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A Locoed Novelist
by [?]

Either we have been indulging in an expensive mistake, or a great foreign novelist who preaches the gospel of despair is locoed.

This word, which may be new to most of our readers, has long been current in the Far West, and is likely to be adopted into the language, and become as indispensable as the typic words taboo and tabooed, which Herman Melville gave us some forty years ago. There grows upon the deserts and the cattle ranges of the Rockies a plant of the leguminosae family, with a purple blossom, which is called the ‘loco’. It is sweet to the taste; horses and cattle are fond of it, and when they have once eaten it they prefer it to anything else, and often refuse other food. But the plant is poisonous, or, rather, to speak exactly, it is a weed of insanity. Its effect upon the horse seems to be mental quite as much as physical. He behaves queerly, he is full of whims; one would say he was “possessed.” He takes freaks, he trembles, he will not go in certain places, he will not pull straight, his mind is evidently affected, he is mildly insane. In point of fact, he is ruined; that is to say, he is ‘locoed’. Further indulgence in the plant results in death, but rarely does an animal recover from even one eating of the insane weed.

The shepherd on the great sheep ranges leads an absolutely isolated life. For weeks, sometimes for months together, he does not see a human being. His only companions are his dogs and the three or four thousand sheep he is herding. All day long, under the burning sun, he follows the herd over the rainless prairie, as it nibbles here and there the short grass and slowly gathers its food. At night he drives the sheep back to the corral, and lies down alone in his hut. He speaks to no one; he almost forgets how to speak. Day and night he hears no sound except the melancholy, monotonous bleat, bleat of the sheep. It becomes intolerable. The animal stupidity of the herd enters into him. Gradually he loses his mind. They say that he is locoed. The insane asylums of California contain many shepherds.

But the word locoed has come to have a wider application than to the poor shepherds or the horses and cattle that have eaten the loco. Any one who acts queerly, talks strangely, is visionary without being actually a lunatic, who is what would be called elsewhere a “crank,” is said to be locoed. It is a term describing a shade of mental obliquity and queerness something short of irresponsible madness, and something more than temporarily “rattled” or bewildered for the moment. It is a good word, and needed to apply to many people who have gone off into strange ways, and behave as if they had eaten some insane plant–the insane plant being probably a theory in the mazes of which they have wandered until they are lost.

Perhaps the loco does not grow in Russia, and the Prophet of Discouragement may never have eaten of it; perhaps he is only like the shepherd, mainly withdrawn from human intercourse and sympathy in a morbid mental isolation, hearing only the bleat, bleat, bleat of the ‘muxhiks’ in the dullness of the steppes, wandering round in his own sated mind until he has lost all clew to life. Whatever the cause may be, clearly he is ‘locoed’. All his theories have worked out to the conclusion that the world is a gigantic mistake, love is nothing but animality, marriage is immorality; according to astronomical calculations this teeming globe and all its life must end some time; and why not now? There shall be no more marriage, no more children; the present population shall wind up its affairs with decent haste, and one by one quit the scene of their failure, and avoid all the worry of a useless struggle.