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°.’

Friday, September 7, 2018

A fat little rascal

‘One week from today my diary will become ten years old. It’s getting to be a fat little rascal and perhaps may be the only literature of any value I’ll leave when I die. [. . .] The good diaries, the ones that are truthful and readable and revealing - these should be published. The ordinary lives of ordinary folks. Personal history, en masse, becomes national history.’ This is Edward Robb Ellis, one of the most prolific diarists in American history, who died 20 years ago today. He worked as a reporter for many years, and published a few books, but he is remembered today mostly for the extraordinary diary, published a few years before his death, with the rather grand title of A Diary of the Century.

Ellis was born in Kewanee, Illinois, in 1911. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri graduating in 1934, and subsequently was employed at the New Orleans Associated Press office. He moved to Oklahoma, where he worked for the Oklahoma City Times. In 1937, he married the professional violinist, Leatha Sparlin, and they had one daughter, before divorcing after the war. He served in the United States Navy between 1943 and 1945, editing a hospital newspaper, The Bedside Examiner; and then, after being posted to Okinawa, he ran another newspaper for sailors.

After a short spell at the Daily News in Chicago, Ellis moved, in 1947, to live and work in New York City. There he met and married Ruth Kraus. He worked for the World Telegram for 15 years, and thereafter he wrote several books - including a history of the city - and many articles. Ruth died suddenly in 1965, leaving him bereft. Since the age of 16, he had kept a detailed daily diary, and it was the diary that now kept him going, and indeed became a central focus of his somewhat eccentric life - largely confined to a book-filled rundown Manhattan apartment. With publication of extracts from his 22 million word diary, he accrued some fame, and, having interviewed many names in his life, he himself became the subject of interviews. Prior to 1994, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world’s longest diary. He died on 7 September 1998. There is not a great deal of detailed biographical information available online, but a little can be found at Wikipedia, The New York Times, and Salon.

A Diary of the Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist was published by Kodansha International in 1995. In a short introduction, another New York journalist, Pete Hamill, compares Ellis’s diaries, in the first instance, to that of Thomas Mann (see Mann on Mann). Then, he compares them to those of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong (Wall Street palpitating), concluding thus: ‘They, too, were decent men and New Yorkers, trying to make sense of the dailiness of their lives. Much of what we know about their time - about the way human beings actually lived - we know from them. There are human beings not yet born who will be helped in understanding our times through the diaries of Edward Robb Ellis. That is his accomplishment. That is his triumph.’ Some extracts from the diary can be read online at Philip Turner’s The Great Gray Bridge or The National Diary Archive. Here are several other extracts.

27 December 1927
(This was the first entry I ever wrote in my diary, misspelling and all.) Well Christmas is past and everyone happy. I got a wristwatch, billfold, DeMolay pin, and the usual hetregeneous collection of sox, ties and handkerchiefs. Went to the students’ dance at the Kewanee Club last night. Took Barbara. Not so hot. Had fun there, though. Am reading a book about the World War. Had trouble with Tom Pierce about ushering at the theater. All right now. I’m paid 25 cents afternoons and 50 cents evenings.’

21 April 1928
‘This is a great day, a great day! Today marks the beginning of a second composition book of my diary. As yet no living person has gazed upon the pages of my diary although several persons have asked for that privilege. At first I put down only the things I wouldn’t be ashamed of, but as time went on I began to record all, or nearly all, of my thoughts, actions and desires, be they good or bad.’

22 February 1932
‘My 21st birthday. What a momentous day! Now, if ever, I am going to have to foster some semblance of manhood and play the part of an intellectual adult. There is one thing of which I am exceedingly conscious on this day, and that is my own ignorance. I can claim but a scant share of all the knowledge the world holds. I am woefully lacking any real insight into all those things worth knowing. I am so damned incompetent! However, there is one quality I possess - energy! If I can retain even a part of this youthful zest and joy in living, then perhaps I can conquer the world. Oh, hell, I’m so Goddam pretentious. Twenty-one, indeed! I’m more like a two-year-old. I wonder whether I’m a neurotic. I’m always highstrung and often nervous. In fact, I’m horribly high-strung and at times become irascible toward Melody Snow when she has done nothing to provoke me. Am I abnormal or normal? Am I over-sexed?’

3 December 1936
‘I’m still having trouble adjusting to the city room of the Oklahoma City Times. When I worked for the New Orleans Item the office was a happy Bedlam, while this office seems like Sunday School. Today the managing editor sent me a note requesting that I make sure my desk is neat before I leave. Nuts! A newspaper office should be the last refuge of non-conformists! “Scoop” Thompson even declares there should be a Constitutional amendment stating that it is the duty of every reporter to get drunk every Saturday night - at least.’

20 December 1937
‘One week from today my diary will become ten years old. It’s getting to be a fat little rascal and perhaps may be the only literature of any value I’ll leave when I die. The other day it occurred to me that it might be a good idea for someone to get an advance from a publishing house and then travel around the country in search of men and women who keep diaries. The good diaries, the ones that are truthful and readable and revealing - these should be published. The ordinary lives of ordinary folks. Personal history, en masse, becomes national history.

If I remember correctly, Voltaire called footnotes in a book the sound of slippers sneaking up the back staircase - something like this. Anyway, this is the kind of history found in diaries - the slippers-under-the-bed, the Mrs. Grundy-just-told-me, the sure-crossed-up-that-guy-yesterday, the hope-that-I’ll-get-it-tomorrow, the but-you-said-you-loved-me, the wail-of-a-lonely-frail, as the song says. The marginalia of civilization.’

23 February 1961
‘In the office today Ed Wallace and I discussed Allen Ginsberg, who worked as a copyboy here at the World-Telegram in 1953. Having just read Ginberg’s poem called Howl, solemn-faced Wallace said; “Ginsberg might become immortal  - if Robert Frost beat him to death with a wet squirrel.”

26 April 1989
‘His Royal Ignorance, George Bush, hopes the Supreme Court will outlaw abortion. The man is all eloquence. In other contexts he speaks of “this vision thing” and “the contra thing.” I wish I could tax bad syntax.’

21 September 1989
‘Donald Trump, the flashy real estate man, is supposed to be worth $1.6 billion. The People's Almanac says that if a person spent $1,000 a day, every day since the birth of Christ, even by this date the billion dollars would not have been exhausted.’

23 September 1989
‘Irving Berlin died in his sleep yesterday at the age of 101 in his town house on Beekman Place. I have a special place in my heart for him because a quarter-century ago I spent an afternoon with him and liked him a lot. The New York Times story about him began on the front page and then broke inside to one full page.’

17 April 1993
‘I dipped into some of my earlier diaries and am astounded by the fact that I have forgotten so many things, some of them important. For example, using photographs, I caricatured Ike and Mamie Eisenhower, Ruthie showed them to her boss, a close friend of the President, her boss took them to the White House, where Ike liked my caricature of him, thought the one of Mamie also was funny, but decided not to show it to her lest it hurt her feelings. How could I forget this?’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Diary briefs

Nelson Mandela’s 1962 diary online  - WikiSourceSunday Times

Tin Hats and Rice - Blacksmith Books, South China Morning Post

Seamus Heaney diaries on display - National Library for

The War Outside My Window - Savas Beatie, The Atlantic Journal

Albert B Nye diary project - Nye diary website

Parts of Emperor Hirohito’s diary published - The Guardian, New York Post,

Chilling diary in Aussie murder case - Daily Mirror

Stranger in My Heart - Unbound, South China Morning Post

Argentina’s ‘notebooks’ scandal - Miami Herald

Diary of Nagasaki nun survivor - The Mainichi

Diary of British WW1 prisoner - Express, Mail Online

Diary clue in Delhi cult deaths - Times of India, The Free Press Journal

The Baker brothers war diary - PoppyLand Publishing, Enjoy Cromer

Old Japanese diaries help scientists - Annales Geophysicae, Daily Mail

Diary evidence in Indian coal case - Northeast Now

Lord Hope’s Diaries - Avizandum Publishing, Scottish Legal News

London to Australia by Clipper - News Letter, Amazon

Monday, September 3, 2018

Rebellious ferment

‘We believed in our views, then considered so revolutionary, with burning intensity, and were completely intolerant of narrow nationalism or the academic establishment. The rebellious ferment also infected our social behaviour . . .’ This is Brian Boydell, one of Ireland’s major 20th century musical figures, writing in his introduction to a memoir focused on the 1940s. The memoir has just been published, for the first time, by Cork University Press with the title Rebellious Ferment, and includes a diary kept by Boydell for just a few months in 1950.

Boydell was born in Howth, County Dublin, into a well-off Anglo-Irish family. His mother was one of the first women graduates of Trinity College, and his father ran the family malting business. He was sent to England to be educated, first at the Dragon School, Oxford, then to Rugby. After a summer in Heidelberg, Germany, where he wrote his first songs and also studied organ, he won a choral scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, though studied natural science, graduating in 1938. At Clare, he became a member of the Cambridge University Madrigal Society (which gave him an abiding love of Renaissance music) and ran the music society. Subsequently, he studied at the Royal College of Music, before returning to neutral Ireland at the start of the war, and enrolling at Trinity College, achieving a Bachelor of Music in 1942.

Boydell was soon well ensconced in the Dublin music world - performing, composing and teaching. In 1943, he was appointed conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, and the following year he was appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. In 1944, he organised a concert featuring his own compositions; and the same year he married Mary Jones. They had three sons (one of whom, Barra, is a leading authority on Irish musical history and Emeritus Professor of Musicology at Maynooth University.) In 1948, Boydell helped found the Music Association of Ireland with the aim of promoting classical music throughout the country. And, in the mid-1940s, he began presenting radio programmes on music appreciation - he would go on to present 1,000 or so such programmes. In the late 1950s, he founded the Dowland Consort, a vocal ensemble with which he performed for many years.

By 1962, Boydell had obtained a Doctorate in Music, and he was appointed Professor of Music at Trinity College. He also also served on the Arts Council for several decades. Apart from music, his interests ranged widely, from painting and photography to cars, fishing and gardening. Following his retirement from Trinity, he devoted himself to musical scholarship, and wrote several books on Irish music history. Further information can be found online at Wikipedia, RTÉ, Trinity College, The Irish Times, The Journal of Music or The Guardian.

Boydell was not a natural diarist, but for the first half of 1950 he did keep a daily diary. This was only discovered in 2014 (down the back of his heavy writing desk). Barra Boydell has now included edited extracts from this diary in a handsome volume, published today by Atrium (Cork University Press), entitled Rebellious Ferment: A Dublin Musical Memoir and Diary. Apart from the diary, the book includes a substantial memoir written by Boydell in the early 1990s covering his life up to the early 1970s.

Cork University Press says: ‘Informative, entertaining and written with an engaging combination of passion and elegance, this is a highly readable book. It presents a vivid portrait not only of artistic life (including painting, poetry and theatre as well as music) but also of politics, religion, infrastructure, education and society in mid-twentieth-century Ireland. Brian Boydell presents a captivating account of his engagement with a wide range of often colourful people, including those associated with the White Stag Group in the early 1940s, and the European musicians who settled in Ireland and contributed so much to Irish musical life from the late 1940s.’

Barra Boydell’s introduction explains how, in 1992, his father turned his attention, somewhat hesitantly, towards writing a memoir (
he called it A Reluctant Slice of Autobiography) with a particular focus on the 1940s. Barra notes how his father uses the phrase ‘rebellious ferment’ to describe the artistic environment in this period - hence the title of the memoir/diary. Barra then also points out how, in the diary, his father writes often about other, non-musical interests and that ‘selected passages relating to these’ have been included so as to produce ‘a full picture’ of Brian Boydell the man, rather than just a musician.

Unfortunately, Barra Boydell has decided to leave out almost all passages concerning his father’s diary entries on ‘private, purely family matters’. This may be understandable given his relationship to the material in question, but such passages would surely have provided a yet fuller picture of the man. That niggle aside, this is a very well-produced book. The diary entries are annotated with useful notes, there is a comprehensive index, a select bibliography (though no list of musical works), and a good selection of photographs.

With many thanks to Cork University Press, here is an extract from Brian Boydell’s preface to his memoir (ellipsis in square brackets indicate my omissions). This is followed by several extracts from the diary (ellipsis NOT in square brackets are as found in the published diary and indicate where the editor has omitted text). NB: footnotes as found in the published volume are not indicated or included here.

Preface to Memoir - Dublin, 1994
‘There are not many of us left to tell, from personal experience, the story of that remarkable period in the history of artistic development in Ireland during the Second World War and shortly afterwards. In a country which had only recently broken free of foreign domination, there was a feeling that Irish creative artists should barricade themselves against foreign influence and proudly celebrate the long-suppressed achievements of a past Golden Age. [. . .]

In the 1930s, the doors that admitted winds of European change were beginning to open. Then, with the outbreak of war in 1939, a motley influx of artists and intellectuals, who for various reasons wished to escape to a neutral country, brought further stimulus. The barricades were down, and the doors fully open to admit a veritable gale which ignited the smouldering aspirations of those who wished to explore new fields of creative activity. [. . .] The lowered voices, which before the war had whispered of modern movements such as surrealism as though communicating some indecency, now became confident. With the encouragement of such ‘subversive’ leaders, the apologetic squeaks became a somewhat arrogant and rebellious roar. We believed in our views, then considered so revolutionary, with burning intensity, and were completely intolerant of narrow nationalism or the academic establishment.

The rebellious ferment also infected our social behaviour. An orthodox lifestyle was considered to be unutterably boring. Beards (not at all seemly in those days - even publicly revolting); corduroy trousers and ‘effeminate’ suede shoes; pacifism and left-wing views; people living together in socially unacceptable circumstances .... And then, of course, we dangerous intellectuals posed a threat to those authorities nervously trying to steer a neutral country through the political minefield of wartime diplomacy.’

17 February 1950
‘Incredibly mild yesterday and today - lovely feeling that spring is here .... Things are bursting out in the garden .... Spent much of the morning cataloguing and arranging a new batch of records which Ralph [Cusack] got for me from Douglas at about ⅓rd price. Fascinating stuff, mostly unobtainable now. Mahler Symphony no. 9, Walton Viola Concerto, Strauss Sinfonia domestica, Ferguson Octet, Bach Sonata in C for 2 violins, cello and harpsichord, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, quarter-tone music of Haba, Indonesian music and Dvorák Symphony no. 4. Played the Hába which is fascinatingly queer, and a bit of the Stravinsky which is of the very dry neo-classical period. Before this we went out to fetch the Lancia from Grattan Norman’s - grand to have her again, going beautifully, and so smoothly with the new transmission couplings and the clutch in order again. Mary drove the Lancia back, and I had quite a job to keep up with her in the Alvis.

... Have started copying really good parts for the leading desks of violas and cellos for The Buried Moon Suite so as to be finished with any possibilities of mistakes in the parts. Did the viola part of the March tonight.’

21 February 1950
‘It turned out to be quite a big job preparing the candles for the Haydn symphony spent the greater part of the morning at it ... At 4.30 yesterday the army rang up Charles to inform him that no instruments would be available for the DOP concerts after three weeks’ notice! So I had to rush down to the Phoenix Hall to collar two trumpets, an oboe and timpani player. It was like trying to catch kittens - for when the rehearsal finished they all made for the door at once; however I managed to book them - so that there is a great weight off my mind as regards the brass section of The Buried Moon Suite.

... [lessons to singing pupils in the afternoon] ... Wind rehearsal at the Academy at 7.30. Unfortunately a number of the section could not attend, so that it was not as useful as it might have been. We worked hard until 10.00.’

26 March 1950
‘… After lunch, we put the hood down on the car for the first time this year, and went off to Blessington. I spent the afternoon spinning for trout with the new threadline outfit, which I am beginning to master ...

Wolfram and Ingrid Hentschel and Rory Childers came for the gramophone evening. We played Bach Suite no. 3, and had a great deal of argument about speeds and appoggiaturas. Then Prokofiev Violin Concerto no. 2 - which didn’t impress Wolfram very much on first hearing. We then talked a good deal about romanticism, conductors, theosophy, etc., etc. After tea we played my Feather of Death and In Memoriam M. Gandhi - they were particularly impressed by the latter. We finished up with Bloch’s Second [String] Quartet which I enjoyed better than ever before. Everyone was very excited by it. I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is one of the masterpieces of our time.’

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Loud Bassoon

Fred Bason - not a name much remembered - was born 110 years ago today. He was proudly Cockney, and though unskilled and formally uneducated, he turned himself into a book dealer, writer and public speaker, counting Arnold Bennett and Noël Coward among his friends. Most notably, though, like another friend James Agate, he published several volumes of diaries. At the time, they were very popular, being full of Cockney humour and wisdom. His lighthearted approach to life shines out of every entry, such as one about how he started speaking at Rotary Club meetings, and another about how Agate tricked him over the title for his final volume of diaries - The Last Bassoon.

Bason was born in Walworth, London, on 29 August 1908 (though, at the time of writing, Wikipedia gives 1907 as his birth year) the only child of working class parents. He later claimed to have been born within hearing distance of Bow Bells (making him a true Cockney). He left school at 14, being apprenticed to a barber, and then a carpenter, before settling, from the age of 16, to a job as book runner. Over time, he learned to make money from buying and selling books, and, in particular, from autographs and books signed by their authors. Through his trade, he came to know many literary figures, not least Bennett, Coward and Agate. He also wrote articles for the press, appeared on radio programmes, and was a professional public speaker. He loved the theatre, but also boxing. He lived all his life in Walworth, in a rented council flat; he never married but had a close friendship with his housekeeper, Lizzie. He died in 1973. A little further biographical information is available at an archived Spectator review, and Paul Robinson’s book blog.

Bason is largely forgotten today, and he has little presence on the web, but for his published diaries. Bason met James Agate (a well-known diarist at the time but now also largely forgotten - see Not careless jottings) as a young man, and, on his advice, started writing a diary. In his lifetime, Bason published several volumes of these diaries; although long since out of print, second hand copies can be found readily enough online - see Abebooks for example. Here is Bason introducing his last volume - comically explaining, among other things, why he called it The Last Bassoon (but see the diary entries below for more on this). The spelling irregularities are as found in the published work.

‘By Way of Explanation. I have been faithfully keeping a day to day diary for more than thirty years. I was advised to do this by the late James Agate who said that if I would keep a diary that diary may some day keep me. The only thing its keepted me is HAPPY . . . and thats something. This is the fourth and the last portion of my diary and for that reason I have called it The Last Bassoon. The title comes from a part of The Ancient Mariner and Agate suggested that title when I thought Id had enough of being a diarist. Well, Ive had enough. Ive had a very long run for my so called literary career, and although I shall probably write other books I dont expect to ever compile another diary.

I will tell you why. Firstly, I am alone in this world. I have no wife, no sweetheart and I dont seem to have any relations left. I have no one but a very faithful landlady. I do have some friends (Thank God) and I wish to keep them. But the trouble with being a diarist is that one half of your friends want to be in your diaries and the other half fear to be in them! When you put them in they dont like what youve written about them, and if you leave them out they are annoyed! You are invited to a party and notice folks fear to speak to you, in case you put them into a diary. You have to get up and assure everyone on your honour that its a night off, and nothing will be used.

I wouldn’t knowingly annoy anyone. There is less than eight stone of me and I am not of the stuff that heroes are made from. I like peace and quiet and my friends are extremely precious to me. Beside as man cannot keep on diarying. James Agate, who in my opinion was the best of modem diarists, finished his Ego’s when he WAS very very feeble and in great pain. I want to finish my Cockney diaries when I am ever so well and have not a cloud in my sky.

Diary one was edited by Nicolas Bentley. It made two editions and sold over ten thousand copies. Diary two was edited by L. A. G. Strong. It had praise from 162 newspapers and did well. My third diary had an introduction and was edited by Michael Sadleir. And now, now I finish on a cressendo - Introduced and edited by Noel Coward! I believe that this book is the very first in all his career he has both introduced and edited, and he did it for NOTHING - for nothing but sheer goodwill. Its worth recording the fact that the first book I wrote had an introduction by W. Somerset Maugham (1931).

Yes, Ive had a very good run for my time and trouble and no regrets for ever becoming a writer of sorts. Oh, I am very conscious of my limitations, but this can be said for my writings: Ive never failed to amuse and surely that is really something in these days!

I know that Noel Coward got much amusement as he sorted out my bits and pieces. I hope that you will get pleasure from reading the finished work. I was never cut out to be a literary gent. This is my final bow as a Cockney diariest.’

And here are several extracts from the same volume.

18 October 1949
‘It seems to me very nearly impossible to access the pleasure other people get out of life or of their own way of living. I’ve known in my time some remarkably rich people and for the most part I didn’t find them uncommonly happy. Indeed, some seemed happy being miserable or got their pleasures by making others miserable. I have known poor people who’s eyes reflected the genuine happiness they got from life. They have a smile and a cheerfull word for everyone. You seldom see them angry or wearing frowns and yet you know they are extremely poor people. Money or the lack of it doesn’t seem to really trouble them.

I’ve been awfully hard up from time to time and when I’ve been hungry I’ve been bloody miserable and full of self pity and felt that the world owed me a slim living. But I know a chap in Hastings who I’m positive hasn’t £1 in all the world and wouldnt know where to borrow a pound. He has in a kit bag 4 tooth combs, 2 ordinary combs, several books, washing utensils and a pair of socks and 3 white collars. I am pretty positive he hasn’t got anything else - oh, except, maybe, 10s. or 12s. but he is happy. He will travel the whole of the South coast dish washing and sleeping rough. He will work for his food and maybe a few bob over. He’s 46. He has no home and no relations. He is ever so happy! I don’t believe a really rich man could be happier. I was proud and happy to meet him. We had a long chat. He is ever so wise. He says ‘possessions are a hindrance to adventure.’

On the other hand there is Lady T. out in Switzerland. Recently she complained to me about the rate of exchange, the price of The Saturday Book, the servant problem, the weather, the prospects of a 3rd War and the low class of visitors from England to Switzerland all in one letter! I know her to be quite rich. I know her now to be a miserable old bitch and I want no part of her. If you want to let off steam and have a bloody good moan surely you can do it on your own doorstep - or like me keep a journal and get it out of your system by writing it all down.

I’ve a strange idea that with all his fame and fortune Ivor Novello is not a particularly happy man. I’ve an even stronger idea that the astounding and remarkable Aldous Huxley is also none too happy. Right at the top of the tree - surely all their dreams have come true! When a man has one million pounds it seems he wants another to keep it company. I do not understand this at all. I never shall! I know a Welsh Novelist who rubs along on less than 150 pounds a year. I’ve never once seen him miserable or at cross purposes with the world. I believe its something within one, some part of one’s make up, some gland that causes happiness and it has nothing to do with fame or fortune.

I can’t in truth say that I am always happy. I keep seeking - and at times I don’t know what I seek. If I knew that though I’d be happier. And it ain’t religion either, for I’ve known some remarkably miserable Vicars! It ain’t sex. Many tarts are happy women!

Oh, it’s so strange - people I mean. ‘Nothing is stranger than people and their moods.’ Sax Rohmer wrote this (in red ink) to me years ago. The older I get the more I agree with his mouth-full. But I do believe that faith in a God does help. I often feel less restless after saying simple prayers.’

30 December 1953

‘As we draw towards the close of this year there are 2 items I must put into my Diary which seem to have no headings but mustn’t be left out. Both are pleasant. If I was to be asked who are my favourite actors I would say with no hesitation Alec Clunes Marius Goring and Noël Coward. Well, now, diary, Alec Clunes sent 2 nice circle seats to me so that I could take Lizzie to see him in Carrington V.C. at the Westminster Theatre. Then out of the blue (and I mean just that) Marius Goring sent a stall seat for me to see Anthony and Cleopatra in which he was the star. Its really astounding when you come to think of it. In 2 days 2 stars send tickets and I would bet that neither knew the other was sending (thats if Alec has ever met Marius). Its what can be called a million to one odds. And what did Mr Noel Coward do? Mr Coward don’t have to do anything except keep alive.

The second (or third) unexpected joy is an invitation to attend the Chelsea Arts Ball as a guest of the management! James Agate once said to me: ‘When you make the grade, Fred, your trouble will not be where to go but where not to go. You will be given free seats and invitations here and there. Look for the catch. There is usually a catch in free gifts and they are not really free.’

Well, dear James, I’m getting up in the grade. But I am sure that in the seats to shows for Marius and Alec and The Arts Ball invite from Loris Rey there is no catch at all. Therefore I feel I must include these happy items at the close of an eventfull happy (on the whole) year.’

29 August 1954
‘As one grows older, birthdays usually pass unnoticed, but today, my birthday has been exceptionally interesting. Anton Dolin allowed me to attend a full rehearsal of a new ballet called ‘Napoli’. During it a beautiful ballet star, Daphne Dale, spent a great deal of her spare time reading a book. I felt bound to enquire as to the title of same and was rather astounded when Anton found out for me that she was reading, with apparent keenness and enjoyment, Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett. How the author would have enjoyed knowing this and meeting Miss Dale. She is a real smasher - and so very talented as well. Mrs Frank Pettingell gave me a lovely pullover for a birthday gift. Mrs Morris in Birmingham sent me a Max Murrey thriller, and my dear Lizzie gave me an electric razor. I also had eight cards. All in all a very wonderful birthday.’

21 May 1958
‘Yesterday I had luncheon at the Hyde Park Hotel with Mr N. from Estoril in Portugal. It was a wonderfull luncheon and do you know I had for the first time ever GULLS eggs! They cost I think 5s. each. God! Talk about eating money. On my oath I couldn’t tell the difference between them and the eggs of Walworth at 3d. each. But my host said he liked them and they made a difference as he couldn’t get ’em in Portugal.

So there I had gulls eggs and smoked salmon and all things wonderfull, plus lovely conversation with one of my admirers, and although it was our first meeting, in 5 minutes it was as if we had known each other 5 years. We got on well.

And do you know what he did? Of course you dont. Well, after luncheon he took me in a taxi to Berkeley Square and from a florists named M. Stevens he bought 6 wonderful orchids in a glorious box (with gay pink ribbon) which must have cost at least a quid. And I had to take home orchids for Lizzie. She’d never seen an orchid in all her life. She almost cried with delight! It gave her enormous pleasure and Mr. N. knew it would in advance. I was sent home in the taxi and on instruction from Mr. N. the taxi man bought one of my books out of his tip. I had to sign my book to this taxi man and I was so tight that it was a job.

Well, Diary. I put it to you. I’ve been ill 3 weeks. I go out. I have a double sherry, then again a sherry; then a white wine, then a rich red wine, then kummel - whatever that is - plus Gulls Eggs!! My God, if Mr N. had’nt sent me home in a taxi I’d still be in Berkeley Sq listening to the Nightingale what aint there! All this happened yesterday but I will take days to get over it - and Lizzie has orchids! Oh, aint it lovely to have admirers who are thoughtfull friends as well! Yet in Walworth Ive never even had a kind word in 30 years concerning my books.’

5 June 1958
‘Yesterday at Brighton I gave my one hundredth talk to a Rotary Club. (The first talk to Rotarians I gave was in 1941 in Camberwell. My 99th was at Chertsey a week ago.) I was keen to keep this engagement although I felt very ill and Liz had to go with me in case I got some blackouts and fell down. For five years Id tried to get a Brighton talk, but each time something prevented me. I was not going to let myself down again, so I went to Brighton. You see, diary, when I started talking at Rotary clubs a speaker with much experience of these places told me that the three toughest, hardest audiences to hold in the Rotary World were at Wakefield, Leeds and Brighton, although I forgot to ask him why. As the years have passed I managed to hold Leeds and Wakefield and I intended to see how Brighton* would accept my exclusive brand of Cockney humour.

I need not have worried. They were quite alright and gave me a fair hearing and in 25 minutes talk I was able to get nine laughs out of them, so they were not so tough. Alas, I was only able to sell two of my books there although there were more than ninety men there and I did offer them for sale at far below cost price! Maybe most of them are still unable to read? I just wouldnt know. However, I sold a copy to The President of the club and to the Speakers secretary and they both promised to lend them around, so it was not quite a waste of time and genuine effort.

I recalled to Brighton Rotary how I got my first Rotarian talk. It was in 1941 and I’d made a name on the radio. There came one day to my home a big fat tough man. Would I talk at his Rotary Club? I didnt know what Rotary was, the word meant nothing to me. He explained and then I said that I would be willing to talk for ten minutes free. He said that would not do; it would have to be 25 minutes. And still he offered me no fee. He said he was not in the position to pay a fee so I wasnt very willing. It was war time and life was short.

Then he said that he noticed that I had two very bad teeth. He would take those two teeth out free and PAIN-less if I would talk 25 minutes. He was a dentist and would take me back to his surgery in his car immediately after the talk and in a jiffy they’d be out. He looked so strong and capable that I agreed.

Well, I gave the talk and then I went back to his place near Camberwell Green and that man gave me Bloody Hell. Never, never have I been hurt so much. He quite unnerved me for four days, and my gums were badly torn and still bleeding four days later, and took weeks to heal. When I got home I was white and shaking and bloody. I looked as if Id been in a massacre. Lizzie looked at me and then said ‘My God, Freddy, what did them there Rotarians do to you? They must be proper so and so’s to treat you like that, and you going there FREE just to make them laugh.’
* Brighton is becoming so respectable that the pigeons now fly upside down.

23 February 1960
Agate’s last laugh. Yesterday in a parcel of books I’d bought to aid a charity there was a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (when I asked for his autograph more than 30 years ago I thought I was asking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Now, verse has never been much in my line, but something prompted me to look up and read for the first time in my life The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. And I’ve had quite a SHOCK!

Dear old James Agate, so long after his departure to some land far from ours, has played a neat trick on me and must at this moment be having such a good laugh, for I have been landed with a title for my last book which was given to me long years ago by him! ‘When you want to end your diaries call the last one The Last Bassoon, my boy. It comes from the Ancient Mariner and will suit you down to the ground.’ Now, diary, I had a lifelong admiration for Mr Agate and always took what he said for gospel. Maybe to some slight degree I even patterned my own life something on his lines. I knew him long before he became famous, and fame at no time changed him for me. Bless his heart, he’s had a LAST LAUGH. He must have known that I would take what he said as correct, that The Last Bassoon was in this notable poem, but I find that all that’s mentioned is the loud bassoon!

I am stuck with a title and can do nothing whatever about it. Well, let him have his last laugh. I do not begrudge it him. He was a kindly old man with his own brand of humour, and this is probally an extreemly good sample of it!

Have I ever been the loud Bassoon? On my oath I don’t think so. I’ve mostly walked away from the limelight. I know it has been too much I and not enough Thou, but no one but Lizzie would share my life, and without relations it just had to be I, or spend my life in some humdrum manner. And that I didn’t want to do, for in my heart I longed to become another Samuel Pepys. Stanley Rubinstein said several times that the mantel of James Agate had most certainly fallen on me. Well, from under its covering I can hear at this moment a chuckle; it’s Jimmy saying, ‘I had you, my boy ... I had you. You know I’m a kidder.’ Perhaps his kindly interest is watching over me, and The Last Bassoon is a better title. We shall see, as the years roll on.’

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rushing through the water

‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse!’ This is Maud Berridge, a Victorian lady, whose diaries of life on board her husband’s clipper sailing to and from Australia, have just been published by Bloomsbury. The vast majority of historical maritime diaries extant today were written by captains or their assistants, so it is refreshing to see life on board from the female perspective for a change. According to Bloomsbury, Maud is ‘an open-minded and engaging companion’, and ‘her resilience, humour and delight in new experiences shines through her writing.’ The Daily Mail judges the diary with a tad more romanticism, seeing Maud’s ‘steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness’ as ‘an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love’.

Maud Berridge was born in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire near the Welsh border, in 1845, into a well-connected family (her mother being a goddaughter of the prime minister Robert Peel). The early 1850s saw her living with her mother in Warwick, this was after her father and two brothers had left to seek their fortunes in Australia. Maud married Henry Berridge, a master mariner, in 1869, who was employed by Greens Blackwall Line. Over 20 years he captained several three-masted clippers, the Walmer Castle, Highflier and Superb, often on voyages to Melbourne. On several occasions, Maud accompanied him. The first time was only a few months after their marriage, but the second was not until 10 years later, when their two sons were also on board. The last trip was probably in 1886-1887. Henry died soon after, in 1991, and Maud survived him for 16 years, living in London. She died in 1907.

During some of Maud’s voyages she kept a diary. Two of these have survived and were deposited at the National Maritime Museum by Maud’s son in 1948: a fragment from the 1880-1881 voyage, and a full account of the 1883-1884 voyage. Maud’s great-granddaughter, Sally Berridge, has edited the two diaries and used them as the core material in a book published earlier this year by Bloomsbury: The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge: The seafaring diaries of a Victorian lady. Although the book feels like a personal project (it includes a letter Maud has composed for her long-gone relative), it is also very well researched with chapters on 19th century sailing ships, Maud’s other voyages (i.e. the ones for which there is no extant diary) and several appendices. There is also a generous collection of photographs and a few of Maud’s own illustrations.

The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge can be previewed at Googlebooks, and Sally Berridge herself has written an article about it for The Sydney Morning Herald (with diary extracts). Elsewhere, a review can be read at the Daily Mail website. It concludes with this: ‘[Maud Berridge’s] steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness remains an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love.’

With thanks to Bloomsbury, here are three extracts from the diaries.

15 February 1883
‘We weighed anchor at about 8 o’clock and proceeded on tow as far as Deal, which we reached at about 3 in the afternoon. The weather still very boisterous, and the tide and wind being against us, we anchored until tomorrow. The first Pilot left us today, taking an immense budget of letters. I am writing in the Saloon at 9 pm. The lamps are lighted and the passengers are nearly all seated round the table with books, work or games. I have just played backgammon with a young fellow who told me he was going to New South Wales to learn sheep farming. The gentleman rejoices in very red hair and moustache, and he has already been christened ‘The Golden Pheasant’. The dwarf has received the name of ‘General’. All jokes at his expense he takes most good-humouredly and joins in the laugh.’

2 April 1883
‘As the ship is steadier and the weather fine, there are preparations going on for theatricals to come tomorrow evening. Bombastes Furioso has been rehearsed for a week or two by four of the gentlemen. All morning I have been at work on a muslin cap for ‘Dastafenia’, making some braids of flax to represent hair and flowing curls. With the aid of a little rouge, my cotton dressing gown, an apron, mittens etc Mr Parkin was a very good ‘get up’.

It is wonderful the resources one has to fly to on board ship for fancy dress. The king’s crown was tin, decorated with little figures, a crimson shirt, white ducks, sea boots turned over with brown paper, and a ladies fur-lined cloak turned inside out made quite a regal-looking personage. The Prime Minister had a wig with a queue, knee breeches, low shoes with large pasteboard buckles. The coat trimmed with ruffles at neck and waist, also an imitation gold lace made out of rope, the effect of which was admirable. I made a bouquet of artificial flowers for a man to give a lady after the singing of ‘For ever and for ever’, which we had a strong suspicion was a burlesque on the young lady who practices [sic] so assiduously. We all enjoyed the play, which went off without a hitch, and was only too short. Lat 17º 35’ Long 29º 45’ Distance 199.’

2 October 1883
‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse! 2.30 the lighthouse is distinctly visible, getting nearer every moment. A range of forbidding-looking rocks with the lighthouse perched on the highest, 350 feet high.

The Pilot cutter sighted about 3.30. The Pilot was watched with the greatest anxiety and curiosity. A square-built, fresh-coloured man with wide-awake hat, goatee beard and square-toed boots, he has not a superfluous word for anyone, while we were brimful of excitement and would like to ask a hundred questions!

Our voyage to ’Frisco is virtually at an end, we are entering the ‘Golden Gate’ after nightfall, a great disappointment, but I must begin a new book with our introduction to California!’

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Guilty of murder

‘I was at my post by 8 a.m. Two men have died, one after a trepanning operation, the other when he was being carried to the operating-table. It has been an unhappy day for me, because I have been through a very trying experience. Perhaps, by writing down all the facts clearly, my mind may be eased of some of its guilt. ‘Guilt’ is a strong word to use, but I was told during the afternoon by Ivan Ivanovich, our head dispenser, that I could consider myself “guilty of murder”.’ This is from the ‘compelling’ diary of Florence Farmborough, a young British nurse who worked for the Russian Red Cross during the First World War, and who died 40 years ago today.

Farmborough was born in 1887 in Buckinghamshire, the fourth child of a family of six, and named after Florence Nightingale, a friend of the family. In 1908, she went to Kiev as a child’s companion and teacher. And then, two years later, she moved to Moscow to take another position as English tutor to the daughters of a heart surgeon. During the First World War, she trained as a nurse at a hospital established by Princess Golitsin in Moscow. In early 1915, she joined a Russian mobile medical unit as a surgical nurse. Her unit was usually very close to the action on the Eastern Front, and often confronted daily with hundreds of wounded.

After returning to Britain in 1918, Farmborough was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1926, she moved to Valencia, Spain, where she lectured in English, and then to Salamanca. She was a supporter of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and made radio propaganda broadcasts to English speaking-countries. Her book, Life and People of Spain, was published in 1938. She later returned to England and worked for the Women’s Voluntary Service during the Battle of Britain, becoming particularly involved in the rehabilitation of Spanish-speaking Gibraltarians.

Farmborough later spent four years as a government censor in Jamaica, checking correspondence to and from South America. Back in England, she settled at Sompting near Worthing, Sussex, and gave Russian lessons at her home to pupils from the local high school. Later she moved to Newton Abbot. She made a return visit to Russia in 1962, and visited the Holy Land in 1966. In the mid-1970s, she was the subject of a BBC documentary. She was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross. She died on 18 August 1978. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Lives of the First World War, Working Nurse, Imperial War Museum, and

While working as a nurse with the Russian army Farnborough also acted as a 
war correspondent for the BBC and The Times, carrying a glass-plate camera, tripod and darkroom essentials from camp to camp; her many photographs are now held by the Imperial War Museum, and are considered of historical importance. She also kept a diary, often written on scraps of paper. However, it was not until the 1970s, when she was already an old woman, that she decided to edit the diary, subsequently published by Constable as Nurse at the Russian Front - A Diary 1914-18. Since then, it has become a source book for those studying the Great War, the realities of war, and women’s roles in war - see here for example. Reviewers at Good Reads rate the book as compelling, heartbreaking, fascinating. Here are several extracts. (I have listed them by their date in the Western calendar, but have also included, in brackets, the date as given in the book, Russian style, i.e. 13 days behind behind the Western calendar.) 

3 June (21 May) 1916
‘I was told that in Hut 131 a sick woman needed attention. At length I found her, a young mother, sick with typhoid, and her baby. We Sisters are doing our level best to instil into the village-folk the urgent need to boil all their drinking-water - an idea which seems unable to take root in the peasant mind. The same old argument is raised: his parents never drank boiled water, why should he? But we persist. They listen attentively, but their minds are quite impervious to the meaning of ‘pollution’ and ‘contamination’.

Before retiring for the night, it was whispered around that a great battle was expected within the next twenty-four hours, but we sceptically went off to sleep, having heard it so often before.’

27 June (14 June) 1916
‘I was told that well over 200 men had passed through our Unit today; I was also told something that almost took my breath away: that some 3,000 men are to come to us during the next few days to be fed, as the Zemski Soyuz has arranged that enormous supplies of food should be stored in the town under our unit’s supervision. This will entail a vast amount of extra work for our Letuchka; luckily, however, the regiments concerned have agreed to send us extra help.

I sat in the operating-room, awaiting further newcomers. I think that I must have slept, for when I opened my eyes, my watch was pointing to midnight, and all around was very quiet. At 6 a.m. more wounded arrived. One of them had a most unusual wound; a bullet had entered his body at the shoulder-blade, gone down his right side and lodged in his thigh. After an early breakfast, we resumed our work. I extracted a bullet from the upper left arm of a young soldier; it was not a difficult extraction, for the tail-end of the bullet was visible, but even after the wound was cleansed and bandaged, he continued to weep and moan: “Sestritsa, bolit! bolit! [Little Sister, it hurts!].” I was washing the face of another young soldier, a face covered with grime, dust and dried blood. “Sestritsa,” my patient said, with an attempt at a smile. “Leave it dirty! I shall not go visiting any more.” At first I thought that he was joking and some light-hearted repartee was on the tip of my tongue; then I saw the ugly gash on his head and I understood what he meant.

One of the stomach patients had deteriorated greatly in the last few hours. The craving for water was on him; it was all that a Brother and I could do to prevent him from throwing himself off his straw mattress. In his delirium he cried out that he and his comrades were drinking from a great river, and that he was drinking, drinking, always drinking.

In the tent which housed the sick, the patients were less restless. One soldier refused to drink because the water given to him had been boiled; he vowed that boiled water always gave him colic. A young Tatar assured me that if only I would allow him to sit up and smoke, in two days’ time he would be up and about again; but as things were, he said that it was Plokhoye delo! Ochen plokhoye delo! [Bad business! Very bad business!].’

30 July (17 July) 1916
‘About 70 wounded came during the night while I was on duty. I have heard that the 103rd Regiment has managed to cross the River Koronez and occupy Dubenko, half of which town had been in its possession for several days past. The 102nd Regiment has gone into reserve for three days after three and a half months in the trenches.

Our next attack is timed for 4 p.m. The guns have been blazing away. Mamasha and I slipped away for a few minutes, climbed a small hill and crouched on its summit among waving corn and wild flowers. From our vantage point, we could see the Front spread before us. Shells were falling, throwing up blackish clouds of earth about our trenches; farther away, our shells were engaged in similar action near the enemy’s defensive ramparts. Shrapnel was exploding in mid-air, leaving puffs of slowly dissolving smoke behind, and scattering bullets and metal particles to right and left. We picked a few flowers and returned to our quarters.

Dusk had scarcely descended when cartload after cartload of wounded made their appearance. Difficulty arose regarding transport; the highways round Barish were under fire and our ambulance-vans in urgent request alongside the Fighting Lines. We placed the men on the straw-strewn earth in the empty sheds, told them to rest awhile and, at the earliest opportunity, they should be driven to the Base. A young Tatar, heavily wounded, was carried to the operating-table. He could speak no Russian and vainly tried to whisper something to us which we could not understand. One of our Tatar drivers was sent for; he stooped low over the prostrate form, but no answer came to his eager questioning. “He’s gone!” said a voice. The weather-beaten face of the older tribesman stiffened with emotion as he walked away. An infantry officer whose thigh-wound had been dressed and bandaged, declared that he could walk without difficulty; he was most anxious to help and assured us that he had taken a first aid course before joining the Army. He was allowed to tend the more lightly wounded and this he did with considerable skill, but insisted on wearing rubber gloves which, he said, gave him greater confidence and grip.’

26 August (13 August) 1916
I was at my post by 8 a.m. Two men have died, one after a trepanning operation, the other when he was being carried to the operating-table. It has been an unhappy day for me, because I have been through a very trying experience. Perhaps, by writing down all the facts clearly, my mind may be eased of some of its guilt. ‘Guilt’ is a strong word to use, but I was told during the afternoon by Ivan Ivanovich, our head dispenser, that I could consider myself “guilty of murder”. It seems strange to write these words, but the whole scene was strange. I was watching over three men who had recently been operated on, but were gradually losing their hold on life. Our surgeons had seen them in the morning, had said that there was nothing more that one could do for them, only “tend them to the end”. One of the three was the stomach case, operated on during the previous night. He had regained consciousness, but found it difficult to speak; he could articulate only one word: Vo da [water]. I would shake my head; tell him gently that he must not drink; when he would be stronger, water would be given to him. I could see that he was dying, but his cries for water were insistent; he was beseeching, imploring; his thirst must have been agonising. Near one of the other men, a mug of water was standing. He had seen it and, raising an arm, pointed towards it. His eyes challenged mine; they were dying eyes, but fiercely alight with the greatness of his thirst. I reasoned with myself: if I give no water, he will die tormented by his great thirst; if I give him water, he will die, but his torment will be lessened. In my weakness and compassion, I reached for the mug; his burning eyes were watching me; they held suspense and gratitude. I put the mug to his lips, but he seized my arm and tilted the mug upwards. The water splashed into his open mouth, sprayed his face and pillow, but he was swallowing it in noisy gulps. When I could free my arm from his grasp, the mug was empty.

I was deeply distressed and knew that I was trembling. I wiped his face dry and he opened his eyes and looked at me; in them, I saw a great thankfulness, an immense relief. But, before I could replace the mug, a strange, gurgling sound came from him, and, out of his mouth, there poured a stream of thick, greenish fluid; it spread over the stretcher-bed and flowed on to the floor. His eyes were closed and . . . he had stopped breathing. I ran to the door; in the yard stood a Brother and Ivan Ivanovich. “Come quickly,” I begged them. They followed me in, but there was nothing that one could do, for he was dead. Ivan Ivanovich seemed to take in the whole picture at a glance. “Have you given him water to drink?” he asked. “Yes,” I nodded. “His thirst was terrible.” “Then you have killed him,” he said, and added: “Quite simply, you have killed him.” “He was dying,” I gasped. “So you thought you would put the finishing touch!” Shrugging his shoulders, he left the room. The Brother called an orderly and together they washed the dead man and carried him to the mortuary-shed.

I remained in the room until one of them returned. I felt cold and lifeless; as though some violent thing had struck me unawares. Only Mamasha was in our room; she was the last person whom I wished to see; she was so practical and undemonstrative, but I felt that I had to tell somebody. She listened patiently. Then she said: “You are very silly to let these things prey on your mind. You were certainly wrong in disobeying orders, but this kind of thing is happening every day in our abnormal world at the Front. As to Ivan Ivanovich, I have always said that the man is a knave or a fool, or both. In the circumstances, and knowing that death was near, I am sure that, had I been in your place, I should have done exactly the same thing.’’ “Mamasha,” I sobbed. And then for the first time in our long acquaintance, Mamasha took me into her arms and I could feel the throbbing of her motherly heart, comforting and consoling. It didn’t hurt half so much after that. I knew that all my life I should have the grievous memory of hastening a soldier’s death through my disobedience; but, at the same time, there would be another less grievous memory: that of a pair of dying eyes looking at me with infinite gratitude. Throughout the evening, the wounded were being brought to us. We buried our many dead as dusk fell, with prayers, music and the silent homage of soldiers who were stationed in the vicinity.’

21 June (8 June) 1917
‘Enemy aeroplanes had been over about 4 a.m. and awakened us; discontented murmurings came from most beds. We took turns in washing, with as little water as possible. Once or twice we had tried to persuade Rupertsov, our tent-boy, to scrounge another bucketful for us. He would screw his face up and shake his head. Smirnov’s tent was next door to the water-cart and woe betide the person who tried to steal more than his share, for Smirnov knew each one’s quota to a spoonful. Our water-cart had to go to Bojikov to be filled, so we had been warned not to be extravagant.’

27 October (14 October) 1917
‘I was still dressing when the father returned. Outside in the street a little group of mourners stood; two were carrying an empty coffin; another was holding a discoloured banner. There was no priest. They took the boy’s body, which we had wrapped in a sheet, and laid it in the coffin. The father came hastily toward me, bowed low and kissed my hand. I do not know whether he saw the tears in my eyes. As they moved away, they began to sing a dirge-like chant.

In the evening, we were told that all the Red Cross Otryads of the Zemski Soyuz would be disbanded, with three exceptions: the 1st, 5th and 10th. So we, the 10th, would, thank God, remain!’

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vere Hunt in a crashing machine

‘Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary . . . Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers.’ This is the entertaining Vere Hunt - soldier, politician, gambler and enlightened landlord - writing in his diary about market day at Bruff, in the county of Limerick, Ireland. He died two centuries ago today, leaving behind a series of diaries only a few extracts of which have ever been published.

Hunt, born in 1761,
 at Curragh Chase in County Limerick, was the oldest son of Vere Hunt and his second wife Anne Browne. He had one brother, John Fitzmaurice, and a sister, Jane. He inherited his father’s estate, and, in 1784, married Eleanor daughter of Lord Glenworth, the Protestant bishop of Limerick. He was elevated to a baronetcy the same year, and also became High Sheriff of County Limerick. He showed loyal support to the King and raised and commanded three regiments of foot during the French Revolutionary Wars. On returning to Ireland he was made MP for the Borough of Askeaton in 1797, but the Borough was disenfranchised at the Union, and he left politics in 1800.

Hunt was the founder of a village called New Birmingham in Tipperary, which he had built to service a coal mine he owned at Glengoole. He is remembered as a progressive landlord, often seeking ways to improve the lot of his tenants. However, he was not a great entrepreneur. He purchased Lundy Island, for example, believing it would save him from paying British taxes. After installing an Irish colony there, the place soon became a liability, and it was many years before the family was able to dispose of it. He appears to have had a tendency to gambling, which led him to spend some in a debtor’s jail in London. He was also known to have a strong liking for the theatre and literature. Vere’s only son Aubrey was educated at Harrow with Lord Byron and Robert Peel, and went on to have five sons and three daughters. He was grandfather to the poet and critic Aubrey Thomas de Vere and to the politician and social commentator Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. He died on 11 August 1818. A little further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Limerick City website, and the Glengoole website.

Hunt left behind some diaries, most of which 
(1796-1809) are held by Limerick City Library - a full description of them can be found around page 40 in this large Word file on the Hunt and De Vere family holdings. Although the diaries have never been published in book form, the Dublin Magazine published some extracts in 1943, and then Melosina Lenox-Conyngham included a significant batch of those extracts in her Diaries of Ireland - An Anthology 1590-1987 (Lilliput Press, Dublin 1998). Some pages can be read online at Amazon, but a pdf of all the pages on Hunt can be read online at the Limerick City website. The following extracts are all taken from Lenox-Conyngham’s book.

28 March 1798
‘The County [Limerick] met at one over the Exchange. I proposed that it be recommended to landlords to give a temporary abatement to poor tenants on account of the fall of grain, and to pay tythes for those under £10 a year rent. It was negatived. A memorial was sent to the Lord Lieutenant signed by thirty-six Justices to proclaim the entire county as in a state of insurrection. Dined at Harry Fosbery’s and got drunk.’

9 April 1798
‘My dear wife & darling Aubrey went to Limerick on their way to Dublin & probably England to avoid the dangers of this unhappy distracted county ... A guard mounted. Then came back to dinner, lonesome! I cd not eat a bit.’

17 April 1798
‘Heard that my Uncle Harry’s son, Phineas, was the head of the United Irishmen about Cappah, but that he gave himself up to General Sir James Duff and made a full discovery.’

19 May 1798, Dublin
‘Dined at Tom Quin’s. At nine an express came for the Surgeon-General, who dined with us, to go off to dress Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s wounds, who had just been taken by Major Sirr and Justices Swan and Ryan.’

23 May 1798, Dublin
‘The town in great confusion and a rising expected every hour ... Went to the Castle, saw Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s uniform ... Lord Rossmore showed me an impression of the Great Seal found on Lord Edward ... People taken up every instant and flogged by military law to get confessions ... Determined to send my family off without delay, called with a hackney coach for Lady Hunt, Aubrey and Jenny Bindon, and set out for the Prince of Wales Packet. She could not sail, the wind being foul, and we all slept on board. Heard from Captain Hill of the Lady Fitzgibbon that Frank Arthur, Dr Hargrove, Doctor Ross (all from Limerick) and others were apprehended, and from my Uncle William Hunt that his son Billy was taken up.’

17 January 1800, Dublin
‘Got into the harbour at daylight and after landing, proceeded to Dublin on foot and put up at Quin’s Hotel in Crow Street. In the evening to the House of Commons and most warmly welcomed by Lord Castlereagh. Called on Lord Glentworth and consulted him on my expectations from Government. Strongly advised by him not to take any bargain, as those who acted steadily and honourably to the Government would be more liberally treated than if they made a contract.’

3 April 1811, Curragh Chase
‘This morning at four o’clock departed this life, John Leahy, who lived for seventy or eighty years with my father and me, and who lived as a pensioner with me for the last twenty years. His honesty and fidelity were great, and I sincerely lament the departure of so old, tried and valuable a domestic. Ordered a coffin to be made for him of the old elm-tree, coeval with himself, or rather antecedent to him, which was blown down last winter. Kill a lamb and dine on a forequarter of it, fish etc. Dr Lee the parish priest of Adare with me. After dinner, he and I go up to Leahy’s house, where I give directions for his wake, funeral etc. Lee sleeps here.’

17 May 1813, Dublin
‘Look in at Gilbert and Hodges, see some books bespoke by Aubrey, and see for the first time the celebrated Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who walked in attended by two monstrous and beautiful Danish dogs.’

4 June 1813, Dublin
‘Very fine day, and being the King’s birthday, the town was in bustle and hurry from morning till night. In the early part of the day a Review in the Phoenix Park, where all ranks and classes were crowded together to see poor soldiers sweating and stinking, and great Militia officers, from the mighty Colonel to the puny Ensigns, exhibiting their bravery and military acquirements. City Buckeens on hired horses and with borrowed boots and spurs; young misses slipping away from their mammas to meet their lovers; old maids taking snuff, and talking and thinking of old times; pickpockets waiting for a lob, and old bawds and whores for a cull; handkerchiefs in constant employ, wiping dust, sweat and dander from the face and head; coaches, landaus, gigs, curricles and jaunting cars in constant jostle and confusion in the backstreet to avoid paying money and the shops open to try to get some; mail coaches making a grand procession through the principal streets.

A Levee at the Castle, attended as usual by pimps, parasites, hangers-on, aidecamps, state-officers, expectant clergymen, hungry lawyers, spies, informers, and the various descriptions of characters that constitute the herd of which the motley petty degraded and pretended Court of this poor fallen country is made up. Alas, poor Ireland.

I spent the day lounging about, seeing what was to be seen, and, in proud feelings of superior independence, looked down with utter contempt of the weakness of an administration, imbecile, evasive, and mouldering into contempt; and every loss of public opinion and respect ever must attend the paltry pretended administration of this despicable and degraded country.

After dinner take a rambling circuit over Westmoreland Street and up Anglesea Street. Lounge into booksellers’ shops, then to Crow Street to see, according to ancient custom, all the blackguard boys collected to insult and pelt with small stones, gravel, periwinkles, etc. the ladies who go to the Play on this night. Boxes being free for the ladies, consequently it may be supposed what degree of respect is due to that class of the tender sex who avail themselves of enjoying a theatrical treat.’

3 November 1813, Dublin
‘Omitted in my journal yesterday that I saw the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord Whitworth, for the first time, it being his weekly day of giving audience, and of keeping up the mockery of state in this fallen and degraded sham-court.

He drove in from the park with his wife, the Duchess of Dorset, and one aide de camp, in a plain coach and four postilions in buff cloth, plain jackets, and two out-riders. The castle seemed deserted, few, I believe, seeking audience; and except the mere hangers-on, secretaries and clerks, two or three Generals and Judges, I presume, from appearance, His Excellency was not much annoyed by visitors.’

18 October 1814, Bruff
‘Arrived in Bruff at half past one. Fair day there and meet many friends in Bennett’s Inn, all in desponding strains, lamenting the decreased value of fat cattle, the best fat cows bringing this day but twelve guineas each. Milch cows high from £18 to £20, pigs tolerably high, sheep low. Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary and meet near Kilballyowen a very fine threshing machine for Decourcy O’Grady. Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers to whose society I would have unfortunately been consigned for the day but for the hospitality of John Bennett who invited me to his house, where I fared capitally both in board and bed. I was highly pleased at seeing there in a very small square pond opposite his hall door, duck, mallard, cooter and various other wild fowl in great abundance and perfect tameness, and I was particularly amused by the eccentricities of Standy Bennett who, in his way, is both clever and entertaining ... he is about to publish a book of poems, which of course I will be among the first to have. In bed at eleven and sleep like a top.’

The Diary Junction