Daily Archives: 25 March 2014

March 25, 1955 (a Friday)

Allen Ginsberg

On this date, the U.S. Customs Bureau confiscated 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl, which had been printed in England. Ginsberg was openly gay, and this poem has a lot of references to homosexuality. The gay men in this poem generally do not seem to be involved in monogamous relationships with one other person.

Officials alleged that the book was obscene, particularly objecting to:

Line 36

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

But the next two lines, among many others, seem equally provocative:

Line 37

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

Line 38

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose gardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

(You can listen to Ginsberg read Howl on Poets.org.)

City Lights, a publishing company and bookstore in San Francisco owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, proceeded to publish the book in the fall of 1956. The publication led to Ferlinghetti’s arrest on obscenity charges. Ferlinghetti was bailed out by the American Civil Liberties Union, which led the legal defense. Clayton Horn (a Sunday school teacher) was the judge for the case and had achieved notoriety earlier that year for sentencing five shoplifters to a screening of The Ten Commandments. The defense brought literary expert after literary expert (9 in total) to the stand to testify to the poem’s literary and social importance and on October 3 Judge Horn ruled the poem was of “redeeming social importance” and Ferlinghetti was cleared.

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March 25, 970 C.E. (Good Friday)

THE END IS NEAR

According to the Lotharingian computists, on this date the world was going to end.  They believed they had found evidence in the Bible that a conjunction of certain feast days prefigured the end times. Supposedly, it was on this day that Adam was created, Isaac was sacrificed, the Red Sea was parted, Jesus was conceived, and Jesus was crucified. Therefore, it naturally followed that the End must occur on this day!

The Lotharingian computists were just one of a wide scattering of millennial cults springing up in advance of that first Millennium. The abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury-sur-Loire sent a letter to his king complaining about the Lotharingians:

For a rumour had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.

The millennial panic endured for at least 30 years after the fateful date had come and gone, with some adjustment made to allow 1,000 years after the crucifixion, rather than the nativity.

March 25, 1833 (a Monday)

Jenkin

On this date, the English physical scientist and engineer Henry (Charles) Fleeming [pronounced “flemming”] Jenkin was born. No other attack on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has drawn more attention than Jenkin’s. Nearly every book in the history of evolution recounts the tale. It began in June, 1867 with Mr. Jenkin’s review of The Origin of Species in The North British Review (46: 277-318).

References:

  • Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991) 340 -353.
  • Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance ( Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1982) 512.