A Dialogue on Etzler’s Paradise, by John Adolphus Etzler (by Robert Antoni)
Robert Antoni’s epic As Flies to Whatless Boys—now available from our website and in bookstores everywhere—is a richly imagined historical novel with a symmetrical structure book-ended by and interspersed with archival documents that may or may not be works of the author’s imagination. Antoni’s playful meta structure includes five archaic symbols linking to five “archival” documents not included in the printed volume. In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing the items here, contextualized by the text they appear with in As Flies to Whatless Boys. Today’s entry is a play written by the novel’s morally suspicious visionary, John Adolphus Etzler.
In 1845 London, Etzler, has invented machines “powered by the immense forces of Mother Nature” that he thinks will transform the division of labor and free all men. He forms a collective called the Tropical Emigration Society (TES), and recruits a variety of London citizens to take his machines and his misguided ideas to form a proto-socialist, utopian community in the British colony of Trinidad.
Among his recruits is a young boy (and the book’s narrator) named Willy. As TES begins its overseas voyage to Trinidad, Etzler performs his Marxist play, A Dialogue on Etzler’s Paradise, before Willy and the rest of the TES members. As the voyage continues, Willy’s tale takes precedence—and the young man proves himself the true socialist. The following play (and its accompanying text, in Willy’s voice), is one of the first signs that all is not on the up-and-up with Etzler.
On the awaited afternoon Captain Damphier again ordered iced lemonade for the children, rum punch for all the adults. Since this performance would be free of charge for everybody who chose to attend, he wasn’t fearful of a repetition of Mr. Etzler’s previous ordeal. Indeed, distractions of this kind were so few and far between in the middle of the Atlantic, the captain welcomed the event.
That afternoon practically every passenger aboard crowded weself onto the third-class deck. Due to the lack of space a number of sailors perched theyself in the rigging overhead as well. It was a clear day, without a cloud in the cobalt sky, the sun a blistering ball. Though by this late in the afternoon it had started its descent towards the sea. According to Mr. Etzler’s specifications an elongated planter’s chair, borrowed from out he own cabin-suite (wicker backing and concealed leg-perches that swung out from under the arms), was placed atop the Satellite’s crate. Beside it a short stool belonging to the sailors.
In keeping with his character Mr. Stollmeyer costumed heself in a khaki suit several sizes too big for he lanky frame, pillow stuffed beneath the shirt to give him a good-sized paunch. From his vest pocket dangled a gold watch-chain. He wore tall riding boots, pith helmet, and a monocle. In his hand he held a leather crop, using it to strike every now and then against his boot. Mr. Etzler, by contrast, donned a pair of shabby canvas overalls, patches stitched on both knees, with a larger one sewn in over he bamsee. He had on a soiled undershirt, fraying at the wrists, his feet bare. On his head he wore a beaten straw hat, tied with a piece of twine beneath his chin. He grayed out he long beard.
As advertised in the playbill Mr. Etzler blacked his face with burnt cork.
Accompanied by a burst of applause—together with a good amount of jeering—the two actors ascended the ladder to the top of the Satellite’s crate. Lord Louse (Mr. Stollmeyer) puffing-way exaggerated with the effort of he climb, crop tucked under he arm. Whilst the elderly Savvy (Mr. Etzler) paused dramatic a couple times, reaching to he tired old back and letting forth a groan.
Savvy then assisted Lord Louse to stretch out heself on the planter’s chair—legs splayed wide and riding boots cocked up on the swing-out perches, his paunch a mound atop he lap. Savvy then crouched on the stool beside him. He removed a corncob pipe from his pocket, proceeding to fill it with tobacco from out his pouch. Then he struck a match to light it, puffing gray clouds contemplative into the air.
Lord Louse cracked his crop three times against his boot—thwack! thwack! thwack! And the actors waited for the crowd to quiet weself.
A Dialogue on Etzler’s PARADISE
Between the West-Indian Plantation Owner
& His Former African Slave
— or —
‘English vs. Nigrish’
John Adolphus Etzler
Pamphlet published by Paria Press, 12 Maraval Road, Port of Spain, Trinidad, under the direction of C.F. Stollmeyer (January 1845).
LORD LOUSE. [In his West Indian Plantation House: strikes crop against boot three times to arrest the audience’s attention.] I say there, Savvy. Rather interesting name you’ve got. Pray tell, where ever’d it come from?
SAVVY. [Removing cob pipe from mouth.] Oh, I done told you already, boss. My mammy called me Sammy, but folks up n’ switched it. Seein’ as I’m so smart.
LORD LOUSE. Indeed. And I understand you’re quite the vorOcious reader as well.
SAVVY. Word’s vorAcious, boss. Less’n you mean ferOcious.
LORD LOUSE. Yes, yes. So tell me, Savvy, however did you learn to read? Since teaching a slave to read is strictly against the law!
SAVVY. Was Lady Louse teached me in secret, boss. When I was a young boy. N’ then a few years later, your daughter—
LORD LOUSE. —Lousy?
SAVVY. —Yes, suh. When I was older, the young Mistress Lousy-Louse tooked over my lessons.
LORD LOUSE. Did she now?
SAVVY. N’ she sure is a bright girl, boss. Takes after her old man.
LORD LOUSE. Pray tell.
SAVVY. Might say she got a double-dose, boss.
LORD LOUSE. Right. Still, I don’t see where you found time for all of those reading lessons, Savvy. As I recall, you were a field hand. Working sunup to sundown. Every day of the week except Sundays.
SAVVY. Oh, I caught on quick, boss! N’ then Mistress Lousy Louse used to slip me books on the sly. I’d read ’em nights, n’ whenever I caught a chance. Sometimes I’d find a tossed out newspaper. Sunday services I’d read the Bible n’ Hymnal.
LORD LOUSE. So how long did you work the fields then, Savvy?
SAVVY. Since I was a child of 8, boss. Makes 79 years. Seeing as I been finally freed according to the ’prenticeship act 7 years back.
LORD LOUSE. So you’re 92 years old, are you?
SAVVY. No, boss. 8 + 79 + 7 = 94. Think you missed a couple of fingers!
LORD LOUSE. So: 76 years working in the fields!
SAVVY. —79, boss.
LORD LOUSE. Must make you something of an expert, I should think.
SAVVY. Sure ’nough. You might say I know pretty much everything there is to know bout farming. Cane, cocoa, copra from the coconuts. Plus I growed just bout every kind of fruits n’ vegetables in my own plots over the years. You name it n’ I growed it, boss. One time or another.
LORD LOUSE. Precisely the reason I wanted to have the little chat, Savvy. You see, there’s been a load of palaver tossing about lately over this man, Etzler. Ever hear of the chap?
SAVVY. Oh yes, suh!
LORD LOUSE. Written a book called PARADISE.
SAVVY. I know it, suh!
LORD LOUSE. [Taken aback.] Really? You’re familiar with Etzler’s book?
SAVVY. Studied it cover-to-cover, boss.
LORD LOUSE. You don’t say!
SAVVY. N’ found it well worth the inquiry n’ speculation, I might could add.
LORD LOUSE. But tell me, Savvy, how ever did you lay your hands on Etzler’s book? It’s rather subscure.
SAVVY. Obscure, boss. Anyways, YOU gave it to me.
LORD LOUSE. I gave you Etzler’s book?
SAVVY. Yes, suh. One night, few years back, you was reading in it—drunk as a lord by suppertime, same as usual. All-n’-sudden you gets yourself in a fierce temper. N’ commences to jumping around the place screaming n’ cursing like a wild Indian—
What a load of bilk n’ bladderdash! says you.
N’ you throws the book clear out through the window.
LORD LOUSE. Did I?
SAVVY. Sure ’nough. I was sitting on the back stoop eating my supper. Near bout landed in my bowl of soup! So I took up the book, n’ I read it.
LORD LOUSE. And did you not find it full of outrageous pretensions? Loaded with the wildest delusions and whimsical fantasy?
SAVVY. No, suh. Mr. Etzler talks bout plain matters. Mostly he observes Mother Nature. N’ determines ways of capturing Her powers to do men’s hard labours. N’ boss, them’s two plain matters I’m pert near expert in.
LORD LOUSE. What’s that, Savvy?
SAVVY. Why, the Natural World, such as the cane fields. N’ the backbraking labours of tending to ’em.
LORD LOUSE. Yes, and Etzler’s SATELLITE. It’ll perform all of your labours for you, will it?
SAVVY. No, suh.
LORD LOUSE. BUT ISN’T THAT WHAT THIS BLASTED FOOL CLAIMS?
SAVVY. No, suh.
LORD LOUSE. So what DOES he claim, Savvy?
SAVVY. Well, first off, the cane fields belong to you, so SHE’D be doing all of HER hard labours for YOU, boss.
LORD LOUSE. And who is this SHE you’re referring to, if it’s not Etzler or his Satellite?
SAVVY. Why, I done told you already, boss: Mother Nature. The power of the wind, n’ natural forces such as rivers n’ waterfalls. The power of the sun’s rays, n’ waves, n’ all such. Mr. Etzler proposes ways n’ machines to be able to harness ’em.
LORD LOUSE. There you have it, the blasted MACHINE! His bloody SATELLITE! That’s the important matter here, which this flaptrap Etzler goes on and on about!
SAVVY. Wrong again, boss. Let me put it to you this way: Which is more important for traveling around the place, n’ moving goods, or whatever use you wants to put it to—the donkey, or the cart? Which costs more, n’ calls for more attention to feed n’ take care of?
LORD LOUSE. Why, the donkey, of course. The cart’s nothing but a couple of wheels, an axle, and a few boards nailed together.
SAVVY. You’re sure learning, boss! Tis the same thing with the Satellite.
LORD LOUSE. I see.
SAVVY. Let me put it to you another way, boss. Which does you consider more valuable—your slave, his cutlass, o’ your field full of cane?
LORD LOUSE. Well let me think. First we can eliminate the cutlass. That’s little more than a tool.
SAVVY. Same as Mr. Etzler’s Satellite.
LORD LOUSE. But the second is trickier. Between my slave and my field of cane, I would have to say it’s my cane field that’s worth more.
SAVVY. N’ how much is your cane field worth since you lost your slave, boss?
LORD LOUSE. Not a bloody penny! Without my slave, my cane field is bloody worthless!
SAVVY. Should’ve taken better care of him whilst you had him, boss!
LORD LOUSE. Suspect you’re right there, Savvy.
SAVVY. Anyways, Mr. Etzler’s provided for BOTH of us. He proposes ways n’ means of turning the wind into your slave, n’ mine too. Cause the wind will do ALL our work. Wind n’ water. Mr. Etzler shows how the wind n’ water are the most valuable assets you got, boss.
LORD LOUSE. [sitting up angrily & cracking crop] BLOODY TRIPE! HOW CAN THE WIND AND WATER BE WORTH ANYTHING A-TALL? THEY BELONG TO EVERYBODY ALIKE! THAT WOULD MAKE YOU JUST AS WEALTHY AS ME, SAVVY!
SAVVY. Oh, you’re sure catching on, boss. [returns cob pipe to mouth, smiling] You sure are.
LORD LOUSE. Do you mean to tell me, Savvy, that in this supposed PARADISE of Etzler’s, the two of us would be equals in terms of our possessions? No more master, and no more slave?
SAVVY. Hate to remind you, boss. But you’ve done lost your slave already.
LORD LOUSE. Servant, then. Labourer. Employee. It all amounts to the same bloody thing, Savvy: one class of haves, another of have-nots. That’s the way the world’s been since the beginning of time!
SAVVY. En time’s a-changing, boss. Cause now Mr. Etzler’ll give us both an iron-slave—his Satellite. It’ll do hard labour for both of us. Day n’ night. Without tiring or costing a penny to keep or feed. Cause Mr. Etzler’s Satellite’s driven by the unlimited powers of Mother Nature.
LORD LOUSE. Yes. Yes. So let’s just imagine for an instant that Etzer’s Satellite did work, shall we—
SAVVY. [shaking head, exasperated] Boss, the Satellite’s already been tested n’ proven satisfactory that it will work. Just as Mr. Etzler says.
LORD LOUSE. So I hear.
SAVVY. But once again, boss, you’re missing the main point by a mile. Cause even if there was some minor glitches n’ hitches to make the Satellite function, they’ll be solved sure ’nough. If the right sorts of men n’ women put their minds to it. The most important thing is that Mr. Etzler’s principle is sound. Cause boss, if his principle’s sound—as it’s already been proved to be—n’ Mr. Etzler’s Satellite works even half as good as he claims, then that’ll be sufficient to change the world as you n’ me know it forever!
LORD LOUSE. Fair enough. But listen here, Savvy. Etzler’s Satellite will only grow the crops. Provide the food. Who’s going to prepare my meals, and who’s going to serve them? Who’s going to clean my mansion, and stitch my garments, and drive my coach?
SAVVY. [smiling] Guess you got to learn to do a few things for yourself, boss.
LORD LOUSE. [frowning] Why. . . I can’t even put on my bloody boots by myself!
SAVVY. Oh, I’m sure you can do it, boss. If you put forth a little effort.
LORD LOUSE. BUT I CAN’T EVEN TOUCH MY TOES! IT’S PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!
SAVVY. Oh, I’m sure you can do it, boss. Let’s just give her a try. . .[Here Savvy helps Lord Louse out of chair. Latter then perches at edge of stage, dangerously attempting to bend over & touch toes—threatening each time to tumble off stage onto spectators below. After several tries, he gives up.]
SAVVY. Hang on there, boss! [helping Lord Louse into chair again] Think this one’s going to take some practice.
LORD LOUSE. [puffing with effort] Indeed it shall!
SAVVY. Maybe Mr. Etzler can invent a machine to bend over for you, boss.
LORD LOUSE. And another to wipe my ARSE whilst he’s about it, Savvy. Since I can’t manage that by myself, either!
SAVVY. Boss, I sure don’t believe as a ARSE-WIPIN’-MERCHINE is exactly up Mr. Etzler’s line. But I do know he’s invented other important machines, such as his NAVAL AUTOMATON.
LORD LOUSE. NASAL CONGLOMERON?
SAVVY. N-A-V-A-L A-U-T-O-M-A-T-O-N. It’ll harness the immense power of the ocean’s waves. To drive ships, n’ pump out bilges, wench in the anchor, n’ basically turn a crank to perform a thousand different tasks at sea. Just like Mr. Etzler’s Satellite will perform a thousand different jobs over dry land. Pert much whichever use you can think to put to it—not just grow the cops n’ provide all the food—as you say, boss.
LORD LOUSE. Sounds like the Satellite is Etzler’s universal land machine, and the Naval Automaton is his all-around water one.
SAVVY. You’re catching on, boss.
LORD LOUSE. But neither one’ll wipe my ARSE now, will it? [frowning] Such a pity!
SAVVY. A few things you just got to learn to do for yourself, boss, as I was saying before. But besides his machines, Mr. Etzler also suggests new n’ improved methods to do the most commonest things. Like burning mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays n’ produce intense heat. . . or cutting clothes ready-made from sheets of a paper-like substance. . .
LORD LOUSE. So Etzler’s going to dress me up in PAPER, is he? That’s certainly going to keep me warm on a winter’s night!
SAVVY. His burning mirrors will keep you warm, boss. Besides, in the tropics you don’t even need to dress yourself in paper to stay warm. If you don’t feel like it.
LORD LOUSE. I’ll walk about in my birthday suit, shall I? [placing hand condescendingly over crotch] Perhaps a berrnanner-peel to cover my tool?
SAVVY. Boss, it might surprise you to learn that in countries such as Japan, fine garments has been made from paper derived from banana peels for centuries. Just as Mr. Etzler points out.
LORD LOUSE. Far as I’m concerned Savvy, paper’s only good for one thing!
SAVVY. N’ it sure ain’t printing books to improve your intelligence, boss! Seeing as you won’t even take the time out to examine ’em.
LORD LOUSE. Yes. Yes. So tell me, Savvy, what more does this Etzer propose to do for us?
SAVVY. Just about everything we’ll ever need to live a life of luxury n’ leisure. Because Mr. Etzler’s machines n’ methods, plus the powers a Mother Nature, will take care of all our wants. Perform all our labours.
LORD LOUSE. But don’t you understand Savvy, your LABOUR is the only thing you OWN? It’s all you’re WORTH. Even if you are no longer a slave! Take away your labour, and how’ll you ever IMPROVE your station in life? How will you ever make the MONEY to buy the THINGS to make your life more PLEASURABLE? It’s simple ECOLOGIC theory!
SAVVY. Lots more ways to enjoy life then doing somebody else’s backbraking work, boss. N’ besides, all of those THINGS you’re referring to, that’ll make life more pleasurable—wholesome food, n’ fine garments, palaces to live in, n’ everything else you can name—they’re all provided by Mr. Etzler’s machines n’ Mother Nature. FREE AS WIND N’ WATER. For you n’ me both!
LORD LOUSE. But Savvy, if nothing has any VALUE—neither labour nor the GOODS it produces—don’t you see that’s a perfect recipe for. . . for. . . what’s it called now?
SAVVY. ANARCHY, boss.
LORD LOUSE. That’s it.
SAVVY. It sure will take the world awhile adjusting to Mr. Etzler’s plan. But one thing is clear, if you think on it some. Between you n’ me, the only person upset by all of this will be YOU, boss. Because I’ll be just as wealthy as you are. Even more! Because right now you’re a Lord—n’ under very precarious circumstances. But in Mr. Etzler’s tropical paradise I’ll be a KING! N’ I sure won’t have any trouble adjusting to that, boss!
LORD LOUSE. THEN I’LL JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF THESE GOD-FORSAKEN TROPICS, AND GO BACK TO ENGLAND WHERE I HAVE MY MANSION WAITING FOR ME! MY SERVANTS AND COACHES AND ALL THE REST! BECAUSE THIS PLAN OF ETZLER’S DOESN’T LIKE ME ONE BLOODY BIT!
SAVVY. Fine, boss. I’ll be right here. Waiting for you to come round to Mr. Etzler’s ways of thinking. N’ I’ll be living in a tropical paradise with mansions even more luxurious, n’ coaches that will go twice as fast, n’ twice as far. N’ the whole time I’ll be getting more n’ more wealthy. Because I’ll be living amongst fellow men n’ women who’ll be just as wealthy n’ just as happy, n’ growing wiser n’ wiser every day, n’ happier n’ happier!
LORD LOUSE. That so?
SAVVY. N’ boss, I suspect YOU’LL be even MORE miserable then you is now.
LORD LOUSE. But Savvy, why would I possibly gamble on Etzler? I stand only to lose! Sure, YOU stand to gain by him—cause you’ve got nothing to lose in the first place!—but what’s there in Etzler’s plan to please ME?
SAVVY. Oh, you’ll lose some things, boss. Sure ’nough. But for every one of those losses, you’ll gain a thousand times in Etzler’s paradise.
LORD LOUSE. POPPYCOCK!!! I DON’T BELIEVE IT, NOT FOR ONE SECOND!!! THAT BLOODY ETZLER CAN KISS MY ROYAL ARSE!!! TAKING MY SLAVE AWAY, AND TURNING HIM INTO A BLOODY KING!!!
SAVVY. Tables sure are turned, boss. They sure are. But I suspect you’ll come round after a time. You’ll see the light at the end of the proverbial dark tunnel.
LORD LOUSE. Nonsense! Show me just ONE way that I’LL be better off in Etzler’s Paradise, and I’ll. . . why. . . I’LL KISS ETZLER’S BLOODY ARSE!!! AND YOURS AS WELL, SAVVY!!! I’LL KISS MY EX-SLAVE’S PREVERBIAL BLACK ARSE!!!
SAVVY. Simple, boss. You’ll be happier in Etzler’s paradise, only because I’ll be happier too. N’ LIKE BREEDS LIKE, it’s the most fundamental principal of human emotions. Whether those emotions are violence n’ hatred, or love n’ kindness. Because men have been fighting against each other since the beginning of time. Each one trying to get ahead n’ take advantage of the next. N’ this world is only going more n’ more backwards all the while. Think how much better off n’ happier the world would be if we were all fighting to get ahead TOGETHER![Pause here, whilst Lord Louse contemplates.]
LORD LOUSE. . . . Well, I suppose. . .
SAVVY. Think how much SOONER we’d get to our earthly PARADISE!
LORD LOUSE. [subdued at last] Well, Savvy, I hate to admit it. . . but I do believe you’ve got a point there. . . I think you’re right about that. We WOULD be better off in Etzler’s Paradise, if only for the fact that we’d be fighting to get ahead together. Rather than against one another.[Pause again.]
SAVVY. But boss, ain’t you forgetting a little something?
LORD LOUSE. What’s that, Savvy?
SAVVY. Oh, just a little pledge you made afore all these fine folks [indicates audience] only a few seconds back?
LORD LOUSE. [snapping fingers] You’re right, Savvy. Absolutely right. And I’d be a Lousy Lord indeed if I didn’t keep my word![Here Savvy gets up from stool and bends over, hands on floor, pointing buttocks skyward. Lord Louse stands slowly. He approaches Savvy, then proceeds to unfasten two buttons at top of large patch covering his hind parts, revealing that the patch is actually a FLAP. He folds the flap down, slowly exposing Savvy’s buttocks. Revealing to audience that the actor has blackened THEM ALSO with burnt cork. Lord Louse then presses face snuggly to Savvy’s blackened cheeks, in such a manner that he comes away blackfaced also. The two actors stand and face audience.]
SAVVY. I say, boss. I do believe I’ve turned you into my Negro now.
LORD LOUSE. Oh, you sure right bout that, Savvy. You sure are!
SAVVY. Indeed. And for that we can all be thankful to our author, Mr. Etzler.
Contrary to the expectations of many—or, rather, in spite of them—the response to Mr. Etzler’s play was favourable. I can assure you it didn’t happen easy. Nor did it happen straightway. Son, the first few comments shouted out by the spectators crowded onto the deck—not to mention the sailors perched clamorous in the rigging overtop we heads—were not so savoury a-tall.
Mr. Etzler and Mr. Stollmeyer were not the most popular travellers aboard ship. Not by a long lag. They haughty manners, superiour attitudes, and frank disregard for the opinions of others, had turned a number of the passengers against them. As you can well imagine several members of the audience had come to this performance with the sole intention of heckling the actors. And they did a good job. At least for the first few minutes.
But as the performance continued and we surrendered weself to Savvy’s wit and easy sense of humour—each time he got the upper hand on a dotish Lord Louse—the antagonistic atmosphere seemed to dissolve. To disappear, slow-but-sure. And once the first few chuckles burst forth, unchecked, the laughter became quite contagious. Every time Lord Louse mouthed a silly mispronunciation. Each time Savvy twisted one of he former master’s misstatements into a humourous jab. In addition, the rural speech of Mr. Etzler’s character was so suited to he own broken English that his German infections seemed somehow to fade-way. Indeed—speaking in the language of he character, Savvy—Mr. Etzler was easier to understand than normal.
There was a part later in the play when Savvy helped Lord Louse to get up from out his planter’s chair, assisting him to bend down and try to touch he toes. Everybody responding enthusiastic to Lord Louse’s antics at the edge of the crate. Threatening each time he bent over to tumble down onto the spectators below—we even called out for him to try to touch he toes again.
Son, you got to realise that what Mr. Etzler gave us in this play was a biting satire. Directed at some of those very members of he audience. Some of whom caught on good enough, others remaining oblivious—but it hardly seemed to matter. Because after a time everybody was laughing to we heart’s content. Finally Lord Louse unbuttoned the patch over Savvy’s upturned buttocks (the audience realising then that Mr. Etzler had blacked he bamsee-cheeks too). And when Lord Louse bent down to kiss his ex-slave’s arse, actually pressing his face snugly to it and coming away blackfaced heself—so now the reversal was complete—by then we couldn’t hold weself back. Not only from laughter and applause but shouts of bravo! requests for encore! And Captain Damphier was so pleased with the performance he commanded he sailors to serve us another round of rum punch. Even the French comte could be seen getting up quiet from out his chaise lounge at the far corner of the deck, offering the actors he standing ovation.
Posted: Sep 4, 2013
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