Thursday, July 28, 2005

How I Found Satan's Bushel

Satan's Bushel review parts I, II and III.

As I wrote in a previous post, my interest in Satan's Bushel was raised when Bruce Ramsey referred to that book in his introduction to Salvos Against the New Deal:

Satan's Bushel (1924) was an allegory of agriculture and its
struggle with overproduction. ("Satan's Bushel" was the bushel that broke the price.)

I discovered that the story was about much more than that, but getting to that point required a journey.

I have tried, without success, to find a copy of Satan's Bushel for almost two years. I have never yet seen a copy of the book. Bruce Ramsey wrote to me that a copy of the text could be found in back copies of the Saturday Evening Post. Indeed, most of Garret's fiction books can be found serialized in the pages of the Post in the 1920's. Satan's Bushel is one exception to that rule. After I wrote back to Mr. Ramsey and informed him that the Post had come up dry on Satan's Bushel, he told me he would try to remember where he had seen it and get back to me. (Ramsey had previously discarded his photocopies of the Post when he gradually accumulated the actual books with considerable effort over a fair amount of time).

After having one of those "eureka!" moments, Ramsey wrote to me that the actual magazine that contained Satan's Bushel was called The Country Gentleman. While I was glad to have received renewed hope of finding the text, Ramsey's news was not the end of the story.

Upon arriving at the State Library, I was told that The Country Gentleman was not published in 1923 and had merged with the Saturday Evening Post by that time. This information was false, and I persisted in my request that the librarians find the Country Gentleman copies in their stack of microfilms in the basement. After the librarians informed me that they would notify me if anything turned up, I once again gave up hope and returned home.

Much to my surprise, I received a phone call several days later from the librarian. Not only had they found the issues of Country Gentleman in question, they had also found, as a result of this search, the library's entire series of Country Gentlemen microfilms that had been misfiled and lost for years.

I have written in a previous post that Satan's Bushel reflects much of our culture that has now been lost or forgotten. A piece of the dying American culture had been essentially buried in the rubble and had languished unnoticed and unappreciated. I thought of this obscurity several days later as I watched the librarian carry the microfilm to one of the ancient microfilm machines so that I might copy it.

Many of the ancient writings from the Roman civilization were destroyed by marauding barbarians who burned cities with little regard for what they destroyed. The barbarians did not even understand the concept of literature or the role of literature in preserving civilization.

I felt that I was reversing the ancient Roman scenario by rescuing Garrett's literature with the help of one who had no idea what she was carrying (or what her coworkers had discovered in the basement). Those of us who rescue forgotten American writing, especially literature with a capitalist theme, will do so in relative obscurity without the understanding of those who might still possess the treasures we seek.

The image of this obscurity was reinforced as I scrolled through the microfilm and discovered the hastiness with which the pages had been copied. Half of most of the pages were too blurry to read. I had to copy many pages two or three times just to get a clear image of each word in the text.

But now, one more copy of Satan's Bushel exists outside the confines of some library basement. The most thorough discussion of this book ever created now exists on the internet. Absalom Weaver's speech can now take its place alongside the speeches of Ayn Rand's great characters. More such discussions of Garrett's books will follow on these pages.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Satan's Bushel - part III

Click here for part I and part II.

The time elapsed since my last post here makes it obvious that I am no longer attempting to "live-blog" Satan's Bushel. I finished the book months ago and have been trying to find time to sit down and complete my thoughts.

In some ways, Satan's Bushel exceeded my expectations. In other ways, my hopes were left unfulfilled. The plot and the storyline of the book were tremendous. I won't give away any more of the story than I have already written in previous posts. Suffice it to say that the book is worth reading for the story alone.

I was hoping for more economic insight, especially insight into the nature of overproduction, inflation and the consequences of these phenonema for ordinary people. Garrett wrote about farmers that lived with the consequences of overproduction. But the main focus of the story was on three people whose lives transcended that problem. The book was written in 1923 and I suppose it did not seem imperative to delve into a story relating to the consequences of economic conditions prior to the crises that would soon engulf the world. As I wrote in my last post:

We can forgive Garrett for failing to apply Weaver's lesson to broader government policy. Such a comprehensive approach did not seem as imperative in the pre-New Deal days of 1923.

I am still not sure exactly what I am looking for, but I find only hints of it in Garrett's fiction writings (and none of it anywhere else). Dramatization of the harm wrought by the economic policies that wrecked the 20th century is very rare. Otherwise, such policies would never have become entrenched.

It is very common now to hear dispassionate explanations of why socialism or government interference makes no sense. Such discussions only rarely touch upon the folly of fractional reserve banking. Garrett's nonfiction dealt with fractional reserve banking more so than most writers of the 20th century. Such factors as confidence, the effect of government policy on prices and the unique problems of industrialization would provide the backbone of Garrett novels such as Satan's Bushel and the Driver. While these novels would not necessarily make for good recruitment tools for the free market philosophy, they provide good background for those who are acquainted with such philosophy and who want to know more.

Satan's Bushel is not dry by any means - even though I might make it sound that way by my description. The economic context of the novel makes the story that much more real. The economic context to the story bridges the 80+ years between Satan's Bushel's publication and today.

Aside from the economics, Satan's Bushel provides a model of American culture. There is much we have forgotten in recent decades about the "old values" - trite as that expression may seem. Satan's Bushel is intertwined with old fashioned American values and culture without being clumsy or obvious about it. The old fashioned manners, the work ethic, chivalry, professionalism, honesty and other virtues form the supporting cast for Garrett's main characters. The book is not intended to be a lesson in morality, but the pervaviseness of the above mentioned values in the story's background speaks louder than the most direct sermon. Garrett probably never gave this aspect a second thought, as he was simply placing his characters into the context of his time.

By reading the book, you lose yourself not only in the world of wheat farming, you lose yourself in a much broader world that has since disappeared. Despite its disappearance, the world of Satan's Bushel seems comfortable and right to the reader in a way that one can describe only with reference to the things we have lost over the past 8 decades.


For those who wish to escape into the wheatfields of 80+ years ago, don't wait to find the book on e-bay or You might wish to search antique book stores. But your best bet is to visit your local university library and ask for the 1923 editions of "Country Gentleman" magazine. Satan's Bushel begins in the October 27th edition. On October 20, 1923, the editors described the upcoming serialization:
The struggle of humanity for food is like a mighty flood - too vast, it would seem , for any to presume to stem or to direct it; yet those there are - gamblers in mankind's daily bread - who seek to do these things. These gamblers - the men of prophetic foresight whose battleground is the wheat pit; their petty imitators in the small-town bucket shop; even the farmer himself who grew the wheat - are shown in stark flesh and blood in Garet Garrett's vivid new novel, Satan's Bushel, which begins next week. Real wheat ripening in the Kansas sun; phantom wheat sold by the millions of bushels on our boards of trade; the great wheat corner; the jounrey's end of a man and woman who set forth on a world-wide quest - these are part of this truly great story of what is perhaps the greatest drama in the world, the fight for daily bread.

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