Monday, July 25, 2016

Libertie of the kirk

James Melville, a teacher and protestant activist, was born all of 460 years ago today. He was the son of a Scottish minister, and nephew to Andrew Melville a leader of the Presbyterian movement, but he is best remembered for his diary which presents ‘a vivid and intimate portrait of church life’ in Scotland at the time, and is a prime source of biographical information about his uncle.

Melville was born on 25 July 1556, son of the minister of Maryton, Angus, Scotland. He was sent to school in nearby Montrose, and was taught the rudiments of languages, before entering St Leonard’s College, St Andrews, where he matriculated in 1570. After university, also in St Andrews, he was invited by his uncle, Andrew Melville, a Presbyterian, to teach at Glasgow University. From 1875, he taught Greek classics, maths and philosophy, but then, in 1850, moved, again following his uncle, back to St Andrews, St Mary’s College, where he mostly taught Hebrew. He married Elizabeth Durie in 1853, and they would have six children.

The following year, Andrew Melville fled to England, and soon after his nephew also (in fear of actions against Presbyterians directed by bishop Patrick Adamson). However, the tide turned against Adamson and by the following year the Melvilles were back in St Andrews. In October 1586, James Melville was made minister of Anstruther and Kilkenny in Fife. In 1590 he was appointed as a commissioner for preserving and promoting protestantism in Fife. He published several religious works; and in 1594, with his uncle, he accompanied King James I on an expedition against the northern Roman Catholic earls.

As moderator of the General Assembly in 1589, Melville opposed James’s episcopal schemes. Indeed, the latter part of his life was blighted because of his ongoing opposition to royal supremacy over matters ecclesiastical - not least by being detained for some years outside Scotland. After the death of his wife, he married again in 1612, but then died himself in 1614. Further information is available form Wikipedia or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Parts of James Melville’s diary were first included in David Calderwood’s 1678 History of the Kirk of Scotland, but the diary itself was given a first printing by the Bannatyne Club in 1829, and then by the Wodrow Society in 1842. The latter was edited by Robert Pitcairn and entitled The Autobiography and Diary of Mr James Melvill, with a continuation of the Diary (volume 1 and volume 2 both freely available at Internet Archive). According to the ODNB, the diary ‘paints an admiring picture of one of its leading figures, his uncle Andrew, and presents a vivid and intimate portrait of church life which is generally faithful to the facts.’ It is also an important primary source for Andrew Melville’s biographers.

Here are two extracts, though the spelling and language (as reproduced in the the 1842 edition) are rather archaic - as far as I can tell there are no modern versions.

27 April 1597
‘The 27 of Apryll, anno 1597, Mr Robert Pont, Moderator of the last lawfull Generall Assemblie, cam to St Androis of purpose to keipe the dyat apointed for the Generall Assemblie; bot finding nan convenit ther bot the Province of Fyff, cam to the New Collage Scholl, the place apointed for the said Assemblie, and ther, efter incalling of the nam of God, and humble confessioun of sine, that haid procured that brak and desolatioun, cravit mercie, and fensit the Assemblie ther ordourlie in the name of God, taking notes and documents of protestatioun for the libertie of the Kirk. But, alas! even then that libertie began to be almost lost! For thairefter, to utter it in a word, whar Chryst gydit befor, the Court began then to govern all; whar pretching befor prevalit, then polecie tuk the place; and, finalie, whar devotioun and halie behaviour honoured the Minister, then began pranking at the chare, and pratling in the ear of the Prince, to mak the Minister to think him selff a man of estimatioun!’

5 May 1609
‘The Commissiouneris foirsaid conveinit in the morneing, at the place befoir nameit; and, efter prayer, the Moderator propounit that ane on aither syde sould be nameit and appoyntit to reassoun the first questioun. Mr Patrick Galloway, being deeyrit to speik, answerit, that it wes most convenient to reassoun the matter be wrytt: First, For eschewing of jealousie, idle, and hait speiches, superfluous digressiounes, and impertinent discourses, quhairby Brither mycht be irritat, and tyme unprofitabilly spent: 2dly, For avoyding different reportis to be maid be the Brither of different judgmentis efter the Conference endit: And, thairfoir, he desirit the uthir pairtie, that they would schortlie and cleirly sett downe thair oppinioune in Articles, tuiching that matter, and Reassounes quhairby they would confirme the same; promiseing that the said Oppiniounes and Reassounes sould be plainelie and brotherlie answerit, so succinctlie as wes possibill to be concivit and expressit be thame in wrytt. Maney thingis wer objectit againes that answer and offer; but all the objectiounes wer answerit. And so, the Ministeres, standing constantlie to their resolutioune, the uthir partic desirit that they mycht advyse among thamselff annent the premisses: Unto the quhilk desyre the Ministeres aggrieit, and removit thame selffis; and the uther partie, with his Majestie’s Commissiouner, sat still.’

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Diary briefs

Diary of a pyramid builder! - Mail Online

Battlefield Surgeon - University Press of Kentucky, The Daily Beast

Abolitionist’s diary goes online - Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philly Voice

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary - W. W. Norton, Oregon Live

Appeal to buy Shenandoah officer’s diary - State Library Victoria, ABC.net

Why I killed my children - Daily Mail

Anaïs Nin reading from her diary - Open Culture

Great War Somme diary - Staffordshire Newsroom

Stonington war diary auctioned - The Westerly Sun

Václav Havel prison diaries - Radio Praha

Diary of young Philippine hero - Inquirer

Housewife behind enemy lines - Manchester Evening News

Bobby Sands film based on diaries - The Irish News

Diary exposes fake bill scam - Bangalore Mirror

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vice-chancellor Priestley

‘The Emperor blubber itself has a very delicate flavour. As a treat this morning Campbell gave us each a small strip of Emperor’s breast done as a filet-de-boeuf, with a small piece of fat on top, and it was an excellent change after the unvarying stews we have had for months.’ This is Raymond Priestley, born 130 years ago today, writing in his diary while holed up in Antartica with the so-called Northern Party of Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition. The Northern Party survived two winters in the region, and Priestley went on to become a highly respected university administrator, and to maintain his diary habit all his working life.

Priestley was born, on 20 July 1886, into a Methodist family in Tewkesbury, England. His father was headmaster of the local grammar school. While studying geology at Bristol university he was recruited to Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to Antartica (1907-1909). He was also a member of Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition in 1910-1912, and subsequently wrote Antarctic Adventure. He entered Cambridge University, but when the war intervened, he served as adjutant at the Wireless Training Centre, and then with the 46th divisional signal company in France. During the war, he married Phyllis Mary, and they had two daughters. After the war, he completed his studies, as well as writing several books: Breaking the Hindenburg Line, The Work of the Royal Engineers, 1914–19: the Signal Service, and a work on glaciology. He also helped set up the Scott Polar Research Institute in the University of Cambridge in 1920.

From the 1930s, Priestley held a series of academic and government administrative posts in England, and then in Australia, in particular becoming Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne (1935-1938), and then Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University (1938-1952). In 1944, he spent several months in the West Indies with a committee from the UK tasked with investigating the possibility of setting up a university in the region. He was knighted in 1949, and retired in 1952, but continued to work in different capacities (including, for example, being president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1961 to 1963). He died in 1974. Further information can be found at the Australian Dictionary of National Biography, University of Birmingham or Wikipedia.

Priestley kept a diary throughout his life, from his Antarctic expedition days to his chancellorship of Birmingham University. He based his first book - Antarctic Adventure - on the diary he kept while with Scott’s expedition. Published by Fisher Unwin in 1914, first editions of this book can sell for over £1,000; however, it is also freely available online at Internet Archive. Although Priestley says, about half way through the narrative, that he has tried to avoid the diary form as much as possible, he then says ‘it is impossible to give a lifelike description of our routine, our thoughts, and our feelings during this abnormal life without the help of some extracts from the records written at the time’. Thereafter, he quotes liberally from his own diary.

The diaries Priestley kept while in Australia were published by Melbourne University Press in 1998 and again in 2002 as The Diary of a Vice-Chancellor: University of Melbourne 1935-1938. A review can be found at Don Atikin website. And, an excellent and detailed summary of all 14 of Priestley’s diaries held by Birmingham University, from 1938-1954, can be found on the university’s website, as can a photograph of one of the manuscript diaries. Furthermore, The University of the West Indies website offers two links to the text of a diary Priestley kept in 1944 while visiting the region. (However,  at the time of writing, the links do not seem to work.)


Here, though, are several extracts from Priestley’s diary as found in Antarctic Adventure.

22 February 1912
‘The worst of a wind is that you can do nothing to it. If you are being annoyed by a man or an animal bigger than yourself, you can at least get on the other side of a fence and throw stones at him or it, but here we are hung up by an infernally cold wind and able to do nothing against it whatever, while it is gradually tearing our tent in pieces. We are all getting less physically fit and feeling the cold more, and this is showing itself by the continual presence of cold feet, and by constant attacks of cramp in different parts of the body. It is to be hoped that the ship is all serene and not blown out north by the wind. Before the gale commenced Levick and Abbott reported that they saw a trail of smoke off the ice tongue, and we therefore think that she may be sheltering in Relief Inlet, but at times like this all of us have strong imaginations. We are all suffering very much, and myself in particular, from an almost intolerable itching of the feet when circulation is restored after they have been very cold. The barometer isn’t much use to us nowadays. As far as I can make out if it goes up it means the gale is going to be stronger, if it goes down the wind is going to increase. When the barometer remains steady the gale remains steady too. Cheerful, isn’t it?’

7 May 1912
‘While still in bed this morning we heard the gale blowing hard outside, and when we got up we found we were snowed in as we have never been before. During the morning Dickason and I tunnelled through the drift and have managed thus to extend the roof of the shaft for about 6 feet in length. We found a regular hurricane outside, but no drift. Levick and Browning have butchered three of the Emperors, and Campbell and Abbott have therefore been cooking under great difficulties, for the galley is full of meat and carcasses, and there is a bad backdraught down the chimney. We had a lot of Emperor penguin meat and blubber in the hoosh to-night. The meat has been a great success, but the blubber has made the gravy pure oil, and has beaten some of us, though I am thankful to say not myself. The Emperor blubber itself has a very delicate flavour. As a treat this morning Campbell gave us each a small strip of Emperor’s breast done as a filet-de-boeuf, with a small piece of fat on top, and it was an excellent change after the unvarying stews we have had for months. I am reading my diary of last year in monthly parts for the amusement of the company. We all find an especial, though a tantalizing pleasure in the few descriptions of meals I have entered as part of our routine at Cape Adare. We still feel the monotonous diet, but are otherwise quite reconciled to our fate.

The cave is keeping quite warm at present, and of course the insulation is much improved by each wind with drift. All the sea ice beyond the bay has gone out again, and the Drygalski Ice Tongue and the moraines are hidden by dense drift, which is just missing us except in the strongest gusts. Dickason and I were both blown down once or twice when we were standing at the entrance to the shaft.’

25 May 1912
‘Westerly wind with heavy drift continues, and we have been drifted up all day. This afternoon we had to do away with the blubber fires because of the smitch, for the drift kept on filling the chimney and preventing the draught from flowing. Afterwards Dickason started the hoosh over the primus, and this rapidly used up our limited supply of oxygen. First of all the reading-lamps went out and refused to be lighted with a flaring spill, and then the spill went out and could not be relighted at the primus. Next the primus went out and could not be relighted because the matches would not burn. By this time we were opening up the chimney and the drift at the entrance to the shaft, and Campbell drove his ice-axe through the latter with immediate relief to everybody. Since then things have gone pretty well, but we all have had bad headaches, which we had put down to the smitch, but which were more probably due directly to lack of oxygen. It is a great nuisance this new danger having arisen after we thought we had avoided the utmost malice of the weather, but it is lucky we were not caught at night and all asphyxiated in our beds. I suppose that the coating of ice which has formed on the inside of the snow-roof has spoiled the ventilation. After dinner Campbell and Abbot cleared the drift from the mouth of the shaft and pushed the flagstaff down the chimney.’

14 June 1912
‘Half a gale blowing. Clear, and stars shining. Another day in bed. Rather smitchier than usual. We have just had a word who should go out and clear the chimney and cut away a projecting piece of sealskin in our passage roof which is a constant menace to our eyes and noses, and which has perhaps been the cause of more hasty language than any other individual thing about the camp. I have not yet mentioned one essential portion of our equipment - the toothpick. Campbell is the only member of the party who still possesses a toothbrush, and the present diet is eminently suited to cause the collection of small shreds of meat between our teeth. In spite of this we are able to keep them in as good condition as we can at home by the judicious use of bamboo toothpicks with sharp points to remove the meat and of pieces of soft wood to rub the front of the teeth. These latter instruments are made from the white wood of the Fry’s chocolate boxes, and their blunt chisel ends are moistened and chewed first to secure pliability. They are rather better than a toothbrush. The hard biscuit, of course, looks after the grinding surfaces for us. I think at present that I am looking forward to a good bath and a clean up as much as I am to a good meal of bread, butter, and jam, which is saying a good deal. Another tin of oil was finished this morning. We have every reason to be satisfied with the oil consumption, which is becoming less and less, while Dickason watches over his primus like a hen over her chickens. The men are just finishing off their private sewing, and then they start work on their tents. The day after one has been messman is always the pleasantest of the three, for one feels one has earned the right to a day in bed.

To-day has been a great day of controversies. First Levick and myself found ourselves at variance about the chocolate ration, and the amount of chocolate left at Cape Adare. The second argument was whether or not one of the expedition fruit-cakes would freeze at spring sledging temperatures, and this was followed by two lengthy battles between Campbell and Levick on points of national ethics and imperial politics respectively. Finally we had a three-cornered battle as to which is the most economical and soul-satisfying way of eating one’s single biscuit. We are all three set in our own way: Campbell eats his at breakfast, Levick part at breakfast and part in each hoosh, and myself part when I feel the want of it, about midday or a little earlier, and part at dinner.’

6 July 1912
‘The worst of our day as messman is the infernal crick we get in our backs from never being able to stand upright. Mine is at present aching terribly, but the pain soon passes off in our bags.

Levick is too broad for our inner door, and we have just spent an amusing five minutes watching his attempts to get through with a joint of meat in one hand and a cooker in the other. Luckily, as a rule we run to slimness, and no one else has much trouble.

The atmosphere is becoming tolerable again, but we have ruined the pure white of the roof and wall until a few more smitchless days enable pure crystals to form over the dirty ones.

Browning has slight indigestion and Dickason has complained of a bad stitch in his side, but otherwise we are in excellent health.

We are running out of penguins and of bones for the fire, and shall be short of sea ice in a day or two, so I hope for fine weather, for the penguins especially make all the difference between palatable and monotonous hoosh.’

Monday, July 18, 2016

The battle for Okinawa

Today marks the 130the anniversary of the birth of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., who led American soldiers and marines in the Battle of Okinawa - the single bloodiest battle in US naval history. Though he had won the island of Okinawa, Buckner lost his life as the conflict was coming to an end. He left behind a notebook of diary entries about the battle which, 60 years on, was published alongside the diary of the commander who took his place.

Buckner was born on 18 July 1886 in Munfordville, Kentucky. The following year, his father, Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, would become Governor of Kentucky, and, later would try, unsuccessfully, for a seat in the senate. Buckner Jr. attended Virginia Military Institute and then West Point military academy before being commissioned in the infantry. He served in the Philippines, and then, during WWI, in the Washington D. C. offices of the air service. Thereafter, he was employed as an instructor at West Point and other establishments, developing a reputation as an exacting drillmaster.

In 1940, Buckner was promoted brigadier general (major general in 1941) and placed in command of the Alaska Defense Command, a position he held until 1944. He is said to have worked diligently with very limited resources to build air bases and train the only combat infantry unit in the area, but clashed repeatedly with the commander for the northern Pacific. He saw some action when the Japanese attacked a part of the Aleutian Islands, and proposed an advance on the enemy from Alaska - though the idea was not adopted.

Having been promoted again to lieutenant general, Buckner was sent to Hawaii to organise the 10th Army (comprising army and marine corps units), and charged with invading the strategic Ryukyu Islands. The Battle of Okinawa, between April and June 1945, was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, partly because of the ferocity of the fighting and the intensity of Japanese kamikaze attacks, but also because of the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armoured vehicles employed. Indeed, it is considered the single bloodiest conflict in the history of the US Navy. Subsequently, the US was reluctant to invade the Japanese mainland, and it decided on the use of atomic bombs.


Buckner died from some of the last Japanese shelling on the island in June 1945; he was then replaced by Joseph Stilwell. Buckner was posthumously promoted to the rank of general. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Kentucky Encyclopaedia, Remember the Deadeyes, or The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia.

Buckner left behind a logbook with handwritten diary entries of the Okinawa campaign. The military historian Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, now an associate professor at the Newport Naval War College, put Buckner’s diary together with a journal kept by his successor Stilwell and edited them for publication in 2004 by Texas A&M University Press as Seven Stars: The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Joseph Stilwell. He suggests three reasons for giving importance to the two diaries: ‘as history, these journals offer a new window into the last days of World War II’; they are a record of high-level leadership in conflict; and they provide a unique opportunity to witness the conduct of joint operations (i.e. marine and army corps). Some pages can be read at Googlebooks and at Amazon.

12 March 1944
’After lunch we went out with Adm. Turner in his barge and boarded our command ship the Eldorado. . . . We sailed shortly before six, a long looked-forward to occasion.

After sailing, Turner took me aside and dwelt on the difficulties and uncertainties of our mission which he characterized as a “son of a bitch” and asked what I thought about it. I expressed confidence and started to argue him out of his misgivings. I found then that he wasn’t worried at all, but was trying to find out if I was.

After supper, Turner talked to Post and myself about the shore party setup of the Marines whom he has less confidence in along these lines than he has in Army units. He said that the Marine shore party work at Iwo Jima was poor, particularly that of the V Corps and the 4th Div.’

6 April 1944
‘The Japanese cabinet fell today.

The northern flank continued to advance without opposition and the southern force [began] to [encounter] a strong Jap position.

During the morning Adm. Spruance came aboard and with Adm. Turner and myself conferred on the next phase of the campaign. We all were in agreement. Adm. Spruance’s flagship had recently been hit by a suicide plane whose bombs went completely through the ship, broke a propeller shaft and exploded on the other side of the vessel. He is now on the New Mexico.

From 3:30 p.m. on we were under constant air attack largely by suicide planes. Six or seven ships were hit, mostly destroyers in our picket screens. Also an ammunition ship which was abandoned.

Very few planes got to the transport area. I saw only four hit the water near our ship.

An ammunition dump blew up on Kadena airfield and a gasoline barge burned on shore - possibly from falling anti-aircraft shells that shot down a friendly plane and caused 41 casualties in shore parties.’

4 May 1944
‘Last night heavy air attacks struck Yomitan field and the fleet. Eight men were killed in a Hospital. Our CP and the field were shelled again. In the south the Japs tried to envelop both our flanks in barges and penetrate the center at the same time during the night that the air attacks came (about midnight). Each attacking force was a Bn. Naval gunfire sank the eastern Bn, the center was stopped but the western group got ashore opposite the 1st Mardiv. About 200 in one group were killed but part of another group got inland with about 80 Jap infiltrators that are still at large.

After breakfast I had a staff meeting and gave out decision regarding the capture of neighboring islands for radar stations to control planes. Adm. Turner is impatient about this, so the 2nd Mardiv will have to be used if speed is important.

Spent the day at Ie Shima. Thomas (Iscom) recovering from pneumonia. Interviewed his staff to see how I could help their project. They predict readiness of field for fighter group; May 12. Adm. Spruance sent staff officers to find out date. Our land based planes shot down 45 Jap planes today. I sent congratulatory message to Mulcahy - my third.’

Night music struck down

‘I feel as if a lovely delicate child, tender and humorous, had been knocked down by a truck and lay dying.’ This is the US playwright Clifford Odets, born 110 years ago today, commenting in his diary on the opening night reviews of his play Night Music. Though regarded as a key figure in the development of American theatre for his socially-relevant dramas, neither his name nor his plays are remembered as well as those of Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, or example, perhaps, because he gave in to pressure from McCarthy to name names, or because of, some writers suggest, his ’narrative of decline’.

Odets Was born in Philadelphia on 18 July 1906 the oldest of three children born to Jewish immigrant parents. Later the family moved to the Bronx, New York, where he went to high school, but dropped out to study acting. Having relocated to Greenwich Village, he worked in a number of jobs (such as radio elocutionist and camp drama counsellor) and performed with various theatre groups, before landing a first casting on Broadway in 1928. He worked with the Theatre Guild for a bit, and was then selected, in 1931, to join the newly formed Group Theatre. Famously, this based its performances on the kind of method acting devised by Stanislavski and recently introduced into the US. Elia Kazan, who would go on to become a much feted director on Broadway and in Hollywood, was another member.

Employed only as a rarely used understudy, Odets began to use his time to write plays, but continued to take part in the Group Theatre’s training and rehearsal schedules. His plays, inspired by and suffused with Group Theatre’s techniques, were left wing and socially hard-hitting. However, at first they were not good enough for the group’s leader, and it was not until early in 1935 that one was produced - Waiting for Lefty. The opening night was a huge success. Within weeks, the group was opening with Awake and Sing!, a play Odets had been working on for some time, and which Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1979 edition) says ‘foreshadowed’ Arthur Miller and ‘related Odets with Tennessee Wiilliams’. Further plays followed, including Rocket to the Moon (1938) which led to Odets being featured on the cover of Time, and the highly successful Golden Boy. However, Night Music, which opened in 1940 with Elia Kazan in the lead, was a flop; and it was a disaster for Group Theatre, presaging the company’s end.

By the mid-1930s, Odets had relocated to Hollywood (though he would continue to travel to New York regularly) to work as a screen writer, often declining to be credited, and as a director (None but the Lonely Heart, 1944). There he met and married the German-born actress Luise Rainer (who by then had won best actress awards in 1936 and 1937), though the marriage would last but three years. He marred another actress, Bette Grayson in 1943, and they had two children before divorcing in 1951. Odets was investigated by Joseph McCarthy in 1953, and is suspected of having named names; certainly he continued to work in Hollywood, but lost friends.

Though there have been several major biographies of Odets, his name is clearly not as well remembered as that of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller.
 On the centenary of writer’s birth, in 2006, The New Yorker concluded: ‘It’s possible that Odets’s narrative of decline is what has kept him from claiming the privileged place in the theatrical discussion that he deserves. Odets’s plays showed a way for the next generation of playwrights to combine linear movement with psychological complexity and depth. He brought a new demotic music to stage speech. His subject was always the struggle of the heartbroken American soul under capitalism. “I will reveal America to itself by revealing myself to myself,” Odets wrote. His plays and his life, full of unique lament and liveliness, eloquently fulfill his prophecy.’ Further biographical information is also available at Wikipedia and Penniless Press.

Odets kept a diary for just one year, in 1940, though it was not published until 1988 (by Grove, New York) with the title The Time Is Ripe: The 1940 Journals of Clifford Odets. The book is not widely available in the UK (no copy at the British Library, for example), and there is not much about it online either. However, Kirkus Reviews has a short piece; and Library Journal says this: ‘His journal shows a gigantic ego lavishing severe judgment on friend and enemy alike, and an overactive libido seeking the perfect woman (he had access to a breathtaking array of them). Although Odets was hard on everyone, he judged himself most severely. This journal records the dark journey of a life and time out of joint yet seeking their proper form. Interspersed are glimpses of major figures in modern American theater and film.’

The only quotes from the book I can find online are thanks to The Sheila Variations (‘not a film’) blog - both extracts below concern Odets’s play The Night Music.

22 February 1940
‘This is the time for opening the play. Harold gave the cast a brief line run-through, but I stayed at home, sleeping, resting, lounging it out against my slowly constricting nerves. Restless, finally, I jumped into the roadster and rode out to Sunnyside to take Bill and Lee to dinner. I chattered away, quite calm, really, to that peculiar point of indifference which comes from having done all that one can do in a situation. We rode into New York and had dinner across the street from the theatre, at Sardi’s. A lot of the people who are going across the show were eating dinner there - it was like running the gauntlet. Stella Adler was there with a party, smoke-eyed and neurotic - usually when you are dying she is more dramatic about the event than you are! Finally I pushed my way through a lot of well-wishing people and went over to the theatre. The cast was in fine shape, quietly making up in their own rooms; no noise, no excitement backstage, things routine and orderly.

The audience was no better or worse than the usual opening night crowd. If anything they were an edge more respectful. Harold I had met outside the theatre for a moment - he was white and tired and was going to see a musical comedy, true to his habit of never attending an opening. I, on the other hand, get a kind of perverse spiteful pleasure from attending an opening. I saw none of the critics but shook hands with several friends.

The performance of the play was tip-top - the cast had never been better. The play suffered from what had always been wrong with it because of a certain lack in the direction - a lack of clear outlining of situations, a lack of building up scenes, a certain missing in places of dramatic intensity. But none of these things was enough to do vital harm to a beautiful show, smooth, powerful and yet tender, fresh, moving, and touching, with real quality in all the parts. But I could see during the first act that the audience was taking it more seriously than it deserved; and I knew that the old thing was here again - the critics had come expecting King Lear, not a small delicate play. It all made me very tired, but at the end I thought to myself that it didn’t matter, for the show was more or less what I intended; it was lovely and fresh, no matter what the critics said. And I knew, too, that if another and unknown writer’s name had been on the script, there would have been critical raves the next day.

People surged backstage after the curtain - they all seemed to have had a good time. There were the usual foolish remarks from many of them - “Enjoyable, but I don’t know why,” etc., etc. Also, a good deal of insincere gushing from a lot of people who would like nothing better than to stick a knife in your ribs. God knows why!

I invited some people down to the house for a drink. Along came the Eislers, Kozlenkos, Bette, Julie [John] Garfield, Boris Aronson, old Harry Carey and his wife, Morris and Phoebe later, Harold, Aaron Copland and Victor [Kraft[, Bobby Lewis and his Mexican woman, etc. etc. We drank champagne, Scotch when the wine ran out, smoked, filthied up the house, listened to some music. Then they went and I dropped into bed, dog-tired, unhappy, drunk, knowing what the reviews would be like in the morning. In and out I slept, in and out of a fever - all of modern twentieth-century life in one day and a night.’

23 February 1940
‘The biggest shock I have experienced since the auto crash in Mexico a year ago was the reviews of the play today. Perhaps it was the serious lack of sleep which kept me so calm and quiet. I wanted to send the Times man a wire telling him I thought his notice stupid and insulting, but I gave up that idea after a while. Equally distressing to me was the attitude at the office, an ugly passivity. They are quite inured there to the humdrum commercial aspect of doing a play this way - close if the notices are bad.

My feelings were and are very simple. I feel as if a lovely delicate child, tender and humorous, had been knocked down by a truck and lay dying. For this show has all the freshness of a child. It was Boris A. who called the turn. He said, “This show is very moving to me, a real artwork, but I don’t think they will get its quality - it is not commercial.”

In the morning I cashed fifteen thousand dollars worth of the baby bonds I hold. I thought to spend it on advertising, to keep the show open, etc., but by the time I finished at the office in the afternoon it was easy to see the foolishness of that; the show costs almost ten thousand a week to run.

So, friend, this is the American theatre, before, now, and in the future. This is where you live and this is what it is - this is the nature of the beast. Here is how the work and delight and pain of many months ends up in one single night. This is murder, to be exact, the murder of loveliness, of talent, of aspiration, of sincerity, the brutal imperception and indifference to one of the few projects which promise to keep the theatre alive. And it is murder in the first degree - with forethought (perhaps not malice, perhaps!), not second or third degree. Something will have to be done about these “critics”, these lean dry men who know little or nothing about the theatre despite their praise of the actors and production. How can it happen that this small handful of men can do such murderous mischief in a few hours? How can it be that we must all depend on them for our progress and growth, they who maybe drank a cocktail too much, quarreled with a wife, had indigestion or a painful toe before they came to see the play - they who are not critics, who are insensitive, who understand only the most literal realism, they who should be dealing in children’s ABC blocks? How can the audience be reached directly, without the middleman intervention of these fools?

I think now to write very inexpensive plays in the future, few actors, one set; perhaps hire a cheap theatre and play there. Good or bad, these “critics” must never be quoted, they must not opportunistically be used. A way must be found to beat them if people like myself are to stay in the theatre with any health and love. Only bitterness results this way, with no will or impulse for fresh work. The values must be sorted out and I must see my way clearly ahead, for I mean to work in the American theatre for many years to come.

I have such a strong feeling - a lovely child was murdered yesterday. Its life will drag on for another week or ten days, but the child is already stilled. A few friends will remember, that’s all.’

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Arabian Diaries

Gertrude Bell, an early 20th century British traveller and archaeology enthusiast, died 90 years ago today. Her expertise in the Middle East led her to become a key player in the formation of Iraq after WWI. Diaries she kept through many of her adventures were eventually given to Newcastle University which has made them freely available online. For two years or so, starting just before the war, she reshaped her diary entries for sending to a British army officer with whom she was in love, and these have been published as The Arabian Diaries.

Gertrude Bell was born in 1869, into a wealthy north-of-England family. Her mother died when she was just three, but her father married again - Florence, a writer - when she was seven. Gertrude was educated at Queen’s College in London and then at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, achieving a first in history. Thereafter, she journeyed in Europe and also spent several months in Bucharest and in Tehran, where her uncle was British representative. Her travels continued with two round-the-world trips, one in 1897-1898 and one in 1902-1903.

Bell travelled widely in the Middle East, learning Arabic, meeting many Arab tribal leaders and investigating archaeological sites. She published several travel/archaelogy books, such as Syria: The Desert and the Sown; and she also collaborated with T. E. Lawrence. British Intelligence recruited her during the WWI, and subsequently, with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, she was appointed Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner in Baghdad, where she was an important influence in the creation of modern Iraq, and in the naming of Faisal, the recently deposed King of Syria, as first King of Iraq. As Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. She died on 12 July 1826 from an overdose of sleeping pills, though whether this was an accident or a deliberate act has never been established. She never married, though had a close relationship during the war with Charles Doughty-Wylie. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, American Diplomacy or The Guardian.

Most of Bell’s letters and diaries (1877-1919) were given by her half sister to Newcastle University, which hosts a dedicated Gertrude Bell website, including transcribed copies of her diaries.

Some extracts from Bell’s diaries were edited by Rosemary O’Brien and published by Syracuse University Press in 2000 as Gertrude Bell - The Arabian Diaries, 1913-1914 (see Googlebooks). However, although Bell’s diaries are published therein, O’Brien says the centrepiece of her book are, what she calls, the ‘Doughty-Wylie Diaries’. She explains: ‘It was Bell’s custom to record her journeys in small notebooks and to sift through them afterward when drafting private reports, articles, or books. On the Arabian trip, however, she kept parallel records: Two notebooks were eventually filled with daily entries, which, cited as “Diaries,” appear without revisions as appendixes to this volume. A third notebook contains a brilliant reshaping of the daily entry material, written for Charles Hotham Montague (Dick) Doughty-Wylie, a British army officer with whom Gertrude Bell was in love.’

The publisher offers this blurb: ‘The fundamental themes of her life - reckless behaviour; a divided self which combined brilliance of intellect with a passionate nature; a sense of history; and the fatal gift of falling in love with a married man - are all here in remarkable detail.’

The following extracts are taken from The Arabian Diaries: the first three come from the ‘diaries’ contained in the book’s appendices, and the fourth comes from the main part of the book, i.e. what O’Brien calls the ‘Doughty-Wylie Diaries’.

18 December 1913
‘Fine, cold, snow on the hills. We took 2 hrs 20 min. to get off. Left at 8.35 and had an hour’s bad struggle through the muddy zera’ the camels falling down at intervals. When we were S. of the Roman camp our rafiq joined us, Hamad al Lafi of the Ghiyath. The latter seem to be gom with everyone except the Sayyad and the Jumlan who are fellah tribes of Damascus. But, being with us he does not fear to meet the B. Hassan with whom he is gom. We want one of them as a rafiq. He goes with us for a mej. a day. The big chiefs of the Hasenneh are Sa’ad and Muhammad ibn Milhem who receive ma’ash from the Govt. The B. Hassan are a new group; they were once part of the Ghiyath. We got into the volcanic country at 11.30 and marched over broken ground straight onto a tell called el ‘Abd which we reached at 2.30 and found a muddy rain pool where we filled our girbehs. Grass growing between the stones and on the patches of low ground which are free of stones. A man of the Jumlan Sayyad rode out to see who we were; they are camped to the S. of us under the hog’s back which was my first bearing, 102° from ‘Adra. Got into camp at 4 in a low patch with the Saigal tells immediately in front of us. Beautiful sunset glow. We saw one of the Dumairis at his husbandry. He sowed first and ploughed afterwards. The Jumlani Sayyadi was much surprised to see me, but I offered no explanations. Excellent mushrooms-fitr. We saw a good deal of naitu today but there are no shajar tonight.’

9 January 1914
‘The temp fell to 22° in the night and our unwelcome guard had a bad time. Spent the day waiting for the Qaimmaqam of Salt. F. and Abdallah came back (the chowwish had offered to bring them back in the middle of the night) and we all spent the morning making a new tent pole for me, the soldiers aiding. Heaps of gazelle in the hills. Sat in F.’s tent and drew out a section of Kharaneh in afternoon. Cold and horribly windy. Jusef Ch. who has been away all day, came back in a good and obliging temper. It is all rather fancy I must say.’

10 January 1914
Disgusting day, cold, wind and sleet. We got out of camp and rode to the station where I waited for the baggage. Jusef Chowwish and 4 soldiers with us. A little way from the station we saw soldiers - it was the Q. who turned back to Zuwaideh [el-Juweiyida] by another road. When we reached Zuwaideh he had gone on to ‘Amman with the Yuzbashi. Hurried on and got to the hill down to ‘Amman, with little rain. I walked down, got onto Jusef’s horse and cantered up to the Serai, where I found the Q, Halim Beg Abu Sha’r, the Yuzbashi, Ishaq Effendi, and the Mudir, Muhammad Beg. All very friendly. I explained my doings, laid my complaint before them about the Yuzbashi and convinced Halim Beg that I was harmless. He telegraphed the same to Damascus. Two young men, Hanna Bsharra, and Ferid, son of Habib Effendi with whom I lodged at Salt. Hanna presently explained to me that Halim, a Xian, did not want to take any responsibility and I had better telegraph to Devey, which I did. My men pitched tents in pouring rain, below the theatre and before the Odeon.’

17 April 1914
‘It was quite cool today - comparatively; 85 was the highest temperature I registered and we profited by the weather and made a 10 hours march, without fatigue. A dull part of the desert, this is; long shallow steps leading us up into the high Hamad. I think we have left Mesopotamian heat behind and it looks as if it might rain, in which case we shall be flooded out, being in low ground for the sake of our evening lights, and under such insufficient canvas too. Khair inshallah! Today we saw fresh prints of horsemen. ‘Adwan (who is a charming man by the way) opined that they were Shammar of the Jezireh [al-Jazirah], Mesopotamia, looking for ‘Anazeh. with whom they are at feud. I feel no kind of anxiety as to ghazzus while I have ‘Adwan with me. A man from the house of the great shaikh of the Dulaim, a relative of his, and employed by the Government in collecting the cattle tax - it would be impossible to find a surer rafiq. When I part from him the fun may begin, but perhaps not - the Shamiyyeh [Shamiyah] is tolerably safe. Anyways I don’t bother at all; we have been through places so much worse and come out whole and sound. The Government has raised the sheep tax by more than a piastre - I suppose that’s the wax[?l. How much of it do they receive, I wonder? ‘Adwan says truly that the shaikhs eat more than the Government. The long fatigue of travel is upon me and I talk little while we ride. Whenever I talk ‘Adwan greets me with smiles and fair answers. I love these desert people and the sudden heart-whole part they play in your fortunes. And then you leave them and what do they think afterwards? I believe they have a pleasant memory of service rendered and of the quick intimacy of the few days’ journey. One of my rafiqs, far away on the other side of the Nefud, said once over the camp fire “In all the years when we come to this place we shall say: ‘Here we came with her, here she camped.’ It will be a thing to talk of, your ghazzu. We shall be asked for news of it and we shall speak of it and tell how you came.” I expect they will, and it makes me dreadfully anxious that they should tell nothing but good, since they will judge my whole race by me. That recollection very often checks the hasty word when I am tired, and feeling cross, or bored - heavens! how bored, cross and tired some times! Then I try to remember that they will tell how I came.’