A Second Career

allahakberries

When J.M. Barrie organized his friends into an amateur cricket team in 1887, his selections weren’t based on literary eminence — “With regard to the married men, it was because I liked their wives, with regard to the single men, it was for the oddity of their personal appearance.” But the team managed to include some of the most celebrated British writers of the day, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne, G.K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, P.G. Wodehouse, E.V. Lucas, and E.W. Hornung.

It wasn’t until they assembled for their first game that the Allahakberries (Barrie thought Allahu Akbar meant “Heaven help us”) realized the extent of their ignorance — geologist Joseph Thomson arrived wearing pajamas rather than cricket whites, and an argument arose over which side of the bat to use in hitting the ball.

Generally Barrie found that the more distinguished a writer was, “the worse they played.” (The exception was Doyle, whom Barrie described as “A grand bowler. Knows a batsman’s weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes.”) Eventually he wrote a book of advice for the team, in which he asked them not practice before matches, since it would only give their opponents confidence, and advised “Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer.”

Sadly, the war ended the team’s career. Barrie wrote in his diary, “The Last Cricket Match. One or two days before war declared — my anxiety and premonition — boys gaily playing cricket at Auch, seen from my window. I know they’re to suffer. I see them dropping out one by one, fewer and fewer.” He was right — in fact, one of the casualties was George Llewelyn Davies, who had helped to inspire Peter Pan.

Travel Planning

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sydney_Smith.jpg

In 1794 a penurious Sydney Smith accepted an offer to spend the holidays with some friends in Gloucestershire.

“Your offer of a horse to carry my portmanteau I cannot accept, and for two reasons, which I think will justify me in not accepting it,” he wrote. “The first is, you have no horse here; the next, I have no portmanteau.”

Lost Treasure

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Treasure_Island_Map_over_Treasure_Island.png

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original map of Treasure Island was lost during publication. He sent it to his editor and was “aghast” to learn that it was never received. “I had written it up to the map,” he wrote — most of the novel’s plot had been inspired by the picturesque map he had dreamed up at the start. Now he had to redraw it working backward, inferring the island’s layout from the descriptions in the text.

It is one thing to draw a map at random, set a scale in one corner of it at a venture, and write up a story to the measurements. It is quite another to have to examine a whole book, make an inventory of all the allusions contained in it, and with a pair of compasses, painfully design a map to suit the data. I did it; and the map was drawn again in my father’s office, with embellishments of blowing whales and sailing ships, and my father himself brought into service a knack he had of various writing, and elaborately FORGED the signature of Captain Flint, and the sailing directions of Billy Bones. But somehow it was never Treasure Island to me.

“It is, perhaps, not often that a map figures so largely in a tale, yet it is always important,” Stevenson wrote. “Even with imaginary places, [the author] will do well in the beginning to provide a map; as he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon; he will discover obvious, though unsuspected, short-cuts and footprints for his messengers; and even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in Treasure Island, it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.”

(From Stevenson’s “My First Book: ‘Treasure Island,'” first published in the Idler, August 1894.)

Q.E.D.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lewis_Carroll_1863.jpg

From the Daily Telegraph‘s obituary of Charles Dodgson, Jan. 15, 1898:

The sayings attributed to him at Oxford would fill an entertaining volume of Carrolliana. Among other things, his ‘etymology of the bell’ is still quoted with relish by scholars. There was a provisional belfry at Christ Church College, which was familiarly known to Oxonians of the time as ‘the meat safe.’ Mr. Dodgson, undertaking to explain this epithet etymologically, split up the word belfry into two parts — the French word belle and the German word frei (free). Then he went to work as follows:

Belle = beautiful = comely = meet (meat);
Frei = free = secure = safe
Result: ‘Meat-safe.’

His nephew, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, wrote, “No one who was not by nature a lover of logic, and an extreme precisian in the use of words and phrases, could have written the two ‘Alice’ books.”

Podcast Episode 162: John Muir and Stickeen

https://www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery.htm?id=B17BC4E5-155D-4519-3EC6B73FCE2806A8

One stormy morning in 1880, naturalist John Muir set out to explore a glacier in Alaska’s Taylor Bay, accompanied by an adventurous little dog that had joined his expedition. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the harrowing predicament that the two faced on the ice, which became the basis of one of Muir’s most beloved stories.

We’ll also marvel at some phonetic actors and puzzle over a season for vasectomies.

Intro:

In 1904 a 12-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien sent this rebus to a family friend.

In 1856 Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner with a gold-headed cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Sources for our feature on John Muir and Stickeen:

John Muir, Stickeen, 1909.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, John Muir’s “Stickeen” and the Lessons of Nature, 1996.

Kim Heacox, John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire, 2014.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, “Stickeen and the Moral Education of John Muir,” Environmental History Review 15:1 (Spring 1991), 25-45.

Hal Crimmel, “No Place for ‘Little Children and Tender, Pulpy People’: John Muir in Alaska,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 92:4 (Fall 2001), 171-180.

Stefan Beck, “The Outdoor Kid,” New Criterion 33:4 (December 2014), 1-6.

Edward Hoagland, “John Muir’s Alaskan Rhapsody,” American Scholar 71:2 (Spring 2002), 101-105.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, “John Muir and Modern Environmental Education,” California History 71:2 (Summer 1992), 170-177.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “John Muir” (accessed July 2, 2017).

“John Muir: Naturalist,” Journal of Education 81:6 (Feb. 11, 1915), 146.

William Frederic Badè, “John Muir,” Science 41:1053 (March 5, 1915), 353-354.

Charles R. Van Hise, “John Muir,” Science 45:1153 (Feb. 2, 1917), 103-109.

Listener mail:

Delta Spirit, “Ballad of Vitaly”:

Wikipedia, Aftermath (2017 Film)” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Überlingen Mid-Air Collision” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Anthony Breznican, “‘The Princess Bride’: 10 Inconceivable Facts From Director Rob Reiner,” Entertainment Weekly, Aug. 16, 2013.

Wikipedia, “Charlotte Kate Fox” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, Incubus (1966 film)” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Esperanto” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Toño del Barrio, “Esperanto and Cinema” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Phonetical Singing” (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Deliver Us (The Prince of Egypt)” (accessed July 14, 2017).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was inspired by an item in Dan Lewis’ Now I Know enewsletter. (Warning: This link spoils the puzzle.)

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Master Class

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Louis_Stevenson_and_his_wife.jpg

In 1884 Robert Louis Stevenson began to give writing lessons to his 26-year-old neighbor Adelaide Boodle. One of his first assignments was to describe a place. When he read her attempt, he said, “Oh, but this work is disgracefully bad! It could hardly be worse. What induced you to bring me stuff like this?” When she asked him what was wrong with it, he said:

‘As a first step in the right direction we will do a sum together. Count the adjectives in that exercise.’

I did so.

‘Now then, see how many times that will go into the number of words allowed for the whole description.’

The result proved that my modest percentage of adjectives was 17 1/2.

‘And mostly weak ones at that!’ remarked the Master with a queer little grimace at the culprit.

‘But how ought it to have been done?’

The voice that made this appeal for light and leading was no longer in the least lachrymose: it was now, I flattered myself, that of a vigorous and determined student.

‘You should have used fewer adjectives and many more descriptive verbs,’ came the swift reply. ‘If you want me to see your garden, don’t, for pity’s sake, talk about “climbing roses” or “green, mossy lawns”. Tell me, if you like, that roses twined themselves round the apple trees and fell in showers from the branches. Never dare to tell me again anything about “green grass”. Tell me how the lawn was flecked with shadows. I know perfectly well that grass is green. So does everybody else in England. What you have to learn is something different from that. Make me see what it was that made your garden distinct from a thousand others. And, by the way, while we are about it, remember once for all that green is a word I flatly forbid you to utter in a description more than, perhaps, once in a lifetime.’

She judged that the lesson was “well worth suffering for,” and the two became good friends. “After all, R.L.S. ‘was going to teach me to write’. What on earth did anything else matter?”

(From Boodle’s R.L.S. and His Sine Qua Non, 1926.)

Regrets

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_James_M._Barrie.jpg

In 1922 J.M. Barrie wrote to A.E. Housman:

Dear Professor Houseman,

I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man.

Sincerely yours, J.M. Barrie

Housman wrote back:

Dear Sir James Barrie,

I am sorry about last night, when I sat next to you and did not say a word. You must have thought I was a very rude man: I am really a very shy man.

Sincerely yours, A.E. Housman

He added, “P.S. And now you’ve made it worse for you have spelt my name wrong.”

Room 101

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2003/nov/13/art2

In 1941, the BBC established an Eastern Services Committee to discuss programming in India. The meetings were held in Room 101 at 55 Portland Place in London. George Orwell attended at least 12 meetings there and was asked to convene a subcommittee to consider organizing drama and poetry competitions.

Orwell scholar Peter Davison writes, “In Nineteen Eighty-Four O’Brien tells Orwell that the thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. The understandable impression is that this is something like drowning, death by fire, or impalement, but Orwell is more subtle: for many, and for him, the worst thing in the world is that which is the bureaucrat’s life-blood: attendance at meetings.”

In 2003, when the original building was scheduled to be demolished, artist Rachel Whiteread made a plaster cast of the room’s interior (above). It was displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum later that year.

(From George Orwell: A Life in Letters, 2013.)