Something New

The eminent tragedian [William Charles Macready] opened in Lear, our property-man received his plot for the play in the usual manner, a map being required among the many articles (map highly necessary for Lear to divide his kingdom). The property-man being illiterate, read ‘mop’ for ‘map.’ At night the tragedy commences; Macready in full state on his throne calls for his map, a ‘super’ noble, kneeling, presents the aging king a white curly mop. The astounded actor rushed off the stage, dragging the unfortunate nobleman and his mop with him, actors and audience wild with delight.

— Edmund Stirling, Old Drury Lane, 1881, quoted in Ralph Berry, ed., The Methuen Book of Shakespeare Anecdotes, 1992

Fluke Encounter

How does Ahab find Moby-Dick? On more than 11 occasions in Melville’s novel we are given cardinal points, the accurate location of well-known cruising grounds, and changes in the ship’s direction as the Pequod follows a “zig-zag world-circle” in search of the great white whale. But we are never told how he hopes to find it, a task that seems flatly impossible.

In writing the book, Melville consulted maps, guidebooks, charts, and logbooks to lay out a route typical of a three-year whaling voyage. Ahab, as an experienced captain, might have known the migratory patterns of sperm whales, their feeding grounds, the ocean currents, and the locations of previous sightings. “But even with this seasoned knowledge, he is not guaranteed to track down an entire pod of whales, let alone one eccentric loner,” writes Eric Bulson in Novels, Maps, Modernity (2007).

Ishmael notes that “though Moby-Dick had in a former year been seen, for example, on what is called the Seychelle ground in the Indian ocean, or Volcano Bay on the Japanese coast; yet it did not follow, that were the Pequod to visit either of those spots at any subsequent corresponding season, she would infallibly encounter him there. … For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part, unaccountable to his pursuers.”

At one point Melville contends that the Pequod‘s circumnavigating route “would sweep almost all the known Sperm Whale cruising grounds of the world,” a conceit that the New York Albion called “more than sufficient motive” to justify the otherwise “intolerably absurd” idea of “a nautical Don Quixote chasing a particular fish from ocean to ocean.”

But even Ahab himself seems helpless in his task until the whale’s unexplained appearance at the novel’s end. In a dramatic address to the sun, he says, “Thou tellest me truly where I am — canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby-Dick?”

Briefly Noted

Ira D. Sankey’s 1873 music collection Sacred Songs and Solos contains the hymn “There is a land mine eyes have seen.” The index lists this as:

‘There is a land mine’

In the Sunday Times, March 15, 1964, F.N. Scaife recalls seeing a similarly odd entry in an old hymn book. The first lines of the hymn were:

O Lord, what boots it to recall
The hours of anguish spent

This was indexed as:

‘O Lord, what boots’

Boss Issues

For his James Bond Dossier (1965), Kingsley Amis went through the 12 Ian Fleming books in which the character M appears and found that they give “a depressingly unvaried picture of what he’s like to be with, or anyway work for.” M’s demeanor or voice is described as:

  • abrupt, angry (3 times)
  • brutal, cold (7 times)
  • curt, dry (5 times)
  • frosty (2 times)
  • gruff (7 times)
  • hard (3 times)
  • impatient (7 times)
  • irritable (2 times)
  • moody, severe, sharp (2 times)
  • short (4 times)
  • sour (2 times)

Amis says this “divides out as an irascibility index of just under 4.6 per book.”

The character seems to be a composite of several people whom Fleming had known, but he appears to be modeled most closely on Rear Admiral John Godfrey (above), Fleming’s superior at the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. After Fleming’s death, Godfrey complained, “He turned me into that unsavoury character, M.”

In a Word

adj. pertaining to the big toe

In 1856, 10-year-old Ellen Terry was just about to give Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when a stagehand closed a trapdoor on her foot, breaking her toe. She screamed, but manager Ellen Kean offered to double her salary if she finished the play. So, supported by Kean on one side and her sister Kate on the other, she delivered the following soliloquy:

If we shadows have offended (Oh, Katie, Katie!)
Think but this, and all is mended, (Oh, my toe!)
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear. (I can’t, I can’t!)
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream, (Oh, dear! oh, dear!)
Gentles, do not reprehend; (A big sob)
If you pardon, we will mend. (Oh, Mrs. Kean!)

“How I got through it, I don’t know!” she wrote in her 1908 memoir. “But my salary was doubled — it had been fifteen shillings, and it was raised to thirty — and Mr. Skey, President of Bartholomew’s Hospital, who chanced to be in a stall that very evening, came round behind the scenes and put my toe right. He remained my friend for life.”

Practical Math

Sample questions from L. Johnson’s 1864 textbook Elementary Arithmetic Designed for Beginners, used in North Carolina during the Civil War:

  1. A Confederate soldier captured 8 Yankees each day for 9 successive days; how many did he capture in all?
  2. If one Confederate soldier kill 90 Yankees how many Yankees can 10 Confederate soldiers kill?
  3. If one Confederate soldier can whip 7 Yankees, how many soldiers can whip 49 Yankees?

Students were also asked to imagine rolling cannonballs out of their bedrooms and dividing Confederate soldiers into squads and companies. Let’s hope they didn’t take field trips.

As You Wish

In 1951 G.V. Carey published a 15-page booklet called “Making an Index,” intended to guide new authors in preparing indexes for their books. When it was published, a friendly reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement suggested jokingly that the booklet might have benefited from an index of its own, in which Carey could have given “a full-dress demonstration of his principles.”

So, charmingly, Carey made one: In the second edition he added a 3-page index to his 15-page book, writing, “The reviewer, though he may have had his tongue in his cheek, has put the author on his mettle and tempted him, at the opportunity afforded by a new impression, to take up the challenge.” Admittedly, this required some stretching, particularly as he wanted to include every letter of the alphabet. Some sample entries:

Anybody, mere page-numbers not of the slightest use to, 7
Bibliographer, seventeenth-century, 3
Cherry, twice bitten, once shy. See Cross-references
Common sense, use your, 9, 15, and pass.
Earl of Beaconsfield, 11
Eye in, getting your, 5
Fiction, non-, 3
Haystack, looking for needle in, 4
Jehu (son of Nimshi), 12-13
John, St, 10
Life of Abraham Lincoln, 6
Lincoln, Abraham, Life of, 6
Omniscient, indexers not always, 4
Perfection, counsel of, 3
Sense, common. See Common sense
Suez Crisis, 14
What not to do. See Anybody, Earl of Beaconsfield, von Kluck, etc., etc.
York, New, missing, 10
Yourself in the users’ place, put, 6-7, 12
Zealand, New, 10

One thicket of cross-references never finds its way back to the text:

Chase, wild goose, See Von Kluck
Goose chase, wild. See Kluck, von
Kluck, von. See Von Kluck
Von Kluck. See Kluck, von
Wild goose chase. See Kluck, von

And evidently he hates the word alphabetisation:

Order, alphabetical. See Horrid word
Horrid word. See Alphabetisation
Alphabetisation, 9-10

But “It remains only to affirm that the author has made a serious attempt to demonstrate, even in this not very serious index, some at least of the principles set forth in the preceding pages.”

The Demon-Haunted World

Index entries from The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer’s history of myth and religion:

Africa, North, charms to render bridegroom impotent in
Africa, South, disposal of cut hair and nails in; magic use of spittle in; story of the external soul in
Anointing stones, in order to avert bullets from absent warriors; in a rain-charm
Apple-tree, barren women roll under, to obtain offspring; straw man placed on oldest; torches thrown at; as life-index of boys
Bag, souls of persons deposited in a
Beating a man’s garments instead of the man; frogs, as a rain-charm
Birds, cause headache through clipped hair; absent warriors called
Charms, to prevent the sun from going down
Chastity observed for sake of absent persons; as a virtue not understood by savages
Clothes, magic sympathy between a person and his
Conception in women caused by trees
Continence, required during search for sacred cactus
Departmental kings of nature
Dogs crowned
East Indies, pregnant women forbdden to tie knots
Fairies, averse to iron
Fish, magical image to procure
Foreskins used in rainmaking
Gout, transferred to trees
Hyaenas, supposed power over men’s shadow
Impregnation of women by the sun
Jar, the evil of a whole year shut up in
Lemon, external souls of ogres in
Magnets thought to keep brothers at unity
Toothache, transferred to enemies
Twins, water poured on graves of
Whale’s ghost, fear of injuring

Augustus De Morgan wrote, “My opinion of mankind is founded upon the mournful fact that, so far as I can see, they find within themselves the means of believing in a thousand times as much as there is to believe in, judging by experience.”

Making Fun

Minutes from a New Yorker editorial meeting to consider the week’s cartoon submissions, Feb. 5, 1935:

PRICE, Gar.: Man and two small boys in picture gallery; man has stopped before nude painting. One of the small boys is saying to the other, ‘There’s something about it gets the old man every time.’

Not right type of people; should be smart people.

SHERMUND: Scene in beauty parlor; masseuse is massaging the back of a woman’s neck and saying, ‘You’re one of the lucky few who have a normal skin, Madame.’

Make better drawing; this too unpleasant.

DUNN: Couple looking at grandmother in next room mixing herself a whiskey and soda. ‘Just because it’s Mother’s Day she thinks the lid is off.’

Better whiskey bottle.

The Tuesday afternoon cartoon meeting had been a fixture in the editorial routine since the magazine’s inception. Editor Harold Ross would point out each drawing’s weaknesses with knitting needles while art department administrator Daise Terry took notes. The resulting feedback ranged from hopelessly vague (“Make funnier”) to absurdly specific (“Mr. Ross is troubled by the fact that a man wouldn’t use a sledge hammer in the house, and thinks the scene had better be in the back yard with the doll placed on a large stone”).

Among the cartoonists whom this infuriated was James Thurber, who wrote to Terry in resubmitting a rejected drawing in 1937, “If this drawing is not funny, and is not a swell drawing, I shall engage to eat it, and with it all of Price’s fantasies that just miss, all of Taylor’s S. Klein women, and all eleven versions of every drawing Day does of two men in a restaurant. I will also eat every drawing of a man and a woman on a raft, every drawing of a man and a native woman on a desert island, and every drawing of two thin women in big-backed chairs. … I will also eat every drawing of a small animal talking to its parents, and every drawing of two large animals talking about their young.” Terry’s response is not recorded.

(From Ben Yagoda, About Town, 2000.)

Twice Indeed,_headshot.jpg

In Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice, a head injury gives James Bond amnesia, and the world briefly thinks him dead. An obituary appears in the London Times:

To serve the confidential nature of his work, he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the RNVR, and it is a measure of the satisfaction his services gave to his superiors that he ended the war with the rank of commander.

In For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, Ben MacIntyre notes that this wording contains a “knowing glimmer of self-congratulation”: Fleming himself had been commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in July 1939 as a lieutenant and was promoted to commander a few months later.