Object Lesson

In 1969, Sufi scholar Idries Shah published a volume called The Book of the Book. Its opening pages told of a king whose people would not listen to his teachings, as he lacked an instrument with which to teach them.

The king meets a stranger who tells him of a revered wise man who attributed his knowledge to a tome kept in a place of honor in his room. When the wise man died, his followers eagerly opened the book and found writing on only one page. “When you realise the difference between the container and the content,” it said, “you will have knowledge.”

The rest of Shah’s 200-page book was blank.

Sold

Letter to the Times, May 19, 1932:

Sir,

I wonder if any of your male readers suffer as I do from what I can only describe as ‘Shop-shyness’? When I go into a shop I never seem to be able to get what I want, and I certainly never want what I eventually get. Take hats. When I want a grey soft hat which I have seen in the window priced at 17s. 6d. I come out with a brown hat (which doesn’t suit me) costing 35s. All because I have not the pluck to insist upon having what I want. I have got into the habit of saying weakly, ‘Yes, I’ll have that one,’ just because the shop assistant assures me that it suits me, fits me, and is a far, far better article than the one I originally asked for.

It is the same with shoes. In a shoe shop I am like clay in the hands of a potter. ‘I want a pair of black shoes,’ I say, ‘about twenty-five shillings — like those in the window.’ The man kneels down, measures my foot, produces a cardboard box, shoves on a shoe, and assures me it is ‘a nice fit.’ I get up and walk about. ‘How much are these?’ I ask. ‘These are fifty-two and six, Sir,’ he says, ‘a very superior shoe, Sir.’ After that I simply dare not ask to see the inferior shoes at 25s., which is all I had meant to pay. ‘Very well,’ I say in my weak way, ‘I’ll take these.’ And I do. I also take a bottle of cream polish, a pair of ‘gent’s half-hose,’ and some aluminium shoe-trees which the fellow persuades me to let him pack up with the shoes. I have made a mess of my shopping as usual.

Is there any cure for ‘shop-shyness’? Is there any ‘Course of Shopping Lessons’ during which I could as it were ‘Buy while I Learned’? If so I should like to hear of it. For I have just received a price list of ‘Very Attractive Gent’s Spring Suitings,’ and I am afraid — yes I am afraid … !

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

W. Hodgson Burnet

Life Goes On

A tombstone from “a well-known town in the north, Gateshead,” from Henry Sampson’s History of Advertising From the Earliest Times, 1875:

http://books.google.com/books?id=oUgUAQAAMAAJ

“Do tripe and trotters after all produce a prosaic condition of the human mind suggested by this tombstone, or would the relict of Jeremy have done as she did had her wares been of a different kind?” asks Sampson. “In the interests of the edibles referred to, for which we must confess a weakness, we trust she would.”

Ahem

A lady wishes to borrow One Hundred Pounds. The Security, though personal, may probably be very agreeable to a single Gentleman of spirit. Every particular will be communicated with Candour and Sincerity, where confidence is so far reposed as to give the real Name and Address of the party willing to oblige the Advertiser. Gentlemen of real Fortune and liberal Sentiments, and those only, are requested to address a line to Y. N. at Mr Dyke’s, Cross Street, Long-Acre.

Morning Post, Dec. 15, 1775

Good Company

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_Heinrich_Orth_Drei_Freunde_1835.jpg

“Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but ‘A’s part in C,’ while C loses not only A but ‘A’s part in B.’ In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.” — C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960

Charity

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911.jpg

Letter to the New York Times, March 26, 1911:

Dear Mr. Editer

i Went down town with my daddy yesterday to see that terrible fire where all the littel girls jumped out of high windows My littel cousin Beatrice and i are sending you five dollars a piece from our savings bank to help them out of trubble please give it to the right one to use it for sombody whose littel girl jumped out of a window i wouldent like to jump out of a high window myself.

Yours Truly,

Morris Butler

No Fare

Letter to the Times, Feb. 10, 1970:

Sir,

My husband, T.S. Eliot, loved to recount how late one evening he stopped a taxi. As he got in, the driver said: ‘You’re T.S. Eliot.’ When asked how he knew, he replied: ‘Ah, I’ve got an eye for a celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him: ‘Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about,’ and, do you know, he couldn’t tell me.’

Yours faithfully,

Valerie Eliot

“An Election Night Pantoum”

Gaze at the good-natured crowd,
List to the noise and the rattle!
Heavens! that woman is loud —
Loud as the din of a battle.

List to the noise and the rattle!
Hark to the honk of the horn
Loud as the din of a battle!
There! My new overcoat’s torn!

Hark to the honk of the horn!
Cut out that throwing confetti!
There! My new overcoat’s torn —
Looks like a shred of spaghetti.

Cut out that throwing confetti!
Look at the gentleman, stewed;
Looks like a shred of spaghetti —
Don’t get so terribly rude!

Look at the gentleman, stewed!
Look at the glare of the rocket!
Don’t get so terribly rude,
Keep your hand out of my pocket!

Look at the glare of the rocket!
Take that thing out of my face!
Keep your hand out of my pocket!
This is a shame and disgrace.

Take that thing out of my face!
Curse you! Be decent to ladies!
This is a shame and disgrace,
Worse than traditions of Hades.

Curse you! Be decent to ladies!
(Heavens! that woman is loud.)
Worse than traditions of Hades.
Gaze at the “good-natured” crowd!

— Franklin Pierce Adams, Tobogganning on Parnassus, 1913

Amity

Letter to the Times, March 23, 1973:

Sir,

I would be most grateful if I could pass on the following to you and your readers before the bloom goes from it.

I have just stepped out of a cab in which I travelled through London with a starry-eyed taxi driver. I had hardly got into the cab when he looked at me and said: ‘D’you mind guvnor if I tell you something? I have just been at the airport at Heathrow and there, suddenly, this Frenchman comes up to me carrying a magnificent bunch of flowers in his hand. Gosh, you should have seen it guvnor, and he hands it to me and says, “Taxi, if I pay you double fare, will you take these flowers and give them to your Queen?” And I looks at him as if he was mad and he says to me: “Now look taxi, I am serious; are you on or are you not?” And what do you think I did?’

‘What did you do?’ I asked him.

‘Cor, I couldn’t let ‘im and ‘er down, so I just come from the bleeding Palace.’

Yours truly,

Laurens van der Post