RSVP

An invitation sent by Madame de Lignerole to Augustus Hare, Aug. 1, 1851:

Will you be so very kind as to allow me to take the liberty of entreating you to have the kindness to confer the favor upon me of giving me the happiness of your company on Friday?

Ambrose Bierce defined politeness as “the most acceptable hypocrisy.”

Victimized

As he enters the room, he knows what awaits him. Resistance is useless. He cannot escape; there are simply too many of them, and there is nowhere to hide anyway. Hands take hold of him and strap him tightly. Now he cannot move. They have total control over him. They set to work quickly, efficiently, and without malice. They follow a strict protocol, their actions being exquisitely coordinated toward a single end. They begin to kill him, deliberately and methodically. This is not their first time to take life. They make no attempt to conceal their intentions or their actions. On the contrary, they do everything in public, before an audience who watch as his life ebbs away.

“If premeditation is central to the handling of homicide, this killing ought to evoke considerable severity. But it does not,” write University of Georgia sociologist Mark Cooney. “In fact, the law tolerates it, and some people even praise it highly. The words ‘homicide’ and ‘killing’ are rarely used to describe it. Instead it goes by another name: ‘capital punishment.'”

(From Cooney’s 2009 book Is Killing Wrong?)

Making Do

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Besieged by Spain in 1572, the people of Leyden, Holland, ran out of silver. In order to have a currency for everyday trade, they tore pages from books and stamped them in coin dies, producing the first paper money in Europe.

During World War I the Fanning Islands could not receive currency from Australia, so they arranged to have one-pound notes printed in Hawaii. When peace came, these temporary notes were cut in half and used as movie tickets.

“I have enough money to last me the rest of my life,” said Jackie Mason, “unless I buy something.”

Trouble Above

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I have fully considered the project of these our modern Dædalists, and am resolved so far to discourage it, as to prevent any person from flying in my time. It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities, and give such occasions for intrigues as people cannot meet with who have nothing but legs to carry them. You should have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument, and see the cupola of St. Paul’s covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon-house. Nothing would be more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window, or a gallant giving chaos to his mistress, like a hawk after a lark. There would be no walking in a shady wood without springing a covey of toasts. The poor husband could not dream what was doing over his head. If he were jealous, indeed, he might clip his wife’s wings, but what would this avail when there were flocks of whore-masters perpetually hovering over his house? What concern would the father of a family be in all the time his daughter was upon the wing?

— Joseph Addison, Guardian, July 20, 1713

Marching Orders

A Gentleman ought not to run or walk too fast in the Streets, lest he be suspected to be going [delivering] a Message; nor ought his pace to be too slow; nor must he take large Steps, nor too stiff and stately, nor lift his Legs too high, nor stamp hard on the Ground; neither must he swing his Arms backward and forward, nor must he carry his knees too close, nor must he go wagging his Breech, nor with his feet in a straight Line, but with the Inside of his Feet a little out; nor with his Eyes looking down, nor too much elevated, nor looking hither and thither, but with a sedate Countenance.

— Adam Petrie, Rules of Good Deportment, 1720

Commander-in-Chief

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From the diary of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, May 1, 1900:

To the Danes to see Lady Lytton, travelling there with Betty Balfour, who told amusing stories about Ireland, one being of a voyage the Queen [Victoria] had made in her yacht. The Queen used to be a good sailor, but is disturbed now if it is at all rough and likes the doctor to sit with her in the cabin and look after her. It came on to blow and a wave struck the ship rather roughly, which alarmed and made her indignant. ‘Go up at once,’ she said, ‘Sir James, and give the Admiral my compliments and tell him the thing must not occur again.’

Things to Come

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DR. GALL: You see, so many Robots are being manufactured that people are becoming superfluous; man is really a survival. But that he should begin to die out, after a paltry thirty years of competition! That’s the awful part of it. You might think that nature was offended at the manufacture of the Robots. All the universities are sending in long petitions to restrict their production. Otherwise, they say, mankind will become extinct through lack of fertility. But the R.U.R. shareholders, of course, won’t hear of it. All the governments, on the other hand, are clamoring for an increase in production, to raise the standards of their armies. And all the manufacturers in the world are ordering Robots like mad.

HELENA: And has no one demanded that the manufacture should cease altogether?

DR. GALL: No one has the courage.

HELENA: Courage!

DR. GALL: People would stone him to death. You see, after all, it’s more convenient to get your work done by the Robots.

HELENA: Oh, Doctor, what’s going to become of people?

DR. GALL: God knows, Madame Helena, it looks to us scientists like the end!

— From Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R., which introduced the word robot

Right of Way

A Moral Principle met a Material Interest on a bridge wide enough for but one.

‘Down, you base thing!’ thundered the Moral Principle, ‘and let me pass over you!’

The Material Interest merely looked in the other’s eyes without saying anything.

‘Ah,’ said the Moral Principle, hesitatingly, ‘let us draw lots to see which shall retire till the other has crossed.’

The Material Interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare.

‘In order to avoid a conflict,’ the Moral Principle resumed, somewhat uneasily, ‘I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me.’

Then the Material Interest found a tongue, and by a strange coincidence it was its own tongue. ‘I don’t think you are very good walking,’ it said. ‘I am a little particular about what I have underfoot. Suppose you get off into the water.’

It occurred that way.

— Ambrose Bierce, Fantastic Fables, 1898

Higher Learning

Acknowledgment from an anonymous doctoral dissertation in the University Microforms International database:

If I had a dime for every time my wife threatened to divorce me during the past three years, I would be wealthy and not have to take a postdoctoral position which will only make me a little less poor and will keep me away from home and in the lab even more than graduate school and all because my committee read this manuscript and said that the only alternative to signing the approval to this dissertation was to give me a job mowing the grass on campus but the Physical Plant would not hire me on account of they said I was over-educated and needed to improve my dexterity skills like picking my nose while driving a tractor-mower over poor defenseless squirrels that were eating the nuts they stole from the medical students’ lunches on Tuesday afternoon following the Biochemistry quiz which they all did not pass and blamed on me because they said a tutor was supposed to come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and I am supposed to thank someone for all this?!!

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995)

Discipline

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Morality turns on whether the pleasure precedes the pain or follows it (provided it is sufficient). Thus, it is immoral to get drunk because the headache comes after the drinking, but if the headache came first, and the drunkenness afterwards, it would be moral to get drunk.

— Samuel Butler, Notebooks, 1912