Aug. 4, 1998

The Monarchs

by Alison Hawthorn Deming


Today's Reading: Lines from "Monarchs" by Alison Hawthorne Deming from THE MONARCHS, published by Louisiana State University Press (1997).

It's the birthday of the Norwegian author KNUT HAMSUN, born in the town of Lum, 1859, and winner of the 1920 Nobel Prize in literature. He had almost no education, and started writing poems and books in his late teens. He came to America and worked as a streetcar conductor in Chicago and as a farmhand in North Dakota, then when he was 30 years old published a fragment of a novel called Hunger, a semi-autobiographical story about a starving young writer in Norway. It made Hamsun an overnight sensation. His best-known work, Growth of the Soil, came out in 1920, the year he won the Nobel.

The nature writer W. H. HUDSON was born this day in 1841, near Buenos Aires. He was the son of Americans who'd lost their farm here in the States and gone to Argentina to try to make it as farmers there. William grew up on a ranch and planned to take it over, but he contracted rheumatic fever when he was 15 years old, and it disabled him. He became an expert on birds, and moved to London where he wrote ornithology books and outdoor novels, the most famous of which was Green Mansions, published in 1904.

It's the birthday in London, 1839, of the English art critic WALTER PATER, who became famous in the late 1800s for arguing that art doesn't have to have any moral standard or useful function; "Art for art's sake," was his motto. He wrote novels that argued the idea, but became better known for his essays, in which he said, "Art comes to you proposing frankly to give you nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.

The SATURDAY EVENING POST went into business on this day in 1821 – four pages of news, fiction, essays and theater reviews. It came out of Philadelphia and was printed in the shop where Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette had once been housed.

It's the birthday in Sussex, 1792, of the English romantic poet PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY. He spent a year at the University of Oxford, but got kicked out for writing a pamphlet entitled, "The Necessity of Atheism." He married, had two children, but fell in love with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and ran off with her to the Continent, where he spent most of the rest of his life writing poems like "Prometheus Unbound." Shelley drowned when he was 29 years old, sailing off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.

It's the birthday of NICOLAS-JACQUES CONTE, the French engineer born in 1755, who invented the pencil. During the French Revolution, Conte devised a method for mixing clay with graphite that's still used today.

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




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