Mar. 30, 1998


by Louise Bogan


Today's Reading: "Night" by Louise Bogan from THE BLUE ESTUARIES, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

It's the birthday of VINCENT VAN GOGH, born on this day in the Netherlands, in 1853. He was the son of a Protestant minister, and left home in his early 20s for Paris and London to try to make it as an art dealer. That failed and he became a preacher and evangelist in the mines of southwestern Belgium at one point giving everything he owned to the destitute miners, which got him fired for interpreting the biblical teachings too literally. At 26 he started making rough little pencil drawings of the miners and their families; his younger brother, Leo, began sending him money and supplies to keep at it. Van Gogh was an artist for only ten years, producing over 800 canvases and a thousand drawings. When he died at 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, virtually no one but his brother and a few artist friends took notice. In his pocket was a note, "There are many things I should like to write you about, but I feel it is useless." His family nearly threw out most of his work because no one seemed to care. In 1990, one of his last paintings, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, sold for $82 million, a record for a painting. The previous record was $54 million for another Van Gogh painting, Irises.

It's the birthday of ANNA SEWELL, in Norfolk, England, 1820, author of the children's book, Black Beauty. She took a bad fall when she was a teenager and broke both ankles, and wrote in her diary, "my ankles are twisted like the leg of the wagonhorse who fell on the frozen cobbles last year and had to be shot." Sewell was a semi-invalid for the rest of her life and got around in horse carriages and grew to appreciate horses so much that she wanted to write a book, she said, that would "induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses." Black Beauty was her only novel and she wrote it when she was completely house-bound during the last few years of her life. It's subtitled "The autobiography of a horse, translated from the original equine." Black Beauty narrates the story himself: I was beginning to grow handsome; my coat had grown fine and soft, and was bright black. I had one white foot, and a pretty white star on my forehead. I was four years old and thought very handsome. My master said he would break me in himself. Everyone may not know what breaking in is, therefore I will describe it. It means to teach a horse to wear a saddle and bridle and to carry on his back a man, woman, or child; to go just the way they wish, and to go quietly. Besides this, he has to learn to have a cart fixed behind him and he must go fast or slow, just as his driver wishes. He must never start at what he sees, nor speak to other horses, nor bite, nor kick, nor have any will of his own; but always do his master's will, even though he may be very tired or hungry; but the worst of all is, when his harness is once on, he may neither jump for joy nor lie down for weariness. So you see this breaking in is a great thing.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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