By Charles Matthews

Friday, September 10, 2010

23. Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, pp. 733-773

Mason & Dixon: A NovelThree: Last Transit, 75-78
Mason writes Dixon to tell him, "I am coming North a Mountain of suitable Gravity to seek, whose presum'd Influence might deflect a Plumb-line clearly enough to be measur'd without Ambiguity," adding a little dig about Maskelyne's "difficult History with Plumb-lines." He asks Dixon to recommend an inn, but Dixon insists that Mason stay with him.

"Mason finds Dixon still gloomy about the death of his Mother back in January," but they begin to reminisce. Mason tells him about how Maskelyne kept him on in Ulster longer than necessary and then brought him home on "a meat-ship" -- a vessel loaded with sheep carcasses. Eventually there comes a moment of unaccustomed tenderness between the old companions:
"Gave thee a rough time, didn't I, Friend." Reaching to rest his hand for a moment upon Dixon's Shoulder, before removing it again.
"Oh," Dixon nodding away at an Angle from any direct view of his Partner's Face, "as rough times go, ... the French were worse ...? The five Years of Mosquitoes, of course ..." The old Astronomers sit for a while in what might be called an Embrace, but that they forbear to touch. 
Dixon launches into an account of his stay at the North Cape of Norway, where he caught only glimpses of the transit. And then proceeds into a tall tale about his travels even further north, but to the inside of the world, where one of the inhabitants observes that people on the outside of the globe, "wherever you may stand, given the Convextity, each of you is slightly pointed away from everybody else, all the time, out into that Void that most of you seldom notice. Here in the Earth Concave, everyone is pointed at everyone else, -- ev'rybody's axes converge, -- forc'd at least thus to acknowledge one another, -- an entirely different set of rules for how to behave." Mason has his usual bemused reaction to Dixon's fabulations.

As they part, Mason asks, "If they don't kill and eat me up there, shall we do this again." Dixon replies, "We must count upon becoming old Geezers together." "They are looking directly at each other for the first time since either can remember."

In Scotland, in August 1773, Mason meets up with Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, who are "upon their famous Trip to the Hebrides," or so Cherrycoke claims, though Ives doubts that they passed within a hundred miles of each other. "'I had my Boswell, once,' Mason tells Boswell, 'Dixon and I. We had a joint Boswell. Preacher nam'd Cherrycoke. Scribbling ev'rything down, just like you, Sir.'" On his expedition, Mason locates the mountain called Schiehallion, but he declines to return to the mountain to make the measurements needed, so Maskelyne gets the credit for determining the mass of the Earth.

When Mason and Dixon meet again, Dixon is crippled by gout and Mason has rediscovered his old melancholy. They spend their time together fishing. Mason meets Dixon's mistress, Margaret Bland, whom he has always planned to marry "just before we go to America." They have two daughters, but "America now would never be more real than his Remembrance, which he must now take possession of, in whatever broken incompleteness, or lose forever." Mason tells Dixon that he has remarried and they have had a child, Charles Jr., and are expecting another.

While they are fishing one night, they're approached by a dog, a Norfolk terrier, who looks like the Learnèd Dog, though that was many years ago and this dog is "scarcely a year old." The dog follows them home, but never speaks. Margaret Bland asks what his name is. "'Fang,' says Mason. 'Learnèd,' says Dixon." Then one night, both of them have the same dream: The dog whispers to them, "I am a British Dog, and belong to no one, if not to the two of you. The next time you are together, so shall I be, with you." They take it as a sign that they'll see the dog when they get together next year.

But it is Mason, not Dixon, who emigrates to America, where Benjamin Franklin visits him on his deathbed. "His illness at the end was never stipulated. Yet 'tis possible, after all, down here, to die of Melancholy." Though he had five more boys and a girl, "he never put Rebekah to Earth." And he never really reconciled with his father, who claimed that Mason's son Doctor Isaac "was named after the Doctor who lost" Rebekah. Willy Mason tells his brother, "You are nam'd for Newton, whom Dad admires greatly," but Doctor Isaac remains unsure.

"When news reach'd Mason that Dixon had died, he went about for the rest of the Day as if himself stricken." He tells his sons stories about Dixon, and when he mentions Dixon's two daughters, Willy and Doc suspect him of matchmaking: "'Two Sons.... Two Daughters. And a Father wishing, as Fathers do, to be a Grand-Father." With Doc, Mason visits Dixon's grave, where "Mason beseech'd what dismally little he knew of God, to help Dixon through." When he is suddenly overcome, "'It's your Mate,' Doctor Isaac assur'd him, 'It's what happens when your Mate dies.'"

On his deathbed, Mason says to Franklin, "Sir, you have encounter'd Deists before, and know that our Bible is Nature, wherein the Pentateuch, is the Sky. I have found there, written ev'ry Night, in Astral Gematria, Messages of Great Urgency to ourTime, and to your Continent, Sir."

After Mason's death, "Mary would return to England with the younger Children, -- William and Dr. Isaac, Rebekah's Sons, would stay, and be Americans."

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