Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Byrom’s universal shorthand

Three hundred and twenty years ago today was born John Byrom, the deviser of a once widely-used shorthand system. He also kept a diary for much of his life. It is often dull but, buried among the daily record of his movements, there are interesting details about his shorthand work, the Royal Society, and the food/ale he’s consumed.

Byrom was born in or near Manchester on 29 February 1692. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he first started writing poems and devising shorthand ways of writing. Although he went abroad, to Montpelier, to study medicine, he never practised as a doctor. Instead he spent many years promoting and trying to sell his shorthand system. In 1721, he married his cousin Elizabeth, and they had four children one of whom was also called Elizabeth (Beppy). He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1724.

Byrom’s shorthand became widely adopted, being used by, among others, the Wesley brothers and Horace Walpole. On the death of his elder brother in 1740, Byrom inherited the family property which relieved him of giving shorthand lessons (for income), though he remained closely associated with the method. Indeed, in 1742, an act of parliament gave him the sole rights to the system for 21 years; thereafter it became freely available as The Universal English Short-Hand.

Apart from promoting his shorthand system, Byrom wrote comic and serious poems, the most widely known of which is the Christmas hymn, ‘Christians, awake, salute the happy morn’. He died in 1763. Some further biographical information is available at Kirjasto and Wikipedia.

Byrom is remembered mostly for his diaries (extracts below) which were published by The Chetham Society in two volumes, each consisting of two parts (i.e. four books in all) between 1854 and 1857. They were edited by Richard Parkinson and titled The Private Journal and Literary Remains of John Byrom. The volumes are freely available at Internet Archive, but, for the most part, they are rather bland and weighed down with too much ordinary detail. (The fourth volume also contains a diary kept by Beppy which provides an eyewitness account of the arrival in Manchester of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender.)

1 February 1724
‘This day (being Saturday) I did for the first time advertise my shorthand in the Evening Post, and the writer of that paper made a mistake of Byron for Byrom, and from this time I design to take notice of any thing that shall happen in relation to it.’

29 February 1724
‘This day I am years old thirty-two. Mr Leycester and I went to get our advertisement printed. I gave 5s to the Daily Courant for an advertisement of my own, something different from the former, and have given 7s 6d to the Post Boy for the answer to Weston, which he also put in the Daily Post. From this place I went to Mrs de Vlieger’s in Leicester fields where I dined; and from thence we went to the opera, where we found Mr Leycester waiting at the door; we went to the first row in the gallery; I did not much like this diversion.’

19 March 1724
‘That day I was admitted Fellow of the Royal Society by Sir Hans Sloane, and Mr Bobert Ord at the same time. He and I went there together, gave Mr Hanksbee two guineas, and signed bond to pay fifty-two shillings a year.’

1 March 1726
‘Rose after six, went to Torbock’s; thence to Fairchild’s at Hogeden, called at Mr Ghaddock’s by the way, met Dr Eaton and Mr Digles; Fairchild showed me his garden, his ananas, melon, thistle, misletoe, inoculations, said at first he had no Paradise stocks to spare, but after we had talked he said my friend might have half a dozen. Thence back to Moorfields, where I went through the books; [. . .] Torbock carried most of them for me; coming through Wood-street we bought steel for punches, files 2s. 8d.; then we went to see a turning engine, the man not within; then to Pingo’s the medal caster, he not at home, but the woman showed us some of his casting; then to Bridgets auction.’

5 March 1726
‘Went to Mr Johnson’s, where I dined upon potted hare, very good; thence to George’s, where I saw Mr Sanderson, Pennant, and Coatsworth; thence to Mr Nicholls, writ out some of Finch’s speech to Queen Elizabeth, he would have had me write it all out, but I would not; Hunt told me his affairs succeeded very well; home near nine, had a fire made, stayed up reading Collin’s Enquiry concerning Human Liberty, sat up till near two.’

7 March 1726
‘Empson and Butterwick came this morning and had their first lesson in shorthand, and paid me each five guineas.’

27 February 1729
‘Called upon Mr Stanley, he began, paid five guineas, and promised no soul living should see it but himself; I showed him the way of coming at the alphabet, and left him to blunder by himself, and appointed to call on him to-morrow at nine. Thence to the Guildhall, met Woolston, who told me that he should not be tried to-day, because the Attorney General was not there; called upon Mr Lethuillier and drank a dish of chocolate with him; thence to Meadow’s, who put four Knight Errants in my pocket, and desired me to send them something, a poor introduction to such a design. I went to Will’s coffeehouse to enquire for Mr Salkeld, not there; I wrote shorthand in answer to Phebe and Mrs Byrom. To Richard’s; thence to the Royal Society, Vernon there from Cambridge; Dr Rutty read about ignis fatuus; humming bird’s nest and egg, mighty small; Molucca bean, which somebody had sent to Dr Jurin for a stone taken out of a toad’s head; Desaguliers made some experiments about electricity. [. . .] we had a very elegant supper, salmon, fowls, jellies, and a pint of Moselle very good, and a bowl of punch.’

5 January 1731
‘At night Houghton, Lloyd, and I came to the King’s Head, and the club being there, viz. two Hoadlys, Brown, Ray. I brought them in, and we had brawn and beefsteaks, and talked about Cheselden and the drum of the man Ray’s ear, and about the Royal Society, and futurity. Houghton and I went into the city, saw Salkeld at Will’s, who treated us with chocolate; thence we followed a man in a Turkish dress, I spoke and paid for a barrel of oysters to the woman at the Cross Keys; to Moorfields, where I bought J. Lead, Pordage, 1s. apiece; thence to Castlon’s the type maker, where Houghton and I went into the printing cutting place; he was married to another wife, who made excuses for his undress, we drank a pint of wine at the Swan, and he said types could not be made for our shorthand.’

31 August 1742.
‘I have been at the other end of the Strand to enquire of a lady about a book that her brother-in-law, Dr Gheyne at Bath, is very fond of, from whom I have just received a letter, but could not find her at home. I won a pint of wine of Mr Pickering; he would lay that Prague was taken before he went, but we hear not of it in the Gazette yet, for I called in at the coffeehouse where Dr Pellet and company meet by Mr Lloyd’s lodgings; he is gone, I suppose, to the Guild, which makes a noise even here.’

Monday, February 27, 2012

A book out of these scraps

Lawrence Durrell, the author of The Alexandria Quartet and several highly-respected travel books on Greece, was born a century ago today. His fictional style has gone out of fashion but was revered by many - not least myself - in the 1960s and 1970s. Durrell does not seem to have been a diarist, and there is no evidence of diaries in waiting, so to speak, for publication. However, one of his classic travel books, about Corfu, is based on, and quotes from, a diary or notebook he kept when first living there.

Durrell was born in Darjeeling, India, on 27 February 1912, the son of a British civil engineer, and Louisa, an Irish protestant, both of whom had been brought up in India. In 1923, he was sent to be educated in England, and attended various schools without much success. In 1935, he married Nancy, the first of his four wives, and moved with her and other members of his family (one brother, Gerald, also became a writer) to live on Corfu.

In 1937, Durrell travelled to Paris where he met Henry Miller and Anäis Nin (a lifelong diarist - see The Diary Junction), and in 1940, he had a daughter with Nancy. On the outbreak of war, Durrell’s mother and brothers returned to England, but Durrell and Nancy stayed (having a daughter in 1940) until the fall of Greece when they escaped to Alexandria. They separated soon after.

During the war, Durrell served as press attache to the British embassies in Cairo and Alexandria, and, after, he held various diplomatic and teaching posts mostly in Greece, but also in Belgrade and Buenos Aires. In 1947, he married Eve Cohen and they too had a daughter, Sappho. She committed suicide in 1985, leaving behind a diary - published in the literary magazine Granta - with unsubstantiated accusations of incest with her father.

From 1953, Durrell lived in Cyprus, initially teaching English literature but working again, for a while, for the British Government during the Cypriot revolution. During this period he began writing Justine, the first of four novels in The Alexandria Quartet, which would bring him literary fame. During the latter part of his life, Durrell lived in the South of France (he bought a large house in Sommières, a small village in Languedoc in 1966) and this was the setting for his most ambitious work, The Avignon Quintet. Apart from novels, he also wrote several celebrated books about the Greek Islands and poetry.

Durrell married twice more, his third wife dying of cancer, and the fourth marriage ending in separation. He died at Sommières in 1990. More biographical information is available at Wikipedia, the International Lawrence Durrell Society, a Durrell Centenary website, and a French website celebrating Durrell in Languedoc.

There is no evidence that Lawrence Durrell was a diarist, except for the few dated diary-type notes that take up part of his book about Corfu - Prospero’s Cell: A guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Corcyra. This was first published by Faber & Faber in 1945, and is part travel guide and part travel literature. The dated diary entries included are more like notes (similar to those found in some of his novels) and largely impersonal. Here are several extracts from the first few pages of Prospero’s Cell.

29 April 1937
‘It is April and we have taken an old fisherman’s house in the extreme north of the island - Kalamai. Ten sea-miles from the town, and some thirty kilometres by road, it offers all the charms of seclusion. A white house set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water. The hill runs clear up to the sky behind it, so that the cypresses and olives overhang this room in which I sit and write. We are upon a bare promontory with its beautiful clean surface of metamorphic stone covered in olive and ilex: in the shape of a mons pubis. This is become our unregretted home. A world. Corcyra.’

5 May 1937
‘The books have arrived by water. Confusion, adjectives, smoke, and the deafening pumping of wheezy Diesel engine. Then the caique staggered off in the direction of St Stephano and the Forty Saints, where the crew will gorge themselves on melons and fall asleep in their coarse woollen vests, one of top of the other, like a litter of cats, under the ikon of St Spiradion of Holy Memory. We are depending on this daily caique for our provisions.’

6 May 1937
‘Climb to Vigla in the time of cherries and look down. You will see that the island lies against the mainland roughly in the form of a sickle. On the landward side you have a great bay, noble and serene, and almost completely landlocked. Northward the tip of the sickle almost touches Albania and here the troubled blue of the Ionian is sucked harshly between the ribs of the limestone and spits of sand. Kalamai fronts the Albanian foothils, and into it the water races as into a swimming-pool: a milky ferocious green when the north wind curdles it.’

7 May 1937
‘The cape opposite is bald; a wilderness of rock-thistle and melancholy asphodel - the drear sea-quill. It was on a ringing spring day that we discovered the house. The sky lay in a heroic blue arc as we came down the stone ladder. I remember N[ancy] saying distinctly to Theodore: ‘But the quietness alone makes it another country.’ We looked through the hanging screens of olive-branches on to the white sea wall with fishing-tackle drying on it. A neglected balcony. The floors were cold. Fowls clucked softly in the gloom where the great olive-press lay, waiting its season. A cypress stood motionless - as if at the gates of the underworld. We shivered and sat on the white rock to eat, looking down at our own faces in the motionless sea. You will think it strange to have come all the way from England to this fine Grecian promontory where our only company can be rock, air, sky - and all the elementals. In letters home N says we have been cultivating the tragic sense. There is no explanation. It is enough to record that everything is exactly as the fortune-teller said it would be. White house, white rock, friends, and a narrow style of loving: and perhaps a book which will grow out of these scraps, as from the rubbish of these old Venetian tombs the cypress cracks the slabs at last and rises up fresh and green.’

By way of a personal postcript, here also are a few extracts from my own diary about Durrell. As a young man, I adored his books, and, I suppose, very much wanted to be like him - though, clearly, time has proved my ambition was a little o’er-reaching.

26 December 1978
‘Durrell completely entrances me with his writings - but completely.’

27 September 1979
‘Durrell lives and moulds our lives. I’m not given to hero worship but it’s fun to try.’

9 November 1990
‘Lawrence Durrell has died. One of my few heroes. He was 78 years old. The newspapers find a news story in his death as well as giving him a reasonable obituary. I am delighted to discover that he had written yet one more book, about Provence, which is due to come out any day now. His style of writing is so completely out of fashion but I still love it and may now be tempted to reread a novel or two.’

18 April 1990
‘[A Spanish friend who had been living in London with us in the late 1970s] said recently she had finally consumed Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet after several failed attempts. It had struck her suddenly that Harold [a close friend at the time] and I were trying to create Durrell’s world and that Mu [another friend then living in Greece but often with us in London] was a Justine figure.’

25 July 1991
‘Information today on the Reuters wire that one of Lawrence Durrell’s wives is trying to get an injunction against a woman who intends to publish the diaries and letters of Durrell’s daughter Sappho. Sappho committed suicide some five years ago when she was 33; the diaries and letters appear to show that she had an incestuous relationship as a teenager with her father.’

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Doomed to sing

Today is the 160th anniversary of the death of Thomas Moore, the great Irish poet and singer. Much entranced by society, he became a fixture in the London literary scene for periods of his life, and when visiting was often in demand as an entertainer. His extensive diaries - all of which are freely available on the internet - cover thirty years and fill more than six volumes.

Moore was born in Dublin in 1779, and he studied there, at Trinity College, and at Middle Temple in London. Eschewing the law, he found an entrée into English society through his talent as a poet. His Irish Melodies - poems set to music - sold widely and were much performed. He also wrote satirical works such as The Fudge Family in Paris. In 1803, he was appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda, but relinquished the post to a deputy while he travelled in North America.

Back in London, Moore set to work and published more poems, but was so affronted by a reviewer, Francis Jeffrey, that Moore challenged him to a duel. The ODNB biography of Moore (log in required) takes up the story: ‘This was about to take place in woodland near Chalk Farm when the contest was interrupted by police officers, who took both men into custody. Newspapers turned the whole affair into ridicule by alleging that the ammunition to be used consisted of paper pellets, and although the allegation was evidently untrue, it remained to mortify Moore for some years. When Byron repeated the story in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), Moore proceeded to challenge him as well, but fortunately Byron was touring the eastern Mediterranean, and was unaware of Moore’s anger. Both challenges, as it happens, led to warm and lasting friendships, remarkable evidence of the charm and good nature of the Irish poet.’

Moore married an actess, Bessy Dyke, in 1811. But then having lived beyond his means for some years, and having been encumbered with debts incurred by his deputy in Bermuda, he fled Britain in 1819 to avoid imprisonment. He remained in France and Italy until 1822, when his debts were finally paid.

Moore’s friendship with Lord Byron led the latter to entrust his memoirs to Moore. He, however, along with the publisher John Murray, burned these memoirs - thus creating one of the most infamous episodes in literary history. Nevertheless, Moore went on to edit and publish Byron’s letters and journals. He died on 26 February 1852 (though, curiously, both Wikipedia and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography say he died a day earlier, on 25 February - see Postscript below). Further biographical information is available from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Kirjasto or Wikipedia.

Moore’s diary was first published between 1853 and 1856 by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in eight volumes as Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore. This was edited by John Russell, who also wrote prefaces for the first and sixth volumes. Memoirs and letters, in fact, take up the first volume, some of the second and much of the last, but Moore’s diary, starting in August 1818 and concluding in October 1847, take up all the rest of the volumes. All eight tomes are freely available at Internet Archive. In 1925, Cambridge University Press brought out a one volume edition - Tom Moore's Diary: a selection - edited by J B Priestley.

Here is an extract about Moore from Walter Scott’s great diary (see Death of a bandit).

22 November 1825.
‘Moore. I saw Moore (for the first time, I may say, this season). We had, indeed, met in public twenty years ago. There is a manly frankness with perfect ease and good breeding about him, which is delightful. Not the least touch of the poet or the pedant. [. . .] His countenance is plain, but the expression is very animated, especially in speaking or singing, so that it is far more interesting than the finest features could have rendered it. I was aware that Byron had often spoken, both in private society and in his journal, of Moore and myself in the same breath, and with the same sort of regard; so I was curious to see what there could be in common betwixt us, Moore having lived so much in the gay world, I in the country, and with people of business, and sometimes with politicians; Moore a scholar, I none; he a musician and artist, I without knowledge of a note; he a democrat, I an aristocrat; with many other points of difierence; besides his being an Irishman, I a Scotchman, and both tolerably national. Yet there is a point of resemblance, and a strong one. We are both good-humoured fellows, who rather seek to enjoy what is going forward than to maintain our dignity as Lions; and we have both seen the world too widely and too well not to condemn in our souls the imaginary consequence of literary people, who walk with their noses in the air, [. . .] He always enjoys the mot pour rire and so do I. It was a pity that nothing save the total destruction of Byron’s memoirs would satisfy his executors; but there was a reason.[. . .] We went to the theatre together, and the house being luckily a good one, received Thomas Moore with rapture. I could have hugged them, for it paid back the debt of the kind reception I met with in Ireland.’

And here is a selection of extracts from Moore’s own diary (one of which is about Scott, who was nearing the end of his life - he died in September 1832).

26 July 1823
‘Sailed in the Ivanhoe; took to my berth and peppermint lozenges, but felt deadly sick all the way. Came in a chaise (Casey and I), from Howth, and broke down when near Dublin; got into a jaunting-car, and arrived at Casey’s, where I dined. Never shall forget the welcomeness of his good mutton broth, to which was added some very old port, and an excellent bottle of claret. Went afterwards in a hackney-coach to Abbey Street. Found my dearest father and mother watching for me at the window; my mother not looking so well as when I last saw her, but my father (though, of course, enfeebled by his great age) in excellent health and spirits. Sweet little Nell, too, quite well.’

23 December 1829
‘Asked to various places to dine, but reserved myself for the chance of seeing Fanny Kemble in Belvidera. Fanny K.’s acting clever, but not touching, at least, to me. Was unmoved enough, during the pathetic parts, to look around the house, and saw but few (indeed, no) symptoms of weeping. One lady was using a handkerchief most plentifully; but I found it was for a cold in the head. Sir Thomas Lawrence in the orchestra, full of anxiety and delight; and I made it a point whenever he looked our way, that he should see me clapping enthusiastically. Came over to speak to us afterwards. Got home between ten and eleven, with all the horrors of correcting the cancel and of packing before me. Dispatched all, and set off in a hackney coach for the Gloucester Coffeehouse, where I slept.’

14 October 1831
‘Spottiswoode and Harness to breakfast at Murray’s, for the purpose of consulting about the new edition of Byron. I have not myself come to any decisive explanation with him as to what my part or share in the business is to be. In one of my letters to him, from Sloperton, I had (in answer to his request that I would suggest what I thought useful towards the imdertaking) said, that, as far as the works were concerned, I thought a running commentary throughout, like that of Warton on Pope, would be the most attractive means of giving them freshness and novelty with the public; but adding, at the same time, that the task would be a very responsible one, particularly if it was a rhymer like me, who undertook to criticise such a poet. Harness very anxious that I should give him an epilogue for the tragedy he is bringing out. A good deal of talk about the projected edition of Byron, in which I saw that Harness took a great lead. Being obliged to leave them soon after breakfast, took Murray out of the room, and impressed upon him, that if I were to have anything to do with this concern it must be left all to myself without any other interference; he said ‘Certainly.’ [. . .]

To dinner at Sir Walter Scott’s (or rather Lockhart’s). On my way to dinner, with Murray, who took me, told him that I had made up my mind to be editor at all events, and that he might announce me as such; which seemed very much to please him. Was rather shocked at seeing and hearing Scott; both his looks and utterance, but particularly the latter, showing strongly the effects of paralysis. [. . .] On looking over at Scott once or twice, was painfully struck by the utter vacancy of his look. How dreadful if he should live to survive that mighty mind of his! It seems hardly right to assemble company round him in this state. Saw that I was doomed to sing. Mrs Lockhart began, and sung her wild song Achin Foane (as the words sound) to the harp with such effect on her Scotch hearers as made me a little despair of being listened to after her. I however succeeded very well, and was made to sing song after song till poor Scott’s time of going to bed; soon after which I came away. Mrs. Macleod also sang some Scotch duets with her sister. It is charming to see how Scott’s good temper and good nature continue unchanged through the sad wreck of almost every thing else that belonged to him. The great object in sending him abroad is to disengage his mind from the strong wish to write by which he is harmed; eternally making efforts to produce something without being able to bring his mind collectively to bear upon it. [. . .]

Called at the Speaker’s; saw both her and him, and he with much kindness asked me to his country place. When I expressed my wonder at his being able to hold out through all these long nights, he said it was all by not eating; if he had lived in his usual way he could not have borne it, but the want of exercise luckily took away his appetite, and this temperance saved him.’

13 August 1836
‘Drove about a little in Mrs Meara’s car, accompanied by Hume, and put in practice what I had long been contemplating - a visit to No 12 Aungier Street - the house in which I was born. On accosting the man who stood at the door, and asking whether he was the owner of the house, he looked rather gruffly and suspiciously at me, and answered ‘Yes’ - but the moment I mentioned who I was - adding that it was the house I was bom in, and that I wished to be permitted to look through the rooms, his countenance brightened up with the most cordial feeling, and seizing me by the hand he pulled me along to the small room behind the shop (where we used to breakfast in old times), exclaiming to his wife (who was sitting there), with a voice tremulous with feeling, ‘Here’s Sir Thomas Moore, who was bom in this house, come to ask us to let him see the rooms; and it’s proud I am to have him under the old roof.’ He then without delay, and entering at once into my feelings, led me through every part of the house, beginning with the small old yard and its appurtenances, then the little dark kitchen where I used to have my bread and milk in the morning before I went to school; from thence to the front and back drawing rooms, the former looking more large and respectable than I could have expected, and the latter, with its little closet where I remember such gay supper-parties, both room and closet fuller than they could well hold, and Joe Kelly and Wesley Doyle singing away together so sweetly. The bedrooms and garrets were next visited, and the only material alteration I observed in them was the removal of the wooden partition by which a little comer was separated off from the back bedroom (in which the two apprentices slept) to form a bedroom for me. The many thoughts that came rushing upon me in thus visiting, for the first time since our family left it, the house in which I passed the first nineteen or twenty years of my life may be more easily conceived than told; and I must say, that if a man had been got up specially to conduct me through such a scene it could not have been done with more tact, sympathy, and intelligent feeling than it was by this plain, honest grocer; for, as I remarked to Hume, as we entered the shop, ‘only think, a grocer’s still.’ When we returned to the drawing room, there was the wife with a decanter of port, and glasses on the table, begging us to take some refreshment, and I with great pleasure drank her and her good husband’s health. When I say that the shop is still a grocer’s, I must add, for the honour of old times, that it has a good deal gone down in the world since then, and is of a much inferior grade of grocery to that of my poor father, who, by the way, was himself one of nature’s gentlemen, having all the repose and good breeding of manner by which the true gentleman in all classes is distinguished.’

15 June 1839
‘Went to the British Museum, and, having been told that it was a holiday, asked for Panizzi, who was full of kindness, and told me the library should be at all times accessible to me, and that I should also have a room entirely to myself, if I preferred it at any time to the public room. He then told me of a poor Irish labourer now at work about the Museum, who, on hearing the other day that I was also sometimes at work there, said he would give a pot of ale to any one who would show me to him the next time I came. Accordingly, when I was last there, he was brought where he could have a sight of me as I sat reading; and the poor fellow was so pleased that he doubled the pot of ale to the man who performed the part of showman. Panizzi himself seemed to enjoy the story quite as much as I did.’

POSTSCRIPT: Thomas Moore DID die on 25 February 1852, exactly as stated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - my apologies for doubting it! The biographical information in Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore (the source for my information above) says Moore died on the 26th, however, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has now double-checked its information by consulting Moore’s death certificate, and this confirms he died on the 25th.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Webbs on the Web

The remarkable diaries of Beatrice Webb, the great social reformer and co-founder of The London School of Economics, have been made fully and freely available on the internet to mark the launch of the LSE’s new digital library. The diaries, LSE says, record ‘not just her personal struggles but her place in the front-line of public life from the late 19th century to her death in 1943’.

Beatrice, the eighth daughter of industrialist Richard Potter and Laurencina Heyworth, was born in Gloucestershire in 1858. Although she enjoyed little formal schooling she read widely and talked to her father’s visitors, one of whom was Herbert Spencer. A liaison with the statesman Joseph Chamberlain, who was much older than she, failed to develop, and when it broke down, she joined a charity to help those living in poverty.

For a while Beatrice worked as a researcher for her cousin Charles Booth, a social reformer. In 1891, she published a small book, The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain, which later became a classic. While working on the book she met Sidney Webb, who wooed her for several years before they married in 1892. Beatrice’s inheritance of a £1,000 a year enabled Sidney to give up his civil service job. They set up house in London together, and subsequently wrote a number of important books such as The History of Trade Unionism and Industrial Democracy.

In 1894, the Fabian Society, in which the Webbs were important figures, was left £10,000, which they used to help found The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1895. In 1898, the Webbs travelled to North America, Australia and New Zealand; thereafter, they spent many years researching and publishing 11 volumes of English Local Government.

In 1900, the Fabian Society joined with other parties to form the Labour Representation Committee, which won two seats in the House of Commons. The Webbs were responsible for drafting the 1902 Education Act; and Beatrice served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws, producing an important minority report. In 1913, they launched the New Statesman magazine, and, a year later, they joined the Labour Party. Sydney, in particular, rose to high office. When he was made Baron Passfield, Beatrice refused the title Lady Passfield. In the 1930s, after their retirement to Hampshire, they visited the USSR, and then spent three years writing Soviet Communism: a new Civilisation?.

When Beatrice Webb died in 1943, she left behind an astonishing 70 years of diaries, all of which are held in the Passfield Archive at LSE. They are among the founding works of the LSE library, and are widely consulted by researchers studying late 19th and 20th century politics, industrial relations, and the role of women in society and family relationships. A selection of extracts was first edited by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie and published in four volumes between 1982 and 1985 by Virago in association with LSE; a one volume edition, abridged by Lynn Knight, came out in 2000.

LSE, with funding from the Webb Memorial Trust, has made all of Beatrice Webb’s diaries available online. Two versions of the diary have been digitised - 9,000 pages of the actual manuscript as well as 8,000 pages of a transcribed version that is cross-referenced with the date fields indexed from the manuscript version. The website - called Webbs on the Web - also contains a number of images of the Webbs. See The Diary Junction for several biography and diary extract links. Here, though, are a few extracts from the 2000 volume edited by Knight.

6 May 1887
‘This morning I walked along Billingsgate from Fresh Wharf to the London docks. Crowded with loungers smoking bad tobacco, and coarse, careless talk with the clash of a halfpenny on the pavement every now and again. Bestial content or hopeless discontent on their faces. The lowest form of leisure - senseless curiosity about street rows, idle gazing at the street sellers, low jokes - and this is the chance the docks offer.’

1 February 1890
‘London is in a ferment: strikes are the order of the day, the new trade unionism with its magnificent conquest of the docks is striding along with an arrogance rousing employers to a keen sense of danger, and to a determination to strike against strikes. The socialists, led by a small set of able young men (Fabian Society) are manipulating London Radicals, ready at the first check-mate of trade unionism to voice a growing desire for state action.’

14 July 1896
‘Made arrangements to start the London School in its new abode at Adelphi Terrace in October. Engaged a bright girl as housekeeper and accountant. Advertised for political science lecturer - and yesterday interviewed candidates, nondescript set of university men. All hopeless from our point of view. All imagined that political science consisted of a knowledge of Aristotle and ‘modern’ writers such as de Tocqueville - wanted to put the students through a course of Utopias from More downwards. When Sidney suggested a course of lectures be prepared on the different systems of municipal taxation, when Graham suggested a study of the rival methods of election, from ad hoc to proportional representation, the wretched candidates looked aghast and thought evidently that we were amusing ourselves at their expense . . . Finally we determined to do without our lecturer - to my mind a blessed consummation. It struck me always as a trifle difficult to teach a science which does not yet exist.’

19 May 1910
‘The King’s death has turned politics topsy-turvy . . . London and the country generally is enjoying itself hugely at the Royal Wake, slobbering over the lying-in-state and the formal procession. Any collective thought and feeling is to the good; but the ludicrous false sentiment which is being lavished over the somewhat commonplace virtues of our late King would turn the stomachs of the most loyal of Fabians.’

5 August 1914
‘It was a strange London on Sunday: crowded with excursionists to London and balked would-be travellers to the Continent, all in a state of suppressed uneasiness and excitement. We sauntered through the crowd to Trafalgar Square, where Labour, socialist and pacifist demonstrators, with a few trade union flags, were gesticulating from the steps of the monument to a mixed crowd of admirers, hooligan warmongers and merely curious holiday-makers. It was an undignified and futile exhibition, this singing of the ‘Red Flag’ and passing of well-worn radical resolutions in favour of universal peace. We turned into the National Liberal Club: the lobby was crowded with men, all silent and perturbed.’

15 January 1941
‘We have had a shock. In the devastating German raid on London on 29 December all our books, bound and unbound - seven thousand volumes - were destroyed. At first I was downcast, but Sidney was more philosophical [. . .]. When in the six o’clock BBC news we are told that five million books had been swept away, I was consoled by the feeling ‘we are all in it’, and had no reason to feel specially injured.’

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Diary briefs

WW1 loo paper diaries get first reading - British Forces News

Burstall’s Memoirs of a Young Bastard - The Australian, Miegunyah Press

Laurel’s history as a mill town - The Baltimore Sun

Diary of American teen murderer - CBS News, Mail Online

Scandalous diaries of the famous - Flavorwire

Diaries of a Union soldier - The Sacramento Bee, Online Archive of California

UK Parliament to stage performance of Mullin’s diaries - BBC

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Deprived of my liberty

Alexander Hamilton Stephens was born two centuries ago today. Despite a difficult childhood in which he lost both his parents, he went on to study law, enter politics and become vice president of the Confederate States. He delivered a famous speech declaring that ‘slavery, subordination to the superior race, is [a] natural and normal condition.’ He was arrested towards the end of the Civil War, and while in prison kept a detailed diary in which, early on, he wrote: ‘Never before was I deprived of my liberty.’ How ironic.

Stephens was born on 11 February 1812 in Taliaferro County, Georgia, US. His mother died when he was very young, and his father and stepmother died when he was but a teenager. A Presbyterian minister, Alexander Hamilton Webster, helped him continue his education, leading him later to take on his middle name. After studying at Franklin College (later University of Georgia), he taught for several years before turning to the law, and passing the bar in 1834.

However, it was politics to which Stephens was most drawn, and by 1843, he had been elected to the US House of Representatives where he served eight terms, in various political parties, including the Whig party and, eventually, the Southern Democratic party. In time, he acquired wealth and bought land and slaves. His generosity, it is said, was legendary, often opening his house, and financing students’ education.

In 1858, Stephens returned to private law practice, but in 1861, was elected to the Georgian special convention to decide whether or not to secede. He changed his mind on the issue, voting initially against, and then for, with the majority. Subsequently, he was elected as vice president of the Confederate States of America by the Confederate Congress. A few weeks later, he gave his famous so-called Cornerstone Speech in which he declared that slavery was the natural condition of blacks and the foundation of the Confederacy.

Through the war, though, Stephens was a critic of the Confederacy’s President, Jefferson Davis, and he persistently sought ways to improve a chance of peace. He was arrested in May 1865, and imprisoned in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, for five months. The following year, Stephens was elected to the US Senate but was refused his seat because Georgia had not yet been re-admitted to the Union. Thereafter he returned to the law, until 1873, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives, and served another five terms. In 1882, he was elected Governor of Georgia, but died after only four months in office. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Georgia’s Blue and Gray Trail website, and from The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

While in prison, Stephens had plenty of time for writing, and kept a detailed diary. This was edited by Myrta Lockett Avary and published (by Doubleday, Page and Company, New York, in 1910) as Recollections of Alexander H Stephens; his diary kept when a prisoner at Fort Warren, Boston Harbour, 1865; giving incidents and reflections of his prison life and some letters and reminiscences. This first edition is freely available at Internet Archive, but the book was reprinted in 1998 by Louisiana State University Press, and can be viewed at Amazon

The book’s very long introduction also contains a few snippets of a diary he kept 20 years earlier when just starting out as a lawyer. Here are most of those early extracts, and two early entries from the prison diary of 1865.

2 May 1834
‘The other day, as I was coming from my boarding-house in a cheerful brisk walk, I was laid low in the dust by hearing the superintendent of a shoe-shop ask a workman, “Who is that little fellow that walks so fast by here every day?” with the reply in a sarcastic tone, “Why, that’s a lawyer!” ’

8 May 1834
‘Read Jackson’s Protest to the Senate. Am pleased with it in general ... I feel interested for him ... I see vile attempts made to fix infamy upon him. His Proclamation of December, 1832, I condemn. But for one error a man who has done much good for his country should not be abandoned. For where we find a president who will commit only one wrong, we shall find few who will not commit more.’

12 May 1834
‘My desires do not stop short of the highest places of distinction. Yet how can I effect my purpose? Poor and without friends, time passing with rapid flight and I effecting nothing.’

17 May 1834
‘Brother still with me. Had an introduction to a man who addressed me familiarly as “My son.” Such often happens to me. My weight is 94 pounds, height 67 inches, and my whole appearance that of a youth of eighteen.’

19 May 1834
‘Inferior Court sat; no business. Starvation to the whole race of lawyers!’

30 May 1834
‘Examined some drawings of the ancient statues. With the Gladiator and Venus I am delighted. Pity but some of our fashionable belles would take a lesson from this elegant form of true grace, the Venus; they would change their present disgusting waspish taste.’

3 June 1834
‘The railroad is the topic of the day. Railroads, it is true, are novel things. The greatest obstacle is the greatness of the enterprise. The stupendous thought of seeing steam-engines moving over our hills at the safe and rapid flight of fifteen miles an hour, produces a greater effect in dissuasion of the undertaking than any discovered defect in arguments in its favour.’

7 June 1834
‘I believe I shall never be worth anything, and the thought is death to my soul. I am too boyish, unmanful, trifling, simple in my manners and address.’

25 June 1834
‘Went to a party. Witnessed the new dance [the waltz] which disgusted me very much. Oh, the follies of man!’

12 May 1865
‘This is one of the most eventful days of my life. Never before was I deprived of my liberty or under arrest. Reached Atlanta about eight-thirty. Quite unwell. Carried to General Upton’s headquarters. The first person I saw that I knew was Felix, a coloured man who was a servant to Mr Toombs and myself when we lived together in Washington City. He was very glad to see me and I gave him a hearty handshake. He was our cook in Washington, and a good cook he was. General Upton had gone to Macon but was expected back that night. Captain Gilpin, of his staff, received me and assigned me a room. Anthony made me a fire; Captain Gilpin ordered breakfast and Felix soon had it ready: fried ham and coffee. Walked about the city under guard. The desolation and havoc of war here are soul-rending. Several persons called to see me, Gip Grier [his cousin] the first; my heart almost burst when I saw him, but I suppressed all show of emotion. [. . .] Captain Saint called and said he would send the surgeon of his regiment to prescribe for my hoarseness. The surgeon came, and his remedies did me good. Major Cooper called and gave me a bottle of whisky.

I started from home with about $590 in gold which had been laid up for a long time for such a contingency. I got Gip Grier to exchange $20 of it for greenbacks and small silver. I had first asked Captain Gilpin if this would be allowed and he made no objection. Gip offered me $100 additional in gold if I wished it. I declined it. Duncan offered any amount I might want. I told him I hoped I had enough. All this was in the presence of the officers. General Foster, in his note, offered any funds I might need. I informed him in my answer that I had plenty for present use and hoped I should need no more.’

13 May 1865
‘General Upton called early. I was so hoarse I could hardly talk. He informed me that he had removed all guards, that I was on my parole. I told him I should not violate it. He was very courteous and agreeable; told me my destination was Washington. [. . .] He gave me choice of route: by Dalton and the lines of railroads northwest and north, or by sea from Savannah. I selected the sea route [. . .]

From my window, just before night, I took a bird’s-eye survey of the ruins of this place. I saw where the Trout House stood, where Douglas spoke in 1860 - I thought of the scenes of that day, and my deep forebodings of all these troubles; and how sorely oppressed I was at heart, not much less so than now, in their full realization with myself among the victims. How strange it seems to me that I should thus suffer, I who did everything in the power of man to prevent them. I could but rest my eye for a time upon the ruins of the Atlanta Hotel, while the mind was crowded with associations brought to life in gazing upon it. There, on the fourth Sept., 1848, I was near losing my life for resenting the charge of being a traitor to the South: and now I am here, a prisoner under charge, I suppose, of being a traitor to the Union. In all, I have done nothing but what I thought was right. The result, be it what it may, I shall endeavour to meet with resignation.’

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A surprising man

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the great and popular Victorian novelist, author of famous works such as Great Expectations, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities. Biographers say Dickens did keep diaries but that he destroyed them regularly; only one appears to have survived and this has been used to shed light on Dickens’s illicit affair with an actress. Otherwise, though, Dickens can be found as a main character in the diaries of his great friend, the actor William Charles Macready.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the BBC reports, have led global celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth - on 7 February 1812. Prince Charles laid a wreath at the author’s grave in Poets’ Corner as part of a service at Westminster Abbey; and the Royal couple have also visited the Charles Dickens Museum in London. Meanwhile, a special website has been set up with news of bicentenary events, exhibitions, and performances. The British Library has its own online exhibition.

There is plenty of biographical information about Dickens available online. Apart from Wikipedia, try the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, and Victorian Web. Several out-of-copyright biographies and memoirs are also freely available at Internet Archive (such as those by Mamie Dickens, John Forster, John Camden Hotten, and Sir Adolphus William Ward), as are countless versions of Dickens’s novels.

There is very little evidence of any diary writing that Dickens might have done. Biographers says he destroyed his diaries at the end of every year, as well as any letters he could get hold of. One diary - that for 1867 - was mislaid or stolen and didn’t resurface until 1943. The diary was edited by Felix Aylmer and published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1959 as Dickens Incognito, a title that alludes to the secret nature of his adulterous relationship with the actress Nelly Ternan.

The same theme was tackled by Claire Tomalin - whose Charles Dickens: A Life, was published last year by Viking - in her 1990 book Dickens and Ternan: The Invisible Woman (also from Viking). Although not available online, it was reviewed by John Sutherland in the London Review of Books. Tomalin said, in her 1990 book, that scholars had squeezed the 1867 diary ‘like a tiny sponge for every drop of information it can yield’. She does admit, though, that the diary shows Dickens was spending about a third of his free time with Ternan, and lying about his movements. Otherwise, there is no trace of any Dickens diaries - the National Archives certainly has no mention of any.

But there is plenty of Dickens in the diaries kept by the actor William Charles Macready. He was born in London in 1793, and worked mostly on or with the London stage for 35 years from 1816-1851, including stints managing Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Though Dickens was 15 years younger, the two became firm friends soon after meeting in 1837. Macready’s diaries, edited by William Toynbee, and published in two volumes by Chapman & Hall in 1912, contain hundreds and hundreds of references to Dickens. The majority of these are in lists of people attending social gatherings of one sort or another, but many also give intimate glimpses of Dickens. Not only did Dickens dedicate his third novel, Nicholas Nickleby, to Macready, but he also gave his third child, Catherine, Macready as a middle name.

And so, to celebrate the bicentenary, here are a collection of Macready’s diary entries about his friend - all taken from the editions freely available at Internet Archive. (The image above of a young Dickens is also from the same source.)

16 June 1837
‘Sent to the theatre about the rehearsal, and after looking at the newspaper to ascertain the state of the King’s health - what an absurdity that the natural ailment of an old and ungifted man should cause so much perplexity and annoyance! - went to the Haymarket and rehearsed, with some care, Othello. Acted Othello in some respects very well, but want much attention to it still. [. . .] Forster came into my room with a gentleman, whom he introduced as Dickens, alias Boz - I was glad to see him.’ Editor’s footnote: ‘Thus began a friendship of the happiest and most genial description that was only terminated by Dickens’s death, thirty-three years afterwards. Dickens was then not more than twenty-five, and had not yet published any of his novels, though the Sketches by Box had brought him a good deal of reputation as a magazine contributor.’

5 December 1838
‘Dickens brought me his farce, which he read to me. The dialogue is very good, full of point, but I am not sure about the meagreness of the plot. He reads as well as an experienced actor would - he is a surprising man.’

17 September 1839
‘Letitia mentioned to-night that Forster had told them that Dickens intended to dedicate Nickleby to me. I was sorry he had mentioned it, for such an honour as great a one as a man can receive should not be divulged, for fear of accident.’

22 September 1839
‘Received a most kind letter from Dickens with the proof sheet of the dedication of Nickleby to me. Surely this is something to gratify me. . . Answered Dickens‘s letter, thanking him, as well as I could, for the high compliment conferred on me.’

5 October 1839
‘My whole morning was occupied in endeavouring to think of something to say in the speech for which I am engaged to propose Dickens‘s health. I went to town with Edward. Dressed, went with Edward to the Albion, Aldersgate Street, where we met Dickens, Maclise, Forster, [. . .], the publishers Bradbury & Evans, etc., the printers of Nickleby. We sat down to a too splendid dinner - the portrait of Dickens by Maclise was in the room. I had to begin what the Duke of Sussex terms “the business“ of the day, by proposing Dickens‘s health. I spoke of him as one who made the amelioration of his fellow-men the object of all his labours - and whose characteristic was philanthropy.’

23 February 1840
‘Walked out with Edward and called on Dickens, having seen his solicitor’s advertisement versus Bartley in the Examiner. Urged on him the necessity of arranging the quarrel with Bartley, and dissuaded him from answering any attack that B might make upon him next week. He showed me a letter he had prepared, but I requested him not to send it. He is quite in the wrong. He makes a contract, which he considers advantageous at the time, but subsequently finding his talent more lucrative than he had supposed, he refused to fulfil the contract.’

3 July 1840
‘After dinner read the number of Master Humphrey’s Clock very humorous wonderful Dickens! He had told me, as I left his house, that he should now stick to the single story.’

16 August 1840
‘Went to dine with Dickens, and was witness to a most painful scene after dinner. Forster, Maclise and myself were the guests. Forster got on to one of his headlong streams of talk (which he thinks argument) and waxed warm, and at last some sharp observations led to personal retorts between him and Dickens. He displayed his usual want of tact, and Dickens flew into so violent a passion as quite to forget himself and give Forster to understand that he was in his house, which he should be glad if he would leave. Forster behaved very foolishly. I stopped him; spoke to both of them and observed that for an angry instant they were about to destroy a friendship valuable to both. I drew from Dickens the admission that he had spoken in passion and would not have said what he said, could he have reflected; but he added he could not answer for his temper under Forster’s provocations, and that he should do just the same again. Forster behaved very weakly; would not accept the repeated acknowledgment communicated to him that Dickens regretted the passion, etc., but stayed, skimbling-skambling a parcel of unmeaning words, and at last finding he could obtain no more, made a sort of speech, accepting what he had before declined. He was silent and not recovered no wonder! during the whole evening. Mrs Dickens had gone out in tears. It was a very painful scene.’

20 August 1840
‘Called on Dickens, and walked with him to the sale of Louis Napoleon’s effects, where truly enough we saw manifest indications of the one idea being all his intellectual stock. Talked much with Dickens, whose views on politics and religion seem very much to square with mine.’

19 October 1840
‘Forster gave me a mem. of the toasts to be drunk at Dickens’s dinner to-morrow. What would I not do for dear Dickens?’

8 October 1841
‘Coming home - having ordered the driver to pass on when I stopped at Dickens’s - found Forster had been there, and that Dickens, who had been very ill, wished to see me after dinner. I immediately went to him, and to my great concern and distress found him in bed, having this morning undergone an operation. I suffered agonies, as they related all to me, and did violence to myself in keeping myself to my seat. I could scarcely bear it. My nerves are threads, or wires, that tremble when touched. I sat with him above an hour. Poor fellow! Thank God all is so well!’

12 March 1844
‘Dickens’s misjudgment is as clear to me as the noonday sun, and much is to be said in explanation and excuse, but Dickens is a man who fills such a place in the world’s opinion, the people cannot think that he ought to need an excuse alas! the greatest man is but a man!’

21 December 1845
‘Read the paper, in which was a most savage attack on Dickens and his last book The Cricket that looks to me like the heavy and remorseless blow of an enemy, determined to disable his antagonist by striking to maim him or kill if he can, and so render his hostility powerless. I was sorry to see in a newspaper so powerful as the Times an attack so ungenerous, so unworthy of itself; [. . .] Alas! for my poor dear friend Dickens! [. . . Forster] told me that Dickens was so intensely fixed on his own opinions and in his admiration of his own works (who could have believed it?) that he, Forster, was useless to him as a counsel, or for an opinion on anything touching upon them, and that, as he refused to see criticisms on himself, this partial passion would grow upon him, till it became an incurable evil. I grieved to hear it.’

12 March 1847
‘Looked over The Old Curiosity Shop of Dickens. He is a great genius.’

3 December 1847
‘After tea we had two rubbers at whist! Dickens gave me the bound volume of Copperfield. [. . .] Read last number of Copperfield, which is very, very clever full of genius. Certainly he, dear Dickens, is a most extraordinary man!’

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ham at window

John Baker, a barrister who lived much of his life in the West Indies, was born 300 years ago today. He kept a diary which is full of ‘small people and small events’, but, because he liked watching cricket, this record of small events is valued by historians of the sport. He did know some famous people of the age - such as Garrick and Hogarth - but only ever mentioned them in passing.

John, second son of Thomas Baker a grocer in Chichester, was born on 6 February 1712. He was schooled at Petworth, admitted to the Middle Temple in 1729, and called to the Bar in 1737. His first wife died young after giving him one son; and then, after moving to St Kitts, he married Mary Ryan, the daughter of a Monteserrat plantation owner of Irish origin, with whom he had several more children. He worked as a barrister there, and was one of the Assembly’s 24 Members. He served as Solicitor-General to the Leeward Islands from 1750 to 1752, returning to England in 1757.

After taking a house in Red Lion Square, London, he moved to Teddington being close to a circle of West Indian friends; but then continued to relocate his family fairly frequently - near Chichester for a while, in Horsham, back in London. He died in 1779, leaving behind a quarter century of short daily diary entries. These were published by Hutchinson in 1931 as The Diary of John Baker, barrister of the Middle Temple, solicitor-general of the Leeward Islands. The book contains an introduction and notes by Philip C Yorke.

Baker’s diary is, Yorke says, ‘a record of small people and small events, written down for future reference without any literary art, vivid descriptions or interesting self-revelations’. Although the book is not an interesting read, it has some points of interest. It is considered an important source for information on the early days of cricket (Baker was a fan of the sport - see The Diary Junction for diary links on this). Also, there is an occasional mention of society names since Baker knew both the famous actor David Garrick, and the famous artist William Hogarth. Otherwise, the diary is crammed full with abbreviated and pithy descriptions of his movements, often using French in an affected way for much-repeated words like ‘où’, ‘frère’, ‘ce soir’, and the Latin term ‘Uxor’ for wife. Here are a few extracts.

27 May 1758
‘Going along Mr Garrick called to me in Piccadilly on horseback, going to ride in Park.’

23 August 1758
‘I walked 3 hours in Bushey Park - dined home - afternoon I rode Wimbledon - saw only end cricket match between Wimbledon and Kingston - the latter beat.’

5 March 1770
‘We stayed from 6 to past 10, in which time Garrick came out 6 or 7 times and talked to audience, tho’ often 5 or 6 minutes before he could be heard. Once he said the author was willing to withdraw his play, but then the party for Kelly [Hugh Kelly, the playwrite] said he had no right so to do; they insisted on the play to be given out, one party calling out for the new play and the other against it. When King [Thomas King, the most famous actor of the time] came on, being called for to speak Prologue, the hubbub forced him back, and one or two oranges struck him. The people came away in great numbers after ten and we among the rest, and had our money returned.’

23 July 1770
‘I went see Cricket Match, Tothill Fields, Westminster, against Battersea and Wandsworth.’

2 June 1773
‘Saw ‘Beggar’s Opera’ at Drury Lane. Pit and gallery so full no place; went into front-box
much mob - low sort of people had tickets given them - side boxes almost empty.’

5 November 1773
‘Up Holborn and walked St James’s Park half an hour or more; on going out saw the King get into his chaise and 4 black horses. I went to Blue Posts - had beef steak etc. then to Covent Garden, ‘Beggar’s Opera’ and ‘Commissary’; found the Pit not one fifth full, and on the 4th bench from Orchestra orange woman showed me Pol. Kennedy alias Mrs Bivon [Irish actress successfully playing male parts], on which I went and sat immediately before her and talked with her much during the play.’

13 May 1775
‘To old Slaughters - to Westminster Hall. Stood some time at foot of King’s Bench - a little squeezing, but one fellow behind me seemed to press more than ordinary, which I even thought odd then, and soon after missed my Spa snuff box.’

23 May 1776
‘Went Old Bailey - heard the trial of one Storer, a farrier’s man, for poisoning a horse of Mr Whitebread, a brewer - (on the Black Act which makes it death). Jury went out. Little boy of 11 or 12 began to be tried for stealing 6 table spoons, but I came away. Charles and housemaid and cook to Sadlers Wells.’

12 June 1776
‘Going through streets leads out of St James’s Market into Haymarket, saw some ham at window in Royal Larder - went in and had some and some porter. NB: I believe this the same person kept house of that name 3 or 4 years ago in Jermyn Street, où many people caught gaming and seemed as if ham (for seemed to have nothing else) only a pretence.’

28 September 1777
‘My father died wanting 22 days of completing his 66th year I want more than four months of completing my 66 year which I think it utterly impossible I shall ever do, for I grow daily weaker. The sea baths nor sea air has any effect to make me better but all are flat and useless, and I have neither pleasure nor amendment from them. ’Tis a vain struggle to attempt to lengthen this poor remnant of life. Even if it could be prolonged it is not worth holding. I have no business above ground. I consume hourly and both my feelings and my countenance make me look upon myself as a dead man.’

29 September 1777
‘I believe the glass of milk and gin and the five or six glasses of arrack Punch I drank at Mrs Bell’s heated me too much, pains in hips, left thigh, and knee exceeding stiff. In night both knee bones ached. Left thigh aches and knee burns.’

Spiritless generals!

It is 140 years since the death of the soldier William Swabey. Having served in the British army, he spent twenty years farming and politicking in the Canadian colony of Prince Edward Island. However, he is largely remembered today because of the diary he kept during the Peninsular War. Arthur Ponsonby, the early 20th century expert in diaries, rates it as a good example of a soldier’s diary with ‘rather humorous comments’.

Swabey was born in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1789. He married Mary Ann Hobson in 1820 and together they had 11 children. For 18 years he served in the British Army, rising to the rank of captain and fighting in the Peninsular War (between France and the allied powers of Spain, Portugal and UK for control of the Iberian Peninsula) and at Waterloo. Following his retirement from the army in 1840, Swabey and his family emigrated to Prince Edward Island colony in Canada, where he leased land and took up farming.

In November 1841, Swabey was appointed to the Legislative Council as a Tory, but he then switched his allegiances to become a leading spokesman for the Reform Party. In 1851, Swabey joined the Executive Council of George Coles’ Liberal government, and served in various posts until the Liberals were defeated in 1859. He also served for the best part of two decades on the Board of Education. In 1861 Swabey left Prince Edward Island to return to England. He died on 6 February 1872. The most comprehensive biography of Swabey online can be found at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, although there is also some information on the Napoleon Series website.

Swabey’s diaries, which only cover the period of the Peninsular War, were edited by F A Whinyates and published in 1895 as Diary of Campaigns in the Peninsula for the years 1811, 12 and 13. Despite being out of copyright, there do not appear to be any copies of the book freely available online (at Internet Archive for example). A portion of Swabey’s diaries - from July to October 1807 - was also published in Journal of the Royal United Service Institution in 1916. A description of Swabey’s diary and some extracts are available in English Diaries by Arthur Ponsonby (Methuen, 1923) which can be downloaded from Internet Archive. Ponsonby says Swabey’s is ‘a good example of a soldier’s diary, which in addition to technical military details contains descriptions of scenery and places and some rather humorous comments.’

Here are a few (undated) extracts from Swabey’s diary quoted by Ponsonby.

‘I found this day as well as many of late so little worthy of being remembered that I begin to think of curtailing my plan of journal altogether and am the more tempted to do so from the habits that necessity imposes on us.’

‘The first ceremony was that the whole dinner with the two servants and myself went bodily to leeward on the floor. I kept fast hold of a chicken by the leg and we fell to without knives and forks. I think I have not laughed so much since I left Christchurch.’

‘Rather troubled with a headache which was not deserved by idleness.’

‘I am apt to be desponding when too quiet and unemployed.’

‘There is such a complete vacancy and want of employment in our time that I cannot congratulate myself of a night on having done anything either useful or entertaining.’

‘I feel myself so constantly engaged in the daily pursuits of infantry officers in England viz: watching fishes swim under the bridge, throwing stones at pigs, etc. I am ashamed of it but have nothing else to do.

‘The beds had counterpanes of satin with lace borders and fringe ornaments but oh comfort where are you gone?’

‘Confound all dilatory and spiritless generals!’

Ponsonby adds: ‘The military engagements are fully described, and in many places there are additional notes inserted by [Swabey] at a later date. He is much more concerned in giving a full account of the victory at Vittoria than in relating the incident of his being wounded in the knee. Afterwards, however, he chafes a good deal at being incapacitated, and finally he is invalided home. [. . .] Swabey returned afterwards to active service, fought in the battle of Toulouse and also at Waterloo.’

And here is one dated extract from an article on the Napoleon Series website.

7 August 1912
‘I woke this morning with the most violent and insupportable pain in my head I ever felt, which having endured for some hours, at last turned into a fit of the ague, which I was extremely glad to change for the apprehensions that an alarming fever occasions. Mr. Peach of the 9th Dragoons who attended me, made me immediately get into water during the hot fit, and repeat this operation several times. The getting into water in a fever makes one shudder almost as much as if told to get into a furnace. One of the worst of my complaints was the total want of money, so that I could not even get fruit and wine, that were particularly recommended. When the fit left me after 3 hours, I began to feel a wish to be quietly reposing in some cool spot in England, and it brought to my remembrance every tender recollection and regret. Sickness is at any time bad, but under all my circumstances and with the probability of the army’s moving in which case I could not have stirred, it put me in mind of French prisons, Bayonne and all its horrors.’