February 13, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. It’s the birthday of Eleanor Farjeon, Peter Heller, and Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Also today, in 2000, the final “Peanuts” comic strip published. Our poem for today is Farjeon’s “Circus.” Remember to take a moment and share Bidwell Hollow on social media or by email. We rely on you to help spread the word. Thank you for reading and sharing.
It’s the birthday of children’s writer and poet Eleanor Farjeon (affiliate link). She was born in London in 1881.
Farjeon grew up in a creative home. Her father was the novelist Benjamin Leopold Farjeon, and artists and writers frequented the household.
It was on her father’s typewriter that Farjeon first began writing at seven years of age. At 16, she and her brother, Harry, wrote an opera that the Royal Academy of Music produced.
Farjeon wrote her early work, “Pan-Worship and other Poems” (1908) and “The Soul of Kol Nikon” (1914), for adults. Grown-ups were even the intended audience for her 1916 collection of tunes, titled “Nursery Rhymes of London Town.” But adapted versions of the songs were soon sung in schools across England.
And in 1921, Farjeon published “Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard.” It’s about a traveling minstrel named Martin Pippin. Through stories and songs, Pippin tries to learn why six milkmaids hold a farmer’s daughter captive.
Farjeon wrote “Martin Pippin” in installments she sent to a British soldier fighting in France during World War I. Once the book came out, though, children flocked to it. And today it’s viewed as the book that launched Farjeon’s children’s writing career.
In all, Farjeon wrote more than 80 children’s books, novels, poems, and plays.
Her 1955 book, “The Little Bookroom,” netted Farjeon the Carnegie Medal and the first Hans Christian Andersen Award. And in 1959, Farjeon won the Regina Medal Award for her contributions to children’s literature.
Today is also the birthday of Peter Heller (affiliate link), born in 1959 in New York City. He’s the author of four nonfiction books and three novels.
Despite growing up in New York, Heller loved being outside. At 15 he went to high school in Vermont, where he had relatives so that he could be closer to the outdoors. And after graduating from Dartmouth College, he took off to Colorado.
There he took on odd jobs such as dishwashing and delivering pizza. But he also worked as a kayak instructor and river guide.
Heller parlayed his outdoor experience into freelance writing work for Outside Magazine and National Geographic. He then went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, graduating with a double-degree in fiction and poetry.
Heller’s first books were works of nonfiction. They were about his adventures whitewater rafting, surfing, or riding along with whaling industry protestors.
In 2012, Heller published his first novel, “The Dog Stars.” It’s a dystopian tale about a man who leaves his barricade to find the source of a sound he heard on his old Cessna plane.
Heller, himself a pilot, said he wrote the book in five months. It became a New York Times bestseller.
Heller’s published two novels since “The Dog Stars.” His most recent is “Celine: A novel.”
On making the switch from writing nonfiction to fiction, Heller said, “Once you start making it up, there’s no going back.”
Rufus Wilmot Griswold
And born today in 1815 in Benson, VT was Rufus Wilmot Griswold.
In 1842, Griswold published an anthology of poems titled, “The Poets and Poetry of America.” The collection included the work of many poets we still know today, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe.
When the anthology came out, Griswold paid Poe to write a review of the book.
Poe complied. He wrote positive things about “Poets and Poetry,” but he did have some critical words for Griswold. For example, Poe challenged the editor’s method for deciding what poems to include in the collection.
The review upset Griswold, beginning a feud that outlived both men.
Not long after Poe’s review of “Poets and Poetry,” Griswold succeeded Poe as editor of Graham’s Magazine. The magazine publisher paid Griswold more for the job than it had paid Poe, which upset Poe.
Then beginning in 1843, Poe delivered a series of lectures titled “The Poets and Poetry of America.” Poe used these talks to further his attacks on Griswold.
And both men competed for the affection of a woman, the poet Frances Sargent Osgood. Poe and Osgood flirted, despite their marriages to other people, while Griswold escorted Osgood to literary salons.
The feud between Griswold and Poe was alive and well when Poe died in 1849. That’s when Griswold wrote an obituary under the pseudonym “Ludwig.” In it, he trashed Poe’s reputation. The obituary first appeared in the New York Tribune, before running in papers across the country.
Griswold lived until 1857. Though it appears he never forgave Poe, he did continue including the writer’s work in revised editions of “The Poets and Poetry of America.”
Final “Peanuts” Strip Runs
The final “Peanuts” cartoon published today in 2000. It appeared the day after “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz (affiliate link), passed away.
“Peanuts” first appeared on Oct. 2, 1950. Eventually, the cartoon published in 2,100 newspapers in 75 countries.
Throughout his life, Schulz drew 18,250 “Peanuts” strips.
His final cartoon featured a collage of “Peanuts” memories and a note to readers from Schulz. The note concluded with, “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy . . . how can I ever forget them. . . .”
The band blares,
The naphtha flares,
The sawdust smells,
Showmen ring bells,
And oh! right into the circus ring
Comes such a lovely, lovely thing,
A milk-white pony with flying tress,
And a beautiful lady,
A beautiful lady,
A beautiful lady in a pink dress!
The red-and-white clown
For joy tumbles down.
Like a pink rose
Round she goes
On her tiptoes
With the pony under—
And then, oh, wonder!
The pony his milk-white tresses droops,
And the beautiful lady,
The beautiful lady,
Flies like a bird through the paper hoops!
The red-and-white clown for joy falls dead,
Then he waggles his feet and stands on his head,
And the little boys on the two penny seats
Scream with laughter and suck their sweets.
– Eleanor Farjeon, Public Domain