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Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes

by Andre Bernard and Clifton Fadiman

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Book Summary

Presents a series of short anecdotes by and about more than 2,000 people from around the world, including selections from notable politicians, artists, musicians, athletes, movie stars, celebrities, and rock legends.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Bartlett's Book Of Anecdotes




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

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

2 Aaron, who surpassed Babe Ruth's "unsurpassable" home-run record of714 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 thatwas both admired and somewhat controversial given the great reverence andaffection Ruth inspired even years after his death — Aaron said, "I don't wantthem 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 pastHank 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 greatdoctor with the rudeness for which he was notorious. The patient lost histemper and told Abernethy that he would make him "eat his words." "It will beof 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 wealthygrocer, in the man's shop. The grocer loftily remarked that he presumedAbernethy was wanting his vote at this important point in his life. Nettled bythe man's tone and attitude, Abernethy retorted, "No, I don't; I want apennyworth of figs. Look sharp and wrap them up. I want to be off."

3 "Mrs. J—— consulted him respecting a nervous disorder, the minutiaeof which appeared to be so fantastic that Mr. A. interrupted their frivolousdetail by holding out his hand for the fee. A 1 note and a shilling were placedinto it; upon which he returned the latter to his fair patient, with the angryexclamation, 'There, Ma'am! go and buy a skipping rope; that is all you want.'"

4 Despite his brusqueness with his private patients, Abernethy wasconscientious and kindly toward the poor under his care in the charityhospital. Once as he was about to leave for the hospital, a private patienttried to detain him. Abernethy observed, "Private patients, if they do not likeme, can go elsewhere; but the poor devils in the hospital I am bound to takecare of."

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

6 Abernethy was renowned for his dislike of idle chatter. With this inmind, a young lady once entered his surgery and, without a word, held out aninjured finger for examination. The doctor dressed the wound in silence. Thewoman returned a few days later. "Better?" asked Abernethy. "Better," repliedthe patient. Subsequent calls passed in much the same manner. On her finalvisit, the woman held out her finger, now free of bandages. "Well?" inquired thedoctor. "Well," she replied. "Upon my word, madam," exclaimed Abernethy, "youare 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 hisplans for the future. He replied, "I will undoubtedly have to seek what ishappily known as gainful employment, which I am glad to say does not describeholding public office."

2 In April 1963 Winston Churchill was made an honorary citizen of theUnited States. At the ceremony in the White House, his letter of acceptance wasread by his son Randolph, as he himself was too frail to attend. It contained apassage rejecting the idea that Britain had only a "tame and minor" role to playon the international scene. Dean Acheson recognized this as an oblique allusionto his own famous and greatly resented remark that Britain had lost an empireand failed to find a new role. "Well, it hasn't taken Winston long to get used toAmerican ways," commented Acheson. "He hadn't been an American citizen for

3 A rather flustered elderly lady once accosted Acheson in a Washingtonhotel. "Pardon me," she said, "I am somewhat embarrassed. My zipper has stuckand I am due at a meeting. Could you please help me out?" As the zipper wasfirmly 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. Thelady thanked him profusely. "I think that I should tell you," she added, "that Iam vice president of the Daughters of the American Revolution."

"My dear lady," replied Acheson, "what a moment ago was a rare privilege nowappears 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 atOxford, was asked to perform at a Conservative Garden Fete. He decided he coulddo no better than recite [T. S. Eliot's] The Waste Land from beginningto end. His audience's good manners were severely tested, as this dirge for agodless civilization, delivered in Harold Acton's rich, resounding voice, sweptirresistibly above their heads; and one or two old ladies, who were alarmed andhorrified but thought that the reciter had such a 'nice, kind face,' rather thanhurt the young man's feelings by getting up and leaving openly, were obliged tosink 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 atFighter Command Headquarters when he came upon a sign: ROAD CLOSED — UNEXPLODEDBOMB. Adams called over the policeman on duty, hoping he might be able tosuggest an alternative route. "Sorry, you can't go through," said the policemanas he approached the car. "The bomb is likely to go off at any minute now." Thenhe caught sight of Adams's uniform. "I'm very sorry, sir," he said, "I didn'tknow you were a wing commander. It is quite all right for you to go through."

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

1 During his early years Adams studied the piano and showed markedtalent. At one party (he recalls it as "very liquid") he played Chopin's F MajorNocturne. "In some strange way my right hand started off in F-sharp major whilemy left hand behaved well in F major. I could not bring them together. I wentthrough the entire nocturne with the hands separated by a half-step." The nextday a fellow guest complimented him on his performance. "You never missed awrong note!"

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

1 Adams belonged to a poker club that included among its members anactor called Herbert Ransom. Whenever Ransom held a good hand, his facialexpression 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 downon a cane-seated chair. The seat suddenly broke, leaving Beatrice immobilizedinside the frame, legs in the air. As a shocked silence gripped the party, Adamssaid 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'sShakespeare's."

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

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

"Too late," interrupted Adams.

Adams, Henry (1838-1918), US diplomat and writer known particularly forhis 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. Hismonologue was extraordinary, and ranged over the cosmos, the nature of God andman, and his own hopes and disappointments. For a long time he talked, thenbroke off and sat quietly for a moment. "Do you know why I have told you allthis?" he asked her. "It is because you would not understand a word of it andyou will never quote me."

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

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

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

3 Adams received a letter from his wife, Abigail, that was highlycritical 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 immediatelywrote 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 thefiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — July4, 1826. At dawn on that day he was awakened by his servant, who askedif he knew what day it was. He replied, "Oh, yes, it is the glorious fourth ofJuly. God bless it. God bless you all." He then slipped into a coma. In theafternoon he recovered consciousness briefly to murmur, "Thomas Jeffersonlives." These were his last words. Unknown to him, Thomas Jefferson had diedthat same day.


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

1 John Quincy Adams, an enthusiastic swimmer, used to bathe naked in thePotomac before starting the day's work. The newspaperwoman Anne Royall had beentrying for weeks to get an interview with the President and had always beenturned away. One morning she tracked him to the riverbank and after he had gotinto the water stationed herself on his clothes. When Adams returned from hisswim, he found a very determined lady awaiting him. She introduced herself andstated her errand. "Let me get out and dress," pleaded the President, "and Iswear you shall have your interview." Anne Royall was adamant; she wasn't movinguntil 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 ofsome fishermen on the next bend. She got her interview while Adams remaineddecently submerged in the water.

2 In 1846 John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke and, although he returnedto Congress the following year, his health was clearly failing. Daniel Websterdescribed his last meeting with Adams: "Someone, a friend of his, came in andmade 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 theSpeaker of the House rose to ask a question. Adams rose to answer, then fellinto the arms of his neighboring member. He was carried into the Speaker'schamber, where he spent the next two days in a semiconscious state. His finalwords were, "This is the last of Earth. I am content."


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

1 In 1900 the Daughters of the American Revolution elected Jane Addamsto honorary membership. However, her antiwar stance during World War I and herinsistence that even subversives had a right to trial by due process of lawcaused them to expel her. She commented that she had thought her election wasfor 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 parliamentarydebater. 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, "Theright honorable secretary of state has conceived thrice and brought forthnothing."

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

3 A friend of Addison's with whom he was accustomed to have longdiscussions on topics of mutual interest borrowed some money from the author.Soon afterward Addison noticed a change in his behavior; before the loan the twofriends had disagreed on a number of subjects, but now the borrower fell in withevery line that Addison himself adopted. One day when they were talking on apoint on which Addison knew his friend had previously held an opposite view tohis 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 notedlawyer rose to speak. His hands buried deep in the pockets of his trousers, hebegan: "Doesn't it strike the company as a little unusual that a professionalhumorist should be funny?" Ade waited for the laughter to die down beforereplying: "Doesn't it strike the company as a little unusual that a lawyershould 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 tosix European ambassadors who were coming to see him to try to prevent waragainst Spain, he wrote on the back of an envelope: "The Government of theUnited States appreciates the humanitarian and disinterested character of thecommunication now made on behalf of the powers named, and for its part isconfident that equal appreciation will be shown for its own earnest andunselfish endeavors to fulfill a duty to humanity by ending a situation theindefinite 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 theFederal Republic (1949—63).

1 Essentially a Rhinelander, Adenauer never liked or trusted thePrussians and his compatriots in eastern Germany. In the interwar period he usedfrequently to have to go by train to Berlin. It is said that every time hecrossed 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 waschancellor, even after he became an octogenarian. When they were brought to hisnotice he used to tell his secretary patiently: "Put them in the nonaggressionpact file."

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

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


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

1 Adler found himself sitting beside Herbert Cardinal Vaughanat 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 earliestcomplete plays surviving from ancient Greece.

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


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

1 An emissary from a learned society came to invite Agassiz toaddress its members. Agassiz refused on the grounds that lectures of this sorttook up too much time that should be devoted to research and writing. The manpersisted, 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 timemaking money."


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

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

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

2 Agrippina proved less easy to eliminate than Nero expected. Accordingto Suetonius, he tried poison three times (she had taken the antidotebeforehand), a collapsible ceiling in her bedchamber (someone warned her), andan unseaworthy boat (she swam to safety). Finally he sent a centurion withorders to kill her. The centurion struck her first on the head, as he had beenordered, but she bared her breasts, crying out, "Strike rather these, which havenurtured so great a monster as Nero."


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

1 King Oswin, ruler of the former British province of Deira and a friendof Aidan's, gave the bishop a fine horse. Soon afterward Bishop Aidan met abeggar who asked him for alms; he at once dismounted and gave the horse, withall its costly trappings, to the poor man. When this charitable deed came to theking's ears, he taxed Aidan: "Why did you give away the horse that we speciallychose for your personal use when we knew that you had need of one for yourjourneys? We have many less valuable horses that would have been suitable forbeggars." Replied Aidan, "Is this foal of a mare more valuable to you than achild of God?" The king pondered, then, suddenly casting his sword aside, kneltat Aidan's feet and begged his forgiveness. Aidan, greatly moved, begged theking 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 andambassador.

1 Sent as plenipotentiary to Paris in 1748, Albemarle took withhim his mistress Lolotte Gaucher, an actress described by contemporaries ascunning and rapacious. One evening, seeing her gazing pensively at a star, theearl 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 QueenVictoria.

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

2 A picture at Balmoral portrayed all the royal children and variousbirds and animals. Someone asked which was Princess Helena. "There, with thekingfisher," 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 whichhe attended with his fifth wife shortly after their wedding, he presented thelady to a friend who said politely, "Congratulations, Herr d'Albert; you haverarely 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 togovern Athens. This did not amuse Pericles. "Alcibiades," he said, "when I wasyour age, I talked just as you do now."

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


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

1 The Alcott family finances were very low, but they placed great hopeson Bronson Alcott's latest lecture tour. When he arrived home one night inFebruary, 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 daughterMay who asked the question in all their minds: "Did they pay you?" SlowlyBronson Alcott drew out his pocketbook and displayed its contents — a singledollar. "Another year I shall do better," he said. There was a stunned hush inthe group around him. Then Mrs. Alcott flung her arms around his neck and saidstoutly, "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 herfame tiresome. A supporter of the fight for women's suffrage, she attended theWomen's Congress in Syracuse, where she was accosted by an effusive admirer. "Ifyou ever come to Oshkosh," said the lady, "your feet will not be allowed totouch 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 hismother soon after his birth and was brought up by a glazier named Rousseau andhis wife. When d'Alembert's extraordinary talents became known, his motherattempted to claim him. D'Alembert rejected her, saying, "My mother is the wifeof the glazier."


Alençon, Sophie-Charlotte, Duchesse d' (d. 1897), Bavarian-bornduchess who married the Duc d'Alençon in 1868.

1 On May 4, 1897, the duchess was presiding over a charitybazaar in Paris when the hall accidentally caught fire. Flames spread to thepaper decorations and flimsy walls of the booths and in seconds the place was aninferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children weretrampled as they rushed for the exits, while workmen from a nearby siteperformed incredible acts of heroism, rushing into the blaze to carry out thetrapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seatedbehind her booth. "Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shallbe the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed andwas 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] GuyDomville, produced by George Alexander, it was soon evident from the attitude ofthe gallery that the play was not going to be a success, but the seal of failurewas set on it when Sir George uttered the line, 'I am the last of theDomvilles.' Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than a voice came from thegallery, '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-yearcareer, Alexander remained one of the best pitchers until the end. Atthirty-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 ofthe best-of-seven set and tying the series at three games each, Alexander spentthat night celebrating. Since pitchers usually rested three days betweenstarts, he went out to the bull pen next day, with the relief pitchers, andsnoozed away the final game until he was, surprisingly, summoned to pitch theseventh of the nine innings. There were three men on base, one out needed to endthe inning, and a one-run lead. Alexander faced the feared Tony Lazzeri andstruck him out, ending the inning to the cheers of the crowd. He then stoppedthe Yankees in their last two innings to win the game and give his team thetitle.

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


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

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

"It saves time," explained Alexander. "You'd be surprised how little of it comesback."


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

1 The professor of philosophy on his beloved bicycle was afamiliar sight around Manchester. On one occasion he rode over to Liverpool todine and spend the night at the house of a wealthy shipowner. The host's valetnoticed that the professor had arrived without luggage and reported the fact tohis employer, who courteously said that he would not dress for dinner thatevening. He also instructed the valet to put out a spare pair of pajamas in theprofessor's room. A short time later, however, the valet rushed into hismaster's dressing room with the message: "I have just seen Professor Alexandergoing downstairs and he's wearing a dinner jacket." The host made a rapidchange. The following morning the valet returned the spare pajamas, unused, tohis master, remarking: "The professor had his own, after all." Curiosity finallyovercame 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 throughthe murder of his savage, megalomaniac father, Czar Paul I, by a group ofaristocratic conspirators. Thus in two generations history repeated itself, forAlexander's grandmother, Catherine the Great, had connived at the murder of herhusband, Peter III, in order to seize power herself less than forty yearsbefore. The youthful archduke had had prior warning of the plot against CzarPaul, but had preferred to think that the conspirators' intention was merely todepose and imprison his father. When news of the murder was brought to him, healmost collapsed with horror. This incident haunted him for the remainder of hislife, but the strongest proof of his complicity was in his treatment of theconspirators; they all continued in his favor and some became his closestcounselors. A French spy, the Countess de Bonneuil, reported to her masterFouché on the situation in St. Petersburg: "The young emperor goes aboutpreceded by the murderers of his grandfather, followed by the murderers of hisfather, quite surrounded by his friends."

2 When Alexander was in Paris, following the defeat of Napoleon, heattended anniversary celebrations at one of the hospitals. The ladies who hadorganized the affair passed plates around for contributions. An extremely prettygirl was delegated to take a plate to the czar. Alexander dropped in a handfulof gold and whispered, "That's for your beautiful bright eyes." The young ladycurtsied 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 couldapparently work faster than any person. He summoned the inventor, Abraham Stern,to his court to demonstrate the device. After inspecting it, Alexanderchallenged Stern to an arithmetic contest. A prearranged list of calculationswas read out, and both Stern and the czar, who worked the numbers with a quillpen, set to. As Alexander was completing the first calculation, Stern announcedthat his machine had finished. The czar read over the results, looked at Sternand his machine, then said to his attendant, "The machine is good, but the Jewis 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 Philipwas really his father later allowed Alexander to declare that he was a god andthe son of Jupiter. Alexander's mother, Olympias, preferred to leave the matterobscure. 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, namedBucephalus, to the Macedonian court, offering to sell it to King Philip.However, when the royal grooms tried to test its paces, it proved wild andunmanageable. The young Alexander asked his father for permission to try hisskill. Philip reluctantly agreed, saying that if the prince failed to rideBucephalus he was to pay his father a forfeit equal to its price. Alexanderwalked quickly to the horse's head and turned it to face into the sun, for hehad noticed that the horse's own shadow was upsetting it. He calmed it, thenmounted 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 maybe worthy of your abilities, for Macedonia is too small for you."

3 Alexander, setting out on his conquest of Asia, inquired into thefinances of his followers. To ensure that they should not be troubled over thewelfare of their dependents during their absence, he distributed crown estatesand revenues among them. When he had thus disposed of nearly all the royalresources, his friend General Perdiccas asked Alexander what he had reserved forhimself. "Hope," answered the king. "In that case," said Perdiccas, "we whoshare in your labors will also take part in your hopes." Thereupon he refusedthe estate allocated to him, and several other of the king's friends did thesame.

4 At Gordium in Phrygia (Asia Minor) a chariot was fastened with cordsmade from the bark of a cornel tree. The knot was so cunningly tied that no endswere visible, and the tradition was that the empire of the world should fall tothe man who could untie it. When Alexander conquered Gordium, he confronted thefamous puzzle. Unable to untie the knot, he drew his sword and with one slashsevered 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. Hisphysicians were afraid to treat him because if they did not succeed, theMacedonian army would suspect them of malpractice. Only one, Philip theAcarnanian, was willing to take the risk, as he had confidence in both theking's friendship and his own drugs.

While the medicine was being prepared, Alexander received a letter from an enemyof Philip's that accused the physician of having been bribed by the Persian kingto poison his master. Alexander read the letter and slipped it under his pillowwithout 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 thecup. Horrified and indignant at the calumny, Philip threw himself down at theking's bedside, but Alexander assured him that he had complete confidence in hishonor. After three days the king was well enough to appear again before hisarmy.

6 After Alexander had conquered Egypt, the Persian king, Darius, sent aletter offering generous terms for peace and future friendship with theMacedonian king: 10,000 talents to be paid in ransom for Persian prisoners, allthe countries west of the Euphrates to be ceded to Alexander, and Darius'sdaughter to be given to him in marriage. Alexander consulted his friends abouthow he should respond. His general Parmenion said, "If I were Alexander, I wouldaccept these offers."

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

7 The captured Indian king Porus was brought before Alexander, who askedhow he wished to be treated. "Like a king," was the reply. Alexander asked if hehad anything else to request. "Nothing," said Porus, "for everything iscomprehended in the word 'king.'" Alexander restored Porus's lands to him.

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

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


Alexander VI (c. 1431—1503), pope (1492—1503) who used his office toadvance the prospects of his illegitimate children, especially his son CesareBorgia.

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


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

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


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

1 The most celebrated of the works undertaken under Alfonso'ssponsorship was the compilation of the "Alfonsine Tables," which were publishedon the day of his accession to the throne and remained the most authoritativeplanetary tables in existence for the following three centuries. The preparationof the tables was very laborious and was based, of course, upon the Ptolemaicscheme of the universe. Alfonso remarked that if God had consulted him duringthe 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 ashe was riding back from a parade and pointed a revolver at him from barely ayard away. "Polo comes in very handy on these occasions," said Alfonsoafterward. "I set my horse's head straight at him and rode into him as hefired."


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

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

2 As a young boy Alfred received little formal schooling. He did possessa highly retentive memory and particularly enjoyed listening to the court bardsreciting 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 oneof you can learn it most quickly." Although he could not read, Alfred wasgreatly attracted to the book and was determined to own it. Forestalling hisbrothers, he took it to someone who read it through to him. Then he went back tohis mother and repeated the whole thing to her. This talent was the foundationof Alfred's later reputation as scholar, translator, and patron of learning.


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

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


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

1 In the fight film Rocky II, a character apparently based onMuhammad Ali taunts the hero with the words "I'll destroy you. I am the masterof disaster." After seeing a private screening of the film, Ali wistfullyremarked, "'Master of disaster': I wish I'd thought of that!"

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

3 Irritated by Ali's perpetual boasts of "I am the greatest," acolleague 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. "Youmight say we're in the same business," remarked Stern. "We both earn a livingwith 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, thefight that secured his title as heavyweight champion, as a seven-to-oneunderdog. 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. Butfight he did, and he repeated his victory in 1965 in their second title bout. AsListon lay on the mat, Ali stood over him with his fist clenched, yelling, "Getup and fight, sucker!"

6 A young person once asked Ali what he should do with his life. Hecould not decide whether to continue his education or go out into the world toseek his fortune. "Stay in college, get the knowledge," advised Ali. "If theycan 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 hadinscribed: "To Alphonse Allais, with regrets for not having known him.Voltaire."

2 Asked to deliver a lecture on the subject of the theater, Allaisbegan: "I have been asked to talk to you on the subject of the theater, but Ifear that it will make you melancholy. Shakespeare is dead, Molière isdead, 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 theCardinals, the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the A's, liked to write words in the dirtaround first base. This distracted the other players, and finally baseballcommissioner Bowie Kuhn told the Philadelphia Phillies to put a stop to thispractice. 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 ledby a stern Calvinist preacher. He took as his text "Many shall strive to enterin, 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 availhimself of the offered salvation. Furthermore, not one man in fifty was reallythe object of God's solicitude, and not one in eighty — here Allen seized hishat and left the pew, saying, "I'm off, boys. Any one of you can take mychance."

2 In the early morning of May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen led a small force ina surprise attack on the British garrison at Ticonderoga. Having overpowered thesentries, Allen demanded to be taken to the commanding officer's quarters. Heshouted at him to come out immediately or he would kill the entire garrison. Thecommander appeared, his breeches still in his hand. Allen ordered the instantsurrender of the fortress. "By what authority?" asked the British officer. "Inthe 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 couldcall on any of the neighbors," he said to the widower. "There's not a man intown wouldn't be glad to help out."

4 Allen lay ill. The doctor examined him and said, "General, I fear theangels 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 ascreen of cynicism. A friend was walking with him when a truck bore down on anewsboy in front of them. Allen dashed out and snatched the boy to safety, thensnarled at him, 'What's the matter, kid? Don't you want to grow up and havetroubles?'"

2 Spying a haggard, long-haired cellist in the orchestra pit of avaudeville house in Toledo, Ohio, Allen called out to him, "How much would youcharge 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!" Allenreplied: "There are five thousand churches in New York and you have to be anatheist."

4 The script for one of Allen's radio shows was returned to him withextensive alterations scrawled across the pages in blue pencil. Allen flippedthrough it impatiently. "Where were you fellows when the paper was blank?" heasked.


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

1 A fan rushed up to Allen on the street calling, "You're a star!" Allenreplied, "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 themedium. And American critics were adulatory as well, dubbing him one of thegreat directors of modern times. Allen himself was more sanguine: "I don't wantto 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 herearliest days was surrounded by editors and journalists. One day, as theseven-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 sittingin different rooms writing down lies and now YOU starting!"


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

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


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

1 Though in fact he maintained a very solid bank balance, Altenberg hada mania for begging. The poet and critic Karl Kraus tells how Altenberg besoughthim again and again to give him a hundred kronen, and on every occasion Krausrefused him. Finally, his patience at an end, Kraus burst out, "Look, Peter, I'dgladly 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 workwith; and Altman returned the feeling, loathing the pretentiousness and excessof the big studios. A maverick filmmaker, he had made his way with his ownrules. His movie The Player was an irreverent, sometimes savage look atmodern moviemaking, an in-joke on the whole industry. At a special screeningAltman was delighted to observe that, during a scene showing a snake, studiomogul Barry Diller "jumped a foot out of his chair." Chuckled Altman, "I guesshe didn't expect to see a relative."


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

1 After emerging unscathed from a duel fought in a discreetly secludedcorner of London, Lord Alvanley handed a guinea to the hackney coachman who hadconveyed 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 asidethe objection: "The guinea's not for taking me, my man, it's for bringing meback."

2 Owing to the careless driving of their coachmen, Lord Alvanley andanother nobleman were involved in a collision. The other peer jumped out of hiscoach, rolling up his sleeves and making ready to thrash his negligent servant,but on seeing that he was elderly and abjectly apologetic, contented himselfwith saying significantly, "Your age protects you." Alvanley likewise hopped outof his coach, ready to thrash his postilion, but, finding himself confronting avery large, tough-looking lad, he thought better of it. "Your youth protectsyou," 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, eachintent on winning its own candidate's nomination to the bishopric. Ambrosequelled the riot but was unable to persuade the warring parties to agree on abishop. Finally someone suggested Ambrose himself, and the nomination wasenthusiastically greeted on all sides. In vain Ambrose protested that he was noteven christened. He was hurriedly baptized, then ordained, and finallyconsecrated 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 incontemplation and prayer, was approached by a group of villagers who wanted himto 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 manwith his ear cut off to be an ordained priest. And if you compel me, I will cutout my tongue as well."


Anaxagoras (500—428 bc), Greek philosopher.

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


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

1 Anaximenes accompanied Alexander the Great on his expeditionagainst the Persians, in the course of which the Macedonian forces capturedLampsacus. Anxious to save his native city from destruction, Anaximenes soughtan audience with the king. Alexander anticipated his plea: "I swear by the StyxI 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 nativecity.


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

1 Anders received his fair share of publicity after the Apollo8 moon trip. Tired of being accosted by pressmen, photographers, and theadmiring public, he "escaped" with his wife for a brief vacation in Acapulco. Afew days after their arrival, however, as they relaxed on the patio of theirholiday 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 acrossthe 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 Apollo8 craft as it hurtled into space. Anders told him, "I think Isaac Newton isdoing most of the driving now."


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

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

2 Visiting with Charles Dickens's family in England, Andersen ratheroverstayed his welcome. One of Dickens's daughters summed up the guest as "abony bore, and [he] stayed on and on." Dickens himself wrote on a card that hestuck up over the mirror in the guest room: "Hans Andersen slept in this roomfor five weeks — which seemed to the family AGES."

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

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


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

1 (Anderson describes a chance meeting in New Orleans with HoraceLiveright, 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 uncomfortablemoment. It was Mrs. Liveright. I was sunk and so was Horace."

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

Copyright © 1985, 2000 Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-316-08267-8