“I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: ‘The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that’s fair.’ In these words he epitomized the history of the human race.” — Bertrand Russell

Cold Faith


Apropos of Eskimo, I once heard a missionary describe the extraordinary difficulty he had found in translating the Bible into Eskimo. It was useless to talk of corn or wine to a people who did not know even what they meant, so he had to use equivalents within their powers of comprehension. Thus in the Eskimo version of the Scriptures the miracle of Cana of Galilee is described as turning the water into blubber; the 8th verse of the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of St. Peter ran: ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring Polar bear walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ In the same way ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’ became ‘A land flowing with whale’s blubber,’ and throughout the New Testament the words ‘Lamb of God’ had to be translated ‘little Seal of God,’ as the nearest possible equivalent. The missionary added that his converts had the lowest opinion of Jonah for not having utilised his exceptional opportunities by killing and eating the whale.

— Lord Frederic Hamiliton, The Days Before Yesterday, 1920

Trouble Above


I have fully considered the project of these our modern Dædalists, and am resolved so far to discourage it, as to prevent any person from flying in my time. It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities, and give such occasions for intrigues as people cannot meet with who have nothing but legs to carry them. You should have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument, and see the cupola of St. Paul’s covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon-house. Nothing would be more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window, or a gallant giving chaos to his mistress, like a hawk after a lark. There would be no walking in a shady wood without springing a covey of toasts. The poor husband could not dream what was doing over his head. If he were jealous, indeed, he might clip his wife’s wings, but what would this avail when there were flocks of whore-masters perpetually hovering over his house? What concern would the father of a family be in all the time his daughter was upon the wing?

— Joseph Addison, Guardian, July 20, 1713

Marching Orders

A Gentleman ought not to run or walk too fast in the Streets, lest he be suspected to be going [delivering] a Message; nor ought his pace to be too slow; nor must he take large Steps, nor too stiff and stately, nor lift his Legs too high, nor stamp hard on the Ground; neither must he swing his Arms backward and forward, nor must he carry his knees too close, nor must he go wagging his Breech, nor with his feet in a straight Line, but with the Inside of his Feet a little out; nor with his Eyes looking down, nor too much elevated, nor looking hither and thither, but with a sedate Countenance.

— Adam Petrie, Rules of Good Deportment, 1720


Image: Wikipedia

Michael Craig-Martin’s 1973 conceptual artwork An Oak Tree presents a glass of water with a plaque explaining that it’s a tree — not symbolically but literally: “The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water.”

This is a comment on transubstantiation and, by extension, on the patron’s faith in an artist’s presentation of his work, but it backfired: When the National Gallery of Australia bought the piece in 1977, customs officials barred it as “vegetation.”

Name Sense

A 1936 poser by British puzzle maven Hubert Phillips:

A man I met in Fleet Street yesterday told me the following anecdote:

‘I met yesterday (he said) a friend of mine whom I had not seen since I was at Oxford. That was some years ago and we had not, during all that time, had any communication with one another. Nor had we at Oxford any friends or acquaintances in common.

‘I was delighted to see my friend, nevertheless. “I suppose,” I said, “that lots of things have happened to you.”

‘”Why, yes,” was the answer. “I am married now and this is my little girl.”

‘I looked at the child — a pretty little thing of about six. “And what is your name, my dear,” I asked her. “Margaret,” was the reply. “Aha,” said I, “the same name as your mother’s.”‘

How did the speaker know?

Click for Answer

Weight Watchers


The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 is a landmark in English law, permitting a prisoner to challenge the lawfulness of his detention. But Parliament passed it through an absurd miscount:

Lord Grey and Lord Norris were named to be the tellers: Lord Norris, being a man subject to vapours, was not at all times attentive to what he was doing: so, a very fat lord coming in, Lord Grey counted him as ten, as a jest at first: but seeing Lord Norris had not observed it, he went on with this misreckoning of ten: so it was reported that they that were for the Bill were in the majority, though indeed it went for the other side: and by this means the Bill passed.

That account, by contemporary historian Gilbert Burnet, is borne out by the session minutes. The act remains on the statute book to this day.