Mostly Cloudy,_Pirie,_Scott_%26_Co._Macintosh,_1893.jpg

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, as Bloom attends Dignam’s funeral, an odd thought passes through his mind: “Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I’d like to know? Now, I’d give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of.” The interloper’s presence seems significant: “Mr Bloom stood far back, his hat in his hand, counting the bared heads. Twelve. I’m thirteen. No. The chap in the macintosh is thirteen. Death’s number. Where the deuce did he pop out of? He wasn’t in the chapel, that I’ll swear. Silly superstition that about thirteen.”

He turns up again later: “In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path.”

And still later: “A man in a brown macintosh springs up through a trapdoor.”

Altogether the mysterious man is mentioned 11 times in the novel. In the Cyclops episode we’re told, “The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead,” and in Ithaca, a catechism of questions and answers, we’re asked, “What selfinvolved enigma did Bloom risen, going, gathering multicoloured multiform multitudinous garments, voluntarily apprehending, not comprehend? Who was M’Intosh?”

The question has never been answered definitively. But in his Cornell University lectures on Ulysses, Vladimir Nabokov suggested that the “chap in the macintosh” is none other than James Joyce himself. In the library episode, “Scylla and Charybdis,” Stephen Dedalus explains that Shakespeare “has hidden his own name, a fair name, William, in the plays, a super here, a clown there, as a painter of old Italy set his face in a dark corner of his canvas.” This “is exactly what Joyce has done — setting his face in a dark corner of his canvas. The Man in the Brown Macintosh who passes through the dream of the book is no other than the author himself. Bloom glimpses his maker!”


During the last visit which [Samuel Johnson] made to Lichfield [in 1781], the friends with whom he was staying missed him one morning at the breakfast-table. On inquiring after him of the servants, they understood he had set off from Lichfield at a very early hour, without mentioning to any of the family whither he was going. The day passed without the return of the illustrious guest, and the party began to be very uneasy on his account, when, just before the supper-hour, the door opened, and the Doctor stalked into the room. A solemn silence of a few minutes ensued, nobody daring to inquire the cause of his absence, which was at length relieved by Johnson addressing the lady of the house in the following manner: ‘Madam, I beg your pardon for the abruptness of my departure from your house this morning, but I was constrained to it by my conscience. Fifty years ago, madam, on this day, I committed a breach of filial piety, which has ever since lain heavy on my mind, and has not till this day been expiated. My father, you recollect, was a bookseller, and had long been in the habit of attending market, and opening a stall for the sale of his books during that day. Confined to his bed by indisposition, he requested me, this time fifty years ago, to visit the market, and attend the stall in his place. But, madam, my pride prevented me from doing my duty, and I gave my father a refusal. To do away the sin of this disobedience, I this day went in a post-chaise to Uttoxeter, and going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head, and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had formerly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the inclemency of the weather; a penance by which I trust I have propitiated Heaven for this only instance, I believe, of contumacy toward my father.’

— Richard Warner, A Tour Through the Northern Counties of England, 1802

The act is commemorated today in the Johnson Memorial, which stands in the Market Place, in the town center.


To create his 1970 novel A Humument, British artist Tom Phillips began with W.H. Mallock’s forgotten 1892 novel A Human Document and drew, painted, and collaged over the pages, leaving a few words showing to tell a new, hitherto unrevealed story. For instance, the title arises from Phillips’ deletion of two central syllables in Mallock’s title, and the protagonist, Bill Toge, can appear only when the word “together” or “altogether” arises in Mallock’s original text.

Even this new text is evolving. Phillips has published five editions of the book, in each of which he replaces certain pages; eventually he hopes to replace every page, creating an entirely new work (or an entirely new version of the same work).

“Can we call what Phillips is doing ‘writing’, or would some other term be better?” asked Adam Smyth in the London Review of Books. “What version of authorship or creativity is at work here? A Humument is a reminder that books are inevitably intertextual — they grow out of older texts — and that all writing involves selecting words from a finite pool: what appears to be a constraint, having to work within the walls of an existing novel, in fact dramatises a condition of literature.”

The full text of the 1970 edition is here.

In a Word

n. the recalling of things past; recollection, reminiscence

n. an illogical or irrational statement or notion

n. good order or management

n. saying enough

In “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” a hotel manager successfully finds a man’s name in his ledger at Sherlock Holmes’ request even though he knows only the first name.

“I should like to have seen the index to that pay-list,” remarked the Holmes commentator James Edward Holroyd. “How do you enter the name of a man who has no surname? As Beppo ‘X’?”

Possibly the manager used the same indexing system as Holmes himself, who in “The Sussex Vampire” looks up the forger Victor Lynch under V in his record of old cases. “Good old index,” he tells Watson. “You can’t beat it.”


Doctor [John] Gillies, the historian of Greece, and Mr. [Richard] Porson used now and then to meet. The consequence was certain to be a literary contest. Porson was much the deeper scholar of the two. Dr. Gillies was one day speaking to him of the Greek tragedies, and of Pindar’s odes. ‘We know nothing,’ said Dr. Gillies, emphatically, ‘of the Greek metres.’ Porson answered, ‘If, Doctor, you will put your observation in the singular number, I believe it will be very accurate.’

The Flowers of Anecdote, Wit, Humour, Gaiety and Genius, 1829

The Hypercubical Dance

Inspired by Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, in which a three-dimensional sphere tries to explain its world to a two-dimensional square, Worcester Polytechnic Institute physicist P.K. Aravind has devised a ballet that describes a tesseract, or four-dimensional hypercube, to a three-dimensional audience.

“The spirit of my demonstration is very similar to Abbott’s, only it is pitched at Spacelanders who are encouraged to make the leap from three dimensions to four, just as Abbott’s demonstration was pitched at a Flatlander who was encouraged to make the leap from two dimensions to three.”

He describes the project here.

(P.K. Aravind, “The Hypercubical Dance — A Solution to Abbott’s Problem in Flatland?,” Mathematical Gazette 91:521 [July 2007]: 193-197.)

Chapter One

Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously.

— David Goodstein, States of Matter, 1985


Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is credited with being the first modern detective story — biographer Jeffrey Meyers says it “changed the history of world literature.” The story established the convention of the brilliant investigator who unveils a climactic revelation before explaining the reasoning that led him to it. The lead character, C. Auguste Dupin, served as a prototype for fictional detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot.

But Poe himself thought the praise was overblown. “These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key,” he wrote. “People think them more ingenious than they are — on account of their method and air of method. In the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ for instance, where is the ingenuity in unraveling a web which you yourself … have woven for the express purpose of unraveling?” The brilliance of a detective story is transparently contrived, he said: “The reader is made to confound the ingenuity of the suppositious Dupin with that of the writer of the story.”


I remember, many years ago, when my imagination was warm, and I happened to be in melancholy mood, it distressed me to think of going into a state of being in which Shakespeare’s poetry did not exist. A lady whom I then much admired, a very amiable woman, humored my fancy, and relieved me by saying, ‘The first thing you will meet in the other world will be an elegant copy of Shakespeare’s works presented to you.’ Dr. Johnson smiled benignantly at this, and did not appear to disapprove of the notion.

— James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791


  • By age 14, Harry Truman had read every book in the Independence, Missouri, library.
  • In honor of Ray Bradbury, a web page censored by a government returns HTTP error status code 451.
  • Wyoming, Wisconsin, is in Iowa County.
  • Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dalí were both named after dead brothers who had preceded them.
  • “Virtue is insufficient temptation.” — George Bernard Shaw