Friday, December 9, 2016

Notes For December 9th, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 9th, 1608, the legendary English poet and polemicist John Milton was born in London, England. He had an older sister and a younger brother. Two baby sisters died in infancy.

Milton was born into an affluent and cultured middle class family. His father was cast out of the family when his own father, an insanely devout Catholic, caught him reading an English-language copy of the Bible, a violation of Church doctrine.

As a child, John Milton lived with his grandmother and siblings. He attended a Protestant church where the minister, Richard Stock, became a close family friend and strong influence on John, who shared in Stock's hatred of the Catholic Church and his belief in publicly censuring the sins of the powerful.

Although Milton's parents lived apart from the rest of the family, his father's prosperity provided him tutors. He soon entered St. Paul's School in London, where at the age of 15, he wrote his first known poems - two psalms.

In 1625, Milton enrolled at Christ's College, Cambridge, to be educated for the ministry. He had already begun studying Latin and Greek, and also learned Italian. He continued his language studies at university.

Later, he became friends with Anglo-American theologian and political dissident Roger Williams. Williams also loved languages, and soon, he and Milton were tutoring each other; Milton taught Williams Hebrew in exchange for Williams teaching Milton Dutch.

After graduating Christ's College in 1629. Milton enrolled at the University of Cambridge, from which he earned a Master of Arts degree in 1632. Although he had intended to become a minister, he never entered the ministry, as he had come to hate the Anglican Church and organized religion in general.

He moved in with his parents on the outskirts of London and began educating himself. The family would move to Berkshire, most likely to avoid the plague outbreak.

In addition to Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Dutch, Milton became proficient in French and Spanish as well. He also learned Old English and began writing poetry prolifically, though most of his work remained private and would not be published publicly for some time.

To earn money, he wrote poetry and masques commissioned by wealthy patrons. Masques were the precursors of musical plays; not operas, but plays with musical numbers, singing, and dancing.

In 1638, John Milton embarked on a 15-month tour of France and Italy, accompanied by a servant. In Florence, he met legendary astronomer Galileo, who was under house arrest at the time. When he returned to England, the Bishops' Wars resulted in more armed conflict between England and Scotland.

Milton began a new phase of his writing career - he became a polemicist, writing prose tracts on various subjects; he opposed episcopacy and favored parliamentary government. He also became a private schoolmaster, educating his own nephews and other children from affluent families.

In June of 1643, Milton married Mary Powell, the 16-year-old daughter of a man who owed him money. A month later, unable to stand her cold and domineering 35-year-old husband any longer, Mary deserted him and returned to her family.

Due to the outbreak of the English Civil War, Mary remained with her family for two years. During this time, Milton wrote and published a series of pamphlets wherein he argued in favor of the legality and morality of divorce.

The pamphlets outraged the authorities, who confiscated and burned them. When Milton learned of this, he wrote and published Areopagitica, his celebrated anti-censorship tract.

After the Civil War ended, Mary returned to John Milton and they reconciled. She bore him four children and remained with him until her death in 1652. His first published poetry collection, 1645 Poems, appeared late that year.

With the parliamentary victory in the First Civil War, Milton's reputation as a polemicist earned him an appointment as Secretary for Foreign Tongues in March of 1649. In October, he published his famous polemic text, Eikonoklastes.

Eikonoklastes was defense of the execution of Charles I, written in response to the Eikon Basilike, a text published by the exiled Charles II and his party, which depicted Charles I as a Christian martyr.

John Milton continued to serve in his position, despite the fact that he had developed an eye disorder (most likely glaucoma) which left him totally blind by 1654. Undaunted, Milton dictated his writings to assistants, which included a sonnet about his condition, On His Blindness, which is one of his best known poems.

After Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, the English Republic collapsed into warring factions. This led to the Restoration, where the government was restored under the rule of the monarchy, as Charles II returned from exile.

The return of the monarchy sent John Milton into hiding, as a warrant was issued for his arrest. His writings were seized and burned. He was eventually arrested and briefly imprisoned until some powerful friends intervened and got him a pardon.

He lived quietly for the last decade of his life, publishing several minor prose works. Then, in 1667, his greatest work was published, one that would establish him as one of the greatest English poets of all time.

Paradise Lost was a book-length, blank verse epic poem based on the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve, who were tempted by Satan and then expelled from the Garden of Eden by God.

The poem incorporates paganism and classical Greek references as well as Christianity. It deals not only with the Old Testament's book of Genesis, but incorporates elements from both Testaments of the bible and addresses such diverse topics as marriage, politics, monarchy, fate, sin, and death.

Milton's dazzling work is comprised of twelve "books." The first book opens with Satan and his fellow rebel angels in Hell, just after being cast out of Heaven following their defeat in a war with God.

The last book finds the Archangel Michael telling Adam of the future of the world before leading him and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. Though Adam and Eve have lost the physical Paradise, they have gained a Paradise within themselves, which is "happier farr."

John Milton wrote Paradise Lost over a six year period, from 1658-64, via dictation to his assistants. It would become one of the most famous and influential works of English literature ever written.

He would follow it with Paradise Regained, a shorter sequel, published in 1671, along with a play, Simon Agonistes. Three years later, he died of kidney failure at the age of 66.


Quote Of The Day

"A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life." - John Milton


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete full cast dramatic reading of John Milton's classic epic poem, Paradise Lost. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Notes For December 8th, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 8th, 1894, the famous American writer James Thurber was born. He was born in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a clerk and minor politician with dreams of becoming a lawyer or an actor.

His mother was a fun-loving practical joker whom he described as "a born comedienne... one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known." He had two brothers. When he was a boy, his brother William accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell.

Medical technology was primitive at the time, so James lost his eye. Since the injury prevented him from participating in sports and other recreational activities, Thurber channeled his energy into creative endeavors, taking up writing and drawing.

Thurber attended Ohio State University, but never graduated because his poor eyesight disqualified him from taking a mandatory ROTC course. He would be awarded a degree posthumously, in 1995.

After leaving university in 1918, near the close of World War I, James worked as a code clerk for the Department of State, first in Washington, D.C., then in Paris, a position he would hold until 1920.

After leaving his job as code clerk, Thurber moved back home to Columbus, where he began his writing career, first as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. In addition to reporting, he wrote book, film, and play reviews in a weekly column called Credos and Curios.

He moved back to Paris for a time and wrote for several major newspapers as a freelancer. Then, in 1925, he moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, taking a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

Two years later, James Thurber became an editor for the New Yorker magazine, with help from his friend, the famous writer E.B. White. In 1930, White found some of Thurber's drawings in a trash can and submitted them for publication.

As a result, Thurber became both a writer and cartoonist for the New Yorker for the next thirty years. In 1935, he married his second wife, Helen, just one month after his divorce from his first wife was finalized.

His marriage to Helen would be a happy one and the couple would remain together until Thurber's death. They had no children, but Thurber's first wife, Althea, had bore him a daughter, Rosemary.

Although James Thurber's first published book, co-written with E.B. White, was a parody of sexual psychology manuals titled Is Sex Necessary, or Why You Feel The Way You Do, Thurber was best known for his short story collections, wherein he established himself as one of the masters of the form.

While dark tales such as The Whip-Poor-Will, The Dog Who Bit People, and The Night The Bed Fell are among his most famous works, his best known and most popular story was a poignant comic gem titled The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

Walter Mitty (modeled after Thurber's father) is a mild-mannered nebbish en route to do his weekly shopping with his wife, who has an appointment at the beauty parlor. During this trip, Mitty escapes from his extremely mundane world (and his overbearing wife) through a series of fantastic daydreams.

In these daydreams, he becomes the pilot of a Navy seaplane caught in a storm, a brilliant surgeon performing a revolutionary medical procedure, a cool assassin on trial, and a daring RAF pilot on a secret suicide mission during World War I.

The theme of the story is summed up in the sentence "Success is a journey, not a destination." In 1947, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was adapted as a feature film starring Danny Kaye in the title role.

Though he served as script consultant, all of Thurber's suggestions were ignored by producer Samuel Goldwyn. The movie bore little resemblance to Thurber's story, and in a letter written to Life magazine, Thurber expressed his deep hatred of the film. Despite this, Goldwyn insisted that Thurber approved of the project.

Throughout his prolific literary career, James Thurber wrote numerous short stories which were published in dozens of collections. Among these were over 75 fables, the most famous being The Unicorn In The Garden.

In this humorous modern fable, a mild mannered husband sees a unicorn in his garden. When he tells his wife about it, she ridicules him and reminds him that "the unicorn is a mythical beast."

He persists, maintaining that the animal is real, so she threatens to have him committed. He doesn't believe her, but she makes good on her threat. The authorities arrive and the wife tells them that her husband saw a unicorn in the garden.

They ask her husband if he saw the unicorn and he says no, because "the unicorn is a mythical beast." So they take the wife away in a straight-jacket and "the husband lived happily ever after!"

Thurber's other writings include numerous nonfiction articles and essays, including humorous essays on the English language and a five-part 1947-48 series for the New Yorker on the popularity of radio soap operas.

In the late 1930s, he co-wrote the hit Broadway play The Male Animal with his college friend, actor-director-writer Elliot Nugent. It would be adapted as a feature film in 1942 that starred Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

As a cartoonist, Thurber was known for his surreal, satirical drawings. With his eyesight failing, the last cartoon he drew was a self-portrait in yellow crayon on black paper, which appeared on the cover of the July 9th, 1951 issue of Time magazine.

Although he worked in other genres and mediums, James Thurber was best known as a master of the short story. He died on November 2nd, 1961, of complications from pneumonia, following a stroke. He was 66 years old.


Quote Of The Day

"Don't get it right, just get it written." - James Thurber


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of James Thurber's most famous short story, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Notes For December 7th, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 7th, 1873, the famous American writer Willa Cather was born. The oldest of seven children, she was born Wilella Sibert Cather in Gore, Virginia.

When Willa was nine years old, her father moved the family to Nebraska, where he tried his hand first at farming, then at the real estate and insurance business.

The young Willa fell in love with the landscape and weather of the frontier. She also became interested in the cultures of the immigrant and Native American families who lived in the area. All of this would inspire her as a writer.

When Willa enrolled at the University of Nebraska, she chose science for her major, as she had initially planned to become a doctor. Then, during her freshman year, her first published work appeared.

An essay she'd written about Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle was published by the Nebraska State Journal. Willa became a regular contributor to the Journal and changed her major to English, determined to become a writer.

After graduating with a degree in English, Willa Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to take a job writing for the Home Monthly, a women's magazine.

From there, she became a drama critic and telegraph editor for the Pittsburgh Leader. She also taught high school English, Latin, and algebra. At the Allegheny High School, she became the head of the English department.

In 1906, at the age of 33, Willa moved to New York City to work as an editor for McClure's Magazine, a hugely popular liberal magazine that was famous for its muckraking exposes of corporate crimes and abuses.

In addition to her editing duties, her fiction was published alongside that of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Willa also co-authored the biography Mary Baker Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science which was published in a serialized format by McClure's in fourteen installments over an eighteen month period. It would later be republished in book form.

After several years working at her hectic editing position, Willa found her own writing output slowing to a crawl. So she bounced back and wrote her first novel.

Alexander's Bridge 1912, first published in a serialized format by McClure's, received great reviews from The New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly.

Alexander's Bridge was way ahead of its time in its depiction of a man suffering from mid-life crisis. The middle-aged, married Bartley Alexander, a construction engineer famous for the bridges he's built, finds himself drawn into an affair with an old flame, Hilda Burgoyne.

Torn between two loves and tormented, Alexander's life literally comes crashing down around him when he is summoned to Canada to inspect his newest bridge, which is in danger of collapsing.

Willa Cather followed her memorable debut novel with her classic Prairie Trilogy - O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918).

O Pioneers! told the story of a Swedish immigrant farm family in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century. In The Song of the Lark, the young heroine Thea Kronborg leaves her Colorado hometown, determined to become an opera star.

My Antonia, the third and most famous novel in the trilogy, chronicles the life of Antonia "Tony" Shimerda, a young Bohemian girl living in the small town of Black Hawk, Nebraska.

The novel, which incorporates several previously written short stories, is divided into five "books" and narrated by Jim Burden, a successful lawyer.

Antonia was his childhood sweetheart and remains his lifelong friend, though she marries another man and Jim has an affair with another childhood friend, Lena Lingard.

In 1922, Willa published the novel that would win her a Pulitzer Prize. One of Ours is a tale of existential angst set in Nebraska around the time of the first World War.

Claude Wheeler, the son of a successful farmer, is attending a Christian college, which he hates. He pleads with his parents to let him enroll at the state university in order to get a better education. They refuse.

Struggling to find meaning in his life, Claude strikes up a friendship with the Erlichs, a family who introduces him to classical music and progressive free thinking.

Unfortunately, Claude has the rug pulled out from under him when his father expands the family farm and orders him home to help work it.

Pinned to the farm like a mounted butterfly, a bored and listless Claude finds no fulfillment in farm work. He marries Enid Royce, a childhood friend, but soon realizes that she cares more about her activism and Christian missionary work than him.

Enid ultimately leaves him and goes to China to care for her sister, a missionary who has fallen ill. Devastated and disillusioned, the only thing that Claude has to take his mind off his miserable life is news of the war.

A world war has broken out in Europe, and Claude's entire family is obsessed with the conflict. When the United States enters the war in 1917, he volunteers for military service.

Ironically, despite the hardships and horrors of war, Claude finally finds meaning in his new life as a soldier. Despite all his new responsibilities and all the orders he must follow, he has never felt so free.

The idealist without an ideal to cling to now has something to fight for in the hellish trenches of France, as his regiment engages an overwhelming German force in a ferocious battle.

Willa Cather established herself as one of the best American writers of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, her work fell out of favor as the American landscape made a dramatic shift from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression.

Discouraged by criticism that her work had become irrelevant, her later writing output slowed to a crawl and she became a recluse. She died of a stroke in 1947 at the age of 73.


Quote Of The Day

"Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen." - Willa Cather


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Willa Cather's classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, One of Ours. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Notes For December 6th, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 6th, 1933, a federal judge ruled that Ulysses, the classic epic novel by legendary Irish writer James Joyce, was not legally obscene.

The novel, first published in a serialized format in the American literary magazine The Little Review in 1918, had been banned in the United States for over ten years.

In 1920, when the magazine published the novel's thirteenth episode, NausicaƤ, a moralist group called The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV) objected to the content and determined to keep Ulysses from being published in America in any format.

The NYSSV was founded in 1873 by the notorious Anthony Comstock and his supporters in the Young Men's Christian Association. (Yes, that YMCA.) Comstock was a United States Postal Inspector.

The same year that he founded the NYSSV, he persuaded Congress to pass the Comstock Act, which made it illegal to send obscene materials through the mail.

The passage of the Comstock Act resulted in the enacting of "Comstock Laws" at the state and federal level. The last of these laws wouldn't be struck down by the Supreme Court until 1965.

The Comstock Act was a nightmare. His definition of obscenity was so vague that he even used the law and his power as a Postal Inspector to block the shipment of certain medical textbooks to medical students.

Comstock had copies of George Bernard Shaw's classic play Mrs. Warren's Profession blocked, calling Shaw "an Irish smut dealer
." The furious playwright remarked:

Comstockery is the world's standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.


Although Comstock enjoyed a public reputation as a devout Christian guardian of morality, privately, he was corrupt - and notoriously so.

As a moralist, he destroyed the lives of many innocent people. He proudly admitted to being responsible for 4,000 arrests and 15 suicides.

In his later years, his health began deteriorating, the result of a severe blow to the head from an unknown attacker. Before he died in 1915, Comstock attracted the attention of an admirer.

The young man was a law student named J. Edgar Hoover. He agreed with Comstock's beliefs and was interested in his methods of investigation, prosecution, and conviction.


Unfortunately, Comstock's NYSSV was successful in its prosecution of The Little Review for publishing the offending episode from Ulysses.

At the first trial in 1921, the literary magazine was ruled legally obscene, and as a result,
Ulysses was banned in the United States.

The ruling was a product of its time. The
NausicaƤ episode contained a scene which must have been shocking to 1920s sensibilities. Leopold Bloom, one of the main characters, meets a girl named Gerty MacDowell at the beach.

Gertie has come to watch a fireworks display. She soon notices Bloom staring at her. Her passion stirred by both him and the fireworks, Gerty deliberately exposes herself to Bloom. He becomes aroused and starts to masturbate, which arouses her in return.

They both reach orgasm as a Roman candle explodes overhead, gushing out "a stream of rain gold hair threads." Afterward, Gerty leaves and reveals herself to be lame, leaving Bloom to contemplate on the beach.

With Joyce's playful punning, the erotic scene becomes a parody of the Catholic Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament ceremony, with Bloom acting out his own version of an Adoration.

In this parody, Gerty's body serves as the body of Christ. The revelation of her lameness is Joyce's biting metaphor for the Catholic Church. At the time, such satirical jabs at the Church or religion in general could easily spark a fire of outrage.

The trial that resulted in Ulysses being banned in the United States drew a huge amount of publicity. As a result, pirated editions of the novel were published.

These illegal editions were sold on the black market or under the counter in bookshops. They made the novel a bestseller, but Joyce and his publisher didn't earn a penny from the sales of the pirated books.

In 1933, after twelve years of frustration, Joyce's official U.S. publisher, Random House, decided to set up a test case. They imported an uncensored French edition of Ulysses and had Customs confiscate a copy after the ship was unloaded.

That year, the case of United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses came to trial. On December 6th, 1933, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was not legally obscene.

A furious NYSSV appealed the decision. The case reached the United States Second Court of Appeal, which affirmed it on August 7th, 1934.

Ulysses was finally published uncensored in the United States. Most of these editions - including the one that I have - feature the text of the Woolsey ruling as part of the forward.

Woolsey had ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic because it contained no "dirt for dirt's sake." Also, the novel was so hard to understand that people would be unlikely to read it for the purpose of titillation.

British literary scholar and translator Stuart Gilbert wrote that Woolsey's ruling was "epoch-making." He was right. The ruling made it much harder for would-be censors to get written works declared legally obscene.

Also, the ruling made it practically impossible for an entire novel to be declared legally obscene because of a few allegedly offending lines or passages contained within it.


Quote Of The Day

“[A writer is] a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.” - James Joyce


Vanguard Video

Today's video features nonfiction writer Kevin Birmingham discussing his recent book, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses on the American radio show The Avid Reader. Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2016

IWW Members' Publishing Successes



Elma Schemenauer

My newest book, YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure, is available online from Amazon. It presents 30 historical tales spanning this great land & the centuries from the 1200s to the 1900s.

Here are a few of the mysteries you'll find in its pages: Where in the icy Arctic is the lost Vancouver-based ship Baychimo? Who rang the chapel bell in Tadoussac, Quebec one foggy April night in 1782?

Why did a Minnesota farmer abandon his farm, walk to Saskatchewan, & build an ocean-going ship far from any ocean?

Barbara Taylor

A story I'm partial to that was read by FICTION many moons ago, "Dreams of Lillian Wu," will appear in Corvus Review's winter issue.

Joanna M. Weston

A haiku up at the Brass Bell, with the theme HomePlace. Scroll down and you'll find it, alphabetical by first names.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Notes For December 2nd, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 2nd, 1867, the legendary English writer Charles Dickens gave the first performance of his public reading tour of the United States. It wasn't Dickens' first visit to America.

He previously visited the United States and Canada in 1842. He spent that time in the U.S. giving lectures, publicly denouncing slavery, and raising support for the enacting of copyright laws.

Dickens' fierce abolitionist convictions didn't endear him to many Americans during his first visit - he even met with then President John Tyler at the White House to discuss the atrocities he'd witnessed while passing through the Southern slave states.

When he returned to England, Dickens wrote American Notes for General Circulation, a travelogue of his visit to America. Filled with scathing satire, the book described not only the horrors of slavery, but also the vulgarity and ill manners of white Southerners.

He also chronicled his visits to prisons and mental institutions and criticized the American press and the poor sanitary conditions of American cities. Despite all this, Dickens had a generally favorable impression of America, though he couldn't forgive the country's insistence on maintaining the practice of slavery.

Twenty-five years later, for his next visit to America, Dickens had planned his first public reading tour. At this time, the 55-year-old writer had become hugely popular in America.

He was moved that the country had finally abolished slavery. So, on November 9th, 1867, Dickens set sail for the United States. He landed in Boston, where he began his public reading tour in America.

Dickens' first reading, like almost of all of his performances on the tour, was sold out. Some fans had slept outside the night before tickets went on sale; as they'd expected, the line for tickets was literally half a mile long.

In attendance for Dickens' first reading in Boston were New England's literary elite, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and Charles Eliot Norton.

Emerson complained that Dickens' performance was too polished for his taste. The legendary American writer Mark Twain saw Dickens read and dismissed the performance as "glittering frostwork." Mostly, however, the performances earned rave reviews.

That Emerson should criticize Dickens' performance as too polished was surprising considering the fact that he was quite ill for most of the tour, suffering from insomnia, exhaustion, the flu, catarrh, and a limp from neuralgia of the foot. He handed out printed cards of apology to his audiences for his sickness.

Dickens' illness didn't prevent him from reaching his audience and delivering his message. When he read his classic novella, A Christmas Carol (1843) in Boston on Christmas Eve, a local factory owner in attendance experienced a Scrooge-like transformation and sent every one of his employees a turkey.

There were some funny experiences on the tour as well. A little girl recognized him on a train, sat down next to him, and told him how much she loved his books.

She also said, "Of course, I do skip some of the very dull parts, once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones." Dickens laughed heartily, then took out his notebook and asked her to elaborate.

Another humorous incident found Dickens recognized by the janitor of the hotel he stayed at in New York. The janitor, a German immigrant, struck up a conversation with him, saying, "Mr. Digguns, you are great, mein herr. Dere is no ent to you! Bedder and bedder. Vot next!"

Realizing that his health was declining and believing that there would be no more American tours for him, at his last performance in New York, Dickens ended his show with the following announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen, the shadow of one word has impended over me all this evening, and the time has come at last when the shadow must fall. It is but a very short one, but the weight of such things is not measurable by their length, and two much shorter words express the whole round of our human existence. Ladies and gentlemen, I beg to bid you farewell - and I pray God bless you, and God bless the land in which I leave you.

Charles Dickens died three years later in 1870, at the age of 58.


Quote Of The Day

“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” - Charles Dickens


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a clip from Dickens Reading Dickens, actor Tim Tully's one man show which depicts Charles Dickens giving one of his public reading performances. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Notes For December 1st, 2016


This Day In Literary History

On December 1st, 1821, Adonais, the classic epic poem by the legendary English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was published. It appeared in the Literary Chronicle and became known as one of the greatest Romantic poems ever written.

Adonais was Shelley's elegy to his close friend, the legendary English poet John Keats, who had died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Shelley believed that scathing reviews of his poetry, not tuberculosis, had actually killed Keats.

During his short life, Keats' work was loudly derided by critics. It wouldn't be until after his death that Keats was finally recognized as the one of the greatest English poets of all time.

In Adonais, Shelley metaphorically depicted Keats' critics as loathsome creatures such as worms, reptiles, and dragons. Other scathing metaphors included "carrion kite" and "a noteless blot on a remembered name."

Keats' girlfriend, Fanny Browne, complained that Adonais made Keats appear overly sensitive and gave him "a weakness of character that only belonged to his ill-health."

The great poet Lord Byron, a mutual friend of Shelley and Keats, recalled his own reaction to negative reviews and quipped, "Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of claret and began an answer." In his classic epic poem Don Juan, Byron described Keats' fate:


'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.


Shelley's poem wasn't really to blame for the resulting myth of Keats' fragility. Keats had wanted his tombstone to read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," but this is how his executors had it engraved:

This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone.

By the time the engraving was completed on Keats' tombstone, Percy Bysshe Shelley had also died, drowning at sea after his ship went down in a storm.


Quote Of The Day

"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." - Percy Bysshe Shelley


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic epic poem, Adonais. Enjoy!

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