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Famous British personalities

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(1806 - 1861)
Profession: Writer
English poet

Born in Durham. A delicate and precocious child, she spent a great part of her early life in a state of semi-invalidism. She read voraciously—philosophy, history, literature—and she wrote verse. In 1838 the Barrett family moved to 50 Wimpole St., London. Six years later Elizabeth published Poems, which brought her immediate fame. The volume was a favorite of the poet Robert Browning, and he began to correspond with her. The two fell in love, but their courtship was secret because of the opposition of Elizabeth's tyrannical father.

They married in 1846 and traveled to Italy, where most of their married life was spent and where their one son was born. Mrs. Browning threw herself into the cause of Italian liberation from Austria. “Casa Guidi,” their home in Florence, is preserved as a memorial. Happy in her marriage, Mrs. Browning recovered her health in Italy, and her work as a poet gained in strength and significance. Her greatest poetry, Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), was inspired by her own love story. Casa Guidi Windows (1851), on Italian liberty, and Aurora Leigh (1857), a novel in verse, followed.

During her lifetime Mrs. Browning was considered a better poet than her husband. Today her life and personality excite more interest than her work. Although as a poet she has been criticized for diffuseness, pedantry, and sentimentality, she reveals in such poems as “The Cry of the Children” and some of the Sonnets from the Portuguese a highly individual gift for lyric poetry

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

(1806 - 1859)
Profession: Engineer
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsmouth, England. He designed many bridges, tunnels, and viaducts and was one of the first to use compressed-air caissons to sink bridge foundations into deep riverbeds. He was also a railway builder and the designer of London's Paddington Station. His greatest work was the design and construction of three oceangoing steamships, each the first of its type. The paddle-steamer Great Western (1838) was the first transatlantic passenger steamship in regular service; it made the Bristol-New York crossing in a spectacular 15 days. The Great Britain (1845) was the first large screw-driven oceangoing steamship. The Great Eastern (1858), the largest steam vessel of its time, was designed to make the round trip to Australia without recoaling.

Charles Darwin

(1809 - 1882)
Profession: Scientist
English Naturalist

Darwin is known as the discoverer of natural selection.

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England. He studied medicine at Edinburgh, then biology at Cambridge. In 1831 he became the naturalist on HMS Beagle, which was to make a scientific survey of South American waters, and returned in 1836. By 1846 he had published several works on his geological and zoological discoveries, but he devoted most of his time to his major work 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection' (1859). He postulated that natural selection was the agent for the transmutation of organism during evolution.

He then worked on a series of supplemental treatises, including 'The Descent of Man' (1871), which postulated the descent of the human race from the anthropoid group. At first Darwin was attacked as an infidel atheist declaring the Bible a lie, but he replied that it increased God's grandeur to believe that the universe had been created with evolution built in.

Elizabeth Gaskell

(1810 - 1865)
Profession: Writer
English novelist

Her most popular book, Cranford 1853, is the study of a small, close-knit circle in a small town, modelled on Knutsford, Cheshire, where she was brought up. Her other books, which often deal with social concerns, include Mary Barton 1848, North and South 1855, Sylvia's Lovers 1863-64 and the unfinished Wives and Daughters 1866. She wrote a frank and sympathetic biography of her friend Charlotte Brontë 1857.
She was born in London, and spent much of her youth with her aunt in Knutsford. In 1832 she married William Gaskell (1805-1884), a Unitarian minister from Manchester, and from then on led a very busy life, bringing up four daughters; helping the unemployed, the poor, and prostitutes in the slums of Manchester ; and entertaining numerous friends and acquaintances. The success of Mary Barton established her as a novelist; in this work she describes with insight and sympathy the life and feelings of working-class people. She became a friend of Charles Dickens, and also knew Thomas Carlyle and William Thackeray. At Dickens's invitation she wrote for Household Words, in which Cranford appeared 1851-53.

'Ruth' in 1853 was her second full-length novel, and aroused controversy by having an unmarried mother as its sympathetically portrayed heroine. North and South was a pendant to Mary Barton, with more emphasis on the owners' and management side of industrial relations. Her later works are all set in the country, and are marked by a maturity of technique. Sylvia's Lovers is a powerful romance set in the days of the press gang. Cousin Phyllis 1863-64 is a delicate prose idyll. Her last and finest work, Wives and Daughters, appeared in the Cornhill Gazette and was left unfinished when she died suddenly

Gilbert (George) Scott

(1811 - 1878)
Profession: Architect
As the leading practical architect of the mid -19th century Gothic Revival in England, Scott was responsible for the building or restoration of many public buildings and monuments, including the Albert Memorial (1863-72), the Foreign Office in Whitehall (1862-73), and the St Pancras Station Hotel (1868-74), all in London.

Scott was born at Gawcott, Buckinghamshire. He was a follower of A W N Pugin in his early career. He was articled to James Edmeston in 1827, and practised with W B Moffat 1834-45, their commissions being mainly workhouses. In 1840 he won the competition for the Martyr's Memorial, Oxford, and also began his first church restorations, at Chesterfield and Stafford. In 1844 he won the competition for the church of St Nicholas at Hamburg. Scott established himself as a restoration architect, an aspect of his career that began in earnest with his work on Ely Cathedral (1847); this was followed by many other restorations, in all some 40 cathedrals and `minsters´.

He was severely criticised by William Morris for the drastic manner of his restorations, but he saved far more than he ever spoiled. The enormous list of his new buildings includes St Giles, Camberwell (1844); Glasgow University; Leeds Infirmary; the Great Hall of Bombay University; and the chapels of Exeter College (Oxford 1856-59), and St John's College, Cambridge (1863-69).

Charles John Huffam Dickens

(1812 - 1870)
Profession: Writer
English novelist and one of the most popular writers in the history of literature. In his enormous body of works, Dickens combined masterly storytelling, humor, pathos, and irony with sharp social criticism and acute observation of people and places, both real and imagined.

Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth and spent most of his childhood in London and Kent, both of which appear frequently in his novels. He started school at the age of nine, but his education was interrupted when his father, an amiable but careless minor civil servant, was imprisoned for debt in 1824. The boy was then forced to support himself by working in a shoe-polish factory. A resulting sense of humiliation and abandonment haunted him for life, and he later described this experience, only slightly altered, in his novel David Copperfield. From 1824 to 1826, Dickens again attended school. For the most part, however, he was self-educated.

The success of his first novel made Dickens famous. At the same time it influenced the publishing industry in Great Britain, being issued in a rather unusual form, that of inexpensive monthly installments; this method of publication quickly became popular among Dickens's contemporaries.

Dickens subsequently maintained his fame with a constant stream of novels. A man of enormous energy and wide talents, he also engaged in many other activities. In 1843 he published A Christmas Carol, an ever-popular children's story. As Dickens matured artistically, his novels developed from comic tales based on the adventures of a central character, like The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby (1837-1838), to works of great social relevance, psychological insight, and narrative and symbolic complexity. Among his fine works are Bleak House (1852-1853), Little Dorritt (1855-1857), Great Expectations (1860-1861), and Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865). Dickens's major writings include Oliver Twist (1837-1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-1844), Dombey and Son (1846-1848), Hard Times (1854), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished, 1870).

David Livingstone

(1813 - 1873)
Profession: Explorer
Few Europeans have contributed as much to the exploration of Africa as a gentle Scottish missionary named David Livingstone.

Livingstone was a curious combination of missionary, doctor, explorer, scientist and anti-slavery activist. He spent 30 years in Africa, exploring almost a third of the continent, from its southern tip almost to the equator. He was the first white man to see Victoria Falls and though he never discovered the source of the Nile, one of his goals, he eliminated some possibilities and thereby helped direct the efforts of others.

In 1865, at age 52, Livingstone set out on his last and most famous journey. He soon lost his medicine, animals and porters, but struggled on almost alone.

At a village on the Lualaba River he witnessed the slaughter of villagers by slave traders. The letter he sent home describing the event so infuriated the public that the English government pressured the Sultan of Zanzibar to stop the slave trade. The pressure was only partially successful.

On Nov. 10, 1871 in the village of Ujiji, on the east side of Lake Tanganyika, Livingstone encountered Henry Stanley, who had been sent by the New York Herald Tribune newspaper to find and help him.

With Stanley's supplies Livingstone continued his explorations, but he was weak, worn out and suffering from dysentery. Then, on the morning of April 30, 1872, his two African assistants found him kneeling at his bedside, dead. They dried his body and carried it and his papers on a dangerous 11-month journey to Zanzibar, a trip of 1,000 miles. From there his body was taken to England

John Couch Adams

(1819 - 1892)
Profession: Scientist
English astronomer

He mathematically deduced the existence of the planet Neptune in 1845 from the effects of its gravitational pull on the motion of Uranus, although it was not found until 1846 by J G Galle. Adams also studied the Moon's motion, the Leonid meteors, and terrestrial magnetism.

Adams was born in Landeast, Cornwall, and educated at Cambridge, where he spent virtually his entire career. He became professor of mathematics at the University of St Andrews, Fife in 1858, Lowndean professor of astronomy and geometry at Cambridge between 1859-92, and director of Cambridge observatory between 1861-92.

The calculations to account for certain aberrations in the orbit of Uranus were taken up independently by Adams and the French astronomer Urbain Leverrier. By 1845 Adams had determined the position and certain characteristics of the hypothetical planet affecting the orbit, but a search for the new planet was not instigated for nearly a year at Cambridge. Meanwhile, Leverrier sent his figures to Galle at the Berlin Observatory, and Galle, having better maps, was able to find the planet within a few hours. The discovery of Neptune was credited to Leverrier.

Florence Nightingale

(1820 - 1910)
Profession: Humanitarian
Florence Nightingale's parents were horrified. Their daughter had just announced her intention to be a nurse, and nursing was among the lowest of occupations, engaged in by the dirtiest and least-educated women.

But Florence was strong-willed, meticulous and believed God had given her a special calling. "On February 7th, 1837," she wrote, "God spoke to me, and called me into his service."

Despite her parents' objections, she studied nursing at Catholic and Protestant hospitals.
Then, in 1854, the horrible condition of British Army hospitals during the Crimean War prompted the government to ask her to run the hospitals in the Crimea, located on the north side of the Black Sea. With her emphasis on sanitation, she and her 38 nurses brought the hospital death rate from 42 percent down to 2 percent.

Though the strain of the war had permanently damaged her health, she later founded a nurses' school, wrote on hospital administration, petitioned the government for hospital reforms, and served as an inspiration for the founding of the Red Cross by Jean Henri Dunant.

Isabella Lucy (Bird) Bishop

(1831 - 1904)
Profession: Writer
English traveler and writer

First woman member of the Royal Geographical Society.

She traveled extensively and wrote a number of books, including The English Woman in America (1856), The Hawaiian Archipelago (1875), A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879), Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan (1891), and Korea and Her Neighbors (1898).

She founded several hospitals in China and Korea.

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