Thomas Hope (30 August 1769 – 3 February 1830/1831), was a Dutch and British merchant banker, author, philosopher and art collector, best known for his novel Anastasius a work which many experts considered a rival to the writings of Lord Byron. His sons included Henry Thomas Hope and Alexander Beresford Hope.
The eldest son of Jan Hope, Thomas was descended from a branch of an old Scottish family who for several generations were merchant bankers known as the Hopes of Amsterdam, or Hope & Co. He inherited from his mother a love of the arts, which the efforts of his father and grandfather made possible by acquiring an enormous wealth. His father spent his final years turning his summer home Groenendaal Park in Heemstede into a grand park of sculpture open to the public. After he fled to London with his brothers to avoid the French occupation of the Netherlands from 1795–1810, he never returned.
In 1784, when young Thomas was fifteen, his father died unexpectedly in the Hague just after purchasing Bosbeek on the grounds of Groenendaal Park, the house that was to house his large art collection. He shared his art collection as part of the Hope & Co. partnership with his cousin Henry Hope. This cousin was just completing work on his Villa Welgelegen further up the road. Missing his father and grandfather, and preferring the company of his mother and brothers to his uncles in Amsterdam, Thomas did not enter the family business. Instead, at the age of eighteen, he began to devote more and more of his time to the study of all the arts, especially the architecture of classical civilisation, during a series of tours to other countries. During his grand tour through Europe, Asia and Africa, Hope interested himself especially in architecture and sculpture, making a large collection of artifacts which attracted his attention (e.g. the Hope Dionysus).
Thomas Hope returned to the Hague when his mother died in 1794. That same year, the three Hope brothers, along with their elder cousin Henry Hope, who was the executor of their mother’s will, fled to London before the oncoming French revolutionary forces marching on Amsterdam. In their haste to remove their art collections to the safety of London, the Hopes left their houses, summer homes and parks full of wall decorations, furniture, and heavy statuary. Later, after the French occupation, Thomas’s younger brother Adrian Elias would return to live at Groenendaal Park full-time and expand the gardens. Cousin Henry always hoped to return to his home, Villa Welgelegen, but he died in 1811 before King Willem restored Dutch sovereignty in 1814.
The Hopes established a residence in London in Duchess Street, Cavendish Square. Experienced from all his travels, Thomas Hope took to London like a fish to water, while his younger brothers missed their home in the Netherlands. He decorated the house in a very elaborate style, from drawings made himself with each room taking on a different style influenced by the countries he had visited. In essence, the combined art collections of Hope & Co., his parents and Henry Hope gave him the opportunity to further research the various art he had studied during his travels and he began to write books on decoration and furniture, the first of its kind. In the same way he had done with Villa Welgelegen, Henry Hope opened the house as a semi-public museum. The house museum included three vase galleries filled with South Italian vases the Hopes purchased from Sir William Hamilton’s second vase collection.
In this eclectic wealthy residence of bachelors, younger brother Henry Philip oversaw the gem collection (acquiring the Hope Diamond and the Hope Pearl), while cousin Henry busied himself with the banking business and the Louisiana Purchase, together with Barings. Thomas Hope did not settle in London, however. He took up his grand tour where he left off, and in 1795 he began his extensive tours of the Ottoman Empire which included visits to Turkey, Rhodes, Egypt, Syria, and Arabia. He stayed for about a year in Istanbul/Constantinople during which he produced some 350 drawings depicting the people and places he witnessed in the Ottoman Empire, a collection now to be found in the Benaki Museum, Athens. During these travels, he was given free rein by the Hope & Co. firm to collect many paintings, sculptures, antique objects and books, some of which were destined to be displayed for the public in Amsterdam in the branch offices on the Keizersgracht 444, and some of which were destined for his London house in Duchess Street in 1804.
After his marriage to Louisa de la Poer Beresford in 1806, Hope acquired a country seat at Deepdene, near Dorking in Surrey. Here, surrounded by his large collections of paintings, sculpture and antiques, Deepdene became a famous resort of men of letters as well as of people of fashion. Among the luxuries suggested by his fine taste, and provided to his guests, was a miniature library in several languages in each bedroom. He also gave frequent employment to artists, sculptors and craftsmen. Bertel Thorvaldsen, the Danish sculptor, was indebted to him for the early recognition of his talents, and he was also a patron to Francis Legatt Chantrey and John Flaxman; it was to his order that the latter illustrated the writings of Dante Alighieri.
He was the father of Henry Thomas Hope, art patron and politician and Alexander James Beresford Beresford Hope, author and politician.
Hope was eager to advance public awareness of historical painting and design and to influence design in the grand houses of Regency London. In pursuit of his scholarly projects, he began sketching furniture, room interiors and costumes, and publishing books with his accompanying scholarly texts.
In 1807 Thomas Hope published sketches of his furniture, in a folio volume, titled Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, which had considerable influence and brought about a change in the upholstery and interior decoration of houses. Hope’s furniture designs were in the pseudo-classical manner generally called “English Empire”. It was sometimes extravagant, and often heavy, but was much more restrained than the wilder and later flights of Thomas Sheraton in this style.
In 1809 he published the Costumes of the Ancients, and in 1812 Designs of Modern Costumes, works which display a large amount of antiquarian research. A Historical Essay on Architecture, which featured illustrations based on early Hope drawings, was published posthumously by his family in 1835. Thus Hope became famous in London’s aristocratic circles as ‘the costume and furniture man’. The sobriquet was regarded as a compliment by his enthusiastic supporters, but for his critics, including Lord Byron, it was a term of ridicule.
Yearning for a different type of literary acclaim as he approached the age of fifty, Hope began work on a novel with the enthusiastic encouragement of a few close friends. The result completed in 1819, Anastasius, was a work of such academic interest, raw excitement and descriptive power that the first edition released by fabled London publisher, John Murray, became an overnight sensation. A second edition sold out in twenty-four hours. Foreign translations in French, German and Flemish quickly followed.
The novel lifted a curtain of ignorance about the East without being a mere retelling of Hope’s own travels. The eponymous narrator-hero Anastasius was fearless, curious, cunning, ruthless, brave, and above all, sexy. As a newly converted Muslim mercenary soldier, Selim, his travels threw him among friends, lovers and enemies.
Hope’s descriptions revealed the lives of the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire and provided astonishing glimpses of the wars fought among the Turks, Russians and Wahabees. It also described many previously unknown details of Islamic culture: music, language, cuisine, religion, laws and literature.
Because of his modesty, Hope originally chose not to declare his authorship of Anastasius in the first edition. Ironically, given Hope’s mild reputation, the authorship of the dashing Anastasius was at first mistakenly attributed to Lord Byron, who, according to legend, confided to Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, that he wept bitterly on reading it.
“To have been the author of Anastasius, I would have given the two poems which brought me the most glory.”
These events prompted Hope to reveal his identity as author in later editions, adding a map of Anastasius’s travels and fine-tuning the text, although his authorship was initially greeted with incredulity by some journals.
Soon after Hope’s death in 1831, his widow Louisa remarried her cousin William Carr Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford. His family thereafter embraced conservative values, causing them to authorise the demolition of the writer’s legendary London home, disperse his fabled art collection, and distance themselves from his Oriental masterpiece. No substantial collection of Hope’s personal papers survived the family indifference and Anastasius, his magnum opus, became a victim of the sanctimonious morality of the Victorian age.
Nevertheless, it influenced the later works of William Thackeray, Mark Twain and Herman Melville. More recently, the noted Orientalist, Robert Irwin, wrote, “this book, one of the most important books of the nineteenth century, should be much more widely read.”
In addition to his other accomplishments, Hope was the author of an important philosophical work published posthumously, The Origin and Prospect of Man (1831), in which his speculations diverged widely from the social and religious views of the Victorian age. This volume, which has been cited by philosophy expert Roger Scruton, was a highly eclectic work and took a global view of the challenges facing mankind.
In his obituary published in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 17, No. 476, Saturday, 12 February 1831, it was written,
“We remember the opinion of a writer in the Edinburgh Review, soon after the publication of Anastasius. With a degree of pleasantry and acumen peculiar to northern criticism, he asks, ‘Where has Mr. Hope hidden all his eloquence and poetry up to this hour? How is it that he has, all of a sudden, burst out into descriptions which would not disgrace the pen of Tacitus, and displayed a depth of feeling and vigour of imagination which Lord Byron could not excel? We do not shrink from one syllable of this eulogy.’ “
Still commonly known among literary circles as “Anastasius Hope,” the combined artistic legacy of Thomas Hope is still of universal interest and importance.
In later years Hope cemented his position in society despite never obtaining a peerage. By the time of his death in 1831 his contribution to art and architecture had been widely recognised.
Sadly the two houses Hope created have been lost, Duchess Street demolished by his son in 1851 and the Deepdene in 1969. The only complete surviving structure built by Hope was the Deepdene mausoleum. Built in 1818, the structure was the first recorded work at the Deepdene and is Hopes final resting place. Permanently sealed in 1957 and buried in 1960 the structure has lain forgotten until now. The Mausolea and Monuments Trust has been working with Mole Valley District Council to rescue the structure and is running a campaign to excavate and repair it.
In an artistic irony against his Oriental legacy, Thomas Hope, the man who revealed the secrets of the Ottoman world, was recently incorrectly described by the writer Philip Mansel as being portrayed in his portrait as wearing the clothes of “a low ranking Greek sailor.”
However, because of studies undertaken in 2007, this 1798 portrait of Hope, done by William Beechey, can now be seen with a new appreciation. As proved by the noted Islamic scholar, Professor John Rodenbeck, the Beechey portrait depicts Hope dressed as a Turkish noble, not a Greek sailor. This discovery came about when Professor Rodenbeck carefully examined, then translated, the Arabic writing which is embroidered on the original waistcoat owned by Hope, which the author also wears in the Beechey portrait. The waistcoat and portrait, both of which are in the possession of the National Portrait Gallery reveal that Hope chose to have himself depicted as a rich Turkish Muslim standing before the most sacrosanct Islamic spot in Constantinople, the mosque of Abu Ayyub at Eyüp Sultan.
Information and images from Wikipedia.com except for where noted.