May 28, 2014

The Last Rose of Summer

by Thomas Moore

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone:
No flower of her kindred,
No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither' d,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

"The Last Rose of Summer" by Thomas Moore. Public Domain.

It's the birthday of novelist Walker Percy (books by this author), born in Birmingham, Alabama. (1916). He was working as a psychiatrist when he caught tuberculosis, and he spent two years recovering from the disease. In bed, he started reading existentialist philosophers and decided to become a writer. He later said: "[Tuberculosis was] the best disease I ever had. If I hadn't had it, I might be a second-rate shrink practicing in Birmingham, at best." He's best known for his first novel, The Moviegoer (1961), about a stockbroker who tries to get over a nervous breakdown by spending all his time at the movies.

It was on this day in 1902 that the novelist Owen Wister published his book The Virginian, which is now considered the first true Western (books by this author).

Wister was born in Philadelphia, and his first vocation was music. For health reasons, he went to Wyoming, fell in love with it, and he was inspired to write a novel about a cowboy known only as "the Virginian," who moves to the town of Bear Creek, Wyoming, gets a job as the foreman on a ranch, and falls in love with the new schoolmarm, Molly Wood. But he crosses paths with a group of cattle rustlers and is forced to preside over the lynching of a cattle thief. The leader of the cattle rustlers, a man named Trampas, threatens to murder the Virginian, who has to decide whether to leave town or fight back. The novel contains the famous line, "This town ain't big enough for both of us," and it ends with a dramatic shootout in the street.

It was one of the most successful novels ever published at the time, selling 20,000 copies in its first month in print, 300,000 by the end of 1902, and 1½ million copies by the time of Wister's death in 1938. One of the few people who didn't like the novel was Owen Wister's mother. She told Wister that the book wasn't serious enough, and she didn't like that it seemed to advocate violence. Wister took his mother's opinion to heart. His publishers begged him for a sequel, but never wrote another book about the American West.

It's the birthday of Irish novelist Maeve Binchy (books by this author), born in Dalkey, Ireland (1940). Binchy's mother hoped that she'd grow up and meet a nice doctor or lawyer — but the daughter preferred instead to "holiday on the decks of cheap boats, or work in kibbutzim in Israel, or mind children as [a] camp counselor in the United States." The young Binchy would send colorful letters back home, describing her travels and adventures, and her father began forwarding them to newspapers in hopes that they'd be published. It led to a career as a newspaper reporter and editor.

It's the birthday of May Swenson (books by this author), born in Logan, Utah (1913). She grew up in a Swedish Mormon household. Her parents were immigrants, and the family spoke only Swedish at home, so May didn't learn English until she went to school. She was the eldest of 10 children, and she helped her mother raise the younger kids and run the household — canning vegetables, pressing cider, and tending to bees. She was fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe, and she began to write herself, encouraged by her teachers. She went to Utah State University, where her father taught woodworking. During college, she began to question her Mormon faith; she said later: "It's not for me — religion. It seems like a redundancy for a poet." After graduation, she was determined to leave Utah behind and make her way as a writer in New York City.

Swenson moved to Greenwich Village, to a brick apartment on Perry Street, where she lived for almost 20 years. She had to remove her name from the mailbox there because she received too many visits from enthusiastic Mormon missionaries trying to bring her back to the faith. Swenson had learned frugality from her parents, and she employed it now, saving money while she worked as a typist for pharmaceutical trade publications. When she first arrived in New York City, she was so broke that she had to steal a dress for a job interview — she put it on in the dressing room under her old dress and walked right out of the store. Despite their lack of money, she and her partner, Pearl Schwartz, became known for the parties they hosted in their Perry Street apartment. The apartment was owned by the church next door, and when it was warm, guests gathered on the terrace overlooking the church gardens. Swenson divided her parties into two different types — the "literary" parties and the "gay" parties — although there was quite a bit of crossover among the guests.

Swenson did such a good job saving money that she was able to take a year off from working and devote herself to writing. Her big breakthrough came in 1949, when several of her poems were included in one of the New Directions anthologies — later she left her job working for the drug companies and became a manuscript reader for New Directions. She sold her first book, Another Animal (1954), on her 40th birthday.

It's the birthday of author Ian Fleming (books by this author), born in London in 1908. His family enjoyed wealth and social standing; his father Valentine was a Member of Parliament and when he died in World War I, Winston Churchill wrote his obituary. All doors were open to young Ian, and he worked as a foreign journalist, a banker, a stockbroker, a high-ranking officer and assistant to the director of British naval intelligence, and foreign manager of London's Sunday Times before he took up the career, and the character, that would make him famous. Casino Royale (1953) was the first of his many "James Bond" novels, which featured the playboy spy — code name "007" — and a host of fast cars, nifty gadgets, and hot women.

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