations,
and Rotten Boroughs, and Revolts of Paris deafen every
French and every English ear, the German can stand peaceful
on his scientific watch-tower; and, to the raging, struggling
multitude here and elsewhere, solemnly, from hour to hour,
with preparatory blast of cowhorn . . . tell the Universe,
which so often forgets that fact, what o'clock it really is."
Germany, well yes, Germany . . . but who shall rise as its spokesman?
Yet, of course, there is but one candidate, the remarkable
Teufelsdröckh of Weissnichtwo
[i.e., Devil's-excrement from Know-not-where]
by title and diploma,
an accomplished and
formidable Professor of Things in General.
Quite right, but in the matter of style -- how is the good Professor
"In our wild Seer, shaggy, unkempt, like a Baptist living on locusts and
honey, there is an untutored energy, a silent as it were unconscious
which, except in the higher walks of Literature, must be rare.
Many a deep
glance, and often with unspeakable precision, has he cast into
and the still more mysterious Life of Man. Wonderful it is with
what cutting words,
now and then, he severs asunder the confusion; sheers down, were it
into the true centre of the matter; and there not only hits the nail on
the head, but
with crushing force smites it home and buries it. On the other
hand, let us be free to
admit, he is the most unequal writer breathing. Often after some
such feat, he will
play truant for long pages, and go dawdling and dreaming, and mumbling
maundering the merest commonplaces, as if he were asleep with eyes open,
which indeed he is . . . On the whole, Professor Teufelsdröckh is not a
writer. Of his sentences perhaps not more than nine-tenths stand
straight on their legs;
the remainder are in quite angular attitudes, buttressed up by props (of
and dashes), and ever, with this or the other tagrag hanging from them;
a few even
sprawl out helplessly on all sides quite broken-backed and dismembered .
Considered as an Author, Herr Teufelsdröckh has one scarcely pardonable
doubtless his worst: an almost total want of arrangement. In this
it is true, his adherence to the mere course of Time produces, through
portions, a certain shew of outward method; but of true logical method
there is too little . . . many sections are of debatable rubric, or even
and unnameable; whereby the Book not only loses in accessibility, but
distresses us like some mad banquet, wherein all courses had been
fish and flesh, soup and solid, oyster-sauce, lettuces, Rhine-wine and
were hurled into one huge tureen or trough, and the hungry Public
invited to help itself."
[Xerxes would have you know that she has read some Kant and Hegel in her
and that she knew well Professor Teufelsdröckh the moment he was introduced.
She thought this little book of satire and of big ideas was absolutely
The middle third of the book is devoted to an autobiography of our
and how after a happy childhood and the sorrows of early manhood, he
successfully from The Everlasting No through The Center of
The Everlasting Yea, finally positioning himself to offer his
treatise on Clothes.
Hear the Professor as he bravely sets out on his youth:
"'Thus nevertheless', writes our Autobiographer, apparently as quitting
'was there realized Somewhat; namely, I, Diogenes Teufelsdröckh: a
Temporary Figure (Zeitbild), occupying some cubic feet of Space,
containing within it Forces both physical and spiritual; hopes,
thoughts; the whole wondrous furniture, in more or less perfection,
to that mystery, a Man. Capabilities there were in me to give
some small degree, against the great Empire of Darkness: Does not
Ditcher and Delver, with his spade, extinguish many a thistle and
and so leave a little Order, where he found the opposite? Nay your
Daymoth has capabilities in this kind; and ever organizes something
its own Body, if not otherwise), which was before Inorganic; and of mute
dead air makes living music, though only of the faintest, by humming.'"
Only then by experience wide to fall so low:
"'At length, after so much roasting', thus writes our Autobiographer, 'I
what you might name calcined. Pray only that it be not rather, as
is the more
frequent issue, reduced to a caput-mortuum! But in any
case, by mere dint
of practice, I had grown familiar with many things. Wretchedness
wretched; but I could now partly see through it, and despise it.
highest mortal, in this inane Existence, had I not found a
Shadow-hunted; and, when I looked through his brave garnitures,
enough? Thy wishes have all been sniffed aside, thought I:
but what, had
they even been all granted! Did not the Boy Alexander weep because
had not two Planets to conquer; or a whole Solar System; or Stars, have
not looked down on me as if with pity from their serene spaces; like
glistening with heavenly tears over the little lot of man!
Thousands of human
generations, all as noisy as our own, have been swallowed up of Time,
there remains no wreck of them any more; and Arcturus and Orion and
and the Pleiades are still shining in their courses, clear and young, as
Shepherd first noted them in the plain of Shinar. Pshaw!
What is this paltry
little Dog-cage of an Earth; what art thou that sittest whining there?
still Nothing, Nobody: True; but who then is Something, Somebody?
the Family of Man has no use; it rejects thee; thou art wholly as a
limb: so be it; perhaps it is better so!' [Too heavy-laden Teufelsdröckh!]
says our Professor, 'was the Center of Indifference I had now reached;
which whoso travels from the Negative Pole to the Positive must
And then to ascend to the heights of authorship, to have found his
vocation as a Philosopher of Clothes, by posing the right question:
"'I asked myself: What is this that , ever since earliest years, thou
fretting and fuming, and lamenting and self-tormenting, on account of?
it in a word: is it not because thou art not Happy? Because the
gentleman) is not sufficiently honored, nourished, soft-bedded, and
cared for? Foolish soul! What Act of Legislature was there
that thou shouldst
be Happy? A little while ago thou hadst no right to be at
all. What if thou wert
born and predestined not to be happy, but to be Unhappy! Art thou
other than a Vulture, then, that fliest through the Universe seeking
to eat; and shrieking dolefully because carrion enough is not
Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe!' . . . 'To me, in this
our Life', says the
Professor, 'which is an internecine warfare with the Time-spirit, other
seems questionable. Hast thou in any way a Contention with thy
brother, I advise
thee, think well what the meaning thereof is. If thou gauge it to
it is simply this: 'Fellow, see! Thou art taking more than thy
share of Happiness
in the world, something from my share: which, by the Heavens, thou shalt
nay I will fight thee rather.' -- Alas! and the whole lot to be divided
is such a
beggarly matter, truly a feast of shells, for the substance had been
not enough to quench one Appetite; and the collective human species
at them! -- Can we not, in all such cases, rather say: 'Take it,
ravenous individual; take that pitiful additional fraction of a share,
reckoned mine, but which thou so wantest; take it with a blessing:
Heaven I had enough for thee!' -- If Fichte's
Wissenschaftslehre be 'to a
certain extent, Applied Christianity,' surely to a still greater extent,
so is this.'"
can be sent to Hud[dot]Hudson[at]wwu[dot]edu.