Nov. 17, 2007
Loss and Gain
Poem: "Loss and Gain" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Public domain. (buy now)
Loss and Gain
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of American novelist and historian Shelby Foote, (more books by this author) born in Greenville, Mississippi (1916). He had already published several novels, including Tournament (1949), Follow Me Down (1950), and Love in a Dry Season (1951), when in 1952 an editor asked him if he would try writing a narrative history of the Civil War. Foote said he thought it would take about four years, but it wound up taking two decades, and the result was almost 3,000 pages long when published. Foote later compared the project to swallowing a cannonball.
While he was working on the third volume, Foote wrote a letter to his best friend, the novelist Walker Percy: "Dear Walker, I killed Lincoln last week. Saturday, at noon ... [I] killed him and had Stanton say, 'Now he belongs to the ages.' A strange feeling though. I have another seventy-odd pages to go, and I have a feeling it'll be like Hamlet with Hamlet left out." Foote spent the last 25 years of his life working on an epic novel about Mississippi called Two Gates to the City. It remained unfinished when he died in 2006. Shelby Foote said, "A writer's like anybody else except when he's writing."
It was on this day in 1558 that Queen Elizabeth I acceded to the English throne. Her father, King Henry VIII, had broken with the Catholic Church to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn, in hopes of producing a male heir. But when Elizabeth was born, he had Anne Boleyn beheaded and declared Elizabeth an illegitimate child. She grew up in a world of conspiracies and assassinations. Because she was a potential heir to the throne, her life was constantly in danger.
England almost broke out in civil war when Elizabeth's half-sister, Mary Tudor, came to power and tried to turn England back into a Catholic nation. But Mary died just five years after becoming queen, leaving behind a debt-ridden, divided country. Elizabeth took the throne on this day in 1558. She was 25 years old. One of her first acts as queen was to restore England to Protestantism. Militant Protestants wanted her to seek out secret Catholics and prosecute them, but Elizabeth decided that she wasn't going to police anyone's private beliefs. She required everyone to go to the Church of England on Sunday and that they all use the same prayer book, but aside from that they could believe whatever they wanted.
She also eased the restrictions on the legal operation of theaters, and the result was a new career for writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, and William Shakespeare. Part of the reason so many great writers came out of the Elizabethan era was simply that it was a time of relative peace and prosperity, in which people had the luxury to read books and go to the theater. But Elizabeth also helped encourage the English to have pride in themselves, in their history, and especially their language.
She reigned for 45 years, one of the great eras in English history. Near the end of her reign, she said to her subjects: "Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves. And though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat; yet you never had, nor shall have any that will love you better."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®