When Joseph Addison lent a sum of money to his friend Temple Stanyan, Stanyan became meekly agreeable, unwilling to argue with Addison as he used to.

At last Addison told him, “Sir, either contradict me or pay me my money.”

Biographer Peter Smithers calls this “a salvo of which Johnson himself might have been proud.”


Andrew Carnegie’s rules for speaking:

  1. Make yourself perfectly at home before your audience, and simply talk to them, not at them.
  2. Do not try to be somebody else; be your own self and talk, never “orate” until you can’t help it.

As a boy he’d joined a debating club, and “I know of no better mode of benefiting a youth than joining such a club as this. … The self-possession I afterwards came to have before an audience may very safely be attributed to the experience of the ‘Webster Society.'”

(From his autobiography.)


“King James said to the fly, Have I three kingdoms, and thou must needs fly into my eye?” — John Selden

“The autocrat of Russia possesses more power than any other man in the earth, but he cannot stop a sneeze.” — Mark Twain


Why do people in bygone days wear such gloomy expressions? In the 16th and 17th centuries, smiling wasn’t encouraged in part because of poor dental hygiene. Louis XIV had no teeth, and the Mona Lisa may have been trying to hide gaps or stains in her smile.

Beyond the dental challenge, broad smiles and open laughter were often actively criticized, seen as reflecting a distressing lack of emotional control. Upper-class manners insisted that a boisterous laugh was a sign of poor breeding, really no better than a yawn or a fart. A French Catholic writer argued, in 1703, ‘God would not have given humans lips if He had wanted the teeth to be on open display.’ Children might smile, to be sure, but an adult should have learned to know better.

Fashionable audiences disdained laughing aloud — Molière said that this goal was not to entertain but to “correct the faults of men.” And in Protestant countries people sought to “walk humbly” in the sight of God — one writer commented that in his view, the Almighty “allowed of no joy or pleasure, but of a kind of melancholy demeanor or austerity.” This finally changed with the Enlightenment — John Byrom wrote in 1728, “It was the best thing one could do to be always cheerful.”

(Peter N. Stearns, Happiness in World History, 2020.)

To Have and to Hold

The brank consisted of a kind of crown or framework of iron, which was locked upon the head of the delinquent. It was armed in front with a gag, plate, point or knife of the same metal, which was fitted in such a manner as to be inserted in the scold’s mouth so as to prevent her moving her tongue; or, more cruel still, it was so placed that if she did move it, or attempt to speak, her tongue was cruelly lacerated, and her sufferings intensified. With this cage upon her head, and with the gag pressed and locked upon the tongue, the poor creature was paraded through the streets, led by the beadle or constable, or else she was chained to the pillory or market cross to be the object of scorn and derision, and to be subjected to all the insults and degradations that local loungers could invent.

“Muzzles for Ladies,” Strand, November 1894


For myself, I must say that I find [Edward] Lear funniest when he is least arbitrary and when a touch of burlesque or perverted logic makes its appearance. … While the Pobble was in the water some unidentified creatures came and ate his toes off, and when he got home his aunt remarked:

‘It’s a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes,’

which once again is funny because it has a meaning, and one might even say a political significance. For the whole theory of authoritarian governments is summed up in the statement that Pobbles were happier without their toes.

— George Orwell, “Nonsense Poetry,” 1945

“The Thrift of Strength”

A Weak Man going down-hill met a Strong Man going up, and said:

‘I take this direction because it requires less exertion, not from choice. I pray you, sir, assist me to regain the summit.’

‘Gladly,’ said the Strong Man, his face illuminated with the glory of his thought. ‘I have always considered my strength a sacred gift in trust for my fellow-men. I will take you up with me. Go behind me and push.’

— Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables, 1899


Rules of the Anti-Flirt Club, active in the early 1920s in Washington, D.C.:

  1. Don’t flirt: those who flirt in haste often repent in leisure.
  2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists — they don’t invite you in to save you a walk.
  3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling — they were made for worthier purposes.
  4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know — they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  5. Don’t wink — a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
  6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers — save them for people you know.
  7. Don’t annex all the men you can get — by flirting with many, you may lose out on the one.
  8. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater — the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  9. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  10. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.

The club’s main purpose was to protect women from men who abused “the precedent established during the war by offering to take young lady pedestrians in their cars,” according to an article in the Washington Post. Helen Brown, secretary of the 10-member club, warned that men “don’t all tender their invitations to save the girls a walk.”

Plain Enough

In Jewish Bankers and the Holy See (2012), León Poliakov cites a joke current in 12th-century ghettos to justify usury between Jews.

“It consisted, it is said, of reciting Deuteronomy 23:20 in interrogative tones to make it mean the opposite of its obvious sense:

“‘Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury?'”

“Dispatch Is the Soul of Business”,_4th_Earl_of_Chesterfield.PNG

Advice sent by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), to his son Philip on how to attain success in the world:

  • Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.
  • An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult.
  • Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.
  • I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh.
  • The manner is often as important as the matter, sometimes more so.
  • Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry.
  • I really know nothing more criminal, more mean, and more ridiculous than lying. It is the production either of malice, cowardice, or vanity; and generally misses of its aim in every one of these views; for lies are always detected, sooner or later.
  • Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one.
  • The characteristic of a well-bred man is, to converse with his inferiors without insolence, and with his superiors with respect and with ease.
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give luster, and many more people see than weigh.
  • It is a great advantage for any man to be able to talk or hear, neither ignorantly nor absurdly, upon any subject; for I have known people, who have not said one word, hear ignorantly and absurdly; it has appeared by their inattentive and unmeaning faces.
  • A proper secrecy is the only mystery of able men; mystery is the only secrecy of weak and cunning ones.
  • In short, let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know, yourself; and never to trust implicitly to the informations of others.
  • It is an undoubted truth, that the less one has to do, the less time one finds to do it in. One yawns, one procrastinates, one can do it when one will, and therefore one seldom does it at all.
  • It is commonly said, and more particularly by Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the best test of truth.
  • Let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.
  • The reputation of generosity is to be purchased pretty cheap; it does not depend so much upon a man’s general expense, as it does upon his giving handsomely where it is proper to give at all. A man, for instance, who should give a servant four shillings, would pass for covetous, while he who gave him a crown, would be reckoned generous; so that the difference of those two opposite characters, turns upon one shilling.
  • Let this be one invariable rule of your conduct — never to show the least symptom of resentment, which you cannot, to a certain degree, gratify; but always to smile, where you cannot strike.

“I wish to God,” he wrote in 1750, “that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.”

(From Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1774.)