Among the acts advertised for a show in the Isle of Wight in 1849 by the “Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rhama Rhoos” were the Pudding Wonder and the Pyramid Wonder. The latter, it was noted, had been bought for five thousand guineas from “a Chinese Mandarin, who died of grief immediately after parting with the secret.” The performer and author of the ad copy was Charles Dickens.
“If ever a loss at sea fell under the definition, in the terms of a bill of lading, of Act of God,” Joseph Conrad wrote, “this one does, in its magnitude, suddenness, and severity; and in the chastening influence it should have on the self-confidence of mankind.” The sentence ends the first paragraph of his 1912 essay “Some Reflections on the Loss of the Titanic.”
Among the anecdotes, descriptions, and stray ideas in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Note-Books, a collection modeled on Samuel Butler’s famous version of the same name, are the entries: “story of the ugly aunt in the album,” “sent a girl flowers on Mother’s Day,” “reversion to childhood typical of the only child.”
For a 2005 British TV program, a full-size replica of the House of Lords was built in order to determine what damage would have been done had Guy Fawkes ignited the explosives during the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Everyone in the House, including King James I, and anyone within about three hundred feet, would have died.
When the captain of a French ship landed on the west coast of Australia in 1802 and encountered the local Bunurong people, he stripped down and exposed his genitalia, hoping to dramatize his common humanity for the natives. The Bunurong exchanged curious looks before fleeing in dismay.
In 1876 Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a railroad tycoon, offered to support Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with 6,000 rubles a year, enough for him to quit his teaching job. Her condition was that the pair could never meet, though Tchaikovsky was still periodically invited to her large estate. On one visit, while taking a walk, he failed to avoid her. “Although we were face to face for only a moment, I was horribly confused,” he later wrote. “I raised my hat politely.
In the 1860s, toward the end of his life, “father of computing” Charles Babbage “never abstained from the publication of his sentiments when he thought that his silence might imply his approbation,” wrote his friend Harry Buxton, “nor did he ever take refuge in silence when he believed it might be interpreted as cowardice.”