For 135 years the Dictionary of National Biography has been the national record of noteworthy men and women who’ve shaped the British past. Today’s Dictionary retains many attributes of its Victorian predecessor, not least a focus on concise and balanced accounts of individuals from all walks of national history. But there have also been changes in how these life stories are encapsulated and conveyed.
Today, 27 October sees the centenary of the birth of the poet, Dylan Marlais Thomas. Born on Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, and brought up in the genteel district of Uplands, Thomas’s childhood was suburban and orthodox — his father an aspirational but disappointed English teacher at the local grammar school.
When it was first published in September 2004, the Oxford DNB brought together the work of more than 10,000 humanities scholars charting the lives of nearly 55,000 historical individuals. Collectively it captured a generation’s understanding and perception of the British past and Britons’ reach worldwide.
The 22nd of November is the feast day of St Cecilia, patron saint of musicians and church music, and the 22nd of November 1913 was the birthdate, in Lowestoft, Suffolk, of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). The young Britten displayed an extraordinary musical talent and his mother had high hopes for her son: young Benjamin, it was said, was to be the fourth ‘B’ after Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
As you prepare to gather round a bonfire and to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at fireworks, don’t forget (indeed, ‘remember, remember’) that you’re part of a well-established national tradition. What’s now known as the Gunpowder Plot was uncovered on the night of Monday 4 November 1605 when Thomas Knyvett, keeper of Whitehall Palace, led a second search of the vaults under the House of Lords.
As the First of April nears you may be planning the perfect joke, hoax or act of revenge. If so—and if you’re looking for inspiration—may we recommend some of British history’s finest hoaxers, courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. So this year, how about …
This Sunday, if you give (or receive) cards, flowers, and gifts for Mothering Sunday, spare a thought forConstance Adelaide Smith. In 1913 Constance read an article in a local newspaper which described plans to introduce to Britain an American ‘Mother’s Day’ celebration. The aim, as devised by the Philadelphian Anna Jarvis, was to establish a celebration to be held annually on the second Sunday in May
Published in 1937 The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first published work of fiction, though he had been writing on legends since at least 1915. His creation — a mythological race of ‘hobbits’, in which Bilbo Baggins takes the lead — had originally been intended for children. But from the outset Tolkien’s saga also proved popular with adults, perhaps appreciative of the hobbits’ curiously English blend of resourcefulness and respectability.