Love and Law

Writing in the San Francisco journal The Californian in 1865, Mark Twain answered this inquiry from a reader:

I loved and still love, the beautiful Edwitha Howard, and intended to marry her. Yet during my temporary absence at Benicia, last week, alas! she married Jones. Is my happiness to be thus blasted for life? Have I no redress?

“Of course you have,” Twain answered. He argued that intention is everything in the law — if you call your friend a fool, this is not an insult if you intended it playfully. And killing a man by accident does not constitute murder.

Ergo, if you had married Edwitha accidentally, and without really intending to do it, you would not actually be married to her at all, because the act of marriage could not be complete without the intention. And, ergo, in the strict spirit of the law, since you deliberately intended to marry Edwitha, and didn’t do it, you are married to her all the same — because, as I said before, the intention constitutes the crime. It is as clear as day that Edwitha is your wife, and your redress lies in taking a club and mutilating Jones with it as much as you can. Any man has a right to protect his own wife from the advances of other men.

But you have another alternative — you were married to Edwitha first, because of your deliberate intention, and now you can prosecute her for bigamy, in subsequently marrying Jones.

But there is another phase in this complicated case: You intended to marry Edwitha, and consequently, according to law, she is your wife — there is no getting around that — but she didn’t marry you, and if she never intended to marry you you are not her husband, of course. Ergo, in marrying Jones, she was guilty of bigamy, because she was the wife of another man at the time — which is all very well as far as it goes — but then, don’t you see, she had no other husband when she married Jones, and consequently she was not guilty of bigamy.

Now according to this view of the case, Jones married a spinster, who was a widow at the same time and another man’s wife at the same time, and yet who had no husband and never had one, and never had any intention of getting married, and therefore, of course, never had been married; and by the same reasoning you are a bachelor, because you have never been any one’s husband, and a married man because you have a wife living, and to all intents and purposes a widower, because you have been deprived of that wife, and a consummate ass for going off to Benicia in the first place, while things were so mixed.

“And by this time I have got myself so tangled up in the intricacies of this extraordinary case that I shall have to give up any further attempt to advise you,” he added. “I might get confused and fail to make myself understood. I think I could take up the argument where I left off, and by following it closely awhile, perhaps I could prove to your satisfaction, either that you never existed at all, or that you are dead, now, and consequently don’t need the faithless Edwitha — I think I could do that, if it would afford you any comfort.”

Mystery Guest

Who is Horatio? He’s described as a friend of Hamlet, a fellow student at Wittenberg. He seems to be Danish, since he speaks of the elder Hamlet as “our King” and of Danes as countrymen.

But he’s not from Elsinore: He’s unfamiliar with Danish court customs and with people such as Laertes and Osric, and he says he’s seen the King only once (and presumably recently, since he recalls that the King’s beard, like his ghost’s, was gray).

Marcellus and Barnardo, like Hamlet, seem to regard Horatio as a learned and trustworthy companion, but he’s not a close friend — Hamlet is surprised to see him and finds his absence from the university puzzling. Hamlet calls him a good friend, but Horatio calls himself Hamlet’s “poor servant ever.”

At the end of the play, Horatio promises to tell his friend’s story to the Norwegian Prince and “report [his] cause aright,” restoring Hamlet’s reputation and honoring his memory. University of Alberta political scientist Leon Harold Craig notes that this seems to mean that Horatio plans to reveal that Hamlet’s seemingly wayward behavior had been feigned. But “can Horatio plausibly explain why Hamlet should think it ‘meet / To put an antic disposition on’? Indeed, does Horatio even know himself?”

(Leon Harold Craig, Philosophy and the Puzzles of Hamlet, 2014.)


Sherlock Holmes has the reputation of being relentlessly dour — in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” Watson even says that “Homes seldom laughed.” To counter this, A.G. Cooper counted up 292 instances of Holmes’ laughter, and Charles E. Lauterbach and Edward S. Lauterbach even compiled this table:

Frequency Table Showing the Number and Kind of Responses Sherlock Holmes Made to Humorous Situations and Comments in His 60 Recorded Adventures

Smile: 103
Laugh: 65
Joke: 58
Chuckle: 31
Humor: 10
Amusement: 9
Cheer: 7
Delight: 7
Twinkle: 7
Miscellaneous: 19
Total: 316

The explanation, they suggest, is that Watson was deaf.

(A.G. Cooper, “Holmesian Humour,” Sherlock Holmes Journal 6:4 [Spring 1964), 109-113; Charles E. Lauterbach and Edward S. Lauterbach, “The Man Who Seldom Laughed,” Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual No. 5 [1960], 265-271.)


As Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1893 story “The Adventure of the Reigate Squire” begins, Sherlock Holmes is recuperating after the unspecified-but-apparently-quite-taxing case of the “Netherlands-Sumatra company,” which left him lying exhausted in the Hotel Dulong in Lyons. Watson writes:

The triumphant issue of his labours could not save him from reaction after so terrible an exertion, and at a time when Europe was ringing with his name, and when his room was literally ankle-deep with congratulatory telegrams, I found him prey to the blackest depression.

Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes includes this droll footnote:

Carol P. Woods calculates that to fill the average French hotel room to ‘ankle-deep’ would require 10,741 crumpled telegrams; and she muses that Holmes’s illness was caused not entirely by the exertions put forth in the Netherlands-Sumatra case but also by the telegram-crumpling itself, which would have required slightly over 179 hours of opening, reading, crumpling, and tossing.

Out, Out!

In 1990, University of Houston English professor Earl Dachslager wrote to the New York Times “to settle once and for all the debate over the first references in print to the game of baseball.” He had found 11 in Shakespeare:

  • “And so I shall catch the fly” (Henry V, Act V, Scene ii).
  • “I’ll catch it ere it come to ground” (Macbeth, III, v).
  • “A hit, a very palpable hit” (Hamlet, V, ii).
  • “You may go walk” (The Taming of the Shrew, II, i).
  • “Strike!” (Richard III, I, iv).
  • “For this relief much thanks” (Hamlet, I, i).
  • “You have scarce time to steal” (Henry VIII, III, ii).
  • “O hateful error” (Julius Caesar, V, i).
  • “Run, run, O run!” (King Lear, V, iii).
  • “My arm is sore” (Antony and Cleopatra, II, v).
  • “I have no joy in this contract” (Romeo and Juliet, II, ii).

“I trust that the question of who first wrote about baseball is now finally settled.”

The Débutante

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


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.”


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

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

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.