Robinson Crusoe teaches the bear to dance.
Gert is a connoisseur of frauds and hoaxes, so she zeroed in on Roelf Bolt’s book. It’s a strange collection, ranging from the peccadilloes of eminent men like Einstein and Mitterand to outrageous deceptions like George C. Parker’s offer to rich but dim immigrants to buy shares in the Brooklyn Bridge and impose a toll. And pleasurable as it is to read of the self-satisfied French media-star/philosophe Bernard Henri Levy’s being hoodwinked by a false philosopher with a doctrine called “Botulism”, it is really distressing to read of people like the desperately-poor Mary Toft who, in 1726, apparently began to give birth to live rabbits. For attention? For money? As Bolt concludes, “The only time that history paid her any attention was when she became a suspected criminal” (140)
But one of the very strangest things Gert discovered when she investigated a couple of promising cases further, is that some of these people have quite a following. Ruth Drown, for example, who believed that a sick person’s magnetism could be drained away down the bathplug when emptying the bath (Flann O’Brien must surely have read this) and that jazz music could cause cancer, still seems to have passionate supporters for her Drown Radio-vision Instrument, her Drown Therapeutic Instrument and her Drown Homeo-vibra Ray Instrument, as you’ll discover by browsing the net. And then there’s Cyril Hoskin, who fell out of a tree while photographing an owl and woke up inhabited by the spirit of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, a Tibetan monk. Subsequently he met the Abominable Snowman, flew to Venus in a UFO, and wrote a book dictated by his Siamese cat Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers. Was Cyril a fraud? Not according to the lobsangrampa website.
A mad world, my masters!
* (Reaktion Books 2014)