Archive

Miscellany

Miscellany Fashion

Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan reported on a pink blazer and black V-neck shirt worn on the Senate floor in 2007. “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2,” Givhan wrote. “It belonged to Senator Hillary Clinton.”

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 Technology

“There is a story, repeated by a number of Roman writers,” explained the classicist Moses Finley, “that a man—characteristically unnamed—invented unbreakable glass and demonstrated it to Tiberius in anticipation of a great reward. The emperor asked the inventor whether anyone else shared his secret and was assured that there was no one else; whereupon his head was promptly removed, lest gold be reduced to the value of mud.”

Miscellany Flesh

Menstrual taboos persisted in nineteenth-century Europe. In the Rhine it was said that women on their periods turned fermenting wine to vinegar, in France that they were unable to whip up a successful batch of mayonnaise, in Britain that “women should not rub the legs of pork with the brine-pickle at the time they are menstruating, or the hams will go bad.”

Miscellany States of Mind

At a hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1952, a Dr. Hatcher tried to convince a Dr. Cranford to watch him perform a transorbital lobotomy. “Nothing to it,” Hatcher said. “I take a sort of medical ice pick, hold it like this, bop it through the bones just above the eyeball, push it up into the brain, swiggle it around, cut the brain fibers like this, and that’s it.” Cranford responded, “I was going to breakfast, but I’ve changed my mind.” Hatcher laughed. “You can change your mind,” he said, “but not like I can change it.”

Miscellany Friendship

After the suicide of one of his former patients, Zimbabwe-based psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda began training local grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy. Since 2006 over four hundred grandmothers have been trained to deliver free services in more than seventy communities across the country while sitting on a “friendship bench” next to a local clinic. Friendship-bench patients were found after six months to have improved more significantly than patients receiving standard care. “I value human beings so much,” said one grandmother in the program. “I introduce myself and I say, ‘What is your problem? Tell me everything, and let me help you with my words.’ ”

Miscellany Swindle & Fraud

At the end of his American lecture tour in 1882, Oscar Wilde was given money by a young man who claimed to be the son of a Wall Street banker and who invited him to then play in a game of dice. Wilde ended up losing over $1,000, writing three checks to cover the expense. “I’ve just made a damned fool of myself,” Wilde later confessed to a police captain, having stopped payment of the checks. From a series of mug shots, Wilde identified the swindler: it was notorious banco scammer Hungry Joe Lewis.

Miscellany Night

A longtime practice of European peasants was to bring cows and sheep inside for the night. If one could ignore “the nastiness of their excrements,” a late seventeenth-century visitor to Ireland opined, “the sweetness of their breath” and “the pleasing noise they made in ruminating or chewing the cud” might lull a person to sleep. A visitor to the Hebrides noted, however, that while urine was regularly collected and discarded, the dung was removed only once a year.

Miscellany Time

The duke of Milan, Azzo Visconti, commissioned a clock to be built in the campanile of San Gottardo; upon its completion in 1336 his secretary, Galvano Fiamma, wrote that the “admirable” timepiece had bells that struck “twenty-four times according to the number of the twenty-four hours of the day and night.” He concluded, “This is exceedingly necessary for people of all estates.” It is the first documented hour-striking clock in a public setting. A Milanese chronicle later reported Visconti’s time of death as August 14, 1339, in the twentieth hour—the first modern reference to an hour indicator in such a context.

Miscellany Swindle & Fraud

Vladimir Nabokov referred to Thomas Mann once as a “quack” and to Ezra Pound as “that total fake.”

Miscellany Home

In 1882 the nawab of Bahawalpur ordered a bed from a Parisian manufacturer that included four life-size bronze gurines of naked women with natural hair and movable eyes and arms, holding fans and horsetails. Wires were arranged so downward pressure on the mattress set the gures in motion, fanning and winking at him, while a selection from Gounod’s opera Faust played from a built-in music box. 

Miscellany Youth

“When I was young I walked all over this country, east and west,” said the Apache leader Cochise, “and saw no other people than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it.”

Miscellany Trade

Including trademarks in books became crucial after the invention of the printing press; without stringent copyright laws, rival publishers could repurpose superiorly edited texts with impunity. Aldus Manutius of Venice, who employed Erasmus as a proofreader, called attention to his company’s “sign of the dolphin wound round the anchor.” Florentine printers were aping the mark, but in the frauds, “the head of the dolphin is turned to the left, whereas that of ours is well known to be turned to the right.”

Miscellany Politics

“That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1821, in his autobiography, referring to the inefficiency of Congress. Woodrow Wilson judged the House of Representatives in his doctoral thesis, published in 1885 as his first book, “a disintegrate mass of jarring elements.” Mark Twain wrote, twelve years later, “It can probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

Miscellany Migration

In June 2021 the city of San Antonio inaugurated its North American Friendship Garden, a rest stop for migrating monarch butterflies featuring native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. The garden’s aim is “the friendship and goodwill of three countries working toward common goals,” one city official said. “As a migratory insect, the monarch is a representation of migration.”