Feb. 26, 2014
Someone is selling the Encyclopedia Britannica
in all its volumes,
which take up a whole card table.
It looks brand new, even though it must be sixty years old.
That's because it was only used a couple of times,
when the kids passed through fifth grade
and had to do reports on the Zambezi River
and Warren Harding.
Der Fuhrer was defunct.
The boys came home,
and everybody got the Encyclopedia Britannica,
which sat on the bookshelf
as they watched Gunsmoke
through a haze of Winstons.
these people grew old
and were sent to a home
by the same children who once wrote
reports on Warren Harding.
And now the complete and unabridged
bulging with important knowledge,
is sitting on a card table in a light rain.
Playwright Christopher Marlowe (books by this author) was baptized in Canterbury, England, on this date in 1564. The son of a shoemaker, he was so intellectually gifted that he was accepted into Cambridge on a scholarship meant for men entering the clergy. He chose to write plays rather than pursue holy orders, and he was frequently absent, possibly because he was spying for Queen Elizabeth I, an occupation he may have held until the end of his life. He may have been posing as a Catholic to gather intelligence on any plots against the Protestant queen; he was almost denied his diploma because it was rumored he had converted to Roman Catholicism, and he was only granted his degree after the queen's Privy Council intervened on his behalf.
Marlowe was one of the bad boys of the Renaissance. We don't know too much about him — even less than we know about Shakespeare, which isn't much — but his plays reveal an author who was cynical about nearly everything: religion, society, and politics. He was most likely gay and an atheist in a time when it was very dangerous to be either, let alone both. But he was also a brilliant poet and dramatist, breaking away from the traditional dramatic form of rhymed couplets to work in blank verse, and inspiring Shakespeare to do the same. One of the plays he wrote while at Cambridge was Tamburlaine the Great, and it was produced in London in 1587. It did well enough that he wrote a sequel; these were the only of Marlowe's plays produced before his untimely death at 29, when he was stabbed in a dispute over a tavern bill. Marlowe also wrote Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, and The Massacre at Paris.
Today is the birthday of French author Victor Hugo (books by this author), born in Besançon (1802), the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), about a gypsy girl and the deformed bell-ringer who loves her; and Les Misérables (1862), about Jean Valjean, a poor man who is sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Hugo was also a poet, playwright, and politician. By the time he died in 1885, at the age of 82, he was a national hero; journalists recorded everything he said on his deathbed, and 2 million mourners watched his funeral procession go by.
It's the birthday of John Harvey Kellogg, doctor and cereal pioneer, born in Tyrone, New York (1852). He ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan to promote healthy living and eating. There, he and his brother, Will, invented several grain-based foods, cooking the grain and forcing it through rollers to make dough. They were cooking wheat one day when they were called away, and when they returned, the wheat was apparently overcooked. They decided to put it through the rollers anyway, and cereal flakes were born.
President Woodrow Wilson established the Grand Canyon National Park on this date in 1919, after a 30 year opposition from ranchers, miners, and entrepreneurs. Today, the Grand Canyon National Park covers more than 1,900 square miles; the canyon itself is 277 river miles long, 10 miles wide, and a mile deep. The park receives 5 million visitors every year.
In 1903, upon seeing the canyon for the first time, Theodore Roosevelt said: "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison — beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity, and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®