Jan. 13, 2004

A Little Health

by Anonymous

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Poem: ""A Little Health," by anonymous poet, from The Diary of Francis Kilvert (1840-1879).

A Little Health

A little health,
A little wealth,
A little house and freedom,
And at the end
A little friend
And little cause to need him.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Jay McInerney, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1955). His first novel, Bright Lights, Big City (1984) was a huge success.

It's the birthday of Edmund White, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1940). He worked as an editor at Horizon and The Saturday Review, and wrote A Boy's Own Story (1982).

It's the birthday of Carolyn Heilbrun, born in East Orange, New Jersey (1926). She's written a number of books of literary criticism, and, under the pseudonym Amanda Cross, 14 murder mysteries starring the detective Kate Fansler, including Honest Doubt (2000), and The Edge of Doom (2002). She started teaching English at Columbia University in 1960, but she worried that the university wouldn't give her tenure, and she wanted to have something to fall back on. She made the hero of her mystery books a rich, thin English professor who spent as much time talking about university politics as she did running down criminals.

It's the birthday of A(lfred) B(ertram) Guthrie, born in Bedford, Indiana (1901). He wrote The Big Sky (1946), and won a Pulitzer Prize for The Way West (1949). He said, "Fiction is love and hate and agreement and conflict and common adventure, not lonely musing of have-beens and might-have-beens."

It's the birthday of Horatio Alger, Jr., born in Chelsea, Massachusetts (1832). His career as a minister ended when he was accused of molesting two boys in his parish. He left New England, vowed to redeem himself by helping the poor, and set about writing novels about the homeless children who lived in the streets of New York City. His first novel, Ragged Dick; or Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks, was serialized in a magazine, where it picked up more readers with every issue. When it was published in book form in 1867, it became an instant bestseller. Groucho Marx once said, "Horatio Alger's books conveyed a powerful message to me and many of my young friends—that if you worked hard at your trade, the big chance would eventually come. As a child I didn't regard it as a myth, and as an old man I think of it as the story of my life."

On this day in 1864, the songwriter Stephen Foster, died in New York City. He was 37 years old. His wife had left him, and he was slowly drinking himself to death. Sick in bed with a high fever, he got up to call the chambermaid, fell against the washstand and cut his neck. He lay there for hours before someone could take him to the hospital, and he died a couple of days later. When his wife went through his belongings after his death, she found 38 cents and a note in his handwriting that read, "Dear friends and gentle hearts . . ."

It is also the anniversary of the death of James Joyce, in Zurich in 1941. He died of a stomach ulcer. He wrote Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), and Ulysses (1922). His last book was Finnegans Wake, which remained a work in progress for 16 years until it was finally published in 1939. The novel is about the family of a publican named Mr. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, who lives in Chapelizod, just outside of Dublin. The first sentence of the book is the end of the unfinished last sentence. The book ends, "A way a lone a last a loved along the," and begins, "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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