Henry Fuseli

Johann Heinrich Füssli

1741 (Zürich) – 1825 (London)

Known in his adopted Britain as Fuseli, he was born Füssli. Lavater was his schoolfriend: at 21 they caused a furore by denouncing a corrupt magistrate. Fuseli admired Rousseau, met him, but eventually broke with his ideas. Reynolds encouraged Fuseli to dedicate himself to painting (he’d been working as a translator). He befriended Abildgaard in Rome. Etty, Constable, Haydon and Landseer were among his students. Cowper, Blake, Darwin and Wollstonecraft were members of the dissident group around Johnson (Fuseli’s ‘Nightmare’ had verses of Darwin’s attached). His wife scotched his scheme to go and observe the French Revolution with his admirer Wollstonecraft.

Susan Sontag

1933 (New York) – 2004 (New York)

Sontag was as influential a public intellectual as the U.S. has produced, particularly through a series of well-known essays. Strauss and Tillich taught her, Marcuse lived in her house, Childs was a lover (and Moreau merely a close friend). Ocampo recognised her younger self in Sontag, while McCarthy told her “I hear you’re the new me”. Cornell, obsessed, dedicated several boxes to her. Cunningham, Danto, Fuentes, Kiš and Rushdie were all friends; Roy, Said, Cioran and Enzensburger among her many correspondents. Aged 14, she took a schoolfriend for tea and cookies with Mann (and found he had feet of clay).

Susan Sontag knew…

Thomas MacGreevy

Thomas McGreevy

1893 (Tarbert, Ireland) – 1967 (Dublin)

MacGreevy had an influence on Irish modernist writing far beyond what his small (but highly original) body of poetry might suggest. He was a good friend and strong supporter of Yeats, introducing Beckett (whom he also influenced) to him. Eliot employed him as a reviewer in London. In Paris, MacGreevy became a close friend to Joyce, helped and supported him, and introduced the newly-arrived Beckett to him. He wrote to Stevens when told that the American had praised his poems, initiating a lifelong correspondence; they met, once, in New York (Moore was also present). Antheil dedicated a piece to him.

Jonas Mekas

1922 (Semeniškiai, Lithuania) – 2019 (New York)

Mekas was both a prolific film-maker, and an energetic guiding spirit for the New York independent film scene (whence many of his extensive list of friends and accomplices — his ‘second family’). Maciunas was a lifelong friend from Lithuanian schooldays, Warhol another close associate — he credited Mekas for getting him filming. Among other friends were Vautier, Breer, Anger, Cassavetes, Frank, Brakhage (filmed making pancakes), Ginsberg (filmed singing an anti-war song), and Ono and Lennon (filmed in bed). Dalí sought him out, Polanski drove him around Paris. Pinter distracted customs officers so Mekas could sneak a banned film into the U.S.

Jonas Mekas knew…

John Grierson

1898 (Deanston, Scotland) – 1972 (Bath, England)

Grierson is best known for bringing creative individuals productively together, and was a pivotal figure in British and Canadian film culture. He worked as a young cameraman for Huxley. He met Flaherty (a strong influence) in the U.S.; reviewing Flaherty’s ‘Moana’, he was the first in English to employ the term ‘documentary’. McLaren, Lye, Cavalcanti, Jennings, Auden, Lee, Britten all worked for his renowned G.P.O. Film Unit, McLaren following him to Canada. The emigrée Reiniger made some films for him. Eisenstein (another formative influence) attended the première of Grierson’s ‘Drifters’. He said art was not a mirror, but a hammer.

John Grierson knew…

Herbert Read

1893 (Kirkbymoorside, England) – 1968 (Stonegrave)

Read was an influential critic and thinker, and a key figure in the development of modernism in Britain. Eliot was an early long-term friend. Read was central to a circle of artists and others based in Hampstead, particularly Moore, Hepworth, Nash and Nicholson (like Moore and Hepworth, he had strong ties with Leeds). They found Mondrian a neighbouring studio; Gabo, Moholy-Nagy and Kepes were also connected. He encouraged Gombrich, championed Schwitters (who made a collage portrait), and edited Jung’s work in English, visiting him yearly in Switzerland. His many correspondents included Breton, Berger, Éluard and Miller.

Edgar Allan Poe

1809 (Boston, Mass.) – 1849 (Baltimore, Md.)

Poe greatly admired Dickens, and managed to meet him on an American tour; Dickens returned the admiration, while his pet raven seemingly inspired Poe to write one of his best-known works. Hawthorne was a correspondent, but also a great rival. Poe wangled from Irving (whom he didn’t really respect) his endorsement for a volume of stories, and publicly abused the long-suffering Longfellow, a correspondent though they never met face-to-face. The story that Poe visited France and stayed with Alexandre Dumas, bearing a letter of introduction from James Fenimore Cooper, is widely accepted as fictional.

Edgar Allan Poe knew…

Johann Jakob Bodmer

1698 (Greifensee, Switzerland) – 1783 (Zürich)

Bodmer’s significance isn’t for his poetry or plays (he was derivative at best), but for his reinstatement of the medieval Nibelunglied, his translations from English, his stand for expressive freedom (Haller among his supporters), and his influential effect on others. Lavater, Pestalozzi, Sulzer and Fuseli (Füssli) were among his students; he introduced Fuseli to Homer, the Nibelunglied, Shakespeare and Milton. The young Klopstock and Wieland were his houseguests; he championed their work, though was put out by the taste of each for earthly pleasures. Goethe also stayed with him, introduced by Lavater.

Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson

1709 (Lichfield, England) – 1784 (London)

Garrick (Johnson’s former pupil and lifelong friend), Goldsmith (whom he helped when in trouble), Reynolds (his closest friend), Gibbon, Charles Burney (another close friend) and Sheridan were all members of his literary club. Johnson persuaded Smollett to intervene over his runaway servant, and had Boswell as his staunch disciple and biographer. He breakfasted with Blacklock (drinking 19 cups of tea), met Franklin and Boulton, astonished Hogarth, and took virulently against Smith (who still thought him the best-read man he’d met). Richardson published some of Johnson’s essays, befriended him, and lent him money to get him out of trouble.

William Dean Howells

1837 (Martinsville, Ohio) – 1920 (New York)

Howells is better-known for his talent-spotting and nurturing of new writers than for his own under-appreciated work. His two most important literary relationships were with James and Twain: James (whom he encouraged) was close for over fifty years, and Twain (whom he was influential in getting accepted seriously) for forty, the friendship eventually derailed over their love and hate of tobacco. Holmes (who lived two doors away), Whitman, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson were met when Howells moved as a young man to Boston. Wharton (who became a friend) and Crane were among the many writers he brought to notice.

William Dean Howells knew…