Blog #199: A Tragic Digression On A To the Lighthouse Approach


One of the best things about research is making unexpected discoveries. The discoveries are not always directly useful, yet for the researcher they can be valuable and deeply moving. This is the story of one such discovery.

With the help of AbeBooks, I’ve just obtained a copy of The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen. It’s a hardworn copy, with dark yet faded battered cover, and warped pages showing signs of foxing. The book was sent by in Lincoln, a business which specializes in selling books withdrawn from academic libraries throughout the UK. My book, a Duckworth 1st edition, came from Bristol Polytechnic, but before that, as the ornate, slightly whimsical, ex libris bookplate announces, it belonged to Humphrey Owen Jones.

The bookplate, dated 1909, shows an image of Clare College, Cambridge, the college from which Jones had graduated Masters in 1903, and where he stayed on as a fellow in the chemistry department. From 1901 on, he was Jacksonian demonstrator for the irascible sir James Dewar, inventor of the vacuum flask. With Dewar, Jones did research on the properties of matter at low temperatures and helped discover carbon monosulfide. The bookplate playfully flags Jones’s chemical passion with a clock-like model atom inscribed into the top of the border, and with two duckish looking glass retorts balanced on the edges of the frame pediment, one on each side of the atom.

The bookplate also helps to explain Humphrey Owen Jones’s interest in Leslie Stephen. Below the Clare College image are sketched two small, framed landscapes, one of mountain peaks and the other of a golf course. Superimposed criss-cross upon them are half a dozen golf clubs and climbing axes. Jones—along with his wife, Muriel Gwendolen Edwards, and his sister Bronwen Ceridwen Jones—was a passionate mountaineer. He started climbing in Snowdonia and then, no doubt under the influence of Stephen’s The Playground of Europe, turned his attention to the Alps. He climbed extensively in the Mont Blanc region, and he was part of a group which made the first ascent of the Brouillard ridge route to the summit of Mont Blanc. In 1909, Jones was elected to the Alpine Club, the club of which Leslie Stephen had been a founding member and, from 1865-1868, president.

And now for the tragic part of my digression: Jones’s copy of The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen is mine because of Jones’s mountaineering passion. On August 15th, 1912, while on their honeymoon, Jones and his wife attempted the 2941 meter high Aguille Rouge de Peuterey with the help of their Swiss guide, Julius Truffer. When Truffer slipped and fell on Jones, all three plunged almost 1000 feet down the mountain. Their deaths were witnessed by the renown solo climber Paul Preuss, who a little more than a year later, while attempting a free solo of the Mandlkogel in Austria, would similarly fall almost a thousand feet to his death.

Jones was 34 years old when he died, and his wife was only 26. The north summit of l’Aiguille Blanche de Peuterey was named in their honor, and a stained glass window in St Cynbryds church, Llandulas, also commemorates their death. So, too, thanks to the bookplate and the power of Google, does the battered book which I now own. To my copy of The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen are added part of the lives of Humphrey Owen Jones and his wife of two weeks, Muriel Gwendolen Jones.

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