On this day in 1663, the English writer Pierre Antoine Motteux was born. He is most remembered today for his English translation of Don Quixote. It is generally regarded as terrible. When I first started studying the book, I wrote of this translation, “I originally thought that Peter Motteux’s translation dated from the Victorian period, because of its pomposity. In fact, it is the earliest translation that I looked at—dating back to 1712. Predating Jarvis by only three decades (When a decade meant something!), this translation seems like it comes from another world. I still find its writing style ‘sticky.'” My hero Samuel Putnam writes, “Peter Anthony Motteux was a tea merchant who dabbled in lterature, and it might have been better if he had confined himself to the China trade.” John Ormsby called it, “Worse than worthless.” Richard Ford called it “the very worst.” And Bertram Worlfe called it “the odious Motteux translation.” It has been, not surprisingly, the most popular in the United States until Putnam’s 1949 publication. Now, of course, really good translations seem to come out every couple of years.
Singer-songwriter George Harrison was born in 1943. Like all the members of The Beatles, he’s overrated. But I still like his stuff. Here he is doing one of his best, “My Sweet Lord”:
Doug Yule is 67 today. He was John Cale’s replacement in The Velvet Underground. He added a lot to the band. And Lou Reed was a total dick to him. I know, Lou Reed was a dick to everyone. But Reed was able to be a much bigger dick to Yule. Reed prevented Yule from being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was actually the thing that really turned me against Reed. That was when Reed was 54, so I don’t think there is any excuse for it except, of course, that Reed is a dick. Here is “Who Loves the Sun” from Loaded with Yule on lead vocals:
Comedy writer Jack Handey is 65. I only know him from his Saturday Night Live bits “Deep Thoughts.” This is one of the best:
Other birthdays: actor Zeppo Marx (1901); playwright Mary Chase (1907); actor Jim Backus (1913); comedy writer Larry Gelbart (1928); film director Neil Jordan (64); musician John Doe (60); and comedian Carrot Top (49).
The day, however, belongs to the great impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir who was born on this day in 1841. A problem I have with a lot of the impressionists is that their work is too pat. Renoir combines incredible skill with a unique perspective. His ability to capture light was as great as Monet’s, but he took it much further. That is especially true in the latter part of his career when he took a turn toward classicism. This eventually led to his best work like Grandes Baigneuses:
Happy birthday Pierre-Auguste Renoir!