Worldly Wise

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Proverbs from around the world:

  • A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. (English)
  • Impulse manages all things badly. (Latin)
  • It is not the thief who is hanged, but the one who is caught stealing. (Czech)
  • Never promise a poor man, and never owe a rich one. (Brazilian)
  • A fool at forty is a fool indeed. (Ethiopian)
  • Quarrelsome dogs come limping home. (Swedish)
  • A canoe does not know who is king: when it turns over, everyone gets wet. (Malagasy)
  • A thousand regrets do not pay one debt. (Turkish)
  • Every road leads somewhere. (Filipino)
  • He who steals a needle will steal an ox. (Korean)
  • Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing. (French)
  • The tongue is the neck’s worst enemy. (Egyptian)
  • If work were good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor. (Haitian)
  • Happiness is not a horse that can be harnessed. (Russian)
  • Relatives are scorpions. (Tunisian)
  • Silence does not make mistakes. (Hindi)

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

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“On cold days people manage to get some warmth by crowding together,” writes Schopenhauer in his Counsels and Maxims, “and you can warm your mind in the same way — by bringing it into contact with others. But a man who has a great deal of intellectual warmth in himself will stand in no need of such resources.” He offers this parable:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told — in the English phrase — to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

“As a general rule,” he writes, “it may be said that a man’s sociability stands very nearly in inverse ratio to his intellectual value: to say that ‘so and so’ is very unsociable, is almost tantamount to saying that he is a man of great capacity.”

The Lucy Stone League

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When Lucy Stone married Henry Browne Blackwell in 1855, she tried to keep her own name, signing her correspondence “Lucy Stone – only.” She was told she could vote and register property only as Lucy Stone Blackwell, but she carried her birth name throughout her life.

In 1921, inspired by this example, New York journalist Ruth Hale founded the Lucy Stone League, declaring that “a wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.” (Hale’s husband was columnist Heywood Broun, but “the only one in her household called Mrs. Heywood Broun was the cat.”)

The social pressure they faced was enormous — the women found it difficult to open a bank account, get an insurance policy or a library card, register a copyright, receive a paycheck, or vote. Immediately after her wedding to Edward L. Bernays in 1922, member Doris Fleischman made headlines by signing into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel using her maiden name. It took her four years to get the State Department to issue a passport, and she spent another 26 years trying to get hotel clerks, social acquaintances, and even her own parents and children to accept her as Doris Fleischman.

She was still fighting at age 57. “Mrs. stands to the right of me, and Miss stands to the left,” she wrote. “Me is a ghost somewhere in the middle.”

Field Reports

Explorers of foreign countries can produce strikingly different maps — here’s Joseph Husson’s Map of a Woman’s Heart (1840):

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And here’s D.W. Kellogg’s Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart (circa 1833-1842):

http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Exhibitions/Beauty/true.htm

Who’s right? Looks like the safest plan is to drop into the center by parachute.

More Theatrical Codes

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Last year I mentioned Sullivan & Considine’s Theatrical Cipher Code of 1905, a telegraphic code for “everyone connected in any way with the theatrical business.” The idea is that performers, managers, and exhibitors could save money on telegrams by replacing common phrases with short code words:

Filacer – An opera company
Filament – Are they willing to appear in tights
Filander – Are you willing to appear in tights
Filiation – Chorus girls who are shapely and good looking
Filibuster – Chorus girls who are shapely, good looking, and can sing

At the time I lamented that I had only one page. Well, a reader just sent me the whole book, and it is glorious:

Abbacom – Carry elaborate scenery and beautiful costumes
Abbalot – Fairly bristles with hits
Abditarum – This attraction will hurt our business
Addice – Why have not reported for rehearsal
Admorsal – If you do not admit at once will have to bring suit of attachment
Behag – Not the fault of play or people
Bordaglia – Do not advance him any money
Boskop – Understand our agent is drinking; if this is true wire at once
Bosom – Understand you are drinking
Bosphorum – Understand you are drinking and not capable to transact business
Bosser – We are up against it here
Bottle – You must sober up
Bouback – Your press notices are poor
Deskwork – A versatile and thoroughly experienced actress
Despair – Absolute sobriety at all times essential
Detour – Actress for emotional leads
Devilry – Actress with child preferred
Dextral – An actor with fine reputation and proven cleverness
Dishful – Comedian, Swedish dialect
Disorb – Do not want drunkards
Dispassion – Do you object to going on road
Distal – Good dresser(s) both on and off stage
Dormillon – Lady for piano
Drastic – Must be shapely and good looking
Druism – Not afraid of work
Eden – Strong heavy man
Election – What are their complexions
Epic – Does he impress you as being reliable and a hustler
Exclaimer – Are they bright, clever and healthy children
Eyestone – Can you recommend him as an experienced and competent electrician
Faro – A B♭ cornetist
Flippant – Must understand calcium lights
Fluid – Is right up-to-date and understands his business from A to Z
Forester – Acts that are not first class and as represented, will be closed after first performance
Foxhunt – Can deliver the goods
Gultab – The people will not stand for such high prices
Hilbert – State the very lowest salary for which she will work, by return wire
Jansenist – Fireproof theatre
Jinglers – How did the weather affect house
Jolly – Temperature is 15° above zero

There’s also an appendix for the vaudeville circuit:

Kajuit – Trick cottage
Kakour – Grotesque acrobats
Kalekut – Sparring and bag punching act
Kernwort – Troupe of dogs, cats and monkeys
Kluefock – Upside down cartoonist
Koegras – Imitator of birds, etc.
Letabor – Act is poorly staged and arranged
Litterat – The asbestos curtain has not arrived yet
Mallius – How many chairs do you need in the balcony
Meleto – Is the opposition putting on stronger shows than we

The single word “Lechuzo” stands for “Make special effort to mail your report on acts Monday night so as to enable us to determine your opinion of the same, as in many instances yours will be the first house that said act has performed in, and again by receiving your report early it enables us to correct in time any error that may be made regarding performer, salary and efficiency.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

Some Enchanted Evening

In 1993, reseachers Suzanna Rose and Irene Hanson Frieze asked 135 undergraduates to describe what had happened on their most recent first date:

Women Men
Groomed and dressed Picked up date
Was nervous Met parents/roommates
(Man:) Picked up date Left
Introduced to parents, etc. Picked up friends
(Man:) Courtly behavior (open doors) Confirm plans
Left Talked, joked, laughed
Confirm plans Went to movies, show, party
Got to know & evaluate date Ate
Talked, joked, laughed Drank alcohol
Enjoyed date Initiated sexual contact
Went to movies, show, party Made out
Ate Took date home
Drank alcohol Asked for another date
Talked to friends Kissed goodnight
Had something go wrong Went home
(Man:) Took date home
(Man:) Asked for another date
(Man:) Told date will call her
(Man:) Kissed date goodnight
Went home

Of the 20 actions reported by women, 6 were initiated by the man. Of the 15 actions reported by men, none were initiated by the woman.

Thirty-three respondents reported something going wrong. “[O]ne young man had car trouble after picking up his date and was mortified by having to take her back home. Another’s date abandoned her at a party and began to cruise other women, leaving the woman to fend for herself. Embarrassing events were also common. One participant reported having made a fool of herself by throwing the ball backward while bowling; another woman got extremely upset when her date insisted it was ‘love at first sight.'”

“A third type of interruption … was related to perceived violations of gender roles, such as ‘He lost points for not opening my car door’ and ‘We went out to eat later at Pizza Hut and she was a pig.'”

(Suzanna Rose and Irene Hanson Frieze, “Young Singles’ Contemporary Dating Scripts,” Sex Roles 28:9/10, 1993.)

“The Attack of Love”

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How a woman assails a man’s heart, by German map publisher Matthäus Seutter, 1730. Princeton map curator John Delaney explains:

[F]orces are attacking and defending the fortress of Manhood that sits in a frozen, passionless sea. The side of Love, representing the fairer sex, employs four sets of artillery batteries (on the left) to bombard the walls with appeals to vanity, offering delightful surprises, charms, and joys, and plying with tenderness, wishful thinking, and ‘un certain je ne sais quoi.’ Over the walls, naval ships lob such feminine wiles and virtues as beauty, pleasant conversation, gentleness, and ‘regards languissant’ (languishing looks). Love’s forces are camped for the duration (at the lower left), commanded by their general, Cupid.

As the key states, there are also methods for defending and conserving one’s heart against this unrelenting onslaught: memory, prudence, industry, experience (see the lettered outposts along the fortress walls). Ultimately, however, it is a war of attrition. As the trail winding through the fortress and along the coastline proves, the love-struck victim surrenders, retreating, first, to his friends for advice, deliberation, and information, before moving onward to the garden of pleasure and his first encounter with his beloved. … From there, via a subterranean passage, he arrives at the Palace of Love — note the change from fortress to palace — which resides in a sea of peace. Entering is easy, according to the note, but leaving is impossible without losing one’s liberty. Another definition of a prison?

There’s a high-resolution image in Cornell’s rare manuscript collection.

Podcast Episode 171: The Emperor of the United States

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In the 1860s, San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction was not a place but a person: Joshua Norton, an eccentric resident who had declared himself emperor of the United States. Rather than shun him, the city took him to its heart, affectionately indulging his foibles for 21 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the reign of Norton I and the meaning of madness.

We’ll also keep time with the Romans and puzzle over some rising temperatures.

See full show notes …

A Soaring Heart

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From an advice column in Home Companion, March 4, 1899:

‘Sweet Briar’ (Swansea) writes in great trouble because her lover will persist in his intention to go up in a balloon. She urges him not to imperil his life in this foolhardy manner, but he only laughs at her fears.

I am sorry, ‘Sweet Briar’, that your lover occasions you anxiety in this manner, and I can only hope that he will ultimately see the wisdom of yielding to your wishes. What a pity it is that we have not a law like that which exists in Vienna! There no married man is allowed to go up in a balloon without the formal consent of his wife and children.

One solution: Go up with him, and marry him there.

The Victim

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It goes against masculine pride to have a wife helping support the household, and once a man’s pride is shattered, anything can happen to him. …

There was a couple I once knew in Chicago. At the time of their marriage the husband was earning $5,000 a year. Two years after marriage the wife went to work, and presently was making more than her husband. His home became a desolate place, for his wife’s job required her to travel to other cities. Driven to seek companionship to escape from the loneliness of home the man became addicted to drink. Today they are divorced. The woman is a notable business woman, and the man is a drunken drifter.

But, the women will comment, the husband drank. What of it? No husband drinks to excess unless there’s a reason for it. If the truth were known there are many men who began drinking because their wives took to work.

— William Johnston, These Women, 1925