The 140-Year-Old Riddle That’s Never Been Solved
  • Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 6.34.03 PM

    Bishop Samuel (“Soapy Sam”) Wilberforce, who once famously debated Charles Darwin’s protege Thomas Huxley — Darwin himself was slated to debate Wilberforce but got sick and sent Huxley in his stead — was, among other things, about the most forceful public speaker of his day.

    The writer Benjamin Disraeli coined the unforgettable “Soapy Sam” sobriquet, because the Bishop’s manner was, according to Disraeli, “unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous.”

    In addition to being a brilliant speaker, Soapy Sam was also a man who enjoyed a good riddle.

    He was born in September of 1805 and died in July of 1873. After his death, the following was found among his papers:

    I’m the sweetest of sounds in Orchestra heard,
    Yet in Orchestra never was seen.
    I’m a bird of gay plumage, yet less like a bird,
    Nothing ever in Nature was seen.
    Touch the earth I expire, in water I die,
    In air I lose breath, yet can swim and can fly;
    Darkness destroys me, and light is my death,
    And I only keep going by holding my breath.
    If my name can’t be guessed by a boy or a man,
    By a woman or girl it certainly can.

    No one has ever convincingly solved this riddle, though “whale” is the answer you’ll most commonly hear, and so if you want to make yourself famous, here’s your chance to shine.

About The Author

The sawed-off shotgun of literary pulp.

17 Responses and Counting...

  • Doc 05.08.2014

    One’s phallus might satisfy, yet I can see some misses.

  • Tim

    It’s a baby

  • A siren, from greek mythology?

  • Oh, I like that.

  • A sperm

  • Sperm?

    I hope you’re not just ejaculating at the mouth when you say that.

    Thank you for coming by.

  • An opinion or idea… “I can only keep going by holding my breath” And women were seen as great gossipers back in the day. It’s not “of” nature. And when you speak an unpopular opinion “light [can be] it’s death”
    I mean, this was coming from a man who was starting to lose a battle with knowledge…

  • Rachel, my dear, I think you may have solved it.

  • I think the most sensible answer is a whale.

  • Melody

  • Jes

    I’ve heard theories it’s a whistle. The sound, not the action or object.

  • I’d not heard that. Thank you, Jes.

    And thank you for dropping by.

  • Amy

    I think he is talking about mother nature

  • Its the heart.Sweetest sound in orchestra heard but never been is a heartbeat.Bird in light plumage is the heart filling w/ all kinds of feelings, nothing on earth has ever been seen means there is nothing like it, on earth i expire is every1 dies in water i die mean the heart can be drowned in tears,Yet i run,swim,fly, is it the beat of your heart when you truly feel,If I cant b guessed by a boy or man A girl or woman I certainly can is Men think w/ there heads women think w/ their heart.So the answer is the heart!

  • Not bad, Krista! Not bad at all.

    Thank you for dropping by.

  • Its a lie.

  • It is an intriguing answer, David McDonald.

    Thank you for dropping by.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required