Contradictory Proverbs

Look before you leap.
He who hesitates is lost.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.

You’re never too old to learn.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Better safe than sorry.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Nice guys finish last.

Many hands make light work.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Silence is golden.

Alice’s Riddle

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Everyone likes a good riddle. In Chapter 7 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter poses a famous one: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Lewis Carroll intended that it should have no solution, but puzzle maven Sam Loyd offered these anyway:

  • Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes.
  • Poe wrote on both.
  • Bills and tales are among their characteristics.
  • Because they both stand on their legs, conceal their steels (steals), and ought to be made to shut up.

In 1896, Carroll proposed an answer himself: “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (“Nevar” is “raven” spelled backward.)

Po’ Poe

A desperate letter from Edgar Allan Poe to his Philadelphia publishers, Aug. 13, 1841:

Gentlemen, — I wish to publish a new collection of my prose Tales with some such title as this —

“The Prose Tales of Edgar A. Poe, Including ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’ The ‘Descent into the Maelstrom,’ and all his later pieces, with a second edition of the ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.'”

The “later pieces” will be eight in number, making the entire collection thirty-three — which would occupy two thick novel volumes.

I am anxious that your firm should continue to be my publishers, and, if you would be willing to bring out the book, I should be glad to accept the terms which you allowed me before — that is — you receive all profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends.

They turned him down in three days flat. A century later, at a 1944 auction, the letter itself fetched $3,000.

Poe’s Death

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What killed Edgar Allan Poe?

On Oct. 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious and wearing clothes that were not his own. The man who found him said he was “in great distress, and … in need of immediate assistance.” He remained incoherent and died four days later. He was only 40.

An acquaintance said it was drunkenness, but he turned out to be a supporter of the temperance movement who distorted the facts. The attending physician wrote that “Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person.”

Well, what, then? Other theories include a rare brain disease, diabetes, enzyme deficiency, syphilis, even rabies. Some people think Poe was accosted, drugged, and used as a pawn in a plot to stuff ballot boxes that day.

There’s no surviving death certificate, so we’ll never really know. Today Poe lies in the churchyard at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, where mystery follows him even in death: Every year since 1949, the grave has been visited by a mystery man in the early hours of the poet’s birthday, Jan. 19. Dressed in black and carrying a silver-tipped cane, the “Poe Toaster” kneels at the grave and makes a toast with Martel cognac. He leaves behind the half-empty bottle and three red roses.

“Be All My Socks Remembered”

An excerpt from Fox in Socks, Prince of Denmark:

ACT 4, Scene 2
[Enter FOX and KNOX]
FOX: Try to say this my lord Knox, prithee –
Through three cheese trees, or not through three cheese trees,
That is the question –
whether ’tis nobler In the trees for three free fleas to fly,
Or to take a freezy breeze that blew
While these fleas flew and by blowing
Freeze these three trees. To breeze, to freeze –
No more; and by a breeze to blow
we freeze the trees and the thousand natural trees
That cheese is heir to – ’tis a cheese
Devoutly to be freezed.
To breeze, to freeze – To freeze, perchance to sneeze.
Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that freeze of cheese what sneezes may come,
When fleas flew off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
KNOX: Adieu my lord,
This is a speech of fire that fain would blaze
But that this folly doubts it.
[Exeunt]

From the Dr. Seuss Parody Page.

Dickens and Eliot

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A revealing letter of Charles Dickens to George Eliot, 1858:

Dear Sir:

I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me through Messrs. Blackwood, that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy, both of the humor and the pathos of the stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had the impertinence to try.

In addressing these few words of thankfulness to the creator of the sad fortunes of Mr. Amos Barton, and the sad love-story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to assume. I can suggest no better one; but I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed what seems to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began. …