I have been reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life over the last week or so, and it’s depressing just how many millions of people, both individually and as groups, were killed, tortured, duped, enslaved or otherwise humiliated throughout history in the pursuit of rendering to us the things that make our homes.
So it was lovely when, a couple of days ago, I ran into an incredibly rare incident of someone actually getting a happy ending, and it was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant Thomas Watson. Here’s the final paragraph of Bryson’s passage on Watson:
Bell treated his friend and colleague Watson generously. Though he had no legal obligation to do so, he awarded Watson 10 per cent of the company, allowing Watson to retire rich at the age of just twenty-seven. Able to do anything he wanted, he devoted the rest of his life to doing just that. He travelled the world, read widely and took a degree in geology at MIT. He then started a shipyard, which quickly grew to employ four thousand men, producing a scale of stress and obligation that he hadn’t wished for at all. So he sold the business, converted to Islam and became a follower of Edward Bellamy, a radical philosopher and quasi-Communist who for a short period in the 1880s enjoyed phenomenal esteem and popularity. Tiring of Bellamy, Watson moved to England in early middle age and took up acting, for which he showed an unexpected talent. He proved particularly adept at Shakespearean roles and performed many times at Stratford-upon-Avon before returning to America and a life of quiet retirement. He died, contented and rich, at his winter home on Pass-Grille Key, Florida, just shy of his eighty-first birthday in 1934.