The Murder of Percy Shelley

Most readers are familiar with the main circumstances surrounding the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822): he is sailing in an open boat off the western coast of Italy when a late afternoon storm comes up, capsizes his boat, and throws him and his two companions into the sea where they drown. But were the deaths really accidental? Continue reading

Cryptograms and 8†35(5005*.‡8

Cryptograms, or coded messages, have been around for millennia. They were originally used for communicating personal and military secrets. Julius Caesar used a form of cryptography, known as Caesar’s cipher, in some of his correspondence, and later, during the Middle Ages, word puzzles of various sorts were devised for entertainment to pass the time. Continue reading


Sir Richard Steele, writing in the June 7, 1709 issue of The Tatler, satirized the motives that caused men to engage in “so fatal a folly” as dueling. Supposedly founded on principles of honor and gallantry, dueling, Steele argued, was actually “an imposture, made of cowardice, falsehood, and want of understanding.” Continue reading

Authors Who Took Their Own Lives (Part 2)

“Why did Virginia Woolf commit suicide?” asked American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) in a journal entry. “Or Sara Teasdale or the other brilliant women? Neurotic? Was their writing sublimation (oh, horrible word) of deep, basic desires? If only I knew.” Continue reading

Modes of Literary Composition

Is it better to write in the morning or late at night—at set times or just as the urge dictates—rapidly and hot off the brain or only after careful reflection—on a full stomach or empty—after a few drinks or stone cold sober? Continue reading

Authors Who Took Their Own Lives (Part 1)

A study conducted in 2012 at Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse are more common in creative individuals than in, say, accountants, and that authors in particular are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population. Continue reading