As a father taking his very well-brought-up young daughter to the opera for the first time, Peter Ustinov was unwise enough to choose the Baths of Caracall in Rome. The opera was Aida: during one particular scene the whole stage seemed to be covered with animals — camels, elephants, horses, unwanted cats, and so on. At a climactic point, almost all the animals relieved themselves simultaneously. As he stared aghast at this incredible sight, Ustinov felt a light tapping on his shoulder and heard his daughter's earnest voice: "Daddy, is it all right if I laugh?
Just a week before he was assassinated, Abraham Lincoln had a dream that he discussed with several people. It seemed that he was walking through the silent White House toward the sound of sobbing. When he entered the East Room, he was confronted by the sight of a catafalque covered in black. He asked the guard on duty there who was dead. "The president," said the soldier.
As critic and moralist, Matthew Arnold attacked the philistinism of the British middle class of his time, upholding rather severe, even dismaying standards of intellectual rigor and moral seriousness. Shortly after his death Robert Louis Stevenson remarked, "Poor Matt. He's gone to Heaven, no doubt — but he won't like God.
Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, totally dominated her daughter's upbringing and clearly had ambitions to be the power behind the throne once Victoria became queen. The princess slept in her mother's room and was never allowed to talk to anyone except in the presence of her German governess or the duchess. The very day that William IV died and Victoria ascended the throne, the Duchess of Kent came to Victoria after the state dignitaries had departed and inquired if there was anything she could do for her. "I wish to be left alone, " replied Victoria, and the same day she gave orders for her bed to be moved from the duchess's room.
Frederick William was deeply disappointed by his son, the future Frederick the Great, who in his youth seemed more interested in French culture, music, and literature than in the military virtues. The father's disaffection turned to actual hatred, and his treatment became so harsh that the young prince decided to run away, with the aid of two accomplices, Lieutenants Katte and Keith. The plan was discovered; Keith escaped, but the prince and Katte were captured and court-martialed. Katte was sentenced to life imprisonment, Frederick to solitary confinement. Frederick William, deciding that Katte's sentence was too lenient, had him beheaded in the presence of Prince Frederick. This drastic measure had the desired effect; Frederick asked the king's pardon and began to apply himself to acquiring the Prussian military philosophy.
On their return journey from the South Pole, Scott's party was beset by fearful blizzards. Oates suffered badly from frostbitten feet, which were turning gangrenous. He begged to be left behind so as not to slow up the others. His companions would not hear of it, and they struggled on for another day. The following morning the blizzard was still raging. Oates said, "I am just going outside and may be some time." He then walked out of the tent and vanished forever into the storm.
Photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife were having lunch with astronaut Neil Armstrong after a photo session. Armstrong politely questioned the couple about the many different countries they had visited. "But, Mr. Armstrong," protested Mrs. Karsh, "you've walked on the moon. We want to hear about your travels."
"But that's the only place I've ever been," replied Armstrong apologetically.
His books having brought in little revenue, Anatole France was still a poor man when he was awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor. His friends sympathized with his plight; one of them suggested that it would have been more generous to have given the writer a cash prize instead of the cross, which served no useful purpose. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," said France. "When I wear the sash, it will cover the stain on my jacket. That's useful.
In 1941 Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at thirteen thousand feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he smothered the fire and returned along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Winston Churchill, an admirer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence, Ward was unable to answer the prime minister's questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. "You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence," he said.
"Yes, sir," managed Ward.
"Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours," said Churchill.
On May 4, 1897, Duchesse d'Alençon was presiding over a charity bazaar in Paris when the hall accidentally caught fire. Flames spread to the paper decorations and flimsy walls of the booths, and in seconds the place was an inferno. In the hideous panic that followed, many women and children were trampled as they rushed for the exits, while the workmen from a nearby site performed incredible acts of heroism, rushing into the blaze to carry out the trapped women. Some rescuers reached the duchess, who had remained calmly seated behind her booth. "Because of my title, I was the first to enter here. I shall be the last to go out," she said, rejecting their offer of help. She stayed and was burned to death, along with more than 120 others, mainly women and children.
Arnold Bennett visited Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw in his apartment and, knowing his host's love of flowers, was surprised that there was not a single vase of flowers to be seen. He remarked on their absence to Shaw: "But I thought you were so fond of flowers."
"I am," said Shaw, "and I'm very fond of children, too, but I don't chop their heads off and stand them in pots about the house.
One day Joseph Lister was summoned to assist a wealthy lord with a fishbone that had lodged at the back of his throat. After Lister had skillfully removed the obstruction, the grateful patient asked him what he was owed. "My lord," Lister suggested, "suppose we settle for half of what you would be willing to give me if the bone were still lodged in your throat.
The czarina Maria Fëdorovna was known throughout Russia for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from transportation to Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander. The czar had written: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia." After Maria's intervention, the note read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." The prisoner was subsequently released.