magni nominis umbra
By Jesse Workman
Second Place / Most Original
13 December 1888
To: Mr. William Knox
From: Theodore D Wakefield, Esquire
Subject: Documents-Urgently Requests Reply on Receipt
Acting in my capacity both as your attorney and as the executor of your late uncle's estate, it is my duty to share with you these documents written by the late Dr. Knox. They were recently uncovered at the bottom of a drawer in the home of a former missionary who lived in Japan during the time your Uncle was present there. The papers were discovered among his personal effects after his death several months ago. I may guess he knew Dr. Knox, but the old man was a hermit, and met his end in an asylum for the incurably insane, so I can only speculate. Although the print has been washed away in places, most likely due to excessive moisture or age, much may still be discerned from what Dr. Knox has written. Although I am neither a doctor nor a psychologist, the conclusions I arrived at after reading the enclosed pages can only be called psychological in nature. Please observe the utmost discretion with these documents. I defer to your judgment in this matter.
Theodore D Wakefield Esquire
13 December 1865
My Dear William:
As I write these words I am having some difficulty doing so, as I find myself gazing fixedly upon that blurry photograph I took of you and Chancey… Do you remember that? Surely, they must find a way to improve the efficiency of the camera-simple courtesy requires it; for it would be an affront to civilized men all over the globe if we are forced to play the part of corpses simply to have a bloody photograph. Though I miss your company, indeed I am in the place where providence, or simple good luck, will extract the best out of my mind and spirit.
You might say that this is strong evidence of a guiding hand on the tiller; be assured that I maintain my proud atheism and have in no way altered my opinion simply because I am in such favorable circumstances, but lest you think I automatically condemn what you may feel I do not understand,or as it says: "damnant quod non intelligunt'" please be assured that I do not disrespect your opinion in this discussion. While I do not practice religion, I cannot dismiss out of hand an intelligent well-structured discourse on such subjects, but as a man of science, I must cordially disagree with any theory that suggests superstition.
The country is quite beautiful, even in its winter. Any painter would envy the quality of the light in Yedo; for there is a softness of the shadows, and the sky has a hue in the texture of its color that I cannot adequately describe. Suffice it to say, that these people, unlike ours, have not gone through the monstrous mechanical metamorphosis that we have, and as a result of that there isn't that foul heavy smoke that so often afflicts us in our fair capital, that even their ubiquitous rubbish bonfires is in no way comparable. There is, on the surface, a mildness to these people that belies their passion, that even more than in our society, is fiercely leashed, yet smolders as the remains of a great fire long to once again, as you might say, create hell on Earth. There is a feeling here, and at a great banquet I heard Mr. Parks speak of it obliquely, that there will be civil war. Do not worry for my safety, for I am well protected, since all men require the services of a doctor, they being, fortunately for me, in chronically short supply. I cannot speak for the promptness of the post as you might have guessed. So, let these scribblings serve both as my letters to you in absentia, and a chronicle of my service as the case may be. I cannot promise that my posts will be regular, since my duties take up the bulk of my time. Do you remember what Maimonides writes in his letter to his translator Samuel Ibn Tibbon about how his time is divided? Perhaps now, I live life such as the one he describes, and as a result, my admiration for his philosophical achievements increases. This is a culture that stands on the brink of change and is in itself an irreconcilable contrast, old and new, east and west, traditional and innovative. I find it amazing that these people were able to turn back the clock of history and do away with firearms, and they, unlike our island nation, do not appear to see the necessity of having and maintaining a large navy. I have come to understand that since the ousting of a chap called Katsu Kaishu it has devolved from even the slight modicum of modernity he had achieved, to a feudalistic haphazard flotilla maintained by the Daimyo responsible each for his own piece of it… Absurd it is needless for me to say I'm sure. This stands in opposition to and soundly refutes those theorists who claim that all civilizations can, by their nature, only grow and evolve to higher states and never the reverse. I wonder how old Chancey would answer that. This may disprove part of my side of the argument, but by no means is this productive development, and despite their strong work ethic, it will only lead the Japanese people to ruin.
I am, on the whole, most impressed by the people, even though they are, when compared to us, backward and rigid, and at the same time lacking the bureaucratic focus that makes our empire and its many wheels turn smoothly. For instance, one fine chap of whom I have struck up quite a remarkable camaraderie, Matsumae Takahiro, is the "Governor" of the domain of Yezo. Although he has a position of rank in the nation, it seems to me to be more ceremonial, or perhaps even ornamental, and apparently lacking usefulness since the Shogun, their word for King and Crown, rules all from the capital; although it now appears that our Mr. Parks may be losing confidence in him. He's made no secret of his views, but when not in private company he supports neither side in this maelstrom. I don't think I break any rules of secrecy when I say to you that the Shogun may hold power, but he acts, on a good day, indecisively and on his bad days, not at all… Now, let us add to the confusion by stating also that the Japanese themselves consider the Shogun their leader, but the Emperor, their ruler, granted authority from heaven, not unlike our monarchy once was. But, in contrast to our form of government, they appear to have no concept of parliament, since they follow the strictest form of class structure, and in that, every man knows his place, and is rarely encouraged to challenge the ruling establishment, whom ever that may be. But, I digress. Let me tell you about Takihiro. You can imagine my surprise when he approached me at the dinner I spoke of earlier and addressed me in perfect, although strangely accented English, and he seemed to me to be a walking encyclopedia of all things Occidental. It turns out that he and I share a great love for photography, and what's more, he was most excited about hiring my services as a doctor for him in his province. Although my duties keep me here for the moment, I was most eager to oblige. Of all the Japanese I've met, his is the most English mind I have encountered. He holds a prominent position in the Shogun's navy, replacing the unfortunate Mr. Kaishu, who I understand has been arrested by the Shogun for harboring so-called enemies of the Shogun, meaning us, my dear boy. Us meaning foreigners…
Now, I must qualify something I have already said: these people are, in many ways when compared to us, backward and stagnated, yet their general knowledge of medicine is not to be dismissed lightly. Indeed, they are, on the whole, most hail and hardy, and though they do not possess the same level of development of the science of medicine, they are not as hopelessly ignorant as our forbears, or even as colloquial as our neighbors across the great ocean, those to whom I refer still rely on excessive blood letting at the slightest sign of a cold; those of whom I allude to still believe that disease is caused by excessive black bile or blood; those of whom I speak likely kill more of their patients than the diseases they purport to treat. Surely any sensible man of reason and sound mind can see that there is much merit in the theory that most of our diseases are caused by invisible microbes that we could but see with the right equipment. We know that there are many tiny living organisms living in a single drop of water. There was much talk while I was still a student that if we could but find the means to kill these creatures, we could eradicate disease from the face of the Earth. I believe, as I have mentioned to you on other occasions over a fine cigar and a glass of Claret, that as Darwin wrote of the balance of nature, that all animals have natural enemies, if we could but find the natural enemies of the creatures that cause our diseases, nature would do our work for us, eliminating sickness as we know it. I expect that given ten or twenty years there will be a tincture, or extract, that will prove efficacious against all illnesses, and if not, I can assure you, that we, like the farmer ancestors who first used the plow, will harvest a host of organisms to destroy them. It is inevitable that mankind, through its own self interest, will construct a world in which even the meekest and most humble of men may live in absolute security, free from fears of accident, or crime, or disease; it is unimaginable to me that they would not agree to such a world, even the most rude and unlettered among us can surely see the value in it.
Once more, I digress, and I humbly beg your pardon. I miss our discussions. One hopes that I may also write this work as a chronicle of the evolution of my side of the argument, and I eagerly await the time we may relax in the smoking room, or walk once more the tracks that lead us to many a noble truth, many a creative lightning flash of inspiration, a sharing between like minds that almost leads me to accept that there may be some truth behind that awful construct so necessary for our mental and spiritual well-being. In any case, that having been said, I will be as faithful to this endeavor as I am able. When I set out on my journey, I will be certain to note any significant events that may occur; for I sense that my time here can only be eventful, and that I will gain much wisdom thereby.
18 January 1866
My Dear William:
I write to you with great excitement, from the rolling deck of a Dutch trading vessel, heading under full steam for the isolated island of Yezo. I go with Takahiro's blessing and I am assured a position as the Daimyo's physician. A week ago Takahiro's natural son, Matsumae Teinosuke, was taken of an unusual illness. On a night of driving rain and blinding fog, Takahiro rode in great haste to me and entreated me to visit the bedside of his son. I found the young man in the grip of a terrible fever babbling incoherently. I would not have noted his garbled words, save that there was, as is sometimes the case with those close to the brink of death, an undeniable order and sense behind his ravings. He spoke of a ghastly servant of evil and cried out that the angry ghosts of the Ainu were coming for them all. I later learned that Ainu is their words for the savage peoples who live on the island of Yezo, not unlike the Choctaw or Sioux of North America. It would seem, as is also the case in America, that the Japanese have steadily been acquiring their lands and though they appear to be treating the savages fairly, they still feel mistreated. I know that there is an English missionary working among these people, but of his opinions on their culture I cannot speculate. What's more, I know nothing of the disposition of the Ainu; perhaps they are not dangerous, maybe they are a threat to us. The samurai accompanying us on our voyage believe that they are and are, as a result, taking the most stringent measures against them. Takahiro was unable to accompany us, but he speaks highly of his adopted son, Matsumae Norihiro, who administrates the province in his father's absence.
It turns out that Takahiro's family holds more complexity than one might guess by outward appearances; for Norihiro is Takahiro's adopted son and rules in favor of his real son, and Norihiro's father, Matsumae Masahiro adopted Takahiro into his family, where upon Takahiro was given ownership of the province.
Now I find myself on this journey because, as you might have guessed, I fully cured Teinosuke of his affliction, putting into practice the theory that germs cause disease and that by the killing of those germs the disease may be cured. Agostino Bassi has already achieved this thirty years ago, ridding silk worms of the disease, Muscardine, affecting a complete recovery against it. I know that Small Pox has been successfully vaccinated against, but I did not use a vaccine. Not entirely dismissing the wisdom of the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, I reasoned that it might be possible to introduce a tincture, not injurious to the body, yet deadly to the organism that would kill it and rid the patient of disease. Hippocrates knew that the body can heal itself when given the correct food and drink, but nowhere in his writings does he indicate that he knew of edible substances that would kill disease outright. I have found that if there is any substance to the curative power of hot springs, it must be as a result of the sulfur that the water contains; for I have heard and do not dismiss out of hand, stories of remarkable cures affected thereby for such afflictions as boils, leprosy, or infected wounds. I am also aware that sometimes, as strange as it may sound, mold is applied to infected wounds, clearing the infection. I reasoned therefore, that if the patient were to imbibe a tincture of sulfur mixed with laudanum and a concentration of such mold as may kill the infection that his pains would be eased, and his disease cured. I was successful, and Takahiro is most grateful, although his son remains weak still. I have no doubt that soon he will recover himself and he will be, once again, hale and hardy, and that he will return to his former vigor.
Takahiro was most delighted by my camera, and as you may imagine, his joy grew ten fold, when we learned that aboard this vessel there are three of them. Takahiro has requested that they be put in place immediately on arriving, and eagerly awaits the good word that they function properly. Of the disposition of his adopted son, I know nothing save what Takahiro has told me. I must confess that I can't help but feel uneasiness for my new friend, as is so often the case jealousy and envy may hide beneath the surface. I have said before that this country's people are to all outward appearances passive, but in actuality, consumed by passion. I fear, that in the seeming domestic tranquility of my good host's family there may be an all to dangerous, and potentially deadly infection of greed and hatred; for I can not bring myself to believe that such a confusing domestic arrangement as the one I have described would be entirely free of conflict. I hope for the sake of my new employer that I am wrong and these thoughts are merely the product of unreasonable fears that any man feels when he's far from home. I will write to you again when I arrive at the journey's end.
29 January 1866
My Dear William:
I have arrived safely, although during the voyage there was some rough weather and high waves. Several of the less sea worthy men suffered from seasickness, which I treated with Ginger, that herb being readily available in the markets of Yedo. I have amassed a considerable supply of the root, and find it effective against some symptoms of fever and chills, and against the ringing in the ears and dizziness that sometimes develops among the aged. I am most delighted to hear what the indigenous apothecaries have to say of its virtues, and it is on their advice that I have used it.
Of greater trouble to me, however, is the superstitious attitude exhibited by many of the sailors and Samurai alike. I would have thought that their studies of the teaching of the Buddha might have tempered such fears, assuming as I do speaking from a very shallow knowledge of Buddhism, if all is impermanence, then fear has no place in the enlightened man; for Buddha means enlightened one, and in its original tenants, there is no need for beings of supernatural character. I have found quite the opposite to be the case in Japan. In fact, it seems to me that the Buddhism they practice more resembles a form of all encompassing idolatry-it is an idolatry that leads the less level-headed, or the down right simple, to worship each and every event, force, coincidence, or change in the weather, as its own separate deity; they call them Kami. They also have a cult of the dead in which they venerate their dead ancestors and entreat them to participate in their lives. So, more than a few of the native Japanese were not only seasick, but they were taken by a kind of hysteria, an abiding terror, which I could do nothing to quell. I was forced to administer laudanum to two of the most frightened, for they raved about a great oceanic beast called Akkorokamyui that overturns ships and will avenge itself upon the Daimyo. I note this, because there was an unmistakable resemblance to the delirious ravings of Takahiro's son during his illness. Perhaps, my frustration is much like that of the missionary trying to spread the Gospel, although my Gospel is that of reason and common sense, and the missionary's is that of superstition, and a childish rejection of fact in favor of dreams and delusions.
Although I, being level-headed and open minded, do not reject out of hand the possibility that there may be a grand builder, that if he built this world as it is that he intended it to be so but is no longer present, and I do not wish to be as fanatical as those I would argue against, they being religious, I being dogmatically scientific. For, science is but a tool, one of many humans had to construct as we climbed the evolutionary ladder of civilization, because we, like children when they enter adulthood, outgrew our former beliefs and practices, and outgrew our need for them, as a boy fears the dark, but a man does not. The man knows that there is more to be feared in the light then some amorphous terror by night, and an adult knows that there is more to fear in the unexplored depths of his own identity than there could ever be from any God or spirit. In fostering such childish dependency, I do not include you among these be assured, the religions of the world are a stunting and crippling influence on our growth toward civilization. As time passes, we will find that Darwin was right about many things… But, once more, I digress. We will have much to debate and argue over when I return, and let us not be overly carried away by passion in doing so. I write that not only to you, but to remind myself also not to marry any point of view, for all is subject to re-evaluation.
Having arrived safely on the island I was conducted to Norihiro and found him to be an upright and disciplined fellow, although between you and I, he had an imperious manner about him, and acted haughtily and arrogantly also. He refused to greet me in English, claiming later that he was unfamiliar with the language. This I know to be untrue, for Takahiro himself told me that he has impressed upon all the members of his family the importance of learning the languages and customs of the west. Not all agree with him, and apparently neither does his adopted son. The rice wine I was served was fortifying, and the house servants were polite to an extraordinary degree.
Still, the cold seemed to be as a smothering fog, and there was much talk of the coming civil war and the necessary fight to push the Ainu from the Shogun's lands. Teinosuke was most praising of my skills as a doctor, but his (how shall we call him?) brother… Adopted brother in law… Well, the gentlemen showed no interest in the matter, saying that their doctors and apothecaries were as good or better than any foreigner, and the subject was dropped. Of the missionary I enquired, but gained little information about him. I was told that yes, there was an English missionary among the Ainu but that they knew nothing more. Of the Ainu themselves, I can't help but feel that their situation may be most tragic indeed; for the Orientals seem to view them as no better than mere animals, or maybe even as we look upon the great apes. They devalue them, and this troubles me exceedingly, because any man's life, even the most illiterate and savage, must be preserved and well cared for, against the day when he will be mature and grateful to his benefactor. Their attitude demonstrates, once more, that our society is the highest on the globe, and thinking of this made me proud to be English, and proud to be serving her Majesty in whatever capacity I may. But, I do miss home now, and can't but feel great conflict in my heart between what I wish to do here to secure my good name, and what I imagined it would be before I left. It is not so exotic or glorious as I once thought. The winter here is harsh, more forbidding than the most forbidding winter in the highlands of Scotland. The snow is sometimes as deep as five feet, and the blizzards make travel impossible, I'm told, for many days.
Interestingly enough, the flora and fauna here does not consist of plants native to Asia, but rather, consists of those most commonly found in North America, primarily northern Canada. It was Takahiro who told me of this. I was surprised, though I should not have been, that he knew so much about something so esoteric as new world Botany. It is no longer a wonder to me why the Scotch need their whiskey, and I have been drinking rather copious amounts of the rice wine to fortify me against, what I can only describe as, abominable cold. Unlike whiskey, the rice wine does not dull my senses, or cloud my mind. Quite the opposite in fact, the drink clears my mind and sharpens my senses to an incredible degree, and I repeat, it is a necessity. The cold penetrates every structure and the majority of them stand only one story high. Sometimes, the snow covers them to the roof blocking up the smoke hole and I am told asphyxiating the occupants with charcoal fumes, killing them.
When I hear the wind blowing, I can understand how the more superstitious or suggestible among us could believe in such things as banshee or the waling lost souls of the dead. When I have traveled abroad, never for long distances, I find that I have to struggle against snow blindness and freezing fingers and toes. My mastery of the language improves, since now; the only English I may freely use are the words in my letters to you. All else, even my medical notes, are written in Japanese, even though Takahiro knows English. It is my wish to be as accommodating to my hosts as ever I may. A misstep may prove fatal. I will write as soon as time and the feeling in my fingers permits.
14 February 1866
My Dear William:
Perhaps the cold is driving me mad. Of late, inexplicable events have been transpiring. I have seen one of the Ainu. They are tall, much taller than the Japanese, and appear to be of a most docile disposition. The Samurai around me do not agree. They are planning an attack, although they would not speak it outright. My services may be required. When I protested that I am a neutral party and have no wish to be involved in any internal conflict, Norihiro dismissed my statement. When I explained that Takihiro was my employer and that I should wish to confer with him, Norihiro grew hostile and declared that he served his father loyally, and that in the interest of being a guest performing proper service, that I should behave to Norihiro as I would toward Takihiro. I am reluctant still, but have no recourse. I have seen Norihiro furtively coming and going even in the depths of the night. At times, he takes retainers with him, but as often, he walks abroad alone. I said before that I was in no danger if civil war breaks out, but now, I must revise my opinion. If I am slain here.
Teinosuke has fallen back into his illness. He contracted a high fever. He saw hallucinations, dark hands reaching for his throat; figures made of fire towering over him; floating balls of light; and he heard the wailing of funeral chants. When I attempted to assure him that these were nothing more than the wind, or fragments of dream, he beseeched me to help him, and failing that, begged me to summon the Buddhist priest. But, the priest could do nothing. In despair, he called for the Christian minister to come to him. With some difficulty, we moved him to the mission hospital nearby. And the things I've seen… My hand shakes as I pen this letter, and yet, I can come up with no scientific explanation for what happened to us on the way to the Mission hospital. Let me state it plainly and with out embellishment. William, I watched a tree fall by itself, on a clear day with no wind. The tree fell narrowly missing Teinosuke. The branch struck the ground inches from him. Coincidence? Then, there was the ice that always seemed to fall only when Teinosuke was underneath. I watched this happen four times. It was very cold that day. I repeat, very cold. I am a man of science.
I had hoped there would be another doctor there, but I am the only doctor, and unfortunately, my efforts proved to be all in vein. The minister's prayers failed to cheer the young man, or to in any way affect the course of the illness, which was, in the end, fatal. He is dead, and now I must write his father, Takihiro, to tell him of this tragedy. This has always been the most difficult task of my practice, telling family members that there was nothing I could do. In this case, I don't even know why he died. I have never seen such symptoms before, maybe the Syphilis, but there is no accompanying fever with the madness, and the madness takes years to develop. I had thought of poison being the cause, but if it is, it is one I have never heard of, and that doesn't explain the rest of it. I am a man of science. I am a man of science. There is no such thing as the supernatural. There is no… No…
I am ashamed to speak of the events that have transpired since my last letter to you, but I must. If there is a God then I ask for his protection; for nothing else in the logician's cold world can give me solace now. This may be my last letter to you, for I fear for my mental soundness and at bottom for my very life. I was forced a sword point to accompany the expedition against the Ainu, and a more shameful display of brutality I have never heard or read of. They tramped through the ice and snow to the poor hovels where the savages lived, burned the hovels; bullied and intimidated the missionary there; dragged the poor Ainu out and beat them; and finally, like some witch trial from the middle ages, accused the Ainu chief of sorcery against Teinosuke. The missionary's maddened cries still ring in my ears, William. He prayed for the deliverance from evil, from demons specifically, one he called Yokai. I could do nothing to stop it. I stood there while the Samurai threw the chief to the ground and slew him. They beheaded him as though he were a rabid dog and left his body for the crows. The Samurai boasted that it was there right and even their duty to kill any peasant of the lower classes who insulted or threatened them, and these were not even Japanese, or even as I have said before human. Norihiro exclaimed that any foreign influence would be burned out of the land as a fire burns to ash. They threatened the life of the missionary and he fled.
But, that isn't the worst. After returning to these quarters, a prison now it appears, the horrifying supernatural visitations grew stronger and now, I can no longer deny their reality. Though I am confined to these quarters, I can move freely about the inner apartments of the Daimyo's castle. I awoke in the dead of night and heard the furtive footsteps pacing back and forth. I crept out of my room, and saw Norihiro walking as he often did. He did not leave to go outside in the depths of the night, but instead, he entered a small room, partitioned off by an unusually heavy paneled door. I could not see what followed clearly. The space under the door was insufficient to see by, but I could hear clearly enough. I heard a guttural chanting in a singsong language that was neither Japanese nor Ainu, nor even fragments of the Chinese that scholars can read and speak. I felt the coldness of the floor under my cheek, heard the wind howling outside… And smelled something like burning stone, if such a thing could be said to exist. Not sulfur William but something like burning metal or molten glass. The chanting grew in pitch and then broke off suddenly. There was silence. Then, I heard Norihiro laughing. I heard a terrible voice reply with laughter of its own. It sounded as the sound of rocks falling down a mountainside. Norihiro commanded that he continue the killing immediately and that all was not yet satisfied, that there was still one more who needed to die, and the others could be enjoyed at this creature's discretion; for creature it surely was, a demon even, and now William, I can no longer argue with you on such matters and wish only for oblivion. That was when I saw it. There was a tremendous blast of heat and there it was, standing over me where I huddled on the floor. It reached down and its fiery hands grasped me and hauled me to my feet, where I tottered drunkenly.
The pain… It spoke to me in a voice that only I could hear. These were the words I heard. "Be gone from this land Foreigner. You and all those who follow you forfeit your lives'" And I felt a terrible chill despite the fire fill me. It has not departed, though I drink copious amounts of laudanum. The creature released me laughing and vanished. I don't remember running away. I don't know how I arrived once again in my room, but the next thing I was aware of was lying in bed shivering. My jailers have made no sign of knowing anything amiss occurred. Norihiro can't conceal a mocking smile at times, but he, and all his retinue, act as courteously as ever they have before. I cried out in despair for the missionary to come to me. I do not know if I dreamed or if he was really there praying over me. I begged him to take these and watch them. To take… To take these and keep them… And keep them… that moment between sleeping and waking- figures of fire reaching for me. I can hear the laughter of the Samurai. I hear the wailing of funeral chants. Oh, God. My God. Why hast thou-
Matsumae Takihiro died of a high fever on June 9 1866. Norihiro at the relatively
young age of twenty-two took control of the clan. Arthur Knox vanished and was
never seen again.