Fowl Grace

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michele_Pace_del_Campidoglio_(1610-probably_1670)_-_Still_Life_of_Fruit_with_a_Parrot_in_a_Garden_-_773435_-_National_Trust.jpg

Dr. Goldsmith tells a story of King Henry the Seventh’s Parrot, which fell out of the window of a room in the palace at Westminster, into the Thames, and at once called aloud, as it had heard people do, ‘A boat! twenty pounds for a boat!’ A waterman passing, took it up, and saved the poor bird’s life; and, on a question arising as to the amount to be paid to the man as a reward for restoring the Parrot, it was appealed to, when it instantly screamed out, ‘Give the knave a groat!’

Zoological Sketches: Consisting of Descriptions of One Hundred and Twenty Animals, 1844

Silent Speech

In the “language of flowers,” a meaning is assigned to every flower in a bouquet, so that it’s possible to send a message to your beloved without saying a word. The trouble is that different dictionaries give different meanings. In Collier’s Cyclopedia of 1882, they get very specific:

American starwort: Cheerfulness in old age.
Apple (blossom): Fame speaks him great and good.
Balsam, red: Touch me not.
Bay leaf: I change but in death.
Bud of white rose: Heart ignorant of love.
Butterfly weed: Let me go.
Camellia japonica, red: Unpretending excellence.
Camomile: Energy in adversity.
Cape jasmine: I’m too happy.
Carnation, deep red: Alas! for my poor heart.
Chinese chrysanthemum: Cheerfulness under adversity.
Cistus, gum: I shall die tomorrow.
Citron: Ill-natured beauty.
Convolvulus: Worth sustained by judicious and tender affection.
Corchorus: Impatient of absence.
Damask rose: Brilliant complexion.
Geranium, lemon: Unexpected meeting.
Geranium, nutmeg: Expected meeting.
Helmet-flower: Knight-errantry.
Hemlock: You will be my death. [!]
Hundred-leaved rose: Dignity of mind.
Japan rose: Beauty is your only attraction.
Laurestina: I die if neglected.
Locust tree (green): Affection beyond the grave. [!]
Meadow saffron: My best days are past.
Mistletoe: I surmount difficulties.
Mourning bride: Unfortunate attachment. I have lost all.
Mulberry tree (black): I shall not survive you.
Persimmon: Bury me amid nature’s beauties.
Poppy, scarlet: Fantastic extravagance.
Rose, Christmas: Tranquilize my anxiety.
Rose, daily: Thy smile I aspire to.
Scarlet lychnis: Sunbeaming eyes.
Sorrel, wild: Wit ill-timed.
Spindle tree: Your charms are engraven on my heart.
Straw, broken: Rupture of a contract.
Tiger flower: For once may pride befriend me.
Virginian spiderwort: Momentary happiness.
Zinnia: Thoughts of absent friends.

“How charmingly a young gentleman can speak to a young lady, and with what eloquent silence in this delightful language. How delicately she can respond, the beautiful little flowers telling her tale in perfumed words; what a delicate story the myrtle or the rose tells!” But I think only florists could do this articulately.

A One-Sided Score

https://ztfnews.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/moebius-strip-tease/

Conductor and musical lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky composed a “Möbius Strip Tease” in 1965, while he was teaching at UCLA. The text reads:

Ach! Professor Möbius, glörious Möbius
Ach, we love your topological,
And, ach, so logical strip!
One-sided inside and two-sided outside!
Ach! euphörius, glörius Möbius Strip-Tease!

Slonimsky described the piece as “a unilateral perpetual rondo in a linearly dodecaphonic vertically consonant counterpoint.” The instructions on the score read: “Copy the music for each performer on a strip of 110-b card stock, 68″ by 6″. Give the strip a half twist to turn it into a Möbius strip.” In performance the endless score rotates perpetually around each musician’s head. (That’s Slonimsky above, trying it out with John Cage.)

The score is here if you’d like to try it yourself. Be careful.

The Débutante

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1916/01/02/issue.html

A surprising item from the New York Times, Jan. 2, 1916:

SCOTT FITZGERALD

Considered the Most Beautiful “Show Girl” in the Princeton Triangle Club’s New Musical Play, “The Evil Eye,” Coming to the Waldorf on Next Tuesday. He Is Also the Author of the Lyrics of the Play.

It was his third year at Princeton. Hemingway would later write (in A Moveable Feast), “He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth.”

Of the photo, Fitzgerald later wrote, “I look like a femme fatale.”

Nocturne

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11483/11483-h/11483-h.htm

Here’s an oddity: In 1882 Lewis Carroll collaborated on a song with the dreaming imagination of his friend the Rev. C.E. Hutchinson of Chichester. Hutchinson had told Carroll of a strange dream he’d had:

I found myself seated, with many others, in darkness, in a large amphitheatre. Deep stillness prevailed. A kind of hushed expectancy was upon us. We sat awaiting I know not what. Before us hung a vast and dark curtain, and between it and us was a kind of stage. Suddenly an intense wish seized me to look upon the forms of some of the heroes of past days. I cannot say whom in particular I longed to behold, but, even as I wished, a faint light flickered over the stage, and I was aware of a silent procession of figures moving from right to left across the platform in front of me. As each figure approached the left-hand corner it turned and gazed at me, and I knew (by what means I cannot say) its name. One only I recall — Saint George; the light shone with a peculiar blueish lustre on his shield and helmet as he turned and slowly faced me. The figures were shadowy, and floated like mist before me; as each one disappeared an invisible choir behind the curtain sang the ‘Dream music.’ I awoke with the melody ringing in my ears, and the words of the last line complete — ‘I see the shadows falling, and slowly pass away.’ The rest I could not recall.

He played the melody for Carroll, who wrote a suitable lyric of five verses. Hutchinson disclaimed writing the music, but if he didn’t … who did?

(From Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, 1898.)

11/24/2021 UPDATE: Reader Paul Sophocleous provided this MIDI file of the published music. (Thanks, Paul.)

A Good Walk Spoiled

https://pixabay.com/photos/golf-golfer-sand-sport-woman-girl-83869/

If aliens watched us play golf, what on earth would they think we were doing? We invent an arbitrary, difficult task and then try to perform it, expending vast quantities of money and leisure time in a pursuit that serves no productive purpose and that most players find frustrating. A writer for Punch summed it up in 1892: “The object is to put a very small ball into a very tiny and remotely distant hole, with engines singularly ill adapted for the purpose.”

In other pursuits, if people deliberately impede themselves from achieving their own goals, we question their rationality. But this is almost the whole point of golf — rules and courses are deliberately designed to make it extremely difficult to get the ball into the hole (a strange goal to pursue in the first place).

“The intuitive explanation, of course, is that golf wouldn’t be worth playing if it were easy,” writes Washington State University philosopher David Shier. “It simply wouldn’t be fun. Well, maybe much of the time it’s not exactly fun anyway, but it surely wouldn’t be interesting, and it wouldn’t ever be gratifying. Golfers place obstacles in the way of achieving their own goals in order to make the sport more challenging and, consequently, more interesting and enjoyable.” … But why pursue it at all?

(David Shier, “Is Golf Inherently Irrational?”, in Andy Wible, ed., Golf and Philosophy, 2010.)

A Legal Fiction

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Image: Flickr

Sometimes it’s easier to reach a just legal result by reconceiving facts than by rewriting a rule. A classic example is Mostyn v. Fabrigas, decided by the King’s Bench Court in 1774. Fabrigas was a resident of Minorca, a Mediterranean island which was then occupied and controlled by England. He was imprisoned by Mostyn, the governor of the island. Fabrigas wanted to sue him, but no suit could be brought against Mostyn in Minorca without the approval of the governor. So Fabrigas sued him instead in the Court of Common Pleas in London for trespass and false imprisonment, winning a jury verdict of £3,000. Mostyn appealed, claiming correctly that the trial court had jurisdiction only in cases brought by residents of London, and Lord Mansfield, resoundingly, declared that Minorca was part of London for purposes of this action. The assault had occurred “at Minorca, to wit at London, in the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow, in the Ward of Cheap.”

That’s from University of Virginia scholar Frederick Schauer’s “Legal Fictions Revisited,” in Maksymilian Del Mar and William Twining’s Legal Fictions in Theory and Practice (2015). He adds this wonderful footnote:

There is a story, probably apocryphal, that, in 1939, the renowned and beloved deer which graze on the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, were at risk of being requisitioned during the wartime food shortage by the Ministry of Food. In order to prevent such an occurrence, it is said, influential Magdalen graduates in the government arranged to have the deer reclassified as vegetables and thus be spared from the slaughterhouse. More recently, it is reported that Magdalen’s noisy swinging door has been informally classified as a musical instrument in order to bring it within the prohibition on playing musical instruments at certain hours.

Inspiration

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:F%C3%A9lix_Bracquemond_-_La_statue_de_la_R%C3%A9sistance_par_Falgui%C3%A8re.jpg

During a lull in the Prussian attack on Paris in December 1870, the Seventh Company of the French National Guard spent a few hours building a “museum” of snow on the southern edge of the city. Among them was 29-year-old sculptor Alexandre Falguière, who spent three hours crafting La Statue de la Résistance, a nine-foot emblem of French resistance in the form of a defiant woman atop a cannon. Félix Philippoteaux sketched the snow woman, Théophile Gautier wrote an essay, Théodore de Banville published a poem, Félix Bracquemond made an etching, and Faustin Betbeder produced a series of lithographs, but none of these captured the essence of the original. Falguière promised to make a permanent version in plaster or marble, but it never appeared. Critic H. Galli wrote in L’Art français in 1895:

As soon as Falguière was back in his studio, he took up his modeling knife, but he sought, worked, and suffered in vain. None of his maquettes had the proud allure, the poetry of his snow statue; he destroyed them. The capitulation, the dismemberment of France, and then the awful civil war had, alas, dissipated his last hopes. The inspiration was dead.

“Recapturing that magic would prove to be impossible for the unflagging Falguière,” writes Bob Eckstein in The History of the Snowman. “Eventually he created many variations in wax, plaster, terra cotta, and bronze, ranging in size from two to four feet high, all less successful than the original snow sculpture. Falguière could never duplicate the spontaneity and urgency of that long-gone snow woman. That moment had passed and had melted along with his original masterpiece.”

Supply and Demand

It is interesting to note that there are considerable manufactures of things the direct desire for which seldom or never asserts itself at all. There are immense tracts and Bibles produced, for instance, which are paid for by persons who do not desire to use them but to give them away to other persons whose desire for them is not in any way an effective factor in the proceeding. And there are numbers of expensive things made expressly to be bought for ‘presents,’ and which no sane person is ever expected to buy for himself.

— Philip H. Wicksteed, The Alphabet of Economic Science, 1888

Podcast Episode 363: The Lambeth Poisoner

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In 1891, a mysterious figure appeared on the streets of London, dispensing pills to poor young women who then died in agony. Suspicion came to center on a Scottish-Canadian doctor with a dark past in North America. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the career of the Lambeth Poisoner, whose victims remain uncounted.

We’ll also consider a Hungarian Jules Verne and puzzle over an ambiguous sentence.

See full show notes …