Moonbeams From The Larger Lunacy

V—Aristocratic Anecdotes or Little Stories of Great People

I have been much struck lately by the many excellent little anecdotes of celebrated people that have appeared in recent memoirs and found their way thence into the columns of the daily press. There is something about them so deliciously pointed, their humour is so exquisite, that I think we ought to have more of them. To this end I am trying to circulate on my own account a few anecdotes which seem somehow to have been overlooked.

Here, for example, is an excellent thing which comes, if I remember rightly, from the vivacious Memoir of Lady Ranelagh de Chit Chat.

Lady Ranelagh writes: “The Duke of Strathythan (I am writing of course of the seventeenth Duke, not of his present Grace) was, as everybody knows, famous for his hospitality. It was not perhaps generally known that the Duke was as witty as he was hospitable. I recall a most amusing incident that happened the last time but two that I was staying at Strathythan Towers. As we sat down to lunch (we were a very small and intimate party, there being only forty-three of us) the Duke, who was at the head of the table, looked up from the roast of beef that he was carving, and running his eye about the guests was heard to murmur, ‘I’m afraid there isn’t enough beef to go round.’

“There was nothing to do, of course, but to roar with laughter and the incident passed off with perfect savoir faire.”

Here is another story which I think has not had all the publicity that it ought to. I found it in the book Shot, Shell and Shrapnell or Sixty Years as a War Correspondent, recently written by Mr. Maxim Catling whose exploits are familiar to all readers.

“I was standing,” writes Mr. Maxim, “immediately between Lord Kitchener and Lord Wolsley (with Lord Roberts a little to the rear of us), and we were laughing and chatting as we always did when the enemy were about to open fire on us. Suddenly we found ourselves the object of the most terrific hail of bullets. For a few moments the air was black with them. As they went past I could not refrain from exchanging a quiet smile with Lord Kitchener, and another with Lord Wolsley. Indeed I have never, except perhaps on twenty or thirty occasions, found myself exposed to such an awful fusillade.

“Kitchener, who habitually uses an eye-glass (among his friends), watched the bullets go singing by, and then, with that inimitable sangfroid which he reserves for his intimates, said,

“’I’m afraid if we stay here we may get hit.’

“We all moved away laughing heartily.

“To add to the joke, Lord Roberts’ aide-de-camp was shot in the pit of the stomach as we went.”

The next anecdote which I reproduce may be already too well known to my readers. The career of Baron Snorch filled so large a page in the history of European diplomacy that the publication of his recent memoirs was awaited with profound interest by half the chancelleries of Europe. (Even the other half were half excited over them.) The tangled skein in which the politics of Europe are enveloped was perhaps never better illustrated than in this fascinating volume. Even at the risk of repeating what is already familiar, I offer the following for what it is worth—or even less.

“I have always regarded Count Cavour,” writes the Baron, “as one of the most impenetrable diplomatists whom it has been my lot to meet. I distinctly recall an incident in connection with the famous Congress of Paris of 1856 which rises before my mind as vividly as if it were yesterday. I was seated in one of the large salons of the Elysee Palace (I often used to sit there) playing vingt-et-un together with Count Cavour, the Duc de Magenta, the Marquese di Casa Mombasa, the Conte di Piccolo Pochito and others whose names I do not recollect. The stakes had been, as usual, very high, and there was a large pile of gold on the table. No one of us, however, paid any attention to it, so absorbed were we all in the thought of the momentous crises that were impending. At intervals the Emperor Napoleon III passed in and out of the room, and paused to say a word or two, with well-feigned éloignement, to the players, who replied with such dégagement as they could.

“While the play was at its height a servant appeared with a telegram on a silver tray. He handed it to Count Cavour. The Count paused in his play, opened the telegram, read it and then with the most inconceivable nonchalance, put it in his pocket. We stared at him in amazement for a moment, and then the Duc, with the infinite ease of a trained diplomat, quietly resumed his play.

“Two days afterward, meeting Count Cavour at a reception of the Empress Eugenie, I was able, unobserved, to whisper in his ear, ‘What was in the telegram?’ ‘Nothing of any consequence,’ he answered. From that day to this I have never known what it contained. My readers,” concludes Baron Snorch, “may believe this or not as they like, but I give them my word that it is true.

“Probably they will not believe it.”

I cannot resist appending to these anecdotes a charming little story from that well-known book, Sorrows of a Queen. The writer, Lady de Weary, was an English gentlewoman who was for many years Mistress of the Robes at one of the best known German courts. Her affection for her royal mistress is evident on every page of her memoirs.

Lady de W. writes:

“My dear mistress, the late Queen of Saxe-Covia-Slitz-in-Mein, was of a most tender and sympathetic disposition. The goodness of her heart broke forth on all occasions. I well remember how one day, on seeing a cabman in the Poodel Platz kicking his horse in the stomach, she stopped in her walk and said, ‘Oh, poor horse! if he goes on kicking it like that he’ll hurt it.’”

I may say in conclusion that I think if people would only take a little more pains to resuscitate anecdotes of this sort, there might be a lot more of them found.

VI—Education Made Agreeable or the Diversions of a Professor

A few days ago during a pause in one of my college lectures (my class being asleep) I sat reading Draper’s Intellectual Development of Europe. Quite suddenly I came upon the following sentence:

“Eratosthenes cast everything he wished to teach into poetry. By this means he made it attractive, and he was able to spread his system all over Asia Minor.”

This came to me with a shock of an intellectual discovery. I saw at once how I could spread my system, or parts of it, all over the United States and Canada. To make education attractive! There it is! To call in the help of poetry, of music, of grand opera, if need be, to aid in the teaching of the dry subjects of the college class room.

I set to work at once on the project and already I have enough results to revolutionize education.

In the first place I have compounded a blend of modern poetry and mathematics, which retains all the romance of the latter and loses none of the dry accuracy of the former. Here is an example:

The poem of
expressed as
Introduction. A party of three persons, a Scotch nobleman, a young lady and an elderly boatman stand on the banks of a river (R), which, for private reasons, they desire to cross. Their only means of transport is a boat, of which the boatman, if squared, is able to row at a rate proportional to the square of the distance. The boat, however, has a leak (S), through which a quantity of water passes sufficient to sink it after traversing an indeterminate distance (D). Given the square of the boatman and the mean situation of all concerned, to find whether the boat will pass the river safely or sink.

A chieftain to the Highlands bound
Cried “Boatman do not tarry!
And I’ll give you a silver pound
To row me o’er the ferry.”
Before them raged the angry tide
X2 + Y from side to side.
Outspake the hardy Highland wight,
“I’ll go, my chief, I’m ready;
It is not for your silver bright,
But for your winsome lady.”
And yet he seemed to manifest
A certain hesitation;
His head was sunk upon his breast
In puzzled calculation.
“Suppose the river X + Y
And call the distance Q
Then dare we thus the gods defy
I think we dare, don’t you?
Our floating power expressed in words
Is X + 47/3”
“Oh, haste thee, haste,” the lady cries,
“Though tempests round us gather
I’ll face the raging of the skies
But please cut out the Algebra.”
The boat has left the stormy shore (S)
A stormy C before her
C1 C2 C3 C4
The tempest gathers o’er her
The thunder rolls, the lightning smites ’em
And the rain falls ad infinitum.
In vain the aged boatman strains,
His heaving sides reveal his pains;
The angry water gains apace
Both of his sides and half his base,
Till, as he sits, he seems to lose
The square of his hypotenuse.
The boat advanced to X + 2,
Lord Ullin reached the fixed point Q,—
Then the boat sank from human eye,
But this is only a sample of what can be done. I have realised that all our technical books are written and presented in too dry a fashion. They don’t make the most of themselves. Very often the situation implied is intensely sensational, and if set out after the fashion of an up-to-date newspaper, would be wonderfully effective.

Here, for example, you have Euclid writing in a perfectly prosaic way all in small type such an item as the following:

“A perpendicular is let fall on a line BC so as to bisect it at the point C etc., etc.,” just as if it were the most ordinary occurrence in the world. Every newspaper man will see at once that it ought to be set up thus:

The Line at C said to be completely bisected
President of the Line makes Statement
etc., etc., etc.
But I am not contenting myself with merely describing my system. I am putting it to the test. I am preparing a new and very special edition of my friend Professor Daniel Murray’s work on the Calculus. This is a book little known to the general public. I suppose one may say without exaggeration that outside of the class room it is hardly read at all.

Yet I venture to say that when my new edition is out it will be found on the tables of every cultivated home, and will be among the best sellers of the year. All that is needed is to give to this really monumental book the same chance that is given to every other work of fiction in the modern market.

First of all I wrap it in what is called technically a jacket. This is of white enameled paper, and on it is a picture of a girl, a very pretty girl, in a summer dress and sunbonnet sitting swinging on a bough of a cherry tree. Across the cover in big black letters are the words:

and beneath them the legend “the most daring book of the day.” This, you will observe, is perfectly true. The reviewers of the mathematical journals when this book first came out agreed that “Professor Murray’s views on the Calculus were the most daring yet published.” They said, too, that they hoped that the professor’s unsound theories of infinitesimal rectitude would not remain unchallenged. Yet the public somehow missed it all, and one of the most profitable scandals in the publishing trade was missed for the lack of a little business enterprise.

My new edition will give this book its first real chance.

I admit that the inside has to be altered,—but not very much. The real basis of interest is there. The theories in the book are just as interesting as those raised in the modern novel. All that is needed is to adopt the device, familiar in novels, of clothing the theories in personal form and putting the propositions advanced into the mouths of the characters, instead of leaving them as unsupported statements of the author. Take for example Dr. Murray’s beginning. It is very good,—any one will admit it,—fascinatingly clever, but it lacks heart.

It runs:

If two magnitudes, one of which is determined by a straight line and the other by a parabola approach one another, the rectangle included by the revolution of each will be equal to the sum of a series of indeterminate rectangles.

Now this is,—quite frankly,—dull. The situation is there; the idea is good, and, whether one agrees or not, is at least as brilliantly original as even the best of our recent novels. But I find it necessary to alter the presentation of the plot a little bit. As I re-edit it the opening of the Calculus runs thus:

On a bright morning in June along a path gay with the opening efflorescence of the hibiscus and entangled here and there with the wild blossoms of the convolvulus,—two magnitudes might have been seen approaching one another. The one magnitude who held a tennis-racket in his hand, carried himself with a beautiful erectness and moved with a firmness such as would have led Professor Murray to exclaim in despair—Let it be granted that A. B. (for such was our hero’s name) is a straight line. The other magnitude, which drew near with a step at once elusive and fascinating, revealed as she walked a figure so exquisite in its every curve as to call from her geometrical acquaintances the ecstatic exclamation, “Let it be granted that M is a parabola.”

The beautiful magnitude of whom we have last spoken, bore on her arm as she walked, a tiny dog over which her fair head was bent in endearing caresses; indeed such was her attention to the dog Vi (his full name was Velocity but he was called Vi for short) that her wayward footsteps carried her not in a straight line but in a direction so constantly changing as to lead that acute observer, Professor Murray, to the conclusion that her path could only be described by the amount of attraction ascribable to Vi.

Guided thus along their respective paths, the two magnitudes presently met with such suddenness that they almost intersected.

“I beg your pardon,” said the first magnitude very rigidly.

“You ought to indeed,” said the second rather sulkily, “you’ve knocked Vi right out of my arms.”

She looked round despairingly for the little dog which seemed to have disappeared in the long grass.

“Won’t you please pick him up?” she pleaded.

“Not exactly in my line, you know,” answered the other magnitude, “but I tell you what I’ll do, if you’ll stand still, perfectly still where you are, and let me take hold of your hand, I’ll describe a circle!”

“Oh, aren’t you clever!” cried the girl, clapping her hands. “What a lovely idea! You describe a circle all around me, and then we’ll look at every weeny bit of it and we’ll be sure to find Vi—”

She reached out her hand to the other magnitude who clasped it with an assumed intensity sufficient to retain it.

At this moment a third magnitude broke on the scene:—a huge oblong, angular figure, very difficult to describe, came revolving towards them.

“M,” it shouted, “Emily, what are you doing?”

“My goodness,” said the second magnitude in alarm, “it’s M A M A.”

I may say that the second installment of Dr. Murray’s fascinating romance will appear in the next number of the Illuminated Bookworm, the great adult-juvenile vehicle of the newer thought in which these theories of education are expounded further.

VII—An Every-Day Experience

He came across to me in the semi-silence room of the club.

“I had a rather queer hand at bridge last night,” he said.

“Had you?” I answered, and picked up a newspaper.

“Yes. It would have interested you, I think,” he went on.

“Would it?” I said, and moved to another chair.

“It was like this,” he continued, following me: “I held the king of hearts——”

“Half a minute,” I said; “I want to go and see what time it is.” I went out and looked at the clock in the hall. I came back.

“And the queen and the ten——” he was saying.

“Excuse me just a second; I want to ring for a messenger.”

I did so. The waiter came and went.

“And the nine and two small ones,” he went on.

“Two small what?” I asked.

“Two small hearts,” he said. “I don’t remember which. Anyway, I remember very well indeed that I had the king and the queen and the jack, the nine, and two little ones.”

“Half a second,” I said, “I want to mail a letter.”

When I came back to him, he was still murmuring:

“My partner held the ace of clubs and the queen. The jack was out, but I didn’t know where the king was——”

“You didn’t?” I said in contempt.

“No,” he repeated in surprise, and went on murmuring:

“Diamonds had gone round once, and spades twice, and so I suspected that my partner was leading from weakness——”

“I can well believe it,” I said—“sheer weakness.”

“Well,” he said, “on the sixth round the lead came to me. Now, what should I have done? Finessed for the ace, or led straight into my opponent——”

“You want my advice,” I said, “and you shall have it, openly and fairly. In such a case as you describe, where a man has led out at me repeatedly and with provocation, as I gather from what you say, though I myself do not play bridge, I should lead my whole hand at him. I repeat, I do not play bridge. But in the circumstances, I should think it the only thing to do.”