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.

Richard Lovell Edgeworth

1744 (Bath, England) – 1817 (Edgeworthstown, Ireland)

The inventive Edgeworth, an uncategorisable radical thinker and father to 22 children, is particularly known for his enquiring, child-centred ideas about education. Darwin, Wedgwood, Boulton, Watt, Keir and Small were all Lunar Society friends, the first two especially close. Johnson published his best-known work, co-written with his daughter Maria. His translator Pictet drew him to France, where he met Montgolfier, and where he and his lifelong friend Day visited their hero Rousseau. He was introduced by his friend Banks to Hunter, Cook, Solander, Maskelyne and Smeaton, and constructed an early and unsuccessful telegraph across Ireland with Beaufort.

Rowland Hill

1795 (Kidderminster, England) – 1879 (London)

Hill gave the world a modern postal system. His friends Priestley, Paine and Price helped inspire his radical educational ideas. He was persuaded by Bentham to move his school to London – de Quincey visited it. He joined Mill and Playfair in discussing economics, and declined Owen’s offer of involvement in living communally. An analysis of postal costs by Babbage (whose sons attended Hill’s school) probably informed his ideas, which Martineau supported tirelessly. He met Turner socially, visited Edgeworth in Ireland, knew Leigh Hunt, Roget, Airy, Lyell and Wheatstone, and found Trollope a challenging colleague.

Mikhail Lomonosov

Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov

1711 (Denisovka, now Lomonosovo, Russia) – 1765 (St Petersburg)

Lomonosov was one of Russia’s greatest scientists, though in his time was mainly known as a writer: a true polymath, he published work in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, classics, language and history, largely working alone. Wolff influentially taught him in Germany. He became Euler’s assistant and later his close colleague in St Petersburg; they corresponded until Lomonosov’s death. He stood as guarantor for his friend and colleague Gmelin, who defaulted (Euler intervened, Gmelin paid him back). He warmly supported Müller’s explorations in Siberia, but (both were hot-headed) took violently against his theory of a Norse origin for the Russian nation.

Mikhail Lomonosov knew…

Joseph Neef

Joseph Näef

1770 (Soultz, France) – 1854 (New Harmony, Ind.)

Neef became interested in Pestalozzi’s educational ideas while recovering from a head-wound sustained in the Napoleonic Wars (he refused to have the musket-ball removed until his death). He taught at Pestalozzi’s school in Switzerland, then opened his own in Paris, where Maclure visited and persuaded him to emigrate to America. Under Maclure’s aegis, he opened a succession of progressive schools. Neef, widely liked and respected as an outstanding teacher, seems to have had little time for Owen’s contributions to the New Harmony experiment, but his two daughters married two of Owen’s sons. An educational pioneer in the U.S., he remains under-appreciated.

Amos Bronson Alcott

1799 (Wolcott, Conn.) – 1888 (Boston, Mass.)

Alcott’s friends and neighbours in Emerson’s transcendentalist circle also included Hawthorne and Thoreau. Emerson persuaded him to move to Concord, and later lent him the money to go to Britain (where he visited Carlyle, who admired him greatly although he couldn’t keep to one subject for long). Alcott’s ideas of peaceful resistance influenced Thoreau’s own thought. Fuller and Peabody helped him in one of his experimental schools, Peabody’s writings (and Martineau’s visit) helping spread the message. Whitman and he were mutual admirers, while his daughter Louisa May provided the financial security that had escaped him.

Amos Bronson Alcott knew…

William Maclure

1763 (Ayr, Scotland) – 1840 (San Angel, Mexico)

Silliman was Maclure’s colleague and published much of his geological research. Maclure had visited Pestalozzi, whose ideas he admired, in Switzerland, but failed to persuade him to move to the U.S; Neef, who had worked with Pestalozzi, was enticed to emigrate. Maclure visited Owen at New Lanark; the experimental community at New Harmony was inspired by Owen, although he and Maclure argued over the practical application of utopian philosophies. Say, who had accompanied Maclure on a previous geological expedition, joined in this failed attempt at an ideal community, as did Lesueur and Neef

Wilhelm von Humboldt

1767 (Potsdam) – 1835 (Berlin)

Alexander von Humboldt was his brother. Both were friends of Goethe and Schiller, Wilhelm frequently visiting them in Weimar and maintaining a correspondence with Schiller. He was an attender at Mendelssohn’s musical salon, while Coleridge visited him in Rome. Schinkel, a friend, remodelled his home Schloss Tegel for him. Bopp was a great friend, first met when Humboldt was Prussian envoy in London; he taught Humboldt Sanskrit, and was later given a position at Berlin University, an institution founded by Humboldt. Fichte was its first rector; Humboldt attended his lectures as often as he could.