Dec. 18, 2011

Father's Voice

by William Stafford

"No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark."
       He wanted me to be rich
       the only way we could,
       easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
       easy gift, a wind
       that keeps on blowing for flowers
       or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
       that move in the sun and have
       close, reliable friends
       in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

"Father's Voice" by William Stafford, from Allegiances. © Harper & Row, 1970. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Charles Wesley (1708), born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England. He was the 18th of 19 children, and the third surviving son. Born prematurely, he wasn't expected to survive; he lay silently in his woolen blanket for the first two months of his life. He received his early education from his mother, who ran a schoolroom of sorts for her large family. She taught them for six hours a day. After studying at Oxford, he became an Anglican clergyman like his father and brothers before him. Along with his brother John, he cofounded the Methodist movement within Protestantism. "Methodist" was intended as an insult, because the brothers held to a strict regimen of early rising and Bible study, but the Wesleys didn't see anything wrong with being strict, so they adopted the term for themselves without protest. The Wesleys became itinerant preachers, traveling the country and speaking wherever there was an audience: in fields, prisons, and coal mines. Charles Wesley estimated he preached before almost 150,000 people over a five-year period.

His other contribution was musical, and it was significant. He wrote hymns, averaging 10 lines a day for 50 years. He wrote "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." He also wrote the perennial Christmas favorite, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." All told, he wrote more than six thousand hymns.

A quote by Wesley is carved on his monument in Westminster Abbey: "God buries his workmen, but carries on his work."

It is the birthday of the man who said, "I dream for a living": filmmaker Steven Spielberg, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1946). His parents had a difficult marriage, and young Spielberg escaped the house during the day and made amateur movies with his father's Super 8 camera. He made two films about World War II, and a movie about a UFO invasion, starring his sisters as victims. Steven Spielberg became famous with Jaws (1975), which was the very first summer blockbuster, and topped his success seven years later with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), about a young boy recovering from the breakup of his parents' marriage when he befriends an alien left behind by his spaceship.

Spielberg has made several movies about World War II, including Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). His next release, due out on Christmas Day, is his first film about World War I: War Horse (2011) is based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo. It's the story of horse that is sold to the English cavalry; his young owner, Albert, makes his way to the front lines to find the horse and bring him home. Spielberg is also releasing an animated film, The Adventures of Tintin, next week. He's currently directing a biography of Abraham Lincoln, due out next year.

It's the birthday of playwright and humorist Abe Burrows (1910) (books by this author), born Abram Solman Borowitz in New York City. He wrote for radio and television, and, collaborating with songwriter Frank Loesser, Burrows gave Broadway two of its most popular and enduring musicals: Guys and Dolls (1950) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961).

On this date in 1912, the Piltdown Man was presented to the Geological Society of London. Near the village of Piltdown in southern England, a laborer was digging in a gravel pit when he found a piece of what appeared to be a skull. He gave it to local archaeology hobbyist Charles Dawson, who thought it looked like some ancient human remains. Dawson brought the skull fragment, along with some other bones he found at the site, to the Natural History Museum in London. Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward, the museum's Keeper of Geology, believed that the laborer had dug up skeletal evidence of the missing evolutionary link between apes and humans, and they brought it before the public with much fanfare. Although several scientists weighed in with their opinion that the Piltdown skull was not authentic, no one paid much attention; they seemed to want to believe that the Missing Link had been found in England. Finally, in 1953, new tests on the skull revealed the Piltdown Man to be an elaborate hoax, constructed in part from orangutan bones, and this time, people listened.

The perpetrator of the hoax has never been determined with any certainty, although theories abound. The main suspect remains Charles Dawson, who enjoyed great celebrity as the discoverer of the most important fossil in human history. It's possible that Woodward, or some other expert, was in on it, because the skull was so skillfully constructed that it fooled archaeologists for more than 40 years. Dawson isn't the only suspect, however: Many scholars point the finger at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the perpetrator. Doyle lived nearby and had access to the site. As a doctor and a fossil collector, he had specialized knowledge of anatomy and would have been able to get his hands on bones fairly easily. A spiritualist who spent a great deal of time and money promoting his belief in communicating with the dead, he also had a grudge against the scientific community that mocked his séances. Some people speculate that Doyle even left clues about the hoax in his novel The Lost World (1912).

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




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