Happy Birthday to the most Famous Unknown Songstress

Dr. Patty Smith Hill  (1868-1946)

Many probably don’t recognize the name.

But it would be difficult to find someone who did not know a certain song she wrote.

Yes, today is the birthday of the woman who co-wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous songs in the English language.

Happy Birthday to You.

The four-line piece was writtten by Patty and her sister, Mildred J. Hill.    Both worked in Louisville, Kentucky  as teachers.  

In 1893, they wrote the piece (originally titled:  Good Morning to All) as a greeting for Patty’s kindergarten class.  Following its popularity, they published the work in their Song Stories for the Kindergarten.

The young pupils enjoyed the ditty so much they began singing it at parties, and the lyrics were changed to, “Happy Birthday”.

In 1996, a Forbes article stated the song brought in roughly two million dollars annually in revenue.

And for the record, I’ve heard more than once, different neighbors around me belting out the tune in their thick, German accents.  Now that’s a  aural delight not to miss!  😉

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Marginalia and the Heart of Writing Inside Books

A few years ago, I picked up an old copy of a biography on Emily Bronte.   Inside the front cover, a woman had inscribed her name and dated it over thirty years ago.  And throughout the book, she’d underlined her favorite passages.   I don’t know anything about this woman except she shared a love for the Brontes.

Books of mine are filled with my own underlines, and flashes of ideas that have come to me when I didn’t have any other paper on hand.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines marginalia as,  “marginal notes or embellishments (as inside a book) “.

However, this succinct description does not dwell into the heart of the practice.

Coined by Samuel Coleridge,  the first known use of the term is found in a 1819 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine.   He wrote once, “”A book, I value.   I reason & quarrel with as with myself when I am reasoning.”

At times, Coleridge even  drolly criticized his own, earlier lines he came across.  “Hang me, if I know or ever did know the meaning of them.”

  Years later, Edgar Allen Poe titled many of his own articles, Marginalia.

However, the practice of scribbling comments inside books goes back much further.  Arguably, the most famous example is Fermat’s last theorem.  

The most common form of marginalia are the underlines, scribbles, and comments a reader makes.  While marking the book, they inadvertently reveal little aspects of themselves.  What lines of dialogue made them laugh, what bits of prose affected them emotionally, or made them think.

Other readers debate the writer’s theories with their own points of view on a subject.

Besides commentary,  the sides of pages have been used by writers to scribble their own works.  Whilst in prison, Voltaire used the margins of a book to pen his play, Oedipus.  

On the eve of his execution, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote this poem inside his bible:

“Even such is time, which takes in trust
    Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us nought but age and dust;
    Which in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days!
And from which grave, and earth, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.’
Many are aghast at the thought of writing inside a book.  It’s almost an unsaid taboo.  Yet for others, it is a way to collect their thoughts, to share, and to express. 
  Voltaire

Pre-Raphaelite Artist: Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Sparteli (later Stillman) was born on March 4,  1844 to Greek immigrants living in London.   While females are mostly known as the famous muses/models of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (and Marie, herself, did pose for Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti),  Marie became a renowned artist in her own right.

  Kelmscott Manor

Her father enjoyed throwing garden parties in which he was noted for inviting up and coming artists.  It was during one of these gatherings that Marie met the famous writer and critic, Swinburne.  It may have been through this meeting that she was later introduced to the wider Pre-Raphelite circle.

  Love’s Messenger

She began studying art under the tutelage of Madox Brown in 1864.   Like the other Pre-Raphaelites, Marie  was enamored with Shakespeare, Dante, and Boccaccio, amongst others.

  Dante and Beatrice

At the age of twenty- seven, she wed the American painter and journalist, William Stillman.  Together, they split their time between London, Rome, and Florence.   

Marie and William had three children.  Unfortunately, the youngest son died as an infant.  However, her eldest, Michael, moved to the United States as and adult where he became a successful architecht.  Her daughter, Sonia Zuckerman, is still alive, and is known for her philanthropical works.

Marie died on March 6, 1927.  After being cremated, her ashes were interred in her father’s tomb.

  A Rose from Armida’s Garden

  Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni