Recently, I came across a marvellous blog (is it a blog? Sort of) called Futility Closet, subtitled 'An idler's miscellany of compendious amusements'.
It's a bizarre rag-bag of curiosities, ranging from chess problems to mathematics, philosophy, puzzles and many print oddities from the Victorian era. Impossible to describe, but easy to lose yourself in. I've added it to my RSS reader. Well worth a dip into.
My favourite so far is this little gem from The Dickensian of September 1906:
Charles Dickens, during one of his visits to Paris, had his watch stolen from him at the theatre. This watch had been given to him by the Queen, and was, therefore, very much prized by him. On returning to his hotel, Dickens found a small parcel waiting him, to which was pinned the following note:–
Sir,–I hope you will excuse me, but I assure you I thought I was dealing with a Frenchman and not a countryman. Finding out my mistake, I hasten to repair it as much as lies in my power, by returning you herewith the watch I stole from you. I beg you to accept the homage of my respect, and to believe me, my dear countryman, your humble and obedient servant,
I find this fascinating on so many levels. The eloquence of the thief, for one - do we educate thieves to this standard today? And the implicit idea that it is quite all right to rob a Frenchman, but not an English gentleman. And the assumption that Dickens would understand. Most of all, the notion that a thief, having got away with a very valuable item, should be so overcome with guilt as to return the item with a formal apology.
Yes, times were very different.