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With the slyest of winks at his Oxford peers, Rowse embarks on a little jeu d'esprit: a treasure hunt through politics and literature in search of the most luminous homosexuals of history. And what a delectable, star-studded cast: Leonardo and Michelangelo, Erasmus and Francis Bacon, a garland of Elizabethan courtiers, numerous monarchs, and writers from Melville to Mashima. Always a foe of ""Puritan brainwashing,"" Rowse tenderly notes how many of these ""Outsiders"" had that special vision which sparks creativity, nay genius. Of course the Renaissance and Tudor England were the most tolerant of special gourmet tastes--though rarely, in monarchs; Henry III, last of the Valois, surrounded by his beautifully groomed and bejeweled Minions, offended ""ordinary philistines and brute populace alike."" Rowse adds that since the ""ordinary folk were so filthy and unwashed,"" one's sympathies are ""wholly with the Minions."" James I was another sad case, widely ""misunderstood""--he wanted only to be loved, to play ""sugar-daddy"" to his various Bedchamber attendants. Of course many of the subjects were bisexual, or simply engaged in passionate 'friendships."" Some wed, usually with disastrous results: Tchaikovsky's marriage drove him to attempt suicide and--Rowse observes poignantly--""While Verlaine lived with his wife he wrote no poetry."" One could go on: to the Great War which gave such a boost to homoerotic relationships, or to America where Melville is alleged to have adored Hawthorne--""Nobody seems to have grasped the essence of it. This was that both men were markedly feminine."" For Rowse, the essence is that homosexual, or at least androgynous, is better; intelligence and beauty flourish in both sexes and the men who knew this usually were cultivated, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and far above the common herd. Frivolous as history, whatever special interests it serves.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan