Aug. 1, 2002

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Poem: "Art," by Herman Melville.


            In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt-a wind to freeze;
Sad patience-joyous energies;
Humility-yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity-reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob's mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel-Art.

It's Lammastide, the Saxon Feast of Bread, at which the first grain of the harvest was eaten.

On this day in 1925, Bennett Cerf bought the Modern Library from Horace Liveright. Cerf went into business with his friend Donald Klupfer. They added some American writers to the mostly European line-up, and then began another publishing venture called Random House.

It's the birthday of Carter Brown, born Allen G. Yates in London (1923). He served in the Royal Navy, then emigrated to Australia in 1948. He wrote a hundred and fifty pulp detective novels, all set in the United States. He was never very famous in the U.S.; his books sold much better in Europe. They had titles like The Dame, The Black Widow Weeps, and The Bump and Grind Murders. They featured many corpses, but not too much violence. The victims were always rich, and the detectives were good for a quote from the Romantic poets now and then.

On this day in 1919, the British publishers Chatto & Windus released The Young Visiters, a book written by a nine-year-old girl. The girl had grown up by then. Daisy Ashford was born in Surrey in 1881, and educated at home by a governess. The book is still a favorite in Britain.

It's the birthday of Anne Hebert, born outside Quebec City (1916). She lived in France for most of her life, and is better known there. She was from an old Quebec family; her father was a poet and a critic. Her first novel, The Torrent, was published in 1950. Hebert struggled along on grants and freelance jobs until she published Kamouraska in 1970, which won the National Bookseller's Prize in France and the French Literature prize of Belgium.

It's the birthday of Herman Melville, born in New York City, (1819). He shipped out on a whaler when he was twenty, sailed the seven seas, worked in Honolulu and lived in the Marquesas Islands. He wrote Typee (1846) the year after he came back. Harper and Brothers rejected it, saying that it was "impossible that it could be true." It was published instead by Wiley and Putnam, who were nervous about the bad things Melville said about missionaries, but went ahead with the book anyway. Typee and its sequel, Omoo (1847) won Melville admirers everywhere. A critic wrote, "…Sea novels had, as it were, been run into the ground. People were growing weary of shipwrecks and fires at sea. Every possible incident that could occur, on board men-of-war, privateers, and prizes, had been described over and over again. Mr. Melville came forward with his books, and by a happy mixture of fresh land scenery, with some clever ship-life, he produced a brilliant amalgam that was loudly welcomed by the public." Melville never again experienced success in his lifetime. Moby-Dick, which he had written with exuberant hope, was considered ranting and incoherent. Later, Melville's brother-in-law wrote, "I have not yet read it; but have looked at it & dipped into it, & fear it belongs to that horribly uninteresting class of nonsensical books he is given to writing-where there are pages of crude theory & speculation to every line of narrative--& interspersed with strained & ineffectual attempts to be humorous."

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