The Souls

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The Souls was a small, loosely-knit but distinctive elite social and intellectual group in the United Kingdom, from 1885 to the turn of the century. Many of the most distinguished British politicians and intellectuals of the time were members. This original group of Souls reached its zenith in the early 1890s, and had faded out as a coherent clique by 1900.

The group formed as a response to the damper on social life caused by the political tension of the Irish Home Rule debate. Existing social circles were rent by angry arguments between proponents and opponents of the Gladstone ministry's efforts in 1886 to bring about full Home Rule. Many people in society wanted a salon where they could meet without fighting about politics. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, a member of the group, described the aims and objectives of The Souls, and above all, of what they wanted to avoid.

In my disappointment about Egypt I turned with redoubled zest to my social pleasures of the year before, and at this time saw much of that interesting group of clever men and pretty women known as the Souls, than whom no section of London Society was better worth frequenting, including as it did all that there was most intellectually amusing and least conventional. It was a group of men and women bent on pleasure, but pleasure of a superior kind, eschewing the vulgarities of racing and card-playing indulged in by the majority of the rich and noble, and looking for their excitement in romance and sentiment.[1]

The name reportedly came from Lord Charles Beresford, who said: "You all sit and talk about each other's souls—I shall call you the 'Souls'".[citation needed]

The original Souls included the following people. It is important to note that most—or perhaps all—of the women in this list were members of The Souls on their own merits before they married other members.

Percy Wyndham, his wife, Madeline Caroline Frances Eden Campbell, their two sons and three daughters and the children's spouses were all original members of The Souls. Through their mother, the children were descended from Irish nationalist Lord Edward FitzGerald. Wyndham commissioned the now-famous painting of his daughters, The Wyndham Sisters, by John Singer Sargent. The trio are the centre of the 2014 book Those Wild Wyndhams by Claudia Renton.

The Coterie[edit]

The Coterie, often considered to be the second generation of The Souls, was a celebrated group of intellectuals, a mix of aristocrats, politicians and art-lovers, most of whom were killed in the First World War. There were children of The Souls among them, notably Lady Diana Manners, daughter of Violet Manners, Duchess of Rutland. Officially the youngest daughter of the 8th Duke of Rutland, she was in fact the daughter Harry Cust. She married one of the Coterie's few survivors, Duff Cooper, later British Ambassador to France. After his death, she wrote three volumes of memoirs. Raymond Asquith, eldest son of Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, was a member of the Coterie, but not out of sympathy with his stepmother, Margot Tennant Asquith. He was killed on the Somme.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, My Diaries; Being a Personal Narrative of Events 1888–1914. Part One: 1888–1900 (New York: Knopf, 1923), p. 53.
  2. ^ a b "Person Page". www.thepeerage.com. Retrieved 26 September 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Abdy, Jane and Charlotte Gere. The Souls. London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984. ISBN 0-283-98920-3
  • Ellenberger, Nancy W. Balfour’s World: Aristocracy and Political Culture at the Fin de Siècle. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015. ISBN 978 1 78327 037 8
  • Lambert, Angela. Unquiet Souls: The Indian Summer of the British Aristocracy, 1880–1918. London: Macmillan, 1984.
  • Nevins, Allan. Henry White: Thirty Years of American Diplomacy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1930.