Jan. 22, 2012
I had a dream, which was not all a dream:
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless and pathless, and the icy Earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air!
Morn came, and went, and came - and brought no day.
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light.
And they did live by watchfires - and the thrones,
The palaces of crownéd kings, the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons. Cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face.
Happy were those which dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch!
A fearful hope was all the World contained -
Forests were set on fire, but hour by hour
They fell and faded, and the crackling trunks
Extinguished with a crash, and all was black.
Today is the birthday of Sir Francis Bacon (1561) (books by this author). He was born in London, and he was, among other things, a philosopher, a statesman, an essayist, and a champion of modern science. He was born into a family with connections at court, but he criticized Queen Elizabeth's tax levy and fell out of favor. When Elizabeth was succeeded by James I, Bacon's career got back on track, and in 1618, he was named the Lord Chancellor. His glory was short-lived; he was convicted of accepting bribes in 1621, and banned from political office for the rest of his life.
He spent much of his intellectual life challenging Aristotle's view that knowledge should begin with universal truths. He said, "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties." In Novum Organum (1620), Bacon wrote that scholars should build their knowledge of the world from specific, observable details. His theory is now known as the scientific method, and is the basis of all experimental science.
It's the birthday of the notorious British Romantic poet Lord Byron (books by this author), born George Gordon in London (1788). He was impulsive, compulsive, and given to excesses with lovers of both sexes. He had an incestuous relationship with his half sister, Augusta, and may have been the father of one of her children. He was sexy, charismatic, witty, athletic, and bipolar. One of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, called him "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."
He married once, to Anne Isabella Milbank, in 1814, in the hope that domestic life would help him control his wild behavior. The marriage was a poor fit from the start; his wife was humorless and rigid, and they were both miserable. They had a daughter, Ada, in 1815 and legally separated in 1816. He left England that year, to live abroad, and never returned.
In spite of his turbulent personal life, he found time to write epic narrative poems, like the melancholy Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18) and the satirical Don Juan (1818-24). He became a literary rock star: His poem The Corsair (1814) sold 10,000 copies on the day it was published. He also penned tender verses like "She Walks in Beauty" (1814). That poem begins:
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes
As he lay dying of a fever — possibly malaria, or sepsis from improperly sterilized tools used to bleed him — he requested that his body be left undisturbed. Sadly, his wishes were disregarded; doctors cut him open almost upon his last breath, removing parts of his skull and organs for souvenirs. His remains were denied burial in Westminster Abbey for reasons of "questionable morality." He was buried at the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Nottinghamshire.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®