Archive

Miscellany

Miscellany Foreigners

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. 

Miscellany The Sea

“Ten dolphins are now being trained for special tasks in the Ukrainian state oceanarium, and the Ukrainian military are regularly training the animals for detecting things on the seabed,” a military official told a Russian newspaper in 2012. The source went on to say that some dolphins would be trained to combat enemy swimmers, using special knives or pistols affixed to their heads. The Ukrainian Defense Ministy later denied the program’s existence.

Miscellany Luck

Archaeologists found in a Utah cave as many as seventeen thousand carved sticks, canes, and bone pieces—gambling items used in the thirteenth century by ancestors of the Apache and Navajo. “Seventy to eighty percent of dice games were for women only,” one researcher said about the find, which may have been America’s first casino. “So what do we have here? Women who knew the games of other women.”

Miscellany Intoxication

In the United States around 1787—the year that Thomas Jefferson took a three-month sabbatical to tour the vineyards of France and Italy—the average drinking American consumed the equivalent of an estimated six gallons of pure alcohol per year. The figure today is 2.2.

Miscellany Fear

A surgeon in the British navy published an 1816 treatise on “The Incubus, or Nightmare, Disturbed Sleep, Terrific Dreams, and Nocturnal Visions,” arguing against folk beliefs that nightmares resulted from overindulgence and sleeping on one’s back. Sufferers “can bear testimony to the distress and alarm,” he wrote, “in many cases rendering the approach of night a cause of terror, and life itself miserable.”

Miscellany Family

The Book of the General Laws and Liberties Concerning the Inhabitants of Massachusetts, passed in 1647 and published the following year, contained capital law number fourteen, stating that a “stubborn or rebellious son” could be put to death.

Miscellany The Future

“Six days, six weeks. I doubt six months,” said Donald Rumsfeld, on February 7, 2003, about the duration of the Iraq war. “Whatever happens in Vietnam, I can conceive of nothing except military victory,” Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1967. Four years before that, Robert McNamara asserted, “The war in Vietnam is going well and will succeed.”

Miscellany Fear

Charlotte Brontë wrote to a friend about a woman who “must be a regular bore with her unfortunate homophobia,” advising, “Don’t look for that word in the dictionary.” This may indicate, notes a scholar, “fear or dislike of men,” from the Latin homo (man), not the Greek homo (same). The word is unclear in the manuscript; it could also be monophobia, fear of being alone.

Miscellany Communication

After serving as longtime copyeditor for The New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs in the 1930s moved on to write drama criticism for the magazine and sent editor Harold Ross a document entitled “Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles.” Among his notes were: “1. Writers always use too damn many adverbs”; “20. The more ‘as a matter of facts,’ ‘howevers,’ ‘for instances,’ etc., etc., you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven”; and lastly, “31. Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.”

Miscellany Home

In his eponymous saga, Icelandic outlaw Grettir swims through icy waters to a friend’s farm. That night, while he sleeps on a bench inside the longhouse, his clothes fall off. He wakes the next morning to a servant woman laughing at him. “He’s out of proportion,” she says. “He’s big but small between the legs.” This episode, according to a scholar of saga-era Icelandic life, “illustrates the openness of the life in the hall.” 

Miscellany Discovery

“A peaceable person,” wrote Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado in The Discovery of America by the Turks, intended for publication in 1992 for the five-hundredth anniversary of 1492, “can’t take the smallest step or blow the slightest fart without the fifth centenary landing on his head.”

Miscellany Politics

A riot erupted in Constantinople in 532 that forced Justinian and his advisers to consider fleeing. Procopius wrote in History of the Wars that the emperor’s wife, Theodora—the only time in the work in which she speaks—told her husband, “If now it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty.” On hand, she noted, were money and boats.

Miscellany Comedy

According to his biographer Aelius Lampridius, the Roman emperor Elagabalus would amuse himself at dinner by seating his guests on “air pillows instead of cushions and let the air out while they were dining, so that often the diners were suddenly found under the tables.”

Miscellany Fear

Greek geographer Strabo wrote around 20 BC that, to deal with “a crowd of women” or “any promiscuous mob,” one cannot use reason but rather must exert control using myths and marvels. “For thunderbolt, aegis, trident, torches, snakes, thyrsus lances—arms of the gods—are myths,” he wrote. “The founders of states gave their sanction to these things as bugbears wherewith to scare the simpleminded.”

Miscellany Food

To celebrate King Henri III of France’s visit to Venice in 1574, a banquet table was prepared with some 1,286 items—from napkins and cutlery to figures of popes—all made from spun sugar.