• Kurt Vonnegut managed the country’s first Saab dealership.
  • Max Born is Olivia Newton-John’s grandfather.
  • 19683 = 1 × (9 – 6)8 × 3
  • Before the advent of European settlers, it’s believed that no Native American had blood type B.
  • “Good taste is the worst vice ever invented.” — Edith Sitwell

The first recorded performance of Hamlet took place at sea, aboard the East India ship Red Dragon off the coast of Africa in 1607. Capt. William Keeling’s diary entry for Sept. 5 reads: “I sent the interpreter according to his desier abord the Hector whear he brooke fast and after came abord me wher we gave the tragedie of Hamlett.”

Declined With Thanks

Image: Wikimedia Commons

When Hunter S. Thompson published Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, writers began to send him manuscripts, hoping he could help to get them published in Rolling Stone. Thompson sent a package of their poems to the magazine’s poetry editor, Charles Perry. “I don’t know about this stuff,” he wrote. “If you feel the same way, send it back to them with this” — and he included a prepared rejection letter:

You worthless, acid-sucking piece of illiterate shit! Don’t ever send this kind of brain-damaged swill in here again. If I had the time, I’d come out there and drive a fucking wooden stake into your forehead. Why don’t you get a job, germ? Maybe delivering advertising handouts door to door, or taking tickets for a wax museum. You drab South Bend cocksuckers are all the same; like those dope-addled dingbats at the Rolling Stone office. I’d like to kill those bastards for sending me your piece … and I’d just as soon kill you, too. Jam this morbid drivel up your ass where your readership will better appreciate it.

“We actually sent it out to a couple of people, thinking they would appreciate it,” Perry recalled later. “One person took it to a lawyer and asked whether he could sue us, and the lawyer said, ‘No, you don’t have a leg to stand on … but could I Xerox it?'”

Master Class


Writings of Sherlock Holmes, compiled by Vincent Starrett in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes:

  • Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos
  • Upon the Tracing of Footsteps
  • Upon the Influence of a Trade Upon the Form of the Hand
  • The Book of Life
  • On the Typewriter and Its Relation to Crime
  • Upon the Dating of Old Documents
  • Of Tattoo Marks
  • On Secret Writings
  • On the Surface Anatomy of the Human Ear
  • Early English Charters
  • On the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus
  • Chaldean Roots in the Ancient Cornish Language
  • Malingering
  • Upon the Uses of Dogs in the Work of the Detective
  • Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, With Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen
  • The Blanched Soldier
  • The Lion’s Mane
  • Sigerson
  • The Whole Art of Detection
  • Translations

In June 1955, a document purporting to be Holmes’ last will and testament was published by Nathan L. Bengis in the London Mystery Magazine. In it, Holmes leaves “to the authorities of Scotland Yard, one copy of each of my trifling monographs on crime detection, unless happily they shall feel they have outgrown the need for the elementary suggestions of an amateur detective.”

Literary Complaints

Charles Dickens to London clockmaker John Bennett:

My Dear Sir — Since my hall clock was sent to your establishment to be cleaned it has gone (as indeed it always has) perfectly well, but has struck the hours with great reluctance; and, after enduring internal agonies of a most distressing nature, it has now ceased striking altogether. Though a happy release for the clock, this is not convenient to the household. If you can send down any confidential person with whom the clock can confer, I think it may have something on its works that it would be glad to make a clean breast of.

W.S. Gilbert to the Times:

Sir, — Allow me to corroborate Dean Gregory’s statement as to the degeneration that has overtaken a company [the London and Northwestern Railway] which, until recently, was justly regarded as a pattern to all other lines in the matter of punctuality and rapidity of despatch. … In the face of Saturday the officials of the company stand helpless and appalled. This day, which recurs at stated and well-ascertained intervals, is treated as a phenomenon entirely outside the ordinary operations of nature, and, as a consequence, no attempt whatever is made to grapple with its inherent difficulties. To the question, ‘What has caused the train to be so late?’ the officials reply, ‘It is Saturday’ — as who should say, ‘It is an earthquake.’

Mark Twain to a gas and electric lighting company in Hartford, Conn.:

Gentlemen, — There are but two places in our whole street where lights could be of any value, by any accident, and you have measured and appointed your intervals so ingeniously as to leave each of those places in the centre of a couple of hundred yards of solid darkness. When I noticed that you were setting one of your lights in such a way that I could almost see how to get into my gate at night, I suspected that it was a piece of carelessness on the part of the workmen, and would be corrected as soon as you should go around inspecting and find it out. My judgment was right; it is always right, when you are concerned. For fifteen years, in spite of my prayers and tears, you persistently kept a gas lamp exactly half way between my gates, so that I couldn’t find either of them after dark; and then furnished such execrable gas that I had to hang a danger signal on the lamp post to keep teams from running into it, nights. Now I suppose your present idea is, to leave us a little more in the dark.

Don’t mind us — out our way; we possess but one vote apiece, and no rights which you are in any way bound to respect. Please take your electric light and go to — but never mind, it is not for me to suggest; you will probably find the way; and any way you can reasonably count on divine assistance if you lose your bearings.

S.L. Clemens.

Pen Pals

franklin pierce adams

“Guess whose birthday it is today?” Franklin Pierce Adams asked Beatrice Kaufman.

“Yours?” she guessed.

“No, but you’re getting warm,” he said. “It’s Shakespeare’s!”


From “Love and Freindship,” a story by the 14-year-old Jane Austen:

One evening in December, as my father, my mother, and myself were arranged in social converse round our fireside, we were on a sudden greatly astonished by hearing a violent knocking on the outward door of our rustic cot.

My father started — ‘What noise is that?’ said he. ‘It sounds like a loud rapping at the door,’ replied my mother. ‘It does indeed,’ cried I. ‘I am of your opinion,’ said my father, ‘it certainly does appear to proceed from some uncommon violence exerted against our unoffending door.’ ‘Yes,’ exclaimed I, ‘I cannot help thinking it must be somebody who knocks for admittance.’

‘That is another point,’ replied he. ‘We must not pretend to determine on what motive the person may knock — though that someone does rap at the door, I am partly convinced.’

Here, a second tremendous rap interrupted my father in his speech and somewhat alarmed my mother and me.

‘Had we better not go and see who it is?’ said she. ‘The servants are out.’ ‘I think we had,’ replied I. ‘Certainly,’ added my father, ‘by all means.’ ‘Shall we go now?’ said my mother, ‘The sooner the better,’ answered he. ‘Oh! let no time be lost,’ cried I.

A third more violent rap than ever again assaulted our ears. ‘I am certain there is somebody knocking at the door,’ said my mother. ‘I think there must,’ replied my father. ‘I fancy the servants are returned,’ said I. ‘I think I hear Mary going to the door.’ ‘I’m glad of it, cried my father, ‘for I long to know who it is.’

I was right in my conjecture; for Mary instantly entering the room informed us that a young gentleman and his servant were at the door, who had lost their way, were very cold and begged leave to warm themselves by our fire. …

Stage Whispers


Fanny Kemble’s 1833 American tour was not a uniform success — her journal gives this account of one eventful scene in Baltimore:

ROMEO: Tear not our heart strings thus! They crack! They break! — Juliet! Juliet! (dies)

JULIET: (to corpse) Am I smothering you?

CORPSE: (to Juliet) Not at all. Could you be so kind, do you think, as to put my wig on again for me? It has fallen off.

JULIET: (to corpse) I’m afraid I can’t, but I’ll throw my muslin veil over it. You’ve broken the phial, haven’t you? (corpse nods)

JULIET: Where’s your dagger?

CORPSE: ‘Pon my soul, I don’t know.

“The play went off pretty well, except they broke one man’s collar-bone, and nearly dislocated a woman’s shoulder by flinging the scenery about.”

Epic Fantasy


From a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his publishers, February 1950:

My work has escaped my control, and I have produced a monster; an immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and rather terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit for anybody); and it is not really a sequel to The Hobbit, but to The Silmarillion. Ridiculous and tiresome as you may think me, I want to publish them both — The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. That is what I should like. Or I will let it all be. I cannot contemplate any drastic rewriting or compression. But I shall not have any just grievance (nor shall I be dreadfully surprised) if you decline so obviously unprofitable a proposition.

At 150 million copies, The Lord of the Rings is now the third best-selling novel of all time.

Art Direction

E. Gertrude Thomson

In 1879, illustrator Emily Gertrude Thomson appointed to meet Lewis Carroll at the South Kensington Museum. She had arrived at the rendezvous before she realized that neither of them knew what the other looked like.

“The room was fairly full of all sorts and conditions, as usual,” she wrote later, “and I glanced at each masculine figure in turn, only to reject it as a possibility of the one I sought.”

As the clock struck, she heard high voices and children’s laughter ringing down the corridor, and a tall, slim gentleman entered holding two little girls by the hand. “He stood for a moment, head erect, glancing swiftly over the room, then, bending down, whispered something to one of the children; she, after a moment’s pause, pointed straight at me.”

He dropped their hands, came forward with a smile, and said, “I am Mr. Dodgson; I was to meet you, I think?” She smiled and asked how he had recognized her.

“My little friend found you,” he said. “I told her I had come to meet a young lady who knew fairies, and she fixed on you at once.”

More Amusing Indexes

From Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Poet at the Breakfast-Table, 1872:

Act to make the poor rich by making the rich poorer, 3
Ankle, wonderful effects of breaking a bone in the, 114
Batrachian reservoir (frog-pond in vulgar speech), the palladium of our city, 369
Biography, penalties of being its subject, 191 et seq.
Common virtues of humanity not to be confiscated to the use of any one creed, 360
House-flies mysterious creatures, 288
Ideas often improve by transplantation, 171
Intellects, one story, two story, three story, 50
Jests distress some people, 289
Justice, an algebraic x, 317
Life a fatal complaint, and contagious, 395
Limitations, human, not to be transferred to the Infinite, 319
Millionaires cannot be exterminated, 5
Non-clerical minds, hopeful for the future of the race, 302
Old people almost wish to lose their blessings for the pleasure of remembering them, 385
Poem, is it hard work to write one?, 111
Power, we have no respect for as such, 317
Private property in thought hard to get and keep, 356
Ribbon in button-hole pleases the author, 322
Rigorists, mellowing, better than tightening liberals, 19
Tattooing with the belief of our tribe while we are in our cradles, 384
Traditionalists eliminate cause and effect from the domain of morals, 265

And from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621:

Atheists described, 705
Baseness of birth no disparagement, 509
Beer censured, 145
Black eyes best, 519
Blow on the head cause of melancholy, 247
Confidence in his physician half a cure, 392
Crocodiles jealous, 629
Eunuchs why kept, and where, 642
Fishes in love, 493
Great men most part dishonest, 636
Guts described, 96
Hell where, 318
How oft ’tis fit to eat in a day, 307
Ignorance the mother of devotion, 678
Man the greatest enemy to man, 84
Old folks apt to be jealous, 632
Poets why poor, 203
Salads censured, 145
Step-mother, her mischiefs, 241
Venison a melancholy meat, 142
Why good men are often rejected, 415
Why fools beget wise children, wise men fools, 139, 140

The New York Times Book Review called Burton’s index “a readerly pleasure in itself.”

See Memorable Indexes.