Pope and Thorpe, Quoted

Two anecdotes here about two very different men—Alexander Pope and Jim Thorpe. Pope was an 18th century English satirical poet whose growth was stunted in childhood. Thorpe, who was part American Indian, had an illustrious sports career. Both are really pretty remarkable. Anecdotes are both taken directly from Clifton Fadiman’s Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes.

Pope was respectful to the Earl.

          Statesman and financier Charles Montagu, first Earl of Halifax, prided himself upon his literary acumen. When Pope had completed the first few books of his translation of the Iliad, Montagu invited him to give a reading at his house. Other eminent literary figures also attended. Pope considered that the reading had gone off very well, even though Lord Halifax had interrupted, most politely, four or five times to say that there was something about that particular passage he did not think quite right and that Pope could improve it with some more thought. On the way home with physician and poet Samuel Garth, Pope confessed that he was much perplexed by Lord Halifax’s rather vague objections. He went on to say that although he had been thinking about the offending passages ever since, he could not for the life of him see what should be done to make them more acceptable to his lordship. Dr. Garth reassured him; he knew Lord Halifax very well, he said, and all Pope needed to do was to leave the passages as they were, wait a couple of months, and then go back to Lord Halifax, thank him for his kind criticisms, and read him the “corrected” passages. In due course Pope had another session with Lord Halifax, reading him the passages exactly as they had been. His lordship was delighted, and congratulated Pope on getting them absolutely right.

***

          King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with a bronze bust during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

“Thanks, king,” said Thorpe simply.

Thorpe was respectful to the King.

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