Dec. 19, 2005

My Love Is Like to Ice

by Edmund Spenser

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Poem: "My Love Is Like to Ice" by Edmund Spenser. Public Domain.

My Love Is Like to Ice

My love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congealed with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in the year 1732 that Benjamin Franklin first published Poor Richard's Almanack in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Franklin had recently become the proprietor of a new print shop, and almanacs were among the most profitable books being published at the time.

Franklin's almanac included weather reports, astronomical notices of the different phases of the moon, eclipses, tides, tables of English kings, dates of court terms, announcements of Quaker meetings, town and city fairs, tables of distances between various towns, and a calendar. Franklin included short witty proverbs about life as filler between the other material, but it was the proverbs that became famous. He borrowed them from a variety of sources; including Native American folklore, farmer's superstitions, as well as quotations from authors and politicians.

But even though he didn't invent many of his proverbs, he rewrote them with the simplest language possible. He knew that many early colonists were semi-literate and so he tried to write in such a way that they could be easily understood and easily remembered. Franklin wanted his advice to be useful to the early colonists, and it often had to do with the themes of frugality and courtesy, sometimes mixed with a bit of cynical humor, such as "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead" and, "Fish and visitors smell after three days" and, "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealth and wise" and, "A penny saved is a penny earned."

It was on this day in 1843 that Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. Dickens wrote the novel after his first commercial failure. His previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1842) had flopped, and he was suddenly strapped for cash. Martin Chuzzlewit had been satirical and pessimistic, and Dickens thought he might be more successful if he wrote a heartwarming tale with a holiday theme.

He got the idea for the book in late October of 1843, the story of the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge, who has so little Christmas spirit that he wants his assistant Bob Cratchit to work on Christmas Day.

Dickens struggled to finish the book in time for Christmas. He no longer had a publisher so he published the book himself, ordering illustrations, gilt-edged pages and a lavish red bound cover. He priced the book at a mere 5 shillings, in hopes of making it affordable to everyone. It was released within a week of Christmas and was a huge success, selling six thousand copies the first few days, and the demand was so great that it quickly went to second and third editions.

At the time, Christmas was on the decline and not celebrated much. England was in the midst of an Industrial Revolution and most people were incredibly poor, having to work as much as 16 hour days, 6 days a week. Most people couldn't afford to celebrate Christmas, and Puritans believed it was a sin to do so. They felt that celebrating Christmas too extravagantly would be an insult to Christ. The famous American preacher Henry Ward Beecher said that Christmas was a "foreign day" and he wouldn't even recognize it.

When Dickens's novel became a huge bestseller in both the United States and England, A Christmas Carol reminded many people of the old Christmas traditions that had been dying out since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, of cooking a feast, spending time with family, and spreading warmth and cheer. Dickens helped people return to the old ways of Christmas. He went on to write a Christmas story every year, but none endured as well as A Christmas Carol.

It's the birthday of Constance Garnett, born Constance Black in Brighton, England (1861). She's best known for providing the first widely available English translations of the important Russian novels of the 19th century. After marrying the literary critic Edward Garnett, she became friends with some Russian exiles and decided to learn the language. She loved it so much that she traveled to St. Petersburg in 1893 and became friends with many writers and revolutionaries.

When she returned home, she decided to begin translating as much Russian literature as she could. She somehow managed to translate about 5,000 words a day. She finished Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in six months, and went on to translate Dostoyevsky's complete works, about two and a half million words long. In many cases, her translations of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, and others were the first versions read by English and American writers in the early 20th century.

It's the birthday of novelist Eleanor Hodgman Porter, born in Littleton, New Hampshire (1868). She was the author of many popular sentimental novels, but she's remembered today as the author of the novel Pollyanna (1913), about a young girl who has to go live with her aunt after the death of her parents, but who always tries to see the positive side of things despite her hardships.

It's the birthday of Jean Genet, born in Paris, France (1910). He wrote Our Lady of the Flowers (1944) and The Balcony (1956).

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




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