Thoughts and Words
Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born the same day, same year. Neither rose to prominence until their late 40s.
Lincoln, a lover of rhetoric and language, rode with a copy of Aesop’s Fables in his saddlebags. He often cited Aesop in his arguments when he was a lawyer.
A fable is a parable of a certain length with animals. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a parable with animals, is considered an allegory because it is longer than a parable. In addition to fiction, Orwell wrote essays arguing the evils of fascist regimes, and he is responsible for words such as cold war, Big Brother, thought police, doublethink, and memory hole.
The word evolution does not appear in the original text of Darwin’s Origin of Species, though it was known and used at his time. Evolution comes from Latin, meaning “unrolling of a scroll.” Because his contemporaries might think life was “unrolled” from a prewritten script, Darwin instead expressed his concepts with the word transmutation.
In New Zealand, a closed island ecosystem, there are no native land mammals, so the kiwi bird has evolved to take their place. Kiwis, in many ways, resemble mammals. They burrow underground nests, have thin, coarse feathers resembling fur, and use their long tongue to eat insects. Kiwi is a Maori word. Incidentally, the kiwifruit, named in 1966 in the United States, is known in New Zealand as Chinese gooseberry.
The last word of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, out of 243 words total, is earth. Lincoln’s reported final utterance was laughter, reacting to a line in the play Our American Cousin, right before he was shot.
The last word in Origin of Species is, quite literally, evolve.
Truth and Beauty
At birth, babies cannot see color. They only see shapes without dimension, shadow emphasized by light.
In Praise of Shadows is a delightful ode to Japanese aesthetics written by novelist Junichiro Tanizaki in 1933, in which he professes, “Were it not for the shadows, there would be no beauty.” He makes no mention of the militarization of Japan, though it was happening during this time.
The Color Purple is an Alice Walker novel highlighting the tragic lives of blacks in the 1930s’ south, through which Walker supposes a presence of God, unseen. The color purple originally came from the mucus glands of a sea snail known as the murex. The word purple comes from the snail’s Latin name, purpura. Although Elizabeth Taylor was known for her unconsciously beautiful violet eyes, they were truly deep blue, embellished by make-up.
Of his fabled blue period, Pablo Picasso said, “It was not a question of light or color, it was an inner necessity.” His 1937 cubist masterpiece Guernica depicts the devastation of Guernica where Spain’s fascist government targeted civilians in attempts to intimidate Republican resistance. Picasso uses light and shadow, not color, to convey the horror and tragedy.
The most expensive photograph ever sold is Australian photographer Peter Lik’s Phantom, sold for $6.5M in 2014.
The previously most expensive photograph sold was Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, which sold for $4.3M in 2011.
The latter, depiction of a minimalist, realist scene of the Rhine was enhanced by computer manipulation. The former, which depicts a haunting specter in the dust and caves of Arizona, was not. It is widely speculated that Phantom’s sale price was, in fact, a fake, embellished by Lik to improve his sales.
Children can, as early as twelve months old, begin using metaphors—bananas as phones, cheerios as eyeglasses—distinguishing between what is real and unreal, manipulating it to their advantage.
Body and Soul
The heart of Thomas Hardy is buried in Dorset, UK, with his first wife, Emma. Her death affected him profoundly and inspired much of his poetry. Hardy’s ashes are interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Last spring, scientists successfully grew the first life-size beating heart made entirely from stem cells. The Donate Life America organization estimates 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor, but only 52% are registered.
The first heart transplant was done in 1967 in Cape Town. It was a nine-hour operation that required a cardiothoracic team of thirty people. The first cesarean section in which both mother and child survived was performed by Dr. James Barry while he was stationed in Cape Town between 1817 and 1828. Barry, amazingly, was a woman, born Margaret Ann Bulkley, a truth she hid to pursue her profession. Her long-term colleagues learned once they saw her dead.
A.E. Housman, one of the world’s most noteworthy classical scholars and a consummate poet, taught Latin in the mornings and afternoons. He walked near Oxford where he has said poems presented themselves in his brain. Through his poetry, Housman commemorates and tries to bury his unreturned love for his friend Moses Jackson. It was this unrequited and hidden love that brought Housman life-long sorrow. Housman gave strict instructions that upon his death, all his unpublished poems be destroyed, a few survived, however, including one about his unrequited love.
In Nottingham, UK, a tree that came into being around the same time as Lincoln and Darwin and well before Hardy, the original Bramley apple tree, is dying from a honey fungus. There is nothing that can be done. It has been dying for more than twenty years, an irreversible march.
British writer and trans woman Jan Morris, 90, got her break covering Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascend of Mt. Everest in 1953. To prevent her competitors scooping the story, Morris sent a coded message to The Times saying “weather was bad,” which The Times published as mission successful. It was the same day that Queen Elisabeth II was crowned monarch in Westminster Abbey, processing near Hardy’s ashes.
Though born a male, Morris began living life as a female in 1968 and had sexual reassignment surgery in Morocco because British doctors refused to perform it unless she divorced her wife, Elizabeth Tuckniss.
The couple are still together.
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