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Dictionary of World Biography
Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest (1815–1891). French
artist. His historical pictures, especially those relating
to the Napoleonic campaigns, realised large prices in
his lifetime but are now largely forgotten.
Meitner, Lise (1878–1968). Austrian physicist. Until
she emigrated to Denmark (1938) she carried out
research in radio-chemistry and nuclear physics at
Berlin University and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute
for Chemistry. In 1938, with Otto *Hahn and her
nephew O. R. *Frisch, she played an important part
in the discovery of the nuclear fission process for the
liberation of atomic energy. She settled in Sweden
(1940), became a Swedish citizen (1949) and retired
to England in 1960.
Melanchthon, Philipp (1497–1560). German
Protestant reformer and scholar. (His name was a
Greek translation of his German name Schwarzerde,
‘black earth’). From 1518 he was professor of Greek
at Wittenberg University, where he became an early
adherent of *Luther, helping him also with his
translation of the New Testament from the Greek.
He issued the first systematic formulation of the
Protestant dogma (1521) and the Augsburg Confession
(1530). He was much more tolerant and conciliatory
than Luther, and when he succeeded to the leadership
he lost the confidence of many Protestants by the
concessions he made to the Catholics in his quest
for peace.
Melba, Dame Nellie (Helen Porter Armstrong, née
Mitchell) (1861–1931). Australian soprano, born in
Melbourne. After a brilliant operatic debut in Brussels
(1887) she became prima donna at Covent Garden
(1888) and sang throughout Europe and America
until her retirement (1926). Her greatest successes
were in lyric and coloratura roles in the operas of
Verdi and Puccini. (She sang no Mozart roles.) She
was created DBE in 1918 and promoted GBE in
1927. Pêche Melba, the sweet dish invented in her
honour, is evidence of her contemporary reputation.
Radic, T., Melba. 1986.
Melbourne, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount (1779–
1848). English Whig politician, born in London.
Probably the son of Lord Egremont, educated at Eton
and Trinity College, Cambridge, he was called to the
bar (1804) and in 1805 married the eccentric Lady
Caroline Ponsonby (Caroline *Lamb), later notorious
for her infatuation with *Byron. He was a Member
of Parliament 1806–12, 1816–28, then succeeded to
the peerage. Originally a supporter of Charles James
*Fox, he also admired *Canning and became his
Chief Secretary for Ireland 1827–28. Home Secretary
1830–34, his harsh treatment of the Tolpuddle
Martyrs in 1834 marred his generally humane record.
He reluctantly supported *Grey’s Reform Act (1832)
and succeeded him as Prime Minister 1834, until
dismissed by *William IV (the last time the Crown
so acted). When *Peel lost the ensuing election,
Melbourne returned as Prime Minister 1835–41.
On Queen *Victoria’s accession, he also acted as
her private secretary and tutored her in the art of
constitutional government. He resigned after a vote
of censure (1841). Stricken with paralysis (1842), he
played no further significant role.
Cecil, D., The Young Melbourne. 1939; Cecil, D.,
Lord M. 1954; Ziegler, P., Melbourne. 1976; Mitchell,
L. G., Lord Melbourne. 1997.
Melchett, 1st Baron see Mond, Ludwig
Melchior, Lauritz (1890–1973). Danish heroic
tenor. Originally trained as a baritone, he became the
greatest of all Wagnerian heldentenors, singing at the
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1926–50. He also
appeared in five films.
Méliès, Georges (1861–1938). French film maker,
born in Paris. A magician and illusionist, he made
531 films, mostly short, 1896–1913, including
L’Affaire Dreyfus (1899, a sympathetic account), and
Le voyage dans la lune (1902). He was the subject of
The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2008) by Brian Selznick
and Martin *Scorsese’s film Hugo (2011).
Mellon, Andrew William (1855–1937). American
financier, born in Pittsburgh. He accumulated a
huge fortune through a complex of financial and
industrial interests, notably the Mellon National
Bank of Pittsburgh and the Aluminium Corporation.
Turning to politics, he served under presidents
*Harding, *Coolidge and *Hoover as Secretary to the
Treasury 1921–31 and Ambassador to Great Britain
1931–33. Among the greatest of all American art
collectors, a considerable part of his wealth was used
to construct and endow the National Gallery of Art
in Washington DC.
Cannadine, D., Mellon: An American Life. 2006.
Melville, Herman (1819–1891). American novelist,
born in New York. Forced to leave school at the age
of 15 by his father’s bankruptcy, he worked as a bank
clerk and taught at country schools before working
his passage to Europe (1839). In 1841 he joined
the whaler Acushnet bound for the Pacific. Because
of harsh treatment he deserted the ship and lived for
some months among the cannibals of the Marquesas
Islands (1842). After being rescued by an Australian
whaler, he was delayed in Tahiti by a mutiny and was
eventually shipped home in a US frigate (1844). On
his return Melville began a series of novels, based on
his adventures, e.g. Typee (1846), Omoo (1847) and
White Jacket (1850), the first two especially popular
for their exuberant descriptions of native life. After
his marriage to Elizabeth Shaw (1847) he bought a
farm in Massachusetts where among his neighbours
was Nathaniel *Hawthorne to whom Melville
dedicated his masterpiece, Moby Dick; or, the Whale
(1851). Moby Dick is the story of the fatal voyage of
the Pequod under Captain Ahab whose obsession it is