16/12/2018

PRINCE ALBERT'S DEATH AT CHRISTMAS

The royal Christmas tree at Windsor Castle


Queen Charlotte (the consort of King George III) first introduced a pine tree in the royal rooms at Christmas time. But, it was Prince Albert who really encouraged and popularised the decorated festive tree as a more general tradition - and one that we still follow now. 

However, on December 14th, 1861 when the Windsor Castle tree would normally have glittered with its hundreds of tiny candles, every single light was doused ~ because of Albert's sudden death at the age of only 42.


Victoria and Albert enjoying Christmas with their children



In the years that followed on, Queen Victoria still celebrated Christmas, but she hated to be in Windsor which reminded her too painfully of her husband's death there. Instead, she travelled to the Isle of Wight and the Italianate palace of Osborne House where, during Albert's lifetime, the family had spent so many happy times together.


The royal family in happier times


Another change to the family tradition was the fact that, after his father's death, Bertie, the Prince of Wales preferred to spend his Christmas days at Sandringham, claiming to find Osborne House 'utterly unattractive'.


Bertie, (Edward) the Prince of Wale, and his father, Prince Albert, on the right.


But, perhaps an element of guilt influenced this decision. Shortly before his father's death there had been a notorious scandal involving the then future king who was studying at Cambridge, and the actress Nellie Clifton. Intrusive press publicity had caused Prince Albert great distress. He wrote Bertie many letters and, eventually, in appalling weather, travelled to meet his son in Cambridge. 


 Prince Albert's deathbed at  Windsor


The stress of such a journey, combined with a pre-existing illness (some say caused by the Windsor drains) led to Albert coming home again in a state of some exhaustion. He died very soon afterwards in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria definitely blamed the Prince of Wales for this sad end, as illustrated by this line which is taken from a letter written to one of her daughters: "That boy...I never can, or ever shall look at him without a shudder."





In the VV's novel, The Goddess and the Thief, Victoria's grief is dramatised - as is her ensuing interest in the hiring of spirit mediums. Much of the book is fictional, but it is true that the widowed Queen very often tried to contact the spirit of her husband. As time passed she relied more and more upon her closest friend, John Brown - the game keeper who also claimed to be a spirit medium. There were rumours of private seances, some of them described by the Queen herself - a notoriously regular diarist. But these records were destroyed at the time of Victoria's own death; being viewed by her advisers and other family members as potentially embarrassing.

What a shame that is! What interesting reading they would make today.




An Audible version is also available.

12/12/2018

THE CHRISTMAS PANTOMIME BEGINS...

From the V & A Archives


The VV really loves this engraving. It reminds her of the time when she wrote The Somnambulist, her first Victorian novel which opens with an imaginary scene of a pantomime at Wilton's Hall, even though Wilton's did not host such shows at the time of the novel's setting. 

Many other places did. During the Victorian era a Christmas trip to a pantomime was a thrilling traditional thing to do, with shows made up of story and songs, with rhyming couplets, double entendres, and a lashings of topical wit as well.


From the V & A Archives


The name of 'pantomime' stems back from as long ago as Ancient Greece, when an actor or 'pantomimus' told stories by the means of mime or dance, with that act often accompanied by music and a chorus line.






In the middle ages, the Italian Commedia dell’Arte (for which we also owe our thanks for the creation of Punchinello, or Mr Punch) was a type of entertainment where troupes of performers travelled round to give shows in markets or fairgrounds. They improvised their story lines around the character Harlequin, who wore a diamond-patterned costume and carried a magic wand. Later, this part was famously played by Grimaldi the clown, who died in 1837 - the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.


Joseph Grimaldi as Harlequin


As Victoria’s reign progressed the stories told by Harlequin became entwined with the antics of rural English Mummers. Eventually those shows evolved into quite grand productions – although many pantomimes back then were still then based around Harlequin's character. 



From the V & A Archives



The proof is found in the titles for shows such as Harlequin and the Forty Thieves ~ or  Jack and the Beanstalk; or, Harlequin Leap-Year, and the Merry Pranks of the Good Little People (surely some dwarves had been employed). In 1863 W S Gilbert wrote Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren; or, Fortunatus and the Waters of Life, the Three Bears, the Three Gifts, the Three Wishes, and the Little Man who Wooed a Little Maid ~ though that particular event may have been somewhat ambitious in scope and dramatic complexity. Years later Gilbert was heard to confess that perhaps it was not the best title to use.


Augustus Harris


But, for whatever reason, as time went by the Harlequin character was included much less often. Productions such as those put on by Augustus Harris, manager at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, were based on traditional fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, or Cinderella. These were still extravagant stagings featuring ballets, acrobatics and enormous processions of specially recruited children. There would be magicians, and slapstick, cross-dressing and innuendo. There was audience participation too, in the vein of the still familiar refrains of  'Oh no, he isn’t…Oh yes, he is'. 


From the V & A Archives


There were also the popular ‘skins’, when actors would dress in animal garb, even as frightening insects such as in the show, Cinderella (above).  However, more comically, they would play the back or the front end of a pantomime horse or cow ~ a role once undertaken at the Stockport Hippodrome by an aspiring young actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.





Shows could go on for hours. Back in 1881, Augustus' Harris’ The Forty Thieves began at 7.30pm and ended at 1am the next morning. One scene alone lasted for over forty minutes while the thieves (each with his own followers) processed across the stage. The staging cost was £65,000, the equivalent of several millions today. But then, with popular music hall acts such as Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno employed to take the starring roles, Harris’ shows were a great success – artistically and financially. 




03/09/2018

DOCTOR WILLIAM PRICE ~ WELSH DRUID



Doctor William Price was a scholar and surgeon who gained fame at the age of 84 when cremating his dead baby son on the side of a Welsh mountain. 




A charismatic and charming young man, Price socialised as easily with the Welsh working class people among whom he grew up, as he did with the wealthier London elite met while he studied medicine. Being a talented student, at the age of only 21 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. 

When returning home to work in Wales be became very much involved in the Chartist movement, and also did a great deal to improve the health of the local workers - being very much against smoking, and keen on natural medicines, with a healthy diet (vegetarian here), and plenty of open air exercise. Such pioneering practice in a social healthcare system went on to have great influence on the views of Aneurin Bevan.

One of the earliest feminists, Price believed in Free Love in relationships and the abolition of marriage. He was also very much immersed in alternative religious faiths - studying Hinduism, Greek Mythology, as well as Egyptology, not forgetting the cult of Druidism that was very popular indeed in the Welsh Victorian era.

At this time there was a rising fear that the country may lose its identity and, inspired by the work and faith of the Druid, Iolo Morganwg, Price hoped to encourage interest in the Welsh culture, language and history. (This was also the era when Lady Charlotte Guest was translating The Mabinogion to English, with competitive eisteddfods run to encourage the arts and the spoken word.)

Price believed the land’s many standing stones were places of spiritual worship and hoped to create his own ‘temple’ at the summit of a mountain overlooking the town of Pontypridd. When attempts to raise £10,000 to build a great museum failed, he refused to doubt his mission, especially after making a visit to the Louvre in Paris - after having been forced to flee to France when involvement with the Chartists’ rioting placed him at risk of imprisonment.

At the Louvre he was said to have viewed a 2,000 year old Greek Stone, and believed that he could understand every one of its engravings, claiming that the stone had ‘spoken’ to him of his future as a ‘bard of the moon’, whose first-born son would then become the Messiah of the Druid faith.

Back in Wales again, from around the age of 40, Pryce became yet more unconventional in his dress as well as his beliefs. Growing his hair down to his shoulders and also wearing a long black beard, he dressed in flamboyant outfits, often coloured emerald green. He also wore a crown upon his head that was made from the body of a fox.




At the age of 71, having fathered three daughters, but still no son, he went on to practice medicine in the medieval hilltop market town of Llantrisant. It was there, at the age of 83 that he met a young woman, Gwenllian Llewellyn, almost 60 years his junior, and who - despite all previous statements of not agreeing with marriage - he then went on to marry in a pagan open air ceremony, at which three women friends appeared in costume as The Three Graces.

The longed for son was born to them on August 8, 1883 and was named as Lesu Grist Price (the Welsh version of Jesus Christ). When that child then sadly died from a convulsion at only 5 months old, his father attempted to perform a cremation on East Carlen hill.

No doubt he had been influenced by the Hindu cremation ceremonies, and stories of ancient druids who were also said to have burned their dead. But, ever the social activist, Price was very much aware of the growing movement in Great Britain for people to chose such ceremonies over traditional burials, even though such an option was illegal at the time.

There was a great deal of outrage and also some suspicion that the child could have been murdered, with Price then attempting to destroy any evidence linked to such a crime. Crowds gathered and the corpse was taken away before the flames could devour it. A sensational court case followed on where Price defended his choice and claimed ~



“It is not right that a carcass should be allowed to rot and decompose in this way. It results in a wastage of good land, pollution of the earth, water and air, and is a constant danger to living things.


After being found not guilty, Price demanded his child’s body back, and while his young wife kept a mob at bay with pistols and Irish wolfhounds (that, the VV would have liked to see!) the cremation was finally performed, after which Price erected a 60 foot pole with a moon symbol set on the top of it as a token of remembrance.




The event was a cause celebre, going on to influcence the law passed in 1902 to legalise cremation. Meanwhile, Price fathered two more children, another son and then a daughter, until, at the age of 92, he stood at his doorway one day and announced, “I will lay on on my couch and I shall not rise again.” When his wife tried to give him some cider to drink he demanded to have champagne instead, and while he sipped away at that Dr William Price gently passed away.

Following her husband’s death, on January 31 1893, Gwenllian ordered 9 tonnes of coal to be delivered to the summit of East Caerlan. There a great iron grid was erected in which to hold the coffin. 20,000 tickets were sold to those who wished to attend the cremation, with many spectators coming along dressed in full Welsh costume. There was a carnival atmosphere.



Price’s daughter, Penelopen Elizabeth grew up to devote herself to promoting the Cremation Society of Great Britain. In 1947 she unveiled a plaque in memory of her father in the Welsh town of Llantrisant. A statue was installed and unveiled in the early 1980's.


*


Dylan Thomas’ short story, The Baby Burning, is said to be based on the true events reported in this article.

The film in this link  (and also shown embedded in the post below) was created by Matt Brodie as part of his senior thesis at Emerson College.




Also with thanks to www.llantrisant.net

28/06/2018

THE REAL ALICE IN WONDERLAND ...


 Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852-1934)



In 1864, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - a young clergyman and mathematics don at Oxford university - presented a little girl he knew with the unique Christmas gift of a 15,000 word handwritten manuscript.




Lovingly adorned with his own illustrations, Alice's Adventures Underground had been conceived on a summer's day back in 1862, when Lewis Carroll (as he was soon to be known) had spent a day on a boating trip with Edith, Lorina and Alice - the three daughters of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church college.


 The Liddell sisters, with Alice on the right. Photograph by Lewis Carroll




Alice was Carroll's favourite. He first met her in the deanery gardens in the April of 1856, and the day was marked out in his diary as one of great significance. Carroll was 24 years old - twenty years older than Alice.






In later years he was to claim that the character of the little girl in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was not based on any living child. But there are many references alluding to Alice Liddell. 

Alice's birthday was May 4th, and during the Mad Hatter's tea party we read -

'The Hatter was the first to break the silence. “What day of the month is it?” he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket and was looking at it uneasily...Alice considered a little, and then said, “The Fourth”.'





The epilogue for Through the Looking Glass is in the form of a poem, in which the first letter of every line combines to form the entire name of Alice Pleasance Liddell -


A boat beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear
Pleased a simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life what is it but a dream?



'Still she haunts me' - Carroll's poem possesses a dreamlike yearning and is filled with poignant memories of that balmy summer's day when he rowed along the river with Alice and her sisters. 

It is a sensitive subject, but Carroll's interest in young girls is also to be found in a collection of photographs he took - many of which the artist destroyed before his death. However, surviving images can still be viewed today. They are held at the National Media Museum, though you may need to telephone to make a prior appointment to view them.


Lorina and Alice Liddell, posing as Orientals


Carroll also destroyed a page from his diary in 1863, after which his close relationship with the Liddell family came a very sudden end. In later years, his own family explained that the page in the diary referred to Mrs Liddell being unhappy at what she assumed to be Carroll's interest in courting a certain Miss Pricket, who was then the children's governess.

It is thought by some that the character of the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass was based upon Miss Pricket, who Carroll described in the following way - 

"The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm; she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the tenth degreee, the concentrated essence of all governesses!" 

So, she was firm and not unkindly, and perhaps he did find her attractive. But when it came to Alice Liddell, he wrote of his disappointment when he met her again in later years, and felt that she had "changed a great deal and hardly for the better."





Whatever Lewis Carroll felt, Alice Liddell grew up to be a beautiful, assured young woman - so much so that she was courted by Queen Victoria's youngest son when he was studying at Oxford.




However, Queen Victoria was adamant that Prince Leopold should only marry a woman of  royal blood. However, when he did so, he named his first daughter Alice. And when Alice married Richard Hargreaves, another Oxford student - well, perhaps it was mere coincidence that the prince was her son's godfather, and the boy was Christened Leopold.


Prince Leopold and his wife, doting on their daughter, Alice.


Despite the loss of her royal love Alice still went on to become a successful and happy society wife. It was only after her husband's death, when she found herself to be in need, that she finally resorted to selling her original copy of Alice's Adventures Underground

In 1928 the manuscript was auctioned at Sotheby's. It was sold for £15,400, which was four times the reserve price. 

In 1948, it changed hands again, this time to be purchased by a group of American businessmen, who donated the precious manuscript to the British Museum in Bloomsbury.



In 1932, to mark the centenary of Lewis Carroll's birth, Alice visited New York and received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. The trip proved to be exciting but also very tiring, with a deluge of letters from 'Alice' fans, and intense interest from the media. 

Alice's death soon afterwards, in 1934, was marked by an obituary in The Times. Her ashes are now interred in the family tomb in Lyndhust, in Hampshire, where the following words have been inscribed: The grave of Mrs Reginald Hargreaves, the Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.


The poignant last page of Alice's Adventures Underground





Dreamchild  (1985) is a film scripted by Dennis Potter with Carroll's imaginary characters realised by the puppeteer, Jim Henson. It tells the story of Alice's journey to a Depression era New York with flashbacks to her privileged Victorian youth with Carroll, who is played by Ian Holm. The part of the older Alice is taken by Coral Browne, who went on to recieve a London Evening Standard Film Award for Best Actress. Sadly, I can only find it available in VHS tape format in the UK, but it is available in DVD format from Amazon in the US.





02/05/2018

CHANG AND ENG, THE SIAMESE TWINS...




The term Siamese Twins was popularised by Chang and Eng, the co-joined identical brothers who were born in Siam (now known as Thailand) on May 11, 1811. 

The twins were connected at the chest by a thick band of skin and, although their livers were linked, in this day and age they could have been successfully surgically separated.  At that time, their mother refused any attempt to do so, fearing that one of her sons might die. Instead, she helped to gradually stretch the band of flesh that bound the boys together until they were able to stand side by side, rather than being face to face.




Ironically, growing up in Siam, the boys were known as The Chinese Twins – owing to their father being Chinese, and their mother half-Chinese, half Malay. Also, when they were first born, they were viewed as a bad omen. Some even said they hailed the coming of the end of the world; instead of which their growing fame brought prosperity to their village.
In 1828, the twins were discovered by an English trader called Robert Hunter who, along with his accomplice, the wonderfully named Captain Abel Coffin, took the boys on a tour of America, and also around Europe – except for France which denied them admission. They proved to be very successful, even meeting up with royalty. However, in 1832, they disposed of their managers’ services and set up in business with the American showman, P T Barnum.



In 1839 they both retired, living in North Carolina where they purchased a plantation.  By 1844, they changed their names, taking the surname of Bunker, and becoming United States citizens. Both of the twins had also married – Eng to a Sarah Ann Yates, and Chang to her sister, Adelaide.



They had an interesting domestic arrangement, in which the two couples shared one bed, especially constructed to accommodate four adults. But despite many children being born – ten to Adelaide and Chang – eleven to Sarah and Eng – the course of their love did not run smoothly. 

The sisters - who do look formidable - began to argue between themselves and eventually decided to set up separate households, with the twins then moving between the two. 



After the American Civil War, when their plantation and its slaves were lost, the twins were forced to go back on the stage, but they never achieved quite the same success as that attained in earlier years.

A drawing of the autopsied twins


Chang and Eng died on the same day, in January 1874. Chang had contracted pneumonia and when Eng woke to find his brother dead, despite pleas from his loved ones to allow a doctor to operate and perform a separation, he refused to be parted from his twin, also dying within a matter of hours.

The twins bodies were then the subject of a medical autopsy.  Their fused liver is still preserved to see at the Mutter Museum in Pennsylvania.



Mark Twain wrote a short story based on the lives of the brothers. It is called The Siamese Twins.
In 2000, Darin Strauss also wrote his novel, Chang and Eng. It went on to win several awards, and the following description is taken from Publishers Weekly ...

In his stunning debut, Strauss fictionalises the lives of famous conjoined brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, whose physical oddity prompted the term Siamese twins. With compelling characterisations and precise, powerful prose, this audacious work should appeal equally to fans of historical, psychological and literary fiction. Born in the Kingdom of Siam in 1811, the twins... are completely separate individuals with different personalities and needs. Serious and reserved Eng narrates their story, which begins on their parents' boat on the Mekong River...An unscrupulous American promoter brings them to America in 1825. Eng reads Shakespeare, preaches temperance and, all his life, wishes desperately to be separated. Chang is outgoing and garrulous, drinks heavily (which angers Eng, who must also experience the effects of Chang's indulgence) and cannot see himself as less than two. As young boys, the first time the brothers see other children their own age, their philosophical differences are apparent: "'They are half formed!' Chang whispered. To me [Eng] they seemed liberated." The brothers find celebrity as a circus act (displayed in a cage) in the U.S. and abroad...The author gracefully confronts the complicated issues of race, gender, infidelity, and identity, as well as the notion of what is normal. Strauss's vivid imagination, assiduous research and instinctive empathy find expression in a vigorous, witty prose style that seduces the reader and delivers gold in a provocative story of two extraordinary men who wish only to be seen as ordinary.





02/04/2018

HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN AND THE LITTLE MERMAID...

The Little Mermaid meets the Prince - by Dulac

Hans Christian AndersEn was the Danish author of many classic fairy tales such as The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.

Hans Christian Anderson 1805-1875

As the child of a washerwoman and shoe maker, Anderson’s childhood in Odense was one of poverty. His grandfather was said to be mad and his grandmother worked in a lunatic asylum. An aunt ran a brothel and a half-sister was a prostitute who in later life attempted to blackmail her brother. However, despite such a motley crew, Hans' father was always keen to insist that his son was related to Danish royalty. No proof of this claim has ever been found.

When Anderson’s father died, the somewhat prudish and self-obsessed son who used to play with dolls in the street while singing in a lovely high tenor voice, left his home town for Copenhagen where he studied at the university and hoped to pursue a career on the stage. But when that dream failed to materialise, he worked on his writing instead – producing novels, travelogues and poetry – and, in due course, creating the fairy tales that would lead to the fame he always craved –

‘My name is gradually beginning to shine, and that is the only thing I live for...I covet honour in the same way a miser covets gold.’

A recent Danish stamp in honour of Hans Christian Anderson

By the end of his life, the Danish government proclaimed him a national treasure with designs for a statue being made long before his actual death. He was feted by such luminaries as Balzac, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Wagner and Liszt. Charles Dickens welcomed him into his home for a visit that lasted five weeks – though there was talk of it being a great strain. Kate Dickens called him a ‘bony bore’ and when Anderson finally left the house Dickens pinned a note to a wall of the room in which his troublesome guest had slept: ‘Hans Anderson slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES.’

When it came to his love life, the lanky, gauche and effeminate writer had very little luck. He felt himself an outsider, and his grief for the lack of a sexual ‘companion’ is shown in this diary entry –

‘Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!’

What he desired remained unrequited. Anderson cultured strange ‘love triangles’ where his wooing of a sister often hid the lust for the brother, as in the case of Riborg Voigt – a letter from whom was found in a pouch on Anderson’s chest at the time of his death. 

Jenny Lind

A courtship of the singer Jenny Lind for whom he wrote The Nightingale led on to her being nicknamed the Swedish nightingale. But again, the ‘affair’ was unconsummated and while the two ‘friends’ were staying in Weimer with Duke Carl Alexander, Anderson was more entranced with their host. The two men were often seen holding hands,sobbing over their mutual adoration of Jenny while the duke – ‘... told me he loved me and pressed his cheek to mine...received me in his shirt with only a gown around...pressed me to his breast, we kissed...’  

But it was Andersen’s life-long love for Edvard Collins (whose sister he also courted) that inspired him to write The Little Mermaid – a story of obsessive longing and pain, and the intense desire to be ‘transformed’ which the author expressed in this letter –

‘I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench...my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.

The VV is now inspired to read The Little Mermaid again - and no doubt to view the story in quite a different light.

31/03/2018

A BRIEF HISTORY OF EASTER EGGS...



The egg has long been a symbol of rebirth and fertility. Thousands of years ago, a simple bird's egg might have been a gift, often painted so as to celebrate the colours and the vibrancy that marked the coming of the spring, when the sun god stirred to life again. 

With the coming of Christianity, the egg continued to be used as a symbol of the faith. In 1307, Edward I’s household accounts included the following entry: 18 pence for 459 eggs to be boiled and dyed or covered with gold leaf and distributed to the royal household

If you also want a golden egg, wrap a chicken's egg in onion skins, secure the skins with string or rubber bands, then simmer in a pan of water for up to an hour – by which time the egg should be marbled gold. 

Then again, you might prefer a more valuable alternative, such as the flawless jewelled affairs created by Carl Faberge in the nineteenth century for the Russian Czar and Czarina, each marvellous egg constructed of enamelled platinum, and containing a smaller golden one. 

A Faberge egg


Such a rare and priceless gift is unlikely to find its way into our hands this Easter morning. But many children's fingers will be sticky from holding chocolate ~ the melting quality of which makes it  possible to mould into egg shaped confectionery.



Price list for some of the earliest Cadbury's Easter eggs


The first chocolate eggs were developed in France and also Germany. In England, in 1842, John Cadbury constructed the first of the solid chocolate eggs. But, not until 1875, when a press was used to separate the cocoa butter from the bean, could a finer chocolate be made, much easier to melt and mould. The first commercial Easter eggs were made of smooth plain chocolate and filled with small dragees, or sweets, but other designs soon followed on, with icing decorations and flowers made of marzipan, their boxes wrapped with ribbons ... just as they still are today.





For a related post, see: THE SWEET SUCCESS OF CADBURY'S.

03/03/2018

MR BENTLEY'S MAGICAL ICE CRYSTALS



We've had a lot of snow and ice this week, which makes the VV think about the photographs of snow flakes made in the nineteenth century by Wilson Alwyn Bentley.




Born in 1865, 'Snowflake Bentley' was raised on the family farm in Jericho, in the American state of Vermont where the annual depth of snowfall was around 120 inches.

From childhood he was said to be fascinated by the natural world. At the age of fifteen his mother gave him the gift of a microscope. From then on he became captivated by the close-up views of snow crystals, which he placed on a black velvet base so as to see them clearly.  But, to try and preserve the sights he saw – with the ice flakes often melting before he could try and sketch them – he set his mind on attaching a camera to the microscope (now known as Photomicography), and as soon as this had been achieved he compiled a unique collection of work which is still, to this very today, considered as remarkable.




Describing his snowflake photographs as "ice flowers" or “tiny miracles of beauty”, he produced more than 5,000 of these ephemeral works of art during the course of his life–time, by the end of which his work was sought by the Harvard Mineralogical Museum and the University of Vermont.

Today his photographs are held by academic institutions all over the world. The Smithsonian (to whom he sent 500 prints in 1903, in the hope that they would be preserved for the sake of posterity), now keeps a comprehensive record in their institution archives.




It is something of an irony that he died from a case of pneumonia, having walked for six miles through a blizzard of snow to try and find his way back home.








Before Bentley died, a book of his snowflake prints was published by McGraw Hill. The book, produced in various forms, is still available today.