W. N. P. Barbellion

The fire bogey

January 2, 1915

“This Box contains Manuscripts. One guinea will be paid to any one who in case of danger from fire saves it from damage or loss.” Signed: W. N. P. BARBELLION.

I have had this printed in large black characters on a card, framed and nailed to my “coffin” of Journals. I told the printer first to say Two Guineas, but he suggested that One Guinea was quite enough. I agreed but wondered how the devil he knew what the Journals were worth—nobody knows.

Next month, I expect I shall have a “hand” painted on the wall and pointing towards the box. And the month after that I shall hire a fireman to be on duty night and day standing outside No. 101 in a brass helmet and his hatchet up at the salute.

These precious Journals! Supposing I lost them! I cannot imagine the anguish it would cause me. It would be the death of my real self and as I should take no pleasure in the perpetuation of my flabby, flaccid, anaemic, amiable puppet-self, I should probably commit suicide.

January 7, 1915

Harvey who discovered the circulation of the blood also conducted a great many investigations into the Anatomy and development of insects. But all his MSS. and drawings disappeared in the fortunes of war, and one half of his life work thus disappeared. This makes me feverish, living as I do in Armageddon!

Again, all Malpighi’s pictures, furniture, books and MSS. were destroyed in a lamentable fire at his house in Bononia, occasioned it is said by the negligence of his old wife.

About 1618, Ben Jonson suffered a similar calamity thro’ a fire breaking cut in his study. Many unpublished MSS. perished.

A more modern and more tragic example I found recently in the person of an Australian naturalist Dr. Walter Stimpson, who lost all his MSS., drawings, and collections in the great fire of Chicago, and was so excoriated by this irreparable misfortune that he never recovered from the shock, and died the following year a broken man and unknown.

Of course the housemaid who lit the fire with the French Revolution is known to all, as well as Newton’s “Fido, Fido, you little know what you have done.”

There are many dangers in preserving the labours of years in MS. form. Samuel Butler (of Erewhon) advised writing in copying ink and then pressing off a second copy to be kept in another and separate locality. My own precautions for these Journals are more elaborate. Those who know about it think I am mad. I wonder … But I dare say I am a pathetic fool—an incredible self-deceiver!

Anyhow—the “coffin” of raw material I sent down to T——- while I retain the two current volumes. This is to avoid Zeppelins. R——- took the “coffin” down for me on her way home from school, and at Taunton, inquisitive porters mistaking it, I suppose, for an infant’s coffin carried it reverently outside the station and laid it down. She caught them looking at it just in time before her train left. Under her instructions they seized it by the brass handles and carried it back again. I sit now and with a good deal of curiosity fondle the idea of porters carrying about my Journals of confession. It’s like being tickled in the palm of the hand … Two volumes of abstracted entries I keep here, and, as soon as I am married, I intend to make a second copy of these … Then all in God’s good time I intend getting a volume ready for publication.

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MLA Citation

Barbellion, W. N. P.. “The fire bogey.” . Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 27 Nov 2006. 11 Dec 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/barbellion/fire_bogey/>.

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