Tuesday, February 18, 2014

English Metaphysical Poets

John Donne (1572-1631) – The Rake turned Preacher

John Donne was born to Catholic parents living in London who hid their faith because it was considered heresy and equal to atheism to the Anglican church. John distanced himself from religion as a young man, spending his money on literature, womanizing, parties, and travel. His early poetry was mostly about love. He traveled with Sir Walter Raleigh, fighting the Spanish, and then got a job as secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. Then, at age 29, John secretly married Sir Egerton’s 16-year-old niece, Anne. Sir Egerton had John put in prison, as well as the minister and witness to the marriage, but they were all soon freed. John lost his job and had to move to the small town of Pyrford, where he barely got by as a lawyer. Anne bore him 12 children. Only 7 lived past the age of ten, and Anne died shortly after giving birth to the last, who was still-born. John was crushed, at one point writing Biathanatos, a poem defending suicide. In the meantime, his other writings were so popular that the king of England, James I, ordered him to join the Anglican church, and serve as dean to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he became one of England’s most famous preachers, writing the famous sonnet Death be not Proud.

George Herbert (1593-1633) – The Generous Preacher

George Herbert was the Godson of John Donne. In his short life he earned a Masters from Trinity College, Cambridge, was a member of parliament, and became a priest, where he helped rebuild a church with his own money, and gave food and clothing to the needy. Described as sickly, he died of tuberculosis just three years after becoming a priest. His major work was a collection of poems titled The Temple, which was published the year he died. Herbert liked to write pattern poems, where the words are spaced to resemble the subject of the poem. Some of his poems have become church hymns.

Richard Crashaw (1613-1649) – The Catholic Exile

Son of a Puritan Minister, he studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he became a teacher. At the start of the Civil War, he lost his job and went into exile in Italy, where he converted to Catholocism. He worked for Cardinal Pallotta where he complained about the bad behaviour of his other employees. There is some suspicion he was poisoned by them, but officially he died of a fever.

Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) – The Prodigy turned King’s Messenger

Cowley made a name for himself as a poet at a very young age, being inspired by Spenser’s Faerie Queene. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, but being a Royalist, he was ejected during the Civil War. He fled to Paris where he became messenger between the English king and queen in exile. When King Charles II was restored to the throne, Cowley was given a nice home in the country, where he studied botany, supporting the creation of the Royal Society to advance science.


Bacon & Locke: English Enlightenment Philosophers

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

v     He was an English philosopher, politician, scientist, and diplomat.

v     He was the founder of empiricism and the scientific method – that all theories must be tested with experiments. He argued that knowledge comes only from the senses, and that science should be used for practical purposes, such as inventions to make work simpler and life better for all.

v     He was the first scientist ever to be knighted for his work.

v     As a member of parliament, he was a liberal reformer. He advocated religious tolerance, democracy, and the unification of England and Scotland.

v     Bacon ended his political career in disgrace, when his archrival, Sir Edward Coke, charged him with twenty-three counts of corruption. He was fined £40,000, and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a few days, until the king, his supporter, released him, and forgave the debt. Plus, he was banned from ever holding public office again – he couldn’t run in elections.

v     Bacon wrote a novel called The New Atlantis, about a utopian society on an island in the Pacific, which had freedom for all. Bacon also encouraged many people to go start colonies in America to try to realize his dream. So, he was a great inspiration for America’s founding fathers.

v     A few scholars debate whether Francis Bacon wrote some or all of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. The theory is that Shakespeare pretended to be the author, so that Bacon could write in secret and still hold a political office – being a playwright was considered a lower profession. Some people have even found “ciphers” in the works supporting this theory, a bit.

John Locke (1632-1704)

v     Locke was a physician (doctor) and one of the greatest philosophers of the English Enlightenment, a cultural movement emphasizing logic and science.

v     He’s known as the Father of Classical Liberalism, a political ideology in which liberty (freedom) is most important, and that government must be limited to protect liberty.

v     For Locke, one of the most important limits on government is the separation of church and state. Locke argued for religious toleration, with three arguments:

1. No one knows which is the true religion. People are imperfect and unfit to judge. Only God knows the true religion, and is fit to judge people.

2. Even if people knew the true religion, you can’t force people to believe in it.

3. Forcing one religion on society creates social disorder.

v     Locke also argued that property is a human right, since it is created from human labour.

v     Locke was the first to form the modern conception of identity in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He said that every baby starts as a tabula rasa (blank slate) and that knowledge comes from experience.

v     Locke wrote Two Treatises on Government, arguing against monarchies, and for natural rights, including the right to vote. While they were ignored in England, they were very influential in the American colonies, when they revolted against Britain. In fact, one line, Britain’s “long train of abuses” was quoted in the US Declaration of Independence.

v     Active in politics, Locke was a part of the Rye House Plot, a plan to kill both king Charles II and his brother James. It was discovered, and Locke fled to the Netherlands. Apparently, it wasn’t a detailed plan, it was more of an idea, but the king was so zealous (zápalistý) in finding and punishing these conspirators (sprisahanci) that it helped lead to riots (hýrenie) and the Glorious Revolution, in which William III took the throne. It’s a good example of someone creating exactly what he didn’t want to happen.

v     Locke is sometimes accused of hypocrisy, because he helped draft the Constitution of North Carolina which permitted slavery, and the taking of land owned by Native Americans, since the land was “unenclosed”, meaning it had no fence.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Harriet Beecher Stowe Biography

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

v     Harriet Stowe was a writer, and an abolitionist. An abolitionist is a political activist who opposes slavery. They fight for equal rights.

v     She wrote more than 20 books, including novels, memoirs, articles, and published letters, sometimes under the pen name Christopher Crowfield.

v     Harriet’s most famous for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which described the lives of slaves in the southern United States. The story was first told as a serial in the newspaper, The National Era.

v     Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best selling book of the 19th century. It sold over 300,000 copies in less than a year, and a play based on the book soon opened in New York. Plus, over 300 women in Boston named their babies “Eva”, after a character in the book. At the same time, it made many people in the south very angry.

v     After the Civil War began, Harriet and her family were invited to the White House, to meet President Lincoln. According to her son, Lincoln greeted her saying, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Harriet only said, “I had a real funny interview with the President.”

v     Besides writing, she actively helped escaped slaves become free, taking part in the Underground Railroad, a secret organization that smuggled escaped slaves north to Canada, where they could be free.

v     Harriet also fought for women’s rights, saying, “The position of a married woman . . . is, in many respects, precisely similar to that of the negro slave. She can make no contract and hold no property; whatever she inherits or earns becomes at that moment the property of her husband . . . Though he acquired a fortune through her, or though she earn a fortune through her talents, he is the sole master of it, and she cannot draw a penny . . . In the English common law a married woman is nothing at all. She passes out of legal existence.”

v     After she died, the Episcopal Church honored her with a feast day in their calendar, on July 1.

Personal Life:

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born in Connecticut. Her parents were very religious. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, and co-founder of the American Temperance Society, to get Americans to stop drinking hard alcohol. Her mother died when she was five. Her family was very socially minded. Her sister became a teacher who started a school, while her three brothers all became ministers and abolitionists.
            She married Calvin Stowe, a professor and widower, at the age of twenty-five. They had seven children, including twin daughters. Harriet fought all her life for equal rights, for both men and women. She died at age eighty-five, possibly from Alzheimer’s.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

This is an anti-slavery novel in which the main character, a slave named Tom, is bought and sold to a variety of different masters, being torn from his family and friends, and totally at the mercy of fate. While he is dutiful and helpful, his kindness and wisdom are often lost on those around him, who treat him as an animal, eventually beating him to death. Throughout the story, many people have a change of heart, ending their racist beliefs, and promising to be better, to be Christian brothers and sisters to black people.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Robinson Crusoe Notes

Robinson Crusoe, by Newell Convers Wyeth

v     This novel was written in 1719. It’s a fictional autobiography, and started a new genre of realistic fiction.

v     It’s one of the most popular English novels and has been adapted many times for theatre, film, and television.

v     It tells the story of how Robinson Crusoe was kidnapped (bol unesený; to kidnap = uniesť) by pirates, escaped, and became a castaway (stroskotanec) on a desert island (opustený ostrov) near Trinidad, after his boat shipwrecked (bol stroskotaný).

v     In the story, Crusoe had to build a shelter (kryt), fight off cannibals, he saved a man who became his friend/servant, and fought off mutineers (vzbúrenci) before finally getting back home.

For a Mile My Raft Went Very Well, by NC Wyeth

v     Crusoe named the man he saved Friday, because he saved him on a Friday. He became Crusoe’s servant and closest friend.

v    Defoe named Crusoe as the author, so many readers believed Crusoe was a real person, telling a true story. For a long time Defoe claimed to be the editor of the story.

v    Although this story is fiction, there were many real stories of castaways which Defoe used as inspiration. Two real life Crusoe’s were Alexander Selkirk and Henry Pitman.

v    The name, Crusoe, may have come from Timothy Cruso, a friend and classmate of Defoe’s who had written several guidebooks (tlačený sprievodce) on how to be a good Christian. Timothy died eight years before Defoe wrote the story, so it may have been a way to remember him. Who knows?

v    Critics note that the story serves as a metaphor for colonialism. Crusoe is a classic colonist, trying to recreate his society on the island. He’s an ‘enlightened’ (osvietený, vzdelaný, premyslený) European who teaches a ‘savage’ (divoký, primitivny) Indian to be civilized.

v    Robinson Crusoe has a strong religious theme. Crusoe repents for the mistakes he made and is optimistic that God will help him, as he begins to pray and read the Bible.

v     Robinson Crusoe was an inspiration for many famous stories, including Gulliver’s Travels, and Treasure Island. Both of these stories parody Crusoe’s adventures. The captain of Gulliver’s first ship is named Robinson.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Daniel Defoe - Biography

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

v     Daniel Defoe was an English writer, pamphleteer, journalist, spy, and merchant.

v     Defoe is considered one of the first English novelists, with his most famous work being Robinson Crusoe.

v     Defoe was a social critic, arguing for greater freedom of speech, and the rights of immigrants. He wrote satirical pamphlets making fun of the government, for which he was imprisoned, and stood for three days in a pillory (pranier).

v     Defoe often wrote anonymously, using over 198 different pen names (literárny pseudonymy).

v     Some of Defoe’s satires include Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, Everybody’s Business is Nobody’s Business, and a Political History of the Devil, in which he describes how the Devil caused historical events like the holy crusades (križiacky výpravy).

v     Defoe opposed (postavil sa) the Catholic King James II, because Defoe was a Presbyterian, and King James didn’t like them. Presbyterians were Christians, mostly Scottish, who rebelled against the Church of England. They wanted a different church government with a council of elders.

v     The next king, William III, liked Presbyterians, so Defoe was  happy, and worked for him, and later Queen Anne, as a spy.

v     Defoe wrote a newspaper, The Review, 3 times a week from 1702-1713, telling details about the War of Spanish Succession in Europe. This war was over who would be the next Spanish king.

v     The Review also supported the Act of Union, in 1707 that joined Scotland and England into one nation, called Great Britain. Before this act, England and Scotland were separate states, with the same monarch, but two different legislatures.

v     Besides writing The Review, Defoe went to Edinburgh where he acted as a spy, risking his life to help form the union. Another unionist said, “He was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob (dav, luza) of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces.”

Personal Life:
Daniel was born in London, and was the son of a chandler (sviečkár) named John Foe. Daniel added the “De” later in life to sound more aristocratic (šľachtický). His mother died when he was ten. As a child, Daniel witnessed the Great Plague (Veľký Mor) of 1665, and the Great Fire of 1666 which destroyed all but three houses in his neighbourhood. Lucky for him, one of those three was his. In 1684 Defoe married Mary Tuffley. Their marriage lasted over fifty years, and they had eight children (six survived).
Defoe was a successful business man, but he spent too much money, and was always in debt. He was arrested in 1692 for debts and again in 1702 for a pamphlet he wrote, making fun of the new Queen Anne. He was released from prison on the condition that he work for the Tories, a political party that paid for his release.