Apr. 20, 2000

A Description of the Spring

by Sir Henry Wotton

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: April 20, 2000

Poem: "A Description of the Spring," by Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639).

It's the birthday of writer and anthropologist MICHAEL LEIRIS, born in Paris (1901), a writer who had a great influence on a generation of French intellectuals. He was one of the early Surrealists, and later wrote ethnographies of Africa and the West Indies, as well as a four-volume autobiography (1939) — called Manhood in its English translation.

It's the birthday of silent-film comic HAROLD LLOYD, born in Burchard, Nebraska (1893). At the peak of his career, Harold Lloyd was outgrossing Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton combined. In 1919 he had an accident in which a bomb went off in his hand and blew off his thumb and forefinger. He kept his accident a secret, fearing that his audiences would stop laughing if they pitied him. After the accident he went on to do his most famous films and some of his most dangerous stunts — such as dangling from a huge clock 14 stories off the ground in the movie Safety Last (1923).

It's the birthday of Roman philosopher and emperor MARCUS (Aelius) AURELIUS (Antoninus), born in Rome (121 A.D). Despite some persecution of Christians, he was a humane emperor during Rome's Golden Age: he clamped down on corruption, banned informers, and made gladiators fight with blunted swords. He championed the imprisoned, the poor, and slaves, and founded schools, orphanages, and hospitals and reduced taxes. A contemplative man, Marcus Aurelius was a believer in the Stoic philosophy, which holds that life is mercifully short, and that our best response to its hardships is to meet them with courage, endurance, and kindness to others. He left behind a journal of Stoic meditations, which was published after he died. He probably had a great need for philosophy; he was forced to spend much of his life at war, defending the empire against Parthians, Germans, and Britons — and at home, his wife was notoriously promiscuous, and his son corrupt. He wrote: "The art of living is more like that of wrestling than of dancing; the main thing is to stand firm and be ready for an unseen attack." "If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." "We are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature."

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