Some have greatness thrust upon them

To become a fixture in history is a luck lottery. Some have it; most don’t. Fame comes in many guises. Captain Scott and General Custer were famous for just one episode – dying. Heroically? Probably not in either case, as it happens. The mood of the times buoyed up their exploits and carried them forward.

Ponzi is infamous for donating his name to scheming, but who remembers the man? Henry Morton Stanley is famous for his uttering the sublimely obvious ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’. Others bubble into the consciousness for no discernable reason. Characters such as Beau Brummel or Nell Gwynne, their names stick in the collective memory though ardent pub quizzers would be hard put to it to quickly identify an historically verifiable fact of their lives.

Then there is a third group; those that were hugely famous during their own lifetime, whose repute is subsumed when the flame of history does not catch from the dying embers of reminiscence. To me they tell more about the age than those that get a chapter in a book or a statue in the square.

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2 Responses to Some have greatness thrust upon them

  1. It’s fun to think that Theodore Roosevelt’s father was NYC famous but hardly anyone remembers him.

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  2. actonbooks says:

    And William Randolph Hearst’s dad was a black-hearted mining speculator whose brief notoriety in California was eclipsed by junior. My post about the life of Albert Grant is another case in point of fame’s flame dimming. In the week of his death Americans and Canadians got to read of Albert Grant’s demise in (among other titles); The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Indianapolis News, Lawrence Daily Journal , Harrisburg Telegraph, Fort Wayne Sentinel, Alton Evening Telegraph, The Philadelphia Times, Logansport Pharos-Tribune, San Francisco Call, Reading Times, The Chicago InterOcean, The Norfolk Nebraska Weekly News, Altoona Tribune, Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Princeton Union, Journal Advance of Gentry Arkansas, Ottawa Journal, as well as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and so on. As you can imagine, every provincial British paper did the same, as did those in the British Empire in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and so on plus national papers in all the European capitals. He was that well-known. And now not one in a thousand — ten thousand has even heard of him.

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