Readersforum's Blog

May 29, 2014

Masters and Spoon River

Edgar Lee Masters   (1869 - 1950)

Edgar Lee Masters (1869 – 1950)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1914 the first installment of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology appeared, with the full 244 “epitaphs,” published in book form in 1916. Despite fears of a backlash due to his realistic and unflattering view of life in a Midwest village, the book was an instant hit, and the national praise so outdid the local anger that Masters was eventually able to give up legal practice and become a full time writer.

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April 23, 2014

Shakespeare, Cervantes & World Book Day

 

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

By Steve King

 

On this day in 1616 both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, and this is also the generally accepted day of Shakespeare’s birth in 1564. This alignment of the literary stars requires some calendar juggling – a mathematical adjustment to bring Spain’s Gregorian calendar in line with Elizabethan England’s Julian calendar – but it has prompted UNESCO to declare today “World Book and Copyright Day.”

 

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April 18, 2014

Chaucer’s Pilgrims

 

Geoffrey Chaucer    (? - 1400)

Geoffrey Chaucer
(? – 1400)

By Steve King

On this day (or possibly the next) in 1394, Geoffrey Chaucer’s twenty-nine pilgrims met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to prepare for their departure to Canterbury. Chaucer’s intention was to have his pilgrims arrive on Easter morning, after a fifty-five-mile hike through a pleasant English springtime; the pilgrims never made it, though the poetry endures.

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April 15, 2014

Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson    (1709 - 1784)

Samuel Johnson
(1709 – 1784)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1755 Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was published. Johnson’s dictionary is considered the first significant work of its kind in English, most notable for the precision of its definitions and the inclusion of exemplary quotations; it is also prized as a reflection of Johnson’s legendary wit and quirky personality.

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April 9, 2014

Rabelais, Rabelaisian

Francois Rabelais    (1494 - 1553)

Francois Rabelais
(1494 – 1553)

By Steve King

On this day in 1553 the French monk, physician, humanist scholar and writer, Francois Rabelais died. His influential and much-imitated satiric masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel (five books, 1532-52) is in the mock-quest tradition, with the emphasis decidedly on the ‘mock’– the prize sought being at times the ideal toilet paper, at times the wisdom of the Holy Bottle.

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April 8, 2014

Salinger, “Esme,” Squalor

J. D. Salinger    (1919 - 2010)

J. D. Salinger
(1919 – 2010)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1950, J. D. Salinger’s “For Esme — With Love and Squalor” was published in The New Yorker. Though still fifteen months away from The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger had many stories published in the high-circulation magazines at this point; “Esme” would help push him into the spotlight, and accelerate his flight from it.

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April 1, 2014

Of Rochester and Rakes

John Wilmot    (1647 - 1680)

John Wilmot
(1647 – 1680)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1647 John Wilmot, perhaps the most notorious of the Restoration rakes, was born. By poem and play, song and satire, maid and monkey — some say he trained his pet monkey to excrete upon his guests, others say he merely encouraged it — the 2nd Earl of Rochester became the talk of town and Court. If, as Samuel Johnson said, he “blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness,” he also wrote, said Hazlitt, verses that “cut and sparkle like diamonds.”

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March 26, 2014

Weighing Whitman

Walt Whitman    (1819 - 1892)

Walt Whitman
(1819 – 1892)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1892 Walt Whitman died. The high and controversial emotions which surrounded Whitman in life attended his death: in the same issue that carried his obituary, the New York Times declared that he could not be called “a great poet unless we deny poetry to be an art,” while one funeral speech declared that “He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the unconscious majesty of an antique god.”

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March 25, 2014

Howl Heard in Court

Allen Ginsberg    (1926 - 1997)

Allen Ginsberg
(1926 – 1997)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1957, U.S. Customs agents seized 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl on the grounds of obscenity. Ginsberg and his lawyers were not hopeful when they learned that the trial judge was a Sunday school teacher who had recently sentenced five shoplifters to a screening of The Ten Commandments, but the ruling was unequivocally for the poem.

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March 17, 2014

Fielding & Cibber.

Henry Fielding    (1707 - 1754)

 

By Steve King.

On this day in 1740, writing as Captain Hercules Vinegar, Henry Fielding summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber (portrait) to court, charged with the murder of the English language. Fielding was a lawyer (soon, a Justice of the Peace) and a notorious wag; Cibber was a joke to many, not least for his rewrite of Shakespeare’s Richard III: the murder charge would have been popular.

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