Jul. 5, 1998

Sonnet 151: Some Glory in Their Birth, Some in Their Skill

by William Shakespeare


Today's Reading: "Some Glory in Their Birth, Some in their Skill" by William Shakespeare.

It was on this day in 1965 that soprano MARIA CALLAS gave her last stage performance. A packed house in London's Covent Garden watched her commit operatic suicide leaping from the castle parapet in Puccini's Tosca, crying "Avanté a Dio!" or "before God!" She was 41 and retired in Greece.

It's the birthday in 1889, just outside Paris, of JEAN COCTEAU, who worked in film, theater, painting, fiction, he even tried being a jazz drummer for a while — but said all of these were just branches of the same tree, and that tree was called poetry. He's best known for the novels The Incorrigible Children, and The Infernal Machine, and for his surrealistic movie, Beauty and the Beast.

It's the birthday in 1873, Staunton, Virginia, of the pathologist EUGENE LINDSAY OPIE. His main work was at the University of Pennsylvania, in tuberculosis; until the 1920s pathologists didn't know how it was transmitted. Opie showed that it was passed by contact and that it occurs in families, spreading from one member to another and one generation to the next. He found that dead tuberculosis cells injected into the body could prevent the disease.

It's the birthday in Windsor, Vermont, 1867 of ANDREW ELLICOTT DOUGLASS, who developed dendrochronology,, the technique of using tree rings to date climatic events. Working at the University of Arizona, he observed that certain tree rings are wide in wet years and narrow in dry, and the ring widths can be used to deduce climate changes that influenced the tree's growth.

It's the birthday in Bethel, Connecticut, 1810, of PHINEAS TAYLOR BARNUM — P.T. Barnum — creator of "The Greatest Show on Earth. He moved to New York City in his early 20s and started his career as a showman by presenting an elderly woman as George Washington's 161-year old nurse. He bought a big, five-story wax museum in New York and turned it into a carnival, featuring freak shows, theater, and beauty contests. He said, "This is a trading world, and men, women, and children need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods. He who ministers to this want is in a business established by the Author of our nature." Midgets, elephants, Siamese twins all became a part of the Barnum show, and in the 1870s with James Bailey he took it on the road under the big top.

It's the birthday in 1801 outside Knoxville, Tennessee, of DAVID FARRAGUT, the Civil War naval commander famous for crying "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Farragut fought for the Union and made a daring raid on New Orleans in 1862, helping re-open the Mississippi to northern shipping.

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




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