Sep. 29, 2002

Sonnet 25: Let those who are in favour with their stars

by William Shakespeare

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Poem: Sonnet 25, "Let those who are in favour with their stars," by William Shakespeare.

Let those who are in favour with their stars

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil'd,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
        Then happy I, that love and am beloved
        Where I may not remove nor be removed.

On this day in 1902, the writer Emile Zola died in his apartment in Paris. The fireplace chimney was stopped up, and he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He had written J'Accuse, a blistering indictment of the French government in support of Alfred Dreyfus, who was exonerated on the strength of Zola's attack. His supporters said that his enemies had blocked the chimney on purpose. Thousands of people followed the funeral procession; he was honored as a national hero.

On this day in 1881, the first of a series of letters by the naturalist John Muir appeared in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. He had accepted an offer to board the steamer Corwin, which was being sent to search for a lost whaler, and to explore Wrangell Island, where he hoped to learn more about the way glaciers formed and moved. He had already made two trips to the Arctic, and had come home and gotten married, but felt he couldn't refuse this chance to see Alaska again. He found a little white flower no one had described before, and had his name attached to a floral genus. He called the Alaskan landscape "a terrestrial manifestation of God." He said: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell, born Elizabeth Stevenson, in Chelsea, London (1810). She wrote eighteen novels about domestic life in northern England, where the smoke from the railway lines and the noise from the textile mills had transformed the rural landscape in the space of a lifetime. She received high praise for Cranford (1853), and later, for Wives and Daughters (1866). Charles Dickens published her novels in the magazines he edited. In 1850 she met Charlotte Bronte, and they grew to be close friends. When Bronte died in 1865, her father and her husband both asked her to write a biography. Her Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) was an instant success, and is still regarded as a classic, but several of the people who appeared in the biography threatened to sue her for libel, and she never wrote another work of non-fiction.

It's thought to be the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes, born in Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, Spain (1547). He led a life full of adventure and misfortune. He fought in many battles, lost the use of his left hand, was captured by pirates and held as a slave for four years, had a child out of wedlock, and served a prison term when he was a tax collector for discrepancies found in his books. Despite the enormous success of Don Quixote-which went into six editions the first year it was published-he never had any money. Cervantes, who said: "Everyone is as Heaven made him, and oftentimes a great deal worse," Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be," and "The proof of the pudding is the eating."

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