David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Conversation, Critics

Conversation

• A man claimed to be a Zen Buddhist and Master of Silence. Although he seldom spoke, he had two disciples who were very eloquent. One day, a Pilgrim visited the Master of Silence in the temple while the disciples were absent. The Pilgrim asked, “What is the Buddha?” The Master of Silence did not speak, but instead looked all around for his disciples. The Pilgrim asked other questions, all of which were met by silence and the Master’s looking around for his disciples, then he thanked the Master of Silence and left. Outside the temple, the Pilgrim met the Master’s two disciples, who asked how the audience had gone. The Pilgrim was enthusiastic: “When I asked him what Buddha is, he turned his face in all directions, implying that human beings are always looking for the Buddha, but actually the Buddha is not to be sought in such a way. And his answers to my other questions were even more impressive—what a remarkable master!” The two disciples then said goodbye to the Pilgrim and went in to see the Master of Silence, who told them, “Where have you been? Some crazy Pilgrim has been driving me mad with impossible questions!”

• Dr. Samuel Johnson did not tolerate fools for very long. At a dinner, someone asked him many personal questions, while volunteering personal information about himself. Dr. Johnson stood it as long as he could, then said, “Sir, you have but two topics: yourself and me. I am sick of both.” On another occasion, a bore sat next to Dr. Johnson and remarked that there were many reasons for drinking to excess. In making his argument, he said, “Drinking drives away care and makes us forget whatever is disagreeable. Would you not allow a man to drink for that reason?” Dr. Johnson replied, “Yes, sir—if he sat next to you.” By the way, James Boswell once asked Dr. Johnson whether good cooks were more essential than good poets. Dr. Johnson replied, “I don’t suppose that there is a dog in town but what thinks so.”

• Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed Sodoma (1477-1549), who apparently enjoyed shocking people, once listed the inhabitants of his house as follows: “Item an owl to frighten witches, two peacocks, two dogs, two cats, a sparrow-hawk and other birds of prey, six fowls, eighteen chicks, two moor fowl and many other birds; to name all of which would only cause confusion. I have, besides these, three abominably wicked beasts, to wit, my three women.” By the way, Henry Fuseli (1741-1823) once was bored by the conversation of some guests, so he suddenly exclaimed, “We had pork for dinner today.” This surprised his guests, one of whom said, “Mr. Fuseli! What an odd remark!” Mr. Fuseli replied, “Why, it is as good as anything you have been saying for the last half-hour.”

• Mr. Justice Hawkins (1817-1907) enjoyed attending the races. While sitting as judge, Mr. Hawkins saw a prisoner say something to a constable, and he asked the constable what the prisoner had said. The constable replied, “I—I would rather not say, your lordship.” However, Mr. Hawkins insisted, and the constable said, “He asked me, your lordship, who that heathen with the sheepskin was, as he had often seen him at the racecourse.”

Critics

• Francis Hodgson Burnett, author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, started a fashion trend for little boys, whom parents made wear black velvet suits with lace; the little boys also had long, curled hair. When, years later, she started to get bad reviews of her books, people speculated that the bad reviews were written by these little boys, who had grown up and wanted revenge. By the way, as a critic, Edgar Allen Poe was merciless, whether criticizing one writer or an entire group of writers. About the writing community in Boston, Massachusetts, he wrote, “Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good.”

• Charles Lamb’s play Mr. H was a dismal failure, with the audience hissing it throughout its performance. According to legend, Mr. Lamb, who was in the audience, joined in the hissing so that no one would think he had written the play. By the way, after the opening-night performance of his play Home Chat, Noel Coward came forward to take a bow. A voice from the audience called out, “We expected better.” Mr. Coward replied, “So did I.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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