Apr. 5, 2014
Early Spring in the Field
The crow's voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse
makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a
north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted
in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the
air. I've walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am
surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the
mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of
trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack
of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost
troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last
the cold heart of winter.
Today is the birthday of Thomas Hobbes (books by this author), born in Westport, Wiltshire, England (1588) who witnessed a chaotic time in English politics, with two civil wars and the execution of the king. He wrote his most famous book, Leviathan, in the midst of it, in which he argues that people need a strong central authority to keep them from collapsing into war and chaos, a world with "no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." He believed that because we don't share the same ideas about what's right and wrong, we need a sovereign to enforce a set of laws.
It's the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (books by this author), born in London (1837) born to the aristocracy, so he never had to work for a living, and it also gave him the freedom to be outrageous. He had wild red hair, drank to excess, and screamed his poetry and blasphemies aloud while wandering around Oxford at night. He wrote poems about sex, and sadomasochism and vampires, which shocked the Victorians and which nobody reads anymore.
It is the birthday of the father of antiseptic medicine: Joseph Lister, born in Upton, England (1827). He was a surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where about half of all patients in surgery died later of what was called "ward fever." The prevailing theory of infection was that it was caused by miasma, or bad air. But Lister thought that infection might be caused by an invisible dust, like pollen, so he experimented with using carbolic acid to clean wounds. He also required his surgeons to wash their hands before and after surgery, which was a completely new medical practice. The mortality rate in Lister's ward dropped to 15 percent, and a couple of years later, it was down to 5 percent.
Lister lived into the 20th Century, long enough to see the medical community accept his theory of the cause of infection.
It's the birthday of Robert Bloch (books by this author), born in Chicago (1917), the novelist and screenwriter who created the psychopathic killer Norman Bates in his novel Psycho (1959), which was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock. He liked to use comedy in his stories.
He said, "Comedy and horror are opposite sides of the same coin. I have the heart of a child. I keep it in a jar on my shelf."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®