Freaks of Fanaticism is a book I pulled off the shelf at SFU while doing some perusing on mythology and symbolism in literature. Full disclosure is that I constantly feel pressed for time, and although I would like to build up a knowledge base of historical literature and novels, I find that reading non-fiction regarding historical works or literature is a nice, albeit truncated, shortcut. So yes, maybe I should be reading Moby Dick, which was on my summer reading list. But I haven’t got there and instead skim-read (or maybe half-read would be more accurate) this and several other books in this general genre. There are two main reasons I read books in this genre. Firstly, with my interest in promoting classical education (see Compass Community Learning Centres, and New Antioch Institute), and yet having never received a classical education myself, I feel I have a great amount of “catching-up” to do both in learning history generally, and in learning the history of literature, more specifically. Secondly, however, as a fiction writer myself, working on a set of meaningful fantasy adventure novels, I am constantly looking for grist for the creative mill–ideas, scenarios, gambits, turns-of-phrase, allusions, symbols. etc.
Freaks, originally written in 1891, is a collection of nine true historical accounts selected because of their fascinating or mysterious nature. Apparently, the author, S. Baring-Gould, an Anglican priest and antiquarian had written a similar book previously, titled, “Historic Oddities.” Several of the stories have a religious aspect to them. Of the stories read, the account of Jean Aymon’s life (p129-145) is astonishing, as a daring and unscrupulous religious leader who, for all intents and purposes, was an ecclesiastical double-spy. A Northern Raphael (p39-66), is the story of the unfortunate murder of painter Gerhard Kugelgen and the subsequent investigation thereof. It reads like a modern murder mystery and for a true account, was a page-turner.
This little section gave me pleasure:
“Having received an order from Riga for a large altar picture, he bought a vineyard on the banks of the Elbe, commanding a charming prospect of the river and the distant blue Bohemian mountains. here he resolved to erect a country house for the summer, with a large studio lighted from the north. The construction of this residence was to him ma great pleasure and occupation. In November, 1819, he wrote to his brother, “My house shall be to us a veritable feiary palace, in which to dwell till the time comes, when through a little, narrow and dark door we pass through into that great habitation of the Heavenly Father in which are many mansions, and where our whole family will be re-united. Should it please God to call me away, then Lily (his wife) will find this an agreeable dower-house, in which she can supervise the education of the children, as the distance from the town is only an hour’s walk.” (p40-41)
Freaks of Fanaticism and Other Strange Events, S. Baring-Gould, Singing Tree Press, Detroit 1968.