Introduction

by
Professor Reginald L'Ampere


I was both honoured and delighted to be asked to collate extracts from the works of Jeremy Selman-Troytt. However, I must confess that whilst I was excited by the opportunity to re-read his wonderful manuscripts I was simultaneously daunted by the task of having to edit and reject so much marvelous material. This is a problem with which all academicians (and students of Selman-Troytt also) will be familiar, for his output was, quite literally, astonishing and none of it was written in generalities. A single volume of his work, for example, would fill this book several times over; and it should be borne in mind that he numbered eighty-nine full-length volumes among the one hundred-and-fifty thousand or so pages that he published between 1886 and his tragic death in 1916.

For this anthology I have chosen excerpts from his full-length case-studies, from his varied monographs, and from his personal correspondence in the hope that, in concert, they may produce a more detailed portrait of the genius behind such a prodigious talent.

Selman-Troytt was born in 1868, seventeenth son of an extremely wealthy London family whose fortune had been made in the manufacture of glazier's putty following the Great Fire of London in 1666. His father, Josiah, and grand-father, Joshua, both hailed originally from Market Harborough where their commercial and manufacturing reputation was such that a bargain struck in the market-place was often described as being: 'As hard as Troytt putty'.

Josiah, always a headstrong and vigorous man, moved the company headquarters to London in the Spring of 1846. With characteristic single-mindedness he then, within twenty-seven days, courted and married Lady Bethany Twirler - the glazing heiress - catching her attention and her heart by sending her a gigantic facsimile of her favourite pet spaniel, hand-fashioned from cast iron and flame-hardened putty by workers at the Selman-Troytt Manufactory. At over eighteen feet (c. 6 metres) in height and weighing over nine tons it was indeed a princely tribute and caused Lady Bethany to quip: 'I will not know which is the real one until one of them licks my hand. I shall then know that the other is the model. Also, one is bigger than the other and that will help me discriminate. Failing those two tests I shall call out and the one that heeds my summons will be alive'. Their union represented not only a sound business merger but the joining of two hearts, and she was to bear him children continuously for twenty-five years (although many of their off-spring did not survive childhood) undergoing an astounding thirty-two confinements.





2

Their oldest surviving son Jonah, with the assistance of his brothers John and Jonas, took on the responsibilities of the family firm early in 1870 in order to allow their parents the freedom to pursue their hobbies in a carefree retirement. Jonah (who from a very early age had asked the question: 'How hard can making putty be?!') was a fantastic success and between 1871 and 1887 he quadrupled Britain's putty production in real terms, producing thereby a surplus which could be exported to all parts of the Empire. In the meantime his father produced a constant stream of miniature cigar boxes inlaid with exquisite marquetry, whilst his mother embroidered over two thousand samplers bearing the Selman-Troytt motto: Per Vitrum Ad Fortunam.

With such commercially enterprising forebears already in situ, and with academic honours for the family already being pursued by various of the middle children such as Joseph (Eton), Jasper (Oxon.), and Jonty (Cantab.), it was not expected that Jeremy should function at any level of proficiency (whether physical or intellectual) beyond that expected of a gentleman of leisure. Accordingly, he was never sent to school, and received no formal education whatsoever beyond a three month sojourn with a private tutor at the age of fourteen. Sadly, Jeremy's talent did not distinguish itself by its precocity and even these lessons were abandoned when his father discovered - during an impromptu oral examination over dinner - that his son had neither Latin nor Greek, and indeed was so weak at mathematics that an angry Selman-Troytt père was moved to exclaim: 'T'lad couldn't even combine two bags of putty in a bath!'

But Jeremy took a different view of this failed attempt to lift him on to the first rung of literacy and was so inspired by the final words of his departing tutor: 'Believe no man who calls you a fool - even those who know you as well as I do.', that he underwent a period of intensive self-education which began with reading skills acquired from surreptitious glances into old copies of The Lancet, made when his father's back was turned. His choice of reading matter - although totally inadvertent - was to engender two significant changes within the developing child: it was to foster a fascination with science and investigation which continued unabated until his untimely death at the age of only forty-eight; furthermore, it provided a depth of specialisation which meant that he could, from the age of seventeen onwards and in theory at least, perform amputations and other major surgery.




3

As a Victorian, Selman-Troytt saw that the 'natural' purpose of education was that of moral improvement; but he was also heavily influenced by the pioneering spirit of technological and scientific progress that gripped the age. Both factors are very evident in his work. His writings display a keen sense of observation over, and a fascination (one might even say a 'passion') with all topics from the monumental to the trivial, in particular those which display a direct connection with himself. In an age of discovery and 'wonderment', where the dedicated 'amateur' could still discourse on level terms with the learned professional, what distinguishes Selman-Troytt from his peers is not only his unflagging enthusiasm but also his diligent application even in the face of personal hardship. No change within his body escaped his scrutiny, no event was deemed too insignificant to record, and no detail considered inconsequential if it might instruct others.

Selman-Troytt was crushed by falling masonry in 1916.


Professor Reginald L'Ampere
Emeritus Professor of English
University of Helsingborg, 1998









Back to Home Page