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Posts Tagged ‘letters’

The Best Medicine

February 25, 2015 | by

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“He just simply couldn‘t stop it / He never knew when it was coming”: Winsor McCay‘s Little Sammy Sneeze, 1905.

If you’re not sick, you soon will be, and all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t save you. Everyone is a potential foe; no one wants to admit it. This morning on the subway, everyone was coughing and sneezing with varying degrees of discretion. The only people who seemed at all comfortable were two Japanese tourists wearing paper surgical masks. Well, maybe also the old man with a roll of toilet paper hanging around his neck on a loop of string. I envied all of them. 

All you can do is read Mark Twain. He wrote “How to Cure a Cold” for the Golden Era shortly after arriving in San Francisco in September 1863. Twain may never have actually said the famous thing about a San Francisco summer being the coldest winter he’d ever known, but the Bay Area fog was presumably enough to aggravate a lingering head cold—well, that or a nineteenth-century cross-country train ride. According to a series of humorous letters to the editor Twain sent in to the Call and the Enterprise around this period, he’d had the cold—and an ensuing bout of bronchitis—for at least a month when he wrote this piece chronicling various home remedies. Read More »

Autobiography (With Oysters, Orgy)

February 23, 2015 | by

Chekhov in 1897.

A letter from Anton Chekhov to V. A. Tihonov, dated February 23, 1892. Chekhov had just turned thirty-two at the time. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

You are mistaken in thinking you were drunk at Shtcheglov’s name-day party. You had had a drop, that was all. You danced when they all danced, and your jigitivka on the cabman’s box excited nothing but general delight. As for your criticism, it was most likely far from severe, as I don’t remember it. I only remember that Vvedensky and I for some reason roared with laughter as we listened to you.

Do you want my biography? Here it is. Read More »

The Only Valentine You’ll Ever Need

February 13, 2015 | by

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The man himself.

Recently Gawker posted one of those irresistible lists of horrible celebrity encounters—tales of rudeness and jerkiness and shattered illusions and fallen idols. The moral, as ever, was: don’t meet your hero. Unless, of course, that hero is Mister Rogers. 

After Fred Rogers’s death in 2003, person after person came forward with stories of the man’s kindness. Davy Rothbart’s New York Times piece showed us a man as gentle and genuine as the neighbor we watched on PBS. And when your faith in your fellow man all but falls apart, you’ve but to watch Mister Rogers’s Senate testimony, and you take heart.  (Apologies to Frank Loesser.) 

A Redditor shared the following image several years ago, but a friend only just brought it to my attention. It made me cry, and it made me happy. I hope it does the same for you. Read More »

Ten Hours a Day, Ten Days a Week, and Other News

February 12, 2015 | by

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A French revolutionary clock.

  • Two newly discovered letters by Jane Austen’s brother, Charles, “shed a suggestive and unexpectedly saucy light on the ways her literary reputation was kept alive in the decades after her death in 1817.” (That sauciness is literal and figurative, I’ll have you know.)
  • The politics of the calendar: Why have so many nations attempted to change the way we mark time? “In perhaps the most famous example, the French Republican Calendar not only reorganized the days and months around a ten-day week called a décade, but also restarted the entire thing at Year I. At the time John Quincy Adams decried it as ‘superficially frivolous’ and ‘coarsely vulgar,’ not to mention ‘irreligious’—but this was of course the point: the de-Christianization of the calendar.”
  • On the photographer Duane Michals, a retrospective of whose work is currently at the Carnegie Museum of Art: “In a career spanning more than half a century he has worked in both utilitarian black-and-white and luxuriant color, produced slapstick self-portraits, evoked erotic daydreams, pamphleteered against art world fashions, and painted whimsical abstract designs on vintage photographs.”
  • The war on sadness in language: “A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined 100,000 words across texts in ten different languages and found ‘a universal positivity bias.’ ” We demand more sad words.
  • Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s orgies happen four times a year. What else happens four times a year? We can think of a thing or two …

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Advice for Travelers: Beware Cannibals!

February 10, 2015 | by

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A map by John Cary of “Independent Tartary,” 1811.

A letter from Charles Lamb to Thomas Manning from February 1803. Lamb, an English essayist, was born on this day in 1775; his correspondence is known for veering into what he called “nonsense.” Here he responds to news that Manning, one of Europe’s earliest Chinese Studies scholars, will embark soon for China and Tibet—he went on to become the first Englishman to secure an interview with the Dalai Lama. “Independent Tartary” is an outmoded term for Central Asia.

My Dear Manning,—The general scope of your letter afforded no indications of insanity, but some particular points raised a scruple. For God’s sake, don’t think any more of “Independent Tartary.” What are you to do among such Ethiopians? … I tremble for your Christianity. They will certainly circumcise you. Read Sir John Mandeville’s travels to cure you, or come over to England. There is a Tartar man now exhibiting at Exeter Change. Come and talk with him, and hear what he says first. Indeed, he is no very favorable specimen of his countrymen! But perhaps the best thing you can do is to try to get the idea out of your head. For this purpose repeat to yourself every night, after you have said your prayers, the words “Independent Tartary, Independent Tartary,” two or three times, and associate with them the idea of oblivion (‘t is Hartley’s method with obstinate memories); or say “Independent, Independent, have I not already got an independence?” That was a clever way of the old Puritans—pun-divinity. My dear friend, think what a sad pity it would be to bury such parts in heathen countries, among nasty, unconversable, horse-belching, Tartar people! Some say they are cannibals; and then conceive a Tartar fellow eating my friend, and adding the cool malignity of mustard and vinegar! … The Tartars really are a cold, insipid, smouchy set. You’ll be sadly moped (if you are not eaten) among them. Pray try and cure yourself … Shave yourself oftener. Eat no saffron, for saffron-eaters contract a terrible Tartar-like yellow. Pray to avoid the fiend. Eat nothing that gives the heartburn. Shave the upper lip. Go about like an European. Read no book of voyages (they are nothing but lies); only now and then a romance, to keep the fancy under. Above all, don’t go to any sights of wild beasts. That has been your ruin. Accustom yourself to write familiar letters on common subjects to your friends in England, such as are of a moderate understanding. And think about common things more … You’ll never come back. Have a care, my dear friend, of Anthropophagi! their stomachs are always craving. ‘Tis terrible to be weighed out at fivepence a pound. To sit at table (the reverse of fishes in Holland), not as a guest, but as a meat!

God bless you! do come to England. Air and exercise may do great things.

Talk with some minister. Why not your father?

God dispose all for the best! I have discharged my duty.

Your sincere friend,

C. LAMB.

Damn the Absolute

January 19, 2015 | by

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William James, left, and Josiah Royce in New Hampshire, September 1903. When James heard the click of the shutter, he shouted, “Royce, you're being photographed! Look out! I say, Damn the Absolute!”

A letter from William James to his publisher Henry Holt, sent from Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1896.

MY DEAR HOLT,—At the risk of displeasing you, I think I won’t have my photograph taken, even at no cost to myself. I abhor this hawking about of everybody’s phiz which is growing on every hand, and don’t see why having written a book should expose one to it. I am sorry that you should have succumbed to the supposed trade necessity. In any case, I will stand on my rights as a free man. You may kill me, but you shan’t publish my photograph. Put a blank “thumbnail” in its place. Very very sorry to displease a man whom I love so much. Always lovingly yours,

WM. JAMES.

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