Jul. 10, 2006
The Bean Field
Poem: "The Bean Field" By John Clare from Poems of John Clare's Madness. Public domain.
The Bean Field
A bean field full in blossom smells as sweet
As Araby, or groves of orange flowers;
Black-eyed and white, and feathered to one's feet,
How sweet they smell in morning's dewy hours!
When seething night is left upon the flowers,
And when morn's bright sun shines o'er the field,
The bean-bloom glitters in the gems o' showers,
And sweet the fragrance which the union yields
To battered footpaths crossing o'er the fields.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1925 that the Scopes Monkey Trial began in Dayton, Tennessee. In March of that year, the Tennessee legislature had declared it illegal to teach any doctrine that denied the Biblical story of divine creation. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately placed an ad in Tennessee newspapers asking for any teacher willing to challenge the state's law. It was the manager of a struggling mining company in Dayton, Tennessee, who spotted the ad, and he thought that the case might bring some publicity to his city. He persuaded a twenty-four-year-old high school teacher named John Scopes to take on the challenge. Scopes had never actually taught evolution in the classroom, but he had used an evolutionist textbook to help students review for a test. That was enough to qualify him as a defendant.
The liberal lawyer Clarence Darrow offered to argue for Scopes' defense. And the former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan volunteered to lead the prosecution. Most people assume that Bryan was a Christian fundamentalist who just wanted to keep religion in the classroom. But in fact, Bryan objected to Darwin's theory in part because it had given rise to the eugenics movement. Bryan said, "The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hatethe merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak."
The biology textbook at the heart of the Scopes Trial actually advocated the segregation of the races for the sake of improving the gene pool. Bryan believed that Darwin's theories damaged the very concept of humanity.
Many people thought Darrow would put Christianity itself on trial, but the judge in the case wouldn't let him. The judge announced at the start that the case would not consider the constitutionality of the law or its wisdom. It would only determine whether John Scopes had violated the law.
Clarence Darrow wasn't allowed to call any of the famous scientists from Harvard and the University of Chicago as witnesses. So he called the prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan as a witness. Bryan agreed to be cross-examined. Over the course of two hours, Clarence Darrow asked Bryan a series of questions in an effort to show that the Biblical creation story could not stand up to scientific reasoning.
Bryan was so exhausted by the case that he died five days after it was over. The jury convicted John Scopes, and he was fined $100. Darrow never got to appeal the case, because a higher court overruled the conviction on a technicality. The law stood on the books for more than forty years, until 1967, when it was struck down by the Supreme Court for violating the First Amendment.
It's the birthday of the short-story writer Alice Munro, (books by this author) born Alice Laidlaw in Wingham, Ontario (1931). She grew up and moved away from her hometown as soon as she could. She became a housewife and tried to write, but she didn't have much success until her marriage broke up in the 1970s, and she took a trip back to her hometown to help care for her aging father. She had planned only to stay for a year, but she found that the rural landscape she'd hated so much as a child suddenly seemed like the most interesting place in the world.
She has gone on writing about ordinary people in small town Canada ever since.
It's the birthday of the novelist Marcel Proust, (books by this author) born in Paris (1871). He's the author of an autobiographical novel that is more than three thousand pages long, and which has been translated and retranslated into English so many times that people now call it by two different English titles: Remembrance of Things Past or the more literal In Search of Lost Time.
When Proust submitted the first volume of the novel for publication, one publisher said, "I may be dense, but I fail to see why a chap needs thirty pages to describe how he tosses and turns in bed before falling asleep." All the other publishers agreed, and Proust had to publish the first volume himself in 1913. Few of his socialite friends expected that his book would amount to anything, so they were all surprised when it was hailed as a masterpiece.
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