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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

Brandygallism as a Psychological Concept

Brandygallism as a Psychological Concept

A friend of mine recently told me of his amazing experiences in an American City.

"When I was a young man," he said, "much excitement was caused at the Senior High School I attended by the announcement of a summer school for the public, which fell due during the school vacation.

The school was to be held in a large old Georgian House just out of Bournell City. For a certain charge advertised, anybody could stay at the house and take a week's course in a wide variety of subjects specified. "Pupils are not forced to work," ran the prospectus, "the classes are purely optional, but it is hoped that sufficient interest will be displayed in the cultural as well as the social aspects of this course."

The boys at my school were very excited over the classes in photography and aeronautics, which included flights over the surrounding country, while everyone else was very interested in the University Extension Lectures, the debates, dances and moonlight picnics. This evidently was the "social aspect" of the course.

I was attracted very much by all this, and in the summer holidays a week before the school I had decided to take a general course including an introduction to psychology.

The opening day was very exciting with much noise and high spirits. Everybody was being introduced to everyone else, everyone was discussing classes and everyone was trying to impress everyone else. It was in the midst of all this excitement that I first became aware of Edmund Brandygall.

He was standing away from the crowd with his vacant eyes cast towards the ground.

I moved by him to see his face, noticing as I did his unusual clothes. His face was a thin one, with a nose that gave the impression it had been badly squashed in his mother's womb. As a result his nostrils existed in a state of continual antipathy, both facing in opposite directions. In his hand was an orange umbrella which, I later observed, he carried even when he was walking about indoors. His worst feature was his trousers, which contracted in the legs when he moved, displaying by this action several inches of long bony calf.

The only person I saw him speak to during the first day was the organiser, who questioned him as to his course.

You can imagine this person created a great deal of interest among the students. Nobody knew where he came from, but everybody had a theory. Most of us (being young) thought he was a foreign duke leading a Bohemian existence, while the more unimaginative said he was "somebody from the nuthouse."

It was useless speaking to Brandygall himself as he refused to speak. Well, the week went on and I entered into the social life and enjoyed myself a great deal. I did not think much about Brandygall, except in the psychology class where I would be disconcerted to see him sitting up there in the back row staring fixedly at the lecturer.

He never spoke in the class during the whole week. Even the lecturer gave up making advances and began to look upon him as merely a piece of furniture.

The rest of the day Brandygall could be seen lolling about in the sun, or standing under a tree muttering with his orange umbrella held high above his head.

People stopped talking about him, and by the end of the week nobody knew any more of him than they had at the beginning. The School broke up and that was the last I ever saw of Brandygall.

The holidays soon went past and it was well into the next school term that I was approached by a girl who had been at the Summer School with me.

page 55

"You remember that strange man who was at the School last summer?"

"What man?" I said.

"The one who had a horrible nose and always carried an umbrella."

"Oh. Brandygall! yes—what about him—what's happened?"

"Nothing's wrong, only I wondered if you had seen the book that's all over town."

"What book?"

"Well," she said, "all the kids reckon he's the one who wrote it, but I couldn't remember his name, so I thought I'd ask you."

This interested me very much, so the girl took me to a bookshop after school, and on one of the display counters was a thin booklet entitled "New Ideas on the Formation of Belief" by E. H. Brandygall.

I immediately bought a copy. It was by him all right, for right on the frontpiece was a photograph of a smirking person with antagonistic nostrils. Underneath was written, "The Author." That night at home I began to read the book.

It began in this manner :

" Recently, while attending a class in psychology, J was struck by the thought which I now record ..." and was signed E. H. Brandygall.

I went to bed early that night and in a few hours had read the book.

It began with a long irrelevant account of how psychology had grown in America, of the influence of William James and McDougall, then, without any explanation at all, it began to talk of how coffee tasted much better if you added salt.

"He must be crazy," I said. From here the text continued, jumping on to Freud's theory of the libidinal Unconscious. He did not add to it or comment upon it in any way but merely quoted from Freud's books. As before, it was quite irrelevant.

The book became more and more steeped in the jargon of psychologists, and many of the sentences did not make sense.

"The work of Pavlov on Conditioned Reflexes," he said, "resembles that of the early Behaviorists in that mind does depend upon neither the attributed of wish fulfilment, nor the newly noted conditioned reflexes."

I puzzled over this sentence for a long time, then I shrugged my shoulders and read on.

"In this way," he continued, "and from these premises, supplemented by my own experience, I can assure the reader that coffee tastes much better if salt has been added."

Late that night I finished the book and discovered that in none of it had any ideas on belief been mentioned. To me the book was a meandering collection of long sentences. I threw it aside and went to sleep muttering about lunatics. In the morning I looked to see who had published the book.

"Printed at the Revolutionary Press (Inc.), publishers of Astrological, Occult, Mystical, Psychical and other books."

A few days later there was a book review in the local press.

"New Ideas on Belief Formation"—E. H. Brandygall.

It ran as follows :

"A book which should be of interest to the layman as well as the student. The author, with an expressionistic style and a wit suggestive of irony, reviews some of the problems of modern psychology. Far be it from us to wish to come to grips with the author, but it is felt some of his implied thoughts may not work in harmony with the American Way of Life. Be that as it may, we would recommend his book on beliefs to anyone who is interested in seeing in their true perspective some of the problems which beset the modern world."

The review caused me to feel bewildered, and I wondered if perhaps he wasn't mad after all.

During the next week a letter appeared in the correspondence columns criticising Brandygall's work and echoing my own early sentiments by calling it "prattle and rubbish."

Six people immediately answered and one letter was from a sociologist at the State University who suggested that the critic be more tolerant of new ideas. A Methodist minister mentioned Brandygall in his sermon as a "contemporary Christian mystic." In a New York magazine was printed an article describing a Rationalist lecture at which belief formation had been dealt with. The speaker had never mentioned or even heard of Brandygall's book but most people connected the lecture with the book.

When questioned, a lecturer in psychology said that, although he had difficulty in interpreting the thoughts of this writer, he found he agreed with the bulk of his inferences, even though they were couched in obscure language. A fellow lecturer wrote an article on the book ridiculing it and the people who were taken in by it.

Students held a demonstration accusing this lecturer of conservatism toward new ideas; and a cartoon appeared in their magazine of the critical lecturer as an ostrich with his head in the sand. Later in the month an art magazine published a leading article on surrealist expression as a literary and aesthetic thought vehicle. In this article the sentences of Brandygall were compared to those of Gertrude Stein.

For a while there was a lull, but the book continued to be sold at all the bookshops in my town. The next development seemed to be a reaction against Brandygall and much hot correspondence took place in the newspapers. People called one another ignoramuses and some even talked of the "Principles of Psychology."

The correspondence went on for so long that a woman who was well known for her spiritualistic inclinations published a pamphlet called page 56 "Brandygallism Explained." This was answered by several letters stating that the "Main Principles of his theory" had been omitted and gave the "correct interpretation." All this time nothing was heard of Brandygall himself.

An open letter was published by the same Occult Society and circulated all over the country.

A lecturer challenged the women writer of "Brandygallism Explained" to a public debate on the subject "that Brandygall has made a new contribution to psychological knowledge." She accepted, and the debate took place in the Town Hall. It was well advertised and aroused quite a lot of interest, so that when I arrived at the Hall I noticed a large crowd outside waiting to enter.

The lecturer in his opening speech read many passages from the book and ridiculed them. He pointed out all the irrelevant remarks about salted coffee, as the ravings of a demented intellect. The woman replied by informing the lecturer that the remarks about coffee were just a few little jokes in the surrealist fashion upon sense perception, and that the mind was not demented but Great. It was only the conservatism of the age that prevented the ideas from taking immediate hold. She concluded by comparing the situation to that existing when the "Origin of Species" was first published. The judge gave the decision to the lecturer, but the audience, which consisted mostly of men, voted for the woman.

The debate acted only as a stimulus for the supporters of Brandygall. All over America in most of the large towns a Brandygallian Society of Ultimate Reality sprang up, and held weekly meetings. Business men were canvassed for financial support and they, on hearing of its semi-religious significance, paid up like frightened rabbits. And shortly after the publication of the second edition of the book, many psychologists labelled themselves Anti-Brandygallians. Even before the third edition came out, certain people believed that the gospel was being misinterpreted, and so the Neo-Brandygallian Guild was formed."

Here I interrupted my friend to ask him how it had all ended.

"It hasn't ended," he replied, "probably in America it's still going on."

"Well," I said, "how did it end for you?"

He smiled. "For me," he said, grinning broadly, "it ended when I left America—or rather when I saw this."

He handed me a faded yellow cutting from a newspaper. I began to read.

"A man whose identity is unknown was arrested this morning for causing a disturbance in a City thoroughfare. When searched, all that was found was a watch bearing the initials E.H.B. He has been certified insane."

Brian Bell