A Late Visitor

Statements of the family and associates of H. Rider Haggard regarding the events of July 9, 1904:

Mrs. M.L. Haggard:

On the night [of] July 9th I was awakened by most distressing sounds proceeding from my husband, resembling the moans of an animal, no distinct words. After listening for a few moments, I woke him up, whereupon he said that he had had a nightmare, in which he was engaged in some struggle connected with our retriever dog “Bob,” and that “Bob” was trying to talk to him and explain that he wanted help. It was quite dark at the time, so I conclude it must have been about 2 a.m.

Angela Rider Haggard:

On Sunday morning, July 10th, my father mentioned at the breakfast table that he had had a horrid nightmare about my black retriever dog “Bob.” He said that he dreamt the dog was dying in a wood and trying to make some communication to him. My mother corroborated this statement, saying he had made such a noise that he had even awakened her, and she aroused him as he seemed so disturbed. Of course we all laughed at it at the time, for we did not know then that anything had happened to the dog, for I had seen him myself at 8 o’clock on the preceding evening.

Lilias R. Haggard:

On the evening of Sunday, July 10th, I, who am in the habit of feeding the dogs, told Daddy that “Bob” had not come to his breakfast or his supper that day, so I thought he must be lost. Daddy had said at breakfast on Sunday that he had dreamt that “Bob” was dying in a wood, and that he, Daddy, was trying to extract something from “Bob,” and that “Bob” was trying to speak.

Harry Alger, railway platelayer:

I was at my business on the line between Bungay and Ditchingham at 7 o’clock on the morning of Monday, the 11th July … and found the broken collar of a dog lying there, which I produce, and had to scrape off the dried blood and some bits of flesh from the line. … Under all the circumstances I think that the dog must have been killed by the late excursion train on Saturday night which left Ditchingham for Harleston at 10.25. … The marks of blood upon the piles showed where the dog had fallen from the bridge into the reeds. These reeds grow in deepish water.

C. Bedingfield, groom:

My master and I found the dog in the Waveney near the Falcon Bridge on the morning of July 14th. It is the retriever dog, Bob, which I have known ever since it has been at Ditchingham House.

“I seem therefore to come to this conclusion,” Haggard wrote later, after relating the story in the Times. “Either the whole thing is a mere coincidence and just means nothing more than indigestion and a nightmare, or it was the spirit of the dog on its passage to its own place or into another form, that moved my spirit, thereby causing this revelation, for it seems to be nothing less.”

“Holland Conquered by a Spider”

Dubious but colorful: The Foreign Quarterly Review, January 1844, reports the case of Quatremer Disjonval, a Dutch adjutant-general whom the Prussians had incarcerated in a dungeon at Utrecht.

To pass the time he studied the prison’s spiders and noted that their behavior varied with approaching weather. When a sudden thaw threatened the advance of republican troops in January 1795, Disjonval sent a letter to the French general promising a severe frost within two weeks.

When the cold that arrived 12 days later froze Dutch canals solid enough to bear French artillery, the republicans took Utrecht and “Quatremer Disjonval, who had watched the habits of his spiders with so much intelligence and success, was, as a reward for his ingenuity, released from prison.”

See “Spider Barometers.”

Hard Bargaining


In Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Bottle Imp,” the titular imp will grant its owner (almost) any wish, but if the owner dies with the bottle then he burns in hell. He may sell the bottle, but he must charge less than he paid for it, and the new buyer must understand these conditions.

Now, no one would buy such a bottle for 1 cent, as he could not then sell it again. (The imp can’t make you immortal, or support prices smaller than one cent, or alter the conditions.) And if 1 cent is too low a price, then so is 2 cents, for the same reason. And so on, apparently forever. It would be irrational to buy the bottle for any price.

But intuitively most people would consider $1,000 a reasonable price to pay for the use of a wish-granting genie. Who’s right?

See also Tug of War.


“I am tired of all this thing called science. … We have spent millions in that sort of thing for the last few years, and it is time it should be stopped.”

— Pennsylvania senator Simon Cameron, opposing funding for the Smithsonian Institution, 1861

“I would like to know of what this Institution consists. I would like the gentleman from New York or the gentleman from Vermont to tell us how many of his constituents ever saw this Institution or ever will see it or ever want to see it? It is enough to make any man or woman sick to visit that Institution. No one can expect to get any benefit from it.”

— New York representative Lewis Selye, 1868

Stuff and Nonsense

Full text of a letter from Edward Lear to Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, 1862:

Thrippy Pilliwinx, —

Inkly tinky pobblebockle able-squabs? Flosky! Beebul trimble flosky! Okulscratch abibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-atog, ferry moyassity amsky flamsky damsky crocklefether squiggs.

Flinky wisty pomm,


“I was much distressed by next door people who had twin babies and played the violin,” Lear once wrote, “but one of the twins died, and the other has eaten the fiddle–so all is peace.”



In 1981, wildlife photographer Carl McCunn paid a bush pilot to drop him near the Coleen River in northern Alaska. He thought he’d arranged for the pilot to pick him up again.

He hadn’t.

State troopers found his body the following year. He had tried to winterize his tent, then shot himself in the head. A 100-page diary read, “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure.”

The Wealth Puzzle

A beggar asks a wealthy man for a penny. He says he wants to be a wealthy man himself someday.

“Well, consider,” says the wealthy man. “A single penny will not make you wealthy. And a second penny will not make you wealthy either.

“Indeed, there is no point at which an additional penny will make you a wealthy man. So I’m sorry, my friend, but your dream is impossible.”

Sound Sense

A favorite kind of school-boy humor is that which takes the form of evolving sentences like the following: Forte dux fel flat in gutture, which is good Latin for ‘By chance the leader inhales poison in his throat,’ but which read off rapidly sounds like the English ‘Forty ducks fell flat in the gutter.’ A French example is Pas de lieu Rhône que nous, which it is hardly necessary to explain makes no sense in French at all, though every word be true Gallic, but by a similar process of reading reveals the proverbial advice, ‘Paddle your own canoe.’

— William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1909

See also “It Means Just What I Choose It to Mean.”

Ice Rings


What’s 2.5 miles wide, perfectly circular, and warm enough to melt ice?

I don’t know either, but there are at least two of them in Russia’s Lake Baikal.

They were spotted in April from the international space station.

09/26/2013 Resolved. (Thanks, Drew.)