Unquote

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” — Albert Einstein

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” — Oscar Wilde

“We think as we do mainly because other people think so.” — Samuel Butler

An Invitation

On Nov. 25, 1862, Abraham Lincoln sent this dispatch to Gen. Ambrose Burnside at Aquia Creek, Va.:

Can Inn Ale me withe 2 oar our Ann pas Ann me flesh ends NV Corn Inn out with U cud Inn heaven day nest Wed roe Moore Tom darkey hat Greek Why Hawk of abbott Inn B chewed I if.

What did it mean?

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Mr. Right

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In April 1935 a 29-year-old Berlin mother sent Adolf Hitler a humorous narrative — her 7-year-old daughter had fallen in love with him:

Aribert stood there flabbergasted and speechless. ‘You don’t want to marry our Hitler?’ ‘Just Hitler, no one else, the little girl says proudly. ‘I want no other husband.’ …

Little Gina stands in the middle of the room, furious and offended. ‘You don’t have to shout so stupidly, I’ll get him. Right now he still doesn’t have time to get married; but when I’m grown up, everything will already be going much better, and then he won’t have so much to do. Then I’ll become his wife.’

‘But, Gina,’ says the father, smiling. ‘He doesn’t know you. You don’t know whether he would love you or not.’ ‘He has already loved me as long as you have,’ the little lady says boldly. And then she cries in rage and bitterness: ‘All his men have got wives and children, he is the only one who is all alone. I love him so much, and I am so sorry for him.’ …

‘Hmm, are you happy too, Daddy,’ Little Gina says, giving her father a sideways glance, ‘when everybody else gets something wonderful and you are the only one who doesn’t? Are you really happy then, without being sad, because you haven’t got anything?’ …

‘But he also has to have someone who really and truly loves him. When I am his wife, then I shall set the table for him, he will always have flowers, and I shall caress and kiss him.’ …

Gina’s father put her to bed, and her brothers danced around the family’s garden, singing:

Gina wants to marry Hitler
ohoho!
Gina will someday be his wife
ohoho!

In June Albert Bormann replied, “Your nice, lively little episode has given the Leader real pleasure. The Leader wishes to thank you for the birthday greetings that you sent at the same time.” In August the family sent flowers and a letter from Gina: “We wanted so much to see you. I love you so much. Please write to me.” She signed it “Your Gina.” He never responded.

(From Henrik Eberle, ed., Letters to Hitler, 2007.)

“Note for a Biography of a Noted Television Comedian”

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Jackie Gleason
Was not exactly the voice of reason.

— Louis Phillips

Dictation

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In 1887, Irish journalist Richard Pigott sold a series of letters to the Times of London. Purportedly written by Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Parnell, they seemed to show that Parnell had approved of a savage political assassination five years earlier. Parnell denounced the letters as a “villainous and bare-faced forgery.”

In the ensuing investigation, Parnell’s attorney asked Pigott to write a series of words and submit them to the court:

livelihood
likelihood
Richard Pigott
proselytism
Patrick Egan
P. Egan
hesitency

What was the point of this?

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Fact and Fancy

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As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.

For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.

— W.H. Auden, A Certain World, 1970

Penmanship

In 1942 Niels Bohr was asked to give an address on the 300th anniversary of Isaac Newton’s birth. In discussing with Abraham Pais the themes that he might address, he wrote the word harmony on a blackboard:

bohr handwriting - harmony

As they continued to talk he grew dissatisfied with this. At last he said, “Now I’ve got it. We must change harmony to uniformity.” And he did so with “one triumphant bang”:

bohr handwriting - uniformity

Pais called this “the most remarkable act of calligraphy I shall ever witness.”

See Letter From New York.

Black and White

ognjanovic chess problem

By Zarko Ognjanovic, 1912. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Refracted Glory

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After Hart Crane’s death in 1932, scholars discovered that his poem “Emblems of Conduct” was largely a collage of lines borrowed from an unsuccessful Austrian poet named Samuel Greenberg, who had died of consumption in a New York hospital in 1917.

Critic William Murrell Fisher had shared some of Greenberg’s work with Crane in the early 1920s, noting that “when his eyes lighted on some of the poems, he became very excited. He flared up in a corner with it.” Crane later called Greenberg “a Rimbaud in embryo” whose work radiated “a quality that is unspeakably eerie.” To a friend he praised the “hobbling yet really gorgeous attempts that boy made without any education or time except when he became confined to a cot.”

Crane borrowed Greenberg’s notebooks from Fisher and began to arrange his favorite lines into a collage, which he called “Emblems of Conduct” after Greenberg’s poem “Conduct,” and Allen Tate and Malcolm Cowley persuaded him to include it in his first book of poems without knowing its origin.

Discovery of the debt raised charges of plagiarism against Crane, but there’s little indication that he intended to take credit for Greenberg’s work, and “Emblems of Conduct” brought attention to Greenberg that he might never have found otherwise. “All artists are plagiarists until they become transcenders,” wrote Clive Fisher in his 2002 biography of Crane, “but the fact remains that although we can never know what Greenberg might have achieved in a fairer world, there is nothing in the corpus of his work to equal even the secondary achievements of his famous admirer.”

Buoy Howdy

From Russian puzzle maven Boris Kordemsky:

Two diesel ships leave a pier at the same time. One travels upstream, the other downstream, each with the same motive power. As they depart, one drops a lifebuoy into the water. An hour later, both ships reverse course. Which will reach the buoy first?

Click for Answer