While minister to France in 1778, Benjamin Franklin met Voltaire at the Academy of the Sciences. On hand was John Adams, who wrote that “neither of our philosophers seemed to divine what was wished or expected” of them by the crowd. Eventually, the two embraced and kissed each other on the cheek, an act that Nicolas de Condorcet said provoked such enthusiastic approval that “it was said to be Solon who embraced Sophocles.”
In July 1947, a U.S. Army spokesman in Roswell, New Mexico, issued a press release to announce that the military had found a “flying disc” that had landed at a ranch near an air base. “It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field,” according to the army, “and subsequently loaned to higher headquarters.” There were no further public statements about the matter.
While on his American lecture tour in 1882, Oscar Wilde drank elderberry wine with Walt Whitman; saw Niagara Falls, later noting, “Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life”; read aloud passages from Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography to miners in Colorado; and witnessed a lynching in Louisiana.
In 1710 the mayor of Albany, New York, presented four American Indian chiefs at the court of Queen Anne in London. Along with their visit to Buckingham Palace, the Mohawk and Mohican men attended a performance of Macbeth at the Queen’s Theater in Haymarket. The performance was interrupted by the audience, which demanded to see the faces of the visiting chiefs.
In 1923 Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg declined painter Wassily Kandinsky’s offer to join the Bauhaus, having heard that other members of the school were anti-Semitic. “For I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year,” Schoenberg wrote to Kandinsky, “and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me), but I am a Jew.”
Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal fund in 1883 and soon after embarked on a ship to London to promote the cause for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Her poem was only placed on a plaque at the foot of the “Mother of Exiles” in 1903, six years after her death.
“To travel is to discover that everybody is wrong,” Aldous Huxley wrote, en route to Borneo, in his travelogue Jesting Pilate. “The philosophies, the civilizations, which seem, at a distance, so superior to those current at home, all prove on a close inspection to be in their own way just as hopelessly imperfect. That knowledge, which only travel can give, is worth, it seems to me, all the trouble, all the discomfort and expense of a circumnavigation.”
Having come to the U.S. through Portugal, French pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote and illustrated part of The Little Prince—one of the best-selling works of fiction of all time—in a twenty-two room mansion on Long Island in 1942. “I wanted a hut,” he reflected, “and it’s the Palace of Versailles.”
Noah Webster, creator of the first widely used American English dictionary, wrote that “the English, neglecting the beauty and regularity of their own language, adopt foreign words in their foreign spelling; thus incommoding all ordinary readers among their own citizens, and multiplying anomalies, till the orthography of their language falls little short of the confusion of tongues at Babel.”
To avoid the wrath of his lover’s father in Poland, Tadeusz Kościuszko went to America via France in 1776, later helping the colonists win the Battle of Saratoga and construct fortifications at West Point. At the end of the war, he was given U.S. citizenship and the army title of brigadier general.
Two years after being exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, Nobel Prize–winning writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn settled in a small Vermont town, living there reclusively for some eighteen years. He did however attend a few town meetings and was once spotted marching in a parade to celebrate the bicentennial of Vermont statehood.
In his catalogue of the world’s people in his Natural History, Pliny the Elder mentioned Scythians who feed on human flesh, Africans who “are frequently seen to all appearance and then vanish in an instant,” the Arimaspi who have only one eye, the Adrogyni who possess male and female parts, and the Monocoli who are born with “only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility.”
In ancient Athens if a citizen was accused of killing another citizen, he would be brought before the Areopagus, the highest court of law, and might face the death penalty. If the citizen was accused of killing a resident alien, a slave, or a foreigner, he was tried in a lower court, the Palladion, and faced, at worst, exile.