Luise Gottsched

Luise Kulmus

1713 (Danzig, now Gdańsk, Poland) – 1870 (Leipzig, Germany)

Gottsched’s claim to fame (her status is still much contested) is two-fold: as an author and translator in her own right, and as the uncredited contributor of much that was published under the name of her husband, Johann Christoph Gottsched; her own career seems to have been very much subjugated to his, despite her renown as one of the great intelligences of her time. She studied the lute under the composer Weiss (who is known to have visited her at least once), and wrote the entry on him in a reference work of her husband’s. Grimm, who had studied under her husband, was a correspondent.

Luise Gottsched knew…

Kenneth Rexroth

1905 (South Bend, Ind.) – 1982 (Santa Barbara, Calif.)

Rexroth was an extraordinary autodidact, who seems to have met everyone everywhere. He said he wrote poetry to seduce women and overthrow capitalism; and helped make San Francisco, as Chicago made him. Lawrence, Prokofiev, Russell, Anderson, Sandburg and Frank Lloyd Wright were all met at a radical midwest salon. The ‘country boy’ Armstrong and Yancey both turned up at a club he was involved with (“we didn’t know we were making history”). He first met Ferlinghetti in Paris, liked Léger, thought Desnos wonderful, presided over Ginsberg’s legendary reading, disliked Kerouac, thought Rivera dreadful, and turned down Nin’s invitations to dinner.

Kenneth Rexroth knew…

Josef Škvorecký

1924 (Náchod, Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic) – 2012 (Toronto)

One of the leading Czech writers of the post-war age, innovative in his prose, Škvorecký is as important for sacrificing his own career to make the works of dissident Czech writers available internationally. He was a prodigious letter-writer — Greene and Sontag were among his correspondents. He met Hrabal having joined Kolář’s underground circle, visited Holan, and had an amusing exchange of letters with Waugh (whom he admired) about mistranslated capitalist food. Among friends, he and Forman were banned from making a film, while the grateful Havel gave him the Order of the White Lion. Greene compared him to Chekhov.

Josef Škvorecký knew…

Gary Snyder

1930 (San Francisco) –

A leading poet of the West Coast scene, Snyder’s verse has been deeply influenced by Chinese and Japanese thought and by an ecological concern for the land. He notably announced himself at an event presided over by his early influence Rexroth, with Ginsberg and McClure also reading. Kerouac fictionalised him (they lived in a cabin together for six months). He introduced Ginsberg to buddhism and shared a plot of land with him — their deep friendship was marked by 850 letters across 40 years, and led to Snyder also meeting the East coasters Koch, Creeley, Waldman and Rothenberg.

Seamus Heaney

1939 (Castledawson, Northern Ireland) – 2013 (Dublin)

Heaney was a commanding figure in Irish literature. Hughes, a lifelong friend, helped persuade him to make a go of writing for a living; they later co-edited two anthologies. Heaney was in awe at meeting Lowell, one of his influences, and joyful that they got on (they became good friends). He built strong links with writers in Poland (where he saw sympathetic parallels with Ireland); Miłosz (whom he called ‘the giant at my shoulder’), Szymborska and Herbert were all friends, as were Creeley, Walcott and Brodsky. He read with MacDiarmid, took Murray to visit megaliths, and got hungover with Bragg.

Seamus Heaney knew…

Pierre Étienne Louis Dumont

Étienne Dumont

1759 (Geneva) – 1829 (Milan)

Dumont met Bentham while living in London, became his disciple, and for two decades edited his works (making them more readable) and translated them into French, ensuring their much wider reception and influence. Between them, Dumont and Mill were indispensible allies to Bentham. De la Rive and de Candolle were well-known members of the Geneva scientific establishment; Edgeworth, a friend of Dumont’s, recounted dining with all three while visiting the city. She described him as very fat and with monstrous eyebrows, felt sure love had passed him by, and said he loved Bentham and Mont Blanc above all.

Pierre Étienne Louis Dumont knew…

Gérard de Nerval

1808 (Paris) – 1855 (Paris)

His lifelong schoolfriend Gautier wrote a soul-searching memoir after Nerval’s suicide. They were members of Nodier’s Cénacle, where Hugo and Dumas were ‘stars’, and subsequently of Gautier’s own more bohemian Club des Haschischins, alongside Baudelaire and Delacroix. Nerval happily cultivated his own reputation (so accounts of him leading a lobster named Thibault for walks may have been embellished). He translated his friend Heine’s work, travelled the Rhine and wrote an operetta with Dumas, and was written to by Goethe praising the translations he’d done, aged 19, of his ‘Faust’ (illustrated by Delacroix).

August Wilhelm Schlegel

August Wilhelm von Schlegel

1767 (Hannover, Germany) – 1845 (Bonn)

The German Romanticist group centered around Schlegel and his brother Friedrich. Tieck (a longstanding friend and collaborator) and Novalis were also prominent colleagues, likewise the influential Fichte; while the importance of the Schlegels’ wives Caroline and Dorothea was considerable. While Goethe was an occasional visitor and deeply interested in August’s work on Indian culture, the brothers alienated Schiller, whose influence they craved. Hegel was an academic colleague, Schelling and Schleiermacher correspondents after he moved to Berlin. Runge visited him there, and Mickiewicz in Bonn.

William Nicholson, chemist

1753 (London) – 1815 (London)

Wedgwood was briefly Nicholson’s employer, then (along with Boulton) a colleague in a London scientific society. Davy, Dalton and Berzelius were among contributors to Nicholson’s pioneering popular scientific journal. Carlisle was a friend of his, collaborating in the discovery of electrolysis; Godwin another friend. Volta met Nicholson on a visit to England, and acknowledged his influence. Koenig consulted Nicholson in his role as patent agent about his own invention of a high-speed printing press, featuring an undeveloped idea of Nicholson’s. Hazlitt simply recorded that he’d had an interesting conversation with him.

Prosper Mérimée

1803 (Paris) – 1870 (Cannes)

Mérimée met Viollet-le-Duc (later a significant architectural collaborator) as a teenager. Humboldt and Stendhal (a literary influence) were among his friends in Paris bohemian circles. He had a brief and unsatisfactory affair with Sand, proposed to Shelley, translated Turgenev, and met Sainte-Beuve, Ingres and Delacroix in the salons he habituated. Requien met him in his job as Inspector of Monuments, du Camp returned to him the letters he’d written to a past lover, and he himself wrote of a visit to a brothel with Delacroix, Musset and Stendhal. Hugo (whose friendship didn’t last) described a landscape as ‘flat as Mérimée.’