Double Entendre

The Exeter Book, an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry from the 10th century, contains three riddles that seem shockingly risqué until you see the answers:

I’m a strange creature, for I satisfy women,
a service to the neighbors! No one suffers
at my hands except for my slayer.
I grow very tall, erect in a bed,
I’m hairy underneath. From time to time
a good-looking girl, the doughty daughter
of some churl dares to hold me,
grips my russet skin, robs me of my head
and puts me in the pantry. At once that girl
with plaited hair who has confined me
remembers our meeting. Her eye moistens.

(An onion.)

A strange thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is stiff and strong
and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When the man hitches his clothing high
above his knee, he wants the head
of that hanging thing to poke the old hole
(of fitting length) it has often filled before.

(A key.)

A young man made for the corner where he knew
she was standing; this strapping youth
had come some way — with his own hands
he whipped up her dress, and under her girdle
(as she stood there) thrust something stiff,
worked his will; they both shook.
This fellow quickened: one moment he was
forceful, a first-rate servant, so strenuous
that the next he was knocked up, quite
blown by his exertion. Beneath the girdle
a thing began to grow that upstanding men
often think of, tenderly, and acquire.

(A churn.)

Noted

Further excerpts from the notebooks of English belletrist Geoffrey Madan (1895-1947):

Two psychiatrists meeting: “You’re pretty well, how am I?”

Children: unable to understand the concept of uncertainty.

1. Every subject of the Crown is entitled to make pickles.
2. Every man must bear the name of his father.

— Sir John Markham, Chief Justice, 1465

Pedantry is greater accuracy than the case requires.

“Drink … prevents you seeing yourself as others see you.” — Desmond MacCarthy

Safe remarks:

1. To inaudible remark: “That’s just what I’ve been wondering all the evening.”
2. “I can never remember how you spell your name.” (But G.M. Young quoted the man who wearily replied, “Still J-O-N-E-S.”)

“So they went forth both, and the young man’s dog with them.” — Tobit 5:16: the only mention in the Bible of a pet animal

The dust of exploded beliefs may make a fine sunset.

See Observations and More Madan.

Misc

A fragment from Robert Frost’s notebook on “Democracy”:

Cancellation Club. A mens club for rendering womens vote ineffective by voting the other way. One woman said No matter if her vote was offset. She only voted to assert herself — not to win elections.

A word-level palindrome by Allan Miller (from Mad Amadeus Sued a Madam):

MAYBE GOD CAN KNOW ALL WE DO; WE ALL KNOW, CAN GOD? MAYBE …

Detractors of Massachusetts governor Endicott Peabody said that three of the state’s towns had been named for him: Peabody, Marblehead, and Athol.

“I read the Tchechov aloud. I had read one of the stories myself and it seemed to me nothing. But read aloud, it was a masterpiece. How was that?” — Katherine Mansfield, journal, 1922

Dryden’s epitaph on his wife:

Here lies my wife, here let her lie;
Now she’s at rest, and so am I.

(Thanks, Bob.)

In a Word

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cohonestation
n. honouring with one’s company

William Cobbett, a writer who was to plague Noah for many years, probably invented one piece of Websterian apocrypha. Dr. Benjamin Rush, whom Noah had cultivated, supposedly met him upon his arrival and said: ‘How do you do, my dear friend. I congratulate you on your arrival in Philadelphia.’

‘Sir,’ Webster allegedly replied, ‘you may congratulate Philadelphia on the occasion.’

— John S. Morgan, Noah Webster, 1975

More Madan

Further excerpts from the notebooks of Geoffrey Madan:

“Curious how much more room dirty clothes take up than clean ones, when you’re packing — quite out of proportion to the amount of dirt they contain.” — Claud Russell

Sworded/sordid: an absurd homonym.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which has to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” — F.H. Bradley

Hua [French master at Eton] and Warre could neither pronounce the other’s name, but each made the same sound in the attempt.

The fascination, to a crowd, of anything going up the side of a building on a rope or lift: exceedingly primitive.

“A hamper is undoubtedly requisite under the present circumstances. It must contain several pots of superior jam.” — Lord Curzon, aged 9, writing from school

NO ROAD BEYOND THE CEMETERY — Opinion of the Slough Borough Council, placed on a notice-board near Bourne End Church

See Observations.

Things to Come

Science fiction writer Murray Leinster predicted the Internet in 1946:

I got Joe, after Laurine nearly got me. You know the logics setup. You got a logic in your house. It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it’s got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get. It’s hooked in to the tank, which has the Carson Circuit all fixed up with relays. Say you punch ‘Station SNAFU’ on your logic. Relays in the tank take over an’ whatever vision-program SNAFU is telecastin’ comes on your logic’s screen. Or you punch ‘Sally Hancock’s Phone’ an’ the screen blinks an’ sputters an’ you’re hooked up with the logic in her house an’ if somebody answers you got a vision-phone connection. But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast or who won today’s race at Hialeah or who was mistress of the White House durin’ Garfield’s administration or what is PDQ and R sellin’ for today, that comes on the screen too. The relays in the tank do it. The tank is a big buildin’ full of all the facts in creation an’ all the recorded telecasts that ever was made — an’ it’s hooked in with all the other tanks all over the country — an’ everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an’ you get it. Very convenient. Also it does math for you, an’ keeps books, an’ acts as consultin’ chemist, physicist, astronomer, an’ tea-leaf reader, with a ‘Advice to the Lovelorn’ thrown in. The only thing it won’t do is tell you exactly what your wife meant when she said, ‘Oh, you think so, do you?’ in that peculiar kinda voice. Logics don’t work good on women. Only on things that make sense.

From Leinster’s story “A Logic Named Joe.” (Thanks, Bob.) See You’ve Got Mail.

Richard Returns

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More wisdom from Poor Richard’s Almanack:

  • Diligence is the mother of good luck.
  • Caesar did not merit the triumphal car more than he that conquers himself.
  • Where Sense is wanting, everything is wanting.
  • None are deceived, but they that confide.
  • Approve not of him who commends all you say.
  • Despair ruins some, Presumption many.
  • ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.
  • Suspicion may be no fault, but showing it may be a great one.
  • Men take more pains to mask than mend.
  • As charms are nonsense, nonsense is a charm.
  • As sore places meet most rubs, proud folks meet most affronts.
  • Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.
  • Honours change manners.
  • Without justice courage is weak.
  • A good man is seldom uneasie, an ill one never easie.
  • A wicked hero will turn his back to an innocent coward.
  • It is Ill-manners to silence a Fool, and Cruelty to let him go on.

Bis dat qui cito dat,” he wrote. “He gives twice that gives soon; i.e. he will soon be called upon to give again.”

An Unexpected Departure

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T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, shared his lonely life with a beloved Irish setter, Brownie, whom he called his child, wife, and mother, “myself with melting eye.” “It is a queer difference between this kind of thing and getting married,” he wrote, “that married people love each other at first (I understand) and it fades by use and custom, but with dogs you love them most at last.” In late November 1944 his friend David A. Garnett received this letter:

Dearest Bunny, Brownie died today. In all her 14 years of life I have only been away from her at night for 3 times, once to visit England for 5 days, once to have my appendix out and once for tonsils (2 days), but I did go in to Dublin about twice a year to buy books (9 hours away) and I thought she understood about this. To-day I went at 10, but the bloody devils had managed to kill her somehow when I got back at 7. She was in perfect health. I left her in my bed this morning, as it was an early start. Now I am writing with her dead head in my lap. I will sit up with her tonight, but tomorrow we must bury her. I don’t know what to do after that. I am only sitting up because of that thing about perhaps consciousness persisting a bit. She has been to me more perfect than anything else in all my life, and I have failed her at the end, an 180-1 chance. If it had been any other day I might have known that I had done my best. These fools here did not poison her — I will not believe that. But I could have done more. They kept rubbing her, they say. She looks quite alive. She was wife, mother, mistress & child. Please forgive me for writing this distressing stuff, but it is helping me. Her little tired face cannot be helped. Please do not write to me at all about her, for very long time, but tell me if I ought to buy another bitch or not, as I do not know what to think about anything. I am certain I am not going to kill myself about it, as I thought I might once. However, you will find this all very hysterical, so I may as well stop. I still expect to wake up and find it wasn’t. She was all I had.

love from TIM

Another letter followed:

Dear Bunny, Please forgive me writing again, but I am so lonely and can’t stop crying and it is the shock. I waked her for two nights and buried her this morning in a turf basket, all my eggs in one basket. Now I am to begin a new life and it is important to begin it right, but I find it difficult to think straight. It is about whether I ought to buy another dog or not. I am good to dogs, so from their point of view I suppose I ought. But I might not survive another bereavement like this in 12 years’ time, and dread to put myself in the way of it. If your father & mother & both sons had died at the same moment as Ray, unexpectedly, in your absence, you would know what I am talking about. Unfortunately Brownie was barren, like myself, and as I have rather an overbearing character I had made her live through me, as I lived through her. Brownie was my life and I am lonely for just such another reservoir for my love. But if I did get such reservoir it would die in about 12 years and at present I feel I couldn’t face that. Do people get used to being bereaved? This is my first time. I am feeling very lucky to have a friend like you that I can write to without being thought dotty to go on like that about mere dogs.

They did not poison her. It was one of her little heart attacks and they did not know how to treat it and killed her by the wrong kindnesses.

You must try to understand that I am and will remain entirely without wife or brother or sister or child and that Brownie supplied more than the place of these to me. We loved each other more and more every year.

He wrote later, “I have found … that the people who consider too close an affection between men and animals to be ‘unnatural’ are basing their prejudice on something real. It is the incompatibility of ages. It is in Lucretius. He says that centaurs cannot exist because the horse part would die before the man part. All I can do now is to remember her dead as I buried her, the cold grey jowl in the basket, and not as my heart’s blood, which she was for the last eight years of our twelve. I shall never be more than half a centaur now.”

Page Turners

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“Sorts of readers,” categorized for you by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

1. Spunges that suck up every thing and, when pressed give it out in the same state, only perhaps somewhat dirtier — . 2. Sand Glasses — or rather the upper Half of the Sand Glass, which in a brief hour assuredly lets out what it has received — & whose reading is only a profitless measurement and dozeing away of Time — . 3. Straining Bags, who get rid of whatever is good & pure, and retain the Dregs. — and this Straining-bag class is again subivided into Species of the Sensual, who retain evil for the gratification of their own base Imaginations, & the calumnious, who judge only by defects, & to whose envy a beauty is an eye-sore, a fervent praise respecting another a near-grievance, and the more virulent in its action because the miserable man does not dare confess the Truth to his own Heart — . 4. and lastly, the Great-Moguls Diamond Sieves — which is perhaps going farther for a Simile than its superior Dignity can repay, inasmuch as a common Cullender would have been equally symbolic/ but imperial or culinary, these are the only good & I fear the least numerous, who assuredly retain the good, while the superfluous or impure passes away and leaves no trace.

(From his 1808 Lectures on Principles of Poetry.)

Odd Hamlets

In 1870, John Chippendall Montesquieu Bellew offered a sort of lip-synched Hamlet, in which he read the text at the front of the stage while performers dressed in character acted it out in dumbshow. “The dummies, with the exception of Hamlet, acted but indifferently,” wrote one reviewer. “The gentleman who doubled the characters of Polonius and the First Gravedigger disdained to open his mouth at all, whilst the representative of the King was evidently under the impression that his lips were in the region of his eyebrows, as he moved the latter up and down with great vigour. At present the performance has the attraction of novelty, but we doubt whether it will have a lasting success.”

And in 1809 one Jack Matthews offered a “dog Hamlet,” in which “the Prince of Denmark in every scene was attended by a large black dog, and in the last, the sagacious animal took upon himself the office of executioner by springing upon the king and putting an end to his wicked career in the usual orthodox fashion.”

Punch noted, “Yet surely the play has seldom been acted without the assistance of a great Dane.”