The poet who could smell vowels

John E. Joseph in the Times Literary Supplement:

0001As he lay dying, in 1913, of arteriosclerosis and influenza, still a lethal combination today, Ferdinand de Saussure must have been sure that, come the year 2007, no one would mark the centenary of his first course on general linguistics at the University of Geneva or the sesquicentenary of his birth, on November 26. His name, never widely known, was forgotten except among the few scholars who recalled his impressive Master’s thesis of thirty-four years earlier.

All this depressed him. A modest, even-tempered man, at the age of fifty-five he harboured no deep bitterness, yet the one thing that consistently upset him was being denied his due. On a visit, in 1911, to his sister Albertine, at Mettingham Castle in Suffolk, her husband, Major Hastings Ross-Johnson, raised a sceptical eyebrow at Ferdinand’s claim to descent from English nobility. In good aristocratic form, Saussure disguised his dismay, but as soon as he returned to Geneva he started writing to cousins for information that would confirm the lineage.

More here.