Sea Story

Published in London’s Wide World Magazine in 1898, Louis de Rougemont’s adventures in Oceania made a sensation: He had witnessed octopus attacks on the pearl fishers of New Guinea, rode turtles while a castaway on an anonymous Pacific islet, and spent 30 swashbuckling years as a god-king among Australian cannibals. Here he’s beset by migrating rats:

It was impossible for me to observe in what order the rats were advancing, on account of the great stretch of country which they covered. Soon, however, their shrill squeals were distinctly heard, and a few minutes later the edge of that strange tide struck our tree and swept past us with a force impossible to realise. No living thing was spared. Snakes, lizards–ay, even the biggest kangaroos–succumbed after an ineffectual struggle. The rats actually ate those of their fellows who seemed to hesitate or stumble. The curious thing was that the great army never seemed to stand still. It appeared to me that each rat simply took a bite at whatever prey came his way, and then passed on with the rest.

In September an F.W. Solomon wrote in to say that he recognized the author — he was a Swiss manservant named Louis Grien whose nearest approach to the Outback had been a stint as butler to the governor of Western Australia. After some temporizing, De Rougemont vanished; he reappeared the following year in a South African music hall, billing himself as “The Greatest Liar on Earth.”

See Romance at Short Notice.

“A Snow Mushroom”


From the American Annual of Photography, 1908:

It is a natural snow-cap resting on the stump of a felled tree. The cap is nine feet in diameter and nearly four feet thick. Its weight has caused the rim to bend so that the top becomes a curved dome. The originally horizontal strata of the snow slope steeply downwards near the rim and small pieces break off where the strength is least, hence the edges are rough though the top is smooth. The cap acts as an umbrella sheltering the ground beneath from snowfall. The structure had taken some months to grow and would have been difficult to dislodge, for the snow was firmly welded by its own pressure. The total weight of the snow cap was calculated at about one ton.

See also Mushroom Rocks.

The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine

In 1878, neurologist George Miller Beard noted a strange trait among the French-Canadian lumberjacks in the Moosehead Lake area of Maine — they reacted strongly when startled:

  • “One of the jumpers while sitting in his chair with a knife in his hand was told to throw it, and he threw it quickly, so that it stuck in a beam opposite; at the same time he repeated the order to throw it, with cry or utterance of alarm resembling that of hysteria or epilepsy.”
  • “He also threw away his pipe when filling it with tobacco when he was slapped upon the shoulder.”
  • “Two jumpers standing near each other were told to strike, and they struck each other very forcibly.”
  • “One jumper when standing by a window, was suddenly commanded by a person on the other side of the window, to jump, and he jumped straight up half a foot from the floor, repeating the order.”
  • “One of these jumpers came very near cutting his ‘throat’ while shaving on hearing a door slam.”
  • “They had been known to strike their fists against a red-hot stove; they had been known to jump into the fire and into water; they could not help striking their best friend, if near them, when ordered.”
  • “It was dangerous to startle them in any way when they had an axe or knife in their hand.”

The condition, whatever it was, ran in families, chiefly among men, and the jumpers were otherwise “modest, quiet, retiring, deficient in power of self-assertion and push.” Similar cases have since been observed in Malaysia and Siberia, but no one knows whether the disorder is ultimately neurological or psychological.

Air Travel

Remarkable outcome of a London séance, June 3, 1871, as reported in The Spiritual Magazine, July 1:

After a considerable time an object was felt to come upon the table, and when the light was struck their visitor was found to be Mrs. [Agnes] Guppy. She was not by any means dressed for an excursion, as she was without shoes, and had a memorandum book in one hand and a pen in the other. The last word inscribed in the book was ‘onions,’ the ink of which was wet, and there was ink in the pen. When Mrs. Guppy regained her consciousness, she stated that she had been making some entries of expenses, became insensible, and knew nothing till she found herself in the circle.

In his Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects (1696), antiquarian John Aubrey writes that a gentleman of his acquaintance, “Mr. M.,” was burned by the inquisition in Portugal in 1655 “for being brought thither from Goa, in East-India, in the air, in an incredible short time.”


In 1917, when a young T.S. Eliot was working at Lloyds Bank in London, one of his superiors met the critic I.A. Richards on holiday in Switzerland.

The banker was relieved to hear that Richards thought Eliot a good poet. Some of his colleagues had feared that poetry was a poor grounding for a career in finance, but if the young man really enjoyed his hobby then perhaps it could help him in his work.

In fact, the banker said, “I don’t see why — in time, of course, in time — he mightn’t even become a branch manager.”

The Paradox of Future Individuals

Any large-scale change in human behavior will literally change the human race: Because such a change alters the conditions under which individuals are conceived, our grandchildren in one scenario will be different people from those in another. This is particularly true in sweeping policy matters such as the environment, global warming, etc.

This seems to suggest that we needn’t feel guilty about our poor stewardship. The descendants who would benefit by our reform are different from those who will suffer at our neglect–and we owe a duty only to the latter.