Jun. 5, 2002

I am a hunchback

by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Poem: "I am a hunchback," by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I am a hunchback

I am a hunchback, yellow faced,
A hateful sight to see,
'Tis all that other men can do
To pass and let me be.

I am a woman, my hair is white,
I was a darkhaired lass;
The gin dances in my head,
I stumble as I pass.

I am a man that God made at first,
And teachers tried to harm,
Here! hunchback take my friendly hand,
Good woman, take my arm.

It's the day Adam Smith was baptized in Kirkeldy, Scotland (1723). The exact date of his birth is not known. When he was a small child he was stolen by gypsies, but he was soon found and returned to his parents. He published only two books in his lifetime: The Theory of Moral Sentiment (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776), which said that market forces were better at creating social good than any government program.

It's the birthday of Ivy Compton-Burnett, born in Pinner, England (1884). Her father had seven children by his first wife, and when she died, seven children by his second; Compton-Burnett was the oldest child of the second wife. Her father deposited this enormous family in an isolated house on the coast, and returned to his practice in London. The tyranny and caprice of her mother, and the unexpected deaths, one after the other, of her beloved father and four of her siblings, provided Compton-Burnett with the material for many of her early novels. She wrote about the tyranny and repression that lay behind the prim decorum of Victorian families. She didn't publish her first book, Pastors and Masters, until after she was forty, in 1925. Readers raved about the effect created by her steely, ironic writing. "It is astonishing, amazing. It is like nothing else in the world," said one reviewer. During the Second World War she began to be more widely read as public sentiment caught up with her moral disenchantment.

It's the birthday of Federico Garcia Lorca, born in Fuente Vaqueros, Spain (1898). He wrote poems, but resisted publishing them; he thought poetry should be spoken. He did publish, though; his collection Gypsy Ballads (1928) combined twentieth-century surrealism with the old, dark legends of Andalusia, and he became famous all over Spain. He single-handedly revived Spanish theatre, and is remembered now for three tragedies, Blood Wedding (1935), Yerma, (1937) and The House of Bernarda Alba (1940). In the first month of the Spanish Civil War he was dragged into an open field and shot by a firing squad.

It's the birthday of Richard Scarry, born in Boston (1919). He's the author of more than three hundred books for children. He said that what made him happiest as an author was receiving letters from people telling him that their copies of his books were all worn out, or were held together with Scotch tape.

It's the birthday of Margaret Drabble, born in Sheffield, Yorkshire (1939). She won great admiration when she was younger for novels about women flouting social convention, like The Garrick Year (1964), and The Millstone (1965). Her books have also been described as the best books to read for people who wonder what's it's like to be English. Drabble's half-sister is the British novelist A.S. Byatt. Last year Drabble edited the Oxford Companion to English Literature, and inserted, among its thousands of biographical entries, a single, entirely mythical one.

It's the birthday of David Hare, born in Sussex (1947). Since his debut in 1969, he's written twenty-two plays. In 1998, he had four plays running simultaneously in four different New York City theatres. When Frank Rich panned one of his plays in 1998 and the production closed immediately afterward, Hare wrote an essay for the New York Times that said Rich had too much power. Rich backpeddled somewhat in a reply, and Hare was judged to have landed a blow to the critic's formidable reputation.

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