January 29th 1845: ‘The Raven’ published
On this day in 1845, the poem ‘The Raven’ by American writer Edgar Allan Poe was published in the New York Evening Mirror. The poem made Poe famous and established him as a popular writer. ‘The Raven’ remains one of his best known works today. It tells the story of a raven who comes to a man who has recently lost his beloved. The raven perches on a bust of Pallas and distresses the man by repeating the word “Nevermore”.
The last lines are as follows:
"And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”
(read the full poem here)
January 11th 1928: Thomas Hardy dies
On this day in 1928, the British novelist and poet Thomas Hardy died aged 87. Hardy is best known for his novels ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and ‘Jude the Obscure’ and his poems ‘Convergence of the Twain’, ‘The Darkling Thrush’ and ‘Under the Waterfall’. His novels were mostly set in the fictional region of Wessex. Hardy and his first wife Emma had an unhappy marriage, as latterly they rarely talked. However, upon her death in 1912 Hardy was filled with remorse for his treatment of her and wrote many poems about her. When Hardy died in 1928, despite his wishes to be buried next to Emma, the executor of his will wanted him placed in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. As a compromise, Hardy’s ashes were placed in Poets’ Corner, and his heart was buried with Emma.
December 23rd 1823: ‘The Night Before Christmas’ published
On this day in 1823, the poem' A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'The Night Before Christmas' was published anonymously in a local newspaper in New York state. The poem is now considered to have been written by Clement Clarke Moore, who accepted authorship in 1844. Moore supposedly wrote the poem for his children, and as a distinguished professor did not want to be publicly associated with the poem. However debates endure as to the poem’s true authorship. The poem helped to establish in popular imagination the idea of Santa Claus.
"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there”
(read the full poem here)
December 9th 1608: John Milton born
On this day in 1608 the British poet John Milton was born in London. He attended Cambridge in 1625 and began an interest in writing. After leaving university Milton traveled extensively throughout Europe, spending a lot of time in France and Italy. Milton was appointed to Oliver Cromwell’s government as Secretary of Foreign Tongues in 1649. He is most famous for his 1667 epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, which is still considered one of the greatest poems of all time. Milton died in November 1674.
October 21st 1940: ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ published
On this day in 1940, Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ was first published. The novel follows Robert Jordan as he fights in a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War as an explosives expert. He was inspired by his own experiences during the war. Hemingway wrote the novel in 1939 and began it while he was in Cuba. The novel sold half a million copies within months of publication. It is now considered one of Hemingway’s finest works.
October 13th 1958: Paddington Bear debuts
On this day in 1958 the iconic character of English children’s books, Paddington Bear, made his debut in the first book in the series: ‘A Bear Called Paddington’. He has since appeared in over twenty books. The books were written by Michael Bond, who based the character on a lone teddy bear he saw on a shelf in a shop near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve 1956. In his first appearance, the bear is discovered by the Brown family in Paddington Station in London, thus giving him his name.
September 21st 1866: H.G. Wells born
On this day in 1866, the English science fiction writer H.G. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent. Sometimes called ‘the father of science fiction’, Wells is best known for his works ‘The War of the Worlds’ and ‘The Time Machine’. Wells was also a socialist and a pacifist, and his political views colored much of his later work. In 1938 Orson Welles broadcast his radio play of ‘The War of the Worlds’ as a series of news bulletins which led many Americans to fear a Martian invasion. H.G. Wells died in London in 1946 aged 79.
August 18th 1958: Lolita published
On this day in 1958 the novel ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov was published in the United States. The novel was very controversial at the time due to its subject matter. The protagonist is a middle aged man called Humbert Humbert who has a sexual relationship with a 12 year old girl whom he nicknames ‘Lolita’. However, it is considered one of the greatest novels of all time.
January 27th 1832: Lewis Carroll born
On this day in 1832, the English writer Lewis Carroll was born. His birth name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson but he took Lewis Carroll as his pseudonym. Carroll studied at Rugby School and Oxford University. He is most famous as the author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) and its sequel ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (1871). Carroll’s writing is an example of literary nonsense, and displays his aptitude with word play and logic. His works are still widely enjoyed today by adults and children alike.
December 30th 1865: Rudyard Kipling born
On this day in 1865, the English writer Rudyard Kipling was born. Kipling was born in Bombay and in later life wrote frequently about British soldiers in India. However he is best known for his book for children ‘The Jungle Book’. ‘The Jungle Book’ is a collection of short stories and was published in 1894.The book inspired the 1967 Disney film. Kipling was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. Kipling died in 1936 aged 70.
December 22nd 1943: Beatrix Potter dies
On this day in 1943, the famous English author Beatrix Potter died. She is best known for her children’s books like ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. Potter was born in London in 1866 to a wealthy family. She began her career as an illustrator and in 1901 published The Tale of Peter Rabbit which she wrote and illustrated. Upon her death in Near Sawrey, Cumbria, Potter left almost all her property to the National Trust. She is thus credited with preserving much of the land that is now the Lake District National Park.
December 3rd 1894: Robert Louis Stevenson dies
On this day in 1894, the author Robert Louis Stevenson died aged 44. Stevenson was best known for his works ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’. He is considered one of the greatest authors of the 19th century. Stevenson died on the evening of 3rd December 1894. He was talking to his wife and trying to open a bottle of wine when he said “What’s that!” and asked his wife “Does my face look strange?”. He then collapsed and died a few hours later from what was most likely a cerebral hemorrhage.
On Stevenson’s tomb is inscribed his ‘Requiem’:
"Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
October 16th 1854: Oscar Wilde born
On this day in 1854 the famous Irish writer Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin. Wilde studied the classics at Oxford and whilst there became engaged in philosophy and literature. Wilde is best known for his works including his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and his play ‘The Importance of the Being Earnest’. He is one of the greatest personalities in literature, as a very witty and flamboyant man. Wilde was a homosexual, and was arrested and sentenced to two years of hard labour for ‘gross indecency’. He died in November 1900 in Paris aged 46.
October 6th 1892: Alfred, Lord Tennyson dies
On this day in 1892, the famous British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson died aged 83. Tennyson was Poet Laureate under Queen Victoria from 1850 until his death. His poems include ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘In Memoriam’. The latter poem coined the famous phrase “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all”. Upon his death he was buried in Westminster Abbey in Poets’ Corner alongside notable figures like Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling.
August 30th 1797: Mary Shelley born
On this day in 1797 the English novelist Mary Shelley was born in London. Her birth name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her mother was British women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died a few days after giving birth to her. Mary went on to marry the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Shelleys famously attended a party at the home of British poet Lord Byron where he challenged that each guest (all of whom were authors and poets) write a ghost story. Mary Shelley then proceeded to write one of the most famous novels of all time: ‘Frankenstein’. Percy Shelley drowned in 1822 and Mary Shelley died in 1851.