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The Wyndham Sisters, by John Singer Sargent, 1897 (Metropolitan Museum)

The Souls were a small, loosely-knit but distinctive social group in England, from 1885 to about 1920. Their members included many of the most distinguished English politicians and intellectuals.

The group formed as a response to the damper on social life caused by the political tension of the Irish Home Rule debate. Existing social circles were rent by angry arguments between proponents and opponents of the Gladstone ministry's efforts in 1886 to bring about full Home Rule. Many people in society wanted a salon where they could meet without fighting about politics.

The name of the group was bestowed by Lord Charles Beresford, who is quoted as having said: "You all sit and talk about each others' souls — I shall call you the 'Souls'".

Among the original Souls were:

Also prominent in The Souls were the five Wyndhams (children of Percy Wyndham): George, a politician and writer; Guy Percy, a soldier; Madeline, who married Charles Adeane; Mary, who married Lord Elcho; and Pamela, who married Edward Tennant, Margot Asquith's brother. John Singer Sargent painted a joint portrait of the three Wyndham sisters, as well as an individual portrait of Henry White's wife, Margaret.

This original group of Souls reached its zenith in the early 1890s, and had faded out as a coherent clique by 1900.

The Coterie

The Coterie was often considered as the second generation of The Souls. They were a mix of aristocrats, politicians and art-lovers. They were patrons of artists of the time, including Edward Burne-Jones and James Whistler.

References

  • Abdy, Jane and Charlotte Gere. The Souls. London : Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984.
  • Lambert, Angela. Unquiet Souls: The Indian Summer of the British Aristocracy, 1880-1918. London : Macmillan, 1984.
  • Nevins, Allan. Henry White : Thirty Years of American Diplomacy. New York : Harper & Brothers, 1930.
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