Monday, May 5, 2014



            In Peter Levi’s life of Edward Lear there is a reference to a friend of Lear’s “who would become Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby,” which sounds like an awe-inspiring transformation, as in “Daphne, who would become a laurel tree” or “Mrs. Lot, who would become a pillar of salt.” If I had the talent, I think I’d do an animated cartoon about this. In the mid-19th Century, in a small British town, a man wakes and is appalled to find that he is dressed in full admiral’s regalia, complete with the ornate hat (see Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore). He rushes into the street with a low wail, and seizes the first passer-by, saying “Alas! I have become Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby!” The passer-by starts, and says “Then we are brothers in despair! I, too, have become Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby!” They embrace. The two resolve to go to London and beseech Parliament to aid them.
            As they travel the road, they are joined by more and more men, women and children (and perhaps a few dogs, cats, and horses) who have all become Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby. They reach Parliament, which is in emergency session, and passes “The Relief of Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby Act” just before the Speaker and his woolsack both become Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby. However, it cannot go into effect since, as she is readying to sign, the Queen becomes Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby.
            We fade to a scene some months later, in which England is adjusting to its new existence, in which everyone is Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby. We pan through streets in which huckster admirals are selling roasted chestnuts and the like to buyer admirals, while beggar admirals, in ragged uniforms, shiver beneath streetlamps, selling matches. We enter a theatre, stopping to buy a ticket from Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby, and go in to watch what is evidently a production of “A Christmas Carol.” On stage, we see Tiny Tim (Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby) lifting his glass and saying “God bless us, every one!” while Scrooge (Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby), accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby) is evidently much moved. The crowd of admirals in the seats bursts into thunderous applause.
            Suddenly, our pov starts soaring upwards, passing through the ceiling, through the clouds, past planets and stars and ultimately into a blindingly white space, which can only be the Courts of Heaven. We pass through crowds of angels who seem to be scurrying purposefully on errands, occasionally nodding at each other or stopping to speak a few words. None of them are Admiral Sir Phipps Hornsby. We approach, reverently, and from a long way behind it, the very Throne of God. We cannot, of course, see His Face (if you’re curious why, Herman Melville has a long explanation in Moby Dick). However, we do catch a glimpse of His Hat …


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