Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Knowledge: Scientific Anomalies Reported in the Works of Byron

By J.T.O.

I previously catalogued the wealth of scientific anomalies recorded in the works of Henry David Thoreau, an author so connected with Transcendental Nature that fans and scholars forget that he carefully observed materialistic little-n nature, too—and found it full of weirdness.

And Thoreau was writing non-fiction. Still more easily overlooked are the Fortean facts in anomaly-heavy poetry and creative prose such as that of Poe, frequently glossed over as wholly imaginary tropes. Such authors are squeezed between the tongs of opposite prejudices: that creative writers are out of touch with the “real world,” or alternatively that they should be; either way, the presumption being that poets never really know what they’re talking about. Our understanding of science ends up impoverished because our understanding of art already is.

Remarkably, this myopia produces misreadings even of Lord Byron (1788-1824), that most worldly of poets, that infamous stateless grappler with the real, that turbocharged experience machine, to whom “ivory tower” likely would be an archly crass euphemism for something witnessed at the court of Ali Pasha.

Granted, Byron was all about personality and ultimately was his own work of art (and artifice). Invoking his name rightly evokes images of drunken lust, harems, revolutionary guerrillas. “Nature poet,” for most readers, would be far down that list. Famed as Byron is for adventurous realism, for epitomizing the strange-but-true, his personal heat singes perceptions of his frequent treatments of the (super)natural. Trying to recall the natural world in Byron, one inevitably thinks of lightning-wracked mountaintops, tempests at sea, rippling muscles of beasts. It is easy to think of Byron’s works as a property-box inventory of Gothic stage-dressing—the sort of reductionist formula he despised. But that is how we are trained to think about canonical poetry: that it treats of grand themes, rather than recording particulars.

Byron, however, was a great collector of specifics; and as a social and physical anomaly himself (he suffered from a congenitally deformed foot), he had an eye for the same in human culture and the natural world. His works are loaded with Forteana, many personally witnessed; and if his presentation is not scientific, it is nonetheless that of an observant, skeptical, highly educated and well-informed layperson. Where he does use standard Gothic imagery, he frequently links it to Fortean reality. For example, the rapid graying of hair caused by fright described in the opening of “The Prisoner of Chillon: A Fable and Sonnet on Chillon” (1816) is accompanied by a footnote in which he gives historical examples of the phenomenon. (The entire poem is itself based on a historical person and circumstance.)

Cataloguing scientific anomalies means spoiling the drama of pat answers and tossing bombs at consensus reality. If a reader is perceptive enough to note the Forteana, he or she may be so upset that they dismiss it anyway.

An early example of such a reaction came, coincidentally, from Thoreau’s mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his 1840 essay on the new Romantics, “Thoughts on Modern Literature,” Emerson began with perceptive thoughts about the nexus of art and nature: “There is no better illustration of the laws by which the world is governed than Literature….Nature mixes facts with thoughts to yield a poem.”1 But of course, what he meant was capital-N Nature—“metaphysical nature”—which equates with beauty, personal morality and “infinite good.” It follows that Byron, that very physical poet with a feel for jagged edges and flaws, was no good: “His will is perverted, he worships the accidents of society, and his praise of Nature is thieving and selfish.”

There’s one claw of that pinching tong: Byron understood the real world too well. Strip away the moral approbation, and he stands accused of detailing freaks and recording garish particulars. That is to say, he is a Fortean, a collector of data that is, as was said approvingly of Byron himself, “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”2

With passing years, careers built on analyzing the “Byronic hero” and the Westminsterization of Byron, the opposite view has dominated: like all Romantics, Byron knew plenty about his own passions and something about realities that inspired them—predominately, outdated political disputes, European travel and innovative sexual practices—and little else. That is to say, there is wide acknowledgement that he was obviously autobiographical, with the emphasis on that personal “auto.” But that Byron paid attention to scientists and frequently observed nature and customs like one? That doesn’t come up very much. One can only suspect that literature majors are not disposed to link science and the Romantic.

The result is that we are now in an era when a major biography of Byron can claim that “unlike Shelley, he had little curiosity about the great scientific discoveries of his day,” a statement strongly at odds with his poems, which he personally vandalized with heaps of scientific footnotes.3

Biographer Fiona MacCarthy was more perceptive, even if she wasn’t esoteric enough to recognize Forteana. She noted that Byron was well-versed in scientific matters, frequently discussing them with a medical-student friend; the subjects of interest included astronomy, phrenology, “animal magnetism” and electricity (particularly galvanic experiments on corpses)—much of which now is considered Fortean, pseudoscience or both. He even half-jokingly speculated on the possibilities of air travel and voyages to the Moon.4

Most importantly, MacCarthy sussed out an attitudinal truth: “Byron himself was a disciplined observer. His great poem ‘Don Juan’ is built upon a quasi-scientific analysis of the human condition, rejecting the half truths of sentimentality and cant.”5

And indeed, Byron was skilled at collecting anomalies of human nature as well—customs, traditions and supposed paranormal abilities. As another biographer said, “Byron defined himself as a romantic in his intellectual enthusiasm for folkloric archaeology; he was always fascinated by surviving evidence of ancient popular culture.”6

That included nearly lost Hebrew songs and the like. But Byron, well-read in history, was also interested in literal archaeology. Indeed, one of his passions was the then-controversial idea of a historical, as opposed to merely literary, Troy. Schliemann’s Homer-guided homing in on the Troy site a half-century later, of course, is the ultimate example of knowledge lost for centuries solely because of the presumption that poets are just brilliant idiots.

Let us avoid repeating that mistake and look at some examples of scientific anomalies recorded in the works of Byron.

“The Corsair: A Tale” (1814):

 

Then to his boat with haughty gesture sprung.

Flash’d the dipt oars, and sparkling with the stroke,

Around the waves’ phosphoric brightness broke….

 

Lest you not get this allusion, Byron explains it in a footnote: “By night, particularly in a warm latitude, every stroke of the oar, every motion of the boat or ship, is followed by a slight flash like sheet lightning from the water.”

This glowing of the subtropical ocean was unexplained in Byron’s day and the province of Fortean tomes until very recently. Now, tens of thousands of web links will tell you that it is produced by self-illuminating plankton. However, still unexplained are the dozens of reports of patterns—whirling spirals, shifting bands—of this phosphorescence.

“The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale” (1813): He refers to the supposed self-stinging suicide of a scorpion entrapped within a circle of flame—a strange folklore belief of the era that Byron may have popularized. Byron considered the reality of the scorpion suicide as “dubious,” archly commenting in a footnote about scientific investigations of it: “The scorpions are surely interested in a speedy decision of the question; as, if once fairly established as insect Catos, they will probably be allowed to live as long as they think proper, without being martyred for the sake of an hypothesis.”

As it happened, the question was not settled for at least several more decades of burning scorpions illuminating the pages of journals up to and including “Nature.” The best early debunking I found was from a scientist who, somewhat to his chagrin, tortured scores of scorpions to death in an array of bizarre experiments to determine that a) they simply run through any wall of flame or hot coals to escape; b) they may touch themselves with their tail if burned or tormented, but not sting themselves; c) they survive their own lab-induced stings easily, as evinced by a still living self-stung scorpion he displayed on a table during his revelation of his findings.7

It is aesthetically fascinating, and illustrative of Byron’s love for anomalies, that he would use this supposed arthropod behavior for striking, robust symbolism while also doubting and wondering about its reality:

 

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like Scorpion girt by fire;

So writhes the mind Remorse hath riven,

Unfit for earth, undoom’d for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death!

 

“Manfred: A Dramatic Poem” (1816-17): This famously supernatural closet drama refers to the fairly common phenomenon of a “sunbow” at the base of a waterfall. Byron elaborates in a footnote: “This iris is formed by the rays of the sun over the lower part of the Alpine torrents: it is exactly like a rainbow come down to pay a visit, and so close that you may walk into it: this effect lasts till noon.” (He saw this first-hand at Staubbach Falls in Switzerland in 1816.8) The phenomenon is not an anomaly per se, but it clearly was one in Byron’s experience; and stranger yet similar optical displays such as “moonbows” are certainly in the realms of the Fortean. Byron’s sensitive interest in the phenomenon—so strong that he included it in a particularly sublime work—is quintessential Forteanism.

His reference to “galvanism upon the dead” in Canto VIII of “Don Juan” (1819-24) reflects a long interest in the then-new subject of electricity and electrophysiology that by that time had already found its most famous fictional expression in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Byron famously was an indirect cause of “Frankenstein” with his suggestion of a night of ghost-story writing; and “Frankenstein” is the paragon of Romantic anti-science that clearly has deeply influenced the overlooking and misreading of the scientific in the literary canon, including Byron’s works. Byron always acted like everything revolved around him, and sometimes he was right.

In Canto XIII of “Don Juan,” we find a reference to the supposedly singing statue of Memnon in Egypt, a popular topic of the era’s supernatural lore. But here it is likened to a sound produced at a certain time of night in an old abbey—apparently based on the one that long served as the Byron family home. The cause of this moaning architecture is not divulged, but the poem does not discount a possible acoustic anomaly involving sounds of a distant waterfall. Likewise, the Memnon statue itself is bestowed with a possible rational explanation: the warming action of sunlight.

This mingling of the wondrously paranormal and the pragmatically skeptical is typical of Byron and the essence of Forteanism. And yet, this scientific skepticism toward natural phenomena is often overlooked in Byron as it is in Thoreau.

This skepticism is most striking in the Byronic appearances of ghosts. Apparitions seem fundamental to the Gothic-Romantic image of Byron, and it is easy to take his ghosts at credulous face value. But Byron is often more arch and coy than that.

“I say I do believe a haunted spot/Exists—and where? That shall I not recall,/Because I’d rather it should be forgot,” says Byron in “Don Juan” Canto XV. A manifesto of supernatural belief? No. As a thinly veiled reference to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the canto suggests, it is a materialist allusion to being haunted by one’s own psychology—one’s depression and fear.

The tone is lighter, but the attitude the same, in Don Juan’s ghost sighting in Canto XVI. The hero lying abed hears, “A supernatural agent or a mouse,” Byron jests. He reveals his own skepticism while pretending to mock that of Don Juan, who had

 

thought like most men there was nothing in’t [in ghost beliefs]

Beyond the rumour which such spots unfold,

Coined from surviving superstition’s mint,

Which passes ghosts in currency like gold,

But rarely seen, like gold compared with paper.

 

The ghost later reappears—as an outrageously comedic would-be lover in Halloween-style disguise.

In these scenes, dark or light, we can see the quasi-scientific observer of humanity that MacCarthy detected. We can also see the essentially scientific attitude that skepticism, far from destroying wonder, enhances it by filtering out delusion and stunning us with truth. Surely the ghosts of one’s own mind are more astonishing than those of children’s tales.

It is thus no surprise that Byron was an astute collector of human anomalies along with natural ones. A compiler of legend and lore encountered in his travels, Byron famously introduced the vampire to modern European/American consciousness. Years before his fragmentary attempts at a vampire story—the product of the same parlor-game session that bore “Frankenstein”—were appropriated by another author into “The Vampyre,” he explained in a footnote to “The Giaour” that the vampire “superstition” was widespread in the Levant. He also provided some historical, etymological and personal background.9

Like many modern Forteans and paranormalists, Byron was far more credulous about supposed powers of precognition. In “Don Juan” Canto VI, he speaks favorably of prophetic dreams:

 

I’ve known some odd ones which seemed really planned

Prophetically, or that which one deems

‘A strange coincidence,’ to use a phrase

By which such things are settled nowadays.

 

And in a lengthy footnote in “The Giaour,” he explains the meaning of “second hearing”—clairaudience—by recounting a remarkable, if incredible, personal story. A fellow rider one day reported hearing a phantom gunshot, a precognitive warning of impending attack. Seeing no sign of danger, Byron dismissed the warning as delusion, but said he later learned an attack was indeed planned that day and failed. It is not clear that Byron truly believed this was more than coincidence, but he evidently found it remarkable. He also notes in nearly scholarly fashion that, while running into this form of ESP, he never encountered the presumably more commonplace superstition of “second sight” in “the East.”

In the realm of the philosophical rather than the observational, the conclusion of “Don Juan” features an extended defense of free thought that could serve as an epitaph for Fort. Neither deep nor original, it is nonetheless stirring praise for innovation; it can be primarily read as the protest of a frequently censored poet, but is overtly science-minded, citing such paradigm shifts as the end of witch-burning and the vindication of Galileo:

 

There is a commonplace book argument,

Which glibly glides from every vulgar tongue

When any dare a new light to present:

‘If you are right, then everybody’s wrong.’

Suppose the converse of this precedent

So often urged, so loudly and so long:

‘If you are wrong, then everybody’s right.’

Was ever everybody yet so quite?

 

Therefore I would solicit free discussion

Upon all points, no matter what or whose,

Because as ages upon ages push on,

The last is apt the former to accuse

Of pillowing its head on a pincushion,

Heedless of pricks because it was obtuse.

What was a paradox becomes a truth or

A something like it….

 

That is simple Forteanism. Byron could also be complex, combining his prodigious book-learning, love of anomalies and satirical skepticism—as in his allusion to Georges Cuvier in “Don Juan” Canto IX. Cuvier was a great proponent of catastrophism, the idea of rapid, global catastrophes dramatically affecting Earth’s geology and biology. Catastrophism fell out of favor and as recently as 20 years ago was considered Fortean material, only now finding favor once again as it drops the Biblical posturing and worries us about meteorites. Musing about mental chaos, Byron alludes to Cuvierian catastrophism, suggesting the same may happen with human thoughts:

 

So Cuvier says. And then shall come again

Unto the new creation, rising out

From our old crash, some mystic, ancient strain

Of things destroyed and left in airy doubt,

Like to the notions we now entertain

Of Titans, giants, fellows of about

Some hundred feet in height, not to say miles,

And mammoths and your wingèd crocodiles.

 

He goes on to ponder that one day we shall be fossil freaks ourselves: “I say, will these great relics, when they see ’em,/Look like the monsters of a new museum?”

If it didn’t rhyme, it could be mistaken for a page of Fort. Using mainstream science of the day to fruitfully blur or entwine perceptions of physical and psychological freaks—to reconsider the very definition of “freak”—is highly sophisticated stuff.

Maybe part of the problem is that Byron is often so funny he doesn’t seem sophisticated. “Don Juan” Canto XI gleams with his hilarious distillation of one of the great archaeological enigmas: “The Druid’s groves are gone—so much the better./Stonehenge is not, but what the devil is it?”

Poets are supposed to heave shovelfuls of numinosity to fill a round hole like Stonehenge with tales of ancient moonlit rites or similarly fertile mental soils; the humor, of course, is that Byron declines to dig. His wit is so quick that our reading may be as well, failing to realize that he is ultimately quite serious about his Socratic ignorance, and that he actually possessed thorough lay knowledge of popular archaeological mysteries of his day.

In fact, a still-significant archaeological anomaly appears repeatedly in Byron, yet appears to have been overlooked by scholars—probably because they had no idea what he was talking about and presumed he didn’t, either.

Byron lived in an era of European Egyptomania stirred by the archaeology that followed Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, and his works are replete with pyramids.10 Pyramids are, of course, tombs. For Byron they are symbolic of mortal vanity—so impressive, yet so totally burglarized and decayed, the bodies within them lost to time.

However, in at least two cases Byron sharpens this criticism with cryptic suggestions that the pyramids had a different actual function that is now forgotten.

In “Don Juan” Canto VIII, he refers obscurely to “Guessing at what shall happily be hid/As the real purpose of a pyramid.”

In “Sardanapalus: A Tragedy” (1821), he elaborates on his pyramid doubts without really clarifying them:

 

We leave a nobler monument than Egypt

Hath piled in her brick mountains, o’er dead kings

Or kine, for none know whether those proud piles

Be for their monarch, or their ox-god Apis:

So much for monuments that have forgotten

Their very record!

 

Why is Bryon suggesting that the pyramids were some type of ox-worship shrines, let alone with such dripping sarcasm? Surely it is, and always has been, well-known that Egyptian pyramids were fundamentally tombs for pharaohs, whatever lingering mysteries and subsidiary significances they may have had. Byron himself elsewhere admits as much.

I raised Byron’s mysterious reference with Prof. Salima Ikram, chair of the Egyptology department at the American University in Cairo and a renowned expert in ancient Egyptian funerary practices.11 I did not provide her with Byron’s lines, but paraphrased them and asked whether there was some valid controversy about ox-worship or whether Byron was just mixing up the pyramids with other types of ancient Egyptian structures.

Probably just confusion, Ikram said, adding that “there was always debate as to the function of pyramids.” (The debate never really seriously questioned the pharaonic tomb uses, however, which remained the focus of cult worship into late Roman times, but rather, as today, involved mystic theories and forced mergers with Biblical lore.12)

And, she added: “Also poetic license…”

And here we go again. Poets are creative liars; Byron was likely yet another stumbler into the mumbo-jumbo imaginings of what eminent Egyptologist Mark Lehner—himself a former psychic-worshipping looney—calls “pyramidiots.”13

But I had learned to “believe Byron,” as his family motto said, and did some excavating of my own. It turns out that Byron was referring to an actual discovery and authentic mystery from the beginnings of modern pyramidology. That is to say, he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Between 1809 and 1818, France published the massive, multivolume “Description de l’Égypte”—the findings of the Napoleonic campaign. This set off a burst of artifact-grabbing proto-archaeology that makes Indiana Jones look like a patient grid-digger.14

Among the pioneers was the Italian Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a former circus strongman and hydraulic engineer who was a pretty Byronic character himself. He arrived at the great pyramids of Giza in 1818, a time when it was still debated whether all of the pyramids contained any internal chambers.

Belzoni discovered the lost and hidden original entrance to the pyramid of Khafre and became almost certainly the first European (and surely the first modern) to enter the burial chamber within. But to his disappointment, anything that once remained had been plundered—according to graffiti within the chamber—by Arab explorers, likely sometime between A.D. 1000 and 1200. The granite lid of the sunken sarcophagus was split.

As Belzoni himself later recounted, he first saw within the sarcophagus only “a great quantity of earth and stones”—or “rubbish,” as he considered it.15 But the next day, a young man visiting the site “rummaged [through] the rubbish inside the sarcophagus…[and] found a piece of bone, which we supposed to belong to a human skeleton. On searching farther, we found several pieces, which, having been sent to London, proved to be the bones of a bull.”

There you have it: bull bone fragments found within a sarcophagus of one of the great pyramids of Giza, wonders of the ancient world—and during a ground-breaking exploration, no less.

Writing about the find in 1820, Belzoni saw fit to correct popular misconceptions—corrections that indicate the bull-bone aspect made quite a splash at the time. (Indeed, he notes that part of the reason for writing his book is because his discoveries launched so many crazy rumors.)

For one thing, he didn’t think there was anything funny about it. “Some inconsequential persons, however, who would not scruple to sacrifice a point in history, rather than lose a bon mot, thought themselves mighty clever in baptizing the said bones those of a cow, merely to raise a joke. So much for their taste for antiquity.” Belzoni, himself a gigantic bull of a man, was not about to have bullishness feminized away.

More significantly, the bull-bone finding influenced some logical speculations about the giant Egyptian sarcophagi: “It has been stated also, that it might be supposed these large sarcophagi were made to contain the bones of bulls,” thus explaining their size. But he disagreed, noting that intact burials of ancient Egyptians often involved multiple coffins nested within one another (as we now so famously know from Tutankhamun), thus necessitating an oversized sarcophagus.

This still leaves us with the question of what bull bones were doing in Khafre’s sarcophagus. It remains a mystery, as do other anomalous remains found in other pyramids and mausoleums.

Lehner notes the case of another pyramid where the burial chamber clearly had been plundered, yet there were human bones dating to millennia later along with an apparently anachronistic coffin lid bearing the pharaoh’s name. That anomaly could reflect a cult’s ritual renovation or reuse of the pyramid’s tomb, Lehner notes. As for the bull bones, Lehner says the former director the German Institute of Archaeology in Cairo suggested that they “were probably an offering thrown into the sarcophagus at some unknown later date by intruders, long after the king’s body had been robbed and lost.”

Belzoni himself did not theorize about the bull bones, but he was a firm believer that the pyramids were pharaonic tombs and clearly considered the bones as some kind of trash, not an official burial and certainly not the original one.

Byron’s firmest reference to the bull bones came after the publication of Belzoni’s corrections. He clearly did not follow the controversy closely enough to have read Belzoni for the update. (Byron also would not have been in London that year to see Belzoni’s artifact exhibition at Egyptian Hall, where the burial chamber was modeled and the find possibly addressed.16) Likewise, Belzoni’s book came out before any of Byron’s bull-bone allusions (or at least, those that I detected) were published, so the poet was not a specific target of correction.

So the peripatetic Byron did not pursue the findings with the consistency of a scholar; and, as Ikram suggested, he undoubtedly flashed that poetic license in his casual assertion of total ambiguity about pyramid purposes. Nonetheless, his writing offers a wonderful freeze-frame of a scientific anomaly significant to the historiography of Egyptology.

Indeed, it remains a significant anomaly today, and indicative of how even experts can focus on the origins of the pyramids to the detriment of their other 4,500 years of use. As Lehner says, “These mysterious facts [including the bull-bone find]…hint that the history of the pyramids is not always as straightforward as Egyptologists may think.”

In turn, this only adds wisdom to the futility of monuments Byron persipaciously saw lurking in this anomaly. One of the first celebrities in the modern sense and a participant in that most immortalizing of arts, Byron was acutely aware that his pyramidical musings applied to himself. Right before one such pyramid allusion in “Don Juan,” he cynically jokes about modern forms of glory:

 

What is the end of fame? ’Tis but to fill

A certain portion of uncertain paper.

Some liken it to climbing up a hill,

Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour.

For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill,

And bards burn what they call their midnight taper,

To have, when the original is dust,

A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.

 

Byron is still famous, and most pictures of him are actually pretty dashing. But in our narrow focus here, we can already see a significant aspect of Byron being forgotten, overlooked, miscomprehended—an entire monument of scientific anomalies regarded not as a lordly tomb, but as a different sort of bull.

 

 

1 Published in “The Dial,” October 1840, via www.walden.org/Institute/thoreau/about2/E/Emerson_Ralph_Waldo/Writings/Essays/Thoughts%20of%20Modern%20Literature.htm; also excerpted in “Byron’s Poetry,” Frank D. McConnell, ed.

2 The words of his future lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, in her diary. For a typical citation with authentic punctuation, see “Byron: Life and Legend” by Fiona MacCarthy.

3 “Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame” by Benita Eisler.

4 MacCarthy, op. cit.

5 MacCarthy, op. cit.

6 Eisler, op. cit.

7 “Note on the (Alleged) Suicide of the Scorpion” by C. Lloyd Morgan, “The Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society” (1878-88), Vol. I, Part 1, pp. 19-23, via Google Books/University of Michigan.

8 MacCarthy, op. cit.

9 Similarly, in a footnote to “The Giaour,” he describes the Levantine superstition of the “evil eye,” “of which the imaginary effects are yet very singular on those who conceive themselves affected.”

10 On the Egyptology, “The Complete Pyramids” by Mark Lehner.

11 Ikram’s specialty is animal mummies. See her project’s web site: www.animalmummies.com.

12 Another Egyptologist, Prof. James Allen at Brown University, noted to me that most Egyptologists are not expert in early Egyptology. The history of history is, of course, rather rarified stuff.

13 Lehner, op. cit.

14 Most of the following third-person detail comes from Lehner, op. cit., as do the following quotes and observations attributed to him.

15 Belzoni’s own words here and following are from his “Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs, and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia; And of a Journey to the Coast of the Red Sea, in Search of the Ancient Berenice; And Another to the Oasis of Jupiter Ammon,” via Google Books/Harvard University; also available through the Bibliothèque nationale de France at http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/CadresFenetre?O=NUMM-105346&M=notice. Belzoni’s book has at least a couple Fortean tidbits as well, including a description of a mirage.

16 “Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology” by C.W. Ceram (E.B. Garside, trans.).

 

The Byron texts used for this column are the Penguin Classics editions of “Don Juan” (T.G. Steffan, E. Steffan and W.W. Pratt, eds.) and “Selected Poems” (Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning, eds.). Significant sources not cited in the text or footnotes include “The Oxford Companion to Philosophy,” Ted Honderich, ed.; and “The Reputed Suicide of Scorpions” by Alfred G. Bourne, “Proceedings of the Royal Society of London” (1887), Vol. 42, pp. 17-22, via JSTOR at http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0370-1662(1887)42%3C17%3ATRSOS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-R. For citations on Fort and his latter-day follower William Corliss, see my prior essay on “The Fortean Thoreau.” As in that essay, I follow Corliss in using “anomalous” (as well as “Fortean”) to refer to the rare as well as the unexplained. The original version of this essay was published in 2007.

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