In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zelda_Fitzgerald,_1922.png

redamancy
n. the act of loving in return

Zelda to Scott Fitzgerald, spring 1919 or 1920:

I look down the tracks and see you coming – and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me – Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think – or live – I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so – and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest – I love you – and I can’t tell you how much – To think that I’ll die without your knowing – Goofo, you’ve got to try to feel how much I do – how inanimate I am when you’re gone – I can’t even hate these damnable people – Nobodys got any right to live but us – and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so – Come Quick – Come Quick to me – I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper – if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me – I still would want you I know

Lover, Lover, Darling –

Your Wife

STOP

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When John Barrymore was on his deathbed in 1942, he received a wire from W.C. Fields.

It said YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME.

Stet

“In all the proof that has reached me, windrow has been spelled window. If, in the bound book, windrow still appears as window, then neither rain nor hail nor gloom of night nor fleets of riot squads will prevent me from assassinating the man who is responsible. If the coward hides behind my finding, I shall step into Scribner’s and merely shoot up the place Southern style.” — American author Gordon Dorrance (1890-1957), note to his publishers

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.” — Raymond Chandler, to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly

A publisher once took the liberty of editing an introduction that Mark Twain had contributed to a book on Joan of Arc. Twain returned a commentary on the edits. Some highlights:

  • First line. What is the trouble with “at the”? And why “Trial?” Has some uninstructed person deceived you into the notion that there was but one, instead of half a dozen?
  • Amongst. Wasn’t “among” good enough? …
  • Second Paragraph. Now you have begun on my punctuation. Don’t you realize that you ought not to intrude your help in a delicate art like that, with your limitations? And do you think you have added just the right smear of polish to the closing clause of the sentence?
  • Second Paragraph. How do you know it was his “own” sword? It could have been a borrowed one, I am cautious in matters of history, and you should not put statements in my mouth for which you cannot produce vouchers. Your other corrections are rubbish. …
  • Fifth Paragraph. Thus far, I regard this as your masterpiece! You are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple and dignified speech to clumsy and vapid commonplace.
  • Sixth Paragraph. You have a singularly fine and aristocratic disrespect for homely and unpretending English. Every time I use “go back” you get out your polisher and slick it up to “return.” “Return” is suited only to the drawing-room — it is ducal, and says itself with a simper and a smirk. …
  • II. In Captivity. “Remainder.” It is curious and interesting to notice what an attraction a fussy, mincing, nickel-plated artificial word has for you. This is not well.
  • Third Sentence. But she was held to ransom; it wasn’t a case of “should have been” and it wasn’t a case of “if it had been offered”; it was offered, and also accepted, as the second paragraph shows. You ought never to edit except when awake. …
  • Third Paragraph. … “Break another lance” is a knightly and sumptuous phrase, and I honor it for its hoary age and for the faithful service it has done in the prize-composition of the schoolgirl, but I have ceased from employing it since I got my puberty, and must solemnly object to fathering it here. And besides, it makes me hint that I have broken one of those things before, in honor of the Maid, an intimation not justified by the facts. I did not break any lances or other furniture, I only wrote a book about her.

The full list is in his autobiography. “It cost me something to restrain myself and say these smooth and half-flattering things to this immeasurable idiot,” Twain wrote, “but I did it and have never regretted it. For it is higher and nobler to be kind to even a shad like him than just. If we should deal out justice only, in this world, who would escape?”

Black and White

pierce chess problem

By W. Timbrell Pierce. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

The Right Foot

Letter from Lewis Carroll to Adelaide Paine, March 8, 1880:

My dear Ada, — (Isn’t that your short name? ‘Adelaide’ is all very well, but you see when one’s dreadfully busy one hasn’t time to write such long words — particularly when it takes one half an hour to remember how to spell it — and even then one has to go and get a dictionary to see if one has spelt it right, and of course the dictionary is in another room, at the top of a high bookcase — where it has been for months and months, and has got all covered with dust — so one has to get a duster first of all, and nearly choke oneself in dusting it — and when one has made out at last which is dictionary and which is dust, even then there’s the job of remembering which end of the alphabet ‘A’ comes — for one feels pretty certain it isn’t in the middle — then one has to go and wash one’s hands before turning over the leaves — for they’ve got so thick with dust one hardly knows them by sight — and, as likely as not, the soap is lost, and the jug is empty, and there’s no towel, and one has to spend hours and hours in finding things — and perhaps after all one has to go off to the shop to buy a new cake of soap — so, with all this bother, I hope you won’t mind my writing it short and saying, ‘My dear Ada’).

You said in your last letter that you would like a likeness of me; so here it is, and I hope you will like it. I won’t forget to call the next time but one I’m in Wallington.

Your very affectionate friend,

Lewis Carroll

Q.E.D.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clement_Vallandigham_-_Brady-Handy.jpg

Clement Vallandigham accidentally shot himself demonstrating how one might accidentally shoot oneself. The Ohio lawyer was representing a defendant accused of killing a man in a barroom brawl. Vallandigham wanted to show that the victim might have shot himself while trying to draw his pistol from a kneeling position.

“I’ll show you how Tom Myers shot himself,” he said to his fellow defense attorneys in discussing the case. He put a gun into his pocket and began to draw it. “There, that’s the way Myers held it,” he said, “only he was getting up, not standing erect.” And he touched the trigger.

“A sudden flash — the half suppressed sound of a shot — and Clement L. Vallandigham, with an expression of agony, exclaimed: ‘My God, I’ve shot myself!’ and reeled toward the wall a wounded and dying man — wounded and dying by his own hands.”

He died of peritonitis, but he’d proved his point — the defendant was acquitted.

Podcast Episode 21: A Gallant German Fighter Ace

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_B-17F_42-29513_in_flight,_1943.jpg

In December 1943, American bomber pilot Charlie Brown was flying a severely damaged B-17 out of Germany when he looked out the cockpit window and saw “the world’s worst nightmare” off his right wing — a fully armed German fighter whose pilot was staring back at him.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the strange drama that ensued, in which German fighter ace Franz Stigler weighed the human impulse to spare the wounded bomber against his patriotic duty to shoot him down. We’ll also consider whether animals follow the 10 commandments and wonder why a man might tell his nephew that his dog will be shot.

Our segment on Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler is drawn largely from Adam Makos’ 2012 book A Higher Call: The Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. The book trailer contains brief interviews with both men:

Sources for our segment on Ernest Thompson Seton and the 10 commandments:

Ernest Thompson Seton, “The Natural History of the Ten Commandments,” The Century, November 1907.

Theodore Roosevelt, “Nature Fakers,” Everybody’s Magazine, September 1907.

Ralph H. Lutts, The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science & Sentiment, 2001.

Paul Dickson, Words From the White House, 2013.

Our post about Seton’s belief that the commandments are “fundamental laws of all creation” and thus might be discovered in the animal world originally appeared on April 21, 2010.

The episode in which Seton’s father presented him with a bill for his rearing appears in his wife’s 1967 collection of his writings, By a Thousand Fires. Our post recounting it ran on July 8, 2014.

Here’s Jackie Cooper crying in Skippy (1931), just after hearing that his dog has been shot:

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Private Line

The Barossa Reservoir dam in South Australia is a “whispering wall” — sound hugs the arc of the dam, so two people at opposite ends of the 140-meter span can have a conversation that’s inaudible to those in the middle.

There’s a whispering arch outside the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station — a feature that has some creative uses:

See Oops.

Carper’s Index

No one knows who devised the cross-references in William Hawkins’ 1795 Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown, but he was either very wry or very cynical:

Cattle see Clergy.
Chastity see Homicide.
Coin see High Treason.
Convicts see Clergy.
Death see Appeal.
Election see Bribery.
Fear see Robbery.
Footway see Nuisance.
Honour see Constable.
Incapacity see Officers.
King see Treason.
Knaves see Words.
Letters see Libel.
London see Outlawry.
Shop see Burglary.
Threats see Words.
Westminster Hall see Contempt and Lie.

“A plain, unlettered man is led to suspect that the writer of the volume and the writer of the index are playing at cross purposes,” noted the Monthly Magazine. Perhaps they were.

Unlikely Similes

Winston Churchill said that playing golf was “like chasing a quinine pill around a cow pasture.”

For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening — any evening — would suggest
A patient etherised upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.

— C.S. Lewis

In 1910, unable to get his one-act play “The First Poet” published, George Sterling prevailed on his friend Jack London to publish it under his own name. London resisted, pointing out that Sterling had already shown the play to Herbert Heron and Mike Williams, who would recognize it. He wrote:

“Your showing ‘The First Poet’ to Heron and Williams, and then coming on and asking me to father it, is equivalent to exposing your penis to a couple of 90¢ alarm clocks, and then trying to rape a quail. I’m the quail. And if I let you rape me, both alarm clocks would immediately go off and tell the news to the world.”

Eventually he relented, and “The First Poet” appeared in the Century Magazine in June 1911 under London’s name. The fact of Sterling’s authorship came to light only later.

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