DRIVING A COACH THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE
The Marquis of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth (1730-1782), wagered that he could drive a coach and horses at full speed through the eye of a needle. The bet was accepted. He then built a large obelisk (over 12 metres high) shaped like a needle, with a passage at the bottom just wide enough to accommodate a coach and horses. He won the wager, and the “Needle’s Eye” still stands at Wentworth in Yorkshire, England.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE DRINK
When Cleopatra was 30, she bet her new lover, Mark Antony, that she could spend 10 million sesterces at one dinner. This was a fabulous sum of money and she was always boasting about luxury and extravagance so Mark Antony accepted but lost when she dropped a pearl worth a fortune into a glass of vinegar, waited for it to dissolve and then drank it.
RACE WITH A FAT MAN
By the time he was 21, the Earl of Barrymore was already established not only as one of the most eccentric English men of the 18th-century, but also as one of the fittest and fastest. He was challenged to an extraordinary wager by a Mr. Bullock, a middle-aged, fat butcher. Despite age, size, and unhealthy condition, Bullock wagered that the young man could not beat him in a 100-yard footrace – giving the butcher a 35-yard start and choice of the course. The wager, probably a sizable sum, was naturally accepted. Then Mr. Bullock played his trump card. The course was to be in Brighton, down Black Lion Lane — a distance over 100 yards long and one of the narrowest streets in Britain. (Parts were barely 1 metre wide.) After Bullock took his 35-yard advantage, the gun went off. In a flash Barrymore caught up with the butcher, but because the street was so narrow and Bullock was so wide, there was no way he could pass the puffing Mr. Bullock, who reached the winning post first and collected his money.
ENTERING THE FORBIDDEN HOUSE
The noted English eccentric William Beckford (1760-1844) built an enormous house known as Fonthill Abbey, in which he kept priceless art objects and many treasures. But Beckford was a recluse and allowed very few people into his home. He also built a 4-metre high, 10-km long wall around his grounds to ensure his privacy. But a relation of the Victorian painter W. P. Frith accepted a wager that he could not only walk in the gardens but also get inside the house itself. Entering the grounds proved no problem. He happened to be examining some flowers when he was caught by a gardener. He explained his wager, and the sympathetic gardener not only showed him around the flowerbeds but also showed him the inside of the house. Then, revealing himself as Beckford, the “gardener” invited the intrepid intruder to dinner. About midnight, after Beckford had retired and the gambler had settled down in front of the fire, he was woken up by a valet who showed him to the door, saying: “Mr. Beckford’s compliments. I am to say that since you found your way into Fonthill Abbey without assistance, you may find your way out as best you can — and he hopes you will take care to avoid the bloodhounds that are let loose in the gardens every night.” The young man spent the night in terror perched in the nearest tree — but he had won his wager.
Happy English learning!!