Thursday Oct. 23, 2014

I Love All Beauteous Things

I love all beauteous things,
        I seek and adore them;
God hath no better praise,
And man in his hasty days
        Is honoured for them.

I too will something make
        And joy in the making;
Altho’ to-morrow it seem
Like the empty words of a dream
        Remembered on waking.

"I Love All Beauteous Things" by Robert Bridges. Public Domain.  (buy now)

On this date in 1978, The Stories of John Cheever was first published by Alfred Knopf; the book won the Pulitzer Prize (books by this author).

John Cheever said: "For me a page of good prose is where one hears the rain. A page of good prose is when one hears the noise of battle .... A page of good prose seems to me the most serious dialogue that well-informed and intelligent men and women carry on today in their endeavor to make sure that the fires of this planet burn peaceably."

And: "Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos ... to celebrate a world that lies spread out around us like a bewildering and stupendous dream."

It's the anniversary of the publication of Sinclair Lewis's novel Main Street (books by this author), first published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe on this date in 1920; the novel is set in the fictional Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.

In Main Street, Sinclair wrote: "All this working land was turned into exuberance by the light. The sunshine was dizzy on open stubble; shadows from immense cumulus clouds were forever sliding across low mounds; and the sky was wider and loftier and more resolutely blue than the sky of cities [...] It's a glorious country; a land to be big in."

It's the birthday of doctor-cum-writer Michael Crichton (books by this author), born in Chicago (1942). He grew up in a suburb of New York, and his dad was the editor of Advertising Age magazine.

He liked to write, and when he was 13, he was on a family vacation to Sunset Crater National Monument in Arizona. He loved it, and he told his parents how surprised he was that there weren't more visitors, and they encouraged him to write about it. His mom said he should send an article to The New York Times, and his dad told him to go interview the ranger. So his family waited outside while Michael went in to do his interview. He recalled later: "Back in the car, driving to the next place, my father said, 'How many visitors do they have every year?' 'I didn't ask that,' I said. 'Is it open all year round?' 'I didn't ask that, either.' 'What was the ranger's name?' 'I didn't ask.' 'Jesus,' my father said. 'What published information did you get?' I showed him the pamphlets and brochures. 'Well, that'll be enough. You can write the story from that.'" And sure enough, The New York Times published his piece, and he was paid $60. He decided that writing was for him.

Crichton went to Harvard to be an English major, but one of his professors didn't like Crichton's writing style and kept giving him C's. So for an assignment on Gulliver's Travels, he turned in an essay written not by him but by George Orwell, and the professor gave him a B- on that. He figured that if Orwell only got a B- at Harvard, the English department was too difficult for him, so he went ahead and switched his major from English to anthropology.

He went on to medical school, but tuition was so expensive that he decided to keep writing to make some extra money, and he tried his hand at novels. His first novel was Odds On (1966), and Signet bought it and then asked who his agent was, so he had to go out and find one. Michael Crichton was a very tall man, 6 feet 9 inches, so he published his first thrillers under the pen name John Lange — lange is the German word for "tall." He was publishing between two and three novels a year, so he wanted a different pseudonym for some of them, and he chose "Jeffrey Hudson" for his first big medical thriller, A Case of Need (1968) — Jeffrey Hudson was a famous 17th-century dwarf in the court of King Charles I. The Andromeda Strain (1969), published under his own name, was a best-seller, and Crichton decided to devote his career to writing after all.

Many of his novels explore the unintended consequences of science or technology gone too far. His books include Jurassic Park (1990), Rising Sun (1992), and State of Fear (2004). He managed to be a huge success not only in the literary world, but also in film and television. He was a Hollywood director, and he wrote the screenplay for some of the film adaptations of his books, including Jurassic Park. He also created the hit TV series E.R. Crichton died in 2008 from complications of throat cancer.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Bridges (books by this author), born in Walmer, England (1844). He was born into a wealthy family, and he had his life all planned out: he would work as a doctor until the age of 40 so that he could learn about human nature, and then he would retire and write poetry. It didn't work out — he got sick and had to retire early. He spent decades working on his poetry, living in seclusion in the countryside with his family. He produced beautiful, limited, and expensive editions of his poetry, printed on handmade paper in obscure hand-set type. He studied Milton's prosody and advocated for pure usage of the English language. For decades, he continued in this fashion, known and respected only in certain academic circles.

In 1912, the Oxford University Press chose Bridges as one of only two living poets for the Oxford Standard Poets series. For the first time, his poems were available in an accessible, inexpensive collection. Everyone was shocked — including Bridges — when his Poetical Works sold 27,000 copies in its first year and made him famous. The following year, he was named poet laureate at the age of 69.

In 1921, Bridges wrote the poems that would become New Poems (1925), but then for several years, he did not write at all. On Christmas Day of 1924, he was struck by the urge to write, and he composed 14 lines. Shortly after that, his youngest daughter became sick, and eventually died. After her death, he returned to the poem and spent the next few years working on it. The Testament of Beauty (1929), considered his greatest work, was published on his 85th birthday, six months before his death.

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