Wednesday

Jun. 29, 2011

Gay Go Up, and Gay Go Down

by Anonymous

Gay go up, and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.

Bull's eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's.

Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles'.

Halfpence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.

Pancakes and fritters,
Say the bells of St. Peter's.

Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells at Whitechapel.

Old Father Baldpate,
Say the slow bells at Aldgate.

You owe me ten shillings,
Say the bells at St. Helen's.

Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells at St. John's.

Kettles and pans,
Say the bells at St. Ann's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells at Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells at Shoreditch.

Pray when will that be?
Say the bells at Stepney.

I am sure I don't know,
Says the great bell at Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off
         your head.

"Gay Go Up, and Gay Go Down" by Anonymous. Public domain.

On this day in 1613, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. Only one man was hurt; his breeches caught on fire, but the quick-thinking fellow put them out with a bottle of ale.

The Globe had been the home of Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, since 1599; previously, his plays had been performed in a house known simply as The Theatre, but their lease expired in 1598. The troupe found a loophole: The lease was for the land only, and the company owned the building, so the Lord Chamberlain's Men dismantled the old theater while the landlord was away for Christmas and brought it with them across the Thames from Shoreditch to Southwark. They used its timbers to build the framework of the Globe, which was also unique in being the first theater built to house a specific theatrical company, and to be paid for by the company itself.

After the fire, the Globe was rebuilt in 1614 and was in use until 1642, when the Puritans closed all the theater in London. The building was pulled down two years later to make room for tenements. It was rebuilt in the 1990s, and except for concessions made for fire safety, it is as close to the original Globe as scholars and architects were able to make it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (books by this author) died on this date in 1861. She had a chronic lung ailment and suffered a spinal injury when she was 14; she was in so much pain that she required morphine and became addicted to the opiate. As a result, she was ill most of the time. But she met Robert Browning in 1844, and they carried out an increasingly intimate correspondence, until they finally eloped to Italy in 1846. Her health improved for a time, and the Brownings had a son, Robert, whom they called Pen. She also published a collection of love sonnets that she wrote in the years leading up to her marriage. She was reluctant to publish something so intimate, but Browning convinced her; she gave it the title Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), in part to mislead people into thinking it was a work of translation, and in part because Browning's pet name for her was "my little Portuguese." This is the collection that contains the famous Sonnet 43:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

She died after contracting "a chill," although her lifelong addiction to morphine combined with her diminished lung function probably played a part. She is buried in the English Cemetery in Florence, and her grave is one of the most often visited. She was a beloved figure in Florence; shops along the Brownings' street closed on the day of her funeral, and Florentines came outside to view her flower-draped coffin proceeding to the cemetery.

It's the birthday of French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (books by this author), born in Lyons in 1900. He was rather a poor student, and he failed his entrance exam to the naval academy, but he joined the French army in 1921, and that's where he flew his first plane. He left the military five years later and began flying airmail routes into the Sahara Desert, eventually becoming the director of a remote airfield in Rio de Oro. Living conditions were Spartan, but he said, "I have never loved my house more than when I lived in the desert." He wrote his first novel, Southern Mail (1929), in the Sahara and never lost his love for the desert.

In 1929, he moved to South America to fly the mail through the Andes, and he later returned to carry the post between Casablanca and Port-Étienne. He worked as a test pilot and a journalist throughout the 1930s, and survived several plane crashes. He also got married in 1931, to Consuelo Gómez Carrillo. She wrote of him in her memoir, "He wasn't like other people, but like a child or an angel who has fallen down from the sky."

He rejoined the French army upon the outbreak of World War II, but when the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he fled to the United States, hoping to serve the U.S. forces as a fighter pilot. He was turned down because of his age, and, homesick and discouraged, he began his best-known book, The Little Prince (1943). The following year, he returned to North Africa to fly a warplane for France. He took off on a mission on July 31, 1944, and was never heard from again.

He wrote in Wind, Sand and Stars (1939), "It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world,"

And, "Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century, as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together."

Today is the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser, born in New York City in 1910. His father was a classical pianist and a piano teacher who tried to discourage his son from pursuing popular music, but to no avail. Because his father didn't approve, Loesser was largely self-taught. In the late 1920s, he became a staff lyricist for a music publisher, and none of his songs really went anywhere until Fats Waller recorded "I Wish I Were Twins" in 1934. Loesser also started performing in nightclubs in the mid-1930s; two years later, he moved to Hollywood. He got a job with Universal Studios, and then Paramount, and wrote lyrics for several notable popular composers, including Hoagy Carmichael ("Two Sleepy People" and "Small Fry").

He was assigned to the Army's Special Services as a songwriter during World War II; the first song for which he wrote the music as well as the lyrics was also the first big hit of the war: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." He wrote the official song of the U.S. infantry — "What Do You Do in the Infantry?" — and also wrote morale-boosting songs for the shows that soldiers put on in camps.

After the war, he wrote the perennial Christmas favorite "Baby It's Cold Outside" (1948) and went to Broadway. He won the Tony award for music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls (1950) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961); the latter also netted him a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and is currently in revival on Broadway starring "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, which likely means the show will win a whole new generation of young fans.

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

 









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