“Can We Believe Our Eyes?” (E69)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, May 9, 1931  
  • First reprinted in:  No Poems; Or, Around the World Backwards and Sideways
  • Original Byline:  Unknown



Here we have a solid effort in a staple Benchley genre, a dithering dirge directed at the endless cascade of cosmic crockery battering every human effort to just not be wrong about everything, all of the time. Things were confusing enough before the scientific method got up and running, but here in the modern era, the spirit of “well, actually” trolls through all things. The more we ken, the less we can feel sure of, and the only certainty is that whatever shred of a sense impression you’ve been clinging to will swiftly evaporate under scrutiny.

Perhaps it has always been thus, as the madcap adventures of Socrates demonstrate. On the other hand, Socrates was just one guy marauding the streets of Athens, and a pretty old guy, at that. You could easily run away from him and believe whatever you wanted about the size of that arrow in the agora. Not so easy to dodge the infinite deferral of truth and meaning with the advertising industry now negging the public for its own hypnotic purposes.

Benchley keeps up the fight for as long as he can before taking refuge in the bottle. If you can’t get reality’s measure by looking at it, or hearing it, or smelling it, or touching it, what’s the point of being sober? Mix me up an absinthe and absinthe, bartender. There are also some jokes about British military ranks.

Favorite Moment:

“Which is the larger of these two arrows?” Of course, it is perfectly obvious which is the larger, but when you come to measure them you find that, through some trickery, they are both the same size.

I will put up with just so much of this kind of thing, and then I will stop measuring.

Reprint Notes:

  • Unable to compare text with original Liberty piece.
  • Why doesn’t the Toronto Public Library have the Gale Liberty Magazine Historical Archive? (Why can’t a regular person subscribe to it?)

“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.”