Writing Weather


1816 is known as “the year without a summer” — the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora flung huge amounts of volcanic dust into the atmosphere, dropping temperatures worldwide and giving the sky a sallow cast that’s visible in Turner’s landscapes of the period (above).

It was a great calamity for farmers, but a boon for horror literature — the “wet, ungenial summer” forced Mary Shelley and John Polidori indoors on their Swiss holiday, where they wrote both Frankenstein and The Vampyre.

Temp Work

Strapped for cash in the mid-1950s, Kurt Vonnegut took a job at Sports Illustrated, though he “didn’t care or know squat about sports.”

They asked him to write a piece about a racehorse that had jumped the fence at the local track.

He fed a page into his typewriter, stared at it for several hours, typed “The horse jumped over the fucking fence” and left.

Comp Lit


Emerson’s rules for reading:

  1. Never read any book that is not a year old.
  2. Never read any but famed books.
  3. Never read any but what you like.

“Or, in Shakespeare’s phrase, ‘No profit goes where is no pleasure ta’en; / In brief, Sir, study what you most affect.'”

The Blitz Previewed


E. Douglas Fawcett’s 1893 story “Hartmann the Anarchist” described an aerial bombardment of London — 47 years before World War II:

With eyes riveted now to the massacre, I saw frantic women trodden down by men; huge clearings made by the shells and instantly filled up; house-fronts crushing horses and vehicles as they fell; fires bursting out on all sides, to devour what they listed, and terrified police struggling wildly and helplessly in the heart of the press.

Hartmann rains dynamite bombs, shells, and blazing petroleum from his airship before a mutiny brings him down. “It has not been my aim to write history,” writes the narrator. “I have sought to throw light only on one of its more romantic corners.”

See also Wreck of the Titan and A Blindfold Bullseye.


Though she died at age 8, Marjory Fleming (1803-1811) had the soul of a mature writer. Her diary became hugely popular in Victorian London:

I am now going to tell you the horrible and wretched plaege that my multiplication table gives me; you cant conceive it. The most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7; it is what nature itself cant endure.

And she was rumored to be the favorite poet of Walter Scott, who reportedly told her aunt, “Her repeating of Shakespeare overpowers me as nothing else does.”

Of summer I am very fond,
And love to bathe into a pond;
The look of sunshine dies away,
And will not let me out to play;
I love the morning’s sun to spy
Glittering through the casement’s eye,
The rays of light are very sweet,
And puts away the taste of meat;
The balmy breeze comes down from heaven,
And makes us like for to be living.

In her last illness she offered to recite a poem for her father; when he asked her to choose one, she startled him with Burns’ “Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene?”

See also An Unacknowledged Genius and Child’s Play.

Orwell That Ends Well

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, rendered in Newspeak by J.A. Lindon:

Person or unperson. Query.
Unbellyfeel Ingsoc, oldthink, ownthink,
Or Ingsoc foolthink doubleplusungood
Own unlife bellyfeel, make self unlifer,
Unperson, unofficial. (PENALTY: JOYCAMP)
Only unwake: become unlifer. (FOOLTHINK)
Unwake, and thusby unperform our Ingsoc duty
Unwake: become unlifer.
Unwake — ungoodwise dream (PLUS-CERTAINFUL
Yes, there is the unsmoothness —
Correctful treatment in the Miniluv,
Post fail-maked self unlifer with a cord,
Is allsuch stopful — yes, there is the reason
We still goodwise perform our Ingsoc duty
Until we’re vaporized, although (CRIMETHINK)
Unbellyfeeling Ingsoc and Big Brother,
The Junior Anti-Sex League, rationed goods,
Sternness of Inner Party and its just
And ungood “watch and query” note on us,
We seemcould oldthink “free” perhaps become
With a bigneedle. (FOOLTHINK) Who would work,
Prolewise and sweatful, doubleplusunfresh,
For Ingsoc if he bellyfeeled to know
Correctful treatment in the Miniluv
That joyful place from which so few return,
And those how bigwise changed? Plusgooderwise
We live goodthinkful til some Spy reports us,
And WAR (against the Party) brings NO PEACE
Inside the Miniluv till we become
Unpersons (now OFFICIAL). But unhard!
The clingful and face-crimewise-good-to-see
Ophelia! Joysexful girl, forget
My many faults in your Two Minutes Hate!

See also Hamlet in Klingon and GRKTRGDY.

Epic Verse

The world’s longest handwritten poem is nearly 1 kilometer long. Unveiled by French notary Patrick Huet in 2006, Pieces of Hope to the Echo of the World comprises 7,547 verses.

All that length is necessary — the poem is one long acrostic. The initial letters of its lines spell out the complete Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Special Delivery


This is the Flammarion woodcut, so named because it first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’Atmosphère. No one knows who created it; it’s thought to depict a medieval pilgrim who discovers the point where earth and sky meet.

Flammarion’s book itself seemed touched by magic. As the astronomer was completing a chapter on the force of the wind, a sudden gale blew the last few pages out the window and off in a whirlwind among the trees. Then a downpour started, and Flammarion gave them up as lost.

He was astonished, then, a few days later when his printer delivered the full chapter, with no pages missing.

It seems the porter who normally brought Flammarion’s proof sheets had been returning to his office when he noticed the sodden manuscript leaves on the ground. He assumed that he himself had dropped them and so had collected them and carried them to the printer without telling anyone.

“Remember,” Flammarion writes, “it was a chapter on the strange doings of the wind.”


Composed in 390 B.C., Aristophanes’ play Ecclesiazusae concludes with the name of a dish on which the characters plan to feast.

The word is lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimupotrimmatosilphioliparomelitoaktakexhumeno-kichlepikossuphophattoperisteralektruonoptopiphallidokinklopeleioplagoosiraiobaphetragalopterugon. At 169 letters, it’s still the longest word in the Greek language.

Fine Scotch

A sentence composed entirely of contractions taken from Robert Burns poems:

E’en th’ flow’rs afiel’ ha’e fac’t heav’n wi’ th’ rightfu’, shinin’ blessin’ that’s prevail’d i’ th’ min’ o’ th’ faithfu’ servan’ an’ th’ mournfu’, wand’ring craz’d o’ th’ worl’: heav’n’s pray’rs ha’e honour’d th’ cheerfu’ an’ th’ gen’rous ‘gainst t’other worl’s glib-tongu’d, wither’d pow’r.

When the English poet laureate Alfred Austin unveiled a statue of Burns in 1896, Punch proposed some remarks for him.

“Ye ken I canna mak’ ye a lang speech, bein’ mair a wanchansie mon, ram-feezled wi’ writin’, than a skirlin’, tapetless glib-gabbet,” he was to say. “Burns was nae feckless gowk, sae it’s a pleasure tae me tae unveil this sonsie statue.”