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William W. Rockhill. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96755).


Rockhill, William Woodville (01 April 1854–08 December 1914), Orientalist and diplomat, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Cadwallader Rockhill, a lawyer, and Dorothy Anna Woodville. The death of his father when William was ten months old, the consequent decision of his energetic mother to move to France, and the near poverty in which he and his brother were raised shaped Rockhill’s childhood, remarkable education, cosmopolitan outlook, and personality. While a cadet at the rigorous École Spéciale Militaire de St. Cyr, Rockhill began his lifetime fascination with the Orient and his serious study of its civilizations and languages, especially Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. After Rockhill graduated with honors from St. Cyr in 1873, this self-driven, stoical perfectionist served three years as sublieutenant in the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. In 1876 he resigned his commission, returned as a virtual stranger to the United States, and married Caroline Adams Tyson, with whom he had two children....