In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace

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Lord Wilmore

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In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« on: February 20, 2010, 07:52:41 AM »
I've managed to track an online version of Irving Wallace's book THE SQUARE PEGS: Some Americans Who Dared to be Different, a book on the value of eccentricity. Its relevance to the Flat Earth movement is that it contains a chapter on Wilbur Glenn Voliva. This is actually a fascinating book, and I think that its one that both FE'ers and RE'ers alike can enjoy.

If you click here you'll find the full book with a PDF available for download, but I'm also going to copy, slightly reformat and paste the first chapter which is partly on Voliva so people can read it here with ease. The only downside is that there appear to be some pages missing near the beginning, which is very unfortunate.

I apologise if there are any typos, but I just don't have time to go through and correct them, though I spotted a few.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 07:58:16 AM by Lord Wilmore »
"I want truth for truth's sake, not for the applaud or approval of men. I would not reject truth because it is unpopular, nor accept error because it is popular. I should rather be right and stand alone than run with the multitude and be wrong." - C.S. DeFord


Lord Wilmore

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Re: In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2010, 07:53:09 AM »
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In Defense of the Square Peg

". . . a square person has squeezed himself into
the round hole"


On an autumn afternoon in 1932, when I was sixteen years old and filled with wonder, I sat in an office in the medieval American community of Zion City, Illinois, and heard a strange and wealthy man named Wilbur Glenn Voliva tell rne that the world was not round. "The world is flat
like a saucer," Voliva said. "The North Pole is in the center of the flat earth, and the South Pole is a great ice barrier around the rim. The sky is a solid dome above, like an inverted blue basin, and the sun, the moon, the stars hang from it like a chandelier from a ceiling."

This theory, with which I was already familiar, made a deep impression on me, not so much for its scientific stimulation as for its oddity. It was to this incredible interview that I like to attribute my first interest in the role played by the extreme individualist and nonconformist in our society. Furthermore, it was to this interview, I suppose, that I must trace the beginnings of this biography of American eccentricity.

Of course, I had always known about Wilbur Glenn Voliva. I had been raised to maturity in the shadow of his singular personality. During the first eighteen years of my life I dwelt with my parents in the small, pleasant, half-rural, half-

(Pages 4 and 5 appear to be missing)

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of Zion City, had been one John Alexander Dowie, a Scot who studied for the ministry at Edinburgh University and then went on to establish a pastorate near Sydney, Australia. In 1888 Dowie brought his theories of faith healing to America. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago he pitched a tent, and there, as Prophet Elijah III, competed with John Philip Sousa and Sandow for customers. He soon had 50,000 followers and sufficient funds to purchase ten square miles of land on the shores of Lake Michigan north of Chicago and establish his private religious settlement, Zion City. From the pulpit of his enormous Christian Apostolic Church he thundered forth against the sins of sex, oysters, and life insurance. He built huge lace, candy, and furniture factories, and he made $20,000,000.

When he tried to spread his gospel Dowie met his first reverses. He failed in New York, in London, and finally in Mexico. In desperation, he sent to Australia for one of his most successful assistant prophets, a thirty-seven-year-old Indiana-born preacher named Wilbur Glenn Voliva. By the time Voliva reached Zion City, old Dowie had suffered a par- alytic stroke. In a moment of weakness, he gave Voliva power of attorney, and Voliva savagely turned upon him. In 1905 Voliva ordered his superior suspended from the church and exiled from Zion City on the charges that he had appropriated $2,000,000 of community funds for private luxuries and that he had engaged in polygamy. Dowie was driven to insanity and finally to his death two years later. Thereafter, Voliva was dictator, and the 6,000 persons who depended upon his tabernacle for spiritual comfort and upon his industries for physical sustenance were entirely in his grip.

Yet, when I was led into his presence in an expansive office of Shiloh House on the day of our appointment, I was agree-
ably surprised. In his record I had read only ruthlessness, and I had been apprehensive. But seated in the straight chair behind his walnut desk, he had the look of a benevolent businessman. His head was massive, partially bald, and his eyes

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were quick. He closely* resembled portraits I had seen of President William McKinley, but when he grasped his black satin robe and began to speak, it was not McKinley but Savonarola.

Voliva made it plain at once that the Bible was his entire scientific library. Astronomers were "ignorant fools." The Scriptures suggested a flat world, and Voliva was a fundamentalist. The earth was as "flat as a saucer, a pancake, a stove lid." It was surrounded by an enormous wall of ice that was the South Pole. "That barrier exists," he said. "If you doubt me, then go read the testimony of Sir James Ross, the only explorer who ever went all the way around the world near the inside of the ice wall, sailing some sixty thousand miles and taking nearly four years to make the trip. The Byrd expedition was only further proof of that wall. They found an unconquerable barrier what I call the falling-oif place, the end of the world."

Voliva's conception of the universe, with its blue, solid roof, was equally bizarre. "Books tell you the sun is ninety-three million miles away," he said. "That's nonsense. The sun is only three thousand miles away, and is only thirty-two miles in diameter. It circles above the plane earth, spirally, and makes one circuit every twenty-four hours, always at the same height. All that talk about the rising and setting sun is an optical illusion." On another occasion, when asked to explain why he thought the sun so near the earth, he remarked: "God made the sun to light the earth, and therefore must have placed it close to the task it was designed to do. What would you think of a man who built a house in Zion and put a lamp to light it in Kenosha, Wisconsin?"

During our hour meeting, I timorously suggested that I had prepared a scientific list of proofs usually given in support of a globular earth. These proofs were, indeed, sophomoric, but they were the best I knew at that time, and I thought they would serve to draw Voliva out. With great forbearance, he asked for my proofs. I presented them in the

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form of a series of questions. Why does a vessel disappear in the distance when it steams away? How can astronomers predict eclipses? Why is the earth's shadow on the moon round? How was Magellan able to circumnavigate the earth?

Obviously, Voliva had been through all this before, and he recited his answers as if by rote. "Ships don't disappear in the distance, at all You can see a ship twenty-five miles out at sea if you look through field glasses. According to scientists, the curvature of the earth for those twenty-five miles, allowing for refraction, should be three hundred and fifty-eight feet. If the earth is round, how can you see your ship over a hump of water three hundred and fifty-eight feet high? . . . Modern astronomers weren't the first to predict eclipses. Before Columbus, when sensible people knew the world was flat, they were constantly predicting eclipses with accuracy. One old-time scientist, who knew the earth was flat, predicted fifteen thousand eclipses and they all turned out exactly right. As for that round shadow on the moon, the flat earth would still cast a round shadow. A saucer is round, isn't it? ... Of course Magellan sailed around the world and came back to where he started. He went around the flat earth exactly as a Victrola needle goes around a phonograph record. Millions of men have sailed around the world from east to west, and west to east. It can be done on a saucer, too. But do you know of anyone who has ever sailed around the world from north to south? Of course not. Those who tried fell off . That's why so many explorers have disappeared."

Well, that all took place in 1932, and now it seems very long ago. The depression years ruined Voliva's industries, rival churches moved their missionaries in to destroy his religious control, and finally a newly enlightened generation rejected his candidates at the polls. His grip was broken. By the time he died, in October 1942, Zion City had cigarettes, pork, lipstick, and a physician at last.

Wilbur Glenn Voliva was wrong, of course. He was a

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throwback to a darker era of ignorance and superstition. He was a bigot. He was a tyrant. Perhaps he was even a fool. He stood for nothing I then believed or now believe. But occasionally, still, I remember him with grateful affection. For, by his existence, he taught me two lessons: first, that I must never forget Voltaire's promise to Rousseau: "I do not believe in a word that you say, but I will defend with my life, if need be, your right to say it"; and second, that I must never forget that the nonconformist, no matter how eccentric, no matter if pathetically wrong or divinely right, deserves tolerance, respect, and the human freedom to be different.

The high school debate?

My colleagues and I won it easily. The judges, you see, were also no more than aged sixteen and they, too, in those shining years, had not yet become the fainthearted captives of conformity.

If it was Voliva who stimulated my first interest in nonconformity, it was certainly the venerable Sydney Smith, English preacher, editor, and wit, who inadvertently suggested the framework for this biographical examination of eccentricity. During the course of a lecture delivered before the Royal Institution in 1824, Smith stated:

"If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table, of different shapes, some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong, and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole. The officer and the office, the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly that we can say they were almost made for each other."

While Smith's graphic analogy was meant to illustrate the variance between most people and the roles assigned to them in life, it was corrupted by a passage of time to mean something quite different. For from this speech evolved the famil-

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iar expression "like a square peg in a round hole," indicating the unusual individualist who could not fit into a niche of his society. When I determined to investigate, and recount, in terms of human beings, the drama of Americans in history at odds with the mores of their times, I decided I would limit my search to Smith's "square person" or square peg who was trying to fit himself "into the round hole." To my mind, the square peg represented the eccentric personality, and the round hole represented the pattern of conformity demanded by the society in which he lived.

The usual dictionary definition of conformity is "correspondence in form, manner, or character; a point of resemblance, as of tastes . . . Harmony; agreement; congruity . . Action, or an act, of conforming to something established, as law or fashion; compliance; acquiescence." In short, the conformist moves in step with his fellows, following the social standards, established and supported by law, religion, and custom, generally practiced by the majority in his time. Various psychological tests, given through the years, have in- dicated that fromninety to ninety-eight persons out of every hundred conform to the dictates of their law, religion, and custom. They conform for many reasons: because it is easier and less exhausting; because it is simpler and less confusing; because it is safe and less dangerous; because it enhances the ego and invites less disapproval; because it is more relaxing and less lonely; and because it is a habit of long training, and less radical. No doubt, many of these very reasons for conformity had great appeal to Mary Shelley, who had lived with a total nonconformist for eight years. Shortly after the drowning of her poet-husband she was urged to send her son to an advanced school, where the boy might be encouraged to think for himself. "To think for himself!" she exclaimed. "Oh, my God, teach him to think like other people!"

The most spectacular type of nonconformist is, of course, the eccentric. The word itself derives from the Greek "out of the center." The historical and literary definition of eccen-

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tricky is "deviation from customary conduct; oddity . . . divergence from the usual." Psychiatric sources are even more explicit. According to one, eccentricity means "off center or unsyinmetrical with reference to a center; hence odd in behavior." According to another, eccentricity denotes "unusual freedom from conventional types of response."

While psychiatrists, in their exploration of eccentricity, have found that causes vary widely in individual cases, they have emerged with a few basic generalities. Most full-time eccentrics are regarded as psychopathic personalities who, in the words of a British psychiatric dictionary, "have been from childhood or early youth abnormal in their emotional reactions and in their general behavior, but who do not reach, except perhaps episodically, a degree of abnormality amounting to certifiable insanity, and who show no intellectual defect. They exhibit lack of perseverance, persistent failure to profit by experience, and habitual lack of ordinary prudence."

Dr. Eugen Kahn, who was Sterling Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, finds that most eccentrics, emerging from an insecure childhood, grow up in opposition to their environment, intent on making their way alone. Usually they become obsessed by some "overvalued idea," and their personalities are clouded by dementia praecox, excessive fanaticism, paranoia, and schizophrenia. They may be more imaginative and even more intelligent than the so-called average person, but at the same time they are likely to be more immature and impractical.

Above all, most psychiatrists seem to agree that the lot of the eccentric is unhappier than that of the conforming "average personality." If the eccentric is sufficiently integrated to succeed in some field, to gain wealth or power, he is admired and respected and his oddity is overlooked. But if the eccentric fails, he is pitied or ridiculed and shunned as something strange. Most often, the penalties for deviation from the norm are harsh. The eccentric is alone, suspected, and often hurt. Constantly he is hounded by society's watchdogs the

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government, the church, the social organization, the community and he suffers physical punishments such as arrest, exile, personal violence, or spiritual punishments in the form of social boycott and disapproval.

Yet, despite these unhappy prospects, men have continued to indulge in eccentricity sometimes because they could not do otherwise, but as often because they preferred the freer air of nonconformity. And all through history these few individualists, though often persecuted by the many, have had encouragement from the best minds of their day. Ralph Waldo Emerson dared, as we shall see, to flaunt public opinion in assisting the eccentric Delia Bacon. "The virtue in most request is conformity," wrote Emerson. "Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs . . . Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist."

In all ages the eccentric perhaps because of, and not in spite of, his nonconformity has furthered the cause of sci- ence, built great empires, improved the public welfare, and created memorable works of art. In their own time such men as Kant, Thoreau, Paganini, Pascal, Disraeli, Poe, Whitman, Heine, and Goldsmith were considered eccentric. History has recorded countless other names of rare individualists ranging from the poet Charles Baudelaire, with his green hair and his confessions of cannibalism, to the millionaire businessman Russell Sage, with his pride in eight-dollar suits and formal lunches at which he served only apples all of whom contributed to their contemporary society and to civilization. Yet, the major bequest of most eccentrics has been something less tangible. In subtle ways, they have helped their fellows profit by their original example. "Eccentrics do a lot of good," Henry Morton Robinson once wrote. "They point out what the rest of us forget the delightfully erratic possibilities of human life. They get far away from the good, the true, and the beautiful, substituting for this dour trinity

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the rarer qualities of the rare, the cuckoo, and the courageous."

Intolerance for the eccentric has known no geographical limits. Yet, possibly, in the West, Europe has been more appreciative of its irregular personalities than has America. Europe, with an older civilization and character, with sharper variety in its landscape and nationalities, with more differences in its systems of government and teachings and social life, has quite naturally bred a greater proportion of eccentrics and has learned to tolerate and even to encourage them. Especially is this true in Great Britain.

England has always had its eccentrics the French like to say that "the British prefer to walk in the road, although
there are pavements laid down for their convenience" and, generally, the English have been proud of their most outrageous nonconformists. Edith Sitwell tried to account for this happy condition in the security that Englishmen have always found in their superiority and tradition. "Eccentricity exists particularly in the English . . . because of that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and birthright of the British nation."

In discussing the Whig aristocracy of the eighteenth century in Melbourne, Lord David Cecil also examined this English phenomenon of nonconformity: "The conventions which bounded their lives were conventions of form only. Since they had been kings of their world from birth, they were free from the tiresome inhibitions that are induced by a sense of inferiority. Within the locked garden of their society, individuality flowered riotous and rampant. Their typical figures show up beside the muted introverts of to-day as clear-cut and idiosyncratic as characters in Dickens. They took for granted that you spoke your mind and followed your impulses. If these were odd, they were amused but not disapproving. They enjoyed eccentrics: George Selwyn, who never missed an execution, Beau Brummell, who took three
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 07:59:13 AM by Lord Wilmore »
"I want truth for truth's sake, not for the applaud or approval of men. I would not reject truth because it is unpopular, nor accept error because it is popular. I should rather be right and stand alone than run with the multitude and be wrong." - C.S. DeFord


Lord Wilmore

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Re: In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2010, 07:55:29 AM »
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hours to tie his cravat. The firm English soil in which they were rooted, the spacious freedom afforded by their place in the world, allowed personality to flourish in as many bold and fantastic shapes as it pleased."

In England, Utopia of the individualist, eccentricity has indeed taken on many bold and fantastic shapes. The nation's vast and continuing literature of oddity points with pride to unusual men and women who would have been quickly stunted or stoned in less amiable lands. While the English quality of eccentricity has been matched elsewhere as I shall attempt to demonstrate in this book nowhere else has as much sheer quantity of eccentricity been achieved. "Clearly, it is in the individualist phases of society," said Richard Aldington, "that the eccentric flourishes. In other epochs he becomes a heretic and goes up in flames, or is marked down as politically undesirable and is liquidated." In England the eighteenth century was particularly amenable to the unrestricted growth of the individualist. During sixty-nine years of that century there were born four classical examples of Sydney Smith's "square human."

In 1713 occurred the birth of Edward Wortley Montagu. His father was a millionaire member of Parliament renowned for his miserliness. His mother was the clever and eccentric "female traveler," Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who at- tained notoriety for her journeys in the Near East and fame for her remarkable letters. But, by a dint of perseverance, Edward Montagu exceeded his mother in eccentricity. As a boy he could curse in Greek and Turkish. At Oxford, when he was thirteen, he took his landlady for his mistress. He was an officer at the battle of Fontenoy, he was a member of Parliament for one month, and he was an outstanding Arabic scholar. He assumed, and discarded, almost as many religions as wives. He was a Protestant, then a convert to Catholicism, and at last a Mohammedan. At seventeen he married a washerwoman, and then, neglecting to divorce her, he was wedded successively to ,a Miss Elizabeth Ashe, to a Catholic

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widow named Caroline Feroe, and to an Egyptian serving-girl known as Ayesha.

At the age of sixty-three Montagu advertised for one more wife, demanding only that she be of "genteel birth, polished manners and five, six, seven or eight months gone in her pregnancy." This startled no one since, only three years before, at sixty, he had asked to be circumcised arguing that Abraham had been circumcised at ninety-nine so that he might make a pilgrimage to Mecca. His gaudy attire forever attracted crowds. He wore a turban and an embroidered coat with diamonds for buttons, but that was not all. "The most curious part of his dress," said Horace Walpole, "is an iron wig; you literally would not know it from hair." He was aware of his oddity, and no less proud. "I have never committed a small folly," he once remarked. He died in 1776.

William Beckford was sixteen years old when Montagu, whose Oriental manuscripts he would collect and translate, expired in Italy. Beckford followed in the capricious footsteps of his idol. When Beckford was still a child he inherited his father's West Indies plantations, one million pounds, and the family estate near the village of Fonthill in Wiltshire. His education was acquired through private tutors. He learned Arabic and Persian from an Orientalist, and he learned to play the piano from Wolfgang Mozart. He traveled to France, Portugal, and Italy. In Venice he supported an elderly mistress who had earlier entertained Casanova. Though he had married a lady of title, and had had four children, he was publicly accused of homosexuality. Scandalous rumor, which he never legally denied, revealed to the world that he had been seen committing perversion in Powderham with a young man named Courtenay.

Beckford wrote ten or eleven books, two under women's names. His masterpiece, admired by Lord Byron, was an Oriental romance entitled Vathek. He composed it in French, and then had a clergyman translate it back into his native English. He collected books both rare and popular, scribbled

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brilliant criticisms in their margins, and then offered these jottings for sale to the publisher Richard Bentley under the title of Fruits of Conceit and Flowers of Nonsense, but they were rejected as too controversial. He was certainly, as Richard Garnett remarked, "the most brilliant amateur in English literature." As such, he decided to build a monument to himself. In 1790 he told Lady Craven: "I grow rich and mean to build towers." He determined to abandon Fonthill and nearby erect the tallest private residence in all Europe.

Beckford hired the leading architect of the day, James Wyatt, and had him construct a wall twelve feet high and seven miles in circumference to keep out sight-seers. This done, work was promptly started on the Great Tower. Because of Beckford's impatience to see his monstrosity completed, 500 laborers were employed to work in two shifts half by sunlight and half by torchlight. In 1800 the flimsy timber-and-cement structure, set on a narrow base, was done. It rose 300 feet into the air and the very first mild wind broke it in two and sent it crashing to the ground.

Undeterred, Beckford ordered another Great Tower built on the rubble of the old. At an expenditure of 273,000 pounds, stone was added to the timber and cement, and the new 300-foot structure was finished in less than seven years. Beckford moved into one of its eighteen cramped, unventilated bedrooms. Here, with a Spanish dwarf in livery receiving guests, he entertained his friends, among them Lady Emma Hamilton, but refused to invite the curious Prince Regent. After fifteen years, having lost his income and his fortune, Beckford sold the tower for 330,000 pounds to a munitions dealer named John Farquhar. He was not surprised to learn that, shortly after his own removal to Bath, the tower again collapsed in a gale. On a hillside near Bath, Beckford built a third tower, this one a mere 130 feet in height, and peopled it with dwarfs. His aversions were mirrors and women (special niches were built in the corridors for his maids to hide in when he passed). Aged eighty-four, he died in 1844.

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As Beckford was a devotee of the arts, he may at some time have been witness to the dogged eccentricity of a contemporary named Robert Coates, who had been born in the West Indies in 1772. Coates, nicknamed Romeo for his passionate desire to act, and Diamond for his originality in attire, became stage-struck in his puberty. In 1809 he invaded perhaps assaulted would be the more accurate word the London theater. Often referred to as the Gifted Amateur, Coates devoted a long and riotous life to proving he was another Garrick. He was not, but he was certainly as entertaining. He liked to play Shakespeare, and he designed his own costumes for Hamlet and Macbeth as Romeo he appeared in white feather hat, spangled cloak, and pantaloons. He wore these same costumes in public. Before appearing in a Shake-
spearean play, he would rewrite it to suit his talents. "I think I have improved upon it," he told his shocked friends. In Romeo and Juliet he improved the ending by trying to pry open Juliet's tomb with a crowbar. If he particularly enjoyed playing a scene, he would repeat the same scene three times in one evening as his audiences sat stupefied. He was probably the worst actor in the history of the legitimate theater. Yet he tirelessly tramped up and down the British Isles declaiming from the boards. Year after year he was met with derision and catcalls and hilarity, but he persisted. At a performance in Richmond, several spectators were so shaken by laughter that a physician had to be summoned to attend them.

When theater managers, fearing violence, barred him from their stages, he bribed them to let him appear. When fellow thespians, fearing bodily injury, refused to act beside him, he provided police guards to reassure them. Eventually, by sheer persistence and by the audacity of his mediocrity, he became a legendary figure decked out in furs, jewels, and Hessian boots. He starred in London's leading theaters and responded to command performances before royalty. Nothing, it seemed, not criticism, not ridicule, not threats of lynching,

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could remove him from the footlights. Only death, it was agreed, might silence him and save the English stage. But he would not die. In his seventy-fourth year, reduced in circumstances, but spouting and gesturing still, he was as active as ever. But the year following, on an afternoon in 1 848, a carriage ran him down, and he died. Though English drama survived his passing, its comedy would never be the same again.

While perhaps no English eccentric would ever exceed Coates in audacity, it is possible that Charles Waterton, in his own field, was his match. Waterton was born of wealthy parents in Yorkshire during 1782. At the Jesuit College of Stonyhurst he demonstrated a talent for natural history. Sent to British Guiana to supervise the family plantations, he displayed the first evidences of his originality during a four-month sojourn in the Brazilian jungles. During this exploration Waterton sought the poison Indians used in their blow-guns, which he called wourali and which we know as curare. He hoped to employ this poison as a cure for hydrophobia. In the course of this and three other trips, Waterton performed incredible feats of oddity. Moving through the bush on bare feet, he captured a python by binding its head with his suspenders. On another occasion he was having some difficulty pulling a crocodile from the river. "I saw he was in a state of fear and perturbation. I instantly dropped the mast, sprang up, and jumped on his back." After riding the crocodile forty yards to the bank, Waterton relaxed only briefly. He became enchanted with the idea of having a vampire bat suck blood from his big toe. He took one into his sleeping quarters, and dozed with a foot nakedly exposed, but the reluctant bat preferred the less formidable toe of a neighbor.

Upon his father's death Waterton returned to England to become the twenty-seventh squire of Walton Hall. He decided to convert the family property into a bird sanctuary. He constructed an eight-foot barrier three miles around his grounds to keep out beasts of prey and hunters. He brought in an ex-poacher to serve as game warden, and he set up a

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telescope for use in bird-watching. His greatest pleasure was in clambering up trees and observing his creatures at close hand. When he had guests he would invite them to climb with him. At the age of eighty like "an adolescent gorilla," Norman Douglas observed he was still ascending trees. Occasionally, as when he visited Vatican City, he would climb something else. In 1817 he scaled St. Peter's to its summit, and then went thirteen feet higher to plant his gloves at the top of a lightning conductor. Pope Pius VII was unamused, and made him climb back up again to remove the gloves.

At Walton Hall, where no gunfire was permitted and where all dogs were confined, he dwelt as naturally as the first man on earth. He went about barefooted, prayed in a private chapel, slept on the floor of his bedroom with a block of oak for his pillow, and rose at four o'clock in the morning. He occupied himself by building a stable so arranged that his horses might converse, by playing practical jokes on friends (often pretending to be a dog and biting them), and by attempting to fly with the use of homemade wings. His hobby was taxidermy. Every nook of his house was filled with some strange, preserved specimen. Sometimes, like Frankenstein, he created composite creatures made of the parts of four animals. Because he was a Catholic he named many of these monsters after prominent Protestants. His favorite, with the head of a red howler monkey, was called The Nondescript and looked startlingly human.

On the rare occasions when Waterton left Walton Hall he was no less eccentric. He visited the London zoo to interview a savage orangutan recently imported from Borneo. Though warned that he would be torn apart, he insisted upon entering the cage. "The meeting of those two celebrities," said his friend Dr. Richard Hobson, "was clearly a case of love at first sight, as the strangers not only embraced each other most affectionately, but positively hugged each other and . . . kissed one another many times." Waterton visited Italy accompanied by a retinue of owls. And finally, excited

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by an American book on ornithology, he traveled to the United States in 1824. He saw New York and adored its women. He saw Charles Willson Peale, who had painted Washington, and who had four sons named Rembrandt, Raphael, Titian, and Rubens. He saw Niagara Falls, and having sprained his ankle and been advised that it should be immersed in water, held his ankle beneath the great Falls. The year after returning from America he published a successful account of his travels and explorations. In 1829, in Belgium, he met a convent girl who was the granddaughter of a Guiana Indian princess and thirty years his junior. He married her at four o'clock one May morning, and for their honeymoon took her to Paris to study stuffed birds. In his eighty-third year, on his estate, he tripped, fell against a log, and was seriously injured. He died in May 1865.

In the English atmosphere of conformity, mellowed by centuries of individualism, such extreme nonconformists as Waterton, Coates, Beckford, and Montagu met with little resistance. In the United States, with its deep-rooted and rigid Calvinistic beginnings, similar nonconformists grew and survived, but with far more difficulty and with far less tolerance. Many reasons have been put forward by sociologists, historians, and psychologists to explain the undeviating worship of group living and group thinking in America. James Bryce credited American conformity to uniform stretches of landscape, to uniform cities, to uniform political institutions in federal, state, and municipal government. Everywhere schools, libraries, clubs, amusements, and customs were similar. "Travel where you will," he wrote, "you feel that what you have found in one place that you will find in another."

Above all, there was the rapid advance of industrial science. In America an all-powerful technology, with its standardized techniques and methods of mass production, reached its zenith. As technology attracted larger numbers of people to urban centers, and compressed them into smaller areas, community living became a necessity. This, in turn, encour-

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aged people to co-operate, and created relationships that invited similar activities and opinions.

Gradually there emerged on the American scene, against all natural development of culture and against all individual traits inherent in every man, two striking attitudes that made American conformity broader, more unyielding, and more dangerous. The first attitude, assumed by the majority, was that the act of becoming average, of being normal, was more important than that of being distinct or superior. The second
attitude, also assumed by the majority, was that the state of being well adjusted to the crowd and the community was more important than that of being a unique and original human being.

Today this growing affection for the safety of the similar, the usual, and the accepted, and the consequent fear of any challenging ideas or personalities, presents a serious threat to the development of American society. But how then to allay this threat? What practical course is open? In his book Must You Conform? Dr. Robert Lindner supplied an answer:

"The first requisite for a teacher or parent who wishes to assist the evolutionary process by rearing our young toward genuine maturity is that he root out from himself every last vestige of the myth of adjustment. He must exorcise from his heart and mind, and from his behavior, adulation of the fiction of conformity that has brought society within sight of doomsday and that threatens to engulf the world in another long night of medievalism. He must deny that passivity, surrender, conformism and domestication pave the road to human happiness and salvation. Instead he must affirm the rights of protest and individuality, encourage uniqueness, and be unshaken in an abiding faith that only in these ways will he discover himself and the true vocation of his life."

To be one's self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity. That is the contention and that is the theme of this book. Sociologists and psychologists have, in the past, propa-

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gated this point of view in their own specialized terms. While my own interest, like theirs, is the human animal, I have preferred to dramatize the subject as storyteller and biographer.

Since 1932, when I met Wilbur Glenn Voliva, and since 1945, when I began to make notes on the gyrations of individualists who had swung away from the safety of society's center, I have been rather constantly in the company of the American eccentric. I have met him in the pages of yellowed newspapers, periodicals, and books. I have visited the arenas where once he performed, and have often seen his autograph on cracked documents and creased letters. For all of this, I may not have loved him, but I have known him well and respected him.

To be sure, I have not attempted to include every American eccentric in this modest examination. There were more of these unfettered souls than the reader may imagine, though, indeed, altogether too few for the nation's need. I have made hard choices. My formula has been simple: I would write not about celebrated men and women who were possessed of eccentricity, but rather about men and women who were celebrated for their eccentricity.

It was with genuine reluctance that I was forced to discard Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, Governor of New York in 1702, who charged admissions to his private dinners, wore his wife's dresses, and taxed all male colonists who used wigs; William Miller, the Massachusetts prophet of doom, who delivered 3,200 speeches predicting the end of the world in 1843 and sold muslin ascension robes at a profit; Hetty Green, the miser of Wall Street, who wore newspapers for undergarments, subsisted on onions and eggs, dwelt in a fireless tenement, permitted only the lower half of her petticoats to be laundered, and was worth eighty million dollars; and Joseph Palmer, a New Englander, who persisted in wearing a beard in a clean-shaven society and was jeered, beaten, and finally sentenced to jail for one year.

These eccentrics were good, but I feel I have settled upon
"I want truth for truth's sake, not for the applaud or approval of men. I would not reject truth because it is unpopular, nor accept error because it is popular. I should rather be right and stand alone than run with the multitude and be wrong." - C.S. DeFord


Lord Wilmore

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Re: In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2010, 07:56:08 AM »
(Page 23)

eight who were better. The nonconformists in this book represent the complete saga of American eccentricity from the days of the founding of the republic to modern times. Their stories are not success stories in the familiar language of accumulated wealth, power, fame, or contributions to their time. True, some, like George Francis Train, were rich, and some, like Victoria Woodhull, were politically renowned, and some, like Anne Royall, were pioneers in free speech. But such tangible accomplishments are not the point. For, what these eccentrics offer, beyond diversion, is the example of uninhibited personality in America, a trait so lacking in this highly organized age. By their presence in these pages it is my hope that some small boundaries of sympathy, understanding, and tolerance may be broadened.

Though these eccentrics contributed little to science, government, or the arts, it is my belief that they gave something of more value to their contemporaries and, as a consequence, to us, their heirs. A James Harden-Hickey can still remind us that the age of the plebiscite and the machine need not be an age without dreams and romance. A Delia Bacon can remind us that the libraries of scholarship, even if tidy and already filled, must always allow room for one more investigation, no matter how disorderly. A Timothy Dexter can remind us that public hearing and attention need not be the private prerogative of the formally educated and the well bred. A John Cleves Symmes can remind us that the frontiers of science and imagination must know no limits and no dogma, but that they may be crossed by anyone in the hope that once in a century, by a miracle of freedom and genius, a trespasser may contribute to the welfare of all humanity.

These are the square pegs who would not fit into round holes. They went backward when everyone went forward, and they went forward when everyone stood still. They said nay when others said aye, and they saw black when others saw white. Despite suffering, economic and spiritual, they refused to be garmented in the strait jacket of conformity.

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This, and no other, is their achievement and it is enough. For when our society no longer has a single square peg, when it no longer has a recalcitrant individual out of step, when it no longer has a voice that will rise to dissent and disagree and persist in an unorthodoxy, then, and only then, will man have lost his last battle and his last chance.

In 1859 I " 10 Stuart Mill, the brilliant and sensitive English political economist and philosopher, published On Liberty, In it he defended the square peg, and he wrote a warning to generations yet unborn:

"Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained."
"I want truth for truth's sake, not for the applaud or approval of men. I would not reject truth because it is unpopular, nor accept error because it is popular. I should rather be right and stand alone than run with the multitude and be wrong." - C.S. DeFord



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Re: In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2010, 08:01:34 AM »
Isn't this copyright infringement?


Lord Wilmore

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Re: In defense of the Square Peg by Irving Wallace
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2010, 08:07:03 AM »
Isn't this copyright infringement?

No, the Internet Archive is a perfectly legal organisation.
"I want truth for truth's sake, not for the applaud or approval of men. I would not reject truth because it is unpopular, nor accept error because it is popular. I should rather be right and stand alone than run with the multitude and be wrong." - C.S. DeFord