Resigned

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Baum_1911.jpg

L. Frank Baum was 41 years old when he published his first book. In giving a copy to his sister, he included a personal inscription:

“When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. For aside from my evident inability to do anything ‘great,’ I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one’s heart and brings its own reward.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz appeared three years later.

Invisible Man

The book that Montgomery Carmichael published in 1902 seemed at first to be a straightforward biography:

The will of my friend Philip Walshe has put me in possession of a large and extraordinary collection of valuable MSS., and has at the same time laid upon me a task of no little delicacy and difficulty. These MSS. are the voluminous works of his father, the late Mr. John William Walshe, F.S.A., who died on the 2nd July 1900, aged sixty-three, at Assisi, in Umbria, where he had passed the latter half of his life. Mr. Walshe was well known to scholars as perhaps the greatest living authority on matters Franciscan: otherwise he had practically no fame. The busy world, at all events, knew him not.

“It takes some time to realize that this is all an elaborate piece of mystification,” wrote a Dial reviewer, “and to recall the fact that the name of Walshe does not figure in any actual list of Franciscan scholars, living or dead.”

The Life of John William Walshe is the detailed portrait of a man who never existed. Librarian Edmund Lester Pearson calls it “one of the most inexplicable examples of the literary hoax. … It contained not one atom of satire, it was not a parody, and so far as I, at least, could have discovered by internal evidence, it was what it purported to be: a sober and reverent biography of an Englishman dwelling in Italy, a devout member of the Church of Rome, and in particular an enthusiastic student and pious follower of St. Francis of Assisi.”

Carmichael was a member of the British consular service in Italy and the author of a number of European travel books. So far as I can tell, he never explained this work — he called it only “the story of a hidden life.”

“The Jabberwocky of Authors”

‘Twas gilbert. The kchesterton
Did locke and bennett in the reed.
All meredith was the nicholson,
And harrison outqueed.

Beware the see-enn-william, son,
The londonjack with call that’s wild.
Beware the gertroo datherton
And richardwashburnchild.

He took his brady blade in hand;
Long time the partridge foe he sought.
Then stood a time by the oppenheim
In deep mcnaughton thought.

In warwick deeping thought he stood–
He poised on edithwharton brink;
He cried, “Ohbernardshaw! I could
If basilking would kink.”

Rexbeach! rexbeach!–and each on each
O. Henry’s mantles ferber fell.
It was the same’s if henryjames
Had wally eaton well.

“And hast thou writ the greatest book!
Come to thy birmingham, my boy!
Oh, beresford way! Oh, holman day!”
He kiplinged in his joy.

‘Twas gilbert. The kchesterton
Did locke and bennett in the reed.
All meredith was the nicholson,
And harrison outqueed.

— Harry Persons Taber, in Carolyn Wells, The Book of Humorous Verse, 1920

Hurry!

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‘The very worst line in Latin poetry’ was, according to Professor Tyrrell, achieved by Statius when he apostrophised the condition of childlessness as ‘to be avoided by every effort’ (Orbitas omni fugienda nisu).

— “A Study in Superlatives,” in Sir Edward Tyas Cook, Literary Recreations, 1918

Memorable Indexes

From Henry Wheatley’s index to Samuel Pepys’ diary:

Periwig, Pepys wears one, iii. 116, 327; Pepys puts off the wearing of one for a while, iii. 265; one bought by Pepys, iii. 323; he buys a case for it, iii. 328; Pepys so altered by it that the Duke of York did not know him, iii. 334; Pepys has a second made of his own hair, iii. 341, 342; he sends one to the barber’s to be cleansed of its nits, iv. 190; he buys two more, vi. 245; Pepys agrees with a barber to keep his in order, viii. 33; his, set on fire, viii. 118; King and Duke of York first wear periwigs, iv. 43; danger of wearing periwigs during the Plague, v. 64; Ladies of Honour in, v. 324; periwig shops, iii. 116, 316, 326; vi. 314; viii. 127.

From James Russell Lowell’s index to The Biglow Papers:

Alligator, a decent one conjectured to be, in some sort, humane, 156
Birch, virtue of, in instilling certain of the dead languages, 134
Christian soldiers, perhaps inconsistent, whether, 64
Eating words, habit of, convenient in time of famine, 76
Epaulets, perhaps no badge of saintship, 55
Fire, we all like to play with it, 85
National pudding, its effect on the organs of speech, a curious physiological fact, 51
Paris, liberal principles safe as far away as, 96
People soft enough, 98–want correct ideas, 131
Pleiades, the, not enough esteemed, 103
Present, not long wonderful, 103
Riches conjectured to have legs as well as wings, 92
Satan, never wants attorneys, 48
Speech-making, an abuse of gift of speech, 81
Venetians, invented something once, 135

From Lewis Carroll’s index to Sylvie and Bruno:

Crocodiles, logic of, 230
Electricity, influence of, on Literature, 64
Frog, young, how to amuse, 364
Ghosts, treatment of, in Railway-Literature, 58
Loving or being loved. Which is best? 77
Parentheses in conversation, how to indicate, 251
Weltering, appropriate fluids for, 58

Carroll’s index also includes entries for “Boots for horizontal weather,” “Horizontal rain, boots for,” “Rain, horizontal, boots for,” and “Weather, horizontal, boots for”:

“But what’s the use of wearing umbrellas round one’s knees?”

“In ordinary rain,” the Professor admitted, “they would not be of much use. But if ever it rained horizontally, you know, they would be invaluable–simply invaluable!”

A Good Man

http://books.google.com/books?id=sncRAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Should other species be regarded as human? In 1779 Lord Monboddo proposed that orangutans should: They walk upright, use weapons, form societies, build shelters, and behave with “dignity and composure.” “If … such an Animal be not a Man, I should desire to know in what the essence of a Man consists, and what it is that distinguishes a Natural Man from the Man of Art?”

Thomas Love Peacock mocked this view in his 1817 novel Melincourt, in which a civilized orangutan (“Sir Oran Hout-ton”) is elected to Parliament. And an anonymous wag objected even to the satire:

The author of a novel lately written,
Entitled “Melincourt,”
(‘Tis very sweet and short),
Seems indeed by some wondrous madness bitten,
Thinking it good
To take his hero from the wood:
And though I own there’s nothing treasonable
In making ouran-outangs reasonable,
I really do not think he should
Go quite the length that he has done,
Whether for satire or for fun,
To make this creature an M.P.
As if mankind no wiser were than he.
However, those who’ve read it
Must give the author credit
For skill and ingenuity,
Although it have this monstrous incongruity.

But today Monboddo’s view is on the ascendancy. Harvard legal scholar Steven M. Wise argues that orangutans — as well as chimpanzees, bonobos, elephants, parrots, dolphins, and gorillas — deserve legal personhood. “Ancient philosophers claimed that all nonhuman animals had been designed and placed on this earth just for human beings,” he writes. “Ancient jurists declared that law had been created just for human beings. Although philosophy and science have long since recanted, the law has not.”

Sleep Tight!

“For Children Three Years Old,” from Lessons for Children by Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Philadelphia, 1818:

There was a naughty boy; I do not know what his name was, but it was not Charles, nor George, nor Arthur, for those are all very pretty names: but there was a robin came in at his window one very cold morning — shiver — shiver; and its poor little heart was almost frozen to death. And he would not give it the least crumb of bread in the world, but pulled it about by the tail and hurt it sadly, and it died. Now a little while after, the naughty boy’s papa and mamma went away and left him, and then he could get no victuals at all, for you know he could not take care of himself. So he went about to every body — Pray give me something to eat, — I am very hungry. And every body said, No, we shall give you none, for we do not love cruel, naughty boys. So he went about from one place to another, till at last he got into a thick wood of trees; for he did not know how to find his way any where; and then it grew dark, quite dark night. So he sat down and cried sadly; and I believe the bears came and eat him up in the wood, for I never heard any thing about him afterwards.

Oops

In 1950, Stanford graduate student Robert E. Young realized that two chapters of Henry James’ novel The Ambassadors had been reversed in every American edition since 1903.

“Various discrepancies in facts and time are apparent on careful reading of the chapters in their present order,” he wrote. “On the other hand, the reversal of the two results in the complete elimination of these discrepancies.”

It turned out that the two chapters appeared in the opposite order in the English editions, and many American publishers adopted that order accordingly.

But James himself had not noted any error in revising the American text in 1909, and it’s possible to view that version as correct and the English text as reversed, if one allows for some chronological inconsistency.

The result is that there is no definitive text. “The mishap is particularly ironic,” Young wrote, “in view of the fact that James regarded The Ambassadors as his most perfectly constructed novel, his masterpiece.”

Sparks

http://books.google.com/books?id=kI1aAAAAMAAJ&rview=1&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Many of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s stories were suggested by the illustrated tiles that decorated the fireplace in his study at Christ Church, Oxford:

  • At top is the ship that the Bellman steered, though “the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes.”
  • At top left is the Lory, who joined in the Caucus-Race in Alice in Wonderland.
  • Below the Lory is the Dodo, who claimed a thimble as his prize.
  • At bottom left is the Fawn that couldn’t remember its name in Through the Looking-Glass.
  • At top right is the Eaglet, another Caucus-Race participant.
  • Below the Eaglet is the Gryphon, also from Wonderland.
  • At bottom right is the Beaver from “The Hunting of the Snark,” the only creature that the Butcher knew how to kill.

One of Carroll’s child-friends, Enid Stevens, supplied these particulars for The Lewis Carroll Picture Book, published in 1899. “As I sat on Mr. Dodgson’s knee before the fire,” she wrote, “he used to make the creatures have long and very amusing conversations between themselves. The little creatures on the intervening tiles used to ‘squirm’ in at intervals. I think they suggested the ‘Little birds are feeding,’ &c., in ‘Sylvie and Bruno.'”