It’s January 10, 2017, and National Bittersweet Chocolate Day. (And yes, I’ll keep the science posts coming.) It’s also the day that President Obama will deliver his “farewell address” in Chicago (I saw the huge line of people waiting to get tickets on Saturday). Say what you will of Obama, but you must admit that the guy had class, tried his best to promote a liberal agenda, and that, no matter how much you disliked him, you’ll long for his return within six months.
Historical events seen to be thin on the ground in early January. On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published his famous pamphlet Common Sense, which helped fire up Americans to fight for their independence from mean Britain. And—I did not know this—Wikipedia notes this about the pamphlet: “As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today.” On this day in 1863, the London Underground opened, with the first stretch between between Paddington and Farringdon; the cars were wooden carriages, lit by gas and hauled by steam locomotives (underground!) On this day in 1920, the treaty of Versailles, signed on November 11 of 1918, finally took effect. And on this day in 1984, the US established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, relations that had been prohibited since 1867 by a Congressional law resting on America’s anti-Catholic sentiments.
Notables born on this day include Robinson Jeffers (1887), Ray Bolger (1904; the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”), Max Roach (1924), geneticist Walter Bodmer (1936), Sal Mineo (1939), geneticist Godfrey Hewitt (1940), Jim Croce (1943), Rod Stewart (1945), Linda Lovelace (1949), and Pat Benatar (1953). Those who died on this day include Carl Linnaeus (1778, the man who gave us, among other things, the Latin binomial way of designating species), Sinclair Lewis (1951; raise your hand if you’ve read his (and Paul de Kruif’s) Arrowsmith (1925), a novel—perhaps the first about a working scientist—that inspired me to become a scientist), Spalding Gray (2004), and, one year ago, David Bowie.
Arrowsmith (yes it’s overwritten and maudlin in parts, but the code of the scientist it lays out has stayed with me ever since, as well as the crusty but demanding character Max Gottlieb, based on the scientists Frederick Novey and Jacques Loeb). It got the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1926, but Lewis declined it with these words:
I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.
All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.
Those terms are that the prize shall be given “for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.”
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is preening her lovely coat:
Cyrus: What are you doing there?Hili: I’m taking care of myself.
Cyrus: Co tam robisz?
Hili: Dbam o siebie.