A respite from diet of gloom

Posted April 24, 2009, at 7:48 p.m.

On the supposition that you are as sick as I am of the grim news assaulting us at every turn these days, I propose to lighten the load this fine April morning with a bill of fare focused on woman’s domination of man, as seen by a curmudgeonly American newspaperman more than a century ago.

In my previous incarnation as full-time ink-stained wretch, a friend would often send me interesting publications she had acquired in her hobby of collecting old books and the like. One such treasure, a fragile yellowed tract titled “Brann, a Smasher of Shams” remains a favorite. Compiled by a man named John W. Gunn, no publisher nor date of publication listed, it contains writings of late 19th century Texas newspaperman William Cowper Brann, also known as “Brann, the Iconoclast.”

Famous for the articulate savagery of his writing, Brann especially loved to attack Baptists, Episcopalians, Brits and wealthy East Coast socialites such as the Vanderbilts. According to the Wikipedia Web site, he reportedly once wrote of the Baptists and their penchant for riverside baptisms, “I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough.”

In the spring of 1898, the 43-year-old publisher, whose declared mission was to attack “frauds, fakes and falsehoods,” was assassinated by an upset reader. So much for freedom of the press in Texas in 1898. Until then, according to Gunn, Brann’s “lively and scintillating pen emitted monthly flashes of searching comment upon men and affairs, politics and philosophy.”

He also had a sense of humor. In one essay, Brann answered a letter from a Tyler, Texas, man who wanted to know if woman could hypnotize man. The letter writer suggested that by answering, Brann would “confer a favor on the people of Tyler, decide a bet and settle a vexatious question.”

Brann’s response, in part:

“Can woman hypnotize man? Well, I should snigger.

“She can hypnotize anything that wears pants, from the prince at his gilded poker game, to the peasant scattering worm poison in the lowly cotton patch and revolving in his think tank the tenets of Populism; and I’m not sure but the clothing-store dummies and their brother dudes are simply the physical wrecks and mental ruins of her hypnotic medicine. She hypnotizes because she can’t help it. She’s built that way …”

He suggested that woman does not operate “as do the professional he-hypnotists. Instead of giving you a bright button or brand-new dime to look at, she puts her dimples in evidence — maelstroms of love in a sea of beauty.”

After much blushing and sighing and fluttering of eyelids on woman’s part, “You realize that the linchpin is slipping out of your logic, but you let ‘er slip,” Brann wrote. “You suspect that your judgment has taken unto itself wings, and that you couldn’t tell whether you’re a red-liquor Democrat or a hard-cider Prohibitionist; but you don’t care. You simply bid farewell to every fear and give the ‘operator’ your undivided attention.

“She plays with a skilled hand on all your senses, until the last one of them ‘passes in music out of sight’ and leaves you a mental bankrupt. She makes you drunken with the music of her voice and maddens you with the low, sweet melody of her skirts …”

Brann describes in quite some detail how the female mesmerizer goes about seducing the male of the species, who is now uncertain whether he has “hit the lottery for the capital prize or been nominated for justice of the peace. You have lost your identity, and should you chance to meet yourself in the middle of the road would need an introduction. The larger the supply of brains you sat in the game with, the less you have left. You begin to talk incoherently, and lay the premise for a breach-of-promise case.”

Should the hypnotist break the spell by marrying the hypnotized, Brann counseled, “you will return by easy stages to the normal and again become a sane man and useful member of society …”

Beware, however, when woman loses her hypnotic power. For then, Brann concludes, “She either straddles a bike, becomes a religious crank or seeks surcease of sorrow among the female suffragists.”

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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