Tom's Book of Days
      February 11-20  

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February 11


bald eagle

1602: John Donne is thrown into prison for secretly marrying Sir George More's daughter. Also imprisoned are the man who married them and the man who gave away the bride.

1787: Robert Blake is buried in Bunhill Fields. A vision of him ascending heavenward "clapping its hands for joy," inspired some of his brother William's images.

1805: Sacajawea gives birth to Jean-Baptist Charbonneau while leading the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

1929: The vatican declares itself separate from Italy.

1963: Thirty-year-old Sylvia Plath succeeds in committing suicide on her third try.

1963: The CIA Domestic Operations Division is created.

1978: The American bald eagle is put on the endangered species list. Though it would still be considered endangered (rather than “threatened”), the bird would make a dramatic recovery by the early 21st century, when there would be nearly 6,000 breading pairs of birds, compared to fewer than 500 in the mid-1970s. It would be reestablished in all lower 48 states except Vermont and Rhode Island, thanks to the 1972 ban on DDT, a 1991 ban on lead shot, and other protections.

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!
      — William Blake

I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.
      — Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Sarah Bache

Living in the age of experts often makes me fearful that I don't know enough to know what I am seeing. I have been working on eagles for two weeks. More and more I feel that, in the Indian way, the eagles are working on me. What I want to know can be learned with eyes, ears, patience, binoculars, and a library card. Not for me the heroics of the federal biologist flying across the polar icecap with a bush pilot, downing a polar bear with tranquilizer darts, tattooing the paws, and pulling out a molar to find out how old the creature is. Just by sitting in the right place with my eyes opened I can watch a star-mass of eagles whirling hundreds of feet in the air. Each time I try to box off a section of blue sky, to be more scientific and count the gliders, I see that farther up more eagles are soaring, and more beyond them—dark specks barely moving against the high, fair weather clouds. I count twenty—forty—but it's useless to try. The smaller and smaller they get, the more the sky looks like it's eagles all the way up.
     — Alison Deming, from Temporary Homelands (Mercury House)

1990: Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years of incarceration.


February 12


super julio

1809: Abraham Lincoln is born in Hardin County, Kentucky, while across the Atlantic Charles Darwin is born in Portsmouth, England.

1955: President Eisenhower sends the first US advisors to South Vietnam.

1956: Screamin' Jay Hawkins records I Put a Spell on You for Okeh records in New York City.

1984: Super Cronopio Julio Cortázar (pictured) dies in Paris. I was in the middle of translating his Around the Day in Eighty Worlds at the time.

1999: The United States Senate acquits President Clinton of the two articles of impeachment (perjury and obstruction of justice) reported against him by the House of Representatives.

2006: The following item appears in The Nation:

Sure, it's been fun joking about the fact that Dick Cheney obtained five -- count them, five -- deferments to avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Sure, its been amusing to recount his limp claim that the man who served as George Bush I's Secretary of Defense had "other priorities" than taking up arms in defense of his country. Sure, it was a laugh when the chief cheerleader for the war in Iraq mocked John Kerry for having actually carried a weapon in a time of war.
   But it is time to stop laughing at Dick Cheney's expense.
Now that the vice president has accidentally shot and wounded a companion on a quail hunt at the elite Texas ranch where rich men play with guns -- spraying his 78-year-old victim, er, friend, in the face and chest with shotgun pellets and sending the man to intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital -- it has become clear that Cheney was doing the country a service when he avoided service.
   The man Cheney misstook for a quail, millionaire attorney Harry Whittington, was in plain sight, wearing a bright orange vest at the time the vice president blasted him.
   U.S. troops had enough problems in Vietnam without letting a trigger-happy incompetent like Dick Cheney start shooting things up from behind the lines.
   Those deferments were well and wisely issued.


February 13


ophelia (detail) by john everett millais


Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day,
All in the morning betime,
and I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
      --Ophelia in Hamlet

1542: Aged and obese Henry VIII executes his youthful wife, Catherine Howard, for adultery. (She was born sometime in the 1520s.) Her meetings with Thomas Culpeper, arranged by her lady-in-waiting Lady Jane Rochford, had become a scandal, not that there was any shortage of them in Henry's court.
   Mr. Culpeper, described as "a beautiful youth," must have made quite a contrast with homely old Hank. It seems doubtful, however, that he was any nicer a guy than the old man. Around the same time he started fooling around with Catherine he was convicted of rape and murder -- he had his men hold down a park keeper's wife while he raped her in the bushes, then he killed a villager who came to her assistance.
   Henry viewed all that as a jolly prank and readily pardoned the hot-blooded boy. But, a couple of years later, he was not so understanding when the young man's affair with Catherine was exposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry resolved the matter decisively, by having them both beheaded. Culpeper's family pulled strings to arrange this more lenient punishment in place of the gruesome end Henry had originally planned for him.

1633: Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome for trial before the Inquisition for claiming that the earth revolves around the sun.

1866: Jesse James holds up his first bank, in Liberty, Missouri.

1974: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is expelled from the Soviet Union.


February 14


ST. VALENTINE'S DAY: The origins of this holiday are uncertain. It's a springtime celebration, which probably evolved from the obscure Roman Feast of Lupercalia (February 15), a purification or fertility celebration in which some say women and men were coupled by lot. The classic Roman writers seem confused about this anomalous and evidently ancient celebration and whom it honored. It takes its name from the Lupercal, the cave on the Palatine hill in which the wolf was supposed to have suckled Romulus and Remus. Hallmark won't mention it, but the flayed skin of a sacrificed goat was used by loincloth-clad men for lashing women in order to promote fertility and ease of childbirth. It seems clear that by classic times some ancient ritual had degenerated and its original significance had been lost, but because it involved a lot of nakedness and riotous running around and tomfoolery, the ancient Romans were loathe to abandon it. St. Valentine was a Roman martyr-priest who died around 270 CE. Because his feast occured around Lupercalia, he became the a patron of lovers. His feast was dropped from the liturgical calendar in 1969.

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-fixed mark
      That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering 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 even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
      I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
            --William Shakepeare

1349: 2,000 Jews are burned at the stake in Strasbourg, Germany.

1859: George Ferris, inventor of the Wheel, is born.

1895: The Importance of Being Earnest opens at the St. James's Theatre in London. Wilde summarized the moral of the play: "We should treat all trivial things very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality."

1921: Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson face obscenity charges in New York for publishing a portion of James Joyce's Ulysses in the Little Review. They would be found guilty and fined $100.

1971: Richard Nixon orders a secret taping system installed in the White House.

1989: Ayatollah Khomeini passes a sentence of death on Salman Rushdie: "I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran, and all involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death."


February 15




FEAST OF LUPERCALIA: See February 14, Valentine's Day, for a discussion of this festival.

399 BCE: Socrates is sentenced to death.

1715: Lemuel Gulliver leaves the Land of the Houyhnhnms.

1971: Good-bye, shilling: the Brits adopt a decimal system of coinage.

2003: Worldwide protests against the Iraq world are said to make this the largest day of protest ever.


February 16


emma goldman

600: Pope Gregory the Great prescribes "God bless you" as the correct response to a sneeze.

1751: Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is published (anonymously).

1916: Emma Goldman (pictured) is arrested for lecturing on birth control in New York City.

1933: Cheers! The 18th amendment (prohibition) is repealed.


February 17


Monsieur Moliere


1673: Moličre dies after collapsing while acting in his play The Hypochrondiac. When the Church denies him burial on holy ground, thousands attend a dramatic torchlight nighttime funeral procession.

1801: The U.S. House of Representatives resolves an electoral stalement between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr by naming Jefferson president and Burr Vice President..

1867: The first ship passes through the Suez Canal.

1895: Swan Lake debuts in St. Petersburg.

1913: The Armory Show, a groundbreaking show of avant-garde twentieth-century art, opens in New York. An author I would work with some seventy years later would make a great deal out of having attended the show as a young girl.


February 18



1861: Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as president of the Southern Confederacy.

1865: Delaware voters reject the 13th Amendment, preferring to continue the institution of slavery in their state. (They would finally get with the program on February 12, 1901.)

1885: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is published.

1896: André Breton in born in Tinchebray, Orne, France.

1979: Snow falls on the Sahara desert (in southern Nigeria).


February 19


formidable ms. boyle

1881: Kansas (wouldn't you know) becomes the first state to ban alcoholic beverages.

1903: Kay Boyle is born in St. Paul, Minnesota. I would end up editing a couple of her books. S.I. Hayakawa would call her "the most dangerous woman in America."

1932: William Faulkner completes Light in August.

1949: Ezra Pound is awarded the first Bolingen Prize in poetry..

1981: The New York State Supreme Court rules George Harrison "subconsciously plagiarized" He's So Fine, the Chiffon's 1963 hit, with his innocuous 1970 tune My Sweet Lord.


February 20


type parisien par daumier


1808: Honore Daumier is born in Marseilles.

1872: The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City.

1934: Gertrude Stein returns to the U.S. to attend the New York opening of Virgil Thomson's opera Four Saints in Three Acts, for which she wrote the libretto.

1950: Dylan Thomas arrives in New York for his first series of American poetry readings.

2004: In a letter to Attorney General Bill Lockyer, California Governator Arnold Schwartzenegger officially declares homosexual marriage "an imminent risk to civil order."

2006: One week after comparing himself to Napoleon, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi calls himself "the Jesus Christ of Italian politics."

continue to February 21


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