Love, Honor, and Obey

In 1769, inspired by Rousseau’s Émile, British author Thomas Day set out to train the perfect wife. He adopted foundlings of 11 and 12 years old, named them Sabrina and Lucretia, and took them to France, where he tried to rear them in isolation.

This went well at first — under Day’s direction, Sabrina wrote to one of his friends: “I love Mr. Day dearly and Lucretia. I am learning to write. … I hope I shall have more sense against I come to England. I know the cause of night and day, winter and summer. I love Mr. Day best in the world, Mr. Bicknell next, and you next.”

But it fell apart within 18 months. When the girls began to quarrel and tease him, he returned to England, placed Lucretia with a chamber milliner, and concentrated on Sabrina. But she screamed when he fired pistols at her petticoats (trying, at Rousseau’s suggestion, to accustom her to “détonations les plus terribles”), and she winced unheroically when he dropped sealing wax on her arms. Finally he released her to a boarding school, where in time she grew up to be “an elegant and amiable woman.”

In 1780, Day finally did find a wife who “often wept but never repined” at his “frequent experiments upon her temper and attachment.” But even that didn’t last — he died, ironically, while trying to break a horse.

A Dedicated Theme

Written by German composer Peter Cornelius in 1854, “Ein Ton” has a single note for a melody — the note B is repeated 80 times in 42 bars.

I hear a tone so wondrous sweet
In heart and spirit of repeat.
Is it that breath that from thee fled,
The last faint breath e’er thou wert dead?

Nicolas Slonimsky writes, “Of course, there are constant modulations so that harmonic changes make up for monotony.”


On Feb. 29, 1868, London’s Langham Hotel sponsored a “horseflesh dinner” to see whether the popular prejudice against the eating of horses might be overcome in English society. About 150 influential Londoners dined on “saucissons de cheval,” “aloyau de de cheval farci,” and “gelée de pied de cheval au Marasquin.”

“Men looked at each other curiously while eating, and each course ran the gauntlet of puns and satire,” reported Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round.

But the consensus was negative. “There are, no doubt, numerous proofs that the flesh of the horse is, at any rate, a wholesome food, and indeed there seems no reason why it should not be,” opined the Medical Times and Gazette. “The dishes we tasted … were all palatable. … [But] horseflesh leaves a pungency on the palate that is not agreeable — a pungency that reminds one of what one has been eating for some time after the meal is over.”

“I came back from it a wiser and a sadder man,” reported zoologist Francis Trevelyan Buckland. “In my opinion, hippophagy has not the slightest chance of success in this country; for, firstly, it has to fight against prejudice, and, secondly, the meat is not good.”

Also: “During the dinner, photographs of the horses which we were eating were handed round, and the appearance of one of these was, I think, the turning point of the argument.”

United Nations

I don’t know who first observed this — the design of Norway’s flag contains those of six other countries:

norway flag

The similarities are apparently accidental — designer Fredrik Meltzer had chosen the Nordic cross to reflect his nation’s ties with Denmark and Sweden and the tricolor to evoke the liberal ideals of France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

(Thanks, Nic.)

“Music and Baldness”

An English statistician has recently been engaged in an original task, that of studying the influence of music on the hair. … While stringed instruments prevent and check the falling out of the hair, brass instruments have the most injurious effects upon it. The piano and the violin, especially the piano, have an undoubted preserving influence. The violoncello, the harp, and the double bass participate in the hair-preserving qualities of the piano. But the hautboy, the clarinet, and the Mute have only a very feeble effect. Their action is not more than a fiftieth part as strong. On the contrary, the brass instruments have results that are deplorable.

Scientific American, Aug. 29, 1896

(Summarizing the same study, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal reported that “brass instruments have a fatal influence on the growth of the hair, notably the cornet, the French horn, and the trombone, which apparently will depilate a player’s scalp in less than five years. … The baldness which prevails among members of regimental bands has been given the name of ‘trumpet baldness,’ calvitié des fanfares.”)

Beef Tack
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, five European scientists announced that cattle and deer around the world align their bodies in roughly a north-south direction when grazing or resting.

German zoologist Sabine Begall studied thousands of Google Earth images and discovered that both types of animals appear to align their bodies with magnetic north. The conclusion “appears to be quite clear-cut from the data,” observed ornithologist Wolfgang Wiltschko.

“It boggles the mind that no one — herdsman, rancher, or hunter — had noticed this before,” writes ethologist Jonathan Balcombe. “What else are we failing to notice?”

(Begall, S., et al. “Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer.” PNAS 105(36) (2008): 134510-13455.)


Dashrath Manjhi

When his wife grew ill in the early 1960s, Indian farmhand Dashrath Manjhi took her from their home in Gelaur to the hospital in the neighboring town of Wazirganj. Unfortunately, this meant a journey of 19 kilometers, as a hillock of solid rock lay between the two villages.

When he returned to Gelaur, Manjhi resolved to improve matters. Working alone with a hammer and chisel, he spent 22 years cutting a passage through a solid mass of rock 360 feet long, 25 feet high, and 30 feet wide. When he finished in the 1980s, he had reduced the route from 19 kilometers to six and the travel time from six hours to one.

When Dasrath died in 2007, the Indian state of Bihar gave him a state funeral. He is remembered today in Gelaur as “the man who moved a mountain.”

See A for Effort.

(Thanks, Jebadiah.)

Post Haste

In 2002 a Russian student emailed her postal address to a friend in France so that she could send her a Harry Potter book. Unfortunately the French friend’s email program was not set up to display Cyrillic characters; instead, it produced diacritics from the Western character set. Apparently not realizing the error, the French girl copied them down and mailed the package. Postal employees realized what had happened, deciphered the address, and delivered the book successfully. (Thanks, Nicholas.)

Readers of the Strand seemed to delight in torturing the post office. In 1908 one mailed this card, which was delivered successfully, though postal officials said it took them 20 minutes to decipher it:

The address reads “Hemhigheses Hemhayary Achhighelel, Teaarhehentea Veehayelelwhy, Oheldee Esteahayteahighhohen Achohyoueshe, Elhighseaachefhighhehelldee, Esteahayefefes.” “The puzzle … is quite an easy matter once the clue is obtained.”

This American letter was mailed late one Sunday night in 1902:

It was delivered correctly the next morning to Alfred Craven of Chattanooga, Tenn., who remarked, “I think it shows the efficiency of our postal service.” The profile is made up of the letters A. CRAVEN.

Alp Pal


In 1868, American alpinist W.A.B. Coolidge received a unique gift — Tschingel, a 3-year-old dog with a preternatural passion for mountaineering. Though he was “not at all a dog fancier,” Coolidge began to take her on expeditions, and he watched as she climbed the Torrenthorn (2,998 meters), crossed the Gemmi pass (2,316 meters), and reached the summit of the Blümlisalphorn (3,664 meters) — where she slipped on the final slope and was caught by her collar as she slid toward the Oeschinensee. “She seemed to like it very much,” he wrote, “and, so we thought, the panoramas from tops, running on ahead of us to the summit of a peak, and then running back to encourage us by showing how near we were to the wished-for goal.”

So she joined the team. Over the next 11 years Tschingel and Coolidge climbed 30 peaks and crossed 36 passes. While climbing, she was roped to her companions by a cord passed through her collar; they made leather boots to preserve her feet, but she always kicked them off. As they climbed the Aletschhorn (4,195 meters), Coolidge wrote, “my aunt went up the Sparrhorn to look at us, and we waved Tschingel in the air as a sort of red flag.”

Her greatest conquest was the Breithorn, at 4,171 meters; when she descended from Monte Rosa, some English climbers elected her an “honorary lady member” of the Alpine Club. She died in her sleep in Surrey in 1879.

Forty years later Alpine historian Monroe Thorington visited Coolidge at his home in Grindelwald. “Just when I was leaving, he pointed to the door,” he recalled later. “There on a hook was Tschingel’s collar with the little bangles shining in the sun. Not a word was said, but Coolidge managed something resembling a smile.”

See The Dog of Helvellyn and Nine Lives Left.

Monkey See

One day I paid him a visit [an orangutan at the Paris Zoological Gardens], accompanied by an illustrious old gentleman, who was a clever, shrewd observer. His somewhat peculiar costume, bent body, and slow, feeble walk at once attracted the attention of the young animal, who, while doing most complacently all that was required of him, kept his eyes fixed on the object of his curiosity. We were about leaving, when he approached his new visitor, and, with mingled gentleness and mischief, took the stick which he carried, and pretending to lean upon it, rounding his shoulders, and slackening his pace, walked round the room, imitating the figure and gait of my old friend. He then gave him back the stick of his own accord, and we took our leave, convinced that he also knew how to observe.

— M. Flourens, quoted in Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869