Apr. 9, 2014

Written in March

by William Wordsworth

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The plowboy is whooping- anon-anon:
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

"Written in March" by William Wordsworth. Public Domain. (buy now)

On this date in 1833, the world's oldest taxpayer-supported public library was founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The money for the Peterborough Public Library came from the State Literary Fund, tax money collected from the sale of capital stock for the purpose of paying for a state university. There wasn't enough money in the fund to fulfill its original purpose, so a Unitarian minister named Abiel Abbot proposed that some of the money be used to purchase books that could be lent to townspeople free of charge. Reverend Abbot's idea fell on fertile ground in the New England of the 1830s: temperance, anti-slavery, and education reform were only a few of the utopian social movements that were beginning to gather steam at that time. As Emerson wrote, "The modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man."

This was not Reverend Abbot's first library; he had already established a Juvenile Library and a "social library," supported by paid membership, in Peterborough. In 1849, as a result of Abbot's innovation, the New Hampshire State Legislature became the first in the nation to pass a law giving towns the right to raise money to establish their own public libraries.

It was on this day in 1859, after two years of apprenticeship, that 23-year-old Samuel Clemens (books by this author) was granted his steamboat pilot license. He was a pilot for two years, until the Civil War stopped traffic on the Mississippi River. And a couple of years after that, working as a reporter in Nevada, he signed a travel account by the pen name "Mark Twain." It was a name he picked up from life on the river, where "mark twain" was used to signify the depth at which it was safe to pilot a steamboat. He wrote later, "If I have seemed to love my subject, it is no surprising thing, for I loved the profession far better than any I have followed since, and I took a measureless pride in it."

On this day in 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

They met at a private residence in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. General Grant was reported to have begun the conversation by saying: "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico ... I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I should have recognized you anywhere."

To which Lee is said to have replied, "Yes. I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature."

They talked over terms for an end of the war. Lee asked Grant to commit the terms to paper, which Grant handwrote on the spot. Lee accepted them on the spot. They shook hands. Before Lee rode off to inform his men, the two generals raised their hats to each other in salute.

The site is now a National Historic Park.

It's the birthday of French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire (books by this author), born to a wealthy family in Paris (1821). At 36, he published his only collection of poetry, Les Fleurs de Mal (1857, The Flowers of Evil).

It's the birthday of scientist Gregory Pincus, born in Woodbine, New Jersey (1903). He was a successful teacher at Harvard, doing research on sexual physiology in mammals, but his career floundered after he completed in-vitro fertilization of rabbits in 1934. In-vitro fertilization was a new technique, and the general public was horrified by the idea of test-tube babies. Pincus lost his position at Harvard. A friend got him a position at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, but he still had to work as a janitor to supplement his income.

In 1951, he met Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and she realized that he could be a good choice to explore the possibilities of human contraceptives. She secured a grant for Pincus and his co-worker, Min Chueh Chang, and they did research to confirm that excessive amounts of the hormone progesterone worked to stop ovulation. From there, they created the first birth control pills, which were approved by the USDA in 1960.

It's the birthday of Hugh Hefner, born in Chicago (1926). He wanted to start his own magazine, so he raised $8,000 — $600 of which he borrowed from a bank using the furniture from his apartment as collateral. He put together an issue of Playboy in his kitchen, and he wasn't sure if he would ever have enough money to print a second, but when the first issue came out in 1953 featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover, it sold more than 50,000 copies.

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




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