Jul. 20, 2002

My Heart Leaps Up

by William Wordsworth

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Poem: "My Heart Leaps Up," by William Wordsworth.

My Heart Leaps Up

My heart leaps up when I behold
         A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
         Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It's the birthday of novelist Cormac McCarthy, born in Rhode Island (1933). He was raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he went to college, then joined the Air Force and was stationed in Alaska, where he hosted a radio show. Not very much is known about McCarthy. He has never taught, and rarely gives interviews. Before the publication of All the Pretty Horses (1992), none of his other novels had sold more than five thousand copies. He did, however, have a strong, if small, literary following. He wrote his first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), while working as an auto mechanic in Chicago. He wrote several more novels, including Child of Dark (1973), Suttree (1979), and Blood Meridian (1985), without making much money from any of them. His ex-wife claims that they lived in total poverty, saying that "someone would call up and offer him two thousand dollars to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to say was there on the page. So we would eat beans for another week." Cormac consented to his first interview, for The New York Times, just before All the Pretty Horses was published. The book won the 1992 National Book Award for Fiction. It was the first volume of a trilogy that later included The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998).

It's the birthday of explorer and author Sir Edmund Hillary, born near Auckland, New Zealand (1905). Although he made his living from beekeeping, Hillary began climbing mountains in New Zealand at the age of twenty. He then moved on to the Alps, and in 1951, made his first visit to the Himalayas. In 1953, Hillary joined a British expedition team to climb Mount Everest. All but two of the climbers were forced to turn back because of the high altitudes. Finally, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, were the only two able to reach the summit, twenty-nine thousand twenty-eight feet above sea level. He said: "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."

It's the birthday of playwright and theatrical manager Augustin Daly, born in Plymouth, North Carolina (1838), who is considered to be the master of the sensational melodrama of the nineteenth century. He wrote numerous melodramas, including Under the Gaslight (1867), which featured a courtroom drama, and a flight on a pier before the heroine jumps into the river to avoid the villain; A Flash of Lighting (1868), which contained water and fire spectacles; and The Red Scarf (1869), in which the hero was tied to a log and sent to a sawmill. He opened Daly's Theater in New York in 1879, and Daly's Theater in London in 1893. He toured his productions across the United States and England, and established the first theater company to tour Germany and France. By the time of his death in 1899, he had become one of the most influential men on the theatrical scene of his time.

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Francis Petrarch, born in Arezza, Italy (1304). He was regarded as the greatest scholar of his age, was crowned poet laureate in Rome in 1341, and spent his later years as an international celebrity. He is most famous, however, for a series of poems he wrote throughout his life dedicated to a woman named Laura. Scholars are not sure if Laura really existed, but if so she was loved from afar for many years.

In 1969 on this day, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. At 10:56 p.m. eastern daylight time, Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle lunar module onto the surface of the moon and said, "That's one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind."

In 1715 on this day, the Riot Act was enacted. During the reign of King George the First of England, opposing mobs began attacking meeting houses. Fearing uprisings, the government issued a law making it a felony if a group of twelve or more people refused to disperse within an hour of being ordered to do so by a magistrate. The problem, of course, was that the magistrate had to read the Act aloud to the mob, and say, "Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George for preventing tumultuous and riotous assemblies. God save the King." This was the origin of the saying, "read him the riot act." The Act remained in force until it was repealed in 1973.

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