On 26 August 1880 Henry Russell consummated his marriage in an unusual way. He was, to his own mind, married to the Vignemale, the highest French peak in the Pyrenees, and, wishing to spend the night with his beloved, he climbed to the 10,820ft summit and got his servants to dig a trench, bury him under earth and stones, wrapped in his sheepskin sleeping-bag, and leave him to the darkness. He survived and wrote of this night: ‘It seemed as though I had left the earth.’
Russell is one of the oddballs with whom Matthew Carr’s book teems. Another is Sabine Baring-Gould, the author of ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’, who in 1848 visited the Algerian emir Abd-el-Kader, imprisoned by the French in the château at Pau. He was not as impressed by this Sufi hero as most others were.