“Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Lamp”*


*From the website of the National Army Museum:

“Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a legend in her own lifetime and one of the most famous women in British history. Her work in the Crimea set the standards for modern nursing. For the rest of her life, she continued to campaign for improved sanitary conditions in both military and civilian hospitals.”

Pascal Tréguer writes at wordhistories.net:

“The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition, 2016) erroneously states that a legend in one’s (own) lifetime was first used by the English author and critic Giles Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) in Eminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning – Florence Nightingale – Dr. Arnold – General Gordon (New York and London, 1918); the author wrote the following about Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), English nurse and medical reformer:

After much hesitation, she had settled down in a small house in South Street, where she remained for the rest of her life. That life was a very long one; the dying woman reached her ninety-first year. Her ill-health gradually diminished; the crises of extreme danger became less frequent, and at last, altogether ceased; she remained an invalid, but an invalid of a curious character—an invalid who was too weak to walk downstairs and who worked far harder than most Cabinet Ministers. Her illness, whatever it may have been, was certainly not inconvenient. It involved seclusion; and an extraordinary, an unparalleled seclusion was, it might almost have been said, the mainspring of Miss Nightingale’s life. Lying on her sofa in the little upper room in South Street, she combined the intense vitality of a dominating woman of the world with the mysterious and romantic quality of a myth. She was a legend in her lifetime, and she knew it. She tasted the joys of power, like those Eastern Emperors whose autocratic rule was based upon invisibility, with the mingled satisfactions of obscurity and fame.

I have, however, found an earlier instance of the phrase, also applied to Florence Nightingale but ascribed to the English scholar Benjamin Jowett (1817-93), in the Introduction to The Life of Florence Nightingale (London, 1913), by the English journalist and author Edward Tyas Cook (1857-1919):

“It has been your fate,” said Mr. Jowett to her once, “to become a Legend in your lifetime.”

The author of The Real Florence Nightingale, published in The Derbyshire Courier(Chesterfield, Derbyshire) of Tuesday 25th November 1913, quoted Edward Tyas Cook’s book:

It was the fate of Florence Nightingale to become, as Mr. Jowett once told her, “a legend in her lifetime.”

In Behind the Scenes, published in Votes for Women (London) of Friday 26th June 1914, Mary Maud also referred to the biography of Florence Nightingale by Edward Tyas Cook:

The two large volumes of Florence Nightingale’s life have doubtless been a revelation to most people. She lived, as she was told, to experience the strange sensation of being a legend in her own lifetime.

I have found another instance of the phrase predating Giles Lytton Strachey’s book, in The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) of Sunday 12th August 1917, about Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916), British soldier and statesman:

Kitchener was too prodigious a hero to be characteristically English. He was a legend in his lifetime, a thing almost unknown in English history, for the English like their heroes to be 100 years dead…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: