Today in History: May 19

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.
Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.
—a section of Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

No photo, no mugshot, was taken of Oscar Wilde when he was a prisoner at Reading Gaol, even though the prison did document its inmates with photos while Wilde was there, from November 23, 1895, till May 19, 1897.

He left the prison and sailed from England on this date in 1897, and he never saw England or Ireland again. Wilde had been convicted of “homosexual offenses” in 1895 and sentenced to two years’ hard labor, labor which basically consisted of taking apart lengths of rope for 12-hour stretches or walking in the yard for entire days. Even though he was not kept in solitary confinement, the prison maintained a policy by which inmates could not speak and were made to wear veils over their faces.

At first he was denied paper or books, but Wilde was allowed both after a time; while in prison he wrote “De Profundis,” a long letter about his life to his lover; declared bankruptcy; and saw a hanging, which was the prison’s first hanging in two decades. Wilde was prisoner C.3.3.

* * * *
Anne Boleyn was executed on this date in 1536. James Boswell died on this date in 1795. Nathaniel Hawthorne died on this date in 1864.

Tu’i Malila died on this date in 1965. It was a tortoise, but it was the most famous tortoise in the world, one whose entire life had been documented: it hatched in 1777, and in July 1777 Captain Cook presented the hatchling to the royal family of Tonga. It remained in their care for its entire 188-year life.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died on this date in 1994.

* * * *
Malcolm X was born on this date in 1925. The conclusion of Spike Lee’s biographic film, with a special cameo:

Nora Ephron was born 75 years ago today.

André the Giant was born 70 years ago today. (When André Roussimoff was a child in Grenoble, France, his father was having trouble bringing his son to school: André had outgrown the family car. A neighbor had a truck and could handle bringing the young man to and from public school. That neighbor was Samuel Beckett. And so the wheel of life grinds on.) A scene from “The Princess Bride” (have I made it obvious I’m a fan of that film?):

Joey Ramone was born 65 years ago today.

* * * *
Jim Lehrer is 82. David Hartman is 81 today. Jane Brody is 75. James P. Hoffa is 75. Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) is 72 today. Pete Townshend is 71 today. “Let My Love Open the Door”:

Tom Scott is 68 today. Grace Jones is 68 today. “La Vie en Rose”:

Kevin Garnett is 40 today.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. loisajay · May 19, 2016

    I love The Princess Bride!


  2. Pingback: Good for you | The Diligent Dilettante

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