Studies: People

20Jan

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born of lowly status to a wool dealer in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. Not much is known of his life. Due to the perfection of his writing, and obvious knowledge of the Classics, it is assumed he went to grammar school. As his father rose in status – eventually becoming a gentleman – this is feasible. At 18 he married Anne Hathaway, 8 years his senior and had three children.
Most likely joining a number of drama companies, about 1593 he came under the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, becoming a member of the prestigious Chamberlain’s Men group of actors about 1594, the whole company moving to The Globe in 1599. The writer of the greatest plays ever, they were split into three categories: tragedies, such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet; comedies, such as As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing; and histories, such as Richard III and Henry V.
Again, not much is known of his life in London, but he is thought to have returned to Stratford about 1610, dying in 1616. This unknown quality about his life, plus the fact that few of his plays are in original manuscript form, has led many scholars to conclude he wasn’t the true author of the plays.
Best candidate is Francis Bacon for authorship – a man of obvious ability. One easy way to disprove this is to realise Bacon was a scientist and rational materialist. The writer of the plays is so clearly a romantic and metaphysicist. The philosophies couldn’t be further apart.
The main reason for the idea Shakespeare was not the author is clearly intellectual snobbery. How could someone of so low a status write such masterful works? And it is, perhaps, this mystery that adds to Shakespeare’s great status. As to the man himself, we can only learn from his plays, and the odd snippet of information regarding things he may or may not have done. For instance, claims of illegitimate children abound; and his deep insights show him to be a deep thinking, often emotional human being.
This all leads us to the view that Shakespeare was not a conventional character, but a highly emotional, possibly philandering man. As to the effect of his work, his place in the history of literature is assured. But some theorists go even further, arguing that, in outing the undercurrents of emotions in his plays, he created the modern mind-set, his plays actually giving a new definition of what it is to be human, complete with all our foibles, dark side, and sense of fun.

History

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20Jan

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a child of the Enlightenment, the time when free thinking thought of banishing monarchy and religion in order to create a more perfect, fair society. And he was to become its greatest adventurer, and its despot. Born in 1769, the son of a Corsican lawyer, his father died when he was 15, leaving him to look after his mother and many siblings. Times were hard for the young Napoleon, and in 1785 he took a commission in the artillery, joining a revolutionary and active French army.
He thrived in this army, scoring many victories and rising quickly up the ranks. When a Royalist mob attacked the National Convention in 1795, he rose to the occasion by dispersing them with ‘a whiff of grapeshot.’ Finding favour, he was given command of the army in Italy. It was a good move. Napoleon had earned the name ‘the little corporal’ for seeing to the welfare of
his men. His reorganisation, devising the independent Corps, was a masterstroke, and his ability to inflict a crippling surprise attack led to his many victories.
His army then went to Egypt, to attack British interests overseas. However, he fell foul to the British navy, eventually abandoning his army in Egypt and returning to France where he joined a plot to overthrow the Directory. In November 1799 he became First Consul of France. This was good for Napoleon, but bad for everyone else. The French Revolution had lost its way, initially devised to guarantee freedom through the General Will of the people. Napoleon decided this really meant subordinating individual rights to the efficiency of the State. In 1803 he virtually declared war on the whole of Europe, and in 1804 declared himself Emperor.
Defeating army after army, he entered a deserted Moscow in 1812 and suffered reverse due to the Russian winter, just as the British under Wellington began to drive him out of the Iberian Peninsula. However, prior to these reversals, he had placed family members on foreign thrones. Seeing himself as the successor of Charlemagne, he was fearless, charismatic and totally vane, divorcing his first wife to marry a Habsburg, thus giving him the same social standing of the traditional monarchy of Europe.
An absolute egoist – he even cheated playing cards – he had numerous affairs, even though he wasn’t particularly good at sex. Other than this, his tastes were simple and his codification of French law, whilst creating a despotic bureauocracy, laid the foundations of much modern law.
In 1814, Allied armies took Paris and Napoleon was abdicated in Elba. However, he grew resentful over not being able to see his wife and son. Hence, in 1815 he landed in France with 1500 men and marched on Paris, beginning his Hundred Days Rule, finally ended in his decisive defeat at Waterloo. Banished to St Helena, he died in 1821, having created the modern army, modern law, and the modern political face of Europe.

History

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20Jan

Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton is still thought the world’s greatest physicist and mathematician. Born on Christmas Day 1642 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, he managed to get a place at Grantham Grammar School due to an influential relation.
He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he excelled, spending most of his life there but for a brief period in his youth when the university was closed because of the plague. It was at this time, at home, that his great scientific breakthroughs came.
Whether an apple really fell to the ground is part of mythology, but Newton realized universal gravitation, as well as creating calculus, devising the three laws of motion and realizing that white light was made up of many colours.
It was to be many years before he published his Principia Mathematica in 1687, showing gravitation in action. He had already become a Fellow of the Royal Society and Master of the Mint, as well as a member of parliament.
Knighted in 1705, he died in 1727, remaining an enigmatic, bombastic man. One area where Newton is ignored is his detective work. Coining was threatening to destabilize the economy, and he spent two years tracking down the main culprits to be hanged.
Newton is arguably the most influential man who ever lived. He was the first to show that man’s mind could devise provable laws to understand the universe. He spurred philosophers on to do the same for society. This was the birth of the modern world.
Unfortunately, science ignores the bulk of his work. Science seems to have been a by-product of his thirst to discover the ‘spirit’ of the universe. To this end, he studied alchemy, astrology, magic and spiritual philosophies.
Most of this was done in secret, at pain of death if people realized what he really was. Keynes asked if Newton was the first great scientist or last great magician. He was the latter. He understood that the material world was not the only answer.

History

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20Jan

Karl Marx

Karl Marx was fundamental in giving the world communism. Based around his theory of Dialectical Materialism, history is a process of class struggle, and economics decide our place in society. He envisioned the process coming to a head in a huge, violent clash, where the class structure would disappear to be replaced by a utopia in which everyone was equal.
Such naivety was not expressed in his life. Born in Trier, Germany, the son of a lawyer in 1818, he studied law and philosophy at Bonn and Berlin. In 1843 he married and had several children, but they were to play a minor part in his life.
In 1842 the growing revolutionary edited the Rheinische Zeitung, but the following year it was closed down. In 1844 he began a life-long collaboration with Friedrich Engels, with whom
he wrote the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in 1848, encouraging workers throughout the world to unite and fight the oppressors.
It was a year of revolution through the world, and Marx found himself expelled from continental Europe. He went to London, living in poverty in a Soho flat for the remainder of his life. Each day he would trudge to the Reading Room of the British Museum to work on his three volume opus, Das Kapital, whilst at home, his family was slowly dying through the abject poverty they suffered.
Indeed, it was to take his own life, dying in 1883, his opus not fully formed. It was completed posthumously by Engels. Marx was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. His ideas were taken up by revolutionaries throughout the 20th century, communism taking a hold in Russia and China. The world revolt of the working classes did not, however, come to pass.

History

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20Jan

Martin Luther

A reluctant hero full of self-doubt on the one hand, yet a vociferous and sometimes cruel writer on the other, Martin Luther was a man driven into unknown territory by fate and his times. Born to a copper miner in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483, he had an unhappy early life, his father wanting him to become a lawyer and often brutalising him. When he was 23 he had a spiritual experience during a thunderstorm and in 1507 was ordained a priest. Spending several years in a monastery, he brutalised himself, denying desires of the body.
Eventually he was to visit Rome, and became disgusted with the corruption he found there – in particular the sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel to raise funds for the Church.
By this time he was a teacher at Wittenberg University, and upon his return he nailed 95 theses against the sale of indulgences to the church door. The year was 1517, and the world was never to be the same again.
The various principalities of Germany were approaching revolt against the Catholic Church and the Church itself was digging in its heels. Summoned to Rome to defend his actions, he increased his attacks on the Church, seeing the pope as the anti-Christ himself. The pope responded with his excommunication in 1520. When Luther received the papal bull showing this, he publicly burned it, contemptuous of the pope’s authority.
Eventually, he was called to the Diet of Worms, a meeting of the Holy Roman Emperor and the regional leaders. Refusing to recant, public opinion was with him and they fudged a declar­ation of his guilt. On his way home, Luther was taken into protective custody by the Elector of Saxony for his own safety, whilst moves began to remove the authority of Rome from the slowly growing Protestant Church which Luther had given life to.
By 1530, Luther retired from public life, marrying an ex­-nun and having children, although his writings continued. And central to those writings were the central premises of the Protestant – that Scripture, freely interpreted, was the only rule of faith; and that faith was justified by itself without intermediaries to God. In other words, it was the words of the Bible and the faith held within the individual that were important, not the authority and doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Martin Luther died in 1546, unsure of what he had let loose into the world, but sure that his life had been right. The Catholic and Protestant were to debate and fight for centuries, forging the modern world in the process – a modern world of which Luther was so vital a part.

History

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20Jan

Adolf Hitler

No one shook the world as much as Adolf Hitler. Yet his insignificant birth at Braunau in Austria, close to the German border, did not suggest the infamy he would achieve. His, father, a lowly customs official, died when Hitler was 14, and he spent many years in poverty. Seeing himself as a great artist, he flunked his exams and couldn’t get into art school. The young Hitler went to live in Vienna, selling bad postcard sketches and arguing against the Jews in cafes. He emigrated to Munich to dodge military service. However, with World War One, he joined the German Army, making corporal and being recommended for the Iron Cross.
In 1919 he was sent to spy on a small political group, the German Worker’s Party. He liked their nationalist politics, joining them and becoming leader by 1921, changing them to the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis. In 1923 he attempted to overthrow the Bavarian government, his party marching in the Munich Putsch. Failing when police machine gunned them, he was imprisoned. He began writing ‘Mein Kampf’, declaring his intentions for the Germanic peoples, and the fate of the Jews and other ‘inferiors.’
Developing a charismatic personality, the Depression allowed him to blame the Jews for Germany’s woes, gaining electoral credibility in the 1930 election. A fire at the German Parliament in 1933 – almost certainly begun by him – allowed him to blame communists and, already having a large minority, he was made Chancellor, becoming head of state, or Fuhrer (as he called himself), the following year. Leaving the League of Nations, he began to re-arm, opened concentration camps for undesirables, organised the state police, or Gestapo, and began to systematically kill all opponents.
Ecomomically, he began building the autobahns and began a massive industrial project, whilst the whole of Germany was Nazified. By 1936 he was confident enough to re-take the demilitarised Rhineland, as well as forming an alliance with Mussolini in Italy. In 1938 he annexed Austria, and the Sudetenland of Czeckoslovakia the following year. Signing a non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union, he invaded Poland in 1939, causing World War Two. In 1940 he launched his offensive against western Europe and in 1941, ignored his treaty with the Soviets and invaded Russia. This was the greatest strategic blunder of all time, causing him to fight on two fronts, guaranteeing his failure.
Clearly approaching insanity by this time, several attempts were made on his life, but failed. On 29 April 1945, this tee­total vegetarian married his friend Eva Braun in his Berlin bunker as the Soviets surrounded him. The following day, he committed suicide, his Third Reich in ruins.

History

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20Jan

Sigmund Freud

It could be said that Sigmund Freud made us human, with all the foibles and ideosyncracies that entails. Born in Moravia (Czech Republic) to a Jewish family, he had an exceptional intellect from a child. Indulged by his mother over his other siblings, he studied medicine at Vienna and later studied hypnosis under Charcot before going into private practice in Vienna, devising psychoanalysis and treating mainly upper ­middle class, middle-aged women.
At his birth in 1865 the human mind seemed well mapped out. However, when Freud was in his 30s his father died, and it led to deep self-analysis. What he discovered during this phase of his life were a host of impulses he couldn’t understand. Freud had discovered the unconscious mind. In 1900 ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ was published, and a whole new outlook of humanity was born.
Later, Freud gathered a circle of psychoanalysts around him, including Adler and Jung, who later fell out with him, and for many years his theories were pored over, developing a form of therapy called ‘free association’ to allow a patient to bring impulses to consciousness from the unconscious; Freud’s great success was in realising that unconscious forces drive our conscious life. Splitting the unconscious into the id, ego and super ego, he thought repression of infantile sexuality lay behind most neurosis. Best seen in the Oedipus Complex, where a son can have erotic feelings for his mother, most of his later ideas are shunned today.
Accused of being unscientific, Freud decided the template for deciding what was normal and abnormal was his own mind. Bearing in mind the ideas that surfaced from this self-analysis, we get a picture of a man who was not normal at all, but full of his own frustrations and desires.
In 1938 he left Vienna, fleeing the Nazis, and came to London. Married with six children, he had had cancer of the jaw for many years, and in 1939 he died. But it was a very different world he left behind. It was a world where unconscious forces crept into reality, with people no longer in control of their ‘self.’ As well as heralding a more open attitude to sexuality, such ideas prompted Surrealism and form a central element in today’s ideas of Postmodernism.

History

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20Jan

Charles Darwin

Born in 1809 at Shrewsbury, Charles Darwin was to go on to reluctantly rock the world. Grandson of Erasmus Darwin, his mother died when he was eight, and to his father’s chagrin seemed to care nothing but for bugs and plants. Sent to study medicine at Edinburgh, Darwin hated it, and went to study Theology at Cambridge, which he also had little time for.Encouraged by botanist John Henslow, it was the natural world that fascinated him. Hence, when he had the chance to join the ‘Beagle’ as naturalist on a five year voyage around South America and the Galapagos Islands, he jumped at it.
The study of various environments on the voyage led him close to the theory of evolution through natural selection for which he became famous for. He married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood in 1839, going on to have eight children, and in 1842 he moved to Down House in Kent, where he remained the rest of his life. By 1844, he had written up notes on his theory, but did not publish, sitting on it for years while he wrote a study of barnacles.
The obvious reason for this is that he realised the damage his theory would do to religion. However, when Alfred Russell Wallace wrote to him in 1858 with virtually the same theory, Darwin decided to publish. In 1859 his epoch making ‘Origin of Species’ appeared, selling out on the first day, and provoking the violent reaction he expected.
Darwin himself took little part in the debate, happy to stay at home working on other books, most quite bland, but including his 1871 ‘Descent of Man’, where he argued man came from a hairy anthropoid. By this time, he was quite ill, being wheel­chair bound. One explanation for this is that he contracted Chaga’s disease from an insect bite, but what we now know of psychology, the mysterious element of his ill health could suggest psychosomatic ailments, such was the pressure of his findings.
Darwin was, infact, an amateur, with no scientific training, and this was to lead to a hard fight for acceptance of his ideas. But when they WERE accepted, he guaranteed his place
as one of the greats of history. He eventually died in 1882, a man who truly changed the world, his ideas often perverted into the ‘survival of the fittest’, the notion behind everything from Hitler’s Super Race to modern capitalism.

History

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20Jan

Leonardo Da Vinci

The Renaissance was the greatest expression of human art and imagination, and its greatest personality was Leonardo da Vinci. Born the illegitimate son of a Florentine notary and a peasant girl at Vinci in 1452, he had an elementary education before becoming a student of sculptor, Verrocchio. Going on to become one of the greatest painters and scientists ever, in about 1482 he served as court artist in Milan. In 1500 he returned to Florence, becoming engineer to Cesare Borgia, before returning to Milan in 1506. Going to France in 1516, he died by the Loire three years later.
A man of exceptional talent and inspiration, his The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are amongst the greatest works of art, and his numerous notes and sketches show an inquiring mind far ahead of his time, designing such things as tanks, submarines aeroplanes, suspension bridges and a myriad other devices that wouldn’t see the light of day for centuries, including the camera. In his art, he shunned the Classical styles that expressed the Renaissance, preferring to base his works on the study of nature.
This information is perhaps the best indication of the man behind the work. Hints exist that his love of nature was more than a passing element of his life. In a strictly Christian world, hints of nature suggest more occult tendencies behind his works, suggesting an heretical mind-set and not a little sense of humour. This is principally suggested by the latest ideas concerning the Holy Shroud. If correct, Da Vinci actually produced a form of camera and made the image himself as a clever forgery, the head on the shroud actually being the image of Da Vinci himself.

History

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20Jan

Winston Churchill

Few people in history have been great, but perhaps the greatest of the great was Winston Churchill. Born the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome, daughter of a New York financier, he was a lonely child, much estranged from his father and brought up by a nurse. Growing up in Blenheim Palace – an ancestor was the Duke of Marlborough – he went to Harrow where he was a less than brilliant student and finally got into Sandhurst after failing the exams three times.
His father died in 1895 when Churchill was 21. Becoming a war correspondent, he took part in the last cavalry charge of British history at Omdurman, and during the Boer War he was captured but became a national hero for his daring escape across the length of South Africa. In 1900 he became Conservative MP for Oldham, but having a disagreement, he crossed the House to the Liberals, becoming Home Secretary in 1910 and First Lord of the Admiralty the following year.
During the First World War he was blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign so he resigned and fought in the trenches before becoming secretaries of War and the Colonies, where he was instrumental in setting up the Irish Free State.
Churchill left the Liberals in 1923, rejoining the Tories as MP for Epping. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 he brought about Britain’s return to the gold standard, and as Home Secretary defeated the General Strike of 1926. However, in 1929 he fell out with the Tories over India, rearmament and appeasement, beginning his ‘wilderness years’ where he spoke out about Hitler.
On the first day of war he was back in the Admiralty, becoming Prime Minister in 1940 and masterminding western strategy, playing a major part in organising the Battle of Britain and Battle of Alamein. With a close relationship with the Americans, and an amazing oratory ability, in 1940 he was the main weapon of freedom in the world.
Prime Minister again from 1951-55, he devised the term ‘Iron Curtain’ and stood up against Soviet Russia before retiring to his Chartwell home in Kent, with his wife Clementine, whom he married in 1908. Dying in 1965, he was one of the few non-­Royals to have a State Funeral.
In addition to this impressive career, Churchill was a good artist and brilliant writer, his ‘History of World War II’ and ‘History of the English Speaking Peoples’ earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Knighted in 1953, he thought one of his greatest achievements was the brick wall he spent years building at Chartwell.
However, this greatness aside, Churchill was also exceptionally egoistic, often drunk, and suffered throughout his life with depression, which he called the Black Dog. Forever a cigar smoker, he was also infamous for his humour. When one lady said to him: ‘Winston, you’re drunk,’ he replied: ‘Yes, madam. You’re ugly, but in the morning I will be sober.’
It was, of course, a lie.

History

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