Gleanings from the Past #3

A Convoluted Testimony

A witness being called to give evidence in a court of Connecticut, respecting the loss of a shirt, gave the following—”Mother said, that Ruth said, that Nell said that Paul told her, that she see a man that see a boy run through the street with a streaked flannel shirt, all checked, checked, checkered, checked; and our gals won’t lie, for mother has whipped them a thousand times for lying.”

— The New York Mirror: A Weekly Gazette of Literature and the Fine Arts, Vol. 17, 1839

A Formula

One might risk establishing the following mathematical formula for bribery, namely OG = PLR × AEB: The opportunity for graft equals the plethora of legal requirements multiplied by the number of architects, engineers and builders.

— Harold Birns,  New York Times, October 2, 1963

On Reading

There is a class of street readers whom I can never contemplate without affection — the poor gentry, who, not having wherewithal to buy or hire a book, filch a little learning at the open stalls, the owner, with his hard eye, casting envious looks at them all the while, and thinking when they will have done. Venturing tenderly, page after page, expecting every moment when he shall interpose his interdict, and yet unable to deny themselves the gratification, they (( snatch a fearful joy.” Martin B— in this way, by daily fragments, got through two volumes of Clarissa, when the stall-keeper damped his laudable ambition by asking him (it was in his younger days) whether he meant to purchase the work. M. declares that under no circumstance in his life did he ever peruse a book with half the satisfaction which he took in those uneasy snatches. A quaint poetess of our day has moralized upon this subject in two very touching but homely stanzas: —

I saw a boy with eager eye
Open a book upon a stall,
And read, as he’d devour it all;
Which, when the stallman did espy,
Soon to the boy I heard him call,
‘You Sir, you never buy a book,
Therefore in one you shall not look.’
The boy pass’d slowly on, and with a sigh
He wish’d he never had been taught to read,
Then of the old churl’s books he should have had no need.

Of sufferings the poor have many,
Which never can the rich annoy;
I soon perceived another boy,
Who look’d as if he had not any
Food, for that day, at least—enjoy
The sight of cold meat in a tavern larder.
This boy’s case, then thought I, is surely harder,
Thus hungry, longing, thus without a penny,
Beholding choice of dainty-dressed meat:
No wonder if he wished he ne’er had learn’d to eat.

— Charles Lamb, Works, with a Sketch of His Life and Final MemorialsVol. 2, 1855

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