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Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes
By Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard

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 Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes

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Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes
By Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard
ISBN: 0316082678
Genre: Non Fiction

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Chapter Excerpt from: Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes , by Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard



Aaron, Henry Louis ["Hank"] (1934—), US baseball player. He broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record, hitting 755 in all.

1 During the 1957 World Series, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra noticed that Aaron grasped the bat the wrong way. "Turn it around," he said, "so you can see the trademark." But Hank kept his eye on the pitcher’s mound: "Didn’t come up here to read. Came up here to hit."

2 Aaron, who surpassed Babe Ruth’s "unsurpassable" home-run record of 714 home runs in 1974, never saw any of his famous hits flying through the air. While running to first base he always looked down until he touched the bag, feeling that "looking at the ball going over the fence isn’t going to help."

3 Asked how he felt about breaking Ruth’s record – an achievement that was both admired and somewhat controversial given the great reverence and affection Ruth inspired even years after his death – Aaron said, "I don’t want them to forget Ruth. I just want them to remember me!"

4 Aaron was known as a hitter who rarely failed, the bane of pitchers. As a pitcher on a rival team once said of him, "Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster."


Abernethy, John (1764—1831), British physician.

1 A titled gentleman who consulted Abernethy was received by the great doctor with the rudeness for which he was notorious. The patient lost his temper and told Abernethy that he would make him "eat his words." "It will be of no use," responded Abernethy, "for they will be sure to come up again."

2 When Abernethy was canvassing for the post of surgeon to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, he called upon one of the governors, a wealthy grocer, in the man’s shop. The grocer loftily remarked that he presumed Abernethy was wanting his vote at this important point in his life. Nettled by the man’s tone and attitude, Abernethy retorted, "No, I don’t; I want a pennyworth of figs. Look sharp and wrap them up. I want to be off."

3 "Mrs. J–– consulted him respecting a nervous disorder, the minutiae of which appeared to be so fantastic that Mr. A. interrupted their frivolous detail by holding out his hand for the fee. A ?1 note and a shilling were placed into it; upon which he returned the latter to his fair patient, with the angry exclamation, ‘There, Ma’am! go and buy a skipping rope; that is all you want.’"

4 Despite his brusqueness with his private patients, Abernethy was conscientious and kindly toward the poor under his care in the charity hospital. Once as he was about to leave for the hospital, a private patient tried to detain him. Abernethy observed, "Private patients, if they do not like me, can go elsewhere; but the poor devils in the hospital I am bound to take care of."

5 A patient complaining of melancholy consulted Dr. Abernethy. After an examination the doctor pronounced, "You need amusement. Go and hear the comedian Grimaldi; he will make you laugh and that will be better for you than any drugs." Said the patient, "I am Grimaldi."

6 Abernethy was renowned for his dislike of idle chatter. With this in mind, a young lady once entered his surgery and, without a word, held out an injured finger for examination. The doctor dressed the wound in silence. The woman returned a few days later. "Better?" asked Abernethy. "Better," replied the patient. Subsequent calls passed in much the same manner. On her final visit, the woman held out her finger, now free of bandages. "Well?" inquired the doctor. "Well," she replied. "Upon my word, madam," exclaimed Abernethy, "you are the most rational woman I have ever met."


Acheson, Dean [Gooderham] (1893—1971), US statesman and lawyer; secretary of state (1949—53).

1 On leaving his post as secretary of state, Acheson was asked about his plans for the future. He replied, "I will undoubtedly have to seek what is happily known as gainful employment, which I am glad to say does not describe holding public office."

2 In April 1963 Winston Churchill was made an honorary citizen of the United States. At the ceremony in the White House, his letter of acceptance was read by his son Randolph, as he himself was too frail to attend. It contained a passage rejecting the idea that Britain had only a "tame and minor" role to play on the international scene. Dean Acheson recognized this as an oblique allusion to his own famous and greatly resented remark that Britain had lost an empire and failed to find a new role. "Well, it hasn’t taken Winston long to get used to American ways," commented Acheson. "He hadn’t been an American citizen for three minutes before he began attacking an ex-secretary of state."

3 A rather flustered elderly lady once accosted Acheson in a Washington hotel. "Pardon me," she said, "I am somewhat embarrassed. My zipper has stuck and I am due at a meeting. Could you please help me out?" As the zipper was firmly stuck halfway down her back, Acheson was obliged to undo it completely, averting his eyes as best he could, before pulling it back up to the top. The lady thanked him profusely. "I think that I should tell you," she added, "that I am vice president of the Daughters of the American Revolution."

  "My dear lady," replied Acheson, "what a moment ago was a rare privilege now appears to have been a really great honor."


Acton, Harold (1904—97), British author whose works include poetry, histories, memoirs, and novels.

1 "One summer afternoon Acton, then a celebrated undergraduate poet at Oxford, was asked to perform at a Conservative Garden Fete. He decided he could do no better than recite [T. S. Eliot’s] The Waste Land from beginning to end. His audience’s good manners were severely tested, as this dirge for a godless civilization, delivered in Harold Acton’s rich, resounding voice, swept irresistibly above their heads; and one or two old ladies, who were alarmed and horrified but thought that the reciter had such a ‘nice, kind face,’ rather than hurt the young man’s feelings by getting up and leaving openly, were obliged to sink to their knees and creep away on all fours."


Adams, Alexander Annan (1908—), British air commander.

1 At the end of the Battle of Britain, Adams was driving to a meeting at Fighter Command Headquarters when he came upon a sign: ROAD CLOSED – UNEXPLODED BOMB. Adams called over the policeman on duty, hoping he might be able to suggest an alternative route. "Sorry, you can’t go through," said the policeman as he approached the car. "The bomb is likely to go off at any minute now." Then he caught sight of Adams’s uniform. "I’m very sorry, sir," he said, "I didn’t know you were a wing commander. It is quite all right for you to go through."


Adams, Ansel (1902—84), US landscape photographer (particularly of the mountainous West) and conservationist.

1 During his early years Adams studied the piano and showed marked talent. At one party (he recalls it as "very liquid") he played Chopin’s F Major Nocturne. "In some strange way my right hand started off in F-sharp major while my left hand behaved well in F major. I could not bring them together. I went through the entire nocturne with the hands separated by a half-step." The next day a fellow guest complimented him on his performance. "You never missed a wrong note!"


Adams, Franklin Pierce (1881—1960), US journalist, writer of light verse, and wit.

1 Adams belonged to a poker club that included among its members an actor called Herbert Ransom. Whenever Ransom held a good hand, his facial expression was so transparent that Adams proposed a new rule for the club: "Anyone who looks at Ransom’s face is cheating."

2 Adams accompanied Beatrice Kaufman (wife of the playwright George S. Kaufman) to a cocktail party where, feeling a little out of things, she sat down on a cane-seated chair. The seat suddenly broke, leaving Beatrice immobilized inside the frame, legs in the air. As a shocked silence gripped the party, Adams said severely, "I’ve told you a hundred times, Beatrice, that’s not funny."

3 "Whose birthday is it today?" Adams once asked Beatrice Kaufman. "Yours?" she guessed. "No, but you’re getting warm," replied Adams. "It’s Shakespeare’s."

4 Alexander Woollcott had been asked to sign a first-edition copy of his book Shouts and Murmurs. "Ah, what is so rare as a Woollcott first edition?" he sighed as he wrote. "A Woollcott second edition," replied Adams.

5 A friend was recounting to Adams an apparently interminable tale. He finally said: "Well, to cut a long story short –"

  "Too late," interrupted Adams.


Adams, Henry (1838-1918), US diplomat and writer known particularly for his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams.

1 Adams was very fond of his teenage niece Gabrielle. During one visit, they sat together in the library after dinner as Uncle Henry began to speak. His monologue was extraordinary, and ranged over the cosmos, the nature of God and man, and his own hopes and disappointments. For a long time he talked, then broke off and sat quietly for a moment. "Do you know why I have told you all this?" he asked her. "It is because you would not understand a word of it and you will never quote me."


Adams, John (1735—1826), US statesman, 2d President of the United States (1797—1801).

1 Adams loathed being vice president; even in those early days of the Republic, the job was ill defined and not much respected. Of his role as Washington’s secondary partner, he wrote, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

2 During his presidency Adams’s grand style, which contrasted unfavorably with the simpler dignity of the Washington regime, made him many enemies. A scandalous story circulated that he had sent General Charles C. Pinckney to Britain to select four pretty girls as mistresses, two for the general and two for himself. When this slander came to Adams’s ears, he wrote complainingly to a friend, "I do declare, if this be true, General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two."

3 Adams received a letter from his wife, Abigail, that was highly critical of the impending marriage of a young lady she knew to a much older man. She called it the union of "the Torrid and the Frigid Zones." Adams immediately wrote back, saying, "How dare you hint or list a word about Fifty Years of Age? If I were near, I would soon convince you that I am not above Forty."

4 Although failing fast, Adams was determined to survive until the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1826. At dawn on that day he was awakened by his servant, who asked if he knew what day it was. He replied, "Oh, yes, it is the glorious fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all." He then slipped into a coma. In the afternoon he recovered consciousness briefly to murmur, "Thomas Jefferson lives." These were his last words. Unknown to him, Thomas Jefferson had died that same day.


Adams, John Quincy (1767—1848), US statesman, 6th President of the United States (1825—29). From 1831 to his death he served in the House of Representatives.

1 John Quincy Adams, an enthusiastic swimmer, used to bathe naked in the Potomac before starting the day’s work. The newspaperwoman Anne Royall had been trying for weeks to get an interview with the President and had always been turned away. One morning she tracked him to the riverbank and after he had got into the water stationed herself on his clothes. When Adams returned from his swim, he found a very determined lady awaiting him. She introduced herself and stated her errand. "Let me get out and dress," pleaded the President, "and I swear you shall have your interview." Anne Royall was adamant; she wasn’t moving until she had the President’s comment on the questions she wished to put to him. If he attempted to get out, she would scream loud enough to reach the ears of some fishermen on the next bend. She got her interview while Adams remained decently submerged in the water.

2 In 1846 John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke and, although he returned to Congress the following year, his health was clearly failing. Daniel Webster described his last meeting with Adams: "Someone, a friend of his, came in and made particular inquiry of his health. Adams answered, ‘I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement; battered by the winds and broken in upon by the storms, and, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.’"

3 One wintry day in 1848 Adams was busy writing at his desk when the Speaker of the House rose to ask a question. Adams rose to answer, then fell into the arms of his neighboring member. He was carried into the Speaker’s chamber, where he spent the next two days in a semiconscious state. His final words were, "This is the last of Earth. I am content."


Addams, Jane (1860—1935), US social reformer. A supporter of racial equality, female suffrage, and pacifism, she shared the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize with the educator Nicholas Murray Butler.

1 In 1900 the Daughters of the American Revolution elected Jane Addams to honorary membership. However, her antiwar stance during World War I and her insistence that even subversives had a right to trial by due process of law caused them to expel her. She commented that she had thought her election was for life, but now knew it was for good behavior.


Addison, Joseph (1672—1719), British writer and politician.

1 Addison’s natural diffidence made him an ineffective parliamentary debater. On one occasion he began, "Mr. Speaker, I conceive – I conceive, sir – sir, I conceive –" At this point he was interrupted by a voice saying, "The right honorable secretary of state has conceived thrice and brought forth nothing."

2 The Duke of Wharton, hoping to animate Addison into wit, plied him so generously with wine that the writer was taken ill. The duke observed with disgust that he could "get wine but not wit out of him."

3 A friend of Addison’s with whom he was accustomed to have long discussions on topics of mutual interest borrowed some money from the author. Soon afterward Addison noticed a change in his behavior; before the loan the two friends had disagreed on a number of subjects, but now the borrower fell in with every line that Addison himself adopted. One day when they were talking on a point on which Addison knew his friend had previously held an opposite view to his own, he exclaimed, "Either contradict me, sir, or pay me my money!"


Ade, George (1866—1944), US humorist and playwright.

1 Following a well-received after-dinner speech by George Ade, a noted lawyer rose to speak. His hands buried deep in the pockets of his trousers, he began: "Doesn’t it strike the company as a little unusual that a professional humorist should be funny?" Ade waited for the laughter to die down before replying: "Doesn’t it strike the company as a little unusual that a lawyer should have his hands in his own pockets?"


Adee, Alvey Augustus (1842—1924), US diplomat.

1 When Adee was asked by President McKinley the best way to say no to six European ambassadors who were coming to see him to try to prevent war against Spain, he wrote on the back of an envelope: "The Government of the United States appreciates the humanitarian and disinterested character of the communication now made on behalf of the powers named, and for its part is confident that equal appreciation will be shown for its own earnest and unselfish endeavors to fulfill a duty to humanity by ending a situation the indefinite prolongation of which has become insufferable."

  The President read this message verbatim to the ambassadors.


Adenauer, Konrad (1876—1967), German statesman and first chancellor of the Federal Republic (1949—63).

1 Essentially a Rhinelander, Adenauer never liked or trusted the Prussians and his compatriots in eastern Germany. In the interwar period he used frequently to have to go by train to Berlin. It is said that every time he crossed the River Elbe on this journey he would frown and mutter to himself, "Now we enter Asia."

2 Adenauer received many marriage proposals in his mail when he was chancellor, even after he became an octogenarian. When they were brought to his notice he used to tell his secretary patiently: "Put them in the nonaggression pact file."

3 When Adenauer, still chancellor, was approaching the age of ninety, he succumbed to a heavy cold. His personal physician, unable to be of very much help, had to put up with Adenauer’s impatience. "I’m not a magician," protested the harassed doctor. "I can’t make you young again."

  "I haven’t asked you to," retorted the chancellor. "All I want is to go on getting older."


Adler, Hermann (1839—1911), British rabbi (chief rabbi of London).

1 Adler found himself sitting beside Herbert Cardinal Vaughan at an official luncheon. "Now, Dr. Adler," said the cardinal mischievously, "when may I have the pleasure of helping you to some ham?"

  "At Your Eminence’s wedding," came the prompt reply.


Aeschylus (525—456 bc), Greek poet. Some of his tragedies are the earliest complete plays surviving from ancient Greece.

1 Aeschylus died and was buried at Gela in Sicily. Ancient biographies record the tradition that his death came about when an eagle, which had seized a tortoise and was looking to smash the reptile’s shell, mistook the poet’s bald head for a stone and dropped the tortoise upon him.


Agassiz, Jean Louis Rodolphe (1807—73), Swiss naturalist and paleontologist.

1 An emissary from a learned society came to invite Agassiz to address its members. Agassiz refused on the grounds that lectures of this sort took up too much time that should be devoted to research and writing. The man persisted, saying that they were prepared to pay handsomely for the talk. "That’s no inducement to me," Agassiz replied. "I can’t afford to waste my time making money."


Agrippina (ad 15—59), mother of Emperor Nero by her first husband. Her third marriage was to her uncle, Emperor Claudius, whom she later poisoned.

1 Agrippina was consumed by her ambition to place her son Nero on the imperial throne. She consulted the soothsayers, who told her, "Nero will reign, but he will kill his mother."

  "Let him kill me, then," said Agrippina.

2 Agrippina proved less easy to eliminate than Nero expected. According to Suetonius, he tried poison three times (she had taken the antidote beforehand), a collapsible ceiling in her bedchamber (someone warned her), and an unseaworthy boat (she swam to safety). Finally he sent a centurion with orders to kill her. The centurion struck her first on the head, as he had been ordered, but she bared her breasts, crying out, "Strike rather these, which have nurtured so great a monster as Nero."


Aidan, Saint (d. 651), Irish monk who became bishop of Northumbria (635) and founded the monastery at Lindisfarne.

1 King Oswin, ruler of the former British province of Deira and a friend of Aidan’s, gave the bishop a fine horse. Soon afterward Bishop Aidan met a beggar who asked him for alms; he at once dismounted and gave the horse, with all its costly trappings, to the poor man. When this charitable deed came to the king’s ears, he taxed Aidan: "Why did you give away the horse that we specially chose for your personal use when we knew that you had need of one for your journeys? We have many less valuable horses that would have been suitable for beggars." Replied Aidan, "Is this foal of a mare more valuable to you than a child of God?" The king pondered, then, suddenly casting his sword aside, knelt at Aidan’s feet and begged his forgiveness. Aidan, greatly moved, begged the king to go to his dinner and be merry.

  As Aidan watched the king go, he became very melancholy. When the bishop’s chaplain asked why, Aidan replied, "I know that the king will not live long, for I have never seen a king so humble as he is. He will be taken from us as the country is not worthy to have such a king."

  The foreboding was proved correct: King Oswin was treacherously killed by his northern neighbor, King Oswy.


Albemarle, William Anne Keppel, 2d Earl of (1702—54), British soldier and ambassador.

1 Sent as plenipotentiary to Paris in 1748, Albemarle took with him his mistress Lolotte Gaucher, an actress described by contemporaries as cunning and rapacious. One evening, seeing her gazing pensively at a star, the earl remarked, "It’s no good, my dear, I can’t buy it for you."


Albert, Prince (1819—61), prince consort of Great Britain; husband of Queen Victoria.

1 Prince Albert had a chronic inability to stay awake late at night. At a concert given at Buckingham Palace and attended by various distinguished guests, Queen Victoria noticed that her husband was asleep. Half-smiling, half-vexed, she prodded him with her elbow. He woke up, nodded approval of the piece being performed, and fell asleep again, still nodding. The queen had to wake him up all over again. A guest at the concert reported, "The queen was charmed, and cousin Albert looked beautiful, and slept quietly as usual."

2 A picture at Balmoral portrayed all the royal children and various birds and animals. Someone asked which was Princess Helena. "There, with the kingfisher," said Albert, adding, "a very proper bird for a princess."


Albert, Eugène d’ (1864—1932), German pianist and composer.

1 D’Albert was married six times. At an evening reception which he attended with his fifth wife shortly after their wedding, he presented the lady to a friend who said politely, "Congratulations, Herr d’Albert; you have rarely introduced me to so charming a wife."


Alcibiades (c. 450—404 bc), Greek general and politician.

1 Alcibiades was telling Pericles, forty years his senior, how best to govern Athens. This did not amuse Pericles. "Alcibiades," he said, "when I was your age, I talked just as you do now."

  "How I should like to have known you, Pericles," replied Alcibiades, "when you were at your best."


Alcott, [Amos] Bronson (1799—1888), US educator and writer, father of the writer Louisa May Alcott.

1 The Alcott family finances were very low, but they placed great hopes on Bronson Alcott’s latest lecture tour. When he arrived home one night in February, the family gathered around to welcome him, offer him food and drink, and rejoice in his homecoming. Then a little silence fell, and it was daughter May who asked the question in all their minds: "Did they pay you?" Slowly Bronson Alcott drew out his pocketbook and displayed its contents – a single dollar. "Another year I shall do better," he said. There was a stunned hush in the group around him. Then Mrs. Alcott flung her arms around his neck and said stoutly, "I call that doing very well."


Alcott, Louisa May (1832—88), US novelist, author of Little Women (1869).

1 When Louisa Alcott became a celebrity, she often found her fame tiresome. A supporter of the fight for women’s suffrage, she attended the Women’s Congress in Syracuse, where she was accosted by an effusive admirer. "If you ever come to Oshkosh," said the lady, "your feet will not be allowed to touch the ground: you will be borne in the arms of the people. Will you come?"

  "Never," replied Miss Alcott.


Alembert, Jean le Rond d’ (1717—83), French mathematician.

1 The illegitimate son of an aristocrat, d’Alembert was abandoned by his mother soon after his birth and was brought up by a glazier named Rousseau and his wife. When d’Alembert’s extraordinary talents became known, his mother attempted to claim him. D’Alembert rejected her, saying, "My mother is the wife of the glazier."


Alençon, Sophie-Charlotte, Duchesse d’ (d. 1897), Bavarian-born duchess who married the Duc d’Alençon in 1868.

1 On May 4, 1897, the duchess was presiding over a charity bazaar in Paris when the hall accidentally caught fire. Flames spread to the paper decorations and flimsy walls of the booths and in seconds the place was an inferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children were trampled as they rushed for the exits, while workmen from a nearby site performed incredible acts of heroism, rushing into the blaze to carry out the trapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seated behind her booth. "Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shall be the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed and was burned to death, along with more than 120 others, mainly women and children.


Alexander, Sir George (1858—1919), British actor.

1 "On the first night of that unfortunate play [Henry James’s] Guy Domville, produced by George Alexander, it was soon evident from the attitude of the gallery that the play was not going to be a success, but the seal of failure was set on it when Sir George uttered the line, ‘I am the last of the Domvilles.’ Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than a voice came from the gallery, ‘Well at any rate, that’s a comfort to know.’"


Alexander, Grover Cleveland (1887—1950), US baseball pitcher.

1 Although he became an alcoholic during his twenty-year career, Alexander remained one of the best pitchers until the end. At thirty-five he pitched superbly in the World Series of 1926 between his St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. After winning the full sixth game of the best-of-seven set and tying the series at three games each, Alexander spent that night celebrating. Since pitchers usually rested three days between starts, he went out to the bull pen next day, with the relief pitchers, and snoozed away the final game until he was, surprisingly, summoned to pitch the seventh of the nine innings. There were three men on base, one out needed to end the inning, and a one-run lead. Alexander faced the feared Tony Lazzeri and struck him out, ending the inning to the cheers of the crowd. He then stopped the Yankees in their last two innings to win the game and give his team the title.

  Afterward Alexander was asked how he felt. "I feel fine," he said. "It’s Lazzeri you should ask how he feels," and added, "I owe it all to clean living." And he went out and got drunk.


Alexander, Harold, 1st Earl [Alexander of Tunis] (1891—1969), British field marshal.

1 Alexander’s assistant once commented on his habit of tipping into his Out tray any letters remaining in his In tray at the end of the working day. "Excuse me, sir," he asked. "Why do you do that?"

  "It saves time," explained Alexander. "You’d be surprised how little of it comes back."


Alexander, Samuel (1859—1938), Australian-born philosopher and university professor who lived most of his life in England.

1 The professor of philosophy on his beloved bicycle was a familiar sight around Manchester. On one occasion he rode over to Liverpool to dine and spend the night at the house of a wealthy shipowner. The host’s valet noticed that the professor had arrived without luggage and reported the fact to his employer, who courteously said that he would not dress for dinner that evening. He also instructed the valet to put out a spare pair of pajamas in the professor’s room. A short time later, however, the valet rushed into his master’s dressing room with the message: "I have just seen Professor Alexander going downstairs and he’s wearing a dinner jacket." The host made a rapid change. The following morning the valet returned the spare pajamas, unused, to his master, remarking: "The professor had his own, after all." Curiosity finally overcame the shipowner. As he was seeing his guest off on his bicycle, he asked, "Do you not have any luggage?"

  "I’m wearing it," replied the professor.


Alexander I (1777—1825), czar of Russia (1801—25).

1 The way for Alexander’s accession to the throne was cleared through the murder of his savage, megalomaniac father, Czar Paul I, by a group of aristocratic conspirators. Thus in two generations history repeated itself, for Alexander’s grandmother, Catherine the Great, had connived at the murder of her husband, Peter III, in order to seize power herself less than forty years before. The youthful archduke had had prior warning of the plot against Czar Paul, but had preferred to think that the conspirators’ intention was merely to depose and imprison his father. When news of the murder was brought to him, he almost collapsed with horror. This incident haunted him for the remainder of his life, but the strongest proof of his complicity was in his treatment of the conspirators; they all continued in his favor and some became his closest counselors. A French spy, the Countess de Bonneuil, reported to her master Fouché on the situation in St. Petersburg: "The young emperor goes about preceded by the murderers of his grandfather, followed by the murderers of his father, quite surrounded by his friends."

2 When Alexander was in Paris, following the defeat of Napoleon, he attended anniversary celebrations at one of the hospitals. The ladies who had organized the affair passed plates around for contributions. An extremely pretty girl was delegated to take a plate to the czar. Alexander dropped in a handful of gold and whispered, "That’s for your beautiful bright eyes." The young lady curtsied and immediately presented the plate again. "What? More?" said the czar. "Yes, sire," she replied, "now I want something for the poor."

3 The czar heard of a new invention, a calculating machine, that could apparently work faster than any person. He summoned the inventor, Abraham Stern, to his court to demonstrate the device. After inspecting it, Alexander challenged Stern to an arithmetic contest. A prearranged list of calculations was read out, and both Stern and the czar, who worked the numbers with a quill pen, set to. As Alexander was completing the first calculation, Stern announced that his machine had finished. The czar read over the results, looked at Stern and his machine, then said to his attendant, "The machine is good, but the Jew is bad."


Alexander III [Alexander the Great] (356—323 bc), king of Macedon (336—323).

1 Gossip surrounded the birth of Alexander. Doubt as to whether Philip was really his father later allowed Alexander to declare that he was a god and the son of Jupiter. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, preferred to leave the matter obscure. When news was brought to her of Alexander’s claim to divine paternity, she said, "Please – I don’t want to get into any trouble with Juno."

2 A Thessalian brought an exceptionally beautiful horse, named Bucephalus, to the Macedonian court, offering to sell it to King Philip. However, when the royal grooms tried to test its paces, it proved wild and unmanageable. The young Alexander asked his father for permission to try his skill. Philip reluctantly agreed, saying that if the prince failed to ride Bucephalus he was to pay his father a forfeit equal to its price. Alexander walked quickly to the horse’s head and turned it to face into the sun, for he had noticed that the horse’s own shadow was upsetting it. He calmed it, then mounted it, and Bucephalus obediently showed off his paces.

  The court, which had feared for the prince’s safety, broke into loud applause. Philip was overjoyed. He kissed his son, saying, "Seek another kingdom that may be worthy of your abilities, for Macedonia is too small for you."

3 Alexander, setting out on his conquest of Asia, inquired into the finances of his followers. To ensure that they should not be troubled over the welfare of their dependents during their absence, he distributed crown estates and revenues among them. When he had thus disposed of nearly all the royal resources, his friend General Perdiccas asked Alexander what he had reserved for himself. "Hope," answered the king. "In that case," said Perdiccas, "we who share in your labors will also take part in your hopes." Thereupon he refused the estate allocated to him, and several other of the king’s friends did the same.

4 At Gordium in Phrygia (Asia Minor) a chariot was fastened with cords made from the bark of a cornel tree. The knot was so cunningly tied that no ends were visible, and the tradition was that the empire of the world should fall to the man who could untie it. When Alexander conquered Gordium, he confronted the famous puzzle. Unable to untie the knot, he drew his sword and with one slash severed it.

  {Hence the phrase "cut the Gordian knot" for finding a quick and drastic solution to an intricate problem.}

5 On his march through Asia Minor, Alexander fell dangerously ill. His physicians were afraid to treat him because if they did not succeed, the Macedonian army would suspect them of malpractice. Only one, Philip the Acarnanian, was willing to take the risk, as he had confidence in both the king’s friendship and his own drugs.

  While the medicine was being prepared, Alexander received a letter from an enemy of Philip’s that accused the physician of having been bribed by the Persian king to poison his master. Alexander read the letter and slipped it under his pillow without showing it to anyone. When Philip entered the tent with the medicine, Alexander took the cup from him, at the same time handing Philip the letter. While the physician was reading it, Alexander calmly drank the contents of the cup. Horrified and indignant at the calumny, Philip threw himself down at the king’s bedside, but Alexander assured him that he had complete confidence in his honor. After three days the king was well enough to appear again before his army.

6 After Alexander had conquered Egypt, the Persian king, Darius, sent a letter offering generous terms for peace and future friendship with the Macedonian king: 10,000 talents to be paid in ransom for Persian prisoners, all the countries west of the Euphrates to be ceded to Alexander, and Darius’s daughter to be given to him in marriage. Alexander consulted his friends about how he should respond. His general Parmenion said, "If I were Alexander, I would accept these offers."

  "So would I," retorted Alexander, "if I were Parmenion."

7 The captured Indian king Porus was brought before Alexander, who asked how he wished to be treated. "Like a king," was the reply. Alexander asked if he had anything else to request. "Nothing," said Porus, "for everything is comprehended in the word ‘king.’" Alexander restored Porus’s lands to him.

8 Alexander’s final command before a certain battle was that the beards of his soldiers should be shaved off. "There is nothing like a beard to get hold of in a fight," he explained.

9 Alexander the Great was marching across the desert with a thirsty army. A soldier came up to him, knelt down, and offered him a helmet full of water. "Is there enough for ten thousand men?" asked Alexander. When the soldier shook his head, Alexander poured the water out on the ground.


Alexander VI (c. 1431—1503), pope (1492—1503) who used his office to advance the prospects of his illegitimate children, especially his son Cesare Borgia.

1 Alexander VI’s illegitimate daughter Lucrezia was married in 1502 to her third husband, Alfonso d’Este, son and heir of the Duke of Ferrara. Not long after the marriage the Ferrarese envoy to the papal court reassured Pope Alexander that all was well with the newlyweds; Alfonso, he reported, made love to Lucrezia nightly. Alfonso, the envoy added, also made love with equal regularity to other women during the day, but that was unimportant. "Well, he is young," said the pope, "and that is how it should be."


Alexandra (1844—1925), Danish princess who in 1863 married the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of Great Britain).

1 On May 10, 1910, King Edward VII died. At first, as he lay on his deathbed, his long-suffering queen, who had turned a blind eye to his infidelities and his pursuit of his pleasures in every fashionable resort on the Continent, was stricken with grief. But it was not long before her sense of humor reasserted itself. She remarked to Lord Esher, "Now at least I know where he is."


Alfonso X (c. 1221—84), king of Castile and León (1252—84), known as Alfonso the Wise.

1 The most celebrated of the works undertaken under Alfonso’s sponsorship was the compilation of the "Alfonsine Tables," which were published on the day of his accession to the throne and remained the most authoritative planetary tables in existence for the following three centuries. The preparation of the tables was very laborious and was based, of course, upon the Ptolemaic scheme of the universe. Alfonso remarked that if God had consulted him during the six days of creation, he would have recommended a less complicated design.


Alfonso XIII (1886—1941), king of Spain (1886—1931).

1 One would-be assassin leaped suddenly in front of the king’s horse as he was riding back from a parade and pointed a revolver at him from barely a yard away. "Polo comes in very handy on these occasions," said Alfonso afterward. "I set my horse’s head straight at him and rode into him as he fired."


Alfred [Alfred the Great] (849—899), king of Wessex.

1 At one time during his wars with the Danes, Alfred was forced to seek refuge incognito in a hut belonging to a poor Anglo-Saxon family. The woman of the house, who had to leave for a short time, asked the fugitive to keep an eye on some cakes she was baking. Alfred, deep in thought, did not notice that the cakes were burning. When his hostess returned, she gave the unrecognized king a hearty scolding for being an idle good-for-nothing.

2 As a young boy Alfred received little formal schooling. He did possess a highly retentive memory and particularly enjoyed listening to the court bards reciting poetry. One day his mother, holding a fine manuscript book in her hand, said to Alfred and his elder brothers, "I will give this book to whichever one of you can learn it most quickly." Although he could not read, Alfred was greatly attracted to the book and was determined to own it. Forestalling his brothers, he took it to someone who read it through to him. Then he went back to his mother and repeated the whole thing to her. This talent was the foundation of Alfred’s later reputation as scholar, translator, and patron of learning.


Algren, Nelson (1909-81), US writer known especially for his National Book Award—winning novel, The Man with the Golden Arm.

1 Algren’s career in Hollywood was short-lived. As he described it, "I went out there for a thousand a week, and I worked Monday and I got fired Wednesday. The man who hired me was out of town Tuesday."


Ali, Muhammad (1942—), US boxer, Olympic gold medalist, and world heavyweight champion (1964—71, 1974—78, 1978—80). Born Cassius Clay, he converted to Islam.

1 In the fight film Rocky II, a character apparently based on Muhammad Ali taunts the hero with the words "I’ll destroy you. I am the master of disaster." After seeing a private screening of the film, Ali wistfully remarked, "‘Master of disaster’: I wish I’d thought of that!"

2 Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seat belt. "Superman don’t need no seat belt," replied Ali. "Superman don’t need no airplane, either," retorted the stewardess. Ali fastened his belt.

3 Irritated by Ali’s perpetual boasts of "I am the greatest," a colleague asked the boxer what he was like at golf. "I’m the best," replied Ali. "I just haven’t played yet."

4 At a New York party, violinist Isaac Stern was introduced to Ali. "You might say we’re in the same business," remarked Stern. "We both earn a living with our hands."

  "You must be pretty good," said Ali. "There isn’t a mark on you."

5 Ali went into his now-legendary fight with Sonny Liston in 1964, the fight that secured his title as heavyweight champion, as a seven-to-one underdog. He was seen as more of a clown in the ring than a true fighter. Sportswriters all agreed that he couldn’t fight as well as he could talk. But fight he did, and he repeated his victory in 1965 in their second title bout. As Liston lay on the mat, Ali stood over him with his fist clenched, yelling, "Get up and fight, sucker!"

6 A young person once asked Ali what he should do with his life. He could not decide whether to continue his education or go out into the world to seek his fortune. "Stay in college, get the knowledge," advised Ali. "If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can make something out of you!"


Allais, Alphonse (1854—1905), French humorist, writer, and dramatist.

1 In Alphonse Allais’s library was a volume of Voltaire in which he had inscribed: "To Alphonse Allais, with regrets for not having known him. Voltaire."

2 Asked to deliver a lecture on the subject of the theater, Allais began: "I have been asked to talk to you on the subject of the theater, but I fear that it will make you melancholy. Shakespeare is dead, Molière is dead, Racine is dead, Marivaux is dead – and I am not feeling too well myself."


Allen, Dick (1942—), US baseball player.

1 Allen, who played for numerous teams, including the Cardinals, the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the A’s, liked to write words in the dirt around first base. This distracted the other players, and finally baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn told the Philadelphia Phillies to put a stop to this practice. Allen’s immediate response was to write three words in the dirt: No, why, and Mom. Why Mom? "To say she tells me what to do," Allen said, "not the man up there."


Allen, Ethan (1738—89), US patriot, leader of the "Green Mountain Boys" during the Revolutionary War.

1 Ethan Allen with a group of associates attended a Sunday service led by a stern Calvinist preacher. He took as his text "Many shall strive to enter in, but shall not be able." God’s grace was sufficient, observed the preacher, to include one person in ten, but not one in twenty would endeavor to avail himself of the offered salvation. Furthermore, not one man in fifty was really the object of God’s solicitude, and not one in eighty – here Allen seized his hat and left the pew, saying, "I’m off, boys. Any one of you can take my chance."

2 In the early morning of May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen led a small force in a surprise attack on the British garrison at Ticonderoga. Having overpowered the sentries, Allen demanded to be taken to the commanding officer’s quarters. He shouted at him to come out immediately or he would kill the entire garrison. The commander appeared, his breeches still in his hand. Allen ordered the instant surrender of the fortress. "By what authority?" asked the British officer. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress," said Ethan Allen. The garrison surrendered.

3 When Allen’s first wife, notorious for her sourness and bad temper, died, a local man offered to help transport the coffin to the church. "You could call on any of the neighbors," he said to the widower. "There’s not a man in town wouldn’t be glad to help out."

4 Allen lay ill. The doctor examined him and said, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you."

  "Waiting, are they?" said the bluff frontiersman. "Waiting, are they? Well – let ’em wait."


Allen, Fred (1894—1956), US comedian, writer, and radio star.

1 "If somebody caught him in an act of kindness, he ducked behind a screen of cynicism. A friend was walking with him when a truck bore down on a newsboy in front of them. Allen dashed out and snatched the boy to safety, then snarled at him, ‘What’s the matter, kid? Don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?’"

2 Spying a haggard, long-haired cellist in the orchestra pit of a vaudeville house in Toledo, Ohio, Allen called out to him, "How much would you charge to haunt a house?"

3 The radio and TV comic Jack Parr, of the Tonight show fame, idolized Allen. On their first meeting he stammered, "You are my God!" Allen replied: "There are five thousand churches in New York and you have to be an atheist."

4 The script for one of Allen’s radio shows was returned to him with extensive alterations scrawled across the pages in blue pencil. Allen flipped through it impatiently. "Where were you fellows when the paper was blank?" he asked.


Allen, Woody (1935—), US film actor, director, and writer.

1 A fan rushed up to Allen on the street calling, "You’re a star!" Allen replied, "This year I’m a star, but what will I be next year – a black hole?"

2 Allen was revered by the French, who saw in him a true genius of the medium. And American critics were adulatory as well, dubbing him one of the great directors of modern times. Allen himself was more sanguine: "I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying!"


Allingham, Margery (1904—), British mystery writer.

1 Allingham was born into a family of bookworms, and from her earliest days was surrounded by editors and journalists. One day, as the seven-year-old Margery was sitting on the floor writing a story in her notebook, the housemaid saw her and said, "Master, missus, and three strangers all sitting in different rooms writing down lies and now YOU starting!"


Alma-TADEMA, Sir Lawrence (1836—1912), Dutch painter who adopted British nationality in 1873.

1 A friend of Alma-Tadema had just become the proud father of twins. The painter made his congratulatory visit immediately after concluding a rather excessive drinking bout. Though still a bit muzzy, he was prudent enough to exclaim, "What an enchanting baby!"


Altenberg, Peter (?1862—1919), Austrian poet.

1 Though in fact he maintained a very solid bank balance, Altenberg had a mania for begging. The poet and critic Karl Kraus tells how Altenberg besought him again and again to give him a hundred kronen, and on every occasion Kraus refused him. Finally, his patience at an end, Kraus burst out, "Look, Peter, I’d gladly give it to you, but I really, really, don’t have the money."

  "Very well, I’ll lend it to you," said Altenberg.



Altman, Robert (1925—), US film director.

1 Hollywood had always found Robert Altman difficult to work with; and Altman returned the feeling, loathing the pretentiousness and excess of the big studios. A maverick filmmaker, he had made his way with his own rules. His movie The Player was an irreverent, sometimes savage look at modern moviemaking, an in-joke on the whole industry. At a special screening Altman was delighted to observe that, during a scene showing a snake, studio mogul Barry Diller "jumped a foot out of his chair." Chuckled Altman, "I guess he didn’t expect to see a relative."


Alvanley, William Arden, 2d Baron (1789—1849), British aristocrat and society leader.

1 After emerging unscathed from a duel fought in a discreetly secluded corner of London, Lord Alvanley handed a guinea to the hackney coachman who had conveyed him to the spot and home again. Surprised at the size of the largesse, the man protested, "But, my lord, I only took you a mile." Alvanley waved aside the objection: "The guinea’s not for taking me, my man, it’s for bringing me back."

2 Owing to the careless driving of their coachmen, Lord Alvanley and another nobleman were involved in a collision. The other peer jumped out of his coach, rolling up his sleeves and making ready to thrash his negligent servant, but on seeing that he was elderly and abjectly apologetic, contented himself with saying significantly, "Your age protects you." Alvanley likewise hopped out of his coach, ready to thrash his postilion, but, finding himself confronting a very large, tough-looking lad, he thought better of it. "Your youth protects you," he said, and climbed back into his coach.


Ambrose, Saint (?340—397), Italian cleric, born at Trier in Germany.

1 The emperor appointed Ambrose provincial governor of northern Italy, residing at Milan. In this capacity he was called out in 374 to the cathedral, where a riot was threatening between two rival factions of Christians, each intent on winning its own candidate’s nomination to the bishopric. Ambrose quelled the riot but was unable to persuade the warring parties to agree on a bishop. Finally someone suggested Ambrose himself, and the nomination was enthusiastically greeted on all sides. In vain Ambrose protested that he was not even christened. He was hurriedly baptized, then ordained, and finally consecrated bishop – all within the space of a single week.


Ammonius, early Christian monk.

1 In the year ad 420 the monk Ammonius, who wished to be left alone in contemplation and prayer, was approached by a group of villagers who wanted him to become their bishop. In front of them he cut off his own left ear, saying "From now on be assured that it is impossible for me, as the law forbids a man with his ear cut off to be an ordained priest. And if you compel me, I will cut out my tongue as well."


Anaxagoras (500—428 bc), Greek philosopher.

1 Anaxagoras took refuge at Lampsacus on the Hellespont, and the Athenians condemned him to death in absentia. When he heard the news of the sentence he observed, "Nature has long since condemned both them and me."


Anaximenes (4th century bc), Greek philosopher born at Lampsacus in Asia Minor.

1 Anaximenes accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition against the Persians, in the course of which the Macedonian forces captured Lampsacus. Anxious to save his native city from destruction, Anaximenes sought an audience with the king. Alexander anticipated his plea: "I swear by the Styx I will not grant your request," he said. "My lord," calmly replied Anaximenes, "I merely wanted to ask you to destroy Lampsacus." And so he saved his native city.


Anders, William A[lison] (1933—), US astronaut. A member of the crew of Apollo 8, he circumnavigated the moon in December 1968.

1 Anders received his fair share of publicity after the Apollo 8 moon trip. Tired of being accosted by pressmen, photographers, and the admiring public, he "escaped" with his wife for a brief vacation in Acapulco. A few days after their arrival, however, as they relaxed on the patio of their holiday villa, a young man called and asked if he could take some photographs. Groaning, Anders replied, "Okay, come on in."

  "Thanks," said the young man enthusiastically as he marched across the patio. "You’ve got the best view of the bay in the whole place."

2 Anders’s son asked his father who would actually be driving the Apollo 8 craft as it hurtled into space. Anders told him, "I think Isaac Newton is doing most of the driving now."


Andersen, Hans Christian (1805—75), Danish writer famed for his fairy tales.

1 As a young man Hans Christian Andersen read one of his plays to the wife of another Danish writer. She soon stopped him: "But you have copied whole paragraphs word for word from Oehlenschläger and Ingemann!" Andersen was unabashed: "Yes, I know, but aren’t they splendid!"

2 Visiting with Charles Dickens’s family in England, Andersen rather overstayed his welcome. One of Dickens’s daughters summed up the guest as "a bony bore, and [he] stayed on and on." Dickens himself wrote on a card that he stuck up over the mirror in the guest room: "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES."

3 Hans Christian Andersen was discussing the march for his funeral with the musician who was to compose it: "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."

4 Despite his evident love of children, Andersen never married. Late in life his health declined rapidly; first he developed chronic bronchitis, then the more serious, and ultimately fatal, liver cancer. Unable to care for himself, he moved into the house of some friends near Copenhagen, where he could see the ocean from his room. One morning he quietly finished his tea, and was found a few minutes later in his bed, dead. In his hands was a farewell letter written forty-five years earlier by the only woman he had ever loved.


Anderson, Sherwood (1876—1941), US author best known for his collection Winesburg, Ohio.

1 (Anderson describes a chance meeting in New Orleans with Horace Liveright, the publisher, who was a well-known womanizer.)

  "He was with a beautiful woman and I had seen him with many beautiful women. ‘Meet my wife,’ he said and ‘Oh yeah?’ I answered. There was an uncomfortable moment. It was Mrs. Liveright. I was sunk and so was Horace."

2 Anderson’s first publishers, recognizing his potential, arranged to send him a weekly check in the hope that, relieved of financial pressure, he would write more freely. After a few weeks, however, Anderson took his latest check back to the office. "It’s no use," he explained. "I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face."


Andre, Major John (1751—80), British army officer during the American Revolution.

1 The British army major who plotted with Benedict Arnold to overthrow West Point was finally captured in 1780 by the shores of the Hudson River and was condemned to death. When Andre appealed to General Washington to be shot instead of hanged, Washington declined to help, saying that if Andre was a traitor, he should die a spy’s death; if he was to be considered a prisoner-of-war, he should not be executed at all. As Andre was led to his death, he nearly fainted to see the hangman’s noose awaiting him. But he swiftly recovered his composure, helped the hangman adjust the noose around his own neck, and offered his handkerchief to be used to bind his hands. "All that I request of you gentlemen," he told his captors, "is that you will bear witness to the world that I die like a brave man."


Andrew, Father Agnellus (1908—), British Franciscan.

1 Father Andrew was the BBC’s adviser on Roman Catholic affairs. A producer who was planning programs on the subject wrote him asking how he could ascertain the official Roman Catholic view of heaven and hell. The answering memorandum contained just one word: "Die."


Anne, Princess (1950—), daughter of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

1 Watching the annual show-jumping event at Hickstead in Sussex one afternoon, Princess Anne was accosted by a fellow spectator. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Princess Anne?" he inquired. Anne replied: "I think I’m a bit better-looking than she is."

2 In 1974 a deranged man tried to kidnap Princess Anne in the very public site of the Mall. In his attempt he fired six shots, wounding her bodyguard and several other people. Her father, Prince Philip, later said, "If the man had succeeded in abducting Anne, she would have given him a hell of a time in captivity."

3 At a dinner party Anne spent the entire meal talking about horses with one of her dinner companions. Her neighbor on the other side was ignored throughout the meal as Anne talked, until at last she turned to him to ask for the sugar. The slighted man put two lumps of sugar on his open palm and held them out to her.


Antheil, George (1900—59), US composer, especially of film music.

1 Among Antheil’s early avant-garde pieces, none caused a greater sensation than his Ballet mécanique, scored for automobile horns, airplane propeller, fire siren, ten grand pianos, and other instruments. When it was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1924, a concertgoer near the orchestra could stand no more than a few minutes of the racket. Tying his handkerchief to his cane, he raised the white flag.


Anthony, Marc (d. 30 bc), Roman soldier, lover of Egypt’s Cleopatra.

1 Octavius’s invasion of Egypt spelled doom for Marc Anthony. So Cleopatra’s lover summoned his servant Eros and asked him to fulfill a promise made earlier: to kill Marc Anthony when the chips were down. Eros drew his sword, but at the last moment plunged it into his own heart. "Well done, Eros," said Marc Anthony, "you could not do it yourself, but you teach me to do what I must." So saying, he drew his own sword and killed himself.


Anthony, Susan B. (1820—1906), US suffragette and social reformer.

1 "You are not married," the well-known abolitionist Samuel May once said to Susan Anthony. "You have no business to be discussing marriage."

  "You, Mr. May, are not a slave," she retorted. "Suppose you quit lecturing on slavery."

2 At a reception given to honor her many decades’ struggle for equal rights for women, Anthony was showered with bouquets of flowers. Commenting on her initial forays into politics and marveling that her status had certainly changed over the years, she noted, "They threw things at me then – but they were not roses."

3 On her deathbed Anthony was asked if she was happy about the course her life had taken. "Oh, yes, I’d do it all again," she said. "The spirit is willing yet; I feel the same desire to do the work, but the flesh is weak. It’s too bad that our bodies wear out while our interests are just as strong as ever."


Antisthenes (c. 440—c. 360 bc), Greek philosopher.

1 Antisthenes dressed with ostentatious poverty. Socrates once mocked him, saying, "I can see your vanity, Antisthenes, through the holes in your cloak."

2 Overcome by a distaste for life, Antisthenes was offered a dagger by Diogenes with the words: "Perhaps you have need of this friend?" Antisthenes replied, "I thank you, but unfortunately the will to live is also part of the world’s evil, as it is part of our nature."


Apelles (4th century bc), Greek painter.

1 While Apelles was being acclaimed at the court of Alexander the Great, Protogenes, the only man worthy to be considered his rival, was living poor and obscure on Rhodes. Apelles went to visit him, but when he arrived, Protogenes was away from home. The old woman servant asked Apelles who she should tell her master had called on him in his absence. In reply Apelles took a brush and traced upon a panel, with a single continuous line, a shape of extreme delicacy. When Protogenes returned and saw the panel he remarked, "Only Apelles could have drawn that line." He then drew an even finer line inside that of Apelles, telling the old woman to show it to his visitor if he returned. In due course Apelles came back and added a third line of even greater fineness between the first two. When Protogenes saw it, he admitted that Apelles was his master and he hurried out to find him so that they could celebrate together.

2 A certain cobbler had found fault with the shoes of a figure in one of Apelles’ paintings. Not wishing to disregard the advice of an expert, Apelles corrected the mistake. The cobbler, flattered, went on to criticize the shape of the figure’s legs. This was too much for Apelles. "Cobbler, stick to your last!" he cried, dismissing the would-be critic from his workshop and contributing a phrase that has endured for more than two millennia.


Aquinas, Saint Thomas (c. 1225—74), Italian Dominican theologian and scholastic philosopher who was canonized.

1 As the pupil of the scholastic teacher Albertus Magnus in Paris, Aquinas made a poor impression on his fellow students, who nicknamed him "the dumb ox." Albertus summoned him to a private interview at which they discussed all the subjects in the university curriculum. At the next lecture the master announced, "You call your brother Thomas a dumb ox; let me tell you that one day the whole world will listen to his bellowings."


Archelaus (5th century bc), king of Macedon (413—399 bc).

1 A barber, talkative like the rest of his profession, asked King Archelaus how he would like his hair cut. "In silence," replied the king.


Archer, George (1939—), US golfer.

1 Archer won nineteen Masters tournaments during his career, playing hard. But as he approached retirement he was at a loss as to how to occupy himself. When asked what he would do when the time came, he shook his head, saying, "Baseball players quit playing and take up golf. Basketball players quit and take up golf. Football players quit and take up golf. What are we supposed to do when we quit?"


Archer, William (1856—1924), British drama critic and playwright.

1 (Max Beerbohm relates an anecdote about Archer to his biographer, S. N. Behrman.)

  "‘Did you know that Archer, who always wished to demonstrate that, though a drama critic, he could write a play, had one night of triumph when he felt that he had achieved a beautiful play? He told me this himself. One night, between sleeping and waking, it seemed to him that he had evolved a perfect plot, saw the whole thing from beginning to end. He saw that it only remained to write it – like that!’ [Max snapped his fingers.] ‘Then he fell into a blissful sleep. When he wakened he went over the whole plot again in his mind. He had a disillusioning, a frightful revelation. What he had dreamt was Hedda Gabler.’"


Archimedes (287—212 bc), Greek mathematician and scientist.

1 Hiero believed that an artisan to whom he had given a quantity of gold to shape into a crown had adulterated the metal with silver. He asked Archimedes if there was any way that his suspicions could be proved or disproved. According to the traditional story, the answer occurred to Archimedes while he was taking a bath. He noticed that the deeper he went into the water, the more water overflowed, and that his body seemed to weigh less the more it was submerged. Leaping from the bath, he is said to have run naked through the streets of Syracuse crying, "Eureka!" (I have found it!) The concept he had grasped, now known as Archimedes’ Principle, is that the apparent loss of weight of a floating body is equal to the weight of water it displaces, and that the weight per volume (density) of a body determines the displacement. Archimedes realized that by immersing first the crown, then the same weights of silver (less dense) and gold (more dense), different volumes would be displaced, and so he was able to demonstrate that the crown was indeed adulterated.

2 His vision of the possibilities opened up by his inventions of the lever and the pulley led Archimedes to make his famous utterance: "Give me a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth." Hiero challenged him to put his words into action and help the sailors to beach a large ship in the Syracusan fleet. Archimedes arranged a series of pulleys and cogs to such effect that by his own unaided strength he was able to pull the great vessel out of the water and onto the beach.

3 The lack of a suitable surface could not deter Archimedes from drawing mathematical diagrams. After leaving his bath he would anoint himself thoroughly with olive oil, as was the custom at the time, and then trace his calculations with a fingernail on his own oily skin.

4 When the Roman general Marcellus eventually captured Syracuse, he gave special orders that the life of Archimedes should be protected. A Roman soldier, sent to fetch the scientist, found him drawing mathematical symbols in the sand. Engrossed in his work, Archimedes gestured impatiently, indicating that the soldier must wait until he had solved his problem, and murmured, "Don’t disturb my circles." The soldier, enraged, drew his sword and killed him.


Arditi, Luigi (1822—1903), Italian composer and opera conductor.

1 While staying in Birmingham, England, Arditi was advised by a friend to spend a day at Stratford-upon-Avon. "It would be a pity to leave the area without visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare," said his friend. "But who is this Shakespeare?" asked the conductor. His friend looked at him in amazement. "Haven’t you heard of the man who wrote Othello and Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor?" he asked. "Ah," replied Arditi after a moment’s thought, "you mean ze librettist."


Aristides (?530—468 bc), Athenian statesman and military commander known as "Aristides the Just."

1 Under the Athenian system of ostracism every free adult male could specify the man he wished to see ostracized by scratching the name on a potsherd and dropping it into an urn. An illiterate Athenian, not recognizing Aristides, asked him to write on his potsherd on his behalf. Asked what name the man wanted written, he replied, "Aristides." Surprised, the statesman inquired whether Aristides had ever injured him that he should wish to see him banished. "No," replied the man, "I don’t even know him, but I am sick and tired of hearing him called ‘the Just.’" Aristides in silence wrote his own name on the potsherd and handed it back to the man.


Aristippus (?435—?356 bc), Greek philosopher.

1 Aristippus, asked by a rich Athenian to teach his son philosophy, demanded 500 drachmas. The Athenian protested, "What! I could buy a slave for that much."

  "Do so," replied Aristippus. "Then you will have two slaves."

2 During his sojourn at the court of Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, Aristippus requested a favor for a friend. Dionysius refused. Aristippus pleaded with the tyrant, abasing himself at his feet, until the favor was granted. Criticized for this conduct as being unworthy of a philosopher, Aristippus retorted, "But that is where the tyrant’s ears are."

3 Dionysius asked Aristippus why it was that philosophers paid court to princes, but not vice versa. Aristippus answered, "It is because philosophers know what they need, and princes do not."


Arlen, Michael [Dikran Kouyoumdjian] (1895—1956), British writer born in Bulgaria of Armenian parents.

1 Down on his luck, Arlen went to New York in 1944. To drown his sorrows he paid a visit to the famous restaurant "21". In the lobby, he ran into Sam Goldwyn, who offered the somewhat impractical advice that he should buy racehorses. At the bar Arlen met Louis B. Mayer, an old acquaintance, who asked him what were his plans for the future. "I was just talking to Sam Goldwyn –" began Arlen. "How much did he offer you?" interrupted Mayer. Arlen hesitated. "Not enough," he replied evasively. "Would you take fifteen thousand for thirty weeks?" asked Mayer. No hesitation this time. "Yes," said Arlen.

2 Arlen had had lunch with William Saroyan, the American author of Armenian origin, and gave his wife a glowing account of the encounter. "What are you so excited about?" she asked him. "After all, the day before you lunched with the king of Greece!" Arlen replied, "For an Armenian to lunch with a king – that’s natural, but for an Armenian to lunch with another Armenian – that’s something to be proud of!"


Armour, Philip Danforth (1832—1901), US industrialist, founder of the meat-packing company Armour and Co.

1 Noting that the employees in a certain department of Armour and Co. had greatly increased their efficiency, Armour decided to present each of them with a new suit of clothes. Every man was asked to order the suit of his choice and send the bill to Armour. One particularly greedy young man decided on a suit of evening clothes costing eighty dollars. Armour agreed to pay the bill, commenting to the clerk as he did so, "I’ve packed a great many hogs in my time, but I never dressed one before."


Armstrong, Louis ["Satchmo"] (1900—71), US jazz trumpeter and singer, band leader, and composer.

1 (Satchmo recalls this incident from his earlier years.)

  "One night this big, bad-ass hood crashes my dressing room in Chicago and instructs me that I will open in such-and-such a club in New York the next night. I tell him I got this Chicago engagement and don’t plan no traveling. And I turn my back on him to show I’m so cool. Then I hear this sound: SNAP! CLICK! I turn around and he has pulled this vast revolver on me and cocked it. Jesus, it look like a cannon and sound like death! So I look down at that steel and say, ‘Weelllll, maybe I do open in New York tomorrow.’"

2 When Armstrong’s band played a command performance for the king of England, Satchmo was not too overawed by the sense of occasion. "This one’s for you, Rex," he called out to George VI as the band took up their instruments.

3 Armstrong was once asked whether he objected to the impressions of him frequently given by other singers and comedians. "Not really," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. "A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa, but people still line up to see the original."

4 Armstrong disliked all efforts to define his music. When someone asked him if jazz was synonymous with folk music, he said, "Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t never heard no horse sing a song, have you?"

5 A new musician joined Armstrong’s band the night of a concert. When his turn came for a piano solo, the man played well but hammed it up as well, mugging and smiling throughout his musical effort. When he was finished, Armstrong came over to the piano and, leaning over the keyboard, said, "Look here, Pops, I do all the eye-rolling in this band."

6 Upon the death of his faithful assistant Doc Pugh, Armstrong was asked by friends what had ailed the man. "What was wrong with Doc?" asked Armstrong with a sad look. "When you die, everything is wrong with you."


Armstrong, Neil (1930—), US astronaut who was the first man on the moon.

1 On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon. President Nixon authoritatively acclaimed the event as the greatest since the Creation. Armstrong himself, as he took the last step from the ladder of his lunar module onto the moon’s surface, said, "That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

2 Photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife were having lunch with Neil Armstrong after a photographic session. Armstrong politely questioned the couple about the many different countries they had visited. "But Mr. Armstrong," protested Mrs. Karsh, "you’ve walked on the moon. We want to hear about your travels."

  "But that’s the only place I’ve ever been," replied Armstrong apologetically.

3 Armstrong, a devout Christian, visited the Old City of Jerusalem. At the Hulda Gate, which leads to the Temple Mount, Armstrong wanted to know if Jesus had walked on those very steps. Assured that he did, Armstrong said, "I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon."


Arne, Thomas Augustine (1710—78), British composer of operas and incidental music, most notably "Rule, Britannia!"

1 Arne’s father, who was both an upholsterer and an undertaker, wanted his son to become a lawyer. Thomas Arne, therefore, had to acquire his early musical training by stealth. His violin teacher, the eminent violinist Michael Festing, found Arne on one occasion practicing with his music propped up on the lid of a coffin. Not a little disturbed, Festing said he himself would be unable to play under such conditions for fear there might be a body in the coffin. "So there is," replied Arne coolly, raising the lid to provide proof.


Arnim, Harry Karl Kurt Eduard, Count von (1824—81), German diplomat.


1 At the close of the Franco-Prussian War Bismarck had an interview with Arnim at Versailles. Lord John Russell, the British prime minister, happened to be waiting in the anteroom. As Arnim emerged from his meeting, he said to Russell, "I don’t know how Bismarck can stand it! He never stops smoking those strong Havanas of his. I had to request him to open the window." When it was Russell’s turn, he walked in to find Bismarck standing at the open window, laughing. "Russell, Arnim was just in here, and he had so much scent on him that I simply couldn’t stand it. I had to open the window."


Arno, Peter [Curtis Arnoux Peters] (1904—68), US cartoonist whose work appeared regularly in The New Yorker.

1 Peter Arno imported a racing car from Europe for his own personal use. Among its unique features were fenders made of platinum. Once the car was safely through customs at New York, Arno had the fenders taken off and replaced by ordinary steel fenders. He then sold off the platinum at a large profit.


Arnold, Matthew (1822—88), British poet and critic who was professor of poetry at Oxford (1857—67).

1 Arnold’s cold reserve and critical eye did not endear him to the Americans on his American tour in 1883. There is a story that when his hostess offered him pancakes, Arnold passed the plate on to his wife with the comment: "Do try one, my dear. They’re not nearly as nasty as they look."

2 As critic and moralist, Arnold attacked the philistinism of the British middle class of his time, upholding rather severe, even dismaying standards of intellectual rigor and moral seriousness. Shortly after his death Robert Louis Stevenson remarked, "Poor Matt. He’s gone to Heaven, no doubt – but he won’t like God."


Arnould, [Madeleine] Sophie (1740—1802), French actress and opera singer.

1 The dancer Marie Guimard was a star of the Paris Opéra; her art consisted mainly in rhythmical arm movements and graceful poses, and her fame resided principally in her celebrated liaisons with members of the aristocracy. When Mlle Guimard’s arm was broken by some falling scenery, Sophie Arnould remarked, "What a pity it wasn’t her leg; then it wouldn’t have interfered with her dancing."

2 After a supper she had given for several distinguished personages, Sophie Arnould was visited by the lieutenant of police, demanding their names. She replied that she could not remember one. Said the lieutenant, "But a woman like you ought to remember things like that."

  "Of course, lieutenant, but with a man like you I am not a woman like me."

3 A rival actress had been presented by her lover with a magnificent diamond rivière. The necklace was rather too long and as worn by the actress it seemed to be about to disappear down her cleavage. Sophie Arnould commented, "C’est qu’elle retourne vers sa source" (It’s just returning to its source).

4 Another actress consistently produced a child every year, with predictable consequences to her figure. The result was that she regularly lost both theatrical engagements and lovers. "She reminds me of those nations that are always extending their boundaries but cannot retain their conquests," remarked Sophie Arnould.


Arria (d. ad 42), wife of the Roman senator Caecina Paetus.

1 Accused of involvement in a plot against the emperor, Paetus was ordered to commit suicide. When he hesitated, Arria took the dagger from him, stabbed herself, and handed the dagger back with the words: "Paete, non dolet" (Paetus, it does not hurt).


Asche, [John Stanger Heiss] Oscar (1872—1936), Australian actor, playwright, and theatrical manager.

1 Asche was once playing a particularly bad game of golf on a Scottish course. After an uncharacteristically good stroke, he risked a casual remark to his caddie: "You’ll have seen worse players than I am." When the caddie, an elderly Scot, did not reply, Asche assumed that he had not heard and repeated the remark. "I heard ye afore," said the caddie. "I was just considerin’."


Asoka (d. c. 232 bc), emperor of India (c. 273—c. 232 bc), the greatest of the kings of the Mauryan dynasty.

1 At the outset of his reign Asoka ruled with the savagery that had characterized the previous rulers of the kingdom of Magadha in northern India. At his capital (modern Patna), there was a fearful prison called "Asoka’s Hell," from which, it was decreed, none could emerge alive. One of its victims was a Buddhist saint who had been wrongfully accused. When the torturers threw him into a cauldron of boiling water, he remained unscathed. The jailer informed the king that he should come and see this miracle. Asoka came and wondered. He was about to depart when the jailer reminded him of the edict that no one was to leave the prison alive. Asoka thereupon gave orders that the jailer was to be thrown into the boiling cauldron.

  His experience in the prison deeply affected Asoka’s outlook. Shortly afterward, he gave orders that the prison was to be demolished and he himself became a convert to Buddhism. The pillars containing his edicts bear witness to the humanity and justice of his rule after his conversion.


Asquith, Herbert Henry, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith (1852—1928), British statesman and Liberal prime minister (1908—16).

1 "The nineteenth-century Rothschild family kept great state in, among other places, their home in Waddesdon, where Alfred Rothschild lived. One day Prime Minister Asquith, who was staying from Friday till Monday, was waited on at teatime by the butler. The following conversation ensued: ‘Tea, coffee or a peach from off the wall, sir?’ ‘Tea, please.’ ‘China, Indian or Ceylon, sir?’ ‘China, please.’ ‘Lemon, milk or cream, sir?’ ‘Milk, please.’ ‘Jersey, Hereford or Shorthorn, sir? . . .’"


Asquith, Margot (1864—1945), second wife of Lord Herbert Henry Asquith.

1 When Jean Harlow, the platinum-blonde American movie star of the 1930s, met Lady Asquith for the first time, she addressed Lady Asquith by her Christian name. She made the further mistake of pronouncing the word as if it rhymed with rot. Lady Asquith corrected her: "My dear, the t is silent, as in Harlow."

2 Margot Asquith did not like the famous British sportsman Lord Lonsdale, renowned for his fine horses and his courage in the hunting field. Someone in Lady Asquith’s hearing once praised his prowess as a rider to hounds. "Jump?" she interrupted. "Anyone can jump. Look at fleas."

3 Her stepdaughter, Violet Bonham-Carter, once asked if she planned to wear a certain hat trimmed with ostrich feathers to Lord Kitchener’s memorial service. Margot replied, "How can you ask me? Dear Kitchener saw me in that hat twice!"

4 Lady Asquith had a poor opinion of several of George V’s advisers. After his death the king’s doctor, Lord Dawson, was one of those who fell victim to her sharp tongue. She once remarked to Lord David Cecil, "Lord Dawson was not a good doctor. King George himself told me that he would never have died had he had another doctor."


Astaire, Fred [Frederick Austerlitz] (1899—1987), US stage and film dancer.

1 Attracted by Hollywood as a young dancer, Astaire submitted himself for the usual screen test. The verdict has become part of film history: "Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little."

2 (David Niven tells a story about his good friend Astaire, who had become the owner of a winning string of racehorses.)

  "The most balanced of men in every sense of the word, he only once to my knowledge went mad. At dawn one day Fred called me and announced his mental aberration. ‘I’ll never know what made me do it,’ he moaned, ‘but I had this overpowering urge . . . so I got up in the middle of the night and drove all over Beverly Hills painting the mailboxes with my racing colors.’"

3 Fred’s wife Phyllis Astaire and David Niven came to RKO to watch the filming of his "Cheek to Cheek" number in the musical Top Hat, with his partner, Ginger Rogers. Ginger came in for the first take in a dress composed entirely of red feathers. "She looks like a wooster," giggled Phyllis.

  It turned out the dress was ready only just in time. The dance began. "Slowly, one at a time at first, the feathers parted company with the parent garment. Then, as Fred whirled Ginger faster and faster about the gleaming set, more and more flew off. It became reminiscent of a pillow fight at school, but they pressed bravely on with the number, and by the end Ginger looked ready to spit. . . . Phyllis pulled my sleeve. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ she said, ‘Fwed will be so embawassed.’"


Astor, John Jacob (1763—1848), US financier who was reputed to be the richest man in the United States.

1 Astor once observed to Julia Ward Howe, "A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich."

2 Astor sold a lot near Wall Street for $8,000. The buyer, confident that he had outsmarted Astor, could not resist a little self-congratulation after the signing of the papers. "Why, in a few years this lot will be worth twelve thousand dollars," he gloated. "True," said Astor, "but with your eight thousand I will buy eighty lots above Canal Street, and by the time your lot is worth twelve thousand, my eighty lots will be worth eighty thousand dollars."


Astor, Mary Dahlgren (c. 1850—94), wife of financier William Waldorf Astor.

1 When her friends Elizabeth Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl) began to throw large and rather daring parties at Irving House (their Manhattan home), with colorful personalities as the attraction, Mrs. Astor was determined not to be left out. "I am having a bohemian party, too," she announced. Asked who would be there to provide the necessary spice, she said, "J. P. Morgan and Edith Wharton."


Astor, Nancy Witcher Langhorne, Viscountess (1879—1964), US-born politician who became the first woman to take a seat in the British House of Commons.

1 Male antagonism toward Nancy Astor as the first woman to gain a seat in the House of Commons showed itself on several occasions, Winston Churchill in particular being guilty of discourtesy. When she challenged him about his behavior, he told her that it was because he found her intrusion into the all-male preserve embarrassing – as embarrassing as if she had burst into his bathroom when he had nothing to defend himself with. "Winston," she retorted, "you are not handsome enough to have worries of that kind."

2 Particularly irksome to the antifeminists in the House of Commons was Lady Astor’s opinion that it was unnecessary for her to prove herself the equal of her male colleagues since women are the superior sex. "I married beneath me – all women do," said she.

3 Since Lady Astor believed in making her presence felt in the House of Commons, she rather too frequently interrupted other speakers. Castigated for this on one occasion, she protested that she had been listening for hours before interrupting. "Yes, we’ve heard you listening," said an exasperated colleague.

4 During a formal dinner, Lady Astor remarked to her neighbor that she considered men to be more conceited than women. Noticing that her comment had been heard around the table, she continued in a loud voice: "It’s a pity that the most intelligent and learned men attach least importance to the way they dress. Why, right at this table the most cultivated man is wearing the most clumsily knotted tie!" The words had no sooner left her lips than every man in the room surreptitiously reached up to adjust his tie.

5 At a dinner given by Theodore Roosevelt, Nancy Astor was given precedence over Grace Vanderbilt. By way of excuse and consolation she remarked to Mrs. Vanderbilt, "The Astors skinned skunks a hundred years before the Vanderbilts worked ferries."

6 "[During the early thirties Winston] Churchill’s critics called him rash, impetuous, tactless, contentious, inconsistent, unsound, an amusing parliamentary celebrity who was forever out of step. ‘We just don’t know what to make of him,’ a troubled Tory MP told Lady Astor. She asked brightly: ‘How about a nice rug?’"


Atkinson, Christopher Thomas (1874—1964), British academic at Oxford.

1 During one course of lectures Atkinson found himself confronted with a group of girl students. He began by saying that his talk that morning would be on the sexual prowess of the natives of the Polynesian islands. The shocked ladies made a concerted rush for the door. Atkinson called after them, "It’s all right, ladies, you needn’t hurry. There’s not another boat for a month."


Atlas, Charles (1894—1972), US circus strongman, born Angelo Siciliano.

1 In his early days Atlas performed with the Coney Island Circus Side Show. His demonstrations of strength included lifting two men off the floor, tearing telephone books in half with his bare hands, and lying on a bed of nails with three members of the audience standing on his chest. Of this last feat he once remarked: "Women used to faint when I did that. They couldn’t stand watching a beautiful body like mine being abused."


Auber, Daniel François Esprit (1782—1871), French composer.

1 An infant prodigy had written a score that caused a sensation on account of the "originality" displayed by one so young. Said Auber, "This lad will go far when he has less experience."

2 A friend of Auber’s engaged him in conversation as they descended the grand stairway at the Opéra. "My friend, we’re all getting older, aren’t we?" he observed. Auber sighed. "Well, there’s no help for it. Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long time."

3 Auber refused to think about death and whenever reminded of the approach of his last hour would say, "I’ll pay no attention to it." But in his late old age he began to accommodate himself to his own mortality. At a funeral service that he was compelled to attend, he remarked to one of his fellow mourners, "I believe this is the last time I’ll take part as an amateur."


Aubernon, Euphrasie (1825—99), French salonnière and woman of letters.

1 Mme Aubernon presided as an absolute autocrat over her salon: she decided the topics to be discussed, dictated who should speak and for how long, prohibited any asides or tête-à-têtes, and enforced her guests’ attention by ringing a little hand bell. A surprising number of the Parisian intelligentsia meekly submitted to this conversational tyranny, but there were occasional rebellions. On one occasion the witty and charming Mme Baignières arrived rather late. Before she had time to catch her breath, Mme Aubernon rang her bell and said, "We are discussing adultery, Mme Baignières. Will you give us your opinions?" Mme Baignières replied, "I’m so sorry. I’ve only come prepared with incest."

2 A young matron keen to set herself up as a salonnière came to Mme Aubernon for counsel. Mme Aubernon’s advice: "Don’t try. You have far too luscious a bosom to keep the conversation general."

3 One of Mme Aubernon’s guests was relating a conversation with his young son.

  "Papa," the child had asked, "when you and Maman went on your honeymoon in Italy, where was I?"

  "What did you tell him?" asked Mme Aubernon eagerly.

  "I thought for a moment," replied the guest, "then I said, ‘You went there with me and came back with your mother.’"


Aubigné, Jean Henri Merle d’ (1794—1872), Swiss Protestant divine.

1 When Dr. d’Aubigné was staying with the Scottish divine and preacher Thomas Chalmers, he was served a kippered herring for breakfast. He asked his host the meaning of the word "kippered" and was told "kept" or "preserved." This item of information had a sequel at morning prayer, when the guest, leading the household in their devotions, prayed that Dr. Chalmers might be "kept, preserved, and kippered."


Auden, Wystan Hugh (1907—73), British poet who became an American citizen.

1 The Nazis, opposed to the anti-Nazi material in her routines, deprived the cabaret artiste Erika Mann, daughter of novelist Thomas Mann, of her passport. She appealed to the homosexual Isherwood as an available Englishman to marry her so that she could obtain an English passport. Isherwood dodged, but Auden generously agreed to marry her and she duly obtained her English passport. Soon afterward a former stage associate of Erika’s, who had also lost her passport on account of her anti-Nazi stand, appealed to the Audens for help. Searching around among his acquaintances, Auden found another member of their homosexual circle who gallantly agreed to marry the second lady. "What else are buggers for?" observed Auden.

2 Auden was surprised to learn from a third party that Mike De Lisio, his sculptor friend, wrote poetry in his spare time and had had some of his verses published in The New Yorker. "How nice of him never to have told me," said Auden.

3 Auden, about to begin a course of lectures on Shakespeare at the New School for Social Research in New York City, noted that every seat was filled. Surveying the sea of faces extending right to the back of the large auditorium, Auden announced: "If there are any of you who do not hear me, please don’t raise your hands because I am also nearsighted."

4 As a young, little-known writer, Auden was once asked what effect fame might have upon him. "I believe," he said after a moment’s reflection, "that I would always wear my carpet slippers." When fame did eventually come, Auden was always to be seen in carpet slippers, even when wearing evening dress.

5 Just before a lecture Auden was to give at Harvard on Don Quixote, he was seen to have a few too many martinis. When he began speaking, he first apologized for his new set of dentures, then admitted he’d never actually read through the entire book and doubted whether anyone in the crowd had either.

6 Just after acquiring his first set of dentures, Auden attended a tea party given by some ladies in Boston. When his hostess asked him to blow out the flame under the teapot, Auden did so with gusto. "My dear," he later said, "the din! My uppers went crashing into my neighbor’s empty teacup!"

7 Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was fined $250 because her hostel for indigents was not up to code. As she headed to work the next morning, she walked through a group of homeless men, one of whom stepped out and, saying he had heard she was in trouble, handed her a check. "Here’s two-fifty," said the man. Day looked at the check later, but instead of the $2.50 she thought she had received, it was for the entire sum, and it was signed "W. H. Auden." "Poets do look a bit unpressed, don’t they?" Day later said.

8 Three of Auden’s great admirers happened to be together when the news of his death was reported on the radio: the poet Richard Wilbur, the critic Alfred Kazin, and Kazin’s wife, Ann Birstein. In one voice they immediately said, "Earth, receive an honoured guest"– a line from Auden’s elegy for W. B. Yeats.


Auerbach, Arnold Jacob ["Red"] (1917—), US basketball executive, manager of the Boston Celtics.

1 On tour with the Boston Celtics, Auerbach met three of his players, each with an attractive young woman on his arm, in the hotel lobby at five o’clock in the morning. One of the players covered his embarrassment by introducing the young woman as his "cousin." Auerbach nodded politely. The player, desperately trying to make the unlikely tale sound more convincing, continued, "We were just on our way to church." Auerbach, relating this story on a later occasion, remarked, "I couldn’t take that. I fined him twenty-five dollars for insulting my intelligence."

2 Auerbach often said that basketball was a simple game, a thought that confounded sports fans. When asked why, he said, "The ball is round and the floor is flat."


Augustine of hippo, Saint (354—430), North African theologian; one of the fathers and doctors of the Church. His City of God and Confessions are among the greatest Christian documents.

1 In his Confessions Augustine recounts the sins of his youth and how even his prayers for repentance were tainted with insincerity: "Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo" (Give me chastity and continence, but not yet).


Augustus [Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus] (63 bc—ad 14), first Roman emperor (31 bc—ad 14), heir of Julius Caesar.

1 The evening before the crucial battle of Actium, Octavian (the young Augustus) set up his camp on a hill overlooking the bay and the two fleets – his own and Anthony’s –near what is now the town of Preveza in northwestern Greece. In the morning as he emerged from his tent he met a peasant driving a donkey. He asked the man his name. "Eutyches" (Good Fortune) was the answer. And the donkey’s name? "Nikon" (Victor).

2 An old soldier was involved in a lawsuit that seemed likely to go against him. He therefore accosted his former commander, Augustus, in a public place, asking him to appear in court on his behalf. The emperor at once selected one of his suite to appear for the man and introduce him to the litigant. But the soldier, rolling back his sleeve to reveal his scars, shouted, "When you were in danger at Actium, I didn’t choose a substitute but fought for you in person." Chagrined, Augustus appeared in court on the veteran’s behalf.

3 Several people trained birds to make complimentary greetings to the emperor. Augustus would often buy the birds for generous sums of money. A poor cobbler acquired a raven, intending to train it to make such a remark. The bird turned out to be such a slow learner that the exasperated cobbler often used to say to it, "Nothing to show for all the trouble and expense." One day the raven began to repeat its lesson as Augustus was passing. This time the emperor declined to buy, saying, "I get enough of such compliments at home." The bird, however, also remembering the words of his trainer’s usual complaint, went on, "Nothing to show for all the trouble and expense." Amused, Augustus bought the raven.

4 Augustus had ordered a young man of bad character to be dismissed from his service. The man came to him and begged for pardon, saying, "How am I to go home? What shall I tell my father?"

  "Tell your father that you didn’t find me to your liking," the emperor replied.

5 A certain Roman nobleman died, leaving enormous debts that he had successfully concealed during his lifetime. When the estate was put up for auction, Augustus instructed his agent to buy the man’s pillow. To those who expressed surprise at the order he explained, "That pillow must be particularly conducive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it."

6 The conduct of Augustus’s daughter Julia was so blatant that a group of influential Romans threatened to denounce her as an adulteress in front of the whole court. Augustus anticipated them by banishing his daughter to a barren island. Her lovers were variously punished. One of Julia’s attendants, the freedwoman Phoebe, hanged herself rather than give evidence against her mistress. "Oh, that I had been Phoebe’s father, not Julia’s," exclaimed Augustus when he heard of the suicide.


Aumale, Henri, Duc d’ (1822—97), French aristocrat, son of King Louis Philippe.

1 The Duc d’Aumale was one of the most aristocratic of the lovers of Léonide Leblanc, a fashionable courtesan. Léonide eventually hit on a subtle way to discourage unwanted lovers. She had a lifelike wax model of the duke set up at a table in a room of her house. When pestered by a suitor, she would half-open the door to that room, then close it quickly, and say, "Ssh! The duke is here."

2 The Duc d’Aumale’s residence at Chantilly was at a distance from Paris convenient for the visits of Léonide Leblanc. One day she traveled out to Chantilly by train, sharing the compartment with a group of society ladies who began vying with each other to prove on what friendly terms they were with the duke. "We dined with His Highness last night," said one. "We shall be lunching there tomorrow," said another. "Of course, we went to the ball there last week," said a third. Léonide Leblanc held her peace until the train drew into Chantilly station. Then she stood up, said, "And I, ladies, am sleeping with His Highness tonight," and stepped lightly from the train.

3 During the Franco-Prussian War Marshal Achille Bazaine commanded the French troops in the fortress of Metz. It was his hesitations, misjudgments, and ultimate surrender that deprived France of the last forces capable of withstanding the German advance. In 1873 the marshal was arraigned before a French military court presided over by the Duc d’Aumale; he was charged with neglecting to do everything required by duty and honor before capitulating to the enemy. At one stage in the proceedings the marshal sought to exonerate himself by reminding the court of the state of affairs at the time of his surrender: "There was no government, there was no order, there was nothing." "There was still France," said the Duc d’Aumale.

4 Aumale, a great patriot, yearned for military glory in the cause of his beloved France. Commissioned as a sublieutenant in the infantry at the age of fifteen, he announced, "My only ambition is to be the forty-third Bourbon to be killed on the field of battle."

5 The Duc d’Aumale was renowned for his youthful love affairs, but in his old age he felt his powers failing. "As a young man I used to have four supple members and one stiff one," he observed. "Now I have four stiff and one supple."


Austin, Alfred (1835—1913), British poet and dramatist.

1 Someone once chided the poet laureate for grammatical errors in his verses. Austin excused himself by saying, "I dare not alter these things; they come to me from above."


Austin, Warren Robinson (1877—1962), US politician and diplomat.

1 In a debate on the Middle East question, Austin exhorted the warring Jews and Arabs to sit down and settle their differences "like good Christians."

2 Someone once asked Austin whether he did not become tired during the apparently interminable debates at the U.N. "Yes, I do," he replied, "but it is better for aged diplomats to be bored than for young men to die."


Avempace [Abu Bekr Ibn Bajja] (c. 1095—1138), Spanish Muslim scholar.

1 The Muslim governor of Saragossa was so delighted by the excellence of Avempace’s verses that he swore the young scholar should walk on gold whenever he entered his presence. Avempace feared that the governor would soon regret his exuberant vow and that his own welcome at court would suffer as a result. He therefore sewed a gold piece into the sole of each of his shoes, so that the governor’s oath could be kept at no expense to himself.


Avery, Oswald [Theodore] (1877—1955), Canadian-born bacteriologist and the discoverer of DNA as the basic genetic material of the cell.

1 Professor Avery worked for many years in a small laboratory at the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute in New York City. Many of his experimental predictions turned out to be wrong, but that never discouraged him. He capitalized on error. His colleagues remember him saying, "Whenever you fall, pick up something."


Aymé, Marcel (1902—67), French novelist, essayist, and playwright.

1 A journalist was complaining to Aymé that the modern world hinders the free development of the human being. "I don’t agree," said Aymé mildly. "I consider myself perfectly free."

  "But surely you feel some limits to your freedom."

  "Oh, yes," replied Aymé, "from time to time I find myself terribly limited by the dictionary."


Azeglio, Massimo Taparelli, Marchese d’ (1798—1866), Italian statesman and writer of historical novels.


1 Azeglio’s second marriage, to Luisa Blondel, was not very successful and the couple separated. In 1866, however, hearing that Azeglio was dying, Luisa rushed to his deathbed. "Ah, Luisa," sighed the marchese, "you always arrive just as I’m leaving."

Excerpted from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes , by Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard . Copyright (c) 1985, 2000 by Little, Brown and Company. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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