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If you thought celebrity is a relatively modern phenomenon, think twice. Scholars trace back public fascination with celebrity to the rise of newspapers and magazines in the 18th century. Researchers from Warwick University have recently argued that obituaries played a key role in the development of public celebrity, challenging the idea that the modern notion of fame was born in the Romantic era. Interested to know the Who's Who list of the period? Here's a short guide to the hottest names in the 18th century Europe.

1. Benjamin Franklin

America's founding father and prime inventor, Benjamin Franklin reached fame during his lifetime as a significant political figure, physicist, philosopher and man of letters. He was one of the most important figure in the early history of the United States. Franklin established the first public library in Philadelphia, but he was also a pioneer in the field of meteorology. He invented bifocals and the lightening rod. He was an active abolitionist who dared to condemn slavery on multiple occasions. 

 

2. Barbara Campanini aka "La Barbarina"

Campanini was a famous Italian ballerina, often called La Barbarina. She was one of the most important and famous ballet dancers of the entire century. She was offered her first position at the newly established Court Opera in Berlin directly by the young Prussian king Frederick the Great. She performed there from 1744 and later in life moved to the region of Silesia, where she died on her 78th birthday. Campanini kindly donated her money to a foundation for poor noblewomen, which operated until World War I.

 

3. Isaac Newton

The 18th century was the time when science and technology started to play an increasingly important role in the public life. It was a century marked by many discoveries and inventions. One of the most notable figures of that time was Isaac Newton, aptly called the founder of modern physics. Even though the majority of his work was carried out in the seventeenth century, Newton continued to work until his death in 1727. His greatest accomplishment was the development of the three universal laws of motion, today called Newtonian mechanics. Newton's contribution to the advancement of fields such as astronomy, philosophy and mathematics made him a real scientific celebrity admired throughout the century.

 

4. Antoine Lavoisier

Called the father of modern chemistry, Lavoisier was the one who discovered the relationship between oxygen and combustion. But that's not all - he also participated in the development of the metric system as we know it today. Since he was a nobleman very well aware of the many risks carried by the French revolution, he decided to change his name from Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier to escape threat. His work received a lot of appreciation and he was celebrated as the most important chemist of all times.

 

5. Maria Gaetana Agnesi 

An Italian mathematician born at the beginning of the 18th century, Agnesi was one of 24 children born to a mathematics professor in Bologna. From an early age, she showed signs of being a real prodigy - by age 11, she spoke at least six languages. She later got interested in geometry and ballistics. She was lucky to receive encouragement from her father, who motivated her to speak at public debates. Mathematics was her true calling - in 1748, she published an acclaimed work on analytical mathematics. Two years later, she was appointed professor of mathematics and philosophy at Bologna University - needless to say, not many women were present in the academic world at the time.

 

6. William Kent

Kent was a real British celebrity and a favorite of many ladies looking for the prefect artist to design their gardens and estates. He was an architect, painter and landscape gardener. Kent was a leading architect working in the Palladian style. His creations can be found at Houghton, Holkham and Stowe. He's the man behind the London Horse Guards and the Treasury Buildings. Kent's garden designs were incredibly popular among British aristocrats. His designs for mansions at Stowe, Rousham and Chiswick combined naturalism with classical allusions - a strong trend in garden design of the time.

 

7. Captain Cook

Probably the most iconic explorer and cartographer, Captain Cook was the first European to arrive at the east coast of Australia, New Caledonia and Hawaii. His adventures and personality were the talk of town and models of his ship, Endeavour, were popular as working copies and sold in kit form to display at home. A clear sign of his celebrity is the number of places which bear his name until today.

 

8. John "Jack" Broughton 

An English bare-knuckle boxer, Jack Broughton was the first to ever codify a set of rules to be used in boxing contests. He formulated the famous seven rules regulating how boxing would be conducted at his amphitheater - the largest and most influential place at that time. Those rules were later developed into the London Prize Ring rules which are considered the founding stone of boxing as we know it today.

 

9. Giovanna Baccelli

Baccelli was an Italian dancer who worked as a principal ballerina in London at the King's Theatre, Haymarket. She first appeared there in 1774 and held the reign ever since. The peak of her acclaimed career came about in the 1780-1 season. That's when she appeared with Gaetan Vestris and his son Auguste in a number of important ballets authored by Noverre. But that's not all. Baccelli was quite a scandalous celebrity - for many years the British society was aware that she was a mistress of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset.

 

10. Thomas Paine 

Paine was a radical political journalist who was best known for supporting the revolutions in America and France. In 1774, Paine emigrated to America and published Common Sense, which was a presentation of his demand for American independence. More than a decade later he returned to Europe, and published his most famous work, The Rights of Man, in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. He was the first one to articulate the modern idea of the constitutional guarantee of the individual civil rights.

 

The selection above is just the tip of the iceberg. The 18th century was full of famous (or infamous) celebrities and news editors were more than eager to present their lives to the public, building the foundation of today's celebrity culture.

Author's Bio: 

Torri Myler works for http://www.bankopening.co.uk/ - a one stop online place for all UK banks opening and closing times. She is interested in celebrity culture at the turn of the centuries and combines her hobby with her love for writing.