Gerhard Friedrich Müller

Gerhardt Friedrich Müller;Gerhard Friedrich Mueller;Fyodor Ivanovich Miller

1705 (Herford, Germany) – 1783 (Moscow)

Müller, one of the true founders of ethnography, was among many Germans recruited by Peter the Great to the scientific academy in St Petersburg, spending nearly 50 years in the country. He spent years mapping Siberia, and made prodigious efforts to write a scholarly history of Russia. He joined Bering’s second expedition to Siberia and Kamchatka, though he and his colleague Gmelin parted ways with it after a year. Pallas, Steller, Krasheninnikov and Amman were further scientific colleagues, and Linnaeus and Euler correspondents for decades. He visited Sloane in London, and had a damaging run-in with Lomonosov.

Gerhard Friedrich Müller knew…

E. P. Thompson

Edward Palmer Thompson

1924 (Oxford) – 1993 (Worcester, England)

Thompson had a huge influence on the writing of radically-based social history. Gandhi was among an impressive range of family friends during his childhood. Thompson and Russell were closely aligned in leftist/pacifist politics. Hobsbawm, a friend, formed a communist historians’ group with him. Williams and Hall were political and academic colleagues, and Lessing a friend (and another communist-party colleague). Thompson admired Kołakowski, and engaged in a passionate debate about Marxism with him. James — another correspondent — and he were great mutual admirers (and lovers of cricket).

E. P. Thompson knew…

Étienne Montucla

Jean-Étienne Montucla

1725 (Lyon, France) – 1799 (Versailles)

The modest and erudite Montucla wrote the first full-scale history of mathematics. He befriended Diderot and d’Alembert at age 20; they encouraged his history of the problem of squaring the circle. He was closely allied with the Encyclopedists, especially d’Alembert, and faithfully withdrew from the Académie de Lyon when they were giving d’Alembert trouble. His friend Lalande ensured publication of the final part of Montucla’s magnum opus following his death. Fourier sent him an algebraic paper for his comment, but he didn’t respond (Fourier’s cryptic remark suggests Montucla had given up practising mathematics by then).

James Mill

1773 (North Water Bridge, Scotland) – 1836 (London)

Moving to London, Mill met Bentham, becoming his close friend and enthusiastic supporter. He gave his son John Stuart Mill an extremely rigorous home education, dedicated to grooming him as his own and Bentham’s intellectual successor (not surprisingly, this hothousing led to the son’s mental breakdown). Mill was responsible for persuading his close friend and frequent visitor Ricardo to publish what became his most important work on economics. Dumont (like Ricardo) was another member of the circle around Bentham. Mill’s job at the East India Company, where he supervised Peacock, enabled him shamelessly to help his son.

Ernest Legouvé

1807 (Paris) – 1903 (Paris)

Legouvé was a lifelong close friend of Berlioz’s, and helped him out financially; Berlioz set a poem of his to music. Scribe collaborated on the two plays for which he is best known. Süe was another close friend; his confidence lost, Legouvé suggested he act like Goethe and write about his disillusionment (he also famously demonstrated how two completely unrelated men could share the same sister, using himself and Süe as illustration). Among composers, Gounod was another of his close friends, while Liszt famously played Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ at Legouvé’s, with the lamps all turned out.

Ernest Legouvé knew…

Eric Hobsbawm

1917 (Alexandria) – 2012 (London)

MacInnes was a fellow-denizen of Soho jazz clubs, and had a famous argument with him about their significance; Bacon was another late-night companion. Hobsbawm tried unsuccessfully to take Forster to see Lenny Bruce, and spent an afternoon with Jackson at home in Chicago. Cartier-Bresson amused him by saying he found an English critic’s intellect intimidating (even if it was Berger), while Braudel, an admirer, made a point of asking him to use the familiar ‘tu.’ Hobsbawm was drawn to the university Eco set up in San Marino. Bourdieu, Thompson, Williams, Althusser and Magris were all friends.

Eric Hobsbawm knew…

Thomas Carlyle

1795 (Ecclefechan, Scotland) – 1881 (London)

Carlyle, fluent in German, wrote about and corresponded with Goethe. Emerson, an early fan, visited him in his remote farmhouse and corresponded for decades. Leigh Hunt, who became a good friend, suggested he move to unfashionable Chelsea, where Tennyson, Ruskin and Darwin visited (though Carlyle later spoke out against Darwinism). Butler (most likely) thanked God for Carlyle’s mismatched marriage “thus making two people unhappy rather than four.” Chopin visited for an hour, telling the Carlyles their piano was out of tune. Dickens, a close friend, drew on Carlyle’s book on the French Revolution for ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’

Michel Foucault

1926 (Poitiers, France) – 1984 (Paris)

Hyppolite, Merleau-Ponty and Althusser (who became a pal) all taught him. He attended Lacan’s seminars; Canguilhem supervised his doctoral thesis and stayed a strong supporter. Barraqué was his lover, Deleuze a good friend and colleague, Le Roy Ladurie in the same communist cell. Chomsky knew and liked him, while his friendship with Derrida deteriorated before a final reconciliation. He nominated Barthes for a prestigious chair, while Dreyfus introduced him to an overflowing audience. Sartre and de Beauvoir puzzlingly asked Said to meet them at Foucault’s (who chatted amiably and left).

John William Draper

1811 (St. Helens, England) – 1882 (Hastings, N.Y.)

Henry and Daniel were two of his sons. Draper studied chemistry under Turner (who first interested him in the chemical effects of light) in London. Morse and Draper had collaborated in work towards the electric telegraph. Draper had been experimenting with photographic processes before Daguerre’s invention of photography, was quickly able to improve on aspects of it, took the first photograph of the moon, and opened a portrait studio in New York with Morse in 1840. His correspondents included Herschel, Darwin, Silliman, Spencer, Holmes, and Tyndall.