February 18

Amber page:

Sholem Aleichem (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich), the man who fiddled on the rooves of Anatevka, born today in 1859

André Breton, founder of Surrealism and seriously engaged anti-Fascist, born today in 1896

And Nikos Kazantzakis, born today in 1883, and I know you've never heard of him. Or maybe you'll recognise the title of that not terribly good novel "Zorba the Greek", which of course you haven't read, probably haven't even seen the film, but I'll bet that you do know the music that Mikos Theodorakis wrote for it (before the military junta threw him into jail as a subversive). And yet, among the European writers of the 20th century, were there any who were greater than he? "Report To Greco"; his accounts of his travels in China and Japan, his "Last Temptation of Christ" which Martin Scorsese tried so valiantly to turn into a movie...

And after the people, the events:

The publication of the first part of John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which is to Come", precise day and month disputed, but probably today, and definitely 1678 ; the second part came out in 1684

And no disputing this one: Mark Twain's great American novel "Huckleberry Finn", published in America, today in 1885; except that, how very strange, it had already been published, in Britain, two months previously, on December 10 1884

And I would include the discovery of Pluto, today in 1930, only it was rejected as a planet from the MC2-Factor, or was it Big Planetary Brother, because it only had star-quality, and not that extra something that gets you the name of a planetary god, and the status too (have you ever wondered where popular music would be today if this had been the only route to stardom in the 1960s: imagine Bob Dylan turning up on a TV talent show and doing Blowin' In The Wind or It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding. They'd have laughed him out of the studio.)

February 10

Amber page:

Charles Lamb, reducer of Shakespeare to a Victorian equivalent of Shmoop, born today in 1775 (better than Thomas Bowdler's versions anyway) 

Boris Pasternak, born today in 1890. Where I have successfully reduced Lamb to "all that there is that merits saying about him", Pasternak is quite another matter. But. Much about him in my novel "Going To The Wall" - it was Pasternak who initially saved Osip Mandelstam's life, while he himself was still in favour with Stalin. But the truly significant moment in Pasternak's life was the announcement of his Nobel Prize for Literature, on October 23, 1958. It might as well have been a death-sentence by a black-wigged judge. I shall tell the story there.

Bertolt Brecht, born today in 1898. The great maverick of 20th century theatre, the man who tore down the Fourth Wall but chose to live behind the Berlin Wall, because Soviet Realism was in the end no worse than American Realism... but this will require a book, or at least an extended essay... and silly me for not remembering, I am in process of writing one (and in the meanwhile, there is always this).

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February 9

1872, 1874, 1885, 1923

Yes, this is why I study history (several other good reasons too, but this one above all): because by doing so I encounter people who I would never have encountered otherwise; and the simple fact of their existence, and my now knowing of it, considerably enhances my own life. 

None of these happenstance encounters are alive today, or if they are it is highly unlikely that I will ever meet them in person; many of them were not even alive recently, so there is no other way I might have come across them but through these adventures into art and literature and politics and sport and... Yet there are hundreds of them, even beyond the hundreds in this blog: the celebrated and famous in particular, but also,and somehow these matter to me so much more, the hordes of the forgotten, the shades of the overlooked, the ghosts who haunt oblivion.

Who (out of the 6.5 billion people currently inhabiting the planet, I mean, not the handful here and there whose domain this happens to be) who has ever heard, for example, of 

Amy Lowell, born today in 1874, or 

Alban Berg, born today in 1885, or 

Brendan Behan, born today in 1923, or

P.L. Dunbar, died today in 1872.

Lovers of 20th century experimental music will know the name Alban Berg, but that's probably less than two hundred people world-wide (and two-thirds of them are reconsidering), and I'll bet there aren't four among them who could actually name a piece he wrote (you can cheat by clicking here), or even say they've heard one (me included). 

As to Brendan Behan - wonderful playwright, even better poet and short story writer, and significant to me above all else because, like R. S Thomas in Welsh, he used both the English that had been imposed on his people and was therefore unavoidable, but also his native Celtic, or Gaelic, or Goedelic - so many names for the language now, but so very few people who can speak it, let alone write poetry in it.

And yes, obviously, that handful of you, Americans who read poetry especially, you will all know that Boston Brahmin Robert Lowell (click here for my piece on his magnificent poem about the Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket; several others by or about him elsewhere in that "Private Collection"), but Amy, his distant cousin, likewise a poet - an Imagist in her case - and wasn't there another famous relative, a scientist perhaps, named Percival, and another who was a politician, and a President of Harvard, and a third poet too, great uncle James Russel Lowell? Great family, the Winslow-Lowells. But P.L. Dunbar?

In the early years of the century I wrote a novel that was intended to be a satire, except that the inner themes driven by the characters I discovered forced it to turn serious. "A Journey In Time" explored the universal history of one day, my birthday, June 27th, with the firm resolve to research and write about, and no exceptions, no personal preferences and leavings-out, people who were born, or died, events that happened, on that particular date. So I found several characters who now also appear in this blog, such as Prudence Crandall (see January 28), and wrote this about the previously unknown-to-me 
Paul Laurence Dunbar...

   "...the voice of Liberty Bell and the Smithsonian, a man who might himself have been a student at Prudence Crandall’s academy, though in fact he was born too late for that, on June 27th 1872 to be precise, and he would grow up to become the first of that most implausible of beings: a black American poet of genuine regard, one who, as he wrote of Frederick Douglass, one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, the principal black speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society and later adviser to President Lincoln during the Civil War, 

 His reputation resting upon verse and short stories written largely in black dialect – incomprehensible dialect to those of us who get our “negro” understanding from “Porgy and Bess”; but for all their incomprehensibility, the passion of their politics comes through, with far more power than his tame love lyrics written in the mode of the Romantics - he was the first black writer in the U.S. to make a concerted attempt to live by his writings and one of the first to attain national prominence...

Dunbar’s parents were former slaves; his mother had been freed, his father had escaped to freedom in Canada and then returned to the U.S. to fight in the Civil War. Paul was the only black student in his Dayton high school, where he edited the school paper. He published his first volume of poetry, “Oak and Ivy”, in 1893, at his own expense while working as an elevator operator, and sold copies to his passengers to pay for the printing. His second volume, “Majors and Minors”, in 1895, attracted the favourable notice of the novelist and critic William Dean Howells, who also introduced Dunbar’s next book, “Lyrics of Lowly Life”, in 1896, which contained some of the finest verses of the first two volumes.
Folks ain’t got no right to censuah othah
       folks about dey habits;
Him dat giv’ de squir’ls de bushtails made de
    bobtails fu’ de rabbits.
Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered
    out de little valleys,
Him dat made de streets an’ driveways wasn’t
    shamed to make de alleys.
In the 1890s, amongst certain middle class persons in white America, Dunbar’s poems were in vogue. He read them aloud to audiences across the U.S.A, and even came to England to recite them, equally in elegant salons and dusty public libraries, and when he returned from abroad he was given a job in the reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, where blacks were not normally permitted, except as janitors. He turned to fiction as well as verse, writing for a predominantly white readership, publishing four collections of short stories and four novels before his early death, making use of the then current plantation tradition, depicting the pre-Civil War South in pastoral, idyllic tones. Only in a few of his later stories did a suggestion of racial disquiet appear.

His first three novels - including “The Uncalled”, published in 1898, which reflected his own spiritual problems - were about whites. His last and best came out in 1902; “The Sport of the Gods” told of an uprooted black family in the urban North. But it is his poetry that has survived him, a black Rudyard Kipling or Negro Robert Service.

Dey’s a so’t o’ threatenin’ feelin’ in de blowin’ of de breeze,
An’ I’s feelin’ kin’ o’ squeamish in de night;
I’s a-walkin’ ’roun’ a-lookin’ at de diffunt style o’ trees,
An’ a-measurin’ dey thickness an’ dey height.
Fu’ dey’s somep’n mighty ’spicious in de looks de da’kies give,
Ez dey pass me an’ my fambly on de’ groun’,
So it ’curs to me dat lakly, ef I caihs to try an’ live,
It concehns me fu’ to ’mence to look erroun’.
Dey’s a cu’ious kin’ o’ shivah runnin’ up an’ down my back,
An’ I feel my feddahs rufflin’ all de day,
An’ my laigs commence to trimble evah blessid step I mek;
W’en I sees a ax, I tu’ns my head away.
Folks is go’gin’ me wid goodies, an’ dey’s treatin’ me wid caih,
A’ I’s fat in spite of all dat I kin do.
I’s mistrus’ful of de kin’ness dat’s erroun’ me evahwhaih,
Fu’ it’s jes’ too good, an’ frequent, to be true.
Snow’s a-fallin’ on de medders, all erroun’ me now is white,
But I’s still kep’ on a-roostin’ on de fence;
Isham comes an’ feels my breas’bone, 
     an’ he hefted me las’ night,
An’ he’s gone erroun’ a-grinnin’ evah sence.
’T ain’t de snow dat meks me shivah; 
     ’t ain’t de col’ dat meks me shake;
’T ain’t de wintah-time itse’f dat’s ’fectin me;
But I t’ink de time is comin’, an’ I’d bettah mek a break,
Fu’ to set wid Mistah Possum in his tree.
W’en you hyeah de da’kies singin’, an’ de quahtahs all is gay,
’T ain’t de time fu’ birds lak me to be erroun’;
W’en de hick’ry chips is flyin’, an’ de log’s been ca’ied erway,
Den hit’s dang’ous to be roostin’ nigh de groun’.
Grin on, Isham!  Sing on, da’kies! But I flop my wings an’ go
Fu’ de sheltah of de ve’y highest tree,
Fu’ dey’s too much close ertention – 
     an’ dey’s too much fallin’ snow -
An’ it’s too nigh Chris’mus mo’nin’ now fu’ me.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

February 7

Amber pages

Thomas More, English philosopher, born today in 1478 

Charles Dickens, novelist, born today in 1812

Dmitri Mendeleyev, precursor of the Periodic Table, born today in 1834

Alfred Adler, founder of the "religion" of Individual Psychology, born today in 1870

You can find David Prashker at:

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The Argaman Press

February 4

Amber page:

Fernand Leger, artist, born today in 1881

Charles Augustus 
Lindberg, "Lucky Lindy", aviator and explorer, born today in 1902

Rosa Parks, the grande dame of the American Civil Rights movement, ultimate role-model to the passive compliers and victim-collaborators who make up most of the remainder of humanity - born today in 1913; but I am not going to tell her story here: it belongs on December 1, and you will find it there just as soon as I complete and post it (and in the meanwhile, she makes an appearance on February 6 as well).

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

February 2

Amber pages

1536, Buenos Aires founded

1848, Mexico ceded Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to the United States

1882, birthdate of James Joyce

1901, birthdate of Jascha Heifetz

1933, dissolution of the Reichstag

1943, end of the battle of Stalingrad

1971, Idi Amin came to power in Uganda

January 31

Amber pages

On yesterday’s page I suggested that some days in history appear to have themes, and outlined one - tyranny against the individual - with some examples. To which I could easily add, on today's date, the expulsion of Trotsky from the Communist Party, today in 1929 - he was first deported to Alma-Ata in Central Asia, then forced to emigrate, and finally hunted down and assassinated in Mexcio in 1940; but you can read all that on August 20.

So today, the inversion of the theme, the overthrow of tyrannies:

the execution of Guy Fawkes in 1606;

the abolition of slavery in the United States, the 13th amendment, passed by Congress today, in 1865, ratified on December 6th of the same 1865, (sadly still awaiting full implementation in most states, today, in 2018);

the instigation in the United States of Social Security payments, today in 1940 (the tyranny of poverty);

and some would include the opening of the first MacDonald's in Russia, in 1990 (and some would argue that it was opened yesterday, on the 30th), but really that is just the partnering of one form of tyranny with another, and it has not yet been proven which was the more damaging to humanity in the long run, though I think we can safely guess.

And then, among the waxworks in the creative section:

Franz Schubert, composer, born today in 1797

Freya Stark, travel writer, born today in 1893

John O'Hara, poet, born today in 1905

Also today:

the première of Anton Chekhov's play "Three Sisters" in Moscow, today in 1901 

Luna 9 launched, today in 1966

January 29

Amber pages:

Emanuel Swedenborg, model and exemplar of the mystical scientist, born today in 1688.

Thomas Paine, key figure in the American Revolution, born today in 1737

Anton Chekhov, dramatist, born today in 1860

Frederick Delius, composer, born today in 1862

Germaine Greer, born today in 1939, and probably still kicking her parents that it wasn't a day earlier, so she could identify even more precisely with Susan Sontag

You can find David Prashker at:

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The Argaman Press

January 28

Amber page: work in progress

1807: First street to be lighted by gas lamps (Pall Mall, London); I am sitting in a Pret A Manger on Pall Mall, right where it becomes Trafalgar Square, as I write this, the National Gallery on my left, Canada House in front of me, and not a gas light left anywhere, the whole place lit up by sodium lights ...

1871: France surrendered in the Franco-Prussian War.

1890: Prudence Crandall, teacher... no, that is not sufficient: pioneering educator, the first white person, male or female, to take a stand for the education of "black people", and boy did they hate her and ruin her for daring to do so... her death today, and much more on her in my novel "A Journey In Time".

And I don't like doing death-days, as noted elsewhere, unless the death was itself in some way significant; birth-days are much better.


Jose Marti, the third great figure behind the Cuban revolution (the Castro brothers of course the other two), born today in 1853

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, French novelist, born today in 1873

Arthur Rubinstein, pianist, composer, conductor, born today in 1889

Jackson Pollock, artist of the aesthetic cardiogram, born today in 1912

Susan Sontag, human being, person of outstanding intelligence, writer, born today in 1933

You can find David Prashker at:

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The Argaman Press

January 27

1302, 1606, 1951

©Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle

1302: Dante Alighiere expelled from Florence - the full tale is told on June 24.

1606: The Gunpowder Plot trial. But this too has its full tale told - including the rather interesting parts about who Guy Fawkes really was, and why that date - elsewhere in this blog: try November 5, you never know.

1951: The first atomic bomb test took place in the Nevada desert; but why would I want to write about something as negative, as destructive, as barbaric as that?

   Unless, perhaps, as an excuse to write about Robert Oppenheimer, and how he was destroyed for no reason by the anti-Semites in the CIA and FBI.

   Unless, perhaps, to write about my trip to Los Alamos in 2015. 

   Unless - and why not? - to congratulate the North Korean President on his 2018 victory over Donald Trump, and thereby make a connection with that other American surrender, the "ceasefire" that "ended" the Vietnam War today in 1973, "ceasefire" and "ended" both being American euphemisms, in the way that "Land of Opportunism" is rendered as "Land of Opportunity" and "The Great American Delusory Fantasy" becomes "The Great American Dream", and no one "dies", they merely "pass away", and kids never "fail" in school, they are simply "working towards grade level". 
   So, let us be clear, as with the Korean War before it and the Afghani, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Somali and Syrian wars after it, America lost, and finally surrendered. The terms of the Vietnam surrender were eventually agreed by Bill Clinton, and they included an arrangement by which Vietnam, which had no economy left, could start to rebuild one through textiles, supplying 65% of America's textile needs, and doing so under virtual-slavery conditions, in order to keep prices in the States as low as possible... (click here for more detail).


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born today in 1756 (though I shall probably place my piece, once I have finished it, on December 5, the date of his tragically early death in 1791)

Mordechai Richler, Canadian author of the splendid "Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz", born today in 1931.

And Lewis Carrol, less well known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born today in 1832, but you can read about him on my page for February 8

You can find David Prashker at:

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January 25

Rabbie Burns born, today in 1759, and if I haven't already done so somewhere else, this would be the place to complain that in the United Kingdom of Greater England and its Home Colonies, the official language is English, the official history is English (Scots, Welsh and Irish only get mentioned if they do something good for England, or are written about because they did something bad against it, like fight for independence) and the official history is English, which is why Scots poets like Rabbie Burns are largely ignored in GCSE and A Level and university curricula, and why no one has heard of the Mabinogion or the Book of Kells...

Did Somerset Maugham (born today in 1874) acually come from Somerset, or spend any time there beyond maybe a holiday-trip to Cheddar Gorge or a research trip to Glastonbury?

And for the third consecutive day, a truly great writer, who just happens to be female, and British (alright, English) - Virginia Woolf, born today, 1882.

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January 24


I notice in the almanac "Emperor Hadrian born, today, 76CE", and immediately I am drawn to Brussels, one of the loveliest of European cities, but in the years of "l'entre deux guerres" as T.S. Eliot described them, and then to Northeast Harbor in Maine, the snowy eastern seaboard where it is very hard to tell what is Canada and what America, and why would anyone want to define a boundary and force the two apart.

You are bewildered, I know. The great French writer Marguerite Yourcenar spoke Flemish and French, so presumably she had no difficulty understanding Quebecois when she left her native Brussels for America, and became a US citizen in 1947. She published her historical novel "Memoirs of Hadrian" in 1963, and the truth is, were it not for her, I might not have cared two hoots about this Roman Emperor.

What does anyone know about him, or care about him, except that he once built a wall, a forced separation between northern England and southern Scotland? They did the same in Berlin, and for a long time they had one in Jerusalem as well, and the Chinese built one so vast you can see it, apparently, from the moon; and now Donald Trump wants to build one along the Mexican border, and... all such walls have only one purpose, which is to divide people: walls of xenophobia, hostility, hatred.
As to Hadrian's. I stopped to look at it once, decades ago, on a holiday excursion to the Scottish Highlands. Very little of it was left, because local people for centuries have been filching pieces of it, to build their barns and cottages, and no doubt their own walls too, to divide themselves from hated neighbours.

Hadrian also played a part in Jewish history, in Judea, but I can't remember what it was (well actually, sadly, I can; I just don't want to; click here and you'll understand why). Marguerite Yourcenar's book is one of the truly great historical novels ever written; you can find my piece about it in "Private Collection" by clicking here.

In progress:

William Congreve, playwright, born today in 1670

Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, born today in 1732, both of them names that you recognise, have a sense that they merit inclusion on a list, but then, when you stare at them for the upteenth time, still wondering why you recognise them, let alone where to start researching them, it does eventually become clear that fame, which is rather more than mere celebrity, is still insufficient to insist on your attention, however scantily, or briefly, or probably superficially. So their names are here, but unlikely anything more.

Whereas, speaking of great writers, and not just great women writers, because Edith Wharton, born today in 1862, like Marguerite Yourcenar, counts among the great regardless of gender. Watch this space.

And finally, today, 1984, Apple Computer unveiled the Macintosh computer. Why am I even noting this, given that I don't use Mac? 

January 23

1962 Kim Philby, Soviet spy, defected

Stendhal (Marie Henri Beyle), born 1783

Claude Manet, born 1832

Sergei Eisenstein, Russian film-maker, born 1898,

Derek Walcott, poet, born 1930

You can find David Prashker at:

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