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Stephen, Sir Leslie (1832-1904)
Stephen, Sir Leslie (1832-1904)
The privilege of a moneyed background allowed Sir Leslie to become the first obsessively competitive mountaineer in the modern idiom. Unlike his peers, who preferred traditional pursuits such as fox-hunting, country balls, or seducing scullery-maids, Stephen was into conquests of a no less dangerous and sweaty nature. Bagging virgin Alpine peaks was his game, and he was exceptionally talented at it. Between 1858 and 1877 he was virtually the ‘Golden Age of Mountaineering’ personified, making dozens of first ascents or new routes up the now classic peaks of the western Alps. More remarkably, unlike others who were attempting to formulate the protocols of early mountaineering activity, he rejected the respectable excuse of ‘scientific exploration’, and openly admitted he did it as a sporting challenge. But Stephen doesn’t owe his place in the illustrious hall of climbing fame solely for his physical efforts, prodigious though these were. He came from a genetically literate brood. He himself was a literary biographer (instigator of the National Dictionary of Biography), his wife was the product of Thackeray’s loins and their own child grew up to become Virginia Woolf. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that Stephen wrote arguably the first (and still one of the best and most entertaining) mountaineering classics, The Playground of Europe, thereby helping initiate the genre of mountaineering literature.

Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
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Stephen, Sir Leslie (1832-1904)