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Miscellany

Miscellany Fear

“I look at the jury and they won’t look at me,” testified Charles Manson during his 1970 trial for conspiracy to murder. “They are afraid of me. And do you know why they are afraid of me? Because of the newspapers. You projected fear. You projected fear. You made me a monster, and I have to live with that the rest of my life.”

Miscellany Home

In the fourteenth century the communality of monastic life was on the decline. A 1360s remodel of Westminster Abbey’s infirmary added individual chambers and parlors. Though they were intended only for the “transient sick,” healthy monks soon occupied the spaces permanently, claiming nooks by decorating them with cushions and curtains.

Miscellany Family

Philocles, the nephew of Aeschylus, received the prize for tragedy at the dramatic festival the year that Sophocles presented Oedipus Rex. None of his one hundred or so plays is extant.

Miscellany Luck

The Cincinnati Commercial complained in 1871 about the game of fly loo, a “detestable canker that destroys men’s souls.” Players selected sugar lumps and bet on which would attract a fly first. “Every afternoon from twenty to thirty of the very flower of our mercantile population retire to a private room and under locks and bolts give themselves up to this satanic game,” the article noted, “while the deserted ladies are languishing for a little male conversation below.”

Miscellany Home

After the Jacobites were defeated in 1746, a sympathizer named Flora Macdonald disguised Bonnie Prince Charlie as an Irish maid, smuggled him to her home on the Isle of Skye, and helped him escape to France. She then “took the sheets in which he had lain,” James Boswell later reported, “charged her daughter that they should be kept unwashed,” and asked to be buried in them as a shroud. She was. 

Miscellany Food

As to why he didn’t drink water, an inebriated W.C. Fields purportedly responded, “Fish fuck in it.”

Miscellany Discovery

In the 1860s editor William Bullock invented a printing press that used continuous-roll paper; it made double-sided copies in mass quantities and transformed publishing. Two years later Bullock got his leg stuck in the press’ belt mechanism while installing one at a Philadelphia newspaper, developed gangrene, underwent an amputation, and died during the operation.

Miscellany Luck

“Among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal,” poet John Berryman told an interviewer in 1970, two years before his death. “Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.”

Miscellany Disaster

The opening of a particle accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000 inspired fears that high-speed collisions might launch a chain reaction that could turn the earth into a hyperdense sphere about one hundred meters across. A risk calculation determined this to be unlikely; if the collider were to run for ten years, the chance was no greater than 1 in 50 million. “The word unlikely, however many times it is repeated,” wrote concerned scientists, “just isn’t enough to assuage our fears of this total disaster.”

Miscellany Music

Michel de Montaigne’s father believed “it disorders the tender brains of children to awake them by surprise in the morning, and suddenly and violently to snatch them from sleep”; he preferred to rouse his son from slumber “by the sound of some instrument of music,” likely an early form of harpsichord called an epinette. Montaigne recalled later that he “was never without a musician for that purpose.”

Miscellany Foreigners

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.”

Miscellany Home

Derived from the French bouder (to pout or sulk), the word boudoir once meant “a place to pout in.” “I have a boudoir, but it has one fault,” the Earl of Chesterfield wrote to a female companion in 1748. “It is so cheerful and so pleasant that there will be no such thing as pouting in it when I am alone.” Its “fault,” he added, could be remedied “by introducing those clumsy, tiresome, and disagreeable people whom I am obliged to admit now and then.” 

Miscellany Politics

For publishing an editorial critical of John Adams’ Federalist administration in 1798, Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon became the first U.S. citizen tried under the Sedition Act. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in federal jail. He ran his reelection campaign from prison, winning by a two-to-one margin. He resumed his post upon release.

Miscellany Family

In her account of tenth-century Kyoto court life, The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon was fond of making lists. “Things later regretted: an adopted child who turns out to have an ugly face”; “Things it’s frustrating and embarrassing to witness: someone insists on telling you about some horrid little child, carried away with her own infatuation with the creature, imitating its voice as she gushes about the cute and winning things it says”; “Moving things: a child dressed in mourning for a parent.”

Miscellany Disaster

A 1959 Chicago Daily Tribune article about Robert Frost, who had recently proclaimed his confidence in humanity’s resilience in the face of missile threats, ran with the headline: HUMAN RACE BOMB PROOF, POET BELIEVES.