Pieter Brueghel, 1563
During only a short period of time, the influence of Romanticism changed the world in profound and unexpected ways. Reacting against the advent of industrialism, the beginnings of urban sprawl, and rapid population growth; Romanticism disrupted deeply held beliefs in rationality, ethical absolutes, and broadly held status quo values. It questioned the possibility of objective truth, encouraged spontaneity, innovation, spiritual freedom, and an intuitive/creative approach while striking a powerful blow against nationalism, fascism, totalitarianism, and the influence of tradition creating what we now think of as the modern age. It popularized the idea that we all have a soul mate out there somewhere who could banish our loneliness and who we discover like a "lightening bolt," with a "crush," and then live "happily ever after," until "death do us part."Described as “the inaugural moment of modernity” and a "Counter-Enlightenment,” it promoted feeling over reason, spontaneity, impromptu music, and the value of intense emotion.
Abdu’l-Bahá' ' عبد البهاء
1844 – 1921 CE
Left in poverty and exile at 8 years old when his father, Bahá'u'lláh (founder of the Bahá'í faith), was imprisoned and all his family’s possessions looted; Abdul Baha grew up in a Palestinian prison colony and after 40 years of imprisonment at age 64 was released giving him the opportunity to more effectively spread these teachings of social service, racial and gender equality, environmental protection and a universal unification of religion, politics, science and government. He was knighted by the British government for his humanitarian work during WWI and today Bahá'í has grown to over 8 million followers, become the world’s fastest growing religion during the last 100 years, the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region.
1744 – 1818 CE
One of the most exceptional women in American history
The first USA Second Lady and second First Lady, wife and advisor to president John Adams, mother of president John Quincy Adams, and one of the most exceptional women in American history; Abigail Adams became instrumental in the founding of the United States. A powerful influence for women’s rights, she emphasized the need for their education. A strong voice against slavery, she believed it was evil and a threat to democracy. Opposed to dogmatic, superstitious religious belief, she advocated for a heart-felt connection with a wisdom beyond words rather than a rote belief. Her accomplishments become more impressive when you consider the culture of her time when women’s roles were mainly domestic and educating women was considered foolish. Abigail never went to school but her self-education made her the most wise and influential in an extremely influential family.
1809 – 1865 CE
Greatest American president, iconclast, skeptic, self-educated lawyer and congressman opposed to the Mexican–American War whose opposition to the expansion of slavery caused 7 slave states to form the Confederacy when he was elected president; Lincoln skillfully maneuvered between “War and Anti-War Democrats” who wanted to compromise with the South, “Radical Republicans” who wanted to harshly punish the South, fixated secessionists, and British interventionists. His oratory and common sense helped guide the USA through its biggest political and moral crisis while abolishing slavery, preserving the Union, and modernizing the economy. Using the army to protect escaped slaves, he closely supervised the war and planned a compassionate rebuilding of the South until his assassination.
1762 – 1806 CE
The first black to become a French general, the highest-ranking one ever in a European army, and until 1975 the highest ranking one in all the Western world; Alexandre Dumas’ mother was a slave, his father a nobleman who sold him but then bought him back and provided an exceptional education. Dumas became a pivotal leader during France’s Revolution Wars, greatly respected by Napoleon Bonaparte, but known by his enemies as the ”Black Devil.” His grandson, also named Alexandre Dumas used him as an inspiration for his most famous characters and became one of France's most popular writers of all time. Sarah Bernhardt promoted his memory and symbolism of breaking shackles.
Alexis de Tocqueville
1805 – 1859 CE
Pioneering researcher into the conflicts between freedom and equality
French diplomat, historian, political scientist, and one of the founding theorists of sociology; de Tocqueville analyzed social conditions, living standards and the relationship of the individual to the state. Active in politics and strong proponent of political freedom, he traveled through the United States in an effort that produced one of the most influential books of the time—Democracy in America—as well as helping Europe transition from an aristocratic to a more democratic political order. Although the rallying cry of the revolutions he supported was “Freedom and Equality”, he described the conflict between the two and the need for balance. Pointing out the potential of a tyranny of the minority, the dangers of individualism, materialism, and majority rule leading to mediocrity; he predicted many of the social issues we grapple with today.
Anatole France (Jacques Anatole Thibault)
1844 – 1924 CE
Son of a bookseller and true bibliophile, librarian for the French Senate, and modern lineage holder of Epicurean thought; Anatole France was venomously attacked by Nazi collaborators but defended and admired by George Orwell. His entire set of writings were banned and prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church but in 1921 awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized as they are by a nobility of style, a profound human sympathy, and grace.” Journalist, poet, social commentator, historian, playwright, and famous novelist; he became the model for a narrator in Proust's In Search of Lost Time.
1808 – 1875 CE
The first impeached and one of the most egregious of the white supremacist US presidents
First US president impeached in trials that became the country's biggest entertainment focus with color-coded, prized tickets going to the likes of Walt Whitman and Anthony Trollope; Andrew Johnson—who never attended school—openly embraced white supremacy, defied Congress and the Constitution, tried to assume king-like powers, turned the attorney general into his spin doctor, and obstructed justice in every direction. Claiming the US as a "country for white men," he vetoed the Civil Rights bill, gave amnesty to more than 7000 Confederate war criminals, and yelled speeches advocating for the execution of his political opponents, and helped create much of the South's post-war problems.
Born in poverty and uneducated, he attempted to reestablish slavery with a different name by encouraging laws like the "black codes," laws that made it illegal for former slaves to rent or buy land, and stealing land given to former slaves which was then given to the former plantation owners.
After Mark Twain called Congress "damned cowards" for not impeaching him, the House voted 126 to 47 for impeachment but it failed in the Senate by one vote, the vote of Edmund Ross who was believed to have been bribed but became one of Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."
Anna Grigoryevna Dostoyevskaya ригорьевна Достоевская
1846 – 1918 CE
The woman behind the man and clear example of “better half,” Dostoyevskaya started helping Dostoyevsky as a 19-year old secretary when he was 44 and soon became not only his devoted and energetic wife; but also, his very capable business partner who helped him through extreme poverty, illness, and gambling addiction that at one point lost not all their money but her clothing as well. Not remembered very well by history but essential to Dostoyevsky’s success, she took charge of all their financial issues, publishing and business affairs, made him Russia’s first self-publish author liberating him from a lifetime of poverty and debt. To disprove one of his disparaging remarks about women, she became one of the first female Russian philatelists and worked on her collection for over 50 years while she wrote two biographies; saved his manuscripts, letters, and photographs; and set up a display of them in a State Historical Museum.
1847 – 1933 CE
Leader of the theosophy movement after Helena Blavatsky died, political and women’s rights activist, persuasive speaker giving up to 60 public lectures a year; Annie Besant had a direct and deep influence on major 20th century political and religious changes. Friend and supporter of George Bernard Shaw and his socialist agenda, she championed causes from birth control to workers’ rights. She campaigned for Indian independence, became president of the Indian National Congress, and supported her friends Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Discoverer, step-mother, and promoter of Jiddu Krishnamurti; she began by educating him into the theosophist role of "World Teacher,” remained close even after he rejected this direction, and attempted following his teachings of rejecting the superstitious and spiritually materialistic aspects of theosophy.
1815 – 1882 CE
Novelist as teacher
Victorian novelist, political aspirant, writer of 47 novels and many short stories; Trollope focused his popular stories on everyday, householder events—situations average people could identify with and learn from. He understood and vividly described the role of money and materialism in the daily business of common people, officials, and institutions. They examined the time’s social, political, and cultural issues like the unfortunate role of women in Victorian society. His influence spread through his fans—people like Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan, Sir John Major, and John A. Macdonald; John Kenneth Galbraith, W. H. Auden, George Elliot, Sue Grafton, Edward Fitzgerald, and David Mamet. Alec Guinness liked his books so much, he never traveled without one and Siegmund Warburg said "reading Anthony Trollope surpasses a university education.”
1788 – 1860 CE
Though mainly unnoticed during his life, after he died Schopenhauer’s work had a huge impact on psychology, literature, art, philosophy, music and science. He was one of the first Western thinkers to affirm major aspects of Eastern philosophy. He called himself a Buddhist and compared his philosophy to basic Buddhist teachings. Einstein extolled Schopenhauer’s life-long influence and he was also respected and emulated by people like Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Freud, Jung, Joseph Campbell and Thomas Mann. His influence continues today into fields like modern evolutionary psychology.
Bahá'u'lláh بهاء الله, ("Glory of God")
1817 – 1892 CE
Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, persecuted, tortured, exiled and imprisoned for 40 years, considered a manifestation like Moses, the Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad; Bahá'u'lláh continued and expanded a tradition that had broken from Islam and started a new religion based on a Shambhala-like myth of a hidden good rising up in the future to overcome corruption and evil to establish a great golden age. He taught the unity of all mankind, all genuine religions, the equality of men and women, the compatibility of science and religion and that it is time now to create a global society with universal education, a bill of rights, respect for diversity, a democratically elected world government and collective security based on justice and equality with a world police force, language and currency.
Balzac (Honoré de Balzac)
1799 – 1850 CE
Novelist, playwright, journalist, founding influence on European realism; Balzac only lived 51 years but wrote 92 novels, many short stories and plays. Famous for his 2000+ morally ambiguous and multi-faceted characters, he called himself a “Secretary of Society” and thought of his novels as a kind of history. He pioneered and made popular both the “novel of ideas” and the multi-generational, sequencing novel that carried characters from one story and period of their life to another. A dramatic failure in most of his life, he ran for a political office but only received 20 votes while just one of the other candidates had almost 160,000. No matter how much money he made, he was never self-supporting because of an insatiable appetite for luxuries and he had to frequently change homes and names to hide from creditors. Multiple business ventures failed miserably but his money-making optimism didn’t fade. His influence extended to luminaries like Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Henry James, Akira Kurosawa and Friedrich Engels among many more.
Bhikṣanapa བྷི་ཀྵ་ན་པ། ("Siddha Two-Teeth")
940 CE –
Bhikshanapa བྷི་ཀྵ་ན་པ། “Siddha Two-Teeth” (10th century CE)
Low caste and very poor, Bhikshanapa unexpectedly inherited some wealth. Like most people today winning a lottery or inheriting unaccustomed riches, he quickly lost it all along with his fair-weather friends. This led to a period of intense self-loathing and depression but also an openness to meeting and hearing a teacher and new way of experiencing the world. Seeing through his consumerism andspiritual materialism, he metaphorically (and possibly physically too), lost all but two of his teeth which became symbols for the balance and harmony of wisdom and skillful means. Resuming his external life style of roaming from village to village, he transformed from a miserable, needy beggar only thinking about himself into a wonderful teacher constantly dedicated to helping others. Mahasiddha #61
Blavatsky, Helena Еле́на Петро́вна Блава́тская
1831 – 1891 CE
Co-founder of Theosophy
Mystic, medium, philosopher, co-founder of Theosophy; Blavatsky traveled widely and claimed to meet many “Masters of the Ancient Wisdom.” She studied and practiced in Tibetan monasteries, became one of the first Westerners to ever become a Buddhist, worked closely with Hindu reform movements, and criticized the spiritual materialism of the spiritualist traditions she became linked with. She worked hard to bridge religion to and with philosophy and science but the scientific community characterized her as “one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters in history.” She wrote about ancient giants she believed made Stonehenge, the history of Atlantis, and many tenants of esoteric spiritualism. Her efforts became a major influence on the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism in the West as well as on Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and the New Age Movement.
Campaka ཙ་མྤ་ཀ (“The Flower King”)
820 CE –
Extremely wealthy, powerful, caught up in pleasure, and sitting on a throne made from sweet-smelling flowers; Kampala met a wandering yogi. He tried to impress the sage with the splendors of his kingdom and the beauty of his flowers but the sage told him the truth, that his flowers smelled great but his body not so much, that his realm was wonderful but before long it and he would be gone. Realizing the superficiality and meaninglessness of his life, Kampala began a spiritual path but only shifted his physical materialism into spiritual materialism. Directed to focus his meditation on “the flower of pure reality,” he practiced and finally realized the empty essence of his mind. Mahasiddha #60
1809 – 1882 CE
Revolutionary scientist, one of the most influential characters in human history, and originator of the theory of evolution and natural selection; Charles Darwin generated a scientific consensus that recast humanity’s understanding of itself. Following his father’s decisions, he became a failure in his early academic efforts, a failure in his studies to become a doctor, and a failure in his career as a clergyman because of his intense interesting in beetles and entomology. He traveled to remote islands studying coral reefs, barnacles, animals, fish, insects of all kind and was “struck with the variability of every part in some slight degree of every species.” Unlike Thoreau’s book Walden that didn’t sell enough copies to cover the paper cost, Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species sold out on the first day in print launching a debate that soon led to a dual between scientists and became a controversy that continues today. He studied earthworms for 40+ years and this became the topic of his last book which he wanted to write quickly "before joining them.”
1814 – 1889 CE
English journalist in the US covering the civil war, Scottish poet, songwriter and novelist; Mackay used Gracian’s insight that “all fools are fully convinced” as a foundation for much of his writings. He described the Middle Ages mania called the Crusades, the 17th century Dutch tulip phenomenon as one of many economic/financial bubble manias, 16th- and 17th-century witch trials when thousands of people were executed as witches, and other national and philosophical delusions. A strong proponent and eloquent “apostle of doubt,” he wasn’t taken seriously during his lifetime but is still a big influence today referenced by stock traders, Forbes magazine, BusinessWeek, Neil Gaiman, Financial writer Michael Lewis, and many others.
1840 – 1926 CE
"the driving force behind Impressionism"
A founder, instigator, and vivid example of Impressionist painting; Monet brought Boudin's dictum of preserving "one's first impression" to artistic near-perfection. It was only shortly after his birth that the discovery of metal-tubed pigments made painting outdoors practical. This new technology opened up an expansive world of light variation and Monet—like ancient explorers of uncharted new lands—launched exploratory journeys into these new visual countries. He frequently painted many times the same scene under differing light conditions.
Beginning his commercial artistic career at only 15 selling popular caricatures, this initial success disqualified Monet from the acclaimed art schools and sent him on a road of his own including years on the move avoiding creditors and seeking a home and place to paint. Unlike the majority of pioneering artists, however, he was recognized during his lifetime and died both prosperous and famous. During the last half of his life, he traveled less and less while cultivating the gardens of Giverny which—like his paintings—included bright patches of color in a messy but balanced whole.
1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator
Two-time US Secretary of State and presidential candidate, leading Supreme Court attorney, and Senator; Daniel Webster was named as one of the five greatest senators in history, gave "the most eloquent speech ever delivered in Congress,” and his style—for at least 75 years—became the main exercise for students of oratory. A key supporter of President John Quincy Adams and leading opponent of Andrew Jackson, historians consider him instrumental in maintaining United States union over the Southern efforts of creating a states-rights Confederacy. In John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, he described one of his positions risking denunciations and his presidential ambitions, one of the “greatest acts of courageous principle in the history of the Senate.” On the other hand however, he supported wars against Native Americans, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, war against England because they wouldn’t return fugitive slaves, and opposed the Dorr Rebellion. In many ways, Webster represents the art of compromise—both the positive and negative aspects of giving away something important for something even more important. For example, he supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which made it easier for slave owners to recapture runaway slaves; but, in exchange, California was admitted into the Union as a non-slave state tipping the balance to more non-slave than slave states.
Disraeli, Benjamin (Earl of Beaconsfield )
1804 – 1881 CE
Political balance between mob rule and tyranny
Highly accomplished two-time UK Prime Minister (and only one ever born Jewish), active novelist, poet, close friend of Queen Victoria, and one of the most influential European statesman; Disraeli led a complex and difficult to categorize life. Many saw him as an eloquent charlatan; many as a strong, capable, and patriotic leader. Countering the status quo attitude toward Jews as being inferior, he redefined Judaism as race rather than religion and described Jews as superior in talent and influence. This ironically, may have led to the later fear and resentment toward Jews that culminated in programs and concentration camps. A founder of the modern Conservative party, he brought an isolationist Britain into collaboration with Europe. After the failed Indian Mutiny of 1857 (caused by pig and cow greased bullets) and the annexation of India to Britain, he proclaimed Queen Victoria “Empress of India.” Although he promoted a kind of paternalistic monarchy and imperialism, his voice remains relevant in the ever-challenging balance between overly democratic mob rule on one side and autocratic tyranny on the other.
Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe
1809 – 1849 CE
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)
Inventor of the detective genre, founding father of modern science fiction, central figure in the Romanticism movement, poet, fearless "tomahawk man" critic, and first well-known American writer to live on writing alone; Edgar Allan Poe influenced literature here and around the world as well as television, music and movies still popular today. An orphan at two, often troubled by gambling and gambling debts, forced to drop out of college after one semester because of financial problems that plagued him his entire life, “Mad genius" and "tormented artist;” Poe’s influence extended into the the worlds of cryptography, physics and cosmology as one of his theories foreshadowed the Big Bang theory by 80 years.
1826 – 1891 CE
A slave secretly married to a slave with a different master and fearing their forced separation, Ellen (at least ¾ European) cut her hair short and disguised herself as a white man traveling with his servant who was really her husband. The elaborate disguise included facial bandages and a sling so she wouldn’t have to sign papers since she couldn’t read or write. She had to act a different gender, race, and social class. After many days traveling by train and steamer they arrived safely in the north and then - fearing slave hunters - went on to England where they wrote a popular account that became an important influence for abolition. After the war, they returned to Georgia and started an agricultural school.
1830 – 1886 CE
Though now considered one of the greatest figures in American literature and one of the most important poets, only a few of Dickson’s poems were published during her lifetime and those were significantly edited and changed by publishers. Her first collection wasn’t printed until years after her death and a complete collection wasn’t published until 1955. A serious student of botany, she made and maintained a vast collection of plants; highly introverted, creative, unique, and challenging the assumptions of her time; she seldom left her house but wrote 40 volumes of almost 1800 poems.
Fanny Osbourne Stevenson
1840 – 1914 CE
The inspiration and strength behind Robert Louis Stevenson, we can thank Fanny for such literary treasures as Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Black Arrow, and Treasure Island. Following her first husband to the silver mines of Nevada traveling by wagon and stage-coach, she lived in a rugged mining camp shooting a pistol and rolling her own cigarettes. After leaving her gold and prostitute-chasing husband, she met a struggling Robert Louis Stevenson in Paris, saw his writing genius and began a fierce love affair that inspired, encouraged, and supported him. This provided a strong platform on which he built some of the world’s most endearing characters and stories. In her later life she was described as "the only woman in the world worth dying for."
1820 – 1910 CE
The founder of modern nursing, she started the first secular nursing school in the world, emphasized preventive medicine and holistic health, improved healthcare for all classes as well as hunger relief in India. She helped abolish harsh prostitution laws and expanded acceptable roles for women. A strong Christian, she was critical of organized religion, appreciated pagan and eastern religions, and strongly opposed discrimination of all kinds. She inspired worldwide health care reform and her work improved the situation for women everywhere. Her influence remains strong and the Florence Nightingale Declaration has been signed by over 18,500 nurses from 86 countries.
1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice
Escaped slave, most influential 19th century black leader, adviser to Abraham Lincoln, champion of the working class, author, orator, and newspaper editor; Douglass eloquently agitated for the abolition of slavery, racism and capital punishment; for women’s rights, free public education, and land reform. Calling racism a “diseased imagination,” he convinced Lincoln to let blacks fight in the Civil War and helped enlist troops. Internationally famous, author of an American classic autobiography, a father of liberation theology, and the first African American in many political positions; his memory symbolizes and inspires the spirit of people everywhere to resist oppression and work for social justice.
1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist
Co-author of The Communist Manifesto, polyglot speaking 9 languages, businessman, poet, journalist, philosopher; Engels grew up in a wealthy family that owned and operated large factories. He saw the horrible, slave-like working conditions, long hours, environmental degradations, and child labor from a very clear, first-hand perspective. He financially supported Karl Marx, edited his writings, and wrote influential books of his own. Together they organized workers, envisioned egalitarian societies, and developed communist theory. In spite of his dedicated, political activism, in order to finance Marx’s work, he reengages in many successful business ventures. Risking imprisonment, hiding from police, and participating in armed rebellions; his efforts to create a more equitable world went far beyond theory and speculation. Although claimed as inspirational founder of Stalin’s Soviet Union, his emphasis on individuality and the appreciation of literature, music and culture set his true philosophy in direct odds against Stalin. While most of the credit for Marxist theory went to Marx, Engels—behind the scenes editing, filling in gaps, and amplifying—may have had a more important influence. He lived with the fierce, Irish radical Mary Burns for over 20 years until her death; but, because they both considered state and church-controlled marriage a form of oppression, never married.
1844 – 1900 CE
Philosopher, scholar, poet, unifier of opposites and courageous critic of Western Civilization, Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is Dead,” that Christianity is “one great curse, one great intrinsic depravity,” and then started a “campaign against morality.” With a deep appreciation for Buddhism and rejecting external authorities like a “God” or a Church, he extolled the ability for people to discover their own morality grounded in reality rather than following herd-based ethics and beliefs. With a dedication to the sense over the words, people as diverse as D. H. Lawrence, Mishima, Rilke, Jack London, Hermann Hesse, Martin Heidegger, Carl Jung and many others described him as a most important influence on themselves personally as well on as society and the evolution of consciousness.
Friedrich Viktor Strauß
1809 – 1899 CE
First German Tao Te Ching translator
Theologian, poet, minister, translator, and scholar; Strauß published the first German Tao Te Ching translation in 1880. He also translated Chinese classic poetry, wrote novellas and gypsy romance. Sill popular today, his Tao Te Ching translation's 11th edition was published in 2004. His translation of the Shijing (Book of Songs) in 1880 became the first German translation. An ambassador and minister, he also translated his insight and understanding of Chinese wisdom into Western culture. Some of his hymns are still sung in churches and for weddings.
One of history’s most influential novelists and one of the greatest psychologists in world literature; Dostoyevsky led a tortured life that included being arrested for discussing banned books, being sentenced to death, spending 4 years in a Siberian prison camp, 6 years of forced/exiled military service, and struggling with a gambling addiction that made him have to beg for money. His second wife who he met when she was 19 and he 25 years older, helped turn his life around and produce some of the world’s best literature. His books have been translated into more than 170 languages and he was admired by Hermann Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Kafka and Sartre. Albert Einstein called him a "great religious writer,” Nietzsche “among the most beautiful strokes of fortune in my life", Sigmund Freud called The Brothers Karamazov "the most magnificent novel ever written,“ and Virginia Woolf said, "Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.” His influence in modern time extends to the existentialists, surrealists, and the Beat generation.
Georg Hegel (Wilhelm Friedrich)
1770 – 1831 CE
influential philosopher, developer of "absolute idealism," and political theorist; Hegel worked to integrate history, religion, and art into his philosophy. This led to an integration of dualisms and an amplification of Fichte's thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad. His methods became deeply influential on both contemporary and later schools and thought leaders—even for those who strongly disagreed with his philosophy like Kierkegaard, Marx and Engels—existentialism, Historical materialism, and British Idealism. His writings—rejected and banned by both right wing and left wing politicians—became an incipient influence on many or most of the philosophical schools that came after him: Marxism, phenomenology, German existentialism, and even psychoanalysis
George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin)
1804 – 1876 CE
Intriguing, inspiring, and subversive; France's most famous 19th C. woman writer; friend to Franz Liszt, Balzac, Henry James, Browning, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev; famous lover of composer Chopin, and famous actress Marie Dorval, George Sand was a cross-dressing, cigar and hookah smoking, rebellious and scandalous dramatist and campaigner for important political reforms. Not the most likely person for this list, her creative courage and compassionate kindness make it an easy choice. As she wrote, “Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
1749 – 1832 CE
Though a literary celebrity at 25 and most well known for his novels and poems, Goethe was also a natural philosopher, diplomat, civil servant, geologist, and scientist who developed a theory of color, inspired Tesla’s discovery of alternating current and whose early work on evolution influenced Charles Darwin. A freethinker who blended Christianity with pantheism, humanism, and other esoteric traditions, he became a major influence on Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hesse and Jung. He authored some of the greatest novels ever written and his poems were set to music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt and many others. Continuously creating for 82 years, his wisdom deepened and merged into a culture we take for granted today.
Harriet Tubman (Araminta Ross)
1822 – 1913 CE
Beaten, whipped, and escaped slave; US armed army spy, nurse and scout during the Civil War; and soon to replace on the $20 bill slave-owning Andrew Jackson who illegally broke treaties with native Americans and refused to support Supreme Court rulings in their favor; Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed war campaign (that freed 700+ slaves), used the Underground Railroad to secretly rescue over 70 slave families, found work for the newly freed slaves, and became an important part of the women's suffrage movement. A devout Christian considered by many a saint, although living in constant poverty, she never stopped her humanitarian work and is now a shining symbol for courage and freedom.
1817 – 1891 CE
Pioneering Jewish historian
Although Graetz became the most esteemed 19th century Jewish historian and one of the first to write a major Jewish history from a Jewish perspective, he was sued for libeling the Jewish religion and later accused of heresy. In spite of that, his history became very popular and influential. It was a ground-breaking effort and brought to the world a new interest in Jewish history. Later historians accused him of presenting a too weepy view of this history, an over-emphasis on the tragic suffering, and an ignoring of the more positive and joyful events; however, his deeply difficult and pioneering works remain.
Helen Pitts Douglass
1838 – 1903 CE
Descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims, Helen Pitts Douglass was a dedicated abolitionist active in the women’s rights movement. Putting her philosophy into practice, she went against her parents, friends. neighbors and subjecting herself to both white and black scorn, married an African American, Frederick Douglass. After he died, she spent years traveling and lecturing for social justice and established the Frederick Douglass memorial now administered by the National Park Service.
Henry David Thoreau
1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
Dedicated abolitionist, "America's first yogi," champion of nature and the natural, “father of environmentalism;” Thoreau brought a little Lao Tzu into 19th Century America. Instead of following in the pattern of his piers leading a life of “quiet desperation,” Thoreau followed much more in the Tao Te Ching’s style of Wu Wei. His non-violent approach to opposing slavery and the Mexican-American War inspired future leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Although one of America's most famous writers, during his lifetime his most famous book, Walden didn’t sell enough copies to pay for the paper it was printed on.
1843 – 1916 CE
One of history’s greatest novelists, brother of William James, and 3-time Nobel Prize nominee; Henry James pioneered experimental literary techniques that deepened characters from overly simplistic caricatures to realistic depictions of ambiguity, paradox, and contradiction. Breaking from the romantic tradition of Charles Dickens, he experimented with literary styles and introduced more realism trying to involve readers more personally and influence them emotionally rather than just as distant and uninvolved observers. This attracted much criticism but also evolved literary styles to include more emphasis on psychological states of mind and the ability to inspire.
Henry Thomas Buckle
1821 – 1862 CE
“The Father of Scientific History,” son of a wealthy London merchant and shipowner, one of the world’s best chess players of his time, and winner of the first British chess tournament; Buckle was homeschooled with only one year of formal education. He loved reading, collected over 22,000 books, and taught himself eighteen foreign languages saying, “I was never much tormented with what is called education.” Though with good reason, his works were highly criticized; he pioneered an approach toward history and a scope of vision later taken up and accomplished by Will and Ariel Durant.
1819 – 1891 CE
One of the best and most influential of all American writers but almost forgotten and unknown during the last 30 years of his life when he had to take a job as a Customs Inspector; Melville brought myth, scripture, philosophy, and mystical imagery to his haunting novels. Drawing on his adventurous ocean travels, he wrote Moby Dick which was a commercial failure and strongly criticized when first written but became a world classic described by D. H. Lawrence as "the greatest book of the sea ever written" and "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world.” Portraying the delicate dance between truth and illusion, the impossibility of deep and mutual communication, and the search for the absolute in the relative; his works gave a deep and powerful color to world literature.
1724 – 1804 CE
Credited with creating a paradigm shift responsible for much of modern philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, sociology, linguistics, and political theory; Kant was a quiet and introverted philosopher whose daily schedule was so precise that neighbors were said to set their watches by it. Child of the Enlightenment and father of the Romantic movement, he barely traveled but became “the central figure of modern philosophy,” inspired the American transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau, and a profound influence on many important thinkers like Hegel, Novalis, G. K. Chesterton, Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, Max Weber, Jean Piaget, and Noam Chomsky.
Indrabhūti ཨིནྡྲ་བྷཱུ་ཏི། ("The Enlightened Siddha-King")
892 CE –
Indrabhuti ཨིནྡྲ་བྷཱུ་ཏི། The Enlightened Siddha-King (late 9th century)
“The first tantrika,” archetypal tantric king, and inspiration for several tantric lineages; Indrabhuti for political reasons pledged his Buddhist sister Laksminkara in marriage to the prince of a neighboring Hindu kingdom. She went to live with the neighboring prince but soon became disillusioned with the materialism, superstition, and decadence of her new country. Late one night she fled the palace and found a cave in the mountains where she lived and practiced meditation, attained enlightenment and scandalously started teaching untouchables. This greatly upset the Hindu king but inspired Indrabhuti to do the same and leave the comfort of palace life to devote himself completely to his spiritual path. He rejected however a path that rejected sensual pleasure and sex and practiced the Guhyasamaja father-tantra in the Anuyoga Dzogchen lineage. Mahasiddha #42
Jālandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། ("The Ḍākinī's Chosen One")
888 CE –
Jalandhara ཛཱ་ལནྡྷ་ར་པ། “The Ḍākinī's Chosen One” (late 9th century)
Another wealthy and privileged brahmin who saw through the materialistic values of his culture and renounced it to search for a more meaningful life, Jalandhara left everything to live in a cremation ground meditating. Going on to become an important mother-tantra siddha, one of the nine naths, and guru to 10 of the 84 Mahasiddhas; he founded one of the two main nath lineages (A Hindu tradition favored by Kabir that blended Shaivism, Buddhism and Yoga traditions using Hatha Yoga to transform the physical into awakened perception of “absolute reality”), taught practices that unify the male and female forces, dissolve the subject/object dichotomy, and open the non-dual doors of perception. Mahasiddha #46
1815 – 1897 CE
Prolific translator, editor of the first Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong, publisher of the first major volume of Chinese poetry into English, first Professor of Chinese at Oxford University, Christian missionary to China for 33 years; Legge helped translate the extensive Sacred Books of the East series, 50 volumes of Chinese classics. His purpose in this though was to provide knowledge and understanding to Christian missionaries so that they could better convert Chinese so his translations easily became corrupted by his strong sectarian point of view. In spite of these flaws, his work helped make great strides in helping “West meet East.”
Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། (Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
1813 – 1899 CE
Famous scholar, tertön, physician, diplomat, and co-founder of the Rimé non-sectarian, Tibetan Buddhist movement; Jamgon Kongtrul wrote more than 100 volumes of text and compiled the Five Great Treasuries. To counter the herd instinct tendency of identifying too closely with only one narrow tradition or point of view, along with Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, he compiled the teachings of many different traditions and started the “unbiased” lineage of going to the sense, the root of realization instead of being trapped by the superficial words and identifications with narrow, sectarian, prejudiced religions, political, or cultural points of view.
Jayānanda ཛ་ཡཱ་ནནྡ།། ("Crow Master")
11th - 12th century
A Tantric Buddhist master practicing in Bengal during a time when Buddhism was illegal, Jayananda was exposed by a jealous neighbor and imprisoned by the anti-Buddhist king. Before being captured though, he had befriended and fed a big flock of crows. In Tibetan culture crows are considered bad omens, capable of bringing great harm, and feared. But in a symbol of tantric transformation, Jayananda had made the crows allies. Then—metaphorically as crows or symbolically as an inclusion of the negative—the king was upended, reduced to hiding under his thrown, and as a consequence became a great and influential siddha himself. Mahasiddha #58
1748 – 1832 CE
Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)
“The first patron saint of animal rights,” founder of modern utilitarianism, philosopher, and social reformer; Bentham defined “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” as a political strategy and brought the idea of welfare into modern government. A strong voice for individual and economic freedom, he worked hard to end slavery, the death penalty, physical punishment, and was the first in England to argue for decriminalizing homosexuality. He promoted equal rights for women, universal education, the separation of church and state, and animal rights. His secretary was John Stuart Mill’s father and together they tested the limits of education.
Joel Chandler Harris
1848 – 1908 CE
An outsider born out of wedlock and abandoned by his father, Harris saw the world from two points of view: from the privileged White and from the disadvantaged, under trodden but soulful Black. This led to a dual career: Joe Harris as journalist supporting racial reconciliation and North-South reconciliation as well as the Joel Chandler Harris who wrote 29 books and brought the oral African-American 'Brer Rabbit' stories and more racial respect into the mainstream culture. During the civil war, he worked for a Confederate loyalist on a plantation; but, because of his illegitimacy and red hair, felt more comfortable with the slaves and spent almost all his free time with them. His use of dialect revolutionized literature and was a major influence on Mark Twain, Kipling, A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Faulkner, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce.
1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
One of the most popular poets of all time, Keats—in just 25 years of life—wrote what Will Durant called, “poems as immortal as English, and more perfect than Shakespeare.” Borges said that reading him was the most influential literary experience of his life, Tennyson called him the greatest poet of the 19th century, and Shelley wrote that his death was a national tragedy. He studied medicine and received a license to practice as a doctor and surgeon but chose the pure poverty of writing over financial security and social respect. During his lifetime, he published three volumes of poetry but during that time, sold only c. 200 copies. And far from foreseeing his future popularity, shortly before dying wrote, "I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory.” His fame quickly grew however and his legend continues today in universities, movies, and books by authors including Dan Simmons, Tim Powers, and Julie Bozza.
1819 – 1900 CE
John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
Strong and continuing international advocate for sustainability and protecting the environment, Christian socialist, leading Victorian era art critic, poet, philanthropist, and social thinker; Ruskin wrote over 250 manuscripts, influencing his contemporaries and many strands continuing today into modern culture. Admired by Proust, Gandhi, and Ryuzo Mikimoto in Japan; Leo Tolstoy called him, "one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times.” Emphasizing the unity of nature, art, and culture; he developed principles for an ideal society which were used to set up many “Utopian Colonies.” His ideas helped found the modern Olympic Games, the British welfare state, many kind of social insurance programs, as well as the “garden city movement” that first included "greenbelts" in urban planning.
John Stuart Mill
1806 – 1873 CE
One of the most influential thinkers in history, Mill learned Greek at 3 years old, studied Euclid and Latin at 8, Plato at 10, logic and Aristotle at 12, Adam Smith and political economy at 13, chemistry and zoology at 14, and by 20 was suicidal only to be saved by the poetry and inspiration of William Wordsworth. He promoted individual freedom over state control, economic democracy over capitalism, the environment and quality of life over unlimited growth, taxing unearned income high and earned income not at all. He linked freedom with self-improvement, worked to end slavery, and was one of the first in his time to advocate equality for women.
Juliette Récamier (Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier)
1777 – 1849 CE
Prototype of beauty, grace, charm, and loyal integrity
Icon of neoclassicism, prototype of beauty and grace who with “a sensuous pliancy stirred a hundred males without any known harm to her virginity,” lover of literature, patron of artists and intellectuals; Juliette led an interesting life that purportedly included marrying her father when she was 15, being exiled from Paris by Napoleon for her liberal views, losing a great fortune but remaining dignified and influential, and turning down a marriage proposal from a Prussian Prince who she deeply loved. Sex is a kind of currency that women have used throughout the ages to get what they want—food, affection, wealth, power, fame, security. Unlike money though that grows with time and interest, this particular kind of currency normally diminishes with age. Juliette however, became so adept at using this natural resource that it continued working for her in spite of old age and even blindness.
1818 – 1883 CE
A journalist, philosopher, scientist, and “true founder of modern sociology” and social science; both critics and followers rate Marx as one of the most influential people in all history with a profound impact on world politics, intellectual thought, sociology and economics. A philosopher for the poor and middle classes, he described the economic conflicts of interest that alienate and polarize society between the working classes and the plutocracy. Distorted, corrupted and used by Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, and many other totalitarians; appreciated, developed, and applied by progressive political parties, labour unions, intellectuals, and artists; he brought the scientific method into politics and social theory as well as a powerful alternative to the dehumanizing aspects of capitalistic industrialization. Though questionable in many ways, his work produced a practical and powerful balancing of economic extremes, the exploitation of labor, and the corruption of politicians by the rich. Though more known for his critiques of capitalism, he also appreciated its positive impact on increased productivity, technological progress, and scientific breakthroughs.
Koṭālipa ཀོ་ཊཱ་ལི་པ། ("The Peasant Guru")
1084 CE –
Kotalipa ཀོ་ཊཱ་ལི་པ། “The Peasant Guru” (2nd half of eleventh century)A peasant farmer forced off his land by warring armies, for safety Kotalipa was forced to plant and harvest on a barren, rocky mountainside. The great teacher, Santipa while traveling back north from Sri Lanka met Kotalipa and asked him about his life. Using the details of Kotalipa’s experience, Santipa taught the perils of only understanding the literal meaning of spiritual practice and teachings, that only understanding the words and not the sense creates “a samsara death trap of poison.” Instead, he taught non-referential awareness, the two wings of the Garuda (virtue and insight), and each shovelful of cultivated earth as a non-dual experience of knowledge and emptiness. Kotalipa’s realization of these teachings became an example and inspiration for peasant/farmers everywhere. Mahasiddha #44
Kukkuripa ཀུ་ཀྐུ་རི་པ། ("The Dog Lover")
915 CE –
Kukkuripa “The Dog King” ཀུ་ཀྐུ་རི་པ། (10th century CE)
A wandering ascetic, Kukkuripa found and adopted a starving dog brought it back with him to the cave where he lived and meditated. Kukkuripa’s meditation practice took him to pleasurable, psychological god realms but memories of his dog connected him back to the real world where he saw his loyal dog sad, thin, and starving. Spurning the luxury, comfort and extravagance; he returned to the cold, dark, very uncomfortable cave out of compassion for the dog. The dog then became his teacher blending his mind-stream with the deepest insight of all the Buddhas. Naropa sent Marpa to study with him and he became one of Marpa’s most important teachers, famous for his songs of realization, and a “patron saint” for all the downtrodden and oppressed. Mahasiddha #34
1828 – 1910 CE
One of the greatest authors of all time, Tolstoy’s dedication to nonviolent resistance had a deep impact on leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. His influence on education was opposed and stopped by Tsarist secret police but still became the first example of democratic education. Inspired by the Buddha, Confucius, and Chinese traditions, he was a strong Christian in a style like the early Gnostics and believed in seeing “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” rather than relying on an external church organization or priests. Excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church, he revived and inspired an authentic and practical Christian philosophy.
Lin Mo Niang 林默娘
970 CE –
Lin Mo Niang (silent girl) 林默娘 akaMa Zhou, Mazu, Matsu, Tian Hou (c. 970)
"Empress of Heaven,”patron of seafarers, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist adept, rainmaker, and Fujianese shamaness from an impoverished and uneducated fishing village where no one could read; Lin Mo Niang lived during a time of mass migrations from China’s north when refugees blended their culture with her local one. Most popular today in Taiwan but banned in Mainland China, her following called Mazuism has over 1500 temples in 26 countries, and statures as high as 139’ (42.3 meters). Equated with Guan
Liu Yiming 刘一明 (Liu I-ming)
1734 – 1821 CE
11th-generation Shanxi Dragon GateTaoist master, doctor, merchant, coolie, builder and main representative of the Neidan school of Internal Alchemy; Liu Yiming alternated travel, seclusion, and intense practice during his early life and then settled into teaching and writing, restoring temples, and helping poor families. He taught the unity of the ”Three Teachings" (Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) and how they complement, enrich, and support each other. He described Lao Tzu’s “non-doing” (wuwei 無為) as the highest form, methods of Confucius as more practical for most people and then the Buddha’s “doing first and then non-doing” as more practical for most people.
Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron)
1788 – 1824 CE
The first rock-star style celebrity
One of the best English poets, Greek national hero, first modern "rock-star" celebrity, revolutionary, politician, and major Romanticism influence; Lord Byron became renowned for a flamboyant bisexuality during a time when this was highly illegal. A major influence in the Romantic movement and close confidant of Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was known as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." During his lifetime considered the greatest poet in the world; his fame continues throughout the world in 36 different Byron Societies, in over 40 operas, in his poetry set to music by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz; and through the legacy of his daughter, a founding force in the first computer programming efforts.
Madame de Staël (Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein)
1766 – 1817 CE
"The greatest woman of her time"
Powerful political advocate, “first woman of Europe,” fascinating conversationalist, "Napoleon's Nemesis," and preeminent authoress of the time; Madame de Staël inspired and encouraged the political opposition to the Reign of Terror and later to Napoleon and was banished for her efforts. A potent influence on European Romanticism and persuasive advocated of liberty, she sponsored and led salons, wrote novels, and important speeches. Praised by Tolstoy, her political influence advanced representative government, constitutionalism, and women’s rights. Her opposition to dictatorship brought her into intense conflict with Napoleon and she was considered—along with England and Russia—one of the 3 main forces against him. Struggling with opium addiction and suicidal depression, a close friendship with Juliette Récamier enabled her to continue and become—in Macaulay’s phrase—“the greatest woman of her time.”
Margaret Cochran Corbin
1751 – 1800 CE
Early American hero
A gruff, smoking, antagonistic camp follower, nurse, and American hero; Margaret Corbin became the first U.S. woman to receive a military service pension. When only 5 years old, her father was killed when their home was raided by Native Americans and her mother taken never to return. This began a difficult life presenting numerous challenges that she enthusiastically and quickly met. In order to join her husband in battle, she dressed like a man and accompanied him to his posts. She took his place firing a cannon when he was killed and continued until she was too injured to continue and lost use of her left arm for life. Her fellow-soldiers called her “Captain Molly” and praised her cannon-firing skills. The highest-honored woman of the Revolutionary War, she was buried with full honors in the West Point cemetery and a monument was built for her.
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE
America’s most famous author
Riverboat captain, adventurer, bankrupted businessman, inventor, and America’s most famous author; Mark Twain, with his wit, wisdom, insight, and humor influenced and continues to positively influence the world. A strong supporter of women's, religious, racial, and labor rights; he wrote scathing indictments on war, patriotic, and religious bigotry and published new work in 3 different centuries. Though disliked by his wife Livy, his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ranks among history’s all time best. Ernest Hemingway said, ”All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
1797 – 1851 CE
Caught between her famous father’s Enlightenment political theories (William Godwin) , her famous husband’s allegiance to the ethos of Romanticism (Percy), and her famous mother (Mary Wollstonecraft) who is considered a founder of feminist philosophy; Shelley’s work promoted Taoist-like values emphasizing collaboration over competition, compassion over personal gain, the true civilizing role of the feminine principle. Her novel, Frankenstein foreshadowed our modern era and how easily we can become enslaved and manipulated by our inventions. A voice against superstition and dogma, her books became a beacon for the era of Romanticism, liberal politics, and gender equality.
Mekopa མེ་ཀོ་པ། ("Guru Dread-Stare")
1050 CE –
Mekopa, མེ་ཀོ་པ། Guru Dread-Stare (11th century)
Always cheerful and kind Bengali food merchant taken as a student by a yogin customer, Mekopa saw into the vastness of his own mind, the uselessness of chasing desires, and harmfulness of action based on duality. His realization led him far beyond the limits of status quo, conventional social standards and behavior; into a lifestyle unbound by concern for people’s opinion, wandering about a cremation ground “like a wild animal” and into towns like a mad saint with dreadful, staring eyes. Mahasiddha #43
1814 – 1876 CE
Romantic rebel, revolutionary anarchist, founding father of modern socialism
1769 – 1821 CE
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)
Called by historians everything from a megalomaniac worse than Hitler to an enlightened monarch responsible for creating some of the best political and legal systems in the modern world; Napoleon became a French general when only 24, a national hero at 26, and – attributing his success to meditation - one of the most successful commanders in all of history. Father of the European common market, his Napoleonic Code became a foundation for legal systems used today by 1/4 of the world's population, 70+ countries in Europe, the Americas and Africa. Inspired by the liberal vision of the French Revolution, he helped end feudalism, encouraged science and the arts, institutionalized equality before the law, property and religious rights, meritocracy, and our modern educational system. Excommunicated by the Catholic Church, he abolished the Spanish Inquisition and emancipated from ghettos Jews and Protestants in Catholic countries, Catholics and Jews in Protestant countries.
1772 – 1831 CE
Poet, philosopher, mystic and civil engineer, Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg) only lived 28 years but in that short time still managed to condense his insight and poetic wisdom influencing Emerson, Hermann Hesse, Rilke, C.S. Lewis, Borges, and through George MacDonald, Tolkien, Mark Twain, GK Chesterton, Madeleine L'Engle. the Inklings, and the entire fantasy genre in literature.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
1792 – 1822 CE
Another culture-transforming sage not recognized or appreciated during his lifetime, Shelley became regarded as one of the English language’s premier poets and transformers of political and social culture. A major influence on Thoreau's views on non-violent protest, political action, and his book, Civil Disobedience; he also inspired Karl Marx’s economic theories, Leo Tolstoy’s approach to non-violent resistance, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the world’s various Civil Rights Movements. During his 29-year life, most publishers became too afraid of being arrested to publish his work and his readership remained small and underground. From his tiny seed, however, our modern, humanistic culture sprouted.
1833 – 1914 CE
Powell Clayton (1833-1914)
Politician and diplomat, US senator, governor, ambassador to Mexico, Civil War general, and Radical Republican; Clayton fought against the Ku Klux Klan, worked to establish free public schools in Arkansas for the first time, and for his efforts was impeached.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
Friend and mentor to Henry David Thoreau and godfather to William James, Emerson championed individualism as a counterbalance to society’s conformist pressures. He wrote what Oliver Wendell Holmes considered America's “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” and he summarized his philosophy as “the infinitude of the private man.” The most influential writer of 19th-century America, he was called “the Concord Sage” and became the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States influencing American religions to become more gnostic, less fundamentalist and conservative.
1836 – 1886 CE
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Bengali: রামকৃষ্ণ পরমহংস (1836 – 1886)
Indian mystic, yogi, inspiration for the 19th–20th century Bengali Renaissance; Ramakrishna became a strong revitalizing influence on Indian culture. His "social service gospel,” disciples like Vivekananda, and organizations do major philanthropic work in education, health care, disaster relief, rural management, and in eliminating tribal welfare. Steeped in Hindu philosophy and practices, he also initiated into and practiced Islam and did the same with Christianity teaching ‘All religions as true.’ His impact on thought leaders extended from names like Gandhi and Nehru to westerner ones like Tolstoy, Dvorak, and Philip Glass.
Robert Louis Stevenson
1850 – 1894 CE
Humanist, social and political critic, poet, composer of over 120 complex musical works, 26th most translated author in the world; Stevenson grew up in a religious family of engineers frail, sickly, and alienated. His father once said, "You have rendered my whole life a failure.” Fiercely criticized by Virginia Woolf and early literary critics but praised by Borges, Proust, Arthur Conan Doyle, Hemingway, Kipling, Jack London, and Chesterton; he now ranks alongside Henry James and Joseph Conrad. In spite of physical frailty, he traveled widely and supported his writing with hard labor and a frugal lifestyle often surviving long periods living on less than 40¢/day. He saw himself, his time, and culture with a rare self-clarity that cut to the deep basic goodness manifesting in his unforgettable characters.
1839 – 1915 CE
In a dramatic escape from slavery, Smalls commandeered a Confederate steamer during the Civil War, disguised himself in the captain’s coat, picked up the families of his fellow slave sailors, and made a mad dash for a Union blockade where they were welcomed as heroes. He later helped recruit over 5000 blacks to help in the North’s war effort, served as a captain in the US Navy. After the war he returned to South Carolina, bought his former master’s house, served in the US House of Representatives, founded the Republican Party of South Carolina, and authored the state legislation that gave his state the first US free and compulsory public school system.
1788 – 1812 CE
When 12, kidnapped and claimed by a rival tribe after a battle, when 13 won as 2nd wife by a gambling trapper, when 17 hired as guide and translator by the Lewis and Clarke expedition; Sacagawea traveled thousands of difficult miles sometimes surviving on only candles but saving and assuring the expedition’s success while opening communication with many isolated groups and spreading understanding. Immortalized in the names of rivers, mountains, parks, and trails; on a US 1$ coin, in literature, and in music from Phillip Glass to Stevie Wonder; she was considered a hero and taken as an example of strength, independence, and self-worth by the Women’s Suffrage Association.
1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
Friend and student of Charles Darwin, serio-comic satirist, champion of small-is-beautiful everyday experience; Butler composed Handelian-style cantatas and piano pieces, painted works of art hung in London museums, and translated the Iliad and the Odyssey that he believed were written by a Trojan and by a Sicilian woman. In his book Erewhon, crime is considered a disease while disease and physical imperfections are considered crimes. Aldous Huxley thought Butler's ideas transformed Western culture's attitudes toward crime, technology, and 'progress'.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772 – 1834 CE
1844 – 1923 CE
“One of the finest actors of all time”
“The most famous actress the world has ever known", “one of the finest actors of all time,” “first international entertainment icon,” and “notorious liar;” Sarah Bernhard acted and sang for over 60 years starring in many of the earliest films ever made. Admired by everyone from Sigmund Freud to Mark Twain to Czar Alexander III, her mother was a prostitute and Sarah forged a birth certificate to claim French citizenship. Expelled from her first acting school for slapping a fellow actress, Sarah became mistress to a Belgian prince, to a famous courtesan, and slept in a coffin to better understand tragedy. During a war she converted her theatre into a hospital and took care of wounded soldiers.
1792 – 1873 CE
Going against her SC Supreme Court chief Justice father who held hundreds of slaves and opposed women’s rights, Sarah supported Abraham Lincoln and her writings fueled and inspired the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement. When she was 5 years old after watching a slave whipping, she tried to leave her state and find a place without slavery. Breaking the law, she taught a slave to read, taught slaves Bible lessons, and against the culture secretly advanced here own "unwomanly” education. One of the first women public speakers in America and under constant criticism and attack, she wrote the first serious essay advocating equality for women and became the first American woman working to end slavery.
Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ།
1781 – 1851 CE
Prolific writer said to have written over 300 pages per day, famous lama, and student of the Mongolian king Chögyal Ngakgi Wangpo; Shabkar literally means “white feet,” a name given to him because his presence was so inspiration that it wherever he placed his feet became full of virtue and realization. Considered a reincarnation of Milarepa, he spent most of his life in retreats and composed “an ocean of songs.”
Simon Bolivar Simón Bolívar
1783 – 1830 CE
Major image in Latin American identity, military strategy genius, and liberator from Spanish rule of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama; Simón Bolívar became the major hero in the 19th century South American independence movements. Inspired by the idealism of the American and French Revolutions, he fought against factions, created foundations for democracy in Latin America, envisioned and worked toward a kind of United States of South America. These efforts however mainly failed, countries devolved into dictatorships, and Bolivar was almost assassinated. He described these attempts at union a failure and only “plowing the sea.” On the other hand, his legacy remains strong with major monuments to him in the capital cities of Lima, Buenos Aires, Havana, México City, Panama City, Paramaribo, San José, Santo Domingo, Sucre, Algiers, Ankara, Bucharest, London, Minsk, Moscow, New Delhi, Ottawa, Paris, Prague, Port-au-Prince, Rome, Tehran, Vienna, and Washington DC.
Sojourner Truth (Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree)
1797 – 1883 CE
Born into slavery and now listed in the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time,” Sojourner escaped with her infant daughter, went to court trying to get her son back and became the first black woman to win a case like this. She traveled extensively promoting the abolition of slavery, helped recruit black troops during the Civil War and tried to get land grants for freed slaves after the war. A powerful women's rights activist and friend of Susan B. Anthony, she gave one of the most famous speeches on women's rights and is considered a saint by both the Episcopal and Lutheran churches.
1813 – 1855 CE
"The first existentialist philosopher"
Poet, theologian, social critic, philosopher and religious writer; Kierkegaard became a major influence on contemporary world culture. In the world of psychology, he founded Christian, humanistic, and existential schools inspiring therapists and theorists like Viktor Frankl, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, and Rollo May. In the field of literature, he influenced and inspired authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Hermann Hesse, W. H. Auden, Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, J.D. Salinger and John Updike. His theological/philosophical influence extended to Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, and Martin Heidegger. Kierkegaard emphasized experience over theory, personal life over "herd instinct," and Christianity as love rather than organization and dogma.
Susan B. Anthony
1820 – 1906 CE
Harshly ridiculed, accused of trying to destroy marriage and the family, arrested for voting; Susan B. Anthony started working to end slavery as a teenager and later ran the largest petition drive against it. Giving up to 100 speeches a year, she organized and campaigned for equal rights leading to the Nineteenth Amendment (popularly called the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment”) giving women the right to vote in 1920. The first woman to be on a U.S. coin, she gave "the most famous speech for woman suffrage,” and her efforts led to legal rights for married women, women being able to attend colleges, and a fundamental, cultural attitude change.
Táhirih طاهره (Fatimah Baraghani, "The Pure One")
1814 – 1852 CE
A genius-deep and curious mind living in a culture and with a husband who didn’t think women should read, be seen, or think for themselves; beautiful, educated, and from one of the most prominent families of her time, Tahirih is said to be the first woman to unveil and question Islamic political and religious orthodoxy which led to her imprisonment and execution. She rose above immense obstacles and became a famous poet, philosopher, and religious leader inspiring and organizing women to reject their oppression. “The first woman suffrage martyr,” her poems are still popular and her influence on Bábí, Bahá’í, and women’s rights are immense and continuing to this day.
Théodore Faullain de Banville
1823 – 1891 CE
French poet, writer, and major influence on the Symbolist movement.
1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator
Historian, philosopher, translator, mathematician, and one of his era’s most influential social commentators; Carlyle developed the “Great Man” theory of history. He postulated and described how the world’s great changes were all caused by the decisions and actions of a very small and elite group of prime movers. He emphasized the essence of heroism as a response to intense challenge and difficulty rather than inherent qualities. In later life, these ego-based theories unfortunately led to a critique of democracy, nostalgia for slavery, and support for a repressive governor in Jamaica. His work in mathematics led to innovative methods still used today and one of his books on the French Revolution inspired Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
1847 – 1931 CE
America's greatest inventor
“America's greatest inventor,” businessman, and entrepreneur; Edison set up the world’s first industrial research laboratory, first film studio, and held in his name over 1,100 US and foreign patents in many fields including electric power, communications, and motion pictures (his film studio made almost 1,200 films.). Some of his most influential inventions include the light bulb, phonograph, motion picture camera, the fluoroscope, the tasimeter, and the nickel-iron-battery. Henry Ford was a neighbor and employee who Edison helped with his business ventures. A victim of nepotistic seductions, Edison had to take his son to court for using their family name to promote scams, snake-oil products, and fraudulent ventures. He joined Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, became a strict vegetarian, and promoted nonviolence.
1743 – 1826 CE
American founding father, main author of the Declaration of Independence, Virginia governor, first Secretary of State, US Vice President and one of America’s greatest presidents; Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase almost doubling the size of the country and wrote a book considered the most important American one written before 1800. President of the American Philosophical Society, mathematician, architect/designer of the Virginia State Capitol and Monticello, University of Virginia founder, avid horticulturalist and farmer, naturalist deeply interested in birds, inventor of an important new plow design as well as the swivel chair, and speaker of more than 8 languages; he exemplified the ideal of a true Renaissance Man. Although he owned hundreds of slaves, as a young lawyer he defended freedom-seeking slaves, signed an act prohibiting their importation in 1807, and is believed to have secretly “married” and had children with a black woman, Sally Hemings. Always in debt with cash flow problems from continual experiments and pushing on the boundaries of the possible, his creative spirit never died.
1737 – 1809 CE
Fired from his government post in England because of his efforts for the working class and running to escape debtor’s prison, Paine brought a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin to the new world and quickly established himself as a voice for freedom, liberty, women’s rights, prison reform, Newtonian science, and anti-slavery efforts. From a poor family growing up during a time when thousands of small farmers were becoming serf-like factory workers and the gap between super rich and super poor was becoming extreme; he educated himself, became a Founding Father, one of the most essential influences on the Revolutionary War, gave the United States of America it’s name, and wrote the rough draft that Jefferson used to craft the Declaration of Independence. John Adams said that, “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” The first to lobby for a Social Security system, his influence extended from American to England, France, South America, and all countries seeking freedom, social justice, and moral equality.
1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur
Romantic literature pioneer, poet, artist, and one of the greatest French writers; Victor Hugo’s work influenced most of the social and political issues of his time. His literary success opened doors into the political world and he became more and more involved in politics. He campaigned against capital punishment and social injustice, for more freedom of the press, free education for children, universal voting rights, and a “United States of Europe.” While his books helped create important cultural and social shifts, his political efforts led to exile, a condemnation from Napoleon III, and death threats from mobs outside his house. His political work on ending the death penalty, however, did lead to its abolition in Geneva, Portugal, and Colombia. Two plus million people walked in his funeral procession and today almost all French cities have named streets after him.
W. S. Gilbert
1836 – 1911 CE
Innovative, influential, inspiring dramatist
Poet, illustrator, and dramatist; Gilbert wrote 14 comic operas with music written by Sir Arthur Sullivan and over 75 plays—many still being performed c. 150 years after they were written. Ridiculing party politics, nepotism, patriotism, and the British class system; they may have not gone out of style because they were never in any kind of conventional style to start. The innovative creativity in their performances came in part from their ability to finance the productions themselves rather than having to rely on conventional funding that required artistic restraints and conformance to traditional methods. Gruff and quick-tempered on the outside, warm and a loyal friend when close, Gilbert set new styles and became an important influence on most playwrights that came after him especially in the line of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula
“Father of free verse,” one of the most influential American poets, humanist, journalist, Civil War volunteer nurse; Whitman blended realism and transcendentalism and became known as the first "poet of democracy.” His most famous work, Leaves of Grass, was called everything from "trashy, profane & obscene, the author a pretentious ass" to a work more central to American culture than Melville's Moby-Dick, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson's The Conduct of Life. Vociferously criticized for being obscene with sexuality themes, it was admired by Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Oscar Wilde. Though biographers assert that Whitman was gay, he always denied it and claimed to have 6 illegitimate children. In a contrast between his poetry and personal views, he promoted equality and true democracy in the former, status quo views of nationalism and racism in the latter. His poetic and vagabond lifestyle inspired the Beat movement, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Dylan, and Bram Stoker who used him as the model for his character, Dracula.
1757 – 1827 CE
A poet, painter, and songwriter mainly unrecognized during his life and at the time considered mad, Blake is now called “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced” and “a seminal figure in the history of poetry.” Not fully appreciated until more than 200 years after he died, he’s now considered one of the most powerful impacts on twentieth century culture with an enormous influence on Carl Jung, Aldous Huxley, poets like William Butler Yeats and Allen Ginsberg, songwriters like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. The origin of graphic novels and fantasy art trace back to Blake.
1756 – 1836 CE
Provocative and influential social, political, and literary critic
Mary Shelley’s father, married to pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, journalist, philosopher, publisher, translator, and author; Godwin became the first to promote utilitarianism and modern anarchism. He attacked aristocratic privilege, advocated the abolition of marriage, wrote numerous novels, and became a major influence on British literature and culture. His views on progress, life extension, and human perfectibility gave inspiration for his daughter’s novel, Frankenstein. He opposed Malthus, became a literary influence on Dickens and Poe, a political influence on Peter Kropotkin, libertarianism, and communism.
1778 – 1830 CE
One of the English languages best art and literature critics of all time
The most influential art critic of his age, considered the best essayist in the English language, and one of the English language’s greatest critics; Hazlitt befriended and helped Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Jeremy Bentham, Stendhal and many of the 19th century’s most important writers. The keen psychological insight that makes him still relevant today however, didn’t go over very well in his own time. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge retaliated to his criticism by spreading negative rumors. Also a poet, journalist, and philosopher; he was devoted to his work but seldom popular enough to earn sufficient income, he had to depend on his wife’s independent wealth. When she left him, he continued his writing but sunk into poverty, illness, depression, and was “excommunicated from all decent society.”
1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”
"Father of American psychology,” and one of the most significant American philosophers; William James established the philosophical school called pragmatism, functional psychology, and radical empiricism. His wealthy father wanted William and his brother Henry to be educated in a way free from dogma and goal-oriented career study. This led William into the fields of chemistry, physiology, anatomy, a medical degree, and a Harvard professorship where he set up the first American experimental psychology laboratory and became the first to offer a U. S. psychology course. Suffering through severe mental depression and serious health issues, he turned to philosophy and an evolved understanding of the self as a spiritual essence, a continual stream of consciousness much deeper and more meaningful than our material and social identifications.
1770 – 1850 CE
Orphaned at an early age, connected with the common man while wandering through Europe on foot, caught up in both the ups and downs of the French Revolution, and Britain's only Poet Laureate who wrote no official verse; Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and along with Samuel Coleridge, used poems based in common language to help launch the Romantic Age of literature. A student of John "Walking" Stewart who blended yoga and Eastern wisdom from India with western pantheism, he published some of the most influential poetry in Western literature.
Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 章学诚 (Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng)
1738 – 1801 CE
A famous historian, philosopher, and writer who was mainly unknown during his lifetime dying in poverty with few friends; Zhang Xuecheng's fame only began almost 100 years after he died. A revolutionary thinker, he crossed the status quo view that Confucianism is based on timeless principles and described it as an evolving set of realizations deepening as it faced and explained contemporary changes. He condemned self-serving partisanship, encouraged diversity, and individuation. A true advocate for the words over the sense, he emphasized the need to transcend language rather than becoming a slave to concepts. His focus on China's difficult struggle to blend the strong Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions into what's called now neo-Confucianism; has a powerful relevance to our own time of intense cultural, political, and religious amalgamation.
“The temper of the romantics is best studied in fiction. They liked what was strange: ghosts, ancient decayed castles, the last melancholy descendants of once-great families, practitioners of mesmerism and the occult sciences, falling tyrants and levantine pirates.”
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“Europe was ready for a gospel that would exalt feeling above thought. It was tired of the restraints of customs, conventions, manners, and laws. It had heard enough of reason, argument, and philosophy; all this riot of unmoored minds seemed to have left the world devoid of meaning, the soul empty of imagination and hope”
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“Imperial Rome poured forth her living sea
From senate house and prison and theater
When Freedom left those who upon the free
Had bound a yoke which soon they stooped to bear.”
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“In 1807 romance was spreading its wings; romantic love was struggling to be freed from parental power, economic bonds, and moreal taboos; the rights of women were beginning to find voice.”
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“Romanticism, which encourages variety, meshes perfectly with consumerism... [it] tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can... go traveling in distant lands, sample various kinds of relationships, try different cuisines different style of music”
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“Romance only comes into existence where love is fatal, frowned upon and doomed by life itself.”
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