Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher. He was born in Devon in 1772, the youngest of 13 children.
He was a promising a scholar, and was briefly enrolled in Cambridge. However in December 1793 he dropped out and enlisted in the Royal Dragoons under the name "Silas Tomkyn Comberbache", possibly to escape debt or a broken heart. His brothers arranged for his discharge a few months later, citing "insanity." He was prone to bouts of extreme anxiety and depression, and there is speculation that he was bipolar.
Together with his friend William Wordsworth, he was a member of the Lake Poets, and founder of England’s Romantic Movement. His best known poems are The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. The latter was written in “an opium dream.”
In later life Coleridge was plagued by marital problems, illness, opium addiction and lack of faith in his own talent. He died in Highgate, London on 25 July 1834, as a result of heart failure.
Samuel Johnson was born in 1709, in Lichfield, Staffordshire. From a young age he displayed great intelligence, but his family was poor and his opportunities were limited. He attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for a short while, but a lack of funds forced him to abandon his studies before getting his degree. He was however later awarded honorary doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford.
He published his first major work, a poem entitled “London,” anonymously in 1738. Perhaps his most impressive feat was the writing of an English dictionary, which took 9 years to complete and remained the most commonly used dictionary for 150 years after its publication in 1755. Only someone of such literary genius would manage to have his last words in Latin: “Iam Moriturus” (I who am about to die).
The tantalising thought of finding a lost Shakespearean play has inspired years of research and detective work, not to mention literary hoaxes. Records of Cardenio being performed in 1613 by The Kings Men exist but the plot remains controversial. Since the 18th Century, various stories of it resurfacing, or being remodelled into different plays have added to its mystery. In 1727 Lewis Theobald released an edition that he had revised under the name “The Double Falsehood”. He claimed to have worked from original manuscripts, but was secretive about their whereabouts.
In 1990 Cardenio emerged as part of the play, “The Second Handmaiden’s Tradgedy” when Charles Hamiliton, a handwriting expert, identified it despite name changes. The debate continues to receive media attention. Various newspapers reported in 2010 that University of Nottingham Professor, Brean Hammond, believes that “Double Falsehood” may indeed be based on the missing Cardenio, and he would know, having been investigating it since 2002. Jasper Fforde’s “Lost in the Good Book” delves into this mystery further and maybe Thursday Next is just the person to solve it.
The dodo is one of the most famous extinct animals. The story of this guileless bird, which lived for so long without predators that it lost its ability to fly, is a tragic example of how easily extinctions can take place. When the first humans arrived on the island of Mauritius in 1505 the dodo was an easy meal for sailors. Later, when the island was used as a Dutch penal colony, rats were inadvertently introduced to the island along with the pigs and monkeys that were transported with the convicts. The dodo had to face predators that it could not fly or hide from. The last dodo was killed in 1681. No one had thought to preserve a complete specimen.
No one seems sure what the dodo originally looked like. It may have been much slimmer and more streamlined than the fat, lethargic victim usually portrayed. The birds that were brought back to Europe were probably fed the wrong food, and too much of it, so that they lost their shape. While the dodo may in fact have been slim, he'll be forever immortalised as the chubby race master in Lewis Carrols “Alice in Wonderland.”
His military career kicked off in the Netherlands in 1794, in the early stages of the French Wars. He served in India for several years, and was elected as an MP on his return to England in 1805. In 1807 he took command of the British army in Spain, and led them to victory against the French invading army in 1815. He was given a Dukedom, and became a politician and elder statesman. Following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, he was appointed commander of the army of occupation in France. In 1827 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British army. He resigned the post when he became Prime Minster in 1828, and took it up again after his Premiership, holding it until his death in 1852, at the age of 83.
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, near the town of Waterloo, in modern Belgium. At the time, the area was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The battle saw France’s Emperor Napoleon defeated by a multi-country alliance under the command of Britain’s Duke of Wellington, together with a Prussian army under Gebhard von Blucher.
Wellington described the battle as "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."
Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) was a flag officer in the Royal Navy, who made his reputation during the Napoleonic wars. He was known as an inspirational leader and master strategist, and scored several decisive naval victories. He was flamboyant and passionate, always in the centre of the action in battle, and was wounded several times in combat, losing an arm and the sight in one eye. He was shot and killed by a French sniper during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, at the age of 47. The battle was Britain's greatest naval victory.
The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was a near contemporary of Nelson, although the two appear to have met only once. He was a highly decorated soldier, and led the army that fought and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was known for his stern countenance and iron-handed discipline. He served as Prime Minister of Britain from 1828 to 1830, and retained the title of Commander in Chief of the British Army until his death aged 83.
Both men are firmly established as national heroes in Britain, and both are among the few citizens to have received a state funeral.
Crimea is an autonomous republic of the Ukraine. It lies on the northern coast of the Black Sea, on the Crimean peninsula. The region has a turbulent and violent history.
In its earliest years it was conquered by a series of warrior nations, from the Goths and Huns to the Golden Horde Tatars and the Ottoman Turks. These conquerors were followed by the Venetians and Genovese in the 13th century, the Turks again in the 15th to 18th centuries, and the Russian Empire from the 18th to 20th centuries. Germany invaded during World War II, after which the Russians wrested it back again. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, it was finally declared an autonomous parliamentary republic, governed in accordance with the laws of Ukraine. The capital and administrative seat of government is the city of Simferopol, at the center of the peninsula.
Today, Crimean Russians comprise the majority of the population, and Russian is an official language. Crimean Tatars comprise a sizeable ethnic minority. The latter have inhabited the peninsula since the early Middle Ages. However, the entire population of the Crimean Tatars was forcibly expelled by Stalin in 1944, to Central Asia. Almost half died, from hunger and disease. The Crimean Tatars were banned from legally returning to their homeland until the last days of the Soviet Union.
The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) was a conflict between the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, France and Sardinia on one side and Russia on the other. It was sparked by growing Russian influence in the Ottoman Empire, which the British government viewed as a threat to its Near Eastern routes to India.
The Isle of Wight is England’s largest island. It first came under full control of England in 1293.
It was invaded by the French during the Italian Wars in 1545. The French forces were led by Claude d’Annebault, and greatly outnumbered the English. While the French were eventually repelled, England suffered heavy losses.
The event is commemorated by a plaque in Seaview which reads: "During the last invasion of this country hundreds of French troops landed on the foreshore nearby. This armed invasion was bloodily defeated and repulsed by local militia 21st July 1545." Historians have however pointed out that there were few if any local inhabitants and the militia more likely came from the mainland.
Croquet is a lawn game for two or more players in which balls are driven with mallets through a series of wickets arranged in a course.
The game is believed to have originated in France in the thirteenth century. The name may have come from croche, or the ‘crooked stick’ that was used prior to the mallet. The rules for the modern game have been established since the 1850s. Originally the English version of the game was called Pall Mall, from the Latin palla mallens, ‘ball and mallet’ until the Routlege’s Handbook of Croquet was published in 1861.
In 1868 the All-England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbledon, London. However, after only ten years of play, attention switched to the latest fashionable game, tennis. The club converted its name and all but one of its lawns to tennis courts and croquet has been a minority sport ever since. The English headquarters for the game is now in Cheltenham.
The River Wye forms part of the border between Wales and England. Hay is on the Welsh side of the river. It is a small town known as “the town of books”. There is an annual literary festival held in the summer months in Hay-on-Wye.
Owain Glyndwr was the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales. He was born some time between 1349 and 1359, and is most famous for leading a revolt against English rule of Wales in 1400. In 1404 he was crowned king of Wales, but his reign lasted only four years. By 1408 Wales was once again under England's control. Despite the revolt being crushed, Owain was never captured, and the end of his story remains a mystery. He remains the inspirational figurehead of Welsh freedom. He is to Wales what William Wallace is to Scotland (despite Mel Gibson never having played him in a movie).
In the 1980’s an underground group of Welsh rebels, calling themselves the Sons of Glyndwr, or Meibion Glyndwr, went on a rampage, burning English holiday homes to the ground.
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit is a novel by Charles Dickens. Dickens believed Martin Chuzzlewit was his best work, but it was not a very popular novel. The story was serialized and released in monthly installments during 1843-44. Early sales of the installments were disappointing. In an effort to drum up interest, Dickens changed the plot to send Chuzzlewitt to America. Dickens had visited the US in 1842. His novel treated the country satirically, portraying it as a wild place, with pockets of civilization filled with con-artists. He mocked American manners and portrayed American people as snobs, hypocrites, liars, bores, and bullies. When the installments containing the offending chapters were published in the US, they were greeted with a 'frenzy of wrath' – Dickens received a great deal of abusive mail from annoyed Americans.
Dickens was surprised by the vitriol – observing that his novels about England were similarly satirical and critical of prevailing social norms. He was however moved to include a Postscript in 1868 edition of the novel, expressing his appreciation of the “national generosity and magnanimity” of the American people, and praising the progression of the country toward urbanisation and urbanity. He also promised to include his testimony to the goodness and hospitality of America “in every appendix to every copy” of his two books that refer to America.
Gads Hill Place in Higham, Kent, was Charles Dickens’ country home. The house was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester. Charles Dickens first saw the mansion when he was 9 years old in 1821, when his father told Charles that if he worked hard enough, one day he would own it or just such a house. As a boy, Charles would often walk from Chatham to Gads Hill Place just to look and the house and imagine his possible future there. He later wrote "I used to look at it as a wonderful Mansion (which God knows it is not) when I was a very odd little child with the first faint shadows of all my books in my head - I suppose."
In 1856, when Charles was 44 years old and a very successful author, he heard that the house was for sale, and bought it. He used it regularly as a country retreat over the next fifteen years. He died at the house in 1870. In 1924 the house became Gad’s Hill School, which it remains today.
Anne Hathaway grew up in Hewland Farm, a 12 bedroom farm house in the hamlet Shottery, just a mile from Stratford-Upon-Avon. She would have had oppurtunity to meet William Shakespeare on trips into town. She married William Shakespeare when he was 18 and she was around 26 in 1582. They had their first child, Susanna, six months later in 1583. In 1585 she gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith. Although Shakespeare spent much of his married life in London, he would return to Staffordshire for a period each year to the house he shared with Anne in Henley Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon. When Shakespeare retired from his life in London he returned to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Anne.
The farm house Anne grew up in was passed on to her brother and remained in the family until 1846 when financial problems resulted in it having to be sold but they stayed on as tenants. Finally, in 1892 the property was bought by the Shakespeare Birth Place Trust and is now a tourist attraction in Shottery.
The Brontë children were all born in Thornton, Yorkshire. They moved to the five-bedroomed Haworth Parsonage in 1820.
At the time, Patrick and Maria Brontë had six children, of whom the youngest, Anne, was three months old. Maria died not long after, in 1821. In 1825 the two oldest girls, Maria and Elizabeth, passed away. The four remaining children grew up to be one of the most famous families of the time. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all accomplished authors.
Patrick Brontë outlived all his six children and died in the house in 1864. The house is now a museum. For 360 degree views of the house and its interior click here.
An edition of Jane Austen's letters, edited by the first Baron Brabourne (1829-1893), was published in 1884. Brabourne was the son of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s eldest niece. He inherited the box of letters on Fanny’s death in 1882. It was labeled by Fanny as “Letters from Aunt Jane to Aunt Cassandra at different periods of her life - a few to me - and some from Aunt Cassandra to me after Jane's death."
The letters were described by Brabourne as containing “the confidential outpourings of Jane Austen's soul to her beloved sister, interspersed with many family and personal details which, doubtless, she would have told to no other human being.” He went on to state however that “today, more than seventy long years have rolled away since the greater part of them were written; no one now living can, I think, have any possible just cause of annoyance at their publication, whilst, if I judge rightly, the public never took a deeper or more lively interest in all that concerns Jane Austen than at the present moment.” There were 94 letters, dated from 1796 to 1816, the last 20 year’s of Jane’s life.
Other letters from Jane have also been preserved, to her favorite nephew James-Edward Austen, to younger nieces, and to her sailor brother Frank, away at sea for long periods. The latest edition of Jane Austen’s letters was published in 1997.
One of several Shakespeare plays that is shrouded in controversy is Love’s Labour’s Won. Although it is thought to have been published before 1598, no copies survive. There is speculation that it is the sequel to Love’s Labour Lost, or perhaps an alternative name for The Taming of the Shrew.
Byron and Keats were contemporary Romantic poets, and were great rivals during their lifetime. While Byron was a flamboyant, handsome and rather wild nobleman, who was lauded and celebrated by England’s social elite, John Keats was a poor and struggling middle-class poet. Byron seemed hardly to put a foot wrong, whereas Keats’ work was often savaged by the critics. He was advised that poetry was the provenance of noblemen, was dismissed as a 'Cockney' poet, and only attained any real measure of fame after his death.
Keats for his part had written to his brother George, in 1819, “You speak of Lord Byron and me - There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees - I describe what I imagine - Mine is the hardest task.”