On this day in 1274, Robert the Bruce was born. He was the guy who gained Scottish independence from the English. The Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene was born in 1558. He is best known for Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit, a rant he wrote on his deathbed. In it, he took a swipe at Shakespeare as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers.” Doncha just love how the Brits keep their metaphors consistent? Anyway, most people want to take this reference as an indication that Shakespeare was already rocking the theater world. I think there is a simpler explanation: Shakespeare pissed off Greene at one point or another. Anyway, that kind of carping about colleagues was typical of the time, and Shakespeare was barely mentioned compared to other writers. John Quincy Adams was born in 1767. He had rather a bad middle life but his later life was pretty noble.
The great 19th century painter and creator of tonalism, James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in 1834. He is best know for Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, better known as Whistler’s Mother. It was indeed a painting of his mother. And it was not well received when it was first displayed in England. Eventually Whistler pawned the painting. But within 20 years, it was purchased by the French government and was hanging in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. It made Whistler’s career. Personally, I’m not that fond of it. I find it drab, at least in reproduction; seeing an actual painting often changes my opinion. But I’m fond of most of his other work. On the right (almost at random), is The Little Rose of Lyme Regis.
The discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns, James Larkin White was born in 1882. Russian artist Boris Grigoriev was born in 1886. Philosopher Carl Schmitt was born in 1888. Character actor Thomas Mitchell was born in 1892. Bald actor Yul Brynner was born in 1920. And comedic actor Brett Somers was born in 1924.
Academic critic Harold Bloom is 83 today. The man annoys me greatly, yet I largely agree with him. Strange. The great ventriloquist Jay Johnson is 64. Character actor Bruce McGill is 63. And singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega is 54. You can read my analysis of Marlene on the Wall. But here’s the song anyway:
The day, however, belongs to the great writer E. B. White who was born on this day in 1899. He is best known for writing the children’s classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. I read Charlotte’s Web only about a year ago and it made me burst out crying three separate times. I do not plan to read it again. He also co-wrote The Elements of Style, and his part of it (the second part) should be read by anyone who wants to write well.
Happy birthday, E. B. White!