Sunday, October 17, 2021

rudimentary multiple nipples on a hydroplane

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Above Roy R. Behrens, Horn of Plenty. Digital montage (©2021). 


Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, pp. 257-258—

[This is Browne’s account of time spent at the home of the parents of his friend and associate Robert Bell, whose] father, an eminent banker, terrified me, but I sat rapturously at his mother's feet; she had as many laughter-wrinkles round her eyes as there are waves in a field of corn.

One evening her famous brother-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell—Telephone Bell, as we younger folk inevitably nicknamed him—brought his charming deaf-mute wife [née Mabel Hubbard] to dinner as it was her disability which had first led him to the study of sound. During dinner he talked of a new hydroplane which he was building, the intensive breeding of sheep and rudimentary multiple nipples on human beings. Not one of us had an elementary acquaintance with one of his subjects, yet he held us all spellbound. After dinner his nephew and I steered him carefully into a corner: “How on earth did you keep us so interested in things of which we knew nothing?” For two memorable hours the old man thought aloud. Finally he reached a conclusion. “It is not primarily what a speaker says which interests his hearers—be he conversationalist, preacher, lecturer, actor or even writer—nor the words in which he says it, nor his manner of delivery, nor his personality; these things help or hinder but are secondary. The primary cause of sustained interest, I believe, is this. Each time that a speaker—or writer—pauses, for however infinitesimally brief a moment, he builds a bridge in his own mind over the silence between the word which he has last uttered and the word which he will utter next. If his hearers cross that bridge before him, he bores them; if they fail to cross it, or cross it too late, he loses them; if they cross it with him, he holds and keeps them.”