Saturday, June 9, 2018

Quarrelling with Fyodor

‘I was thankful when this miserable day came to an end, for I detest quarrelling. Fyodor never waked me to give me my good-night kiss, and that is a bad sign. But perhaps it was better so; we should only have started quarrelling again.’ This is Anna Snitkina, the very young second wife of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, confiding in a diary which she considered as ‘the friend’ to whom she could ‘entrust my hopes, my thoughts, and all my fears’. Anna died a century ago today, but in her later years transcribed some of her diary (written only for a few years, and in shorthand) into Russian; and she also prepared a manuscript of reminiscences about her husband.

Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina was born in 1846 in St Petersburg. On leaving school she trained to be a stenographer. She was engaged by 
Dostoevsky to work on a novel, The Gamblers. By this time, Dostoevsky, in his mid-40s, had completed several novels, including Crime and Punishment. He had also spent four years in a prison camp for subversive writings, travelled much in Europe, developed a gambling addiction, and been married (to Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, who died in 1864). Within months of meeting Anna, and despite a 25 year age gap, the two were married, in February 1867. Dostoevsky’s gambling debts were such that Anna had to sell her jewellery before the couple could embark on an extended honeymoon in Europe. They remained abroad, in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, for four years, during which time Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot and began work on Demons, and Anna gave birth to two children, though the first died aged three months.

Anna proved to be a steadying influence on her husband, sharing his poverty, enduring his gambling sprees, nursing him through illnesses (he suffered from epilepsy), and helping to manage his finances. On returning to Russia in 1871, the family’s money problems were ongoing, but Anna gave birth to a third child. In 1873, however, they successfully formed their own publishing company, and published Dostoevsky’s Demons. On the back of this success, Dostoevsky launched a periodical, A Writer’s Diary. In 1875, a fourth child was born to the couple in the mineral spa town of Staraya Russa, where they sometimes went for Dostoevsky’s health, and where they eventually bought a house. It was here that Dostoevsky wrote most of his last and most feted book, The Brothers Karamazov. He died in 1881. Thereafter, Anna worked on the archive of literary material and photographs left behind by her husband; and she designed a room in the Historical Museum in Moscow dedicated to him. She also attended to her hobby of stamp-collecting. She died on 9 June 1918. There is a little further information (though not much) about Anna at Wikipedia (as well as within Dostoevsky’s own entry), Russkiy Mir, and

During the first year or two of her marriage, Anna kept a detailed diary in shorthand, filling at least seven notebooks. She only began transcribing this into Russian in the 1890s as an aid to writing her memoirs, and, in fact, only transcribed a small part of the diary, notably six months in 1867. Most of the notebooks no longer seem to be extant, and were possibly destroyed by Anna herself. However, the 1867 diary was published for the first time in Russian in 1923; and Anna’s memoir followed in 1925. The memoir (with extracts from the diary) appeared first in English (Routledge, 1926) and the diary itself appeared two years later. Published as The Diary of Dostoyevsky’s Wife it was edited by René Fülöp-Miller & Dr. Fr. Eckstein, and translated from the German edition by Madge Pemberton (Victor Gollancz, 1928). The memoir - Dostoevsky Portrayed by his Wife - is still in print - see Googlebooks for a preview.

Fülöp-Miller, in his preface, gives Anna’s own explanation
 (as found in the memoir) for why she decided to keep a diary: ‘For the first eighteen months of our married life I kept my diary exclusively in the form of shorthand notes, with occasional gaps of small importance during the time of my illness. I kept this journal for a variety of reasons; for one thing I feared lest, in the rush of new impressions, many small incidents would fade entirely out of my memory; the writing of it, moreover, was an excellent way for me to keep up my shorthand, and help to perfect it into the bargain. But my principal reason was of quite a different nature; my husband was to me such an interesting and wholly enigmatical being, that it seemed to me as though I should find it easier to understand him if I noted down his every thought and expression. Added to which, there was no single soul abroad to whom I could confide either my doubts or my observations, and I came to regard my diary as the friend to whom I could entrust my hopes, my thoughts, and all my fears.’

The following (rather banal) extracts are taken from the 1928 edition of the diary.

2 May 1867
‘I got up at nine, and remembered I must send my letter to Mama, to whom I write every week, and that I simply must ask them about sending money. I enclosed a little note in this letter for Masha, to whom so far I have not written much. Fyodor woke up while I was finishing the letter; and I told him I was going to the post, and went out quickly. I really was back in a few moments, but Fyodor said he would have to keep a fast hold of me, as I was “slippery as a piece of silk.” After tea Fyodor declared he must go to the chemist’s to get some medicine. I was seized with a dreadful fit of jealousy, and thought he was going to meet some other woman. I sat by the window, leaning out as far as I could till I nearly fell out, looking through a pair of field glasses at the way lie went and mum come hack by. Already my heart was filled with all the torment of a deserted wife; my eyes, staring in front of me, were full of tears, and still no Fyodor came. At last I saw my darling strolling along another way home, all unconscious. I went to him at once, and told him what I had been through. (It would have been interesting to know the precise object of my jealousy, for it really could only have been old Ida, or even Frau Zimmermann!) The walk had tired him so much that he sat down and went fast to sleep, after asking me to wake him in half an hour. Suddenly the idiotic thought came into my head that he was dead; full of fear I crept up to him, and saw as I looked at him that he was as alive as could be. I waked him up at a quarter to six; he dressed, and we went through a rather sharp shower out to the Terrace to eat. But there we were to meet with a strange happening, that made it impossible for us to go there for meals in future. Four of the waiters were sitting in the room and playing cards as we went in, and in the room next to it where were only two other customers besides ourselves, only the “Diplomat” was on duty. A Saxon officer came in, and the “Diplomat” flew to serve him. Fyodor knocked, but the “Diplomat” took no notice. Fyodor knocked again, and then the “Diplomat” came up, but made no attempt to listen to us, excused himself, and went back again to the officer. We meant to eat only a la carte, and ordered some soup; the waiter scarcely heard us out, and then brought it to us. Long after we had finished it, he never came near us again, but continued to attend to the officer. Once again Fyodor knocked, and then the waiter spoke very rudely, saying he heard and would be with us presently, and that there was no need to keep on knocking. Then he brought some wine. Fyodor ordered a veal cutlet and two portions of roast fowl. After a while up came the waiter, bringing one portion only of roast chicken. We asked what he meant by it and he declared we had ordered one chicken only. Fyodor put him right and the man went away again saying he would soon bring all we wanted. Fyodor got into a terrible rage. He was all for going away immediately, saying he would not be treated like that by servants, but I took their part as best as I could, as I so wanted to go on dining. Fyodor declared he could wish himself alone. The waiter came back bringing with him one veal cutlet. Obviously he had made this mistake on purpose. Fyodor then completely lost his temper. He asked for the bill which the waiter said came to twenty-two silver groschcn. Fyodor paid him a thaler and wouldn’t take the change up from the table. We left the place, furious. I was really not so furious as Fyodor as to me it had a comic side, our not eating there. I implored him to calm himself, but he wouldn’t, and began to scold. So I told him if he insisted going on like that I would rather go home. Then he began to shout at me and I got so cross I began to go home, but on the way I thought how lonely it would be sitting there all alone, and went to the post instead, to see if there were any letters. But there was nothing, so I bought some cigarettes and went home. Ida told me Fyodor had been back already, walking up and down and then going out again. That made me feel dreadfully upset, for I couldn’t imagine where he had got to. Then I looked out of the window and saw him coming along. I was ever so glad and received him as if nothing had happened. He was pale and agitated, and obviously depressed by our quarrel. He told me how he had hurried after me at once, and not finding me at home thought I must have gone on to the Terrace, to show my independence by eating there. We dressed then and went out in the pouring rain. But where to go we knew not for one can hardly get lunch at eight in the evening. We passed the Hotel Victoria on our way, so we went in. Everything there was very nice and well ordered; newspapers and writing material lying on the tables. We asked for the menu and chose three dishes, and this little meal came to two thalers, ten silver groschen. Certainly everything was beautifully done, but the price is fearfully high. Actually twelve silver groschen for one chop - who ever heard of such a price! We also had ices, and I must say we had never seen such beautiful pink ices as those they brought us, and not really so very dear, either. At nine o’clock, when we had finished our meal we went on our way home again; but to-day was to be a day of disagreements. I had opened my umbrella; but as I do not know how to handle it so beautifully as do these immaculate Germans, I got it all tangled up with some worthy German gentleman. Fyodor started positively yelling at me and for very rage I started to tremble all over. We had to go to the locksmith to get our trunk, but the shop had been closed long ago and all our knocking was in vain. We started quarrelling again once we were at home, drinking tea - oh, what a miserable day! I wanted to talk quite calmly to Fyodor about his journey the next day; but he misunderstood me and started shouting again; that was too much for me; I started shouting myself, and then went into the bedroom. Repentance followed, moaning over my misery, doubts as to whether we were suited to one another, and so on and so forth. How foolish are all these heart storms and all this unhappiness over something that is not really even there! I was thankful when this miserable day came to an end, for I detest quarrelling. Fyodor never waked me to give me my good-night kiss, and that is a bad sign. But perhaps it was better so; we should only have started quarrelling again. Fyodor is going away, not to-morrow, but the day after.’

29 July 1867
‘Early this morning, the weather was perfectly lovely, but towards ten it clouded over and rain began to fall. More boredom, and I simply do not know what to do with myself. I suppose I should go along to the Reading Room, but I don’t like turning up there in my shabby gloves. So I stayed in again all day, and was most dreadfully at a loose end. For sheer lack of occupation I started translating a French book. It would be a good thing to get used to it, and then I should be able to translate something good. The weather was as dismal as my state of mind, and I could hardly wait for our dinner to be brought in, which was better to-day. Afterwards, Fyodor lay down for an hour’s sleep, and I read. When he got up again we went to the post and then on to the Reading Room, where we found a great many people, including ladies. But for some reason or other there was a heavy smell of cabbage, and at the reading table there was no room. We sat down by the window. The man in charge handed Fyodor some Russian papers at once, and we started reading; when it got dark we moved to the table, on which a lamp was burning. An Englishman was wandering around, also wanting to read, but he couldn’t find a proper place, and created quite a disturbance in the room that is usually so silent. It annoyed me very much. I read the “Moscow News” and the “Northern Bee.” At last the fidgety Englishman changed his place, and I was duly glad of it. A Russian lady, fairly elderly, sat herself down next to us and demanded Russian papers. She was probably beautiful in her day, but now is so no more. Like all the Russian women here, she was dressed in Russian fashion, and very badly at that. Then came in a charming girl, whom I, had I been a man, should have fallen in love with. A dear little nose, blue eyes, sable eye-brows, but unfortunately her face so made up that, for all she could not have been more than three and twenty, she appeared quite wrinkled. Finally we went home; on the way, I went into a baker’s shop and bought “Lenten Buns,” which I did not much care for at first, but afterwards continued to eat the whole evening. I was fearfully cold, and shivering all over my body, so that I almost began to think I was sickening for nettle rash. After drinking some tea I lay down on Fyodor’s bed and went to sleep, while he worked and wrote. He told me to-day he was going to start dictating his article to me to-morrow. I am delighted about it as that means I shall have something to do and time will not hang so heavy on my hands. I lay there for a couple of hours, then went to bed, and to sleep again. Fyodor was very sweet when he came to bed later, and said a multitude of nice things.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Diary briefs

Diary of the Kennedy’s nanny - Daily Mail, Today

Nancy Mitford’s 1968 Paris diary - The Spectator

Hidden pages in Frank’s diary - Anne Frank museum, The New York Times

The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge - BloomsburyThe Sydney Morning Herald

The Romanovs Under House Arrest - Holy Trinity Publications, Royal Russia News

The War Outside My Window - Casemate publishers, The Telegraph

The Voice of a Heroin Addict - KCBDAmazon

Hangman Pierrepoint’s diary of death - Sumner’s Place Auctions, Daily Express

Mafeking soldier’s diary - Antiquarian AuctionsDaily Express

Alan Rickman’s diaries to be sold - Neil Pearson Rare Books, Daily Mirror

Diary of NZ farmer - MTG Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand Herald

Diary written on castle floorboards - BBC, Daily Mirror

Walter Draycott’s war chronicle - North Vancouver Museums

Fujimoto family diaries - University of California, UCR Today

WW2 Vatican museum diaries - Vatican News

Albert Einstein’s travel diaries -

Diaries of Soviet war children - RT News

George Formby archive found - BBC

Friday, June 1, 2018

What might have been

André Laurendeau, a French Canadian writer and politician, died 60 years ago today. He is most well remembered for spending the last five years of his life as chairman of the ambitious Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, set up in 1963, designed to try and find solutions to the escalating crisis between French and English speaking peoples. The stress and workload of the position, and an increasing despondency at the Commission’s achievements, may have contributed to his early death. He left behind a diary, published in 1991, which, according to Patricia Smart’s introduction, traces his ‘intellectual and personal evolution against the background of the major political events of the years he was involved in the Commission’. But, ultimately, she wonders whether the diary can only serve ‘as a lament for what might have been’. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia ‘the unsolved consequences of biculturalism is still a key question in Canadian unity’.

Laurendeau was born in 1912 in Montreal, into a well-connected Quebec family, his father was an ardent nationalist. André was given a classical education at Collège Sainte-Marie and studied literature and history at the Université de Montréal. In 1933, he and several friends formed a youth separatist movement, advocating a homeland for French Canadians. In June 1935, he married Ghislaine Perrault, and the two of them soon travelled to France, where Laurendeau studied philosophy and social sciences at the Sorbonne. There he eschewed his focus on nationalism, and became more preoccupied with the Americanisation of French-Canadian culture (as opposed to the threat posed by English Canada). Upon returning home, he served as director of the L’Action nationale from 1937 to 1943 which previously had been managed by his father.

Laurendeau came to prominence during the Second World War years as leader of the anti-conscription Bloc populaire, under whose banner he sat in the Quebec Legislative Assembly from 1944 to 1947. Thereafter, he was a member of the editorial board of Le Devoir (and its editor from 1958); he also returned to being a director of L’Action nationale. He is credited with turning Le Devoir into an effective forum for criticism of Maurice Duplessis’s second government (1944-1959).

Laurendeau became a leading spokesman for a wave of neo-nationalism in Quebec, a policy which was adopted by the Québec Liberal Party of Jean Lesage. However, fearing the consequences of a rising tide of separatism, he called for the Québec and Ottawa governments to look into the crisis. Prime Minister Lester Pearson responded in 1963 by creating the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism with Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton as co-chairmen. Laurendeau worked zealously for five years, and although the commission did produce various reports and recommendations, many of which were taken up by the incoming Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, it never published a final volume. Laurendeau died on 1 June 1968, the strain of Commission work being cited as partly responsible for his early death. Further information can be found at Wikipedia and The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Laurendeau kept a diary of his time as co-chairman of the Commission. This was later published, first in French, and then in an English translation as The Diary of André Laurendeau (James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 1991). Some pages can be freely read online at Googlebooks. The Canadian writer Patricia Smart provides an informative and explanatory introduction. She starts by explaining that the B&B Commission, as it was known, ‘was arguably the most important - also the most lengthy, the most expensive and the most controversial - commission of enquiry in Canada’s history.’

She continues: ‘Were it simply an account of the inner workings of such an important government body, André Laurendeau’s diary would be a valuable document. What makes it far more than that is the image it traces of Laurendeau’s intellectual and personal evolution against the background of the major political events of the years he was involved in the Commission. Begun in January 1964, four months after he had accepted the chairmanship of the Commission, the diary gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the way the Commission was put in place, including Laurendeau’s own initial hesitation to accept the position of Co-Chairman and his decision, after consulting with a number of Quebec political figures - Jean Marchand, Rene Levesque, Claude Ryan and others - that he must follow the logic of his commitment to Quebec and Canada to its conclusion. From the beginning, Laurendeau insisted to Prime Minister Pearson that if the inquiry was to be effective it must include culture as well as language, that it must be based on the principle of the equality of Canada’s “two founding peoples,” and that it must have the authorization to include recommendations for constitutional reform.’

And, finally, Smart concludes (in 1991): ‘For today’s readers, André Laurendeau’s pilgrimage in search of a means to allow this country to realize its potential may seems quixotic, or - more frighteningly - no longer worth the effort; and in that case his diary will remain as a lament for what might have been. [However . . .] Even as I write these lines, changes are taking place that may oblige Canadians to come to terms at last with the reality Laurendeau devoted the last years of his life to finding a solution for. With both major political parties in Quebec now committed to a radical restructuring of federalism, the province is speaking from a position of strength that twenty-five years ago Laurendeau had come to suspect was the necessary prerequisite to real dialogue with English Canada.’

It is worth nothing that much more recently Smart has published a book - Writing Herself into Being (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017) - which includes a discussion of the lifelong diary kept by Laurendeau’s wife, Ghislaine Perrault. Pages of this can also be found online at Googlebooks. Here, though, are several extracts from Laurendeau’s diary.

12 April 1964.
‘Woke up this morning in Halifax in a thick fog, amid the screaming of sirens. We arrived here last night on our way to Sydney.

I note some impressions I’ve had over the last few days. Essentially the Maritimer is a Canadian dissatisfied with Canada, who remembers the period before Confederation as a period of prosperity, and who feels a constant need for interventions, at least on the financial level - which means grants from Ottawa. It is not only a political attitude: it’s a profound part of his psychology. He considers himself mistreated almost as much as the Quebecois does, but since he feels weaker economically, and less different from a cultural point of view, his criticisms always lead to more requests for money rather than a demand for greater autonomy.’

2 May 1964.
‘On Saturday, April 25, at about 5:00 p.m., return to an impossible life: I leave Montreal first for Toronto, then for Vancouver. During the stopover in Toronto, I learn from the Toronto Star that a commissioner fell asleep at the regional meeting the previous day in Edmonton, and that another spent his time smoking cigarettes in front of a no-smoking sign; a woman in the audience even commented that he must not speak English . . . A disagreeable impression, since all this appears on page 1 of Canada’s largest daily paper. I sit with Neil, Mr. Stinson and Frank Scott on the plane. It’s about 6:30; a red sun is on the point of disappearing over the horizon when the plane takes off. As we’re climbing quite quickly into the sky, the sun all of a sudden seems to be rising. And then we observe an amazing spectacle: a twilight that lasts for four and a half hours. During the first hour, we distinctly see Georgian Bay, then Lake Superior, and finally the desolate view of Northern Ontario. Then a screen of clouds settles in below us, and all we can see is this extraordinary end of a day, so slow that you feel you are out of time. It is only when we’re approaching Vancouver that night falls.

Dr. Walden meets us at the airport, and it’s a good thing: for the second time my suitcase has been lost, and I have to borrow a pair of pyjamas, buy a toothbrush and shave with someone else’s razor.

The stay in Vancouver starts out rather painfully. It’s not yet ten o’clock by Vancouver time and Dunton, who arrived the same day from Edmonton, isn’t yet back from dinner. Marchand, Gagnon, Lacoste and Boisvert are travelling by train. The others gradually drift into our suite, and I learn in bits and pieces that the Edmonton incident was decidedly disgraceful, and that it could have led to unpleasant consequences. Two of the commissioners had had too much to drink at dinner; one snored through the session, despite the nudges of Jean Marchand, who was sitting beside him, and the other made some imprudent comments (specifically on the need for a new newspaper in Edmonton). The staff were disappointed and humiliated by this public behaviour. The next day I learned that Jean Marchand royally chewed out one of the commissioners, who failed to understand his veiled allusions. All this seems far away now, but at the time we were all thinking of what would have happened if a newspaper had photographed our indiscreet sleeping friend. When Dunton arrived he seemed nervous and even aggressive, which is not his usual style. . .

The Commission met at 5:00 p.m. (the next day) for a briefing from Dr. Walden, who has done excellent work and recruited some remarkable collaborators. We ate on the run because at 8:00 there was a press conference in the presence of about twenty high-school students and the discussion leaders for the next day’s session. It wasn’t a very good blend: it meant we had a gathering in which the journalists felt a bit lost; and we had to exclude them from the meeting once the interviews were over . . . Once they were gone - and one of them surreptitiously tried to stay - it became a lot more interesting. Neil Morrison said a few words, and immediately the young people started to come forth with questions and opinions. I have only a vague recollection of what they said; I think it dealt mainly with language questions: Is it possible to learn French in Vancouver? Why this pre-eminence being given to French? How “good” is the French spoken by French Canadians? etc. Their ignorance of Quebec is no greater than that of other groups. And yet Dunton caught them out with a clever question: “How many of you know that Quebec has a rural majority?” All the hands were raised, and we burst out laughing. Dunton made the correction: 65% of the province is now urban, to which we could have added that there hasn’t been a rural majority since 1921. These young people are a good forty years behind the times; but it’s true that we took a long time ourselves to notice this transformation. This meeting, which lasted over an hour, was truly refreshing, and one had the feeling it could have gone on for hours. But to be really fruitful it would have had to contain a presentation on Quebec - which brings us back to our insoluble problem: for it’s a presentation we can’t make ourselves and that we can’t officially ask anyone else to make.

Finally, a fairly technical discussion with the group leaders, then coffee. A young businessman said to me: “Do you know why I’m here this evening? Like most people, I was fairly indifferent to this problem. About a month ago, I heard a speech by a young Liberal MP, a man with an attractive personality, very French Canadian. When he spoke in French, I said to myself: I don’t understand a thing he’s saying, no more than if he were speaking Russian; and yet he’s using the language spoken by a third of the Canadian people. My ignorance seemed to me abnormal.” Unfortunately, one swallow doesn’t a springtime make . . .

On Monday the 28th, the evening regional meeting was held in a shopping centre, almost in the suburbs. We expected a fiasco, but more than 400 people came. All the commissioners and group leaders were crowded onto a little stage, blinded by floodlights, but just the same it was a very lively meeting. It started out with a series of negative comments on Quebec, one after the other, very disagreeable to listen to; the theme was that of a “retarded people,” and retarded through its own fault. And then a young man I had met earlier in the day got up and said: “Keep on insulting French Canadians like this, and you’ll create thousands more new separatists in Quebec.” That was the turning point: others pointed out the large number of errors and prejudice in what had just been expressed, tried to set the record straight, etc. Neil was very nervous, and irritated by the comments he was constantly getting from the commissioners sitting near him. Once the meeting ended, he lost his temper: “This is the last meeting that I chair.” There was no point in trying to talk to him at that moment.

We went back and chatted in our suite, and later Jean-Louis, Mrs. Laing and I went out to eat in an Italian restaurant.’

9 September 1964.
‘. . . I went to Ottawa Tuesday evening, August 25, and got in touch with the Commission the next day. It was mostly a matter of setting up the meeting for the following week. The calendar set up in July has been followed to a certain extent: all those concerned - with the exception of Dunton and Morrison, away on holidays - sent in their drafts on the agreed dates. Personnel did, too. As for phase two, that is, comments on the texts that are in, the deadlines weren’t met with the same rigour. The projected overview has been done, to some extent, by a staff member, Mr. Hawkins. In addition, Mr. Dunton, when he came back from his holidays, wrote a plan for the entire report, which was sent to me in Saint-Ga- briel at the end of mine. It’s truly a wonderful text, with a simple and convincing tone, that brings together a considerable number of facts and impressions. Its shortcoming is probably the fact that it doesn’t bring out the crisis aspect enough, a crisis which most of the commissioners sense keenly in Canada at the present time, and which Léon Dion had proposed we use as the report’s central theme . . .’

8 February 1965
‘A lot has gone on recently that I don’t have time to go into, but I will go into one incident having to do with the Department of External Affairs.

Occasionally, ever since the beginning of the inquiry, French-Canadian civil servants have proved to be very uncooperative. It’s quite understandable: in order for them to pursue a career in the civil service as it now exists, they have had to accept it for the most part, even though it was hard on them and they did their best to see it progress to some extent.

Everything I’ve just said applies, I believe, to Marcel Cadieux, Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. We learned that the officials of this department wanted to submit a crucial paper; Mr. Cadieux intervened, and there would no longer be a paper. He didn’t like our using André Patry to investigate various aspects related to Canada abroad. He made his position clear to us through a letter signed by his minister, Mr. Martin, after which we met him. He was accompanied by one of his departmental chiefs who was taking notes. His official attitude came down to this: the Commission was not asked to investigate Canada’s foreign policy - which was patently obvious, no more than it was asked to investigate the running of trains by CNR, or the way the Armed Forces ensure Canada’s defence. However, we have to sniff around quite a bit to fulfil our mandate. And that’s what we answered, unwaveringly. Another letter from Mr. Cadieux summarized the meeting leaving out essential details, but Mr. Dunton courteously set the record straight in a subsequent letter. It was even said that Mr. Cadieux was quietly campaigning against our way of doing things with his colleagues, the deputy ministers. It remains to be seen if this is in fact true and what consequences it might have.’

Friday, May 18, 2018

Hope remains above all

‘The arrival of this “Red Guard,” as it is now called, or any armed detachment, excites rumors and fear here. It was simply amusing to hear what they say these last few days. The commander of our detachment apparently also was confused, since the last two nights the guards detachment and machine guns were brought in the evening. Hope remains above all in these present times!’ This is from the diary kept by Nicholas II, the last emperor of imperial Russia, in the months leading up to the execution of him and his family. Nicholas, who was born 150 years ago today, wrote in his diary nearly every day. An English translation has never been published as such, but one is available online thanks to Kent de Price, an arts student at the University of Montana in the 1960s, who wrote his dissertation on the diary. However, considering Nicholas’s imperial and dramatic life, the diary is an extraordinarily dull document.

Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov was born on 18 May 1868 in Alexander Palace, St Petersburg, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. He had five younger siblings. The family was closely related to other European royal families, making annual trips, for example, to Danish royal palaces to visit his mother’s parents - the Danish king and queen. He was educated at home by tutors with a military focus, and served in the army for three years, before touring Europe and Asia for the best part of a further year. In 1894, after the death of his father, he succeeded to the Russian throne. Days later, he married German princess Alix of Hesse, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. As Russian Tsarina and Empress, she became known as Alexandra Feodorovna. They had four daughters before a son and heir was born in 1904, though it soon became clear he suffered from the inherited disease of haemophilia.

Nicholas II proved an insecure and incapable leader, distrusting his ministers; and he was often dominated by Alexandra. It was she who sought the advice of spiritualists and faith healers, most notably Rasputin, who eventually acquired great power over the royal couple. At home, Nicholas ruled autocratically believing he had a divine right to do so; but he met rising unrest with intensified police repression. And, abroad, he took naive fateful decisions. In mid-1905, he concluded an alliance with the German emperor William II, yet Russia was already allied with France, Germany’s long-standing enemy at the time. To the east, his expansionist ambitions led to a disastrous war with Japan. Russia’s defeat led to discontent at home. After the army shot at a crowd of protesters in St Petersburg, Nicholas was forced to allow a constitution and to establish a parliament, the Duma. During the early years of the First World War, his position was strengthened by an alliance with Britain and France; however after mid-1915, when he took direct control of the army, he was increasingly seen as responsible for its military failures.

With Nicholas often away, German-born Alexandra became increasingly involved in domestic issues, but also the focus of public criticism, as was her mystic ally Rasputin. In late 1916, Rasputin was murdered, and by February 1917 there were widespread demonstrations in the capital. When Nicholas lost the support of the army, he had no choice but to abdicate. A provisional government was established, and the royal family were eventually imprisoned in the Ural Mountains. In 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the government, and after a punishing peace treaty with Germany in 1918, civil war broke out. In July of the same year, Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, British Library, BBC, Encyclopaedia Britannica,, Spartacus, or the Alexander Palace Time Machine.

Historians note that Nicholas kept a daily diary, usually written at 11pm every night. A French edition of this, covering the years July 1914-June 1918, appeared in Paris in 1924. But no English edition followed. In the mid-1960s, a portion of the diary, from March 1917 to July 1918, was translated into English by Arlo Furnis at the behest of a student, Kent de Price, who was writing a dissertation on the diary for his arts degree at the University of Montana. This dissertation has since become freely available online at the university’s ScholarWorks and at Internet Archive. English translations of selected parts of the diary can also be found at the Alexander Palace Time Machine, though these differ markedly form those by Furnis.

Nicholas’s diary is very disappointing (considering his status), for it lacks any detail about political events going on in the country, and tends to be a dull roll call of domestic routines. Kent de Price says this: ‘He confided family events, people who visited him, and items of interest in his personal life. Nicholas has been criticised by many for saying little of importance in the diary. But the reader should remember that his entries were meant to be read by no one outside the family. Important events would, of course, be recorded in official court journals, of which Nicholas would retain a copy.’ Here are several extracts (though I’ve tried to choose some which are slightly more interesting than most).

11 March 1917
‘In the morning I received Benckendorf. I learned from him that we had stayed here long enough. It was a pleasant realization. I continued to burn my letters and papers. Anastasia had an earache, so now she went with the rest of them [the sick children]. From 3 o’clock until 4:30 I walked in the garden with Dolgorukov and worked in the garden. The weather was unpleasant with a wind at about 2 degrees above frost. At 6:45 we went to vespers in the camp church. Alix took her bath before I took mine. I went to see Anna, Lili Dehn and the rest of our friends.’

21 March 1917
‘Today Kerensky, the present minister of Justice, came. He went through all the rooms and wanted to see us. He talked to me for five minutes. He introduced the new Palace commander and then left. He ordered the arrest of poor Anna and took her to the city together with Lili Dehn. This happened between 3 and 4 o’clock while I was walking. The weather was disgusting and it corresponded to our mood. Marie and Anastasia slept almost all day. After dinner the four of us calmly passed the evening away with Olga and Tatiana.’

3 April 1917
‘It was a wonderful spring day. At 11 o’clock, I went with Tatiana and Anastasia to Mass. After breakfast I went walking with them and all during that time the ice was breaking up near our summer dock; a crowd of idlers again collected at the railings and from the beginning to the end observed us. The sun was shining warmly. During the evening I played “Mill” with Alexis and then read aloud to Tatiana.’

14 May 1917
‘It was in different surroundings that we celebrated the 21st anniversary of my coronation! The weather was 15 degrees in the shade. Until Mass I took a walk with Alexis. During the day from 2:00 until 4:30 we spent the time out in the garden; I went for a ride in the canoe, and in the boat; and I worked for a while in the vegetable garden, where I prepared the new beds, and later we were on the island. After tea and during the evening I read.’

3 June 1917
‘After tea Kerensky suddenly came by car from the city. He stayed with me for a while. He asked me to send to the investigating committee some papers and letters having relations to internal policies. After my walk and until lunch I helped Korovichenko in an analysis of those papers. During the day he was helped by Kobylinsky. We sawed up the tree trunks in the first place we cut. During that time something happened to Alexis’s toy rifle. He was playing with it on the island; the sentry walking in the garden saw him and asked the officer to take it away from him.’

5 June 1917
‘Today dear Anastasia turned 16 years old. I took a walk with all the children until 12 o’clock. We all went to prayer services. During the day we chopped down some big fir trees at the crossing of the three roads along the Arsenal. There was a colossal fire, the sun was reddish, and in the air was the smell of burning, probably from peat burning somewhere. We went sailing for a little while. During the evening we walked until 8 o’clock. I started the 3rd volume of Le comte de Monte Christo.’

28 June 1917
‘Yesterday we lost 3,000 troops and about 30 vehicles. Word of God! The weather became cloudy and warm. After my walk I gave a history lesson to Alexis. We worked out there again and cut down three fir trees. After tea and until dinner I read.’

31 July 1917
‘It is the last day of our sojourn In Tsarskoe Selo. The weather became wonderful. During the day we worked in the same place and sawed down four trees and sawed up yesterday’s. After dinner, we awaited the time of our leaving, which keeps being put aside. Unexpectedly Kerensky arrived and told us we were leaving.’

5 August 1917
‘During the trip along the Tura, I slept very little. Alix and I had one very uncomfortable cabin, and all the girls were together in the fifth cabin down the corridor. Further toward the bow was a good sitting room and a small cabin with a piano. Second Class is under us, and this is where all the soldiers from the First Regiment who are traveling with us stay. All day we went topside, and stayed in the pleasant air. The weather was overcast but dry and warm. In front of us was a mine sweeper and behind another steamship with the soldiers from the 2nd and 4th Infantry Regiments and the rest of the baggage. We stopped two hours to load firewood. Toward night it got cold. We have our kitchen staff here on the steamship. Everybody went to sleep early.’

24 August 1917
‘It was a nice day. V. N. Derevenko and his family arrived and that was the biggest thing that had happened for days. Unfortunately, bad news from the front was confirmed. We learned that Riga still stood but that our army had retreated far into the northeast.’

5 September 1917
‘Telegrams arrive here twice a day; many of then are composed so obscurely that it is difficult to understand them. Evidently in Petrograd there is great confusion. Again there has been a change in the staff of the government. Evidently no one escapes from the enterprises of General Kornilov; he himself sides part of the time with the generals and officers who are prisoners to their own army and part of the time with the army. He goes to Petrograd and then leaves again. The weather became wonderfully hot.’

25 September 1917
‘It was nice weather, 14 degrees above frost in the shade. During our walk the Commissar, his foul assistant commissar. Ensign Nikolsky, and three sentries searched our house looking for wine. Not finding any, they came out in half an hour and left. After tea we began to move our things which had arrived from Tsarskoe Selo.’

14 November 1917
‘Today was the 23rd anniversary of our wedding! At 12 o’clock services were held; the choir got confused and went astray. It must be that they had not been practicing. The weather was sunny, warm and with gusts of wind. After tea, I re-read my last diary. It was a pleasant occupation.’

14 February 1918
‘We have had to reduce our expenses significantly for food and servants because the use of personal capital is reduced to only 600 rubles a month. All the last few days we have been occupied calculating the minimum which we would be allowed to take, all in all.’

14 March 1918
‘The bodyguards here were dismissed when their term of service was finished. But nevertheless together with the guard detachment they had to be sent to the city. From Omsk they sent a command for this village. The arrival of this “Red Guard,” as it is now called, or any armed detachment, excites rumors and fear here. It was simply amusing to hear what they say these last few days. The commander of our detachment apparently also was confused, since the last two nights the guards detachment and machine guns were brought in the evening. Hope remains above all in these present times!’

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Happy birthday Brian Eno

‘Beautiful late TV show of pop?/classical?/Turkish?/Arabic? orchestra and singing. Extraordinarily ugly audience transformed to beauty by singing. What clothes the musicians were wearing! Style in an orchestra! What a good idea.’ This is a snippet from a one-off diary kept by Brian Eno, the British musical artist and producer who turned 70 today. He is widely celebrated for his pioneering work with ambient music and electronica and as a highly innovative music producer.

Eno was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on 15 May 1948 to Catholic parents. He went to school at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, and studied at Winchester School of Art, where a lecture by Pete Townshend had a particular impact. He married Sarah Greville in 1967, and they had a daughter the same year, though divorced soon after. In 1971, Eno became a founding member of Roxy Music. Initially, he operated a mixing desk (a synthesiser and tape recorders) off stage during live shows, but later, when he did appear on stage, he was usually dressed flamboyantly. He left the band in 1973 as a result of tension with the singer Bryan Ferry, and set about a solo career. Several albums followed quickly - such as No Pussyfooting, Here Come the Warm Jets - and by the mid-1970s he was already developing ideas on ambient music: subtle instrumentals to affect mood through sound (with albums such as Discrete Music and Music for Airports).

By this time, Eno had begun producing albums - often in experimental ways - for other musicians, such as Ultravox and David Bowie, though it was not until he started collaborating with Talking Heads (fronted by David Byrne) and U2 that his particular style and sound became familiar to mainstream music consumers. In 1988, he married his manager, Anthea Norman-Taylor, and they had two daughters. During the 1990s, he worked increasingly with self-generating musical systems, or generative music, whereby music slowly unfolds for the listener in almost infinite non-repeating combinations of sounds. Notably, in 1995, he worked with the performance artist Laurie Anderson on Self Storage, while Anderson provided the vocals for a track on Eno’s electronic album Drawn from Life in 2000. He produced Paul Simon’s Surprise in 2006 and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida in 2008. That same year, he joined with David Byrne to release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today on the Internet, streaming it for free. In parallel with his purely musical endeavours, Eno has also made a name for himself in other media, notably video installations.

Most recently Eno has been focusing on music albums, some of them solo but also in collaboration with artists such as Tom Rogerson and Karl Hyde. He is also political - a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn - and a frequent contributor to various humanitarian causes. AllMusic has this assessment of Eno: ‘Ambient pioneer, glam rocker, hit producer, multimedia artist, technological innovator, worldbeat proponent, and self-described non-musician - over the course of his long, prolific, and immensely influential career, Brian Eno was all of these things and much, much more. Determining his creative pathways with the aid of a deck of instructional, Tarot-like cards called Oblique Strategies, Eno championed theory over practice, serendipity over forethought, and texture over craft; in the process, he forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.’ There’s plenty of biographical information about Eno available elsewhere online, at Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or in a recent Guardian interview.

Though not a natural diarist, Eno did keep a daily diary for a year in 1995. Initially, he had no thought of it being published, yet, by the autumn, he had begun to think he might publish the contents and, consequently, had changed the way he was writing. The diary was published the following year by Faber & Faber as A Year With Swollen Appendices (the year-long diary being accompanied by over 30 appendices - essays, letters etc.). A full copy of the book can be read online at Monoskop (a wiki for collaborative studies of the arts, media and humanities), and reader reviews can be found at Good Reads. The book starts with a short section entitled About This Diary in which Eno explains his decision to keep the diary in the first place and then to have it published. Here is part of that introduction.

‘I’ve never kept a diary past about 6 January (so I know a lot about the early Januaries of my life), but at the end of 1994 I made a resolution to keep one for 1995. I did it because I wanted to schedule in advance some of the things that Anthea and I don’t get round to doing often enough - going to the cinema, the theatre, galleries and so on.

So I started this diary - an A5 page-a-day type - by ambitiously writing in all the things we were going to do, on the days we were going to do them (cinema every first Tuesday of the month, for example). As a sideline, I thought I might as well try to keep a record of the year. The preplanning idea failed within weeks, but, surprisingly, I kept up the diary.

When I started I had no intention at all of publishing it. It wasn’t until mid-October that I began to think that an expanded, addended form of this diary, with its mishmash of ideas, observations, admirations, speculations and grumbles, could become the book for which Matthew Evans of Faber so trustingly gave me a £100,000,000 advance several years ago. I’d put a lot of thought into that, and never found the form I wanted. One day Stewart Brand said to me in an e-mail, ‘Why don’t you assume you’ve written your book already - and all you have to do now is find it?’, and several weeks later this way of doing exactly that dawned on me.

From October onwards the diary becomes more self-conscious - I knew from that date that I was probably going to publish. Also from that time I switched from writing in the diary itself to writing directly on to the word processor - since I’d had everything to date transcribed into it anyway. These two things changed the nature of the writing: I became both more diplomatic and more prolix. I write much faster at the WP, and I was not limited by the single-page format. I haven’t tried to match up the two sections of the diary.’

Here are several extracts.

13 February 1995
‘Peter Greenaway 4.00.

In studio at 8.30. Dreadful crowded bus - trying to read Being Digital in very analogue conditions. Want to start getting some writing done, but worried that I also have to do the Storage press thing - really in the way. But, anyway, in I went to produce a typically stiff and tortuous five pages (double-spaced) which did however open up a few new ideas. Trouble is, as soon as I start thinking I go off into the back alleys and dirt tracks. I’ve found things up there before, and the habit stays.

Greenaway cancelled.

Renata came to clean, but I’d already wrecked the morning by resorting to Photoshop. Meanwhile office calling about ‘Industrial Start Small Plot of Land’, one of the D. B. mixes I’d done, which I couldn’t find. Found another (forgotten) opening. I’m a bit remote from this project at the moment. Back to writing (title: ‘Attention Creates Value’). Dull and pedantic, like a professor. Spoke to Michael re Storage.

Home at 5.30, playing with girls; defrosted sausages in microwave. Andree came over and I made prawns and garlic.

Anthea returned at 7.30 from Zagreb, with lots of lists of bizarre and, she thought, rather suspicious ‘aid’ organizations, all with ‘Freedom’ or ‘Democracy’ or ‘American’ in their titles. War
Child was apparently the only charity present that was active doing something.’

16 February 1995
‘Write Roger / Shoes / Mark Baldwin 2.00 / Peter Schwartz / Call James Putnam / Laurie stuff.

Nightmare about falling off a cliff, screaming into the wind, clinging on to a tiny ledge with elbows and fingertips, knowing no one above - including Anton Corbijn - would bear me, know ing I must soon fall and crash on the rocks below.

Wasn’t looking forward to today, but it turned out OK. Tons of annoying little jobs to do but I managed to work on some of Laurie’s stuff, which turned out so well I suddenly had the idea to suggest each Self-Storage project use one of Laurie’s pieces as its ‘content’ - ready-made content. Faxed and talked to David Blarney about this, and he liked it. It solves a lot of problems, giving the students the choice of making ‘frames’ rather than ‘content’ if they want to. I always prefer making frames: making context rather than content.

In the evening to the Browns’ for dinner. Emma said all she wanted to do when she grew up was have children - and write a book at the age of 50.’

19 February 1995
‘How excitingly dominant these wealthy, healthy, modishly dressed and highly perfumed German ladies look! All German history - at least from Goethe to the Nazis - transmutes in them into a statement of sexual power.

Enormous breakfast! - fruit, meat, muesli, two pots of tea, papaya juice.

I feel like I had an ideal day today - it had fun, art, ideas and satisfactory work. Ever since I first met her I’ve had this great bond with Maria. Really a deep-fun friendship which I couldn’t have with any man. I guess there’s a kind of flirting in it - but ironic, a game, because I’m sure that in her mind as well as mine there’s never been any thought of sexual contact. But the game of flirting is a fun game which we play - just for fun; and because it lets us talk about other things, serious things, in that just-for-fun way. I love her company - and so does Rolf. At dinner tonight I wanted to say, ‘Will you please get married. Now!’ because they both shine so much in each other’s company.

At Pixelpark, home of the ROM-makers, I gave a speech and really liked those people. I realize that what I’m talking about is a ‘rule moiré: patterns of rule interactions created by overlays of probabilistic decision matrices. Of course I wouldn’t say that to anyone.

At Sigi’s MediaPool we put in birch trees - recalled from my show in Hanover. Well remembered, Rolf! In the evening we went to see Alan Wexler’s show, which was full of thousands of good ideas. What a truly individual thinker. Then to CD-Rom fest, which was mildly yawnsome. BLINDROM was good.

Beautiful late TV show of pop?/classical?/Turkish?/Arabic? orchestra and singing. Extraordinarily ugly audience transformed to beauty by singing. What clothes the musicians were wearing! Style in an orchestra! What a good idea.’

21 February 1995
‘Out to swim (8.20-8.45) in local pool, but a less lovely experience than Berlin. To studio early for tapes for RCA. Another difficult day. I thought Laurie’s tapes would do the job, but the reaction was cautious. In the end, some good ideas.

Clemente show. Very uneven work - some really lovely things and some really incomprehensibly flat things. The pastels are beautiful - his medium for sure. The Upanishads! Eye-smashingly lovely. The kind of show that makes you think, ‘Fuck me! What have I been doing with my life?’ Saw Diego Cortez there! Felt oddly torn not to go to Groucho with Diego et al. Perhaps I was missing a possible future.

But a lovely dinner with Anthea. Her unthinkable future = ‘people of different signs go to war with each other’ - from our delicious evening dinner at L’Altro. Conversation about cities, pragmatism v. ideology, NGO’s, management.

Got home - message from Maria: she says I can go to Egypt (sleeping above the engine room). Now it’s time to decide - things to move and change; Self-Storage project a problem. Anthea says everybody should visit Egypt and I should go (she went years ago).’

23 February 1995
‘A future for air travel: inflight docking facilities above countries, so that ‘Rome’ - a huge Italian mall - hooks up as you fly over Italy. Aircraft and mall then move as a unit.

Bought three books about Egypt from the Travel Bookshop. Long flight - one whole book’s worth. Bought a camera!

Getting off the plane - a hint of sewage in the air, but somehow exotic and alluring. My driver tells me it’s Ramadan. We share a cigarette as we sit in Mercedes-rich traffic between beautiful orientalist buildings. Crowded, battered vehicles. Soft, cool air.

Apartments studded with air conditioners. It’s nice arriving somewhere at night - night cloaks the mundane with intrigue. Solid traffic, people weaving in and out nonchalantly, drivers cursing very chalantly. A five- or six-year-old boy, arms full of cartons of cigarettes, dances thru five lanes of fast cars. Terrifying. The more wrecked the vehicle, the more shit stuck on it. People on mopeds - carrying kids, huge baskets, an oil-drum.

At the hotel, opening the curtains in my room and looking out into the night, I see, dimly, a dark amber against a hazy sky: the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Now there’s a justifiable use of capital letters.

Ate dolmas, watched TV, listened to echoey laughing Arabs outside. Jay Leno, that stultifyingly unfunny man, on TV. The pyramids in the dim night outside. And yet I am watching Jay Leno (better reception).’

15 September 1995
‘Serious interview in morning (with whom now escapes me). Home, into office quickly, then to meet girls from school; in taxi to Golborne Road. Went to buy fish with them, the fishmen proudly showing them live lobsters. I find it difficult to justify meat-eating to kids. There’s a gap in my grasp of things. Many gaps, many things.’

25 December 1995
‘Great morning excitement as the girls open their gifts. A Barbie horse and carriage for Darla that takes me about two hours to put together. I imagine all over the western hemisphere disgruntled unshaven fathers doing the same thing. And then no pissing batteries (but the Indian shop was open). Anthea and I decided to postpone presents for each other, but nonetheless she bought me some gloves, a key-locator (which goes off every time Darla laughs) and a book by the BMA about drugs and medicines, and I bought her a negative-ionizer/room-perfumer, a book about vitamins and minerals, and an electric car-perfumer.

Van Creveld: war is being pushed into corners where modem weapons don’t work. So the effect of more sophisticated weaponry is to remove the conduct of war further away from the terms on which we prefer to fight it. Insecticides.’

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Diary Review’s tenth birthday

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of The Diary Review. During its ten years, the column has included extracts from the diaries of over 800 diarists. The Diary Review, And so made significant, and The Diary Junction together can claim to provide the internet’s most extensive and comprehensive online resource for information about, and links to, diary texts.

A list of the 450 or so diarists written about during the first five years (May 2008 - April 2013) was published on the column’s five year anniversary, and can be found here. Below can be found a similar list for the second five years (May 2013 - April 2018) covering some 390 diarists.

Copy any name into the Blogger search box (above) to access the article(s). All the articles are also tagged with keywords (below right) by century, country, and subject matter.

The Diary Review diarists: May 20013 - April 2018 (most recent first)

Raja Ravi Varma; Richard Rogers; Alan Clark; Ethel Turner; Albrecht Dürer; William Sydney Clements; Kathleen Scott; Francis Lieber; Reginald Marsh; Jean-François de Galaup de La Pérouse; Frank Wedekind; Gilles de Gouberville; Thomas Creevey; Hubert Parry; Thomas Gyll; John Quincy Adams; Cotton Mather; Gideon Welles; John Knox; Edward Stanley; Douglas Haig; Josephus Daniels; Dorothy Mackellar; Thomas Hardy; Simone de Beauvoir; Alfred Edgar Coppard; Peggy Ashcroft; John Newton; Arthur C. Clarke; Richard Crossman; Ezra Stiles; Harry Kessler; Tina Brown; Joseph Farrington; John Rupert Colville; Patrick Blackett; Marie Belloc; Hermann Ludwig von Löwenstern; Ida Tarbell; Iris Origo; Andrey Kolmogorov; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Astrid Lindgren; Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara; Jim Elliot; R.D. Laing; Le Corbusier; Thomas Raikes; Horace Walpole; André Hurault de Maisse; Henry L. Stimson; Tim Dixon; John MacGavock Grider; James Evershed Agate; Henry Sewell; Bruce Lockhart; Hugh Dalton; Galeazzo Ciano; William Seward Burroughs; Earl Silas Tupper; George Kemp; Karl Ristikivi; Gilberto de Mello Freyre; John Dee; Henry D. Thoreau; Philip Carteret; Elisha Mitchell; Andrei Tarkovsky; James Meade; Julian Huxley; Frithjof Schuon; John Dearman Birchall; Mary Thorp; Peter Fleming; John F. Kennedy; Theodore M. Hesburgh; Alastair Campbell; Carl Linnaeus; Marianne Fortescue; Charles Brooke; Ayub Khan; Elizabeth Grant; John L. Ransom; Phebe Orvis; William Joseph O’Neill Daunt; Friedrich von Holstein; Charles McMoran Wilson; Barbara Bodichon; Lady Minto; Arthur Graeme West; Maurice Hankey; Wilhelm Reich; Lady Aberdeen; Johannes Burchardus; Richard E. Byrd; Wilhelm Bleek; Waguih Ghali; Wilford Woodruff; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Andy Warhol; Heinrich Hertz; Isabelle Eberhardt; Anna Howard Shaw; Lou Andreas-Salomé; Carl Rogers; Franz Schubert; Jeffrey Amherst; Anthony Eden; Aldo Leopold; Sandford Fleming; Zorina Gray; Christian Daniel Rauch; Thomas Gray; Gabrielle West; Leonid Brezhnev; Ivan Chistyakov; Thomas Dooley; Juho Kusti Paasikivi; Natsume Soseki; Ira Gershwin; Aleksander Rodchenko; Seán Ó Ríordáin; George McClellan; Charles de Foucauld; Frederick Charles Cavendish; Harold Nicolson; King Kalakaua; J. R. Ackerley; Thomas Herbert; Harry Houdini; John Stevens; William Lambarde; Joseph Goebbels; François de Bassompierre; David Kim Hempleman-Adams; David Gascoyne; Benjamin Banneker; Václav Havel; Mary Astor; Jim Henson; Charles Ritchie; Maurice Benyovszky; Siegfried Sassoon; Samuel Pepys; John Evelyn; Bret Harte; John Flamsteed; Bertolt Brecht; Roger Casement; James Melville; Raymond Priestley; Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.; Clifford Odets; Gertrude Bell; Wanda Gág; Ingeborg Bachmann; Henry Arnold; Rider Haggard; Joseph Martin Kraus; Sarah Stamford; George Sand; Allen Ginsberg; Reader Bullard; Jerzy Feliks Urman; Eric Morecambe; Eleanor Coppola; William Dowsing; Neil Campbell; Charlotte Brontë; Richard Harding Davis; Evelyn Waugh; William Godwin; John Fowles; Roger Black; Edward Weston; Alexis Babine; Alasdair Maclean; Peter Maxwell Davies; William Bagshaw Stevens; Peter Clark; André Michaux; John Sarsfield Casey; Robin Cook; Hugo Ball; Clare Short; Thomas Robert Malthus; George Adamson; Romain Rolland; Ralph Jackson; Benjamin Haydon; Rudyard Kipling; Benjamin Franklin; Harold Shipman; Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff; Philip Henslowe; Anthony Powell; Vasily Grossman; Kenneth Williams; Jean Sibelius; Rainer Maria Rilke; Sigmund Freud; Jean-Martin Charcot; Polly Coon; Robert Benchley; Zygmunt Bauman; Henry Agard Wallace; Louis David Riel; Robertson Davies; Ezra Pound; John Adams; James Hannington; Jonathan Swift; Aleister Crowley; William J. Hardee; Edith Cavell; François Mauriac; Harman Blennerhassett; Thomas Mitchell; Ivan Maisky; Cecil Beaton; Henry Newcome; Oliver Sacks; Houston Stewart Chamberlain; James Tiptree; James Calhoun; Roy Strong; Thomas De Quincey; Michelangelo Antonioni; Alison Hargreaves; William Jackson Hooker; Edward John Eyre; Richard Henry Dana Jr.; Robert Hooke; George Templeton Strong; Lewis Carroll; Timothy Garton Ash; Bill Haley; Henry Crabb Robinson; John Milton Hay; Ki no Tsurayuki; Victor Trumper; Robert Earl Henri; William Whiteway; Ma Thanegi; William Gavin; James Naylor; Daniel Edgecombe; William Tomkinson; John William Horsley; W. B. Yeats; Thomas Hearne; King George V; George Allardice Riddell; Joshua Lederberg; Victor Hugo; James Boswell; John Olander; Tony Simmonds; Joan Strange; Vera Britain; Naomi Aitchison; Frances Partridge; Eva Braun; John Lowe; Kim Malthe-Bruun; Denton Welch; Leopold Tyrmand; Barclay Fox; Hans Fallacy; Malcolm X; Abigail Bailey; Patricia Highsmith; Ayn Rand; Thomas Merton; David Lodge; J. G. Farrell; André-Marie Ampère; Ermest Chausson; Thomas Green; George Whitefield; Vasco da Gama; Robert Menzies; Francis Rawdon-Hastings; Matsuo Bashō; Alexander Cadogan; Robert Woodford; Indira Gandhi; Augusta Duchess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld; Nettie Palmer; Henri Michaux; Dannie Abse; Henry Fielding; Thor Heyerdahl; Miguel de Unamuno; Francis Palgrave; Lafcadio Hearn; Robert Lester; Gustavus von Holst; Hermann Buhl; Brian Epstein; Letitia Hargrave; Reinhold Messner; John Peter Boileau; William Andrew; Charles Lindbergh; Sophia Tolstoy; Marielle Bennett; Francis Edward Witts; Thomas Cobden-Sanderson; Abul Hassan; Frederick of Mömpelgard; Michael Macdonagh; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Nicholas Cresswell; Frida Kahlo; Tanya Savicheva; Franz Ferdinand; Robert Laird Borden; Archie Edmiston Roy; John Cheke; Walter E. Marchand; Edward Francis Wightman; Nassau William Senior; Thomas Rumney; Joseph Campbell; Jacob Riis; William Whewell; Jimmy Boyle; Salvador Dalí; Alan Bennett; Lord Cockburn; John Rous; George Byron; John Reresby; Charles Burney; Jon Krakauer; Elizabeth Freke; Charles Greville; George Kennan; Tony Benn; Carolina Maria de Jesus; George Percival Scriven; Amy Lowell; Richard Lander; Mary Cowper; Louis Agassiz Fuertes; Andrew Ellicott; Isaac Ambrose; Hugh Trevor-Roper; Edward Hodges Cree; John Wieners; George Gissing; Elizabeth Smart; Derek Smith; Beatrix Potter; Arthur Crew Inman; E. M. Delafield; Etty Hillesum; C. S. Lewis; Benjamin Britten; Ivan Bunin; Roger Wilbraham; Federico Fellini; Eric Norelius; Ned Rorem; William Soutar; Jean Cocteau; William Laud; Jonathan Edwards; Karl von Terzaghi; Patrick Leigh Fermor; Nicolas Baudin; John Soane; Samuel Ward; Margaret Hoby; J. R. R. Tolkien; Ralph Josselin; Eugène Delacroix; W. H. Auden; Peter Hawker; Cees Nooteboom; Samuel Wilberforce; Joshua Reynolds; Dan Eldon; Dorothy Wordsworth; King Edward VI; Franz Kafka; Johann Ewald; William Golding; Kobayashi Issa; Mary Browne; Edmund Hillary; Richard Wagner; Apolinario Mabini; Søren Kierkegaard.

My filthy polluted heart

‘Behold the exceding grate mercy of God to me, I having labored excedingly under some corruptions of my filthy polluted heart which was ready to break forth, that it made me very heavi and pray, cry and sigh to my God.’ This is Nehemiah Wallington, ‘the quintessential puritan’, born 420 years ago today. Although a craftsman by trade, he was also an inveterate keeper of diary-type notebooks in which he wrote extensively about his own inner religious life, as well as public affairs, not least witchcraft trials in the mid-1640s.

Nehemiah Wallington was born on 12 May 1598 into a large family headed by John Wallington, a turner in Eastcheap, London. Nehemiah spent two years in his father’s workshop, but appears to have become very depressed for a while, to the point of trying to kill himself several times. As a freeman, he set up his own business in Eastcheap and, in 1621, married Grace Rampaigne. They had several children, only one of whom survived beyond childhood. He was an active member of the Presbyterian church. Although, generally, he lived an uneventful life around the year 1639 he was summoned before the court of the Star Chamber for possessing prohibited books. He is remembered today only because he published two volumes of Historical Notes and Meditations, and for a set of extensive and detailed diaries - the main source of information about his life.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) has the following assessment. ‘Wallington was in many respects the quintessential puritan, introspective, bookish, sermon-going, scrupulous in his business relations, and constantly struggling for even-tempered acceptance of life and of himself, which he believed should accompany assurance of election. He followed the fortunes of protestantism during the Thirty Years’ War and those of parliament during the civil war. Although he served conscientiously as a lay elder in the fourth London classis from 1646 until his last years his Presbyterianism was based on his desire for parish discipline, and his only quarrel with the protectorate was that it did not bring the godly reformation that he had long prayed for.’ Wallington died in 1658. Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Wallington kept notebooks throughout his life. It is known that there were at least 50 such notebooks, although only seven - containing over 3,000 pages - have survived. The British Library has four, while the Guildhall Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Tatton Park all have one each. They were used by Paul S. Seaver for his 1985 work Wallington’s World: A puritan artisan in seventeenth-century London (Stanford University Press, 1985) - see Googlebooks for a preview. More recently the notebooks were carefully edited, reduced and annotated by David Booy for his book, The Notebooks of Nehemiah Wallington, 1618–1654 (Ashgate 2007, Routledge 2016). This too can be sampled at Googlebooks.
More recently still (in 2011), the Tatton Park notebook (A Record of marcys continued or yet God is good to Israel) was digitised by the John Rylands Library (University of Manchester) and some 583 images from it are now freely available online. The project received considerable press largely because there is much about witchcraft in this particular notebook - see the university’s press release, The Telegraph, or the BBC

According to Booy: ‘Wallington’s persistence and the consequent magnitude of his output make him extraordinary, especially when he had to spend long hours at his trade and many in religious duties. [. . ..] Several seventeenth-century ministers left huge amounts of writing, but for a London craftsman to do so is remarkable. Moreover, writings of any kind by artisans in early modern England are scarce in comparison to the countless texts produced by highly educated minsters, scholars and professional writers, or even by members of the gentry, merchant class and higher reaches of society. [. . .] [His] writings are valuable and fascinating because they record what it was like to live in those turbulent times. The seven surviving notebooks contain a wide range of material: chronicles of the era (including numerous excerpts from pamphlets, newsbooks, letters and official documents), autobiographical writing about his secular and religious life (including spiritual journals), personal letters, biography, prayers, religious meditations and reflections, passages transcribed from godly treatises, sermons and the Bible.’

Although Booy has trimmed Wallington’s text considerably, the notebooks remain a difficult read. Sometimes there are dated entries, but they often run on beyond the date mentioned; and often the writing reads more like a memoir than a diary. Entries are not necessarily in chronological order. Although the text is already dense, Booy retains all the original spellings (he does provide a glossary and plenty of footnotes). He also adds a degree of busyness to the text through the prolific use of pointed brackets (to indicate Wallington’s insertions/corrections), square brackets (for missing punctuation), and pedantic references (often mid-text) to the original folio numbers.

Here are three extracts (though I have omitted Booy’s pointed brackets).

1 October 1628
‘One the first day of October 1628 at night as I lay in my bead with my wife and my daughter Sarah a candel hanging over my head in a wier candelsteke about one a cloke at night the candel burnt downe and fell through the wiers and fell uppon my head and burnt the haire of my head: wee then being all fast asleepe[.] I feeling my heade burne that it smart I started up and put it out, and did consider of the great goodnes of my God which never slumbers nor sleepes in the presarving mee and mine so wonderfully from fier: For it might a fell uppon my poore child or one my wifes head or beetwene the sheetes or boulster and have burnt mee and mine and all that I have: and many others. But God of wanted goodnes and great mercye delivered us his Name be for ever praised for this and all other his manifould deliverances now and evermore Amen Amen[.]’

16 April 1632
‘On the XVI day of Apriel (1632) being Monday at night betwext VIII and IX a cloke as I was in my shope came tow sargents one cilisetor and a broker and the sargent said to me that I was baile for one Jackson a yeere agoe, and now where he was they knew not: and therefore he said he was come for forescore pounds worth of my goods, and he said he must goe up into my cheching[.] at these words I was amased and put in grate feare[.] then I sent for my brother John and he came unto me, and they shewed him theyr warrant what he had to doe and so went up into the ceching where my wife was a providing supper (for her Brother and sister which ware come out of the contrie thinking to be merie together)[.] my wife seing a stranger coming in such a manner and saying he was come for forescore pounds worth of goods and hanging his cloke on the doore saying he would begin with the peuter first it did frite her very much: looking very pale on the matter and went downe into the shope and wronge her hands bursting out a weeping and then being with childe did miscarrye, and I rune to Tempel bare to find my brother Crosse to aske his counsell but I could not find him but before I came againe my Brother John and my Brother Kiffet told them if they wolde be contented till mornning they would be bound that nothing should be sterred but everything should stand in his place, but they would not: at the last they would have my Brothers bonds to pay them XV pound the next Satterday: So they made them a bonde.’

June 1634
‘June 1634[.] Behold the exceding grate mercy of God to me, I having labored excedingly under some corruptions of my filthy polluted heart which was ready to break forth, that it made me very heavi and pray, cry and sigh to my God continually for some munths together yet could I get but littel strength against it (but still had such paine of minde) that at last (which was toward the begining of Agust) as I was a going alonge the street, I resolved with myselfe this wicked purpose[:] as Solomon saith Rejoyce o yong man, in thy youth and let thine heart chere thee in the days of thy youth, and walke in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes (Ecclesiastes 11:9), So did I resolve (not being able to forbare any longer) that now I would follow all those wicked corsses that my filthy and odious heart was given unto (a littel chered I was of these thoughts and fully [resolved] I was)[.] Whereupon I was striken in a grate masse and astonied, and as it ware tied hand and foote (in my mind) that I could not stirre in that kind my hart being very heavie yet none knowing the cause: But yet for all this I could never set to commit any sinne willingly but oh the goodnesse of my God in making mee to hate sinne so much the more[.]’

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Hunted like a dog

‘After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet cold and starving, with every mans hand against me, I am here in despair.’ This is from a diary entry by John Wilkes Booth written a week after he had assassinated US President Abraham Lincoln and less than a week before he himself would be shot dead. Booth, born 180 years ago, left behind but a few fragments of a diary written while on the run, but they can be found in almost every account ever written about Lincoln’s assassination.

Booth was born on 10 May 1838 to a noted British Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth and his mistress Mary Ann Holmes who had emigrated in 1821 to Bel Air, Maryland (roughly half way between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia). He went to various schools, including a Quaker boarding school and a military academy, but he left after his father’s death in 1852. Intent on following his father and older brothers into the theatre, he took up elocution lessons. He made his stage debut at a Baltimore theatre in 1855, and by 1857 had joined the stock company of the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. He soon became popular, something of a celebrity actor, characterised by acrobatic and intensely physical performances. The following year, he joined the Richmond Theatre in Virginia and is said to have performed in over 80 plays that year alone.

The early 1860s, saw Booth a leading actor touring all the major cities, wowing audiences and most critics. He began to invest his growing wealth in land and oil production enterprises. However, he was highly political and a strong supporter of the South, thus he gravitated towards touring in the Deep South where his views (as well as his acting) were most warmly welcomed. He was a strong advocate of slavery, and developed a deep hatred for President Lincoln. During the Civil War, he acted as a secret agent for the Confederate cause, and by 1864 was beginning to plan, with other conspirators, a sensational abduction of Lincoln. However, those plans never came to anything. Increasingly, he found himself at odds with his pro-Union actor brother, Edwin. In 1865, Booth became secretly engaged to Lucy Lambert Hale, the daughter of a US senator, though she remained unaware of his antipathy towards Lincoln.

After Lincoln’s re-election as president on a platform to abolish slavery, Booth redoubled his efforts against him, though his aim had changed to one of murder. On the morning of 14 April 1865, Booth learned that Lincoln would be attending Ford’s theatre in Washington that evening. He quickly assembled his gang and assigned them tasks, including the murder of Secretary of State William Seward. Booth, who was well known in Ford’s theatre and enjoyed unhindered access, managed to enter the president’s box, during the third act of the play that night, and shoot him, fatally. Seward survived the attempt on his life (see also Lincoln and Fanny Seward). Booth may have broken a leg bone while fleeing, but managed to escape the city on his horse. Twelve days later, federal troops tracked him down to a farm in Virginia, where he was shot, either by himself or a soldier, and died a few hours later. Eight others implicated in the plot were found guilty by a military tribunal in Washington, D.C. and sentenced to prison sentences of varying lengths - though pardons were granted in 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. There’s a wealth of information about Booth online, at Wikipedia,, Encyclopaedia Britannica,, Visit Maryland, R. J. Norton’s Lincoln Assassination website, much of it focusing on the last few weeks of his life.

Lincoln’s assassination and, therefore, Booth’s life and death have been written about and analysed in numerous publications. Most, if not all, mention a small red book found on Booth’s body which, although an appointment book, had been used as a diary. The diary has always been considered something of a mystery. According to Norton’s website, it was taken off Booth’s body and given to Lafayette C. Baker, chief of the War Department’s National Detective Police in Washington. Baker in turn gave it to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton but the book was not produced as evidence in the 1865 conspiracy trial. A couple of years later, the diary was re-discovered with pages missing. Although most sources indicate 18 pages were missing, Norton says, the FBI’s forensic laboratory has since examined the diary and stated that 43 separate sheets (86 pages) are missing. And these missing pages have led to all kinds of speculation. Today, the diary is held by Ford’s Theatre, and much about it can be read on the theatre’s website (there is also a photograph of the diary - as above). Many books/websites reproduce the text of Booth’s diary, sometimes editing/correcting the language/spelling. I have taken the following from The American Civil War: An Anthology of Essential Writings by Ian Frederick Finseth (available to preview at Googlebooks).

17 April 1865
‘14 Friday the Ides
Until to day [sic] nothing was ever thought of sacrificing to our country’s wrongs. For six months we had worked to capture. But our cause being almost lost, something decisive & great must be done. But its failure is owing to others, who did not strike for their country with a heart. I struck boldly and not as the papers say. I walked with a firm step through a thousand of his friends, was stopped, but pushed on. A Col - was at his side. I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night, with the bones of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump. I can never repent it, though we hated to kill: Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced union is not what I have loved. I care not what becomes of me. I have no desire to out-live my country. This night (before the deed), I wrote a long article and left it for one of the Editors of the National Inteligencer, [sic] in which I fully set forth our reasons for our proceedings. He or the Govmt’

22 April 1865
‘Friday 21
After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet cold and starving, with every mans hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet 1 for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One, hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his countrys but his own wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country groaned beneath this tyranny and prayed for this end. Yet now behold the cold hand they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see any wrong except in serving a degenerate people. The little, the very little I left behind to clear my name, the Govrnt will not allow to be printed. So ends all. For my country I have given up all that makes life sweet and Holy, brought misery on my family, and am sure there is no pardon in Heaven for me since man condemns me so. I have only heard what has been done (except what I did myself) and it fills me with horror. God try and forgive me and bless my mother. To night 1 will once more try the river with the intent to cross, though I have a greater desire to return to Washington and in a measure clear my name which I feel I can do. I do not repent the blow I struck. I may before God but not to man.

I think I have done well, though I am abandoned, with the curse of Cain upon me. When if the world knew my heart, that one blow would have made me great, though I did desire no greatness.

To night I try to escape these blood hounds once more. Who can read his fate. Gods will be done.

I have too great a soul to die like a criminal. Oh may he, may he spare me that and let me die bravely.

I bless the entire world. Have never hated or wronged anyone. This last was not a wrong, unless God deems it so. And its with him, to damn or bless me. And for this brave boy with me who often prays (yes before and since) with a true and sincere heart, was it a crime in him, if so why can he pray the same I do not wish to shed a drop of blood, but “I must fight the course” Tis all thats left me.’

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Cleese, also in a bikini

‘The last week has been spent filming in or around London, ending up at our traditional location - Walton-on-Thames - on Friday. It was less hot this time than in the past - I noticed this because for the last shot of the day I had to stand beside a fairly busy road clad in the It’s Man beard and moustache and a bikini. Next to me was John Cleese, also in a bikini.’ Laugh out loud, for this is the very funny Michael Palin, still in his 20s, who would go on to become a household name as a star of the Monty Python television series and films, and later as a travel presenter. Today he’s 75 - happy birthday!

Palin was born on 5 May 1943 in Ranmoor, Sheffield to an engineer and his wife; he had one sister, nine years older. He was educated at Shrewsbury School (like his father), and at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read modern history. As a child he had shown some talent at acting, and he furthered this interest in Oxford by writing and performing comedy material, not least with Terry Jones. After completing his degree in 1965, he went to work in television, presenting a comedy pop show. The following year he married Helen Gibbons, they would have three children. For the next few years, he wrote many TV scripts, some with Terry Jones, for the likes of Ken Dod, Roy Hudd, and David Frost. He also wrote and appeared, with Eric Idle and Terry Jones, in the prize winning children’s show Do Not Adjust Your Set.

In 1969, Palin joined Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones for a first series of the BBC’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Further series, films and books came thick and fast over the next five years or so, bringing fame to all of them. Thereafter, Palin continued to write for TV and film. In 1982, he wrote and starred in The Missionary, co-starring Maggie Smith, and this was followed by roles in Brazil (1984) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988) for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. From the late 1980s, however, and through to 2012, Palin has focused on presenting travel programmes, notably for the BBC, such as Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full Circle. He has completed eight series, each one accompanied by publication of a travel book. Most recently, he has presented one-off documentaries on art and history topics. He has also written several novels and children’s stories. In 2013, he was awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award. Further biographical information can be found at the Michael Palin website, Wikipedia, Screen Online, The Independent, or the BBC (Desert Island Discs audio recording from 1979).

Palin has been a committed diarist since his mid-20s. His motivation, he says, is simply ‘to keep a record of how I fill the days - Nothing more complicated than that.’ However, between 2006 and 2014, Weidenfeld & Nicolson has published three thick volumes of his diaries (all of which can be sampled at Googlebooks): The Python Years 1969-1979; Halfway To Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988; Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988–1998. As with his Python movies and travel programmes, all have been highly popular, and much lauded. A few extracts can also be read on his own website, as can some tips for aspiring diarists.

Here is part of his introduction to the first volume (which gives 
an extract from a childhood diary, as well as a little insight as to why he began to keep a diary), as well as several excerpts from the same volume.

‘I have kept a diary, more or less continuously, since April 1969. I was twenty-five years old then, married for three years and with a six-month-old son. I had been writing comedy with Terry Jones since leaving university in 1965 and, in addition to contnbunng material to The Frost Report, Marty Feldman, The Two Ronnies and anyone else who’d take us, we had written and performed two series of Do Not Adjust Your Set (with Eric Idle, David Jason and Denise Coffey) and six episodes of The Complete and Utter History of Britain. Alter the last one went out in early 1969. John Cleese rang me.

“Well, you won’t be doing any more of those,” he predicted, accurately as it turned out, “so why don’t we think of something new.”

So it was that, quite coincidentally, Monty Python came into my life, only a month or so after the diary.

This was far from my first stab at keeping a regular account of how I spent my time. At the age of eleven I resolved to record each day of the year, and kept it up until the 18th of July. The style was staccato, and looking back now, quite surreal.

Letts Schoolboy's Diary, January, 1955
Tuesday, 18th. Big blow-up in prayers. Had easy prep. Listened to Goon Show. Got sore hand.
Monday 24th. Had fight with (form) VR. Got hit on nose. Did two sets of prep. Jolly hard! Cabbage for lunch. Watched TV.

At regular intervals I tried to resume the habit, but as I grew older keeping a diary seemed an irksome duty, like writing to one’s parents, and anyway, there was far too much going on in my teens and early twenties to have either the time or the inclination to write it all down. Yet there remained a nagging feeling that it was a small failure to let life go by without in some way documenting it. The feeling persisted as I grew older. All I lacked was the will-power.’

Palin then includes an anecdote about how he found the sudden will power to give up smoking which also gave him the impetus to re-start and maintain a diary. Palin continues:

‘There are times when I’ve resented the whole process, when I’ve felt lumpen, dull and inarticulate, when detail has slipped away and the whole exercise has seemed completely pointless. But the longer I’ve kept the diary the more inconceivable it has been to abandon it. Its become an effective and tenacious parasite, mutating over the years into something as germane to my life as an arm or a leg.

The motivation for keeping the diaries remains the same as it always was, to keep a record of how I fill the days. Nothing more complicated than that. Though this inevitably involves emotional reactions. I’ve never treated the diary as a confessional. Once I’ve noted the day’s events, usually the next morning, there’s little time left for soul-searching. [. . .]

This selection [i.e. 1969-1979] is culled from thirty-eight hand-written secretarial notebooks amounting to some five times the volume of material reproduced here. The early entries sit a little awkwardly as I search for a voice and a style that relies on more than lists of events. My reward for perseverance, often in the face of tempting discouragement, is to see the diary bed itself in and slowly begin to tell a story, with regular characters, a narrative, and a sense of continuity.

In the course of these diaries I grow up, my family grows up and Monty Python grows up. It was a great time to be alive.’

23, August 1970
‘The last week has been spent filming in or around London, ending up at our traditional location - Walton-on-Thames - on Friday. It was less hot this time than in the past - I noticed this because for the last shot of the day I had to stand beside a fairly busy road clad in the It’s Man beard and moustache and a bikini. Next to me was John Cleese, also in a bikini.’

25 December 1971
‘A rather fine, sunny morning, and for the first time in our marriage we woke on Christmas morning in our own home.

Thomas saw James across the road, and then they both saw Louise looking out of her window, and soon there was an impromptu gathering of little children comparing presents on the pavement outside our house. The quiet of the day, the sunny morning and the neighbours all talking made me feel very glad - about staying in London, and about living in Oak Village. If it doesn't sound too pedantic, I felt that this was how city life should be.’

31 December 1971
‘Harold Nicolson used to sum up his year on December 31st with a few pithy words. It’s a sort of diary writer’s reward for all those dull July 17ths and October 3rds. (Will I still be keeping my diary on Dec. 3Ist 1999? Now that’s the kind of thought which gives survival a new urgency.)

1971 was my fifth full year in television and certainly on the face of it we have achieved a lot. A TV series, which has reached the sort of national notoriety of TW3. ‘Monty Python’, ‘Silly Walks’, ‘And Now For Something Completely Different’, etc, have become household words. The TV series has won several awards during the year, including the Silver Rose of Montreux. The second Monty Python album has sold over 20,000 copies since release in October, and Monty Python’s Big Red Book completely sold out of both printings within two weeks. It has sold 55,000 copies, and 20,000 more are being printed for February. In London it was top of the bestseller lists. And finally the film which we made a year ago and were so unhappy about, looks like being equally successful.

From all this no-one can deny that Monty Python has been the most talked about TV show of 1971 - and here is the supreme irony, for we have not, until this month, recorded any new shows since October 1970.

The split between John and Eric and the rest of us has grown a little recently. It doesn’t prevent us all from sharing - and enjoying sharing - most of our attitudes, except for attitudes to work. It’s the usual story - John and Eric see Monty Python as a means to an end - money to buy freedom from work. Terry J is completely the opposite and feels that Python is an end in itself - i.e. work which he enjoys doing and which keeps him from the dangerous world of leisure. In between are Graham and myself.’

25 September 1975
‘I spent the lunch hour in a recording studio doing three voice-overs for Sanderson Wallpaper. I really did it because I wanted to keep my hand in and a voice-over, however dull or badly written it may be, at least requires a bit of application and a little bit of performing. It’s good practice. By the same token I’ve accepted an offer to appear as the guest on two editions of Just a Minute, a Radio 4 quiz game, next week.

Down to Regents Park for a Python meeting.

Eric was very positive and I could scarcely believe that it was the same Eric who had berated us all for turning Python into a money-obsessed, capitalist waste of time in this same room in February last year. Eric’s moods should really be ignored, but it’s impossible because he nearly always has a big effect on any meeting. Today it was nice, kind, helpful, constructive Eric.

John had just returned from three days in Biarritz. He was the same as ever, unable to resist a vindictive dig at T Gilliam (on the usual lines of us ‘carrying the animator’ for three years). This didn’t find much support amongst the gathering and squashed TG more than John intended.

Terry J had had a lunch with Michael White, who felt it would be suicidal for us not to make another film this year. Anne said that most ‘advice’ tended this way.’

24 August 1976
‘Chasing up and down corridors. A bit of sub-Errol Flynn work. Anti-swashbuckling. To be actually living these childhood dreams and fantasies - and getting paid handsomely for them - I have to pinch myself mentally to be sure its happening. Fifteen years ago Graham [Stuart-Harris] and I were lapping up all the films, good or bad, that hit Sheffield, and now here I am making the bloody things.

Eric (complete with specially printed T-shirt ’Jabberwocky - The New Python Movie’) and Susie the wet-lipped Aussie model, came to see us on set. Eric brought me a signed advance copy of the book which he says has already had massive re-orders, The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book (containing three pages by M Palin!), to be released next month. It’s a lavish production job - a combination of the Goodies and Python book designs over the last four years, but fused and improved.

I feel that it pre-empts more Python books - a particular area of comic book design has been capped by the Rutland book - and if the Python ‘periodical’ which is being heavily sold to us by Eric, is to be the work of these same designers, I fear it will look unoriginal - and that Python, far from creating a bandwagon, will appear to be climbing on one.

Sit in the sun and read more of The Final Days, chase up a few more corridors.’

28 September 1976
‘No Jabberwocking for me today, but my last day off, apart from Sundays, until late October. Letters, visit Anne Henshaw. She has her head down in the labyrinthine affairs of Python as usual. She reports that the sooner we start writing the Python film the better for some in the group - she says Graham especially seems to be at a loose end and drinking more, with several of his projects, TV series and his film of Bernard McKenna’s script, having collapsed.

Shopping in the King’s Road - have to give brief run-down on Python plans in almost every shop - the assistants all seem to recognise me and want to talk.

To BBC to meet Don Henderson - T Hughes’ selection for the RSM in ‘Across the Andes’. I’m in trepidation for this is a major role and I don’t even know the guy.

Fears allayed - he looks good - with a rather fierce, red face and a good sense of humour. He’s easy company and seems to understand the role well. Still no Dora - as Michele Dotrice turned down the role (the first artist to turn down a Ripping Yarns role this time around!).

Out to dinner in the evening with Robin S-H and Barbara. By a strange stroke of coincidence a Peruvian is present. I tell him about ‘Across the Andes by Frog’ - and to my amazement he tells me that the biggest frogs in the world live in Lake Titicaca, Peru, and that the frog is a common motif in old Peruvian carvings!’

23 September 1977
‘Squash with Terry Jones at five. Beaten again. I’m afraid. Then up to the Flask for a drink. Tell Terry J that I shall be writing the novel (hereinafter called ‘the work’) until Christmas. He doesn’t sound disappointed. Says that it will suit him, as he has further work to do on Chaucer, now his book has found a publisher. He’s just finished a translation of ‘The Prologue’, which TJ says he’s more excited about than the book.

Off to Abbotsley tomorrow for a quick burst of countryside, then back to London and the novel on Monday. A strange feeling - not knowing quite what will come out. I keep wanting to start - waking up in bed and composing cracking first six lines, then controlling myself.

Will I be able to keep the diary up? Will I choke on a surfeit of writing? Will the malfunctioning, non-reversing ribbon on my typewriter cut short a promising career? Watch these spaces . . .’