Jul. 1, 2007


by Wendy Cope

SUNDAY, 1 JULY, 2007
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Poem: "Postcards" by Wendy Cope, from If I Don't Know. © Faber and Faber, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


At first I sent you a postcard
From every city I went to.
Grüsse aus Bath, aus Birmingham,
Aus Rotterdam, aus Tel Aviv.
Mit Liebe
. Cards from you arrived
In English, with many commas.
Hope, you're fine and still alive,
Says one from Hong Kong. By that time
We weren't writing quite as often.

Now we're nearly nine years away
From the lake and the blue mountains,
And the room with the balcony,
But the heat and light of those days
Can reach this far from time to time.
Your latest was from Senegal,
Mine from Helsinki. I don't know
If we'll meet again. Be happy.
If you hear this, send a postcard.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1847 that the US Postal Service issued its first postage stamps. Before that, most letters were sent with the postage due upon delivery but you never knew if the recipient would able to pay or willing to pay the delivery charge. Postage stamps helped the government guarantee a steady income from postal services, and so they were able to lower the cost of sending a letter.

Postage stamps made letter writing practical for working class people, but it wasn't until the Civil War that most ordinary Americans began to write letters on a regular basis, rather than just for special occasions. Free home pick up and delivery was introduced in 1863, making it much easier for women to write letters, since they didn't have to travel to the nearest post office. And for that reason, the American Civil War was the first event in American history for which we have a comprehensive record of the thoughts of ordinary people, who wrote about their experiences in letters.

It was on this day in 1858 that a paper by Charles Darwin about his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience. Darwin had actually come up with the theory twenty years before that, in 1837. Back then, he drafted a thirty-five page sketch of his ideas and arranged with his wife to publish the sketch after his death. Then, for the next twenty years, he told almost no one about the theory. He practically went into hiding, moving to a small town and living like a monk, with specific times each day for walking, napping, reading, and backgammon. He was so reclusive that he even had the road lowered outside his house, to prevent passersby from looking in the window.

He was reluctant to publish his ideas, because he didn't want to create a controversy by offending anyone's religious beliefs. Atheism was a crime punishable by prison at the time, and Darwin feared that people would object to the idea that God hadn't created each creature individually. When he finally told one of his friends about his theory of evolution, he said it was like confessing a murder.

But then after his daughter died of typhoid, Darwin began to worry that his children might not be able to provide for themselves. So, to help assure his children's well-being, he began writing a book about evolution, which he hoped would become a scientific classic. He worked on the book seven days a week. He had struggled to complete a quarter of a million words when, on June 18, 1858, he learned that a man named Alfred Russel Wallace was about to publish a paper about a similar theory. In order to get credit, Darwin had to present an extract of his work to a scientific society in two weeks.

Almost the same day he received that news, his household was struck by an epidemic of scarlet fever. His children and several nursery maids came down with the disease. Most everyone recovered, but Darwin's youngest son, Charles, died. And so it was that Charles Darwin wasn't even in attendance when his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience on this day in 1858. He was at home, grieving the death of his son.

It's the birthday of crime writer James M. Cain, (books by this author) born in Annapolis, Maryland (1892). He worked as a reporter for a while and then went to Hollywood, hoping to strike it rich writing for the movies. Paramount Studios fired him after six months. He was forty years old, living in the middle of the Great Depression, and trying to support his wife and children. Then, one day, he read a newspaper article about a woman who had murdered her husband so she could take over his gas station. He was fascinated by the idea that someone so ordinary could be so ruthless, and it gave him the idea for his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934).

Most crime novelists at the time wrote about the detectives who investigated crimes. Cain wrote his novel from the point of view the drifter who helps a woman murder her husband. The book got great reviews and became a best-seller. He went on to write other novels such as Mildred Pierce (1941), and Double Indemnity (1943).

James M. Cain said, "I write of the wish that comes true-for some reason, a terrifying concept."

It was on this day in 1863 that the Battle of Gettysburg began. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had recently won a big battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. He thought he could win the war by invading the North. About seventy-five thousand Confederate soldiers and about ninety-five thousand Union soldiers met at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the morning of July 1. The battle went on for three days. It was the largest military conflict in North American history.

On the third day, Robert E. Lee decided to try to break the battle line at the center. He sent a column of troops led by General Pickett across the valley, hoping to overwhelm the Union force. The attack, known as Pickett's Charge, was disastrous. Almost sixty percent of the confederate soldiers involved in the charge were killed. It was the last time the Confederate army would invade the North.

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




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