The Wisdom of Father Brown HTML version

The Strange Crime of John Boulnois
MR CALHOUN KIDD was a very young gentleman with a very old face, a face dried up
with its own eagerness, framed in blue-black hair and a black butterfly tie. He was the
emissary in England of the colossal American daily called the Western Sun-- also
humorously described as the "Rising Sunset". This was in allusion to a great journalistic
declaration (attributed to Mr Kidd himself) that "he guessed the sun would rise in the
west yet, if American citizens did a bit more hustling." Those, however, who mock
American journalism from the standpoint of somewhat mellower traditions forget a
certain paradox which partly redeems it. For while the journalism of the States permits a
pantomimic vulgarity long past anything English, it also shows a real excitement about
the most earnest mental problems, of which English papers are innocent, or rather
incapable. The Sun was full of the most solemn matters treated in the most farcical way.
William James figured there as well as "Weary Willie," and pragmatists alternated with
pugilists in the long procession of its portraits.
Thus, when a very unobtrusive Oxford man named John Boulnois wrote in a very
unreadable review called the Natural Philosophy Quarterly a series of articles on alleged
weak points in Darwinian evolution, it fluttered no corner of the English papers; though
Boulnois's theory (which was that of a comparatively stationary universe visited
occasionally by convulsions of change) had some rather faddy fashionableness at Oxford,
and got so far as to be named "Catastrophism". But many American papers seized on the
challenge as a great event; and the Sun threw the shadow of Mr Boulnois quite
gigantically across its pages. By the paradox already noted, articles of valuable
intelligence and enthusiasm were presented with headlines apparently written by an
illiterate maniac, headlines such as "Darwin Chews Dirt; Critic Boulnois says He Jumps
the Shocks"--or "Keep Catastrophic, says Thinker Boulnois." And Mr Calhoun Kidd, of
the Western Sun, was bidden to take his butterfly tie and lugubrious visage down to the
little house outside Oxford where Thinker Boulnois lived in happy ignorance of such a
That fated philosopher had consented, in a somewhat dazed manner, to receive the
interviewer, and had named the hour of nine that evening. The last of a summer sunset
clung about Cumnor and the low wooded hills; the romantic Yankee was both doubtful of
his road and inquisitive about his surroundings; and seeing the door of a genuine feudal
old-country inn, The Champion Arms, standing open, he went in to make inquiries.
In the bar parlour he rang the bell, and had to wait some little time for a reply to it. The
only other person present was a lean man with close red hair and loose, horsey-looking
clothes, who was drinking very bad whisky, but smoking a very good cigar. The whisky,
of course, was the choice brand of The Champion Arms; the cigar he had probably
brought with him from London. Nothing could be more different than his cynical
negligence from the dapper dryness of the young American; but something in his pencil
and open notebook, and perhaps in the expression of his alert blue eye, caused Kidd to
guess, correctly, that he was a brother journalist.