First Paragraphs

How books begin, updated most days

In the year 1860, the reputation of Doctor Wybrow as a London physician reached its highest point. It was reported on good authority that he was in receipt of one of the largest incomes derived from the practice of medicine in modern times.

It was funny, Richard Sharpe thought, that there were no vultures in England. None that he had seen, anyway. Ugly things they were. Rats with wings.

Stock cue SOUND: “Presenting SCANALYZER, Engrelay Satelserv’s unique thrice-per-day study of the big big scene, the INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface between you and your world!”

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

The assassins dropped into the palace grounds at midnight, four fleet shadows dark against the wall. The fall was high, the ground was hard; they made no more sound on impact than the pattering of rain. Three seconds they crouched there, low and motionless, sniffing at the air. Then away they stole, through the dark gardens, among the tamarisks and date palms, toward the quarters where the boy lay at rest. A cheetah on a chain stirred in its sleep; far away in the desert, jackals cried.

The circus arrives without warning.

Catechist Theologian: Recently, we spoke at length about the mind’s immortality and the logical necessity of a Governor of the world. If you continue to be so satisfying, I will have no trouble in teaching you. Now there awaits us the thorny consideration of God’s justice, for nothing is used more often or so speciously to refute Providence than the disorder of things. Set about solving this with proper reasoning and refine it to my liking, so that when I reveal the light of revelations, it will be reflected in your ideas.

I. By that which is self-caused, I mean that of which the essence involves existence, or that of which the nature is only conceivable as existent.

Not only in the world of commerce but also in the world of ideas our age has arranged a regular clearance-sale. Everything may be had at such absurdedly low prices that very soon the question will arise whether any one cares to bid. Every waiter with a speculative turn who carefully marks the significant progress of modern philosophy, every lecturer in philosophy, every tutor, student, every sticker-and‑quitter of philosophy—they are not content with doubting everything, but “go right on.” It might, possibly, be ill‑timed and inopportune to ask them whither they are bound; but it is no doubt polite and modest to take it for granted that they have doubted everything—else it were a curious statement for them to make, that they were proceeding onward. So they have, all of them, completed that preliminary operation and, it would seem, with such ease that they do not think it necessary to waste a word about how they did it. The fact is, not even he who looked anxiously and with a troubled spirit for some little point of information, ever found one, nor any instruction, nor even any little dietetic prescription, as to how one is to accomplish this enormous task. “But did not Descartes proceed in this fashion?” Descartes, indeed! that venerable, humble, honest thinker whose writings surely no one can read without deep emotion—Descartes did what he said, and said what he did. Alas, alas! that is a mighty rare thing in our times! But Descartes, as he says frequently enough, never uttered doubts concerning his faith… .

Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,—the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking’d-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel’d Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,—the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax’d and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults. Here have come to rest a long scarr’d sawbuck table, with two mismatch’d side-benches, from the Lancaster County branch of the family,—some Second-Street Chippendale, including an interpretation of the fam’d Chinese Sofa, with a high canopy of yards of purple Stuff that might be drawn all ‘round to make a snug, dim tent,—a few odd Chairs sent from England before the War,—mostly Pine and Cherry about, nor much Mahogany, excepting a sinister and wonderful Card Table which exhibits the cheaper Wave-like Grain known in the Trade as Wand’ring Heart, causing an illusion of Depth into which for years children have gaz’d as into the illustrated Pages of Books…along with so many hinges, sliding Mortises, hidden catches, and secret compartments that neither the Twins nor their Sister can say they have been to the end of it. Upon the Wall, banish’d to this Den of Parlor Apes for its Remembrance of a Time better forgotten, reflecting most of the Room,—the Carpet and Drapes a little fray’d, Whiskers the Cat stalking beneath the furniture, looking out with eyes finely reflexive to anything suggesting Food,—hangs a Mirror in an inscrib’d Frame, commemorating the “Mischianza,” that memorable farewell Ball stag’d in ‘77 by the British who’d been Occupying the City, just before their Withdrawal from Philadelphia.