Dec. 2, 2001

The Pessimist

by Ben King

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Poem: "The Pessimist," by Ben King.

The Pessimist

Nothing to do but work,
    Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes
    To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air
    Quick as a flash't is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
    Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
    Nowhere to sleep but in bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
    Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
    Ah well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
    Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
    Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we've got;
    Thus thro' life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
    Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
    Can ever withstand these woes.

On this day in 1697, London celebrated the grand opening of Saint Paul's Cathedral, which was designed by Christopher Wren and which replaced the cathedral destroyed in the great fires of 1666. King Charles II appointed Wren to oversee the rebuilding of London, and Wren submitted his first design for the cathedral, which was rejected for being too modern. When King Charles gave Wren the warrant for approving the design, he added that Wren was free to make changes. Construction of the cathedral began in 1675, and Wren used some of the stones from the old cathedral. The cathedral took 35 years to complete—Wren laid the final stone himself in 1710. When Wren died in 1723, he was buried in the crypt at St. Paul's, the first person to be buried there. A Latin inscription on his tomb reads, "Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you."

It was on this day in 1823 that President Monroe presented his Monroe Doctrine during his annual speech before Congress. The doctrine called for an end to European colonization and interference in the Americas.

It was on this day in 1867 that Charles Dickens gave the first public reading of his works in America, in New York City. Dickens stayed for five months and gave 76 performances, most of which were sold out and one of which—a reading from David Copperfield—was attended by Mark Twain. Twain was a fan of Dickens' writing, but he wasn't impressed by the performance he saw. He wrote: "I was a good deal disappointed in Mr. Dickens' reading—I will go further and say, a great deal disappointed. The Herald and Tribune critics must have been carried away by their imaginations when they wrote their extravagant praises of it. Mr. Dickens' reading is rather monotonous, as a general thing; his voice is husky; his pathos is only the beautiful pathos of his language—there is no heart, no feeling in it—it is glittering frostwork; his rich humor cannot fail to tickle an audience into ecstasies save when he reads to himself."

It's the birthday of Dr. Joseph Bell, born in 1837, the Scottish physician who was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes. The two men met in 1877, when Doyle was attending the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

It was on this day in 1859 that abolitionist John Brown was hanged for treason in Charleston, Virginia. His capture, trial, and public execution prompted many sympathetic writers to rally to his defense, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau said of John Brown: "He did not recognize unjust human laws, but resisted them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of the trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and manhood. No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature ..."

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