The Rebel Angels. The Cornish Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

Your work is offensive because of what you work with. Though I should think it was cheap.

Oh no, not at all. I’m not a night-soil man, Simon. The stuff has to be special, and it costs three dollars a bucket, and if you multiply that by a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five — and that’s the smallest test-group I can use — it’s three hundred dol­lars or more a day, seven days a week, just for starters.

A hundred buckets a day! Quite a heap.

If I was in cancer research you wouldn’t hear a word said. Cancer’s all the rage, you know, and has been for years. You can get any money for it.

I don’t suppose you could say this was related to cancer research?

Simon! And you a parson! That’d be a lie! I don’t know what it’s related to. That’s what I’m trying to find out.

Pure science?

Nearly. Of course I have an idea or two, but I’m working from the known towards the unknown. I’m in a neglected field and an unpopular one because nobody really likes messing with the stuff. But sooner or later somebody had to, and it turns out to be me. I suppose you want to hear about it?

I’d be delighted. But I didn’t come to pry, you know. Just a friendly visit.

I’m glad to tell you all I can. But will you wait a few minutes; there’s somebody else coming — a girl Hollier wants to know about my work, because of something she’s doing in his line, whatever that is. Anyway, she should be here soon.

Shortly she appeared, and it was my New Testament Greek student and the thorn in the flesh of Professor Hollier, that un­expected puritan: Miss Theotoky. A queer group we made: I was in my clerical clothes and back-to-front collar, because I had been at a committee dinner where it seemed appropriate, and Maria was looking like the Magdalen in a medieval illumination, though not so gloomy, and Ozias Froats looked like what was left of a great footballer who had been transformed into a con­troversial research scientist. He was still a giant and still very strong, but his hair was leaving him, and he had what seemed to be a melon concealed in the front of his trousers, when his white lab-coat revealed it. There were pleasantries, and then Ozy got down to his explanation.

People have always been interested in their faeces; primitive people take a look after they’ve had a motion, to see if it tells them anything, and there are more civilized people who do that than you’d suppose. Usually they are frightened; they’ve heard that cancer can give you blood in your stools, and you’d be amazed how many of them rush off to the doctor in a sweat when they’ve forgotten the Harvard beets they ate the day before. In the old days doctors looked at the stuff, just the way they looked at urine. They couldn’t cut into anybody, but they made quite a lot of those examinations.

Scatomancy, they called it, said Maria. Could they have learned anything?

Not much, said Ozy; though if you know what you are doing you can find out a few things by smell — the faeces of a drug-addict, for instance, are easy to identify. Of course when real investigative science got going they did some work on faeces — you know, measured the amounts of nitrogen and ether extract and neutral fat and cholalic acid, and all the inspissated mucus and bile and bacteria, and the large amounts of dead bacteria. The quantity of food residue is quite small. That work was use­ful in a restricted area as a diagnostic process, but nobody carried it very far. What really got me going on it was Osier.

Osier was always throwing off wonderful ideas and insights that he didn’t follow up; I suppose he expected other people would deal with them when they got around to it. As a student I was caught by his brief remarks on what was then called catarrhal en­teritis; he mentioned changes in the constitution of the intestinal secretion — said, We know too little about the succus entericus to be able to speak of influences induced by change in its quantity or quality. He wrote that in 1896. But he proposed some associations between diarrhoea and cancer, and anaemia, and some kidney ailments, and what he said stuck in my mind.

It wasn’t till about ten years ago that I came on a book that brought back what Osier had said, though the application was radically different. It was a proposal for what the author named Constitutional Psychology — a man called W. H. Sheldon, a respected Harvard scientist. Roughly, what he said was that there was a fundamental connection between physique and tem­perament. Not a new idea, of course.

Renaissance writing is full of it, said Maria.

You wouldn’t call it scientific, though. You wouldn’t be able to go that far.

It was pretty good, said Maria. Paracelsus said that there were more than a hundred, and probably more than a thousand, kinds of stomach, so that if you collected a thousand people it would be as foolish to say they were alike in body, and treat them as if they were alike in body, as it would be to suppose they were identical in spirit. ‘There are a hundred forms of health,’ he said, ‘and the man who can lift fifty pounds may be as able-bodied as a man who can lift three hundred pounds.’

He may have said it, but he couldn’t prove it.

He knew it by insight.

Now, now, Miss Theotoky, that’ll never do. You have to prove things like that experimentally.

Did Sheldon prove what Paracelsus said experimentally?

He certainly did!

That just proves Paracelsus was the greater man; he didn’t have to fag away in a lab to get the right answer.

We don’t know if Sheldon got the completely right answer; we don’t have any answers yet — just careful findings. Now —

She’s teasing you, Ozy, I said. Maria, you be quiet and let the great man talk. Perhaps we’ll give Paracelsus an innings later. You know, of course, that Professor Froats is under great criti­cism at present, of a kind that could be harmful.

So was Paracelsus — hounded from one country to another, and laughed at by all the universities. And he didn’t have academic tenure, either. But I’m sorry; please don’t let me interrupt.

What a contentious girl she was! But refreshing. I had a sneak­ing feeling for Paracelsus myself. But I wanted to hear about Sheldon, and on Ozy went.

He wasn’t just saying that people are different, you know. He showed how they were different. He worked on four thousand college students, altogether. Not the best sample, of course — all young, all intelligent — not enough variety, which is what I’m trying to achieve. But he finally divided his four thousand guinea pigs into three main groups.

They were the endomorphs, who had soft, rounded bodies, and the mesomorphs, who were muscular and bony, and then the ectomorphs, who were fragile and skinny. He did extensive re­search into their temperaments and their backgrounds and the way they lived and what they wanted from life, and he found that the fatties were viscerotonics, or gut-people, who loved comfort in all its forms; and the muscular, tough types were somatotonics, whose pleasure was in exercise and exertion; and the skinnies were cerebrotonics, who were intellectual and ner­vous — head-people, in fact.

So far this is not big news. I suppose Paracelsus could have done that by simple observation. But Sheldon showed by measurements and a variety of tests that everybody contains some elements of all three types, and it is the mixture that influences — influences, I said, not wholly determines — tem­perament. He devised a scale running from one to seven to assess the quantity of such elements contained in a single subject. So you see that a 711 would be a maximum endomorph — a fatty with hardly any muscle or nerve — a real slob. And a 117 would be a physical wreck, all brain and nerve and a physical liability. Big brain, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean a capacious or well-managed intellect. The perfectly balanced creature would be a 444 but you don’t see many and when you do you’ve probably found the secretary of an athletic club with a rich membership and first-class catering.

Do you go around spotting the types? said Maria.

Certainly not. You can’t type people without careful examin­ation, and that means exact measurement. Want to see?

Of course we did not want to see. Obviously Ozy was loving every minute of this, and in no time he had a screen set up, and a lantern, and was showing us slides of men and women of all ages and appearance, photographed naked against a grid of which the horizontal and lateral lines made it possible to judge with accuracy where they bulged and where they were wanting.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson