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."
List of Illustrations
Preface: A Journal of Life
1. Interest or Love
2. Born to Misfortune
3. Hot from Your Studies
4. This Despicable Rock
5. The Most Beautiful Man in Existence
6. Tinsel of Military Reputation
7. Soothing Hope of Speedy Promotion
8. Arrived at Wealth and Dignity
9. Thrown on the Wide World
10. Appearances Are of Essential Consequence
11. Consecutive Chain of Corroborative Evidence
12. Compare What I Might Have Been with What I Am
Epilogue: One Series of Hardships and Privations
A Note on Sources
"Remarkable. . . . Reading this book is a bit like stumbling across a new Pepys, or discovering the journals of James Boswell."—Roy Porter, author of London: A Social History
"Lesassier is a rogue more likely to pop up as a character in a Restoration comedy than anywhere else. But in historian Lisa Rosner's hands, the trunk full of journals he left behind provides fresh insights into the development of the medical profession and English society in the early 1800s."—Boston Globe
"A reassuring reminder that no single era has a corner on sexual license."—Boston Globe
"We are here given a vivid picture of the medical profession at the time, an officer's life in the British Army, and what may have been one of the more dissolute lives of the period. We follow our often-scandalous hero from medical training to his efforts to obtain an army commission to his service in places from Gibraltar to India, where he died in the first Afghan War in 1839."—Library Journal