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Miscellany

Miscellany Night

In September 1776, fearing illness from night air, John Adams asked Benjamin Franklin to close the window of their room in a New Jersey inn. “I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds,” Franklin responded, launching into “a harangue upon air and cold and respiration and perspiration” in favor of leaving windows open. “I was so much amused,” Adams wrote in his journal, “that I soon fell asleep and left him and his philosophy together.”

Miscellany Night

Psychologists at the University of California recognized a lack of sleep “as a social repellent” and its effect contagious: “People who come in contact with a sleep-deprived individual, even through a brief one-minute interaction, feel lonelier themselves as a result.”

Miscellany Night

In 2005 the British Cheese Board attempted to dispel the idea that eating cheese before bed causes nightmares. No evidence of this “evil myth” was reported among two hundred volunteers, though eating Stilton was found to lead to “crazy” dreams, while eating cheddar often led to dreams of celebrities. “We hope that people will think positively about eating cheese before bed,” said the board secretary.

Miscellany Night

“You don’t need a brain to sleep” was a central takeaway for a team of biologists who found that Cassiopea, a genus of upside-down jelly­fish, display signs of sleep deprivation when disturbed by water pulses at twenty-minute intervals throughout the night.

Miscellany Night

Neo-Confucian philosopher Fujiwara Seika visited a friend on the night of the Han mid-autumn festival in 1606. As the moon appeared, the men climbed onto the roof. “The guest felt in his heart the endlessness of space,” wrote Seika’s student Hayashi Razan, “but the host seemed not to notice this, so the guest also acted as if he had not either.” Drunk on wine just before dawn, the pair began asking questions of the moon. No answers came, Razan wrote: “What could the moon say?”

Miscellany Night

Annoyed by a prohibition against nocturnal work in late medieval France—enacted because candles provided insufficient light for quality performance—employers complained to Louis XI that workers occupied themselves from “four or five o’clock until the next day with various games and dissipations, and hardly want to apply themselves to do well.” In the winter of 1467, they received permission to extend working hours to ten pm.

Miscellany Night

Asked whether it was night or day that first emerged when the universe came into existence, sixth-century-bc Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus replied, “Night, earlier by a day.”

Miscellany Night

According to his nephew, Pliny the Elder liked to rise in the middle of the night and study by lamplight. “Admittedly, he fell asleep very easily,” Pliny the Younger wrote, “and would often doze and wake up again during his work.”

Miscellany Night

“Considering how seldom people think of looking for sunset at all, and how seldom, if they do, they are in a position from which it can be fully seen,” it’s rare to witness an excellent one, John Ruskin argued in 1843. Evelyn Waugh saw a radiant pink sunset behind a shadow-gray Mount Etna in 1929. “Nothing I have ever seen in Art or Nature,” he wrote, “was quite so revolting.”

Miscellany Night

“The difference between us is very marked,” wrote Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman in 1868. “Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night.”

Miscellany Night

When a boat of carousing European sailors on the Bosporus awoke the sleeping Sultan Selim III one night in 1790, the Ottoman leader issued an emergency order to his administration against night revelers: “Warn all ambassadors and Europeans never to perform this shameless act again. I will mercilessly kill whoever does it.”

Miscellany Night

The practice of yobai, “night crawling,” was common in rural communities in medieval Japan, and continued into the twentieth century. A young man would visit a young woman’s house after dark, disguising his features with a cloth to avoid embarrassment should his advances be rejected. These premarital liaisons could become formal if a child were conceived.

Miscellany Night

“Darkness has come upon me,” a hymn in the Rig Veda laments. “O Dawn, banish it like a debt.” The morning light is here asked, suggested translator Wendy Doniger, to act as a collection agency—to “make good what darkness had incurred or ‘exact’ the darkness from night as one would exact money.”

Miscellany Night

“When the white man landed on the moon, my father cried,” a young Oklahoma Indian told psychologist Robert Coles in the 1970s. “He was sure Indians were crying up there, and trying to hide, and hoping that soon they’d go back to their earth, the white men.” The boy also spoke to his aunt. “The moon is yours to look at and talk to,” she told him, “so don’t worry.”

Miscellany Night

Poet Edward Fairfax kept a 1621 account of his daughter Helen’s terrible nightmares, describing an incident in which she complained about a demonic white cat that “has been long upon me and drawn my breath.” The cat, she said, “has left in my mouth and throat so filthy a smell that it does poison me.”