MONDAY, 25 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Choices" by Tess Gallagher, from Dear Ghosts. © Graywolf Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Choices

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

     for Drago Stambuk

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist George Orwell, (books by this author) born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal, India (1903). He came from a middle class family, but managed to win a scholarship to a distinguished boarding school, where most of his classmates were upper class kids. He did not fit in at all. He said, "In a world where the prime necessities were money, titled relatives, athleticism, tailor-made clothes, neatly brushed hair, a charming smile, I was no good."

So after school he decided to get as far away from England as possible. He went to live in the English colony of Burma, where he took a job as a member of the Imperial Police. He quit after five years because, he said, "I could not go on any longer serving an imperialism which I had come to regard as very largely a racket."

So he returned to London and decided to become a writer, even though he'd never shown much interest in writing before. He wanted to write about the poor and homeless, so went undercover as a street person, wearing ragged old clothes and living in the slums of East London and Paris, working as a dishwasher. The result was his first book Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). He later told an interviewer that he had chosen to live with the poor in order to get over his guilt at having been part of the British Imperial Police. He said, "I felt that I had got to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man's dominion over man. I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants."

Orwell went on to write several novels, but he supported himself largely as a journalist, publishing about four newspaper articles a week, averaging about 200 a year. He considered himself basically a socialist, and much of what he wrote was political commentary. And then he had a life changing experience when he went to cover the Spanish Civil War. In Barcelona, he got to see a communist utopia at work, and he was amazed. He said, "Many of the normal motives of civilized life—snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.—had simply ceased to exist. ... I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for." But in a very short time, the Stalinists began to suppress the other leftist groups, arresting them and censoring newspapers and organizing armed militias.

The experience persuaded him that it wasn't Fascism or Communism that was evil, but simply idealism taken to any extreme. And as World War II broke out, he began to worry that idealism was about to conquer Europe and stamp out any kind of freedom. He was so pessimistic about the future of the world that he found it impossible to write fiction. He took a job with the BBC, and got a chance to witness how governments on all sides of the war were using propaganda to rewrite the history what was happening. So in 1943, Orwell resigned his position at the BBC. He had wanted for years to write a book about his idea that utopias so easily turn into nightmares, so he finally did.

The book was only about 100 pages long, and most of the main characters were talking animals. When he submitted it to publishers in London, they all turned him down. Orwell considered publishing the book himself as a pamphlet, but finally a small publisher picked it up, and when Animal Farm came out in 1945, the book made Orwell famous.

Orwell spent the last years of his life suffering from TB and writing 1984 (1949), about a future in which England has become a totalitarian state run by an anonymous presence known only as Big Brother. It has since been translated into sixty-two languages and has sold tens of millions of copies. Today, critics have estimated that every year one million people read George Orwell for the first time.


It was on this day in 1942 that Dwight D. Eisenhower became the commander of the U.S. troops in Europe. He had been a military man for more than twenty years, but he'd never seen combat. All he'd ever done was train soldiers. He would go on to become supreme commander of the entire Allied Armies in Europe, and he helped plan many of the major offensives during the European theater of the war, including D-Day.


It was on this day in 1950 that North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning the Korean War. Most of the actual combat occurred in the first year of the war, but it dragged on and on. Truce negotiations began in 1951 and they were the longest truce negotiations in the history of warfare, lasting two years and seventeen days, with 575 meetings between the opposing sides. Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 on the platform that he would end the war, and when he was elected that's what he did.

The Korean War was the first war the United States had concluded without success. There were no celebrations when it ended. About 37,000 Americans and more than a million Koreans lost their lives. Eisenhower said, "Three years of heroism, frustration, and bloodshed are over."


On this day in 1903, Marie Curie announced her discovery of radium, for which she won her first of two Nobel Prizes.




TUESDAY, 26 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Dutch Interior" by David Lehman. Used with permission of the author.

Dutch Interior

He liked the late afternoon light as it dimmed
In the living room, and wouldn't switch on
The electric lights until past eight o'clock.
His wife complained, called him cheerless, but
It wasn't a case of melancholy; he just liked
The way things looked in air growing darker
So gradually and imperceptibly that it seemed
The very element in which we live. Every man
And woman deserves one true moment of greatness
And this was his, this Dutch interior, entered
And possessed, so tranquil and yet so busy
With details: the couple's shed clothes scattered
On the backs of armchairs, the dog chasing a shoe,
The wide open window, the late afternoon light.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 2000 that Rival scientific teams completed the first rough map of the human genome. Among the things we learned from the genome is is that the entire 6 billion-member human species goes back 7,000 generations to an original population of about 60,000 people. Our species has only a modest amount of genetic variation—the DNA of any two humans is 99.9% identical.


It's the birthday of children's book author Walter Farley, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1916). He grew up loving horses and went on to write the novel The Black Stallion (1941). It's the story of a boy and a wild stallion who survive a shipwreck and become friends on a deserted island. The book was so popular that Farley went on to write twenty novels about the horse, including The Black Stallion Returns (1945), The Black Stallion Revolts (1953), and The Black Stallion's Ghost (1969).


It's the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck, (books by this author) born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries, and Buck was born while they were on vacation in the United States. When she was three months old, they took her back to China. Her parents lived in the Chinese community, and Buck learned to speak Chinese before she learned to speak English. She said, "I almost ceased to think of myself as different, if indeed I ever thought so, from the Chinese."

She moved to the United States after civil war began to break out in China. She began writing a novel on the ship to America called East Wind, West Wind, which was published in 1930 and became a small success. The following year she published The Good Earth (1931), about a Chinese peasant who becomes a wealthy landowner. At the time, Westerners saw China as one of the most exotic places on earth. Pearl Buck was the first writer to portray the ordinary lives of Chinese people for a Western audience. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize and became an international bestseller.

Pearl Buck bought a farmhouse in the United States in 1934, and she never returned to China. She went on to write two sequels to The Good Earth, and many more books of fiction and non-fiction, including biographies of both her parents. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.


It was on this day in 1483 that Richard Plantagenet ascended to the throne to become King Richard III. He would go down in history as perhaps the worst ruler in the history of England, and Shakespeare would immortalize him as one of literature's great villains.

This view of Richard III lasted for hundreds of years, but eventually historians began to realize that it wasn't quite accurate. The people who wrote biographies of Richard III in the wake of his death turned him into an almost mythological monster. They claimed that he had been in his mother's womb for 2 years and that when he was born he already had teeth. They also invented the idea that he was a deformed hunchback. In fact, he was in great shape and was said to fight bravely in battle.

He did seize power from his 12 year old nephew, and may have had that nephew executed, but those evens occurred after a long civil war known as the War of the Roses, during which the English throne changed hands numerous times. Historians believe Richard was probably just trying to bring some stability to the country, knowing that his 12 year old nephew would have been a puppet king.

Today there is a Richard III Society in England with several thousand members who do whatever they can to improve his reputation, petitioning the government to build statues of him and to educate the public about his life. They call themselves Ricardians and in support of the slandered king they wear Richard's badge of the White Boar on their shirt lapels.




WEDNESDAY, 27 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Gamin" by Frank O'Hara, from The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. © Alfred A. Knopf, 1971. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Gamin

All the roofs are wet
and underneath smoke
that piles softly in
streets, tongues are
on top of each other
mulling over the night.
We lay against each other
like banks of violets
while the slate slips
off the roof into the
garden of the old lady
next door. She is my

enemy. She hates cats
airplanes and my self
as if we were memories
of war. Bah! when you
are close I thumb my
nose at her and laugh.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and children's author, Lucille Clifton, (books by this author) born in Depew, New York (1936). Her poetry collections include The Terrible Stories (1998), Blessing the Boats (2000), and Mercy (2004). Her father was a steel worker and her mother was a laundress, and neither of her parents had finished elementary school. But despite that, they both loved to read and they encouraged Clifton to read when she was growing up.

Clifton was the first member of her family to go to college when she won a full scholarship to Howard University. She got married and had kids, and kept writing poems all the time. It was finally a friend who encouraged her to show her poems to the poet Robert Hayden, and he was so impressed that he helped get them published. Those poems became Clifton's first book Good Times (1969), which was called one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times. The year it came out, Clifton still had six children under ten years old. The untitled opening poem in that collection begins, "in the inner city / or like we call it / home / we think a lot about uptown / and the silent nights / and the houses straight as dead men / and the pastel lights / and we hang on to our no place / happy to be alive."


It's the birthday of novelist Alice McDermott, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1953). She grew up on Long Island in an Irish Catholic family, where most of the men worked for the Con Edison electric company. She wanted to be a writer from the time she was ten years old. She wrote stories throughout college and then enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of New Hampshire. Just 3 years after graduating from that program, McDermott came out with her first novel A Bigamist's Daughter (1982), which got great reviews.

McDermott has gone on to write several novels including That Night (1987) and Charming Billy (1998), which won the National Book Award. Her most recent novel After This came out in 2006. All of her books are about working class Irish Catholic families in the suburbs around New York. She said, "In fiction you have to be fairly specific. And I know how Irish-Americans in the New York area talk, what kind of couches they buy, and what kind of plastic slipcovers they put on the couches. ... But I'm more interested in what's going on in their heads than what's going on their couches."

Even though she has won awards and written best-sellers, McDermott still feels the need to keep her novels short, because she's worried about the readers' attention span. She said, "I still have that sense of apology: Look, I'm not going to waste your time; I'm going to tell you what I need to tell you, then stop. ... Sing your song and get off—before they bring out the hook!"


It's the birthday of author and educator Helen Keller, (books by this author) born in Tuscumbia, Alabama (1880). She was one of the first people ever to learn to speak, read and write, even though she'd grown up blind and deaf. As a child she often erupted into terrible temper tantrums, but in spite of her disabilities, her parents could tell she was extremely intelligent. So they hired a teacher from the Perkins Institution for children with disabilities. The teacher who eventually came to teach Helen was a woman named Anne Sullivan. The day that Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan for the first time, she knocked out one of Sullivan's front teeth.

But Anne Sullivan stuck with the job. She and Helen moved to an isolated cottage for non-stop teaching sessions. Helen Keller learned to read letters that Anne Sullivan spelled out on her palm, but at first, Helen could only mimic the letters that Sullivan taught her. Then, one day, Anne Sullivan spelled the word "water" on Keller's palm while Keller held her hand in the water from the well. Keller later wrote, "I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me."

Within the next few hours, Helen learned thirty new words, and by the end of the month, she'd stopped her temper tantrums. By the time she was twelve, she was reading Milton's Paradise Lost. She went on to college at Radcliffe, where she wrote her autobiography, The Story of My Life, which came out in 1903.

Helen Keller said, "I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble."


It's the birthday of poet Frank O'Hara, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1926). He fell in love with the abstract art of the 1950s, and he believed that poems should be improvisational, like action paintings.




THURSDAY, 28 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Faith's Review and Expectation" by John Newton, from Olney Hymns. Public domain.

Faith's Review and Expectation

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd

Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is both the anniversary of the event that started World War I and the day that the treaty was signed that officially brought the war to a close.

The event that started the war was the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Bosnian revolutionary on this day in 1914 in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.

At the time, Ferdinand was the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Bosnia was one of the empire's most rebellious provinces. But Ferdinand chose to go there with his wife anyway. Assassins threw a bomb at his car that morning, but he continued to a meeting at city hall to hear a speech by the mayor. After the speech, the general in charge of security suggested they return to the train station along the straightest, widest road in the city, so that they could travel rapidly. Unfortunately, no one told the chauffeur about the change in plans. So Ferdinand and his wife got back into the car, and the chauffeur proceeded down the route that had been published in the paper that morning. Once he realized his mistake, the chauffer stopped, and tried to back out of a narrow street.

The chauffeur just happened to have stopped the car a few feet away from another one of the assassins, a nineteen-year-old named Gavrilo Princip, who had a .38 Browning pistol in his pocket. Standing just a few feet away from the royal car, he fired two shots, killing both the Austrian archduke and his wife.

One month after the assassination, Austria used the event as an excuse to declare war on Serbia, even though the nation of Serbia had nothing to do with the assassination. Germany chose to back Austria in its attack. Russia chose to defend Serbia. France entered the war against Germany. And when Germany invaded Belgium, Great Britain got involved as well, having pledged to defend Belgium from any invaders. That series of alliances led to the largest war ever conducted in history at that point. About ten million people died in the next four years of fighting.


And exactly 5 years later, on this day in 1919, the First World War was officially brought to a close by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which redrew the maps of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. World War I had led to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Tsarist Russia. The result was that the world leaders attending the Paris Peace Conference had to pick up the pieces of all these different parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and try to fit them back together.

Most of the major decisions were made by 3 men: Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Georges Clemenceau of France, and David Lloyd George of Great Britain. They met informally, behind closed doors, and drew up plans that would affect the lives of millions of people in dozens of countries. Among the countries created by the Treaty of Versailles was Yugoslavia, which collapsed into civil war in the 1990s. Another country they invented was Iraq.

Just about every major European or Middle Eastern conflict in the last few decades can be traced back to the decisions made in 1919. One of the people paying close attention to the conference was a young Southeast Asian kitchen assistant at the local Ritz Hotel named Ho Chi Minh. During the conference, he submitted a petition appealing for the independence of his home country, Vietnam. But the petition was ignored. So even the Vietnam War can be traced back to the Treaty of Versailles.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau would later say, "It is much easier to make war than peace."




FRIDAY, 29 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Sonnet 55" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
   So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
   You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1613 that the Globe Theater burned to the ground. For more than 10 years, it had been the most popular theater in London, and it was the theater where many of Shakespeare's greatest plays had their premiere.

It had been built in 1599 by Shakespeare's own acting company Lord Chamberlain's Men. Shakespeare used his own money to pay for 12.5 percent of the cost. It was the first theater ever built for a specific acting company, and the first to be financed by that same acting company. Among the plays that debuted there were As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, and Macbeth.

It was a theater in the round, with the audience in a circle around a platform for the actors. It was probably designed this way because most of the actors in Shakespeare's company got their start acting in the street, surrounded by a crowd. The plays were performed in the afternoons to take advantage of natural light. The roof of the theater was open to the elements, and most of the audience didn't even have seats. They just stood on the ground for the entire performance, which usually lasted about 4 hours.

And yet it was the most popular form of entertainment in the city. The theater held about 3,000 people, and it was usually full. At the time, London had a population of about 200,000. So whenever one of Shakespeare's plays was performed, 1 out of every 65 people in the city was at the Globe.

There were probably few props and very little in the way of scenery. But by the end of his career Shakespeare was apparently beginning to experiment with more dramatic effects onstage. On this day in 1613, a cannon was fired during a performance of Henry VIII to mark the King's entrance, the thatched roof caught fire, and the whole theater was lost in an hour.

In 1996, a replica of the Globe Theater was completed in London, and plays are performed there exactly the same way they would have been performed by Shakespeare's company. The performances take place in the afternoon daylight, there are no microphones, and few props. A large portion of the audience stands in the yard to watch the play, and the roof is open to the weather. About 700,000 people visit it every year. The actors say that the audience always pays better attention to the play when it's raining.


It's the birthday of actress, playwright and director JoAnne Akalaitis, born in Chicago, Illinois (1937), who said she became a director because "as an actor I felt humiliated by the directors." A production of In the Penal Colony, a musical adaptation of Kafka's story by her now ex-husband Philip Glass and directed by Akalaitis, opened in New York City in 2000. Akalaitis said, "I love rehearsal because [that's] where you get lost .... It's about getting lost, but if you're willing to get lost, you might find a way out. ... It can all be a disaster but it's very interesting."

It's the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser, born in New York City (1910). As a young composer he had the first big hit song of World War II: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" (1942). He won a Pulitzer Prize for his musical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1962), and two Tony awards, for Guys and Dolls (1950) and Where's Charley? (1948). He said, "Loud is good."




SATURDAY, 30 JUNE, 2007
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Poem: "Cutting the Cake" by Virginia Hamilton Adair, from Ants of the Melon: A Collection of Poems. © Random House, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Cutting the Cake

Gowned and veiled for tribal ritual
in a maze of tulle and satin
with her eyes rimmed round in cat fur
and the stylish men about her
kissing kin and carefree suitors

long she looked unseeing past him
to her picture in the papers
print and photoflash embalming
the demise of the familiar
and he trembled as her fingers

took the dagger laid before them
for the ceremonial cutting
of the mounting tiers of sweetness
crowned with manikin and maiden
and her chop was so triumphant

that the groomlike little figure
from his lover at the apex
toppled over in the frosting
where a flower girl retrieved him
sucked him dry and bit his head off.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1857 that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading. He did this for several reasons: to get away from marital discord at home, because he loved to perform in front of an audience, and because he could make more money reading than he could by writing. His first reading, of A Christmas Carol, was held at Saint Martin's Hall in London, and it was so successful that Charles Dickens became one of the first authors to go on huge, international book tours, performing his own work.

One of the people who went to see Dickens perform when he came to America was Mark Twain. Twain wrote, "That fashion he has of brushing his hair and goatee so resolutely forward gives him a comical Scotch-terrier look about the face... But that queer old head took on a sort of beauty... as I thought of the wonderful mechanism within it ...that could create men and women ... murder them, marry them, conduct them through good and evil, through joy and sorrow, on their long march from the cradle to the grave, and never lose its godship over them, never make a mistake! I almost imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys work."


It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published. When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than 1,000 pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title "Tomorrow Is Another Day" because at the time there were already thirteen books in print with the word "Tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett.

Gone with the Wind sold 50,000 copies sold in one day, a million copies six months, and two million by the end of the year. The sales of the book were even more impressive because it was in the middle of the Great Depression. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Christmas bonuses for the first time in nearly a decade.


It's the birthday of poet Czeslaw Milosz, (books by this author) born in Szetejnie, Lithuania (1911). He grew up in a Polish-speaking family. The family eventually settled in Poland. Milosz studied law rather than literature in college because, he said, "There were so many girls studying literature it was called the marriage department." In 1931 he co-founded a literary group that was so pessimistic about the future it was nicknamed the "Catastrophists." The group predicted a coming world war, but nobody believed them. He worked for Polish Radio for a while, but he got fired when he let Jews broadcast their opinions on the air. Another radio station sent him to cover the invasion of Poland by Nazi forces in 1939. After the invasion, he found a job as a janitor at a university, secretly writing anti-Nazi poetry for underground publications. He witnessed the genocide of the Jews in Warsaw, and was one of the first poets to write about it in his book of poems Rescue (1945).

After the war, Milosz got a job working as a diplomat for communist Poland, though he wasn't a party member. One night in the winter of 1949, on his way home from a government meeting, he saw several jeeps filled with political prisoners, surrounded by soldiers. He said, "It was then that I realized what I was part of." He defected in 1951, and made it to Paris even though his passport had been confiscated.

Most intellectuals in Paris were pro-communist at the time, and they thought of Milosz as either a traitor or a madman for leaving Poland. So he moved to the United States and began teaching at the University of California at Berkley in 1960. He kept writing poetry in Polish, even though almost no one was reading it. His books had been banned in Poland, and his poems weren't translated into English until 1973. Then, in 1980, he got a phone call at 3:00 in the morning telling him that he'd won the Nobel Prize for literature.




SUNDAY, 1 JULY, 2007
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Poem: "Postcards" by Wendy Cope, from If I Don't Know. © Faber and Faber, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Postcards

At first I sent you a postcard
From every city I went to.
Grüsse aus Bath, aus Birmingham,
Aus Rotterdam, aus Tel Aviv.
Mit Liebe
. Cards from you arrived
In English, with many commas.
Hope, you're fine and still alive,
Says one from Hong Kong. By that time
We weren't writing quite as often.

Now we're nearly nine years away
From the lake and the blue mountains,
And the room with the balcony,
But the heat and light of those days
Can reach this far from time to time.
Your latest was from Senegal,
Mine from Helsinki. I don't know
If we'll meet again. Be happy.
If you hear this, send a postcard.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1847 that the US Postal Service issued its first postage stamps. Before that, most letters were sent with the postage due upon delivery but you never knew if the recipient would able to pay or willing to pay the delivery charge. Postage stamps helped the government guarantee a steady income from postal services, and so they were able to lower the cost of sending a letter.

Postage stamps made letter writing practical for working class people, but it wasn't until the Civil War that most ordinary Americans began to write letters on a regular basis, rather than just for special occasions. Free home pick up and delivery was introduced in 1863, making it much easier for women to write letters, since they didn't have to travel to the nearest post office. And for that reason, the American Civil War was the first event in American history for which we have a comprehensive record of the thoughts of ordinary people, who wrote about their experiences in letters.


It was on this day in 1858 that a paper by Charles Darwin about his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience. Darwin had actually come up with the theory twenty years before that, in 1837. Back then, he drafted a thirty-five page sketch of his ideas and arranged with his wife to publish the sketch after his death. Then, for the next twenty years, he told almost no one about the theory. He practically went into hiding, moving to a small town and living like a monk, with specific times each day for walking, napping, reading, and backgammon. He was so reclusive that he even had the road lowered outside his house, to prevent passersby from looking in the window.

He was reluctant to publish his ideas, because he didn't want to create a controversy by offending anyone's religious beliefs. Atheism was a crime punishable by prison at the time, and Darwin feared that people would object to the idea that God hadn't created each creature individually. When he finally told one of his friends about his theory of evolution, he said it was like confessing a murder.

But then after his daughter died of typhoid, Darwin began to worry that his children might not be able to provide for themselves. So, to help assure his children's well-being, he began writing a book about evolution, which he hoped would become a scientific classic. He worked on the book seven days a week. He had struggled to complete a quarter of a million words when, on June 18, 1858, he learned that a man named Alfred Russel Wallace was about to publish a paper about a similar theory. In order to get credit, Darwin had to present an extract of his work to a scientific society in two weeks.

Almost the same day he received that news, his household was struck by an epidemic of scarlet fever. His children and several nursery maids came down with the disease. Most everyone recovered, but Darwin's youngest son, Charles, died. And so it was that Charles Darwin wasn't even in attendance when his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience on this day in 1858. He was at home, grieving the death of his son.


It's the birthday of crime writer James M. Cain, (books by this author) born in Annapolis, Maryland (1892). He worked as a reporter for a while and then went to Hollywood, hoping to strike it rich writing for the movies. Paramount Studios fired him after six months. He was forty years old, living in the middle of the Great Depression, and trying to support his wife and children. Then, one day, he read a newspaper article about a woman who had murdered her husband so she could take over his gas station. He was fascinated by the idea that someone so ordinary could be so ruthless, and it gave him the idea for his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934).

Most crime novelists at the time wrote about the detectives who investigated crimes. Cain wrote his novel from the point of view the drifter who helps a woman murder her husband. The book got great reviews and became a best-seller. He went on to write other novels such as Mildred Pierce (1941), and Double Indemnity (1943).

James M. Cain said, "I write of the wish that comes true-for some reason, a terrifying concept."


It was on this day in 1863 that the Battle of Gettysburg began. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had recently won a big battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. He thought he could win the war by invading the North. About seventy-five thousand Confederate soldiers and about ninety-five thousand Union soldiers met at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on the morning of July 1. The battle went on for three days. It was the largest military conflict in North American history.

On the third day, Robert E. Lee decided to try to break the battle line at the center. He sent a column of troops led by General Pickett across the valley, hoping to overwhelm the Union force. The attack, known as Pickett's Charge, was disastrous. Almost sixty percent of the confederate soldiers involved in the charge were killed. It was the last time the Confederate army would invade the North.




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