Monday, September 29, 2014

Go and wash and see

Miguel de Unamuno, one of the most influential Spanish thinkers of his time, was born 150 years ago today. A scholar, writer, and rector of the University of Salamanca, he is considered to have been an early existentialist, but was often in trouble with the authorities for his political views. An early insight into both his intellect and the themes that would preoccupy his writing over the next 30 years came with a diary written during, and in response to, a kind of spiritual (or, indeed, existential) crisis he experienced in 1897.

Unamuno was born in Bilbao, Spain, on 29 September 1864; and, as a teenager, he witnessed a siege of the city by Carlist forces (in the so-called Third Carlist War) - a formative experience according to biographers. Aged but 16, he went to study philosophy and belles-lettres at Madrid university, and then did a thesis on the Basque language. From 1884, he worked as a private teacher, but was also writing articles. In 1891, he married his childhood sweetheart, Concha Lizarraga, and they would have nine children.

The following year, having failed to find an academic appointment in the field of philosophy, Unamono took up the chair of Greek at the University of Salamanca, an institution to which he would stay attached for the rest of his life. Around this time, he began writing the essays that would be published in 1902 as En torno al casticismo. His first novel - Paz en la guerra (Peace in War) - was published in 1897, and a second - Amor y pedagogía (Love and Pedagogy) - in 1902. By then, still in his 30s, he had been named rector of the University of Salamanca. In 1905, the García brothers opened Café Novelty in Plaza Mayor, and it soon became a focus for the city’s political and cultural life - Unamuno was a regular patron, often giving talks.

Unamuno was a man of wide interests, with a passion for poetry - he published several collections - and for languages. He read a dozen or more modern languages, as well as Latin and Greek, all the better to understand philosophers from their original texts (he learned Danish to read Kierkegaard, for example). He was also a renowned Lusophile. As a philosopher, he became recognised, latterly, as an early European existentialist.

Unamuno’s most important work - Del sentimiento trágico de la vida - was first published in 1913, and translated into English in 1921 as The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples. In 1914, Unamuno was dismissed from his post as rector by the Minister of Education, for political reasons. But in 1920, he was elected fellow in the philosophy and arts faculty, and re-appointed rector in 1921. By 1924, though, his attacks on the king and the dictator, Primo de Rivera, led to him being forced out again. This time, Unamuno went into exile, first to Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands, where his house is now a museum, and from there to France, first Paris, and then Hendaye, a border town in French Basque country.

Unamuno remained in Hendaye until after the fall of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, and in 1931, he was reappointed, for a third time, to be rector of the University of Salamanca. At first, Unamuno welcomed General Franco’s Second Republic, but he soon became disillusioned with the regime’s harsh tactics. In 1936, he had a public quarrel at the university with the Nationalist general Millán Astray. He was sacked again, and put under house arrest. He died ten weeks later, on the last day of that same year. There is not much biographical information about Unamuno online in English, but try Wikipedia (and a translation of the Spanish entry too) or Kirjasto. Fundación Zuloaga has a Spanish language page on Unamuno.

In 1897, Unamuno underwent a deep depression, a kind of spiritual crisis. This is well documented in his biographies - see Stefany Anne Golberg’s essay at The Smart Set. During this time, he kept a diary, although only a few entries are actually dated, and most of them are philosophical ruminations. These writings were somewhat rough and ready, yet he copied and circulated them to friends. They were not published in English, however, until 1984, as part of Princeton University Press’s seven volume series, The Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno. Volume 2 is titled The Private World - Selections from the Diario Intimo and Selected Letters 1890-1936, as translated by Anthony Kerrigan, Allen Lacy and Martin Nozick.

Lacy’s introduction explains that Unamuno’s Diario intimo, most of which was written in the months immediately following his crisis, in five bound notebooks, was circulated (except for the brief and scanty entries from 1899 to 1902) to several of the author’s closest friends between 1898 and 1901, then hidden among the papers in his study. He continues:

‘The Diario intimo is by no means a polished piece of work. [. . .] Even in the abridged version which is given in the present volume, few readers will fail to notice that it is obsessive, extremely repetitious, and often self-conscious in a rather theatrical way, nor that it lacks the literary merit that, even for relentless non-believers, distinguishes such other examples of confessional writing as St Augustine’s Confessions and Pascal’s Pensées. But it is an important document for two reasons. First, it announces many of the themes that were to occupy Unamuno in later years, especially in The Tragic Sense of Life and The Agony of Christianity. Second, it provides a vivid picture of a sensitive and deeply intellectual man.’

Here are a few snippets from Diario Intimo.

Notebook 2
25 April 1897
‘Quasimodo Sunday. A conventional Mass at the parish church, a sermon by the priest about the fact that many believe that going to church is doing God a favor, when it is we who need God, not He us.

How is it that I imagine myself to be a great personage, one destined to create a sensation in the Church, my conversion providing a model for others? How many ways has pride of surviving!’

28 April 1897
‘Read the ninth chapter of the Gospel of St John. I am a blind man in whom the works of God must be made manifest. Anoint my eyes with clay, Lord, and lead me to wash in the pool of Siloam, in the confessional, so that I may return with sight restored. Give me strength, for I have no will.

And later I will say, to your glory: yes, I am he who sat and begged for human glory. Jesus took clay and anointed my eyes and said to go to the pool of Siloam, and I went, and once I had washed, I saw.

The Lord has made clay out of the dust to which I reduced everything by means of analysis in my passage across the desert of intellectualism, and He has placed it upon my eyes, so that I might desire to see, and then go and wash and see.’

Notebook 3
10 May 1897
‘Yesterday, Sunday, at Canillas. What peace there! If one could live and die like they do. We went to the burial at Calzada of a poor fellow who had died of paralysis. I kept thinking about spiritual paralysis. They told me that he died saying: “What a sweet dream!” He seemed asleep there, at the door of the church.

Later the fields were blessed. The young girls brought all their presents in a procession, shawls, kerchiefs, all strung up on a pole.’

Notebook 5 [which contains only a page and a half of entries - here are the last few]
9 May 1899
‘How is it suddenly, today, the 9th May, 1899, in the midst of my studies, I am overcome by a craving to pray? I have had to lay down my book and retire to my room to say a brief prayer and to read in the Imitation the prayer asking for light for the spirit.’

15 January 1902
‘Today, the 15th of January, 1902, in the middle of reading Holtzmann’s Leben Jesu, p. 102, I again take up this diary.’

Our Father
Always the Father, always engendering the Ideal in us. I, projected to infinity, and you, who are projected to infinity, meet. Our lives, parallel in infinity, meet, and my infinite I is your I, the collective I, the Universe I, the Universe made person, and it is God. And I, am I not my father? Am I not my son?
Thy will be done

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Professor of poetry

Francis Turner Palgrave, a close friend of Alfred Tennyson and a connoisseur of English poetry, was born 190 years ago today. He worked most of his life as a civil servant in the education service, but in his 60s was elected Oxford University’s Professor of Poetry. Soon after Palgrave’s death, his daughter, Gwenllian, published a book about her father’s life in which she quotes extensively from diaries he kept intermittently for over 50 years.

Palgrave was born on 28 September 1824 in Great Yarmouth, the eldest son of Sir Francis Palgrave, the historian, and his wife Elizabeth Turner, daughter of a banker. He grew up in Yarmouth and also in Hampstead, London, but was largely educated at home, in an atmosphere of ‘high artistic culture’, ‘fervid anglo-catholicism’ and ‘strenuous thought’, until the age of 14, when his father could afford to sent him to Charterhouse public school as a day boy.

After travelling on the Continent, Palgrave won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford; but, in 1846, he interrupted his studies for a year or so to serve as assistant private secretary to William Gladstone. From 1847 to 1862, he was fellow of Exeter College. In 1849, he took up a civil service post in the education department, which led him, from 1850 to 1855, to be vice-principal at Kneller Hall, a government training college for elementary teachers at Twickenham. There he met Alfred Tennyson. When the training college was abandoned, Palgrave returned to Whitehall in 1855, becoming examiner in the education department, and eventually assistant secretary.

Palgrave married Cecil Grenville Milnes in 1862, and they had one son and four daughters. Apart from Tennyson and Gladstone, Palgrave was friends with other notables of the time, including Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold. He wrote and published poetry, in volumes such as Visons of England. However, his principal claim to fame was to publish the Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics (1861), a comprehensive and carefully chosen (in consultation with Tennyson) anthology of the best poetry in the language. This tome is considered to have helped popularise the poetry of William Wordsworth, and to have had a significant influence on poetic taste for several generations.

In 1884, Palgrave resigned his civil service position, and, the following year, was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford. By then, his life was mostly divided between London and Lyme Regis where he had bought a holiday home in 1872, with almost annual visits to Italy. He died in London in 1897. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Dictionary of National Biography (source of the quotes above) or The Twickenham Museum website.

Palgrave kept a journal for much of his life, and although this has not been published separately, Palgrave’s daughter, Gwenllian, included many extracts in her biography: Francis Turner Palgrave - His Journals and Memories of his Life. This was published by Longmans, Green and Co. in 1899. It is freely available at Internet Archive. According to Gwenllian, her father started keeping a journal, intermittently, as early as 1834, in the form of letters to his mother. His last journal entry was in 1890. Here are a few extracts from Palgrave’s diary, culled from 
Gwenllian’s biography,

31 March 1849 [Palgrave’s first meeting with Tennyson]
‘In the evening to Mr. Brookfield’s. Found there Lingen, A. Tennyson; afterwards Thackeray and H. Hallam came. Walked towards Hampstead with A. Tennyson. Conversed on Universities, the ‘Princess,’ his plans, &c.; he very open and friendly: a noble, solid mind, bearing the look of one who had suffered greatly: - strength and sensitiveness blended.’

2 April 1849
‘In the afternoon to A. Tennyson’s in the Hampstead Road. Long conversation with him; he read me songs to be inserted in the ‘Princess,’ and poems on A. Hallam, some exquisite.’

July 1870
‘On the 14th of July we welcomed another little boy. After eight or nine days this little darling began to pine, and my dear Cis wishing to have him baptised, he received the names Arthur Frederick, the second after Freddy Cavendish, who promised to be godfather. The baby looked at us with deep violet eyes, as if asking to live. I could not realise fear, though his dear mother had begun to realise she must resign her treasure. But in the afternoon of the 31st, as this sweet patient little Arthur lay on Cecil’s lap, every hope was clearly over. . . . We buried him in the quiet country ground at Barnes, where Cecil’s Aunt Sidney lies.’

23 November 1870
‘The war still, but with more than one difference. In so great and complex an action and where so much human feeling is mixed, a cause cannot remain true to itself: initial right and justice are insufficient to leaven the vast mass of after events. It seems clear that the French will die as a nation, sooner than make a surrender of defeat.’

29 May 1871
‘All to Stokesay Castle, a singularly perfect specimen of domestic residence temp. Edward I. The site of this small ancient relic, lovely amid green wooded hills and mountainesque horizon - indebted much to the haze of an exquisite summer day. Thence to Ludlow: the castle here of all dates, is as fine as that uncomfortable thing, a ruin, ever can be.’

21 July 1871
‘Came to Lyme. In the evenings I am reading to Cis the ‘Bride of Lammermoor’: this seems to me to stand above all other novels, like a play by Shakespeare above all other plays. Indeed, in astonishing truthfulness and variety in creation of character, in power and pathos, I cannot see how this, at least, is inferior to Shakespeare . . . We have spent four agreeable days at the Palace at Exeter: I had one long walk with the Bishop, and a really good discussion on Darwin and cognate topics. He was at his best on such points: large and wise and liberal . . . After that a brief visit to Whitestaunton, a charming house of early Elizabethan date; we much regretted the brevity of our visit, having greatly liked our hosts.’

20 October 1871
‘We came to Lyme, and Cis and I went carefully over our little intended purchase, Little Park. It is a pretty little old place, with its many little rooms and pretty garden and lovely views. May it be a true haunt of peace to us and our dear ones! . . . Returned home to a warm welcome from our dear, dear lively little ones.’

4 July 1874
‘We went to Chichester, taking little Cecy and Frank. A year has much shaken the good old Dean, but when pretty well there was all his old charm and life. He is about the best type of a former age that I know, or, rather, he has the best of the last age joined with our modern movement.’

23 July 1879
‘Cis and I took the two eldest children to ‘Hamlet.’ I had not seen any serious acting for years, and went expecting to find my greatest pleasure in the dear children’s; but I returned very deeply impressed with the frequent admirable renderings of Irving as ‘Hamlet’ and Miss Terry as ‘Ophelia.’ . . . Above all, the amazing difficulty of the art impressed me; as with painting, I doubt how far the spectator can pretend to point out the way in which parts might be improved, though he may lawfully feel not satisfied. What was good also, both in these and in the other actors, is to me so much clearly gained. Also if ‘Hamlet’ acted unequally, how unequally, a vrai dire, is ‘Hamlet’ written!’

17 July 1883
‘We took the children to ‘The Merchant of Venice’ for the second time. Irving’s Shylock seemed to me a fine and true rendering of Shakespeare’s intention - viz. the mediaeval Jew a little raised in dignity and humanity. The Terry Portia was generally admirable. This play gains, certainly, immensely by representation . . , the sort of tradition which gives Shylock the protagonist, if not the hero part, is amply justified. . . I certainly think that those who cannot see that Irving gave a very powerful, and Miss Terry a very beautiful, interpretation, and that the piece as a whole was a thoroughly ‘adequate’ representation of what Shakespeare meant, must never expect to be satisfied by human art.’

7 April 1885 [Naples]
‘The Pompeian frescoes and mosaics are much beyond what I expected in quality of Art: the invention is so copious, the handling so absolutely assured, that I fully felt the sad lesson how Art (despite a few reactions) has had one long downward career for two thousand years.’

2 October 1886 [Dorchester]
‘Walked with Frank through twilight to Winterbourne Came: a pretty little thatched house among trees. I was allowed to go up to the great aged poet in the bedroom which - at eighty-four and with now failing bodily strength - he is not likely to quit. Mr. [William] Barnes had invited me when Frank visited him last Christmas, and truly glad was I, and honoured did I feel, to accomplish it. A very finely cut face, expressive blue eyes, a long white beard, hands fine like a girl’s - all was the absolute ideal of a true poet. Few in our time equal him in variety and novelty of motive: in quantity of true sweet inspiration and musical verse. None have surpassed him in exquisite wholeness and unity of execution. He was dressed in red with white fur of some sort, and a darker red cap: Titian or Tintoret had no nobler, no more high born looking sitter among the doges of Venice. His welcome was equally cordial and simple; and, despite his bodily weakness, the soul, bright and energetic, seemed equally ready for death or for life. He talked of his visit to Tennyson; of his own work, saying he had taken Homer, and him only, as his model in aiming at choosing the one proper epithet when describing: also his love for the old pure English. I shall remember this most interesting half-hour all my life, and my dear Frank, I trust, will remember it many years beyond me.’

26 November 1885
‘Ince telegraphed that, I was elected Professor of Poetry by a majority of sixty. The pleasure this gave at home, and the many kind letters called forth from friends, have been the really agreeable elements in this success. It will be difficult to satisfy expectations - to face the illustrious images of ancestors in the Chair. But I am glad of a chance to be a little useful before the night cometh, if I may be so allowed.’

3 February 1887
‘A very pleasant visit to Browning. He was very affectionate and open, and told much of his earlier days. I was sorry to hear that he had lately been clearing his papers, and had burnt letters which, while his parents lived, he had written to them by way of minute daily journal from Russia, Italy, and England.’

10 February 1887
‘My dear eldest girl was married to James Duncan. Amongst the many friends who came to the house were Browning and Matt Arnold, who were among those signing the marriage register. . .’

27 February 1890
‘With dearest Cis to Oxford. Saw Jowett and Lyttelton Gell, and were received by the Rector of Exeter with his usual friendliness.’

‘My father’s journal,’ Gwenllian writes, ‘now breaks off with a pathetic abruptness; the last entry (February 27, 1890) being exactly a month before my mother’s death. From that time he altogether discontinued keeping a Journal. It is impossible to write of the effect which so near and sacred a sorrow had upon him. Such was the depth and the intensity of his feeling and reverence towards her, that even in her lifetime he only spoke of her - or of her opinions and judgment - with a kind of bated breath, as though she were too far above him to be mentioned in an ordinary way. During the remaining years of his life, few days passed without his recalling to his children some memory of her unselfishness, her humility, or her beautiful simplicity. For the first few months after her death this sorrow absolutely crushed him, and his friends, seeing him, feared that he would never recover any interest or happiness in life. But his own perfect selflessness - for with him it was always something more than unselfishness - enabled him to gather up the threads of life again for the sake of his children with a courage and loving tenderness which were inexpressibly touching. Many observed that his devotion to his children, strong and intense as it had always been, grew as these years passed, not only deeper, but also in many senses like that of a mother’s. He never conceived a plan, nor undertook anything, even for his own comfort or pleasure, without first thinking whether it would be for their happiness.’

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lafcadio Hearn in Japan

‘Then came the tug-of-war. A magnificent tug-of-war, too, one hundred students at one end of a rope, and another hundred at the other. But the most wonderful spectacles of the day were the dumb-bell exercises. Six thousand boys and girls, massed in ranks about five hundred deep.’ This is Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-born Anglo-Irish writer, who died 110 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept while working as a teacher in Japan. Indeed, having emigrated from the US, he became very well-known for writing many books about Japan. Even in his diary entries, he seems fascinated by the traditions and culture of the Japanese people, and in the Oriental minds of his young pupils.

Hearn was born on the island of Lefkada (after which he was named), Greece, in 1850, the son of an Anglo-Irish surgeon-major in the British army and a Greek mother. His parents had a troubled relationship, which soon led to divorce. Neither parent was interested in Lafcadio, and he was brought up by another disinterested relative in Dublin. Nevertheless, he received a decent education, partly in France, partly in Durham, until his guardians went bankrupt. Aged 16, he suffered an injury to his left eye which left him partially blind and shy about his appearance.

In 1869, when his guardians had recovered some financial stability, they paid for Hearn to travel to the US, to Cincinnati, Ohio, to stay with relatives. However, these relatives gave him little assistance, and, for a while, he took menial jobs to survive. With a talent for writing, he gained a reporter’s job on the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer in 1872, and soon developed a reputation for his journalistic audacity and for sensational articles about murders. In 1874, he and a friend set up a weekly journal of culture and satire, Ye Giglampz. That same year he married Alethea (Mattie) Foley, an African-American woman, but the marriage violated Ohio law, and, in response to religious lobbying, he was fired from his job. He went to work for the rival newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial.

Tired of the city, and divorced from Foley, Hearn moved to New Orleans in 1877, where he lived for a decade, writing for, and editing city newspapers. He wrote many articles for national magazines (such as Harper’s Weekly), and books about the city, and is credited with helping create the popular reputation of New Orleans as a place with a distinct culture more akin to that of Europe and the Caribbean than to the rest of North America. He also translated French authors into English.

In 1887, Hearn accepted an invitation from Harper’s to become a West Indies correspondent, and he lived in Martinique for two years. After that, though, he decided to go to Japan. Upon his arrival in Yokohama in the spring of 1890, he was befriended by Basil Hall Chamberlain of Tokyo Imperial University, and officials at the Ministry of Education. At their encouragement, he moved to Matsue, to teach English at Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School. There he moved in distinguished circles, and later married Setsu Koizumi, the daughter of a local samurai family. He had the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo.

Hearn stayed over a year in Matsue, moving on to another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, for a further three years. In 1894, he secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903, and at Waseda University. He died on 26 September 1904, having written and published many books on Japan - a full bibliography can be found on Steve Tussel’s Lafcadio Hearn site. Further biographical information on Hearn can be found at Wikipedia, the magazine Humanities, The Japan Times or The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Among his many different kinds of books, Hearn left behind a couple of diaries, neither covering more than a short period: one written in Florida in 1887, and the other written just after taking up his first teaching post in Japan. Both these are freely available at Internet Archive. The first published was From the Diary of an English Teacher included in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Volume II) published by Houghton Mifflin and Company (Boston and New York) in 1894. Later the diary was re-published in other Lafcadio Hearn volumes, such as Diaries and Letters, in English and Japanese, translated and annotated by R. Tanabe. Posthumously, in 1911, Houghton Mifflin published Hearn’s Leaves from the Diary of an Impressionist, which includes a diary called Floridian Reveries.

Here are several extracts from Hearn’s Japanese diary.

15 October 1890
‘To-day I witnessed the annual athletic contests of all the schools in Shimane Ken. These games were celebrated in the broad castle grounds of Ninomaru. Yesterday a circular race-track had been staked off, hurdles erected for leaping, thousands of wooden seats prepared for invited or privileged spectators, and a grand lodge built for the Governor, all before sunset. The place looked like a vast circus, with its tiers of plank seats rising one above the other, and the Governor’s lodge magnificent with wreaths and flags. School children from all the villages and towns within twenty-five miles had arrived in surprising multitude. Nearly six thousand boys and girls were entered to take part in the contests. Their parents and relatives and teachers made an imposing assembly upon the benches and within the gates. And on the ramparts over-looking the huge enclosure a much larger crowd had gathered, representing perhaps one third of the population of the city.

The signal to begin or to end a contest was a pistol-shot. Four different kinds of games were performed in different parts of the grounds at the same time, as there was room enough for an army; and prizes were awarded for the winners of each contest by the hand of the Governor himself.

There were races between the best runners in each class of the different schools; and the best runner of all proved to be Sakane, of our own fifth class, who came in first by nearly forty yards without seeming even to make an effort. He is our champion athlete, and as good as he is strong, so that it made me very happy to see him with his arm full of prize books. He won also a fencing contest decided by the breaking of a little earthenware saucer tied to the left arm of each combatant. And he also won a leaping match between our older boys.

But many hundreds of other winners there were too, and many hundreds of prizes were given away. There were races in which the runners were tied together in pairs, the left leg of one to the right leg of the other. There were equally funny races, the winning of which depended on the runner’s ability not only to run, but to crawl, to climb, to vault, and to jump alternately. There were races also for the little girls, pretty as butterflies they seemed in their sky-blue hakama and many-coloured robes, races in which the contestants had each to pick up as they ran three balls of three different colours out of a number scattered over the turf. Besides this, the little girls had what is called a flag-race, and a contest with battledores and shuttlecocks.

Then came the tug-of-war. A magnificent tug-of-war, too, one hundred students at one end of a rope, and another hundred at the other. But the most wonderful spectacles of the day were the dumb-bell exercises. Six thousand boys and girls, massed in ranks about five hundred deep; six thousand pairs of arms rising and falling exactly together; six thousand pairs of sandalled feet advancing or retreating together, at the signal of the masters of gymnastics, directing all from the tops of various little wooden towers; six thousand voices chanting at once the “one, two, three,” of the dumb-bell drill: “Ichi, ni, - san, shi, - go roku, - shichi, hachi.”

Last came the curious game called “Taking the Castle.” Two models of Japanese towers, about fifteen feet high, made with paper stretched over a framework of bamboo, were set up, one at each end of the field. Inside the castles an inflammable liquid had been placed in open vessels, so that if the vessels were overturned the whole fabric would take fire. The boys, divided into two parties, bombarded the castles with wooden balls, which passed easily through the paper walls; and in a short time both models were making a glorious blaze. Of course the party whose castle was the first to blaze lost the game.

The games began at eight o’clock in the morning, and at five in the evening came to an end. Then at a signal fully ten thousand voices pealed out the superb national anthem “Kimi ga yo,” and concluded it with three cheers for their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

The Japanese do not shout or roar as we do when we cheer. They chant. Each long cry is like the opening tone of an immense musical chorus: A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!’

3 November 1890
‘To-day is the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor. It is a public holiday throughout Japan; and there will be no teaching this morning. But at eight o’clock all the students and instructors enter the great assembly hall of the Jinjo Chugakko to honour the anniversary of His Majesty’s august birth.

On the platform of the assembly hall a table, covered with dark silk, has been placed and upon this table the portraits of Their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and the Empress of Japan, stand side by side upright, framed in gold. The alcove above the platform has been decorated with flags and wreaths.

Presently the Governor enters, looking like a French general in his gold-embroidered uniform of office, and followed by the Mayor of the city, the Chief Military Officer, the Chief of Police, and all the officials of the provincial government. These take their places in silence to left and right of the platform. Then the school organ suddenly rolls out the slow, solemn, beautiful national anthem; and all present chant those ancient syllables, made sacred by the reverential love of a century of generations [. . .]

The anthem ceases. The Governor advances with a slow dignified step from the right side of the apartment to the centre of the open space before the platform and the portraits of Their Majesties, turns his face to them, and bows profoundly. Then he takes three steps forward toward the platform, and halts, and bows again. Then he takes three more steps forward, and bows still more profoundly. Then he retires, walking backward six steps, and bows once more. Then he returns to his place.

After this the teachers, by parties of six, perform the same beautiful ceremony. When all have saluted the portrait of His Imperial Majesty, the Governor ascends the platform and makes a few eloquent remarks to the students about their duty to their Emperor, to their country, and to their teachers. Then the anthem is sung again; and all disperse to amuse themselves for the rest of the day.’

4 April 1891
‘The Students of the third, fourth, and fifth year classes write for me once a week brief English compositions upon easy themes which I select for them. As a rule the themes are Japanese. Considering the immense difficulty of the English language to Japanese students, the ability of some of my boys to express their thoughts in it is astonishing. Their compositions have also another interest for me as revelations, not of individual character, but of national sentiment, or of aggregate sentiment of some sort or other. What seems to me most surprising in the compositions of the average Japanese student is that they have no personal cachet at all. Even the handwriting of twenty English compositions will be found to have a curious family resemblance; and striking exceptions are too few to affect the rule. Here is one of the best compositions on my table, by a student at the head of his class. Only a few idiomatic errors have been corrected:


“The Moon appears melancholy to those who are sad, and joyous to those who are happy. The Moon makes memories of home come to those who travel, and creates home-sickness. So when the Emperor Godaigo, having been banished to Oki by the traitor Hojo, beheld the moonlight upon the seashore, he cried out, ‘The Moon is heartless!’

The sight of the Moon makes an immeasurable feeling in our hearts when we look up at it through the clear air of a beauteous night.

Our hearts ought to be pure and calm like the light of the Moon.

Poets often compare the Moon to a Japanese mirror and indeed its shape is the same when it is full.

The refined man amuses himself with the Moon. He seeks some house looking out upon water, to watch the Moon, and to make verses about it.

The best places from which to see the Moon are Tsukigashi, and the mountain Obasute.

The light of the Moon shines alike upon foul and pure, upon high and low. That beautiful Lamp is neither yours nor mine, but everybody’s.

When we look at the Moon we should remember that its waxing and its waning are the signs of the truth that the culmination of all things is likewise the beginning of their decline.”

Any person totally unfamiliar with Japanese educational methods might presume that the foregoing composition shows some original power of thought and imagination. But this is not the case. I found the same thoughts and comparisons in thirty other compositions upon the same subject. Indeed, the compositions of any number of middle-school students upon the same subject are certain to be very much alike in idea and sentiment - though they are none the less charming for that. As a rule the Japanese student shows little originality in the line of imagination. His imagination was made for him long centuries ago - partly in China, partly in his native land. From his childhood he is trained to see and to feel Nature exactly in the manner of those wondrous artists who, with a few swift brush-strokes, fling down upon a sheet of paper the colour-sensation of a chilly dawn, a fervid noon, an autumn evening.

Through all his boyhood he is taught to commit to memory the most beautiful thoughts and comparisons to be found in his ancient native literature. Every boy has thus learned that the vision of Fuji against the blue resembles a white half-opened fan, hanging inverted in the sky. Every boy knows that cherry-trees in full blossom look as if the most delicate of flushed summer clouds were caught in their branches. Every boy knows the comparison between the falling of certain leaves on snow and the casting down of texts upon a sheet of white paper with a brush. Every boy and girl knows the verses comparing the print of cat’s-feet on snow to plum-flowers, and that comparing the impression of bokkuri on snow to the Japanese character for the number “two,” These were thoughts of old, old poets; and it would be very hard to invent prettier ones. Artistic power in composition is chiefly shown by the correct memorising and clever combination of these old thoughts.

And the students have been equally well trained to discover a moral in almost everything, animate or inanimate.’

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An audience with Alaungpaya

Alaungpaya, one the three greatest kings of Burma, and the founder of the Konbaung dynasty, was born three centuries ago today. He forced out the French and the British, unified the country, and founded Yangon. But, before driving out the British, he negotiated a treaty with the East India Company through its ensign, Robert Lester. Lester’s diary written during that mission has survived, and it provides a first hand account of his meeting with the king.

Alaungpaya (Aung Zeya at birth) was born on 24 September 1714 at Moksobomyo (now Shwebo), a village in the Mu River Valley about 60 miles northwest of Ava (now Inwa), then the Burmese capital. He was the second son of a family that had administered the Mu Valley for generations, his father being a hereditary chief while his uncle was lord of the valley district. In 1730, he married Yun San daughter of the chief of a nearby village, and they went on to have seven children.

The mid-1700s were a period of turmoil in Burma, with the Toungoo dynasty in its dying days. Binnya Dala, prime minister at the time, rebelled against his Toungoo rulers, and rallied the Mon-speaking people. In 1747 they elected him king. It took Binnya Dala until 1752 to capture Ava from the Toungoo, but Alaungpaya refused to become a vassal to the new authority. He organised a resistance movement, declared a new capital at Moksobomyo, and announced his aim to be king. Within a year or so, he had retaken Ava, driven Binnya Dala out of Upper Burma, and established a new dynasty, Konbaung.

However, because Binnya Dala was still strong in Lower Burma and had allied with the French, Alaungpaya concluded a treaty with the British through the East India Company: land (including the island of Negrais) and settlement rights in exchange for a cannon and gunpowder. The treaty did not last long. The British, already at war with the French in India, were reluctant to open a second front in Burma. Alaungpaya, thus, came to suspect them of supporting a Mon revolt. He attacked the Negrais settlement, massacring many of the merchants there. By 1759, Alaungpaya had driven out the British and the French, and re-unified the country. Relations between the British and the Konbaung dynasty would not to be resumed for thirty years.

In 1760, Alaungpaya led a campaign to invade Siam, but, during a siege of the capital, he was wounded. He died during the retreat to Burma. Within a decade, his heirs had subdued much of Laos (1765), defeated Siam (1767), and defeated four invasions by China. The Konbaung dynasty lasted more than a century. From the 1820s, though, it began began losing war after war against the British who finally annexed the last party of the country in 1885. The Konbaung king and ruling family were exiled to India. Further information is available online from Wikipedia, the Burma Library, or indeed from The History of Myanmar by William J. Topich and Keith A. Leitich (ABC-CLIO, 2013) which can be read at Googlebooks.

Several British accounts of meetings with Alaungpaya have survived to this day. The most bona fide diary account, though, was written by Ensign Robert Lesser, Ambassador Extraordinary, who, in 1757, negotiated the treaty (for the East India Company) which provided armaments to Alaungpaya in return for settlement and merchant rights. Lesser’s diary was first published in Alexander Dalrymple’s Oriental Repertory (eight volumes between 1791-1797). This can be accessed freely at Internet Archive. However, it is easier to read a reprint published in the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, (Spring 2005), also to be found through Internet Archive (and elsewhere on the internet). Here are several extracts from Lesser’s diary, including the day of his audience with Alaungpaya.

22 July 1757
‘This Morning, at break of day, we left the above Town, and now we are come into a wide River, we meet with great numbers of Boats, loaded with Plunder, belonging to the King of Ava, taken at Pegu, and I am informed going up to Prone, Ava, &c. and that the King is not far from us. At 3 this Afternoon, we came to a small Town, on the bank of the River, where we found the King, in his Barge, with great numbers of other Boats attending him: Antonio waited on the King, to acquaint him I was come, and, at 5 o’clock, a Messenger came from Antonio to acquaint me, that the King would give me Audience to-morrow morning and that it was the King’s Desire I should send the Present by the Messenger, which I delivered.’

23 July 1757
‘This Morning, at 7 o’clock, Antonio came to me, and told me, that the King would give me Audience, at the same time he told me, that on going into the King’s Apartment in his Barge, I must leave my Sword and Shoe behind, and on approaching near the King, to the Place appointed for me, I must kneel; I used all the Arguments I could, and told him as an Officer in the Honourable Company’s Service, I could not consent to the above, he then, as likewise other Great Men with him, told me, that no Person, let him be of the highest Rank, could have Audience given them by the Great King of Ava, Pegu, &c. &c. (Allaum Praw, next to GOD) if they did not conform to the above, and that all Ambassadors, from the Negrais before, had done it.

As I hope it will be a means of getting the Treaty of Alliance, with the above King and The Honourable Company, settled, I agreed, and went with Antonio to the King’s Barge, and after congratulating him, on his late conquest of so potent a Kingdom, with other Compliments on the Occasion I delivered him my Credentials. [. . .]

I then desired the Interpreters to inform the King, [. . .] that the English were strongly attached to His Interest; and if His Majesty would now be pleased to consent to the fixing His Chop [seal] to the above, it would be a means of uniting the two Nations together for ages to come. The King then said, that he had sent a Sloop some Months ago to Madrass, with Goods to purchase Powder, &c, and he was informed by the Captain of another Sloop, now arrived at Dagon from the Coast, that the Governor of Madrass had detained his Sloop there, I answered that we had received no Letters, or News of any kind, from Madrass, but I was positive if the Sloop was detained, that the Governor of Madrass did not know that she belonged to His Majesty.

As I had not room to stretch my legs out, and I was somewhat uneasy, I saw a small Stool behind me, which I took, and sat on, this caused a laughter among the Great Men about me, the King asked the reason, and was informed, on which he rose up and came close to me, and laughed very heartily, and asked me what was the reason that Englishman could not kneel? I told him we were not accustomed to it; on which he pointed to the Yard of the Boat, which was close by, and told me I might set there, I told His Majesty I was not insensible of the Honour he did me, he then pointed to the Prince of Persaim, and told me he had given him a new Name (Mungee Narataw) on account of his good behaviour, the King then asked me several Questions, through the above Interpreters, viz. Does your King go to the Wars and expose his Person as I do? Do you understand the use of Ordnance, &c? Could you point a Gun to kill a Man at a great distance? Is there as much Rain in your Country as in this? What is the reason you wear that at your Shoulder, (my Shoulder Knot)? How much Money does The Company pay you [per] Month? Why don’t you black your Bodies and Thighs as we do (at the same time rising up, and shewing me his Thigh)? Let me feel your Hand, feeling my Fingers and Wrist, and said we were like Women, because we did not black as above. Is there Ice in your Country as in mine, small Creeks froze over?

I answered to all the above Questions, which seemed to please them, and to the last Question I told him that I had seen a River, as broad as this His Majesty is now in (meaning London River) frozen over, and an Ox roasted whole, upon the Ice; to which the King, as likewise all the Great Men about him, laughed heartily; the King asked me, what was the reason we did not leave the Negrais, and come all to Persaim, and settle there? I told him that the Negrais was a Key to that River, if we lost it entirely, that the French, who I believe we were now at War with, would likely come there, but that we should come with a firm resolution to settle at Persaim, if His Majesty would indulge us in settling the Treaty, and leave a small Force at the Negrais; The King then said if all the Powers in The World was to come, he could drive them out of His Country; he then asked me, if we were afraid of the French; I told him that the English and French had no great liking for each other but there never was that Englishman born, that was afraid of a Frenchman; the King then told me, that he had taken great quantities of Guns, Bombs, &c. with all kind of Warlike Stores at Pegu, and that he was now going up triumphant (with the former King of Pegu, and his Daughter, the Uppa Rajah, and other Great Men, Peguers, prisoners) to his great Cities, Prone, Ava, &c. and that he would put his Chop, to our Treaty of Alliance, and give us Liberty to trade in any part of his Kingdom; he then ordered me to follow him to the Mouth of the River, which leads to Ava, where there is a House, as above-mentioned, for the King’s reception, and I am informed, he intends to stay two or three days, and he would send me Provisions and settle the above; I desired the Interpreter to return His Majesty my hearty thanks for the Honour done me, and as His Barge was getting in readiness to proceed, I was desired to take my Leave, which I did and came away.

I have made Presents to the Prince of Persaim, King’s Brother, Prime Minister, and other six Great Men, about the King’s Person, of the following things, viz. Scarlet Cloth 30 Yards, 2 Pieces Seersuckers, 1 Piece Pullicat Handkerchiefs, 1 Kittysall, 1 Bottle Lavender Water, 1 Ring, Bristol Stone, with a Brilliant Spark on each side, 1 Black Feather, from my Hat, 1 Piece of Silk Handkerchiefs; this I have done, hoping it may be a means of getting my business done, on The Company’s Account, the sooner; the remainder part of this day we have been following the King to the Place above mentioned, the Fresh in this River is excessive rapid, and we could not come to the Place where the King was, at Night, I believe, at a moderate computation, there’s in Boats, on this River, on this Occasion, One hundred thousand Men, Women, and Children.’

26 July 1757
‘At 10 this Morning we came to the Place, where the House, beforementioned, is built for the King’s reception; the King’s Barge lay close to it, and numbers of other Boats all about it, there being four foot Water, all round it; occasioned by the swelling of the River since it was built; at Noon Antonio came, and told me that the King wanted me, I dressed myself and went with him to the said House, or Island but found the King was gone into His Barge, on which the Prince of Persaim let him know I was come, his answer was I must follow him to Lunzee, a Place much farther up the River, and the King went away immediately. But now the Promise made to Antonio on the 20th instant (as I expected) won’t do, he now tells me that Mr. Brooke, former Chief of the Negrais, promised the Prince, of Persaim, thirty Viss of Silver, and himself twenty; if the King’s Chop was fixed to our Treaty; and that I must give them from under my Hand, in the Name of The Company, that those Sums must be paid, otherwise no Chop should be affixed to our Treaty; I told them, The Company was at a great expence, and must be at a much greater, before they could bring the Negrais, and Persaim, to any Perfection, and this was a very large Sum.

Now, I am certain that nothing can be done without the Interest of the above Men; this Affair has subsisted a long time, and is of the utmost Consequence; there has been many Embassies before, on this head, and attended with a great Expence to The Company, and if I don’t finish now, there must be another Embassy (with a Present) on the same Account, I therefore concluded, within myself, to make them an Offer, and put the finishing stroke to this long Affair, which I did of Twenty Viss, which was not accepted, and on their going into their Boats I made them an Offer of Twenty-five, which was likewise refused; so we parted: the remainder part of this Day we have been following the King, but did not come up with him at Night.’

6 August 1757
‘I this Day had a Meeting with Antonio, and settled the Treaty with him, in the following manner, viz. That we are to have two hundred Bamboos square, (each Bamboo containing seven Cubits) at Persaim, and the King’s Promise of more Ground, after our settling at that Place. That we are to present to the King annually, for the Grant of the Island Negrais, and Spot of ground at Persaim, one Piece of Ordnance to carry a twelve Pound Shot, with two hundred Viss of good Gunpowder, as an acknowledgment, &c. &c. as specified [by] Article the 6th, in the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance. After this we exchanged Treaties, he presented me the Treaty with the King of Ava, Pegu, &c,’s Chop fixed thereto, and done in the above King’s Presence, I presented him with the other, to which Lieut. Thomas Newton, Chief of Negrais, had signed his Name, and fixed the Arms of The Honourable Company.’

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Call me Cherie

Well, happy birthday Cherie Blair, 60 today. I wonder how you’re celebrating, and whether you’re likely to have an ‘odd do’, as you did on your 40th, at least according to your husband’s press and policy adviser. I have no idea whether you keep a diary or not, but if you do, and it gets published one day, I’m sure it will be a good read. Meanwhile, I have mined Alastair Campbell’s diaries for a few tidbits about your life during the years when Tony was leader of the Labour Party and then Prime Minister.

Theresa Cara Booth, known as Cherie, was born on 23 September 1954 in Bury, Lancashire, and was brought up in Waterloo, just north of Liverpool on the Lancashire coast. Her parents were both actors, but her father, Tony, left when she was eight, so she and her sister were then brought up by her mother, and Tony’s mother, Vera. The sisters were educated at Catholic schools. Cherie went on to read law at the London School of Economics. While training she taught law at the Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster, and became a barrister in 1976. Until 1988, her head of chambers was George Carman, a barrister well-known for taking on high-profile cases.

Cherie met Tony in 1976, and they married in 1980. They had three children between 1984 and 1988, and then a fourth (Leo) 12 years later when Cherie was in her mid-40s. Leo was the first child born to a sitting Prime Minister in 150 years. Being the Prime Minister’s wife, she came under much press scrutiny, not least in relation to her friend, Carole Caplin, a kind of New Age style adviser, and Caplin’s boyfriend, Peter Foster, a convicted Australian conman.

Cherie Blair was made Queen's Counsel in 1995. In 1999, she was appointed a Recorder (a permanent part-time judge) in the County Court and Crown Court. She is a founding member of Matrix Chambers in London, and has specialised in employment, discrimination, and public law. She was the third Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, is a Governor of the London School of Economics and of the Open University, and is a patron of Breast Cancer Care. In 2008 she launched the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, to help support women entrepreneurs in developing countries, and she published Speaking for Myself: The Autobiography. In 2011, she was appointed Chancellor of the Asian University for Women. In 2013, she was awarded a CBE. More about Cherie, the posts she holds, the books she’s written, can be found on her own website.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy between 1997 and 2003, refers often to Cherie Blair in his diaries, first published by Hutchinson in 2007 under the title The Blair Years. (See The Diary Review article A good press secretary for more about Campbell and his diaries.) Campbell says in his introduction to this book that the focus ‘is very much on Blair himself’, but inevitably the Prime Minister’s wife is often part of his daily life, whether because of her presence at formal occasions, or because of issues, such as those revolving around her friendship with Caplin. He notes, in the introduction, how Cherie herself ‘pointed out that I certainly spent more waking hours with him than she did.’ Here are a few snapshots involving Cherie Blair taken from The Blair Years.

23 September 1994
‘Cherie’s 40th birthday party at Frederick’s. Odd kind of do. Didn’t feel right being photographed going in, by Alan Davidson [celebrity photographer] of all people, and I couldn’t quite work out the guest mix. Family, a bit of politics, law, and friends that didn’t always seem like Tony’s kind of people. Maybe he is a lot more eclectic than we are. Cherie had certainly been given a makeover. She looked great, but it was an odd do.’

23 April 1995
‘I had a perfectly nice chat with Cherie, in which we both lamented how much of our time we spent having to talk to TB in his underwear.’

8 September 1995
‘Eventually Fiona said we should discuss Cherie, what role and image she was supposed to be developing, what was good for her and for TB, and how we managed conference. Cherie said we had reached the position where she felt unsupported, and she had a poor relationship with the office because she felt we saw her purely as a problem. She said she had a contribution to make beyond being a ‘rich lawyer/wife’. I said I accepted there was fault on both sides. Things had got off to a terrible start because of Carole [Caplin] at conference last year. I felt Carole was a problem anyway and they had to understand if she became a story again, I would have nothing to do with it.’

27 October 1997
‘CHOGM [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Edinburgh] finished on time, TB telling us how brilliantly he had chaired it. TB was regaling us with a few stories from the receptions. One of the African leaders pinching Cherie’s bum and asking her who she was, then him jumping a mile when she said she was Tony’s wife. Mandela being difficult on a couple of issues and TB saying to him ‘You are so revered you can come out with any old nonsense and nobody is allowed to say it’s nonsense,’ Mandela laughing.’

16 September 1998
‘TB was heading off to Coventry and I was due to come back with CB. We met up at the shop, where I had a brief glimpse of [Prince] Charles, who was showing them some of his organic produce. She said organic farming had taken up most of their conversation at lunch. The rest had been a meandering around foreign affairs. TB was always pretty discreet about his royal dealings, CB less so. She said when she first Princess Anne, Anne had called her ‘Mrs Blair’, to which CB said ‘Call me Cherie.’ I’d rather not, Mrs Blair,’ said Anne. She said she didn’t bother to protest when Charles called her Mrs Blair today.’

25 September 1999
‘I went into the office first thing, then up to see TB. He was now sure. Cherie was pregnant. They worked out it happened at Balmoral. A royal baby!. He said he felt a mix of pleasure and horror. Thank God I’m a Christian, he said. It allows me to assume there must be a reason. We discussed it on the train. At the moment, TB, CB, Fiona and I were the only people who knew, and I was winding them up as to how much money we could make by tipping off the press.’

19 May 2000
‘Fiona and Cherie were pretty sure the baby was going to be born fairly soon. TB stayed at the office till about 8 and Anji [Hunter] said later he had been really nervous, nervous about the politics of where we were, nervous about the baby and what it would do for him, Cherie and the way we work. TB called as he was going to the hospital. I called Anji to get Cockerell down there to film the media outside. Fiona kept me in touch through the night. It finally came at 12.25 and we decided not to put anything out until they got home. I was in bed when Fiona texted that it was a boy. I called through, spoke to TB, who sounded very happy about it. I heard the baby and TB said ‘Here you are, Leo, talk to your spin doctor.’

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gustavus von Holst

Today marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Gustavus Theodore von Holst, British composer of The Planets, one of the Western world’s most famous and popular pieces of music. He was a consummate man of music, not only a composer, but a conductor, a concert trombone player, and a pioneering teacher. From his early 30s, he began to keep appointment diaries which, from the end of World War I, according to one biographer, ‘become true diaries’. The title of the biography promises ‘Diary Excerpts’, unfortunately there are so few quoted extracts, and none of any length, it is impossible to get a sense of Holst the diarist.

Holst was born in Cheltenham, England, on 21 September 1874. His father, a professional musician, was of mixed European ancestry with many musicians among his forefathers. His mother, too, was talented musically. When she died in 1882, his father remarried. Gustav was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School, where he learned various instruments and began composing. On leaving school, he studied counterpoint in Oxford for a short time with George Frederick Sims, before taking his first job as an organist and choirmaster. In late 1891, he gave a first public piano recital (by when he was using the shortened name Gustav), with his father, in Cheltenham. And, the following year, music he had written for a Gilbert and Sullivan-style operetta was performed in the town.

Holst moved to London in 1893, to study at the Royal College of Music, winning a scholarship in his third year, and supporting himself by playing trombone in London theatres, and at seaside resorts during the summers. At the College, he studied, in particular, composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. Richard Wagner’s music soon became an important influence on his emerging style; but, it was Ralph Vaughan Williams, who he met in 1895, and who become a lifelong friend, who would have more influence on his music than anyone else.

Although he had had some compositions performed and published, Holst needed to earn money, and he wanted to work as a performer. He took posts as organist in various London churches, and, on leaving the College in 1898, he played the trombone in the Carl Rosa Opera Company and toured with Scottish Opera. He married Isobel Harrison in 1901, and they had one child, Imogen. (Imogen, who died in 1984, was a successful composer and teacher in her own right, and also kept a diary for a while when she was working with Benjamin Britten - see The Visit Aldeburgh website).

By 1903, Holst had decided he wanted to focus on composing, but, as money was still tight, he took up various teaching posts, at girls’ schools in Dulwich and Hammersmith, at Morley College, and at Passmore Edwards Settlement (now the Mary Ward Centre). His teaching would come to be seen as pioneering new ways in musical education. In composing, Holst was often inspired by literary texts - Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman, the Ramayana (having studied Sanskrit, he made his own translations). He also drew on national folk music (although his friend Williams became a more passionate exponent of folk song) and on new European music, such as that by Stravinsky. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘the cosmopolitanism of Holst’s style, rare in English music of his period, lends him a special historical significance’.

Holst tried to enlist at the outbreak of the First World War, but was rejected as unfit for military service. He continued teaching, and it was during this period (1914-1916) that he composed what would become his most famous piece of music - The Planets. In 1918, he was taken on by the YMCA to be a volunteer musical organiser for troops, based in Thessaloniki, Greece. His teaching employers gave him a leave of absence, but the YMCA were worried about his German-sounding name, von Holst, so he changed it by deed pole to Holst. On returning to Britain, he took up additional teaching posts, at Reading university, and, with Williams, at the Royal College of Music.

In the early 1920s, Holst found himself immensely popular, not only because of The Planets, which had found success across the Atlantic, but with The Hymn of Jesus and The Perfect Fool. He undertook a lecturing and conducting tour in the US, but then the strain of being in demand for conducting, teaching, and working on his compositions, led to a kind of breakdown. On the instructions of his doctor, he cancelled all professional engagements in 1924, after which he only resumed teaching at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. Some later works, such as the First Choral Symphony and Egdon Heath, were not so well received by critics and audiences as his earlier works. In 1927, Cheltenham organised a Holst Festival.

In his final years, Holst continued to make gruelling conducting and lecturing tours to the US (including at Yale in 1929 and at Harvard in 1932) and to compose (A Choral Fantasia, for example, and, for the pupils at St Paul’s, Brook Green Suite). After his 1932 trip, however, he fell ill; and he died in early 1934. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Kenric Taylor’s Holst website, or Music Sales Classical,

Holst left behind a large volume of letters which were employed by Jon Ceander Mitchell (professor at University of Massachusetts Boston) to construct a biography. This was published in 2001 by the New York-based Edwin Mellen Press (which describes itself as a non-subsidy academic publisher, but has also been described by others as a vanity press). In his book - A Comprehensive Biography of Composer Gustav Holst with Correspondence and Diary Excerpts - Mitchell states: ‘In addition to the letters, Holst left a plethora of other primary sources of information. Extant diaries begin in 1912. At first Holst used these simply as appointment books but, beginning with his eight-month stint with the British YMCA at the end of World War I, they become true diaries which give us details about daily events in the composer’s life. Closely related to the Diaries are Holst’s surviving Notebooks, which begin in 1913. These contain Holst’s “laundry lists,” often referring to plans for international travel, but sometimes containing some of the composer’s innermost thoughts.’

However, in apparent contradiction to his title, Mitchell rarely includes any diary excerpts in the book. He does use the diaries extensively to source facts about Holst’s movements and activities, and, very occasionally, includes a quoted phrase. As for actual excerpts, a sentence or more long, I could find only one! Here is that one diary excerpt, and a couple of extracts from Mitchell’s book where he mentions Holst’s diary.

16 November 1915 [waiting for a boat from southern Italy to Corfu]
‘Visit officials and buy food for boat in morning. Get on board 2PM via small boat.
Boat supposed to start at 5 PM
Passage [supposed to] last 15 hours
Boat does not start at all. Hung up all night.’

Mitchell says Holst took his teaching at Harvard seriously: ‘He followed through, keeping tabs not only with the progress of the individuals, but also with the progress of the classes as a whole. Diary entries confirm this, from “small class and little work” [23 February] to “good class with lots of work.” [25 February] Holst’s concerns for and frustrations incurred from his students affected him more and more as the term progressed. His diary entry for Wednesday, March 2 confirms this: “evening concert of my pupils’ music with subsequent bad nights.” ’

Mitchell says: ‘The classical symphonic cycle had always interested Holst, yet it had always befuddled him. To this point he had made four attempts [. . .] His fifth and final attempt was to have been an orchestral symphony. In late 1932, possibly at Durham Cathedral, he had written sketches for an Allegro, an Adagio, and a Finale. Preliminary sketches for the Scherzo came later, on March 22, 1933, when he was bedridden at Elm Crescent. According to his Diary entries, Holst began actual work on the rough draft on Sunday, July 30th and finished it on Friday, August 18th. One month later, on September 16th, he finished the two-piano version of the Scherzo. [. . .] In spite of a rather abrupt ending, the Scherzo, at just over five minutes, is long enough to stand on its own as an independent composition. As such, it is Holst’s last completed work.’

Scenery fantastic - like home

A few days ago, it was Reinhold Messner’s 70th birthday (see below), and today it is the 90th anniversary of the birth of Messner’s hero, Hermann Buhl - both climbers marked, in particular, by their experiences on Nanba Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. Some of the content of Buhl’s expedition diaries - including entries written in the days prior to his famous ascent of Nanba Parbart - has been made public thanks to a book co-authored by Messner.

Buhl was born in Innsbruck, the youngest of four children, on 21 September 1924. After the death of his mother, he spent years in an orphanage. He appears to have been a sensitive and sickly teenager, but took up climbing, and, in 1939, joined the Innsbruck chapter of the Deutscher Alpenverein (the German Alpine association). He was soon mastering the most difficult climbs, and became a member of the local mountain rescue team. World War II interrupted his studies, and he did service with the Alpine troops, seeing action in Italy before being taken prisoner by US troops. After the war, he returned to Innsbruck where he trained as a mountain guide, and made many spectacular climbs in the Alps, often solo.

In 1951, Buhl married Eugenie Högerle and they would have three daughters. In late 1952, he was invited to participate in the Austro-German “Willy Merkl Memorial” Expedition to Nanga Parbat (Merkl had led a fatal expedition to the mountain in 1934). Up to this time, no one had yet reached the peak, and 31 people had died trying. The expedition was organised by Merkl’s half-brother, Karl Herrligkoffer from Munich, but the expedition leader was Peter Aschenbrenner, from Innsbruck. Buhl made mountaineering history when, on 3 July, having seen his companions turn back, he reached the summit, solo, and without oxygen. It was 40 hours before he managed to return to camp, having bivouacked during darkness, standing upright on a narrow ledge.

In 1957, Buhl became the first man to be the first to the top of two eight-thousander peaks, when he reached the summit of Broad Peak with an Austrian team led by Marcus Schmuck. This was accomplished in the so-called Alpine style, without the aid of supplemental oxygen, high altitude porters or even base camp support. Two weeks later, Buhl fell to his death when he and another of the team attempted to climb nearby Chogolisa Peak.

Buhl’s book, Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, published in English by Hodder and Stoughton in 1981, has become a classic of the genre. It is not freely available online (as far as I know), but a more staid book - Nanga Parbat, incorporating the Official Report of the Expedition of 1953 by Herrligkoffer - can be found at Internet Archive, and includes Buhl’s own account of his ascent. There is not very much biographical information about Buhl freely available online and in English, but try Adventure Journal, or the Alpinist (complete with a graphic biography). More complete information is available in German at Helmut Schmidt’s website dedicated to Buhl; and the Italian Wikipedia biography has some photographs.

Buhl kept expedition diaries during most of his climbs, including the famous Nanga Parbat ascent. Although these have not been published separately, they have been used, and quoted from extensively, in Hermann Buhl - Climbing without Compromise by Reinhold Messner and Horst Hofler, published by The Mountaineers in 2000. (See also the recent Diary Review article, Death on Nanga Parbat, for more on Messner who was much influenced by Buhl.)

The book, Climbing without Compromise, starts with various essays about Buhl, including homages by Messner and Hofler, but the substance of the book consists of original texts written by Buhl himself, essays and reports on his climbs, and some diaries: three early ones (1941, 1942-43 and 1944-50) and two expedition diaries from the 1953 ascent of Nanga Parbat. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs, and includes an appendix of Buhl’s route climbs.

Part of the authors’ commentary with regard to the 1953 Austro-German expedition to Nanga Parbat is as follows: ‘Although Buhl is superior by far to all the members of the expedition team, he must first fit into the group. If anyone is capable of conquering Nanga Parbat, it is he. Buhl’s diary entries, written in the tent at the high camps and down at base camp, contain the true essence of the man and give us an insight like no other document into the daily expedition routine - at times very wearing - and even into the subsequent division of the team. We discover quite a lot about the lack of organization on the part of the leadership, and about the bigotry of the few dilettantes, who first try to stop the brilliant Buhl at base camp and who then want to monopolize him after his success. The narrow-minded way in which they try to force Buhl into the yoke of their group mentality is material for psychologists. It is a good thing that Buhl is not a man who would let himself be forced into anything.’

Here are a few extracts from Buhl’s expedition diary as quoted in the Messner/Hofler book.

12 May 1953
‘Wonderful path through pine woods, completely, wildly romantic, reminds me of Karwendel. First view of Nanga. Fairy-tale meadows, really fantastically beautiful. Temporary camp in a moraine hollow at the edge of the woods.

At 12 o’clock the dispatching of the coolies begins. Wild chaos, wild shouting. A large tent and two normal tents are pitched. Approximate height 3700 meters. Scenery fantastic, just like home.’

31 May 1953
‘Base camp.
. . . Peter, who is out hunting, comes back in the afternoon, asks about Kuno and then lays into me because everyone is doing exactly as he pleases. If we don’t want to obey the orders we should go on our own . . .

As Peter says nothing to me about going up, I ask him again. As my altimeter is broken and we only have one between four, as opposed to Base Camp where there are four altimeters, I would like to swap mine, also on the wishes of the others. After asking several times and being told we could manage with one, I eventually get Albert’s. I don’t even want to mention the map - although there are five of those at Base Camp.

As I set off Peter tells me not to be such an egoist. I don’t really understand and ask why. He finally says it’s because of the altimeter. It’s all too much for me so I give it back to him and leave. Peter calls me and then comes after me. Gives me the altimeter back and tells me not to be so childish, he had put himself out for me, and after all they were not dependent on me, and could manage without me, whereupon I leave. It takes me 50 minutes to get to Camp 1, it is snowing heavily again. Walter is waiting for me up there.’

21 June 1953
‘Camp 4
High winds during the night. Entrance under a meter of windblown snow, tent no longer visible at all. Set off at 8:30 with a 100 m rope up the Rakhiot ice wall. Stretched it out with other bits of gear at the bottom, but still 30 m short of the bergschrund. Traverse behind the Rakhiot Shoulder prepared: smooth ice . . . Cut many steps, weather good but windy.

Then a diagonal traverse up brittle snow to Rakhiot Peak. Strong wind and cold. Climbed the last needle, IV, without gloves; just like being at home. First seven thousander, 7070 m. Otto stayed down below.

Over the summit, down the other side without rope. Wonderful view to Silbersattel and Nanga, particularly the South Face above the fog.

Climbed down to Moor’s Head, left snow shovel behind. Mist whipping up the ridge. Traverse back to Rakhiot Face. Send Otto back to cook something while I cut a ladder of steps down the Face. Three porters, Hermann and Kuno are at the Camp. I arrive at 7 o’clock but no food is ready yet. There are two tents in the hollow.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go to Camp 5. I’m already looking forward to it.’

1 July 1953
‘Camp 4
Set off for Camp 4 at 6 a.m., Walter, Hans and I with three porters. Otto stays at Camp 3 for another day. He does not feel very well and wants to rest up for another day and follow on with Madi the next day. Wonderful weather, no clouds as far as you can see, haze in the valley, best indication of a lasting period of good weather. Minus 20 degrees in the morning, deep snow, difficult to break trail.

Three walkie-talkie calls with Base Camp. Order to retreat; we should rest and then follow new orders for attack. Do not say what those orders are. We don’t even consider climbing down, we’ve never been in such good shape.

Aschenbrenner still at Base Camp. He’s still officially the mountaineering leader, although he handed the task over to Walter days ago. Conversations with a very agitated Ertl end with the message “kiss my arse,” and we continue. Ertl makes us aware that they will have cause to thank us one day . . . Midday at Camp 4. Totally snowed up, first have to dig everything out, very arduous. Then Hans and I each take a 100 m rope and climb up the Rakhiot Face with them, fix them on the traverse to the Moor’s Head and climb down again, while Walter busies himself with the porters, fitting crampons, etc. Back at Camp 4 again at 7 p.m. Slept well all night.’

There is a further entry quoted, for 2 July, and then Messner/Hofler say: ‘Hermann Buhl recorded the summit approach in his diary as far as the Bazhin Gap. The entries end abruptly with the words “Enormous cornice, really hard, steep rock ridge.” ’ They then include one (of several) essays written subsequently by Buhl about his ascent on 3 July.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The fifth Beatle

Brian Epstein, legendary manager of the Beatles who died in his early 30s from a drug overdose, would have been 80 today. He lived a hectic business schedule and a complicated private life, being an active gay when homosexuality was still illegal. He left some early diaries/notebooks with his then-bodyguard and chauffeur Bryan Barrett, who sold them at auction in 2000. A good description of these notebooks and their content can be found online thanks to the auctioneers, Christie’s, and to a Beatles fan blog, A moral to this song.

Epstein was born in Liverpool into a small Jewish family on 19 September 1934. His father, Harry, was the son of an East European immigrant who had started a furniture store in the city. Brian’s mother, who everyone called Queenie, came from the successful Hyman furniture family. Brian was moved around from one boarding school to another, being expelled from some. He spent two years at Wrekin College, but then was apprenticed at 16 before joining the family firm.

After a brief spell of national service, three terms at the RADA theatre school, and some department store experience in London, Epstein returned to the family business. Harry put him in charge of the ground floor, in the family’s newly opened store (NEMS) on Great Charlotte Street, where he sold musical instruments, among other things, and gramophone records. This must have suited him because the shop soon become one of the largest music outlets in the North of England. Epstein then opened a second store in Whitechapel, not far, in fact, from the Cavern Club.

Epstein first came into contact with the Beatles (John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Pete Best) in late 1961, at the Cavern Club. By early December, he had proposed to manage them; and a first contract was signed a few weeks later in January 1962 (which sold at auction in 2008 for £240,000), and another in October. He formed a management company NEMS Enterprises before signing Lennon and McCartney to a three year NEMS publishing contract, and, within days of that, the Beatles had released their first single Love Me Do.

Despite having no previous experience of managing performers, Epstein did much to mould the Beatles dress and stage presence, and to win them a record contract. After being rejected by many record companies, he persuaded EMI to give the Beatles a deal with its Parlophone label, paying (initially) just 1p per record sold. A first recording session at EMI’s Abbey Road studios took place in June 1962. Pete Best was dismissed by Epstein soon after, and replaced by Ringo Starr, who was already well known to the others. Epstein also organised a hectic shedule of performance tours, as well as appearances for television and film. Epstein’s role in ‘making’ the Beatles has been widely acknowledged in recent years, with McCartney, for example, stating in 1998, ‘If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian’. But, in the 1960s, when MBEs were awarded to the four Beatles he was not so honoured.

Epstein seemed to flourish in the new world of pop stars, and as busy as he was with the Beatles, he also successfully managed other groups, like Gerry and the Pacemakers, and singers such as Cilla Black. He did not settle in London until 1965, after when he bought the lease to the Saville Theatre and promoted new plays by young writers, including Arnold Wesker. His personal life, however, was one of unfettered and growing attachments to drugs, gambling, and a promiscuous homosexual life. Although it was not public knowledge until after his death in 1967, Epstein’s homosexuality was an open secret among his friends. Lennon is said to have quipped that Epstein’s autobiography (2004, and ghostwritten by his assistant), A Cellarful of Noise, should have been titled A Cellarful of Boys. Epstein died from a drugs overdose in August 1967, he was only 32 years old. Further information is readily available online at the official Brian Epstein website, Wikipedia, or The Beatles Bible.

Epstein left behind 13 notebooks written between 1949 and 1963, according to amoralto (a Beatles fan blog). Three of these (along with other memorabilia) were put up for auction, at Christie’s London, in 2000 by Bryan Barrett. Barrett (who had also made the notebooks available for a 1998 TV documentary on Epstein) was quoted as saying: ‘It is now well over 30 years since his death and I no longer feel that anyone who was close to him could be hurt by the revelations.’ The diaries fetched £3,290. The auction notes (still freely available online) included information about, and extracts from, all three diaries. Amoralto has republished these notes, and found a few extra quotes (from other notebooks) in archived newspaper articles. Here, though, is the substance of the notes provided by Christie’s in 2000.

Lot notes: ‘The insight these highly personal and tortured notes give us into Epstein’s formative years cannot be overestimated. The mental anguish his sexual orientation caused him, combined with his interest in style as evidenced by his dress and furniture designs, executed in his late teens, give fuel to the thought that Epstein was a talented man who had the misfortune to be born at the wrong time.’

First notebook (59 pages)
‘The earliest of the three notebooks begins with an entry dated October 18th, 1950 Thoughts on Things, the following six pages written in the same month give a poignant insight into sixteen-year-old Epstein’s unhappy school life at Wrekin College in Shropshire, entries include:
 - “To be a success at school one must above all be either distinctly original or good at games (all of them). Intellects of a quiet nature are at school invariably a failure. . .”
- “ ‘Playing Soldiers’ . . . in what is presumed to be an intellectual establishment is . . . futile and childish . . . and a waste of anybody’s time. . .”
- “Depression is the route of all great and important thought”
- “The majority of school boys are lyers . . . Public schools as such encourage lying however they fail to realise it.”

Epstein’s schoolboy thoughts also reflect his interest in modern art, architecture and jazz; the second half of this notebook is filled with Epstein’s pencil and ink designs for furniture, dresses, evening and day outfits and a wedding dress, on several pages Epstein also practises his flamboyant signature in blue ink.’

Second notebook (19 pages)
‘In the second notebook, written in ink in 1957 at the age of twenty-three, Epstein gives a brutally honest account of his life to date, tracing the development of his homosexuality culminating in his arrest for soliciting in 1957, in the first half entitled “Background and History” Epstein outlines the misery of his unsettled school life, moving between nine different schools, the combination of frequent poor reports and entrance exam failures generating his low self-esteem

“The matter of always attaining low marks, being bottom of the class and receiving poor reports and other factors contributed in my thinking of myself even then as a failure, dullard and inferior person . . .”

He was briefly happy in his penultimate school [Claysmore School in Somerset]: “The first half of that third term was I think perhaps the only entirely happy and contented period in my life . . .”

He discusses arguments he had with his parents regarding his artistic leanings and his desire to go to acting school rather than the family business, the personal agony he experienced whilst serving in the army during his National Service in 1952: “I venomously hated nearly everything about the army and suffered at the merciless hands of the R.S.M.”

The development of his awareness of his own latent homosexuality and the misery and mental anguish the suppression of his feelings brought him, writing that in 1954 whilst working in the family business: “My life became a succession of mental illnesses and sordid unhappy events bringing great sorrow to my family . . .”

In the final eleven pages of the notebook Epstein gives a harrowing account of how he was set-up by the police and arrested for Persistently Importuning. After the horror of this experience Epstein wrote philosophically: “I do not think I am an abnormally weak-willed person - the effort and determination with which I have rebuilt my life these last few months have, I assure you, been no mean effort. I believed that my own will-power was the best thing with which to overcome my homosexuality. And I believe my life may have become contented and I may even have attained a public success . . .”

His bitterness at the injustice of his treatment is expressed in his closing comments: “I am not sorry for myself. My worst times and punishments are over. Now, through the wreckage of my life by society, my being will stain and bring the deepest distress to all my devoted family and few friends. the damage, the lying criminal methods of the police in importuning me and consequently capturing me leaves me cold, stunned and finished . . .”

This autobiographical account, clearly written before Epstein had received a verdict, ends with instructions he would like to be followed should he be remanded or given a prison sentence, the feelings of sympathy this frank account provokes are enhanced by the dignity of his closing comment: “I must apologise for my writing which I realise is difficult to read. I was unable to procure a typewriter and my hand is nervous.” ’

Third notebook (five pages)
‘The third notebook comprises four handwritten accounts of Epstein’s visits to various cities and restaurants in 1960; in the first entry apparently written after consuming five whiskies, Epstein expresses a desire: to rid himself “of hum drum, dreary god-forsaken surburbia”; [and] for the joys of Rome and his aspirations to join “that very attractive utterly ridiculous little group that call themselves . . . the International set”. In his final entry, Epstein confesses to being robbed in Barcelona adding rather poignantly: “But, I ask, is this my fault? Yes I think because I behaved foolishly and irresponsibly.” ’

See also Lennon and Linda McCartney

Thursday, September 18, 2014

York Factory lady

Letitia Hargrave, firstborn daughter of a Scottish lawyer, married a Hudson Bay Company trader and left behind her privileged life to travel to Canada and live as a pioneer in York Factory, a settlement and fur trade post on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay. Although Letitia died young - 160 years ago today - she left behind letters, published a century later, which have become historically important as a primary source of information about that period of Canadian history. The published book of her letters also includes a brief diary, written during her journey across the Atlantic.

Letitia was born in Edinburgh, in 1813, the eldest of nine children in a wealthy family. Her father, Dugald Mactavish, was a lawyer, and a sherriff of Argyllshire; and the Mactavish family was well-established in the North American fur trade. One of Letitia’s brothers, William, was posted to York Factory, on Hudson Bay, Manitoba, where he became friends with the chief trader, James Hargrave. When Hargrave travelled to Scotland in 1837, he was warmly received by the Mactavish family, and formed a relationship with Letitia. The two were married in 1840, and Letitia travelled to York Factory with her new husband in June/July that year.

Letitia and James had several children, although a second son died soon after being born. In 1851-1852, the family moved to Sault Ste, but, on 18 September 1854, Letitia died of cholera. Further information is available from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and Wikipedia.

Most of what is known about Letitia, however, comes from a collection of her letters - The Letters of Letitia Hargrave - edited by Margaret Arnett Macleod, and published in 1947 by The Champlain Society (whose mission is ‘to increase public awareness of, and accessibility to, Canada’s rich store of historical records’). Letitia’s letters, written to her family in Britain, are considered historically important as a primary source of information about the life of pioneer women in Canada in the mid-19th century.

The Letters of Letitia Hargrave is freely available to read online at The Champlain Society digital collection hosted by the University of Toronto. Although almost all the book consists of Letitia’s letters, a few pages are devoted to a diary she kept on board the Prince Rupert when travelling from Britain to North American in June and July 1840. Here are a few extracts.

25 June 1840
‘In bed all day yesterday and great part of today. Ship pitching so that we could not dress. The most provoking part is that we have been beating about waiting till the Prince of Wales came out of Stornaway. Mr Hargrave and the Captain went on board of her lest any letters might have been forwarded there from Stromness, but only got a parcel of shortbread from Captain Royal for the ladies here. Nice food for 4 sea sick women. Never knew what sailing was before.’

2 July 1840
‘Shoals of bottle nosed whales playing about the ship. Wind has been westerly ever since we left Orkney.’

7 July 1840
‘On Thursday the wind began and we have had a constant gale since. No sail almost and at night close reefed. The captain says he never saw such a sea, but the waves are whole like large broad hills, lost our jib - sea getting better.’

11 July 1840
‘Second pig killed today. Fresh pork and fowls tho’ the latter old and tough. We have only had salt beef once on board.’

12 July 1840
‘All the ducks and geese are allowed to walk about deck on Sunday. Miserable objects, their bills white and whole appearance wasted. When they got out they picked their feathers and ducked down on the deck thinking themselves in the water. Mr Bolton likened the procession to Bells Sunday School - I shall note down a week’s bill of fare as we have a diet for every day. Breakfast ham and egg potatoes, tea and coffee biscuit and treacle which we always have morning and evening. Dinner. Fowl soup boiled hens, roast ducks, salt pork, plum pudding, always mashed potatoes, cheese wine almonds raisins and figs. Crossing the American line.’

22 July 1840
‘Went on deck before 8am to see a large ice berg. Miss Allan describes it as being like a hay stack. It was about 160 feet above water and an oblong square plenty of ice all round.’

26 July 1840
‘Resolution Island seen from top the entrance to the straits.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Death on Nanga Parbat

Happy birthday Reinhold Messner, 70 years old today. An Italian mountaineer, dubbed by some as the greatest climber in history, he was the first to make a solo ascent of Mount Everest without additional oxygen, and he was the first to climb all 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 metres. The first of these was Nanga Parbat, in the western Himalayas, in 1970. During that expedition, his brother, Günther, died. Messner has published many books, but none, as far as I know, could be classed diaries. Nevertheless, a diary, and the evidence therein, has been at the centre of a controversy blighting his fame since the early 2000s, when several colleagues on the Nanga Parbat climb broke a long silence to claim that, contrary to Messner’s account, he had, in fact, been responsible for his brother’s death.

Messner was born in Brixen, in the very north of Italy, on 17 September 1944, and grew up, fluent in Italian and German, in nearby Villnöß. He was part of a large family, with many brothers; and his father was a teacher. From the age of 13, he began climbing with his younger brother Günther, and by their early 20s, it is said, they were already among the best climbers in Europe. Inspired by the Austrian mountaineer, Hermann Buhl (the first man to climb Nanga Parbat), Messner embraced the so-called alpine style of climbing, with light equipment and a minimum of external help.

In 1970, Messner undertook his first major climb, an ascent of Nanga Parbat. Alhough he and Günther succeeded in ascending the unclimbed Rupal face, Günther lost his life on the descent. (Messner himself lost several toes to frostbite, which meant he could not climb on rock as well, so, thereafter, he focused on higher mountains where the climbing was mostly on ice.) At the time, he was attacked by others for having persisted on the climb even though his brother was less experienced, and these accusations led to various disputes and lawsuits. In 1971, he returned to the mountain to look for his brother.

In the next few years, Messner succeeded in climber two further eight-thousanders, before ascending Everest in 1978 without supplemental oxygen. Two years later, he made a second Everest ascent, this time solo and without oxygen. He continued climbing the eight-thousanders through to 1986 by when he had become the first man to climb all fourteen of them without supplemental oxygen. After that, Messner eschewed climbing high mountains, preferring to undertake more unusual expeditions, such as skiing across the Antartic (1989-1990), and, more recently (2004), walking across the Gobi Desert.

Messner has written over 60 books, many translated into other languages, including English, with titles such as Free Spirit: A Climber’s Life; The Crystal Horizon: Everest - The First Solo Ascent; All Fourteen 8,000ers; My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas’ Deepest Mystery; and The Big Walls: From the North Face of the Eiger to the South Face of Dhaulagiri. He served as an MEP for the Italian Green Party between 1999 and 2004; he helped found the international NGO, Mountain Wilderness; and he now devotes most of his time to the Messner Mountain Museum, which is located at five different sites in Northern Italy.

There is some biographical material about Messner available in English on the internet, at Wikipedia, for example, at Badass of the Week, and at Youtube (interview in English), but there are also plenty of published books about his life, not least one being published by Mountaineer Books in two weeks time, Reinhold Messner: My Life at the Limit.

Although Messner has written many books about his climbing life, none, as far as I can tell, contain actual diary material. However, 30 years after his successful but tragic climb on Nanga Parbat, the controversy over his role in Günther’s death resurfaced. In 2002, Messner published The Naked Mountain, a retelling of the 1970 Nanga Parbat expedition. Even before its publication, though, several of the team’s members had publicly announced they disputed many of the details in Messner’s account. Two of his fellow team members (including Max von Kienlin) published their own books, in Germany, claiming that Messner held far more responsibility for his brother’s death than he had admitted. Messner reacted furiously, and the charges and counter-charges were played out in the European press.

Good summaries of the dispute can be found in 2004 articles in National Geographic and The Guardian, a 2005 article in Men’s Journal, and a 2006 article in Outside. The details are fairly intricate, 
but in summary are as National Geographic explains: ‘While Messner claims he led his flagging brother down the Diamir Face as a last resort, some teammates charge that he had planned a solo ascent and traverse of the mountain from early on in the expedition. He had even talked openly about it to his teammates (though not, of course, to expedition leader Herrligkoffer). Americans Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein had become instant legends with their traverse of Everest in 1963. To complete a comparable traverse of Nanga Parbat - solo - would make Messner a mountaineering celebrity on a par with his hero Hermann Buhl. Messner’s critics believe he was so focused on that goal that he placed it ahead of caring for his flagging brother.’

The evidence against Messner depends largely on von Kienlin’s diary, which he reproduces at length in his book, The Traverse: Günther Messner’s Death on Nanga ParbatMessner, though, claims von Kienen faked the diary pages and added them at a later stage. Messner has also made much play of the locations at which gruesome remains of his brother (first a leg bone, then a boot, then a headless corpse) were found to bolster his own account. Here is a good explanation of the role von Kienlin’s diary has played in the controversy, again from the 2004 National Geographic article.

‘Messner says he’s convinced that two crucial pages of von Kienlin’s diary are fake - written in 2002 or 2003 on “old paper” and stitched into the journal as if penned in 1970. Charlie Buffet, one of Europe’s leading mountaineering journalists, asked Messner about the diary during an interview for Le Monde in late January 2004. (Buffet also assisted in reporting this article.) Messner’s response was blistering: “Yesterday, I was on television in Berlin, and I said publicly that this liar has falsified his journal. If that’s not true, he can sue me. And show his journal, so that I can prove he falsified it and he will go to prison.”

The most devastating charge in von Kienlin’s book, however, concerns the conversations he says he had with Messner himself. The diary describes an anguished talk the two friends had, soon after being reunited in Gilgit, in which the distraught Messner says: “ ‘I’ve lost Günther! I called for him. I don’t know why he couldn’t hear me. Maybe he was in bad shape. Maybe he didn’t manage [to climb down]. Maybe he even fell. My God, I didn’t want that!’ ”

The diary depicts Messner as having been overcome with doubts and regret, wailing, “ ‘Perhaps I should have gone with him, because alone, he wasn’t capable of it. Why did he follow me? Why?’ He hides his face in his hands.”

Then von Kienlin’s account adds a stunning twist: Since the tortured Messner is almost incapable of talking, von Kienlin writes, “I feel obligated to guide him.” Messner doesn’t know what to say to their leader, Karl Herrligkoffer, so von Kienlin proposes a face-saving fabrication: “ ‘You must not tell K that you intended to make the traverse.’ ”

According to von Kienlin, he himself proffered the fiction that Günther was lost in an avalanche low on the Diamir Face - and understood that he must keep an eternal silence about the ruse.

Messner’s response, as recorded in the diary: “R pulls himself together. ‘You’re right.’ He looks at me with clear eyes.”