Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD Selling Seeds & (66) ARTSY Found in Translation 3, A Humument

JEAN SHEPHERD Selling Seeds & (66) ARTSY Found in Translation 3, A Humument


I got home with my kit and put it on the dining room table.  My mother came in and she looked at that thing and she said, “Oh, no.”  She knew.  It was beginning to start—the business of selling the tickets, selling this, selling that.  Selling the chances on the big mop they’re giving away down at the school, or on the Ford or whatever.  “Oh, no!”

And I said, “Yes, I am going to sell seeds.  Miss Shields says it’s very easy.”

That afternoon I began on my career, which has not yet ceased, I’d like to point out.  Not yet has it ceased.  I went next door to Mrs. Bruner.  Big, old, fat Mrs. Bruner.  Mr. Bruner had not worked for about five years and when he did work he drank it up immediately.  About the only thing that Mrs. Bruner owned was a complete set of used clothespins.  I went right up and she came out and said, “Junior’s not here.”

I said, “Mrs. Bruner, would you like to buy some seeds?”


“Would you like to buy some seeds?”

“Seeds?  What kind of seeds?”

I said, “Peony seeds.”

Well, Mrs. Bruner’s backyard consisted of large pieces of tin, it consisted of old tires, it consisted of piles of wood and a couple of things that were dead.

She said, “Seeds?  What kind?”

I said, “Peony.  I have nasturtium, I have here morning glory.  Look at these beautiful morning glories.”

She said, “I’ll think about it.  You come back later.”

Well, there was a nibble.  So I turned around and went down the steps and about fifteen feet away, at the next house, I’m knocking on Mrs. Vanhusen’s house.  Mrs. Vanhusen’s husband ran away from her thirty-seven years before.  Mr. Vanhusen was only a legend in the neighborhood.  So Mrs. Vanhusen was a very angry lady.  As a little kid you don’t think about these things.  Tennessee Williams was only a rumor.

So I knocked on the door and I said, “Mrs. Vanhusen?”

“What do you want?”  I’m a kid.  She never had a kid.

“I have seeds.”

“I don’t want no seeds.”  Bang!

Well, now I know, Mrs. Vanhusen, I understand.  I know what it’s like when a kid comes around and sells dreams and flowers—nasturtiums and stuff.

So I pulled down my earflaps and I proceeded next door to the Emdees.  I have to explain to you about the Emdees.  That was another problem.  The Emdees had the only true juvenile delinquent in the whole block.  The Emdee kid was fantastic.  I’ll tell you, you talk about a precocious kid?  I think Emdee, at the age of about four or five months, was already making some of the more Freudian experiments in the neighborhood.  And he was about seven when already mothers of daughters were calling up to complain.  This is the kind of kid this guy was.  I came up on the steps and I knocked on the door.  Mrs. Emdee appeared, like the wrath of god.

Mrs. Emdee was used to people knocking on the door, and she said, “Dick is not here, and he’s not been here for over a month.  He’s visiting his grandmother in Indianapolis.  Now I don’t care what your mother says, tell her to come over herself.”

Oh boy.  So I turn around and go down the steps.  My little kit is getting heavy.  I’m only in second grade, you know, and my seeds were dripping out.  My nasturtiums were dripping behind me and they were getting kind of sweaty from my picking them up and showing them.




artsyfratsy 10010


A “treatment” of a corny, 3-decker Victorian novel, described as

“An 1892 Victorian obscurity,

A Human Document by W. H. Mallock,” transformed into

a modern artist’s book by Tom Phillips.

Browsing in one of New York City’s wondrous art book stores about a quarter century ago, I came upon a book I’d never heard of, A Humument, described as “a treated Victorian novel” by Englishman Tom Phillips. I flipped through it and bought it, fascinated. About 5” X 7” it had about 360 color-pages of strange artwork with words peeking through—the original text of the 1892 novel.


Eventually Phillips Produced 5 Editions,

Each With Some Changed Layouts.

The flyleaf of said marvelous book states:

In this unique fiction, word and image meet with a richness scarcely seen since Blake. Already with a cult following via literary and art magazines it is now available for the first time in book form produced under the direction of its author.

He writes “I took a forgotten Victorian novel found by chance. I plundered, mined, and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealistic catastrophies which seemed to lurk within its wall of words. As I worked on it, I replaced the text I’d stripped away with visual images of all kinds….





I feel rather sorry for and yet envious of the original, forgotten author, W. H. Mallock, poor fellow-novelist, arbitrarily plucked and thrust into a kind of ignominiously glorious, wacky, and marvelous immortality. Creator Phillips ends the book’s introduction—which he places at the end of the book—“In a sense, because A Humument is less than what it started with, it is a paradoxical embodiment of Mallarme’s idea that everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.








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