Mr. Bleak Wanders

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Because actually things hadn’t gone well for Prosperity Bleak in Boston. Or maybe they had gone too well: after a few years of preaching Purposefull Suffering, his congregation was larger even than that of John Wilson (who had a knack for describing the fires of Hell). Then it was discovered that no such person as Sextus Halbmond had ever lived in Leiden, or anywhere else. The only Bleak anyone could find a record of was a locksmith's apprentice, who had come to Boston from Dorset.

As a blind locksmith (this is William Lyall again: really the only source for the early days of Bleak College), Mr. Bleak no more believed in Heaven than he did in Halbmond. He believed what his fingers told him: that there was no other world but the one that contained England and Boston and the great wilderness beyond. Likewise, his “Purposefull Suffering” had no end but the provocation of earthly delight. And what delight! Stevedores rolled about on the floors of sheds that stank of fish; coffee fiends flung their hands in the air and cried that they would never sleep again; in the roofless churches, men and women huddled, eating oranges and whispering secrets that they could not remember afterwards.

Boston was not built for that kind of happiness. Wilson preached against the “Fishy Bleaks,” who were, he said, relics of the same “pagan creation” that had peopled America with “Salvages”; and John Winthrop railed against “those followers of Mr. Bleak who lie upon the Common Grass and rub one another's Haire.” In March of 1654, a warrant was issued for Bleak's arrest on the grounds of witchcraft and incitement to riot. The officers went to Bleak's house, but they found nothing except a treatise on raising demons from Hell (planted by Winthrop) and a bag of oranges.

In May, 1652, Prosperity Bleak visited the Island of Error, where he preached a sermon on “The Plan of Providence,” which mentioned ropes, pulleys, a fire, wheels and things that had to be seen to be believed, but how they fit together, or what they had to do with Providence, no one could understand.

In August of the same year Bleak narrowly escaped arrest in a Northampton tavern, where he had issued challenges to the “backwoods saint” Samuel Mather (father of Increase, grandfather of Cotton) to “pit the Invisible against the Felt.” Bleak fled to the wilderness. In 1656 or 57, he was said to be living among the Indians west of the Hudson River, where he impersonated a French trader named Ablette. In 1662, a blind Mr. Blick opened a shop on Gansevoort Street, in New Amsterdam, where he dealt in artificial pearls.

In 1664, when New Amsterdam was handed over to the English, Mr. Blick vanished, and there was no trace of Bleak until the autumn of 1671, when he arrived in New Haven.

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