My first monitoring on Monday – Morgana will descend upon my class without warning – some time between 0800 and 1500 – coldly observe my failings, nod grimly, make notes in human blood, and later advise me of her findings. Earlier she said: “By the way, Elberry, can you arrange things so I don’t have to rip your head off on Monday?” then gave me one of her looks. She could as well have said:

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

There is no sophistry in my body:

My manners are tearing off heads –


The allotment of death.

For the one path of my flight is direct

Through the bones of the living.

Coming home i read Nige’s post about Thomas Browne’s stolen skull:

Sir Thomas’s coffin is in the chancel of the church. It was accidentally opened in 1840, and some bright spark took the skull – theft of skulls was a common weakness of craniologically obsessed Victorians – and presented it to the museum of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where it was on display for 80-odd years before being restored to its proper place (after casts had been taken). Readers of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings Of Saturn will recall his meditations on the fate of Browne’s skull, and readers of Sir Thomas himself will recall that he wrote in his Hydriotaphia, or Urne Buriall: ‘Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?… To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking bowls and our bones turned into pipes, to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations.’

i was reminded of the strange and grisly fate of Milton’s cadaver, torn apart by a mob of drunken souvenir-hunters:

According to Neve’s account, the group fell upon Milton and plucked out the choice bits. Fountain, the guy who ran the pub, wanted Milton’s upper teeth, and when they resisted, “someone hit them a knock with a stone, when they easily came out.”

Laming, the pawnbroker, couldn’t seem to make up his mind; it all must have looked so good. He pocketed a tooth from the upper jaw and one from the lower. He handled the entire lower jaw, but decided against it and tossed it back into the coffin. He reached down into the shroud — one can imagine him plunging his arm into the dark reaches up to his shoulder — and came up with a leg bone that he discarded as well. He settled at last for the hair, which had been carefully combed and tied.

After they left, a gravedigger by the name of Elizabeth Grant took over. With considerable business acumen, she dragged the coffin under a pew. For a fee, she would like a candle, peel back the top and let the customer get an eyeful. She enlisted the help of some workmen to collect admission and keep an eye on the windows to make sure no one got in without paying. Business must not have been very good; she asked for sixpence at first, cut it in half, and then lowered it to twopence.

i know a few living people who were relatively famous in their past lives – not household names, but within certain circles, yes. i think fame is not accidental – it seems somehow a quality of the soul, that it mesmerises even second or third or fourth hand – as Peter Kingsley says of Empedocles, that he fascinates not because we know lots of interesting things about the man, but because he was, in Kingsley’s words, “a sorcerer” – that is, he carried greater native energy. What we call fame is (i speculate) a conjunction of this deeper energy, and something in the person’s life – so, for example, someone i knew in my last life was quite well known at the time but is now strictly a private individual. He continues to exert a certain fascination, but it lacks the amplifying circumstance of his last life, so no fame for him, hurrah.

i was once half-drawn to writerly fame. Now it seems unnecessary. If you do good work you do not require sales, reviews, prizes, awards, titles; you don’t even require readers. The work itself suffices, amply. Everything else is incidental.

They say Orpheus was ripped apart by a mob of enraged women. There are many possible motives – that the women were in a religious frenzy and he just happened to be in their way, or that they were enraged by his indifference to women, after the death of Eurydice. Orpheus was a gifted musician, and it is said the animals and even the trees would move to his song; the women, in one version of the tale, were screaming so loudly they could not hear his music – but i wonder also if they killed him not because they were deaf to his song, but precisely because they were so moved – that like The Beatles’ hysterical fans, they acted out of a kind of adoration – perhaps, also, they were moved by his fame as much as his music. In this version, Orpheus was killed by his fame, torn apart in life as Milton was in death. i think i see why General Patton was circumspect about his other lives – common sense, since most people would just lazily assume he was insane or lying; and if anyone actually believed him, well – think of Orpheus, think of Milton.

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