A Sign

In 1612, John Donne accompanied Sir Robert Drury to Paris, leaving his pregnant wife in London.

Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert return’d within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such Extasie, and so alter’d as to his looks, as amaz’d Sir Robert to behold him: insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befaln him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert reply’d; Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopt, and look’d me in the face, and vanisht.

Donne and Drury immediately sent a messenger to London. He returned to say that Mrs. Donne had borne a dead child at the hour her husband thought he had seen her in Paris.

(From Izaak Walton, Life of Dr John Donne, 1675)

Light Show

On May 15, 1879, J. Eliot Pringle, commander of the H.M.S. Vulture, saw something odd in the Persian Gulf:

I noticed luminous waves or pulsations in the water, moving at great speed and passing under the ship from the south-south-west. On looking towards the east, the appearance was that of a revolving wheel with centre on that bearing, and whose spokes were illuminated, and looking towards the west a similar wheel appeared to be revolving, but in the opposite direction.

Eight months later and 1,500 miles to the southeast, off the Malabar coast, Cmdr. R.E. Harris of the steamship Shahjehan witnessed glowing waves of “a peculiar but beautiful milky whiteness”:

In a short time the ship was completely surrounded with one great body of undulating light, which soon extended to the horizon on all sides. … If the sea could be converted into a huge mirror, and thousands of powerful electric lights were made to throw their rays across it, it would convey no adequate idea of this strange yet grand phenomenon.

Harris called his vision “the most remarkable phenomenon that I have ever seen at sea”; Pringle called his “beautiful and striking.” What they were, precisely, is not clear.

(From Nature, July 24, 1879, and Charles Frederick Holder, Living Lights: A Popular Account of Phosphorescent Animals and Vegetables, 1887. See also A Phosphorescent Sea.)

Feeder of the Pack


Lord [Francis Henry] Egerton [1756-1829] is a man of few acquaintance, and very few of his countrymen have got as far as his dining-hall. His table, however, is constantly set out with a dozen covers, and served by suitable attendants. Who, then, are his privileged guests? No less than a dozen of favourite dogs, who daily partake of milord’s dinner, seated very gravely in arm-chairs, each with a napkin round his neck, and a servant behind to attend to his wants.

— John Timbs, English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 1875

The Shark Arm Affair


On April 25, 1935, a shark in Australia’s Coogee Aquarium disgorged a human arm. The shark had recently been caught off Sydney, but no swimmers had been reported missing. The arm, which had been severed with a knife, was eventually identified as that of 40-year-old ex-boxer James Smith, who had been missing since April 7.

Police began a murder investigation, but without a body there was no proof that Smith was dead. The case collapsed, and it remains unsolved.