• Because of British Broadcasting Corporation regulations, Sir Adrian Boult was forced to retire as conductor from the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1950 when he reached the age of 60. Sir Adrian resented his enforced retirement, which he regarded as being completely arbitrary. After his retirement, he accepted an invitation to serve as the orchestra’s guest conductor for a performance. At the beginning of the rehearsal, he looked at the clock and saw that its hands had stuck together. He then said, “Get the clock going, or I’ll stop the rehearsal in ten minutes’ time — when the clock says so.” BBC management took the threat seriously and removed the hands from the clock.
• When Emma Calvé first travelled to Paris to get singing lessons in preparation for an operatic career, she sat by an attentive elderly gentleman on top of a stage coach. Unfortunately, the elderly gentleman was a little too attentive, for when she fell asleep, he put his arm around her waist. This awakened Ms. Calvé, who slapped the elderly gentleman with such force that everyone in the stage coach realized what had happened. The stage coach stopped, voices were raised in discussion and argument, and a young man gave Ms. Calvé his seat inside the stage coach and took her seat by the elderly gentleman on top of the stage coach.
• As a young man, Benjamin Franklin visited Cotton Mather. Mr. Mather led him along a narrow, dark corridor which had a low beam, and he warned Mr. Franklin, “Stoop! Stoop!” Mr. Franklin didn’t understand what he meant, with the result that he banged his head against the beam. Mr. Mather then advised him, “Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high. Stoop, young man, stoop as you go through the world — and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”
• In his old age, James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was forced by writer’s cramp to write with his left hand instead of his right. His secretary, Lady Cynthia Asquith (who got her job partly because she didn’t know how to type — Mr. Barrie disliked the sound of a typewriter) later wrote, “I remember his announcing this change quite formally, as though in dismissing his right hand he were giving notice to a servant of many years faithful service.”
• Throughout his life, Arturo Toscanini studied music. When he was an old man, he was found in his bed studying the scores of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, although he had conducted the symphonies hundreds of times and had memorized the scores. When his son asked why he was studying scores that he so intimately knew, Toscanini replied, “Now that I am an old man I want to come a little closer to the secrets of this music.”
• Benjamin Banneker, an African-American astronomer and mathematician, was born on November 9, 1731, and he accomplished most of his significant educational attainments in his later years. He first used a telescope when he was 57. He helped survey the site of Washington D.C. when he was 59. The first of six straight annual almanacs for which he made the astronomical calculations was published when he was 60.
• Comedian Robin Williams dressed in drag when the character he was playing in Mrs. Doubtfire disguised himself as an elderly nanny. The disguise was very effective. While filming in North Beach, California, Mr. Williams — dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire — stopped at a newsstand and looked through Playboy. A college student saw him and told a friend, “That old lady sure is hip, man.”
• While visiting China, African-American author Alice Walker met the great Chinese woman writer Ding Ling, who had been imprisoned for opposing the subjection of women. Although Ding Ling was still writing at age 80, she wished that she could have back the time she had lost while being persecuted. She told Ms. Walker, “Oh, to be 67 again!”
• When Martha Graham was nearly 80 years old, dancer Tim Wengerd saw her crying bitterly in the dance studio. She explained that she had had a dream in which she was dancing, then she had awakened and looked at her hands, which were badly crippled by arthritis. Knowing that she was incapable of ever dancing again, she had begun to cry.
• Silent-film comedian Ben Turpin was famous for his crossed eyes. He saved his money and had a happy retirement. When he was an old man, he enjoyed directing rush-hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles. With his crossed eyes and wildly swinging arms, he always managed to screw up traffic royally.
• As an old woman, Mae West still performed, but because she was getting forgetful, she used an electronic prompter. Unfortunately, during one performance, the prompter picked up parts of highway patrol broadcasts, so Ms. West found herself telling her audience about highway traffic conditions.
• Latin singer Ricky Martin, famous especially for the huge hit “Livin’ la Vida Loca” (“Living the Crazy Life”), sang when he was a teenager as a member of the Latin boy band Menudo, but he left the group before he turned 18. He had to — 17 is the group’s mandatory retirement age.
• Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had a feisty grandfather. At age 104, he ordered a new pair of boots and requested that the cobbler do an especially good job on them as “very few men die after the age of 99.”
• When cellist Pablo Casals was 95 years old, opera singer Plácido Domingo visited him. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Casals, despite his frail old age, was busy studying the score of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
• When Noah Webster visited John Adams, the aged ex-President told him, “I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement, open to the winds, and broken in upon by the storms. What is worse, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.”
• When playwright Lillian Hellman was aged and unable to climb stairs on her own she hired a strong UCLA student to carry her up and down the stairs of her home.
• “I don’t want a man my age. You should see them. They all look like hell.” — comedian Bob Smith’s mother.
The trusty Cacambo had already engaged the captain of the Turkish ship that was to carry Sultan Achmet back to Constantinople to take Candide and Martin on board. Accordingly they both embarked, after paying their obeisance to his miserable Highness. As they were going on board, Candide said to Martin:
“You see we supped in company with six dethroned Kings, and to one of them I gave charity. Perhaps there may be a great many other princes still more unfortunate. For my part I have lost only a hundred sheep, and am now going to fly to the arms of my charming Miss Cunegund. My dear Martin, I must insist on it, that Pangloss was in the right. All is for the best.”
“I wish it may be,” said Martin.
“But this was an odd adventure we met with at Venice. I do not think there ever was an instance before of six dethroned monarchs supping together at a public inn.”
“This is not more extraordinary,” said Martin, “than most of what has happened to us. It is a very common thing for kings to be dethroned; and as for our having the honor to sup with six of them, it is a mere accident, not deserving our attention.”
As soon as Candide set his foot on board the vessel, he flew to his old friend and valet Cacambo and, throwing his arms about his neck, embraced him with transports of joy.
“Well,” said he, “what news of Miss Cunegund? Does she still continue the paragon of beauty? Does she love me still? How does she do? You have, doubtless, purchased a superb palace for her at Constantinople.”
“My dear master,” replied Cacambo, “Miss Cunegund washes dishes on the banks of the Propontis, in the house of a prince who has very few to wash. She is at present a slave in the family of an ancient sovereign named Ragotsky, whom the Grand Turk allows three crowns a day to maintain him in his exile; but the most melancholy circumstance of all is, that she is turned horribly ugly.”
“Ugly or handsome,” said Candide, “I am a man of honor and, as such, am obliged to love her still. But how could she possibly have been reduced to so abject a condition, when I sent five or six millions to her by you?”
“Lord bless me,” said Cacambo, “was not I obliged to give two millions to Seignor Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza, the Governor of Buenos Ayres, for liberty to take Miss Cunegund away with me? And then did not a brave fellow of a pirate gallantly strip us of all the rest? And then did not this same pirate carry us with him to Cape Matapan, to Milo, to Nicaria, to Samos, to Petra, to the Dardanelles, to Marmora, to Scutari? Miss Cunegund and the old woman are now servants to the prince I have told you of; and I myself am slave to the dethroned Sultan.”
“What a chain of shocking accidents!” exclaimed Candide. “But after all, I have still some diamonds left, with which I can easily procure Miss Cunegund’s liberty. It is a pity though she is grown so ugly.”
Then turning to Martin, “What think you, friend,” said he, “whose condition is most to be pitied, the Emperor Achmet’s, the Emperor Ivan’s, King Charles Edward’s, or mine?”
“Faith, I cannot resolve your question,” said Martin, “unless I had been in the breasts of you all.”
“Ah!” cried Candide, “was Pangloss here now, he would have known, and satisfied me at once.”
“I know not,” said Martin, “in what balance your Pangloss could have weighed the misfortunes of mankind, and have set a just estimation on their sufferings. All that I pretend to know of the matter is that there are millions of men on the earth, whose conditions are a hundred times more pitiable than those of King Charles Edward, the Emperor Ivan, or Sultan Achmet.”
“Why, that may be,” answered Candide.
In a few days they reached the Bosphorus; and the first thing Candide did was to pay a high ransom for Cacambo; then, without losing time, he and his companions went on board a galley, in order to search for his Cunegund on the banks of the Propontis, notwithstanding she was grown so ugly.
There were two slaves among the crew of the galley, who rowed very ill, and to whose bare backs the master of the vessel frequently applied a lash. Candide, from natural sympathy, looked at these two slaves more attentively than at any of the rest, and drew near them with an eye of pity. Their features, though greatly disfigured, appeared to him to bear a strong resemblance with those of Pangloss and the unhappy Baron Jesuit, Miss Cunegund’s brother. This idea affected him with grief and compassion: he examined them more attentively than before.
“In troth,” said he, turning to Martin, “if I had not seen my master Pangloss fairly hanged, and had not myself been unlucky enough to run the Baron through the body, I should absolutely think those two rowers were the men.”
No sooner had Candide uttered the names of the Baron and Pangloss, than the two slaves gave a great cry, ceased rowing, and let fall their oars out of their hands. The master of the vessel, seeing this, ran up to them, and redoubled the discipline of the lash.
“Hold, hold,” cried Candide, “I will give you what money you shall ask for these two persons.”
“Good heavens! it is Candide,” said one of the men.
“Candide!” cried the other.
“Do I dream,” said Candide, “or am I awake? Am I actually on board this galley? Is this My Lord the Baron, whom I killed? and that my master Pangloss, whom I saw hanged before my face?”
“It is I! it is I!” cried they both together.
“What! is this your great philosopher?” said Martin.
“My dear sir,” said Candide to the master of the galley, “how much do you ask for the ransom of the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, who is one of the first barons of the empire, and of Monsieur Pangloss, the most profound metaphysician in Germany?”
“Why, then, Christian cur,” replied the Turkish captain, “since these two dogs of Christian slaves are barons and metaphysicians, who no doubt are of high rank in their own country, thou shalt give me fifty thousand sequins.”
“You shall have them, sir; carry me back as quick as thought to Constantinople, and you shall receive the money immediately-No! carry me first to Miss Cunegund.”
The captain, upon Candide’s first proposal, had already tacked about, and he made the crew ply their oars so effectually, that the vessel flew through the water, quicker than a bird cleaves the air.
Candide bestowed a thousand embraces on the Baron and Pangloss. “And so then, my dear Baron, I did not kill you? and you, my dear Pangloss, are come to life again after your hanging? But how came you slaves on board a Turkish galley?”
“And is it true that my dear sister is in this country?” said the Baron.
“Yes,” said Cacambo.
“And do I once again behold my dear Candide?” said Pangloss.
Candide presented Martin and Cacambo to them; they embraced each other, and all spoke together. The galley flew like lightning, and soon they were got back to port. Candide instantly sent for a Jew, to whom he sold for fifty thousand sequins a diamond richly worth one hundred thousand, though the fellow swore to him all the time by Father Abraham that he gave him the most he could possibly afford. He no sooner got the money into his hands, than he paid it down for the ransom of the Baron and Pangloss. The latter flung himself at the feet of his deliverer, and bathed him with his tears; the former thanked him with a gracious nod, and promised to return him the money the first opportunity.
“But is it possible,” said he, “that my sister should be in Turkey?”
“Nothing is more possible,” answered Cacambo, “for she scours the dishes in the house of a Transylvanian prince.”
Candide sent directly for two Jews, and sold more diamonds to them; and then he set out with his companions in another galley, to deliver Miss Cunegund from slavery.
Reading isn’t important because it helps to get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape.