The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier

The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier

The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier

The Most Beautiful Man in Existence: The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier

Synopsis

1833, Catherine Jane Hamilton returned from India to Edinburgh to seek a divorce from her husband, the physician Alexander Lesassier. The charge was adultery, and proof for it lay in a trunk containing her husband's personal papers. Catherine won her suit without difficulty and the trunk was deposited in the library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Alexander Lesassier died in 1839 during the First Afghan War; his trunk and its contents remained untouched for the next century and a half.

It has now been opened and a remarkable tale, told in remarkable detail, has spilled forth. The life of Alexander Lesassier, as expertly reconstructed by Lisa Rosner, affords startling insight into the sensibilities of an era and of the man who, in his own eyes and those of the women who adored him, was its most perfect creation.

Affable and self-absorbed, engaging and ignoble Lesassier was a physician, military surgeon, and novelist, who was also a shameless opportunist, charming scoundrel, seducer, and survivor. His is the story of a failed medical man who wanted to be something different and saw himself as entitled to more than he had; someone who can always be guaranteed to make the wrong choice, and then protest that he has done well.

This fascinating and deeply absorbing book offers rare insights into Georgian, Regency, and early Victorian Britain through the fortunes and misfortunes, hopes and whims, of "the most beautiful man in existence."

Lisa Rosner is Professor of History at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She is the author of Medical Education in the Age of Improvement: Edinburgh Students and Apprentices, 1760-1826.

Excerpt

In 1833 Catherine Jane Hamilton, nee Crokatt, returned from India to Edinburgh to seek a divorce from her husband, Alexander Lesassier Hamilton, M.D., then surgeon to the 41st Regiment. in Scotland a divorce could be obtained if the plaintiff could prove the defendant guilty of adultery, and it was the task of Catherine’s solicitor, John Gibson, to obtain that proof. To assist Gibson, Catherine turned over to him a trunk containing her husband’s personal papers, which he perused with close attention. Dr. Alexander Hamilton’s agent tried in vain to retake possession of the trunk. Catherine won her suit, and then brought another action against her former husband, this time for aliment, or support, from the time she left him until the day the divorce was granted. Pending the outcome of this second legal action, the trunk was deposited in the library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Catherine won this suit, too, but took no steps to pick up the trunk. Alexander died in 1839 without ever returning from India. the trunk remained in the library of the Royal College, dutifully listed in its catalogue of manuscripts but otherwise untouched, until 1987, when the newly appointed archivist, Joy Pitman, was given the task of turning the mass of journals, rolled-up letters, and family papers into a properly catalogued collection. At that point the story of Alexander Lesassier (as I will refer to him for most of the book), which started in its most literal sense two hundred years earlier, was once again made available.

It is a remarkable story, told in fascinating detail: a passage from youth to maturity that is at the same time a window into the social history of Great Britain at the dawn of the modern era. It is not a conventional story of a Great Doctor, although some great doctors turn up in its pages; nor is it a unified narrative about early promise, continued industry, eventual success and perfect happiness in one’s profession. Indeed, such a story would be anachronistic, for men of the early nineteenth century did not identify themselves wholly in terms of their occupations: confronted with the modern question “What do you do?” they would have been unable to give the modern brief answer. For Lesassier, the relevant question was not “What do you do?” but “Who are you?” He found his answers in novels, in his own sexuality, in social relations, and in warfare, as well as in his career of medicine. His journals, so carefully preserved in his trunk, were his great aids in this endeavor, and his process of self-construction, to use a modern literary term, continued throughout his life and was never entirely completed. “It is a . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.