Saturday, December 4, 2021

Polypimple's Apocalypse, a short story by Leonard Cline

Polypimple’s Apocalypse

The Rev. Horace Polypimple sat alone in his room, in the boarding house on Catherine street, just behind the red brick church of the Friends of Jesus. Late into the night he brooded, biting his nails and scratching his acne. These devices acted as a mild sedative upon him. He was pledged against tobacco and wine, but indeed he had never had any craving for these things. Only in the communion did the juice of the grape, sedulously watered, moisten his lips.

Biting his nails he brooded; and all the strength of his ministry, he felt, depended on the resolution tonight of a horrible doubt. Things had happened recently that were undermining his faith.

The words of Christ, “When two or three are gathered together in my name . . . ,” flamed in Horace’s harrassed consciousness. Well, and what had happened when two or three had been gathered together in His name? Strange occurrences, recently; very strange, and inexplicable by any process of faith or reasoning that Horace could bring to bear upon them.

Just the week before, while Dr. Higbie Chaffinch’s con­gregation in the Episcopal church on Cross street was in the hoarse throes of a hymn, lightning had nipped the cross right off the steeple and; sprinkled splinters all over the neighborhood.

Then, at Wednesday night prayer meeting in the Rev. Lubly Phwat’s Presbyterian church, at Front and Catherine, when patriarchal Deacon Goodie, palsied and holy, arose to give his weekly prayer, the ceiling had given way and crashed down upon the old man’s lifted face.

These little episodes were disturbing in a general way, although of course, from the higher sanctity of the church of the Friends of Jesus, Horace smiled a little secretly at the discomfiture of his wealthier and more stylish colleagues. But only this past Sunday the most startling of  all the recent disasters had taken place, and it was in his own church.

His congregation swarmed forward to the communion table, Elder Beagle well in front, with Elder Gottwoof and Deacon Blum staggering hotly along behind him. Elder Beagle filled his glass and downed it. Elder Gottwoof filled his glass and downed it. Deacon Blum filled his glass and shuddered the wine joyously down. Then Elder Beagle gave vent to a most horrible oath and fell on his face. Deacon Blum, gagging convulsively, regurgitated on the communion table, and his spectacles fell down and broke into a million pieces. And Elder Gottwoof, who was still, in spite of his sixty years, robust enough, charged head-down into the on­coming flock, madly clasping his stomach.

He caught slim, shivering old Miss Pennystiff fair in the middle and floored her, gasping for breath. He trod full on the toes of choleric August Schmierle, fat and em­purpled; and August, fighting frantically back out of the path of the wild deacon, knocked little Tommy Jones out of his mother’s arms. Then, while Tommy’s god-forsaken squall shrilled piercingly above the general whoobub, Deacon Bea­gle disappeared out the front door.

Down Plum street he dashed, screaming curses. At the corner there was a watering trough. The Deacon did not hesitate. In he went, still head down. Only the quick work of an unreligious milk-man, somewhat tipsy with moonshine, saved the deacon from being drownded.

Horace arose and paced his threadbare carpet, picking his nose. Yes, drownded, and he might just as well have been, for it was doubtful whether the deacon would recover. By mistake, the communicants had been served varnish instead of wine.

There was, of course, an element of human carelessness behind all this trouble. But—and on this point Horace’s whole career depended—why had the varnish remained var­nish? Memory of the marriage feast persisted in Horace’s mind. Why did not the hand of Providence, intervening, rectify the error of the pastor on this one occasion, vouchsafe just one more miracle to vindicate the church before the scoffers? Was it more difficult for the Almighty to change varnish into wine than it was water? And was the occasion of holy communion less sacred than that of a plain wedding?

Horace, sweating, rejoiced dismally that his church had not adopted the doctrine of transsubstantiation. How could Dr. Chaffinch have explained such an accident to his flock?

But how, indeed, could he explain this negligence of Providence to his own satisfaction? If he had been Jahweh, would he not have been glad to say the word. Just say a word, and lo! the varnish would be wine. Horace itched and perspired, and frantically gnawed his nails. Then suddenly the truth burst upon him with a glory intolerable, and he sank to his knees and began to cry.

That was it, of course. Centuries ago, when the wedding guests slavered with tongues hanging out, wine was a good thing. Everybody used it. But now the world, hurtling on to a millennium of righteousness, had decreed that wine was raging. The church stood up unanimously against it, irrespective of creed. Heaven itself was undoubtedly convinced; prohibition, alleluia, prohibition, hosanna, amen! Should the Lord turn bootlegger? Here was a divine revelation that Volstead and Providence were of one mind.

Horace rushed to his desk, and feverishly began to write. What a sermon! The burning bush was out of date; the Lord had appeared to him in a jug of varnish. He would deliver the sermon next Sunday. Or, if Deacon Beagle should die, he would use it at the funeral.

And at the thought of that dramatic triumph the eyes of the Rev. Horace Polypimple shone with ardor, and his hurrying pen blurted great gobs of  ink on his paper as the inspiration fell into burning words. 


From: Laughing Horse, 1 No.7 (1923)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Dark Chamber, paperback cover artist?

The first reprint (since its original publication in 1927) of The Dark Chamber was in mass market form by Popular Library of New York.  Though undated, it came out in October 1972. Here is the cover:

There is no credit for the cover art, but it's style looks somewhat familiar.  Anyone have any theories about who the artist was? 

Interestingly, the same art was used on the German translation of John Crawford's Dark Legion (1967), when it was translated into German in 1973 as Der Geisterhügel. (John Crawford was a pen-name of John S. Glasby, 1928-2011.) It has been suggested that the art is by UK artist Bruce Pennington, but Pennington himself has said it is not his work. Since the first usage of the art was on a US cover, one would suspect it was a US based artist.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

"On a Picture" A Cline poem from 1911, and its inspiration

Cline's poem, "On a Picture", was written in 1911, and published in Poems (1914). In Cline's own copy of the book, he noted that the inspiration was the 1887 painting "Empress Theodora" by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902).  Here is the poem, and the painting.
                    On a Picture

Her eyes are like twin pools of silent waters
Within a forest, hedged by cypress trees,
At night, when all the tempests and the heat,
The white tumultuous heat of day, are over;
When night has brought her coolness and her shade
And the fair little moon, that climbs the heavens,
Reflected in twin images upon
The placid surface of the jetty pools.
And so the depths are hidden; only one
May look upon them, note the wavering moon
And all the stars of heaven there, yet guess
The sombre fathoms where move sinister tides
Beneath the perfect calm. And oh, the calm
Of those still eyes is like a thought of death! 


Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Writer Jailed for Murder

Inside the Tolland County Jail
The Mansfield (Connecticut) Historical Society Newsletter for March 2010 published an article by Tolland town historian Barbara Cook on Leonard Cline. Last year it was posted, with a few photos (of Cline's house, and of the inside of the jail itself), on the Mansfield Historical Society website, here

The article is based on many newspaper accounts, and is fairly accurate, as such things go. I am quoted in it, but the "interview" with me was not current: it was almost thirty years ago, when I visited the Tolland area in 1993. Barbara passed away in March 2021 at the age of 87. At the age of nine, in the spring of 1943, she moved with her family into the Tolland County Jail, where her parents ran the jail from 1943 through April 1947. Barbara wrote a short memoir "Growing up at the County Jail." 

Cline wrote an article on his time in the jail, "Jail Hill," which appeared the November 1928 issue of  Plain Talk, a fiery monthly edited by G.D. Eaton. Eaton previewed the article in the October issue by calling it "An excellent picture of a Connecticut jail where Mr. Cline . . . spent a number of months, It is witty and informative and written in the author's best and inimitable style." 

G.D. Eaton (1894-1930) was, like Cline, raised in Michigan and educated at the University of Michigan. His first novel was Backfurrow (1925); a posthumous second novel was John Drakin (1937). He was known as a book critic, and reviewed Cline's God Head in The Morning Telegraph (of New York), sometime between October 10th (the day the book was published) and December 6th (the day the below advertisement was published) in 1925 (I have been unable to find the review itself,* frustratingly), though I have seen a few quotes from it. A publisher's advertisement in The New York Times gives the following quote:

God Head gives me more than one thrill. Cline, as a novelist, is Jack London back from hell, a vastly improved London philosophically, and a London with a few new tricks of phrase, but in the main, with the same old powerful glamour, somewhat polished up  . . . The book is almost too good to be true.

When Cline proposed the article on "Jail Hill" to his agent, he described it as:

It would be a series of short character studies and episodes drawn from life in this most incredible and unknown of all institutions: a  New England country jail. The general theme would be, more or less, the futility of jails; but it would be never succinctly stated. With 400 words for the maximum episode, I could go on--perhaps almost in diary form--for as long as an editor's patience would last.

Cline's manuscript, titled "On Jail Hill," was written in the Tolland Jail on 5 January 1928. 

*If anyone can turn this review up and supply it, I'll be very grateful!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

New Issues with Following Blogs by email

The short version:  Most blogs I'm involved with have a "Follow by email" option. The "Follow by email" function worked (fine) via Google's Feedburner since I started using it.  Google is eliminating Feedburner in July, which means I have had to find an alternate source. I have transferred this following-by-email function to I already have seen anomalies, and hope they won't be numerous. This blog has a new "Follow by email" widget that goes directly to I have migrated the subscription list there too, but I suspect there will be issues. I'll try to fix errors if they are reported to me.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Newly Discovered Cline Poem

It's a rare event when I find a Cline publication that is entirely new to me. I think the last one was nearly ten years ago. But here is a new one, a poem entitled "Pizzicato" from The Gargoyle, April 1921, a humor magazine of the University of Michigan. Cline attended the University of Michigan from 1910 through 1913, as part of the Class of 1914, though he never graduated. A "pizzicato" is a musical term, referring to a passage played by plucking strings rather than by the drawing of a bow over the strings. This presumably refers to the rhythm of the poem.

The poem is oddly positioned on the page. Three stanzas are followed by a paragraph of "Dramatis Personae," which is in turn followed by a concluding stanza. Apparently the nine people described in the "Dramatis Personae" are to be equated with the "Nine gray ghosts" of the poem. Some of the figures are (or were) well-known, like the anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, who had died in 1915, and Jimmy Huneker, i.e., James Gibbons Huneker, a famous literary figure, a critic of art and books who died on 9 February 1921, barely two months before this poem appeared in print. One of the other figures is "My great uncle, Jake"-- and I can confirm that Cline did indeed have a great uncle Jacob Cline (1811-1899), the oldest brother of Cline's grandfather, David Hiram Cline (1827-1921), who was still alive when Leonard's poem was published (David Hiram Cline died on 21 July 1921).  

Enough background.  Here is the poem. Make of it what you will! 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

GOD HEAD newly translated into Finnish

A quick note here to call attention to a new edition of God Head, translated into Finnish by Juri Nummelin, and recently published  (as Jumalan pää) by Oppian of Finland.  I can't say I understand by their cover who they think the audience for this book is, but it appears that they are presenting this book as something appreciated by readers of zombie novels. (Not I think an appropriate decision.) In any case it is the first translation of God Head into any language.

Translator Juri Nummelin has posted about it, including the text of his introduction (in Finnish), at his website here.

God Head was first noticed in Finland soon after it's original  publication, when Y.E.N. -- Yrjö Emil Niiniluoto (1900-1961), a prominent man in Finnish journalism -- published a long review in the 18 January 1926 issue of the Helsingin Sanomat. Here are some extracts from the review, translated for me many years ago by Mikael Ahlström.

A Novel about Michigan Finns 

During recent months, bits of news have arrived from across the ocean, making allusion to the birth of a fiction genre with Finns as heroes. This is a new phenomenon which arouses contradictory feelings in a Finn: some sort of self-satisfaction and at the same time undefined fears that it is all the kind of rubbish as American cultural phenomena are usually considered here as well as in the continental Europe to be, counterfeit money marked with the seal of our country, proper to degrade us. We are yet rather unaccustomed to this kind of internationa­lity that, however, is sought after with might and main by our foreign propaganda. We feel strange like a man who sees his name first time in newspaper columns.

And if one is reasonable, one cannot ask a Finn to take up without perplexity and suspicion a book titled God Head, dedicated to “Katariina of Kukkulatie (Hill Road)” and the titles of the three parts of which are - Kullervo, Lemminkainen and Vainamoinen. And the fantastically excited and hysterical opening at which one glances with curiosity does not promise well. The more pleasant it is, at further reading, to find that the book is interesting in many respects and that it yet does not put our nationality in too bad a light.

Paul Kempf, the “I” of the novel, is a restless and somewhat eccentric seeker-soul who has worked as a barber surgeon, a sculptor and last as a communist agitator. As he is speaking in the Imatra Hall of Ironwood to Finnish miners, urging them to go out on strike . . .

Except for the “I” of the novel, all its characters are Finnish, and albeit this “I” is hysterically and eccentrically subjective and steals a correspondingly great deal of the scope of description, the remaining quantity of actual description of the Finns is nevertheless comprehensive to such a degree that it deserves special attention particularly here in Finland where so little is known about the Finns living in America. The author has spent long periods among the Finnish population living in the Michigan woodlands and met cultivated Finns in New York. And he has spent his apprenticeship well, made count­less, detailed observations, and thus managed to create himself a picture of the Finns that comes amazingly close to the truth. Of course he speaks about the Mongoloid origins of the Finns, the prominent cheekbones, and often disparagingly about their “brutality”. Exaggeration is likewise his talk about the Finns’ superstition and savagery - though this character may have devel­oped greater in American forests than in homeland. Equally mis­leading is his mention of some revolt in the latter part of 1870’s, and of certain customs, e.g. making the sign of the cross. But in spite of these slight lapses his observations are - from small detail, like picking superstitiously a needle from the floor, up to general Finnish characteristics - amazingly accurate and correct. His knowledge of the Kalevala and folk songs is excellent and his explanations for them often ingenious and opening new perspectives. It is typical of the author’s scrupulo­sity that he even gives the music for a couple of our most beau­tiful folk songs. Courageously he has introduced into the most mixed of world’s languages dozens of Finnish words, from sauna and puukko (knife) to linnunrata (galaxy) and sydänkäpy (sweet­heart). But this Finnishness is not just superficial, it has put its imprint on the description as well. Many landscapes and scenes are so genuinely Finnish that they could immediately be transferred to Finnish countryside. The author has in them managed to penetrate deep into the soul of Finnish nature and national character. As a sample of a small, truthful observation, let us give his description of a Finnish pirtti (log cabin):

“The scrubbing-brush had worn notches in the floor made of bare, unpainted bellows, and bright-colored rustic rag rugs had been spread on it. Some color pictures cut out of pictorials had been attached on the walls. In one corner, on a dresser, there was an accordion; and there was a painted book-shelf there, the shelves of which had a few books leaning against each other. Curtains made of flowery linen were hanging on one window.”

An excellent sample of the author’s insight is his ability to understand the psychology of such a strange object as a puukko:

“I hold it in my hand, grasp the small hook in my bel t, and hang it by the thin silver mounts, feel its sharpness against my thumb, clasp the haft and fling long strokes towards flicker­ing shadows. It makes me strong, it excites me with a wild sense of power.”

All in all, it can be said that the author’s observations are authentic, and the picture he creates of Finns is very sympa­thetic.