Saturday, October 13, 2018

Galvanised by debate

The life of the Irish writer and activist Rosamond Jacob, born 130 years ago today, ‘was galvanised at all times by political and feminist debate’, according to her biographer Leeann Lane. However, she was never a lead player, as it were, more of a stage extra. Indeed, she may well have vanished in the historical memory but for the fact that she kept a diary, faithfully, throughout her life, filling over 170 notebooks. She recorded not only her own politically-motivated activities but details of most of the main controversies and movements in Irish politics and culture during the first half of the 20th century. So much so, in fact, that the diaries - which remain unpublished - have been called ‘one of the most valuable and intriguing sources for historians of twentieth-century Ireland’.

Jacob was born on 13 October 1888 in Waterford, Ireland. Her parents had been part of the Quaker community but were more interested in nationalist and humanitarian ideas than religious ones. She had an older brother, Tom, and a first born sister, though she died aged 5. Rosamond attended various schools though, because she was a sickly child, she was also home taught at times. She grew up in a domestic atmosphere of constant social and political discussion and argument, to the point where, Lane says, ‘debate became Jacob’s default means of engaging with her peers, a trait that was to remain with her throughout her life and which was to cause her to be considered awkward and querulous even by many of those who knew her well’. She left school at 16, though continued to educate herself on Irish history and Irish language through membership of the Gaelic league.

Jacob was a follower of many of the key political and cultural campaigns of early twentieth-century Ireland including the turn of the century language revival, Sinn Fein, from 1905 and the organisations of the revolutionary period including Cumann na mBan. There seem to be few details about her life readily available online, though it is known that she re-engaged to some extent with the Quaker community in Waterford, and in 1912 was secretary to the Friends Literary Society Committee. Her and her family’s involvement in the nationalist and suffrage movements meant she was acquainted with many leading figures in both movements. In 1919, she moved to Dublin where she managed to get a first novel published - Callaghan (under a pseudonym); two or three other novels would follow much later in her life. She also embarked on a long-term affair with fellow republican Frank Ryan.

Jacob opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and was especially involved in left-wing and republican organisations in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1931 she travelled to Russia as a delegate of the Irish Friends of Soviet Russia; and she was involved in the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom. In the 1930s, she played a leading role in the political campaign to secure Ryan’s freedom from Nationalist Spain, and subsequently worked to defend his reputation after news of his death in Nazi Germany became known. From 1950, she shared a house with her friend Lucy Kingston. She died in 1960. Some further information can be gleaned from Wikipedia or the Waterford County Museum website. Queen’s University, Belfast, has information on Jacob’s relationship with Ryan.

Jacob was a committed diarist, and kept a diary her whole life long from 1897 to 1960. The Rosamond Jacobs collection at the National Library of Ireland holds 170 of her ordinary notebooks (as well as a few others). The University of Limerick’s Inventing and Reinventing the Irish Woman website has a useful introduction to the diaries, written by Dr Clara Cullen of University College Dublin, as well as a few extracts (indeed, the extracts below are taken from this document).

The diaries also feature heavily in a substantial biography of Jacob - Rosamond Jacob: Third Person Singular 
(University College Dublin Press, 2010) - by Dr Leeann Lane, head of Irish Studies at Dublin City University. Some pages from the introduction can be read freely at Amazon. In the introduction, Lane describes Jacob as always a follower never a leader, and goes along with the idea that her diaries are important enough to be preserved but not important enough to be duplicated and publicly disseminated (i. e. published). Nevertheless, Lane explains there is great merit in studying her life, and thus in re-exploring the diaries. She says: 

‘The ease with which the diary has been divorced from its writer and allowed to stand apart as a text providing colour and context for work on the revolutionary period and the years of internecine strife and bitterness after 1922 has much to do with Jacob’s lack of the apparent exceptionality which merits biographical or critical study. Unlike most subjects of Irish biography Jacob was not a prominent figure in Irish history, rather she was a fringe activist. Her fictional writings, although interesting to an historian, have limited aesthetic value. Jacob was in many cases a crowd member rather than a leader in the campaigns in which she participated - the turn of the century language revival, the suffrage campaign, the campaigns of the revolutionary period. She adopted an anti-Treaty stance in the 1920s moving towards a fringe involvement in the activities of socialist republicanism in the early 1930s while continuing to vote Fianna Fail. Her commitment to feminist concerns was life long but at no point did she take or was capable of a leadership role. However, it was Jacob’s failure to carve out a strong place in history as an activist which makes her interesting as a subject for biography. Her ‘ordinariness’ offers an alternative lens on the biographical project. By failing to marry, by her inability to find meaningful paid work, by her countless refusals from publishers, by the limited sales of what work was published, Jacob offers a key into lives more ordinary within the urban middle classes of her time, and suggests a new perspective on female lives. Jacob’s life, galvanised at all times by political and feminist debate, offers a means of exploring how the central issues which shaped Irish politics and society in the first half of the twentieth century were experienced and digested by those outside the leadership cadre. The history of the independence struggle and its aftermath is as much the history of men and women such as Jacob as it is of de Valera and Frank Ryan.’

In a review of Lane’s book, The English Historical Review (Issue 525, 1 April 2012) says Jacob’s diaries ‘constitute one of the most valuable and intriguing sources for historians of twentieth-century Ireland as they offer insights into key political and cultural shifts and movements. They are also a wonderful read.’ In another review, however, The Irish Times, finds the diaries too full of self pity: ‘The woman in the book can seem tiresome, whereas she is fondly remembered by her many friends.’

29 June 1922
‘Plenty of firing, big guns and all. The republicans had the pub at the corner of Aungier St, and there was firing there on and off for the next two days. They used to fire at lorries, and the FS troops took Jacobs. And some other place near, and fired at them until they finally left the place on Sunday evening.

I was busy at the At Home at Mrs Despards.’

30 June 1922
‘I went to Suffolk St to ask if there was anything I could do. D. Macardle was there. She told me there was a Red Cross place over in Gloucester St, so I went there, where the republicans were in the hotels with the windows full of sandbags, and found a Trade Union place called Tara hall, full of girls making bandages. They showed me how, and I worked there till dinner time. Two wounded civilians were brought in to be attended to in the next room; one was a man who seemed to think he was pretty bad and required a lot of shirts. There was a lot of firing in the streets and a tremendous explosion once that broke the glass in one window. Some of the girls were the C. Na mB. type that loved the whole thing in a horrible way.

After dinner I knocked against Mme. McB. [Maud Gonne McBride] in the street and found she was trying to get some women together to go to both sides’ leaders and talk sense to them - so I brought her to the IIL committee at 122A and she raked us all (except Mrs Richardson) over to the Mansion House to see what the Lord Mayor was doing. He said the Four Courts surrender had altered things and there was no knowing more till the next day nor wouldn’t be much fighting till the next day, and we had better come back in the morning. So we went home and Madame started to search the hospitals for Sean. She was only just home from Paris (where she had gone on a mission for the provisional government) that morning.’

1 July 1922
‘We met at the Mansion Hs. in the morning [. . .]. The mayor and the archbishop were going to the republican leaders then, to represent their share in the general damage and cruelty and see what conditions they wd agree to a truce.

Then, the more or less F.S. women, [. . .] went to interview the government, and came back reporting as follows - They spoke of the sufferings of the people and need for peace and got the usual sort of answers from Griffith, Collins and Cosgrave. Cosgrave seemed anxious for the Dail to meet and said it cd be summoned for Tuesday but Griffith nudged him to make him shut up. Miss B. and Mme. McB. asked wd they let the R.s evacuate without giving up arms - Griffith said no, they must give up their arms. Mme McBride said that they certainly would not do, and that it wd be better to let them go with their arms than to shell the city. They were firm on this (tho Collins said he didn’t know why the R.s didn’t go home with their arms now, as there seemed nothing to stop them) and Griffith said the lives of all the ministers were in the greatest danger.
The deputation (W.W. and A.F. anyhow) seemed rather favourably impressed by the 3. The mayor and the archbishop went to the government later, and were told much the same, only they seemed more resolute against calling the Dail then. It didn’t seem much use sending a deputation to the R.s, but Miss Bennett said it wd be very unfair not to - shd at least show them there were some R. women who wanted peace, and not put all the burden of guilt on the government [. . .]. We were taken in a motor ambulance to the back of the Hammam hotel, and let into a kind of back, outhouse place full of men and petrol tins and bicycles and step ladders and boxes and general impedimenta. Doctors and nurses and soldier and messengers went in and out all the time. The men were mostly not in uniform, they all had big revolvers in leather cases and military belts. Some looked dead tired, and all of course were untidy and unshaved, but all seemed in good humour. Most were young, but not all. After waiting a while, Oscar Traynor, then commanding in Dublin, was fetched to us, and Hanna and Miss B. tackled him. He was in a sort of semi-military dark suit, with a revolver in a belt, and the Sacred Heart badge in his button-hole. He is quite young, tall and slim, with the same type of long refined thoughtful refined face as De Valera, though much better looking.


He represented their position as purely defensive, said they were not the aggressors. “we’re digging ourselves in here, and if they attack us we’ll defend ourselves”. He said they wd be willing to evacuate but not to surrender arms of course, and I think he said they had made the offer to the other side (whom he spoke of as “these people”). Asked wd they suspend hostilities if the Dail met early this week, he said that was for O’Connor and Mellowes to say, but probably they wd if the other side wd observe the truce. Informed of what Collins had said (that they were fools not to melt away with their arms now) he said they could put no faith in what anything Collins said. His attitude of utter disbelief in the faith of “these people” was depressing, being so exactly what the other side would say about them. Mrs J. and I took no share in the talk. I went for the interest of the thing and had nothing to say of my own; and he looked so tired and worn that I didn’t want to lengthen the conversation anyhow. His eyes looked dead sleepy, he could hardly keep them open. He was very nice in his manner - quiet and civil and friendly. He spoke as if they meant to do nothing aggressive, and not as if the affair was any sort of fun to him. We were all favourably struck with him, and impressed with his talk just as the other deputation were with Collins, Griffith and Cosgrave.’

12 July 1922
‘Went to peace meeting at the Round Room - great crowds of women, but none of them apparently keen on peace. [. . .] Miss O’Connor and I went out to try and quieten a couple of shouting F.S. women in the hall, who had, God knows how, got the idea that all the platform were republican. Mrs D. was very good, about the folly and uselessness of war . . . Some fool in the hall wanted to put the cause of peace under the protection of the queen of heaven, and made them all start singing a hymn to her, which Miss Bennett received awfully well, but the end was a confused scene of uproar all the same.’

Sunday, October 7, 2018

We had great fun

‘We had great fun. C. gave me a beautiful set of Barrie’s works for a birthday present. It is sweet of him, he was so keen about it, & it gives him such pleasure to give anyone a present. I was very touched. We hated leaving each other. C. said he might have been going to the war, judging from the parting we had.’ This is Frances Stevenson, born 130 years ago today, writing in her diary about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, soon to become prime minister. They were already illicit lovers, and would remain so until, eventually, after the death of his wife, they married. However, from very early on, Stevenson played a much larger role than just mistress in Lloyd George’s life.

Stevenson was born on 7 October 1888 in London, and was educated at Clapham High School and Royal Holloway College. After being employed as a teacher at a boarding school in Wimbledon, she went to work, in 1911, for David Lloyd George, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to coach his youngest daughter Megan. By 1913, however, she had become Lloyd George’s personal secretary, and his secret lover (Lloyd George having been married to Margaret Owen since 1888, with five children). In 1915, she fell pregnant by him, though she lost the baby, possibly through an abortion. Over time, she became a considerable power in the Lloyd George household. She was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and the following year she accompanied Lloyd George to the Paris Peace Conference. She was responsible for organising the building of Lloyd George’s country home at Churt in Surrey.

In 1929, Stevenson gave birth to a daughter, Jennifer, though it is unknown whether Llolyd George was the father, or Thomas Frederic Tweed, with whom she was also having an affair. During the 1930s, she organised Lloyd George’s extensive archive which was necessary for the drafting of his war memoirs. After Margaret’s death, Lloyd George married Frances, but he lived only another 18 months. Thereafter, Frances - now titled Dowager Countess Lloyd-George of Dwyfor - continued to live at Churt and became involved in an array of projects aimed at perpetuating her late husband’s name and memory. She died in 1972. Further information is available from Wikipedia, a scandal-rich article in the Daily Mail, or the BBC.  Several biographies can be previewed at Googlebooks, for example If Love Were All by John Campbell and Frances, Countess Lloyd George: More Than a Mistress by her granddaughter Ruth Longford.

In the last years of her life, Lady Lloyd-George published two books: a memoir, Years That Are Past, and extracts from her diary, as edited by the eminent historian A.J.P. Taylor: Lloyd George: A Diary (Hutchinson and Co., 1971). She seems to have kept a diary from 1914 to 1944, though in the latter years the entries are far thinner than during Lloyd George’s politically active years. A few quotations from the diaries can be found at WikiQuotes. According to J. Graham Jones, writing for Cercles in 2011, Stevenson’s diaries were ‘heavily quarried’ for Lloyd George’s war memoirs ‘as a contemporary record of chronology, events and impressions’. (However, as far as I can tell, she and her diaries are barely mentioned in the six volumes - certainly never acknowledged as a source!)

Taylor, in his preface to the edited diaries, describes how he came to find the diary in the Beaverbrook Library, and how/why some parts of it may have been lost. He explains that, although the diary starts off as mainly a personal document, for a year two, ‘it is predominantly a political record in which Lloyd George bulks larger than events’. He calls the diary ‘a unique document - a claim often made but rarely with as much justification as in this case’ for ‘where else have we the detailed picture of a British prime minister by one who was at once his devoted mistress and his confidential secretary?’

See also other diarists who wrote about Lloyd George: Maurice Hankey (Dreadful meetings) and George Riddell (Riddell and Lloyd George). Meanwhile, here are several extracts from Stevenson’s diary taken from A.J.P. Taylor’s book (
both ‘C’ and ‘D’ refer to Lloyd George).

21 September 1914
‘Last Saturday was the Chancellor’s great speech on the War, at the Queen’s Hall. There is no doubt that it was a tremendous success, but C. was very depressed after it. He said the audience made him sick - they were far too stodgy and “comfortable” - “you had to talk your way through layers of fat”. He thought the meeting had not been a success, but the newspapers on Sunday put his mind at rest - most enthusiastic. They were loud in their praises this morning. Tory papers loudest of all. He laughed at the exuberance of The Times. “These people become almost sickly,” he remarked, “when one happens to fall in with their ideas.” Many people say it is the finest effort of his career. Masterman on Sunday [20 September] pronounced it “the finest speech in the history of England”.

C.’s colleagues in the Cabinet help to reassure him as to success of speech. The Prime Minister said with tears in his eyes that it was “a wonderful speech”. Sir Edward Grey said he wept when he read the peroration. C. is satisfied, but very tired.’

9 October 1914
‘Returned to the Office on October 7th, my birthday. On Tuesday C. turned in to see me, and we had a long chat together. He looked tired & worried at first, and I found that passing through Clapham had depressed him, calling up sad memories of Mair. He avoids Clapham as much as possible. He told me that Antwerp was in a bad way. The Govt, had that day decided to send some 20,000 men over to Ostend, in order to march on Antwerp and relieve it. They discovered however that the Admiralty had mined the sea right up to Ostend, making a landing impossible. The difficulty was to be overcome by sending a pilot ship with the troopships, & landing south of Ostend. The pilot ship to be supplied by the Admiralty. Some time after troops had started, it was discovered that the pilot ship had been forgotten, & that our troops were therefore in imminent danger of being blown up by our own mines. A torpedo-boat was therefore dispatched at full speed to recall troopships. This was done, & ships eventually re-started safely with pilot, but only after some hours delay. I fear they will not be able to save Antwerp. I cannot sleep for thinking of the horrible tortures that Belgium is undergoing.

On Wednesday C. went to Committee of Imperial Defence. It seems that Kitchener fears an attempted invasion as soon as the two armies are ‘stalemate’ in France. Both the P.M. and C. are convinced that this could not be successfully attempted.

C. & I had a very primitive dinner together at No. 11 (which is under repair) before C. departed for W.H.

Yesterday (Thursday) we dined again in the same primitive way. He was to have dined with Donald & friends, but decided to go straight to theatre instead. We had great fun. C. gave me a beautiful set of Barrie’s works for a birthday present. It is sweet of him, he was so keen about it, & it gives him such pleasure to give anyone a present. I was very touched. We hated leaving each other. C. said he might have been going to the war, judging from the parting we had.

Have not seen much of him today as he has been very busy in Board Room, with occasional flying visits in here. He has left for weekend at W.H. His last words. “Same address. ‘Virtuous’ - Walton Heath.”

Winston has returned from Antwerp, admitting failure, and blaming Kitchener & War Office for lack of foresight.’

13 April 1915 (Walton Heath)
‘Returned from Brighton this morning, & came on here this evening. Am waiting for C., who will not be here till late, as he has a dinner. He wrote me that his scheme for Drink was progressing, but that it would be a hard fight, & I am anxious to hear all about it from his own lips.

I had Muriel’s company for the weekend, as I got terribly lonely. But it was much brighter after she arrived, & we had a good time together. She was very frightened on Sunday [11 April] by the appearance of an airship, which we both thought was a Zeppelin, but as it went away without doing any damage we concluded we were mistaken.’

3 August 1916
‘Had a most exciting night. D. rang up about one o’clock, saying I had better go down to the cellar, as there was going to be an air raid on London. I asked him if he were going down too: he said yes. I put on some clothes & went out to see if there were anything to be seen, then sat & watched at the window for sometime on the chance of anything happening. About 2 D. rang up again to say it was all right, & I could go back to bed. “Where have you been?” I asked. “On the roof”, he replied, “but there was nothing to be seen!” ’

12 April 1917
‘D. made a magnificent speech at the American Luncheon Club. I heard the speeches tucked away behind a screen on the orchestra platform, with some of the wives of the American members. It was a great meeting, & they were most enthusiastic. I fear however that he will get another little note from the King on the undignified tone in which he spoke of “kings & their tricks!” After the speech D. & I drove down to Windsor as D. had to see H.M. about the Emperor of Austria’s letter. I had tea in the town while D. was at the Castle & then we drove back again together to Walton Heath. We were very happy. D. was in excellent spirits & very pleased with his speech.’

8 March 1919
‘Churchill arrived late last night from London, & breakfasted with the P.M. this morning. Full of his speech in the House on the Military Service Bill. He certainly does not lack self-confidence - in fact if he had a little less he might think a little more before he acts & speaks. One cannot help being fascinated by him, although I cannot bring myself to like him.’

19 April 1919
‘We intended to go for a tour round the devastated areas, starting this afternoon & spending the night at Amiens, & returning to Paris tomorrow night. At lunch time, however, D. returned & said it would be impossible as there would have to be a meeting this afternoon & tomorrow morning. Very disappointed, but still, ‘duty first’. Perhaps we shall be able to go for a short run tomorrow.

D. very tired after a heavy day & we dined very quietly & went to bed early. The Italian claims are giving a certain amount of trouble, the Italians being very obstinate. It is a difficult position, as we must stand by them & the Pact of London, though D. says they are making a mistake in pressing it. They on the other hand say that Germany promised them more than this if they remained neutral, & Orlando naturally feels that he cannot go back to Italy empty handed.’

27 November 1934
‘Had a marvellous morning hunting for holly with D. in the woods behind Old Bam. It was a divinely beautiful day, the little mauve clouds in a sunny blue sky reminding one of early spring rather than late November. But the woods were autumnal, the larches dropping gold from their boughs, the birches looking more ethereal than ever in their slender bareness, the hollies almost vulgar in their wealth of red berries. D. knew exactly where to seek for the holly treasure: he seemed to have marked down at some time or other every holly tree on the estate, & made for them unerringly. It is the same instinct which made him when a boy mark down wild cherry trees in the woods at Llanystumdwy, or a fern in the river bank, & then come back to it again & again & watch & note its progress. I think these rambles through the woods for a definite treasure take him back to his childhood: in fact, he is the boy D. again, with all the eagerness and enjoyment of boyhood.

This afternoon he went through the speech with me that he intends to make in the House of Commons tomorrow, on defence. He is very nervous. He says it is a speech which will please neither one side nor the other, but I think it is a very good one. It all depends on his mood & how he will deliver it. He has not been feeling very well the last day or two.’

24 May 1944
‘D. decided on Wednesday [today] to go to hear Winston’s speech, and we are both glad, for the House gave him (D.) a touching welcome. I wonder if they realise how near it may be to his last appearances. Winston, whom we met in the corridor afterwards, was nice to us both. D. was rather inclined to be critical of the Government’s policy, but I thought Winston very patient & I finally managed to turn the conversation to his pictures: we parted very happily. It was a perfect spring day, but as we drove through the smiling countryside there was a heavy sadness in my heart.’

The Diary Junction

Friday, October 5, 2018

What happened to Mary

‘Today I had to save some one from committing suicide by jumping from the top of the Woolworth Building, forty-third floor (in “Dolly of the Dailies” No. 6). It makes one very squeamish to go up in those flying elevators; my heart turned several flip-flops.’ This is from a diary kept by Mary Fuller, born 130 years ago today, and published at the time by a celebrity film magazine. Although she was a contemporary of Mary Pickford, and as famous for a few years, Mary Fuller is barely remembered today. She disappeared, almost overnight, before she was 30, and almost nothing is known about the rest of her life. Intriguingly, though, the diary entries, from the height of her fame, reveal that she must have visited London at some point, for she fondly remembers the Cheshire Cheese [a London pub on Fleet Street]!

Mary Fuller was born in Washington D.C. on 5 October 1888 to a prosperous lawyer and his wife. She was brought up with two sisters on a farm, but her father died in 1902. As a child she is said to have been interested in music, writing and art, and she liked to act in local amateur productions. In 1905, The Washington Post noted her work with The Thespians, a well-regarded amateur company of players, and by the age of 18 she was working as a stage actress. In 1907, she was performing with a troupe on tour when, during a short stopover in New York City, the company broke up. She was soon taken on by the Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn, where she acted in one-reel films. In 1910, she was hired by Edison Film Company (controlled by Thomas Edison), and appeared in the first ever film adaptation of Frankenstein, as well as the first ever serial, What Happened to Mary?.

Fuller starred in many melodramas, and by 1914 she was as famous as (the now much better remembered) Mary Pickford. She also wrote screenplays, seeing at least eight of them turned into films. That same year, she moved to work for Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studios which had begun focussing is operation on the west coast, in the Hollywood area. She made more than 50 films for Universal before moving to Famous Players Fiction Studios (established in Hollywood in 1915, later to become Paramount), but only made one film there. In 1918, Mary Fuller simply disappeared, vanished more or less without trace, prompting many a journalist to use the headline: What Happened to Mary?. Some online bios mention her having made a lot of money on stock market investments, others that she suffered a broken heart and mental breakdown. A journalist found her in 1924, living in Washington D.C., with her mother, and reported that she had tired of the hard work involved in making pictures, and was living comfortably off the money she had invested.

Nothing more is known of Fuller’s life thereafter, except that she seems to have suffered chronically from further mental illness, and was confined to a hospital for decades. She died in Washington D.C. in 1973, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, IMDB, and in several posts on Gene Zonarich’s blog about the early film industry - 11 East 14th Street (Mary Fuller I, Mary Fuller II, The Two Marys).

During the mid-1910s, Mary Fuller was a huge celebrity, and thus regularly featured in the film magazines, such as Photoplay and Motion Picture Magazine, many of which can be readily accessed at Internet Archive. Indeed, Photoplay was so interested in her private life that it managed to get hold of one of her diaries - but refused to acknowledge how - and serialised several pages of extracts over two issues. Here is the magazine introducing the diary extracts: ‘It was a small green volume of limp leather, gilt-edged. On the front was a dancing elf and a spray of jasmine. It looked as if it might contain poems of spring spirit. And it did. How it came into our possession is not for publication. In self-defense, however, let it be stated that it was not stolen, and that the extracts made therefrom can do the great Edison leading woman no harm. In fact, those who read the following excerpts cannot fail to think more highly of the person who thus unconsciously unfolded the inner workings of her mind, because they reveal a mind of unusual intelligence and an insight into things that would do credit to a philosopher of riper years. The following extracts are copied verbatim, all names being omitted.’

And here are several of those extracts, some taken from Motion Picture Magazine (July 1914) and some from Motion Picture Magazine (August 1914).

17 March 1914
‘I have so many photoplays written and lying in my trunk, with no chance of producing them. I wonder if I will ever have an opportunity to put on all the things I visualize in my daydreams. To pioneer with one's original ideas must be very soul-satisfying. I also wish I could fall into the habit of going to bed early.’

18 March 1914
‘Tho spring is here. I decided to hang up some New Year’s resolutions, so I jotted down six. Three of them are here; the others are too personal to set down: 1. Do the best you can, and after that dont worry. 2. Seek and accept only the best, the highest; shun all else. 3. Make keen, select judgments and stick to them.’

19 March 1914
‘Received another letter from the little girl In Boston today. She recalled the Boston trip to my mind. I remember it was on February 16th - we worked all day and all night up to 8 o’clock Tuesday morning on “A Princess of the Desert.” (I dont know what it will look like, having been taken in twenty-four consecutive hours, and how I will look in it after a session like that.) Well, after stopping work at 8 a.m. that Tuesday morning, I went home, bathed, breakfasted, packed my bag, and our party left for Boston on the Knickerbocker Limited to attend the Exhibitors’ Ball that night. We arrived late, dined, dressed and departed in taxis for the ball, which I was to lead with the president of the Exhibitors’ League. Tho I had had no sleep since Sunday night, I was as lively as a cricket, and the applauding crowd intoxicated me. All of the photoplayers were introduced singly on the stage and loudly acclaimed. Supper in an anteroom and flashlight photos for the morning papers, and then I escaped still alive and very much awake. The rest of the week we took scenes in Boston streets for a picture, and I visited all the theaters and supped at the Touraine. Our party left on Saturday, after a very delightful stay.’

20 March 1914
‘___phoned today and thanked me for the gifts. Last week was her birthday. As I wasn’t working in the morning of that particular day, I looked over my mail, and then rushed for the train. Went down to her rooms, took some spring flowers and arranged them in a vase on the table, put a new silk waist on the dresser with a note and prepared a nice birthday surprise. Then I came uptown and left the things to be discovered by her when she came home in the evening. I like doing things that will please other people.’

21 March 1914
‘Rummaging in my trunk this evening, among faded love-letters and erstwhile emblems I found two of my baby photos. What a queer pollywog I was! but as they say homely children make handsome grown-ups, there is hope for me yet.’

22 March 1914
‘I worked this Sunday morning at the studio, and then flew to my beloved Philharmonic concert. I arrived in good time, and, taking my accustomed seat in the back, I opened the lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich and proceeded to lunch. The usher looked at me doubtfully every time he passed thru the radius of mayonnaise smell, but the quick demolition of the sandwich and my cheerful abstraction disarmed him. The concert had started, and I was absorbing the beauties of Grieg, when “Raven Locks” passed down the aisle. Being in working clothes, I hid down under my hat, hoping to pass unnoticed, but how can a personality of eloquent silence hope to get by unobserved? Just as I thought I was safe, he turned directly and bowed. During the intermission he came back, and we had a nice chat. “You dont need to be dressed up to enjoy music,” he said, and I agreed with him. He is the sort of quiet, poetic personality that I like. One does not meet them often. The program was very good, tho I cannot enthuse over the new Dvorak symphony; I have heard it several times, and it hasn’t registered yet.’

23 March 1914
‘I did battle with the dressmaker and tailor today. Dressmakers have whims of their own which cannot be dislodged, just as the genus “chauffeur” always goes down the street you dont wish to go down. Sweet perversities that come from heaven to test our patience and make us stronger! The dressmaker’s art is necessary, and no lovely thing can be born save with much travail.’

24 March 1914
‘Took some “Dolly” stuff on lower Broadway and dont say “Some crowd!” A million can collect in a minute down there when the camera is produced. It takes some manoevering to steal the scenes. We lunched at the Old Chop House, which is reminiscent of the Cheshire Cheese in London. I wonder if my signature and accompanying drawing is still in the visitors’ book at the Cheese. Dear old Cheese, the service is so bad there - and the ventilation.’

25 March 1914
‘Today I had to save some one from committing suicide by jumping from the top of the Woolworth Building, forty-third floor (in “Dolly of the Dailies” No. 6). It makes one very squeamish to go up in those flying elevators; my heart turned several flip-flops. The view of New York and the channel is superb from the balcony, and I hope we filmed some of that lovely “distance” as fast of porridge, two eggs, milk, toast and jelly, I hurried down to work. My studio frowned down on me with a 9.45 a.m. look. Dear studio - a part of my warm life!’

31 March 1914
‘Owing to the wreckage in the studio, we worked at the old Biograph on Fourteenth Street today. It is a small place, but rather homelike, and one’s forces seem more concentrated - the way I prefer to work. The rooms, not having been used for some time, smelled dank and musty, and all the ghosts of former Biograph days came and leaned over my shoulder and told me interesting things as I sat in the dressing-room waiting for my cue. It was like conquering Time to go back and live with the spirits of the past. Lovely ___ was there in the springtime of youth; and ___ in his poetic beauty, as he appeared in “The Oath and the Man”; and tall ___, recalling the first time I saw him on the screen, in satin coat and buckled shoes, blessing a child at a church corner, in the snow; and ___ like a lily fair; and the keen-eyed one whom ___. So many interesting shadows, I was sorry to leave them at 11 p.m., when our work was finished and we started for home.’

4 April 1914
‘I had a delicious time today going to three theaters, dining at my Mexican restaurant on tamales and hot dishes, and driving in the limousine. Going down Fifth Avenue, a newsboy urchin jumped up on the running-board and thrust his head in the window. He treated me to an unconvincing line of begging and ended by saying, “I’ll say a prayer for you. lady, if you help me out.” I helped him out, but I dont think I have need of prayers so much that Fate should send so ill a messenger to offer them. Saw ___ in a feature picture today. He is one of the film actors that I like. It was the first time I had seen him, either on the screen or in person. I suppose I should see more pictures, but there are so many other things that claim my attention first.’

6 April 1914
‘They blew me up with a Black Hand bomb today, doing “Dolly of the Dailies” (No. 7). The charge of dynamite was very heavy. The shack was wrecked, my clothes were torn and blackened, and blood ran from a scalp wound. It was exciting. I hope my “fans” will like it.’

6 April 1914
‘We finished Frederick the Great today. In one of the platform scenes I wore the black velvet Watteau hat trimmed with lilies that I sat up making late last night. It turned out a great success. I hope they dont cut that scene out.’

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Diary twist to Möbius strip

August Möbius, an important German mathematician, died 150 years ago today. Most students who have studied maths will recognise his name, largely because, at some stage in their education, they will have come across a Möbius strip - a twisted ring of paper that can be cut, as if by magic, into another ring twice as large. Historians know that Möbius discovered this ‘strip’ as early as 1858, 150 years ago, only because of an entry in his diary.

Möbius’s mother was descended from Martin Luther and his father, who died when Möbius was only three, was a dancing teacher. He studied mathematics, astronomy and physics at Leipzig University, then more astronomy at Göttingen with Johann Friedrich Gauss, and more maths in Halle under Johann Pfaff. By 1816, he was back in Leipzig having been appointed chair of astronomy and higher mechanics. He didn’t achieve a full professorship until 1844, but at the same time was also involved in building and running the Leipzig Observatory. He died on 26 September 1868. Further information can be found at MacTutor’s History of Mathematics archive, hosted by the University of St Andrews in Scotland, or Wikipedia.

Although Möbius published works on astronomy, his most important contributions came in the field of mathematics. His publications, not always original, were thought to be effective and clear, MacTutor says. His biographer Richard Baltzer wrote about him as follows: ‘The inspirations for his research he found mostly in the rich well of his own original mind. His intuition, the problems he set himself, and the solutions that he found, all exhibit something extraordinarily ingenious, something original in an uncontrived way. He worked without hurrying, quietly on his own. His work remained almost locked away until everything had been put into its proper place. Without rushing, without pomposity and without arrogance, he waited until the fruits of his mind matured. Only after such a wait did he publish his perfected works . . .’

One of the areas studied by Möbius was the polyhedron, and how to define it. Even today, 150 years later, this remains an area of study. Wikipedia says a polyhedron (plural polyhedra or polyhedrons) is often defined as a geometric object with flat faces and straight edges, but that this definition is ‘not very precise, and to a modern mathematician is quite unsatisfactory’. In a book dedicated entirely to polyhedra (imaginatively called Polyhedra!), its author Peter R Cromwell discusses Möbius’s contribution to the subject. In 1865, Cromwell says, Möbius answered the question ‘What is a polyhedron?’ in a paper, ‘the same one in which he described his famous one-sided strip.’

In a footnote, however, Cromwell adds the following: ‘From entries in his diary, we know that he had discovered the ‘Mobius strip’ as early as 1858. J. B. Listing [
another German mathematician who wrote an important treatise on topology] also discovered it independently around the same time.’ For much more on the Möbius strip see Wikipedia’s extensive article.

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 26 September 2008.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Americanization process

‘The Japanese are really conservative and anything a little different is an indication of radicalism. They will have to get used to changes, because there will be many of them in the next few years. They will never go back to their old pre-war lives. If they cannot adjust themselves to changes, they are in for bitter disillusionment. I have hopes that they will, but the Americanization process will be slow. We can’t expect anything else, I suppose, under the circumstances. Ever since Orientals have been in the U.S. they have had a difficult time. Denied citizenship and economic opportunities, it is not surprising that they have withdrawn and hung onto what they have brought with them.’ This is Charles Kikuchi, son of Japanese immigrants, who kept a detailed diary during his incarceration, alongside tens of thousands of other Japanese in concentration camps during the Second World War. Kikuchi died 30 years ago today, but his diary lives on, as a key resource for understanding the ‘insidiousness of racialism in American history.’

Charles Kikuchi was born in 1916 in Vallejo, California, but was orphaned aged 8 and sent to live in a multiracial orphanage some 70 miles north of San Francisco. He worked at any number of unskilled jobs, and managed to graduate from San Francisco State College in 1939. That same year he published, anonymously, an autobiographical essay entitled A Young American with a Japanese Face, which later brought him some renown in his own community. He worked for the California State Employment Service, surveying occupations of Japanese immigrants; and he attended the School of Social Welfare, University of California, receiving a certificate in social work in 1942. He was recruited by sociologist Dorothy Swaine Thomas for the Japanese Evacuation and Relocation Study (JERS), as a result of which he began to keep a diary.

For about a year, Kikuchi was interned with his family at Tanforan (San Bruno, California) and Gila River (Rivers, Arizona) concentration camps, as part of the US policy to remove over 100,000 persons of Japanese birth or ancestry from the Pacific Coast. He completed sociological field surveys at both centres, and continued chronicling camp resident settlement after he and his sisters had been allowed to relocate to Chicago in 1943. Just before the bombing of Hiroshima, he was drafted into the army. After the war, in 1946, he married Yuriko Amemiya, a professional dancer, and the following year he received a master’s degree in social work from New York University. For more than two decades, thereafter, he followed a career as a psychiatric social worker in Veterans’ Administration Hospitals where he mostly counselled Africa American veterans of the Vietnam War. He died on 25 September 1988. Further biographical information can be found at the Densho Encyclopedia website.

Kikuchi proved to be a committed and careful diarist, amassing many volumes from early 1942 to mid-1945 - all of which are held by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCAL) - as well as for the rest of his life. Some pages from the war period diaries are, in fact, available to read online in their manuscript form. They are also available in print: in 1973, University of Illinois Press (UIP) published The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle from an American Concentration Camp as edited by John Modell. The diary chronicles the period before and during the time he and his family were forced to live at Tanforan (converted race track stalls), but not his later experiences at Gila River. Parts of the book can be read online at Googlebooks. UIP quotes a review in History: Review of New Books: ‘For anyone interested in the significance of ethnicity, the role of social marginality, and the insidiousness of racialism in American history, The Kikuchi Diary is indispensable reading.’

In his introduction, Modell says Kikuchi’s diary can profitably be read on at least three levels: ‘as an insider’s record of events in “America’s concentration camps,” as the daybook of a man who was no mere detached observer but for whom the camp experience was a psychic turning point, and as one strangely glowing example of the far wider phenomenon of ethnic ambivalence.’ 


Here are several extracts from his book.

9 December 1941
‘Berkeley. Holy Christ! San Francisco last night was like nothing I ever saw before and everybody was saying that the Japs are going to get it in the ass. I ran into Jimmy Hong up on Grant Avenue, and he says I’m not allowed to screw Chinese girls anymore. Angelo, too, he says, because he is a Wop. Jimmy was kidding; and he will give me some kind of a badge which says that I am a Chinese as he says some of the Japanese boys from U. C. got beat up. I didn’t hear anything about that. Kenny told me it was true when I got back, and he said that all of the students are going to be restricted to campus. A lot of them want to get the hell out of here and go home, but I don’t know what good that will do. I don’t know what good it will be to stay here.

Kenny has a friend, Shibs, who is full of wild stories. I don’t know where he gets them. He says Bill is spying for the Navy or the FBI. I don’t believe that; but I guess the FBI do have guys on the campus. They have picked up some suspicious Japanese already. I saw Alice and she is worried about Pop, because we live so close to Mare Island and she thinks that Jack should go over and tell the Mayor that Pop was in the U.S. Navy. I think Pop would praise Japan; but he is not going to blow up anything. It may be dangerous for him in the barber shop with all those Mare Island guys coming in. I told Alice to tell Mom to have Pop’s Navy discharge framed and put on the wall next to the barber license and take that Buddha statue the hell out of there. Alice says the Army should put me in charge of patriotism because I am suspicious of my own father. I did not mean it that way; but it is true, I don’t trust the Issei. If just one of them sabotaged something, what hell there would be to pay.

Mrs. Edwards seems very calm about the whole thing, I must say. She told me to study hard and become an officer in the Navy. What a laugh! The Navy would not even let me be a messboy. Jack says it’s going to be bad, and he wants to go East to study medicine; but he can’t walk out on the family like that.’

30 April 1942
‘Berkeley. Today is the day that we are going to get kicked out of Berkeley. It certainly is degrading. I am down here in the control station and I have nothing to do so I am jotting down these notes! The Army Lieutenant over there doesn’t want any of the photographers to take pictures of these miserable people waiting for the Greyhound bus because he thinks that the American public might get a sympathetic attitude towards them.

I’m supposed to see my family at Tanforan as Jack told me to give the same family number. I wonder how it is going to be living with them as I haven’t done this for years and years? I should have gone over to San Francisco and evacuated with them, but I had a last final to take. I understand that we are going to live in the horse stalls. I hope that the Army has the courtesy to remove the manure first.

This morning I went over to the bank to close my account and the bank teller whom I have never seen before solemnly shook my hand and he said, “Goodbye, have a nice time.” I wonder if that isn't the attitude of the American people? They don’t seem to be bitter against us, and I certainly don’t think I am any different from them. That General De Witt certainly gripes my ass because he has been listening to the Associated Farmers too much.

Oh, oh, there goes a “thing” in slacks and she is taking pictures of that old Issei lady with a baby. She says she is the official photographer, but I think she ought to leave these people alone. The Nisei around here don’t seem to be so sad. They look like they are going on a vacation. They are all gathered around the bulletin board to find out the exact date of their departure. “When are you leaving?” they are saying to one another. Some of those old Issei men must have gone on a binge last night because they smell like sake.

Mitch just came over to tell us that I was going on the last bus out of Berkeley with him. Oh, how lucky I am! The Red Cross lady just told me that she would send a truck after my baggage and she wants the phone number. I never had a phone in that dump on Haste Street.

I have a queer sensation and it doesn’t seem real. There are smiling faces all around me and there are long faces and gloomy faces too. All kinds of Japanese and Caucasian faces around this place. Soon they will be neurotic cases. Wang thinks that he has an empty feeling in his stomach and I told him to go get a hamburger upstairs because the Church people are handing out free food. I guess this is a major catastrophe so I guess we deserve some free concessions.

The Church people around here seem so nice and full of consideration saying, “Can we store your things?” “Do you need clothes?” “Sank you,” the Issei smile even now though they are leaving with hearts full of sorrow. But the Nisei around here seem pretty bold and their manners are brazen.
They are demanding service. I guess they are taking advantage of their college educations after all. “The Japs are leaving, hurrah, hurrah!” some little kids are yelling down the street but everybody ignores them. Well, I have to go up to the campus and get the results of my last exam and will barely be able to make it back here in time for the last bus. God, what a prospect to look forward to living among all those Japs!’

23 May 1942
‘Saturday. Last night after I came home I heard a number of gun shots. Alice says (unofficial) that three boys were shot while trying to escape over the fence, one of whom is in the hospital. The administration won’t take any moves to confirm or deny any of the stories so they continue to spread. This seems to be a shortsighted policy. There is no chance for the paper to bring such things out without being censored. They just won’t allow us to take a definite policy on aims, except possibly Americanization. They are so afraid of radicalism. If it is being a radical to push American ideals and war effort among the Japanese without fear of stepping on toes, then we are radicals. The Japanese are really conservative and anything a little different is an indication of radicalism. They will have to get used to changes, because there will be many of them in the next few years. They will never go back to their old pre-war lives. If they cannot adjust themselves to changes, they are in for bitter disillusionment. I have hopes that they will, but the Americanization process will be slow. We can’t expect anything else, I suppose, under the circumstances. Ever since Orientals have been in the U.S. they have had a difficult time. Denied citizenship and economic opportunities, it is not surprising that they have withdrawn and hung onto what they have brought with them. The cultural ties were stronger than the political ones. In a way it is a form of escapism.

Yesterday while we were playing our little card game, the police came in and arrested 88 men for violating the State Gambling law! This puts an end to our games for a while and is an “out” for me. I don’t know where all of those single men get their money; they certainly have enough for those big card and dice games.’

21 June 1942
‘Lots of visitors as usual. Many of them probably came out of curiosity to look at us and the camp. Makes one feel like being either in a zoo or a prison. The person who owns the property across the highway in front of the main gate has opened up a very profitable enterprise. He has a 15 cent parking lot!’

18 August 1942
‘The movies were scheduled for eight o’clock and the place was not supposed to be open until 7:30, but the 1500 people were in line by 6:35. It extended all the way down past the postoffice in three columns. The shows are given every Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night with 1500 people attending each showing. Only the first 7 or 800 to get in can see the picture very well. This week a lot of blankets were put up against the windows to darken the place and two loudspeakers have been installed on the girders crossing the large room.

The Issei are as bad as the kids when it comes to pushing and crowding in. They just come and plop down on any space that is even left slightly open. And they take their shoes off! Seeing a show is a form of self torture. One sits on the floor and the cushions do not eliminate the hardness of the boards. Soon your back gets tired and the feet cramped. You shuffle around to get an easier position and step on somebody’s hand. The owner of the hand turns around and gives you a dirty look. About half way through the picture, your neck gets awfully stiff from looking up at an angle. With people pressing in on you from both sides, you feel suffocated. And to add further torture the sound is not very clear. But in spite of all this, everyone that can walk to the grandstands comes for the show. This week Abbott and Costello in “Hold That Ghost” was playing. The audience really seemed to enjoy the picture, but I thought it was a bit corny. But why should I be an old wet blanket?

The film scheduled for next week was “Citizen Kane” but Yoshio K. told me that he had to cancel it upon the request of Mr. Thompson of the Rec. Department, who claimed that the picture would be too deep for 80% of the audience and he thought that comedies should be shown.’

Saturday, September 22, 2018

France has lost her soul

‘Nobody talks about the Germans. But it’s clear that everyone never stops thinking they’re here, and keeps quiet. The main thing is not to starve this winter. And they all wait, like animals, for their turn at the trough - in the office that distributes rationing coupons. Sometimes a well-nourished soldier in a dashing gray-green uniform goes by on the street. He represents order, and he certainly has the means of maintaining it amid all this docility, this wretchedness. What is to be done? This country has lost her soul.’ This is Jean Guéhenno, a French writer who died 30 years ago today. He wrote many books on literary subjects - not least Jean-Jacques Rousseau - but famously refused to publish any work while Paris remained occupied. Only one book of his has been translated into English - his diary of the Second World War. In its original French, published soon after the war’s end, the diary has been, and remains, a much read classic text of life under German occupation.

Guéhenno was born in 1890 in Fougères in the far east of Brittany, and christened Marcel Jules Marie (though always called Jean after his father). His father was a shoe factory worker, and the family was very poor; an older brother had died in infancy. Although obliged to leave school at 14 to work in a factory, he continued to study at night, and succeeded in taking his baccalaureate. He served as an infantry office in the First World War, and thereafter studied further, becoming a high school teacher for many years. He was director of the literary journal Europe from 1929 to 1936, and in 1935 founded the weekly Vendedi. He wrote half a dozen or so literary non-fiction books before the Second World War, including his autobiographical Journal d’un homme de 40 ans, but deliberately stopped publishing during the war.

After the war, Guéhenno was commissioned to help the provisional government organise a  directorate for popular culture and youth which he did until it merged with the sports directorate in 1948. He also returned to writing, publishing a book nearly every year, many of them on Rousseau. From 1945, he wrote for Le Figaro, and in 1946 he married another writer, Annie Rospabé (they had one child). He was elected to the Académie française in 1952. He died on 22 September 1978. Wikipedia only has a very short bio in English, but the translation of the French Wikipedia page has a little more detail. Further detail can be found in a biographical thesis by Stanislaw Jan Librowski available on the Warwick University website.

Guéhenno is not well known in the English-speaking world, but one of his books was recently translated into English by David Ball and published (in 2014) by Oxford University Press as Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris. Parts of the diary were first published clandestinely in 1944 under the title Dans le prison, signed ‘Cevennes’. With the war over, a fuller text (though much cut by Guéhenno) - Journal des années noires (1940-1944) - was published by Gallimard in 1947. It has remained a highly respected work, and a classic testimony on life in occupied France. Unlike his early autobiography work (never translated) which also had ‘diary’ in the title, this is a bona fide diary. The 2014 English edition can be previewed at Googlebooks, while reviews can be read at The New York Times, The New Republic (‘this extraordinary book reminds us why books matter’) and The Independent (‘helps explain why even the most principled Parisians were often completely passive in the face of evil’).

Here are several extracts from the diary.

14 August 1940
‘I have finally left Clermont, where I spent one of the darkest, stupidest years of my life. These last weeks were especially painful for me, as stupidity was settling into power. Clermont had become, with Vichy, the refuge of journalists, writers, leaders of opinion, the refuge of everyone who’s supposed to think. I knew a lot of people. I could see how they were bowing to the new powers that be. It was frightful. How quickly thought and liberty can die! Last vision: the sidewalk cafe of the Glacier in Clermont; Monday, around 6 p.m. I recognize a few of my former comrades. I can distinguish two types: plump, heavy-lipped faces, swollen with rancid fat, bags under their heavy eyes. And thin faces, gnawed by envy, hatred, and ambition. All of them making a lot of “dough,” as they say; they don’t give a damn about reasons for living, as long as they’re living. Around them, their Muses and their whores, a blonde swarm wreathed in cigarette smoke.

I’m only here for three or four weeks at the most, likely to be called back at any time: for from now on, France is working, and the cabinet ministers are taking in hand those lazy civil servants, of whom I am one. But I feel an inexpressible happiness at being here again, in my village. Oh, nothing like their idiotic “Back to the land.” But it’s as if there were thick walls of air and the whole sky between that cowardly world and me. I would like to think of a few beautiful things.’

19 September 1940
‘I am vainly trying very hard to work. All my projects seem silly to me. What’s the use? I spend hours with my head in my hands, strangely prostrate, like the country itself perhaps. What? After all they’re still the same men in the same skin as a year ago, or two years ago. But no, something has been broken. This people doesn’t think, feel, or want anymore. Two weeks were enough to turn it into a herd. Yesterday I waited on line for five full hours to get our food rationing cards. I listened to the people. But their heads are as empty as their bellies. The confusion of their minds is frightful. The crowd has no hope; they are resigned. One would like to hope for the victory of the English. But some of the demobilized soldiers feel this would add to their shame. They have a selfish interest, out of self-esteem, in seeing the English beaten as they themselves were. Nobody talks about the Germans. But it’s clear that everyone never stops thinking they’re here, and keeps quiet. The main thing is not to starve this winter. And they all wait, like animals, for their turn at the trough - in the office that distributes rationing coupons. Sometimes a well-nourished soldier in a dashing gray-green uniform goes by on the street. He represents order, and he certainly has the means of maintaining it amid all this docility, this wretchedness. What is to be done? This country has lost her soul. What event, what new ordeal could give it back to her? Suffering will not suffice: the country would have to do something, to find herself committed to some action in which she could recover her pride. Nothing can be built on shame.

Today I had to sign a paper through which I “solemnly declare, on my honor,” that I have never been a Freemason and have never belonged to any secret society. Oh, what stupidity!’

17 January 1941
‘Never have so many people in Europe known how to read and yet never have there been so many herd animals, so many sheep. In times gone by, a man who didn’t know how to read would save himself through his distrust. He knew he was ignorant, as Descartes did, and he was wary of anyone who spoke too well. He thought by himself - the only way to think. A man today who has learned to read, write, and count is utterly unprotected from his vanity. A degree certifies his knowledge. He believes in it, he’s proud of it. He reads the paper and listens to the radio like everyone else, with everyone else. He is abandoned to the tender mercies of advertising and propaganda. Something is true as soon as he has read it. The truth is in books, isn’t it? He doesn’t realize that the lie is in them, too.

I can see this confirmed more every day. Our teaching is far too much about teaching results. All too often, it fosters only the gift for pedantry and a docile memory. A hundred young people I talk to are far more knowledgeable in geometry than Euclid, but few of them are able to reflect that Euclid was a great geometer and that they are nothing. More than the results of the sciences, we should teach their history, reveal to young minds the nature of a moving, active intelligence and communicate the deep meaning of science: get them to understand that a scientist is not a man who knows but a man who seeks, crushed and exalted at the same time by the idea of all that he does not know. Thus we could produce independent, strong men and not vain, servile animals.’

11 August
‘This morning I tried once again to obtain the Ausweis necessary to go into the other zone. Useless. As early as 5:30 a.m., in the dark, I was on the first Metro with the fishermen. They were getting on at every station, with their fishing-rods, their landing nets, boxes of worms, folding chairs, and so many hopes. They were all rushing to take their places on the banks of the Seine and got off at Châtelet. Toward 6 a.m. I was at Rue du Colisée, where the occupying authorities have their headquarters. It was much too late. But how could I get there earlier, unless I walked there during the night? It is forbidden to go out before 5 a.m. Three hundred people were already there; they lived in the neighborhood or had slept in the hallways nearby. As the authorities only examine about 50 cases a day, at least 200 of them were there for the third or fourth time. People were bickering with each other. It was all rather frightful, a scene out of Maupassant. Each one wanted to have the most dangerous illness in his own family. Peritonitis was at a premium. The luckiest had a corpse, and, to get in with the first in line, brandished their telegram.

What’s more, I was told they were examining only “urgent” cases and mine did not even deserve examination. After two hours of waiting on line, abandoning all hope, I left.

I walked along the Champs-Élysées, completely empty. Only a few “feldgrau” and a few “gretchen” were making their way to their offices, clicking their heels on the asphalt and giving the Hitler salute. Then I got the idea of going all the way up to the Arch of Triumph, to go for a moment near the Other One, up there under his slab of stone. I stood there for a long time. The policeman on duty was bored. The pathetic little flame danced in the wind. Do I know what I was thinking? I was looking. There he was, that man, killed twenty years ago... a corpse has no age. Are you less dead after twenty years than after a thousand? But all around me there was Paris - admirable - and France, like a ruin, in that astonishing silence, and also those “feldgrau” and those “gretchen.” That dead man, alone among all the dead, decidedly did have an age, an age given to him by the history of his country. For how long will that flame keep burning? Why, then, was it lit? It all felt to me like an insult. Unknown comrade, whom they let neither live nor die, offended in your life which was stolen from you, offended now even in death, you poor man loaded with glory and shame that you did not desire, o you, truly my brother. . .’

13 March 1943
‘Why I keep this diary? To remember, and to put a bit of order inside me, inside my life. Through discipline, the way one does exercises. But it would be unfortunate if I contented myself with these notes, these disjointed fragments with no rhythm to them. All this cannot make a book. A great book is a rhythm that imposes itself on the reader: the reader necessarily adopts the rhythm without even realizing it, the way one follows a companion’s steps. May I just once write a book that leads the way. A diary hardly says anything but where one is coming from, and it is where one is going that is important, where one wants to go, and that can only be said in books, works one has reflected on, composed through our will.

Anthology. Translate Whitman’s wonderful poem: “A Word Out of the Sea.” How he learned to sing on the banks of Paumanok when he was a child by listening to a bird calling its vanished mate day and night, while the bass voice of the sea repeated, to all its waves, death, death. . .’

25 August 1944
‘Yesterday evening around 9:00 they were still building barricades on Boulevard Sérurier. They were chopping down the plane trees at the street corners. I came back home around ten. Friends call me, saying they can see huge fireworks over the Hotel de Ville, with red and blue rockets answering them in the south and west. It was the signal. The first tanks of Leclerc’s army had just rolled up to Notre-Dame. And then all the bells of all the churches rang in the night, drowning out the rumbling of the big guns.

Freedom - France is beginning again.’

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I hope the ewes heard me

‘I got the fence by the cowshed finished and couldn’t help yelling in triumph. Getting it done at last felt fantastic. I hope none of the real farmers heard me. I hope no one heard me. Then again, I hope the ewes heard me. They could do with something to think about.’ This is from a delightful diary, published today by Quercus, charting the daily practice and the metaphysical delights of sheep farming. Written by Axel Lindén, a Swedish literary graduate who decided in 2014 to drop his doctoral studies in favour of a simpler life, On Sheep is heralded by the publisher as ‘a sensitive and entertaining meditation on the small wonders in our world.’

Axel Lindén was born in 1972, studied literature at Uppsala University, and was teaching in Stockholm when, it seems, he was hit by an early mid-life crisis. In his introduction to On Sheep, he explains how he became increasingly aware of potential global environmental crises. He drew the conclusion - ‘a bit hastily’ he notes in retrospect - that ‘the only way to seriously tackle the threat to the climate and global injustice while also making sure of the bare necessities when it all came tumbling down was to start growing our own food and chopping our own wood. And getting some sheep.’ 


As it happened, his parents, who owned a farm in southern Sweden, were wanting to retire, and so he (and presumably his wife, though she is not mentioned explicitly in the intro) decided the family would move out of the city to take over part of their farm. And so, by mid-2014, Lindén found himself focussing on being a sheep farmer (although exactly how this came about is not clear - there’s very little biographical or contextual detail with the diary).

On Sheep: Diary of a Swedish Shepherd contains extracts from Lindén’s diary from July 2014 through until October 2016. The published extracts are sometimes daily though with many gaps, and they vary in length from one line to half a page or so. 
Lindén develops an interesting relationship with the sheep, which he sometimes personifies. For example, when he falls ill with pneumonia he notes how the sheep could have escaped if they’d tried running off. He writes about how the ewes don’t have names (unlike the rams who have a duty to perform as individuals) but they do have numbers (because, he says, they are first and foremost flock not individuals). Nevertheless, he uses these numbers rather affectionately. There’s one ewe, for example, ‘as calm as an old pine tree. That’s number 018; she’s always been particularly sociable.’

The diarist’s prime concern, initially, seems to be to record the practical details of his new life, his responsibilities towards the sheep, and his need to make a living from them. In time, he develops an appreciation of the spiritual and emotional value of manual labour, caring for other living things, and staying connected to the earth, and he finds himself meditating on more philosophical and existential matters. Eventually, however, he finds he cannot stop thinking about the sheep as anything other than a source of income, and all the back-to-earth novelty starts to fade. In one of the last diary entries, he writes simply: ‘The uncomplicated sense of being a shepherd and immersed in the life of the sheep lacks vitality now.’

On Sheep, as translated by Frank Perry from the original Swedish Fårdagboken, is published on 20 September 2018 by Quercus. And, with thanks to Quercus, here are several extracts from the book.

30 August 2014
‘I’ve done almost nothing today with the little woolly’uns. I have been thinking about them though. I checked on the water for the ewes. I even went and stood in the middle of the flock to help them stay used to a human presence and to keep the relationship going. Trust is a perishable commodity, in life and in the sheep biz.’

2 October 2014
‘I got the fence by the cowshed finished and couldn’t help yelling in triumph. Getting it done at last felt fantastic. I hope none of the real farmers heard me. I hope no one heard me. Then again, I hope the ewes heard me. They could do with something to think about. Though they’re doing well enough, just trudging along must get a bit tedious. Imagine if all you had to worry about were your most basic needs. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Am I feeling cold? It’d be enough to drive you crazy. Or leave you feeling completely calm.’

2 December 2014
‘Sometimes, like today, prising the silage out of the bale is all but impossible. Somehow the tufts of grass manage to weave themselves inextricably together. I keep at it and get sweaty. And angry. We’re supposed to work collectively on this farm of ours, that’s the whole idea, though clearly it doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m the only one doing any work, I think bitterly. I don’t get worked up normally but an unexpected rage starts bubbling up inside when I have to labour hard enough to be out of breath. It is cathartic.’

22 December 2014
‘The sick ewe appears to be recovering. She’s grazing along with the others. Her name is 195. Using numbers might seem a bit impersonal but it feels appropriate nonetheless. Sheep are flock first and foremost and not individuals. We only use real names for the stud rams. Not because we have more respect for them but because for a brief period they have a duty to perform as individuals.’

10 April 2015
‘A couple of the mums - we call them ‘mums’ when they’ve just had lambs - keep shoving their lambs away so they can’t get at the teat. We have to hold these mums still a couple of times a day. I was absolutely furious with them at first but now I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re just being sheep. You can’t identify with these animals. They are utterly unlike us.’

20 August 2015
‘Someone asked me what sheep smell like. I don’t really know, never thought about it. That will be up to the beholder’s . . . nose. The ewes have a gland right next to their teats. It looks like a suppurating wound, which makes finding out what it smells like pretty off-putting. The gland helps guide the newborn lamb, presumably by scent alone. My family often say I smell of sheep when I’ve been shearing them. I think the smell is like that of a well-worn sweater, still bearable, but in need of a wash.’

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sourdough sandwich, caribou ribs

‘A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, [. . .] A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River.’ This is from the journals of the inspiring outdoorsman, Richard Proenneke, who spent much of his adult life living in a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. Alaska Northwest Books is today publishing a special edition of One Man’s Wilderness - the first book based on his journals which brought him some fame - as a way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of when Proenneke ‘first broke ground and made his mark in the Alaskan wilds in 1968’.

Proenneke was born near Lee County, Iowa, one of six children, in 1916. He enlisted in the US Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served as a carpenter for two years in Pearl Harbor. In San Francisco, waiting for a new assignment, he was hospitalised for six months with rheumatic fever. As the war ended, he received a medical discharge. He studied to become a diesel mechanic, but, yielding to a love a nature, he went to Oregon to work on a sheep farm. In 1950, he moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska, where he was employed as a heavy equipment operator and repairman by the Naval Air Station at Kodiak. He took up salmon fishing but also continued to work as a diesel mechanic.

In 1968, Proenneke moved to live in the remote and unpopulated area of Twin Lakes. There he built a log cabin, living a relatively solitary life - self-sustained by fishing, gathering, hunting - for more than 30 years. He spent much of his time studying nature and wildlife, photographing it, and keeping a journal. After only a few years, he had become something a celebrity thanks to a book about him published by Alaska Northwest Books in 1973. It was Proenneke’s friend and fishing/hunting partner, Sam Keith that first suggested a book based on Proenneke’s journals, and it was under Keith’s name that it was published: One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke. The book was hugely popular, though Proenneke subsequently claimed that Keith had ‘changed some things’.

As his fame spread in the 1980s, Proenneke took on more formal tasks, volunteering for and eventually being employed by the National Park Service while continuing to live in his cabin. He also found himself often distracted, says Hermitary in its bio ‘by filming and Park Service relations and well-meaning visitors, noisy hunters, editors seeking a writing deal, fan mail, and friends overwhelming him with gifts of processed foods’. Only in 1999, at the age of 82, did Proenneke return to civilisation, living with his brother in California until his death in 2003. A year or two earlier he had donated all his journals to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Further information on Proenneke can be found at Wikipedia or the Richard Proenneke Museum website.

One Man’s Wilderness has remained in print continuously - the thirty-second Alaska Northwest Books printing in 2011 can be previewed at Googlebooks and read in full at Internet Archive. Many reviews can be read at Good Reads, which gives the book a high 4.29 rating on the basis of nearly 5,000 readers. In the early 2000s, some of the book and along Proenneke’s own films were used in a documentary aired by US Public Television: Alone in the Wilderness - see IMDB, YouTube, and the Bob Swerer Productions website. A 50th anniversary edition is being published today (11 September)  by Alaska Northwest Books (see Graphic Arts Books and Amazon) with a new introduction by Nick Offerman (though the 50th anniversary is of Proenneke breaking ground for his cabin and making his mark in Alaska not of publication of the original book).

Editions of Proenneke’s unadulterated journal entries have also been published. The first - More Readings From One Man’s Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke 1974-1980 - was edited by John Branson and published by the National Park Service, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, in 2005. This can be freely accessed online at Internet Archive or National Park Service. Since then, three other volumes have also been published:  The Early Years (1967-1973), A Life in Full Stride (1981-1985), and Your Life Here Is An Inspiration (1986-1991) - all edited by Branson and available from the Richard Proenneke Museum Store.

In his preface to More Readings, Branson says his intent is ‘to present a broad array of Proenneke’s daily activities’, thus readers ‘will find Proenneke during his adventuring days on the trail and battling strong winds in his canoe, they will see him on more prosaic days of cutting wood, mending his clothes, cooking, writing, feeding his “camp robbers,” and contending with an apparent limitless number of porcupines bent on chewing his cabin to dust.’ Moreover, he says, ‘his keen observations of brown-grizzly bears, great horned owls, moose, sheep, caribou, wolverines, lynx, and red foxes demonstrates just how knowledgeable Proenneke was of wildlife behavior.’

Branson also notes that he wanted to document Proenneke’s interaction with various NPS personnel as they planned and created the new Lake Clark National Monument in 1978-1979 and the national park and preserve in 1980, and to make selections demonstrating how very close Proenneke was tied to the small community of Port Alsworth on Lake Clark, and of his particularly close relationship to the pioneering Alsworth family. Proenneke might have been nearly emotionally self-sufficient, he adds, but he was tethered to the Alsworths for provisions, mail service, and friendship. ‘It is hoped,’ Branson says, ‘that this book will inspire more interest in the life of Richard Proenneke because he was truly a remarkable man who represented values of wilderness preservation and resource protection.’

In his biographical sketch, Branson goes on to look at the links between Proenneke and another diarist/naturalist, Henry D. Thoreau. ‘By the 1980s some were beginning to see parallels with Henry David Thoreau in Proenneke’s singular existence at Twin Lakes. The more one examines Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes the more one sees Thoreau’s philosophy put into practice. Thoreau preached material simplicity and a life in balance with nature in Walden. Thoreau wrote about the costs of building his cabin at Walden Pond and Proenneke wrote about the costs of his cabin construction at Twin Lakes. Thoreau lived in his cabin two years; Proenneke lived at his cabin the better part of 30 years. Thoreau has inspired millions about the value of wilderness to human survival, of low consumption and self reliance. Proenneke inspires by example, leading a full life, both of action and of the intellect. He had more constructive energy and could concentrate more than anyone I have ever met, whether cooking, hiking, wood cutting, cleaning up after litter bugs, or writing his journals and attending to his large correspondence. Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes runs back through some 150 years of American history to Thoreau at Walden Pond. Both men achieved great balance in their daily existence, tending both the mind and the muscles.’

Here is one extract from One Man’s Wilderness (Keith’s version of the diaries).

4 June 1968
‘A good day to start the roof skeleton.

Another critic cruised past in the lake this morning, a real chip expert and wilderness engineer, Mr. Beaver. He probably got a little jealous of all the chips he saw, and to show what he thought of the whole deal, upended and spanked his tail on the surface before he disappeared.

Shortly afterward a pair of harlequin ducks came by for a look. The drake is handsome with those white splashes against gray and rusty patches of cinnamon.

My curiosity got the better of me and I had to glass the sheep in the high pasture. It was a sight to watch the moulting ewes grazing as the lambs frolicked about, jumping from a small rock and bounding over the greenery, bumping heads. It was a happy interruption to my work.

I find I can handle the twenty-footers easily enough by just lifting one end at a time. With the corners of the cabin not yet squared off, there are some long ends sticking out on which to rest logs as I muscle them up to eave level and beyond. I also have two logs leaning on end within the cabin, and by adjusting their tilt I can use them to position a log once it is up there. The ladder comes in handy, too.

The two eave logs were notched and fastened down according to plan. I cut the openings for the big window, the two smaller ones, and the opening for the door. 1 placed the first gable log on each end, and it was time to call it a day.

The roof skeleton should get the rest of its bones tomorrow.’

And here are several extracts from More Readings (the diaries as selected by Branson).

24 December 1974
‘I did a bit of reading of magazines collected during the summer and went through half of my Dec. journal. Pretty tame reading now and I wonder how it will be in a dozen years from now. It would be interesting to reread from April 29 and estimate the miles I have covered since that date. 1,500 would be a real conservative estimate in my mind and I wonder how close I am.

Recently I have been thinking of a good hike on snowshoes and only one thing holds me back and that is perishables freezing in my cabin while I am away. Pack my Eddie Bauer sleeping bag, a tarp, axe and some grub and head for Port Alsworth. I could make it in two days easy enough. Go through Low Pass and down the Kijik to Lachbuna Lake and from the lower end take a sharp left and through a pass to the head of Portage Creek. Down the creek to the lake and travel the lake to Tanalian point and Babe’s bay [Hardenburg Bay]. It would be a good exercise and to return over a broken trail would be a breeze. It would be done after mid Feb. when the days are longer and less chance of things freezing here.’

5 October 1975
‘Overcast, Breeze up & 27°. The kettle of caribou to cook and the cabin to restock from the cache. Rain jacket to mend and heavy socks to darn. Jake took a tour with his 35 mm. A good cover of snow but we needed sunshine to go with it. The breeze had been light early but as the day progressed it picked up to a good blow. The lake very rough and the Cub resting easy on its rack behind the high breakwater. A real safe tie down with the lake level low.

A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, but I think roasting them through the open door of the stove would do better but lack the open fire effect.

A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River. If it is a bad day tomorrow I just might spend the day hiking down and back with the light load. See how N70039 is doing as I pass.

The sky was pink above a huge roll of grey clouds at sunset. The wind strong and cold. I put the thermometer in my potato box in the woodshed. When I went for it, 30° and I brought them in. It went into my cooler box for there is green stuff there. 36° when I went to check - good for a few days at least.


A good supper with boiled spuds and gravy. Moose steaks, tender and juicy. A big green salad and beans. Our old standby for dessert. Two gallons and a qt. of blueberries in the bank. The picking season is over. Now at 7:50, the surf is noisy on the beach, a few flakes of snow in the air, temp. 27°.’

3 August 1978
‘Partly Cloudy, Calm & 45°. Very few clouds but enough that I couldn’t call it clear. The lake is rising because of so much warm weather. With so much calm weather I should he seeing sign of red salmon but as yet, none.

Today I would go to the far corner and get a good sunburn in the process. Go up the right hand fork of Camp Creek. Climb to the high ridge looking down on the head of Beatrice Creek. Sheep country in the summer time. Sheep leaving the lick climb to the high ridges and keg up on the ledges just under the crest of the ridges. It’s a long haul, almost like going to the lick as far as travel time is concerned.

I was a long time making up my mind - too many far away places that I would like to visit. This one had priority because of the satellite or space station that had burned on re-entry to the atmosphere of earth. Some garbage separated from it as it passed over head. I felt sure that it was to high for any space parts to land this side of Turquoise Lake but I would keep it in mind as I trudged along.

I crossed at the mouth of Camp Creek and I thought of Roy Allen. He and I had come down Camp Ridge to the creek crossing after an unsuccessful sheep hunt. I had worn boots and offered to pack him across. He disappeared in the brush up the creek and after what seemed an unreasonable length of time he came back with a stout willow pole that he had cut and limbed with his hunting knife. “I didn't take pole vaulting in college for nothing” he said after pole vaulting across the narrow stream. Camp Ridge is a good place from which to check Emerson Creek for bear. A lush green patch far up at the eroded rocks waterfall and a sow with triplets spent some time there one year.

I was sitting down glassing the country and just got to my feet to move. Here came a nice ewe and lamb around that point of loose rock. No more than fifty feet away and she stopped to check me out. I stood still and she and her lamb passed me at twenty five feet headed on up the ridge. Here came another pair, a nice looking ewe molted clean and starting a new coat. The wind in my favor so she wouldn’t wind me. She came a few steps and stopped to watch me. Closer still until she was no more than fifteen feet away. The lamb as close and off to the side. Me with the Exakta hanging around my neck and I didn't dare move. Those little sheep flies of the high country were biting me on the legs and still I didn’t move. Could I move slow enough to get the camera up without spooking them. I would give it a try. Very slowly I moved my hand and they watched. The ewe moved back to twenty feet as I raised the camera. Ewe and lamb came together and I got them. The click of the shutter was too much and they moved back the way they had come. Another pair came and caught me moving and trotted away.

I stayed up there as long as I dared. 2:45 and it would take me at least three and one half hours to get home. It had been building heavy clouds and so I would have shade
for the descent. One last look around and I headed down the loose rock mt. Forty minutes that took an hour to climb. Two hours fifteen to Emerson Creek flats below the falls. A nice breeze up the lake and I wouldn’t use the kicker. 50 minutes from Emerson Creek to my beach. The wind was calming while I had supper and now as I finish my writing it is near glassy smooth. The circles of a strong rise out front and it may have been the first of the red salmon. At 9:30 nearly clear again and the temperature 55°.’