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The Most Beautiful Man in Existence

The Scandalous Life of Alexander Lesassier

By Lisa Rosner

Publication Year: 2011

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."

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 2-3


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pp. 4-5

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: A Journal of Life

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pp. vi-xii

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 ...

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1 Interest or Love

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pp. 1-12

In an unnamed town sometime in the 1790S, poor Mrs. Neville lay dying. Her husband had preceded her to the grave by some months, leaving her destitute; six of her children had died long since. All that remained to her was her young son Edward, who, too young to understand his mother's condition ...

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2 Born to Misfortune

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pp. 13-25

From this point in time our view of Alexander Lesassier shifts from distance to foreground, for he found a new friend, "One in whom we can confide our inmost thoughts, whilst we remain assured that they will never be revealed-One who is impartial and uninterested ...

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3 Hot from Your Studies

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pp. 26-39

On 3 November 1805, Alexander Lesassier set out on the two day journey to "Edinburgh my native place" for medical improvement, sitting up with the coachman to catch his first view of the city, the moon shining "with a most vivid splendor" and "the entrance to ...

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4 This Despicable Rock

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pp. 40-53

His warrant received, Alexander Lesassier's immediate future was assured: he was now a military man with a gorgeous new uniform, "scarlet coat-with black velvet collar-epaulet of gold on black velvet--A cocked hat with ...

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5 The Most Beautiful Man in Existence

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pp. 54-71

On 24 March 1808, after five weeks in London, Lesassier boarded the packet boat bound for Aberdeen to join his regiment at Fort George. «Fare thee well great city!" he wrote, «I have by the Divine Providence met with such good fortune that I never before enjoyed such ...

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6 Tinsel of Military Reputation

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pp. 72-92

On 2 July 1809, Lesassier had his first view of Lisbon: "a most pleasing spectacle;' he wrote. "The houses appear very well built & are supplied with gardens. Many superb edifices rear their heads above the surrounding buildings." He also received ...

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7 Soothing Hope of Speedy Promotion

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pp. 93-107

Lesassier spent his three months' leave with Ella, much of it in Manchester to make sure no rumors of their affair could reach her husband. He had not been the least bit faithful: in addition to Rita and the three Portuguese women from whom he thought he had caught venereal ...

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8 Arrived at Wealth and Dignity

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pp. 108-124

The allied army was successful in its drive to the northwest. The French force holding Salamanca had to retreat on 24 May 1813, falling back with the main army to Burgos; Burgos in turn had to be abandoned on 13 June for the city of Vitoria; the allied ...

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9 Thrown on the Wide World

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pp. 125-140

The war was now over. At 6 A.M. on 10 June 1814, "the two English brigades" of the Third Division «were formed in the great square, & the Portuguese brigade"-preparatory to beginning the long march home-«filed through them whilst ...

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10 Appearances Are of Essential Consequence

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pp. 141-160

Lesassier commenced practice on his own shortly after his marriage in 1817. Through the Lying-In Hospital, he had made contacts among the poor, and it was through them, as he had thought, that he was able to ultimately obtain more reputable practice. He had delivered the wife of ...

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11 Consecutive Chain of Corroborative Evidence

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pp. 161-179

By 1822, Lesassier realized that his establishment on Picardy Place was too expensive, and he made the decision to move to a cheaper one in the Old Town, in Argyll Square. It was a prudent decision, for he reviewed his ...

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12 Compare What I Might Have Been with What I Am

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pp. 180-197

If Lesassier were a novel's villain, he would have died here, as a just reward for his ill behavior; if he were its hero, his uncle and Catherine's mother, repenting on their deathbeds, would have left him a fortune. He himself looked for a speedy change: either he would sell everything and leave Edinburgh, or Catherine would ...

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Epilogue: One Series of Hardships and Privations

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pp. 198-202

The Hamiltons probably arrived in Moulmein by the fall of 1831, but they resided there as man and wife only until April 1832. Initially there seems to have been no doubt in either of their minds that they would stay together on foreign service: Lesassier had never hinted at leaving ...

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A Note on Sources

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pp. 203-204

This book is largely based on the manuscript writings in the Alexander Lesassier Hamilton Collection of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. The collection as a whole consists of twenty-five archive boxes holding thousands of pages of correspondence, journals, and drafts ...


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pp. 205-240


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pp. 241-249

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p. 250-250

All authors incur enormous debts in the course of completing a book, but the majority of my debts, like Lesassier's, are centered on Edinburgh. My deepest gratitude is to Joy Pitman, former archivist at the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, who generously provided photocopies of most of Alexander Lesassier Hamilton's papers and also shared her own ...


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pp. 251-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203165
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812234862

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Hamilton, Alexander Lesassier, 1787-1839.
  • Physicians -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Physicians -- Scotland -- Edinburgh -- Biography.
  • Great Britain -- Social life and customs -- 18th century.
  • Great Britain -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
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