The Newport Connection

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.


  • 7 anni fa


    the 14th is my birthday

  • 7 anni fa


    "Yet - and I am now reflecting while drinking my tea -  it's quite possible that I am actually more or less in love with a certain Sarah Beth aka Batgirl."

    I suspect you have lots of company, davidetal !  Surely, a good many of Caissa's devotees may be supposed to be more or less in love with the Batgirl!

    For those interested, I note that Henry James devotes the final chapter of his autobiographical "Notes of a Son and Brother" to Mary ("Minnie") Temple.  (This book was published in 1914, long after Minnie's death.)  There is much in the chapter that is moving.  Here's a link to that book (which is in the public domain) at Google Books.  The last chapter starts on page 453:

    Henry James concludes his book speaking of Ms. Temple:

    "Much as this cherished companion's presence among us had represented for William [his brother William James] and myself -- and it is on *his* behalf I especially speak -- her death made a mark that must stand here for a too waiting conclusion.  We felt it together as the end of our youth."

    I hope you are all in good spirits....

  • 7 anni fa


    "I wouldn't have thought this topic would interest me normally but I quite enjoyed it."


    Thanks. I know the story is only tenuously related to chess, and even that relation somewhat forced, but Minnie seems to have the power to reached across time and touch certain individuals.

  • 7 anni fa


    " it's a story far to common"

    You can say you don't like the story; you can say my writing stinks, but to say that the tale of a young woman who captivated, intellectually as well as physically, at least 4 great minds of her century and served as the model for serveral heroines in stories by one of the great authors of that century - and this woman never saw 25 years, is far too common, is downright silly.  Still, I'm glad you read it.

  • 7 anni fa


    "I, too, am now more or less in love with Minnie Temple. . .

    . . .it's quite possible that I am actually more or less in love with a certain Sarah Beth aka Batgirl."


    I think you must be a Byronic Romantic.  :-)

  • 7 anni fa


    nothing great, it's a story far to common

  • 7 anni fa


    Interesting articel thank you for posting

  • 7 anni fa


    Great post.  I like the idea of her meeting Morphy.  Hoping you'd write that she played chess -- though, then she wouldn't be a good prototype for James's innocent women.

  • 7 anni fa


    I, too, am now more or less in love with Minnie Temple. I must be, since the poignancy of her absurdly young death evoked a visceral response within me. I sighed and will now make myself a cup of tea, which I often do when feeling some distress. 


    Yet - and I am now reflecting while drinking my tea -  it's quite possible that I am actually more or less in love with a certain Sarah Beth aka Batgirl. If writing - that music of the mind - is the food of love, that view might be right on.

  • 7 anni fa


    Nice article, thanks for sharing the info.


    Its wierd, I wouldn't have thought this topic would interest me normally but I quite enjoyed it. I think maybe it was the style it was written in more than the topic that kept me reading. I really like well written pieces, So keep it up and good to see you blogging again!

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