The Débutante

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1916/01/02/issue.html

A surprising item from the New York Times, Jan. 2, 1916:

SCOTT FITZGERALD

Considered the Most Beautiful “Show Girl” in the Princeton Triangle Club’s New Musical Play, “The Evil Eye,” Coming to the Waldorf on Next Tuesday. He Is Also the Author of the Lyrics of the Play.

It was his third year at Princeton. Hemingway would later write (in A Moveable Feast), “He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth.”

Of the photo, Fitzgerald later wrote, “I look like a femme fatale.”

Nocturne

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11483/11483-h/11483-h.htm

Here’s an oddity: In 1882 Lewis Carroll collaborated on a song with the dreaming imagination of his friend the Rev. C.E. Hutchinson of Chichester. Hutchinson had told Carroll of a strange dream he’d had:

I found myself seated, with many others, in darkness, in a large amphitheatre. Deep stillness prevailed. A kind of hushed expectancy was upon us. We sat awaiting I know not what. Before us hung a vast and dark curtain, and between it and us was a kind of stage. Suddenly an intense wish seized me to look upon the forms of some of the heroes of past days. I cannot say whom in particular I longed to behold, but, even as I wished, a faint light flickered over the stage, and I was aware of a silent procession of figures moving from right to left across the platform in front of me. As each figure approached the left-hand corner it turned and gazed at me, and I knew (by what means I cannot say) its name. One only I recall — Saint George; the light shone with a peculiar blueish lustre on his shield and helmet as he turned and slowly faced me. The figures were shadowy, and floated like mist before me; as each one disappeared an invisible choir behind the curtain sang the ‘Dream music.’ I awoke with the melody ringing in my ears, and the words of the last line complete — ‘I see the shadows falling, and slowly pass away.’ The rest I could not recall.

He played the melody for Carroll, who wrote a suitable lyric of five verses. Hutchinson disclaimed writing the music, but if he didn’t … who did?

(From Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, 1898.)

11/24/2021 UPDATE: Reader Paul Sophocleous provided this MIDI file of the published music. (Thanks, Paul.)

A Box Code

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/13180/13180-h/13180-h.htm

In Robert Chambers’ 1906 novel The Tracer of Lost Persons, Mr. Keen copies the figure above from a mysterious photograph. He is trying to help Captain Harren find a young woman with whom he has become obsessed.

“It’s the strangest cipher I ever encountered,” he says at length. “The strangest I ever heard of. I have seen hundreds of ciphers — hundreds — secret codes of the State Department, secret military codes, elaborate Oriental ciphers, symbols used in commercial transactions, symbols used by criminals and every species of malefactor. And every one of them can be solved with time and patience and a little knowledge of the subject. But this … this is too simple.”

The message reveals the name of the young woman whom Captain Harren has been seeking. What is it?

Click for Answer

Landscape Portrait

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BlankMap-World-noborders.png

In Johannes Kepler’s 1608 novel Somnium, a demon describes how the shapes of the terrestrial continents appear to an observer on the moon:

On the eastern side [toward the Atlantic Ocean] it looks like the front of the human head cut off at the shoulders [Africa] and leaning forward to kiss a young girl [Europe] in a long dress [Thrace and the Black Sea regions], who stretches her hand back [Britain] to attract a leaping cat [Scandinavia]. The bigger and broader part of the spot [Asia], however, extends westward without any apparent configuration. In the other half of Volva [Earth] the brightness is more widely diffused [the two oceans] than the spot [the American continent]. You might call it the outline of a bell [South America] hanging from a rope [Nicaragua, Yucatán, Popayán] and swinging westward. What lies above [Brazil] and below [North America] cannot be likened to anything.

The two “halves” are the Old World and the New. East and west, upper and lower are reversed in the lunar perspective. Kepler mistakenly believed that continents would appear as dark “spots” against lighter oceans; he later credited Galileo with correcting this error.

The President’s Mystery

Franklin Roosevelt was a voracious reader of crime novels. “Hundreds are published every year, but even in the good ones, there is a sameness,” he complained over lunch to Liberty Magazine editor Fulton Oursler one day in 1935. “Someone finds the corpse, and then the detective tracks down the murderer.”

Oursler asked him whether he had any better ideas. He did: “How can a man disappear with five million dollars of his own money in negotiable form and not be traced?” Roosevelt said he had carried that question in his mind for years but had not solved it himself.

The editor knew a marketable idea when he heard one, and he recruited six of the period’s top mystery writers to work on a chain novel that appeared serially in the magazine beginning that November. (The writers were Rupert Hughes, Samuel Hopkins Adams, Anthony Abbott, Rita Weiman, S.S. Van Dine, and John Erskine.)

A year later the story was made into a film, above, with the memorable credit “Story Conceived by Franklin D. Roosevelt.” FDR remains the only president to earn a film-writing credit while in office.

Part Two

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cimeti%C3%A8re_de_la_Madeleine_(Amiens)_(28).jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1907, two years after Jules Verne’s death, sculptor Albert Roze added a striking monument to Verne’s grave in the cemetery of La Madeleine in Amiens: a sculpture of the author smashing his tombstone, shedding his shroud, and hoisting himself toward the sky.

The work is called Toward Immortality and Eternal Youth, and the face is Verne’s own — Roze used the author’s death mask.

Forgotten Pearls

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BenFranklinDuplessis.jpg

Lesser-known maxims from Poor Richard’s Almanac:

  • You may be too cunning for One, but not for All.
  • Who is rich? He that rejoices in his Portion.
  • By diligence and patience, the Mouse bit in two the Cable.
  • To be intimate with a foolish Friend, is like going to Bed to a Razor.
  • A false Friend and a Shadow attend only while the Sun shines.
  • He that goes far to marry, will either deceive or be deceived.
  • ‘Tis easy to see, hard to foresee.
  • Many Foxes grow grey, but few grow good.
  • Paintings and Fightings are best seen at a distance.
  • Fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you.
  • Gifts burst rocks.
  • Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed.
  • Let thy vices die before thee.
  • Men differ daily, about things which are subject to sense, is it likely then they should agree about things invisible?
  • What signifies your Patience, if you can’t find it when you want it?

And “Let all Men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly: Men freely ford that see the shallows.”

Second Thoughts

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38035/38035-h/38035-h.htm

Literary scholar Robert Hauptman calls this “marginal emendation run amok” — it’s a page from Henry James’ 1877 novel The American as James revised it anxiously in 1907 for a “definitive” edition in New York. He had decided the plot was unconvincing and required so many changes that two copies of the book had to be inlaid page by page on larger sheets to give him room to mark all the revisions.

On the last page, above, “James has partially or fully crossed out 16 of the 19 lines and rewritten the text for the definitive New York edition in the margins and at the foot of the page,” notes Hauptman. “His scrawling alterations cover virtually all of the generous white space and must be inserted in at least three different locations in the original text. Words are blotted out or struck in the new version, and as he approaches the bottom of the page, the lettering diminishes in size, because he realizes that he will run out of room.”

“The work on the earlier novels has involved much labour — to the best effect for the vile things, I’m convinced,” James had written to Grace Norton that March. Modern critics generally disagree — most editions today use the original version.

(From Robert Hauptman, Documentation, 2008, and Harvard’s Marks in Books, 1985.)

Two for One

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Doom_Mons,_Sotra_Patera,_Mohini_Fluctus_(cropped).png

Mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan are named after mountains in Middle-earth, the fictional setting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels.

The highest peak on Titan is Mount Doom (“Doom Mons”), which rises more than a mile above the surrounding plain. Tolkien’s Mount Doom made its first appearance in The Lord of the Rings in 1954.

By coincidence, science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum had already placed a fictional Mount Doom on Titan in his 1935 story Flight on Titan.

So, in honoring Tolkien, the International Astronomical Union also fulfilled Weinbaum’s vision.

Notes

Excerpts from the notebooks of English belletrist Geoffrey Madan (1895-1947):

Two impressions remaining, after a life of scientific research:

1. The inexhaustible oddity of nature.
2. The capacity of the human system for recovery.

— J.B.S. Haldane

“With people like you, love only means one thing.”
“No, it means twenty things: but it doesn’t mean nineteen.”

— Arnold Bennett’s Journal

“I simply ignored an axiom.” — Einstein, on Relativity

“Nowhere probably is there more true feeling, and nowhere worse taste, than in a churchyard.” — Benjamin Jowett

Happiness, only a by-product.

The fine flower of stupidity blossoms in the attempt to appear less stupid.

Boy, wanting to be a “retired business man.”

“Stand on the Right — and let others pass you.” — Directions on an Underground Escalator

“My sad conviction is that people can only agree about what they’re not really interested in.” — Bertrand Russell, New Statesman, 1 July 1939

The doctrine of omnipotence means that life is a sham fight with evil.

“All men wish to have truth on their side: but few to be on the side of truth.” — Archbishop Richard Whately

“Half-knowledge is very communicable; not so knowledge.” — Mary Coleridge

“Mastery often passes for egotism.” — Goethe