Speckles And Splodges And Smudges

Two of the answers in today’s Guardian crossword were SPECKLE and SPLODGE. This put me in mind of Dobson’s pamphlet A Comparative Study Of Speckles And Splodges And Smudges (out of print). It is one of his most exasperating works. The exasperation lies, in the words of the critic Rappa Kohoutek, in the fact that

Dobson opens with the grand statement that “the speckle, the splodge, and the smudge are each of them wholly discrete and different phenomena, and to muddle them up is not merely ignorance, but dangerous ignorance. Wars have been fought, and men have died, for failure to distinguish between the three”. This is exasperating on two counts. First, in the eighty pages of microscopically tiny print that follow, the pamphleteer himself neglects to explain the difference between speckles and splodges and smudges. Second, nor does he provide a single example of the war and death he so melodramatically warns the reader of and I am going to let this sentence run on because I hate to end with a preposition even though to do so is completely defensible unless one is up against the most rigorous of pedants armed, as certain pedants are, with a hammer of correction.

It is perhaps worth noting here that Rappa Kohoutek bore several dents in his head, made by one such “hammer of correction” wielded by a particularly rigorous pedant whose path he used to cross occasionally. The critic liked to spend his mornings at a sophisticated pavement café sipping from a glass of bengkht. Along the pavement would come the pedant with his hammer, lashing out with what used to be called “gay abandon”.

The dents in his head did not effect Rappa Kohoutek’s critical acumen, however, and we must agree with his judgement about this particular Dobson pamphlet. In a sense, we have no option but to agree with him, and trust him, because we are never likely to read the work itself. As he points out, the text of the pamphlet is microscopically tiny, and he is not exaggerating. It is so tiny that the average reader would ruin their eyesight before getting to the end of the preface and acknowledgements. Rappa Kohoutek explains in an afterword to his own essay that he was able to read all eighty pages of text because his sense of vision was inexplicably enhanced by one of the blows to the head he received from the pedant’s hammer of correction. In a further afterword to a second printing of his essay, the critic relates how a subsequent blow from the same hammer restored his sight to its previous mild myopia:

And so I shall never again be able to read Dobson’s pamphlet on speckles and splodges and smudges. But quite frankly, why on earth would I want to? It is absolute drivel.

A hugely magnified copy of Dobson’s pamphlet has been made available by the Dobson Pamphlet Magnification Commission, but so tiny is the text that in spite of the hugeness of the magnification it is still pretty much illegible to any human eye.

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