Jars And Moss

Dobson’s pamphlet An Entirely New System Of Moss Drainage, Incorporating Flexible Leather And Lead Pipes, A Plastic Funnel, And A Dobson Jar (out of print) is chiefly notable for the inclusion in its title of the latter item. It is the only known record of this container, as, indeed, it is the single instance of the celebrated pamphleteer claiming to have an eponymous receptacle. The text itself assumes that the reader is familiar with the “Dobson jar”, as if one had a whole row of them lined up in one’s pantry, though of course neither you nor I have ever met anyone who owns such a jar, or knows anybody who has. Blank stares, and possible dribbling, meet the enquirer who haunts antique fairs, car boot sales, and jumble extravaganzas in pursuit of the chimerical container. In any case, one jar is much like the other, as you will know if, like me, you have made a study of jars, and not just any old study but a thorough, rigorous, scholarly study, the kind of study that wins you not just a postgraduate diploma in jar studies, at the awarding of which you happily sport a gash-gold vermilion cap and robe, but a badge, a badge depicting a jar, a sort of Ur-jar, the jar of jars, also of  gash-gold vermilion, which you can wear, on your tunic, or cardigan, to display your jarry credentials, in jar circles.

Dobson came late, too late, to moss drainage matters, for this important subject had already been addressed comprehensively by Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, when he was not turning his attention to the slave trade, witches, lunacy, priests, eugenics, aeroplanes, submarines, hygiene, the action of flowers, the habits of animals, modern novels, Christian ethics, the drink question, microscopic researches, the theory and structure of language, will o’ the wisps, anemology, evolution, visible or luminous music, fogs and frosts, electricity, wooden chessmen, double-furrow ploughs, artificial birds, perpetual motion, diving-bells, vegetation and evaporation. Dobson, of course, wrote pamphlets on some, not all, of these subjects, as the fancy took him. Who has read his pamphlet on artificial birds without weeping? Well, I have, actually. I had a jar at hand, to catch my tears, should I shed any, but I did not. The jar was not a Dobson jar, as far as I am aware, for I do not know if I would recognise a Dobson jar if I saw one. As I have indicated, our pamphleteering titan gives us no clues, in his out of print pamphlet, as to what the jar named after him might look like. I suspect there never was such a jar. I think Dobson was hoping to find a secondary route to immortality, reckoning that even if all his Herculean pamphleteering efforts were swept into the abyss and forgotten, his name would live on forever, or at least for as long as people made use of jars. It was a foolish conceit, but then Dobson was a rather foolish and conceited man.

It is worth pointing out, before I close, that the system of moss drainage propounded by the pamphleteer in his pamphlet is utterly nonsensical, and fails to drain even the tiniest smidgen of moisture from any patch of moss to which it is applied. I should know, because I tried it. There is some moss on a wall I pass by often on my travels, and one gusty wet morning I set about it, following Dobson’s instructions to the letter as best I could. The upshot was a teetering wall, a broken arm, and a patch of moss if anything more moist than it was when I rolled up with my equipment just before dawn. My arm was in a cast for six weeks, during which time moss grew upon the plaster, as it will, if conditions are right, for the growth of moss. I made no attempt to drain it.

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