Apr. 2, 1998

The Stolen Child

by William Butler Yeats


Today's Reading: "The Stolen Child" by William Butler Yeats.

It's the birthday of HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN, born in Odense, Denmark, in 1805. His parents were among the poorest in town. His father died when Hans was eight and his mother apprenticed him to a weaver, then to a tobacco factory; Hans ran away from each and set out for Copenhagen at the age of 14. He wanted to be an actor or dancer, but always failed the auditions. Finally the director of the Royal Theater took him in, fed him, gave him clothes, and made him go to school for the first time in his life. He started writing plays, and when he got of out school wrote a novel. In 1835, when he was waiting for the novel to be published, he needed money to pay the rent, so he wrote a little pamphlet of four fairy tales for children. The novel didn't do very well, but the fairy tales sold out immediately, so he wrote more; over the next 30 years he published 168 of them and each one was translated into most of the European languages. The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Red Shoes, and The Emperor's Clothes are just a few... They became popular because they were written in a new, conversational style that adults liked just as much as children; and they didn't hesitate to portray life like it was: many of the stories end unhappily. He wrote novels, poems, an autobiography, a bunch of plays and travel books, but nothing matched the fairy tales. Even though the fairy tales made him rich and one of Europe's most famous writers, he said, "Really, I should drop these trifles and concentrate on my own work."

It's the birthday of Giovanni Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt or Casanova for short, born in Venice, 1725. He wrote poems, essays, science fiction, works on mathematics and etymology, but we remember him really for only one great book, The History of My Life, a bawdy story of the women he wooed across 20 years of European travels, in which he worked as a soldier, spy, seminarian, violinist, clergyman and a half-dozen other occupations.

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