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Monday, July 09, 2012

Burkean Rhetoric?

The following is the kind of prose Estase would almost associate with Edmund Burke, and how he wishes he wrote.  It is from Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout.  Nero Wolfe gave the kind of dialogue one would associate with Georgian Britain, where his investigator Archie Goodwin speaks like a film noir gumshoe.  It is this juxtaposition that makes the Nero Wolfe mysteries so much fun.

"At least he might have.  Let's say his proposal was that he should, with your consent, remove Caesar and put another bull in his place.  He would take Caesar to the Osgood barns.  You would, during Tuesday, help to guard the substitute so that no one who would be at all likely to notice the deception would be permitted to approach too closely.  With the substitute once butchered, on Wednesday, the danger would of course be over.  On Thursday, Mr. Pratt and his guests, with trumpets of publicity, would eat the barbecued bull.  On Sunday, with the week expired, Clyde would present Mr. Pratt with irrefutable evidence that it was not Caesar who had been sacrificed and that he had therefore won the bet.  Mr. Pratt would of course explode with rage, but in the end he would have to compose himself and admit his helplessness and pay the $10,000, for if the facts were made public the roar of laughter would obliterate him.  Customers in a pratteria would say, 'Do you suppose this is really beef?  It may be woodchuck.'  Mr. Pratt would have to pay and keep his mouth shut.  He couldn't even take Caesar back, for what would he do with him?  Clyde Osgood would get the $10,000, and doubtless a part of his proposal would be that you get Caesar.  I don't know how that would work out, since officially Caesar would be dead, but there might be a way around that difficulty, and as a minimum benefit you could breed his exceptional qualities into your herd.  That, of course, is merely the outline of the proposal.  Clyde had probably developed it in detail, including the time and manner of shuffling the bulls.  The most auspicious time for that would have been after 1 o'clock, when you would be the one on guard, but you might have refused to involve yourself to that extent;  and therefore one possibility is that the shuffling was set for earlier and had actually taken place.  Caesar may be alive at this moment.  The bull who died of anthrax may have been only a substitute.  I offer that only as a conjecture;  obviously it is tenable only on the supposition that you agreed to Clyde's proposal and entered into his scheme. . . and you know more about that than I do.  But leaving that entirely aside, what do you think of the scheme itself?  Do you detect any flaws?" (p160-61)

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