Sunday, September 16, 2007

Climb Every Mountain ...

Three days before Christmas, 1857, a group of British mountaineers met at Ashley's Hotel in London and formed the Alpine Club, the world's first association of climbers, which is still going strong [shown above: climbers on Mont Blanc].

To mark the club's 150th anniversary, Christie's (King's Street, London) is holding a landmark sale called "Exploration and Travel: The Alps to Everest," which features, among many other things, a fascinating collection of items from the Victorian period.

Among the lots on offer: letters by David Livingstone, including one calling Richard Burton "an awful ruffian"; Henry Morton Stanley's pedometer [shown here] and gold watch; an album containing 91 photographs of Stanley's lecture tour of the United States in 1890-91; a Doulton brown-ground glazed pottery jug commemorating the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition of 1887-89 [shown below]; the manuscript journal of a sailor who took part in an arctic expedition under Captain George Strong Nares in 1875-76; letters by Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Henry Shackleton, and General Charles George Gordon; books, paintings, prints, and maps galore, plus telescopes, skis, binoculars, and other equipment used by those who braved the antipodes.

The sale includes several albums of views of India and its people by renowned photographers Bourne, Shepherd, Paar, and Herzog & Higgins. One of these contains 112 photographs of the Coronation Durbar of 1903 [shown below]; another commemorates the visit of the Prince of Wales to Gwalior in 1906.

The historical importance of many of these items is staggering and I hope they will find their way into archives that can preserve them properly.


"Early Victorian Mountaineering and the Search for Scientific Knowledge" at Victorian History (Bruce Rosen)

Mountaineering and Polar Collections, National Library of Scotland

Elizabeth Kolbert and Francis Spufford, eds., The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and the Antarctic (2007)

Ronald W. Clark, The Victorian Mountaineers (1953) and An Eccentric in the Alps: The Story of W. A. B. Coolidge, the Great Victorian Mountaineer (1959)

Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps (1871); The Ascent of the Matterhorn (1880); Travels Amongst the Great Andes of the Equator (1892)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Carlyle Letters Go Digital

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, 14 September 2007:

"It was good of God, a catty observer wrote more than a century ago, to marry Thomas and Jane Carlyle together, 'and so make only two people miserable instead of four.'

"That’s a famously unkind cut at two of the central figures of the Victorian era, prolific writers who captured the spirit of this time of burgeoning industrialism and empire in their many letters. But readers can now decide for themselves whether the Carlyles were shallow creeps or keen observers (or both) because Duke University Press has just published Carlyle Letters Online.

"The archive features thousands of letters written by the Carlyles to more than 600 recipients: politicians, poets, scientists, and others. Each letter in the collection is indexed with multiple terms and can be searched by date, subject, and recipient. Similar letters are linked to each other through a network that designers hope will encourage discovery and facilitate research. Thanks to an interface developed by HighWire Press, part of the Stanford University Library system, users can save searches to personal folders and get alerts whenever the collection is updated."

Shown here: Thomas Carlyle (top); Jane Welsh Carlyle (bottom)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Florence Nightingale's Disputed Legacy: Angel of Mercy or Power-Hungry Meddler?

From The Guardian, 3 September 2007:

"She is known to generations of children as the saintly, iron-willed Lady With the Lamp who battled to improve the conditions of wounded British soldiers and founded modern nursing, but a strikingly different picture of Florence Nightingale [shown here] has emerged from the unpublished letters of one of her bitterest enemies.

"'Miss Nightingale shows an ambitious struggling after power inimical to the true interests of the medical department,' Sir John Hall [1795-1866], the chief British army medical officer in the Crimea, wrote to his superior in London.

"When she went over his head to order supplies from his stores, observers, Sir John wrote, were astounded at the 'petticoat imperieuse! in the medical imperio!'

"When Nightingale arrived in Scutari in November 1854 with 38 women volunteers, sent by her close friend, the war secretary Sydney Herbert, she was about to carve out her place in history and destroy Sir John's. Her determination to reform the army hospitals in which thousands of wounded and ill soldiers were treated in closely packed beds by overworked doctors and male medical orderlies, and untrained women whom she dismissed as drunken and slatternly, brought her into instant collision with Sir John -- and she also became a media star in the first British war reported in detail by the press.

"'It was absolutely as night follows day that her upper-class Victorian female morality would clash head on with his traditional closed male army world,' said Richard Aspin, head of the archive and manuscripts at the Wellcome Trust, which recently [26 June] bought Sir John's letters [read a description of the letter book prepared by Bonham's]. 'She simply ignored his authority. She would no more have dreamed of consulting him about her nurses than she would have sought the opinion of a husband, if she ever had one, about hiring a parlour maid.'

"Sir John's letters [shown here] denounced her as a publicity seeking meddler. Her ambitions, which launched the modern career of nursing, 'if not resisted,' he wrote, 'will, with the influence she has at present at home, throw us completely into the shade in future, as we are at present overlooked in all that is good and beneficial regarding our hospital arrangements, which are ascribed utterly to her presiding genius by great part of the press and her own itinerant eulogistic orators.'

"He accused her of squandering resources by sacking good nurses and orderlies and trying to take over control of others -- 'but in that she was disappointed, for they declined to serve under her orders.'

"It might be some consolation to poor Sir John that the scruffy marbled notebook containing his transcripts of the letters he considered most important cost the Wellcome Trust £4,000, while Nightingale's letters were bought for only £200. One letter from Nightingale, advising on how to find a reliable medical officer for a post in Egypt, warns against employing ex-army doctors: 'The fact is, nearly all the half-pay list are blackguards.'

"Henry Wellcome, who founded the trust, shared the general reverence for the Lady with the Lamp. Hers was the only woman's name he included in the frieze of his library, and he bought the scuffed moccasins she wore at Scutari - now on view in the new museum galleries which opened in London this summer. The collection also owns, but has lent to the British Library, the only known recording of Nightingale's voice, on a wax cylinder.

"Hall battled on, writing in February 1856: 'The army is in splendid health, only seven deaths in a week and one of them a fit of apoplexy from drunkeness.'

"However, his view of history's treatment of Nightingale and himself was prophetic. He wrote sadly: 'We shall to the end of time be made the victims of public odium in the way we were last winter ... the poor suffering sick soldier is a fine theme to ride off on.'

"When his long military service was rewarded with a knighthood (a KCB), Nightingale commented to Sydney Herbert that the honour could only mean 'knight of the Crimean burial grounds.'"

A disputed legacy: What the historians say

"Most biographies of Florence Nightingale attest that she became a national hero after dramatically reducing the mortality rate at the Scutari hospital during the Crimean war. But new research casts doubt on her role in transforming the hospital after her arrival in 1854.

"Official records show that by February 1855, the mortality rate had fallen from 60% to 42.7% and then, once a fresh water supply was introduced, it dropped further to 2.2%.

"Recently historians have suggested the death rate among soldiers did not fall immediately but rose, and was higher than any other hospital in the region. During Nightingale's first winter there, 4,077 soldiers died, mostly of typhus, typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Ten times more died of these illnesses than from battle wounds.

"The death rate began to fall six months after she took charge -- only after a sanitary commission was sent out by Lord Palmerston to improve ventilation and clean out the sewers.

Nightingale had believed the mortality rates were due to poor nutrition and overworking of soldiers. But Hugh Small, author of Florence Nightingale: Avenging Angel, claims an unpublished letter shows it was not until 1857 that she realised the conditions within the hospitals themselves had caused such a huge number of deaths."

Related links:

"Hall, Sir John (1795–1866), military surgeon," Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required)

"Wellcome, Sir Henry Solomon (1853–1936), pharmacist and benefactor," Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required)

"Letter book of military surgeon depicts Nightingale as no heroine," Wellcome Library, London, 3 September 2007

"Letters reveal nurse Florence Nightingale was maybe more of a sinner than a saint," The Mail on Sunday, 4 September 2007

"Florence Nightingale: Just a publicity-seeker?" The Telegraph, 4 September 2007

Florence Nightingale: A Guide to Sources in the Wellcome Institute Library [PDF]

The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale (University of Guelph)

Florence Nightingale’s personal papers are located in the British Library (Add. MSS. 43393–43403, 45750–45849, 46835, 47714–47767)

Recording of Florence Nightingale's voice (1890) in the British Library Sound Archive

Florence Nightingale Museum
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