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Wednesday September 03, 2014
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Delbanco's Count of Concord

 

continued

It turns out that Benjamin Thompson was very real. Born in 1753 in Massachusetts, he married a rich widow when he was still a very young man. He had already proved himself a restless intelligence, entering into correspondence with friends about scientific issues, but he made one big mistake: he chose loyalty to the king during the American Revolution. He provided information to the British army (yes, he was a spy) and had to flee his homeland, abandoning his wife and daughter. He prospered in Europe, first gaining knighthood in England and then becoming a count of the Holy Roman Empire in Bavaria, where he designed and built the famous English Garden in Munich, besides conducting important studies on the nature of heat and light. He developed soups to feed the poor, and redesigned fireplaces to make them less smoky and more efficient. If he had stayed in America, we would all know him. The fictional descendant who composes this fictional biography (actually written by Delbanco) tells us we don't know him "because he picked the losing side, because his sympathies were Tory and history gets written by the stay-at-homes."

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