January 21, 2018 – Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays & Other Literary History
Today is Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. It’s the birthday of science fiction writer Judith Merril and poet Eliza R. Snow. And it’s the anniversary of when a novel published for the first time in North Amerca. Our poem for today is “The Snail” by William Cowder. Thank you for reading and sharing Bidwell Hollow with others.
Eliza R. Snow
Snow grew up in Mantua, OH. At 22, she published a poem, “The Fall of Missolonghi,” about the battle between Turkey and Greece.
This led to some Ohio newspapers asking Snow to write a poem commemorating the deaths of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826.
At 31, Snow joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). And in 1845 Snow wrote, “O My Father.” The hymn became, and remains today, a mainstay for the Mormon faith.
Snow was one of the first Mormons to migrate to Utah in 1847. She kept a journal throughout her journey. The journal and Snow’s poetry document pioneer Mormon life. And some of her poems became LDS hymns.
In her lifetime, Snow wrote more than 500 poems. She published nine books, including two poetry collections. She wrote her own epitaph before her death in 1887. It ends:
I feel the low responses roll,
Like the far echo of the night,
And whisper, softly through my soul,
‘I would not be forgotten quite.’
First American Novel Published
And today in 1789 “The Power of Sympathy, or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth” became the first novel published in the United States.
The novel tells the story of a man named Thomas who falls in love with a woman named Harriot. All is well until Thomas’s father discloses that Harriot is his illegitimate daughter and Thomas’s sister.
Boston publisher Isaiah Thomas and Company published “The Power of Sympathy” anonymously. But today we know its author was William Hill Brown.
Brown was 23 when the novel published. He was the son of clockmaker Gawen Brown.
Gawen made the tower clock that remains today in Boston’s Old South Meeting House. It’s believed to be the oldest operational tower clock in North America. And the Meeting House is where Bostonians gathered for a few meetings in late 1773 to discuss Britain’s Tea Act. The last of these meetings took place on Dec. 16. That night, a group of citizens dressed as Native Americans dumped tea into Boston Harbor in what’s now known as the Boston Tea Party.
After “The Power of Sympathy,” William published a short story and a play. He moved to Murfreesboro, NC where his sister, Elizabeth lived. There he began to study the law, but he became ill and died on Sep. 2, 1793.
His second novel, “Ira and Isabella,” published posthumously in 1807.
Today is also the birthday of science fiction writer Judith Merril (affiliate link). She was born Judith Josephine Grossman in New York City in 1923.
Grossman began publishing sports-themed short stories for pulp magazines in 1945. She took Merril, her first daughter’s name, as her pen name a year later.
Merril’s first science fiction story published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in May 1948. Titled, “That Only a Mother,” it’s the story of a mother caring for her baby who’s disfigured due to radiation. That same year, Merril met and married her second husband, the science fiction editor and writer Frederik Pohl.
Pohl and others encouraged Merril’s writing, and in 1950 she published her first novel, “Shadow on the Hearth.” The book covers the outbreak of nuclear war from the perspective of a suburban New York housewife.
A TV movie based on the novel aired on ABC on May 18, 1954. The program, “Atomic Attack,” counted among its cast a young Walter Matthau.
Merril published more science fiction novels, including 1960’s “Out of Bounds.” And from 1956-1970 she edited a series of science fiction anthologies.
Politics always played a part in Merril’s life. She became disillusioned with American foreign policy. In 1968, when the Vietnam War reached its peak, she took a job at a college in Toronto, Canada.
Merril remained in Canada the rest of her life. She became a legal citizen of that country in 1973, using Merril as her legal surname.
The Toronto Public Library today houses The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. The collection started in 1970 when Merril donated about 5,000 books and periodicals. Today the collection holds more than 72,000 items.
Merril passed away in 1997. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2013.
And today is the birthday of Richard Winters (affiliate link).
Dick, as he liked to be called, was born in Ephrata, PA in 1918. He enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941.
Winters was thrust into command of the 101st Airborne’s Easy Company on D-Day when the company’s commanding officer was killed. Winters led the company throughout the war, eventually earning the rank of Major.
Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 book “Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest” brought attention to Winters’s war-time leadership and accomplishments. And the 2002 HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers,” shined the spotlight even brighter on Winters.
Winters published his war memoirs in 2006 (“Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters”). In the book, he wrote, “One day my grandson said to me, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ And I said to him, ‘No, I’m not a hero. But I have served in a company full of them.”
To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall,
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all
Within that house secure he hides,
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
Give but his horns the slightest touch,
His self-collecting power is such,
He shrinks into his house, with much
Where’er he dwells, he dwells alone,
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
Thus, hermit-like, his life he leads,
Nor partner of his banquet needs,
And if he meets one, only feeds
Who seeks him must be worse than blind,
(He and his house are so combin’d)
If, finding it, he fails to find
– William Cowper