December 10 in Literary History: Huckleberry Finn is Published

The most significant events in the history of books on the 10th of December

1824: George MacDonald is born. His fantasy novels are important precursors to the more famous work of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom knew his novels, which include Lilith (1895), a Christian fantasy novel about a man who steps through a portal into another world. MacDonald’s two-word poem ‘The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs’ – probably the shortest poem in the entire canon of Victorian poetry – is discussed in our article about how to close-read a poem.

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Five Fascinating Facts about Henry David Thoreau

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

1. Henry David Thoreau was christened David Henry Thoreau; he reversed his first two names after graduating from Harvard. Nobody knows why.

Fresh from university, Thoreau decided to change his forenames around and become known as Henry David, though he never formally had his named changed and remained, officially, David Henry. The young Thoreau was an avid reader at university (he studied classics and languages) and amassed some 5,000 pages of notes on the material he’d devoured.

Later in life, he would translate Greek tragedy (notably Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes) and write on everything from Indian literature to Sir Walter Raleigh.

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December 9 in Literary History: John Milton Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 9th of December

1608: John Milton is born. The author of Paradise Lost (1667), one of the greatest epic poems in the English language, about the Fall of Man (brought about by fallen angel Satan). Milton is credited with being the first (or one of the first) to use a number of popular words, among them enjoyable, terrific, dismissive, satanic, unaided, and debauchery. Milton also coined the word ‘pandemonium’, as the name for the capital of Hell.

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December 8 in Literary History: Women Take to the Restoration Stage

The most significant events in the history of books on the 8th of December

1626: John Davies dies. A minor poet who was championed in the twentieth century by T. S. Eliot, Davies was an accomplished calligrapher as well as a poet and courtier. This led Jonathan Bate, in his biography of ShakespeareSoul of the Age, to propose the theory that Davies was the ‘rival poet’ in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

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10 of the Best Classic Christmas Carols and the Stories Behind Them

The ten best Christmas carols – and their interesting literary origins and meaning

‘Tis the season to the jolly, so let’s all sing a Christmas carol and enjoy a mince pie. No? Okay, how about you sit back with your mince pie and a glass of sherry, and we regale you with a few interesting facts about the literary origins and histories of some of the best-loved Christmas carols. We’ve included a link to a recording of each carol, should you wish to hear them – simply click on the carol’s title to hear the merry notes ring out. What’s your favourite Christmas carol? If you had to choose one, which Christmas carol would be crowned the greatest of all?

Anonymous, ‘Coventry Carol‘. ‘Herod the king, in his raging / Charged he hath this day / His men of might, in his own sight / All young children to slay …’ Dating from the early sixteenth century (its words were written down by one writer in 1534) and originally part of a mystery play called  The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, this carol was a favourite of local Coventry boy Philip Larkin, who chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs.

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