Miscellany Magic Shows

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.

Miscellany Night

In Japanese tradition, ghosts and spirits are more likely to appear at dusk or dawn than in the middle of the night. “In order for people to see them and be frightened by them,” wrote folklorist Kunio Yanagita, “emerging in the pitch-dark after even the plants have fallen asleep is, to say the least, just not good business practice.”

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 Rule of Law

Japanese imperial history relates that Prince Shotoku “in person prepared for the first time laws” with a constitution in 604. “All men are influenced by class feelings, and there are few who are intelligent,” he declared, lamenting bribe-taking judges with whom lawsuits by rich men are always effective—“like the stone flung into water”—while the “plaints of the poor” never get anywhere, as “water cast upon a stone.”

Miscellany Time

“History is more or less bunk,” Henry Ford told the Chicago Tribune in 1916. “It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.”

Miscellany Youth

“I went sailing up to Great Point, which is fourteen miles. It was fine and rough so we went out in the open ocean and shipped water grandly. I have bought a large swordfish sword for the agassiz of an old salt by the name of Judas,” Ernest Hemingway wrote to his brother Marcelline in one of his earliest known letters, shortly after his eleventh birthday, in 1910.

Miscellany Comedy

Shortly before Ezra Pound was indicted for treason for his anti-American broadcasts on Benito Mussolini’s Radio Rome, Ernest Hemingway wrote to poet Archibald MacLeish, “If Ezra has any sense he should shoot himself. Personally I think he should have shot himself somewhere along after the twelfth canto, although maybe earlier.”

Miscellany Fear

A radio broadcast based on The War of the Worlds brought pandemonium to Quito, Ecuador, in 1949, as thousands of people attempted to escape impending Martian gas raids. A mob set fire to the radio station’s building, killing fifteen inside. Authorities were slow to respond; most police and soldiers had been sent to the countryside to fend off the aliens.

Miscellany Fear

“One of the wonders of the human heart,” wrote twelfth-century poet Usama ibn Munqidh, “is that a man may face certain death and embark on every danger without his heart quailing from it, and yet he may take fright from something that even boys and women do not fear.” He relates the story of a battle hero his father knew who “would run out fleeing” if he saw a snake, “saying to his wife, ‘The snake’s all yours!’ And she would have to get up to kill it.”

Miscellany Home

Pantagruelian feasts, common at Gallo-Roman villas, followed the Gallic custom of eating around a table rather than the Roman method of doing so while lying down supported by one elbow. After one banquet, it was recorded that all “remained seated on their benches. They had drunk so much wine and had so gorged themselves that the slaves and the guests lay drunk in every corner of the house, wherever they happened to stumble.” 

Miscellany Communication

Referring to the printers’ strike that began in St. Petersburg in 1905 and helped to inaugurate the October Revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote, “They demanded a shorter working day and a higher piecework rate per thousand letters set, not excluding punctuation marks. This small event set off nothing more nor less than the all-Russian political strike—that is, a strike which started over punctuation marks and ended by felling absolutism.” 

Miscellany Discovery

Students at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich wrote to Carl Jung in 1949 to ask what effect he thought technology had on the human psyche. “The danger lies not in technology,” Jung responded, “but in the possibilities awaiting discovery.” The question regarding new discoveries was “whether man is sufficiently equipped with reason to be able to resist the temptation to use them for destructive purposes.” This, Jung concluded, “experience alone can answer.”

Miscellany Night

Astronomers theorizing the existence of small moons orbiting larger moons have proposed calling them “moonmoons.” The planet Kepler-1625b, which has a Neptune-sized moon distantly orbiting it, was cited as “sort of the best-case scenario for a moonmoon.”

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 Food

Tomato, potato, corn, beans, zucchini, squash, avocado, bell pepper, chili, and pineapple are among the foods that Christopher Columbus brought back to the Old World. Onion, garlic, wheat, barley, olives, and lettuce are among the foods he introduced to the New.