More about Miriam Beard, from Someone Who Knew Her Very Well

Miriam Beard (far right), with her father, Charles (second from left), mother, Mary (third from right), and brother, William (second from right), while visiting Japan

I never knew Miriam Beard. I never had any conversations with her, nor do I have any personal anecdotes about her to tell. So last onth when I discussed her writing and her well-known travel quotation, I was limited to using what I could find in Google searches.

How happy I was then, when after I published my post, I received an email saying, “I really appreciate you bringing the work of my grandmother, Miriam Beard, to the attention of a broader audience.”

No, I never knew Miriam Beard, but now, thanks to Karen Vagts, I’m getting to know her better. And Karen has graciously allowed me to invite you into our conversation, so that you can get to know her grandmother better, too. Thank you, Karen, for sharing this with us:

“My grandmother was a person of immense talents but often under the shadow of her parents, the historians/activists Mary Ritter and Charles Beard, and her husband, the military historian Alfred Vagts; managing their literary output consumed more than her fair share of her time. But she was an immensely talented writer (one of the first women to attend the Columbia School of Journalism and wrote a wonderful series of stories for The New York Times, including an insightful article about the status of women in 1920s Japan) and published a two-volume History of Business. She was however very modest about her achievements, which is why her obit was sketchy.

Miriam Beard

“As an American born in England, Miriam perhaps was already predisposed to be a global traveler but her interest in travel was probably sparked by her travels to Asia in the 1920s, when her father was asked by the government of Tokyo to consult about the rebuilding of the city following a major earthquake. The Beards traveled throughout Asia during a very critical time—when the political tremors that would lead to WW2 were starting to vibrate—and that greatly impressed Miriam—I recall that she was particularly fascinated by Shanghai. After she married, she and her husband lived in Hamburg until the Nazis came along and then thereafter she travelled with friends and family wherever she could. She passed along her love to travel to her son and her granddaughters.

“My grandmother sent my father—in between high school and college—to the Experiment in International Living program in Germany. This was in the late 1940s and Dad had the task of sorting bricks from bombed out buildings in Munich for re-use; he then got to wander around Europe for a couple of weeks, a real eye-opener. Ironically, wherever he went in Europe, he was warned about thieves and pickpockets because the post-war situation in Europe was still so dire. But it was not until he landed back in New York Port Authority that his knapsack got stolen!”

“She also funded my sister and my first independent trip to Europe, took us on excursions, and gave us a subscription to National Geographic. She also assumed that being multi-lingual was an innate characteristic. The world might be rather different if everyone had such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled grandparent!

“Much appreciation and I look forward to the time—hopefully in the not-to-distant future when we can all feel comfortable traveling to view the world.”

[photos: “Family of Charles A. Beard,” The DePauw University Archives Documents and Photographs; Miriam Beard, courtesy of Karen Vagts]

Miriam Beard on Travel: A Change in the Ideas of Living

I’ve often wondered how a single phrase finds its way from being buried in a memoir or novel to being plucked out as a stand-on-its-own “quotation.” Of course, the creator of the thought is important, but so is the one who finds it and decides it’s worthy of display on its own.

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.”

When Miriam Beard, the daughter of the American historians, Charles and Mary Beard, wrote Realism in Romantic Japan in 1930, I’m sure more than a few people read it. (In 1961, the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs called it “the most popular book of the day on Japan.”) But I doubt that many stumble across it today. In fact, it didn’t warrant mention in her New York Times obituary in 1983. That honor went to her History of the Business Man, which she published in 1937. But even that work isn’t what she’s best known for now. Google her name and what rises to the top is a single sentence from her work about Japan:

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Who knows who originally brought this quotation to the attention of the masses? I’ll probably never find out, but I’d like to think that that person recognized Beard’s insight in the surrounding text. The passage comes in a chapter titled “First Timers,” in which Beard discusses how multiple experiences in a new culture bring about a growth in impressions, ultimately leading to the ability to “sympathize” (though not necessarily in the way you might think). Here is how she describes the three phrases of this progression:

If, at each repetition of a bowing, a chopstick meal, a song or a garden, my impressions were different—”how” I asked myself, “am I ever to know what I think of these things”? Should I live a hundred years before I have the right to speak my mind on any thing? If I shudder at a song the first time, and love it the last—at which stage have I the right to describe my sensations? What are impressions? Are they worth anything?

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. History is handled no longer as a mere chronicle of dates but as a progression from one stage to a succeeding. So travel is no mere heaping up of episodes but an evolution. It is of constant development and not of fixed judgment that I dare to write: of the steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life.

There are phases in this process. The earliest is a sense of bewilderment in the number and variety of scenes, gorgeous, comical, or amazing, that the East presents. It seems that two weeks in Tokyo are like a ten-minute trip through an overcrowded museum. You must rush, staring and crying out, through rooms and corridors, without a pause. The feet grow heavy as basalt rocks; the optic nerves, bruised by a thousand images, refuse to register; and the mind seeking in vain some balance in all the maze, turns round and round on itself like a kaleidoscope or a pin-wheel.

. . . . .

The sensation of living on a new planet—that is the second stage. “Home,” “America,” recede from the mind, seem farther and farther away. Nearer and nearer draw the problems and the drama of all Asia: Siam, Ceylon, Borneo, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Korea, China, and Russia the Colossus.

. . . . .

All at once a third period breaks. It becomes suddenly possible to be, not merely a spectator at a strange show, but a participant. Oriental life catches up the visitor in its swift current; and he finds that, after all, it is possible to feel at ease behind the closed gates.

. . . . .

People as well as buildings ceased to seem curiosities, as I learned to know their hobbies, families, careers, unhappiness and hope. No, I was not so perpetually startled now—far more absorbed. perhaps had ceased to observe, so clearly and directly; but then I had unexpectedly begun to sympathize.

I like this idea that the final goal of travel is to arrive at sympathy—not in the sense of pity, or even compassion. Rather it’s the true “feeling together” that the word means. This kind of sympathy is a destination not easily reached, but, as Beard writes, it’s an “evolution,” a “steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life” that is well worth the time and effort that it takes to get there.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 8, Houghton Mifflin, 1876; Walter Moonaughy, “American Image of Japan,” address given to the Japan-American Society of Washington at the National Press Club, October 2, 1961; Miriam Beard, Realism in Romantic Japan, MacMillan, 1930)

[photo: “Kissako – 喫茶去,” by Christian Kaden, used under a Creative Commons license]

“It’s a Small World”—More than Just a (Temporarily Closed) Disney Ride

30648716547_2546f842fe_c

While practicing physical distancing and social friendliness in our front yard, I found out that one of our neighbors has her own travel blog. Small world, huh?

Kate’s blog is All Kids Can Travel, and in it she shares how to make the most of trips with little ones (she and her husband have four) and how to learn about the world from the comfort of your home. A few years ago, when they had three children in diapers, they decided to forego the plane rides and created their own “home travel adventures.”

After selecting a country, the trip began. “The kids had a blast packing their roller carry-ons with their favorite things,” Kate writes. “While that country’s music played in the background, we would pretend to be border agents,” speaking with foreign accents and inspecting pretend passports. Later, as their children grew older, their in-home treks developed into real-life excursions, in-state, out-of-state, and abroad.

It will be a while before families will be able to get out and about, so until then, you might want to download some activity packets and pages from All Kids Can Travel. Or if you’d like to dream about your next outing, how about taking a look at Kate’s “Do’s and Don’ts of Walt Disney World“?

Just imagine your crew in a newly reopened Disney park climbing into an It’s-a-Small-World boat with the It’s-a-Small-World tune working its way into your subconscious . . . on repeat.

It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all
It’s a small world, after all

Oops, got carried away there.

It’s a small, small world

So where did this catchy song, and the catchy phrase behind it, come from?

First, let’s look at the song.

When Walt Disney was tasked with creating an attraction for the Pepsi/UNICEF pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, he in turn tasked brothers Robert and Richard Sherman to create a theme song. Disney wanted a simple song that could be translated into multiple languages and sung in overlapping rounds. What he got was “It’s a Small World.” The boat ride, with its music, debuted at Disneyland two years later.

But Disney’s musical rendition wasn’t the first “It’s a Small World” . . . after all. No, that would be 1920’s “It’s a Small World after All,” with words by Andrew Sterling and music by Harry Von Tilzer. Sterling had earlier written the lyrics for “Meet Me in St. Louis” (for the 1904 World’s Fair), and Von Tilzer was the composer of 1911’s “I Want a Girl (Just like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad).”

Did you give it a listen? It’s not quite as catchy, but somewhat memorable in it’s own way.

To find the ancestry of the phrase It’s a small world, we’ll have to go back even further.

In 1882, Walter Bicknell put the words in the mouth of Iphigenia, servant of the eccentric Edgar Chatterton, in “The Player’s Child.” Chatterton finds Iphigenia looking at one of his books by Shakespeare:

“Have I not told you never to touch those sacred tomes, girl?” said her master, picking up the  book himself and touching with some care of manner.

“Well, I’m sure! I never went for to touch it! But there’s more dust in them nasty tombs—”

“Hence, Maiden, hence! I blush for the man or woman who applies the epithet ‘nasty’ to anything pertaining to the Bard of Stratford, Nature’s child.”

Iphigenia paused in silent reflection for a moment, and then said with a triumphant air:

“Out Stratford way, sir? Lor, then my mother must have known Mrs. Nature and them little Natures. She took in washing at Bow, and had a long circulation of shirts and handkerchiefs out by Stratford. It’s a small world, sir”

Iphigenia uses the phrase as we often do today, as in “Who would have thought that we’d know the same people?”

In 1875, Samuel James’ usage, though, has him talking about the physical size of the planet:

God cares about earth, and does not bound His love by the boundary line of heaven. Some people say, He is too great and glorious to care for such a little world as this of ours. It is, indeed, a small world compared with some of those twinkling star which we see in the midnight sky. But it is, for all that, an important world.

And in 1873, British author and army general George Chesney wrote A True Reformer, from the viewpoint of the character Mr. West. West and his wife, Eva, are traveling to Leatherwood to visit her aunts, and a Mr. Patterson sees them off:

This is a small world we live in,” said the old gentleman, as he bid us good-bye. “Only think that Mrs West should have been brought up at Leatherby, a place I know so well. The fact is that one of the members, Mr Sheepshanks, is a very old friend. A most truly excellent man he is, indeed, and owns half the town. I wish you could know him. I would send an introduction and ask him to call and see you, but that I know it would be of no use. He never visits anywhere.”

That brings us back to today’s meaning, if not the exact wording, and it’s the oldest such phrase that I, and others around the internet, have found.

For Iphigenia and Mr. Patterson, it’s enough to refer to the residents of nearby towns to show how small the world is. But today, our internet-linked world is even smaller, as we can find connections to people all over the globe, with, in theory, no more than six degrees of separation between any two of us.

We may be isolating ourselves at home right now, but some of us are out walking more and having more conversations with our neighbors. And social distancing is increasing our penchant for social networking online, which, in turn, is diminishing the gaps in our world, which truly is becoming

Smaller
Smaller
Smaller, after all

Walter Bicknell, “The Player’s Child,” The Theatre: A Monthly Review of the Drama, Music, and the Fine Arts, January to June, Clement Scott, ed., Charles Dickens and Evans, 1882; Samuel James, “Church Proverbs,”  The Headington Magazine, vol. 7, Oxford, 1875; George Chesney, A True Reformer, vol. 1, William Blackwood and Sons, 1873

[photo: “It’s a small world,” by tsukikageyuu, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Reports of Mark Twain’s Travel Quotations Are Somewhat Exaggerated

USS_Quaker_City
Quaker City, Mark Twain’s steamship in The Innocents Abroad

In 1866 and 1867, Mark Twain wrote a number of letters to the San Francisco newspaper Alta California, detailing his travels from California to New York, by way of Nicaragua. In 1940 they were collected and published under the title Mark Twain’s Travels with Mr. Brown. In one of those letters, a dispatch from New York dated May 18, 1867, we find what has become one of his more famous quotations on travel:

[N]othing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.

In context, Twain is describing “The Traveller’s Club”:

That is a human institution. Its President is a Californian, and its members hail from more places than there are on the Atlas. They have kindly complimented me with the privileges of the place for a month, and I went up the other night at ten and spent a very pleasant evening till two or three o’clock in the morning.

Of course I met pleasant people, because nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people. An Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotchman, an Italian or so, several Frenchmen and a number of Americans were present, and you couldn’t ask a question about any possible country under the sun, but some fellow in the crowd had been there and could give the information from personal experience. . . .

They said they were going to send me a formal invitation to make a speech before the Club, as Du Chaillu did, and I said I would be glad to accept it, but I did not know then that they go and invite a whole raft of ladies to be present on such occasions, to look at a poor victim and make him lose his grip, and so I hope they will forget to send the invitation, now.

You ought to start a Travellers’ Club in San Francisco. You have got an abundance of material, and that sort of an organization is much pleasanter than political one-idea affairs, such as clubs generally are.

Subsequent letters to Alta California didn’t need to wait so long to be put into book form. Published in 1869, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, chronicles his trip to Europe and the Holy Land and became a classic in travel literature. Volume two of the book contains an even more popular (in my estimation) travel quotation, in the form of

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

The full paragraph is as follows:

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Twain’s view sounds right, but don’t take my word for it, just ask SCIENCE. As reported in PsyPost, researcher Jiyin Cao says that he and his colleagues were “intrigued” by Twain’s quotation, so they conducted five studies to test the idea. The results suggest that Twain knew what he was talking about:

In this paper, my coauthors and I tested this assumption: Does travel make people more trusting? Does travel lead people to have a more charitable view of humanity? Given the trend toward globalization and the increasing popularity of foreign travel, this will be an important and interesting question to explore. In addition, we compared two aspects of foreign experiences: the number of countries one visits (breadth) and the length of time one spends abroad (depth), and explored which one plays a critical role in the process. Across five studies, using different research methods including a longitudinal study, we found that breadth but not depth of foreign experiences increases generalized trust. In other words, the more countries one travels, the more trusting one is. Breadth is important here, because breadth provides a great level of diversity in people’s foreign travel experiences, allowing them to reach such a generalized assumption.

Earlier in The Innocents Abroad, Twain has more to say about the benefits of travel: self awareness. (This one I don’t see quoted much.)

The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother.

And then there’s the well known

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Yes, Twain had a lot of things to say about travel . . . but this last quotation isn’t one of them. Despite many online and offline sources attributing it to Twain, Quote Investigator‘s Garson O’Toole finds it no earlier than in 1990, when H. Jackson Brown, Jr. included it in his book P. S. I Love You. The inspirational author credits the saying to his mother, Sarah Frances Brown.

And as long as we’re trekking down this path, so to speak, Twain also didn’t say, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” (I know, this is stretching the travel theme a bit, but the word is in there.)

Back to O’Toole: He writes that Bonnie Taylor-Blake located the phrase “falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on” in an 1820 issue of the Portland Gazette. And then in 1821, William Tudor, in The North American Review, ascribed “a Lie would travel from Maine to Georgia while Truth was getting on his boots” to congressman Fisher Ames. In Twain’s writings, though, nothing similar appears.

Bummer! Mark Twain didn’t say everything.

But now I’ll leave this discussion on a more positive note—positive because here’s something that did come from Twain, and positive because it recognizes another beneficial aspect of getting out and about. With Huckleberry Finn as his spokesperson (a passenger, by the way, in a boat held aloft by a balloon, floating around the world), Twain wrote the following in 1894:

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.

Yes, Huck, you said it. You sure did. And I figger we don’t need no research to know that it’s true.

(Mark Twain, “Letter 18,Alta California, June 23, 1867; Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, American, 1869; Eric Dolan, “New Study Confirms Mark Twain’s Saying: Travel Is Fatal to Prejudice,” PsyPost, December 9, 2013; Garson O’Toole, “Twenty Years from Now You Will Be More Disappointed by the Things You Didn’t Do than by the Ones You Did Do,” Quote Investigator, September 29, 2011; O’Toole, “A Lie Can Travel Halfway around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes,” Quote Investigator, July 13, 2014; Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Charles L. Webster, 1894)

[illustration: USS Quaker City,” by Clary Ray, c. 1890, public domain]

No Matter Where We Are, We’re All Looking at the Same Moon . . . Unless It’s Made in China

9240816023_9934fbec6e_z

The Saying

Who said, “No matter where you are you will always be looking at the same moon as I am”?

Romance writer Nicholas Sparks in Dear John? Nope. Immigrant mouse Fievel Mousekewitz in An American Tale? Nope again, though I’ve seen both credited. “Anonymous” is the best source I’ve found (though I’m open to any well-documented suggestions).

My searching, though, did turn up an interesting passage from African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth, in her Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave. The words aren’t exactly the same, but the sentiment is there—regardless of how far apart people are, they can still feel connected when they share the sight of the moon overhead.

In her autobiography, dictated to Olive Gilbert, Truth (born Isabella Baumfree) tells about her mother’s lessons for her and her younger brother. Mau-mau, as her daughter called her, had “some ten or twelve children” in all, but the older ones had been sold and taken away from her. Though Mau-mau Bett, the daughter of slaves from Guinea, spoke Low Dutch, Truth presents her words translated into English:

‘My children, there is a God, who hears and sees you.’ ‘A God, mau-mau! Where does he live?’ asked the children. ‘He lives in the sky,’ she replied; ‘and when you are beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of him, and he will always hear and help you.’ She taught them to kneel and say the Lord’s prayer. She entreated them to refrain from lying and stealing, and to strive to obey their masters.

At times, a groan would escape her, and she would break out in the language of the Psalmist—‘Oh Lord, how long?’ ‘Oh Lord, how long?’ And in reply to Isabella’s question—‘What ails you, mau-mau?’ her only answer was, ‘Oh, a good deal ails me’—‘Enough ails me.’ Then again, she would point them to the stars, and say, in her peculiar language, ‘Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other.

Thus, in her humble way, did she endeavor to show them their Heavenly Father, as the only being who could protect them in their serious condition; at the same time, she would strengthen and brighten the chain of family affection, which she trusted extended itself sufficiently to connect the widely scattered members of her precious flock.

It’s an idea that crosses continents, languages, and cultures. It’s lasted hundreds of years and very well should last forever. Many miles. One moon. What could possibly disrupt that mathematical simplicity?

Maybe some extra moons?

The Variation

According to China Daily, scientists in China have plans to put an artificial moon in place above the city of Chengdu by the year 2020. Covered with a reflective coating, the satellite would be able to reflect sunlight onto the earth’s surface at night in the same way that the real moon does. But the made-in-China moon would be eight times brighter, says Wu Chunfeng, head of the Tian Fu New Area Science Society. Other improvements over the natural moon are that it’s location and brightness could be controlled and it could be turned off if needed.

If successful, the moon over Chengdu would provide lighting one-fifth as bright as regular streetlights, and could save $174 million per year in electricity costs. If the first, experimental, moon is successful, says Wu, the plan is to launch three more in 2022, with those three being “the real deal with great civic and commercial potential.”

If you think it sounds like a bad idea—or maybe too good to be true—you can join the skeptics in the following video:

But don’t count the Chinese out just yet. They already have some experience in creating less-than-celestial bodies. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, China has built two islands, one circular, like the sun, and the other in the shape of a crescent moon. Located in Sun Moon Bay in the waters off Hainan, the two pieces of land cover approximately one square kilometer (about a third of a mile). The moon island was begun by private developers in 2015 (go to the Bloomberg article for a photo), but China has since banned such commercial projects because of environmental damage.

China has more credentials on the sun-building front as well. In 2006 (back to China Daily again for details), scientists in China brought its “artificial sun,” the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), online. EAST is a tokamak magnetic fusion reactor located in Heifei that last year reached a record 100 million degrees Celsius (over 180,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s over six times hotter than the sun up in the sky.

And finally, in January, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. BBC reports that one of the purposes of the Chang’e-4’s mission is to gain “insights into the internal structure and history of the Moon.” Sounds as if that knowledge could come in handy for building a new one.

The Music

But until China’s lunar creativity comes to fruition, Mau-mau Bett’s words will still hold true. And the belief they represent will continue to be the stuff of longings, of comfort, and of song:

(Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828, with a Portrait, Olive Gilbert, ed., 1850; Zhang Zhihao, “Man-Made Moon to Shed Light on Chengdu in 2020,” China Daily, October 19, 2018; Sim Chi Yin, “Dubai Has Palm Islands, but China Has a Sun, Moon, and Flower,” Bloomberg Businessweek, March 4, 2019; Cao Zinan, “China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ Achieves Major Breakthrough,” China Daily, November 13, 2018; Paul Rincon, “What Does China Want to Do on the Moon’s Far Side?BBC, January 4, 2019)

[photo: “Moon,” by Milos Golubovic, used under a Creative Commons license]

A Treatise about Frogs: On the Boiling, Swallowing, Eating, and Metaphorizing of Such

5549035548_18bf1e156c_z

A Frog in Every Pot

A frog likes water, but not hot water — Swahili proverb

You’ve heard it said that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put it in cool water that you slowly bring to a boil, the frog won’t notice and will eventually die. It’s supposed to demonstrate how people often find themselves victims of tragic circumstances that are introduced incrementally—and they don’t realize it until it’s too late.

Whenever I hear this frog story, I think of two questions: 1) Is it true? and 2) Why in the world would you boil a live frog?

The answers should be simple, right? Well, think again.

German physiologist Friedrich Gotz comes close to answering both questions with experiments he conducted 150 years ago, publishing the results in 1869. According to the English philosopher, literary critic, and scientist George Henry Lewes, writing in Nature in 1873, Gotz was testing for the presence of a “spinal soul” in frogs. To that end, he placed a frog in water that was slowly heated. At 25º C (77º F), the frog “manifest[ed] uneasiness” and as the heat increased, “vainly struggl[ed] to get out.” This was in contrast to another frog, exposed to the same conditions, from which Gotz had previously removed its brain. As the water grew warmer, the brainless frog, while responding to other stimuli, “never once attempt[ed] to escape the impending death,” which came about at 56º C (132.8º F).

Put a tally down for “not true,” since the first frog would have gotten out if it had been allowed to, and the second one expired under less than normal circumstances.

In the years that followed, several scientists, in several countries, replicated Gotz’s experiments, with some verifying, and some contradicting his results. In his “On Variations of Reflex-Excitability in the Frog, Induced by Changes of Temperature,” MIT professor William Thomas Sedgwick gave a summary in 1888 of the research. He writes that J. Tarchanow (Russia, 1871) and M. Foster (England, 1873) show that normal frogs try to escape gradually heated water, while A. Heinzmann (Germany, 1872) and Carl Fratscher (Germany, 1875) show that a gradual increase in temperature results in the frogs’ death. Sedgwick concludes that the differences in results come down to the definition of “gradual.” While a gradual increase in the heat of the water may cause a frog to at least try to escape, a “sufficiently gradual” increase will not.

14738939591_f9f1cb9638_z

In a more modern look at the situation, in 1995, Fast Company consulted George R. Zug, curator of reptiles and amphibians at the National Museum of Natural History, and Harvard University Biology Department’s Doug Melton. The two agree that the science behind the boiling-frog metaphor is complete bunkum (with Zug using more colorful language). First, they say, frogs put in boiling water will not jump out, they will simply die (I’ve ignored this half of the scenario until now). Second, a frog won’t sit still long enough to be boiled in slowly heated water.

Australian science broadcaster Karl Kruszelnicki jumped in in 2011 with his own rebuttal of the yay-sayers. Not only does he quote University of Oklahoma herpetologist Victor Hutchison, who declares, “The legend is entirely incorrect!” he also points to a book written by Yale’s Edward Wheeler Scripture in 1897, using it to refute one of the earlier experiments. In The New Psychology, Scripture writes about research (he lists Heinzmann, Fratscher, and Sedgwick as possible sources) in which the water containing the frog was heated at the rate of .002º C per second over 2 1/2 hours. Kruszelnicki does the math for this example and finds it impossible. But in the interesting and well-sourced post “The Boiling Frog Tale Is Not a Myth,” a self-described “second-generation Asian INTP male expatriate” disputes Kruszelnicki’s disputation. He writes that Scripture’s reference is to an experiment by Heinzmann, and a look at Heinzmann’s original text shows that Scripture got the facts wrong.

So here’s my conclusion. Will frogs jump out of boiling water? No. Will they die in water gradually heated to boiling? Um . . . maybe.

We’ll probably never have a definitive answer for the boiling-frog metaphor, as slowly boiling live frogs is frowned upon in today’s general community. It is interesting to note, that it was not so popular even back in the days of Gotz, et. al. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Practice of Subjecting Live Animals to Experiments for Scientific Purposes, published in 1876, records the response of the aforementioned Lewes, to the questions, “But would you give us an instance or two of the most distressing experiments that you have performed? Have you ever performed Goltz’s experiment of boiling a frog till it died?” Lewes answers, “No; but to disprove his conclusion, I dipped a frog [from which the brain had been removed] in boiling water.”

At the same proceedings, British physician Arthur de Noé Walker gives examples of what he considers inhumane experiments, “in the hope of convincing [the commission] how urgently legal interference is called for in order to check and control the practice of performing experiments on living animals.” One such experiment was performed by the French physiologist Claude Bernard, who created gastric fistulas in dogs and inserted live frogs into the openings to observe their responses to the gastric juices. Not only was this cruel, he explains, but it was also “against the order of nature.” “Dogs do not swallow live frogs,” he says, “and frogs do not jump down into the stomachs of dogs.”

This last one sounds like a horrible experiment, but it does serve as a nice segue into my next topic.

(The Prentice-Hall Encyclopedia of World Proverbs, Wolfgang Mieder, ed., MJF, 1986; George Henry Lewes, “Sensation in the Spinal Cord,” Nature: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science, vol. 9, December 4, 1873; William Thomas Sedgwick, “On Variations of Reflex-Excitability in the Frog, Induced by Changes of Temperature,” Studies from the Biological Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University, vol. 2, Murray, 1888; “Next Time, What Say We Boil a Consultant?” Fast Company, November 31, 1995; Edward Scripture, The New Psychology, Scribner’s 1897; The Boiling Frog Tale Is Not a Myth,” INTP things, November 16, 2017; Report of the Royal Commission on the Practice of Subjecting Live Animals to Experiments for Scientific Purposes, George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, eds., 1876)

2996087569_b0d33e7d7f_z

Got a Frog in Your Throat?

As odd as it may seem, some people like to swallow frogs—live and whole and with no boiling necessary. Take, for instance, Englander George Augustus Sala, who thought it not unnatural at all for frogs to hop into someone’s stomach. He wrote in 1863,

When you were a little boy at school, you probably ate a good many frogs. Our practice was, when we had caught them, to pinch our nostrils with the fingers of one hand, and holding the dapper little froggee lightly with the other, to allow him to jump down our throats. There was a tradition among us that to swallow live frogs (for the process could not be called eating) made a boy strong and valorous, and almost insentient to the cuts of the cane. As we advanced in years we took a distaste for frogs. We were patriots. We grew to hate frogs because we heard that the French liked them and that they formed a principal item in the diet of that vivacious and ingenious people.

But frog swallowing hasn’t been limited only to the young. The Hungarian-born illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini writes about the “repulsive” frog swallowing performers of his day, finding only one, a Frenchman named Norton, “who presented his act in a dignified manner.” The two performed on the same program at the Circus Busch, Berlin, which gave Houdini a front-row seat. He recounts one instance where the act didn’t go quite as planned:

Norton could swallow a number of half-grown frogs and bring them up alive. I remember his anxiety on one occasion when returning to his dressing-room; it seems he had lost a frog—at least he could not account for the entire flock—and he looked very much scared, probably at the uncertainty as to whether or not he had to digest a live frog.

Modern-day American magician and escapologist David Blain does not share Houdini’s disgust. In fact, he’s devoted much effort into honing his frog gurgitation and regurgitation skills.

Mr. Sala, Mr. Blaine, and Norton’s practices aside, most people see only the negatives of frog swallowing. Take, for instance, the women of northeast Brazil. When they refer to the pain of holding in anger and resentment and quietly tolerating unfairness, they call it “swallowing frogs.”

And wasn’t it Mark Twain who said,“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”? Actually, no.

Though the saying is often attributed to the American author, Garson O’Toole, of the Quote Investigator, tells us that a similar phrase predates Twain by many years. It appeared in French in the 1790s, with the publication of writer Nicolas Chamfort’s Oeuvres de Chamfort (Works of Chamfort). In 1851, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve published Causeries du Lundi (Monday Chats), which included the relevant passage by Chamfort, translated into English. In it, Chamfort refers to M. de Lassay, whom he uses as his “mouthpiece” in his writings:

Nature, in overwhelming us with misery and giving us an unconquerable attachment to life, seems to have behaved to man like an incendiary who sets fire to our house, after placing sentries at our doors. The danger must be very great to oblige us to leap out of a window.

M. de Lassay, a very indulgent man, but with a great knowledge of society, said that we should swallow a toad every morning, in order to fortify ourselves against the disgust of the rest of the day, when we have to spend it in society.

I’ve also seen no evidence that Mark Twain ever said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

(George Augustus Sala, Breakfast in Bed; or, Philosophy between the Sheets: A Series of Indigestible Discources, Bradburn, 1863; Harry Houdini, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods: A Complete Exposé of the Modus Operandi of Fire Eaters, Heat Resisters, Poison Eaters, Venomous Reptile Defiers, Sword Swallowers, Human Ostriches, Strong Men, Etc. Dutton, 1920; L. A. Rebhun, “Swallowing Frogs: Anger and Illness in Northeast Brazil,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 1994; Garson O’Toole, “Eat a Live Frog Every Morning, and Nothing Worse Will Happen to You the Rest of the Day,” Quote Investigator, April 3, 2013; Nicolas Chamfort, Oevres de Chamfort, tome 4, 1795; Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du Lundi, vol. 7, E. J. Trechmann, trans., Routledge, 1851)

185591372_832f1309f2_z

Tastes like Chicken

It’s not that Twain was averse to eating frogs, per se. It’s just that they needed to be prepared the right way (and I assume he preferred only the hind legs.) In his account of his travels through Europe, A Tramp Abroad, Twain writes that during his trip he longs for the familiar food of the States:

It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive—as follows. . . .

He then goes on to provide a lengthy menu of his favorite foods, beginning with “Radishes. Baked apples, with cream. Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs. American coffee, with real cream. American butter,” and “Fried chicken, Southern Style. . . .”

Of course, the French like their frog legs, too. And while they do eat their share of cuisses de grenouille, they’re far from alone.

According to the global study “Canapés to Extinction,” the EU is the largest importer of frog legs, followed by the US, Canada, and Japan—though when only countries are ranked, the US comes out on top. In the EU, France isn’t even the leading nation. That distinction goes to Belgium, and by a wide margin.

And it’s not just the legs of frogs that find their way onto tables worldwide. Here’s a sampling: The “wildlife trade specialists” at TRAFFIC, report that frogs are “an important food source” in West Africa, where they’re dried or fried whole—with or without disemboweling—for consumption. A dish in Indonesia is pepes telur kodok, frog eggs cooked in banana leaves. And a search on the internet will garner videos of a Japanese woman eating “live” frog sashimi (sushi), a woman in China chewing frogs whole, and another woman in China spoon feeding her toddler tadpoles. Who needs a circus when you have YouTube.

16290958581_e358fc261c_z

So where do all these frogs come from? Back to frog legs, the top exporters are Indonesia, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, in that order. The world’s leading suppliers used to be India and Bangladesh, but over harvesting decimated their frog populations, leading the two countries to ban frog exports in the late 80s. It is feared, say the writers of “Canapés to Extinction,” that Indonesia may be headed to the same fate.

I would guess that if the residents of a country, such as Indonesia, were to wake up one day and all their frogs were gone, they would bemoan not only the loss of income, but also the absence of the frogs’ role in controlling mosquitos and agricultural pests. But as long as the decrease in the frog population is slow, it’s hard for them to recognize how bad things are getting—maybe even until there’s no turning back.

Hmmmm, that reminds me of a story.

(Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, American, 1880; Sandra Altherr, Alejandra Goyenechea and D.J. Schubert, “Canapés to Extinction: The International Trade in Frogs’ Legs and Its Ecological Impact,” Pro Wildlife, 2016; M. Mohneke, et al., “Dried or Fried: Amphibians in Local and Regional Food Market in West Africa” TRAFFIC Bulletin, vol. 22, no. 3, 2010; 

[photos: “Big Red,” by Matt MacGillivray, used under a Creative Commons license; “Frog,” by Mike Maguire, used under a Creative Commons license; “Frog,” by Jon Wiley, used under a Creative Commons license; “kermit’s legs,” by Chewy Chua, used under a Creative Commons license; “Dried Frogs,” by Shawn Harquail, used under a Creative Commons license]

“Wherever You Go, There You Are” and Other Such Words of Wisdom

6170496511_0a3b07b582_z

Somewhere, in one of the back rooms of the internet, sits a frazzle-haired, bespectacled gentleman thumbing through a box of yellowed index cards. On each card is typed out a well-known saying, often in multiple versions, and it’s the man’s job to assign to each one a source. He doesn’t track down the actual origin, but rather he writes down who it sounds as if might have come from. To do this, he refers to a wall chart over his desk that shows a spectrum of names, ranging from the profound—Confucius—to the nonsensical— Yogi Berra—with prominent figures filling in the space in between. His assignments go out to the many and sundry quotation sites around the world wide web. After he’s worked his way through all the cards, he refills the box and starts again. His is the Office of Misattribution.

Even with such an imprecise methodology, it seems odd that a single quotation could be assigned to both ends of the authorial range: Confucius and Yogi Berra. But at least one phrase has that distinction:

Wherever you go, there you are.

(also with the versions “No matter where you go . . .” and “Wheresoever you go . . .”)

First off, I’ll say that I’ve seen no real evidence for its origin. (As I’ve written before, it’s the kind of thing my father would attribute to Shakespeare, but he was just kidding.) Google searches most often show it belonging to Confucius, or, more specifically, coming from the The Analects of Confucius. But when I go to The Analects, I don’t find it, nor anything close. I’m thinking that those who claim Confucius as the source would lean toward explaining the meaning of the phrase as “You can’t escape yourself. No matter your new location, you will bring your past, your faults, your regrets with you.”

Those who would claim the saying belongs to Yogi Berra would probably think it’s simply stating the obvious: “You are where you are.” But I’m pretty sure Berra, who subtitled a book “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” didn’t create it either. He was, though, in the same ballpark, so to speak, when he came up with

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

In another perspective on the theme, the popular spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle talks about intentionally being present in the moment, when in his book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, he says:

Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the Now. The Now, of course, also implies the here. Are you resisting your here and now? Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their “here” is never good enough. Through self-observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally.

The Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote something similar 47 years earlier in his journal:

Wherever you are, be all there.

To this, he added, “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The idea behind these last two selections reminds me of the phrase

Bloom where you are planted.

Who originally said that? According to the internet, it might be Mary Engelbreit, Paul Harvey, Mother Teresa, Cory Booker (with blossom instead of bloom), Nardi Reeder Campion’s Aunt Grace, Nancy Reader Campion’s Aunt Grace, St. Francis of Sales, an Afghan proverbist, or someone in the Bible. The Office of Misattribution certainly has been busy on that one.


(Yogi Berra, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes, 2001; Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Namaste, 1997; Elisabeth Elliot, ed., The Journals of Jim Elliot, Revell, 1978)

[photo: “Compass,” by Walt Stoneburner, used under a Creative Commons license]

Man Proposes, God Disposes: One Man Said It, Another Painted It

Manproposesgoddisposes.jpg

I hope that none of your your travels turn out like what’s depicted in the artwork above. The oil painting, completed by Edwin Henry Landseer in 1864, shows two polar bears ravaging what’s left of Sir John Franklin’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage, a sailable path through the Arctic Ocean from Europe to India and China. Franklin set out in 1845 with two ships and their crews, totaling 134 men. Three years later, the ships became stuck in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and all had to set out on foot (except for five who had been sent home shortly after the voyage began). After walking away from their vessels, named the Erebus—after Greek mythology’s personification of darkness—and the Terror, none survived.

The explorer John Rae, in 1854, came across some Inuit who were carrying personal items  from the Franklin expedition. They had collected them from abandoned campsites, where they had also found signs of cannibalism amongst the crew.

The title of the painting, Man Proposes, God Disposes, says something about the sometimes harsh intersection of humanity’s plans with divine governance. But the artist’s intention may have had less to do with theology and more to do with portraying the hubris of an English society that felt nothing could stand in the way of its forward progress.

Even though the men of the Franklin expedition seemed well-prepared, many today call the trek “doomed” from the beginning. The New York Times Magazine reports that the two ships carried enough food for three years, including “32,289 pounds of preserved meat, 1,008 pounds of raisins and 580 gallons of pickles.” But that may have been as much a curse as a blessing.

In 1850, a search party of Americans and British found three graves on Beechey Island, Canada, containing the bodies of three crew members who had died in 1846. Canadian anthropologist Owen Beattie, in 1984, dug up the graves and performed autopsies on the bodies. He found they contained high levels of lead, leading him to believe that the crew had been poisoned by their food, stored in tins with lead solder.

Four years ago, underwater archaeologists with Parks Canada discovered the Erebus at the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf. Ryan Harris, lead diver of the group, says that the mission’s fate was already sealed from the day they set out, not because of errors from its leader, but by poor planning from those above him. ‘‘Franklin and his men were doomed the moment they received orders from the admiralty. He followed those orders to a T and into the worst choke point in the Arctic Archipelago,” Harris tells The New Yorker Magazine. “The notion that Franklin was anything but a sterling naval officer I just can’t accept. He followed his orders faithfully and died.’’

Landseer’s Man Proposes, God Disposes now hangs in the College Picture Gallery of Royal Holloway, University of London, where it can be viewed throughout the year, except during exams. At that time, the painting is covered with the Union Jack, as legend says that students who look at the image will fail their tests . . . or slip into madness.

That tells us about the subject of Landeer’s painting, but where did the title come from? The phrase “Man proposes, God disposes” is not original to the artist (and it doesn’t come from the Bible, either, as many assume—at least not directly). Rather, it first appeared in The Imitation of Christ, written by Thomas à Kempis in the early 15th century. The relevant passage is in book 1, chapter 19, titled “Of the Exercise of a Religious Man,” which discusses a Christian’s consistency in keeping daily devotions. While Landseer’s use of “Man proposes, God disposes” is a look back on failed plans, Thomas à Kempis’s usage has a somewhat different bent, more of a call to rely on God’s help to reach a plan’s fulfillment.

The life of a Christian ought to be adorned with all virtues, that he may be inwardly what he outwardly appeareth unto men. And verily it should be yet better within than without, for God is a discerner of our heart, Whom we must reverence with all our hearts wheresoever we are, and walk pure in His presence as do the angels. We ought daily to renew our vows, and to kindle our hearts to zeal, as if each day were the first day of our conversion, and to say, “Help me, O God, in my good resolutions, and in Thy holy service, and grant that this day I may make a good beginning, for hitherto I have done nothing!”

According to our resolution so is the rate of our progress, and much diligence is needful for him who would make good progress. For if he who resolveth bravely oftentimes falleth short, how shall it be with him who resolveth rarely or feebly? But manifold causes bring about abandonment of our resolution, yet a trivial omission of holy exercises can hardly be made without some loss to us. The resolution of the righteous dependeth more upon the grace of God than upon their own wisdom; for in Him they always put their trust, whatsoever they take in hand. For man proposeth, but God disposeth; and the way of a man is not in himself.

While the wording “Man proposes, God disposes” (“Nam homo proponit, sed Deus disponit in Latin), is not found in the Bible, the idea behind it is.

There is Proverbs 16:9 (NIV),

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

and Proverbs 19:21 (NIV),

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Also, the phrase following “Man proposes, God disposes” in Imitation of Christ, comes from Jeremiah 10:23, in the King James Version:

O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

Let me repeat, I hope that none of your travels turn out like what’s depicted in Landseer’s painting.

Instead, as you resolve to explore new territories, whether that be through outward excursions or inner searchings, may you be hemmed in as gently as  possible, when necessary. And when you’re striving down the right path, may God’s grace strengthen you to continue on.


(Leanne Sharpton, “Artifacts of a Doomed Expedition,” The New York Times Magazine, March 18, 2016; Laura MacCulloch, “The Haunted Painting of Fabled Franklin Ship Discovered in the Canadian Arctic,” The Conversation, September 11, 2014; Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, translated by William Benham [1886], ca 1420)

[artwork: Man Proposes, God Disposes, by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1864, public domain]