Gleanings from the Past #74

A Broken Leg and Some Books (1874)


H. G. Wells

My leg was broken for me when I was between seven and eight. Probably I am alive to-day and writing this autobiography instead of being a worn-out, dismissed and already dead shop assistant, because my leg was broken. The agent of good fortune was “young Sutton,” the grown-up son of the landlord of the Bell. I was playing outside the scoring tent in the cricket field and in all friendliness he picked me up and tossed me in the air. “Whose little kid are you?” he said, and I wriggled, he missed his hold on me and I snapped my tibia across a tent peg. A great fuss of being carried home; a painful setting—for they just set and strapped a broken leg tightly between splints in those days, and the knee and ankle swelled dreadfully—and then for some weeks I found myself enthroned on the sofa in the parlour as the most important thing in the house, consuming unheard-of jellies, fruits, brawn and chicken sent with endless apologies on behalf of her son by Mrs. Sutton, and I could demand and have a fair chance of getting anything that came into my head, books, paper, pencils, and toys—and particularly books.

I had just taken to reading. I had just discovered the art of leaving my body to sit impassive in a crumpled up attitude in a chair or sofa, while I wandered over the hills and far away in novel company and new scenes. And now my father went round nearly every day to the Literary Institute in Market Square and got one or two books for me, and Mrs. Sutton sent some books, and there was always a fresh book to read. My world began to expand very rapidly, and when presently I could put my foot to the ground, the reading habit had got me securely. Both my parents were doubtful of the healthiness of reading, and did their best to discourage this poring over books as soon as my leg was better.

— H. G. Wells, An Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (Since 1866), 1934

Twain’s Critic

Dear Sir,

I have read your books, They are the vilest trash I ever waded through — I did not think the English language could be writhed into such bosh.

I would just like to place in my album the autograph of the writer who could be guilty of foisting upon a credulous & gullible public such iniquitous twaddle. Kindly do me the favor.

Yours very truly

— Fred J. Stewart, letter to Mark Twain, August 28, 1889

(It seems that Mr. Stewart’s aim was to instigate a response. If that’s the case, he may not have succeeded as there’s no evidence that Twain wrote a reply.)

Newton and the Apocalypse

Newton’s aim was to unravel nothing less than God’s secret messages. According to the great scientist, they were hidden in the Holy Scriptures. Above all Newton was intent on finding out when the world would come to an end. Then, he believed, Christ would return and set up a 1,000-year Kingdom of God on earth and he—Isaac Newton, that is — would rule the world as one among the saints. For half a century, Newton covered thousands of pages with religious musings and calculations.

Three hundred years later, toward the end of 2002, the Canadian historian of science Stephen Snobelen of King’s College in Halifax found a significant document among a convoluted mass of manuscripts that had been left in the home of the Duke of Portsmouth for over 200 years. They had been kept from public scrutiny until 1936, when they were sold at an auction at Sotheby’s. The ccllection was acquired by the Jewish scholar and collector Abraham Yehuda, an Iraqi professor of Semitic languages who, upon his death, left them to the State of Israel’s Jewish National Library. Ever since, they have been gathering dust in the archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

When Snobelen assessed the manuscripts, he chanced upon a piece of paper on which the famous physicist had calculated the year of the apocalypse: 2060. Newton arrived at this date based on razor-sharp conclusions. From his readings of the Book of Daniel (Chapter 7, Verse 25) and the Book of Revelations, the physicist concluded that the time span of three and a half years signified a critical time period. Basing a year on 360 days—a simplification that comes easy to a mathematician—this time span corresponds to 1,260 days. By simply replacing days by years, the illustrious Bible researcher easily concluded that the world would come to an end 1,260 years after a particular commencing date.

— George G. Szpiro, The Secret Life of Numbers: 50 Easy Pieces on How Mathematicians Work and Think, 2006

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is

8 thoughts on “Gleanings from the Past #74

  1. All three stories were fascinating reading. I never knew this about Newton and found the H. G. Wells story to be a sweet piece. We never know why we go through the struggles we do at the time. Thank you for these enlightening pieces of informative information.


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