Literary Daybook, Jan. 16

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 16, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 16, Senator Boyd Boyette disappears.
-- "The Client" (1993)
by John Grisham

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1874, Robert Service -- "the Kipling of Canada" -- was born in Preston, Lancashire, England. When he was 21, Service quit his bank job in Glasgow and emigrated to Canada, serious enough about fulfilling his dream of becoming a cowboy that he brought his Buffalo Bill Cody outfit along with him. Ten years later he was back in the bank, but at the White Horse branch in the Yukon. By the time Service got there, the only rush in White Horse was the one to get out of town, but "the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon" still, and telling tales. In 1907 Service published "The Songs of a Sourdough," his first collection -- there are eight in total, plus a handful of novels and autobiographies -- and the one that contained the two poems that would make him internationally famous, "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Two years later, Service was able to quit the bank, and every other job, for good -- "Dan McGrew" alone would make him half a million dollars. Service spent the next 50 years in Paris, the French Riviera, Hollywood and traveling the world. In "My Cross," Service laments that his public was only interested in his simple rhymes "of gutter and of grime/Of pimp and prostitute," but in "My Lady Luck" he does not:

"For Dan McGrew and Sam McGee
Saved me from sordid strife;
And I am grateful to these two
For sunshine in my life.
My turning point in luck I see
Refulgently began
The night I roasted Sam McGee
And perforated Dan."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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