Departments

Curiosities

Not all curiosities are of scientific use or value; not all anomalies are indicative; but the habit of collecting curiosities, the gothic fascination which they cast, is the same as, or rises from the same disposition as, the scientific temperament. The philosopher may despise the aberrant as the defectively instantiated ideal; but to the scientist, as much as to the poet, anything out of the ordinary—anything curious, bizarre, monstrous, abstruse, singular, marvellous—whatever it proves to be on examination, in the first instance and encounter it seems the token of another world, carries the promise and scent of livid skies over far wastes, or far kingdoms with dizzying monuments and cruel ways and musical languages.

It was not in that first reaction, but only in its prosecution that scientist and magus diverged: the scientist applied Occam's razor, to find the place of the thing in the known world; the magus supposed that he could limn new worlds in the thing. Of course the scientist is sometimes wrong. It was difficult for scientists to accept the notion of meteors; now they journey to cold white wastes to find the meteoric traces of an occult commerce of planets. Wonder is properly inspired by awe at the vast—at the sky, the mountain—but there is an equal inspiration in the glamour of the small and strange: in the jests of nature; in the contextless banal illuminated and freighted with its foreignness; in the freakish, inexplicable, puzzling, or inscrutable. The wonder of the awful should not be dimmed by explanation, nor the glamour of the curious.