Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diary briefs


William Rempel’s book on Ferdinand Marcos’s diary - Rappler

WW2 diary found in recycling waste - Kentucky.com, ABClocal

The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices - Al Ahram Weekly, Mondoweiss

Diary proves Argo film wrong - 3news, MSN NZ

Italian resistance fighter’s diary code cracked - The Telegraph

Emperor Showa’s 126 diaries released to the public - The Asahi Shimbun

Such is War: Diaries of a Signalman - NewsMail, Boolarong Press

Australians urged to look for WWI diaries - The Sydney Morning Herald

A diary of the Second Boer War - Blogcritics

Friday, April 19, 2013

A splendid liquid sky

One hundred and twenty years ago today died John Addington Symonds, a writer remembered largely for leaving behind literary works full of allusion to his secret homosexuality. He travelled frequently on the Continent, keeping diaries of his journeys, and in them would often wax lyrical about his experiences. The diaries were used by his literary executor and friend, Horatio Brown, to write a biography, but were destroyed after Brown’s death.

Symonds was born in Bristol in 1840, the only son of a physician, and educated at Harrow School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate prize with a poem The Escorial. In 1862 he was elected to an open fellowship at Magdalen but his health broke down, perhaps because of rumours he was having an affair with a male student, and he travelled to Switzerland to recuperate. On returning to London in 1864, he married Janet Catherine North. During the following five years she gave birth to three daughters. However, the couple appear to have led fairly separate emotional lives, with Symonds always pursuing young men as soul mates. In the second half of the 1860s, he had further mental problems, and travelled to the Continent again.

In 1867, Symonds moved to Bristol, where he did some lecturing. It is only in the 1870s, that he began to publish significant volumes, many on poetry, such as An Introduction to the Study of Dante and Studies of the Greek Poets. In 1875, Catherine gave birth to their fourth daughter. Symonds major work, Renaissance in Italy, was published in several volumes, starting in the early 1880s. He also wrote a book called A Problem in Greek Ethics which is today given the title Male Love, as well as biographies of Shelley, Jonson and Michelangelo. He died on 19 April 1893. Further information is available from Wikipedia, NNDB, GLBTQ, Rictor Norton’s web pages, the Dictionary for Art Historians, or the Archives Hub.

Symonds also kept diaries and wrote memoirs, all of which he handed to his literary executor, Horatio Brown. Subsequently, Brown wrote a biography of Symonds - John Addington Symonds, a biography published first by J C Nimmo in 1895, readily available at Internet Archive - using many extracts from the diaries. After Brown’s death, though, the diaries were destroyed. Here are several of those extracts, as culled from Brown’s biography, the first few from 1861, when Symonds was still a young man and travelling with his father, and the last from over a quarter of a century later.

27 January 1861
‘Breakfasted with L. Stanley, and had an amusing party. Met Owen - old Balliol man, returned from Bombay College - Wordsworth, Green, Jackson, Ford, Wright, White, Bethel. Talked about “Essays and Reviews,” and the storm brewing for them; about Jowett’s parentage - Ford knows his mother and sister slightly, they live at Torquay; then of De Quincey, without some allusion to whom I hardly remember any intellectual Oxford breakfast go off; then about historic portraits - Wycliffe’s at Balliol, Chaucer’s from an old illumination, Dante’s in the Arundel Society’s publications. Sat on till 11.15. I went and wrote a long letter to papa about myself.’

16 June 1861, Macon
‘We left at five for Geneva, where I now am. The journey from Amberieu to Belle Garde was extremely fine. It winds through a pass cut by the Rhone, between Jura and some other mountains. After breaking fast we drove out to see Geneva. First we went to the cathedral, a small and symmetrical building of most interesting transition Romanesque. It has curious specimens of the use of round and pointed arch in combination, and borrows more from Roman models in the capitals than any I have seen. There is the pulpit, beneath whose sounding-board Calvin, Knox, and Beza preached. We sat in Calvin’s chair. The church is perfectly bare, and Protestant. It was more injured in five weeks of French occupation, when 10,000 men garrisoned Geneva and made it a hospital, than in its three centuries of Protestantism. A little Roman Catholic glass is still left in the windows of the apse.

17 June 1861, Hotel de L’Union, Chamonix
‘We started at seven this morning in a carriage and two horses. The journey has been one of uninterrupted beauty. The natural splendour of the country was heightened by the massy clouds which kept ever changing from peak to peak, altering the effect of light and shade, and making the distance clear and brilliant. The wild flowers are innumerable, orchids, rhododendrons, columbines, saxifrage, salvias, vetches, pinks. We broke the journey at Bonneville, where we had breakfast. Up to this point the road was comparatively tame, though behind us rose the Jura, and in front the Alps were shadowy. But at Bonneville is the very port of the Mont Blanc Alps, and of this stands sentinel the great green Mole. From Bonneville to St. Martin, the valley of the Arve is narrow, one series of vast precipices cut by rivulets and pine-clad hills on either side. At St. Martin we first saw Mont Blanc, swathed in clouds, which slowly rose and left the monarch nearly bare. He did not seem quite so huge as I expected. The amphitheatre of mountains from the bridge over the Arve is splendid; especially that corner where stands the Aiguille de Varens. Here we learned that a bridge on the road to Chamonix had been swept away by a torrent, and that no carriages could pass. However, they telegraphed for carriages to meet us on the other side of the temporary plank bridge, and we set off, through avenues of apple-trees bordering gardens of wild flowers, beneath the park-like swellings of the hills, among whose walnut-bowered hollows slept innumerable chalets. Soon the ascent began, every turn discovering some great snowpeak or green mountain furrowed with the winter streams. At the bridge we found a one-mule carriage, and continued our journey, Mont Blanc growing on us momently. As we came into the Valley of Chamonix the highest peak was very clear, and all along the bold sharp crags swaddled in clouds, and glorified by the far setting sun, were gorgeous in their brilliancy and colours. We arrived at 7.30, and got two high rooms with a good [vi]ew of the mountains.’

18 June 1861
‘About nine, M. A. Balmat, Professor James Forbes’s guide, to whom papa has an introduction, arrived. He is a pleasant, intelligent man, of about fifty, who, when he had read the Professor’s letter, greeted us warmly. He no longer acts as professional guide, but volunteered to take us about for the sake of our friendship with Mr. Forbes. Balmat is a curious instance of a man refined by the society of great and philosophic men. Having begun life as a guide, he is now the respected friend and guest of Forbes, Hooker, Murchison, and many others. Indeed, he is intimate with all the savants of Europe. We were surprised at the ease with which he spoke to us, and to the commonest people. The same bonhomie pervaded his address to both; but in the one he never fell into familiarity, nor in the other did he lose dignity. Having got alpenstocks, we set off walking to the Glacier des Boissons, which we crossed. I enjoyed picking my way among the crevasses. The glare was just what I expected, but it produced a curious effect of making the pine hills seem quite black and sombre, adding to their majesty. It is hard to estimate the height of these mountains, and this is the one disappointing thing about them. They do not displace as much sky as the summer thunderclouds, nor can we fancy that two Ben Nevises might be piled one on the top of the other below snow level (which is at the foot of the Aiguilles). However, the higher you get the more you can estimate the height above. Mont Blanc is himself so far retired that he appears small, while atmospheric differences, the want of an Alpine standard, and the size of the pine trees all tend to confuse English eyes, and lessen both height and distance. Balmat told me just the contrary of himself. In Wales and Scotland he always made mistakes, thinking, with his Alpine standard, the heights and distances much greater. He allowed some time to ascend Arthur’s Seat, and found himself immediately at the top of it.’

21 June 1861
‘We set off this morning at seven for the Flégère. Papa and I rode mules - stupid beasts, that stopped at every bush and rivulet to eat and drink. Balmat was charming through the day. He is a perfect gentleman in manners and feeling, nor is there the least affectation or parvenuism about him. When I compare him with [some] specimens of English travellers, I blush for my countrymen. Here is a guide of Chamonix, the son of a guide (who would not allow him to go to school or to learn the geology for which he has always had a passion, for fear he might leave Chamonix), whose manners are better, sentiments more delicate, knowledge more extensive, views more enlightened, than most of these soi-disant gentlemen and educated men. It is a great pity that his father would not allow him to study when young, for he might have become one of the first geologists of Europe, such fine opportunities for discovery do these mountains afford, and such an advantage his skill and intrepidity have given him. Though a mountaineer, he never brags, and is always considerate for weaker brethren like papa and me. I like very much to see him walking before our mules with his green spectacles, and old brown wideawake upon his grizzled hair, nodding kindly to the old men and women, joking with the guides, and smiling at the little children. He is patriarch of the valley, and nothing can be done without the advice of M. Balmat. After an ascent of two hours we arrived at at La Flégère, and saw before us the whole Mont Blanc range. For the first time we appreciated the height of the king himself. Now he towered above all the peaks. The names of most of the aiguilles and glaciers I knew. Balmat told us the rest in order. The Aiguille de Charmoz is still my favourite, guarding the entrance to the Mer de Glace. Here papa read ‘Come down, maid,’ from the  Princess. It was appropriate, for never were mountains better described than in that idyll.’

16 July 1862
‘The people of Milan are very unquiet to-night. They have been excited by a speech of Garibaldi, in which he denounced Napoleon, called him ‘traditore,’ ‘mosso da libidine,’ ‘capo di briganti, di assassini.’ The Milanese hate the French, and are beginning to weary of the Sardinian government, and because they have to pay heavier taxes they regret the Austrians. This promulgation of Garibaldi has roused them against France and Sardinia, and made them furious for a Republic. To-night they propose a demonstration; all the soldiers - cavalry, infantry, and National Guard - are in readiness to suppress it. While I was writing, a confused murmur reached our ears. We got up and ran to our window, which looks both up and down the street. Instantly we perceived that a large band of men, with lighted torches, were rapidly advancing up the street. A crowd formed in front of them. We saw men behind and at the sides. The bright red torches swayed about, burning and smoking with a glare upon the houses crowded with faces. Something seemed to interrupt their progress. A great noise arose, and the crowd increased. It was picturesque to see them toss their flambeaux up and down to make them shine, and in the distance each man looked like a shape of flame. Eschmann came up and told us that this was one of four divisions of the demonstration; 400 of another had been taken prisoners, and these were surrounded with soldiers. The soldiers forced them to break up, the crowd dropped away, and so ended the émeute. I often wondered what a demonstration meant. This is a pretty and picturesque specimen.’

12 April 1889
‘After some days of indecision, Catherine and I left Davos this morning for Sus by the Flégère. It was misty, yet I thought with the promise of a fine day in it. A large post and four passengers, and six luggage sledges, with only four drivers to all the ten horses. We were in the conductor’s sledge. Up to the Hospiz things went well, and the heat was absolutely awful. It burned more than I ever felt it burn, except upon the névé of a glacier in midsummer. A splendid liquid sky, full of the spring, seeming to portend storm. The road to Sus combines all the dangers of an Alpine road - avalanches, upsettings, falling stones; and they were all imminent to-day. When the first four sledges plunged into the great gallery I felt comparatively safe, but the rest did not arrive. After about ten minutes a fifth horse came plunging down the dark passage over the ice, with a pack-sledge and no driver. When he reached our train, he kept whinnying, neighing, and looking back as though to tell us that something had happened. We waited another five minutes, and still the rest did not arrive. The conductor had sent the chief postillion back. He could not leave the five horses alone in the tunnel - yet he was now anxious. Accordingly, I proposed to run back and see what had happened. The tunnel was pitch dark and as slippery as glass. It took me some time to slip along with my gouties on. When I emerged into the blaze of sunlight and snow, I saw nothing at first; then met Herr Lendi of Davos Dorfli walking to me. One of the sledges (with a driver) had been upset. The two passengers, a man and woman, and the postillion, had all been flung over a wall on to snow and rocks, and had fallen and rolled about fifty feet down the steep place. The woman was badly cut about the head; the young man, a Swiss, had sprained his hand; the postillion was all right.

‘Fortunately,’ added Lendi, ‘the horses and sledges remained above the wall, else they would all have been smashed together.’ I saw the girl, dazed and faint, and the place where she had fallen; then ran back to tell the conductor. But it was bad going in that tunnel with my gutta-percha shoes, and soon I heard the rest of the sledges come thundering into the pitch dark passage. I tried to keep close to a wall, and in moving shufflingly onward as fast as I could go, fell once heavily upon the rock and ice, bruising my right arm and loins. I did not think much of it at the time, being eager to get to my own sledge before the rest of the train arrived.

I ought to mention the curious optical phenomenon in this black gallery - black because fallen avalanches had stuffed up all its apertures with snow. On entering it, with eyes dazzled by the brilliance of the outer day, any object which caught a reflex of light from behind looked as green as emerald or sun-illuminated lake-water. In the middle there was no colour, nothing but night. Toward the end, when light again caught icicles and snow-heaps from the furthermost opening, these points shone bright crimson, as though a score of red Bengal lights had been lighted far ahead.

We reached Sus without further accidents. There, while I was talking to Herr Patt, I found that I had lost a ring from my watch-chain, to which was hung these objects - 1, funeral gold ring of John Symonds, my great-grandfather; 2, alliance ring of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother Sykes, two clasped hands opening, one heart inside; 8, a ring belonging to Admiral Sykes, with the name of his friend Captain Gathorne; 4, my father’s guard-ring; 5, my seal ring of bloodstone engraved with the crests of Symonds and Sykes; 6, my gondolier’s ring engraved with the arms of Symonds; 7, a Napoleon Rep. Fr. 1848; 8, a cow-bell given me by Patt.’

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hammer out a little idea

Today marks the 170th anniversary of the birth of Henry James, one of the US’s finest writers, and a major figure in 19th century literary realism. He was not a diarist as such, but jotted regularly in diary-like notebooks where he would develop ideas for stories he was hoping to write. As such, the notebooks, held by the Houghton Library at Harvard, are considered an important resource not only for understanding Henry James but for insights into the creative process.

James was born in New York City on 15 April 1843 into a wealthy family which travelled often to Europe where he was taught by tutors. His father was a Swedenborgian theologian, and his brother became a philosopher. Although briefly enrolled at Harvard Law School, James soon decided to be a writer, publishing short stories and contributing to magazines such as Nation and Atlantic Monthly. He continued to journey to Europe, where he met Ruskin, Darwin and Rossetti as well as literary figures including Turgenev and Flaubert.

In 1876, James settled permanently in London, and devoted himself to literature and travel. In his early novels - including Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady - as well as in some of his later work, James contrasts the sophisticated, traditional Europeans with innocent brash Americans. After unsuccessfully trying to become a playwright he wrote some of his greatest novels, such as The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw and The Ambassadors.

Later in his life, James lived in Rye, on the Sussex coast. He became a British citizen in 1915 and received the Order of Merit from King George V in 1916. He died the same year. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Kirjasto, or The Henry James Resource Center. James’s sister, Alice, is remembered largely because of a diary she kept which was published posthumously - see The Diary Review: Geyser of emotions, and The Diary Junction.

Henry James did not so much keep a diary as notebooks, and there are 16 volumes, covering the years 1878 to 1916, held by the Houghton Library, Harvard University. According to the Library, James used the diaries largely to work out plots, problems of narration and point of view, as well to record addresses, appointments, and days, good and bad. The diaries were edited by F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock and published by Oxford University Press in 1947 as The Notebooks of Henry James. Much of this can be viewed at Googlebooks. A more comprehensive (and less annotated) edition, put together by Leon Edel and Lyall Powers, came out in 1987 as The Complete Notebooks of Henry James (also Oxford University Press).


Generally speaking, James’s biographers have found the diaries of his sister, Alice, and his secretary, Theodora Bosanquet more useful than his own notebooks - see for example Henry James, a Life by Leon Edel, and Henry James at Work by Theodora Bosanquet. Many of the notebooks’ entries can be found on Adrian Dover’s website - The Ladder. The website’s purpose, according to Dover, is ‘to make available electronic texts (etexts), suitable for reading on the world wide web, of some of the works not available elsewhere, particularly the tales’ and to annotate the texts ‘with relevant critical apparatus to aid study as well as casual reading’. Thus, the notebooks’ texts have been separated out and listed according to the relevant fictional work being discussed - Owen Wingrave, for example, or The Turn of the Screw.

Dover also provides an index to the notebook name-lists. He explains: ‘Among the most striking features, to me at least, of the contents of Henry James’s surviving notebooks are the occasional lists of names which he jotted down for possible future use, either when encountered in real life, say in the Times newspaper, or when conjured into existence from his fertile imagination. Because of the way these variously-sized lists occur throughout the nine notebooks, and are therefore scattered in both the printed editions of them that have been published, I have often felt the need for an index - which the volumes’ two sets of editors signally have failed to provide!’

Finally, it is worth noting that Harvard University’s Houghton Library has recently gone to the trouble of scanning all 16 of James’s notebook volumes, and these are freely available to view through Harvard’s online Oasis network. Be warned, though, James’s handwriting is hard to decipher.

8 May 1892 [about what would become Owen Wingrave]
‘Can’t I hammer out a little the idea - for a short tale - of the young soldier? - the young fellow who, though predestined, by every tradition of his race, to the profession of arms, has an insurmountable hatred of it - of the bloody side of it, the suffering, the ugliness, the cruelty; so that he determines to reject it for himself - to break with it and cast it off, and this in the face of every sort of coercion of opinion (on the part of others), of such pressure not to let the family honour, etc. (always gloriously connected with the army), break down, that there is a kind of degradation, an exposure to ridicule, and ignominy in his apostasy. The idea should be that he fights, after all, exposes himself to possibilities of danger and death for his own view - acts the soldier, is the soldier, and of indefeasible soldierly race - proves to have been so - even in this very effort of abjuration. The thing is to invent the particular heroic situation in which he may have found himself - show just how he has been a hero even while throwing away his arms. It is a question of a little subject for the Graphic - so I mustn’t make it ‘psychological’ - they understand that no more than a donkey understands a violin. The particular form of opposition, of coercion, that he has to face, and the way his ‘heroism’ is constatée. It must, for prettiness’s sake, be constatée in the eyes of some woman, some girl, whom he loves but who has taken the line of despising him for his renunciation - some fille de soldat, who is very montée about the whole thing, very hard on him, etc. But what the subject wants is to be distanced, relegated into some picturesque little past when the army occupied more place in life - poetized by some slightly romantic setting. Even if one could introduce a supernatural element in it - make it, I mean, a little ghost-story; place it, the scene, in some old country-house, in England at the beginning of the present century - the time of the Napoleonic wars. - It seems to me one might make some haunting business that would give it a colour without being ridiculous, and get in that way the sort of pressure to which the young man is subjected. I see it - it comes to me a little, He must die, of course, be slain, as it were on his own battle-field, the night spent in the haunted room in which the ghost of some grim grandfather - some bloody warrior of the race - or some father slain in the Peninsular or at Waterloo - is supposed to make himself visible.’

12 January 1895 [about what would become The Turn of the Screw]
‘Note here the ghost-story told me at Addington (evening of Thursday 10th), by the Archbishop of Canterbury: a mere vague, undetailed faint sketch of it – being all he had been told (very badly and imperfectly) by a lady who had no art of relation, and no clearness: the story of the young children (indefinite number and age) left to the care of servants in an old country-house, through the death, presumably, of parents. The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children; the children are bad, full of evil, to a sinister degree. The servants die (the story vague about the way of it) and their apparitions, figures, return to haunt the house and children, to whom they seem to beckon, whom they invite and solicit, from across dangerous places, the deep ditch of a sunk fence, etc. – so that the children may destroy themselves, lose themselves by responding, by getting into their power. So long as the children are kept from them, they are not lost: but they try and try and try, these evil presences, to get hold of them. It is a question of the children ‘coming over to where they are’. It is all obscure and imperfect, the picture, the story, but there is a suggestion of strangely gruesome effect to it. The story to be told – tolerably obviously – by an outside spectator, observer.’


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thatcher gives a cuddle

Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain’s greatest 20th century prime ministers, has died aged 87. Undefeated through three general elections, she was revered across the nation by many and loathed by many others; internationally, though, she was a giant of her time, admired from Washington D.C. to Moscow. There is no evidence to date of Thatcher of being a diarist, but she is a major figure in the diaries of other political figures. Tony Benn and Alan Clark, at opposite ends of the political spectrum, were both dazzled by Thatcher, albeit in different ways; and Edwina Currie, well, she was a fan too, and when having to step down from her ministerial position was offered no less than a ‘cuddle’ by the Iron Lady.

Margaret Roberts was born in 1925, in Grantham, the daughter of a grocer, who was mayor of the town for some years. She went to a local school, becoming head girl in her last year, before entering Somerville College, Oxford, to study chemistry. There she became president of the university’s Conservative Association. She took a job as a research chemist in Colchester; but, through friends, successfully applied to be an election candidate for the Dartford Conservative Association in Kent. She failed to take Dartford from Labour in the 1950 and 1951 general elections, though attracted attention as the youngest and only female candidate. She married Denis Thatcher in 1951, and they had two children.

After qualifying as a barrister in 1953, Margaret Thatcher found a safe Conservative seat, and was elected an MP for Finchley in 1959. In 1961, Harold Macmillan promoted her to the front bench as a Parliamentary Undersecretary, and, after the 1964 election, she became the Opposition’s spokeswoman on Housing and Land, in which position she advocated a policy of allowing tenants to buy their council houses. In his administration, Edward Heath appointed Thatcher to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Education and Science. After the Conservatives lost power in 1974, Heath was unexpectedly replaced by Thatcher as leader, largely thanks to the support of the 1922 Committee.

Thatcher led the Conservatives back to power in 1979, and then won two more elections, in 1983 and 1987. She is remembered for, among other major developments, reforming the trades unions; the restructuring of the British economy, including privatisation of state-run companies; the Falklands War; the Anglo-Irish agreement; her firm Cold War stance with Ronald Reagan that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall (it was a Soviet journalist that first called her the Iron Lady); signing the UK up to the Single European Market; the Council house right-to-buy scheme; and the Community Charge (also known as the poll tax).

In November 1990, during several days of high political drama, the Conservative Party tore itself apart in removing Thatcher as its leader, and then tried put itself back together with John Major as leader and prime minister. Thatcher returned to the back benches, until the next election, in 1992, when she retired from politics. Thereafter, she wrote two volumes of memoirs, took up a few appointments, and gave speeches, only occasionally giving her thoughts publicly on world affairs. In recent years, she suffered ill health, including dementia, and rarely attended public events. She died on 8 October 2013 at the Ritz Hotel where she had been staying since Christmas. The internet is currently awash with information about Thatcher, with almost every political personality and many others offering memories or opinions - see the BBC, The Guardian or Wikipedia.

However, as far as I know, no other media story is offering a diary angle, so here is a collection of extracts about Thatcher from famous diarists: from Tony Benn, on the left wing of the Labour Party; from Alan Clark on the right of the Conservative Party; and from Edwina Currie, one of the very few female politicians of the era who has published a diary. I have also appended a very short extract from my own diary: though I don’t now quite understand what I meant, it seems prescient with regard to how some would see Thatcher in future years.

From The Benn Diaries (Arrow Books, 1996):

15 May 1979
‘State Opening of Parliament. [ . . .] Mrs Thatcher made a most impassioned speech, from notes, except for one passage about Rhodesia which had been typed up no doubt on the insistence of the FO - the most rumbustious, rampaging, right-wing speech that I’ve heard from the government Front Bench in the whole of my life. Afterwards I saw Ted Heath and told him, “I’ve never heard a speech like that in all my years in Parliament.” He said, “Neither have I.” [. . .]

I said I had some sympathy with Thatcher - with her dislike of the wishy-washy centre of British politics. He gave me such a frosty look that I daresay I had touched a raw nerve.’

20 November 1990
‘To the House, and went into the Committee Corridor because I wanted to see what was happening in the first ballot for the Tory leadership - Michael Heseltine versus Margaret Thatcher. It is quite a historic event. By secret ballot, Tory MPs have the power to remove as Leader of their party a Prime Minister who has been elected three times by the British people. [. . .]

The Labour Party is of course keen to keep Thatcher, and Kinnock has put down a motion of censure against her, for Thursday, to try to consolidate Tory support around her. It is a disgrace that in eight years this is the first motion of censure against the government.’

21 November 1990
‘Mrs Thatcher arrived back from France. The rumour going round at the moment is that the men in grey suits went to see her to say, “Time to go.” [. . .]

In terms of stamina and persistence, you have to admit Margaret Thatcher is an extraordinary woman. She came out of Number 10 saying, “I fight on. I fight to win.” [. . .]

When Paddy Ashdown got up and said that the Paris Treaty was one of the great moments of the twilight of her premiership, she replied, “As for twilight, people should remember that there is a 24-hour clock”, which was a smashing answer. Kinnock tried to be statesmanlike but couldn’t manage it.’

22 November 1990
‘I was in the middle of an interview about the war in the Gulf for ‘Dispatches’ on Channel 4 when my secretary burst in to say Margaret Thatcher has resigned. Absolutely dazzling news, and it was quite impossible to keep my mind on the interview after that. So people have been to her and told her that she can’t win. She called the Cabinet together this morning and told them. But the motion of censure is still taking place this afternoon.

To the House, which was in turmoil. We had the censure debate, and Kinnock’s speech was flamboyant and insubstantial. When he was cross-examined about the European currency he simply couldn’t answer. Thatcher was brilliant. She always has her ideology to fall back on; she rolled off statistics, looked happy and joked.’

From Alan Clark - A Life in His Own Words (Phoenix, 2010)

28 April 1977
‘Had interview yesterday with Margaret Thatcher for first time. She sat, china-blue. Almost too text-book sincere. No intimacy. The half-finished sentences, the implied assumption, that mixture of Don, Colonel-of-the-Regiment, ‘Library’, which one gets from almost every other member of the Shadow - Pym, Willie, Gilmour - even the lower rank like Paul Channon and William Clark - totally absent

26 February 1980 [In the cafeteria in the House of Commons, after Thatcher had been interviewed by Robin Day for Panorama.]
‘But goodness, she is so beautiful; made up to the nines of course, for the television programme, but still quite bewitching, as Eva Peron must have been. I could not take my eyes off her and after a bit she, quite properly, would not look me in the face and I detached myself from the group with the excuse that I was going up to heckle Michael Foot who was doing the winding-up for Labour.’

21 November 1990
I was greeted with the news that there had been an announcement. “I fight, and I fight to win.” God alive! [. . .]

I passed her outer door and said to Peter that I must have a minute or so. He looked anxious, almost rattled, which he never does normally. [. . .]

I went down the stairs and rejoined the group outside her door. After a bit Peter said, “I can just fit you in now - but only for a split second, mind.”

She looked calm, almost beautiful. “Ah, Alan . . .”
“You’re in a jam.”
“I know that.”
“They’re telling you not to stand, aren’t they?”
“I’m going to stand. I have issued a statement.”
“That’s wonderful. That’s heroic. But the Party will let you down.”
“I am a fighter.”
“Fight, then. Fight right to the end, a third ballot if you need to. But you lose.”
There was quite a little pause.
“It’d be so terrible if Michael won. He would undo everything I have fought for.”
“But what a way to go! Unbeaten in three elections, never rejected by the people. Brought down by nonentities!”
“But Michael . . . as Prime Minister.”
“Who the fuck’s Michael? No one. Nothing. He won’t last six months. I doubt if he’d even win the Election. Your place in history is towering. . . ‘
Outside, people were doing that maddening trick of opening and shutting the door, at shorter and shorter intervals.
“Alan, it’s been so good of you to come in and see me . . .”
Afterwards I felt empty. And cross. I had failed, but I didn’t really know what I wanted, except for her still to be Prime Minister, and it wasn’t going to work out.

From Edwina Currie Diaries 1987-1992
(Little, Brown, 2002). The first of these extracts is about a meeting with Thatcher at which she was accepting Currie’s resignation over her controversial remarks about salmonella in British eggs.

21 December 1988
‘We went across to the Chief Whip’s office, round the back of Number 12, and cleared texts with David Waddingham and Bernard Ingham. I didn’t realise I could help write the PM’s letter [. . .] In I went; we ritualistically glanced at each other’s letters, then talked for half an hour. [. . .] Anyway I had been fine till the end of the interview and indeed have not felt very upset since - but then she gave me a cuddle and it creased me for a minute, and when I told her how I felt she said, “That is because we are friends”, and that was that. Out the back way, and whisked off to Ray’s [her husband] office.’

25 November 1990
‘Now the legend starts - the godhead Margaret. Her performance at Prime Minister’s Questions and in the No Confidence debate on Thursday afternoon was sheer magic. Out with a bang, not a whimper. It brought tears to the eyes of even those who wanted her out. Magnificent is the only word.’

Finally here is a very brief extract from my own diary: the first mention of Thatcher in my diaries. I’d been away from the UK for nearly three years and was travelling in Chile, then ruled by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

29 September 1976
‘My thoughts are of home, going home, and how beautiful Chile is - with English pubs it could be paradise - you’d have to change government and put Margaret Thatcher in charge.’

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I am a socialist

Idris Davies, a Welsh poet best remembered for The Bells of Rhymney, a ballad set to music by Pete Seeger, died 60 years ago today. Diaries of his, archived at the National Library of Wales, have not been edited or published, but one or two extracts found online suggest they might be interesting.

Davies was born in a 1905 in Rhymney, Monmouthshire, a welsh-speaking community. At 14, he followed his father into the coal mines. He lost a finger in a work accident, and became increasingly political, taking part in the General Strike of 1926. When his pit closed, he chose to seek alternative ways of living, and eventually qualified as a teacher. His first appointment was in Hoxton, East London, in 1932.

Davies’ emergence as a poet is said to have conincided with the launch of the magazine Wales, edited by Keidrych Rhys, to which he became a regular contributor. He also contributed to London magazines such as the Poetry Review and The Adelphi. His first volume of poetry, Gwalia Deserta, was published in 1938. This included The Bells of Rhymney, perhaps his most well known verse, which was set to music by Pete Seeger and covered by many other famous singers.

As a conscientious objector, Davies was permitted to continue teaching during the Second World War, and did so in various places. It was at Anstey in Hertfordshire, in the summer of 1941, that he wrote The Angry Summer which is regarded as his finest work. He was moved around from school to school, working in London and then in Treherbert, the Rhondda valley, where he stayed for two years. This is where he completed Tonypandy and Other Poems, accepted by T. S. for Faber and Faber in 1945. It is also where he met Morfydd Peregrine: although they never married, the two were said to be devoted to each other.

Finally, after years of trying, Davies secured, in 1947, a permanent posting at a school back in the Rhymney Valley. He was, though, biographies say, disappointed to find the area had been ravaged by unemployment, emigration, and social deprivation. He died from cancer on 6 April 1953. Wikipedia has an article on Davies, as does BBC Wales and Welsh Icons. The fullest online biography can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) website (though this requires a log-in).

According to the National Library of Wales archive for Davies, he left behind diaries for a number of years (1938, 1940, 1946, 1948, and 1951). These were used by Islwyn Jenkins for his biography of Davies; and the ODNB biography, which refers to Jenkin’s book, says the diaries provide evidence that his relationship with Morfydd Peregrine was sometimes strained.

One diary entry by Davies is widely quoted, on Wikipedia and elsewhere: ‘I am a socialist. That is why I want as much beauty as possible in our everyday lives, and so I am an enemy of pseudo-poetry and pseudo-art of all kinds. Too many “poets of the Left”, as they call themselves, are badly in need of instruction as to the difference between poetry and propaganda. . . These people should read William Blake on Imagination until they show signs of understanding him. Then the air will be clear again, and the land be, if not full of, fit for song.”

The BBC web page (mentioned above) quotes another extract from Davies’s diaries: ‘Any subject which has not man at its core is anathema to me. The meanest tramp on the road is ten times more interesting than the loveliest garden in the world.’

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Set up the box

‘Decided to spend the day photographing, Saddled pony and started for the mountain taking camera and plate changing box with a dozen plates and during the forenoon made eight exposures, all on rock subjects.’ This is the famous early American photographer, William Henry Jackson, born 170 years ago today, writing in his diary on a formative mission to photograph the Union Pacific railway line in 1869.

Jackson was born in Keeseville, New York, on 4 April 1843, the first of seven children. His mother was a talented painter, and influenced William Henry who was something of an artistic prodigy. As young as 15, he started working as a retoucher in photography studios. In 1862 he joined the Union Army though saw little if any action in the American Civil War, since his unit was usually on garrison duty. He returned to Vermont in 1863, and to working in a studio. In 1866, after a broken engagement, he went West, working as a bullwhacker for a freighting outfit. He sketched landmarks and lifestyles along the Oregon Trail. On returning from the west in 1868, he opened his own photographic studio in Omaha, Nebraska, and, while travelling in the surrounding area, took many of his now-famous photographs of American Indians.

In 1869, Jackson won a commission from the Union Pacific to document the scenery along the various railroad routes for promotional purposes, and this led to him being invited to join a geologic survey to explore the Yellowstone region. He was then the official photographer of the US Geological and Geographic Survey of the Territories, and became one of the most important national explorers. His photographs are credited with helping convince Congress to establish Yellowstone National Park, the first such park in the US. In 1879, he opened a studio in Denver, Colorado, and established a large inventory of national and international views. Commissions for railroads followed in the early 1890s, and in the mid-1990s he took many photographs for the World’s Transportation Commission.

Thereafter, Jackson became a partner in the Detroit Photographic Company which acquired exclusive rights to use a form of photography processing called Photochrom, allowing the company to mass market postcards and other materials - many taken by Jackson - in colour. The company went out of business after the war, and Jackson moved to Washington, D.C. in 1924, where he produced murals of the Old West for the new US Department of the Interior building, and wrote two autobiographies. He is also credited with being a technical advisor for the filming of Gone with the Wind. He died in 1942, aged 99. Further information is readily available on the internet, at Wikipedia, for example, Oxford Index, Andrew Smith Gallery, National Park Service, and the University of Chicago Library.

The New York Public Library holds a large archive of Jackson’s papers, including many of his diaries. According to the information online: ‘The diaries vary in depth and breadth of coverage, as well as in format. Some are original holograph journals. Others are holograph or typed transcripts made by Jackson from the originals. Some which appear to be transcripts are Jackson’s narrative reconstructions based on the original diaries; others are memoirs based on brief notes. These “diaries” as a whole cover his nine months in the Vermont Regiment, 1862-1863; his first trip West in 1866-67; the opening of his studio in Omaha; his photography along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869; his “photographic campaigns” with the U.S. Geological Survey, 1870-1878; his travels abroad with the World’s Transportation Commission, 1894-1986; and his years in retirement, 1925-1942. There are no diaries covering his years as a commercial photographer in Denver, 1879-1897, and only one diary (1901) and one notebook related to the 27 years he worked for the Detroit Photographic Company (later Detroit Publishing Company).’

The Diaries of William Henry Jackson was published in 1959 by Arthur H. Clark Co. as part of The Far West and the Rockies Historical Series. Many books available to view on Googlebooks mention and quote from Jackson’s diaries occasionally, but the only substantial collection of extracts freely available online can be found at The New York Public Library website. The library has digitalised Jackson’s diary entries for June to September 1869, the period when he was on his first railroad photography mission for Union Pacific. Here are a few extracts.

24 June 1869
‘The morning was cloudy but we thought promised a fine day so we went to work & set up the box. Worked around the streets from different quarters until about noon when it commenced raining & we stopped. Kept it up at intervals all P.M. Heard that some of the demi-monde wanted some large pictures of their house. Hull & I thought we would go around & see if we couldn’t get a job out of them. Talked it up a while but they seemed indifferent. I called for a bottle of wine soon after they began to take considerable interest in having a picture taken. Had another bottle & then they were hot and heavy for some large pictures to frame & began to count up how many they should want. So we left promising that if the weather permitted we would surely be on hand & make their pictures. Just before six the rain came down in torrents, making rivers in every street. As it slacked up a little we got our instruments out & made three or four negatives of the flood, getting some very good effects. This evening was but a repetition of the last.’

25 June 1869
‘Silvered paper in the morning and attended to printing all day. Not a good day for outside work so we did not make any negatives. Got along very well with printing & even after toning our pictures looked first-rate - but the fixing bathfixed them & we were very much disappointed, some of them turning out poorly. Printed up about 4 or 5 dozen. Shall probably get quite an order from McLelland for them. After supper sat in Sumner’s store listening to tough yarns from John & his brother of fighting scrapes &c. After taking a look in the Gold Room we retired early.’

26 June 1869
‘Morning opened bright. Got things out at once to make negatives. Set the box up in the yard & made a few up town of Rollins House, Ford House &c., &c & them went down to the depot securing half a dozen different views. After dinner went over to Madame Cleveland’s to make the group of the girls with the house. Weather was just hazy enough to soften the light down for an out-door group. Made three exposures - first two not good but the last very good. Occupied the rest of the afternoon varnishing and retouching the negatives made.’

27 June 1869
‘Yesterday I receiced a letter from & in the evening wrote one to Mollie. This A.M. slept until 7 & then went over to John’s & commenced sivering paper at once. Kept steadily at printing until about 2 P.M. getting off about 12 sheets of paper. The pictures printed well, but in toning came up mealy much to our disgust & to add to our troubles got them overtoned - had toning all done by 4 O’clock & by 5 had 20 of Madame Cleveland’s shebang all mounted. Concluded to wait until to-morrow before we delivered them. After tea took our usual walk to the depot to see the Western train come in. Things begin to look as though we should sell quite a number of pictures & it is time we did for the last two days I have been just about strapped.’

25 September 1869
‘Decided to spend the day photographing, Saddled pony and started for the mountain taking camera and plate changing box with a dozen plates and during the forenoon made eight exposures, all on rock subjects. In passing the plate box from one to another in coming down over the rocks it slipped out of hand and in falling was damaged so that it would not work. This put an end of picture making for the time being and we all went back to camp and spent the afternoon fishing. Just before sunset, however, I repaired the plate holder and exposed the remaining plates on fish subjects.’

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Diary briefs


The US’s coldest murder case solved - CBS

Diary of Essex girl recalls early 20th century life - Chorley Guardian

War veteran’s lost diary returned to family - Huffington Post

Reissue of Diary of a Man in Despair - The Guardian, Amazon

Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag - Palestine Chronicle, Foreign Policy Journal

Joss Stone plot diaries - BBC, Daily Mail