More anecdotes of famous writers and two others

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil Hunt

( extracted from Fun with the Famous by H. Cecil Hunt (1928)


Sir James Barrie

 When asked to give his recipe for successful writing, his  reply was typical of the man, and, of course, it was scribbled on a crumpled sheet of tobacco wrapping:


Journalism: 2 pipes      = 1 hour

2 hours      = 1 idea

1 idea        = 3 paragraphs

3 pars         = I leader.


Fiction:      8 pipes         = 1 ounce

7 ounces       = 1 week

2 weeks        = 1 chapter

20 chapters   = 1 nib

2 nibs            = I novel


Winston Churchill (the novelist)


Mr Churchill has a namesake, an American novelist who is his senior by a few years. It is said that when the American writer first published a novel he received a notes from the British Winston Churchill protesting against the unwarranted use of his distinguished and uncommon name. To this protest came this amusing reply:

“Dear Sir, How interesting ! Is there really another Winston Churchill ? Yours truly, Winston Churchill.”


Dr Samuel Johnson


A characteristic but little known Johnson story must be included, because Johnson means so much in British humour. At a dinner party in London the little man held the table by his brilliant talk and ready wit. During a pause in the conversation he took a rather generous mouthful of hot potato, which he rapidly returned to his plate by the quickest, if not the most polite method. Without a moment’s hesitation he looked round at the circle of somewhat startled countenances, and said quite calmly:

“A fool would have swallowed that “.

Rudyard Kipling


The youthful editor of a schoolboy magazine wrote asking for a contribution. Kipling. Doubtless recalling his own schoolboy editorship, at once complied. He sent an article on “Schoolboy Etiquette”. Here it is, characteristically delightful.

“ Never shun a master out of bounds; pass him with an abstracted eye, and at the same time pull out a letter and study it earnestly. He may think it is a commission for something else.

When pursued by angry farmer, always take the nearest ploughed land, Men stick in furrows that boys can run over.

If it is necessary to take other people’s apples do it on Sunday. You then put them inside your topper, which is better than trying to button them into a tight Eton.”


Kipling’s covering not to the editor was equally delightful. “You will”, he penned, “ find this advice worth enormous sums of money; but I should be obliged with a cheque or postal order for 6d. at your convenience, if the contribution should be found to fill more than one page.”


The author of “ Stalky & Co.” is naturally not allowed to escape the autograph hunter. An American collector who heard that Kipling did not write for less than half a crown a word, sent his album, together with five shillings, and asked for two words.

When the book came back, the coveted signature was not inscribed, but simply—-“ Thank You.”


George Bernard Shaw


Mr George Bernard Shaw can be humorous even about his amazing industry, though probably his meant his lament to be taken seriously.

Denying a rumour that he was about to write no more plays, he said: “I am the worst drunkard of a rather exceptionally drunken family, for they were content with alcohol, whereas I am a pitiable example of something far worse that the drink craze, to wit, the work craze.

“I get miserably unhappy is my work is cut off. I get hideous headaches after each month’s bout. I make resolutions to break myself out of it; never to work after lunch; to work only two hours a day; but in vain. Each day brings its opportunities and its temptations; the craving masters me every time; and I dread a holiday as I dread nothing else on earth”.


Here is Shaw’s attitude towards women’s rights. The secretary of an organisation for securing equal political rights was told by the author’s secretary that Mr Bernard Shaw desires to say that women must fight their own battles.

He is not to be lured into the ridiculous position of their male champion. He is not so sure that an agitation for raising the voting age to 30 for males would not be the most effective way of drawing public attention to the discrepancy.

As the peeresses have now the Times on their side, and Lord Birkenhead has virtually thrown up the sponge, they do nor need any assistance from Mr Shaw.


James McNeill Whistler.


Two stories about Whistler are included on their merits. They surely deserve the widest publicity, even apart from the interesting the name of this great artist.

Whistler studied for three years at West Point, the United States Military Academy, but was then discharged for deficiency in chemistry.

As he himself said, “Had silicon been a gas, I would have been a Major-General.”

Whistler was called up for examination in chemistry, and was given silicon to discuss in an oral test.

He started off quite fluently: “I am required to discuss the properties of silicon. Silicon, sir, is a gas.”

“That will do, Mr Whistler “, said the examiner, and the artist-soldier retired rapidly into private life.




3 thoughts on “More anecdotes of famous writers and two others

  1. Bandol

    Fab gear. 2 questions– what’s a nib (Tobacco bit) + I was thought Samuel Johnson is quite a big guy perhaps that comes from seeing him played on stage by Robbie Coltrane!

  2. Michael

    In reply to the “what’s a nib?” question: my interpretation was that this was a reference to a pen’s nib, two of which were needed to produce a novel (of 40 chapters).

  3. Bandol

    You are right Michael. I am dim — or it’s so long since I used a fountain pen this answer eluded me…


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