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Caroline Herschel

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) was a German British astronomer and the sister of astronomer Sir William Herschel with whom she worked throughout both of their careers. Her most significant contributions to astronomy were the discoveries of several comets and in particular the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which bears her name. She was the first woman to be paid for her contribution to science, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville). She was also named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy (1838). The King of Prussia presented her with a Gold Medal for Science, on the occasion of her 96th birthday (1846). Statue of William and Caroline at the William Herschel Museum , Bath. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born at Hanover on 16 March 1750. She was the eighth child and fourth daughter of Isaac Herschel and his wife, Anna Ilse Moritzen. Isaac became a bandmaster in the Guards, was away with his regiment for substantial periods, and suffered ill-health after the battle of Dettingen in 1743. At the age of ten, Caroline was struck with typhus, which stunted her growth, so that she never grew past four-foot three. Her family assumed that she would never marry and her mother felt it was best (more…)
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Giovanni Battista Belzoni

Giovanni Balzoni
Giovanni Battista Belzoni

November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities.

Belzoni was born in Padua. His father was a barber who sired fourteen children. His family was from Rome and when Belzoni was 16 he went to work there, claiming that he “studied hydraulics.” He intended taking monastic vows, but in 1798 the occupation of the city by French troops drove him from Rome and changed his proposed career. In 1800 he moved to the Netherlands where he earned a living as a barber.

In 1803 he fled to England to avoid being sent to jail. There he married an Englishwoman, Sarah Bane (1783–1860). Belzoni was a tall man at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) tall (one source says that his wife was of equally generous build, but all other accounts of her describe her as being of normal build) and they both joined a travelling circus.They were for some time compelled to find subsistence by performing exhibitions of feats of strength and agility as a strongman at fairs and on the streets of London. One trick he was famous for, was to lift a platform holding twelve people and carry it across the stage. In 1804 he appears engaged at the circus at Astley’s amphitheatre at a variety of performances. Belzoni also had an interest in phantasmagoria and experimented with the use of magic lanterns in his shows.

In 1812 he left England and after a tour of performances in Spain, Portugal and Sicily, he went to Malta in 1815 where he met Ismael Gibraltar, an emissary of Muhammad Ali, who at the time was undertaking a programme of agrarian land reclamation and important irrigation works. Belzoni wanted to show Muhammad Ali a hydraulic machine of his own invention for raising the waters of the Nile. Though the experiment with this engine was successful, the project was not approved by the pasha. Belzoni, now without a job, was resolved to continue his travels. On the recommendation of the orientalist, J. L. Burckhardt, he was sent by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to the Ramesseum at Thebes, from where he removed with great skill the colossal bust of Ramesses II, commonly called “the Young Memnon”.
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John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer

800px-John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._Gainsford

and physician, and Bath native. He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, The Vampyre, the first published modern vampire story. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori’s.

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of 19.

In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

One night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror tales, William Beckford’s Vathek and indulged in quantities of laudanum, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley,produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story” and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory (“Monk”) Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment”, and in “two or three idle mornings” produced “The Vampyre“.

Dismissed on bad terms, by Byron, Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre” was first published on 1 April 1819 by Henry Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution “A Tale by Lord Byron”, much to both his and Byron’s chagrin. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him. The name of the work’s protagonist, “Lord Ruthven”, added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel Glenarvon (from the same publisher), in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.

Vampyre_title_page_1819

The tale was first published in book form by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, in 1819 in octavo as The Vampyre; A Tale in 84 pages. The notation on the cover noted that it was: “Entered at Stationers’ Hall, March 27, 1819”. Later printings removed Byron’s name and added Polidori’s name to the title page.

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Joseph Grimaldi: King of Clowns

Joseph Grimaldi
Joseph Grimaldi

Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837) was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade clowns became known as “Joey”, and both the nickname and Grimaldi’s whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. Grimaldi originated catchphrases such as “Here we are again!”, which continue to feature in modern pantomimes.

Born in London to an entertainer father, Grimaldi began to perform as a child, making his stage debut at Drury Lane in 1780. He became successful at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre the following year; his first major role was as Little Clown in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin’s Wedding in 1781, in which he starred alongside his father. After a brief schooling, he appeared in various low-budget productions and became a sought-after child performer. He took leading parts in Valentine and Orson (1794) and The Talisman; or, Harlequin Made Happy (1796), the latter of which brought him wider recognition.

Towards the end of the 1790s, Grimaldi starred in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe, which confirmed his credentials as a key pantomime performer. Many productions followed, but his career at Drury Lane was becoming turbulent, and he left the theatre in 1806. In his new association with the Covent Garden theatre, he appeared at the end of the same year in Harlequin or Mother Goose, which included perhaps his best known portrayal of Clown. Grimaldi’s residencies at Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells ran simultaneously, and he became known as London’s leading Clown and comic entertainer, enjoying many successes at both theatres. His popularity in London led to a demand for him to appear in provincial theatres throughout England, where he commanded large fees.

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Horace Walpole: Regency Author, Historian, Antiquarian and Politician

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756
Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds, 1756

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.

He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with this book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest.

Walpole was born in London, the youngest son of British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and his wife Catherine. Like his father, he received early education in Bexley he was also educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

Walpole’s first friends were probably his cousins Francis and Henry Conway, to whom Walpole became strongly attached, especially Henry. At Eton he formed with Charles Lyttelton and George Montagu the “Triumvirate”, a schoolboy confederacy. More important were another group of friends dubbed the “Quadruple Alliance”: Walpole, Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton.

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Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

Beethoven
Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Ludwig van Beethoven, (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works and songs.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe. During his first 22 years in Bonn, Beethoven intended to study with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and befriended Joseph Haydn. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn, quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. In about 1800 his hearing began to deteriorate, and by the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. He gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose; many of his most admired works come from this period.

Jane Austen and Ludwig van Beethoven shared not only the same birthdate (December 16, if not the year, she was born December 16, 1775) but also a similar publication timeline. Both were demonstrating their respective creative powers at an early age, and though Beethoven outlived Austen by 10 years, their works , produced contemporaneously, are both now regarded as pure genius. We will never know if Beethoven had a chance to read Austen’s works. She was not granted the immense public acclaim he enjoyed, during her life, however, we know that several pieces (Scotch and Irish airs, in particular) in her private music collection were arranged by Beethoven and his mentor, Joseph Haydn. Continue reading Ludwig van Beethoven, Immortally Beloved Composer

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Parson Woodforde: Country Diarist

James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.
James Woodforde by his nephew Samuel Woodforde.

James Woodforde (1740–1803) was an English clergyman who was nearly an exact contemporary of Jane Austen’s father, George Austen (1731–1805). Best known as the author of The Diary of a Country Parson, his personal recollections of life as clergyman in the Georgian countryside give a valuable glimpse into what the Austen household might have been like.

James Woodforde was born at the Parsonage, Ansford, Somerset, England on 27 June 1740. In adulthood he led an uneventful, unambitious life as a clergyman of the Church of England: a life unremarkable but for one thing — for nearly 45 years he kept a diary recording an existence the very ordinariness of which provides a unique insight into the everyday routines and concerns of 18th century rural England.

The sixth child of the Reverend Samuel Woodforde, rector of Ansford and vicar of Castle Cary, and his wife Jane Collins, James was one of four brothers (one of whom died in infancy) and the only one to attend public school — Winchester College, and university — Oxford. He was admitted to Winchester as a scholar in 1752 and enrolled at Oriel College, Oxford in 1758, migrating to New College in the following year. His diary begins with the entry for 21 May 1759: “Made a Scholar of New College”.

Woodforde was ordained and graduated BA in 1763, became MA in 1767 and BD in 1775. He appears to have been a competent but uninspired student and the portrait he provides of Oxford during his two periods of residence as scholar and fellow (from 1758–1763 and from 1773–1776) only confirm Edward Gibbon’s famously damning opinion that it was a place where the dons’ “dull and deep potations excuse the brisk intemperance of youth”. The diary is a rich source of information on university life in eighteenth-century Oxford.

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Charles Wesley: Methodist Minister

Charles-Wesley-preachingAs the daughter of an Anglican minister, Jane Austen would have grown up in a family whose daily life centered around the doings and needs of the church. As music was always important to her, she no doubt took an interest in the psalms and hymns sung during each service, and would probably have been familiar with the works of Charles Wesley.

Wesley, a contemporary of Jane’s father, was influential in the founding of the Methodist movement (a group Austen was aware of, considering Mary Crawford’s remarks in Mansfield Park.)

“A pretty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.”
-Mansfield Park

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