May 20, 1999

Brown Penny

by William Butler Yeats

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: May 20, 1999

Poem: "Brown Penny," by William Butler Yeats, from The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats (Macmillan).

AMELIA EARHART lifted off from a runway in Harbor Grace, Newfoundland in her plane, Vega, on this day in 1932, attempting to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Fifteen hours and 2,000 miles later she landed in Ireland.

It's the birthday in 1905, Coatesville, Pennsylvania of W.M. SPACKMAN, whose first two novels came out in the mid-'50s and late-'70s, when he was 50 and 75 years old himself—Heyday, and An Armful of Warm Girl.

It's the birthday in Kalundborg, Denmark, 1882, of SIGRID UNDSET, the Norwegian author best known for the trilogy of novels, Kristin Lavransdatter, that came out in the early 1920s.

One of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's best-known plays, GHOSTS, was premiered on this day in 1882--the story of Captain Alving, and his widow, Helen, and their son Oswald. It premiered in Chicago with an audience of recent Norwegian immigrants.

THE HOMESTEAD ACT went into effect on this day in 1862; Congress stipulating that any settler who remained for five years on 160 acres of property would be given that land for a simple filing fee. By 1900, homesteaders had filed claims for 80 million acres of the West, most of them farm families from Europe.

It's the birthday in London, 1806, of the philosopher and economist JOHN STUART MILL, best known for advocating "Utilitarianism," or the view that "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" should be the aim of all personal and legislative action. He wrote many articles and books, including his most famous treatise, On Liberty (1859), in which he championed personal liberty. He had a pretty simple definition of it: "Liberty consists in doing what one desires," he said, "whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called."

It's the birthday in Tours, 1799, of the French novelist, HONORÉ DE BALZAC, best known for 90 books written in the space of just 18 years that, grouped together, he called The Human Comedy.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS died in Spain on this day in 1506. He had made four trips to the New World, and spent the last years of his life trying to convince the Spanish court to pay him royalties for his discoveries, but he died penniless at the age of 55.

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