Sunday Feb. 26, 2017

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Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out ev’n to the edge of doom.
      If this be error and upon me proved,
      I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

“116” by William Shakespeare. Public domain.  (buy now)

National Public Radio was officially incorporated on this day in 1970, when it replaced the National Educational Radio Network. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the “Public Broadcasting Act,” which sought to expand noncommercial broadcasting for educational purposes. Originally, the act was called the “Public Television Act,” which distressed supporters of public radio, who thought they were being left out. After much discussion, revisions, and a passel of Scotch Tape, the name was changed to “Public Broadcasting Act,” and Johnson signed the bill, thus paving the way for television shows like Sesame Street and radio shows like All Things Considered, which debuted on NPR in 1971 with a conversation between poet Allen Ginsberg and his father about the legality of drugs.

Radio stations of the 1930s and 1940s were mostly entertainment: songs, comedy shows, plays, and lots of advertisements for products like Pepsodent and Ivory Soap. In the late 1940s, however, the Federal Communications Commission reserved the lower end of the FM band for noncommercial, educational stations, which is where you can find most public radio stations today. Two fellows by the names of Lewis Hill and E. John Lewis, both pacifists, were trying to found a station that would primarily focus on peace and education, without advertisements, an idea that a friend of theirs said was “like trying to teach nonviolence in the army.” They founded a nonprofit group called “Pacifica” (1946) in Berkeley, California. Most people think the name comes from the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, but it really comes from the word “pacifism.” In 1949, the public radio station KPFA set up shop in Berkeley. It was entirely listener-sponsored.

When National Public Radio was incorporated in 1970, it was a partnership of journalists, 30 employees, and 90 public radio stations across the U.S. NPR launched the careers of journalists like Cokie Roberts, Linda Wertheimer, and Nina Totenberg, who once said that NPR had so many female journalists because they paid so little, no man would work there. Totenberg is the legal correspondent for NPR. She’s covered the Supreme Court for longer than any justice has served. After she broke the Anita Hill case, in which Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of harassment, Totenberg was sure she’d be cited for contempt and burned her notes in her fireplace.

The very first broadcast of NPR in April of 1971 featured live coverage of the Senate hearings on the war in Vietnam. In 2003, the estate of Joan Kroc, widow of the founder of McDonald’s, gave National Public Radio $235 million, the largest gift ever to a cultural institution.

The English playwright Christopher Marlowe (books by this author) was baptized in Canterbury on this date in 1564. We know even less about him than we know about his contemporary William Shakespeare — and we know very little about Shakespeare. Marlowe was the second child and eldest son of a shoemaker. He must have been a bright and promising boy, because he was enrolled in the King’s School in Canterbury, and later went to Cambridge. From his educational background it seems likely that he was studying to be an Anglican clergyman, but his attendance was terrible, he spent huge sums of money on food and drink, and there were rumors that he had converted to Roman Catholicism. The university balked at granting his master’s degree. Finally, Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council wrote a note on Marlowe’s behalf, explaining that he had been busy “on matters touching the benefit of his country.” He may have been a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Marlowe never did enter the clergy. He moved to London, where he wrote plays and earned a bad reputation. He was hot-tempered and got into many fights, and may have continued to spy for the Crown on a part-time basis. He was also accused of being an atheist, and had reportedly left some blasphemous and heretical papers lying around a flat he shared with fellow playwright Thomas Kyd. Kyd was arrested and tortured in May 1593, and he told the authorities about the documents. Atheism — or heresy — was a serious crime, and people who were convicted of it were burned at the stake. A warrant was issued for Marlowe’s arrest, but before the authorities could round him up, Marlowe was dead. He got into a fight in a Deptford inn, and was stabbed in the forehead. The fight was allegedly over the bar bill, but he was in the company of three men who also had ties to British espionage, so the actual story behind his death is unclear. He was just 29 years old.

His writing career only spanned about six years. While he was at Cambridge, he translated Ovid’s The Loves into English. He also began writing plays, including Tamburlaine the Great and Dido, Queen of Carthage.  Part one of Tamburlaine proved so popular that Marlowe wrote a second part. Both parts of Tamburlaine were staged in London in 1587, and they were the only of Marlowe’s plays produced during his lifetime. After he left Cambridge and moved to London, he wrote The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, and The Massacre at Paris. He also began a poem called Hero and Leander; it was never finished, and only found five years after his death.

His greatest influence on Elizabethan drama in general — and on Shakespeare in particular — was his choice to use blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic pentameter. Marlowe’s influence on Shakespeare may have been more direct than scholars previously thought: last fall, the Oxford University Press announced that it will give Marlowe co-authorship of Shakespeare’s three Henry VI plays. Scholars — including mathematicians as well as experts in Renaissance drama — spent many years poring over the plays, looking for particular patterns and words. They’ve compared the three parts of Henry VI with works that we know were written by Marlowe, and found compelling similarities. Not everyone agrees with this assessment, though, and some believe that Shakespeare picked up the style by working with actors who had worked with Marlowe in the past.

It’s the birthday of John George Nicolay (books by this author), born in Bavaria (1832). He would be instrumental in American history as President Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and official biographer. Nicolay first immigrated to Cincinnati from Germany with his father in 1838. He then relocated to Illinois to pursue work as a newspaper editor, a profession that allowed him newfound prominence in the local political scene. He met Lincoln while working as assistant to the secretary of state of Illinois and immediately the two took a liking to one another.

Along with his childhood friend John Hay, Nicolay acted as one of Lincoln’s closest presidential advisors. Lincoln referred to them collectively as “the boys” — both Nicolay and Hay being in their mid-20s at the time — and treated them as sons. In return, the pair idolized Lincoln as the defining political figure of the generation. Nicolay lived and worked on the second floor of the White House, acting along with Hay as a blend of the modern day chief of staff, press secretary, and bodyguard.

Nicolay was of such similar mind to Lincoln that Nicolay often issued official orders and responses on behalf of the president without consulting him — such was his instinctive understanding of Lincoln’s priorities. Where he differed from Lincoln: Nicolay was known to be a bit curmudgeonly and forthright about his opinions, or as a colleague wrote, “decidedly German in his manner of telling men what he thought of them. … People who do not like him — because they cannot use him, perhaps — say he is sour and crusty, and it is a grand good thing, then, that he is.”

After Lincoln’s death, both Nicolay and Hay made it their mission to pay proper tribute to Lincoln and his historical legacy. They collaborated on his official biography, which first appeared serially in The Century magazine between 1886 and 1890. The magazine’s publisher reportedly offered to give Nicolay and Hay 100 percent of the piece’s profit, saying: “We want your life of Lincoln. We must have it. … We will take it, and work it for nothing. It is probably the most important literary venture of the time.” The Century offered to publish the work as both a magazine series and later as a 10-volume set, offering an unprecedented $50,000 (or over $1.2 million today) for rights, plus royalties. The two spent 25 years researching and writing the volumes. The publishers of The Century were right in their estimation of the work’s importance. To this day, their comprehensive efforts make up the definitive biography of Lincoln. It was Nicolay and Hay who through their biography crafted the modern vision of the 16th president —Lincoln as gentle leader, brilliant orator, and political sage.

Aside from acting as Lincoln’s advisor, Nicolay also served as the American consul in Paris, as editor of several newspapers, and as one-time marshal of the United States Supreme Court.

It’s the birthday of Fats Domino (1928), the American R&B singer and pianist whose mellow baritone helped him sell millions of records in the 1950s. Only Elvis Presley sold more. Domino is best known for his hits “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Blueberry Hill,” with its famously exuberant opening line, “I found my thrill / on Blueberry Hill.”

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