Dec. 18, 2013
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It's the birthday today of painter Paul Klee, born on this day near Bern, Switzerland (1879). He went to Munich and became part of group of Expressionist artists known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group. He made drawings that he described as "taking a line for a walk," and he often featured blocks of color behind characteristically spare figures, spidery lines, and whimsical squiggles. He painted, etched, and drew on a wide range of materials — glass, plywood, cotton, silk, newspaper, celluloid, pieces of tablecloth, fraying burlap, and lined notebook paper.
Klee said, "Art should be like a holiday: something to give a man the opportunity to see things differently and to change his point of view."
It's the birthday of hymn writer and Methodist Charles Wesley (books by this author), born in Epworth, England (1707). He went to Oxford, where he was more interested in socializing than in Scripture — he wrote later: "My first year at College I lost in diversions." His older, more serious brother, John, wrote about Charles: "He pursued his studies diligently, and led a regular, harmless life; but if I spoke to him about religion, he would warmly answer, 'What, would you have me be a saint all at once?' and would hear no more."
During his years at Oxford, Charles Wesley had a spiritual awakening. He wrote to John: "It is owing, in great measure, to somebody's prayers (my mother's most likely) that I am come to think as I do; for I cannot tell myself how or why I awoke out of my lethargy." He formed a group with three fellow students, and they devoted their days to studying the Bible and praying, minimizing everything else — not only socializing but also eating and sleeping. They were mocked by fellow students. John Wesley wrote: "From the very beginning — from the time that four young men united together — each of them was a man of one book. They had one, and only one, rule of judgment. [...] They were continually reproached for this very thing, some terming them in derision Bible Bigots; others, Bible Moths; feeding, they said, upon the Bible as moths do on cloth." The names Bible Bigots and Bible Moths didn't last, but another student, seeing how methodical the young men were, nicknamed them "Methodists," which stuck. John Wesley returned to Oxford and took over as leader of the Methodists.
The Wesley brothers' first mission as Methodists was a failure. After Charles graduated, John convinced him to become ordained and accompany him as a missionary to the Colony of Georgia. Charles reluctantly agreed, and about two weeks after his ordination, the brothers set sail. John went to Savannah and Charles continued on to the new settlement of Frederica on St. Simons Island. Charles immediately ran into trouble. His strict religious habits were unwelcome to the settlers. And he was 28 years old, a handsome and eligible bachelor, prime material for gossip. Two married women named Beata Hawkins and Anne Welch told Wesley that his boss, Governor James Oglethorpe, had tried to sleep with them; then they told Oglethorpe the opposite, that Wesley had tried to seduce them, in town and on board the ship. The gossip spread quickly, the women's husbands became angry and violent, and both Oglethorpe and Wesley believed the rumors about each other. Eventually, they realized that the women had made it all up, but Wesley was overwhelmed and decided to return to England. As he was leaving, Oglethorpe gave him some parting advice; he said: "On many accounts I should recommend to you marriage, rather than celibacy. You are of a social temper, and would find in a married state the difficulties of working out your salvation exceedingly lessened." Back in England, Charles did get married, to a woman named Sarah; their marriage was a long and happy one, full of mutual respect.
The trip to Georgia had another profound influence on Wesley. On the ship, many of his fellow passengers were German Moravians, and they constantly sang hymns together. This was a radical idea — the Anglican Church had beautiful choirs, but the congregation never joined in. When he returned to England, Wesley began to write hymns that could be sung by congregations, and it became his life's work. He sometimes wrote a hymn every day, using popular songs for the tunes. The Wesley brothers traveled around England, preaching in the open air, and Charles continued to write on the road. By the time of his death at the age of 80, he had published more than 4,500 hymns, and left thousands more in manuscript form. His hymns include "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending," "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," and "Jesu, Lover of My Soul," in which he wrote:
"Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing."
It's the birthday of jazz musician Fletcher Henderson, born in Cuthbert, Georgia (1897). He attended Atlanta University, majoring in chemistry and mathematics, then moved to New York City to find work as a chemist. Instead, he was hired to play piano on a Hudson River boat, and several years later (1924), he formed the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. His innovative arrangements, which emphasized the horns and left room for improvised solos between arranged passages, shaped a new sound for big band jazz.
It's the birthday of baseball legend Ty Cobb, born Tyrus Raymond Cobb, in Narrows, Georgia (1886). Cobb was a 175-pounder who stood 6-foot-1, batted left-handed, and threw right-handed. He played most of his career for the Detroit Tigers, and by the time he retired from baseball in 1928, he had set more than 90 records, including highest lifetime batting average (.367), most batting titles (12), and most runs scored (2,245).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®