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LIttle Blue Books by Forteans (3): John Cowper Powys

July 16th, 2013 · 4 Comments


John Cowper Powys was a Founder of the Fortean Society, and professed himself delighted with Fort’s work.  Although remembered today mostly for his fiction, his contributions to the Little Blue Book catalog were all essays.  His first was #112, The Secret of Self Development; it was followed by #414, The Art of Happiness, and #435, One Hundred Best Books.  His book of literary essays, Suspended Judgments, was split up into #448-452 (although without the chapter on Verlaine); and his last entry was #1264, The Art of Forgetting the Unpleasant.


As the title Suspended Judgments indicates, Powys shared Fort’s taste for philosophical skepticism (as opposed to the pseudo-skepticism latterly popularized by The Annoying Randi and his acolytes).  The literary essays are delightfully passionate and capricious: at one point he discourses on all of the trees that remind him of Emily Bronte.  Probably the most Fortean of the batch is The Art of Happiness, which, curiously, seems to be a different text than the one he published later.  Here, for example, is a splendid sentence near the outset, rejecting both materialism and idealism, both science and religion: “But what I would like to indicate just here, is that a certain tentative, irrational, timid, hesitant scepticism has the power sometimes of calling up, out of deep mysterious places, a vision of the universe that commits us neither to an all-seeing God nor to an all-knowing Science, a vision that is confused and infinitely perplexing, but touched all the same by the beauty that no idealism can reach or materialism destroy, the beauty that belongs to that ambiguous look — unspeakable, unutterable — which crosses sometimes the countenance of Nature itself!”

Powys’s charming tribute to Fort doesn’t seem to be available online, so here it is.  It’s taken from The Fortean Society Magazine, #6, January 1942.  (Please click on it for a nice legible text.)


(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Ephemera · Forteana

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Win // Jul 16, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Those little blue books are an enduring source of gratification and wonderment. These selections beautifully evoke Powys’ temperamental kinship with the likes of William Blake, Ralph Emerson and Havelock Ellis. And it’s always great to remember that he was 70 years old and more when he wrote things like that review of Fort’s book. Thanks for yet another great read; looking forward to more entries in this particular series.

  • 2 Derek // Jul 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Only the great JCP could get away with a sentence like that. As I recall, I discovered the word umbragious in his writing.

  • 3 Doug // Jul 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Fort and Powys are a curious combo. I hope they got a chance to talk things over sometime, over Fort’s beloved beer and cheese.

  • 4 mamie // Sep 29, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    That is a splendid sentence!

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