In a Word,_1922.png

n. the act of loving in return

Zelda to Scott Fitzgerald, spring 1919 or 1920:

I look down the tracks and see you coming – and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me – Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think – or live – I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so – and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest – I love you – and I can’t tell you how much – To think that I’ll die without your knowing – Goofo, you’ve got to try to feel how much I do – how inanimate I am when you’re gone – I can’t even hate these damnable people – Nobodys got any right to live but us – and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so – Come Quick – Come Quick to me – I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper – if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me – I still would want you I know

Lover, Lover, Darling –

Your Wife


“In all the proof that has reached me, windrow has been spelled window. If, in the bound book, windrow still appears as window, then neither rain nor hail nor gloom of night nor fleets of riot squads will prevent me from assassinating the man who is responsible. If the coward hides behind my finding, I shall step into Scribner’s and merely shoot up the place Southern style.” — American author Gordon Dorrance (1890-1957), note to his publishers

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.” — Raymond Chandler, to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly

A publisher once took the liberty of editing an introduction that Mark Twain had contributed to a book on Joan of Arc. Twain returned a commentary on the edits. Some highlights:

  • First line. What is the trouble with “at the”? And why “Trial?” Has some uninstructed person deceived you into the notion that there was but one, instead of half a dozen?
  • Amongst. Wasn’t “among” good enough? …
  • Second Paragraph. Now you have begun on my punctuation. Don’t you realize that you ought not to intrude your help in a delicate art like that, with your limitations? And do you think you have added just the right smear of polish to the closing clause of the sentence?
  • Second Paragraph. How do you know it was his “own” sword? It could have been a borrowed one, I am cautious in matters of history, and you should not put statements in my mouth for which you cannot produce vouchers. Your other corrections are rubbish. …
  • Fifth Paragraph. Thus far, I regard this as your masterpiece! You are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple and dignified speech to clumsy and vapid commonplace.
  • Sixth Paragraph. You have a singularly fine and aristocratic disrespect for homely and unpretending English. Every time I use “go back” you get out your polisher and slick it up to “return.” “Return” is suited only to the drawing-room — it is ducal, and says itself with a simper and a smirk. …
  • II. In Captivity. “Remainder.” It is curious and interesting to notice what an attraction a fussy, mincing, nickel-plated artificial word has for you. This is not well.
  • Third Sentence. But she was held to ransom; it wasn’t a case of “should have been” and it wasn’t a case of “if it had been offered”; it was offered, and also accepted, as the second paragraph shows. You ought never to edit except when awake. …
  • Third Paragraph. … “Break another lance” is a knightly and sumptuous phrase, and I honor it for its hoary age and for the faithful service it has done in the prize-composition of the schoolgirl, but I have ceased from employing it since I got my puberty, and must solemnly object to fathering it here. And besides, it makes me hint that I have broken one of those things before, in honor of the Maid, an intimation not justified by the facts. I did not break any lances or other furniture, I only wrote a book about her.

The full list is in his autobiography. “It cost me something to restrain myself and say these smooth and half-flattering things to this immeasurable idiot,” Twain wrote, “but I did it and have never regretted it. For it is higher and nobler to be kind to even a shad like him than just. If we should deal out justice only, in this world, who would escape?”

The Right Foot

Letter from Lewis Carroll to Adelaide Paine, March 8, 1880:

My dear Ada, — (Isn’t that your short name? ‘Adelaide’ is all very well, but you see when one’s dreadfully busy one hasn’t time to write such long words — particularly when it takes one half an hour to remember how to spell it — and even then one has to go and get a dictionary to see if one has spelt it right, and of course the dictionary is in another room, at the top of a high bookcase — where it has been for months and months, and has got all covered with dust — so one has to get a duster first of all, and nearly choke oneself in dusting it — and when one has made out at last which is dictionary and which is dust, even then there’s the job of remembering which end of the alphabet ‘A’ comes — for one feels pretty certain it isn’t in the middle — then one has to go and wash one’s hands before turning over the leaves — for they’ve got so thick with dust one hardly knows them by sight — and, as likely as not, the soap is lost, and the jug is empty, and there’s no towel, and one has to spend hours and hours in finding things — and perhaps after all one has to go off to the shop to buy a new cake of soap — so, with all this bother, I hope you won’t mind my writing it short and saying, ‘My dear Ada’).

You said in your last letter that you would like a likeness of me; so here it is, and I hope you will like it. I won’t forget to call the next time but one I’m in Wallington.

Your very affectionate friend,

Lewis Carroll

Carper’s Index

No one knows who devised the cross-references in William Hawkins’ 1795 Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown, but he was either very wry or very cynical:

Cattle see Clergy.
Chastity see Homicide.
Coin see High Treason.
Convicts see Clergy.
Death see Appeal.
Election see Bribery.
Fear see Robbery.
Footway see Nuisance.
Honour see Constable.
Incapacity see Officers.
King see Treason.
Knaves see Words.
Letters see Libel.
London see Outlawry.
Shop see Burglary.
Threats see Words.
Westminster Hall see Contempt and Lie.

“A plain, unlettered man is led to suspect that the writer of the volume and the writer of the index are playing at cross purposes,” noted the Monthly Magazine. Perhaps they were.

Unlikely Similes

Winston Churchill said that playing golf was “like chasing a quinine pill around a cow pasture.”

For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening — any evening — would suggest
A patient etherised upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.

— C.S. Lewis

In 1910, unable to get his one-act play “The First Poet” published, George Sterling prevailed on his friend Jack London to publish it under his own name. London resisted, pointing out that Sterling had already shown the play to Herbert Heron and Mike Williams, who would recognize it. He wrote:

“Your showing ‘The First Poet’ to Heron and Williams, and then coming on and asking me to father it, is equivalent to exposing your penis to a couple of 90¢ alarm clocks, and then trying to rape a quail. I’m the quail. And if I let you rape me, both alarm clocks would immediately go off and tell the news to the world.”

Eventually he relented, and “The First Poet” appeared in the Century Magazine in June 1911 under London’s name. The fact of Sterling’s authorship came to light only later.

Niche Publishing

The Epworth Instigator, a monthly publication in Santa Monica, edited by Saml. Carlisle, has probably the smallest sworn circulation statement of any paper in the United States. According to the sworn statement, Forrest Harris, the business manager, says that the number of copies printed and circulated for the month of August, 1907, was one.

The paper is published in the interests of the Epworth league here, and the only copy is taken to the meeting and read aloud, advertisements and all.

Printers’ Ink, Oct. 16, 1907

(Thanks, Craig.)

Muse Be Damned

Anthony Trollope established himself as one of the world’s most prolific novelists while holding down a 30-year career as a full-time civil servant.

He did this by simply demanding it of himself. Even while traveling he rose at 5:30 each morning and worked for three hours, “allowing himself no mercy,” counting words as he went and noting his progress on a chart, “so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the efficiency might be supplied.” He disdained inspiration: “To me it would not be more absurd if the shoemaker were to wait for inspiration, or the tallow-chandler for the divine moment of melting.”

“All those I think who have lived as literary men — working daily as literary labourers — will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write,” he wrote in his autobiography. “But then he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours — so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas. It had at this time become my custom … to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went.”

His brother Tom said, “Work to him was a necessity and a satisfaction. He used often to say he envied me the capacity for being idle.”

Stage Business

The goal of the Shakespeare programming language is to create code that reads like a Shakespearean play: Variables are “characters” that interact through dialogue, constants are represented by nouns and adjectives, and if/then statements are phrased as questions. (Insulting Macbeth assigns him a negative value.) Act and scene numbers serve as GOTO labels, and characters can tell one another to “remember” or “recall” values. The phrases “Open your heart” and “Speak your mind” output a variable’s numerical value and the corresponding ASCII character, respectively.

This program prints the phrase HELLO WORLD:

Romeo, a young man with a remarkable patience.
Juliet, a likewise young woman of remarkable grace.
Ophelia, a remarkable woman much in dispute with Hamlet.
Hamlet, the flatterer of Andersen Insulting A/S.

                   Act I: Hamlet's insults and flattery.
                   Scene I: The insulting of Romeo.
[Enter Hamlet and Romeo]
You lying stupid fatherless big smelly half-witted coward! You are as
stupid as the difference between a handsome rich brave hero and thyself!
Speak your mind!
You are as brave as the sum of your fat little stuffed misused dusty
old rotten codpiece and a beautiful fair warm peaceful sunny summer's
day. You are as healthy as the difference between the sum of the
sweetest reddest rose and my father and yourself! Speak your mind!
You are as cowardly as the sum of yourself and the difference
between a big mighty proud kingdom and a horse. Speak your mind.
Speak your mind!
[Exit Romeo]
                   Scene II: The praising of Juliet.
[Enter Juliet]
Thou art as sweet as the sum of the sum of Romeo and his horse and his
black cat! Speak thy mind!
[Exit Juliet]
                   Scene III: The praising of Ophelia.
[Enter Ophelia]
Thou art as lovely as the product of a large rural town and my amazing
bottomless embroidered purse. Speak thy mind!
Thou art as loving as the product of the bluest clearest sweetest sky
and the sum of a squirrel and a white horse. Thou art as beautiful as
the difference between Juliet and thyself. Speak thy mind!
[Exeunt Ophelia and Hamlet]

                   Act II: Behind Hamlet's back.
                   Scene I: Romeo and Juliet's conversation.
[Enter Romeo and Juliet]
Speak your mind. You are as worried as the sum of yourself and the
difference between my small smooth hamster and my nose. Speak your
Speak YOUR mind! You are as bad as Hamlet! You are as small as the
difference between the square of the difference between my little pony
and your big hairy hound and the cube of your sorry little
codpiece. Speak your mind!
[Exit Romeo]
                   Scene II: Juliet and Ophelia's conversation.
[Enter Ophelia]
Thou art as good as the quotient between Romeo and the sum of a small
furry animal and a leech. Speak your mind!
Thou art as disgusting as the quotient between Romeo and twice the
difference between a mistletoe and an oozing infected blister! Speak
your mind!

Because it’s written as a play, a program can be performed by human actors, but the drama lacks a certain narrative drive:

See Output.

Three Odd Books

B.S. Johnson’s 1969 “book in a box” The Unfortunates consists of 27 unbound sections, ranging in length from a single paragraph to 12 pages. The first and last chapters are specified, but the 25 in between can be read in any order. Johnson felt this was a “better solution to the problem of conveying the mind’s randomness than the imposed order of a bound book.”

Jerzy Andrzejewski’s 40,000-word novel The Gates of Paradise, published in 1960, consists of only two sentences. The second is “And they marched all night.”

When Edgar Wallace published his detective thriller The Four Just Men in 1905, he challenged readers of the Daily Mail to guess the murder method, offering first, second, and third prizes of £250, £200, and £50. Unfortunately he failed to specify that each prize would go to a single entrant, so he was legally obliged to award a prize to every correct entry. He went bankrupt, and the newspaper had to pay more than £5,000 to protect its reputation.

Insult to Injury

Shortly after his travel book Alexandria appeared in December 1922, E.M. Forster received a regretful letter from the publisher, Whitehead Morris & Co. There had been a fire in the warehouse and the entire edition had been burned. Fortunately, it had been insured, and they enclosed a substantial check in compensation.

“A few weeks later Forster received a yet more regretful letter from the publishers,” notes editor Lawrence Durrell in the book’s 1961 edition. “The books had been found intact, in a cellar which had escaped the flames. This, in view of the insurance money, his publishers wrote, had created a most awkward situation, and they had taken the only way out: they burnt the books deliberately.”