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For those days I don’t have a book review to post.
Starting on September 2, 2013 all ‘On This day In Literary History’ posts will be made on the Homepage, and then a link to that post will be provided here. There will be no changes made to posts prior to this date.
July 13, 1798:
Wordsworth visits Tintern Abbey
While on a walking tour, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy visit a ruined church called Tintern Abbey.
The ruins inspired Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey,” in which Wordsworth articulated some of the fundamental themes of Romantic poetry, including the restorative power of nature. The poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798, which Wordsworth collaborated on with his friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The book, which also included Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, sold out within two years. The book’s second edition included an important preface that articulated the Romantic manifesto.
Wordsworth was born near England’s Lake District in 1770. He lost his mother when he was eight, and his father died five years later. Wordsworth attended Cambridge, then travelled in Europe, taking long walking tours with friends through the mountains. During his 20s, Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy and became close friends with Coleridge.
In 1802, after years of living on a modest income, Wordsworth came into a long-delayed inheritance from his father and was able to live comfortably with his sister. He married their long-time neighbour Mary Hutchinson and had five children. The poet’s stature grew steadily, although most of his major work was written by 1807. In 1843, he was named poet laureate of England, and he died in 1850, at the age of 80.
July 5, 1665:
Diarist Samuel Pepys
On this day in 1665, diarist Samuel Pepys sent his wife and maids to Woolwich to escape the dangers of the ensuing plague, which would claim the lives of 20% of London in that year alone.
Samuel Pepys left for the world a graphic description of the impact of the plague in London in 1665. The diaries written by Pepys cover the months when the plague first hit London in 1665 to the time in September when it was at its worst to the time in winter when the plague became less of an issue. Pepys wrote his diaries for himself though because they were so well laid out it is probable that he had an inkling that they would have one day been published. What they give an historian is an insight into a city that was devastated by a disease there was no cure for.
On April 25th 1665, two deaths from the plague were recorded. On April 30th, Pepys wrote:
“Great fear of the sickness here in the City, it is being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”
As spring moved into summer, the weather became warmer and London experienced a hot summer to follow a mild winter. The rat population grew at an alarming rate. The rats themselves were not responsible for the plague – fleas were – but along with dogs and cats, the rats were carriers of fleas. As the plague took a hold on London, Pepys wrote on June 7th:
“This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and ‘Lord Have Mercy upon Us’ writ there – which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind….that I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll tobacco to smell and chew, which took away the apprehension.”
Just three days later Pepys wrote in his diary that he feared for his own life:
“To bed, being troubled by sickness, and particularly how to put my things and estates in order, in case it should please God to call me away.”
On June 15th, Pepys wrote:
“The town grows very sickly, and people are afraid of it.”
Pepys had the necessary money and political connections to get a health certificate to flee London during the plague, but he did not do so. However, very many of the city’s wealthy did leave including Charles II whose court left on June 29th. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Vincent wrote that as he walked the streets of London in the summer of 1665, he saw few rich men and even fewer women from wealthy backgrounds. On June 22nd, Pepys sent his mother to the countryside and his wife Elizabeth followed on July 5th.
On August 30th Pepys made a note in his diary that a clerk he met was failing to accurately record the number of deaths in his parish. A clerk called Hadley told Pepys that nine people had died in one week in his parish but that he had only recorded six names. Though the figures are very small, if such a practice was common throughout London, the number of deaths associated with the plague may well have been much higher. Just one day later, Pepys himself makes this claim when he wrote that the official death toll for the week including August 31st was 7,496 or which 6,102 were from the plague. However, Pepys believed that the true number of plague deaths was nearer 10,000 for the week and the figure was reduced as a result of the clerks being overwhelmed by statistics. Over 100 years later a writer called Noorthouck wrote that Quakers and Jews had their own burial grounds and were not included in the official figures, but that logic dictated their both groups suffered badly from the plague and that the official figure should have been a lot higher if all groups were included.
On August 16th Pepys wrote:
“To the Exchange, where I have not been a great while. But, ‘Lord!’ how sad a sight it is to see streets empty of people. Jealous of every door that one sees shut, lest it should be the plague, and about us two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up.”
Having written in detail about the plague, in the entry for September 3rd, Pepys diverts somewhat. He still wrote about the plague but referred it to what would be in fashion the plague had died out. His particular concern was purchasing a new wig (periwig) but not wearing it out of fear that it may have been made out of the hair of someone who had died of plague. Pepys believed that many would also share his fear and that the periwig would cease to be fashionable.
As the plague reached its peak in September, Pepys wrote that one of the saddest sights he saw was the lack of boats on the River Thames as it told him that the plague was getting worse and worse.
By October 26th, Pepys had detected a change in London. He wrote that it was obvious that the number of deaths was decreasing and that the population was getting more and more lively. However, he also wrote that many shops remained shut. On November 22nd, Pepys noted in his diary that there had been a harsh frost during the night and this filled him with hope. Though he would not have known that fleas caused the disease and that the cold would have killed the rats, it was assumed that cold was associated with a decrease in the plague.
(Courtesy of History Learning Site)
July 2, 1778:
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Dies
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva on 28 June 1712. His mother died when he was young, and Rousseau was initially brought up by his father, a watchmaker. He left Geneva aged 16 and traveled around France, where he met his benefactress, the Baroness de Warens, who gave him the education that turned him into a philosopher.
Rousseau reached Paris in 1742 and soon met Denis Diderot, another provincial man seeking literary fame. They formed the core of the intellectual group, the ‘Philosophes’. Eschewing an easy life as a popular composer, in 1750 he published his first important work ‘A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts’ (1750). Its central theme was that man had become corrupted by society and civilization. In 1755, he published ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’. He claimed that original man, while solitary, was happy, good and free. The vices dated from the formation of societies, which brought comparisons and, with that, pride. ‘The Social Contract’ of 1762 suggested how man might recover his freedom in the future. It argued that a state based on a genuine social contract would give men real freedom in exchange for their obedience to a self-imposed law. Rousseau described his civil society as united by a general will, furthering the common interest while occasionally clashing with personal interest.
Increasingly unhappy in Paris, Rousseau traveled to Montmorency. While there, he produced ‘Èmile’, a treatise on education and ‘The New Eloise’ (1761). This novel escaped the censors and was the most widely read of all his works. Its freedom with emotion was in tune with developing romanticism and won him many important fans. But it scandalized the French authorities, who burned it and ordered Rousseau’s arrest. He traveled to England, a guest of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, but grew unhappy and secretly returned to France.
In his last 10 years, Rousseau wrote his ‘Confessions’, justifying himself against his opponents. He died on 2 July 1778 in Ermenonville, the estate of the Marquis de Girardin, who had given him refuge.
June 29, 1613:
Globe Theatre Burns
The Globe Theatre, where most of Shakespeare’s plays debuted, burned down on this day in 1613.
The Globe was built by Shakespeare’s acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in 1599 from the timbers of London’s very first permanent theatre, Burbage’s Theatre, built in 1576. Before James Burbage built his theatre, plays and dramatic performances were ad hoc affairs, performed on street corners and in the yards of inns. However, the Common Council of London, in 1574, started licensing theatrical pieces performed in inn yards within the city limits. To escape the restriction, actor James Burbage built his own theatre on land he leased outside the city limits. When Burbage’s lease ran out, the Lord Chamberlain’s men moved the timbers to a new location and created the Globe. Like other theatres of its time, the Globe was a round wooden structure with a stage at one end, and covered balconies for the gentry. The galleries could seat about 1,000 people, with room for another 2,000 “groundlings,” who could stand on the ground around the stage.
The Lord Chamberlain’s men built Blackfriars Theatre in 1608, a smaller theater that seated about 700 people, to use in winter when the open-air Globe wasn’t practical.
June 23, 1868:
It was on this day in 1868 that the typewriter was patented, by Christopher Sholes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1873, he sold the patent to the Remington Arms Co., a famous gun maker, for $12,000. There had been typewriters before, but they weren’t very practical — it took longer to type a letter than to write it by hand. The first commercial typewriter based on Sholes’ design went on the market in 1874.
There are a handful of contemporary authors who prefer using a typewriter during their writing process. John Updike used his 76-year-old black lacquered Olivetti MP1 until he died. David Sedaris took his typewriter with him everywhere until surrendering a few years ago to the inconvenience of trying to get it through the airport. Larry McMurtry honored his Swiss Hermes 3000 typewriter in his acceptance speech for Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes in 2006, calling it “a noble instrument of European genius.” Paul Auster wrote an homage to his manual Olympia called The Story of My Typewriter(2002).
June 22, 1964:
‘Tropic of Cancer’ Ruling
On this day in 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that found Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to be obscene. This was three years after the book’s first publication in America, thirty years since its publication in Europe, and a hundred years since Comstock began to patrol the mails for such “vampire literature.” Though but one judgment in a series of significant decisions — most importantly, those concerning Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fanny Hill — the Miller ruling is considered landmark for having led the way to the establishment of a new, more liberal standard in censorship.
June 20, 1914:
The first issue of Blast published
On this day in 1914, the first issue of the radical arts magazine, Blast, was published. This was “A Review of the Great English Vortex,” and though neither the magazine nor “Vorticism” would last very long, the art-literary Establishment was jolted into taking notice. The cover was a violent pink, the typography and lay-out were an assault on Victorian order and ornateness, and though the specific lists of Blasted (English humor, do-gooders, sportsmen, aesthetics. . .) and Blessed (trade unionists, music halls, hairdressers, aviators. . .) might have been a bit of a puzzle, the manifesto sounded a trumpet for modernism:
We stand for the Reality of the Present – not for the sentimental Future, or the sacripant Past.
We want to leave Nature and men alone.
The only way Humanity can help artists is to remain independent and work unconsciously.
WE NEED THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF HUMANITY – their stupidity, animalism and dreams.
We believe in no perfectibility except our own.
Intrinsic beauty is in the Interpreter and Seer, not in the object or content.
WE ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel its crude energy flowing through us . . . .
They were not the only trumpet, but the Vorticists scoffed at the Bloomsbury crowd, rejecting their modernism as class-bound and clever, a tea-room movement. Vorticists hung out at the underground nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, a place whose walls were “hideously but relevantly frescoed,” and “splashed with the blood of exhausted heroes.” In the world of the avant-garde, they were the bad-boy Marlowe to the Bloomsbury Shakespeare, and Blast was conceived as their “battering ram.”
As a word, “Vorticism” was coined by Ezra Pound. As a movement in painting and sculpture, it was a branch of abstract art, as were all its fledgling cousins — Futurism, Rayonism, Fauvism, Orphism, Suprematism, etc. As a literary movement, it was harder to define, the first issue including poems by Pound (in which he taunted the “continuous gangrene” of “gagged reviewers” and “slut-bellied obstructionists”), a suffragist story by Rebecca West and an early version of Ford Madox Ford‘s “The Good Soldier.” But the major force in Blast and Vorticism, as both painter and writer, was Wyndham Lewis. The first issue of Blast contained his play, “Enemy of the Stars,” and many of his declarations in favor of raw energy, hard edges and the helter-skelter life:
Our Vortex is not afraid of the past: it has forgotten its existence.
Our Vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past.
Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss.
Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness.
Looking back from 1956, Lewis would say, “Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did or said at a certain time.” This is confirmed by an anecdote from Ford Madox Ford in which he remembers walking with Pound and Lewis near his house, the “incomprehensible Philadelphian” talking in his one ear while Lewis played a second Mephistopheles at the other:
“Tu sais, tu es foutu! Foutu! Finished! Exploded! Done for!… What people want is me, not you. They want to see me. A Vortex. To liven them up … I … I … I ….” He struck his chest dramatically and repeated: “I … I … I …. The Vortex. Blast all the rest.”
Neither Blast nor Vorticism lasted long, both falling victim to either the dogs of WWI, or just the dogs: “The common homo canis,” said Pound, “snarls violently at the thought of there being ideas which he doesn’t know.”
(courtesy of Today in Literature)
June 18, 1937:
Novelist Gail Godwin is born
On this day in 1937, Gail Godwin is born in Birmingham, Alabama.
Godwin’s father abandoned his family when Gail was very young. The family lived with Godwin’s grandmother in Asheville, North Carolina, while Gail’s mother worked as a teacher, newspaper reporter, and fiction writer. When Godwin was 16, her mother married a salesman, and the family moved frequently. Godwin attended five different high schools and ultimately invited her estranged father to her graduation. He not only attended but also offered to put her through college, which would have been financially impossible for Godwin’s mother.
Godwin attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied journalism. Her father, a longtime victim of depression, committed suicide her junior year-the first of many suicides to occur within her family. Godwin struggled with depression during much of her life.
After college, she worked as a reporter writing obituaries for the Miami Herald but was fired for being “too ambitious,” according to Godwin. She married briefly, divorced, moved to London, remarried again, and divorced a year later.
In 1966, she returned to the United States and pursued a doctorate in English at the University of Iowa, where she wrote her first novel, The Perfectionists, as her thesis. The book was published in 1970. She became a professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and wrote four more books before publishing her first bestseller, A Mother and Two Daughters (1981), which sold more than her first five books combined. She continued writing novels that were both critical and popular successes, including A Southern Family (1987), Father Melancholy’s Daughter (1991), The Good Husband(1994), Evenings at Five (2003), and Unfinished Desires (2010).
(courtesy of History)