The first memetic virus ever discovered was the so-called “intrusive amethyst” noticed by Sir Walter Goodall. Goodall, a don at Oxbridge in comparative literature, had been comparing two early editions of Tennyson for errata when he noted that one of the poems had the phrase “a brilliant amethyst” on pg. 244 of the newer edition. Puzzled, Goodall made a note of it and retired for the night. In the morning, he returned and resumed his studies, only to note that the phrase “a brilliant amethyst” was now in the older book as well, apparently since they had been left touching.

Goodall soon established by experimentation that any book or other written work were left in contact with an “infected” manuscript, the phrase “a brilliant amethyst” would subsequently appear within it. Goodall himself took care in his studies, but a mistake by one of his assistants led to the entire library being contaminated, at which point Goodall kept one book in a sealed glass book and burned the rest. At least one other book must have survived, however, because the problem spread to several other major libraries in the next ten years.

A subsequent researcher, Henry Danton, attempted further experiments with an Austen omnibus contaminated by “a brilliant amethyst.” He slept with the book as a pillow, which resulted in the phrase and a mental image becoming a persistent intrusive thought for the rest of his life, eventually driving him to suicide.

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