Guides for spelling
Guides for spelling
Printed Page Bookshop
June 2023

Saved by the book
It's a common trope in stories and movies that a life gets saved when a bullet is stopped by a book.  This notion dates at least from the Civil War, and speaks to a longer tradition of books' healing and talismanic protection.  The American bookseller  A.S.W. Rosenbach (pictured below) recalled that he had been offered so many bullet-hole-scarred Bibles that he suffered from nightmares that armies were charging at him, "each soldier wearing a protecting copy of the Holy Scriptures over his heart."  But as Rosenbach points out, that number of miraculous books is probably unlikely.  Nor are they only Bibles.  In the Library of Congress rests a copy of Kipling's "Kim" that saved a French legionnaire near Verdun in the First World War "by a mere 20 pages." 
Also drawing on the myth of the protective book were the steel-covered pocket Bibles widely advertised during the First World War as gifts for servicemen.  These hedged their protective bets by combining the superstitious or religious belief in the Bible as a metaphorical shield with the practical addition of a bulletproof cover.
Miniature Qur'ans were presented to Indian Muslim troops in the First World War.  Lawrence of Arabia writes that the Bedouin Chief Auda attributed his survival of a volley of bullets that had killed his horse and sliced through his clothing to "an amulet Koran bought for one hundred and twenty pounds." Naturally, the book was bound in military khaki.
From "Portable Magic" by Emma Smith

This Month's Puzzler

On April 21, 1818, Henry Wheeler Shaw was born in Lanesborough, Massachusetts.
After being expelled from Hamilton College for a sophomoric prank (he removed
the clapper from the college chapel's church bell), he drifted from job to job
for many years before finally settling in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1858, where
he began working as a journalist and writer.

In 1863, at age 45, he adopted a now-famous pen name and began writing aphorisms
and cracker-barrel philosophy in a phonetic dialect. His 1865 "Essa on the Muel"
("Essay on the Mule") became so popular that he moved to New York City to
further his career. He ultimately became one of the era's most popular lecturers
and authors, with books like Affurisms (1865) and Everybody's Friend
(1874). He offered hundreds of home-spun observations on countless
topics—all in his characteristic manner—including these:

"Wit makes yu think, humor makes yu laff."

"Thare iz no pashun ov the human heart that promises so much and pays so little az revenge."

"Human happiness konsists in having what yu want, and wanting what yu have."

When Samuel Clemens—who also wrote under a famous nom de plume—met Shaw in
1869, he quickly became a great fan and once even favorably compared his
aphorisms to those of Ben Franklin. In the final decades of the nineteenth
century, Shaw faded from popularity when phonetic writing fell out of fashion,
but there is no question that he was an extremely talented aphorist. Nowadays,
his phonetically-spelled "affurisms" are generally presented in standard
English, as in this famous example:

"The rarest thing a man ever does is the best he can."

What was Henry Wheeler Shaw's famous pen name? (Answer below)

We're having a soiree June 22.  You're invited!
We hope you'll be able to come by the evening of Thursday, June 22 for one of our highly popular after-hours get-togethers.  There'll be food, drink, sparkling conversation and discounts on every book in the store.  It's from 5:30 to 8, and it's free -- just let us know you plan on attending, OK?

Puzzler answer

Josh Billings.  If you like our Puzzler, find more on our Facebook page.  
Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe for the use of his puzzler.  Visit him at

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