Wednesday

Oct. 16, 2013

IF--

by Rudyard Kipling

('Brother Square-Toes'—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you.
   But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting.
   Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
   And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master
   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
   And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
   And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
   If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
   With sixty seconds' worth of distance run.
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
   And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

"IF—" by Rudyard Kipling, from A Choice of Kipling's Verse. © Faber and Faber, 1941. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Noah Webster (books by this author), born in Hartford, Connecticut (1758). When he was 43 years old, he began writing the first American dictionary, which he put together because he wanted Americans to have a national identity that wasn't based on the language and ideas of England. And the problem wasn't just that Americans were looking to England for their language; it was that they could barely communicate with each other because regional dialects differed so drastically.

So in 1783, he published the first part of his three-part A Grammatical Institute, of the English Language; the first section was eventually retitled The American Spelling Book, but usually called by the nickname "Blue-Backed Speller." The Blue-Backed Speller taught American children the rules of spelling, and it simplified words — it was Webster who took the letter "u" out of English words like colour and honour; he took a "g" out of waggon, a "k" off the end of musick, and switched the order of the "r" and "e" in theatre and centre.

In 1801, he started compiling his dictionary. Part of what he accomplished, much like his textbook, was standardizing spelling. He introduced American words, some of them derived from Native American languages: skunk, squash, wigwam, hickory, opossum, lengthy; and presidential, Congress, and caucus, which were not relevant in England's monarchy.

On this day in 1846, the first successful demonstration of ether anesthesia took place at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dentist William Morton administered ether to a patient with a tumor on his neck, and the famous surgeon John Collins Warren amputated the tumor without the patient feeling any pain.

Although nitrous oxide, termed "laughing gas," was less effective than scientists hoped, there was a general consensus that using gases during surgery was the way of the future. Meanwhile, nitrous oxide and another gas called diethyl ether were proving successful in a much different realm: entertainment. Lecturers traveled around the countryside, administering laughing gas or diethyl ether to crowds; and college students began throwing what they called "ether frolics," basically just parties where everyone got high on ether. Both these substances were completely legal.

It's the birthday of Oscar Wilde (books by this author), born in Dublin (1854), who was already a successful playwright when he fell into a love affair with the young aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was married with two children at the time, and the affair ruined his reputation in society. He later wrote, "I curse myself night and day for my folly in allowing him to dominate my life." But it was the most creative period of his life. He wrote three plays in two years about people leading double lives, including A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), about two men who use an imaginary person named Earnest to get themselves out of all kinds of situations, until their invented stories and identities get so complicated that everything is revealed.

The actor who played Algernon Moncrieff later said, "In my fifty-three years of acting, I never remember a greater triumph than the first night of The Importance of Being Earnest." But that same year, Wilde was accused of sodomy by the father of his lover. Wilde might have let the accusation pass, but he chose to sue his accuser for libel, because he thought he could win the case by his eloquence alone. Private detectives had dug up so much damning evidence on Wilde that he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to two years of hard labor. His plays continued to be produced on the stage, but his name was removed from all the programs. He was released from prison in 1897 and died three years later in a cheap Paris hotel.

Oscar Wilde, who said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." And, "An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all."

It's the birthday of Eugene O'Neill (books by this author), born in New York City (1888). Eugene was born in a hotel room, and his father went back on tour two days after the birth. For much of his childhood, O'Neill accompanied his father. He said: "My early experience with the theater through my father really made me revolt against it. As a boy I saw so much of the old, ranting, artificial, romantic stage stuff that I always had a sort of contempt for the theater." Then in 1907, when O'Neill was 18 years old, he saw the Russian actress Alla Nazimova star in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Bijou Theatre in New York. He said: "The experience discovered an entire new world of the drama for me. It gave me my first conception of a modern theater where truth might live." Hedda Gabler ran for 32 performances, and O'Neill went to 10 of them.

He went on to write 50 plays, including The Hairy Ape (1921), Desire Under the Elms (1924), The Iceman Cometh (1939), and Long Day's Journey Into Night (1941).

He said: "Keep on writing, no matter what! That's the most important thing. As long as you have a job on hand that absorbs all your mental energy, you haven't much worry to spare over other things. It serves as a suit of armor."

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

 









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