May 2, 2005


by Charles Henry Ross

John, Tom, and James

by Charles Henry Ross

MONDAY, 2 MAY, 2005
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Poems: "John, Tom, and James" and "Jack" by Charles Henry Ross. Public Domain.

John, Tom, and James

JOHN was a bad boy, and beat a poor cat;
Tom put a stone in a blind man's hat;
James was the boy who neglected his prayers;
They've all grown up ugly, and nobody cares.


THAT'S Jack;
Lay a stick on his back!
What's he done? I cannot say.
We'll find out tomorrow,
And beat him today.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Benjamin Spock, in New Haven (1903) who wrote The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which began, "You know more than you think you do."

It's the birthday of the lyricist Lorenz Hart, New York City, (1895) who was a young man in his 20s, drifting around, writing some verse, when he met Richard Rodgers, a teenager composer. They worked on some amateur shows together. Rodgers was just about to give up music, and go into the underwear business, when their show The Garrick Gaieties became a big hit in 1925. They went on to write many successful musicals and many great songs: "Blue Moon," "My Funny Valentine," and "The Lady is a Tramp."

It's the birthday of the journalist Theodor Herzl, born in Budapest in 1860, who became the most prominent spokesman for Zionism in Europe.

It's the birthday of Catherine the Great, born Sophie Auguste Friederike in Stetten, Prussia (1729). When she was 15 she married the sixteen-year-old Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the Russian throne. He was a strange, young man who spent all of his time playing with toy soldiers. Catherine was miserable in her marriage. She had many affairs, but in her boredom, she also became a great reader. She loved the philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire.

After her husband became Czar in 1761, the country sank into chaos. Peter was killed in a scuffle with his guards, and Catherine the Great ruled over Russia, encouraged the humanities, promoted book publishing, journalism, architecture, and the theater.

And it was on this day in 1611 that the first edition of the King James Bible was published in England. It was one of the greatest works ever written by a committee, and it was produced during a chaotic time in England. There was an epidemic of the black plague the year before. 30,000 Londoners had died. Puritans in the country were agitating against the monarchy, and a group of underground Catholics were plotting to assassinate the king.

King James I, had thought that a new translation of the Bible might help bind the country together. There had been other English translations, but he wanted a Bible that would be the definitive version.

Previous versions had been translated from Latin. This one would be translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. Other translations had had scholarly translators' notes in the margins. This one would have as few explanatory notes as possible and appeal to the widest audience, and he wanted it to sound right since it would be read aloud in churches. So when the committee of translators gathered, each man read his verses aloud, to be judged and revised by the others.

It was a committee of 54 of the best linguists in the country: Lancelot Andrewes, George Abbot, and John Layfield. At the time, words like "thee" and "thou" and "sayeth" had already gone out of fashion in England, but the translators wanted the language of the Bible to sound old, to sound like long ago and far away. Some of the phrases in the King James have become enduring expressions: "the land of the living," "sour grapes," like a lamb to slaughter," "salt of the earth," "the apple of his eye," "to give up the ghost."

For decades most people preferred the Puritan Geneva Bible because it was plainer. It was only after the civil war in England that the King James version came into fashion. People were nostalgic for the period before the war, and they saw the King James Bible as an artifact of a simpler time.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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