Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


 "A Use for Genius" by James F. Sullivan  (first published in The Strand Magazine #30, June 1893; included in his collection Queer Side Stories, 1900)

James Frank Sullivan (1852-1936) was a British artist and author famous for his satires on British life and mores in the late nineteenth century.  His best known work was The British Working Man, by One Who Doesn't Believe in Him (1878), a collection of satirical cartoons.  Beginning with its ninth issue, George Newnes' The Stand Magazine (September 1891), began a regular feature titled "The Queer Side of Things" -- which included short stories of a satirical, sometimes fantastic, bent by Sullivan; many of these were collected in his Queer Side Stories.

Stepping heavily into farce, "A Use for Genius" concerns Young Bansted Downs, so referred to by his pater Old Bansted Downs (the sobriquet used by Young Bansted).  Young Bansted had just returned from school when Old Bansted draws him aside and asks him, "What sphere in life do you propose to fill?"  Young Bansted had been considering this very question over the last forty-five minutes since he had left school, and replies, "I should prefer to be something prosperous."  A wise choice, his father agreed.  A little more mulling reveals the young man's choice of a profession:

"I have been thinking that I should like to be apprenticed to a Genius, with a view to adopting his calling."

That being settled, the two begin searching for a suitable position.  They come upon a newspaper advertisement for an apprentice to a Genius:  please apply to Brayne Power and Sons, Hanover, who have one such position available.  In short time, Young Bansted Downs is taken on and only has to pay the Senior Mr. Power fifty pounds (twenty-five pounds down, then one pound in monthly installments until Bansted his H.A.W.

[A little explanation is due.  H.A.W. stands for Head Above Water, the final degree in the study to be a Genius.   It is preceded by the F.I. and the E.P.. -- your Foot In and your Ear of the Public.  Of course before all this approached, one must earn a Make your Mark. The process can be hurried along if one already has his P.P. (Pertinacious Pusher) or his C.I. (Chum of the Influential).  There can be no doubt about this course of studies because the Senior Mr. Power has a high brow forehead, a far-away gaze, long hair, and a distinct abstraction -- all of which identifies him as a Genius.]

And so Young Bansted sits behind a desk and stares off into space for several months thinking of a way to get his M.M.  With a flash of inspiration he finally comes to a conclusion.  As Young Bransted told Young Mr. Power (I'm sure there are other Young Mr. Powers around, but the reader does not meet them), he "felt the irresistible impulse to do something great and wonderful."  He wasn't sure what, but that was enough to move him on to more advanced studies.  He began to study the "higher attributed of genius -- eccentricity and obscureness."

Alas, Young Bransted could not meet the mustard.  He became despondent.  He took lodging in a "back cistern-cupboard under the roof in a poor street" and subsisted on one sausage a week.  Then -- luck of all luck! -- he happened meet a graduate of Brayne Power and Sons, who cued him into the Booming Department, an institute that will promote your name in whatever field you choose.  Soon Young Bransted is renting out a hall and giving performances in which he "painted on the platform; sang and played his own compositions to them,; and recited his own poems, and acted in his own plays; and told them about his own scientific researches, and his military, exploratory, judicial, political, and athletic achievements."

But the public (and the Boomer Department) is fickle.  The Boomer Department began Booming another client and the public soon flocked to him, leaving Young (now Middle-Aged) Bransted in the lurch.

All is not lost, however.  A last-minute bait-and-switch plan saves all the Geniuses.  How?  You'll have to read the story.

Both the September 1983 issue of The Strand Magazine (which also includes a Sherlock Holmes adventure, an episode from Charles J. Mansfield, and an article on the future dictates of fashion) and Queer Side Stories can be read on the internet,  While at it, check out The British Working Man, by One Who Doesn't Believe in Him.

1 comment:

  1. I have read very few stories from before 1900. Novels, yes but stories, no.