May 22, 2000

The Happy Man

by John Dryden

Broadcast Date: MONDAY: May 22, 2000

Poem: "The Happy Man," by John Dryden (1631-1700).

Itís the birthday of writer Peter Matthiessen, born in New York City (1927). He served in the U. S. Navy, then went to Yale, and spent his junior year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he began writing short stories, and co-founded The Paris Review. He worked for three years as a commercial fisherman on Long Island and later wrote about that in Men's Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork (1986). "I don't think I could have done my writing without the fishing," he said. "I needed something physical, something non-intellectual." His memoir The Snow Leopard (1978) won the National Book Award.

Itís the birthday of American jazzman Sun Ra, born Herman "Sonny" Blount in Birmingham, Alabama (1914), although he claimed to have arrived on Earth from another galaxy. He settled on the South Side of Chicago, played piano in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, and worked with many great musicians before putting together his own group, The Solar Arkestra. They recorded most of their concerts on a huge tape machine, and, because Sun Ra was mistrustful of record companies, he formed his own label, Saturn Records, and distributed LPs with hand-painted covers by the hundreds. He arrived in New York City in 1961, completely broke and without a car, so he stayed there and worked as a studio musician, putting all of his money back into Saturn releases; the label turned out ten albums between 1961 and 1965. He played conventional instruments such as piano and electric keyboard, but invented his own "sun harp" and "rahsichord," as well. He recorded 115 albums over 30 years, and his concerts were multimedia fantasies featuring singers, dancers, circus performers, colorful costumes and lots of theatrics.

Itís the birthday of Sherlock Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh (1859). As a medical student, he befriended a surgeon at the Edinburgh Infirmary, who was skilled in diagnosing a patient's occupation and character as well as their disease. The surgeon served as a model for Sherlock Holmes, a scientific detective with a genius for solving cases by his own observational skills.

On this day in 1819, for the first time in history, an American-made steamship, the Savannah, set out for a trans-Atlantic voyage. The vessel sailed from Savannah, Georgia, but not a single passenger signed up for the ship. It arrived in Liverpool, England, on June 20th, having used its steam engine for only eighty hours of the entire voyage.

Itís the birthday of German composer Richard Wagner, born in Leipzig (1813). His opera Tristan und Isolde [1865], was so unconventional that after 77 rehearsals in Vienna, it was given up as impossible. His Tannhäuser (1845), Die Miestersigner (1868), Parsifal (1882) and Die Götterdämmerung (1874) were the subject of extraordinary opposition in their day, but they dominated the music of the following generation and remain popular today.

On this day in 1703, English author Daniel Defoe was fined and imprisoned for writing his tract, The Shortest Way With The Dissenters (1702), which satirized religious intolerance. Defoe, a hosiery merchant at the time, had published the tract anonymously, but when it was revealed that heíd written it, he was thrown in jail, and his business was ruined. He turned to journalism and novel-writing, producing his most famous novel, The Life and Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe (1719), when he was almost 60.

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