Victorian-era portraits of African-Americans, 1899 or 1900; from a collection assembled by W.E.B. Du Bois for the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique of the1900 Exposition Universelle.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
January 28, 1813: Pride and Prejudice is published.
Jane Austen’s most famous work, a satire of society and manners, was published 200 years ago today. Like all of her works, Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously - Austen was identified on the title page only as “the author of Sense and Sensibility”. Austen completed the original version in 1797. at which point it was entitled First Impressions, but this version was rejected for publication. By 1812 she had apparently revised the manuscript significantly, and it was this version that was eventually published, though under the (equally appropriate) title Pride and Prejudice, so named as to avoid confusion with other novels.
For historical context - Pride and Prejudice was written during the late Georgian era and is typically associated (along with Austen herself) with the Regency era, during which the future king George IV ruled as Prince Regent in his father’s stead. Although this was a time of great political and social change, both at home and abroad, Pride and Prejudice touches sparingly on these issues and instead focuses on the lives of the landed gentry and the not-quite-aristocrats. In addition, the novel cannot be neatly classified into one or the other of the major literary movements of the time; although Austen wrote during the Romantic period, her writing had little in common with the movement. In fact, Charlotte Brontë was a notable critic of the book, citing a lack of passion and emotion as her main complaint:
I had not seen “Pride and Prejudice,” till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.
Perhaps the main difference between the two was that Austen saw the world as a comedy rather than a tragedy (“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”).
Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon)
December 8, 1861: Georges Méliès is born.
Dubbed a “cinemagician” for his experimentation with special effects and cinematography, this early filmmaker was, for much of his early career, a stage performer with a particular love for magic and illusion shows. He combined some of his theatrical techniques with his films, realizing that, through cinema, he could create situations and effects that could not possibly exist or be performed on stage - objects could disappear or be transformed, and rockets could fly into the moon. In 1896, the year after the Lumière brothers held a sceening for their first film, Méliès began shooting his own. By 1913 he had directed 531 films, most of which were used to showcase Méliès’ innovative special effects. His most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1902), was one of the earliest science-fiction films. It cost 10,000 francs to produce and was extremely successful, yet it was not Méliès who profited the most off of his own movie in the United States but producers who distributed illegal copies, including Thomas Edison.
His other famous films include The Impossible Voyage (1904) and Conquest of the Pole (1912), Méliès’ last successful film before going bankrupt after a series of personal crises and financial failures. During World War I, hundreds of his studio’s films were confiscated and melted down for raw materials; still, 200 of Méliès’ films were preserved and survive to this day. After years of living out of the public eye, interest in Méliès and his work renewed in the late 1920s, and in 1931 the French government awarded him the Légion d’honneur.The Lumière brothers, who in 1895 had refused to sell Méliès a camera, proclaimed him the “creator of the cinematic spectacle”.
July 12, 1804: Alexander Hamilton dies.
But rather than grieve, let us instead reflect upon some of the man’s quotes (and some quotes about him), while listening to the Alexander Hamilton rap on repeat.
Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.
Here, sir, the people govern; here they act by their immediate representatives.
I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom they are composed.
In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
The system, though it may not be perfect in every part, is, upon the whole, a good one; is the best that the present views and circumstances of the country will permit; and is such an one as promises every species of security which a reasonable people can desire.
Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.
Quotes on Hamilton:
…there are few men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses, and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause, or who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue.
- George Washington
I consider Napoleon, Fox, and Hamilton, the three greatest men of our epoch, and if I were forced to decide between the three, I would give without hesitation the first place to Hamilton. He divined Europe.
Hamilton was the greatest constructive mind in all our history and I should come pretty near saying… in the history of modern statesmen in any country.
- Henry Cabot Lodge
Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists…
- Theodore Roosevelt
July 11, 1804: Aaron Burr mortally wounds Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
The infamous Burr-Hamilton duel was the culmination of the bitter feud that had been brewing between the two men for years. Hamilton was a Federalist and Burr a Democratic-Republican, first of all, so they were naturally in opposition to each other. During the 1800 election, Hamilton lobbied for the election of the longtime rival of his party, Thomas Jefferson, over Aaron Burr, even though most Federalists preferred Burr to Jefferson; regardless of how effective his lobbying was, Jefferson became president, and Burr was relegated to vice-president. It seems that Hamilton had issues with Burr’s character as well, describing him as a “profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme” and accusing him of corruption. When Burr took it upon himself to run for the governor of New York, Hamilton once again campaigned against him; Burr eventually lost, though it was not this loss but a letter that finally provoked him to challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel.
On the morning of July 11, the two men took their dispute to settle in New Jersey, which, like New York, had outlawed duels, but generally punished perpetrators less severely. According to a letter he wrote the night before, Hamilton had planned to throw away his first shot, and he did so - by firing into the air (according to first-hand accounts). Burr fired back and fatally wounded his opponent, who died the next day. Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey but was never convicted, not that it mattered. With one shot, Burr put an end to not only the life of one of the country’s youngest and brightest Founding Fathers, but to his own political career as well.
July 8, 1839: John D. Rockefeller is born.
In 1870, Rockefeller helped found the Standard Oil Company. Within decades, he would become not only America’s first billionaire, but the richest man in the world, and probably also the richest man in history. Through controversial and oft-scrutinized tactics, Rockefeller transformed Standard Oil into one of the earliest and most powerful trusts in history, and the largest oil refiner in the world at that time. The tycoon and his oil empire were criticized for their practices (most famously by Ida Tarbell in her book, The History of Standard Oil), which sought to stamp out all competition in the industry. It is said that Rockefeller’s unofficial motto was “let us prey”, and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie once referred to him as John D. “Reckafellow”.
Although he is remembered as one of the greatest “robber barons” of the Gilded Age, he was not all business. Philanthropy was a major part of Rockefeller’s legacy - he provided massive amounts of funding for Spelman College and the University of Chicago, while also donating money to other institutions like Yale, Harvard, and Brown. He later founded several philanthropy organizations dedicated to promoting education and public health.
Upon his death in 1937, Rockefeller was worth over a billion dollars, or around 1.5% of the total GDP of the United States. Sources differ on how much he would be worth at the company’s peak adjusted for inflation, but the figure is at least over $200 billion, and Forbes puts his net worth at $663.4 billion.
Queen Victoria: “the Grandmother of Europe”
In all, Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, had nine children and forty-two grandchildren, thirty-four of whom survived to adulthood.
Princess Victoria (her daughter) and Frederick III of Germany, plus their son, Wilhelm II; Sophie (the Queen’s granddaughter through the younger Victoria) and Constantine I, Queen consort and King of the Hellenes…
King Edward VII (her eldest son) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark; their son, George V, who succeeded his father; Maud (a granddaughter through Edward) and Haakon VII, Queen consort and King of Norway.
… and finally, Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his wife, Princess Alice (Victoria’s third eldest), and their son-in-law Tsar Nicholas II. The resemblance between George V and the Tsar (his cousin through their mothers) is often pointed out.
Also note that the three monarchs in the middle column, who all ruled during World War I, were first cousins (through marriage, in Wilhelm and Nicholas’s case).
Queen Elizabeth II is a great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria through her father, George VI; her husband, Prince Philip, is also a great great grandchild of Queen Victoria through his mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg. She and Philip, the King of Sweden, the Queen of Denmark, the King of Norway, and the King and Queen of Spain are all descendants of Victoria.
June 18, 1815: Napoleon is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
We all know how it ends - with Napoleon’s defeat, abdication, and exile; however, the entire battle, regarded as one of the most decisive in history, took place within the timespan of one day. It was fought between Napoleon’s Armée du Nord and the combined forces of the Seventh Coalition under the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian field marshal Gebhard von Blücher (then seventy-two years old). The coalition army, composed of thousands of British, Dutch, Belgian, and German troops (plus Blücher’s Prussians), was described by its British leader as “very weak and ill-equipped”. Still, they outnumbered the French army by a substantial amount.
The battle began in the morning, and by late afternoon, the French forces were retreating, with 25,000 casualties to the coalition’s 19,000. The Duke of Wellington called the engagement “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”, but however unsure he was of the outcome before the battle was over, its effects were immediate. Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated for the second and final time six days after the battle, and the Napoleonic Wars, which had rocked Europe for over a decade, were over.
June 12, 1890: Egon Schiele is born.
I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds.