Becoming Alexander von Humboldt – A Budding Explorer in Georgian England

Alexander von Humboldt in 1784 (left)
and in 1806 (right).

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was the celebrated explorer of his generation. It is little known that he started his scientific career with a trip to England in 1790. He was 20 years old, and travelled with the famous Georg Forster, author of “A Voyage Round the World”, member of the Royal Society and of Captain James Cook’s crew on the second voyage (1772-1775).
The experienced explorer and the young men had met in 1789 in Mainz / Germany. Alexander was fascinated by the lively and powerful Forster, his impressive career and exiting plans. He dedicated his first scientific thesis about mineralogical observations on basalts to Forster.
It is no surprise that Alexander was delighted when Forster, recognizing the budding talent, asked the young man to join him on his next trip in 1790. Destination: England.
Find out how the journey to England influenced the life of Alexander von Humboldt.

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Travelling with Turner: Exploring the Swiss Alps in 1802

JMW Turner, © The Tate Gallery

Around the turn of the 19th century, Joseph Mallord William Turner was a young, restless painter, always on the lookout for inspiration for his art. After having toured many parts of Britain, he planned to visit the Continent. He was especially interested in the awe-inspiring, romantic Swiss Alps – considered by many a rocky, dangerous wasteland. Thus, aged about 27, and still being an unknown artist, he decided to follow his plans through. Let’s accompany him on his first ever trip abroad.

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Jane Austen, the Captain and the Smugglers of a Tiny Island

Captain Corbet James D’Auvergne could lay claim to knowing Jane Austen. The authoress mentions him in two letters to her sister Cassandra. Read more about Captain D’Auvergne connection to Jane Austen, and his achievements as Acting Governor of a tiny island in the North Sea called Heligoland.

After a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton in December 1808, Jane Austen – proficient as ever in summing up a gentleman’s potential as a spouse – noted that Corbet James D’Auvergne was both a captain in the Royal Navy and a ship owner. The remark might have been a joke about husband-hunting, but the Captain was indeed a good catch for a lady looking for hero-material in her husband. Besides, he was still single. Any lady furthering her acquaintance with him should know, however, that he had his hands in large-scale smuggling.
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Lord Stanhope and the Mysterious Death of Kasper Hauser

Lord Stanhope (left) and Kaspar Hauser (right)

On 14 December 1833 in Ansbach, a small town in Bavaria, a young man staggers home with a deep wound in his left breast. He states that he was lured to the Court Garden where a stranger stabbed him while giving him a small bag. The young man is known as Kasper Hauser, a local celebrity of his time, and also a mysterious youth of unknown origin.

A policeman searches the Court Garden. He finds a purse containing a note in mirror writing indicating in riddled form the attacker’s identity. He finds neither the weapon involved nor any other helpful evidence. Kasper Hauser dies of his wound three days later.

The death of Kasper Hauser in 1833 is a one of the most famed-famous unsolved cases of criminology. Until today, we don’t know for sure whether the young man was murdered or died by inflicting himself a wound with a knife that penetrated much deeper than he had intended. Until today, we don’t even know who Kasper Hauser was: an imposter, a hereditary prince, an innocent boy?

The story of Kaspar Hauser, a ‘feral child’, who claimed to have lived in isolation and captivity, has all ingredients of a novel of Mrs. Radcliffe: political intrigue, espionage, and conspiracy theories. But what has the English aristocrat, Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, 4. Earl Stanhope (1781-1855), to do with the young man, his secret and his death? Continue reading

A Writer’s Travel Guide: Inside Napoleon’s and Marie-Louise’s Home in Compiègne

Compiègne was one of three seats of the French royal government. The royal residence we know today, the Château de Compiègne, was built for Louis XV. Napoleon restored the château after it was left gutted during the French Revolution, and he ordered it to be made habitable again in 1807. He had its layout altered, a ballroom added, and the garden replanted.

But what did the restless French emperor do with another palace? Well, he lived there with his young bride, Marie-Louise, and it was there where they spent their first night together. Continue reading

Byron, Murder, Carbonari!

Masonic object

In this post:
– Ravenna and the poetry of politics
– Plotting insurrection: the tight situation in Italy
– Murder!
– Byron and the secret society of the Carbonari
– Under surveillance and attack

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), a man of scandals, had by 1815 crowned his wild life with a stormy affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and a breakup with his wife. He left England to travel the Continent. True to the verdict ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know´’, he didn’t led a virtuous life there. In December 1819, he arrived in Ravenna, Italy, where he took up residence to be near his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, a married woman. There was more scandal and adventure to come: Byron became involved in the national movement in Italy – meaning secret societies plotting insurrection against the Austrian und clerical rulers. Indeed it was in Ravenna that Byron found his calling in serious political activities. Continue reading

When weighing became ultimately fashionable – for men

In this post:

  • Early Weight Watchers
  • The secret knowlegde of the Weighing Book
  • Dieting with Lord Byron

A softly rounded, plumb, curvaceous and voluptuous body was considered healthy and beautiful for most of the 18th century. Nevertheless, with the rise of the ideals of ancient Greek in fashion and design, the athletic body of an Olympian shifted into focus. Fashionable skin-tight pantaloons revealed every muscle of the male leg, the perfectly-cut coat looked best on broad shoulders. To create a specific volume, men wore padded under-structures round the shoulders and calves, and a corset helped to accentuate a man’s waist.

The well-proportioned male body became an object of fashion and health. But how to measure the body weight? Bathroom scales were not yet around, not even for the rich. People had to pay to be weighed at the doctors. Thus, it came in handy for High Society men of London that a wine shop started offering the service to its customers for free in 1765. Actually, weighing became extremely fashionable. Continue reading

The Poor Man’s Son Who Usurped the British Market of Optical Lenses

Since the mid-18th century, England had been the centre of the optics industry, due to the work of instument-maker John Dolland (1706-1761). Dolland manufactured small ‘achromatic’ telescopes with high-quality lenses made of flint glass (instead of the inferior crown glass). His products were in high demand from astronomers all over Europe. This began to change, when a poor man’s son who had had a lot of bad luck in his youth, met the Bavarian Prince Elector. Continue reading

This is to the hero: Emma Hamilton`s ways to celebrate Horatio Nelson

It’s 1798. Admiral Horatio Nelson is on a mission to support the Neapolitan monarchy in Naples. He has already made a remarkable carreer, even if his greatest success is still to come. He is also marked by war: He has lost an arm and suffers from coughing spells. In Naples, he stays with the British Ambassador Sir William Hamilton, and his wife lovely Emma Hamilton.

A man on a mission falls in love

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