Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Thomas Chatterton and Edwin Hubble
Thomas Chatterton

Thomas Chatterton

On this date in 1752, poet Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol, England. He had a difficult childhood exacerbated by initial assumptions that he was retarded, and by harsh experiences at a dickensian school. He began penning verses, mostly religious, at age 10, which soon turned satiric. Chatterton became a literary forger, pretending that a series of verses, employing a 15th century vocabulary but using modern rhythm, had been written by a fictitious Bristol priest named Sir Thomas Rowley. He sent these "Rowley Poems" to Sir Horace Walpole, looking for a mentor. Walpole was initially impressed with them, then cut off Chatterton when he realized they were bogus. It is speculated that Chatterton became a literary forger in part because the few times he admitted authorship, it was doubted. Perhaps the anti-social tendencies of an unrecognized genius were also at play. He became unhappily indentured to an attorney, got out of his indentures, and moved to London at age 17. While he sold some verses, he became a literal "starving artist." Malnourished and despondent, he committed suicide at 17 by drinking arsenic with a glass of water. After his death, he became a hero to other poets. Chatterton was pronounced the first Romantic poet in the English language, and was eulogized by Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite poets. Keats and Coleridge each wrote a poem about Chatterton. D. 1770.


“I am no Christian.”

—Thomas Chatterton, published letter to his family. Cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists by Joseph McCabe (1920).

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble

On this date in 1889, American astronomer Edwin Hubble was born in Marshfield, Mo. Hubble, one of the most influential astronomers in history, is credited with establishing the fields of observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy. A gifted athlete, Hubble played basketball for the University of Chicago as an undergraduate before studying for a masters at The Queen’s College, Oxford, as one of the first Rhodes Scholars. In 1917, Hubble received his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Chicago. After serving in the Army in World War I, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, Hubble joined the staff of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Mount Wilson Observatory in California where he worked with the Hooker and then the Hale telescopes, both of which were the largest optical telescopes in the world on the dates of their respective completions.

Hubble is credited with many astronomical discoveries. Chief among Hubble’s discoveries are a standard classification system for galaxies and the calculation for determining the rate at which the universe is expanding, known as Hubble’s law. In 1990, NASA launched the eponymous Hubble Space Telescope into Earth-orbit. Hubble Telescope has provided astronomers with hundreds of thousands of images of the universe, leading to discoveries relating to the age of the universe, the life-cycle of galaxies and the stars within them, and the role of dark energy in the expansion of the universe. Hubble struggled with religion, having been raised Christian but expressing uncertainty about the existence of God throughout his life. Many of the biographical accounts of Hubble’s life attest to his agnosticism. D. 1953

“We do not know why we are born into the world, but we can try to find out what sort of world it is — at least in its physical aspects.”

—Edwin Hubble (Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae, 1996)

Compiled by Paul Epland

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