Jan. 18, 2004

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Poem: "A Time to Talk," by Robert Frost, from The Poetry of Robert Frost (Henry Holt).

A Time to Talk

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, "What is it?"
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Peter Mark Roget, born in London (1779). His name is attached to Roget's Thesaurus, but he had a long career as a physician and a scientist before he began work on the project. As a young man, he experimented with laughing gas, figured out how to improve the public water supply, invented the log-log slide rule, and wrote a paper which was the first to describe the persistence of images on the retina, thought to have been the first step toward the development of the movie camera. Roget's Thesaurus is probably the world's most famous compendium of synonyms. For "talk," Roget suggested: "chatter, chat, prate, prattle, patter, babble, gab, gabble, gibble-gabble, jabber, blab, blabber, blather, blether, clatter, run on, rattle on, ramble on, run on like a mill race, talk till one is blue in the face."

It's the birthday of Joseph Farwell Glidden, born in Clarendon, New York (1813). For centuries, hedgerows and stone walls were the only way to keep livestock contained. In the American West, cowboys followed herds of cattle to make sure no harm came to them. Glidden saw an exhibition in which a wooden rail with nails protruding from it kept livestock at a distance. He rigged up an old coffee grinder to twist strands of wire around each other, then clipped off the protruding ends to make barbs. A number of men filed patents for similar barbed fences at the same time. There was a tremendous fight, but Glidden won, and his barbed wire factory made him one of the country's richest men. It wasn't long before the Wild West became a thing of the past. Long cattle drives came to an end, and longhorn cattle began to disappear; it wasn't necessary to breed cattle tough enough to survive out on the range anymore.

It's the birthday of A[lan] A[lexander] Milne, born in St. John's Wood, London (1882). He wrote for the humor magazine Punch, and he was the author of a successful play called Mr. Pim Passes By (1920). But once he published Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), nobody ever remembered anything else he had written. In a little verse, he wrote: "When I wrote them, little thinking / All my years of pen - and - inking / Would be almost lost among / Those four trifles for the young."

It's the birthday of Oliver Hardy, born Norvell Hardy in Harlem, Georgia (1892). He studied law and sang professionally before he met Stan Laurel. Laurel and Hardy were one of the few to move smoothly from the vaudeville hall to full-length film comedies. They were most famous during the thirties, and they won an Oscar for a short film called The Music Box, in which they attempted to get a piano up a steep staircase.

It's the birthday of Cary Grant, born Archibald Leach in Bristol, England (1904). He came to the United States as an acrobat. He failed his first screen test; the studio said he was bow-legged and that his neck was too thick. After he was signed by Paramount, he had a three-year run in which he made his best-known films--Bringing up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). He said, "I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me."

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