“…the awful cloud of Apprehension…”

Sir Isaac Newton: ““A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true, for if the things be false, the apprehension of them is not understanding.”

From: Penelope Fitzgerald – a Life (2013) by Hermione Lee:

“With literary adaptations she was on secure ground. Asked by one producer (probably Robert Gittings, who worked on several of her programmes before his later career as a dramatist and a Keats and Hardy scholar) for her list of favourite literary characters, she offers him (examples from Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Ada Leverson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Scott)…”and the stranger with the folie de toucher from Lavengro.” ”

(Fitzgerald appears to have coined this term to describe the compulsion to touch things of a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (see for example https://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/a-touching-story), intending neither phobie de toucher nor delire de toucher.)

From Wikipedia:

“Guy Thorne was the pen name of Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull (1875 – 9 January 1923), a prolific English journalist and novelist…He also wrote under the names C. Ranger Gull and Leonard Cresswell Ingleby. Thorne was a close friend of the publisher Leonard Smithers, a London publisher associated with the Decadent movement, and a friend of the poet Ernest Dowson, an English poet, novelist, and short-story writer often associated with the Decadent movement. Thorne was known for his heavy drinking…”

In the foreword to The Drunkard he wrote:

“The sixth chapter in the third book of this story can hardly be called fiction. The notes upon which it is founded were placed in my possession by a brilliant man of letters some short time before he died. Serious students of the psychology of the Inebriate may use the document certain that it is genuine.

I have to acknowledge my indebtedness to the illuminating study in heredity of Dr. Archdall Reed, M.B., C.M., F.R.S.E. His book “Alcoholism” ought to be read by every temperance reformer in Europe and America.

“The Drink Problem,” a book published by Messrs. Methuen and written in concert by the greatest experts on the subject of Inebriety, has been most helpful. I have not needed technical help to make my story, but I have found that it gives ample corroboration of protracted investigation and study.”

In the body of the work he writes:

“Touching, I do not so much mind. In me it is a symptom of alcoholism, but greater people have known it as a mere nervous affection quite apart from drink. Dr. Johnson used to stop and return to touch lamp-posts. In Lavengro, Borrow has words to say about this impulse – I think it is in Lavengro or it may be in the Spanish book. Borrow used to “touch wood.” I began it a long time ago, in jest at something young Ingworth said. I did it as one throws spilt salt over one’s shoulder or avoids seeing the new moon through glass. Together with the other things I have to do now, it has become an obsession. I carry little stumps of pencil in all my pockets. Whenever a thought of coming evil, a radiation from the awful cloud of Apprehension comes to me, then I can thrust a finger into the nearest pocket and touch wood. Only a fortnight ago I was frightened out of my senses by the thought that I had never been really touching wood at all. The pencil stumps were all varnished. I had been touching varnish! It took me an hour to scrape all the varnish off with a pocket knife. I must have about twenty stumps in constant use. At night I always put one in the pocket of my pyjama coat – one wakes up with some fear – but, half asleep and lying as I do upon my left side, the pocket is often under me and I can’t get to the wood quickly. So I keep my arm stretched out all night and my hand can touch the wooden top of a chair by the bed in a second. I made Tumpany sand-paper all the varnish off the top of the chair too. He thought I was mad. I suppose I am, as a matter of fact. But though I am perfectly aware of the damnable foolishness of it, these things are more real to me than the money-market to a business man.

If it were only this compulsion to touch wood I should not mind. But there are other tyrannies coincident which are more urgent and compelling. My whole mind – at times – seems taken up by the necessity for ritual actions. I have no time for quiet thought. Everything is broken in upon…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s