An Anarchist

That year I spent the best two months of the dry season on one of the estates—in fact on the principal cattle estate—of a famous meat-extract manufacturing company.

B.O.S. Bos.* You have seen the three magic letters on the advertisement pages of magazines and newspapers, in the windows of provision merchants, and on calendars for next year you receive by post in the month of November. They scatter pamphlets also, written in a sickly enthusiastic style and in seven languages, giving statistics of slaughter and bloodshed enough to make a Turk turn faint. The ‘art’ illustrating that ‘literature’ represents in vivid and shining colours a large and enraged black bull stamping upon a yellow snake* writhing in emerald-green grass, with a cobalt-blue cloudless sky for a background. It is atrocious and it is an allegory. The snake symbolizes disease, weakness—perhaps even mere hunger, which last is the chronic disease of the majority of mankind. Of course everybody knows the B.O.S. Ltd, with its unrivalled products: Vino-bos, Jelly bos, and the latest unequalled perfection, Tribos,* whose nourishment is offered to you not only highly concentrated, but already half digested. Such apparently is the love that Limited Company bears to its fellow men—even as the love of the father and mother penguin for their hungry fledglings.

Of course the capital of a country must be productively employed. I have nothing to say against the company. But being myself animated by feelings of affection towards my fellow men, I am saddened by the modern system of advertising. Whatever evidence it offers of enterprise, ingenuity, impudence, and resource in certain individuals, it proves to my mind the wide prevalence of that form of mental degradation which is called gullibility.

In various parts of the civilized and uncivilized world I have had to swallow B.O.S. with more or less benefit to myself, though without great pleasure. Prepared with hot water and abundantly peppered to bring out the taste, this extract is not really unpalatable. But I have never swallowed its advertisements. Perhaps they have not gone far enough. As far as I can remember, they make no promise of everlasting youth to the users of B.O.S., nor yet have they claimed the power of raising the dead for their estimable products. Why this austere reserve, I wonder! But I don’t think it would have had me even on these terms. Whatever form of mental degradation I may (being but human) be suffering from, it is not the popular form. I am not gullible.

I have been at some pains to bring out distinctly this statement about myself in view of the story which follows. I have checked the facts as far as possible. I have turned up the files of French newspapers, and I have also talked with the officer who commands the military guard on the Ile Royale, when in the course of my travels I reached Cayenne.* I believe the story to be in the main true. It is the sort of story that no man, I think, would ever invent about himself, for it is neither grandiose nor flattering, nor yet funny enough to gratify the most perverted vanity.

What makes it interesting is its imbecility. In that it is not singular. The whole of the public and private records of humanity, history and story alike, are made interesting precisely by that priceless defect, under which we all labour—to our everlasting discomfiture, but to each other’s entertainment and edification. The story contains all the elements of pathos and fun, of tragedy and comedy, of sensation and surprise—whereas from rational conduct there is nothing to be expected of a touching, instructive, and amusing nature. I am sure to be misunderstood, but I disdain to labour a point which to me seems absolutely self-evident. I will only remark that the whole body of fiction bears me out. Its main theme, I believe, is love. But it has never entered any writer’s head to take rational love for a subject. We should yawn. Only the complicated absurdities of that psychophysiological state can rouse our interest and sympathy. However, there is nothing loving or lovable in what I am going to relate.

It concerns the engineer of the steam-launch belonging to the Marañon* cattle estate of the B.O.S. Co., Ltd. This estate is also an island—an island as big as a small province, lying in the estuary of a great South-American river. It is wild and not beautiful, but the grass growing on its low plains seems to possess exceptionally nourishing and flavouring qualities. It resounds with the lowing of innumerable herds—a deep and distressing sound under the vast open sky, rising like a monstrous protest of prisoners condemned

  By PanEris using Melati.

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