Literary daybook, July 11

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published July 11, 2002 8:00AM (EDT)

Today in fiction On July 11, 1903, the wedding of Maggie Verver and Prince Amerigo.
-- In the movie version of the Henry James novel "The Golden Bowl" (2000)
Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1818, John Keats visited Robert Burns' first home in Alloway and wrote his sonnet "Written in the Cottage Where Burns Was Born." Keats was 22 years old, barely published, and on a summer-long walking tour of the North Country -- 20-30 rugged miles a day and "No supper but Eggs and Oat cake," which corrects the wan-and-weary side of the Keats myth nicely. Virtually all his best poems would come in a nine-month burst beginning the next January; he would cough blood for the first time on Feb. 3 of the following year ("That drop of blood is my death warrant"); he would die on Feb. 23 of the following year. These dates are linked to the Burns sonnet because of its opening line, which seems to be the premonition of a death that came just 43 days short of the estimate:

"This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine old Barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal;
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o'er and o'er,
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind,
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name,
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!"

Keats thought his poem a bad effort, blaming it not on the inspiration of the barley-bree ("The cock may craw, the day may daw,/And aye we'll taste the barley-bree" -- from Burns' "Willie Brew'd a Peck o' Maut") but to the old man who acted as guide and gatekeeper at the cottage. In his letter to a friend, Keats says "The Man at the Cottage was a great Bore with his Anecdotes ... -- he is a mahogany faced old Jackass who knew Burns -- He ought to be kicked for having spoken to him ... his gab hindered my sublimity -- The flat dog made me write a flat sonnet."

-- Steve King

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

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