Nov. 14, 2010

No Loathsomeness in Love

by Robert Herrick

What I fancy I approve,
No dislike there is in love:
Be my mistress short or tall,
And distorted therewithal:
Be she likewise one of those,
That an acre hath of nose:
Be her forehead and her eyes
Full of incongruities:
Be her cheeks so shallow too,
As to show her tongue wag through:
Be her lips ill hung, or set,
And her grinders black as jet;
Has she thin hair, hath she none,
She's to me a paragon.

"No Loathsomeness in Love" by Robert Herrick. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Condoleezza Rice, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day in 1954. Her parents were educators and she grew up taking lessons in French, ballet, and ice skating during her childhood in segregated Birmingham. She was friends with one of the girls who died in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which happened not far from her own house.

Her parents enrolled her in first grade at the age of three, but she managed to foil their plans by ditching class several days in a row. She planned to become a concert pianist and went off to the University of Denver to study piano, but switched her major to political science and became obsessed with the Soviet Union. She wrote a thesis on military policy in the former Czech Republic, earned a Ph.D. at the age of 26, and switched from being a Democrat to a Republican. She taught at Stanford, worked for Gerald Ford and the first George Bush, and returned to Stanford, where she was appointed provost, the first woman and youngest person to have that job in the school's history. In 2001, she became national security advisor and in 2005 she became secretary of state.

She wrote a memoir about her family called Extraordinary, Ordinary People (2010), which came out just a month ago, received great reviews, and is a best-seller. It begins, "My parents were anxious to give me a head start in life — perhaps a little too anxious."

It was on this day in 1851 that Moby Dick was published in New York, as one long, 635-page book called "Moby Dick." About a month earlier, a bowdlerized (censored for polite company) version of the novel had been published in three separate volumes in London and called The Whale.

Moby Dick begins with the famous lines:
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."

And Herman Melville (books by this author) wrote in Moby Dick: "Meditation and water are wedded for ever."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of one of the first Impressionist painters, Claude Monet, born in Paris (1840). He said, "I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."

It's the birthday of cartoonist and author William Steig, (books by this author) born in New York City (1907), a cartoonist for The New Yorker for many years. He's best known for his children's book Shrek! (1993), about an ugly green ogre who hears the prophecy of a witch that he will marry a princess even uglier than he. It was made into an animated movie in 2002. William Steig said, "If I'd had it my way, I'd have been a professional athlete, a sailor, a beachcomber, or some other form of hobo, a painter, a gardener, a novelist, a banjo-player, a traveler, anything but a rich man."

It's the birthday of journalist P.J. O'Rourke, (books by this author) born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1947. He's the author of Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (1991), Give War a Chance (1992), and recently, Driving Like Crazy (2009).

He said: "The source of the word 'humorist' is one who regards human beings in terms of their humors — you know, whether they're sanguine or full of yellow bile, or whatever the four classical humors are. You stand back from people and regard them as types. And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one's fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with."

It's the birthday of children's novelist Astrid Lindgren, (books by this author) born in Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She grew up on a farm in southern Sweden, playing with her brothers and sisters and listening to her family tell stories. Eventually she got married, had a daughter, and gave up working at age 24 in order to stay home and take care of her kids. One day, her daughter, Karin, was sick in bed, so Astrid started telling her stories of a spunky, strong, independent girl who mocks adults and manages to get by just fine without a family, caution, education, or the opposite sex. And that girl was Pippi Longstocking, with magical powers, a pet monkey, freckles, and bright red pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. The book was published as Pippi Långstrump (1945) in Sweden, Pippi Longstocking in English, and it became one of the most beloved children's books of all time.

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