NOW A BIT of classical culture for you for a couple of weeks – Socrates and Plato. Come back … you may find it interesting.

Okay, so what was Socrates all about?  Well, he did not spend his whole life considering philosophy. He was originally a sculptor and did not avoid his duties as a soldier.  However, he was, from an early age, interested in philosophy and listened to many eminent personnel. Physics was his first learning but he could see no future in it and it soon made way for ethics and virtue.

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Socrates was originally a sculptor

Socrates did not take to writing down his thoughts for posterity. What is believed to be his theories stem from the writings of Plato (talk about him next week) and we understand that he (Socrates) considered that wisdom was the main virtue of life.  Wisdom was a major factor in being able to live a good and happy life as, by its very nature, it was able to distinguish between good and bad. In this respect, wisdom included knowledge. Socrates suggested that wrong actions damaged the soul and so by knowing an action was wrong but still proceeding with it, the transgressor would knowingly damage his soul. As no-one wanted to damage his soul, no-one would willingly do wrong. Therefore, if someone did wrong he must be ignorant and lacked virtue.  Simple.

Socrates (470/469 – 399 BC)

The problem with this theory was that there were few teachers of knowledge.  So who had the knowledge to teach and of what? Socrates believed the he, himself, could not teach as he knew that he knew nothing – meaning in the sphere in which he was searching.  Knowledge, here, is episteme, which is science. In Plato’s works, Socrates never directly answered any question put to him; he would confront it with questions and criticisms of his own, allowing the enquirer to come to his own conclusion.  If nothing else, Socrates was clear in his ability to be vague and non-committal (I know a few people like that today). The manner in which he was able to demonstrate the lack of knowledge of his enquirer (according to Plato), particularly with regard to their ideal of life and the gods, was to gain him many enemies who believed him to be opposing the basics of religion and morality.


“I know no wrong …. but then I know nothing”

The next best thing to knowledge, according to Socrates, was opinion – which was susceptible to change. This was a virtue in itself, provided it was accompanied by the knowledge that it was only an opinion. An opinion without this awareness was ignorance. Socrates wanted his pupils to think for themselves. His ideal of morality was based on the individual’s own conscience rather than the will of the state. He influenced the noble and the distinguished, particularly those who sometimes confused their conscience with ideals of power and glory, ideals that conflicted with the traditional virtues of the polis (city state). Unfortunately, this was to cause his downfall. In 399 BC, he was charged, found guilty, and sentenced to death for injuring the city and corrupting the young. It is almost certain that this was partly due to his association with Alcibiades and Critias (he was their teacher), who were out of favour in Athens and he was to blame for their radical and anti-Athenian attitudes.


Remember ‘Alcibiades the Lad’ (see post May 10, 2015)

Socrates could well have saved himself. He was given an opportunity to reduce his death sentence to a large fine but such oratory was beneath him. He would have to have accepted that he was wrong which he refused to do. He was convinced that he was the people’s greatest benefactor and he deserved honour not death and, least of all, the need to beg for life.  Also, as the sentence was deferred for a month due to the festival of Delos, he had an opportunity to escape as he still had influential and wealthy friends. He chose to await his death as to plead for his life or run from his persecutors would be most dishonourable for a man such as himself.


Death of Socrates (by Jaques Louis David, 1787)

Next week: Plato

Battle of Waterloo

ONE LAST anniversary before the year is out – this time the Battle of Waterloo which took place two hundred years ago on 18th June 1815. It seems to be a year of historical anniversaries.

1812-1814 saw the War of the Sixth Coalition between Napoleon and the allies which included Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Great Britain and a number of German states.  In 1814, while Great Britain, Spain and Portugal invaded France across the Pyrenees, the Russians, Austrians and their allies invaded France across the Rhine and, after the Battle for Paris, entered into negotiations with members of the French government for the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte. Nobody had anything against the French – this was a ‘personal thing’ against Bonaparte.  It ended with the Treaty of Fontainebleau and the exile of Napoleon to Elba in April 1814.


Abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau

But not for long. Napoleon escaped from Elba in February 1815 and marched on Paris with the intention of claiming the throne from King Louis XVIII of France. Napoleon simply did not know when to quit.

The Seventh Coalition was established between allied countries with Great Britain, the Netherlands and Prussia in particular not wishing to see Napoleon back in power.  Napoleon had decided that the best course of action for success was to move before the Coalition could fully mobilise. He met the coalition armies at Waterloo (in present day Belgium).


Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – never knew when to quit!

Napoleon’s troops of some 118,000 outnumbered the Coalition’s of about 70,000 (the figures vary depending on source). Not only that but the latter were inexperienced and ill-equipped. Also, two days before the battle Napoleon had routed a Prussian force under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Things didn’t look good for the Coalition. But the allies were led by Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and he had other ideas. Fortunately for him Blücher had rallied his 30,000 (approx) Prussians and joined in the affray early in the evening and by 8.30 pm Napoleon was defeated (see link at the end for more information on the battle).


Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) – born just 3 months before Napoleon

Wellington was to describe the battle as ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.’ Around 44,000 men and 12,000 horses were killed or wounded (again these figures depend on source).


The famous image of Wellington at Waterloo

This battle brought the War of the Seventh Coalition to an end and became a defining moment in European history and the end of Napoleon’s reign as Emperor of France. Napoleon escaped to Paris but a month later surrendered on broad HMS Bellerophon on the 15th July 1815. He was sent to St Helena, and island off the west coast of Africa, where he died in May 1821.

'Scene in Plymouth sound in August 1815' oil on canvas by John James Chalon, 1816

HMS Bellerphon (John James Chalon, 1816)

For a detailed (and colourful) description of the Battle of Waterloo click here.


If you go down to the woods today ….

THE OTHER WEEKEND I was left alone for a night whilst Sarah went to see her mother in Hampshire. Well, I thought I was alone – then, after a glass of wine or two, I realised I was not alone at all.  There were our teddy bears all keen to be spoken to.

We have two teddy bears in the conservatory, Horatio and Mortimer, and they guard the chairs from possession by our cat. Then there are three more teddy bears in the house – my bear who, believe it or not, is called Teddy and is as old as I am; and Sarah’s two teddy bears, one as old as her and one brought back from Hong Kong by her father returning from his Royal Naval duties in the  mid-1960s. These three teddy bears live together in the lounge/study but I decided that they could come and join Horatio, Mortimer and myself in the conservatory that evening.


Horatio (admiral bear)


Mortimer (barrister bear)


Sarah’s ‘one-eyed’ white teddy (as old as her); my blue teddy (as old as me, complete with Brighton College school scarf);  Sarah’s brown musical teddy (from Hong Kong)

There are one or two other smaller teddy bears around the house but they are a little shy and difficult to talk to, so we’ll leave them alone.

The name teddy bear comes from ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, the President of the USA, 1901-1909. It came about when Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902 to which he had been invited by the Governor of the State, Andrew H. Longino.  After three days hunting most of the hunters had found a bear but  Roosevelt had not. Then Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, captured an elderly black bear which had been chased by the dogs. Collier tied the bear to a tree and called for Roosevelt to come and shoot it.


Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt (1858-1919)

When Roosevelt arrived at the scene he declined to shoot the bear as that would have been unsportsmanlike. However, the bear was greatly distressed having been attacked by the dogs and so Roosevelt ordered it to be put down. The incident was ‘recorded’ in a cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on the 6th November 1902 – it shows a small black bear held by an attendant with Roosevelt turning away refusing to have anything to do with the situation.  Later similar cartoons showed the bear even smaller and in much fear.

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The cartoon in The Washington Post

A Brooklyn shopkeeper, Morris Michtom, saw the cartoon and created a small soft bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign, ‘Teddy’s bear’. In fact, he had written to Roosevelt, sending him a bear, and the President had allowed him to use his name ‘Teddy’.  The toy bears were a great success and Michtom set up the Idea Novelty and Toy Co selling them.


Early 1900s teddy bear in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, manufactured by Benjamin Michtom, son of Morrris, and owned by Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt (no comments on that name please you muppets) 

Interestingly, about the same time, and unaware of Michtom and his creation, the German, Richard Steiff, nephew of Margarete Steiff whose company manufactured toy fabric animals (but not bears), hit on the idea of a  bear.  He exhibited a type ’55 PB’ at the Leipzig Toy Fair in March 1903 and Herman Berg, a buyer for George Borgfeldt, New York, ordered 3000 of them for the USA.  Neither Michtom nor Steiff were aware of each others activities but soon the name ‘Teddy’ became linked to all such bears.

Replica of a Steiff 55 PB

Anyway, back to my teddy bears …….. Ah, I must go now as I see two gentlemen in white coats are knocking on my door.


The Curse of Cowdray House

THESE DAYS most people know Cowdray Park in Midhurst, West Sussex, for its polo (and golf course) and ochre-coloured estate buildings. But there is a magnificent ruin of a Tudor house also there – okay, you knew that as well.  But did you know why it’s a ruin?  The monk’s curse of course!


The original house, named Coudreye, was built between 1273 and 1284 by Sir John Bohun. It was acquired by Sir David Owen (Henry VII’s uncle) on the death of his wife, Mary Bohun, in 1496. He built the current Cowdray House in 1520.  In 1529, Sir Owen’s son, Henry, sold the house to Sir William Fitzwilliam.  It became the home of Sir Anthony Browne when he inherited it from Sir William, his half-brother, in 1543. It remained one of his principal residences until his death just five years later in 1548.


Cowdray House as it may have looked c1545

The house was then inherited by his son, also Sir Anthony Browne – later 1st Viscount Montague.  Much the same time (following the Dissolution of the Monasteries of 1536-41), Sir Anthony is said to have expelled the monks from the nearby Priory at Easebourne. An embittered monk raged into Cowdray House where Sir Anthony was feasting and cursed his family line, shouting, “by fire and water, thy line shall come to an end and it shall perish out of this land” [1]. Harsh, bearing in mind it wasn’t Sir Anthony who had dissolved the monasteries ……


Sir Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague, 1528-92 (portrait by Hans Eworth 1569)

Well, the curse rather fizzled out. That is until 200 years later in the 18th century. Cowdray House, under the ownership of the 8th Viscount Montague (George Browne), was destroyed by fire on the 24th September 1793, ironically, during restoration work. A few days later, the Viscount (unaware of the fire) drowned foolishly attempting to shoot the rapids at the falls of the Schauffhausen on the Rhine.  The 9th Viscount died childless in 1797 and with that the peerage became extinct. There’s more. The 8th Viscount’s sister, Elizabeth, became heir to Cowdray and married William Stephen Poyntz and in the summer of 1815 their two sons were drowned in a boating accident off Bognor Regis in West Sussex.  Cowdray House was never restored and remains a ruin today.   Spooky or what?!


The House after the fire (above and below)


The Cowdray estate was sold ‘out of the family’ by Poyntz’s three daughters to the 6th Earl of Egremont in 1843.  In 1908 the 8th Earl sold the estate (including the ruin) to Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson, later (in 1917) 1st Viscount Cowdray.

Battle of the Solent (Mary Rose) painting

On the subject of the Mary Rose (as I was last week), Cowdray House was also famous for its painting of the Battle of the Solent when Henry VIII’s ship, Mary Rose, sunk (see also post, March 21). Well, I say ‘famous’ – it would have been if the painting still existed. Unfortunately it was destroyed in the 1793 fire. But fortunately a copy had been made eight years earlier.

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The Cowdray ‘copy’ of the Battle of the Solent (6ft in length)

The original of this painting was probably painted between 1545 and 1548 for Sir Anthony Browne who was Master of the King’s Horse (he was the father of ‘the cursed’ Sir Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague – see above).  He is shown prominently in the centre of the image riding a white horse following just behind King Henry VIII who is also mounted (see just above the large English flag bottom middle – and see pic below). The picture was one of a set of five which adorned the walls of the dining hall at Cowdray House.


Henry VIII and Sir Anthony Browne (on white horse) from the Cowdray ‘copy’

The Society of Antiquities of London commissioned the Sherwin brothers to make a watercolour copy of the original wall painting of the Portsmouth scene and this was completed by 1775.  Recording the image had been made at the suggestion of Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1708 – 1781) who read a paper to the Society about the wall paintings at Cowdray House in 1773. Thank goodness for Sir Joseph!



[1] There is another version: Prior to his inheritance of Cowdray House, Sir Anthony Brown had received Battle Abbey in East  Sussex (where the Battle of Hastings had allegedly taken place). A dispossessed monk from Battle Abbey is said to have cursed the family with those words.

Dan Snow on the Mary Rose

I WAS LUCKY enough to have been able to attend a talk last month by Dan Snow on the Mary Rose  at the Mary Rose Museum (it was open to Patrons and Friends of the Mary Rose and I was invited by a Patron – Sarah). Now I know I talked about the Tudor ship before this year (see post March 21) but that’s not the purpose of this post – not entirely anyway, but I don’t intend to repeat anything said in that previous post. One of the most interesting factors of Dan’s talk was his references to the history surrounding the ship rather than the actual ship itself.

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Dan Snow (23rd Oct) – great talk on the Mary Rose and very at ease as a speaker

He reflected on the fact that the ship was the ‘missing link’ in the history of war at sea. Well, no longer ‘missing’ of course. In the ancient world war at sea was simply a matter of transporting soldiers on ships to the opposition, also featuring soldiers on ships. The two ships would then grapple together and the soldiers would board the other ship and fight hand-to hand. As time went on bows and arrows were a little more prominent as a form of ‘artillery’. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the idea of firing cannons at another ship became an interesting way of winning a battle. If the ship sunk or was immobilised its soldiers could not fight. Henry VIII came to this conclusion hence the Mary Rose was the first ship to carry large cannons for this purpose when she was built in 1510/11.

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Ancient sea battles – soldiers awaiting to board an opponent’s ship for a ‘land’ battle

The problem was the weight of these cannons (or guns) which required much re-reinforcement to ship’s design and may have been a part-cause of the Mary Rose’s demise in 1545 – imbalance of weight following her re-fit and enlargement in 1536 (but the sinking was looked at in my previous post so we won’t go there again).


Heavy cannons of the Mary Rose

So the so-called ‘Battle of the Solent’ was a turning point of sea battles. I use the word ‘battle’ loosely as it was not much of a battle – in fact, had it not been for the sinking of the Mary Rose, it would have been quite forgettable. Anyway, sea battles afterwards were never the same again. Soldiers made way for cannons and sea warfare turned into a ‘slugging-it-out’ of heavy ironware. Trafalgar of course leaps to mind as a very obvious example. This really went on into the 20th century. The last heavyweight sea battle of ships at war was probably the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (I refer to it in advance of its anniversary next year).  Although the Second World War had its share of sea fights (sinking of the Bismark, etc) but there were none as large as Jutland. Aircraft have taken over from soldiers and ships as battle-winners and some ships have become transportation for those aircraft – sort of full circle for ships usage in warfare.


Image of the Battle of Jutland 

An interesting misconception that Dan raised was this idea that the United Kingdom had never been successfully invaded again since 1066. This was not at all true. We have been invaded several times since which is why our monarchs over the years have not always been English in origin – we have just not been invaded by a large sea force. This led onto another misconception that the English Channel had protected us from invasions. It was never the English Channel as such but the ships of our Navy.


British navy projecting our shores against the Spanish Armada in 1588

Questions at the end raised some intriguing issues. Dan was asked which, he thought, was our worst defeat at sea.  Winston Churchill’s fiasco in the Dardanelles in 1915 immediately sprang to my mind but Dan’s far superior historical knowledge identified the Battle of Chesapeake (or Virginia Capes) in 1781 off Virginia. It was against the French and although the battle was tactically inconclusive it was strategically a major defeat for the British since it prevented the Royal Navy from reinforcing or evacuating the blockaded forces of Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown Virginia.  Dan observed that for success the French only needed a draw, the English needed a victory. It was a draw and resulted in Cornwallis’ surrender and a turning point, two years later, to the British recognition of the independent of the United States of America.


Battle of Chesapeake 1781

Another question was what Dan thought about the treatment of Nelson’s Lady Hamilton. His answer was a little evasive – he should have read my post last week!  But that was followed with a conversation Dan would have most liked to have witnessed – the one between Nelson and Wellington (then Sir Arthur Wellesley but the youngest Major General in the British army) whilst they were waiting in an anti-chamber in the Colonial Office at Downing Street on the 12th September 1805 to see Lord Castlereagh . The details of the meeting are a little unclear (Nelson is said  not to have recognised Wellesley and treated him with indifference before leaving the room, only to return a different man – having, perhaps, being told who Wellesley was) but there ensued a lengthy conversation between the two militarily geniuses, unfortunately unrecorded.

Tribute: Admiral Lord Nelson        Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington

    Nelson and Wellington – interesting conversation between the two?

It was a fascinating talk from a fascinating character well-versed in historical knowledge throughout the Ages.

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Thanks Dan – and the Mary Rose Trust – for a great talk


The Linnean Society

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I rambled on about Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin and their work being read out by Charles Lyle and Joseph Hooker at the Linnean Society (click here if you want to read that paper).  One of my readers asked about this Society, having never heard of it before. The Linnean Society of London is situated at Burlington House in Piccadilly. Burlington House is not so much a house, more of a large building surrounding a square that also incorporates such learned institutions as  the Society of Antiquaries (founded 1707 – of which I’m a Fellow, but I’m sure I’ve told you that!), the Geological Society (founded 1807), the Royal Astronomical Society (1820), and the Royal Society of Chemistry (1841).


Burlington House c1874 

The Linnean Society was founded in 1788 for the dissemination of taxonomy and natural history.   It took its name from the Swedish naturalist, Carl von Linné (or, prior to his ennoblement,  Carolus Linnaeus – which sometimes causes a misspelling of the Society as Linnaean).  He laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature (this is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts – e.g. Homo sapiens). He is known as the father of modern taxonomy  and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.


Carl von Linné 1707-78 (by Alexander Roslin in 1775)

The Society’s purpose is to promote the study of all aspects of the biological sciences, with particular emphasis on evolution, taxonomy, biodiversity, and sustainability (defining behaviour).  Its collections include some 14,000 plants, 158 fish, 1,564 shells, 3,198 insects, 1,600 books and 3,000 letters and documents.  A former Fellow of the Society was, of course, Charles Darwin from 1854.  Women were admitted into the Society after a ballot in December 1904. A Marian Farquharson had been the ‘women’s rights’ campaigner behind this but she was not admitted until 1908 (don’t ask) – and then she was too ill to sign the roll (there’s no justice).


The first admission of women Fellows to the Linnean Society of London in 1905

The Linnean Society founded and published several journals that are still in publication today: the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on evolutionary  biology of all organisms; the  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on plant sciences; and the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, focusing on animal systematics and evolution.

So now you know.

For more on the Society click here


Battle of Agincourt

ONCE UPON A TIME, 600 years ago, we had the Battle of Agincourt. Yes, another anniversary and this was on the 25th October 1415 to be exact (okay, sorry, I’m a week late, it was last Sunday).  A great victory by the English under Henry V based on a change of tactics (sort of).


Henry V (1387-1422)

Henry’s army landed in France on the 13th August 1415. They were not, as someone suggested to me the other day,  transported by his famous ship the Grace Dieu (whose remains are still beneath the River Hamble at Burseledon near Southampton) as she was launched in 1418, or by Henry’s other famous ship, the Holigost (whose remains have just recently been discovered some 50 yard from the Grace Dieu), as she was launched in November 1415.

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‘Morning of the battle of Agincourt’ (John Gilbert, 19th century)

Early medieval battle tactics were simply a head-on charge of heavily armoured horseman followed by a gruesome and savage hand-to hand combat. Aka the chivalry and bravery of Knights in armour. Such Knights would also supply infantry to support their king’s cause in the oncoming furor.  The coming of the Tudors and the use of the long bow was to change this. This is not to say Henry V invented this type of bow as it was used in England before him. The Assize of Arms of 1252 and Edward III’s declaration of 1363 encouraged ownership and early practice of the long bow as it was very difficult to use (requiring great strength/skill to pull).  It was used to great effect at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 at the beginning of  the Hundred Years’ War (which actually lasted 116 years, 1337-1453, but let’s not go there) and also at Poitiers in 1356.


English yew long bow (6ft 6in, 2m long; 105 lbf, 407 N draw force)

The long bow was, of course, so successful at Agincourt that it allowed a numerically inferior English (and Welsh) force of around 9,000 (which included 7,000 bowmen) to defeat a French force of around 12,000.  There does not appear to be any reliable sources on causalities but it is understood the French losses were high whereas English losses were very low – one account suggests 450 English to 4,000 French. Included in the English fatalities was Edward of Norwich, the Duke of York.


Edward of Norwich, Duke of York (1373-1415)

Obviously the English were led by their king, Henry, but the French were not troubled by their monarch, Charles VI, as he suffered from a severe psychotic illnesses – that was his excuse anyway (we’ll call him ‘sick-note Charlie’).  The French were therefore commanded by a Charles D’Albret. The battlefield was possibly the most significant factor in deciding the outcome. The land had been recently ploughed and was hemmed in by dense woodland. This favoured the English both because of its narrowness and the thick mud through which the French knights had to pass over making advancement very slow. It also meant that “the living fell on top of the dead, and others falling on top of the living were killed as well” (Gesta Henrici Quinti – anonymous contemporary account). In fact, the French were so tightly packed they could hardly use their swords (account by a French monk, St Denis).

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Battle of Agincourt 

Interestingly the French bowmen seemed to play very little part in the battle. They had been deployed behind the French troops. The French delayed the attack expecting more troops to join them. This gave the English archers time to set up their defensive stakes and by the time the French horsemen charged the English bowmen were ready for them. The French Knights could not outflank the bowmen because of the surrounding woodland, instead they headed into a ‘woodland’ of sharpened stakes embedded into the ground. Not a good option. These stakes caused much injury to the French horses who, in turn, panicked and unseated many of their riders into the mud to be left to the mercy of the English infantry. Once a heavily armoured knight was stuck in the mud he wasn’t going anywhere!

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Mud of Agincourt (Donato Giancola 2007)

Retreating French horses and horseman ran over advancing French infantry, trampling or scattering them.  It was chaos. When the English bowmen ran out of arrows they simple grabbed whatever weapon they had and attacked the French men-at arms. By this time armour had become more of a disadvantage – knights were hot and tired within these armoured suits and could “scarcely lift their weapons” (see St Denis above). They had great difficulty in defending themselves against the much more nimble and lightly armoured English bowmen.

According to one source, Henry, in rescuing his brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, received an axe blow to his helmeted head, knocking off a piece of his crown. So, clearly he was right in the thick of it, not like the French king, ‘sick-note Charlie’.

King Henry V and The Battle of Agincourt.

Henry rescuing his brother …..

The battle lasted some three hours.


Alfred Wallace on evolution: credit where due

I HAD NOT heard of Alfred Russel Wallace until I saw a fascinating two-part documentary about him by the comedian, Bill Bailey, in 2013. Wallace was a rival to Charles Darwin with regard to the theory of evolution. Wallace first put pen to paper on the topic but Darwin got all the credit.


Bill Bailey by a portrait of Wallace and many of his (Wallace’s) specimens

In 1845 Wallace read a book, ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ (published anonymously in 1844 but was by Robert Chambers) which convinced him that life on Earth had evolved from earlier forms.  As did Darwin, Wallace travelled afar (particularly to the Amazon) to collect various specimens to try and understand how evolution worked.  During his travels, in February 1855, he wrote a paper entitled ‘On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species’ which was published in September of that year. It described how species have evolved over time with some becoming extinct and new ones evolving from earlier forms. It was written at a time when the general belief was that species were unchanging creations of God – so likely to cause some concern within the religious world. Wallace had been inspired by the work of Charles Lyell on geological change. It was Lyell who brought Wallace’s paper to Darwin’s attention.


Alfred Wallace (1823-1913)

Darwin later mentioned to Wallace that Lyell (who Wallace hadn’t met) had found his (Wallace’s) 1855 paper noteworthy.  In February 1858, whilst in  Southeast Asia, Wallace realised how new species were formed and wrote an essay on it called ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type’.  In June 1858 he sent the essay to Darwin asking him to forward it onto Lyell thinking that Lyell would be interested to learn about his new theory of evolution following his proposals in his 1855 paper.


Charles Darwin (1809-82)

When Darwin received Wallace’s essay he was deeply concerned. It described the same theory he himself had had 20 years before (although there were some differences) but had never published  and he aired his concerns to his friend Lyell.  Lyell and Joseph Hooker presented Wallace’s paper along with other unpublished material of Darwin’s at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 – the presentation was called ‘On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties Species by Natural Means of Selection’ but it caused little interest (other than with some noted scientists) (click here to read that paper).  The presentation and documents were published a few weeks later with Darwin and Wallace as co-authors.


Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875)

Darwin had begun writing on evolution in 1844 and this 1858 essay of Wallace’s spurred him on to publish. The result was Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection’ published by John Murray in November 1859 [1]. This publication became the focal point of discussion and Wallace’s 1858 essay was forgotten. This left Darwin receiving the kudos for the discovery of the idea of natural selection. Unfair or what?


You can buy a 1st edition of Darwin’s book on Abe books for around  £150,000 ($230,000)

Admittedly, Darwin had been thinking about the theory longer than Wallace. It had been on his mind since 1838 after he had read an essay by Thomas Malthus on human population growth (‘Principle of Population’ published in 1826), whereas Wallace, as mentioned above, had only been thinking about it since 1845 (but let’s not ‘nitpick’).


The Rev. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

Sometimes life just ain’t fair. However, Wallace did receive his dues for his work in establishing modern biogeography (the study of geographical distribution of living things – but you knew that).


Statute of Wallace in front of the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum, London (unveiled by Sir David Attenborough in November 2013)



[1] Darwin’s only reference to human evolution in this book was the understatement in his introduction that “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”. He did not address this theory fully until his book ‘The Descent of Man and the Selection in Relation to Sex’ in 1871.


The famous caricature of Darwin following the purification of his ‘Descent of Man’

That Hamilton Woman: Hollywood fact or fiction?

WHEN I SAY ‘that Hamilton woman’ I don’t mean Emma Hamilton in connection with Lord Nelson, I mean Vivien Leigh in connection with Lord Olivier. Yes, they appeared together in the film That Hamilton Woman! but, of course, they ‘appeared together’ in real life.  And, as with Hamilton and Nelson, it did not end well.

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The film poster

As in the film between Hamilton and Nelson, the relationship between Leigh and Olivier was frowned upon as both were married but not to each other – Leigh to Herbert Leigh Holman and Olivier to Jill Esmond, whilst Hamilton was married to Sir William H and Nelson to Francis (nee Nisbet).

 1572620d0ca7bab3ba3b4a02573ef333Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier in the film (trivia: Nelson never wore an eye-patch, just a sun visor on his hat)

Hollywood dalliances were frequent but taboo amongst already married couples as the public did not approve. It could mean the end of both party’s careers. Leigh and Olivier got away with it for awhile having begun their affair in 1936. Olivier later said that “I couldn’t help myself with Vivien. No man could. I hated myself for cheating on Jill, but then I had cheated before, but this was something different. This wasn’t just out of lust. This was love that I really didn’t ask for but was drawn into.”  Oh, well that’s okay then!! The public didn’t realise the affair was going on because Leigh and Olivier were both in Hollywood for other reasons – Olivier was making Wuthering Heights (which he didn’t enjoy doing but that’s another story) and Leigh was seeking the Scarlett O’Hara role in Gone with the Wind.


Viven Leigh as (appropriately)  Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind

However, the industry was aware of the affair and Leigh failed to be cast alongside Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca because it was thought a good idea to keep them apart (work-wise anyway) until their divorces came through.  And the same applied to Pride and Prejudice after that. That’s showbiz!

They managed to appear on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet by some chap called Shakespeare but only because they financed it themselves, investing nearly all their savings. It was a commercial disaster.  In August 1940, once their divorces were through, they married – each other. They made That Hamilton Woman! the following year.


Olivier and Leigh – the ‘happy couple’

All went well until 1953 when, according to Olivier, Leigh went into manic depression and became exceedingly difficult to live with.  Michael Munn’s book on David Niven, ‘The Man Behind the Balloon’, makes mention of Niven’s concern over Leigh’s health, “David’s reference to Vivien Leigh’s illness was based on first hand experience of seeing her in the grip of what was once called manic depression but is now known as bi-polar disorder.  He had to called Stewart Granger one night when Vivien became ill while filming Elephant Walk” [1].  Munn then describes Granger’s version of the event (also from Granger’s autobiography ‘Sparks Fly Upward’) which is very similar to Niven’s recollection of an incident with a famous starlet he calls ‘Missie’ in his chapter ‘Our Little Girl (Part 2)’ in his book, ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’.  Niven does not actually say who ‘Missie’ is but, based on Munn’s (and Granger’s) book, she is clearly Vivien Leigh.  Niven doesn’t mention Granger’s involvement and to add to the intrigue, Olivier in his autobiography , ‘Confessions of an Actor’ involves Danny Kaye in the incident.


Olivier and Leigh returning to London after her ‘breakdown’

As a result of Leigh’s illness, Olivier fell into the arms of the English actress, Joan Plowright.  Olivier once said, “Even when Vivien was at her worst [with mental illness], I was never unfaithful to her though she was to me … [but] I became a philanderer through necessity …”.  Oh, again, that’s okay then!  He divorced Leigh in 1961 and immediately married Plowright.  In 1970, Olivier was made a Life Peer – Baron Olivier of Brighton (where he used to live in the Regency built Royal Crescent).  He died in 1989, aged 82 (still married to Plowright).

And Leigh?  She was reported to say she “would rather have lived a short life with Larry [Olivier] than face a long one without him.”  Well, sadly this was to be true – she died of tuberculous in 1967 aged 53.  And Lady Hamilton?  She died of amoebic dysentery at the age of 49 whilst in poverty in Calais in 1815.



[1] This is a bit confusing as the ‘breakdown incident’ happened in Los Angeles, whereas Elephant Walk was being filmed in Colombo, Ceylon.  Also, Leigh was indeed ill during filming and Olivier flew out to see her, but as she was obviously ‘involved’ with Peter Finch, her co-star (and had been since about 1948), Oliver was supposed to have flown back alone. Leigh did return home as her part was taken over by Elizabeth Taylor. Oh well, that’s Hollywood I suppose.

Matinee idols: a role for men – but is it worth it?

CARRYING ON WITH the Hollywood theme from last week (‘Sir’ Douglas Fairbanks Jr), in case you didn’t know, the term ‘matinee idol’ is always connected with male actors. Quite conceivably the term could also apply to an actress – but it does not. This may (and probably does) upset feminists, but in saying that, it’s not really a term used to describe movie stars today.  But why does (did) it only relate to men?


Douglas Fairbanks Jr – matinee idol

Well, back in the good old ‘hey-days’ of Hollywood of the 1920s-50s, the majority of ‘middle class’ women  were homemakers who had more time on their hands than men to go out during the day to the cinema (I know that’s not the case today so don’t shout at me, I’m just reporting on the origin!).   Accordingly, midweek matinee audiences tended to be 90% female – simply because men were at work and children at school.  As a result, movie producers and theatre owners used them to measure an actor’s popularity.  The actors, in this case, were obviously men. When an actor proved that he could draw a large crowd of women he was considered a matinee idol.  This was because – and I say, rightly or wrongly – in those days, the practice was based on the assumption that women were interested in only one thing – men.


Don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ – this information is taken from a book I read by Warren G. Harris.  However, what I have read about matinee idols, the assumption works both ways.

I can tell you from experience that matinee idols do not exist today. A few years ago I was up at Oxford when the film Troy was first released. This will be popular I thought, so the day before my viewing I went into the cinema and bought a  ticket for the following afternoon – being a student I had an afternoon free. Well, when I went along the next afternoon the cinema was completely empty – I had it entirely to myself!  Sorry Brad Pitt, you are not a matinee idol.

Anyway, I digress.  So ‘matinee idol’ came to signify an actor with exceptional sex appeal.  For that he had to be handsome, romantic and, as Harris added, “not a boy, but not too blemished by age either.”

man 4

“Hi, I’m a film star”

Now, as a 1920s-50s matinee idol you might think you had it made in Hollywood.  Yes and no. A number of such idols did not make old age. This was usually due to alcohol or drug abuse, or overdoing in other ways leading to heart failure of some sort.  For example, Gig Young (64 -alcohol/suicide (64 ain’t old!)), William Holden (63 – alcohol/accident ), Douglas Fairbanks Sr (56 – heart attack), Gene Lyons (53 – alcohol),  Alan Ladd (50 – drugs and alcohol), Errol Flynn (50 – heart attack/alcohol), Montgomery Clift (45 – drugs), Tyrone Power (44 – heart attack), John Gilbert (38 – heart attack/alcohol),  Robert Walker (32 – drugs), Wallace Reid (31  – drugs).

montgomery-clift2      Tyrone_Power_-_still

Montgomery Clift                                                     Tyrone Power 

It’s a bit pointless having all that fame and money only to die prematurely (although Errol Flynn was practically penniless when he died).  Mind you, I suppose you are remembered for your good looks.


Errol Flynn died penniless just as he was forced to negotiate the lease to another of his beloved yacht Zaca in 1959

Gary Cooper made it to 60 before dying of cancer 1961, but in 1931/32 and again in 1951, handsome, rich and famous,  he  suffered a nervous breakdown.


Gary Cooper – nervous breakdown at High Noon

Cary Grant fortunately did not die young (he was 82 when he died in 1986) but in commenting on a question about stardom in 1938 he said, “Does it bring you happiness? Yeah, for a couple of days. And then what happens? You begin to find out that your life is not your own any more, and you’re on show every time you step out on the street.”  He suffered depression on-and-off for several years (particularly badly in 1933/4).   Stewart Granger said to Betsy Drake, Grant’s third wife  (he had five), “Cary Grant is exactly not what he appears to be. He isn’t carefree, debonair and relaxed at all; In fact he’s the opposite” [1]. To the average cinema-goer, the knowledge that Grant was a bad-tempered depressive, and by 1957, experimenting with LSD for psychotherapy purposes, would have come as rather a shock.  In his book on Grant, ‘Haunted Idol’, Geoffrey Wansell observed that Grant’s fourth wife, the 25 yr old Dyan Cannon (Grant was then 60), “… discovered what perhaps she should have guessed before, that her husband’s only too famous public charm was left at the parties or the dinners they sometimes went to; it seldom accompanied him home.”  But that’s showbiz.


Cary Grant  – bad-tempered depressive …..

And many of these ‘popular’ stars struggled with their marriages. Between top matinee idols Douglas Fairbanks Sr & Jr, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Powell, Clarke Gable, Cary Grant, Gig Young and Tony Curtis, they had 33 wives.

On the subject of Tony Curtis, he was one of the more lucky ones. He managed to live until the age of 85 despite having been a  cocaine addict and suffering advanced cirrhosis due to alcohol abuse, and he also survived a heart attack.


Tony ‘Lucky’ Curtis

Needless to say in the 1930s Clark Gable was a matinee idol and, apparently, his female fans were the most demonstrative since Rudolph Valentino’s in the 1920s. However,  in 1935 he was running neck-and-neck with  Shirley Temple for the No 1 spot in the box-office popularity stakes.  But Shirley Temple was not a matinee idol …….


Shirley Temple – matinee idol?

Despite this popularity,  Gable only won one  Oscar for best actor – not for Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (he was nominated but lost out to Robert Donat in Goodbye Mr Chips) – but for his portrayal of Peter Warne in It Happened One Night in  the 1935 Academy Awards.  Depressed and drunk after the tragic death of his actress wife, Carole Lombard, he gave the Oscar away to his godchild, Richard Lang.  Several years later, shortly after Gable’s death, Lang returned the Oscar to Gable’s last wife, Kay Williams, with a note addressed to John Gable (the then newborn son of Clark and Kay, born 5 months after Clark’s death) saying, “It is only in your possession. The real Oscar is your Father’s alone forever from all those people who gave it to him with supreme thanks for giving us a part of himself.”   Nice touch Rick.

gable oscar

Clark Gable with his Oscar for It Happened One Night

And the postscript to this Oscar: In adulthood John Gable experienced financial problems (he had inherited a fortune but it was tied up in bonds and annuities).  So in December 1996 he put his father’s Oscar up for auction at Christie’s much to the great dismay of the Hollywood establishment and the Academy of Motion Pictures.  This was not the ‘done-thing’ as Oscars were earned by merit not purchased.  Fortunately it was bought by Steven Spielberg at the auction for $607,500 and he presented it to the Academy for display in its museum in Beverly Hills.  Good old Steve!


Nice one Steve!

That’s enough Hollywood trivia …. and doom and despondency (sorry about that) for one week.



[1] What is it with these ‘perfect’ Hollywood stars?  Robert Lacey in his biography of Grace Kelly says, “But the truth about Grace Kelly was that she was, in some very important respects, quite the opposite of what she seemed.”  (She was a very naughty girl).

kelly grnt2

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – both quite opposite from what they appeared to be ….

Whilst on the subject of Grace Kelly, let’s move from ‘doom and despondency’ and finish on a lighter note which also comes from Lacey’s book.  At  a pre-wedding party Prince Rainier was perhaps feeling over-exuberant  with the love of his wife-to-be. He said to his priest, Father Tucker, “Isn’t it amazing how fluently Grace speaks French?”  Tucker replied, “My Lord Prince, I knew love was blind, but I didn’t know it was deaf as well.”


I told you last week I had come to the end of vol 2 of Artemus Smith’s notebooks …….