The most significant events in the history of books on the 19th of October
1605: Sir Thomas Browne is born. Responsible for coining the word ‘misconception’ (or at any rate, providing the dictionary with its earliest known use in print), Browne took the seventeenth-century world to task in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, which examined and endeavoured to correct many misconceptions and ‘vulgar errors’ of the day. He was, if you like, a sort of Early Modern version of QI or Mythbusters. He would also die on this day, in 1682 – his 77th birthday.
1745: Jonathan Swift dies. The author of Gulliver’s Travels, he was also the possible author of a treatise on human excrement, Human Ordure. Oh, and he came up with the girls’ name Vanessa, which was his pet name for his friend and lover Esther Vanhomrigh.
1784: Leigh Hunt is born. A friend of Romantic poet John Keats, he wrote several anthologists’ favourites of his own, such as ‘Jenny Kiss’d Me‘. Charles Dickens, no fan, mercilessly caricatured him (as the selfish Harold Skimpole) in his novel Bleak House.
1931: John le Carré is born (as David Cornwell). One of le Carré’s early jobs was washing elephants for the Swiss National Circus. He would later find fame as the author of spy novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, though the road to success was paved with rejection slips. One publisher who rejected The Spy Who Came in from the Cold wrote to a colleague, ‘You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.’ Millions of readers and film-goers have proved him wrong.
1946: Philip Pullman is born. He is probably best known for writing the His Dark Materials trilogy of fantasy novels (though Pullman dislikes the term ‘fantasy’ and prefers to think of his fiction as ‘realism’). Curiously, George Pullman, the American engineer who developed the Pullman sleeping carriage, had died on this day in 1897, exactly 49 years before his writer namesake came into the world.