Friday, April 30, 2010

Diary briefs

Trove - a new portal which allows searches to be focused on diaries/letters - National Library of Australia

Marilyn Monroe - the diarist! - The New York Times, The Guardian

The British the Bandits and the Bordermen (from the diaries and articles of K.F. Rustamji) - The Hindu, Facebook

Richard Burton’s diaries may be published by end 2012 - Wales Online

Thursday, April 29, 2010

One wave after another

Eighty years ago today, ‘with this very nib-ful of ink’, Virginia Woolf finished a first draft of her most experimental novel, The Waves. It is ‘full of holes and patches’, she tells her diary, and needs ‘re-building’. A few days later, she wants to begin cutting out ‘masses of irrelevance and clearing, sharpening and making the good phrases shine. One wave after another.’

Virginia was the second daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, the first editor of the National Biography. The family, very well connected in literary circles, lived in Hyde Park Gate but had a country home at St Ives in Cornwall. Woolf’s mother died when she was 13 and her father died ten years later. Both these losses precipitated mental breakdowns which left the young Virginia psychologically fragile for the rest of her life. She settled in Gordon Square with her sister Vanessa and her brother Adrian, and subsequently married Leonard Sidney Woolf. The Woolfs and their many literary friends became known as the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1917, Virginia and Leonard launched the Hogarth Press, which published their own works as well as those by other literary and artist figures, such as T S Eliot, Laurens van der Post, Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell. Two years later, they bought Monks House in Rodmell, East Sussex. It was there, and in the 1920s, that Virginia wrote most of her novels, such as To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931). It was also during the 1920s that she had a long-term affair with Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson.

According to the Wikipedia biography, the onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to a biography of her late friend Roger Fry all contributed to a growing depression. On 28 March 1941, she put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, walked into the River Ouse near her home, and drowned herself. Further biographical information is available from Kirjasto, The Modernism Lab (Yale University), and The Virginia Woolf Society.

Although she did not write a diary every day, Virginia Woolf was a committed diarist. She began keeping a journal in 1915 and continued to do so until a few days before her death. Extracts were published for the first time in A Writer’s Diary by The Hogarth Press in 1953. The extracts were chosen by Leonard Woolf specifically to reflect his wife’s life as a writer. In the introduction, though, he talks more generally about Virginia’s diary, and says: [It] gives for 27 years a consecutive record of what she did, of the people whom she saw, and particularly of what she thought about those people, about herself, about life, and about the books she was writing or hoped to write.’

A much fuller (and more faithful - Leonard had made Virginia’s prose more formal than it was) version of the diary was published by The Hogarth Press in five volumes during the late 1970s and early 1980s. These were edited by Anne Olivier Bell, the wife of Woolf’s nephew, and were much acclaimed at the time. Apart from being beautifully written in their own right, they also provide a first-hand account of the revered Bloomsbury Group, and an excellent insight into a writer’s creative processes. See The Diary Junction for links to a few online extracts.

Here, though, are two extracts from A Writer’s Diary, the first taken from exactly 80 years ago today, when Virginia was finishing a first draft of The Waves, a novel that would prove to be her most experimental (Project Gutenberg Australia has the etext freely available).

29 April 1930
‘And I have just finished, with this very nib-ful of ink, the last sentence of The Waves. I think I should record this for my own information. Yes, it was the greatest stretch of mind I ever knew; certainly the last pages; I don’t think they flop as much as usual. And I think I have kept starkly and ascetically to the plan. So much I will say in self-congratulation. But I have never written a book so full of holes and patches; that will need re-building, yes, not only re-modelling. I suspect the structure is wrong. Never mind. I might have done something easy and fluent; and this is a reach after that vision I had, the unhappy summer - or three weeks - at Rodmell, after finishing The Lighthouse. (And that reminds me - I must hastily provide my mind with something else, or it will again become pecking and wretched - something imaginative, if possible, and light; for I shall tire of Hazlitt and criticism after the first divine relief; and I feel pleasantly aware of various adumbrations in the back of my head; a life of Duncan; no, something about canvases glowing in a studio; but that can wait.)

And I think to myself as I walk down Southampton Row, ‘And I have given you a new book.’ ’

1 May 1930
‘And I have completely ruined my morning. Yes that is literally true. They sent me a book from The Times, as if advised by Heaven of my liberty; and feeling my liberty wild upon me, I rushed to the cable and told Van Doren I would write on Scott. And now having read Scott, or the editor whom Hugh provides, I won’t and can’t; and have got into a fret trying to read it, and writing to Richmond to say I can’t: have wasted the brilliant first of May which makes my skylight blue and gold; have only a rubbish heap in my head; can’t read and can’t write and can’t think. The truth is, of course, I want to be back at The Waves. Yes that is the truth. Unlike all that I begin to re-write it, or conceive it again with ardour, directly I have done it. I begin to see what I had in my mind; and want to begin cutting out masses of irrelevance and clearing, sharpening and making the good phrases shine. One wave after another. No room. And so on. But then we are going touring in Devon and Cornwall on Sunday, which means a week off; and then I shall perhaps make my critical brain do a month’s work for exercise. What could it be set to? Or a story? - no, not another story now . . .’

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Napoleon’s young bride

‘I set out from Compiegne, delighted with the idea of such a pleasant journey. I had never before travelled without sadness, but now felt the undertaking would be delightful and am certain I shall love travelling to distraction. . . In every place the Emperor was received by the inhabitants with ringing of bells and firing of salutes, expressions of a devotion as simple as it was touching. Everywhere the young ladies presented us with flowers and poems, most of the latter were very poor.’ Thus wrote Napoleon’s second wife, the 19 year-old Marie Louise, in a diary exactly 200 years ago today, at the very start of her first royal visit, and only weeks after she had married Emperor Napoleon.

Marie Louise was born in 1791 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, and of his second wife, Maria Teresa. In March 1810, she was married by proxy to the French Emperor Napoleon, a further ceremony taking place in the chapel of the Louvre on 1 April 1810. For Napoleon, this his second marriage was both an attempt to father a legitimate heir and to validate his Empire by marrying a member of the House of Habsburg, one of the oldest ruling families of Europe. Napoleon and Marie Louise had one son, in 1911, given the title King of Rome (and the future Napoleon II).

For short periods when Napoleon was absent, Marie Louise acted as Regent of France. But when Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, she returned to Austria, and, under the terms of Treaty of Fontainebleau, became the Duchess of Parma (and other territories). In 1821, four months after Napoleon’s death, Marie Louise married her lover, Count Adam Albert von Neipperg (having already borne him two children; another one would follow). Together they governed their duchies more liberally than did most other princes in Italy. After Neipperg’s death she married again, to Charles-René, Count of Bombelles in 1834; and she died in 1847. For more biographical information see Wikipedia or an entry at Authorama

A first edition of Marie Louise’s diaries was edited by Frédéric Masson and published in 1922 by John Murray, London, with the title The Private Diaries of the Empress Marie-Louise. Masson explains, in his introduction, how he found the diaries:

‘In 1918 I received a communication from London in which Lady Thompson invited me to consider a Diary of the Journeys of the Empress Marie-Louise, which had been bequeathed to her, with a view to its publication. I accepted this proposal with much pleasure, and shortly after received the manuscript, the contents of which convinced me of its authenticity. This manuscript, the size of note-paper, is bound into a red morocco volume, the covers and fly-leaves being lined with green satin. The script is contemporaneous with the early years of last century, being regular and well-formed. At first it did not appear to me to be the handwriting of the Empress; the perusal of the text, however, removed all doubt as to its origin.

In answer to my inquiries as to how this manuscript had come into her possession, Lady Thompson forwarded me a letter from her grandmother, Mrs Smijth Windham, which runs as follows: ‘In the year 1836 I became acquainted with a Swiss governess, called Mdlle Muller, who lived many years with Lady Jane Peel. She was very intimate with a governess I had for my children, and I came into the room one day as she was reading these Memoirs to her friend. I stopped to listen, and then borrowed the book, which amused us much. Some months after this I proposed to her to let me purchase it, and after some hesitation she agreed. All she knew of it was, her brother Monsieur Mullier was tutor to one of Marie-Louise’s pages who was in waiting when she escaped from the Tuileries; he picked it up from the floor and gave it to his tutor some time afterwards. The page’s name is written in small characters on the first leaf of the book - Vicomte de . . . - I forget the name. This is all I know. Kath. Smijth Windham.’

Nevertheless, there are cogent proofs to demonstrate the authenticity of the manuscript. It is divided into three parts; the first records the Imperial journey in the departments of Northern France and Belgium, between April 27 and May 13, 1810; the second comprises the journey of Marie-Louise to Mayence from July 23 to August 9, 1813; the third, her journey to Cherbourg from August 23 to September 5, 1813. These three journeys mark important epochs in the Emperor’s history; the first was made in the full enjoyment and splendour of a destiny fulfilled; the second and the third were undertaken when sinister rumours were in the air, when treason was breeding, when the very basis of the system, the Austrian Alliance, had been destroyed. . . The Diary commences on April 27, 1810, the journey during which Marie-Louise jotted down the first pages. . .

And here are the first entries in that diary from exactly two centuries ago today (taken from the etext of The Private Diaries of the Empress Marie-Louise which is freely available at Internet Archive).

27 April 1810
‘I set out from Compiegne, delighted with the idea of such a pleasant journey. I had never before travelled without sadness, but now felt the undertaking would be delightful and am certain I shall love travelling to distraction. The Queen of Naples and the Grand Duke of Wurtzburg accompanied us. It was a particular pleasure to have the latter with me, he is so kind and vivacious.

We left Compiegne on April 27 at nine in the morning. The country as far as St Quentin is very pretty, even beautiful, also very fertile. All along the road are little hills covered with fruit trees now in full bloom, and fields of the most fascinating green intersected by small streams bordered with willows. There are many hamlets and villages, but what struck me most was the quantity of wind-mills.

In every place the Emperor was received by the inhabitants with ringing of bells and firing of salutes, expressions of a devotion as simple as it was touching. Everywhere the young ladies presented us with flowers and poems, most of the latter were very poor.

We arrive at St Quentin at midday and were lodged in the Préfecture where everything was uncomfortable and dirty, and what was worse was the fact that I was a quarter of a league away from the Emperor. He took luncheon at once and rode off to visit the fortifications and the source of the St Quentin canal, which had just been finished from a plan provided by the Emperor himself. I went to bed with lumbago, not yet being accustomed to continuous travelling over paved roads.

The Emperor made me get up at four o’clock to visit a cotton-mill belonging to the prefect, which is remarkable, the machines are wonderful inventions.

On our return we received the chief officials. The Emperor conversed with them for over two hours. These audiences are enough to kill one, for it is necessary to stand all the time! Afterwards young ladies presented me with specimens from their factories.

The Emperor was much amused while telling me of an accident which happened to M Joan [Jouan, knight of the Legion of Honour, surgeon-major] who, while galloping without looking where he was going, was caught on the branch of a tree; the horse went on and after a few minutes he fell to the ground without hurting himself in the least. Malicious tongues say that for more than an hour he thought himself dead, which is very like him!

After dinner there was a ball at the town hall and a cantata was sung which contained the most fulsome compliments. The Queen opened the ball by dancing a Contredance francaise with Chamberlain de Metternich.

The town of St Quentin has about 12,000 inhabitants. It is very old and badly built, but commercially flourishing. The local manufactures are longcloth, linen, cambric, leather, and morocco; the trade in cotton brings in over 3 millions annually.

The next day
We left St Quentin at seven in the morning, and after passing through the whole of the city, which is not very large, we arrived at the canal, where we found two gondolas awaiting us. The canal begins at St Quentin and terminates at Cambrai, where it joins the Scheldt. It is over 22 leagues in length having 23 locks, and is very wide and deep. We went on board and continued our way beneath a blazing sun which gave us terrible headaches. We reached the first tunnel into which the water had not yet been admitted and entered carriages in order to pass through it. The length is a quarter of a league, entirely cut out of the rock. The vault is very high and was illuminated by two rows of lamps which made a magnificent effect. It is a masterpiece, unique of its kind. We continued our journey by carriage as far as the entrance to the second tunnel, where tents had been pitched for lunch, which we welcomed like famished travellers. We went through this tunnel, which is a league and a half long, in a boat rowed by men, which was not very serviceable, for it let in two inches of water, which wetted our feet, but as there was no means of remedying it, one had to bear up gaily, which for me was not difficult as I have an iron constitution which nothing injures. In addition we narrowly escaped capsizing because the fat Prince Schwarzenberg was continually leaning out of the boat and his weight threw it all on one side. This second tunnel was illuminated like the first, and at the end of every hundred toises (about 650 feet) there was a shaft to let in daylight. After an hour and a half we reached the mouth of the canal and got into the carriages again.

We saw the source of the Scheldt, that majestic river, which 40 leagues farther on is so wide and deep that the largest battleships can navigate it, but is here so narrow that one can easily cross it by a standing jump. It passes twice under the canal, which is carried over it by means of an aqueduct; the bridge is so narrow that we were obliged to leave the carriages which were then lifted over by men. This affair delayed us more than an hour and put the Queen of Naples into such a bad temper that no one could speak to her for the rest of the day. I cannot understand how people when travelling can grumble and get impatient over such trifling accidents! To me they were very insignificant in comparison with all I had had to put up with in other journeys, of which I had never complained.

We went on board again half a league from Cambrai, and at half-past three entered the basin at the end of the canal, where a number of trading vessels, laden with coal, were waiting to enter the canal to carry their cargoes to Paris.

On reaching the Hotel de Ville I went to bed, for the sun had given me a shocking headache. I was, however, quite pleased with myself at not having grumbled once during the journey. Truly the bad temper of several of the ladies was enough to prevent me from fault finding.’

Friday, April 23, 2010

Daffodils so beautiful

William Wordsworth, one of the great British Romantic poets, died 160 years ago today. Although he was not a diarist, his sister, Dorothy, was - and not a bad one either. She never wrote for publication, nor was she published in her lifetime, but her journals, when they were finally put into print 40 years after her death, revealed not only a writer of great literary talent but also much about her brother’s life and, in particular, the genesis of his poems.

Both William and Dorothy were born in Cockermouth, Cumberland, in 1770 and 1771 respectively. Their parents were reasonably well off but, when their mother died in 1778, they were separated. William was sent to Hawkshead Grammar School, near Windermere, and then, from 1787, he studied at Cambridge. That same year he made his debut as a writer with a sonnet in The European Magazine. Having already been to the continent on a hiking tour, he returned to France in 1791, and became passionate for the Republic cause. He also had an affair with Annette Vallon who, a year later, bore him an illegitimate daughter, Caroline. William, however, was obliged to return to England; and war with France kept him away for nearly a decade.

In 1793, William Wordsworth published his first poetry collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. Two years later he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Somerset, and two further years later, William and Dorothy, moved to Alfoxton House, Somerset, just a few miles from Coleridge’s home. Together, William Wordsworth and Coleridge (with contributions from Dorothy) produced Lyrical Ballads in 1798 - which is considered an important work in the English Romantic movement.

The three friends then travelled to Germany before William and Dorothy moved to the Lake district, near Grasmere. William went on to marry Mary Hutchinson who bore him five children, two of whom died while young. When Robert Southey died in 1843, Wordsworth was named Poet Laureate. By 1805, William had already completed a first draft of, what is now considered, his autobiographical masterpiece, but it was only published posthumously, as The Prelude. He died on 23 April 1850 - 160 years ago today. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or The Victorian Web or Kirjasto.

Dorothy lived to 1855, but for the last 20 years she was plagued by physical and mental illness. None of her writing was ever published in her lifetime - mostly she wrote exclusively for herself and her brother - but the journals are considered to be beautifully written and important works of literature in their own right. Moreover, they are important because they throw light on William’s life and, in particular, the circumstances of the writing of many, if not most, of his poems. It is clear that William was often inspired by his sister, but some acedamics argue that he might have borrowed from her writing too.

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth was first edited by W Knight and published in two volumes by Macmillan in 1897. These editions are freely available at Internet Archive, but many other editions were published in the 20th century. Further information and links for extracts from her diaries are available at The Diary Junction.

Here are two extracts from Dorothy’s journal written while at Grasmere (taken from a 1941 edition of the Journals edited by E de Selincourt). Both relate to poems her brother was writing or would write. The second extract is generally considered to be about the walk which inspired one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, Daffodils, which starts: ‘I wander’d lonely as a cloud’.

14 March 1802
‘William had slept badly - he got up at nine o’clock, but before he rose he had finished The Beggar Boys, and while we were at breakfast that is (for I had breakfasted) he, with his basin of broth before him untouched, and a little plate of bread and butter he wrote the Poem to a Butterfly! He ate not a morsel, nor put on his stockings, but sate with his shirt neck unbuttoned, and his waistcoat open while he did it. The thought first came upon him as we were talking about the pleasure we both always feel at the sight of a butterfly. I told him that I used to chase them a little, but that I was afraid of brushing the dust off their wings, and did not catch them. He told me how they used to kill all the white ones when he went to school because they were Frenchmen. Mr Simpson came in just as he was finishing the Poem. After he was gone I wrote it down and the other poems, and I read them all over to him. We then called at Mr Oliff’s - Mr O walked with us to within sight of Rydale - the sun shone very pleasantly, yet it was extremely cold. We dined and then Wm went to bed. I lay upon the fur gown before the fire, but I could not sleep - I lay there a long time. It is now halfpast 5 - I am going to write letters - I began to write to Mrs Rawson. William rose without having slept - we sate comfortably by the fire till he began to try to alter The Butterfly, and tired himself - he went to bed tired.’

15 April 1802
‘It was a threatening, misty morning, but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. Mrs Clarkson went a short way with us, but turned back. The wind was furious, and we thought we must have returned. We first rested in the large boat-house, then under a furze [gorse] bush opposite Mr Clarkson’s. Saw the plough going in the field. The wind seized our breath. The Lake was rough. There was a boat by itself floating in the middle of the bay below Water Millock. We rested again in Water Millock Lane. The hawthorns are black and green, the birches here and there greenish, but there is yet more of purple to be seen on the twigs. We got over into a field to avoid some cows - people working. A few primroses by the roadside - woodsorrel flower, the anemone, scentless violets, strawberries, and that starry, yellow flower which Mrs C calls pile wort. When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers a few yards higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway. We rested again and again. The bays were stormy, and we heard the waves at different distances, and in the middle of the water, like the sea. Rain came on . . .’

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fifty heads in one day

Oxford University Press has just re-published Antera Duke’s diary. Antera Duke was an African slave-trading chief; the diary is said to be the only surviving eyewitness account of slave trading by an African merchant. And pretty callous the trade was too, one entry in the diary reads: ‘So we got ready to cut heads off and at 5 o’clock in the morning we began to cut slaves’ heads off, fifty heads off in that one day.’

Not much is known about Antera Duke. He is thought to have been born around 1735 and to have died around 1809. He was an Efik chief from Duke Town, Calabar in eastern Nigeria (now in Cross River State) about 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean - see Wikipedia for more on the Efik people. But, thanks to a diary he kept, we also know he was a slave trader.

Written in Nigerian Pidgin English, the diary was discovered in Scotland over half a century ago, and published in 1956 for the International African Institute by Oxford University Press (OUP): Efik Traders of Old Calabar: Containing the Diary of Antera Duke, an Efik Slave-Trading Chief of the Eighteenth Century together with an Ethnographic Sketch and Notes by Donald Simmons & an Essay on the Political Organization of Old Calabar by G. I. Jones. This diary is said to be the only surviving eyewitness account of the slave trade by an African merchant, thus providing valuable information on Old Calabar’s economic activity both with other African businessmen and with European ship captains who arrived to trade for slaves, produce, and provisions.

OUP has now (February in the US, May in the UK - see and brought out a new edition of Antera’s diary with the original (and difficult to understand) trade-English along side a translation into standard English on facing pages. The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader is edited by Stephen D Behrendt, A J H Latham and David Northrup. The publisher says the new edition draws on the latest scholarship: ‘Introductory essays set the stage for the Old Calabar of Antera Duke’s lifetime, explore the range of trades, from slaves to produce, in which he rose to prominence, and follow Antera on trading missions across an extensive commercial hinterland. The essays trace the settlement and development of the towns that comprised Old Calabar and survey the community’s social and political structure, rivalries among families, sacrifices of slaves, and witchcraft ordeals.’

Jon Silkin, writing a review of the 1956 edition for African Affairs, found the diary itself fascinating but was not very impressed by the scholarship attached to it. He wrote: ‘The most enlightening two sections in the book, enlightening in the sense that they tell you more about the Efiks than any of the stuff elsewhere, are the two versions of the fascinating diary kept by Antera Duke. These two versions: the original one and its more Anglicised equivalent, re-inforce what after all one might suspect the people to have been: avaricious, anxiety-ridden, superstitious, cheerful, propitiatory and extremely cruel, capable of extreme savagery and violence not only on other tribes (whom they enslaved), but on their criminals (whom they also enslaved) as well as each other.’

He provides an example of the diary in the two versions (1787, but otherwise undated):

Original: ‘. . . wee tak grandy Egbo and cany to Henshaw and Willy Tom for brow for not Captain for send and Callabar poun was putt for tak my slave goods to not send them poun way in Tender so wee have Tatam Tender go away with 330 slaves . . .’

Transcription: ‘We carried Grand Ekpe to Henshaw and Willy Tom to blow forbidding and Captain to send Calabar pawn, which was given for my slave goods, away in his tender. Tatam’s tender went away with 330 slaves. . .’

And here is a final diary entry, Silkin says, which treats cruelty with all the assumption of naturalness.

‘About 4 a.m. I got up; there was great rain, so I walked to the town palaver house and I found all the gentlemen here. So we got ready to cut heads off and at 5 o’clock in the morning we began to cut slaves’ heads off, fifty heads off in that one day . . .’

Monday, April 19, 2010

Charge of the Light Brigade

‘Many officers of Light cavalry were killed, and a number slightly wounded. There were no infantry early in the morning, and when they did come they were not engaged. The light cavalry were murdered in doing work, when infantry should have been first engaged, and artillery were indispensable. A very fine, warm day.’ This is Edward Hodge, a British army officer born 200 years ago today, writing in his diary about the Charge of the Light Brigade, one of the most famous incidents of the Crimean War.

Born in Weymouth, Dorset, on 19 April 1810, Edward Cooper Hodge was the only son of Major Edward Hodge, a soldier who distinguished himself throughout the Napoleonic wars but who died when his son was only five. Educated at Eton, Edward Cooper developed a reputation at rowing. In 1826, he left the school to join his mother and sisters in Paris. Aged 16, he was given a Cornetcy in the 13th Light Dragoons but, after only four months, switched to the 4th Dragoon Guards, in which he served throughout his army career, reaching the rank of general. He died in 1894. A little more biographical information is available from the British Medals website.

Hodge is remembered largely because of a diary he kept during the Crimean War. It was edited by the Marquess of Anglesey, and published by Leo Cooper 1971 as Little Hodge: Being Extracts from the Diaries and Letters of Colonel Edward Cooper Hodge Written During the Crimean War, 1854-1856.

The Crimean War, part of a larger conflict for influence over lands once dominated by the Ottoman Empire, was fought in the mid-1850s between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the British, French and Ottoman Empires. The Battle of Balaclava, on 25 October 1854, was one of the key events of a campaign within the Crimean War to capture Sevastopol, Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. And much the best remembered event of that battle if not of the whole Crimean War is the Charge of the Light Brigade, which was immortalised in a poem by Alfred Tennyson.

Hodge’s diary is filled with short succinct entries, though one of the longest is for the day of the Battle of Balaclava. Here is that entry, and another short one for the following day.

25 October 1854
‘The Russians in great force attacked the outposts and forts garrisoned by the Turks, who were quickly turned out with a loss of 9 guns.

In fact the Turks, opposed by at least ten times their number, put up an heroic resistance which gave the allies more than an hour’s invaluable breathing space.

After suffering 170 casualties, they were driven from the first three redoubts. The Russians now poured infantry into these, and brought up to them a number of field-pieces. All this time Lucan could do nothing but make threatening demonstrations whilst falling back before the slowly advancing Russians, and ordering his horse artillery to try to reply to their much bigger guns. On Sir Colin Campbell’s advice, Lucan soon withdrew to the left, so as to be out of the line of fire of both the Russian guns and the 93rd, and in a position to attack the flank of the Russians should they charge the Scottish infantry. This now happened.

Their cavalry attacked the 93rd, who perceived them with a volley, and turned them.

The left column was only a small part of Liprandi’s mounted arm, perhaps 400 in number. Almost immediately after its defeat, a large body of cavalry came into the plain and were charged by the Greys and the Inniskillings. We were in reserve, and I brought forward our left and charged these cavalry in flank. The Greys were a little in confusion and retiring when our charge settled the business. We completely routed the hussars and cossacks, and drove them back.

[The editor, the Marquess of Anglesey, says here: ‘A more pithy description of the charge of the Heavy Brigade does not exist.’]

They retired, and then Lord Raglan should have been satisfied. The Russians retired to a strong position, a valley with batteries on the heights in front and on each flank. There was a battery of 9 guns in front of us, and a body of cavalry, and all these batteries on the heights.

Lord Raglan ordered the light cavalry to charge these guns and cavalry. They did so in the most gallant manner, but at the sacrifice of nearly the Brigade. The guns played upon them at about 200 yards from the batteries in front and flank. They advanced, took the guns, and charged the cavalry, who met them well. They were so knocked to pieces by the guns that the cavalry overpowered them, and they were obliged to retire having lost in every regiment some two 3rds of their men and officers. We advanced to cover their retreat, but the batteries got our range and began cutting us up terribly. I was not sorry when we were ordered to retreat.

[The editor says here: ‘Except for the facile way in which the blame for it is unhesitatingly placed upon Raglan, this is a surprisingly accurate outline of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade.’]

The Russians did not follow, or quit their strong position, and we remained on the ground till 8pm, when we were ordered to return to our camp, and to go to the rear some two miles, which we did.

Both my servants got brutally drunk, and I found them lying on their backs, and with difficulty I was enabled to save my baggage. I got up my bed in Forrest’s tent and slept there.

Our loss today was 1 killed (Ryan), 1 severely (Scanlan) and 4 slightly wounded.

Many officers of Light cavalry were killed, and a number slightly wounded. There were no infantry early in the morning, and when they did come they were not engaged. The light cavalry were murdered in doing work, when infantry should have been first engaged, and artillery were indispensable. A very fine, warm day.’

26 October 1854
‘I find my rascally servants not only got drunk, but they committed robberies upon the officers’ stores. They have lost my tent, and I only wonder that I have any kit left. I am most uncomfortable with such blackguards as these about me. I am far from well today. I am much purged and griped.’

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy birthday, Jeffrey

Happy birthday Jeffrey Archer, 70 today! It’s been an eventful, colourful 70 years for the best-selling author and occasional politician, with many ups and downs. Being sent to prison was certainly one of the downs, but he made the best of it, one might gather, by producing three volumes of diaries from the experience. The first volume shows that within a week he was already worrying about his future as a free man and not being able to explain to everyone who recognises him as a perjuror that he hadn’t had a fair trial.

Archer was born in London, on 15 April 1940, but he spent most of his childhood in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. After short spells with the army and police, he worked as a PE teacher, before entering Brasenose College, Oxford, to study education. While there he was successful in athletics, sprinting 100 yards in 9.6 seconds for Great Britain in 1966, and becoming president of the university’s athletics club. During this period, he also earned a reputation for raising money for charity, and met his future wife, Mary, who was studying chemistry.

On leaving Oxford, Archer’s own website explains, he was elected to the Greater London Council, and three years later at the age of 29, he became Member of Parliament for Louth. After five years in the Commons and ‘a promising political career ahead of him’, he invested heavily in a Canadian company called Aquablast, on the advice of the Bank of Boston. The company went into liquidation, and three directors were later sent to jail for fraud. Left with debts of nearly half a million pounds, and on the brink of bankruptcy, he resigned from the House of Commons - and started his writing career.

In 1976, his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was published, first in the US, but then very quickly in more than a dozen countries. His third novel, Kane and Abel, was a number one best-seller in hardcover and paperback all over the world and, according to Archer’s website, sold over 3.5 million in the UK paperback edition alone. With his fame as a writer and his financial situation much improved he fell into favour with the Conservative Party again, and was appointed deputy chairman by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Gaffes and a scandal involving a call girl led to his resignation a year later. In 1992, though, he was made a life peer as Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare thanks to prime minister John Major.

The call girl scandal led to a libel case which Archer won, donating the settlement to charity. More than a decade later, though, he was prosecuted for having committed perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in that libel case. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment, and was released in July 2003, having served two years.

Before being charged with libel, Archer had been selected by the Conservative Party as candidate for the London mayoral election of 2000; expulsion from the party followed his stepping down from the mayoral race. Wikipedia notes that during the 1990s and early 2000s, Archer was investigated (but not charged) in connection with allegations of insider trading at Anglia Television, where his wife was a director, and the disappearance of money from Simple Truth, a fundraising campaign run by Archer.

For three months while in prison, Archer kept a diary and this was published by Macmillan in three volumes between 2002 and 2004. Wikipedia has an entry dedicated to these diaries, and Archer’s own website offers a few pages of extracts from each volume. The first volume - A Prison Diary by FF8282 - covers the three weeks he spent at HMP Belmarsh, a double A category high-security prison in south London, said to hold some of Britain’s most violent criminals. Signed copies sell on Abebooks for as much as £200. Here are two short extracts:

25 July 2001
‘2.02pm. What is almost impossible to describe in its full horror is the time you spend banged up. So please do not consider this diary to be a running commentary, because I would only ask you to think about the endless hours in between. Heaven knows what that does to lifers who can see no end to their incarceration, and do not have the privilege of being able to occupy their time writing. In my particular case, there is Hope, a word you hear prisoners using all the time. They hope that they’ll win their case, have their sentence cut, be let out on parole, or just be moved to a single cell. For me, as a Category D prisoner, I simply hope to be transferred to Ford Open Prison as soon as possible. But God knows what a lifer hopes for, and I resolve to try and find out during the next few days.’

26 July
‘5.03am. I’ve slept for seven hours. When I wake, I begin to think about my first week in prison. The longest week of my life. For the first time, I consider the future and what it holds for me. . . Will I be able to visit old haunts - the National Theatre, Lord’s, Le Caprice, the Tate Gallery, the UGC Cinema in Fulham Road - or even walk down the street without people’s only thought being ‘There’s the man who went to jail for perjury’? I can’t explain to every one of them that I didn’t get a fair trial. It’s so unlike me to be introspective or pessimistic, but when you’re locked up in a cell seven paces by four for hour upon hour every day, you begin to wonder if anyone out there even knows you’re alive.’

Diary briefs

Battle of Britain diaries to be tweeted in real time - The Daily Telegraph

Twitter Updates likened to 18th century diaries - The Wall Street Journal

Russian musical based on the Anna Frank diaries - The Voice of Russia

Diaries of the seventeenth century by Dr Mark Knights - BBC

More sex and bribery diaries in China (see also . . . and 50,000 yuan) - China Daily

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nijinsky going mad

One of the most famous dancers that ever lived, Vaslav Nijinsky, died 60 years ago today, three weeks after his 60th birthday. But the dance in him had died 30 years before that, leaving him to spend half his lifetime in and out of mental institutions. Astonishingly, at the very point in his life that he was going mad, when, in fact, the dance was leaving him, he started to write a diary, and kept on writing for six weeks. A sanitised version was first published between the wars, but the full and unbowdlerised text only emerged in the 1990s.

Wacław Niżyński, or Vaslav Nijinsky, was born in 1890 to Polish parents, both dancers, in Kiev, Ukraine. Aged nine, he was entered into the Imperial Ballet School, and by 1907 began to star as a soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre. In 1908, he embarked on a relationship with Sergei Diaghilev - although sexual at first, it was their partnership in dance that would lead them both to fame. In 1909, Diaghilev took a company of Russian opera and ballet stars - including Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova - to Paris for a highly successful season; and thereafter he formed Les Ballets Russes which would become an artistic and social sensation, setting trends in art, dance, music and fashion for the next decade.

Within a couple of years, Nijinsky himself was choreographing the troupe’s ballets, notably those based on Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. The Diaghilev-Nijinsky relationship took a turn for the worse in 1912, when Les Ballets Russes toured South America without Diaghilev. Romola Pulszky, a Hungarian countess who had been pursuing Nijinsky, finally won him over onboard the ship to South America and they were married in Buenos Aires. But on returning to Europe, Diaghilev - angered by the turn of events - dismissed Nijinsky, who then tried, unsuccessfully, to set up his own company.

During the First World War, Nijinsky was interned in Hungary but Diaghilev succeeded in getting him released for a North American tour in 1916. Thereafter, though, the dancer succumbed increasingly to mental illness, and was taken by Romola for treatment to Switzerland. There he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1919, and spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric institutions. He died 60 years ago today on 8 April 1950. For further biographical information see Wikipedia or the American Ballet Theatre website.

In 1919, in Switzerland and on the edge of his breakdown, Nijinsky began writing a diary and he continued to do so for six weeks, filling four notebooks (although one is just letters). A version of this diary was first edited by Romola and published in English in 1936. In 1953, Editions Gallimard came out with another heavily edited version, this time in French. Even after Romola died in 1978, her daughters, Kyra and Tamara, refused to release the full text, and it was not until 1995 that a full unexpurgated text was first published in France (by Editions Actes Sud).

In a review of the French edition, The New York Times said: ‘Much of the text reads like a stream of consciousness dominated by a series of fixations, including Nijinsky’s identification with God and Jesus Christ, his love of humanity, his concern for feelings, his distaste for eating meat, his disdain for money, his wife’s curiosity about his writing and his need to confess his sexual habits.’

Four years on, in 1999, an English version translated by Kyril Fitzlyon and edited by the American dance critic, Joan Acocella, was published in New York (by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) and London (by Allen Lane). The publishers say The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky is ‘the only sustained, on-the-spot written account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis’.

In Acocella’s introduction (the full text is available online at The New York Review of Books), she explains with precision how extensively Romola bowdlerised her husband’s diary for the 1936 edition. But Acocella also acknowledges that ‘a large part’ of Nijinsky’s reputation actually rests on the diary as it was first published - an edition which is still in print today (as part of the Penguin Modern Classics collection).

Various reviews of the unexpurgated diary can be found on the internet. Peter Kurth at Salon is not very impressed: ‘Unfortunately, the diary provides no special insight into the qualities that made Nijinsky one of the greatest dancers of all time. Dance is impossible to recapture on paper. And Nijinsky’s case is doubly problematic, since his total output was small, and only one of the dances that he choreographed for himself, L’Apres-midi d’un faune, still survives in performance. Acocella thinks it entirely possible that in writing the diary Nijinsky hoped to create a work of literature, but she offers it, wisely, for what it is: a footnote to genius, the last, sad record of a legend.’

The New York Times (again, this time about the English edition) concludes with this thought: ‘The diary’s final lines are not, as the old edition had it, ‘God seeks me and therefore we will find each other,’ but a mundane thought that never gets finished. How ironic that in erasing the real ugliness of his insanity, the old version silenced not only Nijinsky’s true voice but the magnificently gifted body from which it came. And how fortunate we are to have them both restored.’ A few pages of the book and other reviews can be read at Amazon.

It is worth noting that although this text of Nijinsky’s is referred to by everyone as a ‘diary’, it does not look like a diary, for there are no dates at all, and nor, with some exceptions such as when he writes about his meals, does it read much like a diary. Also worth noting is the fact that the Australia-based film director Paul Cox made a film, released in 2001, called The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky - see IMDB.

Finally, here are some extracts from The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky - unexpurgated edition: 1) the very first in the book (thanks to the website of The District of Columbia Public Library); 2) three about Diaghilev (thanks to The New York Review of Books); 3) and the diary’s very last entry (transcribed from the printed book).

‘I have had a good lunch, for I ate two soft-boiled eggs and fried potatoes and beans. I like beans, only they are dry. I do not like dry beans, because there is no life in them. Switzerland is sick because it is full of mountains. In Switzerland people are dry because there is no life in them. I have a dry maid because she does not feel. She thinks a lot because she has been dried out in another job that she had for a long time. I do not like Zurich, because it is a dry town. It has a lot of factories and many business people. I do not like dry people, and therefore I do not like business people.

The maid was serving lunch to my wife, to my first cousin (this, if I am not mistaken, is how someone related to me by being my wife’s sister is called), and to Kyra, together with the Red Cross nurse. She wears crosses, but she does not realize their significance. A cross is something that Christ bore. Christ bore a large cross, but the nurse wears a small cross on a little ribbon that is attached to her headdress, and the headdress has been moved back so as to show the hair. Red Cross nurses think that it is prettier this way and have therefore abandoned the practice that doctors wanted to in-still in them. The nurses do not obey doctors, because they do not understand the instructions they have to carry out. The nurse does not understand the purpose she is here for, because when the little one was eating, she wanted to tear her away from her food, thinking that the little one wanted dessert. I told her that “she would get dessert when she had eaten what was on the plate.” The little one was not offended, because she knew I loved her, but the nurse felt otherwise. She thought that I was correcting her. She is not getting any better, because she likes eating meat. I have said many times that it is bad to eat meat. They don’t understand me. They think that meat is an essential thing. They want a lot of meat. After eating lunch they laugh. I am heavy and stale after eating, because I feel my stomach. They do not feel their stomachs, but feel blood playing up. They get excited after eating. Children also get excited. They are put to bed because people think they are weak creatures. Children are strong and do not need help. I cannot write, my wife disturbs me. She is always thinking about the things I have to do. I am not bothering about them. She is afraid I will not be ready. I am ready, only my digestion is still working. I do not want to dance on a full stomach and therefore will not go and dance while my stomach is full. I will dance when it all calms down and when everything has dropped out of my bowels. I am not afraid of ridicule, and therefore I write frankly. I want to dance because I feel and not because people are waiting for me. I do not like people waiting for me and will therefore go and get dressed. I will put on a city suit because the audience will be composed of city folk. I do not want to quarrel and will therefore do whatever I am ordered to do. I will now go upstairs to my dressing room, for I have many suits and expensive underwear. I will go and dress in expensive clothes so that everyone will think I am rich. I will not let people wait for me and will therefore go upstairs now. . .’

‘. . . Diaghilev dyes his hair so as not to be old. Diaghilev’s hair is gray. Diaghilev buys black hair creams and rubs them in. I noticed this cream on Diaghilev’s pillows, which have black pillowcases. I do not like dirty pillowcases and therefore felt disgusted when I saw them. Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he touches them with his tongue. They move, and I can see them. Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth . . .’

. . . Diaghilev liked to be talked about and therefore wore a monocle in one eye. I asked him why he wore a monocle, for I noticed that he saw well without a monocle. Then Diaghilev told me that one of his eyes saw badly. I realized then that Diaghilev had told me a lie. I felt deeply hurt . . .’

‘. . . I began to hate him quite openly, and once I pushed him on a street in Paris. I pushed him because I wanted to show him that I was not afraid of him. Diaghilev hit me with his cane because I wanted to leave him. He felt that I wanted to go away, and therefore he ran after me. I half ran, half walked. I was afraid of being noticed. I noticed that people were looking. Ifelt a pain in my leg and pushed Diaghilev. I pushed him only slightly because I felt not anger against Diaghilev but tears. I wept. Diaghilev scolded me. Diaghilev was gnashing his teeth, and I felt sad and dejected. I could no longer control myself and began to walk slowly. Diaghilev too began to walk slowly. We both walked slowly. I do not remember where we were going. I was walking. He was walking. We went, and we arrived. We lived together for a long time . . .’

‘. . . I am afraid of the Stock Exchange because I do not know it. I went there once with Diaghilev, who knew a man who was a stockbroker. Diaghilev gambled for low stakes and therefore won. I will gamble for low stakes because I too want to win. I know that little people lose because they get very nervous and do silly things. I will observe everyone with complete detachment, and I will understand everything. I do not like knowing everything in advance, but God wants to show me the way people live and therefore is warning me. I will go to the railway station on foot and not in a cab. If everyone is going in a cab, I will too. God wants to show people that I am the same kind of person as they are ...................
I will go now..............
I am waiting..............
I do not want.............
I will go to my wife’s mother and talk to her because I do not want her to think that I like Oscar more than her. I am checking her feelings. She is not dead yet, because she is envious.................’

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Poindexter, Reagan and Bush

Twenty years ago today, John Poindexter, a US national security adviser, was convicted of conspiracy and other charges pertaining to the infamous Iran-Contra Affair. Though the convictions were overturned the following year, Poindexter’s defence might have been assisted had access to the diaries of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H W Bush not been quashed under the guise of ‘executive privilege’.

The National Security Archive, located at The George Washington University, gives this summary of the Iran-Contra affair: ‘On November 25, 1986, the biggest political and constitutional scandal since Watergate exploded in Washington when President Ronald Reagan told a packed White House news conference that funds derived from covert arms deals with the Islamic Republic of Iran had been diverted to buy weapons for the US-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In the weeks leading up to this shocking admission, news reports had exposed the US role in both the Iran deals and the secret support for the Contras, but Reagan’s announcement, in which he named two subordinates - National Security Advisor John M Poindexter and NSC staffer Oliver L North - as the responsible parties, was the first to link the two operations.’

More than three years later, on 7 April 1990, Poindexter was convicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair. On appeal, these convictions were reversed in 1991. (North had been convicted on lesser charges the previous year, and his convictions were reversed in 1990.)

Poindexter, born in 1936, studied at the United States Naval Academy and the California Institute of Technology. He had a distinguished career in the navy (battleship command and high-ranking Pentagon posts) before serving in the Reagan administration, first as a military assistant then, from 1983 to 1985, as Deputy National Security Advisor. In 1985-1986, he was National Security Advisor providing recommendations to the President on national security, foreign policy and defense policy. He reached the navy rank of Vice Admiral, but was retired, because of the Iran-Contra Affair, as a Rear Admiral in 1987. After that and until retirement he worked in the hi-tech private sector, apart from a few months as Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office - see Wikipedia for a little more biographical information.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website has the text of the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, and Chapter Three deals with United States v. John M Poindexter. It provides a full background to his indictment in March 1988, and gives a run down of the trial and outcomes. More specifically it also mentions how, in September 1989, Poindexter’s attorneys informed the court that ‘the defendant is willing to seek access to the personal diaries and notes of former President Reagan and former Vice President Bush pursuant to a . . . subpoena.’

The judge in the case subsequently ordered President Reagan to make diary entries available for the court’s in camera review, and after the review ordered him to produce the relevant diary entries for Poindexter - in the absence of a claim of executive privilege. This was headline news at the time - see the Google archived Associated Press report. But then, the Report explains, President Reagan, joined by the Bush Administration, claimed executive privilege and this was granted by the court, thus allowing the Reagan-Bush motions to quash the subpoena for the diary entries.

Executive privilege, according to Wikipedia, is the power claimed by the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government. The Supreme Court has confirmed the legitimacy of this doctrine but only to the extent of confirming that there is a qualified privilege: ‘Once invoked, a presumption of privilege is established, requiring the Prosecutor to make a ‘sufficient showing’ that the ‘Presidential material’ is ‘essential to the justice of the case’.

Here is more from the National Security Archive on Reagan and Bush.

On Reagan: ‘The scandal was almost the undoing of the Teflon President. Of all the revelations that emerged, the most galling for the American public was the president’s abandonment of the long-standing policy against dealing with terrorists, which Reagan repeatedly denied doing in spite of overwhelming evidence that made it appear he was simply lying to cover up the story. Despite the damage to his image, the president arguably got off easy, escaping the ultimate political sanction of impeachment. From what is now known from documents and testimony - but perhaps not widely appreciated - while Reagan may not have known about the diversion or certain other details of the operations being carried out in his name, he directed that both support for the Contras (whom he ordered to be kept together ‘body and soul’) and the arms-for-hostages deals go forward, and was at least privy to other actions that were no less significant.’

On Bush: ‘Then-Vice President George H W Bush became entangled in controversy over his knowledge of Iran-Contra. Although he asserted publicly that he was ‘out of the loop - no operational role,’ he was well informed of events, particularly the Iran deals, as evidenced in part by this diary excerpt just after the Iran operation was exposed: ‘I’m one of the few people that know fully the details . . .’ [see below also]. The problem for Bush was greatly magnified because he was preparing to run for president just as the scandal burst. He managed to escape significant blame - ultimately winning the 1988 election - but he came under fire later for repeatedly failing to disclose the existence of his diary to investigators and then for pardoning several Iran-Contra figures, including former Defense Secretary Weinberger just days before his trial was set to begin. As a result of the pardons, the independent counsel’s final report pointedly noted: ‘The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete.’

The Project for the Old American Century is one of the websites that has several pertinent extracts from George Bush’s diary made available in 1993:

5 November 1986
‘On the news at this time is the question of the hostages . . . I’m one of the few people that know fully the details . . . it is not a subject we can talk about . . .’

13 November 1986
‘I remember Watergate. I remember the way things oozed out. It is important to be level, to be honest, to be direct. We are not saying anything.’

25 November 1986
‘The administration in disarray - foreign policy in disarray - cover-up - who knew what when?’

1 January 1987
‘These so-called findings on Iran - I'll be honest - I don’t remember any of them, and I don’t believe that they were even signed by the president, frankly. But sometimes there are meetings over in the White House with Shultz, NSC guy, Casey and Weinberger, and they make some decisions that the president signs off on. . . And the facts are that the Vice President is not in the decision making loop.’

And here is one excerpt from Reagan’s diary, taken from a Vanity Fair preview of The Reagan Diaries edited by Douglas Brinkley and published in 2007.

24 November 1986
‘Big thing of the day was 2 hour meeting in the situation room on the Iran affair. George S. is still stubborn that we shouldn't have sold the arms to Iran - I gave him an argument. All in all we got everything out on the table. After meeting Ed [Meese, attorney general] & Don [Regan] told me of a smoking gun. On one of the arms shipments the Iranians pd. Israel a higher purchase price than we were getting. The Israelis put the difference in a secret bank acct. Then our Col. [Oliver] North (NSC) gave the money to the ‘Contras’. This was a violation of the law against giving the Contras money without an authorization by Congress. North didn't tell me about this. Worst of all John [Poindexter] found out about it & didn’t tell me. This may call for resignations.’

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two days in Alicante

Today is the 30th anniversary of the day I met Manu in an Ibiza cafe, a lovely man with whom I am still in touch today. But that encounter only happened because, after a fated bus ride from Madrid, I’d missed a boat by minutes and been stranded in Alicante for two days. Here is how I wrote the story in my diary all those 30 years ago.

3 April 1980
‘At first I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to Ibiza, I thought I might go to Barcelona and thence to Menorca. So, right at the beginning, I was full of indecision. As the weekend turned itself over slowly, though, I began to make plans to go to Ibiza.

Pepe rings a friend who works for the shipping company. Although the boat is already booked up, she says she will get me a ticket. On Monday I go to collect it - leaving at midnight Wednesday 2 April.

In the afternoon, I go to the Corte Ingles travel agency where I’m told there is no place on the Wednesday afternoon train to Alicante, I swear under my breath, and let her book me on the morning train. I am not happy because this means I lose the Wednesday but I still have work to do. Back at the flat, I talk with Pepe and Pia, who suggest I go by bus. It takes some effort, but eventually I get the number for Estacion Sur and am told there is a bus leaving at 2pm on Wednesday. I run to Estacion Sur, but, on arriving, my heart sinks at the sight of the long queues. I suffer two hours of waiting. Fights and arguments break out everywhere, tempers are high. I finish a novel before arriving at the ticket office. Once at the buying window I discover there is an even later bus at 3:30pm (arriving at 9pm) as well as at 2:00, so I buy a ticket for that bus and head back for the apartment. I am pleased with myself that I’ve managed to sort out an itinerary.

The following morning between work appointments I squeeze a visit to the Corte Ingles to cash in my train ticket. I lose £2.50 on the refund, but at least everything is organised. I begin to look forward to Ibiza. I spend Wednesday on the telephone working, but none of the work proves useful, and I could so easily have taken the 2:00 bus.

On the 3:30 bus - all the way there are long queues of holiday traffic, and long, long waits, and the bus is three hours late. A taxi speeds me through the streets, clocking up pesetas, faster, faster, down to the port, along the quay, but by the time I get to the quay, the boat has left - 10 minutes earlier! Now there isn’t another boat for two days.

I am by the stone columns of a church that is now three-quarters cinema and one quarter cafe. . . I walk around the old city of Alicante, looking for a smile, a meeting, a hand to touch. One area seems very alive with hip youth. They move about from group to group, bar to bar, stand around drinking wine and rolling cigarettes fuelled with grass. Not far away another mass of people - the old, the mourning, the middle-aged, the regimented young, the crippled and the scarred - are pouring out of mass.’

5 April 1980
‘I made it. Ibiza. I managed to use the wrongly-dated ticket, but only just. My adrenalin was on its racing track. There was some confusion as I was checked against the cabin list but the official failed to notice the wrong date.

In the queue to get on the boat I befriended Ronny, a guitarist, who says he can live from playing, but is not good enough to get rich. He has blond hair curling all over his brown-tanned face. He has just spent two weeks on a boat skippered by his brother. It’s a half-a-million job and its owner hasn’t been near it in 18 months. He tells stories of contracts with ATV and MAM and the guitar centre in Palma where he hopes to work. When he has money he spends it, first class all the way. He doesn’t believe in guarding it at all, and explains why: he had a girlfriend who had used all her savings to start a hairdressing business, then, after a year or so when it was going very well, she was riding her bicycle and was killed by a lorry. He tells me that he also knew the daughter of the pilot that was flying a Trident in which a hundred people were killed near Heathrow ten years ago. Apparently, the pilot had a heart condition and put the wrong signals into the computer!

Although it started to rain on arriving, I was not unlucky. Within half an hour, I met a man called Manu. He happens to be at the Lecoq school in Paris and knows my friend Harold, and has a house on the other side of the island. Manu’s father, a German painter, lives half in Berlin and half in Ibiza. Manu himself speaks at least five languages, and is an accomplished musician. Right now, though, he’s into theatre. We drink yierba at Ibecenco and wine at Pepi’s with home cured sausage and baked bread.

Alicante, as it happens, only got better and better. I discovered El Castillo de Santa Barbara and some beautiful terraced houses. I watched Easter processions with all those shiny satin clothes and dunce hats. I wrote my business report. I ate a meal, I talked to some English people. I took lots of photos. The two days weren’t so bad after all.’

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Music was sounding

‘When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music!’ This is Cosima Liszt Wagner - who died 80 years ago today - writing in her diary about the first birthday she celebrated as Richard Wagner’s wife. Her diaries, written very much to be a record about Wagner rather than herself, are justly famous because they provide so much interesting and intimate detail about his domestic and composing life.

Cosima, born at Bellagio, Italy, was the illegitimate daughter of the famous pianist and composer, Franz Liszt, and Countess Marie d’Agoult, an author who later used the pen name Daniel Stern. In 1857, Cosima married Hans von Bülow, an orchestral conductor, who mistreated her. They had two children. In 1862, she became the mistress of the German composer, Wagner, who was much older than she, and also married. From 1866, they lived together at the villa Triebschen, provided by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, on the shore of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. She had three children with Wagner, all of whom were born before they finally married in 1870. After the death of Wagner, in 1883, she became director of the Bayreuth Festival. She died on 1 April 1930, eighty years ago today.

The detailed diary kept by Cosima about her life with Wagner was suppressed for nearly a century, largely by Eva, their youngest daughter, but was finally published in English in two volumes by Collins, London, in 1978 and 1980 (and by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York). Volume one of Cosima Wagner Diaries covers the period 1869 to 1877, and volume two 1878-1883. Both are edited and annotated by Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack and translated by Geoffrey Skelton. More recently, in 1997, Yale University Press published Cosima Wagner’s Diaries: An Abridgement - a few pages can be read at Otherwise, several websites have some extracts from the diaries: Francis Barnhart’s website, The Nietzsche Channel, and The Guardian.

Skelton, in his introduction, explains how Cosima began keeping a diary to continue a biographical account of Wagner’s life that until then he himself had been writing in the form of autobiographical notes - and this was at the request of King Ludwig II. Once together with Cosima, he claimed she was better able to continue the biography. Occasionally, though, Wagner himself would write in the diary, or comment on Cosima’s entries.

‘Whatever the original intention,’ Skelton says, ‘it is clear from the very first page of her Diaries that Cosima considered them as much more than mere aids to memory for a future biography. Their avowed purpose was to provide a sort of apologia for her children, so that in later years they would be better able to understand her conduct in leaving Hans von Bülow for Richard Wagner, and would at the same time gain a proper appreciation of the man of genius to whom she had dedicated her life. If she frequently loses sight of this maternal intention and to confide in her diary intimate reflections of a purely private kind, she never forgot that the focus of her attention was always Richard. On the only occasion when she left home alone with the children for a few days, she made no entries, since she had nothing to record about him. And the last entry (February 12, 1883) was made on the day before he died.’

Here are a few extracts. The first and last were written on her birthday - the former on her first birthday with Wagner after their marriage the previous August.

25 December 1870
‘About this day, my children, I can tell you nothing - nothing about my feelings, nothing about my mood, nothing, nothing, nothing. I shall just tell you, dryly and plainly, what happened. When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream, music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R came in to me with the five children and put into my hands the score of his Symphonic Birthday Greeting. I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household; R had set up his orchestra on the stairs and thus consecrated our Tribschen forever! The Tribschen Idyll - thus the work is called. - At midday Dr Sulzer arrived, surely the most important of R’s friends! After breakfast the orchestra again assembled, and now once again the Idyll was heard in the lower apartment, moving us all profoundly (Countess B was also there, on my invitation); after it the Lohengrin wedding procession, Beethoven’s Septet, and, to end with, once more the work of which I shall never hear enough! - Now at last I understood all R’s working in secret, also dear Richter’s trumpet (he blazed out the Siegfried theme splendidly and had learned the trumpet especially to do it), which had won him many admonishments from me. ‘Now let me die,’ I exclaimed to R ‘It would be easier to die for me than to live for me,’ he replied. - In the evening R reads his Meistersinger to Dr Sulzer, who did not know it; and I take as much delight in it as if it were something completely new. This makes R say, ‘I wanted to read Sulzer Die Ms, and it turned into a dialogue between us two.’

27 June 1871
‘Still rain; but R is working - that is my sunshine! When, visiting him while he is at work, I tell him that, he says; ‘And do you know what makes me feel so irresponsible toward everything? The fact that I have you; none of our evil experiences touches the nerve of things; so I, too, can be single-minded. If I had had you with me in Paris, I should not have let myself in for all those things. The only trouble is, we came together late, I want to enjoy it for a long time yet.’ - Uncharitable feelings over my father’s behaviour. - R has composed Hagen’s aria [Hagen - a character in Götterdämmerung]. He says, ‘While doing it I was thinking of you asleep; I was uncertain whether to let himself express himself in silence or not; then I remembered how you talk in your dreams, and I saw I could let Hagen voice his emotions, which is much better.’ . .’

27 June 1872
‘R reads in the newspaper that there have been uprisings among the workers in Vienna, and again it is the misguided poor people who have been punished and persecuted. ‘The demagogues, the ringleaders, should be trodden underfoot like vermin,’ says R, very indignant that the misguided people are once again the victims. - Visit from the conductor Herbeck. Proposals for Vienna, inquiry whether R would perhaps do Die Walküre there, before Bayreuth - all of it nonsense. - Family lunch, the faces of musicians are discussed, and R says the handsomest was Méhul’s. On my remarking that these French musicians (Grétry, Méhul, etc.) were very gifted: ‘Oh the French are significant, no question of that, what they lack is an ideal, something which, when it comes to the point, doesn’t concern itself at all with form - like Bach for instance, who simply ignored the laws of euphony, which meant everything to the Italians, in favor of independence for his voices.’ - R has done some work, despite the interruption of Herr H. Walk with the children after the rain, renewed pleasure in the park: ‘If one could conjure it up with a wish, one couldn’t make it any lovelier.’ In the evening took up our old Gibbon again and continued with him, remarking as we did so that the English are much better and more original interpreters of Latin ways, their classical form and their settled outlook, than the French.’

27 June 1874
‘Quite a lot of things all at once; furnishing of the hall, which is to be consecrated today; visit from the machinist Brandt, arrival of the singer Scaria (Hagen) and visit from Frau Löper, back from Karlsbad. Herr Scaria sings somem of Hagen’s music straightaway, but since he knows nothing of the text, R reads it to him. Curious the dealings with these implements! -’

27 June 1876
‘Again 2nd act of S, again Herr Unger hoarse! Its impact greatly hindered in consequence. R and I both tired in the evening. Trouble with Herr Kögel (Hagen!), Gura has been chosen for Donner. - Things are said to be looking bad in Turkey.’

25 December 1877
‘Real brilliant sunshine, the first time for two months! R says to me, ‘Your birthday is my Sunday!’ He decides on a walk with the children before lunch, we go into the palace gardens, Siegfried’s new suit, in old Germanic style, gives us much pleasure. A merry meal, R solemnly proposes my health. In the evening the history of the Arabs again, after which R reads the first 3 cantos of the Divina commedia, to our great delight; then I ask him for something from Parsifal, and he plays Gurnemanz’s narration, the entry of Parsifal - divine blessings for my birthday!’