Monthly Archives: October 2012

Thought of the Day 10.31.12 Juliette Gordon Low

If you are a Girl Scout you know who JGLow is. This is one of those bioBlogs that I knew I was going to do weeks before the date. It is my honor to celebrate her birthday.

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“Right is right, even if no one else does it.”
Juliette Gordon Low

English: A portrait of Juliette Gordon Low (18...

English: A portrait of Juliette Gordon Low (1887, Edward Hughes) located in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born on this day in Savannah Georgia in 1860. Today is the 152nd anniversary of her birth.

“Daisy” was a beautiful baby with a sweet disposition. She was the second of the Gordon’s six children. The family lived at 10 East Oglethorpe Avenue in a double town house in a wealthy section of town. She had all the advantages of a well to do Southern girl. But she was born on the cusp of the Civil War. Daisy was born in October 1860 and hostilities at Fort Sumter, South Carolina marked the official beginning of the war on April 12th 1861. The Gordon’s was a house divided. Her father was pro-succession and a slave holder, her mother was from the Chicago and an abolitionist.

While Daisy’s father was joining the war efforts on behalf of the South, her maternal relatives were enlisting in the Northern militias. Daisy’s mother struggled with the conflicting feelings of having loved ones on both sides of the war, and often faced wrath from angry neighbors. [Biography.com]

: Juliette Gordon Low Historic District: Wayne...

: Juliette Gordon Low Historic District: Wayne-Gordon House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her father joined the Confederate Army and was away from home for most Daisy’s early life. She didn’t see him for more than a few days at a time. Food shortages in the city meant that even the wealthy Gordons suffered from malnutrition. Savannah’s coastal location meant illnesses like malaria were always a threat.  By 1864 things were looking grim for the Confederacy. General Sherman had taken Atlanta and was marching through Georgia to the sea burning a path in his wake. Savannah was the last city in his way. When the city surrendered Eleanor Kinzie Gordon invited the General, an old friend, to tea.  He brought her letters and packages from her friends and family in Chicago.

He also brought the two older girls, Nelly and Daisy, a gift of rock sugar candy, the first sugar the girls had ever eaten….He often recounted a funny anecdote about the 4-year-old Daisy Gordon. After eating her sugar, she sat on his lap and began to curiously inspect his head. When he asked what she was doing, she told him she had heard him called that ”old Devil Sherman” and she wanted to see his horns. [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]

Some say he was so charmed by the little girl and her mother’s hospitality that he spared the city [it probably had more to do with city’s strategic sea port.] Eleanor Gordon packed up her daughters and headed north (under the protection of General Sherman) to her family in Chicago to wait out the rest of the war. (All wives of Southern officers were ordered to leave the city.)

At her grandparents’ home in Illinois, Daisy was exposed to an entirely different way of life…As a result of her maternal grandparents’ influence in the community, Daisy encountered a variety of new people, including many Native Americans… Her interactions with Native Americans gave her an early appreciation of Native American culture, which she would idealize for the rest of her life….By 1865, the family had reunited in Savannah and, thanks to her mother’s efforts to recoup their financial losses in the South, Daisy’s father was able to revitalize Belmont cotton plantation.  [Biography.com]

As a child Daisy learned to sketch, paint and sculpt, write poems, write and act in plays. Daisy loved her pets including dogs and birds. She was a good swimmer and captain of the rowing team. She liked to play tennis. She learned to stand on her head [a trick she repeated annually on her birthday to prove that she could still do it.]

When she was a teen Daisy went to the Virginia Female Institute (now Stuart Hall School) in Staunton, Virginia. Then she went to Mesdemoiselles Charbonniers for finishing school in New York City.

…She was taught the typical social graces of a highborn lady in school—excelling in drawing, piano and speech—she yearned instead to explore, hike, play tennis and ride horses—all activities discouraged by her restrictive finishing schools. Defiant in nature, Daisy was frequently caught breaking the rules.[Ibid]

As a young woman she traveled  in the US and Europe. She spent time in New York trying to make a living painting. She met and married a wealthy English cotton merchant, William Mackay Low on December 21, 1886.  When well-wishers threw the traditional rice at the newlyweds a grain became lodged in Daisy’s ear. The pain became so bad that she went to a doctor to have the rice removed. “When trying to remove the rice, the doctor punctured the eardrum and damaged the nerve-endings resulting in a total loss of hearing in that ear.” [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace] It was an omen of things to come.

The Lows lived in England and traveled extensively. They spent their summers in England and their winters in the US.

During the Spanish-American War, Juliette came back to America to aid in the war effort. She helped her mother organize a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers returning from Cuba…At the end of the war, Juliette returned to England to a disintegrating marriage. [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]

The couple, who had been unable to conceive children had begun to drift apart.

William, who had limitless funds and no restrictions, began spending more and more time apart from his wife, gambling, partying, hunting, and splurging on extravagant toys. Daisy was also gone on frequent trips, searching for cures for her hearing loss. [Biography.com]

One of William Low‘s new hobbies was his mistress, Ms. Anna Bateman. By 1901 he had asked Daisy repeatedly for a divorce, but she refused. At that time a divorce brought shame on all parties involved. But when Daisy returned home from a trip to find Ms. Bateman living in the house and her (Daisy’s) things moved to the servants quarters she gave in. Daisy went to stay with friends and the Lows were legally seperated. Before their final divorce papers could come through William Low died. He left everything to Bateman, Daisy had to go through the embaressment of contesting the will. She eventually got the Savannah Lafayette Ward estate.

Daisy began to look for new purpose in her life. She traveled, this time as far as Egypt and India. In 1911 she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. She worked with Baden-Powell, his wife Olive, and his sister Agnes in their efforts to create girl’s version of the scouts.

Low started several troops in Scotland and London, for girls of varying income brackets. The effect on the girls’ self-esteem was so striking that Low decided she had to take the program to the United States.  [Biography.com]

So she returned to Savannah and hatched her plans to start the Girl Guides on this side of the Atlantic…

English: Juliette Gordon Low Category:Girl Sco...

English: Juliette Gordon Low Category:Girl Scouts of the USA images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Less than a year later, she… made her historic telephone call to her cousin Nina Pape, saying, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!” On March 12, 1912, Juliette Low gathered 18 girls to register the first two patrols of American Girl Guides.  [Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace]

Low used her own money (with contributions from her friends and family) and her considerable energy to forge the new organization. The name of the group was changed to Girl Scouts a year later.

It was her goal to bring girls from all backgrounds together as equals to enjoy the outdoors, to learn new skills and to be ambassadors of peace in the world.

She encouraged girls to prepare not only for traditional homemaking, but also for possible future roles as professional women—in the arts, sciences and business—and for active citizenship outside the home. [Ibid]

She remained friends with the Baden-Powells and “she helped lay the foundation for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.” [Ibid]

In 1923 Daisy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died four years late on January 17, 1927. She was laid to rest at the Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. A Scout to the end, Daisy is burried her Girl Scout uniform.

Girl Scouts is the largest educational organization for girls in the world and has influenced the more than 50 million girls, women and men who have belonged to it. [Ibid]

: Juliette Gordon Low Historic District: Site ...

: Juliette Gordon Low Historic District: Site of first Girl Scout meeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Thought of the Day 10.30.12 John Adams PART TWO

John Adams [PART TWO] [Click here to read PART ONE]

“If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind, whom should we serve?”
–John Adams

John Adams, ca 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Bro...

John Adams, ca 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Brooklyn Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1777 Adams was dispatched to Europe as Ambassador to France. Unfortunately he didn’t speak French, (and his background as a New England farmer’s son left him a little adrift in the powdered wig-ed drawing rooms of the French court.)

The Hague to obtain a much needed loan and to open commerce. In 1781, together with Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, Adams was part of the commission of American diplomats that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, the pact that brought an end to the War of Independence. [Miller Center.org]

After the war he was the first US minister to England.

In 1787 He wrote Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, that called for a strong Executive branch that would act as “father and protector” of the nation.

He expanded on this theme in a series of essays for a Philadelphia newspaper that were ultimately known as “Discourses on Davila.” Many contemporaries mistakenly believed that they advocated a hereditary monarchy for the United States.[Ibid]

After  ten years in Europe he came back to America in 1788. He was elected Vice President (under George Washington) the next year. He faithfully served as Washington’s Vice President for eight years, a job he describe as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”[Thinkexist.com]

John Adams, ca.1788, by Mather Brown.

When Washington announced that he would retire after his second term the first contested American Presidential election took place. It was four man race with the Federalist nominating Adams and Thomas Pinckney of  South Carolina, and the Democratic-Republicans nominating Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jefferson was labeled a Francophile, a coward and an atheist. “Adams was portrayed as a monarchist and an Anglophile who was secretly bent on establishing a family dynasty by having his son succeed him as President.”  [Miller Center.org]  Adams won  by three votes; Jefferson came in second, making him Vice President.

When Adams became President, the war between the French and British was causing great difficulties for the United States on the high seas and intense partisanship among contending factions within the Nation. [Our Presidents/2.John Adams. whitehouse.gov.]

Adams sent commissioners to France, but Paris refused to meet with them unless they paid a bribe. “Adams reported the insult to Congress, and the Senate printed the correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were referred to only as “X, Y, and Z.”” [Ibid] The X,Y,Z affair increased Adam’s and the Federalist’s popularity.  Congress passed the Alien and Sedition act and  funded three new frigates for the navy.

President Adams did not call for a declaration of war, but hostilities began at sea. At first, American shipping was almost defenseless against French privateers, but by 1800 armed merchantmen and U.S. warships were clearing the sea-lanes. [Ibid]

The US had some spectacular victories at sea and France sent word that it would now receive an envoy (this time without a bribe). Negotiations ensued and the quasi war ended.  But by sending an envoy to France to sue for peace the Adams Administration infuriated the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalist were weakened. Washington’s death in 1799 hurt the party even more. In the 1800 Election Jefferson won the electoral vote  by 8 votes.

Just before he left the office of Presidency, Adams arrived at the new Capital City (now Washington DC)

to take up his residence in the White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote his wife, “Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.” [Ibid]

In retirement he moved back to Massachusetts to his farm at Peacefield. He did not attend Jefferson’s inauguration (Adam’s son Charles had just died and he was anxious to get home).

English: One of the last letters between forme...

English: One of the last letters between former President Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams, wife of former President John Adams. Written by Jefferson at Monticello, his Virginia home, 15 May 1817. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1, General Correspondence, The Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles’s widow, Sally, and her young daughters moved in with John and Abigail, filling the house with laughter and life. For five years, John Quincy’s son lived there as well while his parents were abroad on public service. The family of Thomas Adams, another son, also lived nearby.[Miller Center.org]

The farm was a lively and happy place. John Quincy was a frequent visitor as he sought his father’s advice on matters “that ranged from diplomatic to elected office and culminated in his election as President in 1824.” [Ibid]

John Adams wrote his biography (which he did not complete) in which he addressed everything “from the nature of his manure piles at the farm to history and political philosophy.” [Ibid] In 1812 He and Jefferson renewed their friendship through an exchange of letters that lasted for 14 years. The two men died on the same day, July 4th 1826.

"The original sketch of Mr. Adams, taken ...

“The original sketch of Mr. Adams, taken when dying by A.J.S. in the Rotunda of the Capitol at Washington” “Sketch showing head of John Q. Adams as he lay unconscious in the Rotunda after suffering a stroke.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thought of the Day 10.30.12 John Adams (PART ONE)

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”
John Adams

President of the Senate John Adams

President of the Senate John Adams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Adams was born on this day in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay Colony, USA in 1735. Today is the 275th anniversary of his birth.

His ancestors came over on the Mayflower. His father was a farmer, shoemaker, a Puritan deacon, a lieutenant in the militia and a member of town council.  John loved being outdoors and he sometimes skipped school to hunt or fish.

He said later that he would have preferred a life as a farmer, but his father insisted that he receive a formal education. His father hoped that he might become a clergyman. John attended a dame school, a local school taught by a female teacher that was designed to teach the rudimentary skills of reading and writing, followed by a Latin school, a preparatory school for those who planned to attend college. He eventually excelled at his studies and entered Harvard College at age fifteen. He graduated in 1755. [Miller Center.org]

After graduation he taught school for a time to earn enough money to study law.  In 1756 he began a two-year apprenticeship studying law with John Putnam  and was admitted to the bar  at 26. He opened his practice in 1758, but things were slow going at first. He had only one case in his first year of practicing law which he lost.

Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blythe, 1766

Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blythe, 1766 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His Law practice began to grow and he felt he was on sturdy enough financial ground to begin courting Abigail Smith. They married in 1764. John and Abigail Adams had six children together (including John Quincy Adams [click HERE for my John Quincy bioBlog ] and one of American History’s most endearing relationships.

“He early became identified with the patriot cause.” [Our Presidents/2.John Adams. whitehouse.gov.]  He gained a reputation by opposing the Stamp Act 1765 that same year he published an article “Essay on the Canon and Feudal Law.” 

When the Incident on King Street (aka the Boston Massacre) resulted in the death of five civilians in March of 1770 Adams defended the eight British soldiers and Captain Preston, the lone officer, charged with the crime. It was important that the soldiers receive a fair trail so the Crown would not have grounds for retaliation. Adams, with his Patriot pedigree and commitment to the letter of the law, was the perfect man for the job. His impassioned speech that “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”[Quotes.net] saved the men’s lives. (Sam Adams was on the prosecuting team).

He was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly in 1770, and was chosen one of five to represent the colony at the First Continental Congress in 1774. [Signers of the Declaration of Independence. US History.org]

While his flashier (and more popular) cousin Samuel Adams rallied/roused crowds in the square, John worked in the courts, taking a more measured approach to American equality.

He was reelected to the Second Continental Congress, … in May 1775, just a few days after war … erupted at Lexington and Concord. When Congress created the Continental army in June 1775, Adams nominated George Washington… to be its commander. Adams soon emerged as the leader of the faction in Congress that pushed to declare independence. . [Miller Center.org]

In June of 1776 the Continental Congress appointed Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston to the Committee of Five to draft a Declaration of Independence. “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled” was presented on June 28th. After much debate (especially about the slavery issue) the Declaration was adopted late in the morning of July 4th 1776.

John Adams, Second President (1797-1801)

John Adams  (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

Adams wrote a pamphlet detailing his Thoughts on Government. In it he advised that the new Continental government be one which benefited the happiness and virtue of the greatest number of people (not one that benefited the knighted few or the King). He advocated  a government with separate executive, judicial and legislative branches.

[Continued in PART TWO]


Who will be tomorrow’s Birthday Blog?

Assuming I have power tomorrow…

Who should I do?

Two people jump out at me from the birthday list…

President of the Senate John Adams
John Adams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Founding Father and second President of the United States, John Adams

or

The Best of Grace Slick
The Best of Grace Slick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick.

Both, believe it or not, are direct descendants of people who came over on the Mayflower… go figure.

OK voting starts NOW…. I’ll check in tomorrow morning (Sandy permitting) and write the bioBlog on the person YOU pick*.

So are you Team Adams or Team Slick?

 

 

*Majority rules. There are no electoral colleges in ritaLOVEStoWRITE


Thought of the Day 10.29.12 Marie of Romania

Love, Faith, Courage with these three we can win the world..”

–Marie of Romania

Marie Alexandra Victoria, Princess Marie of Edinburgh, was born on this day at Eastwell Park in Kent, England in 1875. Today is the 137th anniversary of her birth.

She was the eldest daughter of Prince Alfred of England and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria  on her father’s side and of Tsar Alexander II on her mother’s side. Because of  her double royal lineage she was considered highly suitable for a Royal match of her own.

When Marie was 17 she was married to Prince Ferdinand of Romania, a German raised nephew of King Carol I of Romania in Sigmaringen German in 1893. Ferdinand was 27 at the time. They had 6 children. Three boys and three girls. However, the marriage was not a happy one and The Princess took a lover, Barbu Stirbey. It is likely that Mircea (and possibly Mignon and Ileana) were Stirbey’s.

In 1914 King Carol I died and Ferdinand took the throne. Marie became Her Majesty the Queen of Romania but the couple were delayed in becoming the King and Queen until after World War 1.

During the War Princess Marie influenced the country to side with the Allies (and away from the Germans), she volunteered with the Red Cross  and nursed the sick and wounded. Her book My Country raised money for the Red Cross.

When WWI was over and the Allies were trying to figure out how to partition Europe and scold Germany, Marie herself went to Versailles and represented Romania. She wooed the ministers so much that they gave back territory that Romania had lost and promised not to partition her. [GEH — Queen Marie of Romania Study Notes]

Queen Marie [Image courtesy Alexanderpalace.org]

Ferdinand and Marie were finally crowned in 1922. She was determined to be a modern queen.

A Queen who was not stuck in the Victorian time warp like Queen Mary of England, and a Queen who listened to her people and made herself available to her people. [Ibid]

Queen Marie was very popular and travelled through out Europe and the US.

The Queen, on the right, traveling in Europe. [Image courtesy Alexanderpalace.org]

Although she was close with her younger children she was never on good terms with Crown Prince Carol (who became King Carol II after Ferdinand’s death in 1927). After Carol’s coronation he excluded his mother. She remained the Romania and wrote her two-part memoir, The Story of My Life. 

She died after a sudden illness in 1938. Following the Queen’s instructions her heart was removed from her body and kept at a cloister at Balchik Palace. The rest of her remains were interred with her husband.


Bonus Thought of the Day…Sandy

“Whhoooo…Clash….Bam…”
–Hurricane Sandy

Sandy pummels the Bahamas. [Universetoday.com]

There’s an old Irish saying: Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying. Please, keep that in mind in light of my flippant quote about the current weather conditions on the East Coast. I earnestly hope everyone keeps safe, dry and powered-up through this mess.

Hurricane Sandy was born a few weeks ago somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

It brought havoc and death to the Caribbean as it raged through The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas.  Sandy caused 65 deaths and was a “…disaster of major proportions” according Haitian Prime Minister Larent Lamothe in an interview with the Associated Press.  Crops and houses have been destroyed, bridges have collapsed,  and the Grand Bahamas’ airport suffered major damage.

Now the beast is snarling at the US main land, so people are really starting to take notice.

Sandy is barreling in from the Atlantic, and as of now the bombastic hype that’s been issuing on every weather report, news outlet and social media page for the past week far out weighs the rather gentle rain and soft to moderate wind outside.

I do anticipate an up tick in the weather, and fully expect a power outage, maybe even some flooding.

So, it seems, does every one else. Schools are closed, the Governor has urged everyone to stay home and off the streets — except in the case of an emergency!!! — and of yesterday there was no bottled water, milk or toilet paper on the shelves at the grocery store.

We are expecting high winds (40mph) and coastal waves in the 6-11 foot range. “Making matters even worse, Sandy will hit during a full moon and the astronomical highest tides.” [Universetoday.com]

At one point yesterday the weather map projected Sandy’s eye to be dead center over my town at 2 pm today, but that has shifted a bit northward.

I find it somewhat alarming how powerfully this storm has blown EVERY other news item off the radar. I suspect there might be something else of importance happening in the World, even if it ISN’T happening here. But for now all eyes are focused on weather gauge.

…Since I started this blog the winds have picked up a bit. So I guess she’s a-coming. Better go do the real blog before the lights go out…

Stay safe every one!


Thought of the Day 10.28.12 Jonas Salk

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmare because of my dreams.”
Jonas Salk

Salk in his University of Pittsburgh  lab. [Image courtesy: ExplorePAHistory.com]

Jonas Salk was born on this day in New York City in 1914 Today is the 98th anniversary of his birth.

He was the oldest of three boys born to Russian/Jewish immigrants, Daniel and Dora Salk. He was an excellent student and he attended Townsend Harris High School, a high school for gifted students and a springboard  for boys who had the talent but not the money or social connections to get into private colleges. At Townsend Harris he read everything he could find, he studied hard and always got good grades. At 16 he started the College of the City of New York. At first he focused on Law, but he soon changed his mind and decided to study medicine.

In 1934 he enrolled in the College of Medicine of New York University, from which he graduated in 1939. Salk worked at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital from 1940 to 1942, when he went to the University of Michigan. There he helped develop an influenza (flu) vaccine. [Encyclopedia of World Biography]

The flu virus had recently been discovered and Salk worked on a way to “deprived of its ability to infect, while still giving immunity to the illness.” [Academy of Achievement]  His work in fighting the flu and in developing vaccines helped prevent a repeat of the flu epidemic like the one that ravished the country in 1919.

In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. While working there, with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, Salk saw an opportunity to develop a vaccine against polio, and devoted himself to this work for the next eight years. [Academy of Achievement] 

Photo of polio patients in iron lungs during 1...

Photo of polio patients in iron lungs during 1952 epidemic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Pittsburgh he researched the polio virus (in 1949 it was discovered that there were three types of polio viruses) and he worked on a vaccine that tackled the disease. By 1950 testing began, in 1955 the vaccine was ready for general use. Salk had developed a “killed-virus” vaccine that required three or four injections.

In countries where Salk’s vaccine has remained in use, the disease has been virtually eradicated. [Ibid]

Photo of newspaper headlines about polio vacci...

Photo of newspaper headlines about polio vaccine tests (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salk won the Lasker science award in 1956 for his work on Polio.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which focused on the autoimmune functions of the body opened in San Diego, California in 1963.  While heading up the institute Salk published Man Unfolding (1972), The Survival of the Wisest (1973), World Population and Human Values: A New Reality (1981), and Anatomy of Reality (1983).

Towards the end of his life Dr. Salk took up the fight against AIDS and searched for an effective vaccine for the disease.

He died at the age of 80 in 1995 in La Jolla, California.

Jonas Salk, American medical scientist (bust i...

Jonas Salk, American medical scientist (bust in the Polio Hall of Fame) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thought of the Day 10.27.12 Desiderius Erasmus

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”

“The desire to write grows with writing.”

“War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.”

Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renai...

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and theologian, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Desiderius Erasmus was born on this day in Rotterdam, Holland in 1467 (or perhaps 1466). Today is the 545th (546th) anniversary of his birth.

He was the illegitimate son of Gerard (aka Roger) of Gouda and his housekeeper, Margaret Rogers. He was their second son.  Gerard either was a Catholic priest at the time of Erasmus’ birth or he took vows soon after. Although his parents never married the boys weren’t neglected. Their father saw to it that they were well educated. He sent 9-year-old Erasmus and 12-year-old Pieter to “one of the best Latin grammar schools in the Netherlands near Deventer.” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] Margaret moved to the town to take care of the boys. At this semi-monastic school they and learned Latin, Greek and a humanist approach to literature and culture.

In 1483 the Black Plague hit the city. Margaret died and the boys went back to Gouda. Gerard soon fell ill too. At his death the brothers were left with a small inheritance in the hands of three guardians. At first they were sent to a grammar school. “The highest level of study there did not go up to the level the brothers had already completed at Deventer. Erasmus regarded this period as a total waste.” [Ibid] The boy’s options were limited.

“Since the two boys had only a small inheritance and, being born out-of-wedlock, were not eligible for an ordinary career as secular priests or for membership in many professions, entry into a monastery was their only realistic option.”[ibid]

It was an option neither of them wanted, but Pieter agreed, and after much pressure Erasmus finally gave in. He entered the Steyn monastery in 1487 as a novice.

“He felt no true religious vocation for such a step, and in later years characterized this act as the greatest misfortune of his life. … He was left free, however, to pursue his studies, and devoted himself mainly to the ancient classics, whose content and formal beauty he passionately admired.”[New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia]

Here he found kindred spirits who shared his love of classical literature. He wrote De Contemptu mundi (On Contempt of the World) while at Steyn (although it wasn’t published until 1521). Still he resented the limits on his activities and freedoms, and he felt thwarted by the limited intellect of some of the other monks (he wrote about that in Antibarbarorum liber (Book Against the Barbarians). None the less he agreed to be ordained as a priest in 1492.

Ordination should have turned the lock in the monastery, gate as it were, but Erasmus’ was already  “identified as an intelligent and widely read monk with an outstanding Latin style.” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] and about a year after taking final vows he was plucked from the monastery to act as secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen. It was to be a temporary assignment, but some how he managed never to return.

Erasmus persuaded the bishop to send him to study theology at the University of Paris, in the Collège de Montaigu. He found Montaigu less than wonderful. The food was so bad it ruined his digestive system for life. The housing was filthy.  And the students were expected to do menial labor along with their studies. He also “expressed hostility to the traditional scholastic theology based on questions, disputations, and reliance on Aristotle.” [Ibid] He found it, in a word, medieval. ” But Paris also had an active literary life and had been thoroughly exposed to the humanistic culture of Italy. The city and the court had a substantial circle of humanists.” [Ibid]

For the next two decades he travelled back and forth across Europe staying in Paris, Leuven (Belgium), England, Basel (Switzerland) and Italy but he consciously avoided any permanent alliances that would limit his intellectual freedom or literary expression. “…after his return from England in 1500, religion as well as the study of Greek became more prominent in his thought.”[Ibid] He was determined to master Greek so he could translate biblical texts and he focused a good deal of his attention on the writings of “St. Jerome, the most learned of the ancient Latin Fathers… ” [Ibid]  He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity at Turin. He befriended printer/publisher Aldus Manutius and embraced the new technology of the printing press as a way to communicate.

In 1514 he went to Basel and met with publisher Johann Froben who became his publisher of choice for the rest of his life. He worked with Froben to publish Novum Instumentum  (later Novum Testamentum  which “included the first published edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, accompanied by a cautious revision of the traditional Latin New Testament and by Erasmus’ annotations explaining how in specific passages…” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy] This ‘new testament’ was a marketing coup as much as it was a literary masterpiece. In Spain a bigger, better financed (and probably better researched — they had better Greek manuscripts) New Testament was sitting in a warehouse waiting the blessing of Cardinal-Archbishop of Toledo (the work’s sponsor.)  Erasmus and Froben were under no such editorial control. The Spanish…

“Edition was made obsolete even before publication by Erasmus’ humanistic methods of textual criticism. The future of biblical studies belonged to the new philological and critical methods developed by Erasmus, not to the cautious and traditionalist approach of the Spanish scholars Their edition was obsolete  [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

It didn’t hurt that he dedicated his Greek/Latin hybrid New Testament to Pope Leo X. in 1517 He published his research on St. Jerome (all seven volumes of it) ” confirming his status as the greatest scholar of his generation.” [Ibid] Erasmus and Froben also put out a new addition of the former’s Adages with additional proverbs.
The Adages became not only a handy tool for those who wrote in Latin but also a medium for expressing Erasmus’ opinions, and the book was another literary and financial success, frequently reprinted throughout the century. [Ibid]
In 1516 Erasmus petitioned the Pope Leo X for “relief from certain legal disabilities.”[Ibid]

1.    the burden and consequences of his illegitimate birth
2.    his membership in the monastery at Steyn
3.    having to wear the robes of the Augustinian monks

Leo  approved the petition. Erasmus moved to the University of Louvain in the Netherlands.Although his German Humanism was not a perfect match with the more conservative Louvian theology Erasmus seemed to have found a home.
But then there was that GERMAN,  Martin Luther, who went and nailed his protest to the door of a church.  “With remarkable rapidity, reform-minded young German humanists (and many older ones also) who had become admirers of Erasmus identified Luther’s ideas and reform program with those of Erasmus, regarding Luther and Erasmus as leaders of a single movement.” [Ibid]  Erasmus HAD been a vocal critic regarding the follies and abuses of the clergy, but  it was against his nature to take up a partisan position on the issue of Protestantism.

“The emergence of Luther caused serious problems for Erasmus across a broad front, including his situation in Louvain….Erasmus came under intense pressure to join in their denunciation of Luther, but he was unwilling to do so, claiming that he was so busy that he had read none, or almost none, of Luther’s publications. In reality, he had read at least some of Luther’s books with great interest and had concluded that while Luther took extreme positions on some questions and might have made some errors, there was much to be praised in his works.” [Ibid]

Unable to denounce Luther Erasmus moved from Louvian to Basel, back to his old friend the printer, Froben.  He lived there for eight years until the city “reformed” in 1529. He felt morally obligated “to leave a city where open Catholic worship was suppressed. He moved to the near-by city of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, also a university town. ” [Ibid]
He died in 1536 …
“He did not have a priest available to administer last rites, and there is no evidence that he desired such ministrations, which he had always respected if done in the right spirit but never considered very important. He died during the night of 11–12 July. A whole host of ailments contributed to his end, but dysentery was the immediate cause.”[Ibid]

English: bust of Ermasmus, made by Hildo Krop ...


Thought of the Day 10.26.12 Natalie Merchant

“If I ever write this letter
Bitter words it would contain
Just an unrequited lover
Wishing she had never
Spoken your name
Had never known your name”
— Natalie Merchant

MTV Unplugged (10,000 Maniacs album)

MTV Unplugged (10,000 Maniacs album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Natalie Anne Merchant was born on this day in Jamestown, New York, USA in 1963. She is 49 years old.
Merchant is the third of four children. Although her parents never allowed their children to watch television there was always plenty of music in the house. Her mother listened to an eclectic mix of classical music, show tunes, jazz and pop music and it rubbed off on little Natalie. Merchant dropped out of high school at 16 and worked briefly at a health food store. After a stint working at a summer program for handicapped children she considered going back to school become a special education teacher.

…But that changed when she met Robert Buck in 1981 and became the lead singer for 10,000 Maniacs. The band released eight albums together: Human Conflict Number Five (1982), The Secrets of the I Ching (1983), The Wishing Chair (1985), In My Tribe (1987), Blind Man’s Zoo (1989), Hope Chest (1990), Our Time in Eden (1992) and MTV Unplugged (1993). [IMDB]

10,000 Maniacs reached its peak of popularity around 1988. They weren’t “chart driven” and never topped Billboard’s Top 100, but they had a loyal fan base, due in large part to their videos on MTV.

This was another of the off-center, non-mainstream acts that assembled a fine collection of tunes. They were often ignored by head-in-the-sand mainstream radio. But their music was refreshing as well as stimulating. Natalie Merchant certainly was the driving force behind 10,000 Maniacs.[Top Ten Songs by 10,000 Maniacs, Yahoo! Voices]

Here’s Trouble Me from Blind Man’s Zoo:

Merchant left the group shortly after the MTV Unplugged session in 1993 and began work writing and producing her first solo effort Tigerlily. The album came out in 1995 to wide acclaim. It sold over 5 million copies and earned her a spot in the top-ten lists with Carnival.

Her second release was Ophelia, with Kind and Generous, and her Live in Concert CD also sold well.  In 2000 she went on the road with the alt-country band Wilco in the “American Folk Music Tour”. She produced Motherland the following year with Tell Yourself and  Build a Levee. (Here’s the later performed on the David Letterman Show.)

Motherland was her last release on Elektra Records. Merchant started her own label, Myth America Records, to release 2003’s The House of Carpenter’s Daughter. The album has a mix of traditional tunes and covers of contemporary folk songs (like Richard Thompson’s Crazy Man Michael and Florence Reece’s Which Side are You On?)

In 2004 Campfire Songs, a compilation album of “popular, obscure, and unknown”  10,000 Maniac songs, was released. Merchant put out her own Retrospectivealbum the next year.

Leave Your Sleep came out in 2010. This concept album includes songs adapted from poetry about childhood.

…An ambitious double-album that draws upon multiple literary giants for inspiration. The new set, “Leave Your Sleep,” features lyrical tributes to famous poems by e.e. cummings, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson and many others throughout the course of 26 tracks. Despite the elaborate concept and overwhelming length, the album soars with gorgeous folk arrangements and Merchant’s daring creativity. [BillBoard.com]

In June of this year Leave Your Sleep became a 48 page picture book  with illustrations by Barbara McClintock. The book includes a CD with 19 songs.

Merchant continues to write and perform. She will be at the Milwaukee Theatre tomorrow night. If you’re lucky enough to snag tickets… be sure to wish her a happy birthday.

Click HERE to see other upcoming Natalie Merchant Shows.


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