Incidents in the Biography of Dust

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    THE first impression one gets of this book is that of a kind of nightmare. It begins by personifying dust and makes “us dusts” utter a great deal of incoherent talk which changes somehow into the voice of the writer himself, who by and by fades into Prof. Tyndall, then into “a weekly paper, Punch” then through Hugh Miller and the Holy Scriptures into the familiar tones of Mr. Henry Woodward, F.R.S., who gives way to the dusts again, and so on. The first impression, too, deepens upon further perusal. One never can be quite sure who is speaking; whether the “we” is the editorial pronoun or marks the utterances of the personified dust-motes. Sometimes, indeed, by a kind of feeble and perhaps, unconscious pun, it means both the author and “us dusts;” as where a sentence begins (p. 107), “Of all the authorities we have ever rested on, Sir Charles Lyell has described mountain formation most accurately,” Or again: “Mrs. Somerville is a favourite authoress; we seldom find a protracted rest upon her volumes.” The writer seems to have made a very hearty meal on all kinds of miscellaneous geological and other scientific and literary food. The variety and amount of the viands have been too much for him. Hence the wild speculations, the grotesque theories, the pell-mell rush of changing subject through the 272 pages of this curious but dreary volume. So completely has the nightmare taken possession of the author that in his frenzy he forgets the composition of the very air he breathes, and sententiously announces that while “the earth consists of air, water, and dust,” the “air is composed chiefly of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbonic-acid gases.” We would venture to suggest a good application of oxygen and hydrogen in the form of a shower-bath as a corrective. The book closes most appropriately with a spiritualistic séance, at which the dramatis personœ; are a Medium, Spirit of Socrates, and Dust, if the author would discard all this “plain language,” as he is facetiously pleased to call it, and tell us in simple straightforward English what it is all about, we should be prepared calmly to listen to him, but no more such “Biographies of Dust!”

    Incidents in the Biography of Dust.

    By H. P. Malet. (London: Trübner and Co.)

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    Incidents in the Biography of Dust . Nature 16, 139–140 (1877) doi:10.1038/016139b0

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