Nov. 21, 2001

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Poem: A sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there sits a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

It's the birthday of British diplomat and author Sir Harold Nicolson, born in Teheran, Persia (1886). His father, Arthur Nicolson, was British chargé d'affaires in Teheran, and after graduating Oxford he also entered the diplomatic corps and served in Madrid, Istanbul, Teheran. He was also a British representative to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. In 1929, he retired from the diplomatic service and devoted himself to writing. He wrote dozens of books, including biographies of Tennyson and Swinburne, and the official biography of King George V. In 1912, he married the novelist Vita Sackville-West. Their marriage, one of deep mutual affection and frequent extramarital affairs, was written about by their son Nigel Nicolson in Portrait of a Marriage (1973). Harold Nicolson said: "The great secret of a successful marriage is to treat all disasters as incidents and none of the incidents as disasters."

It's the birthday of a U.S. Army surgeon who was the first person to study the actual process of human digestion, Dr. William Beaumont, born in Lebanon, Connecticut (1785). In 1822, while he was stationed at Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island, Michigan, he was called upon to treat a 19-year old French-Canadian trapper named Alexis St. Martin, who had received a severe abdominal wound from a misfiring shotgun. The shot had opened up a hole in the wall of the stomach. Through this hole, which never completely healed over, Dr. Beaumont was able to observe at first hand the process of digestion within the human stomach. He tied pieces of various foods to strings and lowered them into St. Martin's stomach to see how they were affected by the gastric juices. He determined that digestion was basically a chemical process, and that gastric juice contained free hydrochloric acid.

It's the birthday of the German theologian Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher, born in Breslau, Silesia, Prussia (1768). He studied philosophy and reformed theology, and was eventually ordained as a pastor. He's best known, though, as the founder of modern Protestant theology. His greatest work was called The Christian Faith (1831). He said: "The common element in all diverse expressions of piety, no matter how diverse, is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation with God."

It's the birthday of François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, born in Paris (1694). He abandoned the study of the law to become a writer, first of classical tragedies, then of epic poetry and satire. After being imprisoned in the Bastille for his liberal opinions on religion, he ended up settling in Switzerland, where he wrote his best known work, Candide (1758), about the travels and misfortunes of Candide, his beloved Cunegonde, and the optimistic Doctor Pangloss, who survives a botched hanging and declares: "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

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