OCTOBER 21, 1772: A BIRD ROUND THE NECK IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH

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 friend 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.

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OCTOBER 15, 1954: I HAVE PEOPLE TO FETCH MY STICKS

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.

Cheap Halloween Thrills: And Then There Were 31

Like yesterday’s Night of the Hunter, these three films feature children in danger and perhaps the source of danger. Poltergeist (1982) explores the dangers of watching too much TV, especially when the TV set is possessed. “I see dead people.” Nine-year-old Cole sees and talks to ghosts in the 1999 supernatural horror film The Sixth Sense. In the 1961 psychological study The Innocents, Deborah Kerr is a governess whose two charges are outwardly little angels but whose sweet smiles may hide something quite sinister.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 Hound of the Baskervilles

10 I Walked with a Zombie

11 Diabolique

12 Alien

13 Rosemarys Baby

14The Birds

15 Psycho

16 Phantom of the Opera

17 Nosferatu

18 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

19 Get Out

20 Frankenstein

21 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

22 Young Frankenstein

23 Edward Scissorhands

24 The Invisible Man

25 Dracula

26 The Wolf Man

27 Cape Fear

28 Night of the Hunter

29 Poltergeist

30 The Sixth Sense

31 The Innocents

 

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.”

Froggie went A-forecasting

On September 24, 1788, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser described a rather ingenious barometer devised by an unnamed Frenchman. The instructions: Equip a clear glass bottle with earth and water to a depth of about four fingers and a tiny ladder that reaches from the bottom to the lower part of the neck. Find a small green frog and put it in the bottle. Cover the bottle with ap iece of parchment pricked with a pin to admit air. As long as the weather remains fair, the frog will perch at the top of the ladder, but if rain approaches the frog will go down into the water.

 

Alice in Donaldland, Part 2: A Dodo in Name Only

Read Part 1

On the other side of the little doorway (which didn’t seem little at all any more), Alice passed through the loveliest gardens she had ever seen, filled with beds of bright flowers and dear little ponds. Along the way she passed several signs that said: Make Donaldland Great Again At one of those ponds, she spotted a queer-looking group of animals marching around it. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, although everything was curious today. There was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory, an Eaglet and a Mouse. They moved about the pond, each at its own pace, some faster, some slower, some stopping now and then, some bumping into one another, until the Dodo suddenly cried out “The Caucus-race is over.”

“Who has won?” they all shouted.

The Dodo thought for a moment then said: “Everyone. We all have won.” Everyone cheered. Alice, who was now standing among them, asked: “What is a Caucus-race?”

The Dodo pressed a finger to its forehead and thought some more. “It’s like a real caucus only it’s not, because we’re not invited to real Caucuses anymore. We used to be GOPPs, but we’re outcasts now. We’ve been tweetstormed by the Queen.”

Alice was filled with questions, and she blurted them right out: “What’s a GOPP? What’s a tweetstorm? What kind of animal are you?”

“I’m a Dodo.”

“Aren’t Dodos extinct?”

“Might as well be. I guess I’m a Dodo In Name Only. And a GOPP in Name Only.”

“You haven’t told me what a GOPP is,” Alice complained.

“A Grand Old Party Pooper. Except things aren’t so grand anymore.”

“Because you’ve been tweetstormed?”

“Yes. A tweetstorm is a weapon the Queen uses to show his displeasure.”

His displeasure? I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t understand,” said the Dodo. “You’re a girl.”

“I resent that.”

“I imagine so. But some people have to be girls.”

“I mean I resent your suggesting that girls are somehow inferior.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” said the Dodo. “The Queen has decreed it so.”

“Why would she . . . ?

“He.”

“Are you saying the Queen is a he?”

“I’m only saying what is so.”

“Why is he a Queen and not a King?”

“Queens are more statuesque, better looking, smarter and more powerful. That’s what he says. And queenliness is next to godliness, after all.”

“And he, the Queen, doesn’t like girls.”

“Well, he does like to grab them,” said the Dodo.

“That’s awful,” said Alice angrily.

“He does have big hands and a big . . .”

“Heart,” interjected the duck, speaking for the first time. “We try not to notice. It’s easier that way.”

“He says they like it,” said the Dodo. “And who wouldn’t want to be grabbed by royalty or a television star?”

“Me, that’s who,” Alice growled.

This conversation was fortunately interrupted by the Lory who held up a smartphone and announced: “Incoming tweet.”

They all gathered around and read: “White Knight and his gang of 13 wicked democreeps are DESTROYING our GRATE country. Dumb Southern White Rabbit recuses himself. SAD!!”

And another: “White Knight is Black Knight. White Rabbit too. Lyin’ Dodo, Little Mouse, Crooked Lory, Leaking Duck, all lowlifes. Off with there HEADS!!”

The animals began to sob and mutter and lament the unfairness of their situation, giving Alice the perfect opportunity to slip away and continue her exploration of the lovely gardens.

Read Part 3

SEPTEMBER 15, 1907: IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

W.C. Fields cautioned against working with children or animals because they’re sure to steal the scene. You might say the same about a 50-foot gorilla. But scream queen Fay Wray had the big guy eating out of the palm of her hand (actually she spent quite a few scenes in the palm of faywrayhis hand). Born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907, she became well-known for her roles in a series of horror movies, spanning the evolution from silent to talkie. But it was her role as the love of King Kong’s life that remained her primary claim to fame throughout a 57-year career in both movies and television.

In 2004, Peter Jackson approached her for a cameo in his remake of King Kong. She turned down the role, saying that the first Kong was the true King (Long live the King). Fay Wray died in her sleep that same year, before filming of the remake had begun.

Two days later, the Empire State Building went dark for 15 minutes in her memory.

King Kong had more than its share of “you’re going to regret saying that” lines, such as:

“Yeah, but what’s on the other side of that wall; that’s what I wanna find out.”

“He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear.”

“Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”

Working the Little Gray Cells

In 1920, a new detective appeared upon the literary scene.– a former Belgian police officer with twirly “magnificent moustaches” and an egg-shaped head. Hercule Poirot debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Dame Agatha Christie, “the Queen of Crime,”agatha born on September 15, 1890. It is one of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections featuring the Belgian detective and several other characters, most notably Miss Marple.

Christie’s career was full of superlatives. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, over 2 billion copies of her books having been sold. Her books are the third most widely-published in the world, trailing only Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery ever — 100albert_finney_plays_poirot million copies thus far. The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play with more than 25,000 performances and still running. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was named the best crime novel ever by the 600-member Crime Writers’ Association.

Hercule Poirot appeared in half of Christie’s novel and in 54 short stories. By midway through her career, she was finding him “insufferable.” And by the 1960s she described him as an “egocentric creep.” Finally in the 1975 novel Curtain, she disposed of him (although the book was written many years earlier and stored in a bank vault for publication at the end of her life). Most of her books and stories have been adapted for television, radio and movies.

Agatha Christie died in 1976.

 

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without. ~ Hercule Poirot

SEPTEMBER 13, 1916: A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” And Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to wonkafaraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.

Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave

Chocolate for the Masses

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

 

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. ~ Matt Lauer

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 3: A Change of Fortunes

One Thursday afternoon, I was playing with my friends Bud and Lou and we were going through our favorite routine.

“What’s the name of the guy on first base?”

“No, Who’s on first.”

twins“I don’t know.”

“Third base.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the very young Mrs. Johnson — at least that’s what Bessie and Cora always called her.  She huddled with Cora for a while and then left, looking a little sad but not crying like some of the others.  But when she was gone Cora began to cry and mumbled something into Bessie’s shoulder.

Bessie said to her sternly:  “She’s got a right to know.”

“I couldn’t, “ said Cora, still sniffling.  “I saw such terrible things and — he’s so young; they’re both so young.”

I had never thought that much about the fact that there was a war going on.  It was far away, didn’t affect my daily life, and self-centered as I was, I pretty much ignored it.   I knew about war, at least war as it was shown in the movies, and I played war games with some of my conjured up friends, but I had a hard time thinking of war as something real.  But now suddenly it felt real and much closer.  I realized from the change in Bessie and Cora and the fortunes they told that we must be losing the war.  I hadn’t worried about my father before.  He was over there, but he wrote all the time, and most of the time the letters were happy and talked of funny things.  Everything always seemed fine, as though he were just on a business trip or vacation.  I missed him but didn’t fear for him.

Now I needed to know more.  I went to Cora and pestered her until she agreed to tell my fortune.  This actually seemed to cheer her up.  She began to rub my head and told me I’d see marvelous things, and do exciting stuff.  “One day you’ll shake hands with the President,” said Cora almost giddily.  “President Patton.”

“Tell me about my father,” I said.  She froze, and a look I’d never seen, a look of intense sadness, crept across her face.  “No more fortunes today, young man,” she said stiffly, abruptly standing and walking out, leaving me alone.

That was my last day with Bessie and Cora.  I didn’t see them again until many years later when I was a teenager and they had retired from the fortune-telling business.  I told my mother about that final day and she laughed it off but I could tell she was upset.  It had been too long since my father’s last letter, and we both knew it.  I was convinced that Cora had seen something horrible that she wouldn’t reveal.  And I remained convinced for the next two weeks until my father came marching through our front door, a full week before his letter telling us he was on his way home.

But what about that last day with Cora; had she not seen something tragic after all?  I think maybe she had, because I also heard more about the very young Mrs. Johnson.  I guess she had every reason to cry, but it wasn’t the reason that Cora had withheld.  Young draftee Johnson had boarded the train for California but disappeared before it got there, never to be heard from again.  And many of Cora’s other fortunes went slightly awry.  You might just say that, for the most part, they were just a bunch of very inaccurate tomorrows, fun at first, but increasingly colored by Cora’s growing sense of the horror of war.  I guess she was really meant to be a fair-weather fortuneteller.

And I never shook hands with President Patton.

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories

SEPTEMBER 1, 1878: PRINCE ALBERT IN A CAN

PRINCE ALBERT IN A CAN

As if Alexander Graham Bell had not done enough to harm the telegraph industry by inventing that infamous device known as the telephone, he compounded the offense by poaching telegraph employees to work as telephone operators. One such poachee made history upon reporting for work at the Edwin Holmes Dispatch Company on September 1, 1878. Emma Nutt was the first woman telephone operator and would certainly not be the last. Just a few ringy ding dings later, her sister Stella became the second woman telephone operator.

Up to this time telephone operators had mostly been teenage boys, also stolen from the telegraph industry. But although the boys had been fine as telegraph operators, they were less desirable as telephone operators where they had to actually have contact with real human beings. They were teenage boys, a churlish lot at best — unpleasant, swearing even, and fond of clever jokes such as “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” and “Is your refrigerator running?”

Emma, on the other hand, was pleasant, intelligent and easy to talk to. Not only that, she was a walking telephone directory, having memorized every number served by the New England Telephone Company.

By the end of the next decade, most telephone operators were women. And in addition to being pleasant and easy to talk to, they were between the ages of 17 and 26, unmarried, with high moral standards. No callers need worry that the women assisting them were immoral. Nor were they African American or Jewish, two groups evidently given to clever jokes such as “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” and “Is your refrigerator running?”

Jungle Swingers

Tarzan_of_the_Apes_1918Born on September 1, 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs enjoyed a successful career as a pencil sharpener salesman. An honest occupation, but what do you do when you’re on the road, stuck in some cheesy motel with a bunch of sharp pencils? You either see how many you can fit into your ears or you write. Burroughs wrote. Prodigiously. In 1912, his most famous creation swung through a jungle near you in Tarzan of the Apes. And he kept on swinging through the decades, in two dozen books, including a few released after Burroughs’ death in 1953.

Tarzan became the star of radio, television, comics, stage, video and computer games, action figures and over 200 movies. Elmo Lincoln was the first of a whole gaggle of Tarzans which included Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, and Lex Barker.

tar4

The Wisdom of Charlie Chan

cspeak4

AUGUST 19, 1902: PARSLEY IS GHARSLEY

PARSLEY IS GHARSLEY

Ogden Nash, an American poet known for his droll and playful verse, wrote over 500 pieces of comic verse, the best of which was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and his death in 1971. He frequently used surprising puns, made up words, and words deliberately misspelled for comic effect.

     His most famous rhyme was a twist on Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” (1913): “I think that I shall never see / a billboard lovely as a tree.  Indeed, unless the billboards fall / I’ll never see a tree at all.”  When Nash wasn’t writing poems, he made guest appearances on comedy and radio shows and lectured at colleges and universities.

I am a conscientious man, when I throw rocks at seabirds I leave no tern
unstoned.

 

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.

 

Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long.

 

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

 

The Pig, if I am not mistaken,
Gives us ham and pork and Bacon.
Let others think his heart is big,
I think it stupid of the Pig.

 

There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all.

 

Oh, what a tangled web do parents weave when they think that their children are naive.

AUGUST 4, 1855: FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT (PAGE 76A)

FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT (PAGE 76A)

People in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used to pester John Bartlett, who ran the University Book Store, asking for quotations on various subjects. Finally, to make his life easier, he assembled a collection of the more popular quotations. So beginning August 4, 1855, when people asked for a quotepithy quote, he could reply, “Look it up in your Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and stop bugging me.”  His book contained 258 pages of quotations by 169 authors, primarily from the Bible, Shakespeare, and the important English poets. This was a bit of an undertaking, Bartlett pointed out. How does one decide if a quotation is familiar? A quote may be on a first-name basis with one person while completely unknown to another.

Nevertheless, the book was a big success, and Bartlett authored three more editions before becoming a partner in the publishing firm of Little, Brown, and Company. In all, he supervised nine editions of the work before his death in 1905.

Various other editors stepped in for a series of editions, and in 1955, the 13th Edition was celebrated as the Centennial Edition.  Along about the 15th Edition, the work started annoying critics. One critic said it would be the downfall of the series: “Donning the intellectual bell-bottoms and platform shoes of its era, Bartlett’s began sprouting third-rate Third World, youth-culture, and feminist quotes,” part of “a middle-aged obsession with staying trendy.”  The 16th Edition offended some folks because it included only three minor Ronald Reagan quotations (FDR had 35 quotes, and JFK 28). The editor answered the criticism by saying he didn’t like Reagan.

In the 17th Edition (2003) he took heat for including the likes of J.K. Rowling, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry David while cutting classic quotes.  He did include six Reagan quotes but admitted “I was carried away by prejudice. Mischievously I did him dirty.”

“Me want cookie!” — Cookie Monster as quoted in Bartlett’s

JUNE 23, 1626: ANOTHER FISH STORY

ANOTHER FISH STORY

A codfish was brought to market in Cambridge, England, on this day in 1626. Codfish were probably brought to market every day in 1626 – and in 1627 and throughout the centuries, but this was a rather unusual fish. Upon being opened, it was found to have a book in its stomach.  There are plenty of  fish in books, but how many books in fish are there?

The book had seen better days, but it remained readable. It had been written by one John Frith and included several essays on religious subjects evidently written by Frith when in prison. Oddly enough, he had been confined in a fish cellar where many of his fellow prisoners died from smelling too much salt cod. Frith got past the salt cod but was eventually taken to the Tower, and in 1533 was burned at the stake for unacceptable religious beliefs.  How he got his essays – which were no doubt inflammatory – into that cod is still a mystery.

The folks at Cambridge reprinted the work, which had been totally forgotten for a hundred years until it turned up inside the fish.  The reprint was called Vox Piscis, which would translate to “voice of the fish.”  There’s definitely a morale booster for writers here:  When Random House says no, go find yourself a big fish.

JUNE 20, 1890: PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES

PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the July 1890 issue, released on June 20.

In the novel, the title character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian is also infatuated by Dorian’s beauty, especially the beauty in the painting, and more than annoyed that the man in the painting will remain the same, while Dorian himself will get old and wrinkled and forget people’s names and so forth. Obviously the only answer is to put his soul on the market, which he does, with the purchaser (you know who) promising that the painting will age while Dorian himself stays the same.

In an apparent effort to make the painting age as quickly as possible, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery, and each sin takes its toll on the portrait.

The book had about the same effect on British critics as Dorian’s naughtiness had on the painting. “Vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” were a few of their nicer comments. “A tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” said the Daily Chronicle.   And this was after Wilde’s editor had already deleted a lot of “objectionable” text before it made its first appearance in Lippincott’s, eliminating titillating bits of debauchery and elements of homosexuality.

Deciding that the novel contained things that might upset an innocent woman, the editor cut further, removing many more decadent passages before the book was published in 1891.

MAN THE TOMATOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD

It’s a battlefield out there. Each morning I prepare my weaponry and fortify myself to better face the enemy.  Then it’s out into the morning mist, bellying my way through the trenches, my trusty trowel at my right, my insecticidal soap at my left. Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, into the valley of Death – mine not to reason why, mine but to do or die.  “Huzzah, huzzah,” I shout,  “Be valiant, stout and bold.”

With scant warning, they attack!  Tufts of crabgrass pop up behind every rock, aphids to the right of me, weevils to the left of me. A slug squadron advances relentlessly head on.   Japanese beetles at four o’clock.  The battle is joined.  Almost at once, I’m ambushed by an elite corps of exotic man-eating weeds, snapping at my ankles and calves, while trash-talking thistles peek out from between tomatoes, taunting me with Donald Trump slogans.

But I’ll not be intimidated.

“Forward,” I shout and storm into the mouth of Hell. I manage to free a tiny pepper plant being held prisoner by a half dozen stinging nettle goons.  Moments after I make a clearing to let the cucumbers once again see sunlight, the neighbor’s cat claims it for his own and begins his morning toilette.  He glowers at me, unflinching, as I try to encourage him to move on, his eyes saying I may not be big but I can bring down a gazelle and I can bring down you.  Enjoying the moment, knotweeds laugh merrily and loudly insult my gardenerhood.

I jump in with both feet, hacking and pulling and spraying.  When I’m done, a pile of green debris lies all around me shattered and sundered.  The day is mine.  The tomatoes, cucumbers and beans all nod in appreciation as I holster my trowel and spray bottle and ride off into cocktail time.

Later, exhausted, I’ll sleep, perchance to dream – of late potato blight.