Nov. 18, 2001

1510 How happy is the little Stone

by Emily Dickinson

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Poem: "How happy is the little Stone," by Emily Dickinson.

How happy is the little Stone

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn't care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears—
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity—

It was on this day in 1928 that the first cartoon with a synchronized soundtrack, Walt Disney's "Steamboat Willie," was premiered in New York City. The cartoon featured a mouse named Mortimer, for whom Mr. Disney himself provided a squeaky voice. Mrs. Disney felt the name Mortimer was too stuffy, so it was later changed to Mickey.

It's the birthday of the American novelist and poet James Welch, born in Browning, Montana (1940). His father was a Blackfoot Indian, and his experiences growing up on Blackfoot and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana underlie his writing. His historical novel Fool's Crow (1986) mixes legend and history to tell the story of a branch of the Montana Blackfoot in the period following the Civil War. His most recent novel, The Heartsong of Charging Elk (2000), is also historical: It follows the real life story of an Oglala Sioux who became part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

It's the birthday of the Canadian novelist, critic, and poet Margaret Eleanor Atwood, born in Ottowa (1939). She has published 20 books of poetry, 11 novels, two books of literary criticism, three children's books, and a great deal of journalism, winning 57 awards as diverse as Ms. magazine's Woman of the Year award, the Government of France's Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction. Her most recent novel, Blind Assassin (2000), won the Booker Prize and the International Association of Crime Writer's 2001 Dashiell Hammett prize.

It's the birthday of the English playwright and humorist Sir William Schwenk Gilbert, born in London (1836). He studied law and was called to the bar in 1863, but his enthusiasm for writing always outweighed his legal ambitions. His first published work, when he was 21, was a translation of a French "laughing song" which was printed in the program of the Covent Garden Promenade concerts. He confessed that he attended many of these concerts just to watch people reading his translation. In 1861 a new weekly paper, Fun, modeled after Punch, was launched in London, and he began writing and illustrating nonsense verse for it, signing this work with the pseudonym Bab, which he had used since childhood. A decade of these weekly contributions, which made him a favorite of London readers at the time, were collected and published as The Bab Ballads (1869) and as More Bab Ballads (1873). These short narrative poems were a rich source of material for the librettos that he later wrote and for which he is most famous today. His first collaboration with Sir Arthur Sullivan came in 1871 with Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old. Their second work, the one-act Trial by Jury (1875), established the names Gilbert and Sullivan as a sort of trademark. Twelve other operettas staged over 20 years include H. M. S. Pinafore (1878), Pirates of Penzance (1880), and The Mikado (1885). The partners often fought between themselves.

It's the birthday of the American botanist Asa Gray, born in Oneida County, New York (1810). He wrote many books on the subject of botany, aimed at audiences of different educational backgrounds, but his great work was a comprehensive flora, the Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, first published in 1848, and subsequently in many editions. He was a close colleague and avid supporter of Charles Darwin and his defense of the theory of natural selection, coming, as it did, from a devout Christian, undermined the popular notion of his day that to be an evolutionist was to be an atheist. His essays on Darwin's theories were collected together in a volume called Darwiniana (1876).

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