Friday Nov. 10, 2017

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That I did always love...

That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived – Enough –

That I shall love alway –
I argue thee
That love is life –
And life hath Immortality –

This – dost thou doubt – Sweet –
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary –

“That I did always love...” by Emily Dickinson. Public domain.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of German playwright Friedrich Von Schiller (books by this author) born in Marbach, Germany (1759). One of the most important playwrights of German literature, he's best known for his historical plays, Don Carlos (1787) and Wallenstein (1798). He began writing at a time when Germans were jealous of the literary works being produced by England, France, and Italy. Among Germans there was talk that the German language itself might not be appropriate for literature. When Schiller appeared on the scene, Germans were so grateful to have a major literary figure that they revered him as if he were a god.

Schiller grew up in a part of Germany that was ruled by a Duke who saw himself as the absolute dictator. Schiller wanted to enter the clergy as a young man, but the Duke forced him to enter a military academy where he was forbidden to leave school, receive visitors, or write letters. While living under these conditions, he began to write his first play, The Robbers (1781), about a noble man who drops out of society and join a band of criminals.

Schiller secretly sent the play to a theater director outside of the Duke's jurisdiction, and the play began to break all box office records. When the Duke learned of it, he had Schiller jailed for two weeks and forbid him to ever write again. So Schiller deserted the army, a capital offense at the time, and went into hiding. He eventually became so successful that the Duke gave up on trying to capture him.

Schiller once attended a performance of his play The Maid of Orleans (1824), and after the first act, the audience began to shout, "Long live Schiller!" He got a standing ovation, and as he left the theater, everyone fell silent, bowing their heads and removing their hats, clearing a path before him. Parents held their children up to see him.

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther (1483) (books by this author), the German theologian who set in motion the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe and forever changed Christianity. In response to what he saw as the excesses of Pope Leo X and the Church, such as forgiving penance for sins in exchange for monetary donations, he wrote a screed he called “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” On October 31, 1517, after Luther nailed what was now called “95 Theses” to the doors of the University of Wittenberg’s chapel, people began to vocally question the actions of the pope. Aided by the printing press, copies of the ”95 Theses” spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months. Out of the upheaval, the Lutheran Church was eventually born.

The pope demanded that Luther retract his statements, but he refused, saying: “Unless I am convinced by people from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen!” He was excommunicated in 1521.

Martin Luther’s parents originally planned for him to be a lawyer, but legend has it that he was nearly struck by lightning while on horseback, which he read as a sign from God himself. He cried out “Help, Saint Anna! I will become a monk!” in the hopes he would survive. He did, and convinced his parents of his true calling, sold his law books, and entered the monastery. He was an intense young monk, devoted to self-punishment, and would often lie in the snow through the night during the worst of winter until he was in such a state that he needed to be carried back inside.

Luther’s translation of the Bible in German vernacular instead of Latin made it more accessible to the common man, which had a profound impact on the Church and German culture.

It has been said that Luther was inspired to begin the Protestant Reformation while on his chamber pot, though this can’t be confirmed. However, in 2004, archaeologists did discover that Luther’s privy area was quite modern, featuring a heated floor and even a primitive drain.

The Three Solas of Lutheran teaching are: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone. Composer Johann Sebastian Bach was a devout Lutheran who wrote about 200 cantatas, including at least two for each Sunday and holy day in the Lutheran church year.

Martin Luther never accepted any wages for his work. He had six children with his wife, Katharina, a former nun who had escaped her convent by hiding in a pickle barrel. To make a living, he installed a lathe and learned woodworking and also became a master gardener, growing lettuces, beans, melons, and cucumbers. When a young man wrote to him, anxious that he might be going to hell, Martin Luther advised him to drink heavily, since that was what he did in times of despair. He purportedly once said, “Beer is made by men, wine by God.”

It’s the birthday of writer Oliver Goldsmith (books by this author); his exact date and the location of birth are uncertain, but he was probably born on this day in Pallas, Ireland, in 1730. He went to Trinity College in Dublin, but he wasn’t doing very well at school, and he was so frustrated that he decided to immigrate to America. He was all set to go, but he missed his ship. So he stayed in Europe and became a writer. He’s best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) and his play She Stoops to Conquer (1773). And he was probably the author of a very popular children’s story published anonymously, called The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765), the story that made “goody two-shoes” a household expression.

In She Stoops to Conquer, he wrote:

Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain,
With grammar, and nonsense, and learning;
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
Gives genus a better discerning.

It’s the birthday of American novelist John Phillips Marquand (books by this author), born in Wilmington, Delaware (1893). He came from a distinguished family of governors, shipbuilders, and sea captains. He said, “It is worthwhile for anyone to have behind him a few generations of honest, hardworking ancestry.” As a boy, his father was a wealthy stockbroker, but the panic of 1907 bankrupted him. Marquand was sent to live with his aunts, and he was the first member of his family to go to public instead of private school.

He got into Harvard on a scholarship, but he was always ashamed of his family’s financial troubles, and it made him acutely aware of the struggle for social status among the upper class. After college he got a job at a newspaper, but he decided that he would never be able to support a family with his meager newspaper wages, so he switched to advertising. For several years, he wrote ad copy about soap and underwear and rubber-heeled shoes, until he had saved up enough money to take a year off to write a novel. The result was a historical novel called The Unspeakable Gentleman (1922), which he sold as a serial to the Ladies’ Home Journal. He later said, “When I reread my first novel I almost lost my lunch,” but the book launched his career as one of the most successful writers of his day.

At the time, one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country was the fiction published in magazines, and between 1921 and 1931, John P. Marquand published five serial novels and 59 short stories in the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.  Most of the stories were about romantic adventures in distant foreign countries, and they were so popular that Marquand became the most highly paid author in the country.

Marquand’s most popular novels of the 1930s were those featuring a Japanese agent named Mr. Moto, who speaks perfect English, has gold fillings in his teeth, is proficient with firearms and jujitsu, but whose most formidable weapon is his unfailing politeness. Marquand wrote six Moto novels, including Thank You, Mr. Moto (1936), Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937), and Mr. Moto Is So Sorry (1938), but the character lost much of his appeal after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

At the same time that Marquand was cranking out his novels of adventure and intrigue, he became fascinated by a series of biographies of supposedly prominent New England men that were quite popular at the time. Marquand thought these boring biographies of self-important upper-class New Englanders were absurd, so he decided to write a satirical fictionalized version.  The result was his book The Late George Apley (1937), narrated by the smug and evasive fictional biographer Horatio Willing.

The book so resembled the biographies it was meant to parody that some people in Boston thought it was nonfiction. Critics and other writers were amazed that Marquand the spy novelist could write such an accurate and scathing portrait of a New England aristocrat. It was Marquand’s first serious novel and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He followed it with several more novels of manners, including Wickford Point (1939) and Point of No Return (1949).

Marquand went on publishing best-sellers for the rest of his life, but in part because his literary reputation was damaged by the popularity of his adventure novels, Marquand’s work was almost completely forgotten after his death. All his books had gone out of print by the end of the 20th century, although in 2004, Little, Brown and Company republished The Late George Apley and Wickford Point.

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