Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Notable birthdays on St. Andrew's Day

Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books, were all born on this date—Churchill and Montgomery on the very same day, in 1874. As one gets older, he may be uncomfortably reminded of these lines from "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," written in 1731:
"Plies you with stories o'er and o'er
He told them fifty times before
How does he think that we can sit
To hear his out of fashion wit?

"But he takes up with younger folks
Who, for his wine, will bear his jokes
Faith, he must make his stories shorter
Or change his comrades once a quarter!"

When I was a boy, my mother read Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer aloud to my brothers and me, chapter by chapter. Later, at 13, I read Huckleberry Finn and Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and was very taken by both, though too young at the time to fully understand Twain's satire on the King and the Duke in Huck Finn. Years later, to my surprise, I learned that Connecticut Yankee was the first exposure to Arthurian lore for the young C.S. Lewis, whose outlook was about as incompatible with Twain's as it was possible to be. Just as improbably, Twain and his wife, Livy, turn out to have been very good friends with the Scots Christian mystic and author George MacDonald, author of Phantastes, which Lewis credited with having quickened the whole supernatural world to him as a young man.

Twain thought little of the young Churchill and his imperialist enthusiasms; another who took a similarly unenthusiastic view was American actress Ethel Barrymore, 5 years Churchill's junior, who refused his courtship with the observation that she could not tell that he would ever amount to anything. Tellingly, the woman Churchill eventually married, Clementine Hozier, was another statuesque beauty whose appearance strongly reminded others of Barrymore.

Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote the Anne of Green Gables books with an uplifting message though, sadly, Montgomery herself suffered from severe depression, and it is possible that her death in 1942 was actually a suicide instead of death from heart disease, was was officially reported. In a final improbability, Montgomery seems to have modeled the face of her heroine on a photograph of a "Gibson girl," New York ingenue Evelyn Nesbit, the sometime mistress of famous architect Stanford White; when White was shot to death in 1906 by Nesbit's madly jealous husband, Harry K. Thaw, Nesbit became a star witness in Thaw's sensational murder trial.

© Michael Huggins, 2011. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The real spirit of Thanksgiving as practiced in the land of plenty

Taken near my apartment just now.

© Michael Huggins, 2011. All rights reserved.