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This article is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

A Moment in the Eighteenth Century Christopher Middleton

Deep down in the shadows of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin's imagination lay the negative of his positively perfect design. Man of science that he was, prone as he was to raising at the drop of a hat a theory of hats that dropped, he had always proceeded, without ever noticing the singular motion of shadows at his feet, wherever he walked or rode, with both eyes blinking at the pitfalls. His technically perfect design, later to be realized in prototype by a melancholy German piano maker, was only drawn during a fit of abstraction after he had dreamed one night. All night he had dreamed (so he thought, when he woke) and dreaming he had composed from the shadows of his imagination a comprehensive picture of pitfalls rarely glimpsed (so various they were) in a world where everything stood the wrong way up.

In his dream there had been company, but he had not known whose. A perfectly round hole, only three inches in diameter, had appeared in the parquetry floor. Or had the parquetry been grass, or a sheet of solid rock? He could not be sure. Out of curiosity he had inserted into this unbidden hole a glove, an odd glove he had found about his person. First he had ascertained that the glove was neither one of a pair, nor inside out. Together with his company he then peered into the hole and observed that the palm of the glove jackknifed, the wilted fingers fattened, rigid ...


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