December 30, 1865: You’re a Better Man Than I Am

Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Born in Bombay,

India, on December 30, 1865, Kipling is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Jungle Book (a collection of short stories which includes “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”), Just So Stories, Kim, “The Man Who Would Be King” and such poems as “Gunga Din,” “Mandalay,” and “The White Man’s Burden.” He is considered a major “innovator in the art of the short story,” and his children’s books have become true classics.

Kipling became synonymous with the concept of British “empire” and as a result his reputation fluctuated and his place in literary and cultural history inspired passionate disagreement during most of the 20th century.  Nevertheless, critics agree that he was a skilled interpreter of how empire was experienced.

Young Rudyard’s earliest years in Bombay were blissfully happy, in an India full of exotic sights and sounds. But at the age of five he and his sister were sent back to England, as was the custom, to be educated. In his autobiography, published 65 years later, Kipling recalled the stay with horror, and wondered ironically if the combination of cruelty and neglect he suffered from his foster family might not have hastened the onset of his literary life: “I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort.”

Kipling traveled extensively throughout the world, and his travels included a stay of several years in Brattleboro, Vermont, an unlikely spot in which to create The Jungle Book, although he did, along with Captains Courageous.

During his long career, he declined most of the many honors offered him, including a knighthood, the Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1936 in England (even though a few years earlier he had written “Never again will I spend another winter in this accursed bucketshop of a refrigerator called England.”)

kipling

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December 18, 1966: You’re a Mean One

grinch-thumb-525x325-23201In 1957, the most infamous Christmas curmudgeon since Ebeneezer Scrooge made his debut in a picture book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas by the amazing Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). It marked the first time an adult had been featured as the main character in a Seuss book and the first time a villain had starred. The book has remained a classic since then. Some conspiracy theorists suggest (and the doctor concurs) that the Grinch is Dr. Seuss himself. In the story, the Grinch complains that he has put up with the Whos’ Christmas celebrations for 53 years. Dr. Seuss was 53 when the book was written and published.

Several years later, on December 18, 1966, the furry misanthrope, now a sickly shade of green, was ready for prime time – television, that is. Chuck Jones of Warner Brothers cartoon fame brought the story to living room screens featuring Boris Karloff as narrator and Grinch. In addition to providing the story, Dr. Seuss created the lyrics for the songs featured in the animated special. (The songs were sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who some will remember as the bass voice on Rosemary Clooney’s  “This Ole House” or Tony the Tiger – “They’re grrreat!”)

The word grinch has found its way into dictionaries as a person whose lack of enthusiasm or bad temper spoils or dampens the pleasure of others. “Noise, noise, noise, noise.”

shepherd

December 16, 1775: Me Mark, You Jane

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, was a British novelist who wrote of life among England’s landed gentry from the vantage point of being on its outskirts aspiring to be closer in. The concept of gentry is a British foible pretty much disdained by Americans who exist way on its outskirts and secretly austenaspire to be closer in. (Shut out entirely, early Americans misbehaved with childish pranks such as dumping the grown-ups’ tea in Boston Harbor on this day in 1773).

Basically the gentry (celebrated in a 1940s popular song “Dear Hearts and Gentry People”) were the aristocracy (the haves, the one percent), and Jane Austen’s novels are lousy with them. Jane Austen herself almost married into the thick of it but the fact that the gentleman was a super-sized oaf, both homely and ill-mannered, gave her pause, cold feet, or perhaps writer’s block.

Austen was not wildly popular as a writer during her lifetime – in fact, her greatest popularity seems to have come with the 21st century. Her first novel Lazy Susan became a household word in the 1950s, thanks to the spinning serving dish that bears its name. Other novels had doubled-up attributes such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Senility, and Lust and Loquaciousness, except for those that didn’t, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

Mark Twain was one of Austen’s biggest fans:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

 

miracle

 

 

December 6, 1882: The Postman Always Writes Twice

Born in 1815, Anthony Trollope had a successful career as one of the most prolific English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters. He simultaneously enjoyed a successful career with the General Post Office.

This dual career makes Trollope a role model for would-be writers everywhere.

Trollope’s postal career began somewhat ignominiously in 1834 as a postal clerk, and the first seven years of his official life, during which he gained a reputation for unpunctuality and insubordination, were, according to him, “neither creditable to myself nor useful to the public pillarservice.”

A move to Ireland altered his postal career and began his writing career.

Given a fresh start, Trollope became a model employee. And, having decided to become a novelist, he began writing on the numerous long trips around Ireland his postal duties required. Writing on a rigid schedule from 5 a.m. To 8 a.m. every day, his output was prodigious. He wrote his earliest novels during this time, occasionally dipping into the “lost-letter” box for ideas.

In 1851, Trollope returned to England to reorganize rural mail delivery in southwestern England and southern Wales. The two-year mission took him over much of Great Britain, often on horseback. Trollope describes this time as “two of the happiest years of my life”.

During these travels, he conceived the plot of The Warden, the first of the six Barsetshire novels. The novel was published in 1855, bringing him to the attention of the novel-reading public. He immediately began work on Barchester Towers, the second Barsetshire novel and probably his best-known work. Trollope ‘s postal career was also going well.  By the mid-1860s, he had reached a senior position within the Post Office. He made postal history with his introduction of the pillar box, the ubiquitous bright red mail-box, thousands of which were found in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Empire of the time.

Trollope also aspired to a political career; he had long dreamed of a seat in the House of Commons. He agreed to become a Liberal candidate, and in the election of 1868, he finished number four of four candidates. Trollope called his short-lived dip into political waters “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood”.

 

Trollope died on December 6, 1882, having written 47 novels as well as numerous short stories, nonfiction works and plays – three hours a day, every day.

November 30, 1667,1835: Have Wit, Will Travel

Jonathan Swift, born on November 30, 1667, was an Anglo-Irish satirist and essayist, remembered for such works as Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is considered by many to be the foremost prose satirist in the English language.

Swift originally published all of his works under pseudonyms – such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, MB Drapier – or anonymously.

In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, a satire in which the narrator, with bizarre arguments, suggests that Ireland’s poor  could relieve their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food…”

Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726, is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon and later a sea captain. Although it has often been mistakenly thought of as a children’s book, it is a brutal satire on human nature and the so-called Enlightenment of the time.

He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.

America’s greatest humorist also went by several names while seeking the right moniker: He was Josh through the penning of several humorous sketches; he also wrote letters which he signed Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. By the time he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras MarkTwain.LOCCounty,” the short story that brought him international acclaim, he was Mark Twain.

Twain was born on November 30, 1835, shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it,” as well. Which he did, dying the day following the comet’s return in 1910.

Celebrated for much of what he wrote, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains his crowning achievement, the Great American Novel. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he hobnobbed with artists, presidents, titans of industry, and European royalty.

I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory as it is–in our country particularly and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree–it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime–the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.

 

November 26, 1865: O Frabjous Day

On a summer afternoon boat trip in the early 1860s the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson told the three Liddell sisters – Lorina, Alice and Edith – a story that featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure. The girls loved the story, and ten-year-old Alice asked Dodgson to write it down for her. In November of 1864, Dodgson gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of the story called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, with his own illustrations, dedicated as “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day”.

A year later on November 26, 1865, he gave the book to the world with a new title, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.  The book in which Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a world filled with outlandish anthropomorphic characters was not a big success at the time; it has since become a giant of “children’s” literature and Lewis Carroll’s language and logic have become fixtures in modern culture and literature.

Alice as depicted by Rev. Dodgson
Alice as depicted by Rev. Dodgson

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

From the original by Tenniel
From the original by John Tenniel

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice by Arthur Rackham
Alice by Arthur Rackham

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

alice charles pears
Alice by Charles Pears

They drew all manner of things — everything that begins with an M . . . such as mousetraps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness — you know you say things are much of a muchness.

Alice by Charles Robinson
Alice by Charles Robinson

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Alice by George Soper
Alice by George Soper

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday-but never jam today

Alice by Harry Rountree
Alice by Harry Rountree
alice disney
By Disney Studios

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes!
he only does it to annoy,
because he knows it teases!

By Mervyn Peake
By Mervyn Peake

 

November 21, 1945: Humor He Wrote

American humorist Robert Benchley died on November 21, 1945, (born 1889) after a writing career that took him from the Harvard Lampoon to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Although he described himself as not quite a writer and not quite an actor, he enjoyed success as both. His topical and absurdist essays, particularly at The New Yorker gained him both recognition and influence. He was also one of the members of the group that made up the fabled Algonquin Round Table.

His comic performances began as a Harvard undergraduate impersonating a befuddled after-dinner speaker. The act made him a campus celebrity and remained a part of his repertoire for the rest of his life. As a character actor, he appeared in such films as You’ll Never Get Rich, Bedtime Story, the Crosby/Hope Road to Utopia, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent.

benchley

It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.

Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.

I have tried to know absolutely nothing about a great many things, and I have succeeded fairly well.

Most of the arguments to which I am party fall somewhat short of being impressive, owing to the fact that neither I nor my opponent knows what we are talking about.

After an author has been dead for some time, it becomes increasingly difficult for his publishers to get a new book out of him each year.

Dachshunds are ideal dogs for small children, as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that the child cannot do much harm one way or the other.

New York – The city where the people from Oshkosh look at the people from Dubuque in the next theater seats and say “These New Yorkers don’t dress any better than we do.”

October 21, 1772: A Bird Round the Neck Is Worth Two in the Bush

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the major literary voices in England at the end of the 18th century. He was born on October 21, 1772, and died on July 25, 1834. Along with his good The Ancient Marinerfriend William Wordsworth, he helped to pioneer the Romantic Age of English poetry.  He’s best known for Kubla Khan (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan /A stately pleasure-dome decree) written, according to Coleridge himself, in “a kind of a reverie” as a result of an opium dream, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seafaring epic, sort of like Mutiny on the Bounty without the mutiny or Titanic without the glitz or the the sinking.

The poem begins at a wedding, where one of the guests, hoping to get into the open bar before it closes is distracted by an old salt “with long grey beard and glittering eye.” This, of course, is the titular ancient mariner – no surprise, since Coleridge identifies him as such in the very first line – who begins his tale:

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

 

Even though the mariner has a nice way with words, the wedding guest is thirsty and he has spotted the bride leading other guests to the bar. But –

 

“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

 

The mariner describes his journey which takes him into some rather nasty, cold (Vermont-like) weather:

 

“The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound!

 

We can only guess what a swound is – but it is a pretty nasty sounding thing and it does rhyme nicely.  Enter the albatross, seascape left:

 

“At length did cross an Albatross,

Through the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

 

The albatross leads the ship and its crew to warmer waters, and a perfect spot for the mariner to conclude his tale as  the wedding guest suggests, nervously checking his watch. But the mariner drops a bomb instead:

 

“‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

 

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the fair breeze that had delivered them from the cold disappears, and they are becalmed, unable to move, and now it’s getting hot:

 

“Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

 

The crew members blame their plight entirely on the mariner. They hang the albatross around his neck and give him the cold shoulder. Eventually they spot a ship in the distance, and they watch for several verses in anticipation. As the vessel draws near, however, they discover that its passengers are Death (a skeleton) and the “Night-mare Life-in-Death” (a deathly-pale woman). These two are playing dice for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. He will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on:

“The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

 

Eventually, left alone with them, the mariner begins to appreciate the slimy things and even begins to pray for them.  And then the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks again, leaving only the Mariner behind.

But his penance for shooting the albatross is not finished. He is forced to wander the earth annoying wedding guests with his story, a lesson for all those he meets:

 

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.”

 

Unfortunately for the wedding guest, he has missed out on the open bar and his dinner (he ordered the chicken) is cold.

October 15, 1954: I Have People To Fetch My Sticks

Long before he debuted in his own television show on October 15, 1954, Rin Tin Tin had become an international celebrity. It was as good a rags-to-riches story as Hollywood could churn out. He was rescued rin-tin-tin_from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier who trained him to be an actor upon returning home. He starred in several silent films, becoming an overnight sensation and going on to appear in another two dozen films before his death in 1932.

Rinty (as he was known to his friends) was responsible for a great surge in German Shepherds as pets. The popularity of his films helped make Warner Brothers a major studio and pushed a guy named Darryl F. Zanuck to success as a producer.

During the following years Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III kept the Rin Tin Tin legacy alive in film and on the radio. Rin Tin Tin IV was slated to take the franchise to television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but he flunked his screen test and was shamefully replaced by an upstart poseur named Flame.

The TV series featured an orphan named Rusty who was being raised by soldiers at a cavalry post known as Fort Apache.  Rin Tin Tin was the kid’s dog. It was a low budget affair, filmed on sets used for other productions with actors frequently called upon to play several soldiers, Apaches, and desperadoes in a single episode. Although it was children’s programming, you might not guess that by the lofty literary titles of many episodes: Rin Tin Tin Meets Shakespeare, Rin Tin Tin and the Barber of Seville, Rin Tin Tin and the Ancient Mariner, Rin Tin Tin and the Connecticut Yankee.

Meanwhile, IV stayed at home on his ranch, fooling visitors into believing he was actually a TV star (and perhaps contemplating a run for President).

Rated P. G.

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle wodehouseempty.” One line from someone who had a great knack for them, which he displayed in over 300 stories, 90 books, 30 plays and musicals, and 20 film scripts. Comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves the butler, was born on this day in 1881 in Surrey, England.

 

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

 

September 24, 1991: Oh, the Things You’ll Write

Probably the foremost children’s book author of the 20th century died on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, published 46 books for children including a new kind of first reader that sent Dick and Jane into well-deserved retirement.

Dr. Seuss was born in the early 1920s, when Geisel (born in 1904) was attending Dartmouth College. Among his pursuits there was work on the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, for which he rose to the rank of editor-in-chief. However, one dark day at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drinking gin at a party in his room. This was frowned upon by the Dean, who insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern surreptitiously, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. (Other pseudonyms included Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.

Geisel had a successful career in advertising (Flit, Standard Oil, U.S. Army) and as an editorial cartoonist denouncing fascists, racists, isolationists and Republicans.  But it was his children’s books that gave him lasting recognition. His first, published in 1937, was And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He followed with such celebrated books as The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. In 1954, Geisel was challenged to write a book using only 250 words appropriate to beginning readers, “a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, using 236 of the words given to him, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat.

Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind. “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” he said.

Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”

“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”

“Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive…. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.”

“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”