Salad Bar

In his 1968 novel Enderby Outside, Anthony Burgess contrived to use the word onions four times in a row:

Then, instead of expensive mouthwash, he had breathed on Hogg-Enderby, bafflingly (for no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions. ‘Onions,’ said Hogg.

Burgess could take playfulness to excess — the first volume of the Enderby quartet got him into a bit of trouble.


For their investiture as poet laureate, Wordsworth and Tennyson both borrowed the same suit from Samuel Rogers.

Unfortunately, Rogers was a small man. When Tennyson had trouble fitting into the suit, he asked a servant how Wordsworth had fared. “They had great difficulty in getting him into them,” the man replied.


Thackeray was at a St. Louis dinner, when one waiter said to another: ‘That is the celebrated Mr. Thackeray.’ ‘What’s he done?’ said the other. ‘Blessed if I know,’ was the answer.

— James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879

Between the Lines

Read the first letter of each sentence of the preface of Transport Phenomena, a 1960 chemical engineering textbook by Robert Bird, Warren Stewart, and Edwin Lightfoot, and you’ll discover the message THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO O.A. HOUGEN.

In the second edition, the initial letters of successive paragraphs spell the word WELCOME.

In the afterword, they spell ON WISCONSIN.


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.”

(10/23/2021 This has begun to fascinate me. The New York Times reviewed the book, favorably even while acknowledging its possible falsity, in 1902. has a complete copy.)

“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


‘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!”