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On this day in 1889 the American writer and humourist Robert Benchley was born.
A founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table in New York (otherwise known as the ‘Vicious Circle’), Benchley wrote prolifically for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair and influenced many writers, especially James Thurber and Dorothy Parker (with whom he shared the telegraphic address ‘park bench’).
He is not so well known these days but some of his sayings live on such as: “drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”
His piece ‘Kiddie-Kar Travel’ which begins “In America there are two classes of travel – first class, and with children,” is one of the funniest accounts ever written on the subject. Benchley developed an alcohol problem in later life and died of cirrhosis, a sad end for one who gave pleasure to so many.
Here is a surreal poem by another humourist, Edward Lear, Cold are the Crabs:
Cold are the crabs that crawl on yonder hills,
Colder the cucumbers that grow beneath,
And colder still the brazen chops that wreathe
The tedious gloom of philosophic pills!
For when the tardy film of nectar fills
The simple bowls of demons and of men,
There lurks the feeble mouse, the homely hen,
And there the porcupine with all her quills.
Yet much remains – to weave a solemn strain
That lingering sadly – slowly dies away,
Daily departing with departing day
A pea-green gamut on a distant plain
When wily walruses in congresses meet –
Such, such is life –
Today I ask that I will never cease to value friendship and that I will work to nurture those that I have.