Saturday Jan. 28, 2017

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I have just crossed the Rio Grande,
And by a string of clever switchbacks
Have, for the moment, outwitted the posse.

Ahead lie the ghosts of Sierra Madre.
Behind, I have nothing but sun,
While the condor’s shadow circles over my bones.

Though the mountains are steep, my horse doesn’t falter,
And now I know why starving bandoleros
Will never shoot their animals for food.

Beyond my mirage, I see the white adobe—
Yes, the one with the red-tiled roof—
Which one afternoon I will lean against, with my hat down
And knees up, after a bottle of tequila.

In that siesta, I am sure to dream
Of the lovely senorita
Who has stolen away from her father
To meet me in the orchard.

But enough of that. There is work to be done.
I have cattle to rustle and horses to steal
Before the posse picks up my trail.

(In a poem of Mexico, it would be unwise
For a poet to mention the posse is his wife.)

So, mi amigo, if you find her
Prowling my mountains
With a wooden spoon in her hand,
Tell her I am not here.

Tell her I have run off
With Cormac McCarthy and Louis L’Amour,
That I ride like the wind
To join up with the great Pancho Villa.

“Mexico” by Robert Bernard Hass from Counting Thunder. © David Robert Books, 2008. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was published on this date in 1813 (books by this author). Austen had completed the first draft of the book — which was originally titled First Impressions — by August 1797, when she was 21. Her father queried a London bookseller about publishing the novel. The bookseller turned him down without ever looking at the manuscript, so Austen put the book aside. Fourteen years later, encouraged by the success of Sense and Sensibility, she picked First Impressions up again and began reworking it into the novel we know today. Thomas Egerton of Whitehall bought the rights for £110 and published it in three volumes. It was well received and made decent money for the publisher, but Austen never saw another penny. Although she had sold Sense and Sensibility on a commission basis and eventually made a fair amount of money, Austen sold Pride and Prejudice for one lump sum. She was widely read during her lifetime, but her name never appeared on any of her books; the title page of Pride and Prejudice read only "by the author of Sense and Sensibility."

Anne Isabella Milbanke (later the wife of Lord Byron) wrote to a friend: "I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres [duels] and disguises. I really think it is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy. The characters which are not amiable are diverting, and all of them are consistently supported."

Charlotte Brontë, on the other hand, dismissed it as "a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but ... no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck."

In 1815, William Gifford wrote: "I have for the first time looked into [Pride and Prejudice]; and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger — things that should now be left to ladies' maids and sentimental washerwomen."

Emerson, for his part, wrote: "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched & narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer in both the stories I have read, Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, is marriageableness; all that interests any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming?"

And Mark Twain remarked: "I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

It's the birthday of the novelist Colette (books by this author), born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in a village in France (1873). She's the author of more than 50 novels, including Chéri (1920) and Gigi (1944), which was made into a movie. She died in 1954 at 81 years old, the first woman in the history of France to be given a state funeral — 6,000 people filed by her casket and covered it in flowers.

Collette said: "Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®