Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Now that's writing



I've become enamored of obituaries lately. A way of coping with my own mortality? Perhaps. Honestly, I don't know why people don't talk about death more. Like, why aren't we talking about it all the time? Specifically: angrily railing about how unfair it is that this THING this horrible THING is going to happen to all of us?! Why isn't it the lead story on every newscast: "UNFAIR INEVITABILITY PERSISTS". Yeah, I got issues.

Anyway, obituaries. I've grown especially fond of this really crazy PT Barnum obit from the New York Times in 1891. Here's some of it:
In arithmetic and every form of calculation he was particularly apt, and one of his earliest recollections, and one which he always mentioned with much pleasure, was that in his tenth year he was called out of bed by his teacher, who had wagered with an acquaintance that in less than five minutes he (the boy) could calculate the number of feet in a given load of wood. After obtaining the dimensions, half asleep as he was, Phineas, much to the delight of his teacher and the discomfiture of the doubting acquaintance, correctly figured out the result in less than two minutes.
Here's some more:
He was by turns a peddler and trader in a small way, a clerk in Brooklyn and New York, the keeper of a small porter house, the proprietor of a village store, and editor of a country newspaper, for writing alleged libels in which he was imprisoned only to be liberated with a grand flourish of trumpets and the congratulations of a crowd.
And more:
Later on he again undertook the management of the museum in New York, and upon its destruction by fire established "the new museum" further up Broadway. It was also burned, and he lost much money.

Anyway, it's long as anything but perhaps you'll enjoy reading it. Or the obit of Einstein.

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3 comments:

Elisabeth Fredrickson said...

Brilliant. I love those long strings of subordinate clauses. Let's see you do that, Twitter! Here's Uncyclopedia making fun of the 19th c. rambling style: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Plain_English

Jeff Miller said...

I am particularly impressed with the opening section of the obituary, in which his dying process itself is a part of the story. It's quite touching (almost like the reporter was a family member present for the whole thing) and achieves the effect of anthropomophizing the celebrity of the man. Celebrity/nortoriety is so abstracting to it's subjects and this was a great way to render him as a person. Also, that's one heck of a story they tell; that's not the sterile reporting that we get these days, for better and worse. I wish we could see something like that written for today.

Dave Sailer said...

Synapses and Tupperware: You'll never be the same after reading "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain", by Michael Paterniti.

Think twice before you try. Really. A friend sent me this as an Xmas present, and now where is he?

Some questions are best left unanswered, I tell ya.