Saturday, May 25, 2013

A few flakes of Brann

Years ago H Allen Smith included a bit of William Brann's (1855-1898) work in a humor anthology. He wrote a journal called The Iconoclast and did his best to live up to its name. The first article in the linked compilation sympathetically revisits the story of Potiphar's wife--he thinks her unfairly maligned.

From the linked bio: "Mainly because of Brann's jaundiced view of the Negro race (altogether too forthrightly expressed by the Iconoclast), he is considered far too politically incorrect for contemporary Americans to gracefully handle. Thus, in spite of the richness of his wit and wisdom on a vast array of other subjects, he is considered by many best forgotten."

Which is a pity, because he had a lively sense of language and much wider interests; you can pick and choose. Had he met Condoleezza Rice he might have had the iconoclastic urge to resist the attitudes of his time.

A quick sampling to show his wordsmithing skill:

St. Paul SAYS: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And tho' I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

So it appears that chin-music without charity is not calculated to pay very large dividends in the interesting ultimate; that a man may be full of faith, and pregnant with prophecy, and chock-a-block with knowledge and redolent of religious mystery,—that he may leak sanctification in the musical accents of an angel and still be "nothing"—a pitiful hole in the atmosphere, a chimera circulating in a vacuum and foolishly imagining itself a man.

But what is charity? You people who have prayers and Bible readings before breakfast, while your hearts vibrate between holiness and hash—between Christ and the cook— should know; but it's dollars to doughnuts you don't. You probably imagine that when you present your out-of-fashion finery to your poor relations, then wait for a vote of thanks or a resolution of respect; that when you permit a tramp to fill a long-felt want with the cold victuals in your cupboard, which even your pug dog disdains, that the Recording Angel wipes the tears of joy from his eyes with his wing- feathers and gives you a page, while all Heaven gets gay because of your excessive goodness. That's because your religious education has been sadly neglected. If you would read the Bible—and the ICONOCLAST—with more care you couldn't make such mistakes. St. Paul says (and, as the country preacher remarked, I fully agree with him):

"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."

Or take these:

"I came very near being a Baptist... but reneged when an attempt was made to baptize me in cracked ice on a winter's day."


"When Rome began to mock her gods, she found the barbarians thundering at her gates. When France insulted her priesthood and crowned a courtesan as Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame, Paris was a maelstrom and the nation a chaos in which Murder raged and Discord shrieked..."

"Character no longer counts for aught unless reinforced by a bank account... Men are sent to Congress whom God intended for the gallows, while those he ticketed for the penitentiary sprout inanities in fashionable pulpits. The merchant who pays his debts in full when he might settle for ten cents on the dollar is considered deficient in common sense... Why is this? It is because the old religious spirit is dormant if not dead; it is because when people consider themselves but as the beasts that perish, they can make no spiritual progress, but imitate their supposed ancestors..."


"No man can be either a patriot or a consistent Christian on an empty stomach—he's merely a savage animal, a dangerous beast."

"The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the impoverishment of the common people... has ever been the herald of moral decay and of national death... Shall the average American Citizen be a Slave or a Sovereign?"

and this set

"We're governed entirely too much—Officialism is becoming a veritable Old Man of the Sea on the neck of Labor's Sinbad. About every fifth man you meet is a public servant of some sort, and you cannot get married or buried, purchase a drink or own a dog except with a by-your-leave to the all-pervading law of the land... and if the police don't cut you down in time to put you in jail the preachers will send you to hell. ...We have so many laws and so much legal machinery that when you throw a man into the judicial hopper not even an astrologer can tell whether he'll come out a horse-thief or only a homicide..."

"I admit that I haven't much respect for the law—there's so much of it that when I come to spread my respect over the entire lot it's about as thin as one of Sam Jones's sermons...

"We are bowing down before various pie-hunting political gods and electing men to Congress who couldn't tell the Federal Constitution from Calvin's Confession of Faith...

"Our patriotism has been supplanted by partisanship, and now all are for a party and none are for the state. On July 4 we shout for the old flag and all the rest of the year we clamor for an appropriation..."

(I purloin selections freely from the bio page.)

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