Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eisenhower’s diary fragments

To mark the 40th anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s death, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is opening up the last of the President’s personal diaries to the public - hitherto kept closed under the instructions of his son. These last diaries - as most of Eisenhower’s earlier diaries - are rather fragmentary. The museum’s director says they show the man was in firm control of his mental faculties despite failing health.

Eisenhower was born in 1890 in Denison, Texas, but was brought up in Abilene, Kansas. He graduated from West Point military academy in 1915, and served in a variety of military positions until being made responsible for strategy in the War Department in 1941. The following year, he took command of US forces in the UK, and eventually, in December 1943, became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, leading the allies to victory over Germany. Three years as US army chief of staff followed, as did an appointment as president of Columbia University, and a posting back in Europe to be the first boss of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

In 1952, Eisenhower successfully ran for president, with Richard Nixon as his running mate. His achievements, during the two terms (1953-1961), are generally said to include negotiating a truce to end the Korean War; maintaining cold war pressure on the Soviet Union; prioritising nuclear defence weapons; launching the space race; and starting the interstate highway system. Critics blamed him for insufficiently supporting the civil rights movement, and for not publicly opposing McCarthyism. He died on 28 March 1969, some 40 years ago.

And to mark the anniversary, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum (in Abilene) has announced the opening of Eisenhower’s ‘final personal diaries from 1966, 1968, and 1969’. The museum’s director, Karl Weissenbach, says these ‘new diaries show that Ike was still very much engaged in the world of politics and affairs, even in the twilight of his life . . . and that he was in firm control of his mental faculties despite failing health’.

Here is more from the Museum’s press release: ‘Eisenhower writes that he started the diary in 1966 ‘to make notations of any physical discomfort or ailment so as to answer my doctor’s questions concerning my health.’ Although medical problems dominate the volumes, Ike found space to comment on the issues and personalities of the day, including the economy, civil rights, Vietnam, and the 1968 presidential elections. ‘Scholars will find President Eisenhower’s opinion of President Johnson to be of particular interest,’ added Tim Rives, supervisory archivist.’

The Museum has an online list of its diary holdings which describes those previously open to the public as follows: ‘These diaries were maintained by Dwight D. Eisenhower on an intermittent basis between December 1935 and January 1969. Although they document several phases of Eisenhower’s military and civilian careers, they are richest in their documentation of certain periods. For example, his experiences with the MacArthur mission to the Philippines, 1935-38 are well documented. Also, the diaries are rich sources for the 1948-52 period when he was intimately involved in such matters as military unification, defense mobilization for the Cold War, and NATO, and he was confronting political pressures to run for the Presidency. Finally, there are materials pertaining to his experiences during the first eight months of the Presidency, January-August 1953.’

The listing also explains that the 1966 and 1969 diaries ‘have been closed to research for an indefinite period at the request of John S D Eisenhower who controls literary property rights in his father’s writings as well as conditions governing access to them’. Clearly, this situation has now changed. 

The hitherto closed diary holdings are described as follows: 
1966 - appointments, Eisenhower College, 1966 election, Lyndon Johnson and civil rights, but primarily notes on his health; 
1968 - health, social life and recreational interests, public service activities, writing projects, GOP politics, Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam, Pueblo incident, civil rights;
1969  (January only) - account of DDE’s health, Walter Reed operations and staff, visitors.

There is one published collection of Eisenhower’s diary entries (obviously not including the diaries just made public): The Eisenhower Diaries by Robert H. Ferrell, first published by W W Norton in 1976. But The New York Times’ reviewer, John P Roche, wasn’t much impressed by it. For starters, he says, the Eisenhower ‘diaries’ are in no meaningful sense diaries: ‘The book is a disappointing collection of fragments Eisenhower inscribed in random fashion over the period 1935-67.’ Although, he adds, ‘[they] do at least reflect Eisenhower’s closed, calculating quality’.

Roche provides a few brief extracts from the diary, and here is his commentary on them:

‘Only briefly, in his entries during early 1942, does Eisenhower indulge in spontaneous comments. On Jan. 23, he noted: ‘MacArthur recommends successor . . . He picked (Major General Richard K.) Sutherland, showing that he still likes his boot lickers.’ And on March 10 we get the last real id discharge of the volume: ‘One thing that might help win this war is to get somebody to shoot (Admiral Ernest) King. He’s the antithesis of cooperation, a deliberately rude person, which means he’s a mental bully.’ Elevation to high command ended these forays into candor.

From 1942 on, what few entries there are tend to be highly formal, particularly in the postwar period, when he realized he was potentially an extremely valuable political property. The entry for Sept. 16, 1947, is a classic in this genre: ‘I wonder whether I’ve previously noted down in this book what I’ve often given, in conversation, as my conviction regarding the progressing world revolution.’ What follows is a banal treatise that reads like a political speech, not some hasty thoughts entered at close of day.’

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mann on Mann

Golo Mann, a German historian and writer, was born 100 years ago today. He is considered by some to be the most brilliant and intellectual of Thomas Mann’s six children, and, of the six, to have come closest to shedding some light on why two of them committed suicide and why three of them were homosexual. With regard to the latter family trait, Golo draws on a story about his father’s diaries.

Thomas Mann, the great German author, lived from 1875 until 1955. Born in Lubeck, his family moved to Munich when he was still a child, and where he then stayed until forced into exile by the Nazis. When only 26, he found huge success with the epic novel Buddenbrooks. It tells of the downfall of a wealthy mercantile family of Lübeck, similar to his own, over the course of several generations. Two novellas - Tristan and Tonio Kröger - followed in 1903. Mann’s other famous works include Felix Krull (1911), Death in Venice (1912) and The Magic Mountain (1924)

He married Katia Pringsheim, daughter of a secular Jewish mathematician, in 1905, and they had six children. The three eldest - Erika, Klaus and Golo - were all homosexual. Two girls and a boy followed - Monika, Elisabeth and Michael. All but Elisabeth - who was said to be the most loved - went into print with memories or reflections about their father; and Jeffrey Meyers has written an excellent article about them for The Virginia Quarterly Review. He says the memoirs ‘are torn between veneration and rivalry, between a desire to emphasize their father’s greatness and reveal his human failings, to bask in his reflected glory and to tell the story of their own development’.

But today is the centenary of Mann’s third child - Golo Mann - who was born on 27 March 1909. He studied with Karl Jaspers, a psychiatrist and philosopher at Heidelberg university. Like the rest of the family, he went into exile as Hitler’s power was rising, and taught history for a short while in France, before escaping to the US. There he joined the army and returned to Europe to make radio propaganda in London and Luxembourg. After the war he went back to Germany, and became a respected historian, authoring A History of Germany Since 1789. In an article for the BBC, Brian Walden (an influential British broadcaster) called it ‘a very great book’. Golo Mann, he said, may have written ‘the best of all popular history books’.

According to Jeffrey Meyers, it was Golo who got closest of any of Mann’s children to uncovering in print why they felt crippled, even crushed by their father’s overwhelming presence. He calls Golo ‘the most brilliant and intellectual of the children’ and suggests that his book, Reminiscences and Reflections, ‘pries open the vault containing the family secrets and gives a more realistic, probing, and convincing picture of Thomas’. Golo was partly able to do this, he says, because his book was not published until 30 years had passed since Thomas’ death, and six years since Katia’s, and because of a changed cultural climate.

‘Not until Golo’s frank, perceptive memoir of 1986,’ Meyer says, ‘do we begin to understand why the three oldest children were homosexual, and why Klaus and Michael committed suicide.’ Golo lists a number of earlier suicides on both sides of the family, and concludes that there was a genetic predisposition to dealing with depression in this way. And then, on the subject of homosexuality, Meyer tells this anecdote taken from Golo’s book:

‘After Thomas had gone into exile, he asked Golo to pack his diaries in a suitcase and send them to Lugano, then added: ‘I am counting on you to be discreet and not read any of these things!’ . . . Golo naively handed the suitcase over to their chauffeur, who offered to take it to the train station but gave it instead to the Nazi authorities. Fearing the worst, Thomas exclaimed that the Nazis would publish excerpts in their newspaper: ‘They will ruin everything, they will ruin me. My life will never be right again.’ In the end, Thomas’ lawyer managed to recover the diaries, which were published from 1977 to 1995. When Golo, who ‘had never really been able to part’ from his mother, finally read the dangerous diaries, he learned that the homosexual attraction and longing described in Tonio Kröger and Death in Venice, in The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, were based on Thomas’ secret feelings, and he, Erika and Klaus. . . had much more in common with their father than they had ever realized.’

In fact, Thomas Mann was a committed diarist. The Virginia Quarterly Review (which seems to have an affinity for Mann) has another excellent article, freely available online, entitled Thomas Mann as Diarist (by Jay Parini). And The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann, which is partly viewable on Googlebooks, has an essay on Mann as Diarist by T J Reed. Here is a paragraph from that essay with details about Thomas Mann’s diaries.

‘Although Mann appears to have kept a diary all his adult life, only parts survive. In 1896 he burnt the records he had made up to then, only to begin again at once; and in 1944-5 he burnt nearly all the pre-1933 diaries. In 1950 again, he wondered whether to burn what he had written since 1933. The issue was his homosexuality, the secret of which he had guarded by previous burnings but had then then gone on writing about, often in nostalgic reference back to feelings of earlier days. Should he now dispose of this evidence too, or should he make it the means of belatedly coming out? He finally decided against destruction, and in 1952 packaged and sealed his notebooks down to the preceding year, inscribing the cover, in English: ‘Daily notes 1933-1951 without literary value and not to be opened before twenty years after my death’. Erika, his daughter, sealed the last few notebooks in 1955.'

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Invention of Love

A E Housman, a poet and classical scholar, was born 150 years ago today. He’s best remembered, perhaps, for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad - certainly not for his diaries, which don’t seem to have been published. However, these diaries did inspire Tom Stoppard, one of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights, to write The Invention of Love.

Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, to a solicitor’s family on 26 March 1859, exactly one and a half centuries ago (and one century before my brother - who is 50 today!). He won an open scholarship to Oxford, but, for reasons that are much debated, he failed to finish his degree. While at Oxford he met Moses Jackson, another student and an athlete, who became the object of his unrequited love, and the inspiration for some of his poetry.

For a decade or so, in the 1880s, Housman worked at the Patent Office, London, but continued studying and publishing on classical subjects. In 1892, he was appointed professor of Latin studies at University College, London; and 20 years later he moved to Trinity College, Cambridge, as Kennedy Professor of Latin. According to Wikipedia, his editions of Juvenal, Manilius and Lucan are still considered authoritative.

Although Housman thought of classical scholarship as his main work, he also developed a significant reputation as a writer of poetry. His cycle of poems called A Shropshire Lad has been much loved over the decades, and been printed many times. Currently, Abebooks has over 1,000 copies available for sale, the most expensive of which is a first edition inscribed by Housman to Jackson - a bargain at just over £60,000 (price converted from dollars).

Housman has also become an icon in the history of homosexuality. The online gay encyclopaedia, glbtq, starts its profile of Housman by claiming his poetry ‘is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history’. This was sensed at the time, it says, by ‘knowing readers’, and understood latterly because of two candid posthumous volumes that Housman’s brother Laurence, his literary executor and also homosexual, assembled from Housman’s unpublished manuscripts.

There are a number of references online to Housman’s diaries - archived at the British Library - but I can find no trace of them having been published in book form. Richard Perceval Graves quotes from them in his biography A E Housman: the scholar-poet published by Taylor & Francis in 1979 (viewable on Googlebooks).

Graves says this: ‘The few diary entries made between 1888 and 1891 which did not refer to the Jacksons [Moses and his brother Adalbert] were indeed about the changing seasons, showing how he had maintained that interest in botany which had been his since early schooldays. The complete entry for the day in October when Moses Jackson’s eldest son was born, reads:
‘Epping Forest
Hornbeam shows some yellow
One honeysuckle bloom
A tree with red berries and leaves turning partly yellow heather mostly faded
His son born.’ ’

Another person who has seen at least some of Housman’s diary is Tom Stoppard, one of Britain’s foremost playwrights. He’s justly famous for plays such as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Arcadia, and Jumpers. According to Wikipedia, however, ‘many’ consider The Invention of Love to be his finest play. It premiered in London (at the National Theatre) in 1997, and on Broadway (at the Lincoln Centre) in 2001.

The New York Times called The Invention of Love ‘a memory play’, one that follows Housman ‘as he looks back on his frustrated lifelong love for Moses Jackson’. In making this journey into the past, it says, the play reflects both an interest in the literature and myth of classical antiquity and Oxford intellectual life of a century ago.

Various articles on the US opening explained that Stoppard was inspired to write the play after discovering a book containing some of Housman’s letters and lectures which also contained brief excerpts of Housman’s diary. The New York Times, for example, quoted Stoppard himself: ‘Most of the time, there were little notes about what flowers were in bloom or his walks. But during a particular year, sporadic days began to include reference to an unnamed man he’d fallen in love with as a student. . . It was so cryptic and so reticent and suppressed, it suggested a tremendous amount of emotion.’

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A shrivelled gouty old man

A pleasant, chatty little man was Joseph Liouville, a French mathemetician born two centuries ago today. He wasn’t a diary man, though, as far as I know; but another mathematician, Thomas Archer Hirst, was, and he made a habit of writing about his academic peers.

Liouville was born on 24 March 1809, exactly 200 years ago today. His father, an army captain who survived Napoleon’s wars, moved his family to Toul in northeast France, where Joseph attended school. He went on to study at École Polytechnique, France’s foremost engineering school, later becoming a professor at the same institution. His career also saw him appointed chair in mathematics at the Collège de France and a chair in mechanics at the Faculté des Sciences.

He worked in a number of different fields in mathematics, including number theory, complex analysis, differential geometry and topology, but also mathematical physics and even astronomy, Wikipedia says. He is remembered particularly for Liouville’s theorem, but other procedures also carry his name - the Sturm-Liouville theory and the Liouville-Arnold theorem for example - as does a crater on the moon. He is said to have published about 400 papers and notes, more than 200 of them on the theory of numbers alone.

In 1836 he founded Journal de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées, which did much for mathematics in France throughout the 19th century, and is still around today. He also dabbled in politics for a while. More information can be found at Wikipedia and at MacTutor (a website run by the School of Mathematics and Statistics at St Andrews university).

Thomas Archer Hirst, an English mathematician born two decades after Liouville in 1830 in Yorkshire, studied at the University of Marburg, Germany, and remained on the Continent for most of the 1850s. He then returned to England, first to teach at University College School, London, and subsequently to take up a physics professorship at University College as well as the mathematics chair. In 1873, he was appointed Director of Studies at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. According to Wikipedia, he was an active member of the governing councils of the Royal Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the London Mathematical Society.

Hirst was also a diarist and kept a personal record for most his life. His notebooks and diaries are archived at the Royal Institution, London, but, as far as I know have never been published. However, the MacTutor website has filleted out a collection of quotes about Hirst’s mathematician peers, including two about Liouville twenty years apart.

18 Nov 1857
‘He is a pleasant, chatty little man with whom I soon felt at perfect ease. The only blemish I observed in him was an occasional unmeaning giggle.’

18 May 1879
‘A little shrivelled gouty old man [Liouville] has become and very garrulous. It was with difficulty I broke away from him.’

Sunday, March 22, 2009

An owl in the desert

Lady Anne Clifford died 333 years ago today. She was a formidable woman who struggled for many years to claim ownership of her family’s large estates in the north of England, but when she did finally inherit them, she did much to restore their buildings, especially the castles. She’s also considered a minor literary figure because of the quality of a diary she left behind. Coincidentally (see last blog on Nicolson), this was first edited by Vita Sackville-West, a descendant of the brother of her first husband.

There is an excellent biography of Lady Clifford on the Encyclopedia of World Biography website, and there are short biographical summaries on the Wikipedia and Diary Junction websites. Born at Skipton Castle, she was the third and only surviving child of the Third Earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret Russell. The Earl was away at sea most of the time, so she was brought up in a house dominated by women, though she did have a tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel. As a girl, she spent time at Queen Elizabeth’s court, and indeed was still at court in 1603 when Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne.

When her father died, in 1605, the whole estate went to his brother not to her, and Anne then spent several decades in a battle (which went so far as to involve King James) to reclaim it. Her first husband, Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, with whom she had five children (three of whom died young), did not support her in these efforts. (The descendants of Richard’s brother, Edward, include the writer Vita Sackville-West who was born at Knole, the great Sackville stately home in Kent; and - coincidentally for this Blog - she married Harold Nicolson, the subject of the last Diary Junction Blog article.)

Clifford’s second husband, Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, did support Lady Anne’s legal efforts. He employed Inigo Jones to restore the Pembroke family home, and Anne became enthusiastic about other building projects. She eventually inherited her father’s estate when the male line failed, and, with the Civil War raging, went north to live there. At the age of nearly 60, with Pembroke having died, Lady Anne spent the final years of her life helping to rebuild local churches and castles on the estate lands (including Skipton Castle). She died at Brougham Castle where her father had been born - 333 years ago today.

Only a small portion of Clifford’s diaries survive - a reminiscence written in 1603 and a regular diary for 1616, 1617 and 1619 - and these were first edited by Vita Sackville-West and published by Heinemann in 1923 as The Diary of Lady Anne Clifford. First editions can be bought secondhand at Abebooks for as little as £20 in the UK. More recently, there have been various new editions/reprints, including The Memoir of 1603 and The Diary of 1616-1619 edited by Katherine Acheson and published by Broadview Press in 2007. Some pages of this latter edition are viewable on Googlebooks.

Otherwise, there’s not much of Clifford’s diary on the internet, though a few extracts can be found on The Norton Anthology of English Literature website. Here are a couple of extracts, both of which refer to the dispute about her family estate. (‘My Lady’ refers to her mother; ‘my Lord’ to her husband; and the ‘agreements’ to the dispute over the family estate.)

February 1616
‘Upon the 17th being Saturday my Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, my Lord William Howard, my Lord Roos, my Cousin Russell, my brother Sackville, and a great company of men of note were all in the gallery at Dorset House where the Archbishop of Canterbury took me aside and talked with me privately one hour and a half, and persuaded me both by divine and human means to set my hand to these agreements, but my answer to his Lordship was that I would do nothing till my Lady and I had conferred together. Much persuasion was used by him and all the company, sometimes terrifying me and sometimes flattering me, but at length it was concluded that I should have leave to go to my Mother.’

May 1616
‘At this time my Lord was in London where he had infinite and great resort coming to him. He went much abroad to Cocking, to bowling alleys, to plays and horse races, and [was] commended by all the world. I stayed in the country, having many times a sorrowful and heavy heart, and being condemned by most folks because I would not consent to the agreements, so as I may truly say I am like an owl in the desert.’

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Of war and of sowing

The diaries of Harold Nicolson, one of the most interesting and readable of 20th century diarists, are being republished today in their original three volumes by Faber Finds. Following on from Chamberlain’s ‘birthday’ article yesterday, I’ve chosen one extract from Nicolson’s diary dating to almost exactly 60 years ago about the then prime minister, and another just a few days later which shows Nicolson as happy (well not quite on this occasion) in his garden at Sissinghurst as he was in Parliament.

Wikipedia and The Diary Junction have short online biographies with basic details of Nicolson’s life, but there are also several published biographies, starting with Nigel Nicolson’s Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (1973), James Lees-Milne’s two-volume Harold Nicolson: A Biography (early 1980s), and Norman Rose’s Harold Nicolson (2005).

Nicolson was Born in Tehran (Persia at the time) in 1886 and worked in the British diplomatic service before becoming an MP in 1935. He married the writer Victoria Sackville-West in 1913, and together they created the famous garden at Sissinghurst, Kent. While not an especially remarkable politician in his own right, Nicolson’s skills lay in his talents as an observer, and as a journalist and writer. He wrote many biographical books, but is probably best remembered for his diaries. He is also well remembered for the relationship with his wife, which was both very close yet also open, in the sense that each partner allowed the other to have affairs, including with same-sex lovers. 

Harold’s son Nigel Nicolson edited and published three volumes of the diaries (and letters) in the last years of his father’s life (Harold died in 1968). Since then there have been many reprints and reissues. Most recently, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (now part of Orion, but originally founded by Nigel Nicolson and George Weidenfeld in the 1940s) published, in 2004, a one volume edition - The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1963. This was, like the earlier versions, edited by Nigel but included a different set of entries.

Today (19 March) though, the original three volume set is being reissued by Faber Finds: Harold Nicolson - Diaries and Letters Vol. 1 (1930-1939); Harold Nicolson - Diaries and Letters Vol. 2 (1939-1945); Harold Nicolson - Diaries and Letters Vol. 3 (1945–-1962).

In advertising the reissued books, Faber Finds quotes a number of past reviews. Sir Kenneth Clark, for example, said the diaries provide ‘not only a brilliant picture of English society in the 1930s, but a touching self-portrait of a highly intelligent and civilized man driven by conscience and curiosity to enter politics’. The late Cyril Connolly said, ‘One is hardly able to put it down for meals . . . It is very artfully edited for, besides the diary proper, there are many letters to Sir Harold’s wife, Vita Sackville-West, and not a few from her to him. But this remains solidly and brilliantly Sir Harold’s own book.’ And Michael Foot: ‘One stops to marvel at the achievement. Honesty, decency, modesty magnanimity are stamped on every page, as evident as the wit. These are not the normal virtues of successful diarists or would-be politicians, but Harold Nicolson possesses them all.’

Here are two short extracts (taken from The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1963), both from 60 years ago. I’ve picked the first one because it’s about Chamberlain, the subject of yesterday’s blog, and the second because it’s only a few days later but gives a charming (if somewhat maudlin) and characteristic impression of Nicolson at Sissinghurst. (I assume the square brackets were inserted by the editor, Nigel Nicolson.)

31 March 1939
‘Down to the House. The PM says he will make a statement shortly before three. The general feeling is that he will announce that if Poland and Rumania are attacked we shall go to war. There is some uneasiness about in the corridors. People fear lest Chamberlain may not stay put. Chamberlain arrives looking gaunt and ill. The skin above his high cheek bones is parchment yellow. He drops wearily into his place. . . He begins by saying that we believe in negotiation and do not trust in rumours. He then gets to the centre of his statement, namely that if Poland is attacked we shall declare war. That is greeted with cheers from every side. He reads his statement very slowly with a bent grey head. It is most impressive.’

9 April 1939
‘In the afternoon Viti and I plant annuals. We sow them in the cottage garden and then in the border and then in the orchard. We rake the soil smooth. And, as we rake we are both thinking, ‘What will have happened to the world when these seeds germinate?’ It is warm and still. We should have been so happy were it not for the thought which aches at our hearts as if some very dear person was dying in the upstairs room. We discuss whether we might be defeated if war comes. And if defeated, surely surrender [suicide] in advance would be better? We ourselves don’t think of money or privilege or pleasure. We are thinking only of that vast wastage of suffering which must surely come. All because of the insane ambitions of one fanatic, and of the vicious theory which he has imposed on his people.’

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chamberlain’s diary letters

It’s Neville Chamberlain’s birthday, or would have been if he were alive to have reached twice three score years and ten. A Conservative politician best known for his short term as prime minister and a policy of appeasement in the run up to the Second World War, he also served as Minister of Health and Chancellor of the Exchequer between the wars. During this inter-war period, he wrote weekly letters to his sister, and these have been published in four (expensive) volumes, described by the editor as ‘diary letters’. Diary letters?

The Number 10 website provides a brief biography of Neville Chamberlain. He was born 140 years ago today (18 March) into a political family: his father, Joseph, would become a mayor of Birmingham and a cabinet minister, and his half-brother Austen would hold various high posts in government including Chancellor of the Exchequer. After being schooled at Rugby and Mason College, Birmingham, Neville went to the Bahamas to manage the large family estate growing sisal (for making rope). On returning to Britain, he became a prominent manufacturer in Birmingham, and then, in 1915, was elected Lord Mayor.

In 1918, aged 49, Chamberlain was returned to Parliament as a Conservative MP. Although offered a post in government, he refused to serve under Lloyd George, and remained a back-bencher until 1922 when he was appointed Postmaster General. For most of the 1920s and 1930s, he went back and forth between the positions of Minister of Health and Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1937, he succeeded Baldwin as Prime Minister. Conflict in Europe, though, was not far off. 

In 1938, Chamberlain went to meet Hitler, the German chancellor, in Munich. He came back with an agreement that Britain and Germany would never again go to war. ‘I believe,’ he declared, ‘it is peace for our time.’ However, the success of his appeasement policy was shortlived, since Hitler was soon to march into Prague. The subsequent invasion of Poland led Chamberlain to declare war on 3 September 1939. Thereafter, he proved unable to counter mounting criticism of his leadership, and thus resigned in May 1940. Later the same year he died of bowel cancer.

It was not until just 60 years later, though, that a first volume of The Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters was published, by Ashgate Publishing. This first one was subtitled The Making of a Politician, 1915-20. A second volume followed the same year subtitled The Reform Years, 1921-27; a third volume in 2002 subtitled The Heir Apparent, 1928-33; and the fourth and last in 2005 subtitled The Downing Street Years, 1934-40. Each one was edited by Robert Self, and costs £90. The full set is available from Ashgate for £229.50.

Ashgate says: ‘As a primary source of historical evidence and insight, it is difficult to overstate the value and importance of Neville Chamberlain’s diary letters to his sisters [Ida and Hilda]. They represent the most complete and illuminating ‘insider’ record of British politics between the wars yet to be published. . . Beyond the fascination of the historical record of people and events, these letters are extremely valuable for the remarkable light they throw upon the personality and character of the private man lurking behind the austerely forbidding public persona.’

But what of this idea of ‘diary letters’? Interestingly, there is, online, a full explanation by Robert Self, the editor, of why he chose to use the term rather than simply calling Chamberlain’s letters ‘letters’.

The second volume of the set was reviewed in 2002 by David J. Dutton for the Institute of Historical Research, and this review is available online. Although very positive about the book, Dutton did express reservations about the title, which he said was ‘somewhat misleading to the extent that Chamberlain, unlike his half-brother, did keep an extensive, if not continuous, diary, and the primary purpose of his letters to Ida and Hilda was not to record events for posterity but to keep them informed, to share his concerns with two women of considerable intelligence and good sense, and to use his sisters as a sounding board for his own thoughts and plans.’ Dutton does admit, though, that the letters form ‘an almost continuous record and Chamberlain did, on occasion, clearly use them as a substitute for entries in his diary’.

Also on the Institute’s website is Self’s response to the review. ‘It is difficult to quibble about either the general tone or the specific content of David Dutton’s extremely generous review’, he says, nevertheless, ‘there is one point raised in Dr Dutton’s review which does merit clarification’, and this concerns the claim that the use of the title ‘Diary Letters’ is ‘somewhat misleading’.

Self explains that, in part, the adoption of the term ‘diary letters’ represented ‘a logical extension of my earlier edited volume of letters from Austen Chamberlain to the same sisters which he commenced in February 1917 after enquiring whether he ‘could write something like a diary letter’ to them’. He also notes that the practice of writing regular ‘diary letters’ did not start in the Chamberlain family with the generation that included Austen, Neville and their sisters, but earlier. Moreover, he adds, Neville Chamberlain explicitly noted in a letter on New Year’s Day 1921 that the correspondence with his sisters had ‘the advantage of making a sort of diary’.

Self goes on to examine what he considers a more fundamental point raised by David Dutton, namely ‘the relative significance and historical value of the diary letters to Hilda and Ida when compared with the five relatively slim volumes of political journals which cover a similar period’. Despite a similarity in the period covered, he says, the content and even the phrasing of the political journals ‘invariably lack the depth, the detail and (crucially) the almost unfailing weekly consistency of the record contained in the diary letters to his sisters, which so painstakingly reconstructed all of the events, activities and experiences of the preceding week’.

More generally, Self argues that the letters have specific diary qualities. Here is the final paragraph of his response.

‘Yet beyond the far greater continuity, depth and length of the record contained in the diary letters, their outstanding value and importance is derived from the very nature of the epistolary act and the closeness of the relationship with his sisters which underpinned his devotion to it. Thus, whatever the similarity in terms of information content, the solitary act of keeping a diary did not necessarily encourage the same uninhibited expression of emotion and inner feelings that so often emerges in an intense and revealing manner in the diary letters to his sisters. Only here do we really see more than a glimpse of the complete inner man so fastidiously concealed from the world beyond his immediate family. Indeed, as Austen noted in 1931, even within the family it was well known ‘how tongue-tied in matters of sentiment’ his half-brother was. Yet the intense natural confidence and reassuring intimacy of Neville Chamberlain’s bond with his sisters encouraged this supremely reticent man to indulge a well developed propensity for ‘epistolary garrulity’ (as he called it in August 1921), which permitted him to reveal as much about his innermost thoughts, hopes, fears and ambitions as he was ever capable of exposing to anyone - perhaps even to his adoring wife. Ultimately, the unique value of the diary letters is derived from precisely this additional, intensely personal insight into that hidden, warmer and more human side of the truly enigmatic personality which lurked behind a public persona that all too often appeared to be cold, abrasive and supremely unlovable.’

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As big as the West

‘Married once again and - I swear - for the final time.’ So wrote Edward Abbey, the controversial American writer considered by some to be as big as the west itself, in his diary. It was his fourth marriage he was writing about then, but there would be a fifth before he died in his early sixties. Extracts from the diary were edited and published posthumously as Confessions of a Barbarian, and most of the book can be read freely online.

Abbey’s Web, which is edited by Christer Lindh in Sweden, has a good deal of information about Abbey. He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, in 1927, and grew up in nearby Home. After a brief military career (1945-1947) in Italy, he attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Subsequently, he studied at the University of New Mexico, with a year at Edinburgh University in Scotland. His master’s thesis at New Mexico was called Anarchism and the Morality of Violence. For 15 years and well into his 40s, he worked as a part-time ranger and fire lookout at several different national parks, providing a collection of experiences that underpinned much of his writing.

Here is an assessment of the man from the blurb of a 1993 documentary video Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness. ‘Through his novels, essays, letters and speeches, Edward Abbey consistently voiced the belief that the West was in danger of being developed to death, and that the only solution lay in the preservation of wilderness. Abbey authored twenty-one books in his lifetime, including Desert Solitaire, . . . The Brave Cowboy, and The Fool’s Progress. His comic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang helped inspire a whole generation of environmental activism. A writer in the mold of Twain and Thoreau, Abbey was a larger-than-life figure as big as the West itself.’

Larger-than-life indeed. According to Wikipedia (an article that is not fully referenced) Abbey’s abrasiveness, opposition to anthropocentrism, and outspoken writings made him the object of much controversy. He was sometimes called the ‘desert anarchist’ for his ability to anger people of all political stripes, including environmentalists. His private life was no less full of discord. He married five times, fathering five children from three different wives, and died on 14 March 1989, two decades ago today.

Abbey kept a diary - intermittently - from the age of 19 to a few days before his death, filling 20 volumes. They were edited by his friend David Petersen (who is also the literary editor of the Abbey estate), and published in 1994 by Little Brown as Confessions of a Barbarian - Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey 1951-1989. Most of the book is viewable at Googlebooks.

Here is the start of Petersen’s introduction: ‘Abbey began keeping a personal journal in 1946, viewing it as an important resource in his hoped-for-career as ‘a writer of creative fictions.’ He was nineteen at the time, serving as an army motorcycle cop in postwar Italy. Abbey continued the practice of writing to himself until just days before his death on March 14, 1989. The product of those four-plus decades of ‘scribbling’ (his term) was twenty cursive volumes kept in eight-by-ten and five-by-seven notebooks. Would have been twenty volumes, that is, had not the three earliest journals, documenting the years 1946 through most of 1951, been destroyed by flooding while in storage in the basement of the Abbey family home in rural Pennsylvania.’

And here are a few extracts from Abbey’s journal. I’ve chosen the first (from 28 May) because my own name is Paul and I was born on 28 May, exactly seven years earlier than Aaron.

28 May 1959
‘ATTENTION: Aaron Paul Abbey is born today. My second son. May he, like my first, be blessed by Heaven and Earth, grow straight and strong in the joyous sunlight.

If the world of men is truly as ugly, cruel, trivial, unjust and stinking with fraud as it usually appears, and if it is really impossible to make it pleasant and decent, then there remains only one alternative for the honest man: stay home, cultivate your own garden, look to the mountains. (Withdraw! Withdraw! Withdraw!)’

10 February 1974
‘Married once again and - I swear - for the final time [This was his fourth marriage.]. If this one fails, for any reason, I shall resign myself forever to the call of solitude, wander the world with my Suzi [his daughter by his third marriage] and maybe a small friendly homely dog.

But it won’t. Renee is the right one, at last, after twenty seven years (!) of searching. Very young - eighteen now, sixteen when I met and fell in love with her - she is not only beautiful and sweet and gentle and full of love for me, but also - so to speak - unspoiled, free of all those neurotic tics and nervous fears that older women invariably reveal after the honeymoon begins to fade. Spoiled, mostly, by men of course, by mistreatment or what they imagine is mistreatment. Anyway I’ve found the one I want. And by Gawd, I’m going to keep her.’

29 May 1979
‘Visitors come and visitors go. Some sonofabitch shit on the floor of our shithouse. Swine. So I’ll have to lock that one up too.

Renee was here for a couple of days. Tells me we’re through; she’s bored with our marriage (‘lacks intensity’) and fed up with me - says I’m away too much, that I don’t talk to her when I am with her, that I’m indifferent, that I don’t love her etc. She suspects me of fooling around with other women; doesn’t trust me. Says she wants out. Wants a divorce . . .’

30 May 1979
‘So. Again. Divorce and loneliness loom ahead. Can I endure it all again? If I must, I will. One thing for sure: no more hasty or impulsive marriages for me. Me and Suzi will go it on our own for a while. . .’

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lennon and Linda McCartney

It’s forty years ago today that Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman, and it was, by all accounts, a happy and successful marriage that only ended when Linda died. However, rumours, partly said to be based on the diaries of John Lennon, suggest that he and Linda had sex on one occasion.

Paul McCartney, one of the famous Beatles group, married Linda Eastman, an American photographer, at a civil ceremony in London on 12 March 1969 - exactly four decades ago. Paul adopted Linda’s daughter from her first marriage, Heather, and the couple had three more children. Most observers say the marriage was happy and successful. Paul himself claimed that he and Linda spent less than a week apart during their entire marriage. Linda died in 1998.

However, a contributor (calling himself 18th candidate) to Everything2 (which says it is ‘a collection of user-submitted writings about, well, pretty much everything’) suggests Linda might have been unfaithful to Paul on one occasion.

18th Candidate writes: ‘It’s been said that the Beatle to whom Linda was initially attracted was John Lennon, but John showed no interest in her and Linda subsequently set her sights on Paul. According to John’s diaries, however, years later in the 1970s, when Linda was married to Paul and John was married to Yoko Ono, Linda and John reportedly had a brief affair. According to the story, after an argument with Yoko, John went to Paul’s home where he found Linda alone. She had also had an argument with Paul and he had stormed out. After a bottle of wine and some marijuana, the diaries claim that John and Linda ended up in bed for a short encounter. Whether or not that story is true is actually largely speculation, but it’s the only report that Linda was ever unfaithful to Paul during their marriage.’

The source claimed for this unlikely scenario is ‘John’s diaries’, but information on these is hard to come by, on the internet at least. There is, though, some hard information about the involved story of the diaries in an article by Brian Murphy called Let Me Take You Down - In a Cyn Sandwich, The Profoundly Paradoxical Mind of John Lennon (Cyn being short for Cynthia, Lennon’s first wife). This is freely available on the Oakland University Journal website.

Certainly, Lennon kept some diaries in the last years of his life which, immediately after his death, were stolen by Fred Seaman, Lennon’s assistant in New York. He was convicted of this theft in 1983, and sentenced to five years’ probation. The diaries, which were returned to Yoko Ono (though who knows what photocopies exist), have never been published nor made public. Seaman did, though, author The Last Days of John Lennon: A Personal Memoir published by Birch Lane Press in 1991.

However, there have been two books which specifically claim to be based on Lennon’s diaries. One is Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon written by Robert Rosen and published by Fusion Press in 2000. Rosen, in his introduction to the book (available on john-lennon.com) explains how he came to use Lennon’s diaries as ‘a road map to the truth’.

‘Twenty-four hours after John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, his personal assistant Fred Seaman, a close friend of mine came to my apartment. He was visibly shaken, his eyes blood shot, tears streaming down his face. There was work to be done he said. The previous summer, during an extended stay in Bermuda, John had told him should anything happen to him, it was Seaman’s job to write the true story of his final years. It would not be the official tale of a happy, eccentric household raising Sean and baking bread while Yoko ran the family business. Instead it would be the story of a tormented superstar, a prisoner of his fame locked in his bedroom, raving about Jesus Christ while a retinue of servants tended to his every need. Still it was not until Wednesday October 21, (1981) that I began the process of transcribing Lennon’s diaries. It was exhausting work that continued unabated until the end of November. No matter how much I transcribed there was always more; the task seemed endless. . .’

‘. . . Then on January 4, 1982 Ono fired Seaman. He assured me the project would continue; he’d given John Lennon his word that he’d tell his true story. Yoko, he said would not object. On February 9, 1982 I flew to Jamaica. When I returned to New York on February 27, my apartment had been ransacked. Everything I’d been working on - the diaries, the photocopies of the diaries, the transcripts, the manuscripts, the tapes, the photos - had all been taken. There was no sign of forced entry. It was Seaman. He had the keys. It was only then that I realized that virtually everything Seaman had told me about why we were doing the project was a lie. I sank into a state of near paralysis but managed to file a complaint with the police. Lennon’s diaries haunted me. I’d wake up in the morning and details would come flooding back. I began taking notes on everything I could remember. By mid-April I’d put together a manuscript that included the information from the diaries and everything that had happened since the day Lennon was murdered. Nowhere Man is a work of both investigative journalism and imagination. I have used the memory of Lennon’s diaries as a road map to the truth.’

In fact, the book’s index offers less than a handful of references to the diaries, and those references lead to little of substance in the book itself.

The other book - Lennon in America: 1971-1980 - was written by Geoffrey Giuliano and published by Cooper Square Press in 2000. This even has the subtitle: Based on the Lost Lennon Diaries. Wikipedia’s article on Giuliano gives some detail. The author claimed he was given transcripts of Lennon’s journal by the singer Harry Nilsson, who died in 1994. The claim, however, was made after Nilsson’s death, and several people close to Nilsson do not believe he ever had such transcripts. Moreover, Steven Gutstein, a lawyer who read the diaries in connection with the legal case against Fred Seaman, remarked that Giulano’s book was ‘a Mad magazine version of the diaries’. Gutstein described his own memory of the diaries as being ‘a lot of philosophical musings combined with mundane details of everyday life’.

But, presumably, this book must be the source of 18th Candidate’s rumour-mongering. Giuliano says (or imagines) that Linda was alone nursing a headache in the aftermath of a heated argument with Paul. John and Yoko were going through a rough patch, and John regularly went over to Paul’s house in St John’s wood (incidentally only two doors down from where I myself lived for a short while in the 70s). On this occasion, Paul was out and Linda was making a bed, so Paul helped. In the course of spreading the sheets, Giuliano says, their hands touched briefly. Linda paid the contact no mind, but as Lennon reached to tuck in the top sheet (the detail is banally brilliant!), Lennon caught her arm and kissed her. Giuliano’s words: ‘A gentle, awkward embrace evolved into caresses and a quick interlude of sexual intimacy.’ Linda deeply regretted the indiscretion, Giuliano suggests, and never told a soul, while Lennon found it amusing.

So where did this rumour come from? Giuliano claims that George Speerin, a former Lennon aide, revealed the story in 1983; and that he himself (Giuliano) had seen a handwritten note by Lennon ‘which was probably intended for inclusion in his diaries’ which ‘referred’ to the same incident.

Giuliano admits in the introduction that his book does not contain any quotes from Lennon’s diaries. He says they were often incomplete thoughts and snippets - the exact meaning of which was dificult to discern. Instead, he says, he used the diaries as ‘collaborating source material’. The book’s index does have 20 or more references to Lennon’s diaries for where Giuliano has used them as source material. Here are two, one about the McCartneys and one about sex.

- ‘John ended up at dinner listening to the McCartney’s endless bragging about how wonderfully they were doing. In his [Lennon’s] diaries, he termed them obnoxious, smug and even downright stupid.’

‘So important were these pleasurable [sexual] episodes to the former Beatle than he kept a daily record of them all - in handwritten and taped diaries he assiduously maintained to the end of his life.’

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Steller on Bering Island

The German naturalist, Georg Wilhelm Steller, was born three centuries ago today. He took part in a famous Russian expedition, led by Vitus Bering, that landed in Alaska in 1741, and was shipwrecked on Bering Island. Steller kept a journal of the voyage which, a modern publisher says, ‘fully and dramatically’ describes the European discovery of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

Steller was born in Windsheim, near Nuremberg, on 10 March 1709 exactly 300 years ago. He studied at the University of Wittenberg, then moved to work at the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg. He was appointed as naturalist on an expedition commanded by Bering to chart the Siberian coast of the Arctic Ocean and search for an eastern passage to North America. The expedition sailed to the Kamchatka Peninsula in September 1740, and Steller spent the winter there, helping to organize a local school.

The following summer he sailed with Bering to North America, landing in Alaska at Kayak Island in July 1741. During the return journey, the boat was shipwrecked on an island off Kamchatka - later called Bering Island - where half the crew and Bering himself died. Stellar, however, survived; he also wrote descriptions of the fauna of the island, and several animals are now named after him (see Wikipedia for a list). The surviving crew built a new vessel in the spring, and managed to return to Kamchatka (Avacha Bay), where Steller remained for another two years. He died in 1746 on his way back to St Petersburg.

A manuscript journal kept by Steller found its way to the Academy in St Petersburg, where eventually it was reorganised and partly rewritten by the professor of natural history, another German, Peter Simon Pallas. He published a first instalment in 1781, based on the journal’s appendix about the physical geography of Bering Island. The substance of the journal was published as a second instalment in 1793. A few years later, in 1803, a first summarised version appeared in English as one part of a larger work - the fourth edition of William Coxe’s Account of the Russian Discoveries Between Asia and America.

Much more recently, though, in 1988, Stanford University Press published Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742, as translated by Margritt Engle and O. W. Frost, and with a long and informative introduction by Frost. Most of the introduction can be freely viewed at Googlebooks. The publisher says: ‘The European discovery of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands is fully and dramatically recorded in this journal - a gripping narrative of human conflict, of nature as adversary, of terror and pain and death, and of final deliverance.’

The Avacha Bay Co website says this of the book: ‘Although more than 250 years have passed since Steller wrote his private journal, the text, translated from the original German, is lively, easily readable, and displays a compassion and insight which seems uncanny for the era. His observations are an invaluable resource for understanding what this region was like prior to European discovery and what it felt like to be a participant in one of the world's great expeditions of discovery.’

Some quotes from Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742 can be read online at Googlebooks in The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts published by Island Press. Steller wrote, for example, about the suffering of his colleagues on Bering Island: ‘One screamed because he was cold, another from hunger and thirst, as the mouths of many were in such a wretched state from scurvy, that they could not eat anything on account of the great pain because the gums were swollen up like a sponge, brown-black and grown high over the teeth and covering them.’ And, of Bering, who died on 8 December 1740, he wrote that he died, ‘more from hunger, cold, thirst, vermin and grief than from a disease’.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rotten eggs in Peking

‘Though among foreign correspondents in China good ones are certainly not wholly lacking, in the final analysis most of them are stupid and are rotten eggs.’ This was the Communists’ explanation for banning foreign journalists in the weeks after taking power, as recorded by Derk Bodde, an eminent American historian born 100 years ago today, in his Peking diary almost exactly 60 years ago. But, Bodde himself also comments: ‘It is difficult to see the justification for a step which, in its sweeping inclusiveness, transcends anything attempted even in Soviet Russia.’

Derk Bodde was born on 9 March 1909, a century ago today, in Brant Rock about 50km southeast of Boston, Massachusetts. As a boy he lived for several years in China, where his father taught physics. He studied at Harvard, and then spent several more years in China on a fellowship, before completing a doctorate at Leiden University in the Netherlands. From 1938, he began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania becoming emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies, and he continued to teach there until retiring in 1975, apart from sabbaticals and a period of war service.

According to an obituary in The New York Times, Bodde, became known as an expert on the Qin dynasty of the late third century BC, as the translator of Fung Yu-lan’s History of Chinese Philosophy, as an analyst of Chinese law of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and as a shrewd observer of Chinese politics of the late 1940s. Inspired by Galia Speshneff, his Russian-born wife who he met in China, he also wrote an analysis of how Chinese culture had influenced Tolstoy - Tolstoy and China - which was described as ‘solid and important’. He died only a few years ago, in 2003. More details of his life can be found in a short biographical memoir hosted on the American Philosophical Society website.

The New York Times called Bodde ‘a shrewd observer of Chinese politics of the late 1940s’ on the basis of his Peking Diary, a book written thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. After the war, in 1948, Bodde went once again to China as the very first recipient of a scholarship programme set up by Senator J. William Fulbright. According to Wikipedia, the Fulbright Program is now one of the most prestigious awards programmes worldwide, operating in 144 countries and with 51 commissions - ‘more Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes than those of any other academic program, including two in 2002’.

Bodde describes (in Peking Diary) how he got offered the scholarship: ‘One morning in March 1948 the telephone rang in my home in Philadelphia. It was a call from Washington. ‘Would you be prepared to go to China as a Fulbright Fellow?’ the voice asked. ‘We would like an immediate decision, if possible, so that we can make a press release today to say that the Fulbright Program has been started.’ I swallowed my surprise, remembering from wartime experience in Washington that when things happen there, they usually do so explosively. ‘I’ll be tremendously happy to go,’ I replied. ‘Please tell me the details.’ ’

Bodde, with his wife and son Theodore, travelled to, what was then still called, Peking in August 1948. The year he then spent in the Chinese capital happened to coincide with the fall of the Nationalist government and the arrival of the Communists. Throughout this tumultous period in the country’s history, Bodde kept a detailed diary, and this was published in 1950 by Henry Schuman as Peking Diary: A Year of Revolution. It is considered the first full-length account of the Chinese revolution by a neutral observer. The full text is freely available at Internet Archive.

In the introduction, Bodde says the diary ‘is offered in the hope that it may have some historical value as a fragmentary record of a crucial year in Chinese history, seen from the city which became the focus of events during this year’. ‘So far as I know,’ he adds, ‘no other foreigner kept a similar record while I was in Peking, the more so as the news activities of all foreign correspondents were halted by the Communists less than a month after their arrival.’

And here is an extract from the diary (with several paragraphs omitted), dated almost exactly 60 years ago.

4 March 1949
‘It is now thirty-two days since the People’s Army marched into Peking. Following the spate of meetings, parades, and congratulatory messages of the first two weeks, changes of a more concrete nature are beginning to make themselves felt. The honeymoon seems over.

Physically, conditions continue to return to normal. The enormous piles of unsightly refuse which had accumulated in the streets during the siege are gradually being carted away. The reopening of the Palace Museum, and probably of many other parks and museums, is promised within a week. Already the city wall is open as a promenade to those who wish to use it. From its top the evidences of destruction wrought by Peking’s former defenders are clearly apparent: on the wall itself, in the tunnels and piles of brick and earth remaining from hundreds of dugouts and gun emplacements; beyond the wall, in the gray waste of razed buildings which circle the city in a belt several hundred yards wide. Of these, only heaps of rubble now remain, from which boys are gradually carrying away the bricks on their backs. At one or two places a start has been made at rebuilding, but for the most part the scene is one of bleak desolation.

On the production front the papers are filled these days, quite à la Russe, with enthusiastic accounts of how the workers are rehabilitating industry to a point equal to, or even higher than, its presiege level. Improving communications are making it possible for thousands of refugees to return to their homes, helped by free transportation and grain allotments from the government. It was inspiring to revisit the Temple of Confucius a few days ago and compare its present stately calm with the former scene of refugee squalor, misery, and confusion. Almost the last evidences of that unhappy time are the piles of refuse now being carted away in preparation for its formal reopening a few days hence. Voids remain, however, where doors, windows, and furniture used to be all burned as firewood during the siege. . .

Newspapers have suffered a high mortality, at least seven having been closed in Peking, including that to which I had subscribed, the World Daily News. . .

During the past few weeks, however, I have concluded that the integrity of the press depends on more than simply the number of its papers, important though this may be. It does not greatly matter, after all, if a city possesses one, two, or five papers, provided they all print essentially the same news derived from the same source. As a matter of fact, what can be said of the press here in China can also be made to apply, in some respects, to the American press: too many American cities maintain only one paper, too many papers depend for news solely on a single news agency, too many Americans read the same feature columns syndicated throughout the country. The real difference between America and Communist China, however, can be summed up in a sentence: a speech by Mao Tse-tung has a fair chance of being at least partially reported in America; a Truman speech has no chance at all of being printed in Communist China, unless it suits the purpose of the authorities to permit it.

Most disturbing act of thought control is the February 27 order halting all further news activities of Peking’s foreign correspondents. Though only seventeen persons are affected (Australian, Swiss, Swedish, and Dutch, as well as American), the order in effect means the complete cessation of news (other than over the Communist radio) from Communist China to the outside world, since Peking is the only city in North China in which foreign correspondents are stationed. The same order bans the further circulation here of the US Information Service news bulletins, both Chinese and English, thus leaving the short-wave radio (for those who have one) as the only ‘free’ organ of information from the outside world.

It is difficult to see the justification for a step which, in its sweeping inclusiveness, transcends anything attempted even in Soviet Russia. The official explanation is that of ‘conditions during the present state of military activity.’ The Progressive Daily goes a good bit further by beginning its February 28 editorial with the words: ‘Though among foreign correspondents in China good ones are certainly not wholly lacking, in the final analysis most of them are stupid and are rotten eggs.’ As illustration it cites the unfortunate AP and UP dispatches describing the Communist entry of Peking. If these are the real causes for the present step, the Communists could have attained their objectives equally well either by expelling the two correspondents directly involved or by imposing general censorship. Though either step would have undoubtedly aroused criticism abroad, neither could have been as disastrous as the present move, the only practical effect of which is to close the mouths of the new regime’s potential friends abroad, strengthen its enemies, and make more difficult the re-establishment of those diplomatic and commercial ties from which the Chinese Communists themselves stand to benefit. . .’

Sunday, March 8, 2009

DiMaggio’s diary - $33 a word

Joe DiMaggio died a decade ago today. He was one of the most famous of American baseball players, and is perhaps best known for his 56-game hitting streak, a record that still stands, or, possibly, for a marriage to Marilyn Monroe that lasted less than a year. There is nothing about Monroe, however, in DiMaggio’s diaries, and not much else interesting either, according to reviewers. Nevertheless, a variety of original pages from the diaries are on sale at $2,000-5,000 each.

There is no shortage of information about DiMaggio on the internet. Wikipedia’s article is a bit full of jargon, Notable Biographies is a much easier read, and the official Joe DiMaggio website has lots of photographs too. 

DiMaggio was the eighth of nine children born in 1914 to Italian immigrants, and grew up in San Francisco. He made his professional baseball debut shortly before his 18th birthday, and became a local Minor League celebrity. A serious knee injury slowed down his career down slightly, but in 1936 he made his Major League debut for the New York Yankees, in front of many thousands of Italian fans. He soon earned the nicknames ‘Joltin’ Joe’ for the power of his batting and ‘The Yankee Clipper’ after the transAtlantic ships built for speed.

In the 1939 season, DiMaggio won the League’s Most Valuable Player award, and in 1941 he created the record that still stands - a fifty-six-game hitting streak. (For non-Americans, the term ‘hitting streak’ refers to the consecutive number of official games in which a player gets at least one base hit, and a base hit is when the batter safely reaches first base after hitting the ball into fair territory, without the benefit of an error or a fielder’s choice.). He spent three years in the army returning to professional baseball in 1946 and winning his third Most Valuable Player award in 1947.

With injury problems having affected his play for several seasons, DiMaggio retired in 1952; the Yankees then, in honour of their much-loved player, retired his uniform number (5) so no player could use it again. Thereafter, he worked in television. He was married once before the war, to Dorothy Arnold, and then briefly - for less than a year - to the actress Marilyn Monroe after the war. In 1955, he was he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1969 a poll of sports writers named him the sport’s greatest living player. He died on 8 March 1999, ten years ago today.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Joe DiMaggio kept a diary from 1980 to 1994, although this was at the suggestion of his accountant so that he could have a record of expenses. In 2007, these diaries were acquired by Steiner Sports, which describes itself as ‘the leader in autographed sports memorabilia and sports collectibles’. Immediately, it announced that it would try to auction them for a minimum of $1.5m. The auction received plenty of publicity, and it was widely reported that there were over 2,000 pages in plastic protective sheets contained in 29 thick, black, loose-leaf binders.

According to Onion Sports Network, though, the diaries are not very interesting. They are merely a listing of all the things and people DiMaggio hated: ‘Jukeboxes, dollar stores, Paul Simon, Washington DC, speaking, Garth Brooks, myself, and automobiles. Also sore throats, Yogi Berra, films, Lee Iacocca, coffeemakers, anyone who has ever referred to me as Joltin, sandals, baseball.’

And the UK newspaper The Independent was not very impressed by DiMaggio’s diaries either: ‘His so-called diaries are a random collection of 2,000 pages, offering a clipped daily chronicle of events . . . next to nothing about Marilyn Monroe, and precious little even about the Yankees. Instead you find bland entries about dinners with friends, and endless complaints about the burdens of fame. ‘Swamped with the signing of baseballs - pictures - radio and TV,’ he writes of one July 1989 day in Anaheim, California. ‘Stress too much.’ ’

Although there were many reports of the proposed auction by Steiner Sports, there appear to have been none about the result. Presumably, the company did not find anyone willing to pay $1.5m, and therefore decided to sell - as it said it might - the great baseball’s players jottings one by one. Indeed, individual specified diary pages, some of them with only 150-200 handwritten words, are currently on sale at the Steiner Sports website for $2,000-5,000. Each page, it says, will be shipped in ‘a blue protective hard cover display’, however, it stresses, the purchase includes no rights to copy, reproduce or publish the page.

For example, the diary page 2 March 1992 is on sale for $5,000. Steiner Sports describes the content as follows: ‘DiMaggio had a very late breakfast at the club then met with a couple of friends who wanted to say hello before hitting some balls at the driving range. Met a friend at the range and decided to play nine holes with him. After the nine holes DiMaggio took at [sic] steam and had dinner at the club.’ The website shows a picture of the diary page, so I can calculate that there are no more than 150 words, and that therefore each word is worth at least $33. 

According to the company, the diaries detail ‘a myriad of memories’ including: ‘A visit with President Ronald Reagan at the White House at Gorbachev dinner . . .; a meeting with New York City Mayor Ed Koch; missing the final game of the 1986 World Series to receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor; sitting in George Steinbrenner’s box and talking baseball with the Yankees owner; reaction to Commissioner’s press conference on Pete Rose; the pressures of the 56 game hitting streak . . .; watching the Gulf crisis unfold on television; sitting in an airport lounge getting ‘high on diet cokes’. ’

However, it is not clear which of the pages for these events have already been sold, nor indeed how many pages in total have been sold since 2007. Nor have I any idea whether pages containing the following extracts have been sold or not.

28 April 1989
‘Up at 5am . . . Book people felt me out with questions pertaining to baseball. Some part of my private life but not too strong on that. Will not reveal anything in a negative way towards Marilyn - only books that have come out on her might have not been truthful.’

30 April 1991 (at Kennedy Airport)
‘. . . was asked for another autograph - just one interruption after another - people must think I have skin like an armored plate. Will get a checkup and find out how I’m holding up.’

And NBC Sports has these undated laments about a public relations frenzy and about travelling: ‘If I thought this would be taking place I would have stopped the hitting streak at 40’; and ‘Plane food should be fed to pigs’.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Wallenberg curse

The Wall Street Journal has just published a series of articles about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat working in Budapest who saved thousands of Jews but who went missing in the last months of the Second World War. In particular, the newspaper draws attention to a diary kept by Raoul’s stepfather, Fredrik von Dardel, for over 25 years, most of which is about the search for Raoul.

Raoul Wallenberg’s story is well-known and well documented. Wikipedia has a fully-referenced summary, and there is a long biography on the website of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. There are also dozens of books about the man, many of them on Googlebooks, such as Wallenberg: Missing Hero by Kati Marton, which claims on the cover that he saved 100,000 Jews.

Wallenberg was born in 1912 into a wealthy Swedish family, three months after his father had died. In 1918, his mother married Fredrik von Dardel, and they had two children, Guy and Nina. In the 1930s, Wallenberg went to study architecture in the US, but then worked for a construction company in South Africa and a bank in Haifa. On returning to Stockholm, he joined the Central European Trading Company, owned by Kálmán Lauer a Hungarian-Jew. From the early 1940s, he began to travel to Hungary as Lauer’s aide, and was soon a part owner of the company and a director.

By the spring of 1944, Allied leaders were considering what to do about the persecution and deportation of Jews in Hungary. One consequence was that the American War Refugee Board sent a representative to Stockholm looking for someone willing and able to go to Budapest to organise a rescue programme. In July that year, Wallenberg travelled to the Hungarian capital as the First Secretary of the Swedish legation, and for the next six months organised safe housing and protective passports for Jews, saving tens of thousands of lives (possibly 100,000 as the Marton book claims, but certainly 20,000). At its peak, the rescue programme involved as many as 350 helpers.

In January 1945, though, the Soviet army entered Budapest, and Wallenberg was arrested under suspicion of being an American spy. He disappeared, almost certainly to a prison in Russia. In 1957, the Soviets announced that Wallenberg had actually died of a heart attack in 1947, but some believed/believe he might have been executed. A Swedish report in 2001 concluded as follows, ‘there is no fully reliable proof of what happened to Raoul Wallenberg’, so the manner and timing of his death remain a mystery. For the rest of their lives Wallenberg’s mother and stepfather fought to find out what had happened to Raoul, often against staunch resistance from the Swedish authorities. In 1979, they both committed suicide, acts which their daughter Nina Lagergren attributed to despair.

Thereafter, Nina and Guy continued their parents’ campaign for the truth, and to foster knowledge about their brother. Both appear to have recently contributed to a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal. The first is entitled The Wallenberg Curse - The Search for the Missing Holocaust Hero Began in 1945. The Unending Quest Tore His Family Apart. Another article explains where the mystery stands today; and a third piece provides an example of the diary kept by von Dardel.

Frederik von Dardel began writing the diary on 24 October 1952, his 34th wedding anniversary, and would maintain it until a year before his death. The diaries were donated to the Swedish National Archives in 1985, but were only made available to the public in 2000. Officials say no one has been very interested in them, at least not until The Wall Street Journal showed up. It claims to have read thousands of family journal entries, letters and documents, and hundreds of interviews - and to have been the first to read most of them.

The paper gives brief extracts from the first and last entries in this diary (translated by Amalia Johnsson). Of the first, on 24 October 1952, it says there are two paragraphs devoted to von Dardel’s wife, and that he then turns ‘to the stepson who had come to call him Papa’: ‘Raoul Wallenberg’s fate has lain like a dark cloud over our existence.’ And with regard to the last entry, 25 years later, on 28 April 1978, it says, von Dardel concluded the diary with two English words: ‘stone wall’.

The Wall Street Journal also gives another, longer extract from the diary, in which von Dardel explains how, in connection with the king’s 70th birthday, Raoul was awarded the medal ‘Illis quorum meruere labores’ (For Those Whose Labors Have Deserved It), partly as a result of efforts by Stockholm-based Austrian author Rudolph Philipp. Here are the last few paragraphs of the story as written in von Dardel’s diary.

12 November 1952
‘. . . it was nevertheless decided that Raoul, in connection with the rain of decorations on the king’s 70th birthday would receive ‘Illis quorum’. Philipp’s action also aimed for this distinction to mark the Foreign Ministry’s understanding that Raoul was still alive.

So it was also understood by all the newspapers save Svenska Dagbladet, which mentioned the news item under the headline Posthumous Distinction for Raoul Wallenberg.

This was irksome, especially as this paper is the lifeblood of our social circle. After I and several others had shaken up the editorial staff, they introduced in the regional edition, and in the following day’s Stockholm edition, a correct statement in a prominent place.’

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Woolf on rinderpest and salt

A century ago today, while the Bloomsbury Group of literary friends was beginning to coalesce in London, one of its future members, Leonard Woolf, was more concerned about salt stocks and outbreaks of rinderpest working as a government administrator in Sri Lanka (then still a British colony called Ceylon). Never a diarist like his future wife, he did keep a diary of his duties in Ceylon, and these were published in the early 1960s.

Leonard Sidney Woolf, born in 1882, was the third of ten children. When his father died ten years later, Woolf was sent to board at Arlington House, a preparatory school near Brighton. Thereafter he was educated at St Paul’s and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he joined a group of writers and intellectuals - including Bertrand Russell and E M Forster - who called themselves The Apostles. In 1904, however, he left behind the literary world, and went to work in Ceylon. For the last three years of his time with the Civil Service there, from 1908, he served as the Colonial Administrator for Hambantota, in the very south of island. He returned to London in 1911; and, the next year, married Virginia.

Woolf opposed Britain’s involvement in the First World War, and, having been rejected for military service on health grounds, began to focus his writing increasingly on politics and sociology. The couple settled in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, and together set up The Hogarth Press, with Leonard as the main director, a position he retained until his death in 1969. His main work, however, was as a political writer and editor. He also spent much time caring for his wife, through the ups and downs of manic depression. After Virginia’s death, he had a long relationship with Trekkie Parsons, an artist, despite her being married.

More information about Woolf can be found at Wikipedia, of course, and at The Diary Junction. Sussex University holds most of his papers and has an extensive catalogue online. Also online - at Internet Archive - are many of his books, now out of copyright, including his first novel The Village in the Jungle. Publicity (on Amazon) for a modern print of the novel says: ‘It reads as if Thomas Hardy had been born among the heat, scent, sensuality and pungent mystery of the tropics. Translated into both Tamil and Sinhalese, it is one of the best-loved and best-known stories in Sri Lanka.’ In the 1960s, Mr Saparamadu, of the Ceylon Civil Service, said it was ‘generally acknowledged to be the best work of creative writing in English on Ceylon’.

In January 1960, 50 years after his administrator’s stint in the country, Woolf returned to Ceylon (although independent by this time, it would remain Ceylon until the name Sri Lanka was adopted in 1972), where he was received with ‘much honour’ (again according to Saparamadu). As a result of the visit, and because of Woolf’s literary eminence, the country’s prime minister directed that the official diary written by Woolf half a century earlier, when serving as the Hambantota administrator, should be published by the government. An edition was thus printed by The Ceylon Historical Journal in 1962, and another by The Hogarth Press (the company set up by Woolf but, by then, part of Chatto & Windus) in 1963 - Diaries in Ceylon 1908-1911, Record of a Colonial Administrator

Saparamadu explains, in the book’s introduction, that there is a vast corpus of official diaries written by government agents and administrators from 1808 to 1941, and that the diaries were meant to contain a full record of work done by each writer and a full description of events and and the conditions of their districts. ‘Woolf’s diaries,’ he says, ‘have been selected as a good introductory to them not only because they are typical of the diaries but because of the wide public interest in them and also since they help to throw some light on the experience in the villages of Hambantota which provided the inspiration for Woolf’s celebrated book The Village in the Jungle.’

Here are two extracts, taken from exactly 100 years ago today, which give a good indication of Woolf’s preoccupations at the time - cattle and salt!

3 March 1909
‘I was woken at 3am by the Stock Inspector’s messenger. My wrath was appeased by learning that it is not rinderpest. I heard today that all the contractors who are removing salt from Palatupana on Government account at Rs1.70 per ton had left the lewaya [shallow lagoon]. This was a strike to force my hand and make me pay Rs2 per ton. In the evening I got hold of the previous contractor and I was determined that he should take another contract. Eventually with great difficulty and a certain amount of pressure I induced him to enter into a contract to remove 10,000 cwts a month until all the salt on this side of the lewaya is removed. As he will probably pay the carters about Rs1.50 a ton, I feel that I have scored. He undertakes with me to do it at Rs1.80 per ton which is the old rate.’

4 March 1909
‘Another case of rinderpest but again out of the isolated contacts. There are now 4 isolated contacts left. In the evening I went down to the Maha Lewaya and released the 230 bulls there. I have had them in quarantine since February 18th and the Stock Inspector considered it safe to let them to go yesterday but I thought I would keep them an extra day. Great rejoicing among the carters who told me that in future they would obey any order I gave them, so I told them they had better prove what they said by going away and removing salt for two months from Bundala. 32 carts immediately left for Bundala, at least so they said.’

Monday, March 2, 2009

The finding of Tutankhamun

Howard Carter, the archaeologist who is credited with discovering the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamun, died 70 years ago today. Thanks to the Ashmolean Museum and Griffith Institute, in Oxford, diary entries made by Carter in 1922 when discovering the Tutankhamun tomb are freely available online.

Carter was born in Kensington, London, in 1874, the youngest son of an artist, and while still a teenager began studying inscriptions and paintings in Egypt. For much of the 1890s, he worked as a member of the Egypt Exploration Fund, directed by Édouard Naville, at the Hatshepsut temple of Deir el-Bahri, on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor. In 1899, he joined the Egyptian Antiquities Service, as chief inspector of antiquities for Upper Egypt, and then for Lower Egypt. In 1905, though, he resigned following a dispute between Egyptian site guards and some French tourists.

In the next few years, George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, became interested in Egyptian antiquities and agreed to finance some archaeological work. It was agreed with the Egyptian Antiquities Service that Carter should take charge of the Carnarvon-sponsored excavations. They began at Thebes, and then moved to the Delta region, but in 1914 Lord Carnarvon secured a concession to excavate in the Valley of the Kings.

There were many delays to the excavations due to the First World War; and then, subsequently, in the years after the war, Lord Carnarvon became increasingly frustrated at Carter’s lack of excavation success. However, in October 1922, Carter - literally - struck gold by finding the now-famous tomb of Tutankhamun. In Wikipedia’s article on Carter, the tomb is described as ‘by far the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings’.

After completing the excavations, Howard Carter retired from archaeology and became a collector of antiquities, though he did visit the US in 1924 to give a series of lectures. He also visited Luxor often, and could be found at the Winter Palace Hotel, sitting by himself in willful isolation, says a short biography of Carter hosted by the Minnesota State University. He died in Kensington on 2 March 1939, 70 years ago today.

Carter was not a literary diarist, but he did keep an excavation diary, and this is held by the Griffith Institute, which is part of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, which itself is part of Oxford University. The text of the diary is available (on the Ashmolean Museum or Griffith Institute web pages). Here are two entries, one from the day that Carter first discovered the tomb, and the second from the day three weeks later when Lord Carnavon had arrived and the tomb was opened.

Saturday, November 4.
‘First steps of tomb found
At about 10am I discovered beneath almost the first hut attacked the first traces of the entrance of the tomb (Tut.ankh.Amen) This comprised the first step of the N.E. corner (of the sunken-staircase). Quite a short time sufficed to show that it was the beginning of a steep excavation cut in the bed rock, about four metres below the entrance of Ramses VI’s tomb, and a similar depth below the present level of the valley. And, that it was of the nature of a sunken staircase entrance to a tomb of the type of the XVIIIth Dyn., but further than that nothing could be told until the heavy rubbish above was cleared away.’

Sunday, November 26.
‘Open second doorway - about 2pm - Advised Engelbach
After clearing 9 metres of the descending passage, in about the middle of the afternoon, we came upon a second sealed doorway, which was almost the exact replica of the first. It bore similar seal impressions and had similar traces of successive reopenings and reclosings in the plastering. The seal impressions were of Tut.ankh.Amen and of the Royal Necropolis, but not in any way so clear as those on the first doorway. . .

Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage before the doorway, until we had only the clean sealed doorway before us. In which, after making preliminary notes, we made a tiny breach in the top left hand corner to see what was beyond. Darkness and the iron testing rod told us that there was empty space. Perhaps another descending staircase, in accordance to the ordinary royal Theban tomb plan? Or may be a chamber? Candles were procured - the all important tell-tale for foul gases when opening an ancient subterranean excavation - I widened the breach and by means of the candle looked in, while Ld. C., Lady E, and Callender with the Reises waited in anxious expectation.

It was sometime before one could see, the hot air escaping caused the candle to flicker, but as soon as one’s eyes became accustomed to the glimmer of light the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before one, with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another.

There was naturally short suspense for those present who could not see, when Lord Carnarvon said to me ‘Can you see anything’. I replied to him ‘Yes, it is wonderful’. I then with precaution made the hole sufficiently large for both of us to see. With the light of an electric torch as well as an additional candle we looked in. Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe as the better light revealed to us the marvellous collection of treasures: two strange ebony-black effigies of a King, gold sandalled, bearing staff and mace, loomed out from the cloak of darkness; gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal; exquisitely painted, inlaid, and ornamental caskets; flowers; alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus device; strange black shrines with a gilded monster snake appearing from within; quite ordinary looking white chests; finely carved chairs; a golden inlaid throne . . .

Our sensations were bewildering and full of strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of Tut.ankh.Amen on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh. . .’