In 1871 the House of Representatives was considering subsidizing railroads to serve the Midwest, including tiny Duluth, Minn. Kentucky representative J. Proctor Knott rose, produced a bucket of sarcasm, and began ladling:
Duluth! The word fell upon my ear with peculiar and indescribable charm, like the gentle murmur of a low fountain stealing forth in the midst of roses, or the soft, sweet accents of an angel’s whisper, in the bright joyous dream of sleeping innocence. Duluth: ‘Twas the name for which my soul had panted for years, as the hart panteth for water-brooks. But where was Duluth? Never, in all my limited reading, had my vision been gladdened by seeing the celestial word in print. And I felt a profounder humiliation in my ignorance, that its dulcet syllables had never before ravished my delighted ear. …
Nevertheless, I was confident it existed somewhere, and that its discovery would constitute the crowning glory of the present century, if not of all modern times. I knew it was bound to exist in the very nature of things; that the symmetry and perfection of our planetary system would be incomplete without it, that the elements of material nature would long since have resolved themselves back into original chaos if there had been such a hiatus in creation as would have resulted from leaving out Duluth.
In fact, sir, I was overwhelmed with the conviction that Duluth not only existed somewhere, but that wherever it was, it was a great and a glorious place. I was convinced that the greatest calamity that ever befell the benighted nations of the ancient world was in their having passed away without a knowledge of the actual existence of Duluth; that their fabled Atlantis, never seen save by the hallowed vision of inspired poesy, was in fact but another name for Duluth; that the golden orchard of the Hesperides was but a poetical synonym for the beer gardens in the vicinity of Duluth.
I was certain that Herodotus had died a miserable death because in all his travels and with all his geographical research he had never heard of Duluth. I knew that if the immortal spirit of Homer could look down from another heaven than that created by his own celestial genius upon the long lines of pilgrims from every nation of the earth to the gushing fountain of poesy opened by the touch of his magic wand, if he could be permitted to behold the vast assemblage of grand and glorious productions of the lyric art called into being by his own inspired strains, he would weep tears of bitter anguish that instead of lavishing all the stories of his mighty genius upon the fall of Troy it had not been his more blessed lot to crystallize in deathless song the rising glories of Duluth.
Yet, sir, had it not been for this map, kindly furnished me by the Legislature of Minnesota, I might have gone down to my obscure and humble grave in an agony of despair, because I could nowhere find Duluth. Had such been my melancholy fate, I have no doubt that with the last feeble pulsation of my breaking heart, with the last faint exhalation of my fleeting breath I should have whispered, ‘Where is Duluth?’
The bill was defeated. See American Notes.
n. a mass execution by drowning
adj. crying out together
adj. dying together or at the same time
J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship recalls a brutal convention in the Atlantic slave trade — an insurance company would reimburse a captain for a slave who was lost at sea, but not for one who died of illness aboard ship. In 1781 Luke Collingwood, captain of the Zong, threw 133 sick and malnourished Africans overboard so that he could claim their value from his insurers. Turner displayed the painting next to lines from his own poem:
Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon’s coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying — ne’er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?
Britain had already outlawed its own slave trade when the painting appeared, but its impact encouraged the empire to oppose the institution everywhere.
When George Washington called for volunteers for the Continental Army in 1782, 23-year-old Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, giving the name Robert Shurtleff.
She served for 17 months, eating and sleeping with the troops and fighting in several battles in New York — she received a sword wound to the head and a bullet in the thigh, which she removed herself with a penknife.
A doctor discovered her identity when she was hospitalized with fever in summer 1783, but he kept her secret and she was discharged honorably shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in September. The government awarded her a pension for her service and extended one to her husband as well, declaring that the Revolutionary War “furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage.”
It was quickly forgotten. In 1861 Confederate general Richard Ewell remarked, “Women would make a grand brigade — if it was not for snakes and spiders! They don’t mind bullets — women are not afraid of bullets; but one big black-snake would put a whole army to flight.”
George Elgin’s “pistol sword,” patented in 1837, combines romance and efficiency:
The nature of my invention consists in combining the pistol and Bowie knife, or the pistol and cutlass, in such manner that it can be used with as much ease and facility as either the pistol, knife, or cutlass could be if separate, and in an engagement, when the pistol is discharged, the knife (or cutlass) can be brought into immediate use without changing or drawing, as the two instruments are in the hand at the same time.
This is one of the earliest U.S. patents — number 254.
Related: A gruesome piece of battlefield medicine from the Napoleonic campaigns of 1806 — a soldier’s face was transfixed by a bayonet that projected five inches from his right temple:
The man was knocked down, but did not lose his senses. He made several ineffectual efforts to pull the bayonet out, and two comrades, one holding the head, whilst the other dragged at the weapon, also failed. The poor wounded man came to me leaning on the arms of two fellow-soldiers. I endeavored, with the assistance of a soldier to pull out the bayonet, but it seemed to me as if fixed in a wall. The soldier who helped me desired the patient to lie down on his side, and putting his foot on the man’s head, with both hands he dragged out the bayonet, which was immediately followed by considerable hemorrhage, the blood pouring forth violently and abundantly. The patient then first felt ill, and, as I thought he would die, I left him to dress other wounded. After twenty minutes he revived, and said he was much better, and I then dressed him. We were in the snow, and as he was very cold the whole of his head was well wrapped up in charpie and bandages. He set off to Warsaw with another soldier; went partly on foot, partly on horseback, or in a cart, from barn to barn, and often from wood to wood, and reached Warsaw in six days. Three months after, I saw him in the hospital, perfectly recovered. He had lost his sight on the right side; the eye and lid had, however, preserved their form and mobility, but the iris remained much dilated and immovable.
From Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857.
In 1888 New York journalist David Goodman Croly published Glimpses of the Future, a collection of predictions “to be read now and judged in the year 2000.” Excerpts:
- “The accumulation of wealth in a few hands, which is steadily going on, will unquestionably lead to a grave agitation which may have vital consequences on the future of the country. I am quite sure that the American of the twentieth century will not consent to live under a merely selfish plutocracy.”
- “Exclusive lawyer rule will yet create violent disturbance. Our whole machinery of justice is out of gear, for it is becoming more costly and inefficient. … The legal machinery grows yearly more inefficient and wasteful of time and money. Vigilance committees will exist in every part of the country if this state of things continues.”
- “Marriage is no longer a religious rite even in Catholic countries, but a civil contract, and the logical result would seem to be a state of public opinion which would justify a change of partners whenever the contracting couple mutually agreed to separate.”
- “If the aërostat should become as cheap for travellers as the sailing vessel, why may not man become migratory, like the birds, occupying the more mountainous regions and sea-coast in summer and more tropical climes in winter? Of course all this seems very wild, but we live in an age of scientific marvels, and the navigation of the air, if accomplished, would be the most momentous event of all the ages.”
- “There will be a sub-city [in New York] under the surface of the ground for conveying people, not only from the Battery to the City Hall Park, but also from the East to the North River.”
- “True, the [chromolithograph] of to-day is looked upon as crude and inartistic; but I venture to predict that it will be so far perfected as to allow any well-to-do family to have art galleries of their own, in which will be found reproductions of all the great paintings of the ancient and modern world. The crowning glory of our age will be when the highest art is brought within the reach of the poorest purse.”
- “[In the novel of the future,] Robert Elsmere, Catherine Langham, and the other individuals, would all be reproduced pictorially. This would dispense with a great deal of description, and much of the verbiage could be cut out. Then the reader’s conception of the characters would necessarily be much more vivid. Nor is this all. Why should not a number of graphophones be made use of, giving the words of the various conversations in the tones they would naturally use? An author then would employ a number of men and women of various ages to personate his characters. They would be like the models of an artist.”
“I have no notion of being able to tell what the future has in store for us,” he wrote. “I propose simply to take up such matters as are of everyday importance, and try to think out the future with regard to them.”
“In the year 1500 Europe knew less than Archimedes, who died in the year 212 B.C.” — Alfred North Whitehead
- James Buchanan’s niece was his first lady.
- FIVE THOUSAND is the highest number name with no repeated letters.
- Ardmore, Tennessee, borders Ardmore, Alabama.
- 9306 × 2013 = 3102 × 6039
- “So that’s what hay looks like.” — Queen Mary
If God exists outside space and time, then how can he be omnipresent, present in all places at all times? If he exists within it, how could he have created it? How could a creation (or anything) take place outside time?
I must tell you a nice little story which is quite true and will amuse you. The King has taken lately to writing verse. Messieurs de Saint-Aignan and Dangeau are teaching him how to set about it. The other day he wrote a little madrigal, which he himself did not think much of. One morning he said to Maréchale de Gramont, ‘Monsieur le Maréchale, will you kindly read this little madrigal and see whether you have ever seen anything so pointless? Just because it is known that I have recently taken to liking verses, people bring me all kinds.’ Having read it the Marshal said, ‘Sire, your Majesty is an inspired judge of everything, and it is true that this is the silliest and most ridiculous madrigal I have ever read.’ The King burst out laughing and said, ‘Isn’t it true that whoever wrote this is a conceited puppy?’ ‘Sire, he cannot be called anything else.’ ‘That’s excellent,’ said the King. ‘I am delighted that you have spoken so candidly; I wrote it myself.’ ‘Oh, Sire, what treachery! Will your Majesty please give it back to me, I only glanced through it rapidly.’ ‘No, Monsieur le Maréchale, first impressions are always the most natural.’ The King laughed very much at this trick, but everyone thinks it is the most cruel thing one can do to an old courtier. Personally I always like reflecting about things, and I wish the King would think about this example and conclude how far he is from ever learning the truth.
— Madame de Sévigné to Simon Arnauld, Dec. 1, 1664
In February 1864, Missouri slave Spotswood Rice enlisted as a private in the Union Army. In September, as the war neared its close, he prepared to return to Howard County with a force of 1600 soldiers. He sent this letter to slaveowner Kittey Diggs, who still held his two children:
I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal to plunder my child away from you now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remembor this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their for we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up tharough and wont to come through Glasgow and when we come wo be to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root neor branch but we thinke how ever that we that have Children in the hands of you devels we will trie your vertues the day that we enter Glasgow I want you to understand kittey diggs that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child but I am glad now that you did not accept it Just hold on now as long as you can and the worse it will be for you you never in you life befor I came down hear did you give Children any thing not eny thing whatever not even a dollers worth of expencs now you call my children your property not so with me my Children is my own and I expect to get them and when I get ready to come after mary I will have bout a powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child you will then know how to talke to me I will assure that and you will know how to talk rite too I want you now to just hold on to hear if you want to iff your conchosence tells thats the road go that road and what it will brig you to kittey diggs I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self
What happened is unknown. “I’ll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood,” he had written to his children. “And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell.”
In a letter to general Charles Lee in February 1776, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the colonists arm themselves with bows and arrows, calling them “good weapons, not wisely laid aside.” He gave six reasons:
- “Because a man may shoot as truly with a bow as with a common musket.”
- “He can discharge four arrows in the time of charging and discharging one bullet.”
- “His object is not taken from his view by the smoke of his own side.”
- “A flight of arrows, seen coming upon them, terrifies and disturbs the enemy’s attention to his business.”
- “An arrow striking in any part of a man puts him hors de combat till it is extracted.”
- “Bows and arrows are more easily provided everywhere than muskets and ammunition.”
Franklin also recommended resurrecting the pike. His ideas weren’t used, but they were debated seriously even decades later. One theorist calculated that in a battle at Tournay on May 22, 1794, 1,280,000 balls had been discharged, an average of 236 musket shots to disable each casualty. “Here then, evidently appears in favour of the bow, in point of certainty of its shot, of no less than upwards of twenty to one.”
Franklin may have been used to being disregarded in military matters. In 1755 he’d suggested using dogs as scouts, “every dog led in a slip string, to prevent them tiring themselves by running out and in, and discovering the party by barking at squirrels.”
In 1881 a federal trial judge in the Territory of New Mexico, presiding at Taos in an adobe stable used as a temporary courtroom, passed sentence on murderer José Gonzales. We don’t know the details of Gonzales’ crime, but it must have been extraordinary — here’s the sentence:
José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, in a few short weeks it will be spring. The snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the air will become soft and balmy. In short, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be here.
The rivulet will run its purring course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose. Still, you won’t be here to see.
From every tree top some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation, the gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, will be glad but you. You won’t be here to enjoy it because I command the sheriff or some other officer of the country to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a nodding bough of some sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.
And then, José Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, I further command that such officer or officers retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, copper-colored, blood-thirsty, throat-cutting, chili-eating, sheep-herding, murdering son of a bitch.
Cleopatra Mathis discovered the transcript in the records of the U.S. District Court, New Mexico Territory Sessions. She published it in Antaeus in autumn 1976.
John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, has two living grandchildren.
Tyler (1790-1862) was 63 when he fathered his seventh son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, in 1853. And Lyon was in his 70s when he fathered two boys, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. (Harrison, now 84, owns Sherwood Forest, the Virginia plantation that his grandfather purchased in 1842.)
This makes Tyler the oldest U.S. president with living grandchildren. Second place belongs to James Garfield, who was 41 years younger than Tyler.
The Duke of Wellington contemplates a wax model of the dead Napoleon at Madame Tussaud’s in London. Wellington was one of the exhibition’s first visitors, and this was one of his favorite figures.
Napoleon and Wellington were both born in 1769, and each had four brothers and three sisters. Each was educated at a French military academy, speaking French as a second language, and each lost his father during adolescence. In 1796 Napoleon changed his surname from Buonaparte to Bonaparte; in 1798 Wellington changed his surname from Wesley to Wellesley. Both admired Hannibal above all other military heroes and gave special attention to topography in making war. Both took Caesar’s Commentaries on campaign. Napoleon saw his first action at Toulon in 1793, Wellington in Holland almost precisely a year later. They shared two mistresses, and Wellington’s brother married Napoleon’s brother’s ex-wife’s sister-in-law. Each man received a great early opportunity through the intercession of his brother, and each came to prominence fighting on a peninsula.
“But there the similarities cease,” writes Andrew Roberts in Napoleon and Wellington (2001). “For by the time Wellington gained his first European command of any great note, in Portugal in 1808, Napoleon was already master of the continent.”
When Wellington died in 1852, Tussaud’s successor created a wax figure intended to reflect his visits to the collection. So visitors to Tussaud’s saw the wax figure of a real man who was viewing the wax figure of a real man.
In August 1865, Col. P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tenn., wrote to his former slave Jourdon Anderson, now emancipated in Ohio, and asked him to return to work on his farm. Anderson dictated this letter in response:
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy, — the folks call her Mrs. Anderson, — and the children — Milly, Jane, and Grundy — go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, ‘Them colored people were slaves’ down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve — and die, if it come to that — than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
That’s Ronald Reagan, just before being shot by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The man in the white raincoat is Secret Service agent Jerry Parr; after the shooting, it was Parr who pushed Reagan into a limousine, noticed he was bleeding, and directed the driver to take them to a hospital, probably saving Reagan’s life.
Parr had been inspired to pursue his career by the 1939 film The Code of the Secret Service, in which dashing agent “Brass” Bancroft survives a shooting in Mexico. Bancroft was played by a 28-year-old Ronald Reagan.
In June 1744, the College of William & Mary invited the Indians of the Six Nations to send six young men to be “properly” educated. They received this reply:
We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d, therefore, that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things; and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, or Counsellors; they were totally good for nothing. We are, however, not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.
A senior relief official during the Irish potato famine was named Edward Pine Coffin.
Excerpt from a letter from U.S. Army major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, July 14, 1861:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. …
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
He never sent it. It was found in his trunk after he was killed in the First Battle of Bull Run.
- No point in Great Britain is more than 75 miles from the sea.
- MOONLIGHT = THIN GLOOM
- 2427 = 21 + 42 + 23 + 74
- Sweden had a Charles VII, but no Charleses I-VI.
- “If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he entitled to happiness?” — Stanislaw Lec
The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence from Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. It was annexed by Hungary the next day. It had been independent for only 24 hours.
In December 2006, Belgian public television station RTBF reported that Dutch-speaking Flanders had declared independence and that Belgium as a nation had ceased to exist. Panicked viewers placed 2,600 calls to the station and crashed its website as they sought further information.
The station kept up the story for two hours, then admitted it was a hoax. “It’s very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. “We obviously scared many people,” acknowledged news director Yves Thiran. “Maybe more than we expected.”
In October 1864, Indiana farmer John VanNuys received a letter informing him that his son had been killed in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. He had been shot in the throat while retreating from a line of Confederate rifle pits. “Within twenty minutes our forces rallied and took the ground,” wrote the quartermaster, “but while the rebels held the ground, they had stripped your son of everything except shirt and drawers.”
A few days later VanNuys received an envelope postmarked “Old Point Comfort, Oct. 10.” Inside was a note in his son’s handwriting:
This testament belongs to Captain S.W. VanNuys, Acting Ass’t. Adj’t. General 3d Brigade, 3d Div., 18th Army Corps. Should I die upon the field of battle, for the sake of a loving mother and sister, inform my father, John H. VanNuys, Franklin, Indiana, of the fact.
Below this someone had written:
Mr. John H. Vanings: It is my faithful duty to inform you that your son was killed on the 29th of the last month near Chaffins farm, Va. I have his testament. I will send it if you wish it. From your enemy, one of the worst rebels you ever seen.
The sender had signed it only “L.B.F.” His identity is unknown.
John VI of Portugal was hard of hearing, so he had a throne built whose leonine arms captured sound and directed it to a listening tube.
“Requiring anyone who wishes to speak with you to kneel and address you through the jaws of your carved lion might be fun for an hour or so,” notes neuroscientist Jan Schnupp, “but few psychologically well-balanced individuals would choose to hold the majority of conversations in that manner.”
Alfonso XIII of Spain was “the most tone-deaf man I ever knew,” remembered Artur Rubinstein. “From the time he was seven, he was accompanied by a man assigned to nudge him whenever the national anthem was played.”
From Andrew Carroll’s Behind the Lines (2005) — during World War II, the parents of William Kyzer received this letter from their son, an infantry rifleman stationed in the Pacific:
Dear Dad & Carmilita
I’m OK, days flies by here in
Well maybe it can be all again soon. I’m praying for it. Write soon Nothing like getting a letter from home. Here on
P.S. They may censor this letter
Carroll writes: “In fact, Kyzer’s mail was not edited at all; he simply hated writing letters and only penned the few sentences at the top and bottom so that his folks would believe that the censors were responsible for slicing out the rest.”
Wandering the French countryside in 1914, German soldier Hans Fleischer made a remarkable discovery:
Through the thick underbrush, I meandered my way through a small path. Wonderful woods all around me. Not too long thereafter, I came upon a lighted area, and before me lay in the middle of a blooming flower garden, in peaceful silence, the castle of Baron de Turckheim. I stood struck in sight of it, and slowly I went closer to the gentle hills. Behind me lay Blamont. A wonderful picture, this little city with its red-brown roofs, built into a rolling valley, and marked by the old weathered ruins that Bernhard once destroyed during the Thirty Year’s War, and the high, double towered gothic church. Like an old, good Swabian town, there it lay, an image of freedom in the middle of the destruction of war. I went further through the garden and fields, past Weihern, and soon I stood on the terrace of the glorious construction. With astonishment, I climbed the stair and went in.
What a miserable image of destruction! The whole glory and wonder of this castle had become ruins and piles of rubble, everything cut down and in pieces, the wonderful chamber with its glorious library and its heavy, gold shrine, the woodwork covered room with its proud row of ancestor’s portraits, the lovely living room with its uncommon furniture — everything forever demolished. With a shudder, I went through the rooms. There! In one corner in the back — was that not a grand piano? I stood in my tracks, and then almost fell down with shock. Right! A grand piano: Steinway & Sons and untouched. A miracle! Finally, finally, music! How painful and with what longing I had missed just this holiest of all arts, and now I find in the middle of all of this rubble a grand piano! The room became like a temple to me, and I sat down as if at an altar. I began slowly, my fingers gliding tremblingly over keys no different than others I have played on. All of my longings became swelling tones that went out into the summer morning. They were holy moments of the blissful memories of the world, whenI was able to make music again for the first time. I awoke like out of a dream when I stopped.
But there! What was lying right under the piano? Did I see correctly? Right, sheet music! In haste I grabbed for the ‘The Valkyries.’ That was the culmination of my happiness, to find my Valyries here! Soon, the sound rang out. Joyously and then more so. The old, raw soldier’s playing became more relaxed, and seldom has a song of love and springtime and inner power emanated from me with more emotion. Outside, the destructive struggle between life and death, with all of its terrible incidents and gruesomeness — and here, in this moment, a German song of love. Rare, unforgettable hours! Feeling deeply fulfilled and happy, I had been taken back to my peaceful garden house. I was at home. I had made German music, and now I could go into war again. Blessed, I returned to my comrades.
From Andrew Carroll’s book Behind the Lines. Fleischer is believed to have been one of 95,000 Jews fighting for the German Army. If he survived, he would have been the victim of constant persecution in the Nazi regime, even having fought for Germany. What became of him is unknown.