In a Word

chomage
n. cessation of labor

hospitize
v. to extend hospitality to

sequacious
adj. disposed to follow a leader

resipiscent
adj. brought back to one’s senses

I spent an evening at the house of the president of Harvard University. The party was waited on at tea by a domestic of the president’s, who is also Major of the Horse. On cavalry days, when guests are invited to dine with the regiment, the major, in his regimentals, takes the head of the table, and has the president on his right hand. He plays the host as freely as if no other relation existed between them. The toasts being all transacted, he goes home, doffs his regimentals, and waits on the president’s guests at tea.

— Harriet Martineau, Society in America, 1837

Character Building

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erskine_Nicol_Kept_In.jpg

“It is astonishing the influence foolish apothegms have upon the mass of mankind, though they are not unfrequently fallacies,” wrote Sydney Smith. He used to amuse himself by collecting them; the first was Because I have gone through it, my son shall go through it also:

A man gets well pummelled at a public school; is subject to every misery and every indignity which seventeen years of age can inflict upon nine and ten; has his eye nearly knocked out, and his clothes stolen and cut to pieces; and twenty years afterwards, when he is a chrysalis, and has forgotten the miseries of his grub state, is determined to act a manly part in life, and says, ‘I passed through all that myself, and I am determined my son shall pass through it as I have done;’ and away goes his bleating progeny to the tyranny and servitude of the long chamber or the large dormitory. It would surely be much more rational to say, ‘Because I have passed through it, I am determined my son shall not pass through it; because I was kicked for nothing, and cuffed for nothing, and fagged for everything, I will spare all these miseries to my child.’ It is not for any good which may be derived from this rough usage; that has not been weighed and considered; few persons are capable of weighing its effects upon character; but there is a sort of compensatory and consolatory notion, that the present generation (whether useful or not, no matter) are not to come off scot-free, but are to have their share of ill-usage; as if the black eye and bloody nose which Master John Jackson received in 1800, are less black and bloody by the application of similar violence to similar parts of Master Thomas Jackson, the son, in 1830. This is not only sad nonsense, but cruel nonsense. The only use to be derived from the recollection of what we have suffered in youth, is a fixed determination to screen those we educate from every evil and inconvenience, from subjection to which there are not cogent reasons for submitting. Can anything be more stupid and preposterous than this concealed revenge upon the rising generation, and latent envy lest they should avail themselves of the improvements time has made, and pass a happier youth than their fathers have done?

(From his memoir.)

Horizons

holmes circles

I say that conceit is just as natural a thing to human minds as a centre is to a circle. But little-minded people’s thoughts move in such small circles that five minutes’ conversation gives you an arc long enough to determine their whole curve. An arc in the movement of a large intellect does not sensibly differ from a straight line. Even if it have the third vowel [‘I’, the first-person pronoun] as its centre, it does not soon betray it. The highest thought, that is, is the most seemingly impersonal; it does not obviously imply any individual centre.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858

Motor City

corbett traffic plan

In 1923 Columbia University architect Harvey Wiley Corbett proposed a novel solution to Manhattan’s traffic problem: surrender. His Proposals for Relieving Traffic Congestion in New York had four phases:

  1. The present situation.
  2. Pedestrians are transferred from street level to bridges that are cantilevered from the buildings, and patronize shops at this level.
  3. “Cut-ins” in the buildings permit six cars to move abreast, with parking space for two cars on each side.
  4. In the end the city’s entire ground level would be an ocean of cars, increasing traffic potential 700 percent, while pedestrians crossed streets on overhead bridges.

Corbett took a strangely romantic view of this: “The whole aspect becomes that of a very modernized Venice, a city of arcades, plazas and bridges, with canals for streets, only the canals will not be filled with real water but with freely flowing motor traffic, the sun glistening on the black tops of the cars and the buildings reflecting in this waving flood of rapidly rolling vehicles.”

By 1975, Corbett wrote, Manhattan could be a network of 20-lane streets in which pedestrians walk from “island” to “island” in a “system of 2,028 solitudes.” That doesn’t feel so different from what we have today.

Related: The city of Guanajuato, Mexico, is built on extremely irregular terrain, and many of the streets are impassable to cars. To compensate, the residents have converted underground drainage ditches and tunnels into roadways (below). These had been dug for flood control during colonial times, but modern dams have left them dry. (Thanks, David.)

Swearing In

Houston attorney Robert Malinak sent this courtroom transcript to the Texas Bar Journal in 1999. He said it had been sent to him by “a credible New York lawyer”:

CLERK: Please repeat after me: “I swear by Almighty God.”

WITNESS: “I swear by Almighty God.”

CLERK: “That the evidence I give …”

WITNESS: That’s right.

CLERK: Repeat it.

WITNESS: “Repeat it.”

CLERK: No! Repeat what I said.

WITNESS: What you said when?

CLERK: “That the evidence that I give …”

WITNESS: “That the evidence that I give.”

CLERK: “Shall be the truth and …”

WITNESS: It will, and nothing but the truth!

CLERK: Please, just repeat after me: “Shall be the truth and …”

WITNESS: “Shall be the truth and.”

CLERK: Say: “Nothing …”

WITNESS: Okay. (remains silent)

CLERK: No! Don’t say nothing. Say: “Nothing but the truth …”

WITNESS: Yes.

CLERK: Well? Do so.

WITNESS: You’re confusing me.

CLERK: Just say: “Nothing but the truth …”

WITNESS: Okay. I understand.

CLERK: Then say it.

WITNESS: What?

CLERK: “Nothing but the truth …”

WITNESS: But I do! That’s just it.

CLERK: You must say: “Nothing but the truth …”

WITNESS: I WILL say nothing but the truth!

CLERK: Please, just repeat these four words: “Nothing” — “But” — “The” — “Truth.”

WITNESS: What? You mean, like, now?

CLERK: Yes! Now. Please. Just say those four words.

WITNESS: Nothing. But. The. Truth.

CLERK: Thank you.

WITNESS: I’m just not a scholar.

Domestic Situations

A couple of items concerning servants: In his Memoirs and Anecdotes, Philip Thicknesse notes that in 1742 the Duke of Somerset had his dinners announced in a sort of diminishing echo:

… a servant entered, holding a silver staff in his right hand, something like a bishop’s crozier, and bare headed, announced the splendid repast three times thus; Forte, — Piano, — Pianissimo. My Lord Duke of Somerset. — My Lord Duke of Somerset. — My Lord Duke of Somerset. Your Grace’s dinner is upon the table.

“I believe my brother was the only undignified clergyman who was ever admitted to such an honor,” writes Thicknesse, “and as he died suddenly, a few days after, he died without knowing why this singular mark of attention was shown him.”

In a 1788 letter, Horace Walpole mentions the very aged Lady Philipps, the wife of a cousin. The family had a favorite African servant, “who has lived with them a great many years, and is remarkably sensible. To amuse Lady Philipps under a long illness, they had read to her the account of the Pelew Islands. Somebody happened to say we were sending a ship thither; the black, who was in the room, exclaimed, ‘Then there is an end of their happiness.'” Walpole writes, “What a satire on Europe!”

Worldly Wise

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Picture 060

Proverbs from around the world:

  • A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. (English)
  • Impulse manages all things badly. (Latin)
  • It is not the thief who is hanged, but the one who is caught stealing. (Czech)
  • Never promise a poor man, and never owe a rich one. (Brazilian)
  • A fool at forty is a fool indeed. (Ethiopian)
  • Quarrelsome dogs come limping home. (Swedish)
  • A canoe does not know who is king: when it turns over, everyone gets wet. (Malagasy)
  • A thousand regrets do not pay one debt. (Turkish)
  • Every road leads somewhere. (Filipino)
  • He who steals a needle will steal an ox. (Korean)
  • Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing. (French)
  • The tongue is the neck’s worst enemy. (Egyptian)
  • If work were good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor. (Haitian)
  • Happiness is not a horse that can be harnessed. (Russian)
  • Relatives are scorpions. (Tunisian)
  • Silence does not make mistakes. (Hindi)

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

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“On cold days people manage to get some warmth by crowding together,” writes Schopenhauer in his Counsels and Maxims, “and you can warm your mind in the same way — by bringing it into contact with others. But a man who has a great deal of intellectual warmth in himself will stand in no need of such resources.” He offers this parable:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told — in the English phrase — to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

“As a general rule,” he writes, “it may be said that a man’s sociability stands very nearly in inverse ratio to his intellectual value: to say that ‘so and so’ is very unsociable, is almost tantamount to saying that he is a man of great capacity.”

The Lucy Stone League

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When Lucy Stone married Henry Browne Blackwell in 1855, she tried to keep her own name, signing her correspondence “Lucy Stone – only.” She was told she could vote and register property only as Lucy Stone Blackwell, but she carried her birth name throughout her life.

In 1921, inspired by this example, New York journalist Ruth Hale founded the Lucy Stone League, declaring that “a wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.” (Hale’s husband was columnist Heywood Broun, but “the only one in her household called Mrs. Heywood Broun was the cat.”)

The social pressure they faced was enormous — the women found it difficult to open a bank account, get an insurance policy or a library card, register a copyright, receive a paycheck, or vote. Immediately after her wedding to Edward L. Bernays in 1922, member Doris Fleischman made headlines by signing into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel using her maiden name. It took her four years to get the State Department to issue a passport, and she spent another 26 years trying to get hotel clerks, social acquaintances, and even her own parents and children to accept her as Doris Fleischman.

She was still fighting at age 57. “Mrs. stands to the right of me, and Miss stands to the left,” she wrote. “Me is a ghost somewhere in the middle.”

Field Reports

Explorers of foreign countries can produce strikingly different maps — here’s Joseph Husson’s Map of a Woman’s Heart (1840):

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_a_woman%27s_heart_(11858147624).jpg

And here’s D.W. Kellogg’s Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart (circa 1833-1842):

http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Exhibitions/Beauty/true.htm

Who’s right? Looks like the safest plan is to drop into the center by parachute.