Die Schweizer Heulsuse

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The complete works of Otto Büchstein
Der Teufel.png
Der Teufel mag im Detail stecken, aber Gott steckt in den Lücken
Index: Click to expand:

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Die Schweizer Heulsuse (the “Swiss Milquetoast”) is the legendary, possibly apocryphal, unfinished last play of Otto Büchstein, composed on his deathbed in an opium den in Mandalay, delirious with malaria.[1] Critics have been unable to agree whether Büchstein intended it as comedy, history or tragedy, but are more or less unanimous that he failed to manage any of the three. “A drudgedy” was Winthrop Grumman’s terse assessment.

Devil quote

Mainly famous for a misquote in Gräfin Schümli Pflümli’s final aria, Der Teufel mag im Detail stecken, aber Gott steckt in den Lücken (The Devil may be in the detail, but God is in the gaps), often misquoted as “the devil is not in the detail. The devil is the detail”.

Schümli Pflümli: Mark you this, Triago:
Your eagl’y imp may with celerity excrete
Sheafs and screeds of plushest vérbiage,
For such mute and timorous ends
As convolution may confect.
O! My soul, enswamped with o’erworded haps —
Sees aught but de’ils in every chary detail!

Nuncle: So, open your mind, milady:
You might find God among the gaps.

Otto’s razor

Die Schweizer Heulsuse is also famous for its articulation of “Otto’s razor”:

Herculio: ’Tis neither malice, spite, nor virtue
Whose ledger swells, or plucks, the seedy fruits of progress —
But mainly accident.
Lest thee with surety know aught else —
Withhold thy assignations.
Triago: Pish upon thee, nuncle. Pish!
Dost thou mean to say
Things peel this way
Through doughty misadventure?
Herculio: Peradventure —
Triago: Pish abeam!
Has thou no more to say than that?
Wouldst thou on this shaky surmise
Withhold rebuke?
Herculio: Perchance, per case, mayhap dear Triago
’Twas but a fluke?
Triago: O! This nuisant planet weighs upon my soul!
Herculio: If ’tis this and nought beside
That flies you to a vernal rage
Our fickle globe in its manifold confound’ry
Lies prettily indeed
For thy alignment.

Büchstein, Die Schweizer Heulsuse

Conference calls

Triago: Good colleagues: there are but twenty minutes left.
Wouldst you thy precious time reclaim;
Or may we keep afoot our infinite game
With more, or any other, business? Search anew,
What items canst be tabled without ado?
Gloucester: Nothing sire.
Kent: Nor from I.

A period of silence around the table.

Queen (aside): That irksome twerp.
A world of richness awaits this piffling parley.
Triago: How say you, brave Herculio?
What agenda fodder doth the gods portend?
Herculio: The gods? The gods? Methinks you jest.
Th’almighty has no use for paltry conference.
Triago: I think he does, sirrah!
Queen: Oh, ho! How so?
What matters lie upon thy parchèd record
That be yet unbeknownst to sacred mind?
Whose cogs and toothèd gears
Whose immaculate escapements
All history — gone and yet to come — defined?
What need hath she, or he
Who bid the lion lay with lamb
For this dismal convention?
Nuncle: Thou maketh me to meet —
Therefore I am.
Triago: How should I know, my Queen?
How should I know?
Queen: Quite so, good sir, quite so. I must away.
Maketh thou the time-ball drop.

Exit Queen

Herculio: With all my heart, my Liege —
One has to hop.


The eternal joke of legal practice, personified in the NDA

TRIAGO: There! That! Didst thou see ’t?
The card-sharp’s fumbling misdirect?
That tell-tale grin or worldly wink that
Cracks heav’n apart and for a twinkling
Throws rude light upon perfidious conjury!
Spy the dark-clad stage boy! How he flies —
Yet bolts a trice too late to beat the curtain’s rise.

Enter HERCULIO, eating an apple.

HERCULIO: How now, sweet Triago. What sorrow?
TRIAGO: A browful, sir. In foreign paper, densely ink’d.
HERCULIO: Pray tell. (Aside) I would pray there were a choice
Had my prayers a hope of answer.
TRIAGO: See here, Herculio. ’Tis a slip. Behold the oily wires.
O, Trickery! O, Falsity! Mark the cagey fingers
Cross’d behind thy back!
O, my career! My toil! My dreary occupation!
Has it all been but a prank, Herculio?
This long and wretched shift: just some saucy jape?
HERCULIO: All well-meant, good Triago. Be not sour —
These are not grapes.
TRIAGO: Indeed not sir: rather, scrapes.
And scars and knocks — the job-lot doggedly sustained.
HERCULIO: (Aside) Some more than others. The odd one feigned.
But come, Sir Tig: what unrests you here?
TRIAGO (waving paper): A tract from a brother clerk in America.
HERCULIO: Cripes abroad. Grim tidings?
TRIAGO: Forsooth: it wears the colours of a fight.
A word-scape stain’d with tightly kernèd face
And girded round with fontish weaponry.
HERCULIO (inspecting the document): Verily, convenantry this dark
Speaks of litiginous untrust.
Wherefore such cruel indemnities?
Wherefore so dry a want of fun?
A merchant wrapp’d with better sense
Would just as soon injunct th’orbiting sun.
What is this pact, Triago? Who demands
Such fearsome consequence?
TRIAGO: An entente of secrecy, no more.
HERCULIO: Secrecy? Do my deceitful ears mislead?
Say it again, my friend: secrecy, didst thou say?
TRIAGO: I did, my Lord, I did. A trifling confi. An N.D.A.

Büchstein, Die Schweizer Heulsuse

Special pleading

At last, bumbling Triago’s circumlocutions are too much, and the queen can bear it no longer.

QUEEN: This covenant is well-drafted, but yegads! ’Tis lengthy.
TRIAGO (bowing unctuously): The writer shall be deemed hereinbefore obliged.
HERCULIO: My liege and madam, to expostulate
What brevity should be, what clarity is —
Why “day” is business day, and “time” is closing time.
’Tis buried — lost — among the cluttered syntax of this deed.
QUEEN: ’Twas no compliment, good Herculio, rest assured.
A crafty phrase to propitiate that noisome clerk, no more.
HERCULIO: Madam, I do concur!
Since brevity is the soul of wit,
And boilerplate the crutch of wretched tedium
I will be brief, where Triago, in all his trite facility, cannot.
TRIAGO: Milady! With all due and payable respect, and interest accrued thereon
I wouldst be inclined to be supportive of dissent —
QUEEN: O, exasperating vapours! Whatever doth he mean?
HERCULIO: Triago disagrees.
Inclined”, Triago? “Supportive”? As straight as that?
No deemery to wrap it round?
TRIAGO: Aye, deemèd, perchance — I pray just such indulgence
To vouchsafe avoidance of some doubt.
QUEEN: Doubt, Triago?
TRIAGO: I’ll think of something, Majesty.
HERCULIO: How now, good lady: doth thou now understand?
QUEEN: I fear I do, in that I do not.
Speak, Triago — but pray, be quick.
TRIAGO: Celerity shall herein be mutually agreed to be — and shall be deemed to be — the watchword Madam!
HERCULIO: There goeth that wretched deemery
TRIAGO: Was it not ever not unlike a thing unsuch as this?
QUEEN: Damn and blast your eyes Triago!
Have at you now!

QUEEN runs TRIAGO through with a rapier and exits


We fold our patron’s righteous sleep in word pollution
By the chaff and shucks and hulls of convolution
And whoever buys these minty lines: understand
Lexical complexity doth, pro rata with thy budget, soon expand.



Büchstein is widely credited as having invented the word, and philosophy, of annihilism, though the word is not ever exactly used in the play:

Herculio: This is the excellent foppery of man,
To defile the random stars with base and mortal patterns:
To lay the spoils of canny fortune at the altar of the state —
Yet pin guilt for our disasters upon the untam’d cosmic wilds.
How now! O blasphemy!
Aye so: would we be brutes but for our philosophy
And not because of’t?
Would there be villainy but for kindly guiding hands
And not despite them?
We are but fools, knaves, and blighters: Heav’n compels it.
Heav’n? Real heaven: th’ unvarnish’d cosmos in its native state:
Not some twee artisanal paradise of tiny minds. Unbounded space
Which moves by rules no mortal mind can fathom.
So, Nature: rage and blow, and crack your leathery cheeks!
Grind, you plates of Tecton! Shift and grate!
Eradicate the rathaus! Annihilate our spindly-buttress’d spires!
Weave your snaking lava through our mealy testaments!
Singe those pompous beards within whose peppered whiskers
Our collected, piffling, wisdom nests!

A condition more honour’d in the breach

Herculio’s famous soliloquy on being asked to advise on a shareholder agreement.

Herculio: Ay, drafted, is ’t;
But to my mind, though eagle-tuned
And to the manner born, this Condition is
More honour’d in the breach than the performance.
This heavy-handed sheaf of windy guff
Doth impose a weighty tax upon our distant aspirations;
These ticket-clippers with their malty turns of phrase
Soil our accord with oily additions. Who wouldst draw
Not the heaving strokes of palpitating consensus
But this wicker frame of ghoulish aspect
Post-dated with the odds of shouty misadventure?

See also


  1. Other reports have it as dengue fever.