Saturday, December 29, 2018

Charles Henry Bennett | Shapeshifting Fox

C.H. Bennett, Metamorphosis (1863)
Above One of a series of elaborate comic metamorphoses (aka shapeshifting) created by Victorian-era British illustrator Charles Henry Bennett (1863) in sardonic reference to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, this one titled "Beware of the goose when the fox preaches." Courtesy The Wellcome Library.


Vincent Starrett (Chicago Tribune book columnist Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett), Born in a Bookshop: Chapters from the Chicago Renascence. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, pp. 295-296—

It is curious how the faces of acquaintances repeat themselves in foreign lands. Uncanny, too, for what could be more disconcerting than to encounter an old friend jogging past dressed like a mandarin or selling chestnuts in coolie cloth? No sooner had I reached the Orient than this began to happen. Friends and associates I thought I had left behind in America, sometimes fellows I hadn't seen in years, popped up in Yokohama, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Peking, looking very much as I had seen them last, yet subtly altered by the native costumes they were wearing. It was as if one met them coming from a masquerade. In Yokohama it was an old school friend who had been dead for years. He was running a cigarette kiosk near the docks and I knew better than to speak to him. In Tokyo it was a genial barber who used to shave me in Chicago. And in Peking [Beijing] here were so many that my blood ran cold.

Among the friends I met in Chinese garb (and with Chinese faces) were some pretty distinguished fellows…I saw Alex Woollcott many times: once he was chirping seductively at a bird he was carrying through the streets in a bamboo cage. Once my dead mother turned out of a side street and gave me a turn that almost bowled me over. Once I met Bob Casey driving a small donkey attached to a two-wheeled cart: he was selling vegetables. After a time it became an amusing game to look for absent friends and sometimes to hail them genially, and no harm came of it for the Chinese were a friendly people, always ready to hail one in return.

But one day I really did get a shock. Rolling down one of the main thoroughfares of Peking in my rickshaw, I came suddenly abreast of another rickshaw rider headed in the opposite direction. He was bundled up in a fur coat and wore a fur hat, rather like a turban, at a rakish angle. He looked exactly like J. P. McEvoy and for a moment we looked hard at each other. Then I said, “Hello, Mac,” and he stopped his boy and said, “Why, hullo, Vince! What are you doing in Peking?”