In quest for the romantic imagination (II): all roads lead to Xanadu. (2024)

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I. The story of Zenith: imagination bound

According to various critics, Sinclair Lewis's novel entitledBabbitt (1922) may have drawn inspiration from the life and works ofIrving Babbitt. The observation deserves attention: 1) if we bear inmind that the final message of Lewis's novel is that, eventually,conformism is the immense price that is necessary--in our predominantlycommercial culture--for its members to survive; and 2) if we considerthat in essence Irving Babbitt (1919: 387), the one secretly portrayedin Lewis's novel, was of the opinion that a "greatcivilization" is "in a sense only a great convention"--anidea that Lewis opposed, not in the sense that it was untrue, but in thesense that civilization should not be so.

A crucial theme of Lewis's novel is thus the necessity formankind to turn back to nature, which is a fundamental thesis ofRousseau's that was attacked expressly by Irving Babbitt. Anothertheme in the novel is the realization that the world of technology(which is a product of man's imagination) adds yet another effectof alienation of man in front of reality and nature, therefore ananti-romantic effect--similar to the effect of Irving Babbitt's owncriticism which was directed principally against the excesses of theromantics, even if also against the excesses of the neoclassics.

A few words about Sinclair Lewis are in order, if we are toevaluate the connection between his famous novel and Irving Babbitt, thescourge and demolisher of romanticism in its Rousseauistic variant.

Being the first American laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature(1930), Sinclair Lewis is the representative of "photographic"realism (cf. Whipple 1962: 71; Forster 1962: 95ff; Mumford 1962: 105;Grebstein 1962: 31), of social or critical realism, or of the"realism of revolt" (Kazin 1962: 120), i.e. born from thefight for freedom of expression, to which belong also writers likeSherwood Anderson, Floyd Dell, Zona Gale, Ring Lardner, etc. Even thoughhe is mainly considered a realist, Sinclair Lewis had romantic and vitalhumanistic tendencies, being anti-traditionalist and non-conformist. Hewas a master of "rushing narrative" (Arnold Bennett; Lewis1937: 232; cf. Hone 1962: 19), and he is considered a realistic idealistand a romantic satirist--a fighter in the Horatian sense of genusirritabile (Grebstein 1962: 165), "a sociological writer" with"a remarkable gift for rendering" the moral aspects of life(Ford 1962: 101), the "one real anatomist of the AmericanKultur" (Mencken; cf. Schorer 1961: 741; also Hutchisson 1996:203), the "flamboyant, driven, self-devouring genius from SaukCentre, Minnesota," "the conscience of his generation"(Grebstein 1962: 19, 7), "the bad boy of American letters,""our own Diogenes" (Parrington 1962: 62), "the AmericanDickens"--a descendant of F. Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman andTwain, who, similarly, attacked the effects of mass culture andstandardization of ideas and behaviour (Grebstein 1962: 29ff).

His creative mode of the "rushing narrative" reminds usof the effects of opium ingestion on literary creation (see infra), andis probably connected with his many alcoholic excesses, which werejustified perhaps also by his having avowedly embraced Hemingway'snotion that drunkenness is "one of man's eternal ways tohappiness" (cf. Sinclair Lewis's 1930 Nobel Lecture, TheAmerican fear of literature). Sinclair Lewis was the authentic, ifremote, echo of Rousseau and of the golden hopes of Enlightenment(Parrington 1962: 70), so it was natural for him to react against thecritic Irving Babbitt who hated Rousseauism for its many excesses. Lewiswas lastly considered "the historian of America's catastrophicgoing-to-pieces" (Cantwell 1962: 118), a great natural force, likean "aurora borealis" (Rebecca West; cf. Grebstein 1962: 28).

Sinclair Lewis is the one who gave an analysis of the America ofthe 1920s which is valid also today, his prophecies becoming truths thatare valid today, and his fears becoming also our crucial concerns today.The titles from today's newspapers, for instance, remind us ofLewis's repeated warning: namely, that if we shall create a highmaterial culture without creating as well an equally high culture ofbeauty, moral decency and tolerance for individual differences, we willtotally fail (Grebstein 1962: 33, 34, 64, 118, 137, 166). Sinclair Lewisproclaimed himself a romantic, i.e. the harbinger of a revolt againstAmerican society because it no longer contained anything of thepicturesque edenic structure of the feudal culture which Lewisassociated with a rich and stable culture.

In this acceptation as a mass romanticist, we may consider SinclairLewis's novel Babbitt as a fiction meant to suggest the personalityof Irving Babbitt the critic, in an attempt to denounce thecritic's failures, as well as the failures of the society in whichhe lived. In this sense, we can by all means take at face value SinclairLewis's own confession (expressed in the Introduction to Selectedshort stories, 1935), that he was "a romantic medievalist of themost incurable sort" (cf. Grebstein 1962: 20), who started hiscareer as a writer under the heavy influence of Kipling's"romantic realism."

In the modern world of George Babbitt's city of Zenith, theperception of romanticism underwent mutations (as we shall later see,"mutation" is a key factor in the opium "equation"):

To them, the Romantic Hero was no longer the knight, the wanderingpoet, the cowpuncher, the aviator, nor the brave young districtattorney, but the great sales-manager, who had an Analysis ofMerchandizing Problems on his glass-topped desk, whose title of nobilitywas "Go-getter," and who devoted himself and all his youngsamurai to the cosmic purpose of Selling--not of selling anything inparticular, for or to anybody in particular, but pure Selling. (Lewis2014: 127-128)

The "law-abiding," "dull" and"obvious" city of Zenith itself becomes a character inLewis's story, of a rank near a modern version of paradise city ona grand, if totally mechanized and standardized (hence unhumanlyartificial), scale:

[T]he great city of Zenith--an ancient settlement in 1897, onehundred and five years old, with two hundred thousand population, thequeen and wonder of all the state and, to the Catawba boy, GeorgeBabbitt, so vast and thunderous and luxurious that he was flattered toknow a girl ennobled by birth in Zenith. (Lewis 2014: 79)

"Zenith's a city with gigantic power--gigantic buildings,gigantic machines, gigantic transportation," meditated Doane. /"I hate your city. It has standardized all the beauty out of life.It is one big railroad station--with all the people taking tickets forthe best cemeteries," Dr. Yavitch said placidly. (Lewis 2014: 89)

Despite all its shortcomings, Zenith (and conceivably the citycalled "Monarch," described as the "a lot sportier""chief rival" in the state) is the archetype of the prosperouscity, the "finest spot on earth," after whose"perfections" all American cities aspire, and whose main"luxuries" are "dance-halls, movie-theaters, androad-houses" (cf. Lewis 2014: 157, 141, 106, 299):

Every small American town is trying to get population and modernideals. And darn if a lot of 'em don't put it across! Somebodystarts panning a rube crossroads, telling how he was there in 1900 andit consisted of one muddy street, count 'em, one, and nine hundredhuman clams. Well, you go back there in 1920, and you find pavements anda swell little hotel and a first-class ladies' ready-to-wearshop--real perfection, in fact! You don't want to just look at whatthese small towns are, you want to look at what they're aiming tobecome, and they all got an ambition that in the long run is going tomake 'em the finest spots on earth--they all want to be just likeZenith! (Lewis 2014: 106)

Zenith is thus "the finest example of American life andprosperity to be found anywhere," (Lewis 2014: 162) seeming to bein fact the future projection of the new "standard" paradisecity, which will replace everywhere in the world the old"classic" earthly-paradise version:

[I]t's here in Zenith, the home for manly men and womanlywomen and bright kids, that you find the largest proportion of theseRegular Guys, and that's what sets it in a class by itself;that's why Zenith will be remembered in history as having set thepace for a civilization that shall endure when the old time-killing waysare gone forever and the day of earnest efficient endeavor shall havedawned all round the world! [...] I tell you, Zenith and hersister-cities are producing a new type of civilization. There are manyresemblances between Zenith and these other burgs, and I'm darnglad of it! The extraordinary, growing, and sane standardization ofstores, offices, streets, hotels, clothes, and newspapers throughout theUnited States shows how strong and enduring a type is ours. (Lewis 2014:165)

In this sense, it is not accidental that Lewis introduces into hisnarrative Chicago's "modest Eden Hotel," which Zenithbusinessmen are said to always stay at when on visit there (cf. Lewis2014: 216), as if to direct attention to the biblical garden of Eden,here represented by a new (if unlikely) avatar. In the "great gameof vital living" Zenith--"the choosiest inland city in thecountry" that stands "in the van of spiritual and New Thoughtprogress" (cf. Lewis 2014: 167, 177, 316)--is extolled for itsidealism and brotherhood (both romantic attributes), but mostly for theparadisian material abundance that it represents (both natural andtechnological, including food in industrial quantities like"condensed milk" and "evaporated cream,""package-butter," "cheese" and " breakfastfood"), which only very remotely, if at all, reminds us ofXanadu's romantic cornucopia at its best symbolized inColeridge's poem by the "milk of paradise" and thenatural luxuriance (see infra Marco Polo's magnificentdescriptions):

Zenith manufactures more condensed milk and evaporated cream, morepaper boxes, and more lighting-fixtures, than any other city in theUnited States, if not in the world. [...] [W]e also stand second in themanufacture of package-butter, sixth in the giant realm of motors andautomobiles, and somewhere about third in cheese, leather findings, tarroofing, breakfast food, and overalls! Our greatness, however, lies notalone in punchful prosperity but equally in that public spirit, thatforward-looking idealism and brotherhood, which has marked Zenith eversince its foundation by the Fathers. [...] [W]e have a duty toward ourfair city, to broadcast the facts about our high schools, characterizedby their complete plants and the finest school-ventilating systems inthe country, bar none; our magnificent new hotels and banks and thepaintings and carved marble in their lobbies; and the Second NationalTower, the second highest business building in any inland city in theentire country. [...] [W]e have an unparalleled number of miles of pavedstreets, bathrooms, vacuum cleaners, and all the other signs ofcivilization; [...] our library and art museum are well supported andhoused in convenient and roomy buildings; [...] our park-system is morethan up to par, with its handsome driveways adorned with grass, shrubs,and statuary, [...]. [And this is] but a hint of the all-round unlimitedgreatness of Zenith! [...] [W]e have one motor car for every five andseven-eighths persons in the city, [this being a] practical indicationof the kind of progress and braininess which is synonymous with the nameZenith! (Lewis 2014: 167-168)

Of course, in the statistical enumeration above, the fractionalnumber of "five and seven-eighths" persons is possibly usedironically to point out the state of fragmentation in our modern societyand the ruthless coldness of strict numbers. Also, it should be notedthat Lewis's above-mentioned idea of a "New Thoughtprogress" may hide in it a critique of Irving Babbitt's newhumanism. Zenith's ruthless, contradictory and fragmentedoligarchical structure--based on a slavery system (reminiscent of animperial social system) whose slavery is not directly apparent (andmight again hide a critique of Irving Babbitt's system based onclassical strict rigour)--is best pointed out in the following fragment:

Out of the dozen contradictory Zeniths which together make up thetrue and complete Zenith, none is so powerful and enduring yet none sounfamiliar to the citizens as the small, still, dry, polite, cruelZenith of the William Eathornes; and for that tiny hierarchy the otherZeniths unwittingly labor and insignificantly die. (Lewis 2014: 190)

Lewis's "unromantic," yet rebellion-seeking Babbittfrom Zenith is an American self-sufficient businessman (a house seller),a stereotypical character, the conflicting and allegorical expression ofthe ego in its battle with its own shadow, i.e. the negative,restrictive aspects: the classical pole.

We are dealing here with the ego caught in the"inter-world" between the romantic universe and the classicaluniverse: we find Lewis's Babbitt driving on the mainstreets of thecity and feeling "superior and powerful, like a shuttle of polishedsteel darting in a vast machine" (Lewis 2014: 46). He is deeplyaffected by the call of the wild, by the wish for beauty, by the wish tohave been a pioneer like his grandfather; by the romantic desire toreturn to nature, to the healing wilderness. Thus, Lewis's Babbittembraces an American attitude that back then was already familiar,namely the longing for a non-urban renewal or rebirth, precisely inorder to find the beauty that he senses in his romantic fantasiesconcerning the "fairy child" of his dreams, fantasies thatappear only in places from nature, "on a shadowy hillside,""beyond misty waters," in "mysterious groves,"gardens, heaths or moors, or at sea (cf. Love 1982: 236)--therefore inhis terrestrial-paradise locations that may remotely remind us ofXanadu, since at the very moment Lewis introduces his Babbitt, heassociates the latter's romantic dreamy second nature with Chineseculture:

[...] Babbitt was again dreaming of the fairy child, a dream moreromantic than scarlet pagodas by a silver sea. (Lewis 2014: 2)

Yet, Zenith's rebellious "Bohemia" (which is a traceof the old romanticism of a Byron or Shelley advocating free love andtotal freedom) is, as suggested by Hutner (2010: xiii), only at best"a tame place," whose citizens George Babbitt does not take soseriously. Lewis's Zenith is possibly modeled on Duluth or St. Paulin Minnesota, or on Akron, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids or Omaha (Hutner2010: ix)--suggesting an inverted, anti-romantic, anti-hedonic kind ofXanadu, wherein, as Hutner (2010: xi) points out, "culturalanxieties" are "vigurously suppressed," therewithimagination being bound. Lewis mentions some of these cities in acontext in which he underlines their "purity" and"power," "stability," "greatness" and"reality":

[I]t's because Zenith has so large a proportion of such men[the Real He-man] that it's the most stable, the greatest of ourcities. New York also has its thousands of Real Folks, but New York iscursed with unnumbered foreigners. So are Chicago and San Francisco. Oh,we have a golden roster of cities--Detroit and Cleveland with theirrenowned factories, Cincinnati with its great machine-tool and soapproducts, Pittsburg and Birmingham with their steel, Kansas City andMinneapolis and Omaha that open their bountiful gates on the bosom ofthe ocean-like wheatlands, and countless other magnificentsister-cities, for, by the last census, there were no less thansixty-eight glorious American burgs with a population of over onehundred thousand! And all these cities stand together for power andpurity, and against foreign ideas and communism--Atlanta with Hartford,Rochester with Denver, Milwaukee with Indianapolis, Los Angeles withScranton, Portland, Maine, with Portland, Oregon. A good live wire fromBaltimore or Seattle or Duluth is the twin-brother of every like fellowbooster from Buffalo or Akron, Fort Worth or Oskaloosa! (Lewis 2014:164-165)

Lewis's fictional Babbitt, however, fails in his romanticattempt to get back to nature because the city of Zenith reclaims him(cf. also Love 1982: 237), the latter itself failing to offer realfreedom to its citizens. In this sense, Hutner keenly observed thefollowing:

Babbitt or Zenith itself are symptoms of an age in sorry need ofremembering lessons in freedom, especially the freedom of the individualto create an identity and to fulfil to the limit one's sense ofself. Babbitt-the-businessman shows how far we have to go in strippingaway the social fabric of the self, while Zenith reveals how obdurateare the forces that go into that fabrication. (Hutner 2010: xvii)

Lewis may have thus fictionalized in this novel IrvingBabbitt's deep interest for the romantic equation as reflectedespecially in Rousseau's works, laying stress on the fact thatBabbitt the critic had failed in his analysis of romanticism, becausecivilization (therefore convention and conformism) absorbed him, just asthe pleasure dome in Xanadu absorbs Coleridge's Kubla Khan, and asthe "Xanadian" / paradisian delights of the creativeimagination absorb the mind of the artist Coleridge himself may havefallen into a similar trap: he was absorbed by the narcotic delightsthat opium ingestion temporarily offered him, and so had to finally paythe price: depression as the hellish reverse side of the gold or silvertalent of paradise (for details, see infra The price of the milk ofparadise).

The defects of the terrestrial-paradise metropolis of Zenith areclearly delineated, from the very first lines of Lewis's celebratednovel: it is in reality a human desert, and only with here and there apossible (if at all) little island of peace and joy and happiness.George F. Babbitt's own (thriving) residential district in Zenithis called "Floral Heights," suggesting that in the middle ofthe desert it is still possible to build a paradise, even if this isonly an artificial or a would-be or a false or a pseudo-paradise--apossibility which yet again reminds us of the situation inColeridge's myth of Xanadu, since we know that the story of thedamsel with the dulcimer and of the so-called Tartar youth which isinserted into the poem makes reference to Aloadine's Mohammedanparadise described by Marco Polo to actually be a fool's paradise,since soldiers like the Tartar youth were made to believe theyexperienced paradise, when in fact what they experienced was the secretpalace of Aloadine in which they--after being inebriated--had beenpampered with all sorts of pleasures in order to become convinced togive their lives for Aloadine, because death would mean a return to thatparadise of Xanadu's secret precincts of delight (see infra MarcoPolo's reports). Likewise, for Coleridge himself opium was theenchanting agent by which he got access to artificial (if divine-seemingand awesome) delights, while still being in the midst of a desert (seeinfra his Letter to the Rev. George Coleridge, dated April 1798).

What is more, these artificial or fake islands of peace and joy inZenith, we are told, are isolated from the main body of the depressivecity, which retains a connection with Europe's Paris andAsia's Peking through telegraph operators--there is in this detailyet another strange connection with Xanadu: what is now Peking in the13th century was the capital, then named Ta-tu, set up by no other thanthe historical Kublai Khan:

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towersof steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate assilver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly andbeautifully office-buildings. / The mist took pity on the frettedstructures of earlier generations: the Post Office with itsshingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of hulking old houses,factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden tenements colored likemud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but the clean towers werethrusting them from the business center, and on the farther hills wereshining new houses, homes--they seemed--for laughter and tranquillity. /Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiselessengine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-nightrehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerablyilluminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze ofgreen and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twentylines of polished steel leaped into the glare. / In one of theskyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing down. Thetelegraph operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades after anight of talking with Paris and Peking. [...] Cues of men withlunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of new factories, sheets ofglass and hollow tile, glittering shops where five thousand men workedbeneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares that would be sold up theEuphrates and across the veldt. The whistles rolled out in greeting achorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of labor in a city built--itseemed--for giants. (Lewis 2014: 1)

A city built for giants, in which, however, George Babbitt is apigmy, as we are given to understand (Love--1982: 234--calls him a"midget"). That Lewis had in mind a failed human universeburdened with unreal pseudo-images (whose functions are to compensatefor the failures proper) throughout his novel, is shown by lines such asthe following:

To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, hismotor car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism. The office was hispirate ship but the car his perilous excursion ashore. (Lewis 2014: 21)

In the city of Zenith, in the barbarous twentieth century, afamily's motor indicated its social rank as precisely as the gradesof the peerage determined the rank of an English family--[...]. (Lewis2014: 66)

It would appear that Lewis saw in Irving Babbitt's medial wayyet another expression of standardization. Lewis thus has Seneca Doane(a radical socialist lawyer) defend classical standards of taste andattack standardized thinking, as if in order to embody in Doane'sview the pros and cons as regards the levelling middle way of astandardization of life:

You make me sick, Kurt, with your perpetual whine about"standardization." Don't you suppose any other nation is"standardized"? Is anything more standardized than England,with every house that can afford it having the same muffins at the sametea-hour, and every retired general going to exactly the same evensongat the same gray stone church with a square tower, and every golfingprig in Harris tweeds saying "Right you are!" to every otherprosperous ass? Yet I love England. And for standardization just look atthe sidewalk cafes in France and the love-making in Italy! /Standardization is excellent, per se. [...] [W]hat I fight in Zenith isstandardization of thought, and, of course, the traditions ofcompetition. The real villains of the piece are the clean, kind,industrious Family Men who use every known brand of trickery and crueltyto insure the prosperity of their cubs. The worst thing about thesefellows is that they're so good and, in their work at least, sointelligent. You can't hate them properly, and yet theirstandardized minds are the enemy. (Lewis 2014: 89-90)

In this sense, it has been pointed out by Cantwell (1962: 117) thatLewis's novel characters are not in fact romantic rebels dedicatedto a fight, but are rather "self-dramatists," whoseimaginations bloom by avoiding the conflict, not in order to play aByronian role for which to assume responsibility, but in order to hidetheir true reactions and real problems that burden them, a fact provenfor instance by the fact that Lewis's heroes are always in the campof the enemy, the only one who manages to free himself being Arrowsmith,the exemplary scientist, whom Lewis transformed, according to Kazin(1962: 124), into a "gangling romantic American hero."Thoreau's Walden is thus the essential romantic work which deeplyimpressed Lewis, becoming for him the vision of Mecca, the redeemingromantic solution for Arrowsmith: withdrawing to the forest, the neweden of mankind. Lewis thus inherited from romantics like Emerson andThoreau the hate against conformism, materialism, hypocrisy andaffectation.

What Lewis wants to symbolize through Zenith (and Gopher Prairiefrom his novel Main Street) is the "[l]ife dehumanized byindifference or enmity to all human values." According to Whipple(1962: 72), this is the key for Zenith, as a "city of thedead," or through a Coleridgean lense (which we believe is acrucially relevant way to look at Zenith)--a Xanadu seen as aFool's Paradise, whereinto also the author-creator himself may fallif he indulges too much or at all in the ghostly evanescent delights ofopium, forgetting that there is also a price to be paid for them: theterrors of opium (see infra).

Zenith is thus the pseudo-edenic city of people lacking sensory,intellectual and affective life, the city of people who have become"horrible ciphers, empty of personality or individualconsciousness, rigidly controlled by set social responses," asSchorer (1962: 50) explained, making up a "nonsocial world,""a fantastic world dominated by monstrous parodies of humannature" (as would occur in an opium nightmare!), in which eachindividual is dominated by the wish to be glorified--perhaps also like aKublai Khan in Xanadu. In such pseudo-paradise, conversation isbuffoonery, affection is noise, joy is pretence, and business is a madrush after nothingness.

Hence, Geismar's (1962: 134) and Whipple's (1962: 74)idea that Babbitt is located in fact in Hell, so that the name of thecity of Zenith denotes its opposite, the spiritual Nadir, just asColeridge's Xanadu has in its background Aloadine's story of aFool's Paradise and Coleridge's own story of the making of thepoem by the artificial stimulation produced by "two grains ofOpium" (as Coleridge himself confessed; see infra). Zenith is thusaccording to (Geismar 1947: 96) a poetic vision almost perfectlyconceived of as "a perfectly [...] standardized hinterland."Zenith is the "perfection of mechanical luxury," in which theonly flaw is the fact that the city is simply inhuman, life here beingdehumanized by the indifference or the enmity against all human values,a situation valid also for Gopher Prairie (i. e. Sauk Centre) in MainStreet, and manifest in the hostility against truth and art (cf. Whipple1962: 74ff). Of course, the dehumanization factor reminds us ofColeridge's other masterpiece, The rime of the Ancient Mariner, inwhich the Mariner is subject to human regression.

Both fundamental cities in Lewis's works (Zenith fromWinnemac, and Gopher Prairie from Minnesota) are governed by thephilosophy of self-praise, pride, boast, and hollow optimism and fakemirth which lead to hypocrisy. Yet both cities give a conventionalizedanswer to culture: 1) in Gopher Prairie there is Thanatopsis Club(thanatopsis = Greek "vision of death"; a name that wasprobably suggested by William Cullen Bryant's poem): this is themain cultural force of the city, led by the most eminent ladies, whoattend conferences on the English poets; and 2) in Zenith there is asymphonic orchestra which is promoted as instrument for civicadvertisem*nt.

And yet, the cities from the world depicted by Lewis areintellectually dead, the people here being firm in their decision to notlet anybody live, i.e. express themselves or develop intellectualy orspiritually (Whipple 1962: 73). Wilson (1962: 140, 142) observed in thisrespect a single exception from this rule in Lewis's works: thecity Grand Republic from Minnesota (from the novel Cass Timberlane),which is a place where we can imagine we may wish to live, because it isnot, like Gopher Prairie or Zenith, a Dantean "circle ofHell." In this sense, Lewis was perhaps rightly called "thescourge" of American cities and villages (Love 1982: 219). CarolKennicot of the city of Gopher Prairie in Main Street, for instance,imagined the ideal paradisian location for her "a reed hut onfantastic piles above the mud of a jungle river," a vision thatsurely suggests a Rousseauistic reverie of the kind Irving Babbittprofoundly criticized and which was probably influenced by EbenezerHoward's Garden cities of tomorrow. Even so, Lewis neverthelessdoes regard Zenith as a paradise of sorts, the location of"commonplace romances," manifest in the way in which he speaksabout the enthusiasm, the adventure and the beauty of life in Zenith, aswe could see in the quotations above. This romanticism of the"commonplace" (somehow equivalent to the "massromanticism" we mentioned earlier) is also related to the attitudeby which Lewis considers (in Our Mr. Wrenn) that the life of a clerk inan apartament from Harlem is more romantic than a travel abroad; while(in The Job) a stenographer is more romantic than Clytemnestra, etc.

But even in this latter case, what Lewis expresses is still thewish to escape from reality, as happens also in the old romanticstories. In the last analysis, we are dealing with attempts to coverreality with a charmed veil (which in the romantics in many cases wasdone by the power of opium or alcohol, or both--as was reported toseemingly be the case of E. A. Poe; cf. Robertson 1897: 61, quoting thememoir attached to the last edition of Poe's works), thusromanticizing the common world, which in Lewis is done bysentimentalizing and beautifying a reality burdened by theself-sufficiency of modern man (his alcohol excesses had a similarbackground of causation: to create happiness where there was nopossibility at all for it). For Lewis (cf. his 1930 Nobel Lecture,entitled The American fear of literature), America and its cities werethus "the new and vital and experimental land," "the mostcontradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land inthe world today," therefore in a sense they were for him the newexperimental paradise/hell.

Consequently, we could read into Zenith either a Heaven or a Hell,depending on who we are and what our perspective is, more than onepossibility of interpretation being possible, just as in the case ofColeridge's Xanadu, which can be seen as the paradise location ofthe imagination (the romantic city of "infinite abundance ininfinite unity"), or as that of the historical Fool's Paradiseof Aloadine. Blake, the arch-romantic, had understood this principle ofreading reality long ago: "As a man is, So he Sees" (cf.Letter to Dr. Trustler, 23 August 1799); "as the Person, so is hislife proportion'd" (Vala, IX, 141). In this sense, FreemanDyson (1989: 131) observed that Blake is one of the intellectualancestors of America, together with Richard Hakluyt and Jules Verne.Lewis thus offered his own vision of the fundamental polarity of life inAmerica, namely the oscillation between the idealism of a good lifeprojected into the future (the vision of a heavely paradise) and thematerialism of practical life in the present (the vision of aterrestrial paradise), both of which could be construed as either Heavenor Hell, depending on who makes the interpretation and from what vantagepoint.

On the other hand, we need to emphasize the fact that theneohumanists led by Irving Babbitt, and attacked by Sinclair Lewis,rejected any deterministic perspectives on human nature. The neohumanistargument was the following:

1) The human beings are unique among the creatures of nature. Theuniqueness of the human being had been a foundation in the thought ofthe American transcendentalist Margaret Fuller and, later, of theGerman-American anthropologist Franz Boas, the latter having takeninspiration from Alexander von Humboldt's cosmography, whosecentral idea was that all phenomena in the universe are unique and it isprecisely this uniqueness that should be the focus of research in allscientific enterprise. In this context, Alfred Jarry's pataphysicswas based precisely on the idea that the universe is the exception, notthe rule, and so the science of pataphysics was meant as an explorationof "the laws governing exceptions," i.e. the particulars, inspite of the common notion that the only science possible was that ofthe general (cf. Jarry 1996: 21).

2) The essence of experience is fundamentally moral and ethical.

3) Human will, although subject to genetic/hereditary laws andmodelled by the environment, is basically free.

The neo-humanists, among whom--besides Irving Babbitt one shouldmention at least Paul Elmer More, Norman Foerster and Robert Shafer,starting from these three basic elements, created a programme /manifesto and an aesthetic system, whereby they expressed their creed.Yet already in the 1930s the neo-humanists came to be consideredcultural elitists (Sinclair Lewis no doubt was among those believeingprecisely this), advocates of a social and aesthetic conservatism (suchas attacked by Lewis, as quoted above), which is why their influence wasgreatly diminished, thus the fact being forgotten somehow thatBabbitt's center-oriented thought system does have intrinsic value,being the basis of the neo-humanist approach. Babbitt in this regarddeserves his nickname of "the warring buddha of Harvard," evenif to a certain degree Sinclair Lewis's attack on the "Harvardbuddha" was justified, because such a strict rigour in life for aromantic like Lewis--who perhaps liked his status as scourge of theAmerican city and its elites--could have been equivalent withMelville's idea that medial doctrines like Christianity simply takeaway the "shark" inside man, that is they rob him of vitality,dynamism, enthusiasm, and the spirit of life's adventure. In thissense alone might one see some justification in Rebecca West'spejoratively nicknaming Babbitt the "drill-sergeant" and PaulElmer More the "banker-conservative" (cf. Panichas 1999: 11).

Let us now throw a glance at the notion of the human universalimagination as a force inside man of unlocking the gates of paradise, beit individual or collective, local or cosmic, in its form.

II. Paracelsus and Blake's concept of imagination

When he mentions Pascal's idea of imagination as"mistress of error" and "proud power" ("proud,powerful enemy of reason," cf. Pascal 1999: 16), Babbitt (1968: 80)does not mention Pascal's actually very complex equation of theimagination as only one among many "misleading powers."Imagination in Pascal's view is a distorting, yet very ambiguousfaculty (we follow Pascal 1999: 16-20):

1) It is "all the more treacherous because it is notconsistently treacherous."

2) It is more frequently false, "indicating in the same wayboth truth and falsehood."

3) It "has established a second nature in man" (seeColeridge's primary and secondary imagination and fancy), makingvarious people "happy and unhappy," causing reason to"believe, doubt, deny" (reference to Descartes dubito ergocogito). This second nature is an inner world, to which only theimaginative man has access: he may grant the access to whomever hechooses by externalizing the works of his imagination (through art, forinstance).

4) It "abrogates the senses, [but] it [also] brings them tolife." Therefore, it is a kind of magical power, whereby manchanges the world which he perceives, even if that world may be anillusion without correspondence in reality, or an illusion that becomes,as if magically, manifest partially or totally.

5) It "cannot make fools into wise men, but it can make themhappy, unlike reason, which can only make its friends miserable."Pascal attacks rationalism here.

6) It envelops people with "glory," while reason coversthem in "shame." Here he attacks the neo-classics and theCartesians.

7) The "earth's riches" are inadequate "withoutit* connivance." Here Pascal emphasizes the important subjectivedimension of the imagination.

8) By its misleading effects, it "orders everything,"being "the spring of beauty, justice, and happiness which is thehe-all and end-all of the world."

9) It thus seems "to have been implanted in us precisely tolead us into necessary error." Blake in this respect was clear:error needs a body in order to be cast out eternally, but in his view itwas not the imagination that was faulty, but on the contrary, it wasreason that misled people into believing that life could be contained inmathematical "demonstration"--in this sense, the latter wordwas used alternately by Locke to refer precisely to "reason."

But there are in us "many other principles of error,"says Pascal:

1) "long-held impressions": he attacks impressionisticconservatism and dogma.

2) The "attraction of novelty": he attacks exoticism, andthe cult of the new that the future romanticism will connect with itscrucial cult of infinite diversity.

3) Illnesses: if serious, they "distort" and "impairour judgement and feeling."

4) Self-interest: this "pleasantly" "blinds"us.

5) Most crucially: "the battle between the senses andreason" both the senses and reason lack "sincerity,""mutually deceiving] one another." The senses do that by"false appearances"; reason by false reasonings/logic.Moreover, the "passions of the soul" trouble the senses, thuscreating in them "false impressions." Again, here Pascalattacks the cult of strong emotions that was to be a foundation ofRousseauism.

The dire conclusion drawn by Pascal is that we possess "noexact principle of truth," but instead we are endowed profuselywith "many excellent [principles] of falsehood." The ironyhere set on the adjective "excellent" reminds us ofVoltaire's mocking tone in many of his writings, but especially inCandide, where he mocked Leibniz's notion that this world is thebest of possible worlds. However, Pascal believes that man, even though"full of natural error," can eliminate all of these errors andfalsehoods by the help of "grace" only.

It is precisely this function of "grace" (Gr. charis)that Blake ascribed to the "human imagination," which in hisview was equal to a perception of deep spiritual reality (imagination ="spiritual sensation"), no less than equal to Jesus Christ,who granted access to the "Celestial City" (cf. letter toWilliam Hayley, dated 28 December 1804; Blake 1980: 106), i.e. toeternal life. The most relevant in this sense are the following crucialfragments:

I feel that a Man may be happy in This World. And I know that ThisWorld Is a World of IMAGINATION & Vision. I see Every thing I paintIn This World, but Every body does not see alike. To the Eyes of a Misera Guinea is more beautiful than the Sun, & a bag worn with the useof Money has more beautiful proportions than a Vine filled with Grapes.The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others onlya Green thing that stands in the way. Some See Nature all Ridicule &Deformity, & by these I shall not regulate my proportions; &Some Scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man ofImagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, So he Sees. Asthe Eye is formed, such are its Powers. You certainly Mistake, when yousay that the Visions of Fancy are not to be found in This World. To MeThis World is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination, & Ifeel Flatter'd when I am told so. What is it sets Homer, Virgil& Milton in so high a rank of Art? Why is the Bible moreEntertaining & Instructive than any other book? Is it not becausethey are addressed to the Imagination, which is Spiritual Sensation,& but mediately to the Understanding or Reason? Such is TruePainting, and such was alone valued by the Greeks & the best modernArtists. Consider what Lord Bacon says: "Sense sends over toImagination before Reason have judged, & Reason sends over toImagination before the Decree can be acted." See Advancemt ofLearning, Part 2, P. 47 of first Edition. / But I am happy to find aGreat Majority of Fellow Mortals who can Elucidate My Visions, &Particularly they have been Elucidated by Children, who have taken agreater delight in contemplating my Pictures than I even hoped. NeitherYouth nor Childhood is Folly or Incapacity. Some Children are Fools& so are some Old Men. But There is a vast Majority on the side ofImagination or Spiritual Sensation. (Letter addressed to Dr. Trustler,dated 23 August 1799; Blake 1980: 9)

I have been very near the Gates of Death & have returned veryweak & an Old Man feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit &Life, not in The Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever. In thatI am stronger & stronger as this Foolish Body decays. I thank youfor the Pains you have taken with Poor Job. I know too well that a greatmajority of Englishmen are fond of The Indefinite which they Measure byNewton's Doctrine of the Fluxions of an Atom, A Thing that does notExist. (Letter addressed to George Cumberland, dated 12 April 1827;Blake 1980: 168)

We do not want either Greek or Roman Models if we are but just& true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which weshall live for ever in Jesus our Lord. (Preface to Milton; Blake 1976:480)

[...] the Human Imagination [...] is the Divine Body of the LordJesus, blessed for ever. (Milton, I, 3, 3-4; Blake 1976: 482)

[...] the Human Imagination [...] is the Divine Vision &Fruition / In which Man liveth eternally [...]. (Milton, II, 32, 19-20;Blake 1976: 521)

The platonicism of Blake's view of the imagination is perhapsbest expressed in the following excerpts:

 The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself. Affection or Love becomes a State when divided from Imagination. The Memory is a State always, & the Reason is a State Created to be Annihilated & a new Ratio Created. Whatever can be Created can be Annihilated: Forms cannot: The Oak is cut down by the Ax, the Lamb falls by the Knife, But their Forms Eternal Exist For-ever. (Milton, II, 32, 32-38; Blake 1976:522)

Vision or Imagination is a Representation of what Eternally Exists,Really & Unchangeably. Fable or Allegory is Form'd by theDaughters of Memory. Imagination is Surrounded by the daughters ofInspiration, who in the aggregate are call'd Jerusalem. [...] TheHebrew Bible & the Gospel of Jesus are not Allegory, but EternalVision or Imagination of All that Exists. Note here that Fable orAllegory is Seldom without some Vision. [...] This world of Imaginationis the World of Eternity; it is the divine bosom into which we shall allgo after the death of the Vegetated body. This World of Imagination isInfinite & Eternal, whereas the world of Generation, or Vegetation,is Finite & Temporal. There Exist in that Eternal World thePermanent Realities of Every Thing which we see reflected in thisVegetable Glass of Nature. All Things are comprehended in their EternalForms in the divine body of the Saviour, the True Vine of Eternity, TheHuman Imagination [...]. (A vision of the Last Judgment; Blake 1976:604-606)

The road of the imagination implied, according to Blake, a seriesof simple mental tasks, in which there is a conflict between theattitude of humility ("self-annihilation") and of greatness("grandeur"):

 To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination, To bathe in the Waters of Life, to wash off the Not Human, I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration, To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour, To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration, To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albion's covering, To take off his filthy garments & clothe him with Imagination [...]. (Milton, II, 40, 36; 41, 1-6; Blake 1976: 533)

Lastly, Blake seems to fuse vision with thought (and so, withreason) in the final equation of the imagination:

 I rest not from my great task! To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination. (Jerusalem, I, 5, 17-20; Blake 1976: 623)

Blake's doctrine of the imagination as a life force thus hascertainly roots in Paracelsus' doctrine of the imagination as asupernatural power capable of reifying the energies in the psyche, bethey positive or negative (oriented towards good or evil), i.e. capableof bringing the transcendental, celestial, spiritual inner world ofessence into the physical world, by as if magically transferring thetranscendental energies into phenomenal energies (into matter inaction). The best description of this doctrine appears inParacelsus' On the invisible diseases (De causis morboruminvisibilium). Andrew Weeks brilliantly summarized the matter in severalparts of his important critical edition of Paracelsus' Essentialtheoretical writings, as follows. First, Weeks shows that theParacelsian imagination is a supernatural power bridging the Cartesiangap between mind and body (most of the romantics considered the Kantian/ Cartesian barrier between noumenon and phenomenon, or between mind andbody, as being a superable threshold):

Book Three [of De causis morborum invisibilium] turns to a subjectthat intrigued the philosophy of the Renaissance and shadowed theReformation emphasis on the redeeming power of faith: the imagination asa supernatural force that somehow leaps the chasm between spirit andbody so that the former acts supernaturally upon the latter. Imaginationhas a special bearing on conception, pregnancy, and procreation. It is amental intention or plan which can acquire real physical force. Thematerially inexplicable action of imagination is comparable to agenciesin the astronomical, meteorological, magnetic, or alchemical spheres,which also challenge explanations based on common sense. Moreover,sexual desire and its attendant imagination are susceptible to anunwholesome lasciviousness, conducive to the incubus, succubus, andother unnatural agencies of conception. Against this twilight spiritrealm, marriage is a serious precaution whenever chastity isunattainable. (Weeks 2008: 22)

Next, Weeks shows that the Paracelsian imagination is associatedwith the thinking intellect, being the spiritual spark ("thestar," i.e. the astral body, as Martin Ruland clarifies) in man. Inthis sense, in the quotation above from Jerusalem, Blake linkedimagination with the eternal inner "Worlds of Thought," and weknow that in Blake's symbolism the character called Los stood forthe imagination: his name does suggest a star, since by reverse readingin a mirror the name becomes Sol = Sun; therefore Blake's Los-soL(imagination) is the star (the Sun) in man. Here is the context ofWeeks' reference to Martin Ruland's important lexicon ofParacelsus' concepts:

Imagination as a cause of birth defects, a theme central in theInvisible Diseases, was a widespread belief on the margin between natureand magic, as Montaigne's opinion in On the Power of theImagination indicates: "For me magicians provide poor authority.All the same we know from experience that mothers can transmit to thebodies of children in their womb marks connected with theirthoughts...." [...] [Martin] Ruland [in his Lexicon alchemiae,1612/1984] recognizes imagination as part of macrocos-micmicrocosmictheory: "Imaginatio, est astrum in homine, coeleste siuesupracoeleste corpus." [...] [The imagination is the star in thehuman being, the celestial or supercelestial body.] (Weeks 2008: 683, n.1; see Ruland 1612: 264; the latter is the Latin edition of Ruland, asoriginally published--for an English translation see Ruland 1984)

We retain here the important magical definition of imagination inParacelsus's system:

Imaginatio, est astrum in homine, coeleste siue supracoelestecorpus, Das Gestirn im Menschen / der himmlische oder uberhimmlischeLeib. [The constellation in man / the heavenly or overheavenly body.](Ruland 1612: 264)

Furthermore, Weeks describes the Paracelsian imagination as beingof two kinds: 1) the corporeal: the terrestrial/profane side; 2) thecelestial: "faith" (these two sides constitute the totalimagination as "astral body"):

Paracelsus's fascinating interest in the relationship of faithor imagination to illness and health was anticipated in his eight-bookwork on the origin of Franzosen (1529). Many have been made sick andmany well ["through the belief in the imagination"]. Faith andimagination cause diseases to become incurable. This has implicationsfor the miracles attributed to saints. Christ himself stated that onecan be healed by one's faith--a statement that bears broaderimplications. [See Blake's equating Jesus with the HumanImagination]. Yet there is a distinction between ["faith and theimagination: the latter is bodily, while the first is celestial"].Faith is a heavenly imagination [while imagination proper is bodilyimagination]. This distinguishes the agency of either kind, as physicalin the first instance and as founded upon Christian love and hope in thesecond [...]. (Weeks 2008: 748, n. b)

Also, Weeks points out that the Paracelsian imagination springsfrom the notion that man has a dual nature: one visible(terrestrial-natural), the other invisible (astral-supernatural)--thisis precisely Blake's assumption in all of his writings (see hisdefinition of imagination as spiritual sensation, which implies spirit,invisible, and the body, visible). This dual nature of man (as aninterdimensional threshold), too, corresponds to the nature of thecrystal state of matter.

The Paracelsian imagination is thus like the sun (see Keats'snotion that a poem must rise like the sun), it being the faculty capableof kindling the spiritual fire inside the vital essence of man. Thisconcept of imagination comes rather close to that embraced by P. B.Shelley, Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. The Paracelsian imagination isthus compared to a magic powerful image, a magnet exerting a unifyingforce (Coleridge's imagination as esemplastic magic power), thecelestial acting on the terrestrial, the supernatural acting on thenatural, the spark igniting the fire:

The operation of the imagination upon the body and in itsgeneration is a theme in various writings, most specifically in DeVirtute Imaginativa, a fragment that begins by conceptualizing the humanbeing as existing in two realms, a visible and an invisible one. Theirinteraction requires an agency which can be conceived macrocosmically.Hence, the imagination is compared to a sun which acts variously uponthings: ["as the sun makes a bodily work, so does the imagination,which gives the fire"] [...]. [The romantic Prometheus has thiscreative function of the imagination]. Imagination as agency is thuslinked to a variety of other concepts: to that of the magically potentimage; to the "impression" as the action of celestial forceson terrestrial objects; to the human being as an image upon which theimagination of the pregnant matrix projects forms; to the attractivepower of the magnet; and in a mysterious way, to the ignition of avirtue comparable to alchemical fire [...]. (Weeks 2008: 794, n. c)

Lastly, Weeks emphasizes that the Paracelsian imagination wasconceived of as springing from the very point of origin of the humanbeing: this idea is regarded, most probably correctly, as having beenderived by Paracelsus from the Biblical view that man was created in theimage (and after the likeness) of God (i.e. of the Elohim). Thus,man's imagination is created at the very moment of inception, sinceman contains in himself from the beginning the "image" of God,the imprint of the spiritual eternal essence. Imagination in this viewis thus also the creative godly spiritual element in man, the skeletonkey opening the inner gate towards infinite and eternal life:

The coincidence of the two thoughts (that imagination stems fromthe very root of the human being and that human beings are superior tothe stars) is premised on man being created in the image of God therebyplacing humanity above the stars and on the idea that the imagination isrooted in a production of images. (Weeks 2008: 815, n. 1)

This skeleton key of the imagination somehow seems to work like acrystal, making visible what is invisible. Here are a few enlighteningconsiderations that Wilson makes concerning the operations of crystalsin Paracelsus' system of thought:

Events occur in the crystal that do not happen elsewhere. Imagesand colors appear from nowhere in the stone's intricate corridors.What was before invisible finds shape. Distributed spirit--air, wind,light--coheres and shines in a frame of diaphanous matter. Wellversed inthe medieval lore of scrying [divination by gazing into crystals],Paracelsus, an early sixteenth-century magician, valued the crystal forthese virtues. He found in it a wedding of unseen and seen, soul andbody. Writing in his Coelum Philosophorum (ca. 1540) on how "toConjure the Crystal so that all things may be seen in it,"Paracelsus claims that "[t]o conjure is nothing else than toobserve anything rightly, to know and to understand what it is. Thecrystal is a figure of the air. Whatever appears in the air, moveable orimmovable, the same appears also in the speculum or crystal as a wave.For the air, the water, and the crystal, so far as vision is concerned,are one, like a mirror in which an inverted copy of an object isseen." The crystal is not a portal to hallucinations or demons butan optical technology capable of revealing invisible powers. Like asheet of water reveals in ripples the viewless wind, so theconjurer's glass discloses currents--wispy lights and quaveringshades--unavailable to the naked eye. [...] As Jean Servier has observedin L'homme et l'invisible (1964), the crystal hastraditionally represented "a level intermediate between the visibleand the invisible" and thus has typically been the "symbol ofdivination, wisdom, and of the hidden powers granted to mankind."The crystal comprises a marriage between matter and spirit. Made ofmatter, it is nonetheless transparent. Translucent, it still refractsand reflects visible forms. (Wilson 2003: 12, 13)

No wonder then that ice--as an archetypal kind of crystal--and theworlds of snow reigning at the North and South Pole of the Earth sofascinated the romantic imagination.

III. The story of Symzonia

We retain thus the crucial notion that crystals mediate a marriagebetween matter and spirit, and so are maybe a fit emblem for theromantic visual imagination, with its ideal of the union between matterand spirit, the visible and the invisible, the center and thecircumference. A similar symbol, this time of the auditory imagination(or the mind), was for the romantics the aeolian harp (see the lyre inP. B. Shelley's Ode to the West Wind, or Coleridge's Eolianharp), which rendered audible the inaudible movements of the wind (or ofspirit). Given this state of affairs, it is not surprising that many ofthe romantics used crystals in various forms to symbolize spiritualrealities.

Thus, for instance, Coleridge--who took his imagery from manysources, but in this case had especially in mind Purchas's site ofthe Arctic and Captain Cook's travel narratives (thecircumnavigation of Antarctica)--has his Ancient Mariner cross theAntarctic circle in order to experience a white terrifying ghostly worldof "mast-high" howling and cracking polar ice and snow thatpushes him to the limit, to the point that he seems to temporarily losehis mind and shoots a "snow-white" albatross (this is thecolour depicted by Cook 1842i: 191), the only creature inhabiting thefearful frozen crystal realm: the Ancient Mariner does not seem to shootthe bird with the intention of eating it, as is the case in CaptainCook's narrative at one point:

On the 26th January, we took our departure from Cape Horn [thesouthmost tip of South America, situated to the south of Tierra delFuego], which lies in latitude 55[degrees] 53' S., longitude68[degrees] 13' W. The farthest southern latitude that we made was60[degrees] 10', our longitude was then 74[degrees] 30' W.;and we found the variation of the compass, by the mean of eighteenazimuths to be 27[degrees] 9' E. As the weather was frequentlycalm, Mr. Banks went out in a small boat to shoot birds, among whichwere some albatrosses and sheerwaters. The albatrosses were observed tobe larger than those which had been taken northward of the Strait; oneof them measured ten feet two inches from the tip of one wing to that ofthe other, when they were extended: the sheerwater, on the contrary, isless, and darker coloured on the back. The albatrosses we skinned, andhaving soaked them in salt-water till the morning, we parboiled them,then throwing away the liquor, stewed them in a very little fresh watertill they were tender, and had them served up with savoury sauce; thusdressed, the dish was universally commended, and we eat of it veryheartily, even when there was fresh pork upon the table. (Cook 1842i:30-31)

Coleridge must have run across this episode which occurred duringCook's first voyage; strangely, it is not mentioned at all by Lowes(1978) as a possible source for the killing of the albatross inColeridge's poem. In another episode, when in the vicinity of anisland of ice, Cook (1842i: 358) describes how "Mr. Forster shot analbatross, whose plumage was of a colour between brown and dark grey,the head and upper side of the wings rather inclining to black, and ithad white eye-brows." This time, however, we are not given anydetails as to the reason of the killing, much as in Coleridge'spoem the purpose is ambiguous.

The dire consequence of the purposeless act of killing thealbatross in Coleridge's poem, perpetrated precisely in theextremest of physical conditions (freezing temperature; scarcity of lifeforms in the immediate surroundings; the southernmost regions of earth),is a complete deadlock, where life simply enters a stand-still condition(Coleridge suggests reality as "still life"), suspended inmidair, as it were, as the poem so fittingly and hauntingly puts it:

 Day after day, day after day, We stuck, ne breath, ne motion, As idle as a painted Ship, Upon a painted Ocean. (Coleridge's The rime of the Ancyent Marinere, 1798; Wordsworth & Coleridge 2006: 5)

It is as if life itself holds its breath in order to ponder on thehybris of the human condition, in order to decide what retribution ismost fit for such insanity that causes time to be out of joint, as itwere, i.e. that deeply derails the natural rhythms of the natural world(purposeless killing). Indeed, the scene above from The rime of theAncient Mariner anticipates Melville's later constructingcharacters in Moby Dick (1851) that seem to be cardboard figures in acartoon-like reality (a reality, however, without the humour met innormal cartoons). In this connection, Melville has the eerily whitewhale move from the Arctic (North Pole) to the South Pacific with suchprodigious speed that this gives it an aura of mystery and thesupernatural, making it seem to be divinely ubiquitous (cf. alsoRollyson et al 2007: 141) the whale thus "touches" bothextremes and fills the entire space in between, as Pascal would put it.In the subtext, however, the question remains if not by any chance MobyDick has access to some rift in space-time, or to some secret channel ofcommunication between the two poles of the Earth--the latter variant issuggested by the "Hollow Earth" theory, first fictionalized inthe sf novel Symzonia: a voyage of discovery (1820) by John ClevesSymmes (who signed the work under a pseudonym: Captain Adam Seaborn).

Coleridge's mortal albatross of the Antarctic (South) Polethus could be said to become symbolically Melville's immortal whaleof both Poles. The conclusion in Coleridge's story is that theAncient Mariner turns from the condition of the murderer into that ofone contemplating suicide (cf. Wilson 2003: 174), while inMelville's narrative, Ahab, the one struck by thunder and stillliving to tell the story, turns into one that endangers not only his ownlife (thus contemplating "indirect" suicide), but that of allthose surrounding him.

Jung (1971: 431) approached the question of the spiritualsignificance of the polar regions of the earth (see also Wilson--2003:166--who quotes Nelson 1997), and his thoughts may clarify a few aspectsregarding the strong attraction that the terrestrial poles exerted onthe romantic imagination.

Before considering Jung's thoughts, we need to point out a fewcrucial aspects concerning the romantic imagination in its fascinationfor the polar regions of Earth. A few relevant examples will suffice forour discussion of the road towards the center that Irving Babbittfavoured above anything else (the Poles seem to paradoxically point toan attraction to the center of the interior earth, viewed as accessiblethrough the very Poles, as postulated in the "Hollow Earth"theory both extremes being in this case equally valid paths towards thecenter):

1) Coleridge's Ancient Mariner sails to the South Pole in theAntarctic circle, as described above already.

2) Poe, in his only novel, has Pym voyage likewise to the SouthPole, in the Antarctic Ocean. In MS. found in a bottle, Poe has thenarrator voyage to the South Pole as well, where what he encounters is avorticular abyss, whose whirling motion is a natural simoom and tornado:at the end, the ice suddenly opens, and the ship is swirled in hugeconcentric circles (see Symmes). In A Descent into the Maelstrom, Poeuses the story of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner placing it at theNorth Pole instead (for more synoptic details, see also Dawn Sova'sCritical companion to Edgar Allan Poe, 2007; and Beaver'sgroundbreaking critical edition The science fiction of Edgar Allan Poe,1976). In all these narratives, Poe was influenced, among others, by thefollowing:

a) Coleridge's haunting Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798),that surely to him contained gothic accents.

b) Erik Pontopiddan's Natural history of Norway (1755)--seethe idea of the kraken (the biggest creature on earth, having the sizeof a small island) in A Descent into the Maelstrom.

c) Jeremiah N. Reynolds's writings on the South Pole: Addresson the subject of a surveying and exploring expedition to the PacificOcean and South Seas (1837).

d) Captain Adam Seabom's Symzonia: a voyage of discovery(1820), which is attributed to John Cleves Symmes, as mentioned above.This proto-science-fictional American utopia exerted a particularlystrong influence on Poe: we know for a fact that Poe did read Symzonia,but it is difficult to assess whether he believed in the hypothesis itimplied (the "Hollow Earth" theory), or he was only ironictowards it (cf. Beaver 1976: 334-336). Symmes' theory waspopularized through James Mcbride's controversial Symmes'stheory of concentric spheres: demonstrating that the earth is hollow,habitable within, and widely open about the poles (1826), whichproclaimed that the earth, having been created by rotation, consisted offive concentric spheres, which had access, through holes or valves, tothe North and South Pole. Be it noted that this nested model of theEarth, based on concentric spheres, very much resembles the model ofman's energetic structure ordered in concentric chakras, whoseconfigurations resemble those of the nested Russian dolls.

3) Mary Shelley's heroes in Frankenstein start at the NorthPole in the Arctic Circle, and end there too.

4) William Blake regarded the North Pole as symbolizing theImagination, the Polar Star being the location of spiritual war (the waron earth being caused by the perversion of the imagination), while theSouth Pole represented Reason (cf. Damon 1988: 301). In Milton (29, 11),Blake spoke of the two Poles as having "valves of gold" onwhich they turn, the valves being a possible reference to the entrypoints into a hollow cavernous earth. In this connection, in Milton (25,53) Blake indeed mentions that "Thor & cruel Odin""first rear'd the Polar Caves," and the Mundane Shell isdepicted as full of caves, which are places of erotic dreams (cf. Damon1988: 75). The idea that the world (i.e. the Universe or the Earth orother individual planets) is a "shell" speaks for itself: itimplies that the sphere of the "world," be that the Universeor the Earth, is hollow inside. If the Mundane Shell is the Universe (asis suggested in Jerusalem, 55, 20, where Blake speaks of a"Universal Concave"), then the caves must be the planetsinside the hollow (void) infinite space (the Newtonian Universe hadinfinite space and finite matter). If the Mundane Shell is the Earth,then the caves imply the existence of subterranean spaces, which mayconstitute "worlds" in their own rights. In fact, Blake couldnot have been plainer when he explained, in Milton, that the MundaneShell is a "vast Concave Earth" with 27 concentriclabyrinthine spheres or rings or torus-like structures("folds"), each having its "Heaven" and"Hell," probably signifying that each sphere looks just likethe surface of Earth:

 The Mundane Shell is a vast Concave Earth, an immense Harden'd shadow of all things upon our Vegetated Earth, Enlarg'd into dimension & deform'd into indefinite space, In Twenty-seven Heavens and all their Hells, with Chaos And Ancient Night & Purgatory. It is a cavernous Earth Of labyrinthine intricacy, twenty-seven folds of opakeness, And finishes where the lark mounts; [...]. (Milton, 17, 21-27; Blake 1976: 498; 2014: 537-538)

Blake mentioned the "Concave Earth" also in Jerusalem:

 A Concave Earth wondrous, Chasmal, Abyssal, Incoherent, Forming the Mundane Shell: above, beneath, on all sides surrounding Golgonooza. Los walks round the walls night and day. (Jerusalem, 13, 53-55; Blake 1976: 634)

In this sense, Blake may have known about the hypothesis of HollowEarth from the writings of Edmond Halley (1656-1742) or, even morelikely, from a treatise by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) entitledMundus subterraneus (1678)--this may have fascinated him.

Kircher and Halley --Symzonia's parents: Hollow Earth'sconcentric spheres

In order to explain the anomalies registered with magnetic needles(their shifting to the east and to the west: 17 degrees in 112 years)around the earth, Halley (1692) had assumed that the earth should havefour magnetic poles and a deep structure below the surface whichcontained three nested concentric spheres, mimicking the sizes of Venus,Mars and Mercury (Symmes later increased the number to five spheres; inBlake's model, as we could see, there were 27 "folds").The picture of the deep terrestrial structure he arrived at was asfollows (the use of the word "shell" clearly reminds us ofBlake's metaphor for the same description of Halley's"cortex of the earth," i.e. of the outermost "fold"or "concave" or hollow sphere or cuasitorus-like structure):

So then the external parts of the globe may well be considered asthe shell, and the internal as a nucleus, or inner globe, includedwithin ours, with a fluid medium between. Which having the same commoncentre and axis of diurnal rotation, may turn about with our earth each24 hours; only this outer sphere having its turbinating motion somesmall matter either swifter or slower than the internal ball. And a veryminute difference in length of time, by many repetitions becomingsensible, the internal parts will by degrees recede from the external,and not keeping pace with each other, will appear gradually to moveeither to the east or west by the difference of their motions. [...][I]f this exterior shell of earth be a magnet, having its poles at adistance from the poles of diurnal rotation; and if the internal nucleusbe likewise a magnet, having its poles in two other places distant alsofrom the axis; and these latter, by a gradual and slow motion, changetheir place in respect of the external, we may then give a reasonableaccount of the four magnetical poles, as also of the changes of theneedle's variations. [...] I conclude, that the two poles of theexternal globe are fixed in the earth, and that if the needle werewholly governed by them, the variations would be always the same, withsome little irregularities on the account just now mentioned; but theinternal sphere, having such a gradual translation of its poles,influences the needle, and directs it variously, according to the resultof the attractive or directive power of each pole; and consequentlythere must be a period of the revolution of this internal ball, afterwhich the variations will return again as before. But if it shall infuture ages be observed otherwise, we must then conclude, that there aremore of these internal spheres [see Blake's model], and moremagnetical poles than four, which at present we have not a sufficientnumber of observations to determine, and particularly in that vast Mardel Zur, which occupies so great a part of the whole surface of theearth. / If then two of the poles be fixed, and two moveable, it remainsto ascertain, which they are that keep their place [...]. I think we maysafely determine, that our European north pole, supposed to be near themeridian of the Land's End, and about 7[degrees] from it, is thatwhich is moveable of the two northern poles, and which has chieflyinfluenced the variations in these parts of the world: for inHudson's Bay, which is under the direction of the American pole,the change is not observed to be near so fast as in these parts ofEurope, though that pole be much farther removed from the axis. / As tothe south poles, from the like observation of the slow decrease of thevariation on the coast of Java, and near the meridian of the Asian pole,I take the Asiatic pole, which I place about the meridian of the islandof Celebes, to be the fixed one, and consequently the American pole tobe moveable. If this be allowed, it is plain that the fixed poles arethe poles of this external shell or cortex of the earth, and the othertwo the poles of a magnetical nucleus, included and moveable within theother. It likewise follows, that this motion is westwards, and byconsequence that the aforesaid nucleus has not precisely attained thesame degree of velocity with the exterior parts in their diurnalrevolution [...]. (Halley 1809: 470-474)

Halley was well aware that his theory will find opponents, and inthis context uses the term "concave shell," reminding us ofBlake's model, and shows that he is aware that people will deny theutility of an inner "middle globe" (suggesting theScandinavian Midgard) plunged in "eternal darkness"--thelatter condition reminding us of Coleridge's poem Xanadu, in whichwe are told that Kublai Khan's pleasure dome has "caves ofice" and a "sunless sea":

[I]n order to explain the change of the variations, we haveadventured to make the earth hollow, and to place another globe withinit; and I doubt not but this will find opposers enough. I know it willbe objected, that [...] if there was such a middle globe it would notkeep its place in the centre, but be apt to deviate from it, and mightpossibly shock against the concave shell [see Blake's terminology],to the ruin or at least endamaging of it; that the water of the seawould perpetually leak through [see Coleridge's river Alph], unlesswe suppose the cavity full of water; that were it possible, yet it doesnot appear of what use such an inward sphere can be of, being shut up ineternal darkness [see Coleridge's "sunless sea"], andtherefore unfit for the production of animals or plants; with many moreobjections, according to the fate of all such new propositions. (Halley1809: 475)

Halley answered to these objections as follows, using the term"concave sphere," and giving the example of Saturn'srings that keep on being concentrical, without becoming eccentricrelative to the common gravitational center of the planet:

To these and all other objections that I can foresee, I brieflyanswer, that the ring environing the globe of Saturn is a notableinstance of this kind, as having the same common centre, and movingalong with the planet, without sensibly approaching him on one side morethan the other. And if this ring were turned on one of its diameters, itwould then describe such a concave sphere as I suppose our external oneto be. And since the ring in any given position, would in the samemanner keep the centre of Saturn in its own, it follows that such aconcave sphere may move with another included in it, having the samecommon centre. Nor can it well be supposed otherwise, considering thenature of gravity; for should these globes be once adjusted to the samecommon centre, the gravity of the parts of the concave would pressequally towards the centre of the inner ball, which equality mustnecessarily continue till some external force disturb it, which is noteasy to imagine in our case. [...] [T]he inner globe being posited inthe centre of the exterior, must necessarily ascend which way soever itmay move; that is, it must overcome the force of gravity pressingtowards the common centre, by an impulse it must receive from someoutward agent; but all outward efforts being sufficiently fenced againstby the shell that surrounds it, it follows, that this nucleus being oncefixed in the common centre, must always remain there. (Halley 1809: 475)

He adds a final crucial argument, whereby he posits the possibilityfor all planets to be nested structures, much like a multistoriedspherical building (this is most likely what Blake meant by his"twenty-seven folds of opakeness"):

To those that shall inquire of what use these included globes canbe, it must be allowed, that they can be of very little service to theinhabitants of this outward world, nor can the sun be serviceable tothem, either with his light or heat. But since it is now taken forgranted that the earth is one of the planets and that they all are withreason supposed habitable, though we are not able to define by what sortof animals; and since we see all the parts of the creation abound withanimate beings, as the air with birds and flies, the water with thenumerous varieties of fish, and the very earth with reptiles of so manysorts; all whose ways of living would be to us incredible, did not dailyexperience teach us; why then should we think it strange that theprodigious mass of matter, of which this globe consists, should becapable of some other improvements, than barely to serve to support itssurface? Why may not we rather suppose that the exceeding small quantityof solid matter, in respect of the fluid ether, is so disposed by theAlmighty wisdom, as to yield as great a surface for the use of livingcreatures, as can consist with the conveniency and security of thewhole? (Halley 1809: 477)

To the question of the sunless internal spheres, Halley respondedthus, using the term "concave arches," and postulating thepossibility for the "underworlds" to contain substancessimilar to that present on the surface of the sun:

But still it may be said, that without light there can be noliving, and therefore all this apparatus of our inward globes must beuseless: to this I answer, that there are many ways of producing light,which we are wholly ignorant of; the medium itself may be alwaysluminous, after the manner of our ignes fatui. The concave arches may inseveral places shine with such a substance, as invests the surface ofthe sun; nor can we, without a boldness unbecoming a philosopher,adventure to assert the impossibility of peculiar luminaries below, ofwhich we have no sort of idea. (Halley 1809: 477)

The legend for this picture reads as follows, in Halley'swords:

[T]he earth is represented by the outward circle, and the threeinner circles are made nearly proportionable to the magnitudes of theplanets Venus, Mars, and Mercury, all which may be included within thisglobe of the earth, and all the arches be more than sufficiently strongto bear their weight. The concave of each arch, which is shadeddifferently from the rest, I suppose to be made up of magnetical matter;and the whole to turn about the same common axis p p, only with thisdifference, that the outer sphere still moves somewhat faster than theinner. Thus, the diameter of the earth being about 8000 English miles, Iallow 500 miles for the thickness of its shell, and another space of 500miles for a medium between, capable of an immense atmosphere for the useof the globe of Venus: Venus again I give a shell of the same thickness,and leave as great a space between her concave and Mars; so likewisefrom Mars to Mercury, which latter ball we will suppose solid, and about2000 miles diameter. (Halley 1809: 477-478)

Halley added a last interesting remark, concerning the utility of aHollow Earth, namely its having less gravity in relation to the gravityof the Moon:

Since this was written, a discovery I have made in the celestialmotions, seems to render a farther account of the use of the cavity ofthe earth, viz. To diminish its specific gravity in respect of the moon:for I think I can demonstrate, that the opposition of the ether to themotions of the planets, in long time becomes sensible; and consequentlythe greater body must receive a less opposition than the smaller, unlessthe specific gravity of the smaller do proportionably exceed that of thegreater, in which case only they can move together; so that the cavity Iassign in the earth may well serve to adjust its weight to that of themoon; for otherwise the earth would leave the moon behind it, and shebecome another primary planet. (Halley 1809: 478)

In Athanasius Kircher's treatise Mundus subterraneus (1678),the romantics may have run across the following pictures of theterrestrial structure at the far extremes of the globe (the North Pole,as seen from the perspective of Polaris--a remote satellite-like viewingof the Arctic; and the South Pole, as seen from the perspective of thenadir of Polaris--a remote satellite-like viewing of the Antarctic),whereby an attempt was made to explain real phenomena such as the AuroraBorealis (perceptible in the northern hemisphere) and the AuroraAustralis (perceptible in the southern hemisphere), whose existence wasitself never in doubt, the two strange natural processes having beenknown to exist from ancient times, even though no solid scientificunderstanding gave the least clues as to the real causes producing suchmagnificently chromatic, strongly visible effects:

The structure of the Arctic Pole, according to Athanasius Kircher(Mundus subterraneus, 1678: 170). One can observe the spiral watercurrents leading to the entry point at the North Pole. (Hence Poe'sidea of the Maelstrom)

The structure of the Antarctic Pole, according to AthanasiusKircher (Mundus subterraneus, 1678: 170). One can observe that the SouthPole was the exit point where water entering at the North Pole wouldgush out geyserlike, forming a great springhead.

What is crucial in the present debate is that visions such as ofSymzonia were possible in a context in which people around the globewere for centuries looking either for a Terra Australis Incognita,understood as an Eden of the South, or for an earthly Paradise of theNorth, which in Greek mythology had been styled Hyperborea, the realm"behind the back of Boreas," the North Wind, where Apollo wassaid to spend his winter holidays (see details of this context inStandish 2007: 54-55ff). The quest for the North and the Southterrestrial Paradise is thus linked with the legends of Agartha andShambhala, a subterranean eden considered either as being earthly orspiritual in nature. The South terrestrial Paradise was best pictured bySymmes in his romantic notion of Symzonia, the "internalworld" hiding under the Earth's surface domed shell (the"external world").

Symzonia as the internal world and its Eden-like cornucopia

Soon in his story of Symzonia, Symmes has Seaborn, a representativeof the "Externals" and a resident of Gotham (Symmes 2009:107), come to the following crucial conclusion:

I was now convinced of the correctness of Capt. Symmes'stheory, and of the practicability of sailing into the globe at the southpole, and of returning home by way of the north pole [...]. My firstthought was to enter the river I had seen, and ascend to its source,which must necessarily be in the internal world; [...]. (Symmes 2009:39)

The novel thus presents Seaborn's voyage of discovery of the"Internals" and their strange new internal world, Symzonia, tobe found in the "hot regions within the internal polarcircle," beyond the "icy hoop" (Symmes 2009: 58). Here isa relevant fragment from which the architecture of the "internalworld" becomes intelligible--in it, the internal sphere behaveslike an internal moon, reflecting the light of the sun that penetratesthrough the valves at the poles:

The nights were not dark, when no clouds intervened to obstruct therays of the sun, reflected from the opposite rim, and from a largeluminous body northward, in the internal heavens, which reflected thesun as our moon does, and which I judged to be the second concentricsphere, according to Capt. Symmes. (Symmes 2009: 47)

The Internals' language is depicted as being similar to thatof a "singing bird," their voices being "soft, shrill,musical" (Symmes 2009: 60). The Internals are described asfair-skinned, "temperate beings," who have sprightlyprodigious memories, never forgetting a thing, able to leap "thirtyfeet at a bound without much apparent exertion," capable of liftingweights three times heavier than what a normal human could lift; theyare almost wholly incapable of "the fatal sin cupidity,"totally strangers to the desire of "artificial wealth," thusforming a society wherein "perfect equality" (reflected forinstance in their "dressing alike") is the ruling principle(Symmes 2009: 62, 64, 75, 87). [The concept of "perfectequality" may have been derived by Symmes from the philosophy ofthe French Revolution based on the "big three": liberty,equality, fraternity]. By comparison, the white Externals, who are thedegenerate descendants (the "outcast tribe"; Symmes 2009: 73)of exiled Symzonians, seem primitive, gross, dark-skinned:

[T]he sootiest African does not differ more from us in darkness ofskin and grossness of features, than this [Symzonian] man did from me infairness of complexion and delicacy of form. His arms were bare; hisbody was covered with a white garment, fitted to his shape, and hangingdown to his knees. Upon his head he wore a tuft of feathers, curiouslywoven with his hair, which afforded shade to his forehead, and was aguard for his head against the rain. (Symmes 2009: 61)

In fact, the Symzonians suspect that Seaborn is a descendant of the"outcast race," i.e. the crime-prone Symzonians who had beenexiled to the internal North Pole (to the regions of internal Belzubia),whence they populated the external world, thus becoming "darkcoloured, ill favoured, and mis-shapen men, not much superior to thebrute creation" (Symmes 2009: 72, 73).

Symzonia is remarkable for its "profusion of [beautiful]flowers, tastefully arranged in the vicinity of every house," its"profusion of the choicest fruits, vegetables, milk, andhoney," "[a]ll necessary food, vegetables, fruits, milk,honey, etc. [that] were sent daily," its "most elegantspecimens of ornamental gardening," its "extensive flowergarden[s]," wherein resounded "the most exquisite music,"created by "the most enchanting sounds"--"an hundredinstruments, and many hundreds of the most exquisite voices"; itsprofusion of pearls, used to "glaze the walls of their apartments,being dissolved in a liquid, and laid on like paint," making thewalls smooth and elegant, "like the inside of the pearloyster-shell"; its lack of "fogs or vapours," its climeharmoniously modulated by a "mild influence of the sun"; the"exquisite beauty of the women, the graceful dignity of the men,the chaste decorum and sincere politeness of all"; the fact thatall its power "emanated from the people"; the fact thatproperty, being of secondary importance, is not subject to taxationrules; the fact that there are "no temptations to vice by offers ofseducing cordials, wines, agreeable decoctions, or other intoxicatingdrinks, as in our places of resort for recreation"; the fact thatit still maintains "commercial intercourse" with Belzubia, anancient "nation on the [northern] opposite side of the internalworld, beyond the [internal] equator," which at one point hadbecome "depraved and sordid," given to cupidity and "sopuffed up with the idea that they were the most powerful nation of thetwo," that they attempted to conquer Symzonia--in this Belzubiansfailed owing to the wisdom of one Fultria, a Symzonian who invented"the engine of defence," "the air vessels" and othersuch gimmicks, whereby war thereafter was for ever banned (Symmes 2009:65, 66, 75, 77, 89, 91, 92, 95, 100, 106).

[H. G. Wells was to be fascinated by the idea of a war to end allwars: Symmes--2009: 95--speaks of a period of 4000 years as havingelapsed after the great war between Symzonia and Belzubia].

The food and the drink that Symzonians first give Seaborn are"some delicious fruit" and "a large bowl of excellentmilk," of which he consumes ten times what a Symzonian wouldnormally do (Symmes 2009: 62).

In sum, the internal world of Symzonia is presented as acornucopian paradise of the south--because there the people are governedby a temperate Tao-like Providence (a free flow of naturally regulatedrhythms)--while the internal Belzubia is depicted as a hell of thenorth, and the external world (wherein are to be found also descendantsof Belzubia) as a generalized hell, in which people are given toconsuming in excess beverages and foods which are craftily modified tobecome pleasure-procuring substances, but which in fact end up as beingpoisons for the human body:

Instead of devoting our time to useful purposes, and livingtemperately on the wholesome gifts of Providence, like the blestinternals, so as to preserve our health and strengthen our minds,thousands of us are employed in producing inebriating liquors, by thedestruction of wholesome articles of food, to poison the bodies,enervate the minds, and corrupt the hearts, of our fellow beings. Otherthousands waste their strength to procure stimulating weeds and narcoticsubstances from the extreme parts of the earth, for the purpose ofexciting diseased appetites, whereby, in the case of those who possessgood things, the ability to enjoy them is destroyed. (Symmes 2009:71-72)

The hell, therefore, is man-made, artificial, and it affects manespecially when this artificiality enters the human body in the form ofman-made poisons that are falsely presented as some food of the gods(see the opium issue). This attack against corrupt human society nodoubt reminds us of J. J. Rousseau, yet Symmes's philosophy seemsto be rather far from Rousseau's, a paradoxical mixture ofrationalism and naturalism that Rousseau would have rejected:

I saw that the internals owed their happiness to their rationality,to a conformity with the laws of nature and religion; and that theexternals were miserable, from the indulgence of inordinate passions,and subjection to vicious propensities. (Symmes 2009: 72)

For Symmes, reason is thus a faculty leading man to admit nature asthe governing principle, but this nature does not comprise also the"dark side"--it thus itself resembles an artificiallyseparated nature of the kind R. L. Stevenson presented in his famousStrange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: here, good and evil are"scientifically" (i.e. medically / chemically) separated inthe being of Dr. Jekyll, the result being a total catastrophe: inducingschizophrenia into Dr. Jekyll, whose dark side finds refuge into a newpersonality, Mr. Hyde. For Symmes, the vicious destructive passions,such as exacerbated by the ingestion of narcotic substances, werepernicious and had to be kept far away if human happiness was to beattained. No doubt, this is a teaching that Irving Babbitt might haveagreed with; yet, in view of Stevenson's warning not to tamper withhuman nature, one should wonder where the limits of such operations onthe human nature should be set. Symmes is clear on this account, namelythat we are a "contaminated race, descendants of a degeneratedpeople," the reason for it being the fact that we eat artificiallyprepared foods (like meat), instead of limiting our diet to the purenutrients that nature offers profusely:

Having discovered [...] that we ate the flesh of warm bloodedanimals, prepared in many forms with condiments and sauces to give it ahigher relish, and, instead of confining ourselves to the pure fluidprovided by nature to quench our thirst, that we indulged in fermentedand distilled liquors even to inebriation, he [the Best Man, ruler ofSymzonia] was not at a loss for the cause of disease and misery, and wasonly surprised that such things were permitted, or, being permitted,that the [human] race did not become extinct. (Symmes 2009: 82)

In this sense, Symmes allows Symzonians as animal food only oystersand similar "testaceous creatures": these have "so littlevisible animation" that they are considered by Symzonians to be ona par with vegetables (Symmes 2009: 106). Thus, the price of eatingflesh and of drinking alcoholic beverages might be, in Symmes'sview, no less than human degeneracy and, taken to the utmost extreme,even human extinction.

Such a view was common in Manichean doctrine, according to whichthe eating of flesh caused the spiritual "Fall" of man. Theidea that social corruption and social vice are a cause of socialdegeneracy is, however, fundamentally Rousseauistic, and it leads Symmesto a final deprecation of the human condition, much like Swift's inGulliver's Travels:

I [Capt. Seaborn] found it difficult to convince him [the Best Man,the ruler of Symzonia] that my account was true, for he could notconceive it possible that beings in outward form so much like himself,could be so entirely under the influence of base and diabolicalpassions, as to make a science of worrying and destroying each other,like the most detestable reptiles. (Symmes 2009: 84)

Here the Symzonian governor, the Best Man, sounds much like theking of Brobdingnag in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, whoconcluded that human beings are "the most pernicious Race of littleodious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl on the Surface of theEarth." The considerations mentioned above, in effect, lead theruler of Symzonia (the Best Man) to conclude that communication betweenthe two worlds, the internal and the external, is not to be desired inthe future, because that "would endanger the morals andhappiness" of the Symzonian people (Symmes 2009: 85).

On the other hand, Symzonia's seat of government reminds us ofa combination of Asian Xanadu, Egyptian Gizeh and Aztec Teotihuacan:

It was a single dome of one arch, supported by a peristyle of hugecolumns, and covering at least eight acres of ground. The extremeelevation of the centre was seven hundred and fifty feet. The whole wasformed of stone, in massy blocks, cemented with a paste of the samematerial, so as to appear to be all of one solid piece. [...] The dome,which appeared so immense and so impracticable, was formed on a highconical hill [...]. The top of the hill was [...] shaped for thereception of the stone of the arch [...]. Within the columns, the earthwas formed into a concavity, with graduated steps to the centre, so thatan individual in any part of the immense area could see every personwithin the circumference of the dome. (Symmes 2009: 76)

The logic of "Hollow Earth" is presented by Symmes interms of a universally valid natural economy (a minimax principle:minimum effort, maximum effect--akin to Maupertuis's principle ofminimum action), but with deep religious-spiritual overtones:

I had undertaken this perilous voyage only to ascertain whether thebody of this huge globe were an useless waste of sand and stones,contrary to the economy usually displayed in the works of Providence,or, according to the sublime conceptions of one of our Wise men, aseries of concentric spheres, like a nest of boxes, inhabitable withinand without, on every side, so as to accommodate the greatest possiblenumber of intelligent beings. (Symmes 2009: 79)

Behind this principle of economy (the nest-of-boxes image of aplanet) seems to lurk Leibniz's notion of "the best ofpossible worlds," which should contain all optimal cosmicparameters (the nested structure seems to be of that category).

Be that as it may, Symmes suggests that one of the strongestarguments for the validity of his theory of "Hollow Earth" isto be found in the very existence of the crucial phenomena known as theAurora Borealis, in the north (also named "northern lights"),and its twin, the Aurora Australis, in the south (also called"southern lights"):

[The] escape of heat from the warm air which issues from theinternal world, is so great as to irradiate the atmosphere near thepolar openings; and in the extreme cold of winter, during the absence ofthe sun, this irradiation is so vivid as to be visible fifty degreestowards the equator, where the inhabitants, being fond of simple names,call it Aurora Borealis. (Symmes 2009: 80)

To date no other explanation for the existence of such phenomena asthe Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis exerted as much fascinationas the one suggested by Symmes in his Symzonia--the existence of aninternal world. Jules Verne was so fascinated with the idea of asubterranean world that he wrote an entire novel to celebrate it, Ajourney to the centre of the Earth (1864): here the northern portalleading to the internal world is located inside a sleeping volcano inIceland; Professor Von Hardwigg, in one version of the novel, andProfessor Otto Lidenbrock, in another, find the clue for the whereaboutsof this portal in Snorri Sturluson's Old Icelandic saga entitledHeims-Kringla (cf. Verne 1905: 5ff).

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