Such Silver Currents: The Story of William and Lucy Clifford, 1845-1929

By M. Chisholm

A lively biography of the Victorian mathematician and philosopher William Clifford and his wife Lucy, the influential journalist and novelist.

ISBN: 9780718895679


Such Silver Currents is the first biography of a mathematical genius and his literary wife, their wide circle of well-known intellectual and artistic friends, and through them of the age in which they lived.

William Clifford is now recognised not only for his innovative and lasting mathematics, but also for his philosophy, which embraced the fundamentals of scientific thought, the nature of the physical universe, Darwinian theory, the nature of consciousness, personal morality and law, and the whole mystery of being. Clifford algebra is seen as the basis for Dirac’s theory of the electron, fundamental to modern physics, and Clifford also anticipated Einstein’s idea that space is curved. The book includes a personal reflection on William Clifford’s mathematics by the Nobel Prize winner Sir Roger Penrose O.M.

The year after his election to the Royal Society, Clifford married Lucy Lane, the journalist and novelist. During their four years of marriage they held Sunday salons attended by many well-known scientific, literary and artistic personalities. Following William’s early death, Lucy became a close friend and confidante of Henry James. Her wide circle of friends included Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Leslie Stephen, Thomas Huxley, Sir Frederick Macmillan and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 212
Illustrations b&w, 1 colour

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Monty Chisholm has researched the lives of William and Lucy Clifford from archival material, biographies of those who knew them, and hitherto unpublished collections of letters. Her book provides an insight into a hitherto unexplored corner of Victorian and Edwardian intellectual life.


Preface and Acknowledgements
Foreword by Sir Michael Atiyah

Introduction: Setting the Scene

Part I: 1845-1875
1. Lucy’s Early Years
2. William’s Childhood in Exeter
3. The Cambridge Years
4. ‘The Great Scientific Missionary’: University College, London
5. Life in London: Friendship with George Eliot and George Lewes
6. William’s Death in Madeira

Part II: Lucy Alone, 1879-1929
7. Beginning Again
8. Friendship with Rudyard Kipling
9. Literary Critic and Hostess
10. Friendship with William and Henry James
11. Transatlantic Friendships: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and J.R. Lowell
12. Bloomsbury Connections: Leslie Stephen and Virginia Woolf
13. London Friends at the Turn of the Century

Part III: Heritage, Literary and Scientific
14. Lucy Clifford’s Books and Plays
15. The Clifford Heritage

Afterword by Sir Roger Penrose