The Mummy Room

“Maria always refused to visit the Mummy Room at the British Museum because, she said, the Day of Resurrection might suddenly dawn and it would be very unseemly if the corpses had to put on immortality under the gaze of mere sight-seers.”

— From “I am Christina Rosetti” in The Second Common Reader (1932) by Virginia Woolf

Fonder of Books

“Gravity, melancholy were in her blood. She looked, her mother used to say, as if all her friends were dead. She is oppressed by a sense of fortune and its tyranny and the vanity of things and the uselessness of effort. Her mother and sister were grave women too, the sister famed for her letters, but fonder of books than company, the mother ‘counted as wise a woman as most in England’, but sardonic. ‘I have lived to see that ’tis almost impossible to think People worse than they are and soe will you’ — Dorothy could remember her mother saying that.”

— From “Dorothy Osborne’s Letters” in The Second Common Reader (1932) by Virginia Woolf

To Please the King

“These standards of his Majesty’s taste made all those ladies who aspired to his favour, and who were near the statutable size, strain and swell themselves, like the frogs in the fable, to rival the bulk and dignity of the ox. Some succeeded.”

— From “The Mistresses of George the First” in a footnote to an essay on “Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son” in The Second Common Reader (1932) by Virginia Woolf

Yale, Football and Pudge Heffelfinger

“It is enough to say that when in action ‘Pudge’ Heffelfinger, six feet three in his cleated shoes and as hard as iron, was sheer devastation. During that one season of actively intermingling with him on the trampled turf, a broken nose, a telescoped neck, and a leg in a plaster cast convinced me that I had been working, in my humble way, for the cause of Yale football. It was pleasanter, on the whole, to row on a crew with Heffelfinger than to be dismembered by degrees all over the field. He was never a vicious nor an unfair player. Let us call him zealous.”

— Ralph Delahaye Paine in Roads of Adventure (1922), writing of teammate William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, who he faced in practice games.

Heffelfinger was a lineman from 1888 to 1891, during which time the Yale football team had a record of 54-2. Heffelfinger once broke a Princeton flying wedge by leaping over the point man and flattening the ball-carrier, feet-first. After he graduated, the student newspaper campaigned for a fifth season (which was allowed at the time) with the slogan, “Linger, oh linger, Heffelfinger.”

Heffelfinger was football’s first pulling guard, on the first All-American team, and the first pro; in 1892, he was paid $500 for one game by the Duquesne Athletic Club of Pittsburgh; he forced and recovered a fumble, and ran 35 yards for the only touchdown. In 1922, at 54, he captained an all-star team that played against Ohio State alumni for charity; he was on the field for 51 minutes in a 16-0 victory.

Uncle Lee’s Bed

It was the tallest, highest bed in the world, I think, where I spent every Christmas Eve as a boy. For the holiday, we traveled from Buffalo to Salamanca, N.Y., to the home of my grandparents on Academy Street. My brother, who was older, got to spend the night with our cousins over at their house on Broad Street, at the house of fun, but I, being smaller and in need of closer supervision, spent the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, in Uncle Lee’s old room. My Uncle Lee, who was the youngest of the four Winships of that generation, was grown up and had a family of his own, so his room was empty. It was at the back of the house, with windows overlooking the yard. A backyard in Salamanca in 1950 was a very quiet place. And unless the moon and stars had something going on, it was very dark as well. And this was a house of old, dark wood, and dark wallpaper, too.

And because the wind outside could blow out a candle inside, it was cold. You could have seen your breath in this room, if there had been any light.

But to the bed. It was already a tall bed, and it had a huge set of springs on the frame, and a thick mattress. On top of this was a pile of covers, blankets, quilts. I had to be lifted up into the bed, and then buried in covers. I wasn’t going anywhere.

Fortunately, I liked the dark, and lots of covers, and I liked being alone. And the room had one magical quality. Uncle Lee had been in the Navy, and there hung, on the wall at the head of the bed, a photograph of Uncle Lee with his Navy squadron, a group photo. I am working solely on memory here, but there must have been 100 men in Navy uniforms, with Uncle Lee among them. And in the morning, I could look at the photo and try to find Uncle Lee. It was one of the best parts of Christmas.

Chess, 1864

This is right in so many ways for me. In this photograph by Mathew Brady (the famed Civil War photographer), taken in New York in 1864, we find Miss Minnie Warren and Commodore Nutt, who served as bridesmaid and groomsman to Mr. and Mrs. General Tom Thumb at their famous “fairy wedding,” and they are playing chess. What a fabulous confluence of favorites.

Key West, 1898

“The Key West Hotel was a bedlam of a place while we waited for the war to begin. And when other diversion failed, you could stroll around the corner to the resort known as the ‘Eagle Bird’ where a gentlemanly gambler, as well-groomed as and decorous as Jack Oakhurst, spun the roulette wheel. And there you would be most apt to find Stephen Crane, sometimes bucking the goddess of chance in contented solitude, a genius who burned the candle at both ends and whose spark of life was to be tragically quenched before he was thirty years old. With his tired smile he would drawl these cryptic lines, when about to take another fling at the ‘Eagle Bird’:

‘Oh, five white mice of chance,
Shirts of wool and corduroy pants,
Gold and wine, women and sin,
All for you if you’ll let me come in —
Into the house of chance.'”

— From Roads of Adventure (1922) by Ralph D. Paine, in which Paine, writing about the first days of the Spanish-American War, alludes to “A Passage in the Life of Mr. John Oakhurst” (1874) by Bret Harte and quotes Stephen Crane quoting his own short story, “The Five White Mice” (1898)