If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.
“To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet. Public Domain. (buy now)
Today is the birthday of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1807). He entered Bowdoin College at the age of 15, and one of his classmates was Nathaniel Hawthorne; the two would remain lifelong friends. When Longfellow graduated, the college gave him a chair in modern languages, and he worked with translations for the rest of his life.
In 1831, he married Mary Potter, and they went on an extended tour of Europe. While they were in the Netherlands, Mary died from complications after a miscarriage. Longfellow was bereft and found solace in reading German poetry, and when he returned to America to teach at Harvard, he began writing poetry of his own. He wrote about uniquely American subjects, and he was the first American poet to be taken seriously abroad. His collection Ballads and Other Poems (1841) became wildly popular; it included his poems “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and “The Village Blacksmith.” He wrote several popular narrative poems, including the book-length Evangeline (1847), The Song of Hiawatha (1855), and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858). He also undertook the first American translation of Dante’s Inferno (1867). He began the project to console himself after his second wife, Fanny, died when her dress caught fire in 1861.
It was on this date in 1860 that presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln gave a speech against slavery at Cooper Union in New York City. The popular pro-slavery argument of the day argued that Congress had no right to regulate slavery in new territories. The Dred Scott case of 1857 upheld that viewpoint, maintaining that the framers of the Constitution did not intend Congress to limit slavery. Lincoln believed that decision was wrong, and he spent months before the speech researching the positions of the 39 Founding Fathers on the issue of slavery.
That evening, the great hall was filled with 1,500 New Yorkers, curious to see this candidate, a lawyer who had very little formal education, a man whom they knew something of from his series of highly publicized debates with Douglas. One eyewitness remarked: “When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was tall, tall, — oh, how tall! and so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man.” Once Lincoln began to speak, however, “his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling like a wild Indian, cheering this wonderful man.”
Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, was not present, but he had read the speech beforehand. It was, he said, “constructed with a view to accuracy of statement, simplicity of language, and unity of thought. In some respects like a lawyer’s brief, it was logical, temperate in tone, powerful — irresistibly driving conviction home to men’s reasons and their souls.”
The speech — one of his longest and one of his least-quoted — was reprinted widely; the New York Times printed it in its entirety, on the front page, the next day. It made Lincoln famous, and he was invited to speak at engagements all over the country. That summer, the Republican Party named him their candidate for the 1860 presidential election.
He ended the speech with the words, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Today is the birthday of John Steinbeck (books by this author), born in Salinas, California (1902). His parents were hardworking and well respected, though never wealthy. Steinbeck decided when he was 14 that he wanted to be a writer, and from that day he never seriously considered anything else. He went to Stanford University to make his parents happy, but he only took classes in things that interested him: mostly literature and creative writing. He joined the English Club and would read his stories aloud for its members; the club’s president commented later that, as far as he could tell, Steinbeck didn’t have any other talents or interests. “He was a writer,” the club president said, “but he was that and nothing else.” Steinbeck attended college sporadically, sometimes taking a quarter off to get a job in a sugar factory near Salinas, or work shoulder to shoulder with itinerant ranch hands throughout the valley. He dropped out of college for good in 1925. In 1930, he married Carol Henning. She took various jobs to support them so that he could write full time. She also helped edit his manuscripts, and encouraged him to pare down some of his more ornate language. His first few novels didn’t sell well, but eventually he found his stride when he began writing about the California that he knew and loved so well. “I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley,” he wrote to a friend in 1933, “of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.”
In 1937, he published the book that made him a household name: Of Mice and Men (1937). He intended it to serve both as a novel and a play script, and both were big hits; the Broadway version, adapted by George S. Kaufman, won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play in 1937. But many people were shocked by the text’s vulgar language, and it still appears on many lists of banned books today. Steinbeck’s next offering was the story of the Joads, a family that left the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in search of the literal and figurative greener pastures of California. This was, of course, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Again, it received wide praise as well as a fair amount of condemnation. Oklahoma Congressman Lyle Boren called it a “dirty, lying, filthy manuscript.” Californians didn’t like his portrayal of greedy farm owners who exploited the migrant workers. But the novel won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and at one point it sold 10,000 copies a week.