Poem: "Yes" by William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems
© Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission.
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could you know. That's why we wake
and look out--no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the second First Lady in American history, Abigail Adams, born Abigail Smith in Weymouth, Massachusetts (1744). John Adams traveled a lot during their marriage, and so they kept up a frequent correspondence. She also wrote to other family and friends, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. She wrote about her garden, her children, the momentous historical events she was witnessing, and about politics. Thousands of her letters have been collected and published, and she is considered one of the great letter writers in American history. She called the pen her only pleasure.
In their letters, she addressed him as her "dearest friend." He addressed her as his "dear soul." She wasn't always happy to give up her husband's company for the country's benefit. When she learned that he would be staying away for an extra month in 1775, she wrote, "I was pleasing myself with the thought that you would soon be upon your return. It is in vain to repine. I hope the public will reap what I sacrifice."
She never hesitated to give John her opinions about public policy, and she made her most famous suggestion on March 31, 1776, when she wrote, "I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors."
When John wrote back, "I cannot but laugh...you are so saucy!" Abigail replied, "I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies; for, whilst you are proclaiming peace and good-will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives...arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken; and, notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have it in our power, not only to free ourselves, but to subdue our masters, and without violence, throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet."
It's the birthday of Andre Gide, born in Paris (1869). He was brought up in an extremely strict Calvinist household, and he struggled for most of his youth against sexual desires. He said, "[I was] crazed to such a point that eventually I came to seek everywhere some bit of flesh on which to press my lips."
He was traveling in North Africa in 1895 when he met the writer Oscar Wilde, who questioned his sexuality. At first, he was offended by Wilde's suggestion, but the encounter led him to embrace the fact that he was a homosexual. He went on to become one of the first modern writers to openly defend homosexuality in his book Corydon (1924), which became an underground classic, even though it was denounced and banned in mainstream literary society.
He was one of the most popular writers in France, in part because he was so controversial. For a long time, the Vatican proclaimed that it was a mortal sin to read any of his books. He's best known for his novels The Immoralist (1902) and The Counterfeiters (1926). He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947.
Andre Gide said, "'Know thyself'[is] a maxim as pernicious as it is ugly...A caterpillar who wanted to know itself well would never become a butterfly."
And, "Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better."
It's the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans in Warwickshire, England (1819). She was her father's favorite child, and he paid for the many tutors who taught her foreign languages and gave her all the best literature to read. Her father was shocked when, at the age of twenty-two, she told him that she had decided Christianity was a mix of fact and fiction, and she no longer wanted to go to church. He stopped speaking to her for nine weeks. She eventually made up with him, but she never changed her beliefs.
After her father's death, she traveled to Switzerland, wondering how she was going to support herself. Her father hadn't left her much money, and men didn't find her very attractive. She found herself spending all her time sitting in public places, staring at other people and taking notes. Her letters to friends were filled with observations of the people she met.
When she returned to England, she became a woman of letters at a time when there was almost no such thing. She impressed the owner of a literary journal so much that he let her become the poorly paid, unacknowledged editor of the Westminster Review, and under her guidance it became one of the most respected literary quarterlies in London.
Eliot also began to write fiction. She chose George Eliot as her pen name because George was the first name of her lover and she said, "Eliot was a good mouth-filling, easily-pronounced word." She also described the name as, "A tub to throw to the whale in case of curious inquiries."
At a time when most novels were full of exaggerated characters, wild coincidences, and sentimentality, Eliot devoted herself to writing about ordinary characters and ordinary life. She wrote, "Do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world."
Eliot's first full-length novel Adam Bede (1859) was about carpenter who is betrayed by his love, Hetty Sorrel. Eliot said, "[It is] country story--full of the breath of cows and scent of hay." It was an immediate success. People across Europe, including Leo Tolstoy in Russia, called it a work of genius, and everyone wondered who this George Eliot was. Mary Evans decided to reveal her identity, and went on to become one of the most renowned writers of her lifetime. In 1871, she published her masterpiece, Middlemarch, which has been called one of the greatest English novels of all time.
George Eliot, who wrote, "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."
It was about 12:30 PM on this day in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It was the only successful assassination of an American president carried out in the last hundred years, and the only presidential assassination ever caught on film. Almost every American alive at the time remembers where they were when they heard the news. Walter Cronkite cried when he made the announcement that the president was dead.
The alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested ninety minutes after the murder took place. Two days after his arrest, Oswald was being transferred to jail, in front of a crowd of on-lookers and TV cameras, when a local nightclub owner named Jack Ruby pulled out a gun and shot him.
Chief Justice Earl Warren presided over a presidential commission to investigate the assassination. The Warren Commission's report filled twenty-seven volumes with about 10 million words. In included the transcripts of 25,000 FBI interviews, 1500 secret service interviews, the testimony of 552 witnesses who appeared before the commission itself, as well as photos and related documents.
The writer Don DeLillo, who wrote the novel Libra (1988) about the Kennedy assassination, said of the Warren Report, "Everything is here. Baptismal records, report cards, postcards, divorce petitions, canceled checks, daily timesheets, tax returns, property lists, postoperative x-rays, photos of knotted string, thousands of pages of testimony...It is all one thing, a ruined city of trivia...the Joycean Book of America."
The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that Jack Ruby had also acted alone. But even before the commission's report was released, books were already being published suggesting various conspiracy theories. Today, there have been more books written by amateur historians about the Kennedy assassination than any other event in history.
The theories include a right wing conspiracy within the U.S. Government, a group of right wing dissidents, anti-Castro Cubans and their supporters, left-wing pro-Castro Cubans, or the Mafia. One theory is that Oswald himself actually never returned from a trip to Russia, but had been replaced and impersonated by a KGB agent. Another theory claims that Oswald was not trying to kill the president at all, but just John Connally, the governor of Texas, who sat in front of Kennedy in the same limousine. Still another suggests that Kennedy was accidentally shot by a secret service agent.
Today, fewer than half of all Americans believe the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone.
Don DeLillo wrote, "What has become unraveled since that afternoon in Dallas is...the sense of a coherent reality most of us shared. We seem from that moment to have entered a world of randomness and ambiguity."
Poem: "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise New & Selected Poems © Graywolf Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission.
There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon.
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1889 the Jukebox made its debut at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was called a "nickel-in-the-slot player" and was built by the Pacific Phonograph Co. and installed by entrepreneur Louis Glass and his business associate William S. Arnold.
The jukebox consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a free-standing oak cabinet to which were attached four stethoscope-like tubes. Each tube could be activated by depositing a coin so that four people could listen to a single recording at one time - the sound equivalent of the peep-show nickelodeon. Towels were supplied so that Palais Royale patrons could wipe off the listening tubes between uses. Despite competition from player pianos, this primitive jukebox was a big hit across the country. In its first six months of service, the Nickel-in-the-Slot earned over $1,000.
It's the birthday of poet Christopher Logue, born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (1926), whose works include Wand and Quadrant (1953), The Girls (1969), Kings: An Account of Books One and Two of Homer's Iliad (1991), War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad (1987) and All Day Permanent Red: An Account of the First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad (2003).
Logue grew up in Portsmouth where his mother had gone for her own mother's company. His father was in London much of the time where he rented a small house and worked as an official in the British postal service. Logue had an intense but hostile attachment to his mother. He was miserable in school and didn't feel like he fit in. He spent his time drawing and woodworking. He thought he would have made a better painter than a writer, but he chose poetry as his vocation.
He said, "People in the arts struck me as being free...I wanted, and still want, to create something exceptionally clear and hard and truthful. So it was poetry for me." When he left school he was advised he was not suitable for further education.
In 1944, Logue joined the Army and was sent to the Middle East with the Black Watch. He was found guilty of gunrunning and other offenses in Palestine and was imprisoned for two years. In 1948 after his discharge he went to London where he worked as a park keeper and a dental receptionist. He later qualified as the single registered pauper in the town of Bournemouth. During this time he read all of Shaw, Milton, and Dryden.
His father soon died and left him with fifty pounds. So Logue used the money to go to Paris in 1951. At that time, Alexander Trocchi and Samuel Beckett were around, George Whitman was developing the bookshop which is now famous as Shakespeare & Company, and magazines like Merlin and The Paris Review were starting. Logue made friends and found happiness. He said, "With the exception of my various love affairs I have remained happy ever since."
While nearly starving, he published Wand and Quadrant (1953) with money he raised in cafes. He became a Marxist the following year and dressed entirely in black. He wrote Songs in 1959, a mix of love sonnets, political poems, ballads and translations from Homer and Pablo Neruda printed in a variety of typefaces which Logue himself designed.
He has been described as an exhibitionist who seeks to raise the poet to the level of pop singer. In Who's Who he revealed himself to be "Count Palmiro Vicarion," who in 1957 published Lust--a pornographic novel, A Book of Limericks, and A Book of Bawdy Ballads.
Logue returned to London and took part in early poetry-and-jazz experiments, pioneering poster poems, going to prison again, and taking part in the literary and political scenes. He was there at the Albert Hall poetry reading at which three Beat poets, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Corso, joined with Logue, George MacBeth, and other locals to perform before an audience of several thousand. He said of the event, "It was the moment that spoke."
For over four decades, Logue has worked at rewriting and modernizing Homer's Iliad in English. He can't read a word of Ancient Greek, and works through the Iliad by consulting existing translations, getting a sense of what it's about, and then writing his own version. Logue said, "I write slowly and painfully. This would be fine except for the fact that I suffer greatly from long, alternating bouts of idleness and impatience."
Logue's latest installment is All Day Permanent Red (2003). Its name comes from a Revlon lipstick ad. The book recounts a single battle in the Trojan War and is entirely action.
It's the birthday of mystery writer, critic and lecturer Robert Barnard, born in 1936 in Essex, England. He spent many years in academia while establishing himself as a writer of crime fiction. His first crime novel, Death of an Old Goat (1974) was written while he was professor of English at the University of Tromso in Norway, the world's most northerly university. Since then he has written over thirty crime novels including A Scandal in Belgravia (1991), The Mistress of Alderley (1992), The Bones in the Attic (2001), and The Graveyard Position (2004). His detectives include Scotland Yard's Perry Trethowan and Yorkshire policeman Charlie Peace. He also writes historical crime novels as Bernard Bastable, often featuring Mozart as a detective.
Robert Barnard said he writes only to entertain. He regards Agatha Christie as his ideal crime writer and has published an appreciation of her work, A Talent to Deceive (1980), as well as books on Dickens and a history of English literature.
It's the birthday of poet Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel, in what was Czernowitz, Romania at the time of his birth (1920). It is now located in Ukraine. When Romania came under Nazi control during World War Two, Celan was sent to a forced labor camp, and his parents were murdered. Celan escaped and after the war, he settled in Paris where he published Mohn und Gedachtnis (Poppy and Memory, 1952) and established his reputation as poet in the German-speaking countries.
Though Celan spoke eight languages, he chose to write in German. A year after receiving the news of his parent's deaths, Celan wrote: "And can you bear, Mother, as once on a time, / the gentle, the German, the pain-laden rhyme?" His German mother tongue reminded him of the loss constantly. He said, "Only in one's mother tongue can one express one's own truth. In a foreign language, the poet lies."
His most famous poem, "Todesfugue" (Death Fugue), is one of the great poems to come out of the Holocaust. It is a poem about the Nazi death camps and about Germans and Jews.
Celan became a teacher of German language at the Ecole Normale Sup&eaccent;rieure in Paris. Along with writing poetry, he translated works from such writers as Cocteau, Mandelstam, Rimbaud, Val&ecaute;ry, Char, du Bouchet, and Dupin. After being wrongly accused of plagiarism, Celan had a nervous breakdown and continued to suffer from bouts of depression throughout the 1960s. He drowned himself in the Seine river on May 1, in 1970, at the age of 49. In his pocket calendar he had written: "Depart Paul." The three books Celan left unfinished at his death appeared in 1986 under the title Last Poems.
Paul Celan said: "Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language... But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through."
And he said, "Reality is not simply there, it must be searched and won."
It's the birthday of writer and critic Guy Davenport, born in Anderson, South Carolina (1927). He is best known for two books of essays, Every Force Evolves a Form (1987) and The Geography of the Imagination (1981). He has published seven collections of short stories and numerous translations of early Greek poets and playwrights. He was a professor of English at the University of Kentucky from 1964 to 1990. He is also a painter and illustrator and in 1996 a collection of Davenport's artwork, 50 Drawings, was published.
Guy Davenport said, "Art is the attention we pay to the wholeness of the world."
Poem: "Gathering Leaves" by Robert Frost, from The Poetry of Robert Frost © Holt Rinehart Winston. Reprinted with permission.
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.
I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like a rabbit and deer
But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.
I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?
Next to nothing for weight;
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.
Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the children's book author Frances Hodgson Burnett, born in Manchester, England (1849). She was a successful author of books for adults in her lifetime, but today she's remembered for a book she wrote for children: The Secret Garden (1896). She wrote, "I can't help making up things. If I didn't, I don't believe I could live. I'm sure I couldn't live here."
It's the birthday of one of the pioneers of the self-help industry, Dale Carnegie, born in Maryville, Missouri (1888). He started out teaching night classes on public speaking at the 125th Street YMCA in Harlem. The YMCA didn't have much faith that people would pay for a public speaking class, so Carnegie made them a deal. If his classes didn't make a profit, the Y didn't have to give him anything, but if they did make a profit, he got half. After a few years, he was making forty or fifty dollars per class.
He said, "People came to my classes because they wanted to be able to stand up on their feet and say a few words at a business meeting without fainting from fright. Salesmen wanted to be able to call on a tough customer without having to walk around the block three times to get up courage."
He saved up enough money to rent out an office in Times Square and began teaching his own classes and printing his own instructional pamphlets. He eventually published his pamphlets in the book Public Speaking; A Practical Course for Business Men (1926), which became a standard public speaking textbook.
For the next few years, Carnegie began studying biographies of prominent men, paying special attention to what made them successful. He claimed to have read more than 100 biographies of Theodore Roosevelt alone. He began incorporating anecdotes about these famous people into his classes and his public lectures.
One day, a publishing executive who took one of his classes suggested that he write a book based on his lectures. He didn't want to, but he finally worked with a secretary to pull a book together and it was published in 1936 as How To Win Friends and Influence People.
The first printing of the book was 5,000 copies, but within a few months of its publication, it was selling 5,000 copies a day. It broke all the sales records for non-fiction, and has since sold more than 15 million copies.
When asked where he got his ideas, Dale Carnegie said, "I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don't like their rules, whose would you use?"
It's the birthday of the mathematician and philosopher Benedict Spinoza, born in Amsterdam (1632). He came from a family of Portuguese Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition. His father found refuge in Amsterdam, where there was a vibrant community of Jewish merchants and intellectuals.
Spinoza was a brilliant scholar, but he got himself excommunicated from the Jewish community for questioning the existence of miracles. So, he supported himself making lenses for spectacles, telescopes and microscopes. In his spare time, he studied mathematics, philosophy and theology and began to write. He was offered a professorship in Germany near the end of his life, but he turned it down because he thought it would take up too much time.
He published only three books in his lifetime, and only his first book, Principles of the Philosophy of Rene Descartes (1663) named him as the author. He was afraid that if he published his ideas, he would be branded a heretic by both Jews and Christians. But after his death, his friends secretly published most of his writings.
His most important idea was that everything in the universe is made of a single substance, and that everything in the universe is subject to natural laws. He also argued that the soul and the body are not really separate, but two parts of the same thing. He believed that God did not stand outside the universe, but rather that the universe itself was God, and that everything in the universe was perfect and divine.
Spinoza said, "I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused."
It's the birthday of the novelist Lawrence Sterne, born in Clonmel, Ireland (1713). His father was a professional soldier. The year Sterne was born his father's salary was cut in half, and Sterne's earliest memories were of his father moving the family from one Army barracks to another. When he was ten years old, his father left him with an uncle and went off to Jamaica. Sterne never saw his father again.
Sterne's great grandfather had been the arch bishop of York, and Sterne decided to go into the church as well. He received a scholarship that had been established by his great grandfather for the benefit of the poor. He was ordained as a priest, with the help of his uncle, and he soon learned that his uncle expected political favors in return for his post. He did his best, writing articles for political causes his uncle supported, but he finally gave up and lost any chances he had for moving up in the church hierarchy.
He had to support himself and his wife by doing double duty in two different parishes, as well as substitute preaching at a third parish. He did all this preaching despite the fact that he was skeptical about the existence of God.
He knew he wanted to try writing fiction, but his friends kept telling him to put it off until he got promoted to higher office. He finally decided he couldn't wait any more, and began to write what became one of the most revolutionary novels in English literature: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760).
Like many novels of its era, Tristram Shandy pretends to be a sort of autobiography, but it becomes the story of the narrator being unable to tell his own story. He is constantly side-tracked by various absurd digressions on all sorts of subjects, questioning received ideas in ethics, theology, philosophy, sex, and politics. The book is also filled with black pages, excerpts of obscure theological debates, and a graphic representation of its own plotline.
It begins, "I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing...Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me."
His description of his own conception is interrupted by his mother asking his father, "Pray, my dear...have you not forgot to wind up the clock?"
Sterne participated in all the details of the Tristram Shandy's marketing campaign, even specifying the dimensions of the book to make sure it could fit into a gentleman's coat pocket. His efforts paid off and the book made him famous. But people were shocked to learn that the author was actually a priest, because so many passages in the book were vulgar or anti-religious. One critic at the time wrote, "[Sterne's] own character as a clergyman seems much impeached by printing such gross and vulgar tales, as no decent mind can endure without extreme disgust!"
But Thomas Jefferson said, "The writings of Sterne...form the best course of morality that was ever written." The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, "[Sterne is] the most liberated spirit of all time."
Sterne's work influenced many writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Italo Calvino said, "[Sterne] was the undoubted progenitor of all the avant-garde novels of our century."
Laurence Sterne said, "I am persuaded that every time a man smiles--but much more so when he laughs--it adds something to this fragment of life."
Poem: "Relatives" by John Updike, from Collected Poems © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.
Just the thought of them makes your jawbone ache:
those turkey dinners, those holidays with
the air around the woodstove baked to a stupor,
and Aunt Lil's tablecloth stained by her girlhood's gravy.
A doggy wordless wisdom whimpers from
your uncles' collected eyes; their very jokes
creak with genetic sorrow, a strain
of common heritage that hurts the gut.
Sheer boredom and fascination! A spidering
of chromosomes webs even the infants in
and holds us fast around the spread
of rotting food, of too-sweet pie.
The cousins buzz, the nephews crawl;
to love one's self is to love them all.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of physician and essayist Lewis Thomas, born in Flushing, New York (1913). He's the author of The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979), The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher (1983), Late Night Thoughts on Mahler's Ninth Symphony (1984).
When Thomas entered Princeton in 1929 his interest was biological research with the hope of increasing the effectiveness of treatment. His other great interest was the poetry of Pound and Eliot. Thomas said, "Doctors are trained to observe and express their ideas precisely. Medical training is good training for a writing career."
During World War II Thomas did field research on typhus and encephalitis for the U.S. Navy. He landed with the Marines during the invasion of Okinawa carrying a special case full of laboratory white mice. After the war he built up his academic credentials at various medical schools and eventually, in 1973, became president of the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, one of the world's largest facilities devoted to cancer research.
Now at the top of his profession, Thomas attained popular recognition for work of an entirely different sort. He had written or co-written over two hundred scientific articles, but it was his series of short essays that was receiving attention. His essays were loosely modeled on the essays of Montaigne. The series had been appearing in the back pages of the New England Journal of Medicine since 1971 as informal essays.
Thomas wrote late at night, quickly and without an outline, usually shortly after the deadline. He addressed his readers as friends in a conversation, not as scientific colleagues, and he included no reference notes at the end. His essays mix facts about the human body with personal meditation and thoughts about the connectedness of man and the universe.
In 1974, Viking Press collected twenty-nine of the essays, exactly as they had appeared, in The Lives of a Cell. John Updike praised Thomas' work. The Lives of a Cell was well received, and had multiple printings. The book was awarded the National Book Award in 1975, nominated in both the arts and the sciences categories but finally selected for arts and letters. Within five years it had been translated into eleven languages and sold over 250,000 copies.
Lewis Thomas died in December, 1993, of Waldenstrom's disease, a rare lymphoma-like cancer. Rockefeller University in New York City awards The Lewis Thomas Prize each year to honor the Scientist as Poet.
Lewis Thomas said, "The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
And he said, "Some words [like cells] contain genetic markers."
And, "We pass the word around; we ponder how the case is put by different people, we read the poetry; we meditate over the literature; we play the music; we change our minds; we reach an understanding."
It's the birthday of baseball player Joe DiMaggio (1914) born in Martinez, California. Joe DiMaggio is remembered as one of baseball's most graceful athletes. Many consider his 56-consecutive-game hitting streak in 1941 as the top baseball feat of all time. He was nicknamed "The Yankee Clipper." In 13 seasons he hit 361 homers, averaged 118 RBI annually and compiled a .325 lifetime batting mark. At Baseball's 1969 Centennial Celebration, he was named the game's greatest living player.
DiMaggio said, "You start chasing a ball and your brain immediately commands your body to 'Run forward, bend, scoop up the ball, peg it to the infield,' then your body says, 'Who me?'"
It's the birthday of American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, born in Dunfermline, Scotland (1835), the son of a weaver and political radical. His father instilled in young Andrew the values of political and economic equality, but his family's poverty taught Carnegie a different lesson. At the age of twelve, the boy worked as a milkhand for $1.20 per week. When the Carnegies immigrated to America in 1848, Carnegie was determined to find prosperity. One of the pioneers of industry of 19th century America, Andrew Carnegie helped build the American steel industry, which turned him into one of the richest entrepreneurs of his age.
In 1868, at age 33, Carnegie wrote himself a memo in which he questioned his chosen career, a life of business. He kept the letter for his entire life, carefully preserving it in his files. In the memo he vowed to retire from business within two years, believing that the further pursuit of wealth would degrade him. Carnegie eventually sold his steel business and gave his fortune away to cultural, educational and scientific institutions for the improvement of mankind.
Over the course of his life, Andrew Carnegie endowed 2,811 libraries and many charitable foundations as well as the internationally famous Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also bought 7,689 organs for churches. The purpose of the latter gift was, in Carnegie's words, "To lessen the pain of the sermons."
Andrew Carnegie said, "Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves."
And he said, "As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say; I just watch what they do."
On this day, the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day, Americans express gratitude for their good fortune. The American Thanksgiving tradition originated with the Pilgrims. As early as 1621, the Puritan colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts set aside a day of thanks for a bountiful harvest. On October 3, 1789, President George Washington proclaimed the 26th of that November the first national Thanksgiving Day under the Constitution.
On October 3, 1863, in the wake of victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln decided to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November national Thanksgiving Day. In 1941 Congress made it official.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1876, The American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game. The sport resembled something of a cross between rugby and modern-day football, but the tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving Day developed with the evolution of the sport itself.
The first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was in 1924. In the 1920's many of Macy's department store employees were first-generation immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate the holiday with the type of festival they loved in Europe. The employees marched from 145 Street down to 34th Street dressed as clowns, sheiks, knights and cowboys. There were floats, professional bands and 25 live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. With an audience of over a quarter of a million people, the parade was a success.
Large helium balloons first appeared in 1927 with Felix the Cat. It became tradition to release the balloons after the parade. The balloons would float for days and the lucky finder could claim a reward at Macy's. In 1933, a student pilot stalled her engine over Jamaica Bay trying to snag a cat balloon, and two tugboats in the East River tore apart a dachshund balloon. After a few more close calls, the practice of releasing the balloons came to an end.
Poem: "The Wreck of the Hesperus" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Reprinted with permission.
The Wreck of the Hesperus
It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.
Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.
The skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his mouth,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.
Then up and spake an old Sailòr,
Had sailed the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.
"Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!"
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.
Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast,
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.
Down came the storm and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frightened steed,
then leaped her cable's length.
"Come hither! come hither! my little daughtèr,
And do not tremble so;
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow."
He wrapped her arm in his seamen's coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.
"O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
Oh say, what may it be?"
"'T is a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!"
And he steered for the open sea!"
"O father! I hear the sound of guns,
Oh say, what may it be?"
"Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!"
"O father! I see a gleaming light,
Oh say, what may it be?"
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.
Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.
Then the maiden clasped her hand and prayed
That savèd she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,
On the Lake of Galilee.
And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.
And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf
On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.
The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.
She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.
Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!
At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.
The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown seaweed,
On the billows fall and rise.
Such was the wreck of the Hesperus
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!
Literary and Historical Notes:
On this day in 1942, the movie Casablanca had its premiere at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. The release of the film had been scheduled for June 1943, but was moved up because of the Allied landing in North Africa on November 8, 1942. On the same day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered mandatory gasoline rationing in the United States.
It's the birthday of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1922). He studied cartooning in a correspondence school, and started his strip, "Li'l Folks," for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in 1947. When he was 28 years old, Schulz took a train to New York City, where his comic strip was picked up by the United Feature Syndicate and renamed Peanuts. It debuted in seven newspapers, but over the years, Peanuts came to appear in more than 2,600 papers in 75 countries, making Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy household names for millions of readers.
On this day in 1832, the first streetcar began operation in New York City.
Poem: "St. Clement's Day Song" by Anonymous
St. Clement's Day Song
Clementsing, clementsing, apples and pears,
One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him that made us all!
Up with your stockings and down with your shoes,
If you haven't got apples, money will do.
Put your hand in your pocket and fetch out your keys,
Go down in the cellar and fetch out what you please,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
A bottle of wine to make us all merry.
The roads are so dirty, our boots are so thin,
Our pockets are empty and got nothing in.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of journalist Gail Sheehy, born in Mamaroneck, New York (1937). Just before her 40th birthday, she published her fifth and most famous book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. The book was a number-one bestseller in 1977, and in 1991, it came in ninth in a Library of Congress survey of the most influential books in people's lives.
Gail Sheehy said, "It is a paradox that as we reach our prime, we also see there is a place where it finishes."
It's the birthday of theater producer David
Merrick, born David Margulies in St. Louis, Missouri (1911).
David Merrick said, "I'll tell you what's like to be Number One. I compare it to climbing Mt. Everest. It's very difficult. Lives are lost along the way. You struggle and struggle and finally you get up there. And guess what there is once you get up there? Snow and ice."
It's the birthday of writer James Agee, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1909). He was 16 when his father was killed in a car accident, and as an adult he worked for nearly two decades, on and off, on a manuscript that tried to recreate, as he put it, "my childhood and my father, exactly as I can remember and represent them." He never finished it; but after he died it was published as the novel A Death in the Family, and won the Pulitzer Prize (1957). He's also the author of the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), generally considered to be a masterpiece. He was an obsessive person, an insatiable talker, addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, and Benzedrine. He died of a heart attack in a New York cab in 1955, with no will, no insurance, and $450 in the bank.
It's the birthday of writer and actress Fanny Kemble, born in London (1809). She was one of the most famous actresses of the American stage: Whitman mentions her in Leaves of Grass. She owned property that later became the site of Tanglewood in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. There, according to one historian, "She fished, she wore loose trousers, she rode alone, didn't water her punch and so got all the 'best' inhabitants quite drunk at tea one day, as she read unexpurgated versions of Shakespeare."
It's the birthday of statesman and amateur scientist Robert Livingston, born in New York City (1746). He became one of the twelve New York delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson appointed him ambassador to France, where with the help of James Monroe, he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He also experimented with steam power, and entered into a partnership with Robert Fulton: the first successful steamboat voyage, up the Hudson from New York to Albany, was made in 1807 by Fulton's boat, the Clermont.
It's the birthday of astronomer Anders Celsius, born in Uppsala, Sweden (1701). He took part in two expeditions that verified Newton's theory that the earth is slightly flattened at its poles. He oversaw the construction of the first modern observatory in Sweden, but despite his contributions to astronomy, he is best known today as the inventor of the Celsius, or centigrade, thermometer.
Poem: "The Garden of Love" by William Blake. Reprinted with permission.
The Garden of Love
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I had never seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of the Chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore;
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of writer Rita Mae Brown, born in Hanover, Pennsylvania (1944), best known for her novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, which has sold well over a million copies. It's been described as a lesbian coming-of-age story, but Brown refuses to be typecast. "Next time anybody calls me a lesbian writer, I'm going to knock their teeth in. I'm a writer and I'm a woman and I'm from the South and I'm alive, and that is that."
It's the birthday of songwriter and film composer Randy Newman, born in Los Angeles (1943).
It's the birthday of music producer Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown Records, born in Detroit, Michigan (1929). He went to work on an assembly line, writing songs in his head to relieve the monotony.
On this day in 1925, the program that would become the Grand Ole Opry debuted in Nashville, Tennessee. The show was called "The WSM Barn Dance."
It's the birthday of writer Nancy Mitford, born in London (1904), the oldest daughter of Bertram Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale, known to his children as "Old Subhuman." Two of her sisters were outspoken admirers of Adolph Hitler in 1930s; another sister, Jessica, became a muckraking journalist whose best-known book is The American Way of Death. Nancy was a member of London's society set of the 1920s, and was known for her sharp wit. She wrote The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, Noblesse Oblige, and books on Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV and Frederick the Great.
It's the birthday of theater critic Brooks Atkinson, born in Melrose, Massachusetts (1894). He became a book reviewer for the New York Times when he was 28, and the full-time drama critic three years later. Over the next decade he became an important reviewer whose opinion could make or break a Broadway production. He was famous for his fairness and objectivity, refusing to read out-of-town reviews before seeing a show himself, and resisting friendships with actors and directors. His overriding criterion for every play was whether it provided enjoyment for the audience.
It's the birthday of poet and artist William Blake, born in London (1757). When he was 25, he married an illiterate girl named Catherine Boucher, who was a devoted wife, although she once remarked, "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He is always in Paradise." A friend once dropped by to find them sitting in their garden, naked, reciting passages from Paradise Lost. "Come in!" cried Blake. "It's only Adam and Eve, you know!" Blake and his wife printed and bound his books, including Songs of Innocence and Experience.
On his deathbed at the age of 69, he said, "Kate, you have been a good wife, I will draw your portrait." He drew for an hour, loudly sang what she called "songs of joy and triumph," then died gently.