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  • mistermuse 8:00 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Grant's tomb, left-handed, , mermaids, Mississippi River, Samuel Clemens, , Virginia City Nevada, You Bet Your Life   

    BOOK KNOWLEDGE 

    A home without books is a body without soul. –Marcus Tullius Cicero

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    Some stuff, you just don’t easily come across on Wikipedia and other electronic sites. This was brought home to me by an old (1928) book I happened upon recently titled NUGGETS OF KNOWLEDGE, by George W. Stimpson. This treasure trove of trivia does indeed contain nuggets of knowledge, some of which rarely seem to have found their way from printed page to Internet content. No trivia buff should be content knowing that (s)he might have been deprived of such priceless gems as the following:

    Why did Samuel Clemens adopt the name Mark Twain?

    Many admirers of Mark Twain are aware that he selected that pen name in 1863 (while working for a Nevada newspaper) because he had been a Mississippi River pilot and knew the name meant two fathoms. But NUGGETS OF KNOWLEDGE tells the story behind the story:

    “The name was first used by an old Mississippi River pilot named Isaiah Sellers, who used to write items for the New Orleans Picayune, in which he told of his adventures in a quaintly egotistical tone. The paragraphs usually began , “My opinion for the benefit of the citizens of New Orleans,” signed Mark Twain, which, in the parlance of pilots, is a leads-man call meaning two fathoms – twelve feet. Samuel Clemens, then a cub pilot, wrote a burlesque on Captain Sellers’ articles and published it in a rival paper under the signature Sergeant Fathom. Sellers never wrote another article. In 1863 Clemens was working for the [Territorial] Enterprise, published in Virginia City, Nevada. He wanted a good pen name.. While trying to think of one, he received news of the death of Isaiah Sellers. This suggested to him Mark Twain, the name once used by Sellers.”

    So there you have it. The only problem with that story is that Isaiah Sellers did not die until March 6, 1864. Well, that’s life on the Mississippi. Hey, I didn’t say NUGGETS OF KNOWLEDGE was flawless.

    Why are most people right-handed?

    “For two thousand years or more philosophers and scientists have discussed the question of how man acquired his decided preference for the right hand. Historical records and ancient pictorial writings prove that right-handedness is of  great antiquity. It is a characteristic of all peoples, no matter how isolated. One theory holds that right-handedness is fundamentally psychological. The most widely accepted theory, however, regards right-handedness as a product of primitive warfare. Primitive man was continually called upon to defend himself and his family against his fellows. In these encounters he would instinctively protect the vulnerable region around the heart by interposing his left arm, either with or without a shield, using the right hand to strike the assailant. The inevitable result was that the right arm became more developed and agile. The words meaning left-handed are synonymous in nearly all languages with indirection, insincerity, and even treachery.”

    Needless to add, mistermuse is right-handed.

    Are there real mermaids?

    “Mermaids are mythical beings of the sea supposed to have the form of a woman above the waist and that of a fish below. There is a slight physical basis for the myth. Certain marine animals resemble human beings when seen at a distance. When Henry Hudson was on a voyage between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla in 1608, he reported that one morning in June two of his sailors saw a mermaid who came close to the side of the vessel and gazed at them intently. Her face and breasts were those of a woman, but below she was a fish as big as a halibut and colored like a speckled mackerel. It is probable that they saw a seal, an animal then little known to Europeans.”

    Having myself sailed many times between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla, I can confirm at least the top half of what said sailors saw. Such a creature does indeed inhabit those waters, but her bottom doesn’t look as big as a hali’s butt, and all I can say about the rest is holy mackerel!

    There is much more where the above came from, but time is limited, so let me close with a sampling of other questions from the book. If any whet your appetite, answers are available at a reasonable price:

    Do rocks grow?

    Do monkeys make bridges?

    Do snakes go blind during dog days?

    Where are the South Seas?

    Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?

    OK, that last one isn’t in the book, but you can bet your life I didn’t make it up.

     

     

     

     

     
    • arekhill1 9:09 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      What makes any day a dog day, and why would it affect the visual acuity of snakes?

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      • Michaeline Montezinos 10:52 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        This may not be relative to right handedness etc. but I found this interesting. The new theory is that if one parts his ( her) hair on the left side side, then according to MRIs of their brains, they are mainly right brained people. If a person parts their hair on the right side, their MRIs indicate they are most likely to be left brained people. The left side of the human brain is artistic and creative The right side is concerned with details and has mathematical talents. Which side do you part your hair,. assuming you have some left on your pate, mistermuse? By the way I part mine on the right side which probably accounts for my eccentric behavior and my ability to write poems.

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      • mistermuse 11:39 pm on March 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        According to the book, there was an old belief that snakes go blind during the dog days of summer. Long story short, when a snake sheds its skin (including part of the outer coat of the eyeballs), temporarily impaired vision results. However, this may occur several times a year, not just during the hot season.
        Who knew?

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    • mistermuse 12:03 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Michaeline, my hair has a part the length and width of the entire top of my head (aka being mostly bald). I faintly remember parting it on the right, back when I had hair.

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    • Don Frankel 6:33 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I’m sure right handed and left handed are somewhere in our genes. Ah ha you ask is it the left leg of the genes or the right one?

      And, the answer to who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb is… no one. President Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant are entombed in Grant’s Tomb. It’s a Mausoleum and above ground. But hey I live here so I should know that one.

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    • mistermuse 7:20 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Don, I wonder if anyone ever got the Grant’s Tomb question right on YOU BET YOUR LIFE. And I bet that you’re one of the few who caught the reference (at the end of my post) to the old Groucho Marx TV show of that name.

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  • mistermuse 9:29 pm on November 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Huckleberry Finn, , Samuel Clemens   

    THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN 

    The book could have been written nowhere but in America and by no American but Mark Twain, but it has passed out of our keeping. Huckleberry Finn has become a universal possession.
    –Bernard De Voto, Historian, THE PORTABLE MARK TWAIN (1946)

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    It’s hard for me to believe, on this his birthday, that Mark Twain was born almost 200 years ago (Nov. 30, 1835). Beyond the fact that his writing is timeless, our lives, his and mine, are but a generation apart — I was born a mere 26 years after he died. It’s almost as if he could’ve been the grandfather who passed away before I knew him, yet I came to know him by the stories passed down to me as a boy….and through the recollections of a ten year old girl named Dorothy, who met Mark Twain on an ocean liner in 1907, when he was 72.

    Dorothy Quick wrote of their meeting in a book I own, titled MARK TWAIN & ME. It begins: A little girl walked round and round the deck of an ocean liner. When she turned the corner and came to the port side of the vessel, she walked slowly and her feet dragged while her eyes were fixed in admiration on a man standing beside the rail talking to another man. They didn’t see the little girl whose gaze was riveted on the older of the two, the man who had a great mass of snow-white hair.
    I was fascinated by that crop of snowy hair. It was soft and whiter than the gleaming feathers of a swan. Beneath it, bushy eyebrows stuck out in a quizzical manner. He had a drooping mustache, slightly yellowed at the ends, which almost hid his mouth, and in his hand was a long black cigar which every now and then he would place between his lips and draw upon luxuriously.
    I walked past him five times. On my sixth trip I saw that his companion was gone. Just as I came abreast of him, he turned suddenly and to my utter amazement held out his hand and said in a slow, drawly voice, “Aren’t you going to speak to me, little girl?”
    I couldn’t have been more astonished! I put my hand in his and managed to say, “I’d love to” through the lump of excitement in my throat.
    “Do you know who I am?” There was a twinkle in his blue eyes as he asked the question.
    “Of course. You’re Mark Twain.” I said it as though he were Santa Claus, Solomon, Napoleon, and the Archangel Gabriel welled into one.

    It was indeed Mark Twain, and thus began a great friendship which lasted until his death in 1910. MARK TWAIN & ME is a recounting of that friendship, revealing him as warm and fun-loving in his last years, in contrast to his image as a bitter pessimist in his old age. More than likely, he was both. No law says complex thinkers must have single-minded thoughts. If you want to see the human side of Mark Twain, I highly recommend this book.

    For a more scholarly view, I close where I began, quoting Bernard De Voto in THE PORTABLE MARK TWAIN:

    There are striking affinities between [Abraham] Lincoln and Mark Twain. Both spent their boyhoods in a society that was still essentially frontier; both were rivermen. Both absorbed the midcontinental heritage: fiercely equalitarian democracy, hatred of injustice and oppression. Both were deeply acquainted with melancholy and despair; both were fatalists. On the other hand, both were instinct with the humor of the common life. As humorists, both felt the basic gravity of humor; with both it was an adaptation of the mind, a reflex of the struggle to be sane; both knew, and Mark Twain said, that there is no humor in heaven.

    God forbid there should be no humor on earth.

      

     

     

     

     

     
    • Michaeline Montezinos 11:57 pm on November 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      mistermuse, that article was more than amusing. I always liked Mark Twain and his stories. Now I see a glimpse of the man behind them. I think I had read something about the similarities between Twain and Lincoln but now I know more. The post about the little girl was good. I enjoyed that story. I think I will read MARK TWAIN AND ME by Dorothy Quick.

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    • mistermuse 7:45 am on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Michaeline, I’m glad you liked the post, and I know you would love the book.

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    • arekhill1 12:09 pm on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      It was the writings of Twain that inspired me to become an amateur agnostic theologian.

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    • mistermuse 1:19 pm on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      God is dead (according to Nietzsche), but Twain lives on, thank God.

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    • Joseph Nebus 10:31 pm on December 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I’d read a biography of Twain’s last years — the ones after he started wearing a white suit full-time, which was a very slender piece of his life but the one that codified his public image so — and was delighted by how much in these years I’d always thought he was a cranky old codger that he was actually, well, pretty darned cheerful. There’s a story of him forming a Club of Neptune, or something like that, with a little girl who happened to be staying at the same hotel in Bermuda that’s just charming.

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    • mistermuse 8:27 am on December 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Little girls have a way of melting old men’s hearts….come to think of it, so do big girls, if they play their charms right. A little feminine charm goes a long way with any old man who flatters himself that he still has “it” (and if “it” is money, he probably does).

      Cynicism aside, Joseph, I appreciate your delightful comment. Mark Twain is such a fascinating character that I never tire of writings by him or about him.

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    • Mélanie 5:44 am on December 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      he’s universal, indeed: one of the titans of world’s literature… great post, congrats! 🙂

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  • mistermuse 12:01 am on January 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Goerge Orwell, , Lewis Carroll, , nom de plume, , , pen names, pseudonyms, Samuel Clemens, , , Tom Thumb, Voltaine   

    GNOME DE PLUME 

    Mistermuse, having come up just a tad short of becoming a world-famous author himself, thought his real self and I would write a post about pen names of other reputed writers, including a quiz about how many real names of pseudonymous authors you can identify, such as the one everyone knows: Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens.

    But in the course of doing a little research, we came across the Nom de Pun of a legendary wee person of English folklore, Tom Thumb, who (though not an author) is the subject of many an author’s works, starting with The History of Tom Thumb, first published in 1621. Two-plus centuries later, showman P. T. Barnum took advantage of that famous character’s name by featuring “General Tom Thumb” (dwarf Charles Sherwood Stratton) as his star attraction …. which led us further down the sidetrack of character names of famous dwarfs, such as “Tattoo” (Herve Villechaize) of Fantasy Island fame and “Mini-Me” (Verne Troyer) in The Spy Who Shagged Me.” But enough about Mini-Me (and Tattoo and Tom Thumb), and back to the business at hand: pen names of renowned writers.

    Following the famous nom de plume of each author (in caps below) is the real name of another author on the list. How many of these mismatched names can you re-match correctly?

    ARTEMUS WARD / Eric Blair
    GEORGE SAND / Charles Dodgson
    GEORGE ELIOT / Aurore Dupin
    LEWIS CARROLL / Victoria Lucas
    SYLVIA PLATH / Karen Blixen

    GEORGE ORWELL / Cecil Smith
    ISAK DINESEN / Mary Anne Evans
    ANATOLE FRANCE / Francois Marie Arouet
    SIDNEY SHELDON / Daniel Foe
    O. HENRY / Charles Farrar Browne

    ANNE RICE / Sidney Schechtel
    AYN RAND / Howard Allen Frances O’Brien
    C. S. FORESTER / William Sydney Porter
    VOLTAIRE/ Jacque Anatole Thibault
    DANIEL DEFOE / Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum

    But what about the real name of mistermuse, you ask. Are you ready for the big announcement?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBzJGckMYO4

    Sorry for the typo — I meant “pig announcement.”

     
    • Don Frankel 9:12 am on January 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      We can see why people born Howard might want to change their name. Especially when they are are a girl. Of course back int he day of George Elliot and Sand women couldn’t publish. Also if you’ve been in prison, I guess you’d rather be O’Henry then your real name. But then so much of writing is an ability to assume other identities even if you use your real name.

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    • mistermuse 10:34 am on January 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      For those who couldn’t match the real name Don referred to (Howard Allen Francis O’Brien) with the right pen name, it’s Anne Rice (I confess I didn’t know it myself, as I’m not a Gothic fiction fan and haven’t read any of her books). It certainly makes one wonder why her parents would name their baby girl “Howard” – it sounds like they were hoping for a boy and refused to change the name they’d pre-chosen. In any case, if she lived back in the day of female authors George Eliot and George Sand, she wouldn’t have needed a pen name – Howard Allen O’Brien would’ve worked just fine.

      As for O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), Don, many readers know about his imprisonment, but there are also interesting stories about how he came upon his pen name. One has it that he called his girlfriend’s cat “Oh, Henry” because the cat would respond to no other greeting, but Porter spun a number of such tales, so who knows?

      Th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

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    • Ricardo 1:32 pm on January 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I always thought O. Henry was the way that author’s sex partners addressed him. Are we to take it that your given name is Leon Schlesinger, Sr. Muse?

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      • mistermuse 2:37 pm on January 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Re O. Henry, a very penetrating deduction. Taking it up a logical notch, Ricard-O, God must have the spiritual equivalent of sex partners (just sayin’). It might help explain a lot of stuff that goes on in the universe (starting with the Big Bang Theory).

        As for my given name, it so happens that “Leon” is part of it, but unlike Looney Tunes producer Schlesinger, I’m still living….or should I say, animated.

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