Authors From The 1800s
Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (Plate 11 of the engravings, detail of centre image – Wikipedia Commons)
The writings and experiences of authors from the era of the 1800s have impacted the lives of many long since they have passed on. Their influence can still be felt today.
William Blake was an English poet, who was born in 1757, and not only was he a poet but was also a painter and printmaker. Unfortunately, for him, he was not recognized for his talent nor appreciated by many of his peers during that time. Like many artists whose work is not appreciated until after well after they are gone, Blake’s was not popular until a generation after his death. It was the published work of his biography that changed public perspective. As a young boy, he claimed to have seen visions, one as early as the age of four when he “saw God putting his head to the window.” Later, around the age of eight to ten, while in London, he almost got a beating by his father when he spoke of seeing a tree full of angels with bright angelic wings sparkling like the stars. His mother must have believed him though because she intervened on his behalf. Many of his “illustrations” depict biblical themes like the one above from the book of Job. The visions might explain why he identified with Job, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation because these books, in particular, either speak of or refer to visions. Blake has written poems and created illustrations from themes taken from these as well as other books of the Bible.
Charles Dickens was an English author who was born in 1812. His books have been favorites of many for years. Some of his successful works include Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, and, of course, A Christmas Carol. A lot of his writing was geared toward social reform, desiring to improve the lives of the poor. His motivation came from his childhood as his father was not only thrown into debtor’s prison once but twice. The first time was when Charles was only 12 and he was forced to work in an old factory that was infested with rats. Even when his father got out of prison, his mother forced him to continue working there. This caused him permanent psychological trauma, anger, and resentment. At age 15, he became a clerk in a law office and later, a court reporter. Just as he was beginning to become successful in newspaper reporting, his father ended up in debtors’ prison for the second time. It became a regular condition for him to be forced to help out his family.
Walt Whitman was a poet, who was born in 1819 in New York and was one of nine children. The family lived in Brooklyn and Long Island during the 1820s and 1830s. At the age of 12, he loving reading, after learning the printer’s trade and teaching himself to read. He loved reading from Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and the Bible. Working as a printer until a fire destroyed the printing district, he was forced to change occupations. From the age of 17, he started teaching in one-room schools up until 1841, when he became a journalist. As editor of the Long-Islander and other papers, he went to New Orleans to become the editor of the New Orleans Crescent, where he discovered the cruelty of slavery. When he went back to New York, he began his work on the “Leaves Of Grass” which he was later fired for writing, after taking a job as a clerk while in Washington, D. C. He had traveled there to care for his wounded brother during the Civil War and decided to stay on for a while.
An American female journalist, Nellie Bly (her pen name) was born in 1864. Her actual name was Elizabeth Cochran. As a forerunner in investigative journalism, she received acknowledgment for being an undercover reporter. Normally, women in that era were only able to write on the ‘women’s page’ that referred to gardening or fashion. Instead, Nellie reported on slum life and unspeakable conditions of women in society. Most remember her for the work she did on an asylum in 1887. She went to the extreme of faking insanity in order to gain access to the inside of a mental asylum to report on the horrible condition of the mental patients there. After ten days, she was released at the request of the newspaper. Her report included the neglect and physical abuse of the patients, which was an eye-opener for the public and instilled a large-scale investigation after her work was turned into a book “Ten Days In A Mad House.” She went on to do investigative work in jails, factories and the like.
Born in Scotland in 1838, John Muir was not only an American author but also a conservationist, naturalist, and explorer. Being brought up in a strict religious background in a family of eight children, he was able to recite the entire Bible by the age of 11. Because of his love of nature, he studied botany, chemistry, and life sciences in college. To avoid being forced into the military, he wandered around in the swamps near Lake Huron all summer. After a near-death experience, he began to travel and explore, starting in California. His experiences included climbing mountains, hiking, building a cabin in Yosemite where he also worked as a shepherd, studied rock slides after an earthquake, and in 1879, became the first person to explore the Glacier Bay. With all of his experiences, he has promoted the conservation of wildlife around the world by writing about them.
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