By Charles Matthews

Thursday, August 26, 2010

8. Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, pp. 215-253

Mason & Dixon: A NovelOne: Latitudes and Departures; 22-25
Dixon meets a Jesuit priest, Christopher Maire, at William Emerson's home. Maire has worked with the celebrated Croatian Jesuit astronomer Ruggiero Boscovich (or Ruđer Bošković) in Italy. Emerson is a noted English mathematician who has a reputation in Hurworth as a wizard, from his willingness to cast horoscopes and his knowledge of hypnotism -- or Mesmerism.

This information causes Cousin DePugh to interrupt Cherrycoke's narrative to reveal that he has been Mesmerized, and even taught the technique by Mesmer himself.

Returning to his story, Cherrycoke tells them that some in Hurworth believe that Emerson can fly, and that he teaches this art to his students, of which Dixon has been one. But Emerson is really a student of ley lines, ancient lines of demarcation that are best glimpsed at sundown, when the light strikes the land at a low angle and "ev'ry least Ruffle in the Nap of the Terrain is magnified as Shadow," revealing "traces of Roman and earlier ruins." They are purported to have magnetic power, or "Tellurick Energies," as Mason calls them when Dixon talks about them later. Emerson tells his students,
"The Romans ... were preoccupied with conveying Force, be it hydraulic, or military, or architectural, -- along straight Lines. The Leys are at least that old, -- perhaps Druidic, tho' others say Mithraic, in origin. Whichever Cult shall gain the honor, Right Lines beyond a certain Magnitude become of less use or instruction to those who must dwell among them, than intelligible, by their immense regularity, to more distant Onlookers, as giving a clear sign of Human Presence upon the Planet."
But when Dixon announced his plans to become a maker of straight lines, i.e., a surveyor, Emerson denounced his lack of ambition.

Maire tells them that Boscovich wants to "measure a Degree, in America," but Emerson protests that the "King will never allow Jesuit philosophers into British North America" and suspects that the plan is to establish "a great number of Jesuit Observatories, flung as a Web, all over the World." And when he suggests that the Jesuits have designs on China, Maire doesn't disagree. He even goes so far as to suggest that Dixon might want to join the order: "Why, if Authority and Battle be your Meat, lad, or Out-Fit can supply as much as you like." But Dixon balks at the idea of chastity. Maire tells Dixon that he's a perfect candidate for the job of surveying the disputed boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland: "a working Land-Surveyor with astronomical experience. I can assure you of Calvert approval, -- that you come of a Quaker Family must appeal to at least one major faction in Pennsylvania." He even suggests that Dixon's Northern origins would appeal to Jacobites in America.

Emerson proposes that they "'repair to my Local, The Cudgel and Throck.' A moment Dixon has been dreading, for those who drink at this Ale-Grotto of terrible Reputation, do so out of a Melancholy advanc'd beyond his understanding." First they disguise Maire with a wig as "Mr. Emerson's distant Cousin Ambrose, of Godless London." The pub "is even more depressing than I remember it," Dixon says when they get there. Maire continues to try to persuade Dixon to take the American surveying job, assuring him that he won't have to spy for the Jesuits.

They are joined by a Mr. Whike, who has overheard talk of Jesuits. Whike and Dixon are old foes, and their quarrel begins to heat up again until Lud Oafery and his mother enter the pub. Lud is a large man with a curious speech impediment that has to be translated by Whike. Ma Oafery says that she's heard that Dixon is going to America. There is conversation about whether the Earth is round or flat -- the latter being Lud's opinion. Maire humors the opinion, saying that it is "flat as a Funnel-Cake, flat as a Pizza." The word puzzles his audience until he explains that pizza is "a Delicacy of Cheese, Bread, and Fish ubiquitous in the region 'round Mount Vesuvius," and he proceeds to show them how to cook one. The landlady, Mrs. Brain, produces the dough. In the absence of tomatoes, Dixon produces from his "Surveyor's Kit ... the Bottle of Ketjap, that he takes with him ev'rywhere." Mrs. Brain also provides anchovies and some Stilton. And so "what is arguably the first British Pizza" is produced.

But Mrs. Oafery begins to get nervous that it's growing dark and there's a full moon. Lud begins to grow agitated. Emerson says, "Lord's sake, Betsy, what're you saying, that our Ludowick's a werewolf?" Sure enough, "Lud has seen the Full Moon, and now pursues it out into the Street, Whike at his Heels." White calls out to them that Lud is changing.
In trips this shaven, somewhat narrow Youth, a Durham Dandy in Silver Brocade, Chinese Fastenings ev'rywhere in bright Gold, for Contrast, -- and as a Finial, a curiously cock'd Hat with a long Parrot Plume extending from it further than anyone present has even known a Feather to go. "Mother!" pipes the 'morphos'd Lud. "When will you do something about your Hair?" ... "Two, call it three nights," groans Ma Oafery, ev'ry Month, no worse than the Flux, really, -- he has memoriz'd several current Theatrickal Music-Pieces, and sings them to me thro' the Day. He tells Joaks I do not understand. He quizzes with me in Foreign Tongues. Yet I am a Mum, -- I can tolerate it."
We now get a bit of Dixon's parentage. His father, George Dixon Sr., married Mary Hunter, with whom he already had a connection in "the Durham Quaker Web." After Mary's mother died, her father, Thomas Hunter, married again twice. After his death, his third wife married again, to Ralph Dixon, George's father. Mary was almost eighteen when her father died, so she became the ward of her uncle, Jeremiah Hunter, for whom Dixon, the youngest, was named. Jeremiah Dixon was twenty-two and a journeyman surveyor when his father died.

He arranges to meet Mason in London to sign up for the surveying job in America, and sails there on a collier named Mary and Meg that gets lost in the fog before finally reaching the city. Safely arrived, Dixon expresses his condolences to Mason on Bradley's death. In a pub, Mason worries about America and "Savages. Wilderness. No one even knows what's out there. And we have just, do you appreciate, contracted, to place a Line directly thro' it?  Doesn't it strike you as a little unreasonable?" Dixon adds to his concern "the Americans," which Mason downplays: "They are at least all British there, -- aren't they? The Place is but a Patch of England, at a three-thousand-Mile Off-set. Isn't it?" Dixon disillusions him: "No more than the Cape Dutch are Dutch...? 'Tis said these people keep Slaves, as did our late Hosts, -- that they are likewise inclin'd to kill the People already living where they wish to settle." This leaves Mason hoping that "There may be redeeming Qualities to the place."

They also talk about the politics of the Royal Society. It seems that they are in bad repute for not having done the sighting in Turkey, which might have opened up a good silk trade route for Peach. Maskelyne explained this to Mason, who replied, "Ah. Let me see if I'm following this. The Royal Society send Dixon and me to the Cape, thus incurring a Debt ow'd to Dutchmen, rather than to Jews, which any Stationing of Astronomers at Scanderoon would imply." Dixon realizes that "ev'ry Observation site propos'd by the Royal Society prov'd to be a Factory, or Consulate, or other Agency of some royally Charter'd Company."

"Good Christ. Dixon. What are we about?"

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