Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hester: the Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson's 'Dear Mistress' - by Ian McIntyre

The rattlesnake of Dead Man's Place: Henry Hitchings applauds a Life that reveals there is much more to Hester Thrale than her time with Dr Johnson
Hester Thrale might barely be known to posterity but for a meeting that took place one January evening in 1765. The playwright Arthur Murphy brought a guest to dine at her house in Dead Man's Place near Southwark Cathedral. That guest, Samuel Johnson, made an immediate impression on the 23-year-old Thrale, and so began a friendship that would last nearly 20 years. To generations since, Thrale has been little more than "Dr Johnson's Mrs Thrale" - a mixture of ornament and helpmeet - but, as Ian McIntyre's appealing biography demonstrates, she was a formidable and original figure.
There was always a whiff of the absurd about Hester. Her family, the Salusburys, were Welsh gentry, and, proud of her ancestry, she often made extravagant claims of kinship - such as to one Adam of Salzburg, a follower of William the Conqueror. An assiduous chronicler of her own existence, she was always looking for ways to enliven it.
Read full article here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fuller's Will: Part Two

Henry Singleton, with John Crosdill and William Shield, was a witness to John Fuller's 1823 will. Singleton, however, is the only one of the three who outlived Fuller and received a bequest of £100 and " a ring of twenty guinea value."
Jack Fuller sat for a portrait by Singleton in which he looks every bit the Georgian Squire. On the desk at his elbow is a letter addressed to John Fuller, Esq., MP, Rose Hill, Sussex dated June 10, 1806. The painting was presented to the Royal Institution in 1932 and was installed on the upper level of the Grand Staircase, where it still hangs, [ see detail on left side bar]. Singleton published a mezzotint print of the portrait, engraved by Charles Turner [seen here right], on 18 July 1808.
Singleton was born in London, England on 19 October 1766. He died in London, at the house of a friend at 7 Kensington Gore, on 15 September 1839, and was buried in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
From the age of sixteen, Henry Singleton worked as a professional portraitist. He attended the Royal Academy Schools from the age of seventeen and won the silver medal in 1784. His painting from John Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast won the gold medal in 1788. In 1793, he was commissioned by the Royal Academy to paint a group portrait of forty of the academicians. Ironically, Singleton never became a member or an associate of the Academy himself. Early in his career, Singleton was noted for large compositions from the Bible, Shakespeare or contemporary historical events. Although his portrait work was always in demand, he never achieved the great success as a historical painter that his early promise showed. Lord Nelson, Admiral Vernon, Lord Howe and John 'Mad Jack' Fuller are among his portrait sitters. Paul I Granting Liberty to Kościuszko (1797) and The Death of Captain Alexander Hood after Capturing the French 74 ‘L’Hercule’ (1798) are considered by some to be his best works. Shortly before his death, he completed a series of cabinet pictures to illustrate the works of Shakespeare [above is an excerpt from the article I wrote for Wikipedia].

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fuller's Will : Part One

John Fuller's will, dated 5 November 1823, was witnessed by John Crosdill, William Shield and Henry Singleton.
John Crosdill (1751 - 1825) was an English musician, violoncellist and violist. He was born in London, England and was the son of violoncellist Richard Crosdill (1698-1790) with whom he is sometimes confused. John Crosdill, along with James Cervetto (1747-1837), son of Italian émigré Giacobbe Cervetto(1682 - 1783), was one of the most visible violoncellists in London during the 1770s and 1780s. [Portrait left]
By his will signed at 45 Berners Street on 30 Aug 1825 and proved at London on 25 October 1825 his son, Lieutenant Colonel John Crosdill of the East India Company, inherited a substantial fortune. Crosdill left bequests of 19 guineas each for remembrance rings to numerous friends including the musicians Benjamin Blake and William Shield, his Berners Street neighbour. [Excerpt from the article I wrote for Wikipedia. Read full article here.]
Composer and musician, William Shield (March 5, 1748 – January 25, 1829) was Crosdill's neighbour at 31 Berners Street, London.
In the first codicil of his will, dated 24 March 1827 Fuller bequeathed to William Shield £100. Shield, however predeceased Fuller by five years. William Shield willed his Stainer viola to King George IV and left 'To John Fuller, Cipriani's original drawing of Dr. Arne and a large prospect of the city of Rome.' The whereabouts of this painting is unknown.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What do Mad Jack Fuller, Anorexia Nervosa, and Jack the Ripper have in common?

Sir William Withey Gull.

Gull rose from very humble beginnings to being physician to the Royal Family. He was born aboard The Dove, a canal barge, moored near St Osyth Mill, Saint Leonard, Colchester, Essex on 31 Dec 1816. He was a very wealthy man at the time of his death on 29 Jan 1890. When his will was probated he left an estate valued at just over £340,000 - an enormous sum in those days.
William Withey Gull became a Fullerian Professor of Physiology in 1847 and, in 1848, he gave the Gulstonian lectures (on paralysis) before the Royal College of Physicians.
Gull is also distantly related to Fuller - his daughter Caroline Cameron Gull married Dr. Theodore Dyke Acland who the first cousin three times removed of Fuller’s brother-in-law Sir John Palmer Acland. It was son-in-law Dr Theodore Dyke Acland who, continuing his father Sir Henry Wentworth Dyke Acland’s work, wrote the definitive biography of Dr Gull.
"Sir William Gull coined the name 'anorexia nervosa'. Examples of self-starvation appeared in the Hellenistic era. Holy anorexics abused their bodies, rejected marriage and sought religious asylum where many perished and became saints. The condition then paled into obscurity until the 19th century. Louis-Victor Marce (1828-1864) described such a patient in 1859, but Richard Morton is generally credited with the first medical description of anorexia nervosa in 1689." JMS Pearce, European Neurology, 2004;52(4):191-2. Epub 2004 Nov 10.
His name is given to Gull’s Disease (Myxoedema)– an adult form of hypothyroidism that affects females six times more frequently than males. He conducted extensive research into the causes of paraplegia and categorized it into three distinct types - spinal, peripheral and encephalic. For more on Gull's medical work read Sir William Withey Gull ( 1816 - 1890) by JMS Pearce.
Dr Gull’s service to the Royal Family led to two things – his being created a baronet, and speculation that he was involved with the Jack the Ripper case.
He was created baronet in 1872 after successfully treating the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) for typhoid, the previous year. He was also Queen Victoria’s personal physician. These two patients contributed to his becoming wealthier than any English doctor before him.
Royal and Masonic conspiracies abound in Jack the Ripper theories and have been much played up in fiction written about the "Whitechapel Murders". At the time of the first murder, 4 April 1888, Gull was 72 years old and already suffered partial paralysis from a stroke. Gull died more than a year before the final murder was committed on February 13, 1891.
In 1970, Dr. T.E.A. Stowell theorized that Prince Albert Victor (son of Prince of Wales, Albert Edward and grandson of Queen Victoria) was Jack the Ripper.
"Stowell claimed that Albert Victor had contracted syphilis after a visit to the West Indies, that it had driven him insane, and that in this state of mind he had perpetrated the five "canonical" Jack the Ripper murders. Stowell wrote that following the murders of 30 September 1888, Albert Victor was restrained by his own family in an institution in the south of England, but later escaped to commit the final murder on 9 November. Stowell further claimed that Albert Victor died of syphilis, and gave as his source an account written in private by Sir William Gull, a reputable physician who had treated members of the royal family." Source: Wikipedia
Gull’s role in this account can be easily dismissed – he died two years before the Prince and so did not witness his death.
Unfortunately, many writers refuse to let truth get in the way of a good story, and so the good name of a successful and learned physician, a Fullerian Professor who made great contributions to science, Dr William Withey Gull, has been co-opted in to the realm of thriller fiction.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Eccentric Tour of Sussex

Written by Peter Bridgewater, Illustrated by Curtis Tappenden, Snake River Press, 2007

An Eccentric Tour of Sussex is one in a series of beautifully designed books that explore Sussex from different perspectives as diverse as Writers and Artists and Wildlife.
Bridgewater’s Eccentric Tour of Sussex details some well known (the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, Lewes Bonfire Night) and some lesser known (The Black Princess of Horsham, the Airman’s Grave at Nutley) unusual things to experience in Sussex.
The fifth chapter, Fuller’s Folly (pp 24 – 27) gives descriptions of Jack Fuller’s pyramid, obelisk, observatory, tower, sugar loaf folly and rotunda temple.
The biographical section describes Fuller as an industrialist. (Page 24)
John “Mad Jack” Fuller was a very wealthy man. The fortune he inherited was derived from three activities that his ancestors were involved in: Sussex farming, Jamaican sugar plantations and iron founding on the Weald. The Fuller’s forge at Heathfield closed in 1787 when Fuller was 30 years old. Does this make him an industrialist? I’m not sure.
On page 26, Bridgewater writes that Fuller “, served [as a member of parliament] for Southampton once and Lewes twice”. This is incorrect. He was Member of Parliament (MP) for Southampton from 1780 to 1784 and for Sussex from 1801 to 1812. He was never MP for Lewes.
Another misleading statement is : “ He retired from politics, rather disgraced after insulting the Speaker of the House of Commons in a drunken debate about the French”, (Page 26). Although it is true that Fuller’s was removed from the house for disorderly conduct in 1810, the incident arose from his participation in an enquiry into the Walcheren Campaign where the British troops suffered heavy losses in the Netherlands. “The Walcheren Campaign was an unsuccessful expedition to the British Netherlands in 1809 intended to open another front in the Austrian Empire's struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition.” Source: Wikipedia. Fuller insulted the speaker, was taken into the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms and was publicly disgraced. He did not stand for parliament again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Centenary of the Royal Institution, June 1899

The Times | May 30, 1899


The celebration of the centenary of the Royal Institution, which will take place next week, is an event the interest and importance of which will be attested by the presence of representative men of science from all parts of the civilized world. Other English scientific organizations may hold a more conspicuous position as official representatives of English science, but there is none so indissolubly associated in the minds of foreigners with the great fundamental triumphs of science in the present century. There is no research into the constitution of matter, no investigation of the laws of light, no extension of the observations of the astronomer, no new application of electricity to the ever-increasing number of industrial problems,which does not inevitably carry the mind of the instructed inquirer back to the Royal Institution...

The domestic record of the Royal Institution from the time when, in Davy's words, it definitely took the " form of a body for promoting experimental science and for diffusing every species of philosophical knowledge " contains few events of surpassing interest. Financial crises have been not infrequent, and sometimes acute, but have never proved fatal. Increased prosperity was hoped for as a result of the modification of its constitution by Act of Parliament in 1810, but its first endowment some 23 years later was none the less welcome. This consisted of a sum of £10,000 from John Fuller, and rumour says that it was a token of gratitude because the lecture theatre of the Institution was the only place where he could overcome the insomnia from which he habitually suffered. With two-thirds of the money professorships of chemistry and physiology were to be endowed, while the remaining portion went to form an accumulating fund, the interest on which, when the capital amounted to £10,000, was to be applied to the general purposes of the Institution. Since then it has received many legacies and donations. Money left by Mr. Alfred Davis in 1870 enabled the chemical laboratory to be rebuilt in accordance with modern requirements; in 1892 Mr. T. G. Hodgkins, of Setauket, Long Island, gave $100,000 for the " investigation of tho relations and co-relations existing between man and his Creator " ; and in 1896 Dr. Ludwig Mond founded and endowed the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, which is contiguous to the Royal Institution and under the superintendence of its managers.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Extreme Living

An article titled Extreme Living, by Gwenda Brophy, appeared in the Financial Times on 26 July 2008. It celebrates the 17th and 18th century folly builders of Europe. In the introductory paragraph, Brophy lists reasons why follies are built. Included in the list is , "to win a bet", however she does not elaborate. One can infer that she's talking about Fuller's Sugar Loaf folly.

Fuller does get a mention in the last paragraph:

"Jeffery Whitelaw in his book Follies recounts legends such as "Mad Jack" Fuller. The creator of several structures in Brightling, East Sussex, south-east England, Fuller is said to be buried inside one, wearing a top hat and sitting at a table, bottle of wine at hand - a story that does little to dispel the view of folly builders as true one-offs but helps to explain their widespread appeal."

Read the full article here.