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Image of the title page for Thomas Paine's "Common Sense."

Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History – January 10, 2018

Today, Jan. 10, in literary history includes the first publishing for “Common Sense” and the birthdays of poets Robinson Jeffers and Charles G. D. Roberts. Today’s poem, located below, is by Jeffers. Thank you for reading and sharing Bidwell Hollow with others.

“Common Sense” Published Today

On this date in 1776 Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” published for the first time. The first two editions of the 50-page pamphlet published anonymously. But Paine’s name appeared on the third edition, published in February 1776.

Image of the title page for Thomas Paine's "Common Sense."

Title page of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” courtesy the Library of Congress.

“Common Sense” called for the American colonies to declare independence from Great Britain. More than 150,000 copies of “Common Sense” sold within its first three months.

Paine had only been in the New World for a couple of years before writing “Common Sense.”

Born in England, Paine had a couple of failed marriages and little professional success when he met Benjamin Franklin in London. Franklin encouraged Paine to give America a shot.

Armed with letters of introduction from Franklin, Paine arrived in Philadelphia, PA on Nov. 30, 1774. After serving as the first editor of The Philadelphia Magazine, Franklin and Benjamin Rush encouraged Paine to write “Common Sense.”

Five months after “Common Sense” first published, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.

Rush and Franklin were among the body’s members. And six months after “Common Sense” first appeared, the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence.

Robinson Jeffers

Today is also the birthday of poet Robinson Jeffers. He was born in 1887 in Allegheny, PA, now a part of Pittsburgh.

Photo of poet Robinson Jeffers.

Robinson Jeffers, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231]

Jeffers enrolled at Western University of Pennsylvania when he was 15. A year later his family moved to California. He transferred to Occidental College and graduated from there at 18.

Jeffers the pursued various academic paths, including medical school and studying forestry. In 1906, while at the University of Southern California, he met a married woman named Una Call Kuster.

Four years later Jeffers and Kuster began an affair. The relationship became public in 1912. Kuster and her husband divorced the following year. Then she and Jeffers married the day after her divorce finalized.

The couple planned to emigrate to England in 1914, but the start of World War I scuttled their plans. Instead, they moved to Carmel, CA. They bought land overlooking Carmel Bay. There in 1918 Jeffers began building a home made out of stones from along the shoreline below.

Jeffers hired a local builder to construct the home, and he hired himself out to the contractor. The builder and his poet-apprentice finished the home in 1919, though it wasn’t wired for electricity until 1949.

Jeffers first poetry collection, “Flagons and Apples,” published in 1912. Jeffers paid for the publishing himself. It wasn’t until his 1924 book “Tamar and Other Poems” that he received critical acclaim for his poetry.

Nature featured in much of Jeffers’s poetry. He believed humans were too unaware of their surroundings, and so his poems often focused on the natural world.

With World War II Jeffers’s distaste for world events and leaders began to seep into his poetry. It seemed to some there was no place for Jeffers in a post-World War II America. His 1948 “The Double Axe and Other Poems” came with a publisher’s warning that the poems may be “unpatriotic.”

For much of the mid-20th century, Jeffers’s work slipped into obscurity. But over the past 30 years, there’s been a renaissance in appreciation of his poetry.

Today Jeffers is often lumped together with Modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.

Sir Charles G. D. Roberts

Also born today, in 1860 in Douglas, New Brunswick, was Canadian poet Charles G. D. Roberts.

Many credit Roberts with launching Canadian poetry and inspiring the so-called Confederation poets. The group wrote nationalist Canadian poetry. Their name derived from the Canadian Confederation of 1867. It was at the Confederation that the provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia declared their independence.

The Confederation poets included Roberts, his cousin Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott.

Along with poetry, Roberts wrote animal stories. The Canadian Encyclopedia calls the animal story, “the one true Canadian art form.” The stories were popular, even leading to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt inviting Roberts to discuss them at the White House.

While Roberts didn’t make much money from his poetry, his animal stories paid well enough for him to move to New York City in 1897. This allowed him to be closer to publishers.

Roberts moved to London in 1907 and didn’t return to Canada until 1925. The Royal Society of Canada awarded him the first Lorne Pierce Medal in 1926. King George V knighted Roberts in 1935.

Fran Walsh

And today is the birthday of New Zealand screenwriter Fran Walsh. Among her screenwriting credits include “The Lord of the Ring” and “The Hobbit” films. The six films combined have grossed $5.85 billion worldwide.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Walsh won three times for 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” She’s the life partner of Peter Jackson, who’s directed many of the films she’s written.

Notoriously private, Walsh granted The New York Times a rare interview in 2012. She said, “We all have that voice inside: You’re not good enough and you never will be and you’re a failure. I certainly do.”

Song of Quietness

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,

   And on the margins of the sea

Remember not thine old distress

   Nor all the miseries to be.

Calmer than mists, and cold

As they, that fold on fold

Up the dim valley are rolled,

   Learn thou to be.


The Past—it was a feverish dream,

   A drunken slumber full of tears.

The Future—O what wild wings gleam,

   Wheeled in the van of desperate years!

Thou lovedst the evening: dawn

Glimmers; the night is gone:—

What dangers lure thee on,

   What dreams more fierce?


But meanwhile, now the east is gray,

   The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,

Be glad before the birth of day,

   Take thy brief rest ere morning come:

Here in the beautiful woods

All night the sea-mist floods,—

Thy last of solitudes,

   Thy yearlong home.

– Robinson Jeffers, Public Domain

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