The Silver Pencil by Alice Dalgliesh

A 1945 Newbery Honor book, The Silver Pencil really isn’t a children’s book at all. It’s more of a young adult fiction book in the tradition of L.M. Montgomery’s sequels to Anne of Green Gables or her Emily of New Moon books, or maybe more like Little Women, the book that The Silver Pencil alludes to and depends upon for its framing device. (The main character, Janet, is a fan of Little Women, and hence of the United States, a country she has never seen until she comes to New York to study in her late teens, except in the pages of Alcott’s inspirational book.)

The Silver Pencil is also quite the autobiographical novel:

“Born October 7, 1893 in Trinidad, British West Indies, to John and Alice (Haynes) Dalgliesh, Alice immigrated to England with her family when she was 13. Six years later she came to America to study kindergarten education at the Pratt Institute in New York City. She eventually received a Bachelor in Education and Master in English Literature from the Teachers College at Columbia University. While she was at school Dalgliesh applied for and received her naturalization as an American citizen. She taught for 17 years at the Horace Mann School, while also leading courses in children’s literature and story writing at Columbia.”

The Silver Pencil‘s protagonist, Janet Laidlaw, also moves from Trinidad to England and then to the United States, to study kindergarten education. She has some health issues and also spends some time recuperating in Nova Scotia, Canada. Janet becomes a kindergarten teacher, but finds that she is better suited to be a writer. She struggles with young adult sorts of issues: finding her vocation, responding to the men who come into her life, deciding in what country her true citizenship should lie. I daresay most young adults don’t need to make the final decision, but they do decide how much of a citizen they will be and what citizenship and civic duty entail.

I liked the book, but it’s not going to appeal to the masses. For teen and twenty-something girls who like stories about bookish and thoughtful young ladies growing up in and earlier time period (again fans of Montgomery’s Emily books, perhaps), The Silver Pencil might be just the thing.

October 25th

1154: Henry II becomes King of England. Henry was married to the much older (nine to eleven years older) Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been previously married to the King of France, Louis VII, until she managed to get her marriage annulled. Henry himself was nineteen years when he married Eleanor and only twenty-one when he became King of England. Henry and Eleanor had eight children, thereby creating much opportunity for future confusion and conflict regarding the throne of England. (I also have eight children, but no throne for them to fight over; therefore, I hope to see no internecine conflict among my progeny.)

Movies/drama featuring Henry II: Becket, The Lion in Winter, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.

Historical fiction:
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

1400: Geoffrey Chaucer (birthday unknown) died on October 25, 1400. His Canterbury Tales begins with the words:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …

1415: The Battle of Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day.

1764: John Adams (28) weds Abigail Smith (19) in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their marriage lasted 54 years.

You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first. John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, April 28, 1776.

John Adams’ Advice to His Children.
On the Character of John Adams.

1854: The Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson wrote his famous poem about the charge after reading a newspaper report.

1881: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain.

1952: Engineer Husband was born in Buda, Texas. Happy Birthday, my love.

Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.

Poetry Friday: October’s Bright Blue Weather by Helen Hunt Jackson

Novelist, poet, and activist Helen Hunt Jackson was born October 15, 1830. She wrote a nonfiction book titled A Century of Dishonor in which she exposed government mistreatment of the Native American peoples. “Jackson sent a copy to every member of Congress with a quote from Benjamin Franklin printed in red on the cover: ‘Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.'” (Wikipedia, Helen Hunt Jackson) She also wrote a novel, Ramona, in which she endeavored to dramatize the plight of Native Americans in the same manner as her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for black slaves in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Ms. Jackson’s poetry was much more light-hearted and celebratory than her prose.

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

Rejoice in God’s gift of a new October. Count the hours like a miser, and enjoy the bright blue weather in pairs or alone. That’s my plan.

Poetry Friday Is On! at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

To This Great Stage of Fools: Born October 31st

John Keats, b.1795.

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.

Chiang Kai-Shek, b.1887.

Sydney Taylor, b.1904. Ms. Taylor was an actress and a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York. But here in Semicolon family, she’s famous as the author of the All-of-a-Kind family books, from which we draw the frequently quoted phrase, “My mama smiles on me!”

Katherine Paterson, b.1932 in Qing-Jiang, China. Ms. Paterson wrote several classic children’s books including two Newbery Award books, Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terebithia. My urchins enjoyed both the Terebithia book and the movie. She’s also the author of The Great Gilly Hopkins and The Master Puppeteer, both of which I’ve read and enjoyed. From an interview with the author at Katherine Paterson’s official website, terebithia.com:

In what ways has your religious conviction informed your writing? And would you comment on the presence (or lack ) of religious content, specifically Christian, in recent children’s literature (say the last fifteen years or so)?

I think it was Lewis who said something like: “The book cannot be what the writer is not.” What you are will shape your book whether you want it to or not. I am Christian, so that conviction will pervade the book even when I make no conscious effort to teach or preach. Grace and hope will inform everything I write.

You’re asking me to comment on fifteen years of 5000 or so books a year. Whew! We live in a Post-Christian society. Therefore, not many of those writers will be Christians or adherents of any of the traditional faiths. Self-consciously Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) writing will be sectarian and tend to propaganda and therefore have very little to say to persons outside that particular faith community. The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.

To This Great Stage of Fools: Born October 30th

Eliza Brightwen, b. 1830. Naturalist and author, Mrs. Brightwen was plagued by some undefined and never-diagnosed illness for most of her life so that she was hardly ever able to leave her home called The Grove, out in the English countryside. She wrote several books about her observations of nature, and these books sold well and became quite popular in Victorian England. From her diary:

Jan 20th 1893.- I feel intensely the desire to do more for the poor, but how can I reach them? I am physically unable to go into the slums. I do give money far and wide. I try not to lose a minute in working to make things for others. But oh! The mass of misery in our large towns, especially London, fills me with heart sorrow. A goodly sum earned by my book and given to our clergyman here is doing blessed work, getting boots for children, paying back rent, bringing fires into cold rooms, cheering my poor brethren. How glad I am! What blessed interest for my money! But what can I do for London? I have prayed to be guided. A bale of flannel bought cheaply, then cut into garments and given to poor women to make up ready to give away seems to give one of the best ways of investing money, as it helps the one who makes up the clothes and those who receive them. It is easy to say the poor should make their own clothes, but even if they can get the material their time is taken up at the wash-tub, and mending, and cooking. How can a poor mother make all the clothes for five or six children, her husband and herself? I know I could not, and yet we often think a poor, uneducated woman is able to do what we cannot. I think the quiet, patient, plodding life of the poor is incredible. There is no change from day to day, no fresh books to give a change of thought. The husband comes in, tired and depressed, eats his supper and goes to bed. What is there for the poor wife but a daily round of cheerless duties? Oh, I do feel sorry for them and do not wonder they enjoy spending an evening here in my pretty rooms, hearing sweet music, seeing the conservatory lighted up. It must seem, as they graphically say, “Just like ‘eaven.”

Go here to read more about Eliza Brightwen and her home and writings.

Adelaide Procter, b.1825.

A Lost Chord

SEATED one day at the Organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I do not know what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then ;
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an Angel’s Psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife ;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

It linked all perplexéd meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the Organ,
And entered into mine.

It may be that Death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,
It may be that only in Heaven
I shall hear that grand Amen.

That reminds me of C.S. Lewis trying to recapture Joy. I like the word “amen”, let it be so, as You will, I agree, faith and solid belief, all rolled up into one word.

AMEN: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin āmÄ“n, from Greek, from Hebrew ‘āmÄ“n, certainly, verily, from ‘āman, to be firm; Semitic roots. O.E., from L.L. amen, from Gk. amen, from Heb., “truth,” used adverbially as an expression of agreement (e.g. Deut. xxvii.26, I Kings i.36; cf. Mod.Eng. verily, surely, absolutely in the same sense), from Sem. root a-m-n “to be trustworthy, confirm, support.” Used in O.E. only at the end of Gospels, otherwise translated as Soðlic! or Swa hit ys, or Sy!. As an expression of concurrence after prayers, it is recorded from c.1230.

Amen.

To This Great Stage of Fools: Born October 29th

James Boswell, b.1740.

The life of Johnson is assuredly a great, a very great work. Homer is not more decidedly the first of heroic poets, Shakespeare is not more decidedly the first of dramatists, Demosthenes is not more decidedly the first of orators, than Boswell is the first of biographers.” —Thomas Macaulay

So has anyone out there actually read Boswell’s Life of Johnson? I’ve read excerpts and quotations, but never touched the real thing.

Abraham Kuyper, b. 1837. Dutch pastor and theologian, he also became prime minister of the Netherlands in 1901: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

To This Great Stage of Fools: Born October 27th

Theodore Roosevelt 26th President of the United States

“For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all other forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison.”

“There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.”

“Don’t hit at all if you can help it; don’t hit a man if you can possibly avoid it; but if you do hit him, put him to sleep.”

“I don’t think any President ever enjoyed himself more than I did. Moreover, I don’t think any ex-President ever enjoyed himself more.”

Theodore Roosevelt became president at forty-two, when William McKinley was assassinated. Although he wasn’t the youngest man ever elected president (Kennedy, age 43), Teddy was the youngest to become president. When TR’s second term was over, he was still only fifty years old, making him the youngest ex-president, too.

T.R., b. 1858, is my favorite of all the presidents. I don’t say he was the best or the wisest or the one I would most agree with politically, but he would definitely be the most interesting dinner guest of all the presidents. Which president, or first lady, would you invite to your home if you could?

To this Great Stage of Fools: Born October 23rd

Robert Seymour Bridges, b. 1844. English poet, poet laureate from 1913 to his death in 1930. According to Wikipedia, “At Corpus Christi College, Bridges became friends with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is now considered a superior poet but who owes his present fame to Bridges’ efforts in arranging the posthumous publication (1916) of his verse.” Bridges was also a translator of hymns, including O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded, When Morning Gilds the Skies, and Bach’s famous Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Laurie Halse Anderson, b. 1961. She’s the same age as my baby sister. She wrote Speak, an excellent YA book about a difficult subject. Semicolon review here. She’s also the author of Fever 1793, a fictional account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in that year.

To this Great Stage of Fools: Born October 22nd

Marjorie Flack, b. 1897. Artist and children’s author. She wrote several well-loved children’s classics, including:

The Story about Ping: Ping, a little yellow duck, is the last duck to come home when the boatman calls, and the last duck across the bridge gets a spank. So instead of taking his spank, Ping hides and gets separated from his wise-eyed boat on the Yangtze River. Illustrated by Kurt Wiese.
Ask Mr. Bear Similar to Charlotte zolotow’s Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Danny asks all the animals for help in finding the perfect birthday present for his mother.
Angus and the Ducks
Angus and the Cat
Angus Lost: Semicolon review here.
Walter, the Lazy Mouse
The Boats on the River: Caldecott Honor book in 1947, illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum.
Wait for William William is late for the parade when he stops to tie his shoe, but he gets the best parade view of all.
Tim Tadpole and the Great Bullfrog
Neighbors on the Hill
The Restless Robin
Angus and Wagtail Bess
All Around the Town: The Story of a Boy in New York

Ms. Flack also illustrated The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward. Marjorie Flack’s second husband was William Rose Benet, brother of Stephen Vincent Benet. William Benet was a Pulitzer prize winning poet (1942) as was his brother, and Marjorie was his fourth wife. She outlived him.