Literature

All Right, Then

Index entries in Hilaire Belloc’s The Aftermath: Or, Gleanings From a Busy Life, 1903:

Abingdon, History of, by Lord Charles Gamber, see Pulping, p. 187.
Advertisement, Folly and Waste of, see Pulping, p. 187.
All Souls, College of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Cabs, Necessity of, to Modern Publisher, see Pulping, p. 187.
Cabs to Authors, Unwarrantable Luxury, see Pulping, p. 187.
Call, Divine, to a Literary Career, see Pulping, p. 187.
Dogs, Reputation Going to the, see Pulping, p. 187.
England, Source and Wealth of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Fame, see Pulping, p. 187.
Genius, Indestructibility of, see Pulping, p. 187.
India, Lord Curzon’s Views on, see Pulping, p. 187.
Jesuits, Their Reply to “Huguenot,” see Pulping, p. 187.
“Mamma,” “Darling Old,” Story for Children, by the Countess of K——, see Pulping, p. 187.
Name, Real, of “Diplomaticus,” see Pulping, p. 187.
Rhodes, Cecil, Numerous Lives of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Suzanna and the Elders, Sacred Poem, see Pulping, p. 187.
Uganda Railway, Balance-sheet of, see Pulping, p. 187.

So runs the whole thing, right up to the summary “W.X.Y.Z., see Pulping, p. 187″ at the end.

There’s also an entry for “Pulping, p. 187.”

In the Know

You are quite correct in saying it is a long time since you have heard from me: in fact, I find that I have not written to you since the 13th of last November. But what of that? You have access to the daily papers. Surely you can find out negatively, that I am all right! Go carefully through the list of bankruptcies; then run your eye down the police cases; and, if you fail to find my name anywhere, you can say to your mother in a tone of calm satisfaction, ‘Mr. Dodgson is going on well.’

– Lewis Carroll to Edith Blakemore, Jan. 1, 1895

Good Measure

Scottish writer Alasdair Gray is a practical joker. As his collection Unlikely Stories, Mostly was going to press in 1984, he called publisher Stephanie Wolfe Murray and said, “I want to have an erratum slip inserted.”

She said, “Oh God! What’s wrong? Surely we corrected everything. What do you want to say on it?”

He said, “I want it to say: THIS ERRATUM SLIP HAS BEEN INSERTED BY MISTAKE.”

“Of course we said yes immediately,” remembered Wolfe Murray, “but it was a hell of a nuisance, having to get it inserted into every single book, and expensive probably, but well worth it. All of us thought so.”

Oh

During Arthur Conan Doyle’s first tour of the United States, in 1894, he encountered a cabbie in Boston who declined his fare and asked instead for a ticket to that evening’s lecture. Surprised, Doyle asked how he had recognized him. The cabbie replied:

“If you will excuse other personal remarks, your coat lapels are badly twisted downward, where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters. Your hair has the Quakerish cut of a Philadelphia barber, and your hat, battered at the brim in front, shows where you have tightly grasped it, in the struggle to stand your ground at a Chicago literary luncheon. Your right overshoe has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep, the odor of a Utica cigar hangs about your clothing, and the overcoat itself shows the slovenly brushing of the porters of the through sleepers from Albany. The crumbs of doughnut on the top of your bag could only have come there in Springfield … and stenciled upon the very end of your walking stick, in fairly plain lettering, is the name Conan Doyle.”

Behind the Lines

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After a performance of his play The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter received a note from an audience member:

Can you tell me the meaning of your play? There are three points I do not understand.

i. Who are the two men?
ii. Where did Stanley come from?
iii. Were they all supposed to be normal?

You will appreciate that without the answers to my questions I cannot understand your play.

He wrote back:

Dear Madam,

I would be obliged if you could explain to me the meaning of your letter. There are three points which I do not understand.

i. Who are you?
ii. Where do you come from?
iii. Are you supposed to be normal?

You will appreciate that without the answers to these questions I cannot fully understand your letter.

Appreciation

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“Why I began to write for children,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

  1. Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
  2. Children don’t read to find their identity.
  3. They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
  4. They have no use for psychology.
  5. They detest sociology.
  6. They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake.
  7. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff.
  8. They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
  9. When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
  10. They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity. Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power. Only the adults have such childish illusions.

(From his 1978 Nobel banquet speech.)

Side Effects

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From a letter from Gerard Manley Hopkins to his sister Kate, April 25, 1871:

We were all vaccinated the other day. The next day a young Portug[u]ese came up to me and said ‘Oh misther Opkins, do you feel the cows in yewer arm?’ I told him I felt the horns coming through. I do I am sure. I cannot remember now whether one ought to say the calf of the arm or the calf of the leg. My shoulder is like a shoulder of beef. I dare not speak above a whisper for fear of bellowing – there now, I was going to say I am obliged to speak low for fear of lowing. I dream at night that I have only two of my legs in bed. I think there is a split coming in both of my slippers. Yesterday I could not think why it was that I would wander about on a wet grass-plot: I see now. I chew my pen a great deal. The long and short of it is that my left forequarter is swollen and painful (I meant to have written arm but I cowld not.) Besides the doctor has given us medicine, so that I am in a miserable way just now.

Squaring Accounts

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Ernest Thompson Seton called his father “the most selfish man I ever knew, or heard of, in history or in fiction.” In 1881, on Seton’s 21st birthday, his father called him into his study, took down an enormous cash book from a high shelf, and opened it at E.

In the book he had recorded every expense he had ever made on the boy, including the day and date of each outlay, all the way back to the doctor’s fee for his delivery. The total was $537.50.

“Hitherto,” he said, “I have charged no interest. But from now on I must add the reasonable amount of 6 per cent per annum. I shall be glad to have you reduce the amount at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Stunned, Seton staggered to his feet and left the room, refusing his father’s offer “to furnish without expense a full copy of the indebtedness.”

His father called after him, “God bless you, my son. In the natural course of events, you cannot much longer be an inmate of my house; but I must prayerfully trust that, wherever your lot is cast in the near future, you will never forget the debt you owe your father, who is to you on earth the next to God.”

Seton paid the bill and never spoke to him again.

Unquote

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“If Bacon wrote Shakespeare, who wrote Bacon?” — George Lyman Kittredge

Sound and Sense

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Literature often inspires music, but the reverse is less common. Here’s an intriguing exception: In Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts (1948), Calvin S. Brown argues that the third part of Thomas De Quincey’s 1849 essay “The English Mail-Coach” is deliberately structured as the literary equivalent of a musical fugue.

That part of the essay, titled “The Dream-Fugue,” tells how De Quincey’s dreams were dominated by a recent experience in which his carriage had nearly collided with that of a young woman. As De Quincey describes his dreams, the fugue subject is a group of ideas (speed, urgency, and a girl in danger of sudden death) that remain static while the shifting settings and details act as a contrapuntal accompaniment: In the first section a girl dances on a ship that is run down by another ship; in the second she escapes; in the third she runs along a shore and is engulfed in quicksand.

[The] middle part begins with Section IV, and is constructed exactly as it should be. The news of Waterloo and victory, the coach carrying that news, the cathedral seen in the distance and rapidly approached and entered — all these are presentations of material closely connected with the subject; but there is a definite departure from the set statements of this subject found in the exposition. In the middle section we expect at least one direct restatement of the subject in addition to this episodic material; hence we look for another vision of sudden death. We are not disappointed. After a considerable interval the girl of the visions, now an infant, appears directly in the path of the coach, which is thundering up the aisle of the vast cathedral. There is a moment of suspense, and then, just as death seems certain, she vanishes. After a dramatic pause, she reappears as a full-grown woman, on an altar of alabaster, within the cathedral and yet among the clouds. On one side of her is dimly seen the shadow of the angel of death, and on the other her better angel prays for her. What we have here is simply a recurrence of the subject and answer, the counter-subject appearing with the answer only. It will be observed that the answer always saves the victim from the immediate peril presented in the subject, but keeps the idea of further danger. In the single instance where fugue-form does not demand an answer (Section III), the girl goes on to her fate.

In the book, Brown even presents a chart identifying the exposition, the development, and the final section of the fugue. “Most commentators have brushed aside the title of this section with some meaningless comment, but De Quincey’s knowledge of music and his interest in it, together with his passion for intellectual analysis, make it reasonable to suppose that his title was something more than a fanciful name. Actually, De Quincey’s method of producing the musical effect was to follow, as far as the limitations imposed by a different medium would permit, the structure of the musical form. He succeeded in following it far more closely than has been generally realized.”

Do Paint the Meadows With Delight

There was one moment in Stratford the other afternoon when I really did feel I was treading upon Shakespeare’s own ground. It was in the gardens of New Place, very brave in the spring sunlight. You could have played the outdoor scene of Twelfth Night in them without disturbing a leaf. There was the very sward for Viola and Sir Andrew. Down that paved path Olivia would come, like a great white peacock. Against that bank of flowers the figure of Maria would be seen, flitting like a starling. The little Knott Garden alone was worth the journey and nearer to Shakespeare than all the documents and chairs and monuments. I remember that when we left that garden to see the place where Shakespeare was buried, it didn’t seem to matter much. Why should it when we had just seen the place where he was still alive?

– J.B. Priestley, Apes and Angels, 1927

Advice

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More wisdom from Poor Richard’s Almanack:

  • Thirst after desert — not reward.
  • Gifts much expected, are paid not given.
  • Children and princes will quarrel for trifles.
  • Praise little, dispraise less.
  • The Child thinks 20 Shillings and 20 Years can scarce ever be spent.
  • Industry need not wish.
  • ‘Tis great Confidence in a Friend to tell him your Faults, greater to tell him his.
  • Neglect kills Injuries, Revenge increases them.
  • Observe all men; thyself most.
  • Do not do that which you would not have known.
  • He that resolves to mend hereafter, resolves not to mend now.
  • The honest Man takes Pains, and then enjoys Pleasures; the knave takes Pleasure, and then suffers Pains.
  • All would live long, but none would be old.
  • Nothing more like a fool, than a drunken man.
  • What e’er’s begun in anger, ends in shame.
  • As often as we do good, we sacrifice.
  • There is much difference between imitating a good man, and counterfeiting him.

And “Cut the Wings of your Hens and Hopes, lest they lead you a weary Dance after them.”

Bard to Worse

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Dismissals of Shakespeare:

  • “An upstart crow beautified with our feathers.” — Robert Greene
  • “The most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.” — Samuel Pepys, on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • “His rude unpolished style and antiquated phrase and wit.” — Lord Shaftesbury
  • “A disproportioned and misshapen giant.” — David Hume
  • “Shakespeare never had six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion.” — Samuel Johnson
  • “I cannot read him, he is such a bombast fellow.” — George II
  • “Was there ever such stuff as the greater part of Shakespeare? Only one must not say so.” — George III
  • “Shakespeare — what trash are his works in the gross.” — Edward Young
  • “One of the greatest geniuses that ever existed, Shakespeare, undoubtedly wanted taste.” — Horace Walpole
  • “I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.” — Darwin, Autobiography
  • “The undisputed fame enjoyed by Shakespeare as a writer is, like every other lie, a great evil.” — Tolstoy
  • “If all the work of Shakespeare could be gathered up and burned in one pile, the world would witness the most beneficial action for the sake of literature since the invention of alcohol.” — Waterloo, Iowa, Times-Tribune, 1920

After seeing Henry Irving’s production of Cymbeline, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity.”

GRKTRGDY

Here’s a special kind of genius: In 1997 Daniel Nussbaum rewrote Oedipus Rex using vanity license plates registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

ONCEPON ATIME LONG AGO IN THEBES IMKING. OEDIPUS DAKING. LVMYMRS. LVMYKIDS. THEBENS THINK OEDDY ISCOOL. NOPROBS.

OKAY MAYBE THEREZZ 1LTL1. MOTHER WHERERU? WHEREAT MYDAD? NOCALLZ NEVER. HAVENOT ACLUE. INMYMND IWNDER WHOAMI? IMUST FINDEM.

JO MYWIFE GOES, “OED DON’T USEE? WERHAPPI NOW LETITB.” IGO, “NOWAY. IAMBOSS. DONTU TELLME MYLIFE. INEED MYMOM. II WILLL FINDHER. FIND BOTHOF THEM.”

SOI START SEEKING DATRUTH ABOUT WHO IAM. ITGOEZ ULTRAAA SLOWE. THE SPHYNXS RIDDLE WAS ACINCH BUT NOTTHIZ.

SUDNLEE WEHEAR SHOCKING NEWS. WHEN IWASA TINY1 THISGR8 4SEER SED IWOOD OFF MY ROYAL OLDMAN THEN MARREE MYMAMA. SICKO RUBBISH, NESTPAS? WHOWHO COUDBE SOGONE? STIL MOMNDAD SENT MEEEEE AWAY. MEE ABABI AWAAAY.

NOWWWWW GETTHIZ. MANY MOONS GOBY. IMEET THISGUY ONATRIP. WEDOO RUMBLE. WHOKNEW? ILEFTMY POP ONE DEDMAN.

UGET DAFOTO. MAJOR TSURIS. JOJO MYHONEE, MYSQEEZ, MYLAMBY, MIAMOR, MYCUTEE, JOJOY IZZ MYMOMMY.

YEGODS WHYMEE? YMEYYME? LIFSUX. IAMBAD, IAMBADD, IMSOBAD. STOPNOW THISS HEDAKE. FLESH DUZ STINK. ITZ 2MUCH PAYNE 4ONE2C. TAKEGOD MYEYES! AIEEEEE!

A Puzzle Book

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The world’s most beautiful book is also its most mysterious. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published anonymously in 1499, recounts the “struggle for love in a dream” of Poliphilo, who pursues his beloved Polia through 370 pages of gorgeous woodcuts and epoch-making typography. Their story is told in a cryptic polyglot text of Tuscan, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, replete with arcane references and hidden meanings.

“The Hypnerotomachia is a catalogue of every possible and imaginable foil to understanding,” writes Liane LeFavre in her 2005 exploration of the text. “On every page one is confronted by words whose meaning must be deciphered, inscriptions that have to be interpreted, episodes whose conclusion is ambiguous, a hero and a heroine who embody ideas that have to be divined. Texts and images in code, symbolic images and their interpretation, are recurrent patterns in these cryptic tactics.”

The author’s enormous erudition continually interrupts his story: He fills 200 pages with architectural descriptions and another 60 with botanical lore. The book’s patron, Leonardo Crasso, wrote that it contains “so much science that one would search in vain through all the ancient books [for its meaning], as is the case for many occult things of nature.” The author, he wrote, “devised his work so that only the wise may penetrate the sanctuary.”

Why would anyone produce such a prodigious work of art and learning and then conceal his identity? No one knows for certain. A century and a half after its publication, a French reader discovered an acrostic concealed in the first letters of the book’s 39 chapters. These spell out “Poliam Frater Francescus Columnia Peramavit,” or “Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polonna immensely.” Who was Francesco Colonna? There are two candidates by that name, a Venetian friar and a Roman aristocrat. But both lived on for decades after 1499 and neither claimed to be author of this remarkable book. His identity, and that of the illustrator, remain uncertain.

Choice and Fiction

Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems consists of 10 sonnets with the same rhyming sounds, so that their 140 lines can be combined into 1014 different poems.

Milorad Pavić’s 1984 “lexicon novel” Dictionary of the Khazars consists of three miniature encyclopedias that cross-reference one another. Together they document, from varying perspectives, the causes of the disappearance of the Khazar empire in the eighth century. “Each reader will put together the book for himself, as in a game of dominoes or cards, and, as with a mirror, he will get out of this dictionary as much as he puts into it, for you … cannot get more out of the truth than what you put into it.”

Julio Cortázar’s 1963 “counter-novel” Hopscotch can be read in two ways: The reader can advance through the 56 chapters in conventional order or according to an alternate order laid out by the author, which incorporates 99 “expandable chapters” supplied at the end of the book. Thus the novel “consists of many books, but two books above all.”

Georges Perec’s 1978 novel Life A User’s Manual concerns the lives of the inhabitants of a fictional Paris apartment house. Perec structured the novel by lifting off the building’s facade and mapping its rooms onto a 10×10 grid. He then placed an imaginary chess knight on a central square and worked out a tour that took the knight to every location in the building:

perec knight tour

He used a similar technique to assign “elements” to each chapter: furniture, animals, clothes, jewels, music, books, toys, flowers, and more were salted into the building’s rooms according to the same rules. “With so much of its material predetermined,” wrote Perec biographer David Bellos, “the place of each chapter in the novel’s sequence, the place of each room described in the block of flats, and forty-two different things to say about every room — surely the book would just write itself.”

In fact Perec wrote it in 18 months. “Writing a novel is not like narrating something related directly to the real world,” he wrote. “It’s a matter of establishing a game between reader and writer.”

World View

In Other Inquisitions, Borges writes of a strange taxonomy in an ancient Chinese encyclopedia:

On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g), stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.

This is fanciful, but it has the ring of truth — different cultures can classify the world in surprisingly different ways. In traditional Dyirbal, an aboriginal language of Australia, each noun must be preceded by a variant of one of four words that classify all objects in the universe:

  • bayi: men, kangaroos, possums, bats, most snakes, most fishes, some birds, most insects, the moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, some spears, etc.
  • balan: women, bandicoots, dogs, platypus, echidna, some snakes, some fishes, most birds, fireflies, scorpions, crickets, the hairy mary grub, anything connected with water or fire, sun and stars, shields, some spears, some trees, etc.
  • balam: all edible fruit and the plants that bear them, tubers, ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine, cake
  • bala: parts of the body, meat, bees, wind, yamsticks, some spears, most trees, grass, mud, stones, noises and language, etc.

“The fact is that people around the world categorize things in ways that both boggle the Western mind and stump Western linguists and anthropologists,” writes UC-Berkeley linguist George Lakoff in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (1987). “More often than not, the linguist or anthropologist just throws up his hands and resorts to giving a list — a list that one would not be surprised to find in the writings of Borges.”

Fallout

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When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as Gold,
She Promised in the Afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.

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And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!

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The Lights went out! The Windows broke!
The Room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with Electric Bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The House itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below –
Which happened to be Savile Row.

When Help arrived, among the Dead

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The Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be

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While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump

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MORAL.
The moral is that little Boys
Should not be given dangerous Toys.

– Hilaire Belloc, Cautionary Tales for Children, 1922

The Good Parts

Library patrons are always asking for books with “romantic” episodes, so in 1964 librarian Robert George Reisner finally gave them what they wanted. Show Me the Good Parts: The Reader’s Guide to Sex in Literature catalogs the racy parts of hundreds of books, giving precise page numbers and summarizing each scene:

RICE, ELMER. Imperial City.
New York, Coward-McCann, 1937. 554 pp.
pp. 71-75:
Holding hands in the movies, a few drinks in his apartment, some small talk about books, and then down to business.

He gets as far upscale as For Whom the Bell Tolls (“History has proved that the good guys do not always win, but we still have the sweet memory of Loyalist fighters, Maria and the American Robert Jordan, making love in a sleeping bag”) and as far down as John B. Thompson’s 1953 novel Sandy (“Sandy finds her true love as they are lashed by bolts of ecstasy, fires that consume them, surges of blinding passion, and other hack literary physiological descriptions”). The entries are arranged in categories ranging from “Normal Heterosexual Intercourse” to “Mixoscopic Zoophilia,” and Reisner includes a section on “Unwarranted Reputations” — he just can’t find anything scandalous in The Decameron, Moll Flanders, The Art of Love, or The Satyricon.

Unfortunately he focuses mostly on popular novels of the 1950s, and no one seems to have carried on the work. But perhaps it’s not too late. “I have examined 2,000 books and kept a list of the tomes that produced nothing,” he writes. “This list I have given to my publisher so that anyone who wishes to go on with this research may not have to go over the same ground.”

(Thanks, Keith.)

Franklin’s Mint

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More wisdom from Poor Richard’s Almanack:

  • Anger is never without a Reason, but seldom with a good One.
  • The absent are never without fault, nor the present without excuse.
  • The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.
  • Prosperity discovers Vice, Adversity, Virtue.
  • God heals, and the doctor takes the fees.
  • The same man cannot be both Friend and Flatterer.
  • Beauty and folly are old companions.
  • Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.
  • Hear Reason, or she’ll make you feel her.
  • What’s given shines, what’s receiv’d is rusty.
  • Sally laughs at everything you say. Why? Because she has fine teeth.
  • Words may shew a man’s Wit, but Actions his Meaning.
  • It’s common for men to give pretended reasons instead of one real one.
  • Fear to do ill, and you need fear nought else.
  • Success has ruin’d many a Man.

Altho’ thy teacher act not as he preaches,
Yet ne’ertheless, if good, do what he teaches;
Good counsel, failing men may give, for why,
He that’s aground knows where the shoal doth lie.

Unquote

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“I find all books too long.” — Voltaire

“The covers of this book are too far apart.” — Ambrose Bierce

“A big book is a big nuisance.” — Callimachus

“One always tends to overpraise a long book because one has got through it.” — E.M. Forster

“I made this letter very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.” — Pascal

Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.” — Samuel Johnson

Idiom Surfing

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A.B. Cox, in Jugged Journalism (1925), suggested that Arthur Conan Doyle might hand over the writing of a Sherlock Holmes story to P.G. Wodehouse:

Holmes and the Dasher

It was a pretty rotten sort of day in March, I remember, that dear old Holmes and I were sitting in the ancestral halls in Baker Street, putting in a bit of quiet meditation. At least Holmes was exercising the good old grey matter over a letter that had just come, while I was relaxing gently in an arm-chair.

‘What-ho, Watson, old fruit,’ he said at last, tossing the letter over to me. ‘What does that mass of alluvial deposit you call a brain make of this, what, what?’

“The letter announces that Cissie Crossgarters will be rolling round to see jolly old Holmes,” explains Richard Lancelyn Green in The Sherlock Holmes Letters. “It is all dashed rotten and pretty thick, but when Holmes has splashed a little soda into his glass of cocaine, he heaves himself out of his chair and trickles out to her. ‘What ho!’ says Bertie Watson when Holmes returns. Everything is top-hole and the chappie Holmes announces that Cissie and he are engaged to be married.”

Miles Kington once wrote a Holmes adventure in blank verse — it’s called “The Case of the Danish Prince”:

SHER:  But here, unless I'm much mistook, comes one
       That needs our aid. A case at last!
       (Enter to them HAMLET)
HAM:   Which one --
SHERL:               Of us is Holmes? 'Tis I. This gentle here
        Is Watson, my devoted friend and colleague.
HAM:    Good morrow to you both. You do not know me --
SHERL:  Apart from knowing that you are a prince,
        From Denmark, I would hazard, and a solitary,
        That you take snuff, have lately been at sea,
        Were frightened by a horse at five and now
        Are sitting for your portrait, you are a stranger.
WATS:   Good heavens, Holmes!

The full text is here.

Black Like Me

john howard griffin

In 1959, Dallas journalist John Howard Griffin used drugs and sunlamps to darken his skin and then traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia posing as a black man and keeping a diary of his experiences. He found it to be “the story of the persecuted, the defrauded, the feared and the detested.” When he applied for work at a plant in Mobile, the foreman told him, “No, you couldn’t get anything like that here.”

His voice was not unkind. It was the dead voice one often hears. Determined to see if I could break in somehow, I said: ‘But if I could do you a better job, and you paid me less than a white man …’

‘I’ll tell you … we don’t want you people. Don’t you understand that?’

‘I know,’ I said with real sadness. ‘You can’t blame a man for trying at least.’

‘No use trying down here,’ he said. ‘We’re gradually getting you people weeded out from the better jobs at this plant. We’re taking it slow, but we’re doing it. Pretty soon we’ll have it so the only jobs you can get here are the ones no white man would have.’

‘How can we live?’ I asked hopelessly, careful not to give the impression I was arguing.

‘That’s the whole point,’ he said, looking me square in the eyes, but with some faint sympathy, as though he regretted the need to say what followed: ‘We’re going to do our damnedest to drive every one of you out of the state.’

In a Mississippi bus station he felt a “hate stare” that would grow familiar. “It came from a middle-aged, heavyset, well-dressed white man. He sat a few yards away, fixing his eyes on me. Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: ‘What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?’”

Elementary

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Bell.jpg

Sherlock Holmes was based on a real man, Scottish surgeon Joseph Bell, whom Arthur Conan Doyle had served as a clerk in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Bell was famous for making deductions about his patients. He greeted one by saying, “Ah, I perceive that you are a soldier, a noncommissioned officer, and that you have served in Bermuda.”

When the man acknowledged this, Bell addressed his students. “How did I know that, gentlemen? The matter is simplicity itself. He came into the room without taking his hat off, as he would go into an orderly’s room. He was a soldier. A slight authoritative air, combined with his age, shows that he was a noncommissioned officer. A slight rash on the forehead tells me that he was in Bermuda, and subject to a certain rash known only there.”

On another occasion Bell challenged his students to identify a bitter drug by taste alone. They watched him dip a finger into the tumbler and taste it, and reluctantly followed suit. “Gentlemen,” he said with a laugh, “I am deeply grieved to find that not one of you has developed this power of perception which I so often speak about; for if you had watched me closely, you would have found that while I placed my forefinger in the medicine, it was the middle finger which found its way into my mouth.”