Who knew that literary and musical Vincent and Mary Novello set forth in 1829 to bring a gift of money to the late W.A. Mozart’s aging sister? Or that Vincent occasionally got out of the carriage because its pace was too fast for him to enjoy the scenery, and walked along behind it instead? And who knew that there is a complete and annotated list of every belonging in Mozart’s apartment at the time of his very untimely death—a “mouse-colored overcoat,” for example? Lots of people, probably, but I didn’t until I read A Mozart Pilgrimage, ed. Rosemary Hughes (London, 1955), and the late Professor Otto Erich Deutsch’s Mozart: A Documentary Biography (Stanford, 1966). You don’t have to care about Mozart to enjoy the time-traveling these books afford.
It’s sobering to realize that of all the billions of people who have lived and died since the beginning, we know about so few. I always feel enriched by books that enlarge the cast of characters. History itself seems to make more sense when it’s not just Napoleon or whoever acting in a vacuum. Continue reading “Bit Players of History”