Getting the Point

Sixteenth-century England had some singularly inept bowmen:

In 1552, at about 3 pm on the 28th October, Henry Pert, gentleman, went out to play at Welbeck [Nottinghamshire] and drew his bow so fully with an arrow in it that he lodged the arrow in his bow. Afterwards, intending to make the arrow climb straight into the air, he shot the arrow from his bow while leaning slightly over the bow. Because his face was directly over the arrow as it climbed upwards it struck him over his left eyelid and into his head to the membrane of his brain. Thus the said arrow, worth one farthing, gave him a wound of which he immediately languished, and lay languishing until 12 pm on 29th October when he died, by misadventure.

In The Romance of Archery, historian Hugh D.H. Soar adds, “The coroner was sufficiently curious about this circumstance to take matters a little further. He inquired how this accident could happen and was told by knowledgeable colleagues that the unfortunate Henry was notable for using too short an arrow and regularly drawing it inside his bow.”


  • Dick Gregory gave his twin daughters the middle names Inte and Gration.
  • Trains were invented before bicycles.
  • “We must believe in free will — we have no choice.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

“How Rumors Spread,” a palindrome by Fred Yannantuono:

“Idiot to idiot to idiot to idiot to idiot to idi …”


In 1929 James Barrie donated all his revenues from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. After Barrie died in 1937, the copyright became a major source of revenue for the hospital. Normally in the United Kingdom a copyright lasts until 50 years after the author’s death, so Peter Pan entered the public domain at the end of 1987.

It entered copyright protection again in 1995 under the EU “harmony” regulations, which extended copyright to 70 years after the author’s death. That should have put Peter Pan back in the public domain in 2007.

But in 1988 the government had added a special amendment to the law governing intellectual property:

The provisions of Schedule 6 have effect for conferring on trustees for the benefit of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, a right to a royalty in respect of the public performance, commercial publication, broadcasting or inclusion in a cable programme service of the play ‘Peter Pan’ by Sir James Matthew Barrie, or of any adaptation of that work, notwithstanding that copyright in the work expired on 31 December 1987.

So, uniquely, the boy who wouldn’t grow up has a copyright that will never expire — under U.K. law, it extends perpetually from 1988 onward.

(From John Sutherland and Stephen Fender, Love, Sex, Death & Words, 2010. Plagiarism Today has all the details.)

The Alphabet of Nature

Philologist Alexander John Ellis wanted to describe the sounds made by every human speaker, and to record them as objectively as possible in a universal alphabet, so that anyone could accurately record speech in any language. He acknowledged that “it would be impossible to make the whole world pronounce alike,” but he thought that the system illustrated above could be a step toward “a just, philosophical, and natural analysis and arrangement of spoken sounds.”

The passage runs:

The third question that we had to consider was: is it possible or expedient to bring such an alphabet as this into common use? Alphabetical writing was certainly intended originally to be a guide to the sound of words, and that only; whether at first sufficient attention was paid to this point, whether the first alphabet was perfect, does not now admit of satisfactory investigation; but it would seem at any rate that the vowel department was much disregarded, and perhaps not even all the consonants were properly discriminated. …

Beyond its practical value, Ellis seemed to hope that recording language phonetically would reduce its cultural connotations, resulting in a more just world. “Ellis believes that his ‘alphabet of nature’ would in fact free letters from implying a particular world view, a theory supremely indicative of a nineteenth-century faith in objective science,” writes Laurence de Looze in The Letter & the Cosmos. “The utopian drive of universal communication peeks through the modern, scientific program.”

The Lucy Stone League

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.”

Happy Landings

On Sept. 13, 1962, test pilot Bob Sowray told his neighbor, photographer Jim Meads, that he’d be flying an English Electric Lightning F1 jet bomber that day, so Meads brought his camera along when he took his kids for a walk, hoping to photograph the return approach. He found a good position on the runway overshoot and waited for the plane to arrive.

In the end it was pilot George Aird who was assigned to fly the Lightning, and as he approached the airfield a fire in the rear fuselage destroyed the tailplane control system at a height of only 100 feet.

Landscaping assistant Mick Sutterby was just telling Meads that the airfield runway was off limits when beyond him Meads saw the Lightning’s nose pitch up and Aird eject. He had just enough time to line up the shot and snap the shutter before the jet came down nose first.

Aird and his ejection seat crashed through the glass roof of a nearby greenhouse, where they landed in adjacent rows of tomatoes. Aird said later that when the water from the sprinkler system roused him, he thought he must be in heaven. He had broken both legs, but he was flying again in six months.

The Daily Mail rejected Meads’ photo as fake, but the Daily Mirror paid him £1,000 for it. It appeared in the center spread on Oct. 9, 1962.

More details at Fear of Landing.

Southern Literature

south polar times 1

During Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition, 1901–04, Ernest Shackleton edited an illustrated magazine, the South Polar Times, to entertain the crew. Each issue consisted of a single typewritten copy that would circulate among up to 47 readers aboard the Discovery, Scott’s steam-powered barque, through each of two dark winters. Contributors would drop their anonymous essays, articles, and poems into a mahogany letterbox, and Shackleton composed each issue on a Remington typewriter perched atop a storeroom packing case.

The first issue appeared on April 23, 1902, and was, Shackleton noted, “greatly praised!” Scott wrote, “I can see again a row of heads bent over a fresh monthly number to scan the latest efforts of our artists, and I can hear the hearty laughter at the sallies of our humorists and the general chaff when some sly allusion found its way home. Memory recalls also the proud author expectant of the turn of the page that should reveal his work and the shy author desirous that his pages should be turned quickly.”

Shackleton was invalided home that summer, but other crewmembers took over the magazine for him that winter and indeed again on Scott’s second expedition in 1911. BBC History has some scans.

south polar times 2

(Anne Fadiman, “The World’s Most Southerly Periodical,” Harvard Review 43 [2012], 98-115.)

Flight Insurance

Again, speaking of probability, there is the story of the statistician who told a friend that he never takes airplanes. When asked why, he replied that he computed the probability that there be a bomb on the plane, and that although the probability was low, it was too high for his comfort.

A week later, the friend met him on a plane and asked him why he changed his theory. He replied: ‘I didn’t change my theory. It’s just that I subsequently computed the probability that there simultaneously be two bombs on the plane. This is low enough for my comfort, and so I now carry my own bomb.’

— Raymond Smullyan, A Mixed Bag, 2016

Field Reports

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

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

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