The most significant events in the history of books on the 28th of October
October the 28th would prove an historic day in the annals of literature. A Poet Laureate died, leading to a rethinking of the ‘tenure’ of UK Poets Laureate. And an American writer coped with failure but would refuse to be bowed down – and would go on to make literary history in the United States.
1704: John Locke dies. One of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, Locke is best remembered for An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which was published in 1689 (though dated, or postdated, to 1690).
1806: Charlotte Turner Smith, English Romantic poet and novelist, dies. Although she is largely forgotten now, Smith helped to bring the English sonnet back into fashion, was influential in the development of the Gothic novel, and also wrote children’s books – an emerging new genre in the late eighteenth century (as revealed in our post detailing the origin of the phrase ‘Goody Two-Shoes’). Some time after her death, Wordsworth would describe Charlotte Turner Smith as ‘a lady to whom English verse is under greater obligations than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered.’ Sadly, he was right.
1853: Henry David Thoreau reclaims 703 copies of his own book from his publisher. Thoreau’s first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was printed at Thoreau’s own expense in 1849, but it sold poorly. Of the 1,000 copies printed, fewer than 300 were sold, and four years later the future author of Walden took them back home, writing sorrowfully, ‘I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.’
1903: Evelyn Waugh is born Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh. When his first novel was rejected, he will resolve to drown himself in the sea. He changes his mind when he’s stung by a jellyfish. His first wife is also called Evelyn: they become known as ‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn’.
1986: John Braine dies. He is best remembered for his 1950s novel Room at the Top, and associated with the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the 1950s.
1998: Ted Hughes dies, one day after what would have been Sylvia Plath‘s 66th birthday. He had been UK Poet Laureate since 1984, when John Betjeman died and Philip Larkin turned down the honour. After Hughes’ death, the post of Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom would not be for life, but for a fixed term of ten years. Carol Ann Duffy is the current holder of the post – the first woman to do so. The UK Poet Laureate is paid £5,760 per year and receives 720 bottles of sherry – presumably all that wine is to help get their poetic inspiration flowing.
Image: Portrait by George Romney of Charlotte Turner Smith, 1792; Wikimedia Commons.