Original and Soothing Ideas

(Originally posted at http://joelnoche.multiply.com/journal/item/27/Original-and-Soothing-Ideas on November 20, 2010 6:46 AM)

One of my most favorite quotes is from O. Henry’s Heart of the West (Chapter IV, The Handbook of Hymen).  (I got this from pages 39 to 40 of the 2006 BiblioBazaar edition.)

“Well, ‘m,” says I, “it may be that Idaho’s invitation was a kind of poetry, and meant no harm.  May be it belonged to the class of rhymes they call figurative.  They offend law and order, but they get sent through the mails on the grounds that they mean something that they don’t say.  I’d be glad on Idaho’s account if you’d overlook it,” says I, “and let us extricate our minds from the low regions of poetry to the higher planes of fact and fancy.  On a beautiful afternoon like this, Mrs. Sampson,” I goes on, “we should let our thoughts dwell accordingly.  Though it is warm here, we should remember that at the equator the line of perpetual frost is at an altitude of fifteen thousand feet.  Between the latitudes of forty degrees and forty-nine degrees it is from four thousand to nine thousand feet.”

“Oh, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson, “it’s such a comfort to hear you say them beautiful facts after getting such a jar from that minx of a Ruby’s poetry!”

“Let us sit on this log at the roadside,” says I, “and forget the inhumanity and ribaldry of the poets.  It is in the glorious columns of ascertained facts and legalised measures that beauty is to be found.  In this very log we sit upon, Mrs. Sampson,” says I, “is statistics more wonderful than any poem.  The rings show it was sixty years old.  At the depth of two thousand feet it would become coal in three thousand years.  The deepest coal mine in the world is at Killingworth, near Newcastle.  A box four feet long, three feet wide, and two feet eight inches deep will hold one ton of coal.  If an artery is cut, compress it above the wound.  A man’s leg contains thirty bones.  The Tower of London was burned in 1841.”

“Go on, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson.  “Them ideas is so original and soothing.  I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be.”


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