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Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History – January 1, 2018

The Call of the Open

Which yet joined not scent to hue,

Crown the pale year weak and new;

When the night is left behind

In the deep east, dun and blind,

And the blue noon is over us,

And the multitudinous

Billows murmur at our feet,

Where the earth and ocean meet,

And all things seem only one

In the universal sun.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley, Public Domain

Photo of a snow-covered wooden fence and trees in New Marlborough, MA.

Today is New Year’s Day, the first day of the year for those who follow the Gregorian calendar. The story of the Gregorian calendar begins with the Julian calendar.

At the end of the Great Roman Civil War (49-45 BCE), Julius Caesar addressed issues with Rome’s calendar.

One of the issues with Rome’s calendar was that each year was only 355 days. To make up for the shortage of days, an intercalary month of 27 or 28 days was inserted between February and March.

There was no system for inserting an intercalary month. They occurred only when declared by the pontifices from the College of Pontifs. Many of the priests were politicians. Thus, sometimes the pontifices often used their power for political purposes.

Over time, this threw Rome’s calendar out of whack with the tropical year.

So Julius Caesar hired the astronomer Sosigenes to develop a calendar based on the sun. The result was the Julian calendar, with Jan. 1 as the start of the new year. Jan. 1 was first celebrated as the start of a new year in 45 B.C.

Sosigenes calculated the number of days in a year to be 365.25. He divided the calendar into 12 months. Each month had 30 or 31 days. The exception was February, a month which received 28 days and 29 days every fourth year, a leap year.

There was a problem, though. The number of days in a year is 365.242199. Sosigenes had overcalculated the number of days in a year by .007801. This meant that each year under the Julian calendar had an 11-minute and 14-second error.

Over time, these extra 11 minutes added up. By 800 A.D., the year was 371 days long. And in 1492, when Colombus sailed the ocean blue, the year had an extra 11 days.

And this led Christian holidays that followed the spring and autumnal equinoxes, such as Easter, to occur at the wrong time of year.

In the 1570s Pope Gregory XVIII asked Italian scientist Aloysius Lilius to devise a new calendar. When Lilius died in 1576, Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius took over.

The Pope introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582. That year, October was 21 days long to make up for the Julian calendar’s accumulated 11-minute error.

J. D. Salinger

Today is also the birthday of Jerome David Salinger, or J. D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye.” As a young man, Salinger bounced between colleges before taking night classes at Columbia University. It was at Columbia that Salinger had a professor, Whit Burnett, who had founded “Story” magazine. The magazine began publishing short stories written by Salinger.

When World War II broke out, Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army. By then he had developed the idea for a fictional character named Holden Caulfield. Wherever Salinger went, from Utah Beach on D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge, Caulfield went with him.

After the war, Salinger compiled the stories he’d written about Caulfield into a book. That book, “The Catcher in the Rye,” was published in 1951. To date, the book has sold more than 65 million copies.

Maria Edgeworth

And it’s the birthday of English writer Maria Edgeworth, born in 1767 in Oxfordshire, England. Her mother died when she was young. Her father left her in the care of her maternal aunts while he attended to his estate in Ireland. But in 1782 her father remarried and Maria joined him, where she helped him run the estate.

Maria began writing stories she would read to her 20 siblings and half-siblings. And her father edited her work, which turned into her first book, “The Parent’s Assistant,” published in 1796. She went on to publish the novels “Castle Rackrent” (1800), “Belinda” (1801), and the six-volume “Tales of Fashionable Life” (1809-1812).

Of Maria Edgeworth’s work, Jane Austen wrote to her niece, “I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours and my own.”

Peyo Yavorov

Also born this day in 1878 was Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov. He published over 160 poems. Many of his poems have been translated into several languages.

Yavorov participated in the National Liberation Movement of Macedonia. He was also supportive of Armenian independence. He died by suicide on Oct. 29, 1914. Named after him is a mountain on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.

Maaza Mengiste

And today is the birthday of Maaza Mengiste, author of “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze.” Born in Ethiopia, Mengiste’s family fled when Communists took over that country. After living in Kenya for a few years, the family immigrated to the United States. She credits, in part, her family’s experience in Ethiopia for “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze.” Mengiste is working on her second novel, “The Shadow King.”

About writing, Mengiste said, “I think fiction gives us a door into what is actually happening around us.” And, “I think what writing should be at its essence is a creative expression, it should be informed by the needs of the story, by the dictates of your characters.”

[bctt tweet=”Happy birthday, @MaazaMengiste!” username=”BidwellHollow”]

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