Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Emperorical evidence

I'm reading a book now about Joshua A. Norton also known as Emperor Norton I, whom I've found an interesting subject for awhile. First encountered him as a character in an issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics and wasn't sure if he was real at first.

He was, although he got fictionalized quite a bit, serving as the model for the Dauphin in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. English by birth, Jewish by extraction, and raised largely in South Africa, he was for a time a successful businessman in San Francisco. Then, to cut a long story short, he wasn't. It was after he lost all his money that he started embracing his entirely (but not to him) unofficial role as Emperor of the United States and issuing his proclamations. Some of these are silly and/or obnoxious, but some were prescient. He seems to have been a little ahead of the curve on slavery. This is the time when Twain got to know about him, as a writer for the Chronicle.

How important is delusion to keeping up your morale. Eliot said "Go go go said the bird/Humankind cannot bear very much reality." Norton certainly didn't seem very capable of bearing his.  But how many of have room to criticize?


susan said...

I hadn't known Emperor Norton was a real person either until I read your post. He sounds like a very fascinating character, one well worthy of a book or two. It was very nice to read that the people of San Francisco held him in such high regard and affection

It was Jer who remembered Emperor Norton Records. Ladytron was just one of their bands.

Yes, when reality becomes too much to bear fantasy is a fine retreat.

Ben said...

I'm sure some people were more fond of him than others. Still, he had a mix of awesome and fragile that can be impressive. I might look up another book on him in the future.

That's right. Ladytron's early records were on Emperor Norton. I recognize another one of their acts too. The Upper Crust, who play AC/DC-ish rock songs in Versailles type outfits. Seen them live.

At times, yes, at times.