Jan. 14, 2004


by Hilaire Belloc

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Poem: "Courtesy," by Hilaire Belloc.


Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.

On Monks I did in Storrington fall,
They took me straight into their Hall;
I saw Three Pictures on a wall,
And Courtesy was in them all.

The first the Annunciation;
The second the Visitation;
The third the Consolation,
Of God that was Our Lady's Son.

The first was of St. Gabriel;
On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
And as he went upon one knee
He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

Our Lady out of Nazareth rode -
It was Her month of heavy load;
Yet was her face both great and kind,
For Courtesy was in Her Mind.

The third it was our Little Lord,
Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
He was so small you could not see
His large intent of Courtesy.

Our Lord, that was Our Lady's Son,
Go bless you, People, one by one;
My Rhyme is written, my work is done.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Anchee Min, born in Shanghai (1957). She's the author of a memoir about her childhood in China called Red Azalea (1994).

It's the birthday of film writer, director, and producer Hal Roach, born Harold Eugene Roach in Elmira, New York (1892). He originated the "Our Gang" comedies in 1922 and introduced Laurel and Hardy to film audiences.

It's the birthday of Mary Robison, born in Washington, D.C. (1949). Three years ago, she published Why Did I Ever? (2001), a novel in 527 very short sections.

It's the birthday of author Emily Hahn, born in St. Louis (1905). She said that as a child she wanted to be "the greatest expert on ghosts, the world's best ice skater, a champion lion tamer." She lived in Africa, China, and Hong Kong, married a Chinese intellectual, had an affair with a spy, and wrote for The New Yorker for 70 years. She wrote a famous article about having become inadvertently addicted to opium and being cured by hypnosis.

It's the birthday of novelist John dos Passos, born in Chicago (1896). He wrote the Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the U.S.A. Trilogy, comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). He was the illegitimate son of a prominent lawyer, and since the acknowledgement of John's existence would have ruined his father's reputation, John and his mother were bundled off to Europe, where they moved from one hotel room to another for 12 years. He went to Harvard, then spent time during World War I working as an ambulance driver in France and Italy, which gave him the material for two fiercely anti-war novels, One Man's Initiation (1920), and Three Soldiers (1921). He wrote aggressive, muscular prose, but he had a soft voice and a strange accent, and he peered at things through thick glasses.

Dos Passos was a famous writer for the American left. "My sympathies," he wrote in 1939, "lie with the private in the front line against the brass hat; with the hodcarrier against the strawboss, or the walking delegate for that matter; with the laboratory worker against the stuffed shirt in a mortarboard; with the criminal against the cop." He eventually backed away from his radically liberal philosophy when he slowly became disillusioned with Communism. The event that sealed this change for him occurred in 1937, when his friend was executed by communists during the Spanish Civil War. His writings became more reactionary, and many of his readers and writer friends felt alienated.

It's the birthday of British author and illustrator Hugh Lofting, born in Maidenhead, Berkshire (1886). He trained as a civil engineer, worked in Africa, Cuba, the West Indies, and Canada, and then settled in New York to become a writer. He was best known for his classic series of children's books about Doctor Dolittle, a gentle country veterinarian who could converse with animals. These stories were based on illustrated letters he wrote to his two children from the front lines in World War I. On the boat coming to America with his family, Lofting befriended the writer Cecil Roberts, to whom he showed the letters. Roberts liked them and showed them to his publisher, who agreed to print The Story of Doctor Dolittle. In the story, Dolittle lives in the little town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh and is fond of animals, especially his pets Dab-Dab the duck, Jip the dog, Gub-Gub the piglet, Polynesia the parrot, and Too-Too the owl.

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