Thirsty Work


As the series developed, readers came to expect an ever more extensive drinks menu. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for example, the eleventh book, Bond downs no less than forty-six drinks, the widest variety in any single book. According to one Bondologist, these include: unspecified quantities of Pouilly-Fuissé white wine, Taittinger champagne, Mouton Rothschild ’53 claret, calvados, Krug champagne, three bourbons with water, four vodka and tonics, two double brandy and ginger ales, two whisky and sodas, three double vodka martinis, two double bourbons on the rocks, at least one glass of neat whisky, a flask of Enzian schnapps, Marsala wine, the better part of a bottle of fiery Algerian wine (served by M), two more Scotch whiskies, half a pint of I.W. Harper bourbon, a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whisky with water, on the rocks, a bottle of Riquewihr wine, four steins of Franziskaner beer, and a double Steinhäger gin. The same indefatigable researcher has found that although vodka martini has now become Bond’s signature drink, he only drinks nineteen of them in the books, compared to thirty-seven bourbons, twenty-one Scotches and a remarkable thirty-five sakes (entirely the result of his massive consumption of that particular drink in You Only Live Twice).

— Ben MacIntyre, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, 2008

Near and Far

More proverbs from around the world:

  • A lover should be regarded as a person demented. (Roman)
  • Great politeness means “I want something.” (Chinese)
  • Large desire is endless poverty. (India)
  • A short rest is always good. (Danish)
  • A stumble is not a fall. (Haitian)
  • Abroad one has a hundred eyes, at home not one. (German)
  • The church is near, but the way is icy; the tavern is far, but I will walk carefully. (Ukrainian)
  • A bully is always a coward. (Spanish)
  • Failure is the source of success. (Japanese)
  • The greater part of humankind is bad. (Greek)
  • The inside is different from the outside. (Korean)
  • You are as many a person as languages you know. (Armenian)
  • By getting angry, you show you are wrong. (Madagascar)
  • Life is a road with a lot of signs. (Jamaican)
  • Old age does not announce itself. (Zulu)
  • Whether small or large, a snake cannot be used as a belt. (Yoruban)
  • He that is too smart is surely done for. (Yiddish)

The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance

Here’s an excerpt from Jude the Obscure:

Jude stood bending over the kettle, with his watch in his hand, timing the eggs, so that his back was turned to the little inner chamber where the children lay. A shriek from Sue suddenly caused him to start round. He saw that the door of the room, or rather closet — which had seemed to go heavily upon its hinges as she pushed it back — was open, and that Sue had sunk to the floor just within it. Hastening forward to pick her up he turned his eyes to the little bed spread on the boards; no children were there. He looked in bewilderment round the room. At the back of the door were fixed two hooks for hanging garments, and from these the forms of the two youngest children were suspended, by a piece of box-cord round each of their necks, while from a nail a few yards off the body of little Jude was hanging in a similar manner. An overturned chair was near the elder boy, and his glazed eyes were slanted into the room; but those of the girl and the baby boy were closed.

Suppose Hardy had added, “And this was all for the good, for there were too many children already.”

Many readers would feel their imaginative engagement with the narrative give out at this point. In reading fiction we seem to be quite willing to believe all manner of outlandish and unnatural things — magic, time travel, fantastic creatures — but when an author invites us to imagine a world in which the moral facts are different, we resist.

“Whatever speculative errors may be found in the polite writings of any age or country, they detract but little from the value of those compositions,” wrote David Hume in 1757. “There needs but a certain turn of thought or imagination to make us enter into all the opinions, which then prevailed, and relish the sentiments or conclusions derived from them. But a very violent effort is requisite to change our judgment of manners, and excite sentiments of approbation or blame, love or hatred, different from those to which the mind from long custom has been familiarized. And where a man is confident of the rectitude of that moral standard, by which he judges, he is justly jealous of it, and will not pervert the sentiments of his heart for a moment, in complaisance to any writer whatsoever.” Why is this?

(Stuart Brock, “The Puzzle of Imaginative Failure,” Philosophical Quarterly 62:248 [July 2012], 443-463.)

In a Word

adj. keeping silence, silent

As a joke, Elbert Hubbard published an “Essay on Silence” that consisted of 12 blank pages, bound in brown suede and stamped with gold. It was advertised with these testimonials:

“Your elaborate work on ‘Silence’ received, and perused this day. The depth of your argument is perceptible from the start. The continued logic is convincing to the end, and makes its impression on the attentive mind. It is singular how much can be said in a limited space. You are certainly master of our language.” — G.E.Nelson

“Kindly accept my heartiest thanks for your little volume on ‘Silence.’ The subject is treated so exhaustively, and in such a quaintly original manner, that it is beyond the pale of criticism.” — Alex L. Pach

“Your valuable ‘Essay on Silence’ is a masterpiece, for it appeals to one in purity, like a cloudless sky. The language is grand as the voice of God; the story it tells is as deep in its meaning as that which is written on the pages of the book of Nature.” — Albert J. Atkins

“Your ‘Essay on Silence’ is all that the bills promised, and could not be more to the point. Thirty cents is exactly the right price.” — Alice L. LeCouver

“It is with great pleasure that I have looked into your ‘Essay on Silence.’ There is nothing in it to prevent its becoming a classic. No word has been wasted, and there is not one line that can be misunderstood. In the perusal of many writings, we realize that the same thought has been framed in our own minds without having been given an utterance; and so it is that this last work of yours has found me most sympathetic and appreciative, for in turning over your pages I am struck frequently with resemblances to my own mental condition. Your little book is simple, direct and convincing. I am reminded, in putting it down, of a certain passage in the biblical story, in which it is set forth that from nothing God made heaven and earth and all that therein is, consequently it is not surprising that you in this case have done so well.” — George W. Stevens

A Peek Ahead

Readers of the London Evening Standard saw a startling headline on Nov. 10, 1971: “The Prophecy H.G. Wells Made About Tonight’s Standard.” Wells had published a story in 1932 in which a man unaccountably receives a copy of the newspaper from 40 years in the future. “He found himself surveying a real evening newspaper,” Wells wrote, “which was dealing so far as he could see at the first onset, with the affairs of another world.”

Most of “The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper” is devoted to Wells’ prophecies regarding world events in 1971, and most of these, unfortunately, are misses. Newspapers today are printed in color and the Soviet Union has fallen, but geothermal energy has not replaced the age of combustion, body clothing has not (quite) been reduced to a minimum, finance and nationalism still thrive, gorillas are not extinct, the human birthrate has not dropped to “seven in the thousand,” and there are no plans to add a 13th month to the year.

To be fair, predicting the future is difficult, as even Wells’ narrator points out. “After all, in 1831 very few people thought of railway or steamship travel, and in 1871 you could already go around the world in eighty days by steam, and send a telegram in a few minutes to nearly every part of the earth. Who would have thought of that in 1831?”

In the 1932 story, Brownlow finds that his strange newspaper has been delivered to the correct address but is directed to a Mr. Evan O’Hara — evidently the subscriber who will occupy his own apartment 40 years hence. In November 1971 the newspaper sought the Evan O’Hara in Sussex Court whose paper had (presumably) gone missing that evening, but it found no trace of him. Perhaps he had gone looking for it.

See On Time.


I just stumbled across this — in May 1938 Weird Tales published an “acrostic sonnet” by H.P. Lovecraft:

Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arch’d high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

Lonely and sad, a spectre glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, tho’ his song
Peals down thro’ time with a mysterious spell:
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.

The lines’ initial letters spell out EDGAR ALLAN POE.

Comparative Zoology

In 1866, writing in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Mark Twain accused San Francisco police chief Martin Burke of corruption, and “some leather-head” misinterpreted the column to suggest that Burke kept a mistress. Twain wrote to the San Francisco Examiner with a clarification:

EDITOR EXAMINER:–You published the following paragraph the other day and stated that it was an ‘extract from a letter to the Virginia Enterprise, from the San Francisco correspondent of that paper.’ Please publish it again, and put it in the parentheses where I have marked them, so that people who read with wretched carelessness may know to a dead moral certainty when I am referring to Chief Burke, and also know to an equally dead moral certainty when I am referring to the dog:

‘I want to compliment Chief Burke — I do honestly. But I can’t find anything to compliment him about. He is always rushing furiously around, like a dog after his own tail — and with the same general result, it seems to me; if he (the dog, not the Chief,) catches it, it don’t amount to anything, after all the fuss; and if he (the dog, not the Chief,) don’t catch it it don’t make any difference, because he (the dog, not the Chief,) didn’t want it anyhow; he (the dog, not the Chief,) only wanted the exercise, and the happiness of “showing off” before his (the dog’s, not the Chief’s,) mistress and the other young ladies. But if the Chief (not the dog,) would only do something praiseworthy, I would be the first and the most earnest and cordial to give him (the Chief, not the dog,) the credit due. I would sling him (the Chief, not the dog,) a compliment that would knock him down. I mean that it would be such a first-class compliment that it might surprise him (the Chief, not the dog,) to that extent as coming from me.’

He added: “I think that even the pupils of the Asylum at Stockton can understand that paragraph now.”

Working Late

Jack London died in 1916, but he turned up, gamely, in 1920 when psychic Margaret More Oliver tried to reach him through automatic writing. “I am at last attuned to life,” he wrote. “There is no discord — no conflict — the clash of mind and will with heart and impulse of soul has ended.”

She proposed that he write a story through her, and after many false starts they succeeded. “I am getting it over!” he wrote. “I am jubilant! Oh, God! it’s good to be able to do it. My pen is coming back to earth and I shall do wonders yet.”

She sent the manuscript to London’s widow, Charmian, proposing to publish it as “Death’s Sting, by Jack London, Deceased.” But Charmian refused: “If I allowed a book to come out under such ‘authorship,’ immediately every faker in the land — and they are legion — would have perfect right to do the same … the selling value of bona fide work of Jack London’s would be more or less injured, and too much depends on this.”

Oliver pressed her, but Charmian was adamant: “If I should ever be convinced, beyond the flutter of a doubt, I’d eat cyanide of potassium so quickly that I’d be on the Other Side, groping around for Jack, before I had time to think about it!”

The text of Death’s Sting seems to have been lost, but evidently it wasn’t very good — Charmian’s aunt, Netta Payne, wrote, “It has no touch of literary merit, no hint of power or idealistic beauty. It is a tedious detail of sordid facts without the least alleviation of literary artistry.” London’s spirit finally agreed: “I tried to speak with my old tongue, but my old tongue is silenced.”

One person who wasn’t surprised at any of this was Arthur Conan Doyle, who had written to Charmian a year after London’s death to suggest that “a strong soul dying prematurely with many earth interests in its thoughts, would be very likely to come back.”

“Mrs. London received my intrusion with courtesy,” Doyle wrote, “but I am not aware that any practical steps were taken toward this end. They seem now to have come from the other side.”

(Edward Biron Payne, The Soul of Jack London, 1927.)

A Frightful Collaboration

mcbryde whistle illustration

When M.R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary appeared in 1904, readers were puzzled to find that it contained only four illustrations, an odd number for a book of eight stories. In the preface, James explained that he’d assembled the collection at the suggestion of a friend who had offered to illustrate it but was “taken away” unexpectedly after completing only four pictures.

The friend was James McBryde, a student whom James had met in 1893 at King’s College, Cambridge, where James was dean. The two quickly became close, and McBryde was one of the select few to whom James would read a new ghost story each Christmas by the light of a single candle. They remained close after McBryde left Cambridge, traveling together each year to Denmark and Sweden, and eventually they appointed to work together to publish the ghost stories, which now numbered enough for a collection.

In May 1904 McBryde wrote, “I don’t think I have ever done anything I liked better than illustrating your stories. To begin with I sat down and learned advanced perspective and the laws of shadows …” Regarding the collection’s crowning horror, “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” he wrote, “I have finished the Whistle ghost … I covered yards of paper to put in the moon shadows correctly and it is certainly the best thing I have ever drawn.”

Alas, McBryde died only a month later of complications following an appendix operation. James was adamant that no replacement be found, and Ghost Stories of an Antiquary was published with only four illustrations as a tribute to his friend. “Those who knew the artist will understand how much I wished to give a permanent form even to a fragment of his work,” he wrote. “Others will appreciate the fact that here a remembrance is made of one in whom many friendships centred.”

Of the true depth of their friendship, the full story will never be known. James picked roses, lilac, and honeysuckle from the Fellows Garden at King’s College and carried them with him on the train to McBryde’s funeral in Lancashire, where he dropped them into the grave after the other mourners had left. He remained friends with McBryde’s wife and legal guardian of his daughter, and he arranged for the posthumous publication of McBryde’s children’s book The Story of a Troll Hunt. In the introduction he wrote, “The intercourse of eleven years, — of late, minutely recalled, — has left no single act or word of his which I could choose to forget.”

Invisible Man,_c1890.jpg

In 1888, as he began work on a new story called “The Chronic Argonauts,” H.G. Wells drew up an account of his literary successes to date:

wells accounting

“Some day I shall succeed, I really believe,” he wrote, “but it is a weary game.”