September 14

Amber pages

Franz Bopp, comparative linguistics founder, born today in 1791. I wonder what he would have made of Be Bopp a Lula she's my baby? In any language. (Apparently, in the paleolithic south-western dialect of ancient pre-Sumerian Akkadian, the phrase Bee bopp ha-lulah, spelled this way rather than in the Gene Vincent Amerikanized speling, which may be the source of the song, meant "may the gods grant you a long life and plentiful blonde women"). And did he get to see the comet Hale-Bopp, on its previous transition across the sky (probably not: its orbital period is 2,533 years and it was with us in 1995, which means - o my gosh, it was in the sky in 538 BCE, and two years later, the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the destruction of the First Kingdom of Israel, the start of... the International Zionist Conspiracy, predicted cometically... "Only connect" as E.M. Forster so wisely expressed it.)

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, scientist and close friend of Franz Bopp (no, sorry, that was a different Humboldt, Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian ambassador at the Court of Saint James), born today in 1769 (and no, not that Humboldt either, his name was Humbert, this is not the one who wrote Teenie Bopper Lolita Be My Baby)

Ivan Pavlov, the man who taught human dogs how to go woof, born today in 1849 (see
September 13)

Apologies, but in some parts of the cosmos today is National Levity day (seriously!). Levity, for the information, is not the opposite of gravity, though in the absurd and pantomime conditions of zero gravity what else can there be but levity? The concept is anyway relative: in certain parts of the cosmos, because of the proximity of black holes, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics does not apply on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and C=MC3 rather than squared, while a quark is a type of yoghurt, and quant is a 1960s style of fashion.

And now, on a more serious note...

Margaret (Higgins) Sanger, founder of US birth control movement, born today in 

Bashir Gemayel, president-elect of Lebanon, assassinated, today in 
1982, the reason for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila two days later (click here)

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September 12


Henry Louis Mencken, US critic, born today in 1880, a man I only discovered when I spent a year in his hometown, Baltimore in Maryland, in 2012 and 2013; but oh how I wish I had known about him younger. Famously the birthplace of Edgar Allen Poe, it transpired the town had produced two men of literary genius, and I could not resist noting in my diary, when a most unlikely candidate for the US Presidency began to bully his rivals and abuse his critics, Mencken's prediction that:
"On some great and glorious day the plain folks of this land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
Who could imagine that such an appalling prophecy would actually come true!

I have already quoted his essay on Schopenhauer on my page for tomorrow, September 13, but why not a few more of his comments and observations here:
"Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under"
which provides the perfect follow-up to the previous quote
"A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin"
And written separately, though they belong together:
"An idealist is one who, noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup."
These two probably belong together as well:
"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood."
"Criticism is prejudice made plausible"

Amber pages

Alfred A. Knopf, publisher, born today in 1892

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens, US olympic athlete, born today in 1913

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, English poets, secretly married, today in 1846

Peter Mark Roget, English physician and author of the thesaurus that bears his synonym, died, today in 1869. I would like (prefer, be more partial to, favour, tend towards) not to include this here, as it his death date, but then I wouldn't be able to point out (note, observe) that he didn't actually die, he simply "became a euphemism"

Germany annexed the Sudetenland, today in 1938

Haile Selassie, Emperor of 
Ethiopia and founding deity of Rastafarianism, deposed today in 1974

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September 11

Amber pages

William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. O. Henry, US short story writer, born today in 1862

David Herbert Lawrence, author ("Lady Chatterley's Lover"), born today in 
1885. What is so sad is that this is what all the almanacs pick to put next to his name - a 2nd rate novel, written three times and he still wasn't happy with it, famous because it is full of embarrassingly badly-written sex scenes which got the publishers, Penguin, charged with obscenity; and that trial, thirty-two years after the book had first been published, became the key incident, the moment when freedom of literary speech was finally enshrined by precedent in English law... but what about his great works, "Sons & Lovers" and the two Brangwen novels, "The Man Who Died" or... but like his paintings, likewise banished as obscenities, this was the one that got all the publicity, because there is nothing people like more than thinking about sex in all its infinite variety in the privacy of their mind or their porn-watching, but o my gosh it's obscene if ever it gets out in public...
   And no, I shan't write more on DHL here. You can find a piece on his poem "Snake", in Private Collection, by clicking here; and a lengthy study of DHL will be published in my collection "Homage To Thomas Bowdler", sometime soon.

Military coup in Chile, today in 1973. Or was that a CIA coup? The overthrow of Allende anyway, a democratically elected, civilian government, but America only seems to support such things when they happen at home, or in Europe; in Central and South America they have to be removed a.s.a.p. So Allende was murdered (or may have committed suicide before they had the chance to do that), and Pablo Neruda, his number two, forced into exile - see
February 8 for a small mention of Neruda, my piece on Chile in The World Hourglass for a more detailed account of the coup, and one of Nedruda's great poliical poems.

Death of Sir Peter Hall, today in 2017, the man without whom there simply wouldn't have been serious theatre in the UK through the second half of the 20th century.

And apparently there was some big event in Washington on this date, in 2001 was it, "the day that they wounded New York" (click here)

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September 10

Amber pages

Another day of the "don't knows":

Robert Koldewey, a  German archaeologist of whom I had never heard until I found this entry in an almanac, but who turns out to be the principal excavator of Babylon, and therefore deeply interesting to me, born today in 


Hilda Doolittle, who turns out to be the "HD" I have come across repeatedly in D.H. Lawrence's writings, an American poet, or poetess perhaps, though whether any good or night will have to wait for the lights to change; born today in 

whereas Cyril Connolly, famous English critic, much quoted, alluded, referenced and instanced down the years, especially in A level English classrooms. But what, you might well ask, what is the point of criticism anyway? I shall eventually write a critique of that question - when the lights change; born today in 1903

Simon Bolivar named president of Peru, today in 1823 - see July 5 and the
Bolivia page of The World Hourglass, (but also June 24

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September 9

Amber pages

William Bligh, Captain of the HMS Bounty, born today in 1754 - but he already has two pages in The World Hourglass, one the Norfolk Islands, the other the Pitcairn Islands, neither of which can make any other significant claim to the world's interest than their minor connection to his tale

Leo Tolstoy, Russian author, born today in 1828

The United Colonies renamed the United States, today in 1776

Mao Tse-Tung, or Mao Ze-Dong as we are now supposed to write his name, Chinese Communist Party Chairman, died today in 1976 - see my piece on this in "Travels In Familiar Lands"

September 4

Amber pages

Francois-René de Chateaubriand, French novelist and politician born, today in 1768

I have commented before, that writing these pages provides me with a splendid excuse to find out more about people I have heard of, but know nothing, or virtually nothing about. Then there are the reverse of these, people I once did know something about, but then forgot it, or them. So Anton Bruckner, Austrian composer, born today in 1824, whose music I used to listen to, on CD, years ago, before I took my CD collection to the GoodWill store with the CD player, because who needs them when you have the Internet. Except that it turns out that you did need them, because seeing them on your shelf reminds you to play them, but on the Internet you have to think of them, and hunt for them, and then you save it in your history file, only to find out next time that the websource has deleted it because of a copyright dispute, or somesuch reason for it no longer being there. So I went for years without playing Bruckner, or maybe the 9th because it tends to come up on recommendation lists...

Mary Renault, historial novelist, born today in 
1905. I read everything I could find by her when I was crippled for a year in the late 1990s, the discs at the base of my spine having collapsed and trapped the nerves and paralysed me till they could work out what had happened and what to do about it. Weeks turned into months of lying there, bored but for the books, translating Dante in a notebook, learning how to write historical novels from Robert Graves' Claudius novels, and Mary Renault's various...

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August 31

Amber pages

Maria Montessori, Italian educator, born today in 


"Solidarity", or Solidarność in Polish, founded today in 1980

Sir Bernard Lovell, astronomer, born today in 1913

Itzhak Perlman, violinist despite the polio, born today in 
1945 - an accompaniment-piece for Jacqueline de Pre (October 19, but not yet even ambered).

Van Morrison, singer and songwriter, the only man of genius to build an entire career on just three unvarying chords, without even a relative minor, born today in 1945

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August 29

Amber pages

Opening of the First Zionist Congress, in Basle, today in 1897

But what to write? An account of the bringing together of the participants, most of them Jews who had more or less left religion behind for an assimilated secular life in post-Napoleonic Europe, the ghetto walls torn down, their freedom theoretically guaranteed, and yet still the need for a Jewish homeland, because still the same old anti-Semitism...

But Herzl was not the founder of modern political Zionism, despite that credit now being attached. More interesting perhaps to go back to Disraeli, and even further, and more remarkably still given that she was not herself Jewish, to George Eliot, and an exploration of "Tancred" and "Daniel Deronda".

Or maybe a history of Zionism, starting with its founding, by the rivers of Babylon, in late 586 BCE, so that contemporary anti-Zionists can see that "Free Palestine" today is no different from "Free Israel" then, or again after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and every year, in every pogromised ghetto, for the 1900 hundred years that followed...and with that, a link to the wilfully and deliberately anti-Semitic "Protocols", on August 26...

But I would also like to write a piece that trawls the best parts of Herzl’s Jerusalem diary, from his visit there in 1898, starting with that deliberately self-conscious playing with the words of Psalm 137, the original Zionist Psalm:

“When I remember thee in days to come, O Jerusalem, it will not be with delight."

The diary confirms what a very good journalist and reporter Herzl must have been:

“The musty deposits of two thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance. and foulness lie in reeking alleys. The one man who has been present here all this while, the loveable dreamer of Nazareth, has done nothing but help increase the hate."

“If Jerusalem is ever ours, and if I were still able to do anything about it, I would begin by cleaning it up... I would clear out everything that is not sacred, set up workers’ houses beyond the city, empty and tear down the filthy rat-holes, burn all the non-sacred ruins, and put the bazaars elsewhere. Then, retaining as much of the old architectural style as possible, I would build an airy, comfortable, properly sewered brand-new city around the Holy Places.”

Yes, a filthy hovel was Jerusalem, including the sacred area on the Temple Mount, and Mark Twain in his "Innocents Abroad", his account of his "Grand Tour" of 1867, Twain the disinterested non-Jew, confirms it:

“Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound.”

Interesting that Herzl sees the damage done by Christianity, but not the equivalent damage done by Islam, other than the Third World degradation of the place which was the norm for anywhere that had the misfortune to be located in that ultimate decadence of humanity the Ottoman Empire. Yet he himself sounds like an imitator of “the loveable dreamer of Nazareth”, with his utopian vision of the city (Teddy Kolleck, who did rebuild it, shared very similar fancies it must be said, and did a most remarkable job). But moving the bazaars! To take the shouk out of the Old City, as the loveable dreamer tried to do, would be to rip out its heart and bowels, leaving the sacred places like a nature park or a conservation site, something you could visit but not live in, and a sacred place in which people do not live is one condemned to fail and die. Sewers, on the other hand...

“We have been to the Wailing Wall. Any deep emotion is rendered impossible by the hideous, miserable, scrambling beggary pervading the place. At least such was the case, yesterday evening and this morning, when we were there.”

“In the afternoon we ascended the Mount of Olives. Thrilling moments. What couldn’t be made of this place! A city like Rome - and the Mount of Olives furnishing a panorama like the Giancolo.

Oh gosh, no, please don't tell me he wants to dig up all the ancient graves and build a Hilton Spa Hotel!

“I would cordon off the old city with its relics, and keep out all ordinary traffic; only places of worship and philanthropic institutions would be allowed to remain inside the old ramparts. And on the ring of encircling hillsides, which our labour would clothe with greenery, there would gradually rise a glorious New Jerusalem. The élite from every part of the world would travel up the road to the Mount of Olives. Loving care can turn Jerusalem into a jewel. Everything holy inshrined within the old walls, everything new spreading round about it.”

I wonder what Herzl would think of today’s city. He would, of course, be humbled that his name had been attached to the central hill of the new West Jerusalem, where the soldiers are buried and the Holocaust Museum is located; and he would love the Knesset and its surroundings parks and suburbs. And he would adore the restored Jewish Quarter in the Old City. But would he appreciate the demolition of whole streets of Arab houses, to make a vast open plaza in front of the Western Wall and the Shrine of Omar and the al-Axar mosque? Would he appreciate the unchanged squalor of east Jerusalem, at least in those areas which have not been taken over and gentrified by Jews? Would he worry when the next Intifada was coming? Would he witness the trials and tribulations of the Palestinians, and equate them with those he witnessed of the Jews of Europe, and speak out for them as well? I like to hope he would.

John Locke, English philosopher, born today in 1632

Charlie Parker, jazz saxophonist, born today in 1920

Sir Richard Attenborough, actor and producer, born today in 1923.

Cleopatra IV, bitten by an asp, today in 30 BCE

John the Baptist, beheaded, today in 29 CE

Atahualpa, the last of the Inca rulers, strangled to death, today in 1533

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August 28

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, novelist and dramatist, born today in 1749

Bruno Bettelheim, psychologist, born today in 

Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist, born today in 

Saint Augustine of Hippo died, today in 430; and I find him described as a "Roman African" in this encyclopedia, and as a "philosopher from Numidia" in that almanac, anything to avoid having to use that word which pains so much, the MLK word, the Desmond Tutu word, the very idea of a man (or it could, though even less likely, have been a woman) who reached a point of significant significance in that White Male religion of Christianity - a black.

On which subject, the k
idnap and lynching of Emmett Till took place today in 1955, a piece that goes alongside one (not yet written, but ambered on June 12) on Medgar Evers; and linked to the Nat Turner on October 2, though that really belongs on August 21; all of which, plus plus plus, is why:

The Reverend Martin Luther King led a civil rights rally in Washington DC, today in 
1963 (and Dylan sang that day: but did he sing The Ballad of Medgar Evers or The Ballad of Emmett Till? I'll need to check)

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August 25

Amber pages

Czar Ivan IV, "Ivan the Terrible", of Russia, born today in 1530. What do you have to do to acquire such a sobriquet? I suspect that I may end up moving this to another date, since clearly merely being born doesn't provide an explanation.

Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor, born today in 
1918; at times he could be Leonard the Terrible (the pop-tunes of "On The Town" and "West Side Story", the schmaltzy sentimentality of "Kaddish" and "Jeremiah". But the"Chichester Psalms". But the conducting of Mahler. Writers and artists never die, they are simply re-evaluated by posterity. 

And then, more death-dates, of which the first is of little interest, though if he was what the almanac says, then good riddance.

George Lincoln Rockwell, Nazi leader, assassinated, today in 

Frans Hals died, as everyone must, eventually, though whether it was today, or tomorrow, the 26th, or three days later than that, depends entirely on which encyclopedia you take your facts from. And anyway, it's the life that matters, the tracks in the sand that you left behind, and if I am putting up the stop sign on his, it is partly because of the year, 
1666, which was regarded as the Devil's number, and so no surprise that London was hit by plagues of rats the year before, and plagues of fire that year, and plagues of continuing superstition in every year since; and partly because..., in 
1900, the still existent deity noted in his diary that

In the year 1897
the year in which her mother died
Elisabeth Nietzsche returned home from Paraguay
where she had been working
with her husband Bernhard Förster
to establish an Aryan
anti-Semitic German colony
known as Nueva Germania

Just outside the town of Röcken bei Lützen
in that farming district southwest of Leipzig
where she and her brother had been born
Elisabeth rented a large house on a hill
known as the Villa Silberblick
and moved her brother
with his collected manuscripts
and his diagnosis of incurable dementia
to the residence

This became the new home
of the Nietzsche Archives
previously located
at the family home in Naumburg
and here Elisabeth received visitors
who wanted to gawk at
or pay homage to
the now-incapacitated philosopher

On August 25, 1900
shortly before his 56th birthday
Friedrich Nietzsche succumbed
to pneumonia apparently
in combination with a stroke
His body was transported to the family gravesite
directly beside the church in Röcken bei Lützen
where his mother and sister now also rest

A plaque on the grave
inscribed with his name and dates
makes unequivocally clear
for all the world to see and understand
that the philosopher Nietzsche
spokesperson for Zarathustra


(the original of this can be found in my collected poems, "Welcome To My World" - click here)

Allied forces liberated Paris, today in 1944. The illustration is from my dad's personal photograph album, taken about five weeks later, on the steps of the fountain in the back garden at Versailles

Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Saturn, today in 1981.

August 22

Amber pages

That great wit, Dorothy Parker, born today in 1893. 

It would definitely be interesting to write a piece about the Algonquin Club, but I'm not going to do a tribute to Dotty here, because I already published a tribute, in the much more appropriate form of a poem, in my 2013 collection "The Word and the Temple" (you can find it in the collected poems, "Welcome To My World", by clicking here).... 

                             oh, very well, here it is:

From A Stretched Limo 

It is not my usual custom to write verses
To a woman I am smitten with by love
God spare me sentiment that just rehearses
The chivalry of kissing on the glove

God spare me saccharine gestures made of verbiage
And platitudes passed off as profound wit
And imitation Romeos by Burbage
And sententious “Love Is” this or that bullshit

It is not my usual custom to write verses
To a woman I am smitten with by love
Most likely all I’ll get back is her curses
Or slapped for trying my chivalry on her glove

So unless you’re an Italian or Frenchman
Whose language offers love means to propose
Much better send your lady, through some henchman,
A copy of Dot Parker’s “Perfect Rose”

Or even better take advice from Dotty
Remember that it’s celluloid not silver screen
Forget the verses they’ll just drive you potty
And leave the roses in the limousine.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographer, born today in 1908. And I simply couldn't resist - the photo on the right is his, of her above, © Magnum Photos

Karlheinz Stockhausen, German composer, born today in 1928

Battle of Bosworth, the one in which the king who didn't have a hunchback (that was Shakespeare's invention) didn't find himself without a horse (but nonetheless a great line for an actor). And wasn't it called Bosworth Field anyway? Today in 1485.

Michael Collins, founder of the Irish Republican Army, assassinated, today in 1922 - see my page on the Easter Uprising

The battle of Stalingrad began, today in 1942

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August 17

1786, 1987, 1887, 1930, 1932


"Davy" Crockett, frontiersman, born today in 1786. Another of those people whose name has been in my head since I was a boy - probably there was some TV western that included him - but about whom I know absolutely nothing, except that image of him wearing a racoon-skin cap. And I don't like having somebody inhabiting my head in that manner, so he is ambered here


Whereas I am only too happy to have this particular mini-monster removed from my head altogether, by tow-truck if necessary, and am therefore declaring the lights to be stuck on amber in his case for eternity. Not long enough for you, Walter Richard Rudolf Hess, the last Nazi held in Spandau Prison; but left today, in 1987. I wonder if they cremated him.

After which, three very different residents of my head, and all welcome to bring sleeping-bags and pizza and stay as guests for as long as they do their own laundry:

The first is Marcus Garvey, born today in 1887, generally biographed as "black nationalist leader", though something rather more generous might bother to mention his founding of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in Jamaica in 1912, and his editorship of the newspaper "Negro World", which was dedicated to giving Black Americans a sense of their African identity, and a pride in that African identity. He was also among the founders of the Black Nationalist Movement, in New York, in 1919, and then of the Pan-African Movement (see my June 28 piece about George Padmore), though he fell out with many fellow activists over his insistence that Blacks needed to develop separately from Whites, or they would never get anywhere. Few of my fellow Jews would have disagreed with him.

Garvey was also the founding member of the "Wilfully and Systematically Destroyed by J. Edgar Hoover Club", which would later count both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King amongst its Hall of Famers - his life spied on, his business ruined, and himself first framed, then imprisoned, finally deported to his native Jamaica, for the crime of being "a negro agitator".

The second is Ted Hughes, born today in 1930, and please bring Sylvia and use the spare bedroom. Author of the single most important collection of poetry in the second half of the 20th century - no this isn't the way to do it

Crow imagined himself as simile
but it didn't work
So he tried metaphor
and he was flying

He took D.H. Lawrence on one wing
but dropped him somewhere over Taos, New Mexico

He took Joseph Campbell on the other wing
but the sheer weight put the enterprise in danger
so he steered a path to Patagonia
and left him there
with Chatwin and Theroux and a piece of brontosaurus

I shall do this on my own, Crow determined

I shall find my own way

And off he flew into the blackness

There, spontaneous tribute, form harmonised with content harmonised with language, as it always should be. A much longer essay on Hughes' "Crow" will be published soon; Sylvia Plath can be found in Private Collection, by clicking here

And then there is V.S. Naipaul, "Vidi" to his friends, born today in 1932, a fine novelist, or so many people whom I respect greatly tell me, though it was never for his novels that I read, and then re-read him. "The Enigma of Arrival", which pretends to be a novel but is really auto-biography, and then explains itself: "An autobiography can distort, facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies. It reveals the writer totally." Which is why I never read him for his novels, even when I read those novels. Commercial writers create plot and character in order to tell stories, and if there are deeper issues, they are generally appendages, because you have to write about something. But great authors explore themes, and if you are going to use fiction to articulate the deepest corners of those themes, then you need the appendages of plot and character, because you have to set it somewhere, and with someone. So, too, Proust in his great novel, Lawrence in "Sons and Lovers", Dickens in "David Copperfield". And then there are the books that I believe are even greater than the novels, the ones in which he set aside appendages and simply went for theme, of which "India, A Wounded Civilisation", the middle section of his Indian trilogy, stands out for me as one of the major contributions to the question of identity in a global world, a multi-cultural world, a post-imperial world, yet written.

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