Rules of Engagement,_C.S.A_-_NARA_-_529728.tif&page=1

Stonewall Jackson’s precepts for good conversation, from a book of maxims he collected in the 1850s:

  1. Ascertain in your conversation as well as you can wherein the skill & excellence of the individual lies & put him upon his favorite subject. Every person will of his own accord fall to talking on his favorite subject or topic if you will follow and not attempt to lead him.
  2. If you seek to improve in the greatest degree from the conversation of another, allow him to take his own course. If called upon, converse in turn upon your favorite topic.
  3. Never interrupt another but hear him out. There are certain individuals from whom little information is to be desired such as use wanton, obscene or profane language.
  4. If you speak in company, speak late.
  5. Let your words be as few as will express the sense you wish to convey & above all let what you say be true.
  6. Do not suffer your feelings to betray you into too much vehemence or earnestness or to being overbearing.
  7. Avoid triumphing over an antagonist.
  8. Never engross the whole conversation to yourself.
  9. Sit or stand still while another is speaking to you. [Do]not dig in the earth with your foot nor take your knife from your pocket & pare your nales nor other such action.
  10. Never anticipate for another to help him out. It is time enough for you to make corrections after he has concluded, if any are necessary. It is impolite to interrupt another in his remarks.
  11. Say as little of yourself & friends as possible.
  12. Make it a rule never to accuse without due consideration any body or association of men.
  13. Never try to appear more wise or learned than the rest of the company. Not that you should affect ignorance, but endeavor to remain within your own proper sphere.
  14. Let ease & gracefulness be the standard by which you form your estimation (taken from etiquett).

“Good breeding, or true politeness, is the art of showing men by external signs the internal regard we have for them,” he wrote. “It arises from good sense, improved by good company. It must be acquired by practice and not by books.”


Letter to the Times, April 27, 1910:


Motor-cars are bad enough, but they do not come into one’s house or garden. With aeroplanes total strangers may drop in, through the roof, for a little chat at any time. I fear the law cannot protect one against such intrusion. If aviation becomes popular I shall have spikes, with long strong prongs, fixed on the chimneys of my house, and the word ‘Danger’ painted in large red letters on a flat part of the roof. If any flying machines come down in my garden I shall send for the police to remove the occupants, whom I shall sue afterwards for any damage to my trees or shrubs.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

H.B. Devey

The Good Life

“A gentleman never looks out of the window.” — Oscar Wilde

“Gentlemen do not take soup at luncheon.” — Lord Curzon

“Gentlemen are never busy — insects and city people are busy.” — Beau Brummel

“A gentleman never encircles the lady’s waist in the waltz until the dance begins, and drops his arm as soon as it ends. He studies to hold the lady lightly and firmly without embracing her.” — The Manners That Win, 1880

“A gentleman never sits in the house with his hat on in the presence of ladies for a single moment. Indeed, so strong is the force of habit, that a gentleman will quite unconsciously remove his hat on entering a parlor, or drawing-room, even if there is no one present but himself. People who sit in the house with their hats on are to be suspected of having spent the most of their time in barrooms, and similar places. A gentleman never sits with his hat on in the theater. Gentlemen do not generally sit even in an eating-room with their hats on, if there is any convenient place to put them.” — Arthur Martine, Martine’s Perfect Letter Writer and American Manual of Etiquette, 1866

Love Maps

heine lieder map

This “geographical love enigma” appeared on a German postcard in the early 20th century. Travel north to south through each successive country (green, red, purple, yellow), naming the geographical features you encounter in each, and you’ll produce the fourth song in Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder:

Wenn ich in deine Augen seh,
So schwindet all mein Leid und Weh;
Doch wenn ich küsse deinen Mund,
So werd ich ganz und gar gesund.

Wenn ich mich lehn an deine Brust,
Kommt’s über mich wie Himmelslust;
Doch wenn du sprichst: “Ich liebe dich!”
So muss ich weinen bitterlich.

When I look into your eyes,
Then vanish all my sorrow and pain!
Ah, but when I kiss your mouth,
Then I will be wholly and completely healthy.

When I lean on your breast,
I am overcome with heavenly delight,
Ah, but when you say, “I love you!”
Then I must weep bitterly.

The French greet one another with kisses on the cheek, but the number of kisses varies with the département. In 2007 Gilles Debunne set up a website, Combien de bises?, on which his countrymen could record their local customs; to date, after more than 87,000 votes, the results range from 1 kiss in Finistère to 4 in Loire Atlantique.

“It’s a lot more subtle than I ever imagined,” Debunne told the Times. “Sometimes the number of kisses changes depending on whether you’re seeing friends or family or what generation you belong to.”

Disputed Disputation

Some states permit less-than-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. If a person is convicted of a crime in such a state by a jury that splits, say, nine to three, then has the defendant’s guilt been proved beyond a reasonable doubt? Does the mere existence of outvoted jurors (or their doubts) establish a reasonable doubt that should overturn the majority’s vote to convict? In Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356 (1972), the Supreme Court faced this question and held that it does not; even a split jury can convict a person beyond a reasonable doubt. But in Johnson, the Supreme Court was itself split as much as it could be, five to four. Is there a reasonable doubt as to what constitutes reasonable doubt?

— Peter Suber, The Paradox of Self-Amendment, 1990

Doom Roulette

With Jose Gonzalez’ “punishment wheel,” patented in 1989, a misbehaving child can randomly choose the punishment he’ll receive. “From the child’s point of view, it appears that an inanimate object is choosing and imposing the punishment, instead of his parents. Direct parent-child conflict is thereby eliminated.”

Available punishments, provided on decals, include NO TV, TIME OUT, GROUNDED, 2ND CHANCE, NO DESSERT, DONATE A TOY, PARENT’S CHOICE, K.P., NO ALLOWANCE, NO SPORTS, NO PHONE, NO FRIENDS, KID’S CHOICE, SWATS [a spanking], NO VISITING, NO TREAT, and HOUSE CHORES. But “the punishments need not be those shown in Fig. 4, but could be any set of punishments, expressed in any language, deemed suitable for the disciplinary style of particular parents and degree of maturity of their child.”


Letter to the Times, Oct. 18, 1968:


This afternoon I caught the 15:05 train from the recently modernized Euston Station.

According to the new electronic departure indicator, its destination was Rugby; according to the ticket collector and a notice on the platform it was Coventry; according to the destination blind on the train it was Wolverhampton. I got off at Watford to hear the station announcer declare it was Wolverhampton and walked home to look it up in my copy of the timetable and discover it was Birmingham.

Perhaps now that their modernization scheme is complete British Rail’s executives will have enough time to decide where their trains are going to?

Yours faithfully,

Richard Harvey


Boor Laws

Ben Franklin’s “rules for making oneself a disagreeable companion,” 1750:

  1. If possible engross the whole Discourse; and when other Matter fails, talk much of your-self, your Education, your Knowledge, your Circumstances, your Successes in Business, your Victories in Disputes, your own wise Sayings and Observations on particular Occasions, &c. &c. &c.;
  2. If when you are out of Breath, one of the Company should seize the Opportunity of saying something; watch his Words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his Sentiment or Expression, immediately to contradict and raise a Dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticise even his Grammar.
  3. If another should be saying an indisputably good Thing; either give no Attention to it; or interrupt him; or draw away the Attention of others; or, if you can guess what he would be at, be quick and say it before him; or, if he gets it said, and you perceive the Company pleas’d with it, own it to be a good Thing, and withal remark that it had been said by Bacon, Locke, Bayle, or some other eminent Writer; thus you deprive him of the Reputation he might have gain’d by it, and gain some yourself, as you hereby show your great Reading and Memory.
  4. When modest Men have been thus treated by you a few times, they will chuse ever after to be silent in your Company; then you may shine on without Fear of a Rival; rallying them at the same time for their Dullness, which will be to you a new Fund of Wit.

“Thus you will be sure to please yourself,” he concluded. “The polite Man aims at pleasing others, but you shall go beyond him even in that. A Man can be present only in one Company, but may at the same time be absent in twenty. He can please only where he is, you where-ever you are not.”

Unfinished Business

Benjamin West undertook this painting of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution. The British delegation refused to pose, so he had to abandon it.

As its colonies and dominions won independence, Britain faced a curious legal problem: How can a sovereign release a subject from subjection? If it passes a law, then implicitly the law might someday be repealed, “revoking” the new state’s freedom. And if Parliament promises never to do this, then it’s denying the power of the British people to change their own laws. The 1931 Statute of Westminster solemnized Britain’s intent never again to legislate for the colonies, but in 1935 Parliament ruled that the statute could in principle be repealed. “This was a world-class cartoon of the child with flypaper on its fingers trying to shake it off,” writes Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment. “England was learning that it is paradoxical to command another to be free or even to offer another their freedom as a gift.”

In the Philippine Independence Act of 1934, the United States promised that, when a suitable Philippine constitution was ratified, “the United States shall by proclamation withdraw and surrender all right of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control, or sovereignty then existing and exercised by the United States in and over the territory and people of the Philippine Islands …” But, like Westminster, this is only a statute, and unless Congress can bind itself irrevocably, it might be repealed at any time. Suber writes, “If after a certain time repeal would have no effect on the independence of the former dependent, which is almost certainly the case, then legal formalism cannot explain the source of the independence.”

Society News

Stumbled across this in Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, January 1897:

Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoo. This is the name of a Western organization. It was organized by the ‘supreme nine.’ The Snark of the Universe is William Eddy Barns, of St. Louis, Mo. The other officers are designated Senior Hoo Hoo, Junior Hoo Hoo, Bojum, Scrivenoter, Bundersnatch, Custocatian, Arcanoper, Gurdon. There are 24 Vicegerent Snarks for as many States and Territories. This Order was founded in 1891 by nine traveling lumbermen, detained at Kansas City on account of a railroad wreck, and has extended over the Union. Its declared object is the promotion of the ‘health, happiness, and long life of its members.’ The membership is limited to 9,999. The symbol of the Order is a black cat with its back and tail up, chosen because of its traditional nine lives. Brethren are known as kittens. Hoo Hoo day is the ninth day of the ninth month of the year. The annual meeting begins the ninth minute after nine o’clock p.m. on that day. The initiation fee is $9.99, and the annual dues are 99 cents. There is a ritual, and aid is extended to distressed members and their families.

I find, to my great joy, that it still exists. In the intervening 120 years the order has inducted more than 100,000 members and expanded into Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and South Africa. The international office is located one block from the site of the group’s founding.