Short Verse

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

That’s the first verse of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” University of Liverpool librarian John Sampson found it a bit wordy, so he tightened it up:

The curfew tolls the knell of day,
The lowing herd winds o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his way,
And leaves the world to dark and me.

Still unsatisfied, he tried:

The curfew tolls the knell of day,
The herd winds o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his way,
And leaves the world to me.

Finally he settled on:

Dusk tolls,
Herds flee,
Hinds scoot:
Not me.

“Beware the Inventor”

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A man about 43 years of age giving the name Joshua Coppersmith has been arrested for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires. He calls the instrument a ‘telephone,’ which is obviously intended to imitate the word ‘telegraph’ and win the confidence of those who know the success of the latter instrument. Well informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires, as may be done by dots and dashes and signals of the Morse Code. The authorities who apprehended this criminal are to be congratulated and it is hoped that punishment will be prompt and fitting, and that it may serve as an example to other conscienceless schemers who enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow creatures.

— Boston newspaper, 1865, quoted by Edison’s assistant Francis Jehl in Menlo Park Reminiscences, 1937

Immortalized

In 1914, Collier’s assigned writer Julian Street to write a feature about Denver. Street duly arrived in town, but he didn’t venture far from the red-light district on Myers Avenue, and he spent most of his time there interviewing a Madam Leo, who gave him a story “hot enough to burn the paper on which it is written.”

To get even for the bad press, the town council ordered a new name for the prostitutes’ lane: They called it Julian Street.

Enjoy Your Stay

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Phrases you are likely to need in Borneo, to judge from a phrasebook distributed in 1966 by the Borneo Literature Bureau:

  • Wait while I remove these leeches.
  • I have been bitten by sand flies.
  • There are too many rats.
  • There are a lot of mosquitoes here.
  • The cockroaches have eaten my shirt.
  • Is this poisonous?
  • What made that noise?
  • Is Sibu Laut in a swamp?
  • Is there a taboo on your house?
  • Is the burning finished?
  • Where can I defecate?
  • Is that fish dangerous?
  • This floor is not safe.
  • The roof is leaking.
  • There is no room in this boat.
  • We must keep dry.
  • I can’t come for a time because the monsoon will soon start.
  • She has a bad pain/snakebite/gunshot wound.
  • Tear some clean cloth into strips.
  • Keep him warm.
  • Go quickly for help.
  • This vomiting needs urgent treatment.
  • I do not know what is wrong. You must take her to the clinic.
  • Your eyes need treatment, or you will become blind.

Bitewings of Song

Connecticut dentist Solyman Brown was pretty passionate about his calling — in 1833 he published “Dentologia, a Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth”:

… her lips disclosed to view,
Those ruined arches, veiled in ebon hue,
Where love had thought to feast the ravished sight
On orient gems reflecting snowy light,
Hope, disappointed, silently retired,
Disgust triumphant came, and love expired! …

Whene’er along the ivory disks, are seen,
The filthy footsteps of the dark gangrene;
When caries come, with stealthy pace to throw
Corrosive ink spots on those banks of snow–
Brook no delay, ye trembling, suffering fair,
But fly for refuge to the dentist’s care.

An appendix listed 300 qualified dental practitioners. Portions of the five-canto poem were published in the American Journal of Dental Science, and one reviewer praised “a mind highly cultivated and richly imbued with poetic fancy.” Brown, who co-founded the American Society of Dental Surgeons in 1840, even found time to write a sequel, “Dental Hygeia — A Poem.”

Showoff

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Feats of Canadian strongman Louis Cyr (1863-1912), “the strongest man who ever lived”:

  • In 1881 he lifted a horse weighing at least 1500 pounds.
  • In 1886 he lifted a 218-pound barbell with one hand and raised 2,371 pounds on his back.
  • In 1895 he raised a platform that held 18 men.
  • In 1889 he shouldered a 433-pound barrel of cement with one arm and lifted 552.5 pounds clear of the floor with a single finger.
  • In 1891 he resisted the pull of four draft horses even as grooms drove them apart with whips.

Where did he get these gifts? “The mother of Louis Cyr … could easily shoulder a barrel of flour and carry it up two or three flights of stairs.” (Josephine Beiderhase, American Gymnasia and Athletic Record, 1906)

See also Jack Lalanne.