40. Extraordinary

We have a book on the shelves in our study called:

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

It’s a wonderful book – in fact its contents surpass even its title for originality and intrigue. Need I say more than to quote the title of one of the book’s later chapters?

The Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and the Beard.

Take this story, too:

A panic terror of the end of the world seized the good of Leeds and its neighbourhood in the year 1806. A hen, in a village close by, laid eggs, on which were inscribed the words, ‘Christ is coming‘. Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous eggs, convinced that the Day of Judgment was near at hand. Like sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning, and caught the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird’s body.

One of Saul Bellow’s characters – was it Herzog? – found a dead rat in a loaf in his kitchen. Challenged on whether this was a likely circumstance, Bellow maintained it was the story-teller’s duty to heighten the colours of his narrative to make it more entertaining or gripping.

What I like best about Extraordinary Popular Delusions … is that it follows Saul Bellow’s advice. Everything is pretty extraordinary.

Incredibly, most of it is also true …