“My dear boy, no woman is a genius…They represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” The Picture of Dorian Gray
When it comes to the Wilde family you never know how many surprises you are likely to come across. Possibly one of the most unexpected ones, is the brilliance and the nationalistic fervor of Oscar’s mother Jane Wilde.
The daughter of a clergyman, very well connected (a brother became one of the most respected judges on the US bench, and an uncle Charles Ormesby was a member of the Irish Parliament) she was a young woman during the dreadful years of the Irish famine. Her response was to take up a fiery torch for home rule, and she wrote the poem The Stricken Land in 1847. Continue reading →
Mogyoróssy Arkád was born in Esztergom near Budapest back in the days before exurbia blurred the line between city and country. His first language, he claimed, was Latin.
The claim is fantastic enough to seduce credulity, and some of the circumstances behind his early life suggest it might be true.
Independent details on his early life are, sadly, scarce, and gentlemen do not inquire too closely into the details of other men’s personal lives, and given what that part of the world has gone through in the years since Avellanus’ birth, confirming anything could be a challenge.
Consider the range of populations under the Hapsburg’s imperial eage. Hungarian German Slovak Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Rumanians, all jealous of their several prerogatives, what to bring them together, particularly in matters of law and politics? Latin, of course, was language of the Church, the lingua franca of the renaissance. It lasted as the official language of the Hapsburg Empire until 1782.
Sixty nine years (the space between 1782 and his birth) was less earth changing a span in those days than now – one can imagine a traditional family keeping up the old ways, preparing its sons for whatever service the Empire might require. Continue reading →
Dr. John Gamgee was born in Florence Italy in 1831, the son of a Scottish veterinarian who wanted his children to have a broad education. John eventually graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London. He thrived in that field. In 1858, he founded the New Veterinary School in Edinburgh in 1858, and later the Edinburgh Veterinary Review. In 1863, he organized the first International Veterinary Congress in Hamburg Germany.
So far, so dull, unless you are interested in Victorian academic politics. A few years later, the United States government invited him to consult on the matter of lung plague and cattle fever in Texas. He lectured widely in America, promoting his novel view on the pathogenic theory of medicine. That is, that disease was transmitted by microorganisms. It was a theory for which claim he was widely ridiculed.
His so-called “rollerskate” was less controversial, but it was his explorations into the mechanics of refrigeration more that makes him interesting to the general reader. Continue reading →
The Mitford sisters have become an industry. There are over twenty nine titles concerning them and that does not count their own books- three of them were writers. Only one of them was truly a success, the instigator of the Mitford mythology: Nancy Mitford.
Laura Thompson is contributing her second book to this already crowded section of the biography shelf. The Six, The Lives of the Mitford Sisters is not a straightforward biography. She has already written about Nancy, Life in a Cold Climate and this is her second attempt at mapping the complicated lives of these siblings only this time by psychological surveillance. Continue reading →
If he doesn’t appear in any of the Flashman books, he should have. Of all the outrageous soldiers of the 19th century, Du Pin is one of the most notorious and, like Flashman himself, appears to have been everywhere.
He was born at Lasgraisses in the shadows of the Pyrenees, attended Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau and was enrolled as an officer in the French Army. His first few years were uneventful, but that changed for good once he was sent to Algeria in 1842. Made a name for himself a year later in the battle of Smalain the 1847 capture of Abd-el Kader, and featured in the panoramic painting of the event of the sort so beloved of the 19th century patriots. (Full marks if you can make him out.) Promoted to Major by 1851, he was off to fight in the Crimea in 1855 (French cavalry made no such nonsensical cavalry charge into any valleys of death). Four years later he was in Italy, leading a cavalry division and helping the locals break away from the Austrian Empire. Along the way he picked up a pair of Legions d’Honneur and and some other decorations for bravery. Continue reading →
Son of a pawnbroker and initially a pawnbroker himself. The standard objects of failed enthusiasms (musical instruments) or changing tastes (mustache cups) or romance gone bad (old wedding rings) held only so much interest for him. He had a taste for the unusual and put word out among the mudlarks who scoured the Thames at low tide and the navvies who dug the foundations of new construction over old that he would pay cash and ask few questions if they had anything of interest to show him. Continue reading →
Her grandfather was Lord Byron, her father the Earl of Lovelace, her mother Ada Lovelace, who is credited (not quite accurately) as the first computer programmer for Babbage’s calculating machine. With that kind of pedigree, anything was possible.
She grew up on her father’s considerable estate at East Horsley Park, home-schooled in languages, mathematics, and violin. She learned drawing from John Ruskin. As befits a proper country blueblood, she found her real passion from a young age was horses (indeed, it was said that she could jump a mount well into her seventies). This meshed nicely with her husband’s passion for the Middle East. It was about the only thing on which they could make a real partnership. Continue reading →
“It will come as a shock to every Englishman who has studied in Montmartre to know that the famous Bibi la Puree has been locked up for forgetting to pawn some clothes of a brother bohemian and putting them on himself. The downfall of this strange character, with his long hair and historical looking clothes, dates from the night when poor Paul Verlaine, the decadent poet, took him home and housed him for a few days. The poor fellow came back severely stricken with poet mania and has never done a stroke of work since, and never will. I believe he belongs to one of the most aristocratic families in France.”
The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, Volume 38, May 7, 1902
Mrs. Crosby writes: “I am sure it was in exchanging modern ideas over the after luncheon coffee cups that they together with Miss Loundes and Miss Lewis (both as British as buns) brewed the scheme for instigation of a Girls Scout movement right there at Rosemary.”
Polly was chosen as the first initiate, and got the name Policumteenawa, signifying Little-Possum-By-the-Fire, or some such.
Mrs. Allen contends that the let-it-all-hang-out generation of the sixties was not all that revolutionary and really was not a patch on the nineteen twenties.
Reading the life of Harry Crosby, I’m inclined to agree with her.
Short version, he was a connected Boston boy of privilege gone to the bad. He prepped at St. Marks and was to go to Harvard (of course), but he found the lure of World War One more attractive and so went off to join the American Field Service Ambulance Corps. Not exactly soft duty – he was nearly killed by an artillery shell, for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Continue reading →