The Newport Connection

Jun 14, 2009, 11:04 AM |

In August of 1859, Paul Morphy, exhausted from his stay in New York where he had been feted and lionized since his triumphal return from Europe in May, traveled to Newport, RI for some rest.  While there, he met with some residents, particularly at the resort where he was staying. Other than that, not much is known of his little excusion.


My friend, the Bishop Berkeley, knowing of my interest in the 19th century, sent me some information on a certain individual from Newport, RI, named Minnie Temple, who was a contemporary of Morphy, who had similar intellectual pursuits and who traveled in similar circles.  After some research I was unable to find any concrete connection between the two besides the idea that Ms. Temple, even at age 14, would have almost undoubtedly been aware of the news-worthy Paul Morphy and apprised of his visit to Newport. As the Bishop Berkeley suggested, it's fascinating to contemplate the possibility of their having met. The James family  had been in Europe (Geneva) and only returned to Newport in 1858. In 1860 they went back to Europe. So while they were there during Morphy's visit, unfortunately Minnie didn't become a part of the James family until moving to Newport in 1861.]


Minnie Temple


Mary Temple, usually called Minnie or Minny, was born on December 7, 1845 (incidentally, Dec. 7 is my own birthday).  She was the daugher of Henry James Sr.'s sister Catherine, making her the first cousin to two great minds of the 19th century, Henry and William James. She was ophaned at age nine.

                      Henry James                                             William James


Minnie was also a friend of the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.     



According to Robert D.Richardson in Willaim James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism -

"Minnie had dark hair, large eyes, and a direct, unsettling gaze. She was pretty enough, but it was her animation, her wildness, and her avidity for life that made her irresistible. In one photograph, though her eyes are downcast, her face shows much feeling. Her hair has been cut close, and determination is evident in the line of her chin. In another photo, her eyes are open wide and she looks so restless and full of energy that it seems she can't sit still. She was in all things a free spirit. She was, William said later, "unique and without analogue in all my subsequent experience of people."

Harry [Henry James] observed that Minnie was "absolutely afraid of nothing she might come to by living with enough sincerity and enough wonder."6 He also appreciated her "restlessness of spirit, the finest reckless impatience," and he much admired Minnie's rule of life, which was that the remote possibility of the best thing is better than the "clear certainty of the second best." "I will write you as nice a letter as I can," she wrote John Gray, a young man a few years older than William James and later a well-known Boston lawyer, "but would much rather have a talk with you. As I can't have the best thing I am putting up with the second best, contrary to my pet theory." She had, said Henry [James], "beyond any equally young creature I have known a sense for ... play of life in others...."

... Minnie Temple was the real-life prototype for Henry James's most interesting American girls, for Daisy Miller, Isabel Archer, and Milly Theale, and it was this provocative and irresistible Minnie - charged to the lips with life - who broke in upon William James's turbulent, unfixed, unsatisfied existence when he returned home from Germany. "Everyone was supposed, I believe, to be more or less in love with her," Harry wrote William some time later, adding that he, Harry, never was, though he admitted to William that he had "enjoyed pleasing her almost as much as if I had been."" Tom Perry kept a valentine poem Minnie had written to him. [Oliver Wendell] Holmes [Jr.] had been attracted to her; John Gray was deeply interested - so was William. As Harry said, they all were in love with her, more or less, and they all said so, more or less freely, later. As to whom shewas in love with, rumor said Gray, Gray said Holmes, and Holmes - who was at the time the closest to William and in the best position to know - said it was William that Minnie had her eye on, and it was William who was in love with her...."


Minnie Temple had tuberculosis and died in March of 1870 at the youthful age of 24.