Literary Daybook, April 30

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published April 30, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On April 30, 1929, Beatriz Viterbo dies.
-- "The Aleph" (1949)
by Jorge Luis Borges

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1642, courtier, soldier and gentleman-poet Richard Lovelace presented the Kentish Petition to Parliament on behalf of King Charles I, and was promptly imprisoned for it. Lovelace was a dandy and a drinker -- he belonged to the "Sons of Ben," a group of young poets who idolized Ben Jonson and drank with him at the Devil Tavern in London -- but the critics do not rank him highly as a poet. "Very few poets in the seventeenth century who wrote as much as Lovelace displayed such incompetence," writes one; a good illustration of "To what excesses a labouring fancy, unrestrained by good taste, may run," writes another. Nonetheless, prison seemed to bring out the best in him: The poems he wrote during the seven weeks he spent there include "To Althea: From Prison," one of the most anthologized of 17th century poems and that which contains his one, poster-famous line:

When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair
And fetter'd to her eye,
The birds that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty ...

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

A 17th century biographer tells us that by his death in 1658, Lovelace had fallen from grace and squandered his estate: "He became very poor in body and purse, was the object of charity, went in ragged clothes (whereas when he was in his glory he wore cloth of gold and silver) and mostly lodged in obscure and dirty places, more befitting the worst of beggars and poorest of servants ... He died in a very mean lodging in Gunpowder Alley, near Shoe Lane."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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