Jul. 4, 2001

Young and Old

by Charles Kingsley

Wednesday, 4 July 2001
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Poem: "Young and Old," by Charles Kingsley.

Young and Old

When all the world is young, lad,
    And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
    And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
    And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
    And every dog his day.

When all the world is old, lad,
    And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
    And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
    The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
    You loved when all was young.

It's Independence Day, the Fourth of July. It was on this day in 1776 that the Continental Congress formally accepted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson, with guidance from a five-man committee that included John Adams. Jefferson and Adams went on to become great political rivals and presidents of the United States. Both men died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826.

It's the birthday of playwright Neil Simon, born in New York City in 1927. By the time he was a teenager, he was already selling his material to stand-up comics. In the late 1940s and '50s, he worked as a television writer before hitting Broadway with his autobiographical play Come Blow Your Horn. The play ran for two years and was the first of a string of successful Neil Simon comedies, including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and The Sunshine Boys.

It's the birthday of Rube Goldberg, born Reuben Lucius Goldberg in San Francisco in 1883. He was a designer of sewer pipes for the San Francisco Sewer Department. Then he became a cartoonist, and created a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, who invented elaborately convoluted contraptions that performed very simple tasks.

On this day in 1862, a young Oxford mathematician named Charles Dodgson went boating down the Thames with Dr. Liddell and his three daughters, including ten-year old Alice. Alice asked Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, as he was also known, to tell a story. The story began, "Alice was getting very tired of sitting by her sisters on the bank, and having nothing to do, when a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close to her..." Dodgson later wrote down the story and published it as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

On this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his experiment of living alone in a small cabin near Walden Pond in Massachussets. He stayed for a little over two years.

It's the birthday of American composer Stephen Foster, born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, in 1826. His first song, "Open Thy Lattice, Love," was published in 1842, when he was just 16. He wrote "Camptown Races," "Old Folks at Home," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," and "Beautiful Dreamer."

It's the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne, born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, the son of a sea captain, and a descendant of John Hawthorne, one of the three judges in the Salem witch trials of 1692. Hawthorne came to believe that his family's declining fortunes were the result of blood on his ancestor's hands. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825 and then spent a decade living at home, honing his writing skills. He published a novel at his own expense, and then was embarrassed by it, and tried to gather up all the copies and burn them. He collected a number of short stories in Twice-Told Tales. In 1842, he married Sophia Peabody and settled in Concord. He was a friend of Emerson and Thoreau. His masterpiece is generally considered to be The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. This was followed by The House of the Seven Gables. He became a friend to Herman Melville, who dedicated his own masterpiece, Moby Dick, to Hawthorne.

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