The most significant events in the history of books on the 12th of October
1692: The Salem witch trials end in Massachusetts. Judges include Andrew Elliott, T. S. Eliot’s distant ancestor, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne would add the ‘w’ to his surname in an attempt to distance himself from his historic relative.
1875: Occultist and author Aleister Crowley is born. Crowley took drugs, was bisexual at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, and generally courted controversy, challenging the social mores of the day. Somerset Maugham satirised Crowley as Oliver Haddo in his 1908 novel The Magician, which isn’t read as much as it should be. Several volumes of Crowley’s fiction have been reprinted by Wordsworth Classics in their affordable ‘mystery and supernatural’ range: The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural) and The Drug and Other Stories (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) by Aleister Crowley (2010).
1892: The burial of Alfred Lord Tennyson takes place in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. His coffin is decorated with a number of funeral wreaths, including one from Queen Victoria herself. The service includes a musical rendering of one of Tennyson’s late poems, ‘Crossing the Bar’, in which the poet muses upon his own death.
1904: Lester Dent is born. He was a prolific author of pulp fiction and the creator of Doc Savage, a fictional superhuman scientist. He came up with an influential plot formula for pulp fiction, which can be read here.
1924: Anatole France dies. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921. Some of his bon mots have become popular, particularly in the age of the internet soundbite. He could be wise: ‘If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.’ And witty: ‘Never lend books – nobody ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me.’
1926: Edwin Abbott, author of Flatland, dies. A maths teacher, he used his knowledge of mathematics to pen this short fantasy novel about the different dimensions, sneaking a bit of satire of Victorian society in for good measure. Edwin Abbott’s middle name, by the way, was Abbott.
1962: Sylvia Plath writes one of her best-known poems, ‘Daddy’, partly inspired by her own relationship with her father, Otto (an expert on bees), who died when Sylvia was just eight years old. Four months after she wrote ‘Daddy’, Sylvia Plath would take her own life.
1979: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams’s comic science fiction novel, is published. It was a novelisation of the original radio series, which aired on the BBC earlier a year earlier. However, the BBC turned down the chance to publish the book of the series, so instead it was published by Pan Books. In the first three months it sold 250,000 copies, topping the book charts. 14 million copies have been sold to date. More great Douglas Adams facts here.
Image: Aleister Crowley in 1929, Wikimedia Commons.