Little children, never give
Pain to things that feel and live:
Let the gentle robin come
For the crumbs you save at home,—
As his meat you throw along
He’ll repay you with a song;
Never hurt the timid hare
Peeping from her green grass lair,
Let her come and sport and play
On the lawn at close of day;
The little lark goes soaring high.
To the bright windows of the sky,
Singing as if ’twere always spring,
And fluttering on an untired wing,—
Oh! let him sing his happy song,
Nor do these gentle creatures wrong.
"Kindness to Animals" by Anonymous.
Today is the birthday of Rolihlahla "Nelson" Mandela (books by this author), born in Mvezo, South Africa (1918). He was the first member of his family to attend school, and that's where his British teachers gave him a new name: Nelson. Since childhood, Mandela had heard stories of his ancestors' courage. When he was 16 and participating in a ritual circumcision ceremony, the speaker lamented the life of oppression Mandela and the other boys would face under the rule of white South Africans. Mandela didn't understand everything that was said, but he later said that the experience formed his resolve to work for an end to apartheid.
He spent 27 years in prison, but refused to carry a grudge against his captors. He later said of his release from prison, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
He also said: "A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special."
Today is the birthday of William Makepeace Thackeray (books by this author), born in Calcutta, India (1811). His best-known book is Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero. It was published in monthly installments, in 1847 and 1848, and it's about two women: the well-born but passive Amelia Sedley and the ambitious adventuress Becky Sharp, who delivers one of the book's most famous lines: "I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year."
On this day in 1877, inventor Thomas Edison recorded the human voice for the first time at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He used a stylus-tipped carbon transmitter to make impressions on a strip of paraffin paper to make a reproduction of the original sound when he pulled the paper back along the stylus. It was the first phonograph.
It's the birthday of playwright Clifford Odets (books by this author), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1906). Odets left school at the age of 15 to go into radio and found work as an announcer, actor, and writer. He joined several repertory companies, and in 1931, became one of the founding members of the Group Theater in New York. Although he originally joined as an actor, Odets was soon the Group's main playwright. In 1935, the theater produced Waiting for Lefty, a story about labor unions based on the 1934 New York taxi driver's strike. The play included flashbacks by union members and "plants" in the audience, which made it seem as if there was a real strike meeting going on. It was a great success, as was Odets' next play, Awake and Sing! (1935), a look at Jewish family life in the Bronx during the Depression. Odets went on to write several more plays — and screenplays including None But the Lonely Heart (1943), The Country Girl (1950), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957; revived on Broadway 2001).
It's the birthday of Jessamyn West (books by this author), born in Jennings County, Indiana (1902). Her parents moved to Orange County, California, when she was young, and there she grew up on her father's lemon grove in Yorba Linda. She was a cousin of future president Richard Nixon and babysat him while he was growing up.
Her first book was a collection of short stories, The Friendly Persuasion (1945), published when she was 43 years old. The tales centered on the lives of rural Quakers Jess and Elia Birdwell, and the collection received high and wide praise.
Her other works include the novels The Witch Diggers (1951), South of the Angels (1960), The Massacre at Fall Creek (1975), The Life I Really Loved (1979), and The State of Stony Lonesome (1984).
The Great Fire of Rome began in the late evening hours on this date 1,950 years ago (64 A.D.). The fire raged for six days, during which time Emperor Nero either acted heroically to contain the fire and provide for his people, or played his lyre and watched the city burn — depending on whose version you believe. There are no surviving primary accounts of the fire, so we have to base everything we know on hearsay.
Most modern scholars tend to believe the account of Tacitus, a historian writing in the year 116. In Tacitus' version, the fire began in a dry goods store near the Circus Maximus. Since it was very windy and dry that night, the fire spread quickly through the closely built wooden apartment buildings. Tacitus also reported that looters encouraged the fire, but whether they were acting under orders from Nero or just taking advantage of the situation, he couldn't say with certainty. Far from setting the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome from his palace in Antium to rescue treasures from his mansion in the city. He opened his private gardens so evacuees would have a place to escape the flames, ordered the construction of temporary shelters, and brought in food from neighboring regions.
But people still wanted someone to blame, and Nero was, at the end of the day, still a politician. He pointed the finger at a relatively obscure but troublesome religious sect known as Christians and publicly tortured them to death in Rome's only surviving amphitheater. He also took the opportunity to rebuild the city in an architectural style that he preferred.