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Literary Anecdotes

Barrie, Sir James Matthew

An arrogant young understudy sent Barrie a telegram advising him that the star in one of his plays had taken sick and that he would be playing the leading role that night. Barrie didn't attend but sent a telegram that the young actor received just after his performance. It read: "Thanks for the warning."

A persistant reporter tried to enter Barrie's flat.
"Sir James Barrie, I presume?" he said when Barrie answered the bell.
"You do," Barrie replied and slammed the door in his face.

Blake, William

One bright afternoon Blake and his wife and amanuensis sat nude in their English garden reciting passages from Paradise Lost as if they were sitting in the Garden of Eden. When a visitor called, the poet cried out to him: "Come in! It's only Adam and Eve, you know!"

Chesterton, Gilbert Keith

A corpulent and jolly man who often made jokes at his own expense. One time he remarked, "Just the other day in the Underground I enjoyed the pleasure of offering my seat to three ladies."

Chesterton gave the classic answer to the old question "What book would you most like to have with you on a desert island?" "Thomas's Guide to Practical Shipbuilding", he replied.

Corelli, Marie

"I never married because there was no need. I have three pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband. I have a dog which growls every morning, a parrot which swears all afternoon and a cat that comes home late at night."

Disraeli, Benjamin

A very busy man, dividing his time between his political and literary pursuits, Disraeli had a standard reply, unmatched for diplomatic ambiguity, for wouldbe authors who sent him manuscripts to read. "Many thanks", he would write back, "I shall lose no time in reading it."

Gladstone doubted that Disraeli could make a joke or riposte on any subject, as popular opinion held. Disraeli countered that he could. "Then I challenge you to make a joke about Queen Victoria", Gladstone said. "Sir", Disraeli replied, "Her Majesty is not a subject."

Dryden, John

Dryden lived across from the playwright Thomas Otway in Queen Street. One evening, Otway, stumbling home from a tavern, chalked on the poet's door: "Here lives John Dryden; he is a wit." Recognizing the hand-writing the next day, Dryden chalked on Otway's door: "Here lives Tom Otway; he is opposite."

Shaw, George Bernard

Shaw did not like receiving manuscripts to read from aspiring authors and made it a policy to insult people who imposed upon him in this way. To a young man who sent him a long boring novel, he wrote: "The covers of your book are too far apart."

Shaw was standing alone in a corner at a cocktail party. "Are you enjoying yourself, Mr.Shaw?" his hostess anxiously asked him. "Certainly", he replied. "There is nothing else here to enjoy."

"I often quote myself", Shaw assured a critic. "It adds spice to my conversations."

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley

Two noblemen greeted Sheridan playfully, one of them quipping, "I say, Sherry, we were just discussing whether you were a rogue or a fool." Taking each man by the arm, Sheridan replied, "Why I believe I am midway between both."

Trollope, Frances

Trollope was asked if she patterned her fictional characters on real people. "Of course I draw from life", she said, "but I always pulp my acquaintances before serving them up. You would never recognize a pig in a sausage."

Wilde, Oscar

Sir Lewis Morris, author of a volume of rather mediocre verse entitled The Epic of Hades, was complaining to Wilde about being ignored for the poet laureatship. "It is a complete conspiracy of silence against me - a conspiracy of silence!" he cried. "What ought I to do, Oscar?" "Join it", Wilde replied.

Wilde once confessed that he spent an entire morning pondering a line from which he finally took out a comma. However, he added, he put it back in by the end of the afternoon.

Copyright © 2005, Eva Fitz