I had intended, today, to give you precise instructions for the wiring up of that galvanic battery to the brain inside the graceful head of the swan, but do you know what? I had no idea just how fiddly and complicated a process it was going to be! I am no butterfingers, but lawks-a-mercy, guvnor!, I botched it up good and proper.
With hindsight, I ought to have spotted the telltale clue that Washington Irving, or rather his spirit-form, was talking twaddle all along. It was the ethereal shade of Irving, you will recall, who mentioned the galvanic battery in the head of the swan in the mystic communication from the Beyond he dictated to Henry J Horn in 1871. But read it again, carefully. He writes of “a galvanic battery in the graceful swan-head”. I missed it on a casual reading, and perhaps you did too. It is not the head of a swan that is graceful, but its neck. A certain gracefulness is imparted to the swan’s head by dint of it being perched atop the indubitably graceful neck, but the head by itself is far from graceful. In fact, it is savage and menacing. You can see this for yourself by the simple expedient of looking at a swan’s head in isolation from the graceful swan-neck to which it is usually attached. I am not of course suggesting for a moment that you hike over to the nearest pond or canal armed with a razor-sharp cleaver and start beheading any swans you might find gliding gracefully across the water. There are laws against such behaviour, and rightly so, or where would we be but in a state of anarchy littered with the severed heads of swans, their bloodied corpses staining our ponds and canals red with swan-gore? No, all you need do to grasp my point is to take a cardboard swan and snip off the head with a hefty pair of scissors. Toss the body, and neck, on to a pyre, and make a careful study of the detached head. Where, I ask you, where is the grace? I think you will find that what grace there was lay in the curvature of the neck, the cardboard neck now turning to ashes in the blaze.
If we assume that Henry J Horn made an accurate transcription of the spirit-witterings of Washington Irving, we must conclude that the author of A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809) didn’t know his swans from his starlings, at least not after he had passed from his earthly domain into the Elysian Fields. Perhaps, in his translucent shimmering ghostly form, he forgot what a swan was, exactly? That is possible, for which of us can say with certainty that we will retain our ornithological wisdom beyond the grave? But before we chuck brickbats at the dead Washington Irving, there is another possibility we can consider. Given that he was communicating from what he calls “the spirit world”, could it be that the swan-head into which the galvanic battery was implanted was the head, not of a swan, but of a spirit-swan? It may well be that spirit-swans have graceful heads as well as graceful necks. Alas, we cannot put this theory to the test, for just as we are in no position to go around beheading spirit-swans, nor do we have the means to make one out of cardboard, so far as I am aware. If you know any different, please let me know.
Whether or not we give Washington Irving in spirit form the benefit of the doubt, it remains the fact that wiring up the galvanic battery to the swan’s brain proved far too complicated for me. In mitigation, remember that I was working against the clock. Though the serum with which the swan had been injected was a powerful one, it had to wake from its coma at some point, and I did not want to find myself rummaging around in its head, tugging at wires and at bits of its brain, when it regained consciousness. Do you have any idea how implacable can be the ferocity of a swan, even in circumstances less likely to provoke its cygnate wrath?
So I am afraid it is back to the drawing-board. We have successfully inserted a galvanic battery in a swan’s not remotely graceful head, lodged against its brain, but a fat lot of good that will do us if we cannot connect them up. I am currently investigating possible wireless methods, and will let you know as soon as I have something further to report.