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Yellow 90s 2.0


Usually counted among the first generation of rigorously academic historians in Britain, Frederick York Powell is also usefully situated within fin-de-siècle networks of artists, folklorists, poets and scholars, many of whom contributed to the little magazines of the period. He was born 14 January 1850 in London, the son of Mary Powell (née York) and her husband Frederick, who was in the grocery business. Powell studied at Rugby; before going to Oxford in 1868 he spent two years travelling through Europe, where he developed an interest in the languages and literatures of Scandinavia. He was an agnostic and a socialist, and in later life a proponent of Britain’s imperial ambitions. His Oxford degree was in law and modern history (1872). Called to the bar in 1874, he was appointed to a lectureship in law at Christ Church, one of the Oxford colleges, the same year. Although he neither practiced law nor was particularly enthusiastic about teaching it, he spent twenty years lecturing on the subject, along with political economy, mostly to uncongenial undergraduates. Powell’s marriage also took place in 1874. His wife was Florence Batten, née Silke (d. 1888). Their family, including Florence’s two daughters by her previous marriage and their daughter Mariella (born 1884), lived in London, in the bohemian Chiswick suburb of Bedford Park. Powell commuted to Oxford during the week, keeping up an ambitious program of historical research interspersed with writing numerous occasional pieces such as reviews and prefaces, while maintaining a wide circle of friends, collaborators, colleagues, and students.

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