Thursday, 3 May 2012

Pearsall Smith and the goat at Portsmouth

Pearsall Smith and the Goat at Portsmouth

"Someone mentioned a goat, so I told them the story of the Goat at Portsmouth"

'In conversation, someone mentioned a goat, so I told them the Story of the Goat at Portsmouth, whereupon an awful thought crossed my mind: "Had I told them this story before?". But then a deeper chasm loomed before me: "Was it the case that whenever anyone mentioned a goat I always told the story of the Goat at Portsmouth?".'

This quaint metaphor is well know in my family, but seems largely unknown elsewhere. It was a favourite with my father, RGR West, psychiatrist and philosopher. My brother Michael points out that Father clearly read it in Logan Pearsall Smith's 'More Trivia' which came out in 1921. What a delight to discover that cerebral goldmine of quirky fragments (which you can read online here)! One lingers unintentionally, drawn from each disjointed gobbet to the next by its sheer inconsequentiality; the only common elements are the very 'Bloomsbury' figure of Pearsall Smith himself and the chintzy clarity of his Edwardian England; umbrellas, railway carriages, teacups and sofas. (I quote: "Though I sometimes lay down the law myself on public questions, I don't very much care to hear other people do it." )  So delightfully challenging, so carefully phrased! I therefore append Pearsall Smith's original.

THE GOAT

In the midst of my anecdote a sudden misgiving chilled me—had I told them about this Goat before? And then as I talked there gaped upon me—abyss opening beneath abyss—a darker speculation: when goats are mentioned, do I automatically and always tell this story about the Goat at Portsmouth?

From 'More Trivia' by Logan Pearsall Smith (1921) (Available online)

 

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