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Gelett Burgess.

Are You a Bromide? The Sulphitic Theory Expounded and Exemplified According to the Most Recent Researches into the Psychology of Boredom Including Many Well-Known Bromidioms Now in Use online

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first schism in the Sulphitic Theory arises. Already the cult has
become so important that a newer heretic sect threatens it. These
protestants cannot believe that there is a definite line to be drawn
between Sulphites and Bromides, and hold that one may partake of a dual
nature. All such logic is fatuous, and founded upon a misconception of
the Theory.

* * * * *

There is, however, a subtlety which has perhaps had something to do
with confusing the neophyte. It is this: Sulphitism and Bromidism are,
symbolically, the two halves of a circle, and their extremes meet. One
may be so extremely bromidic that one becomes, at a leap, sulphitic,
and _vice versa_. This may be easily illustrated.

* * * * *

Miss Herford's inimitable monologues, being each the apotheosis of some
typical Bromide - a shopgirl, a country dressmaker, a bargain-hunter and
so on - become, through her art, intensely sulphitic. They are
excruciatingly funny, just because she represents types so common that
we recognize them instantly. Each expresses the crystallized thought of
her particular bromidic group. Done, then, by a person who is herself a
Sulphite _par excellence_, the result is droll. "One has," says
Emerson, "but to remove an object from its environment and instantly it
becomes comic."

* * * * *

The same thing is done less artistically every day upon the vaudeville
stage. We love to recognize types; and what Browning said of beauty:

We're made so that we love
First, when we see them painted,
Things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see

can be easily extended to our sense of humor in caricature. A recent
hit upon the variety stage does still more to illustrate the problem.

The "Cherry Sisters" aroused immense curiosity by an act so bromidic as
to be ridiculous. Were they rank amateurs, doing their simple best, or
were they clever artists, simulating the awkward crudeness of country
girls? That was the question. In a word, were they Sulphites or
Bromides?

What such artists have done histrionically, Hillaire Belloc has done
exquisitely for literature in his "Story of Manuel Burden." This tale,
affecting to be a serious encomium upon a middle class British
merchant, shows plainly that all satire is, in its essence, a sulphitic
juggling with bromidic topics. It is done unconsciously by many a
simple rhymester whose verses are bought by Sulphites and read with
glee.

* * * * *

In the terminology of our theory we must, therefore, include two new
terms, describing the variation of intensity of these two different
states of mind. The extremes meet at the points of Nitro-Bromidism and
Hypo-Sulphitism, respectively. Intensity of Bromidism becomes, then,
Nitro-Bromidism, and we have seen how, through the artist's, or through
a Sulphite's subtle point of view, such Nitro-Bromide becomes
immediately sulphitic.

By a similar reasoning, a Hypo-Sulphite can, at a step, become
bromidic. The illustration most obvious is that of insanity. We are not
much amused, usually, by the quaint modes of thought exhibited by
lunatics and madmen.

It cannot be denied, however, that their processes of thought are
sulphitic; indeed, they are so wildly original, so fanciful, that we
must denominate all such crazed brains, Hypo-Sulphites. Such persons
are so surprising that they end by having no surprises left for us. We
accept their mania and cease to regard it; it, in a word, becomes
bromidic. So, in their ways, are all cranks and eccentrics, all whose
set purpose is to astonish or to shock. We end by being bored at their
attitudes and poses.

* * * * *

The Sulphite has the true Gothic spirit; the Bromide, the impulse of
the classic. One wonders, relishing the impossible, manifesting himself
in characteristic, spontaneous ways; the other delights in rule and
rhythm, in ordered sequences, in authority and precedent, following the
law. One carves the gargoyle and ogrillion, working in paths untrod,
the other limits himself to harmonic ratios, balanced compositions, and
to predestined fenestration. One has a grim, _naïf_, virile humor,
the other a dead, even beauty. One is hot, the other cold. The Dark
Ages were sulphitic - there were wild deeds then; men exploded. The
Renaissance was essentially bromidic; Art danced in fetters, men looked
back at the Past for inspiration and chewed the cud of Greek thought.
For the Sulphite, fancy; for the Bromide, imagination.

* * * * *

From the fifteenth century on, however, the wave of Sulphitism rose
steadily, gradually dropping at times into little depressions of
Euphuistic manners and intervals of "sensibility" but climbing, with
the advance of science and the emancipation of thought to an ideal - the
personal, original interpretation of life. The nineteenth century
showed curiously erratic variations of the curve. From its beginning
till 1815, Sulphitism was upon the increase, while from that year till
1870 there was a sickening drop to the veriest depths of bromidic
thought. Then the Bromide infested the earth. With his black-walnut
furniture, his jig-saw and turning-lathe methods of decoration, his
lincrusta-walton and pressed terracotta, his chromos, wax flowers, hoop
skirts, chokers, side whiskers and pantalettes, went a horrific revival
of mock modesty inspired by the dying efforts of the old formulated
religious thought. And then - - when steam had had its day, impressing
its materialism upon the world; making what should be hard, easy, and
what should be easy, hard - came electricity - a new science almost
approaching a spiritual force, and, with a rush, the telephone that
made the commonplace bristle with romance! The curve of sulphitism
arose. A wave of Oriental thought lifted many to a curious
idealism - and, as so many other centuries had done before, there came
to the nineteenth a _fin de siècle_ glow that lifted up the curve
still higher. The Renaissance of thought came - came the cult of
simplicity and Mission furniture - corsets were abandoned - the automobile
freed us from the earth - the Yellow Book began, Mrs. Eddy appeared,
radium was discovered and appendicitis flourished.

* * * * *

So there are bromidic vegetables like cabbage, and sulphitic ones like
garlic. The distinction, once understood, applies to almost everything
thinkable. There are bromidic titles to books and stories, and titles
sulphitic. "The Something of Somebody" is, at present, the commonest
bromidic form. Once, as in "The Courting of Dinah Shadd" and "The
Damnation of Theron Ware," such a title was sulphitic, but one cannot
pick up a magazine, nowayears, without coming across "The - - of - - "
As most magazines are edited for Middle Western Bromides, such titles
are inevitable. I know of one, with a million circulation, which
accepted a story with the sulphitic title, "Thin Ice," and changed it
to the bromidic words, "Because Other Girls were Free." One of O.
Henry's first successful stories, and perhaps his best humorous tale,
had its title so changed from "Cupid _à la carte_," to "A Guthrie
Wooing."

This is one of the few exceptions to the rule that a sulphitic thing
can become bromidic. Time alone can accomplish this effect. Literature
itself is either bromidic or sulphitic. The dime novel and melodrama,
with hackneyed situations, once provocative, are so easily
nitro-bromidic that they become sulphitic in burlesque and parody.

* * * * *

Metaphysically, Sulphitism is easily explained by the theory of
Absolute Age. We have all seen children who seem to be, mentally, with
greater possibility of growth than their parents. We see persons who
understand without experience. It is as if they had lived before. It is
as if they had a definite Absolute Age. We recognize and feel
sympathetic with those of our caste - with those of the same age, not in
years, but in wisdom. Now the standard of spiritual insight is the
person of a thousand years of age. He knows the relative Importance of
Things. And it might be said, then, that Bromides are individuals of
less than five hundred years; Sulphites, those who are over that age.
In some dim future incarnation, perhaps, the Bromide will leap into
sulphitic apprehension of existence. It is the person who is Absolutely
Young who says, "Alas, I never had a youth - I don't understand what it
is to be young!" and he who is Absolutely Old remarks, blithely, "Oh,
dear, I can't seem to grow up at all!" One is a Bromide and the other a
Sulphite - and this explanation illuminates the paradox.

* * * * *

The Sulphite brings a fresh eye to life. He sees everything as if for
the first time, and not through the blue glasses of convention. As if
he were a Martian newly come to earth, he sees things separated from
their environment, tradition, precedent - the dowager without her money,
the politician without his power, the sage without his poverty; he sees
men and women for himself. He prefers his own observation to any _a
priori_ theories of society. He knows how to work, but he knows, too
(what the Bromide does never), how to play, and he plays with men and
women for the joy of life, and his own particular game. Though his view
he eccentric it is his own view, and though you may avoid him, you can
never forget or ignore him.

* * * * *

And so, too, using an optical symbolism, we may speak of the Sulphite
as being refractive - every impression made upon him is split up into
component rays of thought - he sees beauty, humor, pathos, horror, and
sublimity. The Bromide is reflective, and the object is thrown back
unchanged, unanalyzed; it is accepted without interrogation. The
mirrored bromidic mind gives back only what it has taken. To use the
phraseology of Harvard and Radcliffe, the Sulphite is connotative, the
Bromide denotative.

* * * * *

But the theory is constructive rather than destructive. It makes for
content, and peace. By this philosophy one sees one's friends revealed.
Though the Bromide will never say whether he prefers dark or white
meat; though he inflict upon you the words, "Why, if two hundred years
ago people had been told that you could talk through a wire they would
have hanged the prophet for witchcraft!" though he repeats the point of
his story, rolling it over on his tongue, seeking for a second laugh;
though he says, "Dinner is my best meal" - he cannot help it. You know
he is a Bromide, and you expect no more.

* * * * *

You will notice, also, in discussing this theory with your friends,
that the Bromide will take up, with interest, only the bromidic aspect
of life. The term will amuse him, and, never thinking that it should be
applied to himself, he will use the word "Bromide" in season and out of
it. To the Sulphite, however, Sulphitism is a thing to be watched for,
cultivated, and treasured. He will search long for the needle in the
haystack, and leave the bromidiom to be observed by the careless,
thoughtless Bromide. And, as the supreme test, it may be remarked that,
should buttons be put on the market, bearing the names "Bromide" and
"Sulphite" in blue and red, a few minutes' reflection will convince the
Sulphite that, before long, all the Bromides would be wearing the red
Sulphite buttons, and all the Sulphites the blue Bromide. Such is the
rationale of the perverse.

* * * * *

Bromides we may love, and even marry. Your own mother, your sister,
your sweetheart, may be bromidic, but you are not less affectionate.
They are restful and soporific. You may not have understood them;
before you heard of the Sulphitic Theory you were annoyed at their
dullness, their dogmas, but, with this white light illuminating them,
you accept them, now, for what they are, and, expecting nothing
original from them, you find a new peace and a new joy in their
society. "You may estimate your capacity for the Comic," says
Meredith - and the statement might be applied as well to the
Bromidic - "by being able to detect the ridicule of them you love,
without loving them less."

* * * * *

The Bromide has no salt nor spice nor savor - but he is the bread of
Society, the veriest staff of life. And if, like Little Jack Horner,
you can occasionally put in your thumb and pull out a sulphitic plum
from your acquaintance, be thankful for that, too!







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Online LibraryGelett BurgessAre You a Bromide? The Sulphitic Theory Expounded and Exemplified According to the Most Recent Researches into the Psychology of Boredom Including Many Well-Known Bromidioms Now in Use → online text (page 2 of 2)