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Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

March-April 2013

Michael Comenetz asks where Mark Twain said, approximately, “I don’t know why so much is made of the thoughts of great men. I have had many of the same thoughts, they just had them before me.”

Andrew Schmookler hopes someone can identify a fable he read some 35 years ago. It depicted iron filings making what they thought was their own decision about where to go, when they were in fact being moved by the force of a magnet.

“Lecturers talk while other people sleep” (January-February). Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, writes, “I was unable to find any source details beyond Alfred Capus’s name in the Google results, nor any citations in French quotation dictionaries. Most Web attributions actually credit W. H. Auden rather than Camus or Capus, but there is no reason to believe he is the real coiner. In searching English-language newspaper databases, I find that the Boston Globe, on September 24, 1925, has “Do you talk in your sleep?…I talk in other people’s sleep.…I’m a college professor!” A similar anecdote in the Detroit Free Press of October 22, 1906, has the punch line, “He talks in other people’s sleep. He is a preacher.”

“unornamental men” (January-February). John Gordon identified this excerpt from Morris Bishop’s poem “A View of the Gulf,” published in the July 18, 1964, issue of Saturday Review (xlvii:29; 6).

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