Jul. 4, 2008

Quiet After the Rain of Morning

by Joseph Trumbull Stickney

Quiet after the rain of morning
Midday covers the dampened trees;
Sweet and fresh in the languid breeze
Still returning
Birds are twittering at ease.

And to me in the far and foreign
Land as further I go and come,
Sweetly over the wearisome
Endless barren
Flutter whisperings of home.

There between the two hillocks lightens
Straight and little a bluish bar:
I feel the strain of the mariner
Grows and tightens
After home and after her.

"Quiet After the Rain of Morning" by Joseph Trumbull Stickney. Public domain.

Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The colonists were trying to persuade other nations of Europe to be on their side, so they included a long list of complaints about the king. The document said of the king, in part, "HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation."

Twenty-four years later, in 1804, the explorers Lewis and Clark had the first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. They were traveling through a part of the Midwest that is now Kansas. They stopped at the mouth of a creek on July 4th, and named it Independence Creek in honor of the day. To celebrate, they fired their cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whisky to the men.

There were unofficial celebrations of Independence Day from its first anniversary, but it really became a popular holiday after the War of 1812. On the frontier, it was the only time of the year when everyone in the countryside gathered together in one place. There would be parades and speeches, and the prettiest and most wholesome girl in the village would be named the Goddess of Liberty. Politicians would get up and call the king of England a skunk and challenge him to a fight. Drunk men in the streets would get into fights and call each other Englishmen. Soon, events like groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities.

By a strange coincidence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, both died on this day in 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and John Adams was its strongest supporter in the Continental Congress. They were political opponents after the Revolutionary War and ran against each other for president, but on the day that they died, John Adams's last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives." In fact, Jefferson had died a few hours before.

On this day in 1931, James Joyce married Nora Barnacle at the Kensington Registry Office in London. They had been living together for 26 years. She once complained about Joyce's late hours, "I can't sleep anymore. ... I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing. And then I knock at the door, and I say, now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing!"

On this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. It was 10 feet wide by 15 feet long, had an attic and a closet, two windows, and a fireplace. It cost twenty-eight dollars and twelve cents to build. The single biggest expenditure was three dollars and ninety cents for nails. Thoreau boasted that he was a good builder, but when the cabin was excavated a hundred years later, the investigators found hundreds of bent nails in the cellar hole. He had two knives and forks, three plates, one cup and one spoon. He had a huge garden, seven miles of bean rows altogether, and he spent a lot of time weeding them and chasing away the woodchucks.

On this day in 1855, the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass was printed. It consisted of 12 poems and a preface. The printers were friends of his, and they did not charge Whitman for their work. He helped set some of the type himself. "Grass" is a printer's term; it refers to a casual job that can be set up between busy times.

It's the birthday of the first great American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, (books by this author) born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He's the author of The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of Seven Gables (1851). He came from a family of Puritans and his great-grandfather was a witchcraft judge in the Salem trials. His father was a sailor and died at sea when Nathaniel was only four. After his father's death, his mother became a recluse and rarely left the house. Hawthorne learned from her what he called the "cursed habits of solitude." When he did go out of the house, he took long walks by himself. He loved to climb the steeple of Christ Church and look down on the town beneath him.

He began to support himself writing and editing for various magazines, but he had a hard time getting books published. He grew depressed and spent more and more time at home. He wrote to his friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I have made a captive of myself and put me in a dungeon; and now I cannot find the key to let myself out." In 1849, his mother died, and he wrote in his diary that her death was "the darkest hour I ever lived." Soon after he began work on his novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), about a Puritan woman named Hester Prynne who has to wear the letter "A" on her chest after she commits adultery. The novel was a huge success, and Hawthorne became a literary celebrity, even though he was still very shy.

Hawthorne once wrote, "Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

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




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