“A Brief Study of Dendrophilism” (E60)

  • Originally printed:  The New Yorker, February 18, 1933
  • First reprinted in:  From Bed to Worse (1934)
  • Original Byline:  Robert Benchley



Always a dicey proposition when an early 20th century writer dabbles in mock-anthropological and/or mock-psychotherapeutic discourse. Here, Benchley essays both, with results that fail to justify the gamble. Sprouted from the unimpeachable (although by now axiomatic) kernel of a connection between the aficionado and the fetishist, the piece soon gets lost in the thorny underbrush of the Eurocentric unconscious, projecting all manner of outré tree trysting upon the usual targeted demographics before doubling back to take stock of the photosynthetic perversions being practiced “right here where we live”. I always want to give Benchley the benefit of the doubt when he slips into these callow catalogues of counterfeit cultural relativism. Certainly, the wild sociology of the period required caustic pruning back, but when an author resorts to mere ridicule by reproduction, the roots of the enterprise are blighted.

Favourite Moment:

In America, dendrophilism has not gained much headway, owing to there being so many other things to take up people’s minds, although Kiernan, in the Detroit Lancet, does mention a case of  a woman who was under suspicion of going pretty strongly for an old elm, which she claimed had been in the family for a hundred years and which she wanted to have brought into the house just to keep her company.

Reprint Notes:

  • Illustration not reprinted

“Announcing a New Vitamin” (E16)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, September 12, 1931
  • First reprinted in: No Poems; Or, Around the World Backwards and Sideways
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown



Writing in the persona of an introspective nutritional ballyhoo man, RB details the trials and deliberations of researchers who isolate a compound with very little get-up-and-go-to-market potential. Stumbling upon their discovery while picking through a mess of mackerel bones, Dr. Arthur W. Meexus and the author congratulate each other on shoring up the inexcusable gap between Vitamins E and G (later demoted to second-class status as Vitamin B2). The pair’s mirth dissipates when they realize that all of the really good dietary claims have been staked by their alphabetical antecedents. What’s left for Vitamin F?

Groping about for some slogan-ready boon in their breakthrough, RB and Meexus try a few biological jingles on for size. Saliva anyone? How about a little top-up for your tear ducts? Perhaps a dash of grotesque anthropology might make the masses F-conscious? No scientist worth their salt (or milk, or radishes, or cod liver oil) is going to yoke their lab’s prestige to such a lemon (lemon? that’s Vitamin C – a good vitamin!) The thing begins to seem a little desperate, and our author wisely considers tossing Vitamin F back on the bone heap.

Favourite Moment:
“We have announced [Vitamin F’s] discovery and have given to the world sufficient data to show that it is an item of diet which undoubtedly serves a purpose. But what purpose? We are working on that now, and ought to have something very interesting to report in a short time. If we aren’t able to, we shall have to call vitamin F in, and begin all over again.”