Great Victorians

This list is just my choice of prominent Victorians from all the many possibilities. The Victorian age was such a time of innovation and change, and spanning 64 years, provided a great number of people to select from. I have included those born before the Victorian era, and those who died afterwards: the main selection criteria being that they lived part of their life between 1837 and 1901. The list is far from complete and will be added to as time goes on, but if you have any burning nominations, then drop an email.

Arts and Culture
Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt (c. 22/23 October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was best known as an actress and for her romantic involvement with Prince Edward. She was born in Paris with the name Rosine Bernardt. She was the illegitimate child of mother Julie, a Dutch courtesan, and an unknown father. Her mother had little time for her, so the young child was left with a nurse until of school age.
Bernhardt was sent first to an Augustine convent school near Versailles and then in 1860, at the age of 16, she started at the Conservatoire de Musique at Déclamation (a college of music and dance) in Paris. Berhardt had wanted to become a nun, but it was decided, by her mother's titled lover, a duke, that she should become an actress. Throuh the duke's influence she went on to become a student at the Comédie Française which is a state-run theatre that had its own acting troupe. She left fairly soon after an incident that involved slapping another student in the face.
Berhardt made her stage debut in 1862 shortly before being expelled from Comédie Française. She decided to leave France and move to Belgium where she soon became the mistress of Henri, Prince de Ligne. She gave birth to their son, Maurice, in 1864, and although Henri proposed marriage, his family opposed it and persuaded Bernhardt to refuse and end the relationship.
At some point, around 1871, her birth records were lost in a fire and she obtained false birth records and renamed herself Sarah Bernhardt, adding the h to her surname.
Returning to Paris Bernhardt took on the role of a courtesan, following in the footsteps of her mother. A courtesan was a courtier, someone who attended the court of a monarch or other powerful person and provided pleasant companionship to an man of status for extended periods. Many were paid for their services and were often passed to other patrons when their present one tired of them. Some courtesans where also high class prostitutes, living immoral lives amongst the nobles of the day. From 1862-1865 Berhardt was able to make a considerable amount of money.
Around this time Berhardt adopted a strange custom of sleeping in an open coffin claiming that doing so helped her understand her many tragic roles.
In 1866 Bernhardt secured a position at the Théâtre de L’Odéon and resumed her career as an actress, although only briefly as the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871) broke out and performances were stopped. During this period the theatre was transformed into a makeshift hospital and Berhardt took care of the soldiers wounded. In 1872, she left the Odéon and returned to Comédie-Française. After the war Bernhardt performed on stages all over Europe and in New York and even travelled to Cuba.
Bernhardt took on the lease of the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris which she ran as producer, director and star from 1893 to 1899, and then in 1899 she took over the former Théâtre des Nations on the Place du Châtelet and renamed it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. She opened playing one of her most admired parts, the title role in Victorien Sardou's La Tosca. Although many of her productions and parts were respectable classical performances, she also staged some that were scandalous or controversial for their day. She continued running the theatre until her death, when it was taken over by her son, and finally closed during the German occupation.
Apart from her talents as an actress, Berhardt studied painting and sculpture and produced some 50 works of which half are still extant. She was also a pioneer silent movie actress, and starred in ten films, and she wrote a number of books including a novel, an autobiography and various books on acting.
Maurice Bernhardt, Bernhardt's son with Henri de Ligne worked with his mother, managing her theatres and performers, and later managing his mother's career. Bernhardt had a number of friends in the field of art and literature including Gustave Doré and Victor Hugo. In 1882, in London, Bernhardt married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala, but he was a heavy user of morphine and died at the age of 34 in 1889. It was during the latter years of this marriage that it was rumoured that she was involved in an affair with the future King Edward VII while he was still the Prince of Wales. It has never been confirmed that this is true, although it is known that the Prince of Wales had other affairs including one with the actress Lily Langtry. The only possible evidence of an affair seems to be that Bernhardt and the Prince of Wales spent many hours together and when she was late to work Bernhardt told her theatre manager that it was because she had been with the prince until the early hours of the morning.
Bernhardt had an accident on stage in 1905, which resulted in her having to have a leg amputated, but despite this setback she managed to continued and perform for at least another 15 years. She died on 26 March 1923, aged 78, in Paris, of a kidney failure. Although she had claimed in her life time to be an atheist, at her request she was given the last rites and a funeral mass at a Roman Catholic church in Paris.
Despite a shaky start in life Sarah Bernhardt became a talented and world famous actress who not without good cause was someimes referred to as "the Divine Sarah".
Sarah Bernhardt
Anne Bronte
Anne Brontë (1820-1849) was the youngest of the Bronte sisters (see Charlotte above). Her pen name was Acton Bell, and she is the lesser known of the sisters. Her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a dark and shocking work, but has become to be considered a classic of English literature. It is considered to be an early feminist work. Following the death of her sister Emily and brother Branwell, Anne became unwell herself and was eventually diagnosed with consumption (an old term for tuberculosis). In an effort to improve she started on a trip to Scarborough but detriorated, and died soon after getting there, at the age of 29.
Anne Bronte
Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) was the eldest of the Bronte sisters. As a child, she lived with her sisters and brother, mother and clergyman father, in the parsonage at Haworth, in Yorkshire. All the children wrote, and Charlotte adopted the pen name of Currer Bell, a male name as was customary amongst writers at that time. Her best-known work, Jane Eyre, waas published in 1847 and was critically acclaimed for its combination of naturalism and gothic melodrama. Although she started work on another novel, family bereavements and tragedy affected her the next year, and she could not regain the same style. She married her father's curate in 1854 and the following year became pregnant. Sadly things did not go well and she became increasingly ill, modern commentators disagree as to the nature of the illness, but she died at the age of 38 without giving birth.
Emily Bronte
Emily Brontë (1818-1848) was the second born of the Bronte sisters (see Charlotte above). Her pen name was Ellis Bell, and it was under this name she published her bets-known work Wuthering Heights in 1847. It is set in a Yorkshire farmhouse and is an epic tale of love between the heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, and the protagonist Heathcliff. It initially had mixed reception, but is now recognised as a classic novel. Sadly it was not to be followed my more success, for within a year she had died of tuberculosis at the age of just 30. It is believed that poor sanitation conditions they suffered at home and school may have contributed to the poor health of the family.
Robert Browning
Robert Browning (1812-1889) was a poet, perhaps one of the formost of Victorian times. He was born in Camberwell, London and started writing by the age of 12. He is often remembered for short poems such as How they brought the good News to Aix, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and A Grammarian's Funeral, but he was also skilled in dramatic monologues. He married the poet Elizabeth Barrett in 1846. The Barretts travelled extensively and lived from their marriage until Elizabeth's death, in Italy. He died in Venice, but he was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Robert Browning
Lewis Carrol
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). He was a mathematician and an Anglican deacon and he spent almost thirty years teaching at Christ Church, Oxford. He is best known as a writer however, and he started writing as a child having pieces published in varis magazines. He mainly wrote humorous or satirical poems or short stories, but he did write some puppet plays for his siblings. His most famous work Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was written in 1865. He was inspired in part to this by the daughter of a friend, Alice Liddell and it is possible that he got the idea for Wonderland by telling Alice and her sisters stories to entertain them. Wonderland was followed by Through The Looking Glass. Almost every child is familiar with the characters from those books. He died of pneumonia, aged 66.
Lewis Carroll
Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was born in London, the son of famous artist William Collins RA. He became an extremely successful novelist and playwright and was a lifelong friend of Charles Dickens. Many of his novels were published in parts and were termed as sensation novels, but would now be classified as detective and suspense stories. Notable novels include The Moonstone and The Woman in White which has recently been adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. He died, aged 65, of a stroke.
Wilkie Collins
Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)is recognised as being one of the foremost writers of the Victorian period. His characters are familiar throughout the world and his fiction has inspired musicals such as Oliver and Scrooge. Much of his works exposed social conditions of the time. He came to fame in 1836 with the publication of his first novel The Pickwick Papers which was issued in weekly parts. Dickens died of a stroke leaving one incomplete novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Charles Dickens
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) is most noted as an author and creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle was born in Edinburgh to a poor family of Irish Catholic descent. His father was an alcoholic and the family lived in squalid conditions. Fortunately Doyle's uncles provided him with a place, from the age of 9, at the Jesuit preparatory school in Stonyhurst, Lancashire. He went on to Stonyhurst College which he left in 1875 and then spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria, another Jesuit school. This provided him with the education he needed to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School from 1876 to 1881. He worked at a number of places in England, and began writing short stories, which met with limited success. He then served as a ship's doctor and a surgeon, whilst also managing to complete more advanced medical qualifications.
In 1882 he set up medical practice with a classmate in Plymouth but the partnership proved difficult, and in June 1882 he set up a sole practice in Portsmouth. Initially the practice was slow, so Doyle filled in the waiting time by writing stories. By 1886 he had his first Sherlock Holmes story published, the novel A Study in Scarlet. It was an immediate success and Doyle was commissioned to write another, The Sign of the Four. He also started writing a number of short stories featuring Homes, and his trustworthy assistant Dr Watson. His new financial standing meant he could move to Wimpole Street in London.
Doyle was never very happy with the public taste for Holmes and wanted to write more serious historical novels, but there was a huge appetite for the detective stories. He attempted to deter publishers from the stories by charging very high prices, but they simply paid up and Doyle became richer. He then thought to kill off his character in the story "The Final Problem" where Holmes is presumed to plunge to his death, together with his bitter enemy, Professor Moriarty, at the Reichenbach Falls. The resulting public outcry forced the author to bring Holmes back by explaining that, although rather injured, Holmes had managed to cheat death. The novel Doyle wrote following this, The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in 1901, is perhaps one of the best known. Four full length novels and 56 short stories featuring Holmes and Watson were written by Doyle, who also wrote many other books, including science-fiction, and some plays, but most of these have largely been forgotten.
In 1885 Doyle had married Mary Louise Hawkins, and fathered two children with her, before she succumbed to tuberculosis and died in 1906. He then married Jean Elizabeth Leckie the following year and had a further three children.
Doyle served for 3 months as a volunteer doctor in the Langman Field Hospital at Bloemfontein in 1900 during the Boer War, He wrote some political material about the war, amd believed it was partly responsible for him being knighted in 1902. He espoused political and social causes attempting to help those he thought were victims of injustice. In the early 1900s he twice stood (unsuccessfully) for Parliament.
Although Doyle had been brought up a Catholic, he soon declared himself an atheist, but following the death of his first wife in 1906, and compounded by the death, from pneumonia arising from a war injury, of his eldest son in 1918, he strongly embraced spiritualism, perhaps seeking comfort in the spirit world. He was a strong supporter of Christian Spiritualism, and wrote pamphlets and attended seances. It was also during this time that he was deceived by, what later was revealed as a hoax, photographs of the Cottingley Fairies which Doyle thought to be real. Doyle also met with Harry Houdini, whom he felt possessed supernatural powers, although Houdini denied this. Doyle spent a great deal of money on spiritualism and went on psychic tours to America, Australia, Africa and Europe.
In 1910, Doyle had moved to Windlesham Manor, Crowborough, and it was here, having had some short history of heart problems, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 71. He died on 7 July 1930.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans, 22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880, is much better known by her pen name of George Eliot. Evans was born at at South Farm, Warwickshire, and her father, Robert, was manager of the Arbury Hall Estate. Her mother, Christiana, was the daughter of a local mill owner. She had two siblings Christiana and Isaac, and twn brothers who died after a few days. She also had a half-brother and a half-sister from her father's previous marriage.
She was not considered to be a pretty child, and because her father thought her marriage prospects poor, he decided to invest in her education, something that was unusual for girls in those times. She was an intelligent child, and loved reading. From age five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham's school in Attleborough, then to the age of thirteen at Mrs. Wallington's school in Nuneaton. From ages thirteen to sixteen she studied at Miss Franklin's school in Coventry. She did not go to any higher education, but because of her father's position on the estate she had access to the library at Arbury Hall. She studied classics, and in particular Greek literature.
In 1836, after the death of her mother, Evans returned home to act as housekeeper, but still continued studying and corresponding with her tutor. When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, and Evans moved with her father to Foleshill near Coventry. She met here with a group of people who were considered free-thinkers who questioned some of the traditional religious beliefs of the day. Evans began to write short articles which were published in a local newspaper run by one of the members of the group. She also worked on translating a religious work from German, a book which, at the time, controversially questioned the divinity of Jesus.
When her father died in 1849 Evans went to Switzerland for a time where she lived in Geneva. She returned to London in 1850 intending to establish herself as a writer. She stayed at the house of John Chapman who had published the theological translation she had completed earlier. Chapman was a left-wing radical and published The Westminster Review, a free-thinking and cynical periodical. Evans was appointed sub-editor, although in reality she wrote most of the articles. She fell out with Chapman and left the journal in 1854.
She had formed a number of unsuccessful attachments, but in 1854 she decided to live with the philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes whom she had first met in 1851. Although he was already married to Agnes Jervis and had a number of children. For various legal reasons he was unable to divorce Agnes, but this was not considered to be a problem and Evans and Lewes lived together as man and wife. Although it was not unusual in Victorian society for people to have discrete affairs, the open way in which Evans and Lewes lived was considered scandalous.
Evans wrote a number of articles and religious books before commencing the novel writing, for which she is best known, in 1857. She adopted the name George Eliot, believing that male writers were taken more seriously. Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede, and was a great success. Novels written later included The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871), and Daniel Deronda (1876).
In 1878 Lewes died and found solace in the companionship of John Walter Cross, a Scottish commission agent who had recently lost his mother. 1880 Evans married Cross, courting another scandal since he was twenty years younger than her. While they were honeymooning in Venice, Cross, in a fit of depression, jumped from their hotel balcony into the Grand Canal, but he was pulled out alive and recovered. They moved to Chelsea, but shortly after moving Evans suffered from a throat infection. She had already a kidney condition contracted some years earller, and her health rapidly failed and she died on 22 December 1880. Because of her dissenting religious views she was interred in Highgate Cemetery in an area reserved for agnostics or those with unorthodox religious beliefs.
George Eliot
Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell,(1810–1865) often just refered to as Mrs Gaskell was a novelist and short story writer. She was born in Chelsea but suffered a difficult childhood when her mother died just 13 months after Elizabeth's birth. She was sent to live with an aunt in Knutsford, Cheshire. This appeared in her novel as Cranford. She married a Unitarian minister and began writing a couple of years later. She wrote numerous short stories, a number of novels including Cranford, North and South and a biography of Charlotte Bronte. She often wrote using pseudonyms. She died at the age of 55.
Elizabeth Gaskell
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan are best known for their comic operas many of which are still performed widely today. Their influence on musical theatre cannot be underestimated. Because of their association their biographies are being treated as one.

WS Gilbert
William Schwenck Gilbert (18 November 1836 – 29 May 1911) was born at 17 Southampton Street, Strand, London. His father had been a naval surgeon, but then took up writing. His mother was the daughter of an apothecary. Unfortunately the family home was inharmonious, with the parents having constant rows. Gilbert had three younger sisters, two of which were born abroad on the family's travels, Jane (born Milan), Anne and Mary (born Boulogne).
In 1838 Gilbert travelled and lived with his parents in Italy and France returning to London in 1847. His early education was in Boulogne, then he went to at Western Grammar School, Brompton, London after returning to England. He went on to the Great Ealing School where he rose to the position of Head Boy. It was at this school he began writing plays, for the school performances, and he also tried his hand at painting scenery. He completed his education at King's College London, graduating in 1856. He had hoped for a career in the military but because there were few opening he became a civil servant instead, working as a clerk to the Privy Council. He hated this and with the help of a bequest he left in 1863 and took up a brief career as a barrister, having already entered the Inner Temple as a student. Unfortunately this also did not suit him and he only attracted around five clients a year, so he took to using his spare time to writing comic stories, humorous theatrical reviews, and other light articles. He also wrote more serious articles for some newspapers and served as a London correspondent for some foreign papers. In 1870 The Observer newspaper sent him to France as a war correspondent reporting on the Franco-Prussian War. He also wrote and illustrated comic poems, many of which later served as source materials for his comic operas. Gilbert collaborated with Charles Millward in writing pantomime scripts before writing some of his own.
After a brief relationship with a novelist during the mid 1860s Gilbert found his life long partner Lucy Agnes Turner and they married in 1867. The Gilberts were a sociable couple, attending many dinner parties and holding their own. They also kept many animals including some exotic pets. They had no children.
Gilbert, along with others, became concerned that British theatre had fallen into disrepute, with the choice of poorly written material or burlesque shows. Gilbert joined with Thomas German Reed , a leading figure in theatrical reform, and his wife Priscilla, who through their Gallery of Illustration were trying to reestablish wholesome family performances that were suitable for innocent children. Gilbert wrote six musical comedies for them. It was at one of these shows that he was introduced to Arthur Sullivan. He continued writing prodigiously, producing many other theatre scripts in comic and satirical style.
As a logical development to writing Gilbert became interested in "stagecraft" and stage direction, a comparatively new idea at the time. This was a move from loose improvisation to a more closely followed script with a director ensuring the performance ran on course, and that his actors did as was required. Gilbert took to directing and was successful at it, often demonstrating what was required by personally acting it out.
In 1871 Gilbert first worked with Sullivan to produce Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old which ran at the Gaiety Theatre. They then went their separate ways and Gilbert worked on several works. It was not until 1875 that Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were truly born, and more about this is given later.
The latter part of the partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan was marred by quarrels and Gilbert and Sullivan both pursued their separate interests. In 1889 Gilbert built the Garrick Theatre and a year later he and his wife bought a house and estate in Harrow. Nancy McIntosh, who had been cast in HMS Utopia had been taken on as unofficial daughter by the Gilberts and she moved into the house to live with them, staying there through Sir William's death until after the death of Lady Gilbert. She eventually inherited Gilbert's estate and did a lot to preserve papers and other items of the estate for the benefit of the public, finally passing on the estate to the Royal General Theatrical Fund after her own death. In the final years of his life, Gilbert wrote more plays and even another opera. In 1907 he was knighted for his services to drama.
On 29 May 1911 Gilbert was giving a swimming lesson to two young ladies in the lake at his home, and when one of them got into difficulties he dived in to help her, but suffered a heart attack in the lake and died. He was 75.
Although in his lifetime he could be quick-tempered and unreasonable he was also a kind-hearted and generous man who was witty and loved making children happy. He did many kindnesses such as paying the fare of a cab home for actresses when rehearsals ran late, and it was perhaps his appreciation of people that was one of his finest qualities.

Arthur Sullivan
Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was born in Lambeth, London. His father Thomas was a military bandsman married to Mary, and they had one other child, an older brother to Arthur, Frederic. His father also taught music privately and Sullivan quickly showed an interest and talent, learning to play every wind instrument in the band. By the age of 8 he had composed an anthem, but his father tried to discourage him from pursuing a career in music, knowing how difficult it could be. Sullivan studied at a private school in Bayswater, and at the age of 11 managed to persuade his parents to allow him to apply for membership in the choir of the Chapel Royal. Although joining the choir rather later than customary he was soon performing solos and was later promoted to First Boy. Apart from singing he continued composing anthems and choral pieces. This led, at the age of 14, to being awarded the first Mendelssohn Scholarship of the Royal Academy of Music. He studied under great teachers learning piano and other musical disciplines. After the first year, his scholarship was extended for a further year, and then in a very unusual gesture of confidence he was awarded a grant to study for a year at the Leipzig Conservatoire where he was exposed to many musical styles in the classical tradition. He was able to stay on another two years when the Conservatoire waived its fees, and his father managed to fund living expenses, and this Sullivan credited with tremendous musical growth. His graduation piece at the Conservatoire was performed at the Crystal Palace in 1862 and was an immediate success doing a great deal to establish Sullivan's reputation as Britain's most promising young composer.
Returning to London in 1861 Sullivan began writing hymns, parlour pieces, and light songs. As this was not enough to support him financially, he also served as a church organist, and taught music, but he hated the teaching and gave that up as soon as his finances permitted. He composed some pieces for the wedding of the Prince of Wales and went on to write many works for voice and orchestra. His first ballet L'Île Enchantée was in 1864. Some of his works were produced in association with collaborators, but he had a prodigious output on his own. He first worked with Gilbert in 1871 on the comic opera Thespis, but the two went their separate ways before embarking on working together in 1875, details of which follow.
Although Sullivan is best known for his collaborative work with Gilbert, he continued with his varied writing. By 1970 he had written more than 80 popular songs. The best known of his songs is "The Lost Chord" written in 1877 with lyrics by Adelaide Anne Procter, which was written in sorrow at the death of his brother. He also wrote, in 1871, the music for the popular hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers, with words by Sabine Baring-Gould. Sullivan wrote only one grand opera, Ivanhoe, premiered in 1891 which was a strange mixture of success. The opera was commissioned by Richard D'Oyle Carte for the opening of his new Royal English Opera House. Sullivan was late completing the score and had to pay a financial penalty, but when the Opera House opened belatedly the work, based on Scott's eponymous novel, was well received, running for 155 consecutive performances, a huge number for that type of work. Unfortunately Carte was unable to find sufficient operas to continue to fill it and so the theatre was closed, after being briefly leased to Sarah Bernhardt, and converted into a variety theatre. Somehow Ivanhoe was partly blamed for the failure, although in itself it was successful.
Sullivan never married, but had a number of affairs. In the mid 1860s he had a relationship with Rachel Scott Russell, but her parents did not approve of her relationship with a musician with uncertain prospects, so it was carried on secretively. He also had a consecutive relationship for a time with Rachel's sister Louise, but both of these were over by 1869.
In 1871 he began a relationship with an American, Fanny Ronalds, whom he had met some years earlier, and who had recently moved to London. She had two children with her American husband from whom she was separated. Although not a professional singer she would perform Sullivan's songs, often at a Sunday soiree she held, and she became particularly associated with "The Lost Chord" for which Sullivan regularly accompanied her. As Ronalds was not divorced, social convention of the time meant discretion had to be exercised, and in Sullivan's diary she is referred to only by initials. The relationship continued to Sullivan's death.When he was 54 Sullivan proposed marriage to a girl 32 years his junior, but he was turned down. He also conducted a number of short affairs with others, always returning to Fanny Ronalds.
Sullivan was a strong family man maintaining a good relationship with his parents throughout their lives. He was also close to his brother Fred, who was an actor, and his wife Charlotte. When Fred died at the young age of 39, leaving Charlotte with seven children under the age of 14, Sullivan became a frequent visitor to the household and was made guardian to the children. In 1883 Charlotte emigrated with six of her children to Los Angeles, but Sullivan continued to help to financially support them. One boy, Bertie, remained and stayed with Sullivan for the rest of his life. Charlotte died after just a year in the States, but Sullivan visited them in Los Angeles and continued to provide for the family for many years, also taking a keen interest in their progress.
Sullivan also enjoyed the company of his friends and often spent time in France. He counted many famous people of the day amongst those friends including members of European royalty. He was a Freemason and became Grand Organist of the United Grand Lodge of England. In 1893 he was knighted for services to music.
Sullivan suffered from kidney disease for many years, and from the 1880s he had been forced to conduct sitting down. He died of heart failure, following an attack of bronchitis, at his home in London on 22 November 1900.
The music of Sullivan, in his lifetime, included 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, one song cycle, and many hymns, ballads, songs, parlour pieces, and more. Many of his critics, particularly musical purists, felt that he should have stuck to serious music, yet there are equally generations of people who have enjoyed, that for which he is most famed, the comic operas.

Gilbert and Sullivan
The partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan was perhaps rather unlikely. Gilbert wrote humourous prose amongst other things, while Sullivan wrote serious classical music. To this mix, to understand the success of their operettas, must be added Richard D'Oyle Carte, Victorian theatre impresario.
Their first work together was for Thespis, staged at the Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych. Sullivan wrote the music and Gilbert the words. It was a success and ran for 63 performances. The musical score was never published and the manuscripts have all been lost. These type of performances were not expected to be repeated after their run, which would explain why the material has not survived.
Gilbert had written a short piece entitled Trial by Jury intending for a composer Carl Rosa to set the music, but when his wife died suddenly he could not take on the work, so Gilbert offered it to Richard D'Oyle Carte, who was managing the Royalty Theatre at the time. At first Carte had no spare capacity for it, but then he found he needed something to go alongside Offenbach's La Périchole which was too short for audience expectation, so he decided to use Trial. Sullivan, already known to Carte, was asked to quickly produce the score, and on 25 March 1875 the one-act operetta was staged. As with all Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the plot is ridiculous, but Gilbert was able to write strong, witty scripts, while Sullivan added amusing and enjoyable music, which added to a very successful performance. The opera was so successful that it outran La Périchole, and then went on to tour the provinces. It is still widely performed today and has been described as "probably the most successful British one-act operetta of all time".
Although Carte wanted to stage more G&S it took some time to secure financial backers, but in 1877 the Comedy Opera Company was formed with the purpose of staging British comic operas. The first was to be another G&S collaboration, the Sorcerer, which was based on one of Gilbert's Christmas stories. It was premiered in late 1877 and enjoyed just modest success, and is perhaps one of the least favourite of their works. Even so it set the ground rules for their future, more popular work, and they established control over the selection of actors as well the stagecraft.
Their next work, remains one of the most popular, H.M.S. Pinafore. At the start there was a disagreement amongst Comedy Opera Company partners over the share of the profits, and they took the extraordinary step of hiring thugs to storm the theatre and attempt to take costumes and stage sets in order to mount a rival production. They were thwarted by loyal stagehands and Carte continued as the sole impresario and formed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, a name linked fir many years with some of the best performances of G&S in the world. Pinafore began on 25 May 1878 at the Opera Comique. It ran for 571 performances the second longest run of any musical theatre production at that time. It became an international sensation. It went on to play on Broadway, New York, before returning to London for further performances. It has subsequently been staged around the world.
Another massive hit followed, The Pirates of Penzance. That premiered on Broadway on 31 December 1879 and ran for three months before coming to London where it ran for 363 performances at the Opera Comique. It then was staged elsewhere and continues to be one of the most popular of the operas.
This was followed by Patience (1881), Iolanthe (1882), the first to be performed at the Savoy Theatre, and Princess Ida (1884).
The Mikado, was first staged on 14 March 1885 at the Savoy Theatre. It ran for 672 performances. By the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing the opera, and it is the most frequently played piece of musical theatre. The "Little List" song is frequently parodied with the list changing to suit the situation.
Ruddigore (1887), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889) followed with popular acclaim, and Gilbert oversaw all aspects of production including the design of some of the costumes. The works by now had become entitled collectively The Savoy Operas.
In 1880 a serious collaborative work was staged in Leeds, the oratorio The Martyr of Antioch, but that did not draw acclaim for Gilbert and Sullivan as did the comic operas.
Throughout their collaboration there were rifts between the two partners, and each felt that they were having to tailor their work to suit the other. In addition their personalities were at odds. Gilbert was prickly and thin-skinned, yet given to great acts of generosity, while Sullivan had a distaste for conflict. Gilbert, in his libretto created topsy turvy situations in which the social order was reversed, while Sullivan preferred a more down to earth approach. On several occasions Sullivan asked to leave the partnership because he didn't like Gilbert's libretto. yet somehow Carte managed to sooth the two men and they began working together again. However in 1890 a conflict arose over a carpet. Gilbert challenged Carte over the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre lobby. Gilbert maintained that this should be a theatre maintenance expense and not charged to the production. Sullivan sided with Carte, making some erroneous statements,which added fuel to the fire. After a great row, Gilbert stormed out. In fairness, it should be said that there were a number of financial irregularities in the accounts, not just over the carpet, and it is difficult now to say whether these were an attempt to swindle the partnership or whether they were just poor management.
Gilbert went to law against Carte and Sullivan and also withdrew the rights to the use of the libretto, and the G&S partnership fell apart. Gilbert won the case but his actions and statements had been hurtful to his partners, and dissolved what had been a lucrative business arrangement. Sullivan had been deeply distressed by the antagonism and his health had suffered greatly. In hindsight, as with many quarrels, a lot more was lost than was gained.
When the Royal English Opera House Carte and his wife attempted to build bridges and restore the writing partnership. Two further operas were produced Utopia, Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896). Utopia met limited success and The Grand Duke became their only financial failure. Unfortunately it seemed that the magic had fallen from the partnership, although each went on to have limited success with other partners and alone.
The D'Oyle Carte Opera Company continued to stage Gilbert and Sullivan productions, with management passing from Richard to his wife Helen and then his son, Rupert, and granddaughter, Bridget who had no children, and the company continued until 2003, almost 20 years after her death. Without doubt the careful management by D'Oyle Carte helped to keep G&S works alive for many years, but the extraordinary and unique artistic talent of both Gilbert and Sullivan ensured a long lasting contribution to musical theatre that has never been surpassed.
Gilbert and Sullivan
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM (1840–1928)was a novelist and poet. He was born and brought up in Dorset and after leaving school became an architect, first in Dorchester, then in London. He did not like the capital, and returned as soon as he could to Dorset and soon after began his writing career. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, failed to find a publisher and Hardy later destroyed it. He was more successful with later novels which included Tess of the D'Urbevilles, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. He also wrote Jude the Obscure, a work that was considered by many to be obscene because of its sexual content. It was often sold concealed in a brown paper bag. His poems were mainly on the theme of love and some have been set to music. He died of pleurisy at the age of 87.
Thomas Hardy
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (January 6, 1854 - ?) According to enthusiasts Sherlock Holmes was born on January 6, 1854. He is remembered throughout the world as the first consulting detective. He was apparently a descendant of country squires, and had one sibling, his brother Mycroft. He spent two years at University (which one has never been discovered). On leaving education he took rooms in Montague Street, which was near the British Museum. While at university he had spent the holidays at the home of a friend, Victor Trevor, and it was suggested by his friend's father that he might use his powers of observation in some form of professional capacity.
In 1882, while at St Bartholomew's Hospital, a mutual friend introduced Holmes to Dr John H Watson who later became the detective's biographer and friend. They took rooms together at 221b Baker Street, and this arrangement continued throughout most of Holmes' career, except for the short time when Watson was married.
Holmes was skilled in chemistry, and wrote a number of articles on aspects of detection which covered subjects such as how to identify a cigar brand from the ash. He was also accomplished as an actor and was able to use his skills of makeup and disguise to change his appearance for the purpose of pursuing criminals. For relaxation, Holmes was an accomplished violinist and enjoyed attending concerts of classical music.
His detective abilities were so good that he was consulted by many illustrious clients including statesmen and ministers. He often helped the police including working with Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson. By 1891 he had worked on around 1000 cases when he came up against his most formidable foe, Professor James Moriarty. After a confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, Moriarty fell to his death and it was feared that Holmes had likewise perished.
To the great relief of the world Holmes returned to London in 1894 and took up residence in Baker Street, once more. In the intervening years he had made his way accross Europe and Asia using many pseudonmyms, before he felt it was safe to return. He took up his work again and solved many hundred more cases before deciding to retire to Sussex around 1903. There he took up the retirement interest of bee-keeping until his death at some unknown date.
In case there is any doubt, Sherlock Holmes was a literary character, and although widely known, did not actually exist. He was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and was modelled upon Dr. Joseph Bell, who had been Doyle's professor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Bell used his powers of observation to detect disease, and Doyle used this skill as the basis for Holmes' detection, which regularly amazed those around him, none more so than Dr. Watson. When Holmes explained his chain of reasoning the deductions seem very reasonable.
Holmes seemed to be a character of great energy at times, but also suubject to great gloom and depression. He was a pipe smoker, but used cocaine when the mood took him. Sometimes he would take to the violin in an effort to kerb his dark moments. When working on a case he became focussed and razor sharp, however.
Oddly, some of the things most associated with Holmes, were added by others, abd not by the author. The meerschaum pipe (curved style pipe) was added by an actor who portrayed the detective, whilst the deerstalker hat came from the illustrator, Sidney Paget, who produced drawings to accompany the stories that appeared in the Strand Magazine. The phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” never appeared in Doyle's writings at all, and it is not know how it came to be accepted and quoted as a Holmes' saying. The closest phrase that actually appeared in the Doyle stories was “exactly, my dear Watson” .
There are many societies and groups throughout the world that study and discuss the detective including the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, founded in 1951, and the Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1934. These societies publish journals, and Sherlock Holmes is probably the subject of more fan fiction than any other literary character. He has also been widely covered by theatre, film and television.
Sherlock Holmes
A. E. Housman
Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936)was a classicist and poet. He is best known for his poems of doomed youth in the countryside. He was born near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, and after a classical education went to study at St John's College, Oxford. He won a number of prizes for his poetry. In 1892 he was awarded a professorship in Latin at University College London. He wrote a number of scholarly works, but he is best remembered for his poetry, A Shropshire Lad, a collection of 63 poems. Ironically he had never actually visited Shropshire at the time. Many of the poems are pessimistic, but struck a chord with the readers especially around WW1. Some of the poems were set to music. Later in life he took a professorship in Latin at Cambridge and was noted as an impatient and hard tutor who was unable to remember his students' names. He died age 77.
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was born in Bombay, India. He was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire which was the place where his parents had courted, and had special significance. At the age of three, Kipling and his sister Alice were sent to live in Southsea, with a couple who boarded children of British Nationals serving in India. This was a common practice of the time, and they stayed six years: the time was a deeply unhappy experience for Kipling, as he recounted later. In 1878 Kipling went to school at Westward Ho! where he had a better time.
In 1878, at the age of 16, he returned to India. He had not been able to have a University education, so instead he went to work for an English newspaper based in Lahore. Alongside his journalism, he began writing short stories which were published in various magazines. He transferred to another paper in Allahabad in 1887 and published six collections of short stories before leaving in 1889. Using the money he had earned he set sail for London on a roundabout route that took him to a number of places, including America, where he met Mark Twain.
Kipling took up residence in London and continued writing but perhaps overdid it, because he suffered a nervous breakdown. On advice from doctors he took another sea cruise visiting several countries before returning to London. In 1892 he married Carrie Balestier and they embarked on overseas travels. During their trip, their bank failed, and short of cash, they had to return to Vermont (where Mrs Kipling had been raised). They rented a cottage, where their first child was born. It was there that the Jungle Books were written. They went on to purchase land and built a larger house. They might have stayed there but the political situation, of the time, had caused the Americans to become somewhat anti-English, and then Kipling was assaulted by Mrs Kipling's brother, who was drunk at the time, so they no longer felt settled. In 1896 they moved to Devon. Kipling continued writing, by now a famous author. The family moved the following year to Rottingdean in East Sussex. They moved again in 1902 to Burwash in the same county. It was there the Just So Stories for Little Children were written. In 1907 Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In 1915 Kipling was beset by tragedy. He had been deeply scornful of those who shirked duty in World War I and he had actively encouraged his young son to join up, even pulling strings to get his son a commission. Sadly the young man, John Kipling, aged 18, was killed in action in 1915. Kipling felt both guilt and grief. He wrote a poem about it entitled My Boy Jack. Perhaps this also explained his subsequent involvement in the War Graves Commission, and the inscription "The Glorious Dead" on the Cenotaph in London was from Kipling's pen.
Kipling died at the age of 70 in 1936. His ashes are buried in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Edward Lear
Edward Lear (12 or 13 May 1812 – 29 January 1888) has the distinction of being best known for writing nonsense. His comic verse is still widely known today, but he was also an artist and musician. He was born in Holloway, London, which was then a village. His parents Ann Clark Skerrett and Jeremiah Lear produced a family of 21 children, and Lear was next to youngest. At the age of four, because of financial issues, Lear went to live with his older sister Ann, who was 21 years older than her brother. Ann became a mother to Lear and the retained a close relationship until her death, when Lear was about 50.
Lear had a number of health problems. He had epileptic seizures from the age of six, bronchitis and asthma. Later in life he was also partially blind. He was embarrassed by his epilepsy throughout his life, and usually sought privacy when he felt a seizure was about to occur. From the age of seven he suffered severe depression, and was plagued by frequent depressed periods through his life.
Lear had a great artistic talent, and by the age of 16 he had already acquired paid work. He took a position as "ornithological draughtsman" with the Zoological Society. In 1832 he went to work for the Earl of Derby who kept a private menagerie, and at the age of 19, Lear's first book was published, "Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots". This was well received and he was compared to great naturalists. He left the Earl in 1836. Lear continued to draw and paint throughout his life.
In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, the book for which he is most widely known. The book contained limericks, nonsense poems, illustrated alphabets and contained many made up words. The Owl and the Pussycat, Lear's most famous nonsense song, was dedicated to the Earl of Derby and was written for his children. Examples of these are available elsewhere on this site.
Lear played the piano and could also play accordion, flute and guitar. He composed music to poems and was the only composer to set music for poems of Tennyson of which the author approved. Although accomplished, Lear didn't play professionally, but performed at many social gatherings.
Lear enjoyed travelling, particularly liking Switzerland and Italy and he settled in San Remo, Italy in the 1870s living in "Villa Tennyson" a house named after his friend.
Lear did not marry. In 1849 he met a young barrister, Franklin Lushington, in Malta, and they travelled together. Lear developed feelings towards his companion, but they were not reciprocated. Although they remained friends until Lear's death, Lear was constantly disappointed the relationship had gone nowhere. Lear's attempts to find other male partners were equally unsuccessful. He did propose marriage to a woman, 46 years his junior, on two occasions, but was turned down. He had many friendships, and later life came to rely on Giorgis, his chef, whom Lear described as a faithful friend and a thoroughly unsatisfactory chef. He was also very fond of his cat Foss.
During the latter years at Villa Tennyson, Lear's health declined, and from 1870 he had suffered heart disease, which brought about his death at his villa on 29 January 1888 at the age of 75. His funeral was a lonely event, with few of his friends being able to be present.
Lear was a man of contrasts. His literary work and his beautiful animal illustrations, his creative genius, stand against a rather sad figure of a man given to depression and ill health, who ultimately died in loneliness.
Edward Lear
Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Lord Lytton (1803–1873) was a playwright, novellist and poet as well as an English politician. He was born into an aristocratic family in Norfolk and while studying at Cambridge University won the Chancellor's Gold Medal for English verse. He married in 1827 but the union was not entirely successful, and was often acrimonious. He stood for parliament as a Whig and was elected as MP for St Ives in 1831, the first of several postings. His literary works were prolific and included Pelham, and many others including historical fiction, mystery, romance, the occult, and science fiction. He is known for phrases such as "the pen is mightier than the sword", "pursuit of the almighty dollar" and "the great unwashed". He also created the opening line much beloved by teachers, "It was a dark and stormy night". He died in Torquay at the age of 69 following an ear infection which may have caused a fit.
Bulwer Lytton
William Morris
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a man of many talents but is probably best known as a textile designer. He was also a poet and writer and a social activist. He was also a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Morris was born in Walthamstow, East London to a middle class family. He studied classics at Oxford University and became attracted to a system of belief called Medievalism which concerned the spirit, practices, or methods of the Middle Ages. He joined a group known as The Birmingham Set so called as many members were from Birmingham or had studied at King Edward's School, Birmingham. The group were involved and had influence in the visual arts.
After university, Morris trained as an architect and in 1859 he married Jane Burden who was an artists' model, and considered to be beautiful. Jane Burden was possibly the inspiration for the character of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, as she had been born in poverty, possibly to an Oxford domestic servant. However after being spotted and recruited by artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones she was gradually able to better herself, and after her engagement to Morris was given a private education. She loved reading and became proficient in French and Italian and also learned to play the piano to a high standard. She was also a gifted needlewoman. Her diction and manners also improved to such an extent that she had no problem being accepted in society.
The newly married Morrises moved to Bexleyheath, and there they had two daughters, Jane Alice "Jenny", 1861, and Mary "May" 1862. Soon after they moved to Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, but in 1871 Morris and Rossetti took out a joint tenancy on Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, which served as a rural retreat.
Morris formed friendships with the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and also with Neo-Gothic architect Philip Webb. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artusts who sought reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach. The members believed the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on art and sought to return to a time prior to that. In 1861, Morris founded a decorative arts firm with Rosetti, Burne-Jones and Webb, plus some others. Morris designed tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows, which were much in demand and had a major influence on Victorian society. By 1875 Morris had total control and the firm was called simply Morris & Co.
Morris began publishing poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. This was followed by numerous other poems and books. Morris began publishing poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. Morris began publishing poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. From 1871, following a visit to Iceland Morris produced a series of English-language translations of Icelandic Sagas. He wrote a number of epic poems and novels which were well received. In 1877 he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which campaigned against damage caused by architectural restoration. Politically, Morris was a Marxist and espoused anarchism, a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies. In 1884 he founded the Socialist League, a short lived group that never really managed to reach accord amongst its members and ceased in 1901. Morris himself left in 1890. In 1891 he founded the Kelmscott Press, and began to publish limited edition illuminated style books.
By the early 1890s, Morris was increasingly unwell, suffering from gout and epilepsy. On the advice of doctors he took a number of holidays including a cruise to Norway, during which his condition detriorated and he retreated to Kelmscott House where he remained as an invalid until succumbing to tuberculosis he died on 4 October 1896.
Morris left a legacy which included over 600 designs for wall-paper, textiles, and embroideries, over 150 for stained glass windows, three typefaces, and around 650 borders and ornamentations for the Kelmscott Press. However his influence was much greater than this through involvement in projects and artistic techniques and from those admiring and copying his methods. Morris has exerted a powerful influence on thinking about art and design for over a century. By the time of his death his poetry was known internationally and his company's products were found all over the world. We remember him today mainly as a designer of wallpaper and textiles but during his lifetime he was best known as a poet.
William Morris
Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943) is best known as an author and illustrator, but was also a natural scientist and conservationist. Born into a Unitarian family, to artistic parents, she was educated by private governesses. She spent holidays in Scotland and the Lake District and developed a love of nature. She was given art lessons and began illustrating animals and flowers, insects and archeological subjects. She illustrated cards and booklets, but in 1901 she wrote and illustrated The Tale of Peter Rabbit which she published privately, and then had it re-published commercially a year later, this time as three volumes. With the proceeds of writing, and a legacy from an aunt, in 1905, she bought Hill Top Farm in a village in the Lake District near Ambleside. Over the next few decades she bought up many other local farms to preserve the unique landscape. She married a local solicitor, William Heelis, in 1913. Beatrix also bred sheep, and had a keen interest in land preservation. She continued to write, illustrate and design spin-off merchandise until her diminishing eyesight made it difficult. She published 23 books, which are still very popular today. On her death in 1943, at the age of 77, she left much of her property to the National Trust, and is credited with preserving much of the land that is now known as the Lake District National Park.
Beatrix Potter
Christina Rosetti
Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)was a romantic poet and sister to Dante Gabriel Rosetti. She is best known for the poem Goblin Market and for the carol In The Bleak Mid Winter. She grew up in a lively literary household that received regular visits from writers and poets, and Rosetti soon began writing material that was contributed to magazines. Her early works often featured meditations on death and loss. She worked for a time as a volunteer at a house for fallen women, and she was opposed to slavery and cruelty to animals. Some people have identified her with the feminist movement. She gained a wide circle of friends and supporters throughout her life. She sadly died of breast cancer at the age of 64.
Christina Rosetti
Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) is known as a poet, illustrator and painter and for founding The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. The brotherhood was an association of leading artists of the time, and a major influence on artists and writers. He was the brother of Christina Rosetti. His poems were often accompanied by illustrations and his early poems were said to be influenced by Keats. He also excelled as a painter working in oils and water colour. Not all his works were received favourably, and that, coupled with the death of his wife, soon after the stillbirth of their child, from a Laudanum overdose, led to him becoming increasingly depressed. He took the drug chloral hydrate and drank heavily in an effort to ease his distress, and died at the age of 53.
John Ruskin
John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) made his name as a Victorian art critic, although he was also an artist, philanthropist and social thinker. Ruskin was born in London to well-educated parents. His father was a businessman in the wine trade, and both parents taught their son about the works of Byron, Shakespeare and Walter Scott of which they were fond. His mother, a keen evangelical Christian also encouraged John in reading the King James Bible, from which he developed a love for the imagery and language. His father often took John with him as he travelled on business trips, and John delighted in their client's country houses in which he was able to develop an interest in architecture and art. The Ruskin family also travelled extensively to see the sights of France, Belgium and Italy.
Until he reached the age of 15 Ruskin was educated at home in Herne Hill, London, by tutors as well as his parents. He then attended a progressive evangelical school in Peckham for a year, and in 1836 he took a place at Christ Church in the University of Oxford. He studied "Greats" (classics) but largely found his studies uninspiring, although he formed a number of friendships, including that of a young senior tutor, Henry Liddell, who later became the father of Alice Liddell. In 1839, at the third attempt, he won the prestigious Newdigate Prize for poetry and this led to him meeting the poet William Wordsworth. However for most of his time at Oxford Ruskin's health was poor and it was feared he might even be suffering from consumption (tuberculosis). He was durther set back when he learned that his first love, Adèle Domecq, second daughter of his father’s business partner, had become engaged to someone else. In 1840 he took a six week break at Leamington Spa to partake of salt water treatment, and whilst there he responded to a challenge given by a 12 year old girl, the daughter of a family friend, Effie Gray, writing a fairy tale The King of the Golden River which was to be his only work of fiction, and was widely popular. Returning to Oxford he sat for and received a pass degree in 1842.
Ruskin travelled again with his parents and spent some time in Italy where he wrote articles and books on painters and artists. He also wrote a defense of the art of JMW Turner. His view and articles were well received and he found acceptance by others in the field, including Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, becoming accepted as a recognised and authoritative art critic. Ruskin also visited France and spent much time at the Louvre.
Returning to England in 1847 Ruskin became better acquainted with the girl who had inspired the fairy tale, Effie Grey, and following a courtship they married on 10 April 1848 at Perth. They lived together at various addresses in London, but there were differences in personality and the marriage was never consumated, and with five years they had separated. The marriage was dissolved and Effie went on to marry the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, with whom she later had eight children. The marriage annulment caused a great scandal in Victorian society and she was ostracised from some society functions.
Having become established in writing about art, Ruskin also wrote about architecture, which was also a great interest to him. His involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which included John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti was not without pain after his wife left him and married Millais, but Ruskin was still a supporter of the movement which sought to promote naturalism, painting nature in fine detail. Ruskin financially supported Hunt and Rosetti and a number of other artists. In another act of generosity in 1861 he gave 48 Turner drawings to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and a further 25 to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Ruskin had also taken to painting watercolours, and held a number of exhibitions to display his work. He was also commissioned to artistic works which included a stained glass window. Ruskin is also said to have inspired a Gothic style of architecture.
In 1854 Ruskin supported the establishment of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, a museum to promote scientific understanding. Ruskin, furthering his commitment to education. together with Rosetti taught drawing classes at the Working Men's College in London. From 1859 until 1868, Ruskin was involved with the progressive school for girls at Winnington Hall in Cheshire, where he promoted social and political ideals. He also was involved with another educational institution, Whitelands College, London, one of the oldest higher education institutesin the country, a training college for teachers. He started a May Queen festival that continues today.
Alongside his involvement with educational establishments Ruskin also travelled giving lectures. From 1851, following the death of Turner, Ruskin catalogued nearly 20,000 sketches which the artist had given to the nation.
By 1858, Ruskin had returned to travelling visiting Switzerland and Italy, and during this time he turned from his evangelical faith and felt the need instead to embrace social reform. He wrote on his socialist and political ideas examining issues that bound communities together. Ruskin believed that all economies, and all societies are ideally underwritten by a politics of social justice. Many of his views were later assimilated into the early views of the Labour Party. Ruskin invested in a philanthropic housing scheme and other works, and was also associated with Octavia Hill who sought to improve housing for the poor.
Ruskin was appointed the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University in 1869. He went on to found his own art school at Oxford in 1871, The Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art. He resigned in 1879 for political reasons, but took up the position again in 1883 before finally resigning in 1884. Also in 1871, Ruskin founded The Guild of St George, a utopian society dedicated to promoting more simple, less mechanistic, farming, and to traditional rural crafts. The Society still exists. Ruskin also founded a museum in Sheffield. In 1858 Ruskin had been asked to teach drawing and painting to the two daughters of Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford. Ruskin gradually fell in love with one of the daughters, Rose La Touche, although she was only ten, and Ruskin nearly 39. Her family were not supportive, not because of the age gap, but because of religious differences. He proposed to her around her 18th birthday, but she asked him to wait until she was 21 for an answer. This caused Ruskin a great deal of torment, and he was devastated to be rejected in 1872. Rose died just three years later, following a long illness, at the age of 27, and Ruskin suffered some mental breakdowns and depression. He turned to spiritualism, believing he was communicating with the dead Rose. In 1870 Ruskin resumed travelling, going as far as Sicily, and using his experiences to write travel guides. In 1888, while on a trip, he collapsed, and returned home never to travel again. His writings after this lacked the quality of his earlier work. In 1871 he had purchased a country house in the Lake District, called Brantwood and he lived there in his later years until at the age of 80 he died from influenza on 20 January 1900.
John Ruskin
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)was born in Edinburgh and bcame a well known author and poet. Although he attended University to study engineering his heart was not in it. His first work, publishd when Stevenson was 16, was The Pentland Rising, but is largely forgotten now. His best known works were mainly written between 1838-1844 and include Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Kidnapped. Having suffered ill health throughout his life he died at the comparatively young age of 44, probably of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Bram Stoker
Abraham Stoker, (1847-1912) better known as Bram Stoker, was an Irish novelist widely known for writing the horror story Dracula. He was born in Clontarf, north of Dublin. Until the age of seven he was bedridden with an unknown illness, but he made a complete recovery and was educated at a private school, before going to Trinity College (1864-1870). After graduating with a BA in mathematics he became theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail (which was co-owned by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a popular writer of Gothic tales). Through this he met Henry Irving, probably the most famous actor of the day, and the two became friends. He also began his writing career with short stories and non-fiction. In 1878 he married Florence Balcombe, a celebrated beauty, whose former suitors had included Oscar Wilde.
After marriage the Stokers moved to London and Stoker became business manager of Irving's Lyceum Theatre, a post he held for 27 years. He became well known to London society. He began writing novels which included Dracula and several less well known works. After Irving's death in 1906 he produced a biography, The Life of Irving. Dracula may have been inspired in part by a meeting between Stoker and a Hungarian writer and traveller, which led Stoker to spend several years researching European folklore and mythology. The book is in part set in Whitby. Stoker suffered a number of strokes before his death in 1912. He was 64. His wife and only son survived him. Dracula went on to become world famous as a novel and in film form.
Bram Stoker
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Alfred Tennyson FRS, 1st Baron Tennyson (1809-1892) was a famous poet with many of his verses becoming widely known, for example, "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all".
He was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, the son of a Rector, part of a large family. The Tennysons were comfortably well off, able to have regular seaside holidays, and were a cultured educated family. Tennyson attended several of the local Grammar schools before going to Trinity College Cambridge in 1827. He began writing and published his first solo collection of poems in 1830. Unfortunately when his father died in 1831, Tennyson had to leave Cambridge without completing his degree. He returned to the family home, and in 1833 published a poetry colllection which included The Lady of Shalott. Unfortunately this was not well received by critics and Tennyson became so discouraged that he didn't publish again for ten years.
After the unexpected death of his best friend, who had married one of his sisters, Tennyson wrote several great poems. He also moved to Essex before moving to Twickenham in 1840. An unwise investment had led to the loss of the family fortune, so Tennyson must have been relieved when his next volumes of poems, published in 1842, met with acclaim.
In 1850 Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate, following William Wordsworth. He also married a childhood sweetheart, Emily Sellwood. They went on to have two sons. They moved to the Isle of Wight in 1853 but being regularly pestered by tourists he also took a property in West Sussex where he went in the summers, returning to the island in Winter. Tennyson held the position of Poet Laureate for 46 years, the longest tenure of anyone in that office. He turned out many other poems including his best known, "The Charge of the Light Brigade", written in 1855, just a year after the ill-advised charge of Crimean War soldiers. Queen Victoria, who has an admirer of Tennyson's works created him Baron Tennyson in 1884. He died in Aldworth in 1892 at the age of 83, and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Tennyson's poems covered many subject and were in many styles. His prodigious output meant that not all the poems were inspired, and a great deal of his works were melancholic and sad, perhaps reflecting Tennyson's lifelong struggle with depression.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811 – 1863) was an English satirical novelist. His most famous work was Vanity Fair. He was born in Calcutta, India, where his father was employed by the British East India Company. When he was four, his father died, and his mother sent the young boy to England. On the way, his ship stopped at St Helena and he saw the imprisoned Napoleon. He was educated at schools in Southampton and Chiswick and then Charterhouse - which he nicknamed Slaughterhouse as he did not much like his time there. He went on to Cambridge in 1829, but did not care for Universiy life either, and left left in 1830. He began writing having pieces appearing in the university publications. He then went on the continent and travelled during which time he met Goethe. Returning to London, he began studying law at the Middle Temple, but found that did not suit him either. He came into his inheritance at 21, but gambling, a couple of unsuccessful business ventures and the collapse of two Indian banks in which he had mony, meant he had to find a profession to support him. He went to Paris to study art, but chose not to make a career of it. Instead he turned to writing, and inspired by marriage to Isabella Gethin Shawe in 1836, he started turning out regular articles. The marriage produced three girls, but one died at just 8 months. After the birth of her third child, Thackeray's wife descended into depression, and on an intended remedial trip to Ireland to see her mother, she threw herself overboard. She recovered and, after completing their trip, the Thackeray's returned home, and Mrs Thackeray spend some time in treatment before geiing into a state of detachment from reality, unaware of the world around. Thackeray tried many cures but nothing worked and eventually Mrs Thackeray went to stay in a home near Paris, where she remained until her death.
In the 1840s Thackeray continued with writing meeting with his biggest success with Vanity Fair, which was published in parts from January 1847. The novel was a satirical view of society and featured the roguish heroine Becky Sharp, an intelligent and witty girl who had been educated at Miss Pinkerton's Academy. The novel was well received and Thackeray was hailed, by the very society he satirised, as the equal of Charles Dickens. He continued with writing, but also began giving lectures about English humourists and also on English monarchs, on which he wrote a book entitled The Four Georges. He travelled twice to the United States, and then decided to stand for Parliament as an Independent, but he was narrowly beaten. In 1860, he took up the editorship of a magazine and also contributed as a columnist.
In the 1850s his health began to deteriorate, and it was made worse by over-eating and drinking, although he still continued horseback riding. In 1863, just before Christmas, he returned home after eating out, suffered a stroke, and was found dead in his bed at the age of 52. 7000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens, and he was buried in Kensal Green Cemetary. A memorial bust was sited in Westminster Abbey. Although a popular writer in his day, his work is not much read today, with the exception of Vanity Fair.
William Makepeace Thackeray
J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner, RA (1775 - 1851) is most remembered as an artist, particularly of landscapes. He was a member of the Royal Academy.
The exact date of birth is unknown, but Turner was born in Covent Garden, London, to a father who was a barber and wig-maker and a mother, whose family were butchers. A younger sister died at the age of four in 1783, and by 1785 Turner's mother, showing signs of mental disturbance was admitted to St Luke's Hospital for Lunatics and transferred a year later to the well-known Bethlem Hospital. The young Turner was sent to live with an uncle in Brentford, which was then a small village west of London. This is where he did his first known artistic work, colourings of engraved plates. He spent some time in Margate in 1786 and produced drawings of the town and surrounding area. Margate became a favourite place to which he returned in adult life from time to time. His father began to proudly display his son's works in his shop window, and these early pieces sold for a few shillings.
Returning to stay with his Uncle again, this time to Sunningwell, Berkshire, to where he had retired, Turner produced pencil sketches and watercolours. His technique of pencil sketches on site, later to be used as a basis for a painting, remained with him through his life. As a young man Turner made architectural sketches and worked for a number of architects. By 1789, at the age of 15, he studied under Thomas Malton who was described as a topographical draughtsman, which meant he painted pictures with detailed architectural accuracy. Malton painted mainly streets and buildings around London.
At the age of 14, in 1779, Turner entered the Royal Academy of Art school, and was accepted into the Royal Academy a year later. As an probationer he recived tutilage from other Academy members, and was provided a platform to exhibit his works. He continued with his architectural works, and also ventured into his first oil painting, Fishermen at Sea, which was widely praised, helping to establish his reputation more solidly.
From 1802 Turner travelled in Europe, spending some time studying at The Louvre. He also went to Venice. Following a commission from Walter Ramsden Fawkes, of Farnley Hall, near Otley, Turner painted watercolours of that area, and loved it so much that he returned there several times subsequently. He was also a guest of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, at Petworth House in West Sussex, which led to a number of paintings of the Sussex countryside.
Turner had few close friends except for his father, and after he died in 1829 Turner suffered from spells of depression. Although Turner never married, he had a relationship with a widow, Sarah Danby, with whom he is belieed to have fathered two daughters in 1801 and 1811. He later had a relationship with another widow, Sophia Caroline Booth, with whom he lived for 18 years in Chelsea. It was here that he died on 19 December 1851 aged 76.
Turner left a great body of work, over 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 paper works, as well as a small fortune, some of which was used to benefit future artists. He is rightly recognised as an influential figure in the world of art, and one of Britain's finest painters.
JMW Turner
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was generally known as HG Wells, and was a writer of novels and non-fiction. He was born at Bromley, in Kent on 21 September 1866. His father, Joseph, had at various times been a domestic gardener, a shopkeeper and a professional cricketer while his mother, Sarah Neal was a former domestic servant. He had three siblings and was the youngest in the family.
When Wells was eight he broke his leg and was forced to rest. To pass the time he read books and became entranced so much that he continued when he was well again, and also began writing. He became a pupil at Thomas Morley's Commercial Academy, a private school, but had to leave a year later when the family finances declined. In order to make ends meet Wells and his brothers had to take up apprenticeships, and he joined a shop, Hyde's Southsea Drapery Emporium.He worked a thirteen-hour day and slept in a dormitory with other apprentices, experiences which were used in his novels, but he did not take to the work, and subsequently failed to make the grade. He didn't do any better as a chemist's assistant.
Meantime, Wells' parents had amicably separated, and his mother had returned to a position as a lady's maid working at Uppark, Sussex. This enabled Wells to access the library and read some great literature. His mother also managed to find, through a relative, a position for Wells at the National School, Wookey, Somerset. Wells was to be a pupil-teacher, receiving tuition in exchange for teaching younger pupils, and he began in 1879. Unfortunately that didn't last long as there was some problem of irregularity in his qualifications so, going back to Sussex, he took an apprenticeship at a chemist in Midhurst, which didn't last and was followed by a short stay as a boarder at Midhurst Grammar School. Then he returned, unhappily, to Hyde's for a while. In 1883 Wells, with the help of his parents, was released from his apprenticeship and went back to Midhurst Grammar School as a pupil-teacher. A year later he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (now Royal College of Science, part of Imperial College, London). There he studied, and took a keen interest in, biology. He became a member of the school debating society and became one of the founders of The Science School Journal, a school magazine, which gave him opportunity to write articles and stories. He left school in 1887 having passed biology and physics, but failing in geology, his scholarship was not extended.
Wells spent some time in the Potteries area, living for a while in Stoke on Trent. He did some teaching, then went to the College of Preceptors where he received teaching diplomas. Finally, to complete his education, he earned a BSc degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme. In 1889 he took a post, for a year, as a teacher at Henley House School, and he taught A. A. Milne, the writer of Winnie the Pooh stories, who was a pupil.
Wells married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells in 1894, but they separated in 1894 after Wells fell in love with a student, Amy Catherine Robbins, who was also called Jane. They married in 1895 and moved to Folkestone where he had built a big residence, Spade House. He had two boys with Jane, George Philip (1901) and Frank Richard (1903). The marriage lasted until Jane died, but Wells had affairs, with her consent, with several other women and had a daughter, Anna-Jane, with the writer Amber Reeves, and a son, Anthony West, by the novelist and feminist Rebecca West.
Wells’s first published book was a Textbook of Biology (1893).He wrote Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, and unpromising title for a work of non-fiction which became a best seller in 1901. He wrote a number of books which he described as scientific romances including The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes, and The First Men in the Moon. Kipps, another success was a more conventional story.
Over his lifetime Wells wrote over 50 novels, a similar amount of non-fiction, and a long list of short stories. He has been called "The Father of Science Fiction", but he also wrote on politics, history and social issues. He had a vivid imagination and was able to "predict" how things would be years in the future: for example he predicted the invention of modern weapons such as the tank and the atom bomb. He also held some controversial views. He was a strong advocate of one world government and wrote a book outlining a plan to implement it, published in 1940, The New World Order. Wells thought that society needed to establish structures that ensured that the most intelligent gained power (meritocracy). He was a bitter opponent of the Zionist movement. He had other strong views on politics, which earned him a great deal of criticism from others, and probably detracted from his literary ability. GK Chesterton described Wells as "a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message."
An episode of War of the Worlds, (based on the book written by Wells in 1898) was broadcast on October 30, 1938 by an American radio station. Aired as a series of news bulletins over an hour, the alarming nature of a Martian invasion was taken to be a reality by many listeners and caused widespread panic. Although it had been made clear at the start that the broadcast was a work of fiction, those tuning in later did not receive the warning, and later there was outrage at being misled. Although Wells had not been involved in the broadcast he took the matter in good humour.
Wells died on 13 August 1946 at his home near, Regent's Park, London. He was 79. The reputation of Wells lives on through his science fiction writings and he has served as an inspiration to others, being cited by Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, amongst many others.
HG Wells
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 – 1900) was a Victorian writer who was imprisoned because of his homosexuality.
Wilde was born in Dublin to Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, His father was a surgeon, while his mother was a poet and fervent Irish Nationalist. He had two siblings and three half-siblings who had been born to his father out of wedlock. He was home educated up to the age of nine, learning French and German, and studying poetry and literature. He later attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen. At the age of 17, winning a scholarship, he began to study classics at Trinity College. He was an outstanding student and in his finals, won the Berkeley Gold Medal, the University's highest academic award in Greek. In 1874 he started reading Greats at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied for four years.
While at Oxford, Wilde became a Freemason, and then became interested in Roman Catholicism and considered converting to it, but pulling back at the last minute. He also espoused the Aesthetic and Decadent movements, popular at the time, and cultivated his decadent look, with long hair style. Aestheticism in art and literature suggested that the work should be enjoyed for its own sake rather than to convey any moral or useful purpose. It was only necessary to be beautiful. Wilde also professed to despise "manly" sports, although he occasionally boxed, He graduated with a BA and returned to Dublin.
On his return Wilde met again his former childhood sweetheart, Florence Balcombe, but was disappointed when two years later she became engaged and later married the writer Bram Stoker. After a time of uncertainty, Wilde decided to return to England and in 1878 he settled in Chelsea, London. During this period he supported himself from various published poems and writing as well as travelling to give lectures in the USA with an aesthetic theme.
In 1881 he achieved some success with a play, The Duchess of Padua, and this gave him enough earnings to move to Paris in 1883. He briefly visited the USA again for the production of his play Vera, but other works at that time did not do so well, so he soon returned to London and took up lecturing again speaking about Art and recounting his experiences in America. In 1884 her married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a wealthy QC. They had two sons Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886). Wilde enjoyed mixed success with various other writings including poems and short stories. In 1890 The Picture of Dorian Gray was published, and in 1895, probably his best known work The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed.
In 1891 Wilde had been introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas, a handsome and spoilt young man. Wilde rapidly became infatuated and developed an intimate relationship. This led to Wilde becoming involved in the world of gay prostitution and sleeping with a number of boys. It is likely that Wilde had already had homosexual relationships with at least two others before Lord Alfred Douglas. Unfortunately for Wilde, the father of Lord Alfred Douglas was the Marquess of Queensbury, the man responsible for drawing up the rules of boxing, who was a brutal and strong-minded man who, as soon as becoming aware of the situation between Wilde and his son made all kinds of threats. Wilde, worried that the affair might become public at a time when homosexuality was illegal, attempted to placate Queensbury, and managed to do so for a while, but in 1895 the matter escalated. Queensbury left a calling card at Wilde's club, accusing him of being a sodomite. Wilde felt that he had to prosecute for libel, although many of his friends advised him against it, although Lord Alfred Douglas was in favour.
The Marquess of Queensbury was arrested on a charge of criminal libel, for which he could face imprisonment, but realising his best way out of the situation was to prove the accusation to be true, he hired private detectives to dig for dirt. When the trial began there was massive public interest, and the Queensbury's defence team, supplied by masses of information about the hidden Victorian secrets, and Wilde's association with blackmailers, male prostitutes, cross-dressers and homosexual brothels. Some of these underworld characters even appeared as witnesses. Wilde attempted to claim that his relationships with younger men had been purely platonic. When Wilde learned that a number of men had been found who would testify that they had sex with him, he quickly dropped the prosecution and the court found that Queensbury's claim was true in substance and fact. Queensbury was acquitted, but Wilde was left with the costs for both sides of the case, and as he could not pay he was declared bankrupt.
Immediately after the Queensbury case, Wilde was charged with sodomy and gross indecency. He was imprisoned on remand in Holloway prison. In 1885, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Taylor, another man with whom Wilde had been involved, were sentenced to two years hard labour. He spent time in Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons, not faring terribly well under the harsh conditions. His health declined considerably. He was moved to Reading Prison, where things improved, and he was able to get access to books and paper. In 1897 was released and immediately travelled to the continent.where he lived under an assumed name. He wrote another well known work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol which was a success. It includes the often-quoted line, "Yet each man kills the thing he loves". Wilde met with Lord Alfred Douglas and with Robert Ross (an earlier lover), but his wife refused to see him or his sons, although she provided some financial help to him. For a while, Wilde lived with Douglas until they were separated by family pressure, and he went to live in a hotel in Paris, depressed and ill. Towards the end of 1900 Wilde, having developed cerebral meningitis, was baptised as a Roman Catholic. He died a few days later and he is buried in Paris.
In his fairly short life Wilde made a great impact of the literary world in the UK and France, as well as raising moral questions which are still debated today.
Oscar Wilde