On this day in 1772, the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born. Before getting to his work, I’d just like to say that I’ve always been disappointed with his politics. Like most of those early Romantic poets (with notable exceptions), he was conservative. In a sense you can’t blame them. They were men and women of their time. And they were all pretty well set—at least middle class. But then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald was in the same situation and he had no problem seeing the reality of the world that he lived on the edge of. But I feel sorry for the guy. He was sickly his whole life. He was also addicted to opium most of his life. Even more important, he really was an exceptional poet. In the past, I’ve written about Kubla Khan, an amazing if incomplete work. But The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is his most important work. Although not associated with his opium use as was Kubla Khan, it absolutely reeks of it. But I think that Coleridge worked the poem, unlike Kubla Khan that was simply a core dump. Anyway, it teaches an important lesson: don’t shoot birds that lead you to safety. And it has this great bit:
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The great Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917. In addition to his enormous output of great music—including all kinds of collaborations—Gillespie was a mentor to many of the periods greatest talents, most notably Charlie Parker. Here he is with his quintet doing “Tin Tin Deo”:
The great fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin is 84 today. I’m not a big fan, but I want to put in a plug for one of her science fiction books, The Lathe of Heaven. It tells the story (as I recall; it’s been about 30 years) of a guy whose dreams change reality. His psychologist starts manipulating him into creating the perfect world. It is quite good, or at least I thought so at 16. It was also made into a movie for PBS. As I recall, it was pretty good. And more recently there was another TV version starring James Caan. I can’t speak to that one. But the concept itself is very cool, so it would be hard to screw up.
Other birthdays: Italian Baroque painter Domenichino (1581); dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel (1833); bluesman Elvin Bishop (71); author Carrie Fisher (57); and Jim Moriarty in Sherlock, Andrew Scott (37).
The day, however, belongs to the great math and science writer Martin Gardner who was born on this day in 1914. He wrote the kind of books that nerds like me just love. A good example is, My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles. But you can pick up just about any of his books and they are great fun. He said of himself, “I just play all the time and am fortunate enough to get paid for it.” I’m with him; if I go on vacation (What a thought!) I’m much more likely to take one of his books than a novel. What can I say? It is who I am. Gardner also wrote a lot about pseudoscience, which is equally fun. He published over 100 books during his career.
Happy birthday Martin Gardner!