Stretch

In the Philosophical Transactions for 1712, W. Cheselden, a celebrated anatomist, describes the dimensions of some human bones of an extraordinary size, which were dug up near St. Alban’s, in Hertfordshire. The circumference of the skull lengthwise was twenty-six inches, and its breadth twenty-three inches. The greatest diameter of each os innominatum was twelve inches. The left os femoris was twenty-four inches long, and the right one was twenty-three inches in length. Each tibia was twenty-four inches long. If all the parts bore a due proportion, this man must have been eight feet high. The bones were found near an urn, inscribed ‘Marcus Antoninus,’ on the site of a Roman camp.

— Edward J. Wood, Giants and Dwarfs, 1868

Turnabout

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Two business partners asked their lawyer to hold $20,000, making him promise to get both of their signatures before disbursing any of it.

As soon as one partner left town, the other pressed the lawyer for $15,000, citing an emergency. The lawyer reluctantly gave it to him, and he disappeared.

On his return, the other partner was irate, so the lawyer explained that he had donated the $15,000 out of his own pocket.

“Then give me the $20,000 you’re holding,” said the partner.

“All right,” said the lawyer. “Give me the two signatures.”

“Lizard in an Egg”

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“In July 1822, the wife of the man who superintends the decoy ponds in the parish of Great Oakley, near Harwich, took an egg from a hen’s nest, in which was a remarkable discolouration. She kept it about a week, and, upon breaking it, observed something within alive, which so alarmed her, that she let it fall, and ran for her husband who was close by, and immediately came, and found lying on the ground, surrounded with the contents of the egg, an animal of the lizard species alive, but incapable, from weakness, of getting away. The contents of the egg were fœtid, contained a very small portion of yolk, and with the albumen, not more than sufficient to half fill the shell. The animal proved to be a land swift, speckled belly, about four inches in length, nothing remarkable in its form, except its hind legs being longer than usual. It died shortly after being out of the egg. The man has it dried for the inspection of the curious.”

Colchester Gazette, cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Infinite Composition

In Tristram Shandy, the title character laments that he’ll never be able to finish his autobiography, as he seems to need a year to record each day’s events. “It must follow, an’ please your worships, that the more I write, the more I shall have to write.”

But Bertrand Russell noted that if Shandy’s eventful life had lasted forever, no part of his biography would have remained unwritten — for the hundredth day would be recorded in the hundredth year, the thousandth in the thousandth, and so on. “This paradoxical but perfectly true proposition depends upon the fact that the number of days in all time is no greater than the number of years.”

Gifted

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German prodigy Jean-Philippe Baratier squeezed a lifetime’s work into less than two decades. Born in 1721 to a Huguenot minister near Nuremberg, he was polyglot from birth — his father spoke to him only in Latin, his mother in French, and the servants in High Dutch. By age 5 he was reading the Old and New Testaments in Greek and translating them into Latin and Hebrew. He matriculated at Altorf at 10, and three years later he was introduced to the king of Prussia and received into the Royal Academy. His interests expanded into navigation, astronomy, and history, including the Thirty Years’ War, the succession of bishops of Rome, and an inquiry into Egyptian antiquities. When he died at age 19, he left behind 11 published works and 26 manuscripts.