Thursday, April 05, 2007

A. L. Rowse's "Homosexuals in History"

At the time of the book's publication in 1977, Rowse was a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University, as well as the British Academy, according to the back cover. Subtitling his book, A Study of Ambivalence in Society, Literature and the Arts, he aimed to "throw some light on the predisposing conditions to creativeness, in the psychological rewards of ambivalence, the doubled response to life, the sharpening of perception, the tensions that lead to achievement" (from the Preface).

To my mind, his study of the relationship between sexual ambivalence and creativity is not a systematic, or even a methodical, one. Instead the book offers biographical sketches of famous, and less well-known, homosexual or bisexual male artists, politicians and society figures, the best of whom receive his highest term of praise, "a man of genius." The selection is Eurocentric and phallocentric. The tone swings from defensive (The Preface begins, "This book is decidedly not pornography.") to patrician; Rouse is not averse to calling idiots idiots and fools fools. In so many ways, it is a book of its own time.

Here is his roll-call of Great Gay Men, under his chapter headings:

1. Medieval Prelude
-William Rufus (c.1056-1100) King of England; favored "rather feminine types around him."
-Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1157-99) King of England; preferred the company of his minstrel, Blondel.
-Edward II (1284-1327) King of England; adored Piers Gaveston.

2. Renaissance Figures
-Erasmus (1466-1536) Humanist scholar; befriended Servatius Roger, fell for Thomas Grey, befriended William Blount.
-Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Artist, Scientist, Scholar; apprenticed Salai and Francesco Melzi.
-Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564) Artist, Poet; loved Tommaso Cavalieri.

3. Elizabethans and their Contemporaries
-Nicholas Udall (1505-56) Playwright, Headmaster of Eton; Sacked from Eton for his relationships with his senior boys.
-Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) Playwright, Poet.
-Henry III King of France; like his Mignons, distributed sexual favors to both sexes.
-Rudolf II (1552-1612) Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
-Anthony Bacon (1558-1601) Elder brother of Francis.

4. Francis Bacon and the Court of James
-Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Court Official, Scholar, Writer.
-James I (1566-1625) King of Scotland and England; loved his French cousin, Esme Stuart.

5. Courts and Coronets
-Louis XIII (1601-43) King of France.
-John, Lord Hervey (1696-1743) Memorist, Court Official; loved and married Molly Lepel as well as loved Stephen Fox and Francesco Algarotti.
-Horace Walpole (1717-97) Collector, Writer; loved his cousin, Henry Seymour Conway.
-Thomas Gray (1716-71) Poet; much attached to Norton Nicholls and fell for Bonstetten.

6. Frederick the Great and Some Germans
-Frederick the Great (1712-86) King of Prussia; loved and lost Hans von Katte.
-Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) Hellenist, Scholar.
-Count August von Platen (1769-1835) Poet; fell in love with a number of young men, including August Kopisch.

7. Regency Connoisseurs
-William Beckford (1759-1844) Writer; loved eleven year old William Courtenay, lived with Gregorio Franchi to the end of his life.
-Lord Byron (1788-1824) Poet; loved both sexes, fell in love with Lord Clare.
-Wlliam John Bankes (d. 1855) Connoisseur.
-Richard Heber (1773-1833) Book-collector.

8. Russia and Some Russians
-Tchaikovsky (1840-93) Composer; fell in love with pupil, Vladimir Shilovsky.
-Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) Impresario; had a fifteen-year relationshp with Filosofov.
-Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-195) Dancer.
-G. V. Chicherin (1872-1936) Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

9. Eminent Victorians
-John Addington Symonds (1840-93) Cultural Historian; had a number of companions, including at Davos Christian Buol: "It is a splendid sight to see him asleep with the folded arms and the vast chest pf a young Hercules, innocent of clothing."
-Horatio Brown (1854-1926) Scholar and Writer on Venice.
-Lord Ronald Gower (1845-1916) who executed the Shakespeare monument by the bridge at Stratford.
-Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) Poet and Political Writer; loved and lived with Albert Fearnehough and then with George Merrill.
-Walter Pater (1839-94) Art Critic.
-Oscar O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1856-1900) Dramatist, Writer; with Lord Alfred Douglas.

10. French Poets and Novelists
-Paul Verlaine (1844-96) Poet; with Rimbaud.
-Rimbaud (1854-91) Poet, with Verlaine.
-Comte Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) Poet.
-Marcel Proust (1871-1922) Novelist; with Reynaldo Hahn.
-Andre Gide (1869-1951) Novelist.
-Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) Writer, Film-maker.
-Francois Poulenc (1899-1963) Composer; companion Pierre Bernac.
-Max Jacob (1876-1944) Poet.

11. From Ludwig II to Rohm

12. Edwardians and Georgians

13. The Great War

14. Cambridge Apostles

15. A Handful of Americans

16. Cosmopolitan

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