Brief Lives is a collection of short biographies written by John Aubrey (1626–1697) in the last decades of the 17th century. Aubrey was a modest man, a self-styled antiquarian and the man who invented modern biography. His 'lives' of the prominent figures of his generation and the Elizabethan era, including Shakespeare, Milton and Sir Walter Raleigh, have been plundered by historians for centuries for their frankness and fascinating detail.
From John Aubrey's “Brief Lives”:
Queen Elizabeth 1
Edward de Veere, the Earl of Oxford
During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Liechtenstein sent an army of 80 strong to guard the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy while a reserve of 20 men stayed behind. While the deployed force was there to defend the territory against any attack from the Prussian-allied Italians, according to War History Online, “there was really nothing to do but sit in the beautiful mountains, drink wine and beer, smoke a pipe and take it easy.”
In the main theatre of the war, the Battle of Königgrätz earned Prussia a victory, decisively ending the war.
The Battle of Königgrätz by Georg Bleibtreu
So the men of Liechtenstein marched home. When they returned, however, their numbers had grown to 81. According to The World at War, an Austrian liaison officer joined them. Other versions are that he was either an “Italian friend” or a defector.
Today Liechtenstein remains a thriving and successful country, one that still has no army.
Haydn and Mozart were friends who made a bet that they could write a piece of music that the other couldn't play.
On the day of the competition, Mozart played Haydn's piece without incident.
When it was Haydn's turn to play, he started strong but stopped halfway though and claimed that no one could play this piece of music because it called for middle C when one hand was on the lowest octave, and the other on the highest.
Mozart said that he could do it.
When the "impossible" part came, Mozart leaned in and repeatedly hit middle C with his nose, finishing the song and winning the bet.
Haydn retorted “With a nose like yours it becomes easier.”
Mozart had an extreme dislike for the soprano Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, for whom the role of Fiordiligi on Cosi Fan Tutte was first created. She had a strange tendency to drop her chin whilst singing low notes and to throw back her head when singing high notes.
Knowing this, Mozart filled her showpiece aria (“Come scoglio”) with constant harmonic leaps from low to high and back. He took great pleasure in watching her bob her head “like a chicken” on stage.
Adriana Ferrarese del Bene
In the Baltic town of Vilnius, through which Napoleon’s troops marched to their doom in the summer of 1812, there stood a simple monument bearing two plaques.
On the side with its back to Moscow was written: “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 400,000 men.”
On the other side were the words: “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 9,000 men.”
Apparently the monument no longer exists.