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Posts Tagged ‘wit’

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Contrary to popular belief Oscar Wilde did not invent the Aesthetic Movement. But he made a movement that was in danger of collapse (from its lack of substance) hold on much longer. How he came to the forefront as its champion and become spokesman, owes to his genius. Among the writers identified with the 1890s he is the only one whom everyone still reads. The reason is simple really. Other writers took themselves and their case too seriously, as an attorney who having lost the case in the court still makes an indefensible case outside. Wilde merely made a case for the impossible- Decadence, Aestheticism and what have you, with a tongue-in-cheek bon mot that captured the essence of life, seen through whatever label one might care to apply to art. The Movement became the person. When the fall came surely the critics and hypocrisy of the late Victorian saw to it he paid dearly for his morals than for his art.

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Wilde an Irishman from as early as 1881 arriving in London chose to provoke the literary circles he moved, with his attitude and in his conduct. He professed he was a socialist while he refused to live within his means. He had put his talents as he would say, in some incomparable plays while he placed his genius on the line, culminating in a trial for his life. In a way he was right: He turned conventional wisdom of his elders on its head But he lived it as well.  (‘All art is at once surface and symbol;Those who go beneath do so at their peril..’)

When the case against Marquess of Queensberry was lost and before the sentence was pronounced  Wilde was given a chance to escape the prison but he stoically refused to take it. He must have remembered his own youth when his father failed to appear in a paternity suit. However the vindictive Victorian society got their man. The two year prison life broke him and except for the Ballad of Readings Gaol he wrote nothing worthwhile. After slumming in France he died in an obscure hotel and buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery.

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Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766 – 1817), daughter of the prominent Swiss banker and statesman Jacques Necker, who was the Director of Finance under King Louis XVI of France could be called a feminist and an emancipated one at that. Her mother equally famous for being the early love of Edward Gibbon,was a leading light of one of the most popular salons of Paris . Mother and daughter had little sympathy for each other. Mme Necker, despite her talents, her beauty and her fondness for philosophic society, was strictly decorous, somewhat reserved, and wanted to bring up her daughter with the discipline of her own childhood. Anne Louise was from her earliest years energetic and boisterous. She began very early to write, though not to publish. Her father’s dismissal from the ministry and the consequent removal of the family from the busy life of Paris were probably beneficial to her.
She married Baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein. The husband was 37, the wife 20. Neither of whom had any affection for the other. The baron obtained money and the lady obtained, as a guaranteed ambassadress of a foreign power of consideration, a much higher position at court and in society than she could have secured by marrying almost any Frenchman.
Then in 1788 (a year prior to the French Revolution) she appeared as an author under her own name and became fascinated with the ideas of Rousseau. She was embroiled in political intrigues at this time and equally was she steeped literary criticism and she was highly influential.
She then moved to Coppet, and there gathered round her a considerable number of friends and fellow-refugees, the beginning of the salon which at intervals during the next 25 years made the place so famous. However, in 1793 she made a long visit to England, and established a connection with other emigrants: Talleyrand, Narbonne, Montmorency, Jaucourt and others. In the summer, she returned to Coppet and wrote a pamphlet on the queen’s execution. The next year, her mother died, and the fall of Robespierre opened the way back to Paris. She reopened her salon and for a time was conspicuous in the motley and eccentric society of the Directory. She also published several small works, the chief being the essays Sur l’influence des passions “On the influence of passions” (1796), and Sur la litérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales (1800).
It was during these years that Mme de Staël was the muse and sounding board for movers and shakers of ideas that were gathering momentum. Narbonne’s place had been supplanted by Benjamin Constant, whom she first met at Coppet in 1794, and who had a very great influence over her, as in return she had over him. Both personal and political reasons threw her into opposition to Bonaparte. Her own preference for a moderate republic or a constitutional monarchy was quite sincere, and, even if it had not been so, her own character and Napoleon’s were too much alike in some points to admit of their getting on together. ( Napoleon said about her, according to the Memoirs of Mme. de Remusat, that she “teaches people to think who never thought before, or who had forgotten how to think.”) In 1797 she separated formally from her husband.
Napoleon was irked by her opposition to him. She was directed not to reside within 40 leagues of Paris, and after considerable delay she determined to go to Germany.
During her German travels her father died.
She had bought property in America and thought of moving there, but she was determined to publish De l’Allemagne in Paris. Straining under French censorship, she wrote to the emperor a provoking and perhaps undignified letter and as a result the whole edition of her book (ten thousand copies) was condemned as not French.
She retired once more to Coppet, where she was not at first interfered with, and she found consolation in a young officer of Swiss origin named Albert de Rocca, twenty-three years her junior, whom she married privately in 1811.
Napoleon’s spies were closing in and her friends Mathieu de Montmorency and Mme Récamier were exiled for the crime of seeing her.
On 23 May 1811 she left Coppet almost secretly, and journeyed to Vienna. There she obtained an Austrian passport to the frontier, and after some fears and trouble, receiving a Russian passport in Galicia, she at last escaped from Napoleon’s omnipotent eyes and far reach.
She journeyed slowly through Russia and Finland to Sweden, making a stay at Saint Petersburg, spent the winter in Stockholm, and then set out for England. Here she received a brilliant reception and was much lionized during the season of 1813. She published De l’Allemagne in the autumn.
She was in Paris when the news of Napoleon’s landing arrived and at once fled to Coppet. And it is certain that she had no affection for the Bourbons. In October, after Waterloo, she set out for Italy for the benefit of her second husband, Rocca, who was dying of consumption.
Her daughter married Duke Victor de Broglie on 20 February 1816, at Pisa, and became the wife and mother of French statesmen of distinction. The whole family returned to Coppet in June, and Lord Byron now frequently visited Mme de Staël there. Despite her increasing ill-health she returned to Paris for the winter of 1816-1817, and her salon was much frequented. But she had already become confined to her room if not to her bed. She died on 14 July, and Rocca survived her little more than six months.
Auguste Comte included Madame Stael in his Calendar of Great Men. In a book with the same name, Comte’s disciple Frederic Harrison wrote about Stael and her works: “In Delphine a woman, for the first time since the Revolution, reopened the romance of the heart which was in vogue in the century preceding. Comte would daily recite the sentence from Delphine, ‘There is nothing real in the world but love.’ [Pos. Pol. iv. 44). Our thoughts and our acts, he said, can only give us happiness through results: and results are not often in our own control. Feeling is entirely within our power; and it gives us a direct source of happiness, which nothing outside can take away.‘ Her works, Harrison wrote, “precede the works of Scott, Byron, Shelley, and partly of Chateaubriand, their historical importance is great in the development of modern romanticism, of the romance of the heart, the delight in nature, and in the art, antiquities, and history of Europe.”( ack: wikipedia)
Anecdotes of Madame Staël and Mme. Recamier
Germaine de Staël, the French writer called on Napoleon Bonaparte one day and insisted on seeing him. His orderly told her that the Citizen-General was in his bath. “That is unimportant,” she exclaimed, “Genius has no sex.”
2.
When Napoleon told Madame De Staël those women had no business being interested in politics, she replied, “In a country where women have been decapitated, it is only natural for other women to ask why?”

Juliette Récamier
(1777-1849)

Seated between the beautiful Mme. Recamier and the plain Mme. de Staël, the astronomer Lalande said, “How happy I am to find myself between beauty and wit.”
“And without possessing either,” came her prompt reply.
benny

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( Rich.d Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)
R. B. Sheridan was born in 1751 in Dublin, Ireland, where his family had a house on then-fashionable Dorset Street. His father, Thomas Sheridan, was for a while an actor-manager at the Smock Alley Theatre but, following his move to England in 1758, he gave up acting and wrote a number of books concerning education. His mother also was equally talented and a playwright and novelist. The family moved permanently to England in 1758 when he was aged seven.

In 1772 Richard Sheridan fought a famous duel against Captain Thomas Mathews over one of the most beautiful girls in her day Elizabeth Linley. Mathews had written a newspaper article defaming her character, the woman Sheridan intended to marry, and honour dictated that a duel must be fought. In the second fight he was grievously hurt but fortunately his remarkable constitution pulled him through.
In 1773, Richard Sheridan at age 21 married Elizabeth Ann Linley and set up house in London on a lavish scale with little money and no immediate prospects of any. Sheridan began writing for the stage.
His most famous play The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, 8 May 1777) is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It was followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration play The Rehearsal.
Having quickly made his name and fortune, in 1776 Sheridan bought David Garrick’s share in the Drury Lane patent, and in 1778 the remaining share. His later plays were all produced there.
In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He is said to have paid the burgesses of Stafford five guineas apiece for the honour of representing them. As a consequence, his first speech in Parliament had to be a defence against the charge of bribery.
In 1793 during the debates on the Aliens Act designed to prevent French Revolutionary spies and saboteurs from flooding into the country, Edmund Burke made a speech in which he claimed there were thousands of French agents in Britain ready to use weapons against the authorities. To dramatically emphasise his point he threw down a knife onto the floor of the House of Commons. Sheridan is said to have shouted out “Where’s the fork?”, which led to much of the house collapsing in laughter.
When he failed to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, after 32 years, his creditors closed in on him and his last years were harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the American Congress offered Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American War of Independence. The offer was refused.
In December 1815 he became ill, largely confined to bed. Sheridan died in poverty, and such was the esteem he was held in by his contemporaries when he died that he was buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. He is known for his plays such as The Rivals, The School for Scandal and A Trip to Scarborough.
In 1825 the Irish writer Thomas Moore published a two-volume sympathetic biography Memoirs of the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan which became a major influence on subsequent perceptions of him.
benny
anecdotes:
On the night of one performance of Sheridan’s farce’ The Critic’ the tragedy writer Cumberland was present. Sheridan asked someone if Cumberland had been seen to laugh. The reply was, ‘No.’
‘Why then,’ remarked Sheridan, ‘that was cursedly ungrateful in him for during his last tragedy I confoundedly laughed at every scene.”
2
Sheridan’s management of theatre was lackadaisical and his foray into politics was draining his resources. Micawber-like he expected something to turn up even as he got deeper into debts. It so happened he soon found creditors at his door.
A certain creditor from the livery stable physically prevented him from going out on one occasion. Unabashed he sat down with the livery stable keeper going through his unopened letters. Little by little 350 pounds were discovered in them. ‘Lucky dog, Fozard, you’ve hit it this time, ‘was his comment.

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Samuel Foote (1720-1777) wit, actor and dramatist
Charles Howard of Greystock published ‘Thoughts’ a book that was lightweight and of not much merit. He met Samuel Foote at a coffee-house and asked if he had read it. Samuel Foote excused himself saying that he was waiting for his second volume. ‘Why is that? Charles wanted to know. ‘Because I have heard,’ said Foote,’that man’s second Thoughts were best.’
ii
Lord Sandwich (in whose honor sandwich is named) was once dining in the company of Foote at the Beef-steak Club in Covent Garden. They made merry and wine flowed freely as the sallies were sharp and free- for all. Well oiled the Lord said,’Foote, I have often wondered what catastrophe would bring you to your end;but I think you must either die of the pox, or the halter.’-instantly replied the wit,’that will depend upon one of two contingencies-whether I embrace your lordship’s mistress, or your lordship’s principles.’
iii
Samuel Foote is credited with coining the word Panjandrum into English language.
When he found himself out of work in November 1754, Foote rented the Haymarket theatre and began to stage mock lectures. Satirizing Charles Macklin’s newly opened school of oratory, these lectures created a sort of theatrical war, especially when Macklin began to appear at the lectures himself. At one particular lecture, Foote extemporized a piece of nonsense prose to test Macklin’s assertion that he could memorise any text at a single reading.
So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. “What! No soap?” So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.
This introduced the nonsense term “Grand Panjandrum” into the English language and the name was adopted for the Panjandrum, an experimental World War II-era explosive device.(ack: wikipedia)

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Jonathan Swift ((1667-1745)
When literary luminaries like Addison and Swift were in full flow of their talents, the literati used to assemble at Burton’s coffee house. (around 1710). Dean swift was quiet new to the place. English men of letters were quite taken aback at the oddity of his manners and Addison and others were sure that he was not quiet right in his head.
Once in the same coffee-house Dr. Arbuthnot was scribbling a letter in great haste and the letter was much blotted; seeing the odd person who was none other than the author of Gulliver’s Travels he asked,’Pray, sir, have you any sand about you?’
‘No’, replied Jonathan Swift,’but I have the gravel*,and if you’ll give me the letter I’ll piss on it.’
This bowled the doctor over and it was the beginning of acquaintance between those two great wits.
benny

*kidney stone

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