Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 4 entries for this date: William Blake , Sir Leslie Stephen , Randy Newman and Friedrich Engels
William Blake

William Blake

On this date in 1757, poet and artist William Blake was born in London to shopkeepers. He enrolled in a drawing school at age 10, then apprenticed to an engraver at 14. After his 7-year apprenticeship, he became a journeyman copy engraver at age 21. He was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art's School of Design in 1779. His book of poetry, Poetical Sketches, was published in 1783. Blake set up a printing and publishing partnership in 1784 and invented relief etching in 1788. His first illuminated books were influenced by the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg: All Religions Are One and There is no Natural Religion. He had become disillusioned with Swedenborg by the time he produced Songs of Innocence (1789) and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790). He began to rub shoulders with London's leading rationalists and reformers, composing and engraving designs for Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life (1791). He met William Godwin, Joseph Priestly, and Thomas Paine. It was said Blake tipped off Paine about an impending arrest and helped him flee. Although Blake lived in the imagination and was theistic rather than rational by temperament, he was also staunchly unorthodox: "As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys." (Proverbs of Hell, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.) His ethical advice? "A truth that's told with bad intent/ Beats all the Lies you can invent." (Auguries of Innocence.) Wordsworth wrote after Blake's death: "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott." D. 1827.

 

“Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion."

—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sir Leslie Stephen

Sir Leslie Stephen

On this date in 1832, former Anglican priest, author and political essayist Leslie Stephen was born in Kensington Gore, England. He was educated at Eton, King's College and Cambridge, primarily studying mathematics. He was required to become an Anglican priest when he became a fellow of his college, but was known for his athletics, not his sermons. He later told freethought historian Joseph McCabe that Cambridge was so liberal when he was there that if it was known a dinner party was open to heretics only, it was standing room only. By 1862, Stephen refused to participate in chapel services, saying he had not lost his faith, only discovered that he had never had any. He was divested of his orders in 1875. He became editor of the Cornhill in 1871, and wrote freethought articles for Fraser's and Fortnightly. In 1877, he wrote An Agnostic's Apology. His writings include: History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 volumes (1876), Johnson (1878), Pope (1880), Swift (1882), Science of Ethics (1882), and The English Utilitarians, 3 volumes (1900), among others. Stephen also edited 26 volumes of the Dictionary of National Biography and was its first editor. In 1902, he was knighted and made a fellow of the British Academy. Today, he is best known as the father of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, and was the model of Virginia's Mr. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse (1927). D. 1904.

“I now believe in nothing, to put it shortly; but I do not the less believe in morality.”

—Sir Leslie Stephen, journal entry, Jan. 26, 1865. (Quote source: 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Randy Newman

Randy Newman

On this date in 1943, singer-songwriter Randy Newman was born in Los Angeles, California to parents Irving George Newman and Adele Fox. Growing up in New Orleans, Newman was greatly influenced by the music he heard as a child. He began playing piano at age seven, and later discovered that talent ran in the family. His uncles wrote film scores for a living, and one, Al Newman wrote the now-famous 20th Century Fox fanfare.

At age 17, Newman began work as a songwriter for a California publishing company, and released his first single in 1962. He studied music at UCLA, but dropped out with just one semester left. Newman established professional relationships and wrote hit songs for well-known musicians, such as Cilla Black, Gene Pitney, and the Alan Price Set. His first album, ”Randy Newman” (1968, Warner Bros. Records), was critically acclaimed. In 1972, Newman’s songs “Sail Away,” covered by Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt, and “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” covered by Three Dog Night and Joe Cocker among others, gained him further recognition. Newman’s first major pop hit, “Short People” (1977), reached number two on the Billboard charts. His song, “I Love L.A.” (1983), was also successful, and can be frequently heard at sports games in Los Angeles. Newman has written music for decades, releasing more than a dozen albums over the span of his career, including The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 in 2003, and Vol. 2 in 2011.

In the 1970s, Newman branched into his other major métier: writing film scores. The film “Ragtime” (1981) earned him two academy award nominations for best score and best song. His other scores include “Parenthood” (1989), “Avalon” (1990), “Awakenings” (1990), “The Paper” (1994), “James and the Giant Peach” (1996), “Pleasantville” (1998), “Meet the Parents” (2000), “Seabiscuit” (2003), and “Meet the Fockers” (2004), to name a few. Newman has also worked with Disney/Pixar, scoring the three “Toy Story”films, along with “A Bug’s Life”(1998), “Monsters, Inc.” (2001), “Cars” (2006), andMonsters University” (2013). With 20 Oscar nominations, Newman has won twice — for his original songs “If I Didn’t Have You” from “Monsters, Inc.”(2001) and “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3” (2010). Newman’s other accomplishments include six Grammy Awards, and three Emmy Awards for his work on the cable shows ”Monk,” and “Cop Rock.” In 2002, he received the Recording Academy’s Governors’ Award and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Although nostalgic and heartwarming at times — “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” (1996) from “Toy Story,” for instance — Newman’s instantly recognizable voice came to be associated primarily with his acerbic and irreverent political satire. In “Political Science” (1972), Newman criticizes American foreign policy, and in “I’m Dreaming” (2012), Newman vilifies American racism. His song “Louisiana 1927” came to be an anthem in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, reviling the government mismanagement of the disaster. That Newman’s parents, an internist and a secretary, were from Jewish families, but were not observant, may have contributed to his lifelong commitment to freethinking. Newman was married to Roswitha Schmale from 1967 to 1985, and they have three children. He has been married to Gretchen Preece since 1990, and they have two children together.

And the Lord said:

I burn down your cities — how blind you must be

I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we

You all must be crazy to put your faith in me

That's why I love mankind

You really need me

That's why I love mankind

—— Randy Newman lyrics from “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind),” a song from his album "Sail Away" (1972)

Compiled by Noah Bunnell

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels

On this date in 1820, Friedrich Engels was born in Germany into a wealthy family. Managing a branch of his father's business in Manchester, England, from 1842-1845, Engels became appalled at the poverty of the workers. He wrote his first socialist work, Conditions of the Working Class in England. After their meeting in 1844, Engels and Karl Marx became lifelong colleagues. While co-writing an article with Engels called "The Holy Family," Marx was expelled from France at Prussian insistence. Engels followed him to Belgium. They founded the Communist League in London in 1846 and co-wrote The Communist Manifesto. A month after it was published in 1848, Marx was expelled from Belgium. Engels became a primary financial supporter of the Marx family, returning to work in Germany with his father while Marx lived in England. Prime Minister John Russell had refused to expel Marx or Engels on principles of freedom of thought. Engels' books include Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. After Marx' death in 1883, Engels edited and translated his writings. According to freethought encyclopedist Joseph McCabe, Engels' acquaintance, Belfort Bax, called him "the devout Atheist" (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). D. 1895.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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