In 1890 the editor of the New York World invited Mark Twain to offer a message of holiday goodwill to its readers. He sent this:
It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us — the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage — may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss — except the inventor of the telephone.
Hartford, Dec. 23
In 1799, Massachusetts passed a law restricting private banking companies from issuing their own currency notes without the consent of the legislature. This was well intended: If unlimited paper money were allowed to circulate, the resulting inflation would play havoc with the finances of ordinary people.
Unfortunately, the result was that legitimate currency became harder and harder to find. In Maine, where only a single bank existed, people were increasingly desperate for currency, and so the Portland merchant John Taber began to circulate notes for 1, 2, 3, and 4 dollars, payable to the bearer in silver on demand, despite the law:
This worked for a while, propped up by Taber’s reputation. But Taber’s profligate son Daniel began to print bills for his own use as he needed them, and when Massachusetts repealed its law John Taber and Son were forced into bankruptcy.
When it was over, Taber approached his old partner Samuel Hussey, who owed him $60. Hussey invited him into his counting room, counted out the amount in Taber’s own now-worthless bills, and asked for a receipt.
Taber said nervously, “Now, thee knows, friend Hussey, this money is not good now.”
“Well, well, that is not my fault,” said Hussey. “Thee ought to have made it better.”
(From the Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society, 1898.)
“Happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found with those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.” — Aristotle
“Money only appeals to selfishness and always tempts its owners irresistibly to abuse it. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus, or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?” — Albert Einstein, The World As I See It, 1949
Where wealth and freedom reign, contentment fails,
And honour sinks where commerce long prevails.
— Oliver Goldsmith, The Traveller, 1764
“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” – Epictetus
“The most necessary disposition to relish pleasures is to know how to be without them.” — Marquise de Lambert, A Mother’s Advice to Her Son, 1726
“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” — Bertrand Russell
“Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.” — Benjamin Franklin
W.S. Gilbert’s neighbor in the country was a partner in a firm that was famous for its relishes, pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves. He had been made a baronet but “had grown very touchy about the source of his wealth and his title,” recalled DeWolf Hopper, “and was rather a hoity-toity neighbor.”
One day Gilbert’s dogs killed some pheasants on the man’s property, and he wrote a curt note of protest to the author. Gilbert wrote back:
Dear Sir Alfred:
I am extremely sorry about the loss of your pheasants, and I am taking steps to prevent my dogs from trespassing on your preserves in the future.
P.S. You will pardon my use of the word ‘preserves,’ won’t you?
In his 1927 autobiography, Hopper also recalls:
Someone once challenged Gilbert to make up a verse offhand riming the words ‘Timbuctoo’ and ‘cassowary’. He studied for a moment and recited:
If I were a cassowary in Timbuctoo,
I’d eat a missionary and his hymn book too.
On May 22, 1856, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks approached Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the U.S. Senate chamber. “Mr. Sumner,” he said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” Then he began to beat Sumner savagely with his gold-headed walking cane. Blinded with blood, Sumner at first was trapped under the desk, which was bolted to the floor, but he wrenched it free and staggered up the aisle, Brooks raining blows on his head until the cane snapped and Sumner collapsed unconscious. Even then Brooks held him by the lapel and continued to beat him with half the cane until the two were separated.
Sumner had denounced South Carolina senator Andrew Butler in a speech two days earlier in a dispute over slavery in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Brooks was convicted of assault and fined $300, but he received no prison sentence, and his constituents returned him to office. Pro-slavery Southerners sent him hundreds of new canes, one inscribed “Hit him again.”
On Nov. 9, 1889, Col. A.M. Swope encountered Col. William Cassius Goodloe in the corridor of the Lexington, Ky., post office. The two had been battling for control of the state Republican party, and tragically they had adjoining mailboxes.
“You obstruct the way,” said Goodloe.
“You spoke to me,” said Swope. “You insulted me.”
Goodloe drew a knife. Swope drew a Smith & Wesson .38. Goodloe stabbed Swope 13 times, piercing his heart and nearly cutting off his hand. Swope shot Goodloe twice, tearing up his belly and setting his clothes afire. Swope died on the post office floor, and Goodloe staggered to a doctor’s office. He died two days later.
One witness said he never thought he would witness “such a magnificent display of manly courage and bravery.” Goodloe’s uncle, Cassius M. Clay, said of his nephew’s conduct, “I couldn’t have done better myself.”
More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:
- “We endeavour to get Reputation by those Faults we won’t amend.”
- “We never desire vehemently what we desire rationally.”
- “Whatever Distrust we may have of People’s Sincerity, we always believe they are more ingenuous with us than with any body else.”
- “We promise according to our Hopes, and perform according to our Fears.”
- “Repentance is not so much Remorse for what we have done, as Fear of its Consequences.”
- “Our Enemies come nearer the Truth in their Judgment of us, than we do ourselves.”
- “We don’t despise all those who have Vices, but we despise all those who have no Virtues.”
- “None but such as are contemptible are apprehensive of Contempt.”
- “That Conduct often seems ridiculous the secret Reasons of which are wise and solid.”
- “Censorious as the World is, it oftner shews Favour to false Merit, than it does Injustice to true.”
- “Our Fancy sets the Value on all we receive from Fortune.”
And “We take less Pains to be happy, as to appear so.”
Personal ads from the New York Herald in the 1860s:
IF THE LADY WHO, FROM AN OMNIBUS, SMILED on a gentleman with a bunch of bananas in his hand, as he crossed Wall street, corner of Broadway, will address X., box 6,735 Post office, she will confer a favor. (March 21, 1866)
ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON A LADY WITH black silk quilted hat walked nearly side by side with a gentleman in a drab overcoat from Tenth to Fourteenth street, in Broadway. Both were annoyed by the wind and dust. Her smile has haunted him ever since. Will she send her address to Carl, Union square Post office? (March 8, 1861)
BOOTH’S THEATRE, THURSDAY EVENING, 11TH. Will the lady who met the gent’s gaze through an opera glass and smiled please address, in confidence, Harry Wilton, Herald office? (March 13, 1869)
A YEAR AGO LAST SEPTEMBER OR OCTOBER TWO ladies with a child were travelling on the Hudson River cars, one of whom offered a seat to a middle aged gentleman, with light whiskers or goatee, slightly gray, who kindly pointed out to her the red leaved trees, and said he had a number of them on his place, and made himself otherwise agreeable; and when she was leaving him (ten miles this side of where he stopped) gave her a parting embrace, which she has never been able to forget. If the gentleman has any recollection of the circumstance he will greatly oblige by addressing a note to Lena Bigelow, Madison square Post office, giving some description of the lady, also name of the paper he gave her. (Jan. 25, 1862)
When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. That we were not alone in this thought is evidenced by the fact that the French Peace Society presented us with medals on account of our invention. We thought governments would realize the impossibility of winning by surprise attacks, and that no country would enter into war with another of equal size when it knew that it would have to win by simply wearing out its enemy.
— Orville Wright to C.M. Hitchcock, June 21, 1917
One of democracy’s ideals is egalitarianism: Each person gets one vote, and all votes are equally consequential, so that all people have equal power over the world. For that reason we consider it improper for one person to vote twice in the same election. But then shouldn’t we also consider it improper for dual citizens to cast votes in two different places?
It’s true that dual citizens vote in different elections, but they’re still exercising twice as much power over the world as other voters. And it’s true that power is already unequally distributed among the world’s voters, but this is no reason to shrink from the ideal.
The fact that a dual citizen has the legal right to cast two ballots doesn’t mean that this accords with democratic principles. Suppose that Texas passed a law saying that any native-born Texan can vote in Texas, regardless of where he currently lives. Then a Texan living in Pennsylvania could cast ballots in both states, whereas a native Pennsylvanian could vote only once. This might be legal, but we would object morally to the unfairness of such a law.
Given the unequal influence of the world’s nations, one idealistic way to equalize power among all voters would be to give everyone a right to vote in every election, everywhere. This would give each of us an equal amount of power over the world. “That vision remains pretty visionary, we concede,” write Robert E. Goodin and Ana Tanasoca. “Still, visions matter.”
(Robert E. Goodin and Ana Tanasoca, “Double Voting,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 92, no. 4, 743-758.)
Eleven fenmen from the Isle of Ely, being employed by Sir John Griffin, in training a part of his park at Audley End, went one evening to the Inn called The Hoops, to drink. After getting a little spirited, they told the maid, they would give sixpence each to fetch them as much beer they could drink, in half-pints out of the cellar; if they tired her, she was to pay for the liquor; if she tired them, they were to pay for the whole. The girl accepted the bet, although she had been washing all the day, and drew them 517 single half-pints, before they gave out, which were all drank by the said men. The distance from the room where they sat, to the tap, was measured, from which it appears she walked near 12 miles in fetching it; and the quantity of liquor drank by each man was about three gallons in three hours. The above is the real fact.
— Police Gazette, Feb. 17, 1775
$25 DOLLAR reward will be paid for the detection of the cowardly thief, who is in the habit of sneaking and creeping up to the door of No. 10, City Hall Place, and stealing the Sun newspaper from under the door. The above reward will be paid for the information left at the Sun office: and a regular roasting is promised the low, guilty, nigardly thief.
— New York Sun, Feb. 29, 1840
“It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.” — Leonardo
“I cannot afford to waste my time making money.” — Louis Agassiz
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” — Charles Bukowski
A curious classified ad from the New York Herald, March 30, 1849:
Found, four dollars, while leaving the cars at Paterson, in the summer of 1845. The loser (or agent) is requested to identify, in some respect, and receive the amount with interest. Address, pre-paid, I Found, Lower Post Office, N. Y. city.
Sara Bader featured the ad in her 2005 collection Strange Red Cow. “We have no idea what motivated this advertiser, who apparently waited years before stepping forward to return this money.”
Frightened villagers “killed” the first hydrogen balloon, launched in Paris by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis on Aug. 27, 1783. Allen Andrews, in Back to the Drawing Board: The Evolution of Flying Machines, quotes a contemporary account:
It is presumed that it was carried to a height of more than 20,000 feet, when it burst by the reaction of the Inflammable Gas upon the Atmospheric Air. It fell at three quarters past five near Gonesse, ten miles [actually, 15 miles] from the Field of Mars. The affrightened inhabitants ran together, appalled by the Hellish stench of sulphur, and two monks having assured them it was the skin of a Monstrous Animal, they attacked it with stones, pitchforks and flails. The Curate of the village was obliged to attend in order to sprinkle it with holy water and remove the fears of his astonished parishioners. At last they tied to the tail of a horse the first Instrument that was ever made for an Experiment in Natural Philosophy, and trained it across the field more than 6000 feet.
Perhaps forewarned, the first man to undertake a balloon flight in North America carried a pass from George Washington.
adj. haughty, arrogant, pretentious, or showy
adj. barbarous, uncivilized
v. to regard as insignificant or of no account
In 1937 photographer Jimmy Sime caught sight of five boys outside Lord’s Cricket Ground during the annual Eton vs. Harrow match. Peter Wagner and Tim Dyson were Harrow students awaiting a ride to the Wagners’ country home in Surrey, and George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young were working-class boys who had spent the morning at the dentist and hoped to earn some money running errands at Lord’s.
Sime’s photo filled three columns of the News Chronicle‘s front page on July 10 under the headline “Every Picture Tells a Story.” It has been reprinted widely since as an illustration of the British class system, sometimes with the title Toffs and Toughs.
In 1998, journalist Geoffrey Levy tracked down Young and Salmon, then in their 70s, and asked whether they’d resented the Harrow boys. “Nah,” Young said. “We had our lives, they had theirs.” Salmon said, “In those days you accepted what you were and what they were, and got on with it.”
It seems a bit arrogant that those of us in the United States refer to ourselves as “Americans” when more than half a billion other people live in the Americas. But what should we call ourselves instead?
“You have properly observed that we can no longer be called Anglo-Americans,” noted Thomas Jefferson in a letter after the Revolution. “That appellation describes now only the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. I had applied that of Federo Americans to our citizens, as it would not be so decent for us to assume to ourselves the flattering appellation of free Americans.”
What’s a better term? In 1992 Columbia University etymologist Allen Walker Read compiled a list of suggestions that have been made over the years:
- United Statesards
- United Statesese
- United Statesians
- United Statesmen
- United Statesers
- U.S. men
- United Stateans
Perhaps we’re all counterfeit: In early usage “Americans” applied not to European colonists but to the native Indians whose territory they were invading. John Locke wrote in 1671: “So if you should ask an American how old his son is, i.e., what the length of duration was between his birth and this moment, he would … tell you his son was 30 or 40 moons old as it happened.”
(Allen Walker Read, “Derivative Forms From the Name United States,” paper read at the 31st annual Names Institute sponsored by The American Name Society, Baruch College of The City University of New York, May 2, 1992.)
Editorial guidelines from Spicy Detective magazine, 1935:
- In describing breasts of a female character, avoid anatomical descriptions.
- If it is necessary for the story to have the girl give herself to a man, or be taken by him, do not go too carefully into details. …
- Whenever possible, avoid complete nudity of the female characters. You can have a girl strip to her underwear or transparent negligee or nightgown, or the thin torn shred of her garments, but while the girl is alive and in contact with a man, we do not want complete nudity.
- A nude female corpse is allowable, of course.
- Also a girl undressing in the privacy of her own room, but when men are in the action try to keep at least a shred of something on the girls.
- Do not have men in underwear in scenes with women, and no nude men at all.
“The idea is to have a very strong sex element in these stories without anything that might be intrepreted as being vulgar or obscene.”
(From Nicholas Parsons, The Book of Literary Lists, 1987.)
“I adore war. It is like a big picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic. I’ve never been so well or so happy. No one grumbles at one for being dirty.” So wrote professional soldier and poet Julian Grenfell in October 1914, shortly after arriving at the western front.
The unparalleled horrors of the First World War seemed to call forth untapped reserves of mannerly British sang-froid, a “stoical reticence” that artillery officer P.H. Pilditch traced to training in the public schools: “Everything is toned down. … Nothing is ‘horrible.’ That word is never used in public. Things are ‘darned unpleasant,’ ‘Rather nasty,’ or, if very bad, simply ‘damnable.'”
General James Jack reported, “On my usual afternoon walk today a shrapnel shell scattered a shower of bullets around me in an unpleasant manner.” When Private R.W. Mitchell moved to trenches in Hebuterne in June 1916, he complained of “strafing and a certain dampness.”
This unreality reached its peak in the Field Service Post Card, which soldiers were required to complete to reassure next of kin after a particularly dangerous engagement:
I am quite well.
I have been admitted into hospital (sick) (wounded) (and am going on well) (and hope to be discharged soon).
I am being sent down to base.
I have received your (letter dated ____) (telegram dated ____) (parcel dated ____)
Letter follows at first opportunity.
I have received no letter from you (lately) (for a long time).
A soldier would cross out any text that did not apply, perhaps leaving only the line “I am quite well.” “The implicit optimism of the post card is worth noting,” writes Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), “the way it offers no provision for transmitting news like ‘I have lost my left leg’ or ‘I have been admitted into hospital wounded and do not expect to recover.’ Because it provided no way of saying ‘I am going up the line again’ its users have to improvise. Wilfred Owen had an understanding with his mother that when he used a double line to cross out ‘I am being sent down to the base,’ he meant he was at the front again.”
Only three countries have not officially adopted the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.
In October 2013 Myanmar announced that it plans to make the switch.
Satirists must make difficult masters. Jonathan Swift spent 28 years amassing grievances about his servants and published them in a sarcastic list in 1731:
- To save time and trouble, cut your apples and onions with the same knife, for well-bred gentry love the taste of an onion in everything they eat.
- Never send up a leg of a fowl at supper, while there is a cat or a dog in the house that can be accused of running away with it: but, if there happen to be neither, you must lay it upon the rats, or a strange greyhound.
- When you are chidden for a fault, as you go out of the room, and down stairs, mutter loud enough to be plainly heard; this will make him believe you are innocent.
- When any servant comes home drunk, and cannot appear, you must all join in telling your master, that he is gone to bed very sick.
- In order to learn the secrets of other families, tell your brethren those of your master’s; thus you will grow a favourite both at home and abroad, and regarded as a person of importance.
- When you have done a fault, be always pert and insolent, and behave yourself as if you were the injured person; this will immediately put your master or lady off their mettle.
- Never submit to stir a finger in any business but that for which you were particularly hired. For example, if the groom be drunk or absent, and the butler be ordered to shut the stable door, the answer is ready, An please your Honour, I don’t understand Horses.
- Leave a pail of dirty water with the mop in it, a coal-box, a bottle, a broom, a chamber pot, and such other unsightly things, either in a blind entry or upon the darkest part of the back stairs, that they may not be seen, and if people break their shins by trampling on them, it is their own fault.
Samuel Johnson remarked that Swift must have taken copious notes, “for such a number of particulars could never have been assembled by the power of recollection.”
n. a severing of peaceful relations
n. a recital of wrongs before declaring war
One characteristic incident of his fearlessness occurred when friends of Mahler recommended the Berlin Royal Opera to engage him just before he had signed to go to Hamburg. The intendant at the German capital, who was said to be anti-Semitic, is reported to have replied, ‘We cannot engage Mahler here, as we do not like the shape of his nose.’ When in 1897 Vienna offered Mahler the directorial and managerial control of its opera, Berlin suddenly awoke to the importance of the artist who was leaving Germany, and made him a proposition financially better than the one from Vienna. Mahler at once signed the contract to go to the banks of the Danube and telegraphed Berlin: ‘Regret that I cannot accept. My nose still the same shape.’
— Musical Courier, quoted in Current Literature, July 1911
See Late Acceptance.
Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics took China by storm — phrases such as the strong are victorious and the weak perish resonated in the national consciousness and “spread like a prairie fire, setting ablaze the hearts and blood of many young people,” noted philosopher Hu Shih.
People even adopted Darwin’s ideas as names. “The once famous General Chen Chiung-ming called himself ‘Ching-tsun’ or ‘Struggling for Existence.’ Two of my schoolmates bore the names ‘Natural Selection Yang’ and ‘Struggle for Existence Sun.’
“Even my own name bears witness to the great vogue of evolutionism in China. I remember distinctly the morning when I asked my second brother to suggest a literary name for me. After only a moment’s reflection, he said, ‘How about the word shih [fitness] in the phrase “Survival of the Fittest”?’ I agreed and, first using it as a nom de plume, finally adopted it in 1910 as my name.”
(Hu Shih, Living Philosophies, 1931.)
v. to disturb by interrupting
In late 1908 Douglas Mawson, Alastair Mackay, and Edgeworth David left Ernest Shackleton’s party in hopes of discovering the location of the South Magnetic Pole. On Dec. 11, while Mackay left the camp to reconnoiter, David prepared to sketch the mountains and Mawson retired into the tent to work on his camera equipment:
I was busy changing photographic plates in the only place where it could be done — inside the sleeping bag. … Soon after I had done up the bag, having got safely inside, I heard a voice from outside — a gentle voice — calling:
‘Hullo!’ said I.
‘Oh, you’re in the bag changing plates, are you?’
There was a silence for some time. Then I heard the Professor calling in a louder tone:
I answered again. Well the Professor heard by the sound I was still in the bag, so he said:
‘Oh, still changing plates, are you?’
More silence for some time. After a minute, in a rather loud and anxious tone:
I thought there was something up, but could not tell what he was after. I was getting rather tired of it and called out:
‘Hullo. What is it? What can I do?’
‘Well, Mawson, I am in a rather dangerous position. I am really hanging on by my fingers to the edge of a crevasse, and I don’t think I can hold on much longer. I shall have to trouble you to come out and assist me.’
I came out rather quicker than I can say. There was the Professor, just his head showing and hanging on to the edge of a dangerous crevasse.
David later explained, “I had scarcely gone more than six yards from the tent, when the lid of a crevasse suddenly collapsed under me. I only saved myself from going right down by throwing my arms out and staying myself on the snow lid on either side.”
Mawson helped him out, and David began his sketching. The party reached the pole in January.