Sunday, April 20, 2014

Newes from Cambridge

John Rous, an unremarkable parson from Suffolk, was baptised all of 430 years ago today, and is only remembered because of a diary he kept and which was published in the mid-19th century. This diary, though telling us very little about the man himself, is full of news about the world beyond, and of a variety of skits and satirical verses.

John was baptised on 20 April 1584 at Hessett, Suffolk, son of Anthony Rous, rector of Hessett, and his first wife, Margery. John Rous was admitted a pensioner of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1598, and studied through to an MA in 1607. That same year he was ordained at Norwich. From 1600, Anthony Rous was rector of Weeting, and John served as his assistant from then until his father’s death in 1631.

John Rous married Susanna around 1615, and they had three daughters. When she died, he married Hannah, and had at least two more daughters. From 1623, he had his own living in the small village of Santon Downham, close by Weeting, but after the death of his father went to live in the nearby town of Brandon. John travelled to London occasionally, and possibly - though this is disputed - as far as Geneva once. He probably served as a justice of the peace for a period. He died in 1644.

John Rous is only known of today because of a diary he wrote. It survived through to the middle of the 19th century when it was edited by Mary Anne Everett Green and published (in 1856) by the Camden Society as Diary of John Rous, incumbent of Santon Downham, Suffolk, from 1625 to 1642. It is freely available at Internet Archive.

Much of Rous’s diary concerns public events, both national and local - proclamations, petitions, trials and military and foreign events. There is almost nothing by way of information about his own personal life (except in the book’s introduction), but, unusually, there are large number of verses, skits and satirical rhymes, which he seems to have written into his diary as a kind of record of the times he was living in.

13 June 1631
‘Anthony Rous, my father, of All Saints in Weeting, parson, from June 1600, died.

That day at night, Sir Martin Stutvill, of Dalham, comming from the Sessions at Bury, with Sir George le Hunt, went into the Angell. and there being mery in a chayer, either readie to take tobacco, or having newly done it, (ut fertur) leaned backward with his head, and died immediatlie.’

18 July 1631
‘Were executed at Bury 13; whereof iij., a boy of 16 and ij. women, were executed for burning of Walderswicke, in Suffolk. The boy, upon his death, affirmed that his sister councelled, and the other woman (who was begotten with child by Nathan Browning of Dennington, before marriage,) gave him fire. They both affirmed themselves cleere. The sister confessed there, before Mr. Ward, her falte in standing excommunicate. The boy, they say, was borne at Wimondham, in the yeere of the fire there. Forty houses were burned, June 10, or thereabout, and 8 at a second time, July 3, being Sunday. After this it was discovered.

About this time were gone and going diverse voluntaries, gathered Marques up by the drumme, to goe with marques Hamilton to the helpe of the king of Swedeland, in the German warres.

Together with reporte of the king of Sweden’s besieging of Magdenburg, which Tilly [Count of Tilly who commanded the Catholic League’s forces in the Thirty Years’ War] had taken this summer and burnt, killing all without mercy, it was said, upon Sir Thomas Jermin’s worde that our agent in Poland had written thus to our King. The queen of Poland and her Jesuites and Priests made a greate triumph for Tillie’s taking of Magdenburg, erecting Calvin’s and Luther’s statues in ij. postes, which they burned with an hellish greate fire; but in returning, most of the Priests and Jesuites were killed by fier from heaven, and the queene stroken madde, and as is thought thereupon soone deade.’

14 October 1631
‘Newes from Cambridge that there was a greate fight betweene the king of Sweden with the duke of Saxony, and Tilly on the other side. Tilly was taken, and is deade [this is incorrect, he died the following year]; his whole army dispersed, &c. The king carried the duke among the slaine, and asked him how he liked of it. The duke said it was a sad spectacle. “Well,” said the king, “all this you are the cause of; for, if you had not stood neuter at the first, this had beene prevented.” Tilly bewailed his unfortunatenes, since, he cruelly massacred them of Magdenburgh, which he did at the emperor’s especiall command. [. . .]

Cambridge is wonderously reformed since the plague there; schollers frequent not the streetes and tavernes as before; but doe worse.’

12 December 1631
‘At night as is thought, some West-country packman that had sold all in Norfolk, returned by Thetford, and went towards Barton milles late; but the next morning three horses with pack saddles and two packes were found short of Elden a mile. These horses and packes are seised by the lord of Elden. Some thinke a man is murthered and robbed: some thinke that it a servant that is ridden away on the fourth horse with the mony. The packes were fish, either bought or trucked at Norwich or Yermouth.’

1 April 1633
‘Being Easter day. Doctor Buttes, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, and maister of Bennet Colledge, did hang himselfe. The King and Queene were at Cambridge but a while before; something gave occasion.’
The Diary Junction

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The pleasures of this life

’If this had been begun ten years ago, and faithfully kept!!! - heigho! there are too many things I wish never to have remembered, as it is.’ This is George Gordon Byron, who died, aged only 36, 190 years ago today, writing about his decision to start keeping a diary. Popularly known as Lord Byron, he was the most flamboyant and colourful of romantic figures, and is considered one of Britain’s greatest poets. Unfortunately, he only kept up the diary habit for a few months, and though he wrote a journal at three more periods in his life, each one lasted but a short while.

Byron was born in London in 1788, physically disabled by a clubfoot, but was taken to live in Scotland when young by his mother, Catherine Gordon. At the age of 10, he inherited the title, house and grounds of Newstead Abbey from his great-uncle, who had been granted them by Henry VIII. Thereafter, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he formed a close friendship with John Cam Hobhouse. In January 1809, he took his seat in the House of Lords, but then embarked on a tour of Europe, often accompanied by Hobhouse, which included a sojourn in Greece.

Byron returned to England in 1811, and to Newstead where his ailing mother had just died. In 1812, his book Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage made him a society celebrity and brought him into contact with Lady Caroline Lamb, who became one of his many mistresses (and who wrote of him, he was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’). It is widely accepted, also, that Byron had an affair with his married half-sister Augusta Leigh, and that he fathered her daughter Elizabeth. Though Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke in early 1815, partly to try and shake off scandal, his relationship with Leigh continued. (Milbanke’s daughter, Augusta Ada, and Byron’s only legitimate child, became a mathematician but died young, at the same age as her father, 36).

Much encumbered by debts and with his wife accusing him of incest, Byron left England in 1816 never to return. He journeyed to Switzerland first, and then Italy where he lived for six years - in Venice, Ravenna, Pisa, Genoa - selling Newstead Abbey to pay off his debts. He continued writing his long satiric poem, Don Juan, which was first published in 1819. Famously, he was friends in Italy with Percy Bysshe Shelley (and his sister, Mary), and together they started a newspaper The Liberal. Shelley drowned in 1922, and the following year, Byron, bored with his life, bought a boat and sailed to Greece to help with the nationalist fight against the Ottoman empire. He spent thousands of pounds of his own money for the cause, and began to lead a rebel army, only to fall sick and die of a fever, on 19 April 1824.

There is no shortage of information about Byron available on the internet, at Wikipedia, for example, the English History website, The Literature Network, and the BBC. Thomas Moore’s early biography (Byron had named the Irish poet as his literary executor in 1822), Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, published in 1830, is also widely available, at Internet Archive, or more accessibly at Virginia Tech’s Lord Byron website. Confusingly, at Internet Archive, one can also find 17 volumes of Moore’s The Works of Lord Byron: with his letters and journals, and his life, all published in the 1930s too.

For years, Byron had been writing an autobiographical memoir, but on his death, this was deemed too scandalous for publication, and his publisher, John Murray along with several of Byron’s friends burned the manuscript. However, four of Byron’s journal/diary jottings were edited by Moore and published in his voluminous works (and can be found through the links above). Though fragmentary, the diaries sparkle with Byron’s literary skill. The diaries of others, of course, also contain much about Byron, not least those written by Hobhouse, Mary Shelley and Thomas Moore (see also Doomed to sing).

There are four separate, but rather short, periods for which Byron’s journals survive (Peter Cochran’s website provides accessible pdfs for each diary): between November 1813 and April 1814 (the London Journal); in September 1816 (the Alpine Journal); in January and February 1821 (the Ravenna Journal); and between June and December 1823 (the Cephalonia Journal). Here are a few extracts, all taken from Moore’s Letters and Journals.

14 November 1813
’If this had been begun ten years ago, and faithfully kept!!! - heigho! there are too many things I wish never to have remembered, as it is. Well, - I have had my share of what are called the pleasures of this life, and have seen more of the European and Asiatic world than I have made a good use of. They say ‘virtue is its own reward,’ - it certainly should be paid well for its trouble. At five-and-twenty, when the better part of life is over, one should be something; - and what am I? nothing but five-and-twenty - and the odd months. What have I seen? the same man all over the world, - ay, and woman too. Give me a Mussulman who never asks questions, and a she of the same race who saves one the trouble of putting them. But for this same plague - yellow-fever - and Newstead delay, I should have been by this time a second time close to the Euxine. If I can overcome the last, I don’t so much mind your pestilence; and, at any rate, the spring shall see me there, - provided I neither marry myself nor unmarry any one else in the interval. I wish one was - I don’t know what I wish. It is odd I never set myself seriously to wishing without attaining it - and repenting. I begin to believe with the good old Magi, that one should only pray for the nation, and not for the individual; - but, on my principle, this would not be very patriotic.

No more reflections. - Let me see - last night I finished ‘Zuleika,’ my second Turkish Tale. I believe the composition of it kept me alive - for it was written to drive my thoughts from the recollection of -

“Dear, sacred name, rest ever unreveal’d.”

At least, even here, my hand would tremble to write it. This afternoon I have burned the scenes of my commenced comedy. I have some idea of expectorating a romance, or rather a tale, in prose; - but what romance could equal the events - [. . .]

To-day Henry Byron called on me with my little cousin Eliza. She will grow up a beauty and a plague; but, in the mean time, it is the prettiest child! dark eyes and eyelashes, black and long as the wing of a raven. I think she is prettier even than my niece, Georgina, - yet I don’t like to think so neither; and, though older, she is not so clever. [. . .]

I have declined presenting the Debtor’s Petition, being sick of parliamentary mummeries. I have spoken thrice ; but I doubt my ever becoming an orator. My first was liked; the second and third - I don’t know whether they succeeded or not. I have never yet set to it con amore; one must have some excuse to oneself for laziness, or inability, or both, and this is mine. ‘Company, villanous company, hath been the spoil of me;’ - and then, I have ‘drunk medicines,’ not to make me love others, but certainly enough to hate myself.

Two nights ago, I saw the tigers sup at Exeter ‘Change, Except Veli Pacha’s lion in the Morea, - who followed the Arab keeper like a dog, - the fondness of the hyaena for her keeper amused me most. Such a conversazione! There was a ‘hippopotamus,’ like Lord ____ in the face; and the ‘Ursine Sloth’ hath the very voice and manner of my valet - but the tiger talked too much. The elephant took and gave me my money again - took off my hat - opened a door - trunked a whip - and behaved so well, that I wish he was my butler. The handsomest animal on earth is one of the panthers; but the poor antelopes were dead. I should hate to see one here: - the sight of the camel made me pine again for Asia Minor. “Oh quando te aspiciam?” ’

19 April 1814
There is ice at both poles, north and south - all extremes are the same - misery belongs to the highest and the lowest only, - to the emperor and the beggar, when unsixpenced and unthroned. There is, to be sure, a damned insipid medium - an equinoctial line - no one knows where, except upon maps and measurement.

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.”

I will keep no further journal of that same hesternal torch-light; and, to prevent me from returning, like a dog, to the vomit of memory, I tear out the remaining leaves of this volume, and write, in ipecacuanha, - “that the Bourbons are restored!!!” “Hang up philosophy.” To be sure, I have long despised myself and man, but I never spat in the face of my species before - “O fool! I shall go mad.” ’

17 September 1816
‘Rose at five; left Diodati about seven, in one of the country carriages (a char-a-banc), our servants on horseback. Weather very fine; the lake calm and clear; Mont Blanc and the Aiguille of Argentines both very distinct; the borders of the lake beautiful. Reached Lausanne before sunset; stopped and slept at __. Went to bed at nine; slept till five o’clock.’

18 September 1816
‘Called by my courier; got up. Hobhouse walked on before. A mile from Lausanne, the road overflowed by the lake; got on horseback, and rode till within a mile of Vevay. The colt young, but went very well. Overtook Hobhouse, and resumed the carriage, which is an open one. Stopped at Vevay two hours (the second time I had visited it); walked to the church; view from the churchyard superb; within it General Ludlow (the regicide’s) monument - black marble - long inscription - Latin, but simple; he was an exile two-and-thirty years - one of king Charles’s judges. Near him Broughton (who read King Charles’s sentence to Charles Stuart) is buried, with a queer and rather canting, but still a republican, inscription. Ludlow’s house shown; it retains still its inscription - ‘Omne solum forti patria.’ Walked down to the lake side; servants, carriage, saddle -horses - all set off and left us plantes la, by some mistake, and we walked on after them towards Clarens; Hobhouse ran on before, and overtook them at last. Arrived the second time (first time was by water) at Clarens. Went to Chillon through scenery worthy of I know not whom; went over the Castle of Chillon again. On our return met an English party in a carriage; a lady in it fast asleep - fast asleep in the most anti-narcotic spot in the world - excellent! I remember at Chamouni, in the very eves of Mom Blanc, hearing another woman, English also, exclaim to her party, ‘Did you ever see anything more rural?’ - as if it was Highgate, or Hampstead, or Brompton, or Hayes - ‘Rural!’ quotha? - Rocks, pines, torrents, glaciers, clouds, and summits of eternal snow far above them - and ‘rural!’

After a slight and short dinner we visited the Chateau de Clarens; an English woman has rented it recently (it was not let when I saw it first); the roses are gone with their summer; the family out, but the servants desired us to walk over the interior of the mansion. Saw on the table of the saloon Blair’s Sermons, and somebody else (I forget who’s) sermons, and a set of noisy children. Saw all worth seeing, and then descended to the ‘Bosquet de Julie,’ &c. &c.; our guide full of Rousseau, whom he is eternally confounding with St. Preux, and mixing the man and the book. Went again as far as Chillon to revisit the little torrent from the hill behind it. Sunset reflected in the lake. Have to get up at five to-morrow to cross the mountains on horseback; carriage to be sent round; lodged at my old cottage - hospitable and comfortable; tired with a longish ride on the colt, and the subsequent jolting of the char-a-banc, and my scramble in the hot sun.

Mem. The corporal who showed the wonders of Chillon was as drunk as Blucher; he was deaf also, and thinking every one else so, roared out the legends of the caste so fearfully. However, we saw things from the gallows to the dungeons (the potence and the cachots), and returned to Clarens with more freedom than belonged to the fifteenth century.’

19 September 1816
‘Rose at five. Crossed the mountains to Montbovon on horseback, and on mules, and, by dint of scrambling, on fool also; the whole route beautiful as a dream, and now to me almost as indistinct. I am so tired; for though healthy, I have not the strength I possessed but a few years ago. At Montbovon we breakfasted; afterward, on a steep ascent, dismounted; tumbled down; cut a finger open; the baggage got loose and fell down a ravine, till stopped by a large tree; recovered baggage; horse tired and drooping; mounted mule. At the approach of the summit of Dent Jument dismounted again with Hobhouse and all the party. Arrived at a lake in the very bosom of the mountains; left our quadrupeds with a shepherd, and ascended farther; came to some snow in patches, upon which my forehead’s perspiration fell like rain, making the same dints as in a sieve; the chill of the wind and the snow turned me giddy, but I scrambled on and upwards. Hobhouse went to the highest pinnacle; I did not, but paused within a few yards (at an opening of the cliff). In coming down, the guide tumbled three times; I fell a laughing, and tumbled too - the descent luckily soft, though steep and slippery: Hobhouse also fell, but nobody hurt. The whole of the mountains superb. A shepherd on a very steep and high cliff playing upon his pipe; very different from Arcadia, where I saw the pastors with a long musket instead of a crook, and pistols in their girdles. Our Swiss shepherd’s pipe was sweet, and his tune agreeable. I saw a cow strayed; am told that they often break their necks on and over the crags. Descended to Montbovon; pretty scraggy village, with a wild river and a wooden bridge. Hobhouse went to fish - caught one. Our carriage not come; our horses, mules, &c. knocked up; ourselves fatigued.

The view from the highest points of to-day’s journey comprised on one side the greatest part of Lake Leman; on the other, the valleys and mountain of the canton of Fribourg, and an immense plain, with the lakes of Neufchatel and Morat, and all which the borders of the Lake of Geneva inherit; we had both sides of the Jura before us in one point of view, with Alps in plenty. In passing a ravine, the guide recommended strenuously a quickening of pace, as the stones fall with great rapidity and occasional damage; the advice is excellent, but, like most good advice, impracticable, the road being so rough that neither mules, nor mankind, nor horses, can make any violent progress. Passed without fractures or menace thereof.

The music of the cow’s bells (for their wealth, like the patriarch’s, is cattle) in the pastures, which reach to a height far above any mountains in Britain, and the shepherds shouting to us from crag to crag, and playing on their reeds where the steeps appeared almost inaccessible, with the surrounding scenery, realized all that I have ever heard or imagined of a pastoral existence: much more so than Greece or Asia Minor; for there we are a little too much of the sabre and musket order, and if there is a crook in one hand, you are sure to see a gun in the other: but this was pure and unmixed - solitary, savage, and patriarchal. As we went, they played the ‘Rans des Vaches’ and other airs, by way of farewell. I have lately repeopled my mind with nature.’

4 January 1821
‘ “A sudden thought strikes me.” Let me begin a Journal once more. The last I kept was in Switzerland, in record of a tour made in the Bernese Alps, which I made to send to my sister in 1816, and I suppose that she has it still, for she wrote to me that she was pleased with It. Another, and longer, I kept in 1813-1814, which I gave to Thomas Moore in the same year.’

Monday, April 14, 2014

The most barbarous murder

Sir John Reresby was born 380 years ago this very day. He inherited a baronetcy, and remained loyal to the Crown during the so-called Interregnum, staying mostly abroad, and, then, with the Restoration found favour with Charles II. As a Justice of the Peace, he oversaw criminal investigations, often reporting to the king. Indeed, Reresby’s interesting and historically-valuable diary, provides some thrilling accounts of these investigations, not least into the murder of Sir Thomas Thynne.

Reresby was born on 14 April 1634 at Thrybergh, Yorkshire. In 1646, he succeeded to the Baronetage upon the death of his father, and in 1652 was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge. However, because parliament had, since 1642, voided all honours conferred by Charles I, Cambridge would not acknowledge his baronetcy, and Reresby decided instead to study at Gray’s Inn. In 1654, he left on a Grand Tour and remained abroad for several years, during which time he managed to ingratiate himself into the English court in Paris. With the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, he returned to England, and established himself as a country gentleman at Thrybergh. He married Frances Browne in 1665 (they would have nine children), and the same year was appointed a sheriff.

Reresby became an MP for Aldborough in 1673, and subsequently involved himself in various committees, slowly earning respect for being discreet and for being faithful to the king and the church. In 1681, he was elected MP for York, but Parliament was soon dissolved. Later that year, after the dissolution, he was appointed justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster (and as such he supervised the investigation into the high profile murder of Sir Thomas Thynne). In 1682, he was appointed governor of York, and contributed to the king’s plan to remodel charters throughout the country.

Reresby was elected to the next parliament in 1685, but found himself conflicted between his loyalty to court and the new king, James II, and his commitments to York. Following the dissolution of that parliament he returned to York, but was ousted during the so-called Glorious Revolution, i.e. the overthrow of James II in 1688 by William of Orange and English parliamentarians. Having been taken prisoner in the seizure of York, he was allowed to retire to Thrybergh, where he died in 1689. Further biographical details can be found at Wikipedia, on the Rotherham website, or the History of Parliament website.

Reresby’s diaries were first published in 1734 as The Memoirs of The Honourable Sir John Reresby, Bart. And laft Governor of York, Containing feveral Private and Remarkable Tranfactions From the Restoration to the Revolution Inclufively. This is freely available to read online at Internet Archive. Nearly a century and a half later, in 1875, his diaries were re-edited by James J Cartwright and published by Longmans, Green, and Co. as The Memoirs of Sir John Reresby. This is also available at Internet Archive. At least two more editions were published in the 20th century, one by Andrew Browning, and one a revision of Browning’s version, in 1991, by W. A. Speck and M. K. Geiter.

In addition to Reresby’s Memoirs, there is also The Travels and Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, ‘during the time of Cromwell’s usurpation’, first published in 1813. Although the Memoirs looks and reads as though it is a diary, the Travels and Memoirs reads more like a memoir, written in hindsight, than a diary.

The following extracts (several of which focus on Reresby’s investigation of the Thynne murder) are taken from Cartwright’s 1875 edition.

20 October 1681
‘His Majesty went to see a new ship launched at Deptford, in his barge. I waited upon him to the water side, where he seeing me called me into the barge. He that was named to be captain gave the King a great dinner, where his Majesty commanded all the gentlemen to sit down at the same table. He was very serious that day, and seemed more concerned than the greatest business did usually make him.’

23 October 1681
‘I dined with the Earl of Feversham, where we made a more than usual debauch.

That evening I met the King going to council, and desired him that a notorious robber, one Nevison, having broken the gaol at York and escaped, he would be pleased to grant a reward of 20l. to those that would apprehend him, and to make it known by issuing out a proclamation to that purpose. The truth was, he had committed several notorious robberies, and it was with great endeavours and trouble that I had got him apprehended at the first; and since his escape, he had threatened the death of several justices of the peace, wherever he met them (though I never heard that I was of the number). The king’s answer (my Lord Halifax being present) was this, that a proclamation would cost him 100l., but he would order 20l. to be paid by the sheriff of that county to him that took him, wherever it was; and that it should be published by the Gazette, which was the same thing. The rogue was taken not long after, and hanged at York.

I had begged of the King some money that I had discovered in the hands of a convicted papist, which belonged to my wife, her sister. My Lord Halifax spoke to my Lord Hyde, first Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, that dined there that day, to befriend me in the getting of it, which he promised me, for it might first be forfeited to the King, before I could pretend to it, and then only of the King’s gift.’

29 October 1681
‘A new lord mayor of London was chosen. The King being invited, did him the honour to dine with him at Guildhall. The show and dinner were very great and splendid. I dined that day at the table of my lord mayor.’

5 November 1681
‘I told the King the story of Sir Henry Goodricke, then ambassador in Spain, whom I called brother, of whom I had received a late account, that going out to shoot some miles from Madrid, in his return home he lighted upon some thieves that had set upon a coach full of ladies, with an intent to rob them; but before they could effect it, Sir Henry and his followers attacked them, wounded some and dispersed the rest, and rescued the ladies.’

12 February 1682
‘There happened the most barbarous murder that had taken place in England for some time. Mr. Thynne, a gentleman of 9,000l. a year - lately married to my lady Ogle, who, repenting of the match, had fled from him into Holland before they were bedded - was set upon by three ruffians, and shot to death as he was coming along the street in his coach. He being one deeply engaged in the Duke of Monmouth’s interest, it was much feared what construction might be made of it by that party - the authors escaping and not known. I was at Court that evening, when the King hearing the news, seemed much concerned at it, not only for the horror of the action itself, to which his good nature was very averse, but also apprehending the ill constructions which the anti-Court party might make of it.

At eleven o’clock the same night, as I was going into bed, Mr. Thynne’s gentleman came to me to grant a hue and cry and soon after the Duke of Monmouth’s page, to desire me to come to his master at Mr. Thynne’s lodging, sending his coach to fetch me. I found him surrounded with several gentlemen and lords, friends to Mr. Thynne, and Mr. Thynne mortally wounded by five bullets, which had entered his belly and side, shot from a blunderbuss. I granted immediately several warrants to search for persons suspected to be privy to the design, and that might give some intelligence of the parties that had acted that murder. At the last, by intelligence from a chairman that had the same afternoon conveyed one of the ruffians from his lodging in Westminster to take horse at the Black Bull, and by a woman that used to visit that gentleman, the constables found out his lodging in Westminster, and there took his man, a Swede, who being brought before me, at last confessed that he served a gentleman, a German captain, who had told him that he had a quarrel with Mr. Thynne, and had often appointed him to watch his coach as he passed by; and particularly, that day, so soon as the captain did know the coach was gone by, he had booted himself, and with two others - a Swedish lieutenant and a Polander - gone, as he supposed, in quest of Mr. Thynne on horseback. By this servant I further understood, where possibly the captain and his two friends might be found; and after having searched several houses with the Duke of Monmouth, Lord Mordaunt, and others, as he directed us, till six o’clock in the morning, having been in chase almost the whole night, I personally took the captain at the house of a Swedish doctor in Leicester Fields, I going first into the room, followed by my Lord Mordaunt. I found him in bed, and his sword at some distance from him upon the table, which I first seized, and afterwards his person, committing him to two constables. I wondered to see him yield up himself so tamely, being certainly a man of great courage, for he appeared unconcerned from the beginning, notwithstanding he was very certain to be found the chief actor in the tragedy. This gentleman had not long before commanded the forlorn hope at the siege of Mons, where only two besides himself, of fifty under his command, came off with life. For which the Prince of Orange made him a lieutenant in his guards, and the King of Sweden gave him afterwards a troop of horse.

Several persons suspected for accessories and the two accomplices - viz., the Swedish lieutenant and the Polander (whose names were Stern and Borosky, and the captain’s name Fratz) - were soon after taken by constables with my warrant, and brought to my house, where, before I could finish all the examinations, the King sent for me to attend him in Council, which was called on purpose for that occasion, with the prisoners and papers. His Majesty ordered me to inform him of my proceeding in that matter, both as to the way of the persons’ apprehension and their examinations, and then examined them himself, giving me orders at the rising of the Council to put what had been said there into writing and form, in order to the trial. This took me up a great part of the day, though I desired Mr. Bridgeman, one of the clerks of the Council and a justice of the peace, to assist me in that matter both for the dispatch and my security, the nicety of the thing requiring it, as will appear hereafter.’

15 February 1682
‘The Council meeting again, amongst other things to examine the governor to young Count Coningsmark, a young gentleman resident in Monsieur Faubert’s academy in London, supposed to be privy to the murder. The King sent for him to attend the Council, where he confessed that the eldest Count Coningsmark, who had been in England some months before, and had made addresses to my lady Ogle before she had married Mr. Thynne, had ten days before the murder come incognito into England, and lay disguised till it was committed. This gave great cause of suspicion that the said count was in the bottom of it. Whereupon his Majesty commanded me to go search his lodging, which I performed with two constables, but found he was gone, the day after the deed was done, betimes in the morning; of which I presently returned to give the King an account.

I several times after this attended the King, both privately and in Council, to inform him from time to time, as new matter did occur. Upon the whole we discovered, partly by the confession of the ruffians, and by the information of others, that captain Fratz had been eight years a companion and particular friend to Count Coningsmark, one of the greatest men in the kingdom of Sweden, his uncle being at that time governor of Pomerania, and near being married to that King’s aunt; that whilst he was here in England some months before, and had made addresses to the Lady Ogle, the only daughter and heiress to the Earl of Northumberland, married after to the now murdered Mr. Thynne, the said count had resented something done towards him as an affront from the said Mr. Thynne, and that the said captain, out of friendship to the Count (but as he then pretended hot with his privity), was resolved to be revenged of him. To which intent he, with the assistance of the said Stern and Borosky, had committed this so barbarous act, by obliging the latter to discharge a blunderbuss upon him in his coach, the others being present. I was glad to find in this whole affair that no English person nor interest was concerned, the fanatics having buzzed it already abroad that the design was chiefly against the Duke of Monmouth; and I had the King’s thanks oftener than once, my Lord Halifax’s also, and of several others, for my diligent discovery of the true cause and occasion as well as the authors of this matter. The truth is the Duke of Monmouth was gone out of the coach from Mr. Thynne an hour before; but I found, by the confession both of Stern and Borosky, that they were ordered not to shoot in case the Duke were with him in the coach.

It was much suspected all this while that Count Coningsmark was not yet oversea; and on the 20th he was found by the Duke of Monmouth’s servant disguised at Gravesend alone, coming out of a sculler, intending the next day to go aboard a Swedish ship. The King having notice, called an extraordinary Council to examine him that afternoon, at which I was present. He appeared before the King with all the assurance imaginable; was a fine gentleman of his person; his hair was the longest for a man’s I ever saw, for it came below his waist, and his parts were very quick. His examination before the King and Council was very superficial, but he was after that appointed the same day to be examined, by order of the King in Council, by the lord chief justice, Mr. Bridgeman, the Attorney-General, and myself. It was accordingly done, but he confessed nothing as to his being either privy or concerned in the murder, laying his lying here concealed upon the occasion of his taking physic for a disease, and therefore was unwilling to discover himself till he was cured; and his going away in a disguise after the fact was done, upon the advice of some friends, who told him that it would reflect on him were it known he was in England, when a person that was his friend was under so notorious a suspicion for committing so black a crime; and therefore did endeavour to get away, not knowing how far the laws of this land might for that very reason make him a party.’

10 March 1682
‘The captain and the other two, that were guilty of Mr. Thynne’s murder, were hanged in the same street where it was committed. The captain died without any expression of fear, or laying any guilt upon Count Coningsmark. Seeing me in my coach as he passed by in the cart to execution, he bowed to me with a steady look, as he did to those he knew amongst the spectators, before he was turned off; in fine, his whole carriage, from his first being apprehended till the last, relished more of gallantry than religion.

The part I had in the discovery and prosecution of this murder made me generally known in the new employment of justice of the peace for Middlesex and Westminster; and there happened another thing that assisted to it in some measure, which was the setting up of a manufacture of wool for the maintenance of the poor in St. Martin’s parish, which was very much oppressed with them before, and to which my endeavours did much contribute.’

5 April 1689
‘I received the unfortunate news of the death of my son George by the small-pox - a very beautiful, apt, understanding child. It was a great affliction to me; but God gives, and God takes, and blessed be the name of the Lord.’

11 April 1689
‘The day of the coronation of King William and Queen Mary, performed with great splendour according to the usual ceremonies. The procession to the Abbey of Westminster was very regular, but not attended by so many of the nobility as when the two last kings were crowned. The House of Commons were taken great care of in this solemnity, had a side of Westminster Hall prepared for them to see it, another place in the Abbey to see their Majesties crowned, and several tables prepared and covered with all sorts of meat, where they dined by themselves. Only some friends were admitted amongst them, and I amongst others, which gave me a good opportunity to see and observe all. The Bishop of London crowned the King and Queen, assisted by the Bishop of Salisbury (the late Doctor Burnet), who preached the coronation sermon, and by two others.’

14 April 1689
‘My birthday, I humbly thanked God for preserving me through so many dangers till the 55th year of my age, and begged of Him to lead the remainder of my life better than I had hitherto done.’

The Diary Junction

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The wonderful echo

Charles Burney, the much revered music historian and father of the famous diarist, Fanny Burney, died 200 years ago today. Although not known as a diarist himself, he did keep detailed diaries on two journeys through Europe while researching the history of music. Much of the detail in these diaries concerns, rather laboriously, matters only musical, but he does write about what he hears and sees with an exquisite precision - even when his subject is but a famous echo.

Burney was born at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, in 1726. He attended The King’s School in Chester, where his music master, a previous student of John Blow (see John Blow’s bad singing), was organist at the cathedral. On leaving the school, he was taught first by his half-brother and then apprenticed in London to Dr Thomas Arne. From 1746, the aristocrat Fulke Greville adopted Burney as a musical companion, but they parted when Greville wanted to go abroad, and Burney wanted to stay with his new love, Esther Sleepe, who he then married (in 1749). Left otherwise without funds, he won an appointment as organist of St Dionis-Backchurch, Fenchurch Street.

In 1751, Burney went to Lynn Regis in Norfolk, where he was again elected organist, taught music students, and lived for nine years. During that time he began to entertain the idea of writing a general history of music. In 1760, he returned to London with a young family (his daughter Fanny would go on to become one of the most famous diarists of the age), but his wife Esther died soon after. In 1769 he married Mrs Stephen Allen of Lynn.

Burney published concertos for harpsichord which were much admired, and, in 1766, he produced, at Drury Lane, a translation and adaptation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s opera Le Devin du village, under the title of The Cunning Man. In 1770, Burney left London to travel in Europe to collect material for a history of music; and he undertook a second Continental journey in 1772. The first volume of his history appeared in 1776, with further volumes appearing in 1782 and 1789. In between, he continued teaching, he finished other notable musical and written works, and contributed many articles to Ree’s Cyclopaedia. In 1783, he was appointed organist to the chapel at Chelsea Hospital, where he lived, and then died on 12 April 1814. For more biographical information see The Burney Centre hosted by McGill University, Westminster Abbey’s website, or Wikipedia.

After each trip to the Continent, Burney published a book of his travels made up largely of the journal he had kept on route. The first of these, published by T. Becket & Co, came out in 1771: The Present State of Music in France and Italy or The Journal of a Tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for a General History of Music. This is freely available online at Internet Archive. His record of the second tour, published also by T. Becket & Co, came out in 1773, with a similar title: The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands and United Provinces. This is also available at Internet Archive.

One hundred and fifty years later, Cedric Howard Glover revisited Burney’s journals, and, in 1927, Blackie & Son published Dr. Charles Burney’s Continental Travels 1770-1772. In this volume, however, Burney’s actual diary entries are merged into a general text composed by Glover. He explains, in his introduction, his decision to revisit and re-edit the journals:

‘The primary object of Dr. Burney’s travels was the acquisition of material for the General History of Music which it was his ambition to compile, and his Journals are therefore mainly concerned with the results of his researches. However interesting to the public of his own day, there can be no question that the sections of his Journals devoted to purely musical matters are in the main responsible for the somewhat rapid decline in popular favour which his books experienced. Yet embedded in accounts of interviews with long forgotten musicians, we can still find plenty to delight and entertain us.

The Journals contain graphic descriptions of encounters with many of the notable figures in the literary and musical history of that time - Voltaire and Rousseau, Mozart and Gluck, Laura Bassi, the lady professor of Bologna, and Sir William Hamilton, antiquarian and collector. Few Englishmen had the luck to hear Frederick the Great play the flute at Potsdam, or to watch Henry, Cardinal York, the last of the Stuarts, say Vespers in Rome.

But it is not only the personal side of the Journals which arrests our attention. There is much to interest us in Dr. Burney’s adventures on the road. He gives us a striking picture of the devastation and misery caused by the Seven Years’ War, of his own discomforts on the journey by river on a log raft from Munich to Vienna, and of the villainy in general of postboys and innkeepers. Finally, there is the pleasure of watching the actions and reactions of an engaging personality. A man of his age, with no great complexity of character, Dr. Burney makes us share his pleasures even in the condescensions of the great. His insatiable curiosity is infectious; nothing is too trivial to enlist a sympathetic attention. [. . .]

The Journals have long played their part in the formation of musical history; the present volume sets out to win them the favour of a wider circle of readers than the musical lexicographers by bringing into prominence the many factors of varied interest contained in them; these, it is hoped, may prove a substantial contribution to the history of those remote days when Continental travelling required the courage and endurance now demanded of an Arctic explorer.’

Here, though, are several extracts from the original published journal of Burney’s travels in France and Italy. (At the time, an f-like s was still being used at the start of, or in the middle, of words).

13 June 1770
‘This morning I fpent in the library of the College Des Quatre nations, founded by cardinal Mazarin. It is a noble one. I confulted the catalogues, and found feveral of the books I wanted.

In the evening I heard two pieces performed at the Theatre Italien, in which the finging was the worft part. Though the modern French compofers hazard every thing that has been attempted by the Italians, yet it is ill executed, and fo ill underftood by the audience, that it makes no impreffion. Bravura fongs, or fongs of execution, are now attempted; but they are fo ill performed, that no one ufed to true Italian finging can like any thing but the words and action. One of thefe pieces was new, and meant as a comic opera, in all its modern French forms of Italian mufic, (that is, mufic compofed in the Italian ftyle) to French words. No recitative, all the dialogue and narrative part being fpoken. And this piece was as thoroughly d—d as ever piece was here. I ufed to imagine that a French audience durft not hifs to the degree I found they did upon this occafion. Indeed quite as much, mixt with horfe laughs, as ever I heard at Drury Lane, or Covent Garden. In fhort, it was condemned in all the Englifh forms, except breaking the benches and the actors heads; and the inceffant found of hifh inflead of hifs. The author of the words, luckily, or rather judicioufly, lay concealed; but the compofer, M. de St. Amant, was very much to be pitied, for a great deal of real good mufic was thrown away upon bad words, and upon an audience not at all difpofed, efpecially in the two laft acts (there were three) to hear anything fairly. But this mufic, though I thought it much fuperiour to the poetry it accompanied, was not without its defects; the modulation was too ftudied, fo much fo as to be unnatural, and always to difappoint the ear. The overture however was good mufic, full of found, harmony, elegant and pleafing melody, with many paffages of effect. The hautbois at this theatre is admirable; I hardly ever heard a more pleafing tone or manner of playing. Several of the fongs would have been admirable too; if they had been fung with the true Italian expreffion. But the French voice never comes further than from the throat; there is no voce di petto, no true portamento or direction of the voice, on any of the ftages. And though feveral of the fingers in this theatre are Italians, they are fo degenerated fince they came hither, that if I had not been affured of it, their performance would have convinced me of the contrary. The new piece had several movements in it very like what is heard at the ferious opera. (It muft be remembered that the whole was in verfe, and extremely ferious, except fome attempt at humour in Calliot’s part) which, however, did not prevent the audience from pronouncing it to be deteftable.’

14 June 1770
‘This being Fete Dieu or Corpus Chrifti Day, one of the greateft holidays in the whole year, I went to fee the proceffions, and to hear high mafs performed at Notre Dame. I had great difficulty to get thither. Coaches are not allowed to ftir till all the proceflions, with which the whole town fwarms, are over. The ftreets through which they are to pafs in the way to the churches, are all lined with tapestry; or, for want of that, with bed-curtains and old petticoats: I find the better fort of people, (les gens comme il faut) all go out of town on thefe days, to avoid the embarras of going to mafs, or the ennui of ftaying at home. Whenever the hoft ftops, which frequently happens, the priefts fing a pfalm, and all the people fall on their knees in the middle of the ftreet, whether dirty or clean. I readily complied with this ceremony rather than give offence or become remarkable. Indeed, when I went out, I determined to do as other people did, in the ftreets and church, otherwife I had no bufinefs there; fo that I found it incumbent on me to kneel down twenty times ere I reached Notre Dame. This I was the lefs hurt at, as I faw it quite general and many much better dreffed people than myfelf, almoft proftrated themfelves, while I only touched the ground with one knee. At length I reached the church, where I was likewife a conformift; though here I walked about frequently, as I faw others do, round the choir and in the great aifle. I made my remarks on the organ, organift, plain-chant, and motets. Though this was fo great a festival, the organ accompanied the choir but little. The chief ufe made of it, was to play over the chant before it was fung, all through the Pfalms. Upon enquiring of a young abbe, whom I took with me as a nomenclator, what this was called? C’eft prefer, ‘Tis profing, he faid. And it fhould feem as if our word profing came from this dull and heavy manner of recital. The organ is a good one, but when played full, the echo and reverberation were fo ftrong, that it was all confufion; however, on the choir organ and echo ftops I could hear every paffage distinctly. The organift has a neat and judicious way of touching the inftrument; but his paffages were very old fafhioned. Indeed what he played during the offertorio, which lafted fix or eight minutes, feemed too ftiff and regular for a voluntary. Several motets, or fervices, were performed by the choir, but accompanied oftener by the ferpent than organ: though, at my firft entrance into the French churches, I have frequently taken the ferpent for an organ; but foon found it had in its effect fomething better and fomething worfe than that inftrument. Thefe compofitions are much in the way of our old church fervices, full of fugues and imitation; more contrivance and labour than melody. I am more and more convinced every day, that what I before obferved concerning the adapting the Englifh words to the old canto fermo, by Tallis, at the Reformation, is true - and it feems to me that mufic, in our cathedral fervice, was lefs reformed than any other part of the liturgy.

At five o’clock I went to the Concert Spirituel, the only public amufement allowed on thefe great feftivals. It is a grand concert performed in the great hall of the Louvre, in which the vocal confifts of detached pieces of church mufic in Latin. I fhall name the feveral performances of this concert, and fairly fay what effect. each had upon myfelf, and upon the audience, as far as a ftander-by could difcover. . .’

21 July 1770
‘It did not feem foreign to my bufinefs in Italy to vifit the Palazzo Simonetto, a mile or two from Milan, to hear the famous echo, about which travellers have faid fo much, that I rather fufpected exaggeration. This is not the place to enter deeply into the doctrine of reverberation; I fhall referve the attempt for another work; as to the matter of fact, this echo is very wonderful. The Simonetto palace is near no other building; the country all around is a dead flat, and no mountains are nearer than thofe of Swifferland, which are upwards of thirty miles off. This palace is now uninhabited and in ruin, but has been pretty; the front is open, and fupported by very light double Ionic pillars, but the echo is only to be heard behind the houfe, which, next to the garden has two wings. [Illustration . . .]

Now, though it is natural to fuppofe that the oppofite wails reflect the found, it is not eafy to fay in what manner; as the form of the building is a very common one, and no other of the fame confruction, that I have ever heard of, produces the fame effects. I made experiments of all kinds, and in every fituation, with the voice, flow, quick; with a trumpet, which a fervant who was with me founded; with a piftol, and a mufquet, and always found agreeable to the doctrine of echos, that the more quick and violent the percuffion of the air, the more numerous were the repetitions; which, upon firing the mufquet, amounted to upwards of fifty, of which the ftrength feemed regularly to diminifh, and the diftance to become more remote. Such a mufical canon might be contrived for one fine voice here, according to father Kircher’s method, as would have all the eifect of two, three, and even four voices. One blow of a hammer produced a very good imitation of an ingenious and practifed footman’s knock at a London door, on a vifiting night. A fingle ha! became a long horfe-laugh; and a forced note, or a found overblown in tire trumpet, became the moft ridiculous and laughable noife imaginable.’

Beautiful blueberries

Happy 60th birthday Jon Krakauer, US author of several best-selling true-story books. I have no idea whether Krakauer is a diarist himself, but in two of his books - one about a young man who died on a solitary adventure in Alaska, and the other about Pat Tillman, a famous football player-turned-soldier killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan - he makes very good use of his subjects’ diaries.

Jon Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 12 April 1954, but was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, from the age of two. His father was a doctor and mountaineer, and he took Jon climbing from the age of eight. Jon studied at Hampshire College, where he graduated in environmental studies. He married Linda Mariam Moor in 1980. They lived in Seattle, Washington, before moving to Boulder, Colorado. But Krakauer divided his time between Colorado, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, supporting himself primarily as a carpenter and commercial salmon fisherman, but also writing for Outside magazine.

Some of Krakauer’s essays and articles on mountain-climbing were collected in his first book, Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains, published in 1990. Then, in 1993, he wrote a 9,000 word article for Outside on Christopher McCandless an American hiker and idealist who ventured into the Alaskan wilderness and died four months later, probably from starvation. Krakauer went on to write a very successful book about McCandless - Into the Wild (Macmillan 1996) - partly based on a diary that was found with his body, and which documented his struggles to stay alive.

In 1996, Krakauer climbed Mt. Everest, but four of his party, who reached the summit with him, died in a storm. An analysis of the tragedy for Outside was highly regarded, and is said to have led to a general re-evaluation of the commercialisation of what had once been a romantic, solitary sport. His book on Everest, Into Thin Air (Villard, 1997), became another best-seller, and was widely translated.

A third non-fiction best-seller followed in 2003 with Under the Banner of Heaven (Doubleday), about offshoots of Mormonism, and the practice of polygamy within them; and a fourth best-seller came in 2009: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Doubleday). Tillman was an American football player who gave up sport to enlist in the army, in 2002, following the September 11 attacks. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The army initially reported that he had been killed in action, but it later became clear that his death by friendly fire had been covered up. Krakauer’s book draws on Tillman’s journals and letters.

In the first paragraph of the first chapter Krakauer writes: ‘During Pat Tillman’s stint in the Army he intermittently kept a diary. In an entry dated July 28, 2002 - three weeks after he arrived at boot camp - he wrote, “It is amazing the turns one’s life can take. Major events or decisions that completely change a life. In my life there have been a number.” He then catalogued several. Foremost on his mind at the time, predictably, was his decision to join the military. But the incident he put at the top of the list, which occurred when he was eleven years old, comes as a surprise. “As odd as this sounds,” the journal revealed, “a diving catch I made in the 11-12 all-stars was a take-off point. I excelled the rest of the tournament and gained incredible confidence. It sounds tacky but it was big.”

And here are several extracts from the first of Krakauer's best-sellers, Into the Wild, all of them quotes from McCandless’s diary. The first three are from a diary McCandless kept soon after leaving university and heading off on his solitary travels. During this period, he called himself Alexander, and wrote about himself in the third person. The rest of the entries are from the weeks preceding his death in Alaska in August 1992, probably from starvation, although Krakauer argues that McCandless poisoned himself by eating the wrong kind of berries. Sean Penn wrote and directed a film adapted from the book in 2007.

5 December 1990
‘At last! Alex finds what he believes to be the Weltreco Canal and heads south. Worries and fears return as the canal grows ever smaller. . . Local inhabitants help him portage around a barrier . . . Alex finds Mexicans to be warm, friendly people. Much more hospitable than Americans.’

6 December 1990
‘Small but dangerous waterfalls litter the canal.’

9 December 1990
‘All hopes collapse! The canal does not reach the ocean but merely peters out into a vast swamp. Alex is utterly confounded. Decides he must be close to the ocean and elects to try and work way through swamp to sea. Alex becomes progressively lost to point where he must push canoe through reeds and drag it through mud. All is in despair. Finds some dry ground to camp in swamp at sundown. Next day, on 12/10, Alex resumes quest for an opening to the sea, but only becomes more confused, traveling in circles. Completely demoralized and frustrated he lays in his canoe at day’s end and weeps. But then by fantastic chance he comes upon Mexican duck hunting guides who can speak English. He tells them his story and his quest for the sea. They say there is no outlet to the sea. But then one among them agrees to tow Alex back to his basecamp, and drive him and the canoe to the ocean. It is a miracle.’

28 May 1992
‘Gourmet Duck!’

1 June 1992
‘5 Squirrel.’

2 June 1992
‘Porcupine, Ptarmigan, 4 Squirrel, Grey Bird.’

3 June 1992
‘Another Porcupine! 4 Squirrel, Grey Bird.’

9 June 1992

Although McCandless was enough of a realist, Krakauer observes, to know that hunting game was an unavoidable component of living off the land, he had always been ambivalent about killing animals. Believing that it was morally indefensible to waste any part of an animal that had been shot for food, McCandless spent days toiling to preserve what he had killed before it spoiled.’

10 June 1992
‘Butchering extremely difficult. Fly and mosquito hordes. Remove intestines, liver, kidneys, one lung, steaks. Get hindquarters and leg to stream.’

11 June 1992
‘Remove heart and other lung. Two front legs and head. Get rest to stream. Haul near cave. Try to protect with smoker.’

12 June 1992
‘Remove half rib-cage and steaks. Can only work nights. Keep smokers going.’

13 June 1992
‘Get remainder of rib-cage, shoulder and neck to cave. Start smoking.’

14 June 1992
‘Maggots already! Smoking appears ineffective. Don’t know. Looks like disaster. I now wish I had never shot the moose. One of the greatest tragedies of my life.’

A couple of days later
‘Consciousness of food. Eat and cook with concentration . . . Holy Food.’

And then on the back pages of the book that served as his journal, he declared: ‘I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has just begun. Deliberate living: Concious attention to the basics of life, and a constant attention to your immediate environment and its concerns, example -> A job, a task, a book; anything requiring efficent concentration (Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value. All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon, what it means to you).

The Great Holiness of FOOD, the Vital Heat.
Positivism, the Insurpassable Joy of the Life Aesthetic.
Absolute Truth and Honesty.
Finality - Stability - Consistency’

5 July 1992
‘Disaster . . . Rained in. River look impossible. Lonely, scared.’

McCandless’s inability to cross the river (now much more swollen than when he had first crossed it earlier in the year), which would have allowed him to hike back to the highway, appears to have led to his death some weeks later. 

Krakauer quotes a few more journal entries, but, he says, the signs are ominous.

30 July 1992

2 August 1992

5 August 1992

12 August 1992 [the last dated entry]
‘Beautiful Blueberries.’

Monday, April 7, 2014

Elizabeth Freke’s misfortunes

‘I was in a most grievous rainy, wet day married without the knowledg or consent of my father or any friend in London.’ This is part of the first entry in an extraordinary diary - or more accurately a set of reminiscences - left behind by Elizabeth Freke, who died 300 years ago today. Her life - as recounted in the autobiographical writings - from the secret marriage onwards seems to have been unusually full of dispute and troubles, not only with her husband but many others besides. According to one reviewer of the published diary, ‘she wields her resentment like an iron ball swung round her head ready to let fly’.

Elizabeth was born in Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of Raufe Freke and Cicely, a cousin of the famous Nicolas Culpeper (who wrote the London Dispensatory). After her mother’s early death, she and her sisters were raised by her father and a maternal aunt. When 30, she eloped with her second cousin Percy to London. She had a child, a son, and then went to Ireland, where Percy’s father lived at Rathbarry in County Cork, leaving the boy with her father.

In subsequent years, Freke travelled back and forth, quarrelling with her husband, about money and about where they should live. And while her father kept providing her with funds, her husband kept spending them. Ultimately, her father bought her an estate at West Bilney, in Norfolk, which she managed to keep for herself, and to where she eventually retired after leaving Ireland for the last time. Percy came to Norfolk when he was ill, and died there, causing Elizabeth much stress. Later, she suffered from asthma and pleurisy, and died in Westminster on 7 April 1714 while visiting London. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Elizebeth Freke is only remembered today because of her autobiographical writings - recorded in two separate manuscripts - and the historical and social interest of those writings. Some of these were first edited by Mary Carbery and published in 1913, by the Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, as Mrs. Elizabeth Freke Her Diary, 1671 to 1714. Although the term ‘diary’ was used - presumably because many of the autobiographical entries left by Freke were dated in diary format - it is clear from the content that the bulk of them were written much later on. Melosina Lenox-Conyngham included some of Freke’s so-called diary entries in her Diaries of Ireland (published by Lilliput Press, Dublin in 1998).

Much more recently, a US professor, Raymond Anselment, re-examined the Freke papers in the British library, and produced a more detailed and considered version of Freke’s literary legacy. This was published by Cambridge University Press in 2001 as The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, 1671–1714. Some pages can be read online at Googlebooks and at Amazon.

In his introduction, Anselment discusses the two manuscripts left behind by Freke, i.e. the two versions of her autobiographical writings, and how Carbery ‘cut, conflated, and rearranged’ them. Although he says that the composition of neither manuscript can be dated precisely, he does conclude that Freke began writing her remembrances in 1702, aged 60, ‘perhaps relying on earlier notes for the specific details of her first thirty years of marriage’. From then on, he also concludes, Freke’s increasingly substantial entries were written ‘fairly soon after the entry dates’.

‘In writing and then rewriting autobiographical remembrances recalling three decades of marriage and ensuing years of widowhood,’ the publisher’s blurb says, ‘Elizabeth Freke strikingly redefines the relationships among self, family, and patriarchy characteristic of early modern women’s autobiography. Suffering and sacrifice dominate an extensive ledger of disappointment and bitterness that reveals over time the complex emotions of a Norfolk gentry woman seeking significance and even vindication in her hardships and frustrations. [. . .] By making available both versions of the remembrances in their entirety, this new, multiple-text edition clarifies the refashioning inherent in each stage of writing and rewriting, recovering with unusual immediacy Freke’s late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century domestic world.’

Dr Amy Erickson, in a review of Anselment’s book for the Institute of Historical Research, says this: ‘Elizabeth Freke has the distinction among my autobiographical acquaintance of being the memoirist I would least like to meet. This is not because she was toothless, lame, blind and probably bald and, as she said in 1711, ‘a diseased criple with a rhumatisme and tisick confined to a chair for this eighteen months past’. It is because she wields her resentment like an iron ball swung round her head ready to let fly.’

And Erickson goes on to explain further: ‘These are not remembrances in the sense of reminiscences. They are not a record of family or piety or maternal devotion, as many early modern women’s memoirs might be categorised. They are explicitly ‘remembrances of my misfortuns ... since I were marryed’. The bitterness is directed primarily, but by no means exclusively, at her husband and son, and with good reason. Her sister, her cousin (who is her financial agent), her tenants, and the Bishop of Norwich also mistreat her to varying degrees. All of these relationships are described in terms of property - in relation to gifts (the cash value of which is always recorded), ingratitude or theft.’

Here are a few extracts from the early pages of The Remembrances of Elizabeth Freke, 1671–1714.

14 November 1671
‘I was privately married to Mr Percy Frek by Doctter Johnson in Coven Garden, my Lord Russells chaplain, in London, to my second cosine, eldest son to Captain Arthur Frek and grandson to Mr William Frek, the only brother of Sir Thomas Frek of Dorsettshiere, who was my grandfather, and his son Mr Ralph Frek my deer father. And my mother was Sir Thomas Cullpepers daughter of Hollingburne in Kentt; her name was Cicelia Cullpeper. Affter being six or 7 years engaged to Mr Percy Freke, I was in a most grievous rainy, wet day married without the knowledg or consent of my father or any friend in London, as above.’

26 July 1672
‘Being Thursday, I were again remarried by me deer father by Doctter Uttram att St Margaretts Church in Westminster by a licence att least four years in Mr Freks pocttett and in a grievous tempestuous, stormy day for wind as the above for raigne. I were given by me deer father, Ralph Frek, Esqr, and the eldest of his four daughters and the last married, being contracted to him by promise for five years before, butt unwilling to give my sisters any president of my misfortunes prognosticated to mee by the two tempestuous and dreadful days I were married on and which I looked on as fatal emblems to me. Eliza. Freke.’

26 August 1672
‘Mr Frek, Agust 26 coming over St James Parke about 12 a clock att night, challenged my lord of Roscomon either to fight him in St James Parke presently or to pay him down a thousand pounds my lord has long owed Mr Freke. Butt the 26 of Agust att three a clock in the morning ten men of the lifeguard came and fetched Mr Freke out of his bed from me and immediatly hurryed him to Whit Hall before Secretary Coventry, I nott knowing what itt was for more then words spoken. This was the begining of my troubles for my disobedience in marrying as I did. Eliz Freke’

4 March 1690
‘Mr Frek left me and went away again for Ireland, I nott knowing of itt above two days before, to endeavour the getting of his estat, tho given away by King James to Owen Maccarty. My Husband being then outtlawed for an absentee had all his estate of above 700 pounds a yeare with all his stock and good given away by the said kinge and his greatt house att Rathbarry burnt down by the Irish to preventt its being made a garrison, as itt had held outt on nine months for King Charls the First by Captaine Arthur Frek, my husbands father.’

30 March 1692
‘Mr Frek, haveing now left me to shifft for my selfe above two years, never lett me have any quiett butt commanded me to leave all my affairs att Billney and come over to Ireland. Wher, affter halfe a years concideration I forced my selfe to undertak againe a jorney to Ireland, and in order to itt wentt with my son and servants to London in my deer sister Nortons coach and left my house and goods in the care of Jams Wallbutt, then my servantt and affter my cheating tenant.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The King’s bathing habits

Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville was born two hundred and twenty years ago today. In memory of one of the greatest of 19th century political diarists, I am republishing here the whole of a chapter (Chapter 10) from my book Brighton in Diaries published by The History Press. (See also The Diary Review article about Charles’s brother Henry: I went with the queen.)

Of all the 19th century diarists who recorded public and political events, Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville, is probably the most important. Arthur Ponsonby, who wrote two learned reviews of English diaries in the 1920s, says that as a commentator on contemporary events he ‘holds a unique position’, for ‘he wrote history as it was in the making’. Other political and social diaries of the time ‘fade into insignificance when compared with his very full and detailed chronicle’. Indeed his early diaries, when published a decade after his death for the first time, caused an uproar. The Prime Minister at the time, Benjamin Disraeli, called them an outrage, and Queen Victoria, taking her cue from him, was indeed outraged - at the things written about her uncles many decades earlier.

Greville was born in 1794 into a branch of the family of the Earls of Warwick. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, he paged for King George III for a short while before working as a private secretary to Earl Bathurst. Then, for more than 35 years, he was Clerk to the Privy Council, a job which brought him into contact with many important people of the time. He was much liked, and maintained good relations with both Whigs and Tories, often being employed as a negotiator during ministerial changes. His interests extended from horse racing (he owned horses and managed the Duke of York’s stables for some years) to literature. In 1859, he resigned the clerkship of the council, and in 1865 he died.

Sympathetic and kind, grumpy and vain

Described as sympathetic, generous and a delightful companion, he was also said to bustle with kindness. Smooth and urbane, Greville’s features were marked by a long, pointed chin and a strong nose which led to him being given the nickname of ‘Punch’; though he was also known as the ‘Gruncher’, on account of being grumpy when troubled by an attack of gout or his growing deafness. He could be vain too. Benjamin Disraeli, writing to a friend in 1874, said: ‘I knew him intimately. He was the vainest being - I don’t limit myself to man - that ever existed; and I don’t forget Cicero and Lytton Bulwer [Edward Bulwer-Lytton - a very popular writer of the day, he who coined the epigram, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’]. Although he never married, one of his mistresses bore him a son who died as a young man journeying back from India.

Well known and well liked as he was while alive, Greville’s eminence today is entirely thanks to his diaries. Having always intended them for publication, Greville gave them to Henry Reeve, a Privy Council colleague. ‘The author of these Journals,’ Reeve says, ‘requested me, in January 1865, a few days before his death, to take charge of them with a view to publication at some future time. He left that time to my discretion, merely remarking that Memoirs of this kind ought not, in his opinion, to be locked up until they had lost their principal interest by the death of all those who had taken any part in the events they describe.’

The first three volumes of The Greville Memoirs - A Journal of the Reigns of King George IV and King William IV were published by Longmans, Green in 1874. And they caused a scandal. In Disraeli’s letter (the same one as mentioned above), he writes: ‘I have not seen Chas. Greville’s book, but have read a good deal of it. It is a social outrage. And committed by one who was always talking of what he called ‘perfect gentlemen.’ I don’t think he can figure now in that category.’ According to Queen Victoria’s biographer, Christopher Hibbbert, she wrote that she was ‘horrified and indignant at this dreadful and really scandalous book. Mr Greville’s indiscretion, indelicacy, ingratitude, betrayal of confidence and shameful disloyalty towards his Sovereign make it very important that the book should be severely censored and discredited,’ she wrote indignantly.

Five more volumes followed, in the 1880s, entitled The Greville Memoirs: A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria.

The gaudy splendour of the Pavilion

18 December 1821
‘I have not written anything for months. ‘Quante cose mi sono accadute!’ My progress was as follows, not very interesting: To Newmarket, Whersted, Eiddlesworth, Sprotborough, Euston, Elveden, Welbeck, Caversham, Nun Appleton, Welbeck, Burghley, and London. Nothing worth mentioning occurred at any of these places. Sprotborough was agreeable enough. The Grevilles, Montagu, Wilmot, and the Wortleys were there. I came to town, went to Brighton yesterday se’nnight for a Council. 

I was lodged in the Pavilion and dined with the King. The gaudy splendour of the place amused me for a little and then bored me. The dinner was cold and the evening dull beyond all dulness. They say the King is anxious that form and ceremony should be banished, and if so it only proves how impossible it is that form and ceremony should not always inhabit a palace. The rooms are not furnished for society, and, in fact, society cannot flourish without ease; and who can feel at ease who is under the eternal constraint which etiquette and respect impose?

The King was in good looks and good spirits, and after dinner cut his jokes with all the coarse merriment which is his characteristic. Lord Wellesley did not seem to like it, but of course he bowed and smiled like the rest. I saw nothing very particular in the King’s manner to Lady Conyngham. He sat by her on the couch almost the whole evening, playing at patience, and he took her in to dinner; but Madame de Lieven and Lady Cowper were there, and he seemed equally civil to all of them. I was curious to see the Pavilion and the life they lead there, and I now only hope I may never go there again, for the novelty is past, and I should be exposed to the whole weight of the bore of it without the stimulus of curiosity.’

The King’s bathing habits

19 August 1822
‘I went to Brighton on Saturday to see the Duke [of York - George IV’s brother and heir presumptive at the time]; returned to-day. The Pavilion is finished. The King has had a subterranean passage made from the house to the stables, which is said to have cost 3,000l or 5,000l; I forget which. There is also a bath in his apartment, with pipes to conduct water from the sea; these pipes cost 600l. The King has not taken a sea bath for sixteen years.’

I shot 376 rabbits

16 September 1829
‘Went to Brighton on Saturday last to pay Lady Jersey a visit and shoot at Firle. Jersey and I shot 376 rabbits, the greatest number that had ever been killed on the hills. The scenery is very fine - a range of downs looking on one side over the sea, and on the other over a wide extent of rich flat country. It is said that Firle is the oldest park in England. It belongs to Lord Gage.’

Heard at Brighton

‘I heard at Brighton for the first time of the Duke of Wellington’s prosecution of the ‘Morning Journal,’ which was announced by the paper itself in a paragraph quite as scurrilous as those for which it is attacked. It seems that he has long made up his mind to this measure, and that he thinks it is a duty incumbent on him, which I do not see, and it appears to me to be an act of great folly. He stands much too high, has performed too great actions, and the attacks on him were too vulgar and vague to be under the necessity of any such retaliatory measure as this, and he lowers his dignity by entering into a conflict with such an infamous paper, and appearing to care about its abuse. I think the Chancellor was right, and that he is wrong.

[In December 1829, the editors and proprietor of ‘Morning Journal’ were found guilty of libel on ministers and parliament and sentenced to a year in Newgate. The paper closed a few months later.]

There is a report that the King insists upon the Duke of Cumberland [another of George IV’s brothers] being Commander-in-Chief, and it is extraordinary how many people think that he will succeed in turning out the Duke. Lord Harrington died while I was at Brighton, and it is supposed that the Duke of Cumberland will try and get the Round Tower [part of Windsor Castle], but probably the King will not like to establish him so near himself. 

The King has nearly lost his eyesight, and is to be couched as soon as his eyes are in a proper state for the operation. He is in a great fright with his father’s fate before him, and indeed nothing is more probable than that he will become blind and mad too; he is already a little of both. It is now a question of appointing a Private Secretary, and [Sir William] Knighton, it is supposed, would be the man; but if he is to abstain from all business, there would seem to be no necessity for the appointment, as he will be as little able to do business with his Private Secretary as with his Minister.’

With tagrag and bobtail about him

19 January 1831
‘G[eorge] Lamb [politician and writer] said that the King [William IV] is supposed to be in a bad state of health, and this was confirmed to me by Keate the surgeon, who gave me to understand that he was going the way of both his brothers [George IV etc.]. He will be a great loss in these times; he knows his business, lets his Ministers do as they please, but expects to be informed of everything. He lives a strange life at Brighton, with tagrag and bobtail about him, and always open house. The Queen is a prude, and will not let the ladies come décolletées to her parties. George IV, who liked ample expanses of that sort, would not let them be covered.’

King, Queen, Princes, Princesses, bastards, and attendants 

14 December 1832, Brighton
‘Came here last Wednesday week; Council on the Monday for the dissolution [of Parliament]; place very full, bustling, gay, and amusing. I am staying in De Ros’s house with Alvanley; Chesterfields, Howes, Lievens, Cowpers, all at Brighton, and plenty of occupation in visiting, gossiping, dawdling, riding, and driving; a very idle life, and impossible to do anything. The Court very active, vulgar, and hospitable; King, Queen, Princes, Princesses, bastards, and attendants constantly trotting about in every direction: the election noisy and dull - the Court candidate beaten and two Radicals elected. Everybody talking of the siege of Antwerp and the elections. So, with plenty of animation, and discussion, and curiosity, I like it very well. Lord Howe is devoted to the Queen, and never away from her. She receives his attentions, but demonstrates nothing in return; he is like a boy in love with this frightful spotted Majesty, while his delightful wife is laid up (with a sprained ancle and dislocated joint) on her couch.’

The prize-fighter John Gully comes good

17 December 1832, Brighton
‘On Sunday I heard Anderson preach. He does not write his sermons, but preaches from notes; very eloquent, voice and manner perfect, one of the best I ever heard, both preacher and reader.

The borough elections are nearly over, and have satisfied the Government. They do not seem to be bad on the whole; the metropolitans have sent good men enough, and there was no tumult in the town. At Hertford Buncombe was routed by Salisbury’s long purse. He hired such a numerous mob besides that he carried all before him. Some very bad characters have been returned; among the worst, Faithful here [George Faithful - a nonconformist preacher and attorney - was one of the first two MPs returned for Brighton after it was created a Parliamentary Constituency]; Gronow at Stafford; Gully, Pontefract; [. . .] 

Gully’s [John Gully - see also Chapter Seven] history is extraordinary. He was taken out of prison twenty-five or thirty years ago by Hellish to fight Pierce, surnamed the ‘Game Chicken,’ being then a butcher’s apprentice; he fought him and was beaten. He afterwards fought Belcher (I believe), and Gresson twice, and left the prizering with the reputation of being the best man in it. He then took to the turf, was successful, established himself at Newmarket, where he kept a hell, and began a system of corruption of trainers, jockeys, and boys, which put the secrets of all Newmarket at his disposal, and in a few years made him rich. 

At the same time he connected himself with Mr Watt in the north, by betting for him, and this being at the time when Watt’s stable was very successful, he won large sums of money by his horses. Having become rich he embarked in a great coal speculation, which answered beyond his hopes, and his shares soon yielded immense profits. His wife, who was a coarse, vulgar woman, in the meantime died, and he afterwards married the daughter of an innkeeper, who proved as gentlewomanlike as the other had been the reverse, and who is very pretty besides. He now gradually withdrew from the betting ring as a regular blackleg, still keeping horses, and betting occasionally in large sums, and about a year or two ago, having previously sold the Hare Park to Sir Mark Wood, where he lived for two or three years, he bought a property near Pontefract, and settled down (at Ackworth Park) as John Gully, Esq., a gentleman of fortune. [. . .]

When Parliament was about to be dissolved, he was again invited to stand for Pontefract by a numerous deputation; he again hesitated, but finally accepted; Lord Mexborough withdrew, and he was elected without opposition. In person he is tall and finely formed, full of strength and grace, with delicate hands and feet, his face coarse and with a bad expression, his head set well on his shoulders, and remarkably graceful and even dignified in his actions and manners; totally without education, he has strong sense, discretion, reserve, and a species of good taste which has prevented, in the height of his fortunes, his behaviour from ever transgressing the bounds of modesty and respect, and he has gradually separated himself from the rabble of bettors and blackguards of whom he was once the most conspicuous, and tacitly asserted his own independence and acquired gentility without ever presuming towards those whom he has been accustomed to regard with deference. His position is now more anomalous than ever, for a member of Parliament is a great man, though there appear no reasons why the suffrages of the blackguards of Pontefract should place him in different social relations towards us than those in which we mutually stood before.’

6 August 1835
‘Yesterday to Brighton, to see my horse Dacre run for the Brighton stake, which he won, and back at night.’

Mrs. Fitzherbert and her papers

31 March 1837
‘Among the many old people who have been cut off by this severe weather, one of the most remarkable is Mrs Fitzherbert, who died at Brighton at above eighty years of age. She was not a clever woman, but of a very noble spirit, disinterested, generous, honest, and affectionate, greatly beloved by her friends and relations, popular in the world, and treated with uniform distinction and respect by the Royal Family. The late King, who was a despicable creature, grudged her the allowance he was bound to make her, and he was always afraid lest she should make use of some of the documents in her possession to annoy or injure him. This mean and selfish apprehension led him to make various efforts to obtain possession of those the appearance of which he most dreaded, and among others, one remarkable attempt was made by Sir William Knighton some years ago.

Although a stranger to Mrs Fitzherbert, he called one day at her house, when she was ill in bed, insisted upon seeing her, and forced his way into her bedroom. She contrived (I forget how) to get rid of him without his getting anything out of her, but this domiciliary visit determined her to make a final disposition of all the papers she possessed, that in the event of her death no advantage might be taken of them either against her own memory or the interests of any other person. She accordingly selected those papers which she resolved to preserve, and which are supposed to be the documents and correspondence relating to her marriage with George IV, and made a packet of them which was deposited at her banker’s, and all other letters and papers she condemned to the flames. For this purpose she sent for the Duke of Wellington and Lord Albemarle, told them her determination, and in their presence had these papers burnt; she assured them, that everything was destroyed, and if after her death any pretended letters or documents were produced, they might give the most authoritative contradiction to their authenticity.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, March 28, 2014

George Kennan’s diaries

‘What bothers me is a total separation of personal life and intellectual life, so that when I tend to personal affairs, even to the children, the intellect stagnates.’ This is George F. Kennan, one of the most important US policy strategists of the Cold War period, writing in his diary on the cusp of resigning from diplomatic life. Kennan’s diaries - spanning an astonishing nine decades - have just been published to great acclaim, not just for their intellectual content, but for their self-critical and emotional revelations, too, which tell us much about the man himself, not just his ideas.

Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February 1904, but his mother died soon after. He grew up close to his sisters, though not to his lawyer father or stepmother. After being schooled at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, he studied at Princeton University, graduating in 1925. Thereafter, he joined the newly formed Foreign Service, and, after training in Washington, was posted as a vice consul to Geneva, and then to Hamburg, before being selected to study Russian in Berlin. This led on to a posting in Latvia, and then, at the start of diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, to Moscow. In 1931, he had married Annelise Sorensen, and they were to have four children, the first, Grace, born in 1932.

Kennan did not last a year in Moscow before suffering a breakdown, which led him back to Vienna and a sanatorium, and a considerable amount of self-analysis, partly inspired by the teachings of Sigmund Freud. A move back to Moscow followed, where Stalin’s bloody purges were under way, thence to light duties in Washington, before a return to Europe (Prague, then Berlin). After the US entered the war in December 1941, Kennan was interred for six months, and, on his release, moved to Lisbon, London, and back to Moscow. There, according to biographers, Kennan felt that his opinions were being ignored by the new president, Harry S. Truman, and he tried repeatedly to persuade policymakers to abandon plans for cooperation with the Soviet Union in favour of a sphere of influence approach in Europe and a western European federation to reduce the Soviets’ power there. In early 1946, near the end of his term in Moscow, he sent to Secretary of State James Byrnes, what would become known as the ‘long telegram’, an appeal to understand that, ‘At bottom of Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.’

Returning to the US, Kennan stayed with the State Department and went to work for the National War College in Washington DC, advising and lecturing on what would soon become known as the Cold War. Around this time, he developed his political ideas subsequently known as ‘containment’. By 1948, when the US administration was intent on escalating the Cold War, Kennan advised steering clear of military action, and finding ways instead to ease tensions - he had always advocated, he said, political, not military, containment. In the negotiations over post-war Germany, he visited Hamburg, and was affected deeply by the devastation he found there, leading him, over time, to question the validity of any war.

In 1951, Kennan helped initiate talks that would lead to an armistice in Korea, and he was appointed Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Once in Moscow, though, he found the country even more regimented than before, and his own position hampered by Truman’s unwillingness to negotiate with the Soviets. Before a year had passed, Kennan had been expelled by the Soviet government for a foolish comment to the press, likening his isolation in Moscow to that he had experienced in Nazi Germany. Back in the US, he was frustrated by the Eisenhower administration but continued to be an advisor. In 1956, he was appointed as professor of historical studies at the Princeton Institute, and the following year published the Pulitzer prize-winning Russia Leaves the War. While an Eastman Professor at Oxford, the BBC invited him to deliver the 1957 Reith Lectures, his views on nuclear weapons, arousing much controversy.

John F. Kennedy appointed Kennan as US ambassador to Yugoslavia in 1961, but again Kennan soon found himself uncomfortable in a diplomatic role, frustrated at US policy and unable to stop a worsening of bilateral relations. He resigned in 1963, and subsequently spent the rest of his career as a writer and academic, an influential critic of US foreign policy. He lived to be 101, dying in 2005, by which time history was judging him kindly: The New York Times called him ‘the American diplomat who did more than any other envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold war’; The Economist said he was revered as ‘America’s greatest living diplomat’ in his later years; and the Financial Times said of him that he was a ‘rare example of a diplomat who changed history through the power of his ideas and the clarity of his writing’. Wikipedia and Spartacus have fairly detailed biographies.

Kennan kept a diary, not always all the time, but all his life, from 1916 to 2004. There are some 8,000 pages stored with his papers at the Princeton University Library. Kennan, himself, chose some extracts for publication a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, published by Pantheon, New York - Sketches from a Life. The introduction and some pages can be read at Amazon. Now, however, the full set of diaries, spanning all of Kennan’s life, have been edited by Frank Costigliola and published by W. W. Norton as The Kennan Diaries.

‘In these pages,’ the publisher states, ‘we see Kennan rambling through 1920s Europe as a college student, despairing for capitalism in the midst of the Depression, agonizing over the dilemmas of sex and marriage, becoming enchanted and then horrified by Soviet Russia, and developing into America’s foremost Soviet analyst. But it is the second half of this near-century-long record - the blossoming of Kennan the gifted author, wise counselor, and biting critic of the Vietnam and Iraq wars - that showcases this remarkable man at the height of his singular analytic and expressive powers, before giving way, heartbreakingly, to some of his most human moments, as his energy, memory, and finally his ability to write fade away.’

The Kennan diaries has been well received in the US, but reviewers have generally acknowledged that the book is as much about Kennan the man, as about his politics. Fareed Zakaria, in The New York Times, says ‘Kennan shined a powerful light on the world beyond. But in his own land, from the beginning to his last days, he remained a bewildered guest.’ Douglas Brinkley in the Washington Post says, ‘great merits aside, “The Kennan Diaries” should come with a warning label: Beware of enough gloomy prognostications to give the book of Revelation a run for its money.’ And George Shultz, former Secretary of State, is quoted by the publisher as saying of the book: ‘An informed mind, a clarity of expression, candor in a private diary - all are present in George Kennan’s fascinating commentary on a period when the tectonic plates of the world changed. Read, enjoy, agree or disagree, and be stimulated to think.’

But I can find few reviews, to date, among the UK media, except for one by Matthew Walther in The Spectator. It’s such a wrong-headed, idiotic review, I cannot resist quoting a bit: ‘The longest, chronologically, and probably the most boring diary I have ever read. Unlike the great diarists - Greville, Nicolson, Lees-Milne - Kennan writes very little about others. His diary is a record of himself, a Domesday book of the acres and perches he has surveyed in his own head: a wide range of ambitions, complaints, masturbatory fantasies, unpublished literary criticism, amateurish verse. [. . .] Above all it is a collection of cocksure opinions.’

Kennan’s diaries are certainly not boring, they are the opposite, almost always interesting, intriguing, intelligent. Walther’s comment that Kennan writes very little about others is a dead giveaway: he, Walther’s must want gossip, tittle-tattle, but Kennan, when writing for himself in the seclusion of his diary was not a name-dropper. Ideas, particularly about policy, but also about culture and society, are what excited him, drove him to put pen to paper; and beyond ideas, he was unusual in being so interested in his own feelings to the point of trying to pin them down, and fix them, as it were, in the diary pages. It is this kind of self-criticism, self analysis that lifts the diary from being simply of political interest to one that has more universal appeal, to one that has something to say about the human condition. And, as for ‘cocksure opinions’, Walther’s might not matter, but as one of US’s most important foreign policy advisers, Kennan’s opinions certainly did matter, and thus are of great interest.

Costigliola has done a very fine job with The Kennan diaries, synthesising 8,000 pages down to about 700 (leaving out much about sailing, apparently). He has kept footnotes to a minimum, provided short biographical notes for every year - astonishingly there is only one year between 1927 and 2004 (1943) lacking any diary entry - and included a useful index. Here are a few extracts, more can be read online, again, at Amazon, and at Googlebooks.

8 April 1934
‘I have always thought of literature as a type of history: the portrayal of a given class at a given time, with all its problems, its suffering and its hopes, etc. For that reason, the diplomatic corps has always defied literary approach. From that point of view, it is too insignificant, too accidental, to warrant description.

Perhaps that is all wrong. Perhaps they should be described simply as human beings, not as diplomats (so-called) of the twentieth century. If Chekhov could describe Russian small town folk with an appeal so universal that even the American reader gasps and says: “How perfectly true,” why cannot the Moscow diplomatic folk be written up the same way.’

3 September 1934
‘Here human flesh lives in one seething, intimate mass - far more so, even than in New York. It streams slowly, endlessly, in thick, full currents, along the boulevards, between the dark trees, under the gleam of the street lights; it is carried, as herded, tired animals are carried, in box-cars, in the long trains of street cars. And it is human life in the raw, human life brought down to its fundamentals - good and evil, drunk and sober, loving and quarrelling, laughing and weeping - all that human life is and does anywhere, but all much more simple and direct, and therefore stronger.

There is something unmistakably healthy in it all: not the health we strive for by the elimination of microbes and danger and physical hardship, but the health bred of the experience and survival of all these ills. Revolution, like nature, is lavish and careless. Its victims are no more to it than the thousands of seeds which are cast to the wind, in order that one tree may grow. But in its blind masterfulness, it has at least given new scope for the survival of the fittest, the nervously and physically fittest, who are by no means the most intelligent, or the freest from dirt and disease. The principle of natural selection, deprived of its beneficial operation by vaccinations and nursing homes and birth control, has been allowed to come into its own in its full ruthlessness. This is the answer to the question: how do the Russians stand it? Many of them didn’t stand it. And these whom you see on the street: they are the elite, not the elite of wealth or of power or of the spiritual virtues, but nature’s own elite, the elite of the living, as opposed to the hoi polloi of the dead!

It is this tremendous health, this earthy vitality, which attracts the over-civilised, neurotic foreigner. The fact that he himself could not stand it for six months, that it would crush him as it crushes all forms of weakness, does not dissuade him. There is something in its very cruelty which appeals to his sick fantasy. It is a form of flagellum [flagellation] perhaps, like all deliberate self-abnegation.’

24 June 1963
‘I feel that I have been dead for months. I do not even recognise my former self. This evening, strolling around town with Christopher [in Valkenburg, The Netherlands], I suddenly saw, staring me in the face from a bookshop window, my own name on a Dutch translation of Russia & The West. [. . .] I had the feeling of “Hello, stranger,” & I wondered whether the fellow who wrote that book would ever return.

What bothers me is a total separation of personal life and intellectual life, so that when I tend to personal affairs, even to the children, the intellect stagnates . . .

Have the feeling, even now, that I ought to be writing about this trip. But writing: what? About this Western Europe? I used to think there was something mysterious & wonderful about it. Today, I know there is not. I looked at this place tonight and I realised that here there could not even be a literature, because there is no nature except in parks & without nature, as a foil at least, there is no real human experience.

Why was it different in the railway age? Was it really only that I was younger?’