|A Reader's Guide
to William Gaddis's The Recognitions
II.5 pp. pages 487-495
487.epigraph] "The trust of our people [...] director of the Mint: from Laurence Dwight Smith's Counterfeiting: Crime against the People (196-97), the source for many details in the first ten pages of this chapter:
Fearful that the Republic might be utterly destroyed by the [Civil War], the Reverend M. R. Watkinson wrote to Salmon P. Chase, who was then Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln, pointing out that no mention of the Almighty God appeared on our coins. "Antiquarians of succeeding generation" might believe, he declared, when they examined the coinage of the country, that we were a "heathen nation." Chase promptly wrote to Pollock, Director of the Mint: "The trust of our people [... as above ...] national recognition." On April 22, 1864 an act was passed authorizing the coinage of two-cent bronze pieces with the inscription, "In God we trust."
487.3] ancestors had gathered at the foot of the Janiculum [...] on the Tiber bank: from the opening paragraph of Saltus's third chapter, "The Convulsions of the Church" (AN 66):
The earliest barbarian that invaded Rome was a Jew. He did not thunder at the gates; he went unheralded to the Taberna [sic] Meritoria - a squalid inn on the Tiber that reeked with garlic - broke his fast, and then sauntered forth, as any modern traveler might do, to view the city. His first visit was to his compatriots at the foot of the Janiculum. To them he whispered something, went away, returned and whispered again. After a while he spoke out loud. Some of his hearers contradicted him; he spoke louder. The peddlars, the rag-pickers, the valets-de-place and hook-nosed porters grew tumultuous at his words. The ghetto was raided, and a complaint for inciting disorder was lodged against a certain Christus, of whom nothing was known and who had managed to elude arrest.
487.9] "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?": the Jews' response to Jesus's declaration: "and the bread I will give is my flesh" (John 6:51-52). The line is quoted by Conybeare in his discussion of the Eucharist (MMM 271).
487.17] a scream so ghastly [...] as the book said: from Gross's Criminal Investigation, which contains a section on faking epileptic seizures (152-53).
487.22] A.M.D.G.: see 393.38-40.
488.8] Saint Augustine [...] Tagaste: "When he was dwelling in community near Tagaste, he utterly withdrew from the world, 'living for God alone, wholly occupied in fasting, prayer, and similar good works, meditating day and night upon the things of God, and closely following the manner of life of the solitaries of the Egyptian desert'" (PPM 30-31, quoting from Père Hélyot's Histoire des ordres monastiques ).
488.10] Saint Gregory ("the Contemplative Life [...] the active"): Saint Gregory the Great, pope 590-604. The famous dictum is quoted by Summers (PPM 30), who cites Gregory's Homily on Ezechiel as the source.
488.17] Atlanta: location of one of three Federal penitentiaries maintained by the U.S. government at the time.
488.18] Saint Giles's retirement to the desert: apparently the Saint Giles who died about 712, about whom many legends were told. Summers notes "the hermit was companioned by a hind which he loved" (PPM 68) but gives no further details concerning his "retirement."
488.21] Jeremiah [...] "go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem": Jer. 2:2; cited by Summers on the same page (PPM 30) as the Saint Gregory quotation above.
488.36] Cavalieri as Tosca: Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944), Italian operatic soprano who sang often in America in the early part of the century. A photograph of Cavalieri as Tosca appears in Gustave Kobbé's The Complete Opera Book, rev. ed. (New York: Putnam's, 1935), a book Gaddis later used for some Wagner references in J R.
488.37] Pius IX, the Pio Nono: the Italian form of the popular pope (in office 1846-78, the longest pontificate in church history). Cf. 5.37, 393.5. His Bolla di Composizione is noted and discussed in MMSM (141 n).
488.44] "dragon's blood": in printing, a powdered resin applied to a block for processing that prevents the etching of the covered portion (CCP 216).
489.4] Theologia Moralis of Alfonso Liguori: a multivolume study in moral theology (nine revisions from 1748 to 1785), considered a classic in its field. See 5.37 for Liguori, and MMSM 131-33 for a discussion of this work.
489.5] Bicknall's Counterfeit Detector for 1839: see 495.23 ff.
489. 6] a solution of potassium permanganate: in a chapter on criminal disguises, Gross notes: "A deep rouge tint can, however, in some cases be remarkably well imitated with a solution of permanganate of potash" (Criminal Investigation, 141).
489.17] Jim the Penman: real name Emanuel Ninger; some of the details that follow are from Smith (CCP 87-88), but another (unknown) source was used as well. (The Jim the Penman mentioned by Benstock ["On William Gaddis," 180] is a different person.)
489.41] National Counterfeit Detector: see 5.44.
490.5] less than kin [...] more than kind: Hamlet's first line, describing his stepfather King Claudius, is: "A little more than kin and less than kind" (1.2.65).
490.22] eserine: Gross notes that criminals use this drug to simulate blindeness, shrinking their pupils to pinholes (Criminal Investigation, 150).
491.13] Sheol: in Judaism, the gloomy place of the dead, though without the punishments and tortures of the Christian hell - more akin to the Greek Hades. Geographically it was associated with the Valley of Ben-himmom outside the south wall of Jerusalem, where sacrifices to Moloch were sometimes made (2 Kings 23:10).
It might be noted that this passage is a Christian-Judaic version of the earlier Classical infernal kingdom in which Wyatt dwelt (98.6-16, 370.30-32); the smell of lavender is common to both. Also, cf. Sinisterra's "a little always sticks" (492.9) with Wyatt's motto semper aliquid haeret (336.32, 470.44, etc.).
491.20] first two fingers are the same length: "It is for this reason that an old pickpocket advises a youngster to go in for pocketpicking only if he has long and tapering hands, and principally if the first and middle fingers are nearly of the same length . . ." (Criminal Investigation, 286).
491.25] signet ring [...] to cut pockets open with: "Almost any object may be compromising: thus a signet ring furnished with little knives proves that the owner uses the latter to cut open pockets of garments from the outside and abstract pocket-books" (Criminal Investigation, 253).
491.37] seasick remedy and chewing gum [...] between their pads to slow them up: from a page in Gross's Criminal Investigation on "Greyhound Racing Track Frauds" (314).
492.32] one-penny Antigua stamp [...] puce: from Robert Graves's Antigua, Penny, Puce (1936; U.S. title:The Antigua Stamp), a novel about stamp-collecting and sibling rivalry centering on a unique stamp such as Sinisterra describes.
493.4] how to spring a Yale lock [...] deformed foot: all these parental lessons are from Gross's Criminal Investigation (279, 142).
493.32] Pete McCartney and Fred Biebusch, and Big Bill the Queersman [...] Brockway: American forgers of the 1870s whose exploits are described by Smith (CCP 85-86).
493.35] Johnnie the Gent: see 519.20-31; otherwise unidentified.
493.41] spaces behind Hamilton on the ten [...] one one-hundred-twentieth of an inch: a detail noted by Smith (CCP 153).
494.1] How sharper than a snake's tooth it is to have a kid like that: adapted from Shakespeare's King Lear: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!" (1.4.310-11).
494.6] The pig [...] of purification: "The pig was so important [to the Eleusinian Mysteries] that when Eleusis minted her autonomous money, 350-327 B.C., the pig of purification is stamped upon one face of her coins" (PPM 21). As Otto later notes, Sinisterra is wearing the club tie of Harvard's Porcellian society (517.13).
494.12] Salerno: city and port in southern Italy.
494.12] every secret [...] from father to son: for Italian counterfeiters, Smith writes, "the making of spurious notes and coins was not merely a profitable enterprise; counterfeiting was a family or clan tradition. For generations the craft passed from father to son" (CCP 94-95).
494.17] Protocols of the Elders of Zion: a document purporting to outline secret Jewish plans for world domination by taking over international finance and undermining Gentile morality. It first appeared in a trashy German novel entitled Biarritz (1868) by Hermann Goedsche (under the pseudonym Sir John Retcliffe), reemerged around 1905 in Russia (probably concocted by the Imperial secret police), then circulated rapidly throughout Europe and the United States.
494.18] grant of Constantine [...] bequeath all of western Europe to the Papacy: the "Donation of Constantine," supposedly bequeathing to Pope Sylvester and his successors temporal jurisdiction over western Europe, was later discovered to be an eighth-century forgery. See MMSM 208-9 for details.
494.25] Polycrates [...] talented ecclesiastics: a condensation of material in CCP 44-47.
495.1] forging wampum of porcelain and bone: CCP 56.
495.4] Pennsylvania decreed the pillory [...] and a fine: a decree of 21 February 1767, excerpted in CCP 62-63.
495.8] tradesmen, barbers, and barkeeps issued money: CCP 75, quoting A. B. Hepburn.
495.14] inspectors went from one bank to another [...] broken glass: CCP 76.
495.18] "counterfeit detectors": books that grouped banks by states and described the counterfeits made on them, but of little practical value according to Smith (CCP 77, 81).
495.23] Bicknall's Counterfeit Detector for 1839 [...] 1395 varieties of counterfeit notes: the book and the statistics that follow are cited in CCP 78.
495.25] Galen's Anatomy: Greek physician of the second century A.D. The anatomical details that follow are from the article on Galen in EB (9:973-74).
495.38] Italians: Smith often notes the disproportionate number of Italian immigrants involved in counterfeiting (CCP 90-91, 94-95).
495.39] New York [...] greatest modern center of counterfeiting: "New York is the Mecca of counterfeiters, to which pilgrimages are made from the remotest corners of the earth. It is the greatest distribution center for spurious currency in the world" (CCP 54).
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