Literary daybook, Sept. 5

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published September 5, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Sept. 5, 1959, Gordie Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio find the body.
-- "Stand by Me" (1986)
by Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans, screenwriters; Rob Reiner, director

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 1793, the French Revolution's "Reign of Terror" officially began. Over the next 11 months the Committee of Public Safety would arrest over 300,000 and execute 17,000, before Robespierre and 19 other leaders were themselves put to the guillotine. The last six weeks of "Red Terror" were the worst of the worst of times, with over 30 people a day executed in Paris alone.

Such events inspired not only the well-known fiction and verse but some of the world's most enduring political and philosophical writing. In 1790, Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution" in France warned of the "fire and blood" that was to come, and argued for stability and slow change. The essay's last sentence is almost as famous a plea for cool detachment as any rampart slogan, and as masterful as any of Dickens' rolling parallelisms. In it, Burke asks his reader to accept that his arguments for temperance are based on "long observation and much impartiality":

"They come from one almost the whole of whose public exertion has been a struggle for the liberty of others; from one in whose breast no anger, durable or vehement, has ever been kindled but by what he considered as tyranny; and who snatches from his share in the endeavors which are used by good men to discredit opulent oppression the hours he has employed on your affairs; and who in so doing persuades himself he has not departed from his usual office; they come from one who desires honors, distinctions, and emoluments but little, and who expects them not at all; who has no contempt for fame, and no fear of obloquy; who shuns contention, though he will hazard an opinion; from one who wishes to preserve consistency, but who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end, and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise."

Of course, those who like to lose their equipoise might head for Baroness Orczy's last chapter, wherein the beautiful Marguerite and that "demmned elusive Pimpernel" totter on the French cliffs, surely about to lose love and life ...

-- Steve King

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

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