Monday, February 27, 2006

Conversations and anecdotes

From River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (2005)
He was, [Colonel] Rondon wrote, “the life of the party.” In contrast to the reserved, taciturn Brazilian colonel, Roosevelt must have seemed peculiarly fun and lighthearted. Rondon himself was stunned by his loquacious co-commander. “And talk!” he wrote, “I never saw a man who talked so much. He would talk all of the time he was in swimming, all of the time during meals, traveling in the canoe and at night around the camp fire. He talked endlessly and on all conceivable subjects.”

From Tolstoy: A Biography, by A. N. Wilson (1988)
In society, shyness still tormented [the young Tolstoy] unless he was drunk. It is hard to think that the rules which he formulated for social behaviour necessarily made him the most charming of companions. “Rules for society. Choose difficult situations, always try to control a conversation, speak loudly, calmly and distinctly, try to being and end a conversation yourself. Seek the company of people higher in the world than yourself.”

From “The Evils of Spain,” by V. S. Pritchett , collected in Essential Stories (2005)
Caesar did not speak much. He gave his silent weight to the dinner, letting his head drop like someone falling asleep, and listening. To the noise we made his silence was a balance and he nodded all the time slowly, making everything true. Sometimes someone told some story about him and he listened to that, nodding and not disputing it.

From a review by Anthony Powell in the Daily Telegraph of John Skelton: Poet of Tudor England, by Maurice Pollett (1971). Collected in Some Poets, Artists, and ‘A Reference for Mellors’(2005).
Admitting that [John Skelton (c.1400-1529) had] a contemporary reputation for wit and eccentricity, we find also a mild anecdote about Skelton included during his own lifetime in one of those collections of jokes popular at the time, A Hundred Merry Tales. Shakespeare took some of his funny stories from this particular anthology.

So far so good, but hardly was Skelton in his coffin before further stories began to pour out about him, in which he was confused with a friend of Chaucer’s called Scoggin—also, as it happened, a poet and royal tutor—who had lived about a hundred years earlier.

That was bad enough, but worse was to come. Scoggin, as has been said, was an earlier personality, but one who, from his career, might be judged to possess a somewhat similar line of wit to Skelton’s. Unfortunately, on this already muddled situation descended an avalanche of chestnuts, many of a bawdy sort, told about another Scoggin, who almost certainly never existed, but was said to have been court fool to Henry VII.

Simply as regards confusion of identity, it was rather as if a story told about Evelyn Waugh was then said to refer to P. G. Wodehouse, and, as a result, not only were Waugh and Wodehouse anecdotes impossible to sort out, but they also could not be distinguished from those about Bertie Wooster, believed by many to be a real man.

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