December 15 in Literary History: Arthur Machen Dies

The most significant events in the history of books on the 15th of December

1683: Izaak Walton dies. He was a biographer who wrote about the lives of a number of key seventeenth-century poets, including the Metaphysical Poets John Donne and George Herbert. However, it is for his 1653 book The Compleat Angler that Walton is chiefly remembered. Charles Lamb recommended the Angler to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: ‘It breathes the very spirit of innocence, purity, and simplicity of the heart. There are many choice old verses interspersed in it; it would sweeten a man’s temper at any time to read it; it would Christopher HitchensChristianise every discordant angry passion; pray make yourself acquainted with it.’ However, Walton’s wasn’t the first such book on the subject: in 1613 John Dennys had published The Secrets of Angling, a long poetic work on the topic of fishing. Dennys’ authorship of the book remained unknown until 1811.

1930: Edna O’Brien is born. This Irish novelist turns 85 today, on December 15! Philip Roth has called O’Brien ‘the most gifted woman now writing in English’.

1947: Arthur Machen dies. This Welsh novelist invented the literary device of the Holy Grail having ‘survived’ into modern times (in his 1922 novel The Secret Glory), was responsible for the ‘Angel of Mons‘ legend during the First World War, and wrote a horror story that Stephen King described as ‘maybe the best in the English language’. His masterpiece, however, is the 1907 novel The Hill of Dreams, written in the 1890s and focusing on a struggling author who experiences vivid visions of Roman Britain while wandering about the hills of South Wales.

2011: Christopher Hitchens dies. This author, contrarian, journalist, and public figure helped to popularise the witticism ‘everyone has a book in them, but in most places that’s where it should stay‘.

And finally … as it’s International Tea Day, here are some facts about writers and tea:

Dr Johnson was known to drink up to 25 cups of tea in one sitting.

‘Scandal-broth’ was eighteenth-century slang for tea.

As well as denoting a believer in God, ‘theist’ (from the French thé) is a jocular word for someone addicted to drinking tea; it was first used by Percy Shelley.

The first recorded reference to anyone in England having a cup of tea is in Samuel Pepys’ diary on 25 September 1660.

Herman Melville’s paternal grandfather led the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Lewis Carroll always brewed his tea for exactly ten minutes.

The word ‘cuppa’, as in ‘cup of tea’, is first recorded in a 1925 novel by P. G. Wodehouse.

Image: ‘Christopher Hitchens reading his book Hitch 22‘, 2010; author: meesh; Wikimedia Commons.

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