365 Days of History …

December 31, 2010

I set myself several projects this year. Some came to fruition – sometimes expensively. Some did not.

But one of the smaller, more enjoyable projects that did come through was reading a chapter a night of 365: Your Date With History, by W.B. Marsh and Bruce Carrick. (I discovered that this book is also known in a compact edition as 365: Great Stories from History for Every Day of the Year).

On December 31, 2009, I began this year learning that Samuel Pepys started his famous diary on January 1, “Lord’s Day,” in 1660. I also read that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became law in 1863.

With the exception of a few lapsed weeks in late summer that I quickly caught up on at the beginning of September, I managed to read a bit of history each night — how American Marines landed at Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, for example, or about the Spartans defying Xerxes’s Persians on August 20 in 480 BC at Thermopylae, or Mozart dying on the 5th of December, 1791.

I read the last entry in the book last night, about today, December 31, New Year’s Eve.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was born on this day in 1720. Determined to restore the Scottish Stuarts to the British throne, but losing a thousand Highlanders and the battle at Culloden, he slipped away from Scotland dressed as a serving maid. For the next several decades he wandered Europe, self-indulgent, drunk, and unapproachable. His wife, 33 years younger than he, said he “rarely missed being drunk twice a day,” and was “the most insupportable man who ever lived, a man who combined the faults and failings of all classes.” Promise, dashed.

Also on this day in 1793, the duc de Biron lost his head to the guillotine in Paris. As he cheerily placed himself below the blade, this enemy of the French Revolution said, “I shall arrive in the other world in time to wish my friends a Happy New Year!”

I’ll miss this little project, although I do have something similar in mind for 2012, the next leap year. I will read a book by the same authors, 366: A Leap Year of Great Stories from History.

At bedtime for the coming year I’ll have in my hand Edwin Way Teale’s A Walk Through the Year, containing a year’s worth of reflections and observations on nature in diary form. It may not be as much pure fun for me, a history buff, but I think I will enjoy it.

I would suggest this project to any history buff — or anyone, really. The hard part isn’t keeping pace every day though. The hard part is only reading a chapter a night, and stopping.


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