Jan. 27, 2009

The Crocodile

by Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
     Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
     On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
     How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
     With gently smiling jaws!

"The Crocodile" by Lewis Carroll. Public domain. (buy now)

It was on this day in 661 that Ali died. He was one of the scribes designated to write down the Qur'an, and he was the cousin, son-in-law, and successor of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. It was Ali's death that resulted in the split into Sunni and Shi'ite Islam — a division that is still a cause of conflict in the Middle East.

Ali was a well-respected scholar of the Qur'an and Islamic legal studies. Ali accused a caliph of being responsible for having brought "blameworthy innovations" into Islam. When the caliph was assassinated, his followers blamed Ali. But the opposing party championed Ali and set him up in office as the new caliph, replacing the murdered one.

A few years later, a tribunal ruled that Ali was at fault for the previous caliph's death. Ali said that the tribunal's decision was not in accordance with Qur'anic law. Soon after, he was stabbed in the back while praying at the mosque of Kufa, in Iraq, and he died on this day, 1,348 years ago. The place where he was stabbed later became the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

Ali is a figure revered by both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. Sunni Muslims consider Ali that last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. The Shi'a believe that Ali was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in 1756 in Salzburg, which is now in Austria.

Mozart's father, Leopold, was one of Europe's leading music educators, and he took Mozart and his sister on tours throughout Europe. Young Mozart began composing original work at age five. During a trip to Italy, Mozart amazed his hosts when he listened only once to the performance of a Gregorio Allegri composition and then wrote it out from memory.

Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781, and in 1782 he married Constanze Weber. The couple had six children, but only two of them survived into adulthood. Mozart continued to compose music, and he wrote his famous opera The Marriage of Figaro (1786).

No one knows for sure why Mozart died at age 35. Many people speculate that he died of mercury poisoning while being treated for syphilis. Others think he died from eating badly cooked pork. Some insist that Mozart was murdered by his rival, Antonio Salieri. Mozart was buried in a mass grave because the country was battling an outbreak of bubonic plague, not because his family could not afford a proper burial.

Mozart said, "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer — say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep — it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best, and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not, nor can I force them."

It's the birthday of Lewis Carroll, (books by this author) born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Cheshire, England in 1832, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871).

He was a faculty member in mathematics at Oxford and a serious photographer. When he was 24 years old, a new dean arrived at Carroll's church and brought his three daughters: Lorina Charlotte, Edith, and Alice. Carroll befriended the girls and spent a lot of time with them. In July of 1862, floating in a rowboat on a pond, he came up with a story about a girl's adventures in a magical underground world, and he told it to the three sisters.

Many biographers have made out Carroll to be a shy, awkward recluse, but he was actually charming and sociable. He loved to host dinner parties, and he wrote about 97,000 letters in his lifetime.

Carroll never forgot the day he invented the story of Alice and her adventures. He remembered "the cloudless blue above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars ... the three eager faces, hungry for news of fairy-land." Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, and it became one of the most popular children's books in the world.

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