Good Reading : February 2008
categorical Easy to carry. Easy on the eye. Bestselling titles in large, clear 14-point type. In bookstores now. Seeing is believing Anton Chekhov There he attained such a dangerous reputation as a thinker that he left to join the Benedictines in Orleans.They sent him to study medicine at the great Renaissance school at Montpelier, where he graduated in 1530. His interest was in surgery, but being ordained he was pre- cluded from both using the scalpel and practising for gain, so he took up writing, using his literary skills as a therapeutic tool by creating laughter – the best medicine. His first book was the rumbustious masterpiece Pantagruel. It was suppressed for obscenity by Sorbonne University in Paris on account of the hero regarding the codpiece as the principal piece of military equipment.The argument was that ‘when a man loses his head only an individual perishes; but if his balls are lost, the whole human race would die out’. His second book was Gargantua, concerning a giant of a man whose name has also passed into common parlance: gargantuan, meaning enormous. The author’s vows seem not to have precluded him from fathering two chil- dren, whom Pope Paul IV legitimised in 1540. Later Rabelais became personal physician to Cardinal Jean du Belley. Rabelais died in 1553, but not before all his works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Trent, doubtless a cause for satisfactory amusement by the man whose last words, legend has it, were ‘Bring down the curtain, the farce is over.’ The great short story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov was born in south Russia in 1860. His father had been a serf and later ran a grocer’s shop where Anton worked as a boy. Bright at school, he enrolled in the Moscow University Medical School and qualified in 1884. As a student he wrote and sold comic essays, becoming the mainstay of the struggling family.The year after graduation he began to spit up blood, the first signs of the tuberculosis that was to eventually kill him.Typical of many doctors, he refused to accept such a cruel diagnosis, hiding his blood- stained handkerchiefs from his parents. However, he did cut down on his job as a general practitioner, which at least allowed him to concentrate more on the less physically demanding work of writing. It was then, in 1888, that he made his famous comment: ‘Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress.When I grow weary of one, I pass the night with the other ... neither suffers because of my infidelity.’ After a severe lung haemorrhage in 1897, Chekhov gave up medicine completely and moved to Yalta in the Crimea. He continued to write, including arguably his greatest plays, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard. He died in 1904. On 25 July 1816 the peerless English poet John Keats passed the examination of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Son of a livery stable keeper, he was, like Somerset Maugham, orphaned early in life. Shortly after, aged 13, he became apprenticed to Thomas Hammond, a surgeon in Edmonton, Middlesex. Keats enjoyed the life and planned on becoming an apothecary, forerunner to the general practitioner. He spent his time grinding medications and sweeping out the surgery, but had enough time left over to compose his first poem, ‘Imitation of Spenser’. Such idle distractions may have been the cause of the argument between apprentice and master, for in October 1815 Keats left Hammond to register as a student at Guy’s Hospital, Southwark. It All his works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Trent, doubtless a cause for satisfactory amusement by the man whose last words were ‘Bring down the curtain, the farce is over.’ On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien. John Keats, 1816 Note: It wasn’t Hernando Cortez who first saw the Pacific Ocean, but Vasco Núñez de Balboa.
December January 2008