Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


 "Moozeby" by James F. Sullivan (from The Strand Magazine, February  1892;reprinted in Queer Side Stories, 1900, as by Jas. F. Sullivan)

A gentle satire on Theosophy and other such occult and mystic philosophies that were prevalent around the turn of the century.

A group of friends set out in a boat aloong the Thames for a picnic:

"We had selected a beautiful landing-place on the bank of the Thames, and had the added advantage of the shadow of a large notice-board -- a board declaring the land, river, air, sky, clouds, and other articles around and above to be the private property of someone or other, and warning strangers not to land, fish, breathe, exist, or otherwise trespass near the spot.  The shadow of this board served nicely to keep the rays of the sun from the butter and champagne.  We only regretted that Moozeby had not been able to join us."

They selected a nice dry spot to lay their blanket and spread out their viands, but suddenly a wisp of a fog appeared there.  It began to grow and thicken, nds as the picnickers attempted to put their hands through the mist, they met with some resistance.

The fog soon solidified and it was Moozeby, seated (unfortunately) on their little repast.  Moozeby greeted them with apologies. It ws nothing supernatural, just precipitation -- something he had been practicing for a while.  In hs efforts, he did not properly get his bearings -- he had meant to precipitate on a nearby stump, not on the food.

Well, the picnic was ruined.  Then one of them suggested:  if Moozeby had learned to precipitate, why didn't he precipitate some grub.  Moozeby was certainly willing to try.  His first effort brought a ham sandwich that unfortunately appeared on Wortleworth's head -- right on the bald spot.  The sandwich, however, proved edible.  Soon Moozeby had precipitated an entire platter of sandwiches.  Only Mrs. Wimbledon refused to eat, declaring the food "nasty, unwholesome, supernatural."  The picnickers hoped that Mrs. Besant did not psychically pick up on that comment.  (Annie Besant was a well-known Theosophist and social reformer of the time.  Later, our narrator notes, "It is very strange to reflect that this useful power, exercised by H. P. B. and our friend Moozeby , should have been so long neglected by civilized men!"  "H. P. B." refers to Helen Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society.)

Precipitation, at least how Boozby practiced it, does not fully work.  When it began to rain, Boozeby precipated umbrellas and rain gear for the picnickers, but some of the umbrellas did not materialize completely and water leaked down on Pinniger and his fiance, Maud Wimble.

The rain delayed the picnickers and by the time they reached the rail station, they found they had missed their train and would have to wait an hour and twenty minutes before the next rain, and that one would take them home by way of Clapham Junction, Willesden, and Loughborough Park, meaning that they would not reach home until morning.

What to do?  They were in a quandry until Pinniger suggested that Moozeby precipitate a train for them.  This was a larger task than Moozeby had ever before attempted, made all the more difficult because Moozeby had no real conception of what the train should be.  He imagined an engine bt forgot to put a train around it.  Eventually, a strangely-formed train began to appear on the tracks -- to the dismay of the stationmaster because an express was due through in twelve minutes.  By this time Moozeby was tired and he was not able to make the train any more complete, nor was he able to make it disappear.  The picnickers tried to push Moozeby's train off the tracks, but they ended up only pushing holes into the flimsy thing.  When the express came roaring through, it smashed the phantom train into light flimsy pieces, and rushed on through without any damage to itself.

The picnickers were forced to walk.  After half a mile or so, Moozeby began to get his strength back and once again attempted to make a train -- this time on a side track.  The train (somewhat insubstantial and incomplete) soon formed.  Then they realized that none of them knew how to drive a train, so Moozeby had to precipitate a driver.  His first attempt got him the wrong type of driver:  a pig-driver.  His next attempt was better -- a train driver, but with one insubstantial leg, so he had to keep hopping around the cab.  Soon they were on their way home, going ever so slowly because Moozeby did not know how to create a more powerful train; and with the floor of the carriage occasionally disappearing so Thripling fell through and Maud Wimble sank through the floor with only her head and shoulders in the carriage.

The moral of the story -- if there is one -- is laid out in the final paragraph:

"It is foolish to attempt such a thing as a train, when one is tired; it brings discredit on Theosophy and makes the uninitiated incredulous about it."

Sullivan (1852-1936) was a British satirist and cartoonist (not to be confused with his brother, the illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan).  The special object of his satire was nineteenth century British mores.  His most popular book was the graphic collection The British Working-Man, By One Who Doesn't Believe in Him, 1878.  The target of his Belial's Burdens: Down with the McWhings, 1896, was the self-important British writer Marie Corelli.  The Flame-Flower and Other Stories, 1896, contained the novella "The Island of Dr. Menu," a satire on H. G. Wells.  Other collections include So the World Goes, 1898, Here They Are!, 1899, and Here They Are Again!, 1900.

From the first issue of The Strand Magazine, Sullivan occupied the back pages of the magazine with a series of tales, many fantastical, under the heading of "The Queer Side of Things."  Nineteen of these stories are collected in Queer Side Stories, including one further tale about Moozeby.  Queer Side Stories is available online at Internet Archive.

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