Monday, December 10, 2018

Early days in west Australia

The Irishman John Fletcher Moore, a colonial administrator and an early sheep farmer in Western Australia, was born 220 years ago today (the day after, in fact, John Benn Walsh who would become an important landlord in Ireland - see An infinity of petty squabbles below). Moore kept diaries during his first ten years as a colonist with the express purpose of mailing them home to Ireland for friends and family. Some of them were first published, astonishingly, without his knowledge; it wasn’t until 50 years later, at the end of his life, that he himself approved publication of a more extensive set of the diaries. They are now considered an important primary source of information about the early years of colonisation in Western Australia.

Moore was born on 10 December 1798 in Donemana, County Tyrone, Ireland, the second son of Joseph Moore and his wife Anne, née Fletcher. He was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, and at Trinity College, Dublin. After being called to the Irish Bar he practised for six years; but, seeing little prospect of promotion, he decided to seek a legal post in the colonies. Armed only with a letter of recommendation to the then Governor of Western Australia, he arrived at Fremantle, Australia, in October 1830, to find the governor had been replaced and his letter, therefore, worthless. However, he obtained a land grant, which he called Millendon, on the Upper Swan river, and set about developing it as farm land. In early 1832, he was appointed a Commissioner of the Civil Court. For the next 20 years or so, he combined various administrative duties (including, later, a seat on the colony’s legislative council) with expanding his farm interests, becoming one of the largest sheep farmers in the country.

Moore is particularly remembered for his interest - unusual at the time - in indigenous Australians. He took a scholarly interest in their language and customs, he advocated compensating them for the loss of their land, and he promoted the idea of converting them to Christianity. He also compiled and published a dictionary of their language. In the mid-1830s, he went exploring inland, making various discoveries, and was responsible for confirming that two named rivers - the Swan and Avon - were in fact one and the same. Moore returned to Ireland for two years (1941-1943), and then in 1846 married Fanny, stepdaughter of Governor Andrew Clarke. When, later that year, Clarke fell ill, Moore was appointed acting colonial secretary, and remained in that position until the new colonial secretary arrived in early 1848. But the colony was suffering hard times, and its leaders hitherto, including Moore, were unpopular.

In 1952, Moore again returned to Ireland, ostensibly to visit his father, but, it is also thought, he had serious concerns about the mental health of his wife. She then refused to return to Australia, and Moore, wanting to extend his leave, fell into a conflict with the colonial office, one which ended with his resignation. He never returned to Australia, and subsequent years were blighted by his wife’s illness. After her death, he moved to London. He died in 1886. Further information is available at Wikipedia or the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

From the moment Moore left Ireland for Western Australia he kept a journal with the aim of sending the entries, in batches, back to his friends and colleagues in Ireland. Here is Moore’s own explanation: ‘My friends were doubtful as to the prudence of such a hazardous step [i.e. going to the colonies], but I reconciled them to it by a solemn promise that I would keep them fully informed, by each available opportunity in my power, of every incident and circumstance of my position and life there, whether good or bad, and leave them to judge of my success or failure. This was the cause of the “Diary or Journal” [. . .]. It was written solely for the information and satisfaction of my father, brothers, sisters, and immediate friends in this country. It was commenced soon after my embarcation from Dublin, and was a great source of relief and consolation to myself during the voyage, as well as through all the difficulties, dangers, labours, and eventful incidents.’

Intriguingly, as early as 1834, Moore’s journals, covering the first four years of his colonial adventure, were published in London, but without Moore’s knowledge or approval. This came about because Rev. William Hickey, an Irish writer and philanthropist, met Moore’s brother in Dublin, and was shown the diary extracts. He subsequently edited them for publication (using the pseudonym of Martin Doyle) as Extracts from the letters and journals of George Fletcher Moore, now filling a judicial office at the Swan River Settlement. The work can be read freely online at Internet Archive, Wikisource or Googlebooks. Hickey’s explanation, in the preface, as to how he came to the decision to publish the diary extracts is no less than flabbergasting.

‘In short, I suggested the publication of them, to which my host reluctantly assented, waiving a very serious obstacle, viz. the probable displeasure of the absent brother, at the publication of letters solely intended for his own family-circle. This objection I over-ruled by the assurance that they contained nothing discreditable to the head or the heart of the writer. If, therefore, they prove deficient of interest and neatness of arrangement, the blame consequent on their failure will be solely attributable to my want of judgement, and clumsiness of connexion. Should the emigrant himself be much offended at the unauthorised liberty now taken with his name and papers, I have the comforting consideration that he is too far off to quarrel with me in a very personal way; and that if ever he should return to this country, his resentment will have had sufficient time to evaporate altogether.’

A couple of years before his death, M. Walbrook published Moore’s own version of his Australia diaries as Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also a Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language of the Aborigines. (Moore only wrote his journal for about ten years, until his first trip back to Ireland.) This can be found online at Internet Archive or Wikisource. Moore’s preface explains how he came to publish: ‘The history of the original letters may possess some little interest. They were from the first carefully preserved by those to whom they were sent in this country. But, after the lapse of many years, they were confided to the care of a near relative in the colony, who had expressed a great desire to see them. This lady was well acquainted with Sir Thomas Cockburn Campbell, the able Editor and owner of the paper called “The West Australian.” The letters were shown to him, he begged to be permitted to publish extracts from them seriatim in his paper, according as space would admit of. He sent to me a copy of each paper which contained an extract. I cut out those extracts and gummed them into an album. This has enabled me to publish them all here afresh.’

An annotated new version of the diaries, edited by J. M. R. Cameron, was brought out by the Australian publisher Hesperian Press in 2006 as The Millendon Memoirs. The publisher says: ‘This is probably the most important colonial work to be published in WA. There are no other diary or letter sequences of such content from such a central figure in the early colony. Dr Cameron has assiduously bought together the documents that were omitted from the “Diary of Ten Years”, together with that material, to form an altogether different volume, with three times the content of “Ten Years”. The correct order and full expression of the letters gives quite a different picture to that previously portrayed. This is an absolutely essential volume for anyone interested in, or studying, colonial history,  policy, or the lives of the colonists and the land around them.’

Here are a few extracts from the Diary of Ten Years.

24 February 1835
‘Went to Guildford to examine a bridge, and took the opportunity of visiting my flock, which is now there. Some are affected with a blindness of the eyes. A person called Solomon has a small establishment now near my grant, on the other side of the hills. I think of sending a part of my flock there. He proposes to take them at the rate of £25 per hundred for the year. He has just imported some sheep, and a fine-wooled ram. I have my men busied in planting potatoes. It is an experiment to put them down at this time of the year on dry ground. I have made use of the natives in breaking the hard clods with mauls. Two boys, rejoicing in the euphonious names of Tunagwirt and Manyumerra, have been quartered here by their father, with a sort of hint that his family was large enough without them. I think I shall try to keep the first of them. He tells me that white men call him “Tommy,” which is certainly more familiar and easy than that long native name. Just after I returned from Perth, Letty came with a face of woe to tell me there were but two pieces of beef in the barrel. Awkward announcement!’

31 August 1835
‘We have had much rain during all the last week and strong winds. Two blind sheep have been turned out daily for some time on the plain to graze; one of them was furnished with a bell, by the sound of which the other became accustomed to guide itself. Some days ago, the one with the bell was killed, and the other poor thing wandered about, went astray, and could not be found readily. James armed himself with the bell of the dead one, and went ringing through the bush. The lost one answered the signal immediately, and so we found a new way of catching sheep. Planted yesterday a number of cuttings of vine, peach, and fig trees. It is rather late, but I got them from the Governor’s garden, and will give them a chance. I have heard that the packing in which I was obliged to put my wool last year, went all to pieces at the Isle of France, in transhipping it. There are Indian gunny bags to be got here now at 7s. 6d. I am in doubt about buying, as I make sure of your sending some by the first vessel. When is it to arrive?’

28 January 1839
‘Yesterday one of my boys succeeded in catching a young emu alive. It is a wonderfully tame, even silly thing - like a young turkey; by the way, the same boy also succeeded in shooting a turkey, which I had to-day at dinner. It was delicious. I intended to have devoted this day to writing letters, as the mail is to be closed to-morrow, but here came Mr. Shaw with complaints about natives and other things, and I had to mount my horse, and I have been out all day. Have been making an experiment in wine. Have made five bottles just to try it. I have nearly written my eyes out in answering 33 questions about natives, to which the Governor has required replies. I think I may send them to you at some time. Baptist Noel would be glad to get the sketches I sent, if you do not wish to make any use of them.’

13 July 1839
‘I have fallen out of my habit of regularity, and find it difficult to recover it. We have advanced here to such a pitch of civilization, as to have private theatricals. The play of “Love, á la militaire” was performed on Tuesday night to a fashionable audience, among whom not the least delighted spectators were the young folks of the town and vicinity of Perth. Most of them having never seen a play, were wonderfully amused. On Thursday a rumour arose that fifty sheep or upwards had been driven away from a flock near Guildford by the natives, and there was great excitement in consequence. A party is gone out in pursuit, but what is the result I know not. It is singular that not one of the murderers of the woman and child on my farm has been taken or met with since the occurrence, and yet parties have been out frequently. We are no match for them. They can hide in a manner that baffles all our search. The only way to match them is to make use of them against one another. I did not get home from Perth before Friday night. We are here still busy getting wheat into the ground, and also some potatoes. Only think we have to give £2 a cwt. for potatoes for seed.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, December 9, 2018

An infinity of petty squabbles

‘All these arrangements gave birth to an infinity of petty squabbles, extremely difficult to settle or even understand. However, I am sanguine in my expectations that a little time & perseverance will compose all the jarring elements. Everything confirms my first opinion that setting to the occupying tenant, though more troublesome, is in the end much more advantageous to the landlord. I am well persuaded that if the times continue tranquil & the prices as at present, this portion of my property will gradually rise most considerably in value - if I continue to visit & superintend it.’ This is from the journals of John Benn Walsh, the first Baron Ormathwaite, born 220 years ago today. He was an English politician and landowner, having inherited vast estates in England, Wales and Ireland from his wife’s uncle. The extensive journals are held by the National Library of Wales, but only a small fraction of them - concerning his regular trips to Ireland to oversee his property and tenants - have been published.

Benn Walsh was born on 9 December 1798 at the family home of Warfield Park near Bracknell in Berkshire. His father, originally called Benn, had inherited large estates in England and Ireland from his wife’s uncle, Sir John Walsh (who had also required his father to assume the Walsh name). John was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He married Jane, daughter of George Grey, 6th Earl of Stamford, in 1825. They had two sons and two daughters. Also in 1825, on the death of his father, he inherited the family estates. He entered Parliament for the borough of Sudbury in 1830. After losing that seat and campaigning unsuccessfully for others, he was elected, in 1840, for Radnorshire, a seat which he then held for nearly 30 years.

Benn Walsh was a noted advocate of social and parliamentary reform. He also acted for a while as a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff in Berkshire and later for Radnorshire. He regularly visited his estates in Ireland, where he was considered an exacting landlord, though he saw himself as benevolent and progressive. He was created a baron in 1868 (Baron Ormathwaite). As a writer he published various pamphlets, such as one comparing astronomy and geology, and another on the lessons of the French Revolution. He died at Warfield Park in 1881. A little further information (but not much) is available at Wikipedia, Royal Berkshire History, and Cracroft’s Peerage.

However, Benn Walsh was a committed diarist, and many of his manuscript journals are extant, and held by the National Library of Wales. Indeed, the library provides, on its website, this summary of the journals: ‘In many respects the diaries are similar in contents to his mother’s (i.e. personal and domestic) but with more emphasis on the London season and politics and they are, in general, far more detailed. The earlier diaries are dominated by his obsessive ambition to make a mark in society. By endeavouring to create a web of connexions he sought to become known to the most powerful and fashionable aristocratic families in England. Such connections would, he hoped, fulfil both his marital and political ambitions. He has some very pertinent things to say about the closing down of the avenues of advancement after the end of the Napoleonic wars when the aristocracy closed ranks. After his marriage in 1825 the diaries, naturally, are more domestic: the pleasures and pains of parenthood and later of grand-parenthood, family holidays, his wife’s relations, etc.’ (Further information about his mother’s diaries can also be found on the same website here.)

There are no printed biographies of Benn Walsh, nor have his diaries been published, except for those concerning his near-annual trips to oversee his estates in Ireland. These were edited by James S. Donnelly, Jr. and appeared in successive volumes (1974 and 1975) of the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (volume 79, pages 86-123; volume 80, pages 15-42). Both parts of The Journals of Sir John Benn-Walsh Relating to the Management of His Irish Estates, 1823-64 are freely available on the Society’s website. Here is an extract from Donnelly’s introduction.

‘Not only was Benn-Walsh a great landowner in Great Britain and Ireland, with some 26,300 acres altogether by the 1870s, but he regarded his estates very much as a business enterprise and constantly strove to increase the profitability of his landed investments. His keen interest in superintending the development of his properties prompted him to make repeated journeys to Ireland. Between 1821 and 1864 he visited his Cork and Kerry estates in twenty different years, usually during late summer and for a period of about two weeks on each occasion. While making these tours of inspection, he either wrote a daily journal or made entries as regularly as possible from notes and from memory. The volumes of his journals for the years 1821, 1825, and 1829 are missing from the collection. [. . . The] surviving records constitute an unvarnished, wonderfully detailed, and invaluable account of an absentee proprietor’s relations with his tenants during a momentous epoch in Irish agrarian history.’

And here are several extracts from the journals. They include references to the impact of the potato famine, and to the benefits of the new railway connection to Holyhead.

16 September 1824
‘We left Limerick by the steamboat, which took us down the Shannon to Tarbert - from whence we took a chaise to Listowell, where we found Mr Gabbett busy receiving rents for me. I did not keep my journal regularly during my stay at Listowell, which I left on Wednesday 22nd. I was occupied while there in arranging the affairs of Tullamore, which is now set for the six months, & as Julian has no intention of redeeming it, I ordered it to be surveyed & valued by Kane & McMahon. I likewise allotted the new divisions I have caused to be made at Derrimdaff, & the tenants are to take possession of them in March next. All these arrangements gave birth to an infinity of petty squabbles, extremely difficult to settle or even understand. However, I am sanguine in my expectations that a little time & perseverance will compose all the jarring elements. Everything confirms my first opinion that setting to the occupying tenant, though more troublesome, is in the end much more advantageous to the landlord. I am well persuaded that if the times continue tranquil & the prices as at present, this portion of my property will gradually rise most considerably in value - if I continue to visit & superintend it. This is absolutely necessary. Gabbett is in many respects a useful agent. He is a good lawyer, a man of excellent understanding, good disposition, & integrity. His practice at the police office & his naturally conciliating character gives him a great readiness in managing the (205) lower orders, & he is a ready accountant & man of business. But he is a nonresident, he is not deeply interested in the business, he has many partialities in the country, & he would go over the business in a very slovenly, negligent manner if I were not to accompany him.’

14 August 1834
‘This morning I went to Tullamore & inspected the banks & road. I also visited Julian’s house, which seems to want repair, & as he has been a punctual tenant lately, I determined to allow him a gale’s rent. The banks are all to a trifle completed & the road is made through three-fourths of the farm. These are great & real improvements, & I think that Tullamore is now very moderately set. But on some of the divisions, Shronoun & Shronedrislig, there are far too many tenants. Mr McMahon, the surveyor or land valuer recommended by Spring Rice, came to meet me today; he has lately mapped & surveyed Ballyhaurigan &Ballyrehan, the two farms Mr Hilliard holds upon a very old lease. Date, I think, 1773. He now pays £220 a year & McMahon computes the rise at £447; when out of lease, they will set for £687. I have a good opinion of his fairness & integrity.’

24 August 1844
‘We went with Mr & Mrs Gabbett & their family on the lake in a boat. I once before visited this lake with poor Digby in 1824. We had a fine day & enjoyed our excursion very much. In the evening we heard a singular concert, a blind Irish piper of the name of Gantsey & his son accompanying him on the violin. He was really a wonderful performer & drew sounds from his Irish pipes which quite surprised us. He was a fine old man, full of taste & enthusiasm in his art, & put me quite in mind of Wandering Willie in Redgauntlet. But Gantsey is a celebrated person in his way, & two years ago he travelled to Edinburgh & gave a concert at which he realised £50. The Irish bagpipe is far softer than the Scotch.’

3 October 1848
‘I went off by the express train at 9 & arrived at Holyhead by 6 [the station at Holyhead had opened two months earlier]. Here I embarked in a fast new steamer, the Scotia. It blew a gale of wind, but we made our passage to Kingstown by eleven & I got to Morrison’s Hotel, Dublin, by twelve. Mr Matthew Gabbett met me at the station & we agreed to set out for Limerick by the 10 o’clock train.’

2 September 1851
‘I left Cork with Mr M. Gabbett by the 9 o’clock. We arrived in Dublin by four & I went down to the hotel at Kingstown. . . . Mrs Gabbett sent me an invitation to dinner & I had the pleasure of another evening with my old agent, for whom I have a real regard. However, his son Matthew is a much more active & efficient agent than he ever was & enters far more fully into all my views. I think that it is greatly owing to his good management that I have a chance of getting through the crisis which has been fatal to so many Irish proprietors. I leave Ireland with far more hope & in better spirits than on any of the three former occasions since the potato failure. First, I see that the poors rates are diminished owing to our having got rid of outdoor relief & diminished the size of the electoral divisions. Between Matthew Gabbett & Captain Larcombe, my farms have been put into the best electoral divisions of the union. Secondly, my own estates have been very much weeded both of paupers & bad tenants. This has been accomplished by Matthew Gabbett without evictions, bringing in the sheriff, or any harsh measures. In fact, the paupers & little cottiers cannot keep their holdings without the potato &, for small sums of 1£, 2£, & 3£, have given me peaceable possession in a great many cases, when the cabin is immediately levelled. Then, to induce the larger farmers to surrender their holdings when they became insolvent, I emigrated several, either with their whole families or in part. This was expensive, but it enabled me to consolidate & make comfortable sized farms of from £30 & £40 up to £140 per annum. Then, the improvements I have carried on have greatly increased the value of the farms & given the tenants courage. I have introduced some good new tenants of a solvent description. From all these causes I see the estate coming round, the tenantry more comfortable, & though there are still great fallings off in the receipts, yet things are righting themselves.’

17 October 1852
‘Mr Gabbett came into town early & took me to his parish church at his new purchase about 8 miles from Limerick. The farm he has bought under the Encumbered Estates Court is in the centre of the property of his family. We passed a little stone tower, something like a martello tower . . ., which this Mr Matthew Gabbett’s uncle (whom I remember meeting at Rome in 1819) built as a fort & place of refuge in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. After church we drove again into Limerick. Mr Gabbett returned to his farm. He goes by an early train to Dublin & we meet at the Dublin terminus at 4. I dine with my old agent Mr Gabbett, Senior, at Bray, & on Tuesday I cross the water. . . .

So ends this visit to my Irish estates. How easily is the communication & transit made now, compared with what it was. My first visit to Ireland in 1821 was in the first year of the establishment of mail steam packets. I well remember the alarm felt when, about mid channel, something in the machinery broke & we were left floating without any progress for about an hour. It then took three good days to travel from London to Holyhead, one to cross, three to get from Dublin to Listowel. Now I get easily from London to Dublin in one day, from Dublin to Cork or Limerick in another. I can visit all the estates & return to London in little more time than it took me then to travel to and fro. But even the facilities I then enjoyed were very great compared with those which existed when my great uncle Walsh made the purchases in 1764 & subsequent years. His motives for his Radnorshire investments were intelligible enough. Its contiguity to Shropshire, where the first Lord Clive had established himself, & the smallness of the county, giving him a prospect cf acquiring parliamentary influence, explain this selection, but what first led him, an Englishman returned from India, having no Irish links or associations that I ever heard of, to select such a remote county, the very ultima Thule of Ireland itself, I have never heard explained. I don’t think that my dear mother had ever heard of it. She often spoke of his love for scattering his investments & mentioned that he had even bought an estate somewhere in Scotland which he subsequently sold. She quoted a criticism which her father Mr Fowke passed upon him. “There’s Walsh now has bought land in Ireland, Scotland, & Wales & has ended in seating himself down at Warfield where he can’t shoot a partridge.” Yet I have always great respect & regard for the memory of my great uncle, who died before I was born, but to whom I am so largely indebted, & who may be considered the founder of our family. His Irish investments, though singular, were not unwise. He bought very reasonably in those days what has turned out a valuable and improving estate &, now that the famine crisis is past, promises still to prove so.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sutter’s Gold Rush

One hundred and seventy years ago today, President James Knox Polk confirmed to the US Congress that there was an abundance of gold on the west coast, in California. In fact, gold had been discovered nearly a year earlier at a mill owned by Johann August Sutter, a German immigrant. Sutter’s diary provides an interesting account of those early gold rush days.

It is widely accepted that the California Gold Rush began on 24 January 1848, when the metal was discovered by James Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator at Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, some 130 miles northwest of San Francisco. Rumours about the gold began to spread, first being published in a West Coast newspaper in March. Later that year, in August, the New York Herald, on the East Coast, reported that there was a major gold rush.

On 5 December 1848, the gold rush became official, as it were, when President Polk wrote to congress as follows: ‘The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service.’ And the news continued to spread so that eventually some 300,000 men, women, and children travelled to California - from the rest of the US in covered wagons, and from overseas by boat - often undergoing great hardships on the way. At first, the prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning, but more sophisticated production methods evolved over time.

The effects of the California Gold Rush were substantial, Wikipedia says. San Francisco grew from a hamlet to a boomtown, while roads, churches, schools and other towns were built all across the area. By 1850, California had been admitted as a state, and soon new methods of transportation, such as steamships and railroads, were being developed, as was the land for agriculture. The rest is history - today California is the richest of the United States, accounting for 13% of the US’s GDP.

There are many first hand accounts by forty-niners (the name given to those who made the journey to California in search of gold) in letters and diaries. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco is a good place to start, as is The California Gold Country - Highway 49 Revisited. Gold Rush Saints: California Mormons and the Great Rush for Riches by Kenneth N. Owens, which can be previewed at Googlebooks, uses a lot of original diary material.

To return to Sutter, though, the mill owner. He was born in 1803 in Kandern, southwest Germany, but was schooled in Switzerland, and joined the Swiss army rising to the rank of captain. However, in 1934, he left Europe for the New World to escape creditors. After extensive travels in North America, he settled in California in 1839, then part of Mexico, where he founded New Helvetia colony near the Sacramento river. Although the discovery of gold happened on Sutter’s land, it was eventually to ruin him. His land and property were over-run and destroyed by gold diggers, and thereafter he spent many years and much money on legal battles trying to defend his ownership or in seeking compensation. He died in Washington in 1880, apparently a poor and embittered man.

Excerpts from Sutter’s diary first appeared in 1878 in the San Francisco Argonaut, and were then published by the Grabhorn Press in 1932 as The Diary of Johann August Sutter (with an introduction by Douglas S. Watson). This is freely available to read online at the Library of Congress website book, and many extracts can also be found at The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco website (which notes that the entries were probably written retrospectively).


28 January 1848
‘Marshall arrived in the evening, it was raining very heavy, but he told me he came on important business. After we was alone in a private Room he showed me the first Specimens of Gold, that is he was not certain if it was Gold or not, but he thought it might be; immediately I made the proof and found that it was 44 Gold. I told him even that most of all is 23 Carat Gold; he wished that I should come up with him immediately, but I told him that I have to give first my orders to the people in all my factories and shops.’

1 February 1848
‘Left for the Sawmill attended by a Baquero (Olimpio). Was absent 2d, 3d, 4th, & 5th. I examined myself everything and picked up a few Specimens of Gold myself in the tail race of the Sawmill; this Gold and others which Marshall and some of the other laborers gave to me (it was found while in my employ and Wages) I told them that I would a Ring got made of it soon as a Goldsmith would be here. I had a talk with my employed people all at the Sawmill. I told them that as they do know now that this Metal is Gold, I wished that they would do me the great favor and keep it secret only 6 weeks, because my large Flour Mill at Brighton would have been in Operation in such a time, 45 which undertaking would have been a fortune to me, and unfortunately the people would not keep it secret, and so I lost on this Mill at the lowest calculation about $25,000.’

7 March 1848.
‘The first party of Mormons, employed by me left for washing and digging Gold and very soon all followed, and left me only the sick and the lame behind. And at this time I could say that every body left me from the Clerk to the Cook. What for great Damages I had to suffer in my tannery which was just doing a profitable and extensive business, and the Vatts was left filled and a quantity of half finished leather was spoiled, likewise a large quantity of raw hides collected by the farmers and of my own killing. The same thing was in every branch of business which I carried on at the time. I began to harvest my wheat, while others was digging and washing Gold, but even the Indians could not be keeped longer at Work. They was impatient 46 to run to the mine, and other Indians had informed them of the Gold and its Value; and so I had to leave more as 2/3 of my harvest in the fields.’

19 May 1848
‘The great Rush from San Francisco arrived at the fort, all my friends and acquaintances filled up the houses and the whole fort, I had only a little Indian boy, to make them roasted Ripps etc. as my Cooks left me like every body else. The Merchants, Doctors, Lawyers, Sea Captains, Merchants etc. all came up and did not know what to do, all was in a Confusion, all left their wives and families in San francisco, and those which had none locked their Doors, abandoned their houses, offered them for sale cheap, a few hundred Dollars House & Lot (Lots which are worth now $100,000 and more), some of these men were just like greazy. Some of the Merchants has been the most 49 purdentest of the Whole, visited the Mines and returned immediately and began to do a very profitable business, and soon Vessels came from every where with all Kind of Merchandise, the whole old thrash which was laying for Years unsold, on the Coasts of South & Central America, Mexico Sandwich Islands etc. All found a good Market here. Mr. Brannan was erecting a very large Warehouse, and have done an immense business, connected with Howard & Green; S. Francisco.’

21 May 1848
‘Saml Kyburg errected or established the first Hotel in the fort in the larger building, and made a great deal of Money. A great Many traders deposited a great deal of goods in my Store (an Indian was the Key Keeper and performed very well). Afterwards every little Shanty became a Warehouse and Store; the fort was then a veritable Bazaar. As white people would not be employed at the Time 50 I had a few good Indians attending to the Ferry boat, and every night came up, and delivered the received Money for ferryage to me, after deduction for a few bottles of brandy, for the whole of them. Perhaps some white people at the time would not have acted so honestly.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 5 December 2018.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

I love the masses

‘Evening. Soul-rending melancholy . . . Glory, death, and a prostitute. I left the house exhausted, weakened by unsuccessful work. Nevsky Prospect glowed, moving, rang out, rustling with black skirts, and stirring with the feathers of hats. The sidewalks jumped under my feet, glimmering with the light of lamps in the windows, swinging streetlights, moving, trodden for a thousand nights.’ This is from the early diaries of Nikolay Nikolayevich Punin, a prominent Russian art scholar and writer little known in the West, who was born 130 years ago today.

Punin was born on 28 November 1888 in Helsingfors (now Helsinki), Grand Duchy of Finland, to a Russian army doctor and his wife stationed there. He was schooled in St Petersburg, and studied the history of art at the city’s university from 1907 to 1914. He then worked as an art critic and editor. In 1917, he married Anna Arens and they had one daughter. The following year, he was appointed by Anatoly Lunacharsky (the first Bolshevik Soviet People’s Commissar responsible for Ministry and Education) to head the Petrograd Committee for Education (i.e. Narkompros), and to be the People’s Commissar of the Russian and Hermitage Museums.

At the Russian Museum, Punin co-founded the department of iconography and organised major exhibitions for the next 20 or so years. He believed that modern art criticism should be scientific (even trying to reduce the creative process to a mathematical formula), and was among the most widely read Russian writers on the arts in the 1920s.

During the 1920s, and into the 1930s, Punin lived with the famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova - they had known each other since before the Revolution. Their home in St Petersburg became a focus of the city’s cultural life; much later the house was turned into a museum dedicated to Akhmatova. When Punin was arrested in the mid-1930s, Akhmatova helped ensure his release by writing to Stalin. Their common-law marriage - but not their friendship - had broken down, for Punin had already begun an affair with a young assistant at the Hermitage, Martha Golubeva, whom he would soon marry.

In 1949, Punin was arrested for the third time (he had also been arrested in 1921) on accusations of ‘anti-Soviet’ activity - having described many of Lenin’s portraits as tasteless. He was sent to the Gulag camp in Vorkuta, northern Russia; and there he died in 1953. There is very little information in English about Punin online, and even his Wikipedia entry is short. However, in 2012 the Dutch publisher Brill brought out an English biography by Natalia Murray, The Unsung Hero of the Russian Avant-Garde: The Life and Times of Nikolay Punin, which can be previewed at Googlebooks. See also a review of the book at Russian Art + Culture.

Murray opens her introduction with this assessment: ‘Nikolay Punin is not a name widely known in the West. His file has languished in the KGB archives since his death in 1953, and his grave in the Gulag where he died is marked only by a number. Furthermore, his own reputation became submerged under that of his lover, the poet Anna Akhmatova. Proof of this is that the Anna Akhmatova Museum in the House on the Fontanka in St. Petersburg, is in fact in Punin’s old apartment. Yet, during his life, this remarkable individual was one of the most influential figures in the turbulent but exciting arena of post-revolutionary Russian art. The story of modern art in Russia became Punin’s personal fate.’

Punin kept diaries throughout his life, not always religiously but often enough to fill a dozen or so notebooks. Most of these diaries were purchased in the 1970s from Punin’s daughter by the University of Texas (UT) when Sidney Monas, then UT professor of history and Slavic languages was living in Leningrad. In 1999, University of Texas Press published The Diaries of Nikolay Punin 1904-1953 as edited by Monas and the translator Jennifer Greene Krupala. Monas provides a full explanation of how he came to be offered the diaries in his introduction. There is one chapter for each of ten notebooks 1915-1936, as well as a first chapter on ‘Early Materials from the Punin Diaries, 1904-1910’ and a last chapter on ‘Late Materials from the Punin Diaries, 1941-1952’. Some pages can be sampled at Googlebooks and at Amazon. Here are several extracts.

7 September 1916
‘My brother [Leonid] has been killed (1st of Sept.). At dawn on the first he went out with a rear guard of partisans on reconnaissance. Having sent part of the men on a wide sweeping movement behind the German position, he attacked with the rest. They say that a company of Germans suddenly appeared before them, charging at them with bayonets. He quickly ordered a counterattack, but immediately fell, wounded by two bullets. One through the leg, the other through the hip. A machine gunner with his wits about him opened fire on the advancing Germans; he killed them by the dozens and turned the others back. My brother was carried away, but because there was no dressing station or ambulance nearby, and because he did not present himself to have his wounds dressed, he died from loss of blood at 1:30 p.m.’

16 September 1916
‘Germany! - confusion in every heart, memories, alarm, hatred. Germany is damnation, Germany is barbarism, Germany is the enemy. In the chaos, vanity, vaingloriousness of nationalistic sentiments: self-esteem, pride, greed, indeed it is difficult to find peace of soul and clarity, and firmness of thought. Only a madman or a saint can lift his gaze beyond your cruel eyes, oh, masses. When you turn vulgar, it takes great efforts not to rejoice with you, but when you become agitated, only an inhuman force of will or depth of intuition can save one from your nasty eyes. You are agitated and who is safe from you? I am neither madman nor saint, and I am not safe. In the seclusion of my notebook, however, in the cowardice of my silence, pathetic, mute, completely inaudible, I whisper a word in protest against you. I say: Germany is our future, Germany is the only country worthy to exist, Germany has won already or she will win. Germany is the sun of Europe, the golden band on the surface of the ocean, the way of the future. In what political and economic conditions would war not have arisen two years ago? Historically Germany has had only one role in this conflict, the leader of Europe and the revolutionary of Europe’s spiritual order. Germany had matured and realized her maturity, Germany had found a way out of the individualistic morass, of religious weakheartedness, of moral blight. Germany understood before any other country the triumph of the technical world, showed it to Europe, led humanity out of the era of realistic humanism, and opened the era of spiritual technology. Machines and masses, stormy energy, directness and solidity of achievement, an immensity of the expanses of thought, the purity and practicality of this thought, cruelty, anger, temperament, pride, arrogance, organization, socialism (only the socialist leaders are blind: Germany realized socialist ideals before all others, having made them, moreover, viable; people are unequal, and for this very reason there can be a viable form of socialism even under monarchy), and finally, their full justification of animal egoism - these are the qualities in which Germany surpasses Europe, and which Europe will have to study for a long time to come, with varying success. The flight of the German mind is winged, the ideas with which Germany so suddenly provided Europe were so vital that they were immediately recognized by those who weren’t hypocritical, those who knew desire, those who loved life, and who did live. England herself recognized them and realized them with her own extraordinary aplomb, France follows them, Russia strives toward them. To cleanse the world of everything virtuous, soft-hearted, of everything past-oriented and burdensome, to make the world new, to give birth to it again, to save it - Germany was called to this, and Germany accomplished this with exceptional heroism and self-sacrifice. Worthy of immortality, she revealed her soul and bared her heart, and humanity rose up against her will and strength with the hatred and surprise of pitiful mediocrity, not understanding the significance of German organized militarism, or the monarchical socialism of her governing system, or the futurism of her cultural, her spiritual, her moral ideas.’

26 November 1916
‘Evening. Soul-rending melancholy . . . Glory, death, and a prostitute. I left the house exhausted, weakened by unsuccessful work. Nevsky Prospect glowed, moving, rang out, rustling with black skirts, and stirring with the feathers of hats. The sidewalks jumped under my feet, glimmering with the light of lamps in the windows, swinging streetlights, moving, trodden for a thousand nights. Speech, whispers, the touch of hands meeting, the crowd and loneliness. Women in dark coats, beautiful in their exhaustion; women of perfection, adored streetwalkers, stylish libertines, dull, stupid, and shameless; carried along madly, slowly ambling, shuffling in galoshes; and in these faces, the majority of which were hideous, there was, in essence, the single thought of this sex: I am selling myself. The only women brave enough to be sincere!. . . It is precisely for you that I would give my life, my death, my glory . . .’

24 February 1917
‘The mood is extremely tense. It is difficult to do my own work. On Nevsky from time to time crowds gather, Cossacks are riding. The Duma is procrastinating. The failure of the Ministry of Health doesn’t correspond to the tension of the day. By evening rumors of strikes spread through the whole city; the running of the trams was disrupted. People are stocking up on kerosene, candles, water. There really is very little bread; there are lines at the stores; some women cry out from the pain of not receiving any bread.’

13 August 1917
‘How I hate England. I hate it with an animal hatred.’

15 August 1917
‘If I lived out my life, without having aroused a feeling of compassion in any of the people around me, I would think I had lived it worthily.

I love the masses because they don’t evoke in me a feeling of compassion, even when they perish.

To hell with individualistic and personal feelings, I want to live only as a collective.’

Friday, November 23, 2018

Diaries and literary biography

Until now there has been no significant analysis of the use of diaries in the development of literary biography. A new survey, however, finds important links between the two genres and draws attention to several key features: how diary material has been more fundamental for major developments in literary biography than is generally acknowledged; how published diaries flourished while biography languished in the nineteenth century; and how some biographers - even of the most famous diarists - have relegated their subject’s diaries to little more than a resource to tap into when convenient, while others perceive the persona of the diarist as crucial to a writer’s ‘life.’

These are the main conclusions of one chapter in Wiley-Blackwell’s important new work published today: A Companion to Literary Biography. The book contains 33 essays, written mostly by academic scholars, and an introduction by the editor Richard Bradford, an esteemed literary biographer and noted expert in the field. According to the publisher: ‘The Companion brings a new perspective on how literary biography enables the reader to deal with the relationship between the writer and their work. Literary biography is the most popular form of writing about writing, yet it has been largely neglected in the academic community. This volume bridges the gap between literary biography as a popular genre and its relevance for the academic study of literature.’ Some pages are available to preview at Googlebooks, and the book can be purchased (for £120!) from Amazon.

I, myself, contributed Chapter 10 - The Role of Diaries in the Development of Literary Biography. Here are the conclusions to that chapter (much of which can be read, at the time of writing, in the e-book version available at Googlebooks).

‘The history of literary biography has been much studied and written about, but not from the standpoint of how it might have been affected and influenced by diaries and diarists. Here, I have tried to redress that imbalance by touching, albeit lightly, on some features in both genres, features that show, among other things, how significant changes in the development of biography may well have been driven or fueled by diary writers. It is an impossible leap to see the origins of literary biography in Japan 1,000 years ago (since they were not published in English until the twentieth century), but, on the other hand, it should not be ignored that so long ago there was an artistic culture in which life writing - diaries, biographies, travel journals - not only existed but reached heights of literary excellence still much admired today.

Some 500 years later comes the first evidence in England of individuals, from various different strata in society, recording their lives in diary form - biographical writing. For the Boy King, Edward VI, inspired by his tutor, Cheke, to give more significance to his reflections by writing them down, we have a document of immense historical importance, but one that gives us, at the very least, a feeling of the boy’s life. For Henslowe, his simple account notes are an invaluable first-hand source about the literary world in which he and Shakespeare worked. Most intriguing of all is Anne Clifford, whose diary is one of the very first to document feelings and thoughts, as well as a remarkable story that resonated strongly with one of the twentieth century’s literary figures, Vita Sackville-West. 


Pepys and Evelyn were diarists of the highest order, but in very different ways, not least because their diary habit emerged long before such feats of life writing were commonplace. And it is worth emphasizing that their diaries remained hidden, unpublished until the early part of the nineteenth century. Modern biographers of Pepys, notably Tomalin, have rightfully placed his diary center stage in their ‘life’; but the same cannot be said of Evelyn, for his most recent biographer, Darley, has ignored the diaries as a literary work - this despite Evelyn having kept his diary for 80 years. Other modern biographers have also been dismissive of the persona of the diarist, or diaries as a work to be discussed in relation to a subject’s life - Sutherland does much the same with Scott, O’Keeffe with Haydon, and Briggs with Woolf.

Many, if not most of those, who study the history of English literature agree that Johnson and Boswell can be found at the well-spring of literary biography, the former for his Lives of the Poets, and the latter for his biography of the former. It is clear that around Johnson, and partly because of him, there was a culture of keeping a diary, one that infected not only Boswell, but Fanny Burney and Hester Thrale. And out of this cauldron of life-writing activity came Boswell’s great biography, and another of Johnson by Thrale. It is well understood today that Boswell’s Life of Johnson was heavily dependent on his diaries, but it is my contention that his pivotal place in the development of literary biography came about largely because of his diaries, because he was a diarist. All four writers remain of much interest to modern biographers, their diaries (only travel diaries in Johnson’s case) providing plenty of material to interpret and reinterpret. 


Forward in time from Boswell come two important literary biographies, Moore’s life of Byron and Lockhart’s impressive work on Scott. Both these, in fact, were derived in part from much admired diaries. Indeed, it was Byron’s youthful travel diaries that inspired a middle-aged Scott to begin a journal that would be judged as one of his greatest works. Byron was not a diary keeper by nature, nor were others in the Romantic circle. Shelley tried, but it was his wife, Mary, who kept their joint journal up to date and maintained it beyond her husband’s death, much to the interest of modern biographers. And Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary, a plum source for her husband’s biographers, has over time come to be highly regarded and has raised her own status to that of a literary figure.

While literary biography is considered to have been stagnating for most of the nineteenth century, it was a boom period for diaries - everyone was at it, and many producing works of literary and historical excellence. In Britain, there were writers as different as George Elliot, Lewis Carroll, and Beatrix Potter, whose diaries would shed much light on their lives and their writing; and there were those from the theater world, such as the actress Fanny Kemble (whose later diaries were a bold voice against slavery in the United States). The same pattern was developing overseas. In the United States, there were writers like Emerson, who left behind voluminous diaries, as well as Louisa Alcott, providing unparalleled biographical insights. The author Stendhal, the painter Delacroix, and the Goncourt brothers were all producing diaries that would become French classics of the genre; and in Russia diary writing was becoming a way of life for all the Tolstoys.

With so many writers monitoring their lives by this time, it was inevitable that some would wish to descend further into the depths of their minds and consciousness, looking for explanations of their own behavior and actions, to understand their relationships with other people and the world around, or because they were simply curious to record what they found. For this chapter, I have chosen the very different painters, Benjamin Haydon and Marie Bashkirtseff, the English don Arthur Benson, and the Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel to demonstrate how diarists were beginning to exploring their inner selves, and thus leave behind more enlightening information than biographers had generally had access to beforehand. And by the end of the nineteenth century, two writers - Alice James and W.N.P. Barbellion - stand out for the hyper-consciousness and care with which they wrote their diaries, aware of public interest in the inner life, and aiming for literary success.

If the genre of literary biography had been stagnating for much of the nineteenth century, it was about to explode with ideas - first with Lytton Strachey, then with Virginia Woolf. My aim has been to show that wherever one looks in the genre’s history, there are diaries and diarists, and this is no less true of its reinvention with Strachey and Woolf. My main argument is that by the time of this literary revolution there was a plentiful supply of new, fresh, and invigorating diary material not only feeding into what information was available to biographers but challenging them to find new ways of writing the ‘life.’ It is interesting - I claim no more - that Strachey chose four subjects, for his Eminent Victorians, all of whom were diarists, but diarists with this newly widespread predilection for self examination. Interesting, too, how steeped Woolf was in the diary genre. She was extremely well-read in other people’s diaries, and was reading the newly published diaries of Anne Clifford, edited by her friend Vita Sackville-West, while writing Orlando, a fictional biography of Sackville-West. This turned out to be her most innovative contribution to literary biography. She was also a brilliant diarist herself, and almost every one of her biographers acknowledges how central diary writing was to all her other writing. Thus, it also my contention that the very act of writing a diary has been instrumental in allowing writers to break through into new biography forms, as with Boswell, but so too with Woolf.’

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Tergiversations of policy

‘The thing which really worries me most here and now and which has worried me most during the preliminary conversations last winter is that I, whom the Americans trust, have been in a position in which, as a good public servant, I have had continually to exploit my reputation with them to cast a cloak of academic respectability over the shabby reserves and tergiversations of our own policy.’ This is the British economist, Lionel Robbins, born 120 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept while in the United States negotiating on post-war economic policy. The three diaries he kept on US trips during and just after the war were first published in 1990, but two of them are also freely available online.

Robbins was born in Sipson (now only a few hundred metres north of Heathrow Airport) into a farming family on 22 November 1898. He had two sisters, one of whom died young, He was educated at the local grammar school. When his mother died in 1910, his father married her sister who already had two children. Robbins started at University College, London, until he left to serve as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. He was posted to the Western Front in 1916, but in 1918 was wounded and invalided home. After the war, he became interested in socialism, and took a job with the Labour Campaign for the Nationalization of the Drink Trade.

In 1920, with support from his father, he resumed his university education, at the London School of Economics (LSE). He graduated in 1923, and the following year married Iris, the younger sister of his friend Clive Gardiner. They had two children. After a brief period working as a research assistant to William Beveridge, Robbins was offered a temporary lectureship at New College, Oxford. He then returned to the LSE in 1925 as an assistant lecturer, and, a year later, was promoted to lecturer. Over the next 30 years, he dominated the economics department, building up its now pre-eminent position. In 1927, he was elected to an official fellowship at New College, Oxford; in 1932, he published his first major book, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science.

In mid 1940, Robbins joined the government service, being promoted to director of the economic section of the war cabinet offices in 1941. As such he played a pivotal role in developing the British war economy: advocating points rationing for food, for example; engaging in Anglo-American discussions vis-a-vis post-war international monetary and commercial policy; and inputting into the British government’s 1944 white paper on employment policy. In 1946, he returned to LSE, publishing The Economic Problem in Peace and War in 1947. Many other books followed. He engaged widely in public debate on economic policy, and was consulted by two chancellors of the exchequer on monetary policy in the 1950s.

But Robbins was also interested in the arts, and took positions such as chairman of the National Gallery and director of the Royal Opera House. In 1958, he became chairman of the Financial Times. In the early 1960s, he chaired a committee on higher education which resulted in the Robbins Report, advocating an expansion of the university system. He was also president of the British Academy for five years. He was appointed Companion of the Bath in 1944 (and Companion of Honour in 1968) and, in 1959, was awarded one of first life peerages to the House of Lords (taking the title Baron Robbins of Clare Market). He died in 1984. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), or the LSE.

There is no evidence that Robbins had a habit of writing diaries, but during each of three trips to the United States during the war he did keep a diary. These, along with those of his colleague James Meade (see UK-US talks on commercial union), were edited by Susan Howson and Donald E. Moggridge for publication by Macmillan in 1990 of The Wartime Diaries of Lionel Robbins and James Meade, 1943–45. Robbins’s diaries take up three of the four chapters, one per trip: Hot Springs and after, May-June 1943; Breton Woods, June-August 1944; The Loan Negotiations and the ITO, September-December 1945. Some pages from the 1990 publication can be read online at Googlebooks, and the e-book is still available to purchase at Palgrave Macmillan. Some further information about the diaries (and a photograph of one page) can be found at Archives Hub.

According to Howson and Moggridge, Robbins’s diaries of his visits to North America were written in the first instance for his colleagues back home in the economic section of the war cabinet offices and for his friend John Maynard Keynes, who had returned to Treasury in 1940 (though without any formal role). Using his rough notes, they explain, Robbins dictated the entries for each day which were then typed up, sent home and returned to Robbins once they had been circulated. Two of the diaries are available to view online at the LSE Digital Library. The images of the typed pages are a little fuzzy, and, as far as I can tell, there is no transcript, but each diary has a link to a catalogue precis of each day’s entry (1944 and 1945).

Here are several extracts from the diaries found online (the first and last at Googlebooks, and the middle one at Palgrave Macmillan).

9 May 1943
‘A short spell in an earthly paradise. I cannot understand why the Americans, who certainly do sometimes boast, do not boast about the Pennsylvanian countryside. It is quite as lovely as the best of Buckinghamshire (which in some respects it resembles) but the greater richness and varieties of the trees and flowering shrubs and the quiet distinction of the domestic architecture give it a character all of its own - a mature and kindly setting plucking curiously at the heartstrings.

Three and a half years accumulated gossip and the presence of extremely vivacious companions left little time for talk of a kind worth entering in this record. For a brief period however, away from her other guests, my sister did allow herself to expatiate a little on the politics of her adopted country. She is a woman of great commonsense and sobriety of judgement and the two main points she made seem to me to have considerable importance.

The first thing she emphasised was the gravity of the food situation. By this, of course, she meant the politics, not the economics, of the matter. In her view the administration have so bungled the handling of price control and rationing that this purely local issue is likely to be one of the dominating influences in next year’s elections. She goes so far as to think that there is even a chance that indignation on this matter may bring back not merely the Republicans but the diehard Republicans. She is not inclined to suggest the existence of a wider degree of anglophobia than we usually assume. But she thinks that we vastly underestimate the potential strength of the Republican comeback.

As I listened to her elaboration of the causes of the irritation about food, I suddenly realised what I think is an illuminating comparison. To understand the American attitude to food rationing we have to think of our own experience not of food but of coal. Food at home is shipping: Englishmen understand shipping, they therefore understand food rationing. But coal, that is another matter. The stuff is there in the ground. How can we be short of it? Well food in America is like our coal. How can this great food producing country have to go short of food? Someone has blundered ... Of course someone has blundered. But that is not the whole story.

The second point that my sister made was more encouraging. She asserts that nine out of ten Americans, however anglophile, believe in their hearts that we are going to let them down over the war with Japan. If this is so - and I have heard it before from one or two people I trust - it is a great opportunity. For we shall not let them down. We are just as interested in the Far East as they are.

Sitting alone with my sister and her husband when the week-end party had dissolved, listening to a Glyndeboume [production of Mozart’s] ‘Don Giovanni Act IV’ [sic] and making a supper of bread, Pennsylvanian cheese and good red wine, I suddenly thought ‘I haven’t thought about the war all day’. Of course I had talked about it, told stories, exchanged wisecracks, rejoiced in the fall of Tunis and Bizerte, weighed soberly the prospects of struggles to come. But it had all happened somewhere else. There was no continuing presence. And that is, and I think must be, one of the central difficulties of the American situation. It all happens somewhere else; and though it may be very exciting, and indeed moving, it is exciting and moving like a film at the cinema rather than life itself.’

27 September 1945
‘We are now approaching the end of the voyage out. According to the stewards we shall tie up at New York at about eleven o’clock in the morning. I have not kept any record of our discussions on board ship, not because they were not interesting but because they were almost exclusively technical and the results therof will show themselves in our day-to-day negotiations when we get to Washington. Suffice it to say that they have been abundantly successful in their primary object, that of reviewing the subject as a whole and training us to work together as a team.

I sat out this afternoon on the upper sun-deck, the only space available for taking the air, and tried to assess my hopes and fears as the great ship drove onward through the ocean. It must be confessed that the hopes, at least, were not high. I could not resist the contrast with our earlier mission in the autumn of 1943. The same subjects, the same men (with one lamentable absentee, my dear James Meade). the same (or much the same) negotiators to encounter on the other side. But what a contrast in mood. Then we had a constructive case to argue, an initiative to take, a cause to forward - and despite the scepticism of cynics at home we won right through and brought back a series of drafts which if they had been followed up, could have been made the basis for a general settlement in the economic sphere considerably superior to anything which we can now possibly hope for. Now our case is defensive, initiative is denied us, there is no question of a cause to be vindicated, only a possible grudging acquiescence in a settlement, acceptable only for extraneous reasons. On top of all this, and very materially darkening our anticipations on the voyage, hangs the shadow of possible personal difference within our own ranks precipitated by the wayward impulse and intransigence of one whom we all admire and love and the complete failure of his immediate associates to exercise corrective influence.

The thing which really worries me most here and now and which has worried me most during the preliminary conversations last winter is that I, whom the Americans trust, have been in a position in which, as a good public servant, I have had continually to exploit my reputation with them to cast a cloak of academic respectability over the shabby reserves and tergiversations of our own policy. How I envied Will Clayton the other evening in London when, after listening patiently to Liesching on a certain point, he threw his papers on the table and said, ‘I won't argue with you, Sir Percivale, I have always said we have been wrong on this point and I believe we are still.’ That was the sort of thing which we could afford to do when we still had confidence in ourselves; and it was the way in which I like to conduct my argument when I am speaking for myself. However, I have often had this out with myself and my line is dear. As I see it, there is nothing less at stake in this business than the future solidarity of the Western World. The precious Plan II is either a not very clever bluff or a policy which would land us in a quagmire of bitterness, poverty and humiliation. The only hope for the world, or rather for that part which still renders lip-service to the principles of liberty and decency, is the maintenance of the unity of the English-speaking peoples; and if some of us, playing with fire like idiot children, land our country in a position of economic antagonism to the US the future seems to me to be completely and unmitigatedly black. Hence it is not a matter of achieving some positive good, it is a desperate business of staving off an ultimate evil and there is hardly any degree of personal inconvenience and humiliation which I would not be prepared to undergo in order to do so. Not that I have many illusions about the likelihood of even this degree of success. If people do not know where they want to go - and certainly this is true of most of those who have handled these matters in the last two years - it is surely a pure fluke if they arrive at the right destination. Bear all this in mind, kind friends of the Economic Section, when you read the telegrams of the next few weeks and are tempted to say that I have sold the pass and let down our good tradition.’


14 October 1945
‘I spent Saturday night and Sunday with my sister and her husband at their home near Philadelphia. Nothing much of public interest. Caroline was very gloomy about the anti-British propaganda now being carried on by the New York Zionists and asked why we didn’t call the American bluff on all this. Joe was very solicitous about the loan negotiations, not a bit inquisitive but anxious that the Americans should act handsomely. He thought they ought to begin by paying us back for what we spent during the cash and carry period - a time which he seemed to regard as one of deep national humiliation. I did not disillusion him as to the prospects.

In the train coming back, I read a terrific discussion on Hayek in P.M. [liberal-leaning daily newspaper] - a special supplement devoted to the report of an inquiry into the vogue of the Road to Serfdom. Had it been financed by big business etc? It was all a little comic for in the end after much sound and fury and thumbnail sketches of Aaron Director, John Davenport and others, the investigator was forced to the conclusion that there was no conspiracy of big business. The reception of Hayek’s book by the intellectuals over here is really most discreditable to their sense of fairness and candour. I am beginning to think that P. M. is not much better than The New Statesman.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Refuge in numbers

‘As for me the mind comes ahead always and everywhere. And the worldly wisdom, known from books, is saying that mind and love can scarcely be reconciled. That is what makes me fear sometimes that Olia probably will not be happy with me. As for me, I shall probably always take refuge in Mathematics.’ This is taken from the diaries of Georgy Feodosevich Voronoy (or Voronoi), a Russian mathematician of Ukrainian descent born 150 years ago today.

Voronoy studied at St Petersburg University, where he was a student of Andrey Markov, another celebrated mathemetician. In 1891, he married Olia, and they would have six children (although one died in childbirth). In 1894, he became professor at the University of Warsaw, and in 1897 put forward a doctoral thesis on continuous fractions. He is best known for developing theories on the so-called Voronoi tessellation. He died in November 1908, and in 1918 the Ukraine government
 released special coins to commemorate the centenary.

Wikipedia has a small amount of information about Voronoy; a little more is available, partly thanks to diaries, in published books freely available online.


The St. Petersburg School of Number Theory by Boris Nikolaevich Delone and Robert G. Burns, first published in Russian in 1947 (the English translation is viewable on Googlebooks) contains a brief biography of Voronoy. The authors say, ‘the depth and importance of [his] spacious works is such that they have had a profound influence on modern number theory. Voronoi was in fact the cofounder, along with Minkowski, of the geometry of numbers’. While still at St Petersburg, he studied a particularly hard maths problem, and wrote in his diary: ‘I myself have lost hope of ever solving this problem’. And in equally self-doubting mode, he wrote: ‘The pure mathematics lectures captivate me more and more. I prefer Professor Sokhotsky’s lectures in the special course on higher algebra to all the others. . . The main thing that concerns me is whether I have enough talent.’

There is one further Voronoy diary entry, from 1904, quoted in The St Petersburg School of Number Theory: ‘I am making great progress with the question under study [indefinite quadratic forms]; however, at the same time my health is becoming worse and worse. Yesterday I had for the first time a clear idea of the algorithm in the theory of forms I am investigating, but also suffered a strong attack of bilious colic which prevented me from working in the evening and from sleeping the whole night. I am so afraid that the results of my enduring efforts, obtained with such difficulty, will perish along with me.’

There are more substantial extracts from 
Voronoy’s diaries to be found in Life and Times of Georgy Voronoi by Halyna Syta and Rien van de Weygaert, a 30-page monograph free to download from ResearchGate. The authors explain that Voronoy’s children saved their father’s manuscripts - including mathematical notebooks and diaries - and that they are now held by the National Library of Ukraine’s institute of manuscripts. Here are a couple of extracts from the monograph that refer to and quote from Voronoy’s diaries, as well as one dated diary extract.

‘It says something about the personality of Georgy Voronoi that in these student years he confided his doubts to his diary. Fortunately, this diary has been partially preserved. Along with his descriptions of everyday experiences and events, it is a sincere self-confession of a young man. It discloses his character, his inner world, the process of his creative growth and self-consciousness. The author is active and sensitive and cannot remain indifferent to the events around him. He also tries to help when necessary. At times he is hot-tempered, for which he later expresses regret. He states “I am merrily gazing at God’s world and to everything I touch I submit myself with rapture”. Georgy aims “to reach everything by heart, and not just by intellect” and tries to look at himself from the outside. In this, he displays a rather low self-esteem, while also trying to grasp his own feelings and inclinations: “What am I after all? I am fond of playing cards. I do not have any noble pride. That is, if I am mocked I do not get angry and do not quarrel with the offender. I feel my weakness in front of the powerful of this world”.’

‘Recollections about his acquaintance and the development of his relations with Olia Krytska occupy a particular place in the diary. Georgy writes so sincerely about his feelings, with such virtue and temperament - (events are almost ignored, only his feelings are recorded) - that these pages read like a real novel. He determined once and forever for himself that his destiny was in Bohdany, but he concealed his feelings for the time being because he had no financial basis for his own family. His father insisted on this decision. Such a vagueness in relations brought him many sufferings, but he patiently waited for his hour and did not permit any other passion to find the way to his heart. In 1889, on the eve of his departure, Georgy wrote about his last visit to Bohdany:

”Once more I am writing down my last visit to Krytskis... I am mounting the horse, once more saying goodbye to everybody, that is the end to everything which filled my life during the four months and which will cause me to behave stern and cool during the whole stretch of the Petersburg year. Only mathematics as a bright star is shining afore me, in it I trust all my hopes... The experience of the last year has strengthened my endurance, and my creative eagerness, suppressed before, is bursting into action, and I am certain that Petersburg will bring me much that is new in this respect. So goodbye, Olia, goodbye, Zhuravka! Till the new spring I shall cover myself with my armour. And, as if dreaming I shall see this summer, which gave me so much strength and health and those grains of happiness, which I know I shall so often experience when reading my diary in Petersburg, picking them from those talks with Olia, which I wrote down, along with everything which so often made my heart beat.”

31 December 1890
‘True to the old custom, today, on the eve of New Year, I cast a glance at how I have lived through and deeply felt the Old Year. The first thing which I gladly note and which has become a harbinger of my future happiness is: Olia loves me. I know it now for certain! How happy I am! So long I had been silently suffering from doubts, and at last it has been clarified, and I have already become Olia’s fiancé! ...

Yes, now I know well that Olia loves me, but nevertheless lasting doubts and expectations have brought some bitterness. I seem to have become hardened in my permanent solitude. Ever growing passion for Mathematics has developed in me an egotism of no small degree. I am afraid I cannot feel strongly and surrender fully to my feelings.

As for me the mind comes ahead always and everywhere. And the worldly wisdom, known from books, is saying that mind and love can scarcely be reconciled. That is what makes me fear sometimes that Olia probably will not be happy with me. As for me, I shall probably always take refuge in Mathematics.’

This article is a substantially revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 20 November 2008.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Life at Jonestown

It was 40 years ago today that over 900 people died at Jonestown in Guyana, having been ordered by their cult leader Jim Jones to partake of a cyanide-laced drink. It was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of 11 September 2001. One of those who died was Edith Roller. Her diaries, though, survived and many of them are available online.

Jonestown, Wikipedia says, was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, a community built in northwestern Guyana by the Peoples Temple, a cult from California led by Jim Jones. The cult moved to Jonestown in the summer of 1977, and a little more than a year later, on 18 November 1978,  909 of its members died, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning in an event termed, by Jones, as ‘revolutionary suicide’. Jones himself died of a shotgun wound to the head, probably self-inflicted. The deaths followed soon after the murder of five others by Temple members at a nearby airstrip. Those victims included Congressman Leo Ryan, the first and only Congressman murdered in the line of duty in US history, and three journalists.

Very much has been written about the cult, and the extraordinary events of that day 30 years ago. The Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, for example, runs a website - Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple - which aims to present information about the Peoples Temple as accurately and objectively as possible. Being objective, it says, means offering as many diverse views and opinions about the Temple and the events in Jonestown as possible.

One of the most intriguing parts of the website concerns Edith Roller, a Temple member who meticulously recorded her daily activities in a diary. At the start of the diary in 1975, she was working for the international company, Bechtel, and living in downtown San Francisco, but the diaries continue through January 1978, when she was called to Jonestown, to August that year, a few months before she died (aged 63). Don Beck and Michael Bellefountaine are credited on the website for compiling, transcribing, and analysing the journals. They say the journals were found in two locations: in Temple documents collected by the FBI and released through the Freedom of Information Act; and, in the Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society. However, entries for several months are still considered missing.

Bellefountaine, in particular, has written a number of interesting articles about the journals for the website, and gives an excellent overview of their content and value. Here is part of one article entitled Roller Journals Reveal Detailed, Dispassionate Look at Temple.

‘Edith offers a detailed description of Jonestown that is rarely seen: a thriving active community of over a thousand people who are well aware that their sacrifice and hard work were paying off in the very existence of the community. . . [She] offers overviews of in-depth agricultural reports as well as gardening and livestock reports. She also records the daily diet, and the daily school and work schedules. Additionally Edith takes care to mention as many people as possible: new arrivals, births, job promotions or demotions, and those being brought on the floor for praise or punishment. Because Edith made every effort to record as many names as possible, she gave valuable information about the babies being born in the community, many of whom had gone unrecorded in the official death lists which were based on the passports issued. It is also valuable information for people who know nothing of their relatives’ lives while they were living in Jonestown.’

Edith’s journal also reveals much about the Jonestown community’s darker aspects, Bellefountaine says: ‘She writes of a suicide drill, essentially a trial run for the last day. Her description of the long lines, and the vat of juice are hauntingly familiar to the pictures from November 18th. In her writing she talks about how she did not want to die, and she did not think that the juice was really poisoned. These revelations give credence to some theories that the people of Jonestown thought the last day was just another drill, and many may have initially participated because they thought it was a loyalty test. Additionally Edith gives clear voice to those who do not want to die. Though she writes that she was willing to take the potion, the drill was called off before she got to the vat. Edith makes clear that she had too much hope for the future of the collective community, for the individual children, and for herself. She gives an understanding voice to the conflict of being willing to die, but not wanting to.’

Here are two entries from Roller’s diary in 1978.

1 August 1978
‘. . . Although it was very late Jim took up another matter: Norman Ijames, after having been gone for six months, had informed the Temple he would be returning this week, he had not communicated with his wife Judy and child, had sent no money. He had been reported with another woman, some of our people had talked to him while in Miami, though he had been offered a job at the airport in Georgetown he was flying on lines that did not bring him in to Guyana. The fact that he is a pilot may have some significance with regard to his activities in view of the aerial surveillance of Jonestown by the National Enquirer plane and reports of planned mercenary attacks on us. Many members spoke of Norm’s characteristics: spoiled by his parents, cherished as the only son, avoidance of physical labor, pride in his appearance, which made it possible that he could have deserted to our enemies. Jim said that the government had told us the CIA had a plant in our membership who might come here. . .’

Sunday 20 August
‘I was up at 8.00.

Read news from the pavilion boards. For breakfast pancakes and coffee worked on journal items.

At 12.00 I worked in the African map in the pavilion. I completed the outline for all countries, though there are some loose ends to be tied up. I still have a problem in the seacoast area where Zaire and Angola join. I plan to cut out the outlines of all the countries have a game in class in which the students looking at atlas maps can pin the outlines of the separate countries on a sheet, thus learning the position of some of them. Also we will be able then to ascertain where the map is insufficiently accurate. At the same time we can get a complete list of each country.

Had a shower and shampooed my hair.

Sewed, continuing with my skirt.

Ate dinner at 5.00 and we had rice with pork, okra, french fried eggplant in a batter.

I sewed.

Mark Gosney was giving Edith Cordell trouble; she had a cold. She turned him over to Vern Gosney.

The guest was expected tomorrow and entertainment was being prepared for him in the Pavilion. Intended to go up about 8;00, people were gathering but I didn’t hear any music so assumed he had not arrived yet. Then I heard Jim in the loudspeaker. He was annoyed because people were waiting in the pavilion instead of being in the library studying the news.

I finished sewing about 9.30. I went up to the library, read as much of the news I could over the heads of the crowd. Dick Tropp and Jack Beam were explaining the backgrounds of some of the news. As the guest had not yet arrived I went home and went to bed but I didn’t sleep.

Then we received orders to come to the pavilion. I went up. I expected to find it difficult to get a seat but Jim had earlier ordered young people to get up and give their seats to seniors. A young man led me to seat in front, asking the little boy occupying it to sit on the floor with the other children. The guest, a young looking man, was seated with those assigned to talk to him at a table in the middle of the pavilion. A musical program was given.

We were dismissed at 2.00. A heavy rain fell.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 18 November 2008.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The first biospeleologist

Emil Racoviţă, one of the most distinguished of Romanian scientists, was born 150 years ago today. Though he lived in France for much of his life, it was in the Romanian city of Cluj that he opened the world’s first Institute of Speleology, his own speciality being the study of fauna found in caves. Early on in his career, he took part in a famous Belgian expedition to Antartica, and kept a diary of the expedition. Later, he kept diaries of some of his caving explorations - one of which can be found online at the National History Museum of Romania.

Racoviţă was born on 15 November 1868 into a well-off, cultured family near Iaşi in Romania. During his school years, he became passionate about the natural sciences though, to please his family, he studied law in Paris. After completing his law studies in 1889, he studied the natural sciences to degree level in 1891, and then undertook postgraduate studies, focusing on marine biology, achieving a PhD in 1896. Thereafter, he was selected to join an international research expedition to Antarctica, aboard the ship Belgica, under the aegis of Belgium’s Royal Society of Geography. Racoviță is considered the first researcher to collect botanical and zoological samples from areas beyond the Antarctic Circle. From Rio de Janeiro, he managed to sail ahead of the Belgica to spend three weeks in Punta Arenas studying the Amerindian population, fauna and flora, and exploring caves. Later on, the Belgica ran into considerable difficulties with ice, and two member of the team died; nevertheless the expedition, which returned to Europe in 1899, was considered a success.

Over the next year or two, Racoviţă lectured on the results of the voyage, in Paris and Brussels and in Romania. He settled in Banyuls-sur-Mer, on the Mediterranean coast near the border with Spain, as deputy director of the Arago laboratory. He was also co-editor of the journal Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale. In 1904, during an expedition to study Cuevas del Drach, a cave system on the isle of Majorca with a large underground lake, Racoviţă discovered a new species of cave crustaceans. Thereafter, he decided to devote his studies primarily to, what he called, biospéologie - i.e. biospeleology, the study of organisms that live in caves. He went on to study many hundreds of caves across Europe, often with his young French assistant Hélène Boucard, who he married in 1907. That same year, he founded the journal, Biospeologica.

After the First World War, Racoviţă finally heeded calls from the Romanian government for him to return home. He was appointed professor of biology at the university in Cluj, and soon opened an Institute of Speleology, the first of its kind in the world. He remained its director until his death. He continued to take part in cave expeditions, particularly in the Carpathian mountains. From 1926 to 1929 he served as president of the Romanian academy. In 1940, when Cluj was given to Hungary under the so-called Vienna Award, Racoviţă and his institute took refuge in Timisoara, only returning to Cluj after four scientifically barren years. He died in November 1947, two days after his 79th birthday. A little further biographical information is available online, at Wikipedia (though a Google translation of the French Wikipedia page is more informative than the English one), Show Caves, Geni, and an archived Romanian Speleology page. There is also a good deal of information about the Belgica expedition in the journal Polar Research.

Racoviţă kept a diary, in French, during his Antarctic expedition. Some sources suggest this was published in 1899m but I can’t find any trace of it. However, it was published in 1998 by Fondation culturelle roumaine in Bucharest as part of Belgica (1897-1899): Emile Racovitza: le naturaliste de l’expédition antarctique Belgica: lettres, journal antarctique, conférences. Moreover, the National History Museum of Romania has, on its Capodopere 2019 website, some information about, and photographs of, a manuscript diary kept by Racoviţă in 1901-1902. It contains about 50 pages, of which 36 are filled with annotations and scientific observations concerning caves in Spain.