Monday, January 29, 2018

Haig’s ‘unique’ WWI diaries

‘I spoke to Admiral Bacon regarding preparations for landing on Belgian coast. In view of the successes obtained by the ‘Tanks’, I suggested that he should carry out experiments with special flat bottomed boats for running ashore and landing a line of Tanks on the beach with object of breaking through wire and capturing Enemy’s defences.’ This is from the diary of Douglas Haig, the British army commander during the Battle of the Somme, days after tanks were used for the very first time. Haig, who died 90 years ago today, was a controversial figure in his time, and no less so in historical terms, but what is not in doubt is the value of his diaries, recognised internationally as ‘unique’ and as ‘the most detailed and extensive account kept by any senior commander during the war’.

Haig was born in Edinburgh in 1861, the son of a wealthy whisky distiller, and educated at Clifton School, Bristol. His parents died when he was still in his teens. After a tour of the US with his brother, he studied at Brasenose College, Oxford. He was an accomplished horseman, and excelled at polo (a sport he would remain involved in all his life). He went on to train as an officer in the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and was commissioned as a lieutenant into the 7th (Queen’s Own) Hussars in 1885. He was sent to India, where he impressed others with his discipline, paperwork, and analysis of training exercises. In 1892, he returned to Britain hoping to be awarded a place at the Staff College, Camberley, but just missed out. He was appointed aide-de-camp to Sir Keith Fraser, Inspector General of Cavalry, who helped him be nominated for Camberley. Before taking his place in 1894, he visited Germany, where he served as staff officer to Colonel John French, and from where he reported on cavalry manoeuvres.

After completing the course at Camberley, Haig was picked as a cavalry officer for the Sudan, serving with Lord Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian army. He distinguished himself, in particular, at the Battle of Nukheila. Thereafter, he received various promotions, and further distinguished himself in South Africa serving under French during the Boer War, eventually being given command of the 17th Lancers cavalry regiment. In late 1900, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath, and six months later was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He served as Inspector-General of Cavalry in India, and then aide-de-camp to King Edward VII in 1902-1903. By 1904, he was a major-general, the youngest in the British Army at the time. The following year, he married Dorothy Maud Vivian, with whom he had four children.

In 1906, Haig was appointed to a senior post at the War Office where he spent several years enacting reforms in the British Army, and setting up the Imperial General Staff. He served as Chief of General Staff in India for a couple of years, and then as General Officer Commanding Aldershot Command. At the outbreak of the First World War, Haig was Commander of the First Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, and shortly after, in 1915, he was promoted to its Commander-in-Chief. Although greatly admired among his fellow officers, he was mistrusted by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, who considered he was wasting soldiers’ lives without any prospect of victory. During 1919, he took over as Commander-in-Chief Home Forces in Great Britain.

Haig was created an earl in 1919, and retired in 1920, thereafter devoting much energy to improving the welfare of ex-servicemen. He died on 29 January 1928. His role during the war remains controversial to this day, with some claiming he was a butcher, a class-based incompetent commander, unable to grasp modern tactics and technologies, and others maintaining that his role was crucial in defeating the German army through a war of attrition. Further biographical information is readily available online, including at Wikipedia, Historic UK, Spartacus, History Net, the BBC, or Biography Online.

Haig kept a detailed, daily diary during the First World War, of which there are two versions extant - the handwritten manuscript and a version typed up after the war with additions and alterations. Both of these are held by the National Library of Scotland, and have been publicly available since 1961. In 2015, the international importance of Haig’s handwritten diaries (1914-1919) were acknowledged when the resource was inscribed into UNESCO’s International Memory of World Register - one of only 14 UK inscriptions (others including the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the 1215 Magna Carta, a register of British Caribbean slaves, and the Churchill papers) - see Haig and Wordsworth for more on this.

UNESCO says of the diary: ‘The First World War shaped the world throughout the 20th century, and profoundly affected the combatant nations in an unprecedented way. Field Marshal Douglas Haig commanded the largest British Army ever assembled. His diary provides insight into how and why decisions were made, and of the interplay between Haig and other Allied generals. As undoubtedly the most detailed and extensive account kept by any senior commander during the war, the diary is unique. Written in these circumstances, it offers an immediacy that few documentary sources can in the day-to-day record of this cataclysm.’

The diary was first edited by Robert Blake and published in 1952 by Eyre & Spottiswoode as The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1919. This is freely available online at Internet Archive. It would be more than 50 years before the diaries re-appeared in a new edition: Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne). Parts of this can be read online at Googlebooks. Sheffield and Bourne say, in their preface, that their book differs from Blake’s in ‘two significant respects’. Firstly, they say, their book is based on the manuscript version of the diaries (Blake’s used the typescript); and, secondly, they have sought to emphasise Haig’s military role (while Blake’s emphasis was more on the politics of the war).

Sheffield and Bourne also discuss why Haig kept a diary. They suggest part of the reason might have been habit - he’d kept diaries since his student days (his pre and post war diaries, also held by the National Library of Scotland, are described as ‘very summary’). Lady Haig, they say, thought he kept them for her (she received carbon copies of his daily entries by post). The
 editors believe, however, that he knew he was living through historic times, was a major actor in them, and wanted to leave a systematic record. 

In addition, the editors take a close look at the differences between the manuscript and typescript versions. In particular, they dispel this claim by Denis Winter in his Haig’s Command: A Reassessment (Viking, 1991)‘[Haig] systematically falsified the record of his military career, underpinning the most important years with a diary written for circulation in his own cause during the war and re-written in his own favour after it.’ Sheffield and Bourne find that the changes made after the war by Haig were ‘generally mundane’ with only two exceptions, and that the diary’s ‘overall authenticity’ is ‘not in doubt’.

Here are several extracts from Haig’s diaries as edited by Sheffield and Bourne.

4 September 1915
‘The CGS (Robertson) arrived . . . He came to let me know at once, very secretly, that the operations had been postponed by the French for another ten days. The reason given is that Castelnau’s Army is not ready. This extra delay may well jeopardise the success of what I am undertaking, because at present we know that the Enemy’s troops have no further protection against gas - only small ‘respirators’. They may hear of our getting up the gas cylinders and issue effective ‘gas helmets’. On the other hand it would be foolish for a portion of the Allies to attack until the whole are ready for a combined effort.

General Gough came to see me about the amount of gas available. I told him to arrange to provide the whole of his front south of the Canal with sufficient gas for 40 minutes’ attack before giving any cylinders to the Givenchy section; and that his Corps, and IV Corps, would attack simultaneously along the whole front from the ‘Double Crassier’ on Rawlinson’s right, up to the Canal on the left.

Later in the morning General Rawlinson arrived and asked me regarding the front on which the 1st Division is to attack. After discussion I agreed that one brigade should move east with its left on the Vermelles-Hulluch road. All the Enemy’s communication trenches run in that direction, so that the troops would, whether they were ordered or not, move against Hulluch! That another brigade of the 1st Division should advance against Puits No. 14 and the north end of Loos, so as to maintain communication between the attacks against Hulluch and Loos . . .

I motored to La Buissiere (HQ of IV Corps) as I had arranged for Lieutenant Colonel Foulkes (gas expert) to meet me there. The gas cylinders had not yet been off-loaded at Bethune Station, so I was able to send them back to Boulogne at once. The ‘gas companies’ also went back to St Omer without having mixed with our troops, so I hope the fact that we are able to use gas will remain a secret from the Enemy . . .

We arranged for several officers of the Cavalry Corps to go forward to our lines and reconnoitre the country with a view to advancing.’

18 September 1916
‘I spoke to Admiral Bacon regarding preparations for landing on Belgian coast. In view of the successes obtained by the ‘Tanks’, I suggested that he should carry out experiments with special flat bottomed boats for running ashore and landing a line of Tanks on the beach with object of breaking through wire and capturing Enemy’s defences. This is to be done in cooperation with troops from Lombartzyde, attacking eastwards.

The Admiral was delighted with the idea, and is to go to Admiralty with a view to having special boats made.

I asked him also to urge the loan of personnel from Navy for manning 100 ‘Tanks’ . . .

Trenchard reported on work of Flying Corps . . . By taking the offensive and carrying the war in the air beyond the Enemy’s lines, our artillery airoplanes are free to carry on their important duties of observation and photography unmolested. Our communications too on which so much depends are undisturbed.’

19 June 1917
‘I saw the CIGS at 10.45 am and then walked to Lord Curzon’s Office (Privy Council) for a meeting of the War Cabinet at 11 am . . .

We discussed the military situation till 1 o’clock when the Prime Minister left to marry his daughter. The members of the War Cabinet asked me numerous questions all tending to show that each of them was more pessimistic than the other! The PM seemed to believe the decisive moment of the war would be 1918. Until then we ought to husband our forces and do little or nothing, except support Italy with guns and gunners (300 batteries were indicated). I strongly asserted that Germany was nearer her end than they seemed to think, that now was the favourable moment, [for pressing her] and that everything possible should be done to take advantage of it by concentrating on the Western Front all available resources. I stated that Germany was within 6 months of the total exhaustion of her available manpower, if the fighting continues at its present intensity. [To do this, more men and guns are necessary.]’

19 November 1917
‘Charteris reported that all reports indicated that Enemy is in absolute ignorance of our preparations for tomorrow’s attack. No airoplane activity: no wireless: no listening telephone work: no artillery fire! All seems favourable!! So far prisoners taken by Enemy have apparently told them nothing about the attack for tomorrow.

At 9.45 am I saw Sir H. Rawlinson Commanding Second Army. He told me of his views to extend the front northwards of Passchendaele. He does not wish to take Westroosebeke. I suggested attack by small units by night, because up to the present nothing of this nature has been attempted by us at the Ypres battle front. I directed Rawlinson to work out his plans, but not to give effect to them until the result of tomorrow’s attack is known, and I can decide on our future plans.

[Haig visited Horne at HQ First Army.] His Army is weak in numbers of infantry and in guns. The Canadian Corps is back with him. General Currie (Commanding Canadians) was relieved on battle front yesterday. I explained to Home my proposed operations and pointed out that by crossing the Sensee River east of Arleux, I turned all the Enemy’s defences facing First Army and the Drocourt-Quéant line. I could not expect the First Army, owing to weakness in guns and numbers, to do more than reconnoitre until our advance from Cambrai direction caused Enemy to withdraw from his front. Then he must do his best to follow up and press the Enemy.’ [The Battle of Cambrai began on 20 November at 6.20 am.]

27 January 1918
‘After dinner I received a copy of a paper compiled by War Council at Versailles in which certain offensive projects were recommended to the Allied Government. All their proposals are based on theory and hard facts are ignored. I had a long talk with Lawrence on the personnel situation which seems to me likely to be very serious in the autumn owing to lack of men. Auckland Geddes only asks for 100,000 men for the Army. We must therefore look forward to having to reduce 16 to 18 divisions; against this we may put 7 or 8 American Divisions at the most. The French if attacked must reduce some 50 divisions, and at most can put only a dozen American Divisions in their place. Yet with these facts before us, the Versailles War Council writes a volume advising an offensive to annihilate the Turks in Palestine, as well as a great combined Franco-British one on the Western Front.

Repington has certainly stated the true case in his articles in the Morning Post, yet few seem to believe him.

The problem seems to me to be how to bring home to our Prime Minister’s mind the seriousness of our position and to cause him to call up more men while there is yet time to train them.’

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Diary briefs

John Lennon diaries recovered - BBC

Diaries of an Indian ruler - Hindustan Times

Diary solves Glen Miller puzzle - The Mirror, Devon Live

Diaries of Thatcher diplomat - Biteback Publishing, Mail Online

Kiwi captain’s England tour - The Cricket Publishing Company, Stuff

The Diary of Friedrich Kellner - Cambridge University PressThe GuardianTimes of Israel

Politician’s wife demands return of diaries - Mexico Daily News

Life After Care based on diaries - Trigger Press, Chronicle Live

Tryggve Gran diaries acquired - Canterbury Museum

The Turpin torture diaries - Desert Sun, People.com

Diary evidence in Oxford rape case - The Sun, The Guardian

Monday, January 15, 2018

Secretary to the Navy

‘Pres. spoke to Congress. . . W W looked serious, confident, compelling. He had given much thought to his message - read it deliberately & calmly, letting its logic and strength make all the impression. It was received with marked approval & evoked enthusiasm.’ Josephus Daniels, 41st US Secretary to the Navy during the First World War, died 70 years ago today. While in office, he kept diaries - of cabinet meetings and decisions - which were not published until the 1960s, but are now considered a primary source for information about Wilson Woodrow’s Presidency.

Daniels was born in 1862 in Washington, North Carolina, during the civil war. When his father was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter, his mother moved her family 60 miles west to Wilson, also in North Carolina. There, Jospehus was educated at Wilson Collegiate Institute and at Trinity College (later Duke University). He became editor of a local newspaper, the Wilson Advance, and went on to purchase it in 1882. Joint ownership of other publications followed. He also studied law at the University of North Carolina, being admitted to the bar in 1885, though he never practised. In 1888, he married Addie Worth Bagley, and they had four sons. In 1892, he launched the North Carolinian, before subsequently buying more newspapers, and merging some.

Daniels was an active member of the Democratic Party, in favour of prohibition and women’s suffrage, but he was also a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan believing in white supremacy. He used his newspapers to promote Democratic candidates, and, in 1912, was part of the Democratic Executive Committee supporting Woodrow Wilson’s presidential campaign. On Woodrow’s election, Daniels was appointed Secretary of the Navy in 1913, a position he held until 1921. Franklin D. Roosevelt, later president himself, served as his assistant. Daniels oversaw a modest expansion of the navy (in spite of his own pacifist tendencies), various administrative reforms, and a clean-up of personnel behaviour (banning alcohol on navy ships, clearing prostitution from a five mile radius of naval installations, and prohibiting work on the Sabbath). After the war, he published The Navy and the Nation (1919) and Our Navy at War (1922); and, in 1921, he returned to his newspaper businesses.

During the 1930s, Daniels became a trustee at the University of North Carolina, but in 1933, President Roosevelt made him ambassador to Mexico. He remained in Mexico City for eight years, only returning to edit his newspaper News & Observer, in 1941, by which time one of his sons had gone to work for Roosevelt. He published several autobiographical works, and died on 15 January 1948. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, International Encyclopedia of the First World War, NCpedia, and the North Carolina History Project.

In 1963, E. David Cronon, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, 1913-1921 (University of Nebraska Press). The book is long since out of print, but second hand copies can be found online for under £10. A review in The Journal of Modern History at the time concluded: ‘All told [the diaries] constitute the fullest and most intimate view of the cabinet and one of the best sources for a biographer of Wilson now in print.’ A score of extracts from the diaries can be found online at the website of Naval History and Heritage Command, complete with notes and references. Here are a few of those extracts as found (but without their footnotes).

30 April 1917
‘Admiral Gleaves complained that destroyers were taken from him & given to Sims. Then Mayo plead for him & wished him made a Vice Admiral. Never.

Council of National Defense. Houstons resolution to give President power to fix prices and make prohibition. . . . Denman wished U.S. to build ships instead of England so after the war we would have them. Opposed Schwab’s plan of building for England.

12.40: Went to see President. Talked about sending our ships to England & France & decided to send 36 & try to secure other small craft- Must act now- He did not like Com named by L & W - all of them had fought shipping bill.’

6 May 1917
‘President called at Navy Dept. to talk over arming ships & danger of sub-marines in American waters & about bringing the fleet North - He thought, in addition to arming, we ought to have 3 motor boats on each ship to be lowered in Smooth seas & hunt submarines - When in England he saw the annual occasion where a shepherd would stand in a circle & by calls & whistles herd three sheep distant from him in a pen - It wasnt hard to manage 2, but very difficult with 3. They would expect a boat on each side of ship but the third boat would confuse them.’

7 July 1917
‘Talked to Baruch about price of raw materials & getting steel &c for Great Britain. No conclusion

Swanson came to talk about the article of encounter with submarines- Showed him the telegrams.

Baker had a talk with the President and will call a meeting of the steel committee on Tuesday to tell them he must Know the cost of production before the price is fixed. If they cannot give right price, he will take over mills and run them and fix reasonable prices. Denman is also to be there-

Saw Denman about the ships we need to use as transports. He wanted more conversation - Baker said “D__ is impossible,” but he is honest- That’s the main thing

Mayo returned to fleet-

Rodman felt sure the submarine had been sighted off Hampton Roads.

Josephus came home, with cold, Gave him calomel

President turned over 12 German ships to Navy to be used to carry troops to France’

19 July 1917
‘W l Saunders - lunched - the unsinkable boat. He had a plan which he thinks would let a boat float even if torpedoed. It would reduce cargo carrying space 20-30 per cent

Attended funeral of Bo Sweeney – Cremated. He had been with me in oil fight and he & Lane were not on good terms. He refused to sign certain papers without written instructions

Dined with Winterhalter-Mayo, Usher and others_W5_said he was dined by V.P.of China, & champagne flowed. When W entertained him, he said “it is against navy regulations.” The Chinese VP said “that is very interesting to me - I would like to put it in effect in our navy.”

Usher told of Russians in N.Y. Navy Yard. After revolution, enlisted men did not salute officers & they became so lazy Usher said they let their ships get dirty & he had to tell them they must salute while they remained under American control.

Went to see Senator James & talked about the Penrose resolution. He still following his partisanship

Long conference will Tillman & Swanson Will write letter to Tillman about the conference statement of attack of the boats given out by me on July 3rd

Ordered 20 new destroyers’

24 July 1917
‘Went to Naval Hospital just before operation on Admiral Earle. He is the salt of the earth.

Talked to Capt. Bryan of Charleston. Negro women had registered to work in clothing factory & no white women could be appointed. Arranged to have segregation & 2 buildings, one for each race. Necessary as could not do work necessary.

Talked to Benson & Mayo about seeking co-operation in naval warfare with England and France. Mayo thought he ought to go & I later talked to the President who rather thought it wise. Sims had written to the President who gave me the letter unsealed to read and tell him whether anything new. No propositions from England for conference to determine upon joint program - we are asked to send & send, but not a conference where we have equal voice

Cabinet. Shall we recommend increased salaries? No. Redfield said he had experts (24) who would resign & they could not live on $2,400. Wilson said they could live very well, but might not be able to keep up with the Joneses.

Berry - Palmer - Both boats  The President did not like it’

19 October 1917
‘. . . Transport submarined on return trip near French coast. Our first transport lost.

Went over with Mayo to see President. Mayo told him of message from the King. He told of what he had seen. The President said the English thought we were were Anglo-Saxons and like themselves. We are very different. He had said one of our troubles was we could understand the English & when they said things against us, we knew it while if F[rance] or G[ermany] did the same we knew nothing about it. He listened to M[ayo] & hoped some real offensive would come. He was disgusted with the idea of sinking 100 ships to shut up river beyond Heligoland when dynamite could clear the channel.

Dined at English Ambassador’s to meet Lord and Lady Redding. I talked with a lady about the undefinable thing called charmed. Who is the most charming person you ever met? asked lady. “I will not answer as to ladies, but make it men. You write down the two most charming & I will.[”] I wrote Lloyd George & Balfour & she wrote Balfour & Lloyd George. When a boy Lord R---- said he had been a boy before the mast on a ship

He went to school in Germany & had many friends & yet 13 years ago he decided never to go there again. The people were offensive & made an Englishman feel they were a decadent nation (& in some ways we are) & I would not go again.’

2 November 1917
‘Sperry said he and another man had a plan by which ships in convoy could communicate with other ships without danger of detection, very important now that wireless cannot be used by our ships going into danger zone and therefore can have no communication at night. This discovery would be of highest value –

Alfred Lucking same about Eidsel Ford, who had applied for exemption which had been denied by local board. I saw Baker who said it showed he passed on on its merits by this board organized for that purpose. Mr. Ford says he is greatly needed to carry on big work of factory.

Cabinet- WW criticism is that this is rich man’s war, & it was reported that sons of rich men were being given places in W[ashington] & others away from firing line and this ought to be prevented. Mostly in new organizations[.] Lane said he thought this mistake & that rich men’s sons were going quicker than others. Cannot be too careful said W.W.

Asked Baker to commandeer guns & hundred million rounds of ammunition belonging to Scandanavian country & then send to Italy. He said he could belonging to Scandanavian country & then send to Italy. He said he could not approve Ordnance recomm to let explosives go by express.

Council of National Defense. Too many organizations asking money to help soldiers – Some pay big salaries & there ought to be some way to prevent any except those approved to appeal &c’

8 November 1917
‘Victor Blue at my request called and went over the report of investigation. Thoughts Gleaves & Marbury Johnson wished to pile up specifications so as to get him. He wished US court martial –

Finland man came up with idea about air ships that could go across the ocean in 60 hours. Wished this government to build ships –

. . .Creel and O’Higgins here to dinner. The latter to write an article about me and my service as Secretary of the navy. Talked of the criticism and the policies I had tried to carry out . . .’

4 December 1917
‘Pres. spoke to Congress. No tickets for wives of cabinet officers. Sinnot sent one to my wife & Ethel took her place. She was in Savannah speaking on Y.W.C.A.

W W looked serious, confident, compelling. He had given much thought to his message - read it deliberately & calmly, letting its logic and strength make all the impression. It was received with marked approval & evoked enthusiasm. After delivery we discussed it at cabinet meeting - all gave warm commendation. W W seemed relieved & was plainly pleased at its reception.

Because of Roberts College & such institutions he hoped we would not have to declare war upon Turkey, but must be prepared for any eventualities. He wished a plebiscite on Alsace & Lorrain[e], Suggested that many who had owned & still owned land should be entitled to vote. Not certain all wish to go to France. Children still speak German. Wished to let world know we stand for no such treaties as would call for land or money beyond repairing Belgium and Northern France.

More rooms needed by Departments.

Spent evening reading spotted record of E. D. Ryan whom Vance McCormick and Mitchell wished made Admiral I had almost promised to do it, but could not after reading

Represt-of Chili [Chile] here to buy RR engines & cars. Can we trade & get ships from Chili.’

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I love a sunburnt country

‘Lay and read Ailsa Paige and thought of ideas for plays . . . Norman Pilcher came to supper I don’t know if we are getting into deep water or not, but I rather suspect it. He stayed very late.’ This is from the diary of Dorothy Mackellar, an Australian poet who died half a century ago today. She was famous among Australians for a poem published just before WWI - My Country - which appealed strongly to a sense of national patriotism. She kept a private diary for much of her life, which was only published in 1990 once the editor had deciphered many passages that Mackellar had written in a secret code - the deciphered passages being then presented in bold font.

Mackellar was born in 1885 at Point Piper, Sydney to a doctor and his wife. She was the third of four children, and the only daughter. Although privately educated at home, the family travelled widely, and she was able to learn several foreign languages. She also attended some lectures at Sydney university, and took to writing poetry. In 1908, she had a first poem Core of My Heart (later called My Country) published in the Spectator, a British magazine. Within weeks, it had been reprinted in an Australian nationalist publication, and it was then included in her first book of poems The Closed Door, and Other Verses (1911). During the years of WWI, My Country resonated strongly with nationalist and patriotic feelings among Australians, and was included in various anthologies.

Mackellar published several more volumes of poetry, a novel set in Argentina, and two other novels written with Ruth Bedford, a childhood friend. Although she formed attachments and was engaged twice, she never married. She became responsible for looking after her parents; and, after her father died in 1926, she seems to have stopped writing. She was honorary treasurer of the Bush Book Club of New South Wales and helped launch the Sydney P.E.N. Club in 1931. Her mother died in 1933, and thereafter she herself was often unwell, spending many years in a nursing home. She was appointed O.B.E. for her contribution to Australian literature just before she died on 14 January 1968. A little further information can be found at Wikipedia, the official Dorothea Mackellar website, the the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and My Poetic Side.

Mackellar kept private diaries for much of her life. These were discovered by Jyoti Brunsdon when, in 1987, she began researching Mackellar’s life at the Mitchell Library part of the State Library of New South Wales (the oldest library in Australia). Her research was sparked by a commission to write a libretto for Alan Holley’s operate about Mackellar, but she was also being encouraged to consider a biography. However, on discovering the diaries, she realised that they would make a better book than any she could hope to write. The diaries she found covered much of the period from 1910 to 1920, 1927 and 1930-1955. Some of the entries in the diaries were written in code, Brunsdon soon found, but, in time, she was able to decipher them. On reading the coded passages it became obvious they were of a more intimate and private nature. Australian publisher, Angus & Robertson published the diaries as edited by Brunsdon in 1990 under the title I Love a Sunburnt Country (one of the lines from My Country) with the decoded passages highlighted in bold font.

4 January 1910
‘Worked a little (“Vespers” - it won't come straight) . . . Cooked with the chafing dish - only salted almonds, but they are very successful. Tailor and dressmaker. Very hot . . . Rested in the Domain . . .’

17 February 1910
‘Bathed, had another lesson. I think I’m getting the hang of it. Wrote to D.O. (It’s uphill work nowadays) . . . It was a hot night, but I’m not feeling it at all. It makes one seem rather heartless when others do so much.’

25 February 1910
‘Went with Ruth to bathe at Bondi and couldn’t till 12.30 - the surf was so glorious too! So we paddled, and R. was nearly swept away and drenched from top to toe. We dried ourselves on a hot flat rock and we acted the Prevost Play! I think it was so courageous in cold blood on a salt morning. Really rather successful . . . Afternoon: Shopping, and I discovered my Boggabri story going the rounds of the American magazines, and they had illustrated it with a black bushman attired in leaves! - lovely. Evening: Wrote “The Lie”.’

28 February 1910
‘Ruth came and we acted. I have never been fuller of electricity. We did her Barbara and my Japanese girl - on the roof. It was good.’

16 March 1910
‘. . . Shopping. Saw nice three-cornered hat, black with a gold quill, and wanted it very much. Evening: Theatre with the girls and Mr Bean. It was great fun and two rats made a diversion in the gallery. I love Oscar Asche - N.B. The marriage customs of the Greeks are: each man has only one wife and this is called Monotony.’

17 March 1910
‘Lili, I’m sorry to say, went away by the morning train. I wrastled with the Customs, quite successfully, and then had a fitting. The English dress is a pretty dull green and dull silver thing, with Ninon paniers, very soft, and a silver rose.
I love it. . . Evening: Yarned and read and yarned. Read some of Moratin’s comedies. They are awfully good. He must have been considered such a daring modernist in what he says about women.’

18 March 1910
‘. . . Ruth and I went out to Diamond Bay, picnicking. It was a heavenly day and there were heaps of mauve and white violets. I told her about Pearl and Charlie, then we acted Kid Prevost’s saga for hours. The landscape did fit in! It was too good for words. The feeling is on me still, I can’t think myself free of the play. It went awfully well. Oh that sun-soaked cañon! She loved it too. Evening: Sleepy and happy. Early bed.’

5 October 1910
‘Mother got the Doctor worry out of me . . . Doctor Skirving came in the afternoon and poked me and said I was altogether run-down, but not organically wrong, and I needed more clay, and R.S.D. came, very worried, and we all talked. He came to my room and said the bed should be moved, so he and Mac moved it and I felt limp and fairly calm. Evening: Just reading. Read books of sonnets that he brought and The Story of the Guides (Younghusband) and A Comer of Spain and Wilde’s Ideal Husband.’

7 October 1910
‘Dr Skirving came and said I was better (which was true), but would not let me get up, and Babs - and R.S.D. - arrived. She looked so sweet. After lunch she and Mother went out for a drive and Bertha came, and they stayed, and we had a good talk, and he went away to Queensland and I miss him so and Babs and I yarned. He has frightened her so that she will not let me exert myself at all - it’s funny . . .’

26 March 1911
‘Lay and read Ailsa Paige and thought of ideas for plays . . . Norman Pilcher came to supper I don’t know if we are getting into deep water or not, but I rather suspect it. He stayed very late.’

27 March 1911
‘. . . R. came and we had a short but very successful spurt of acting the Remington play. I have been either Remington or Rags ever since - the former very angry and troubled, the latter in a passion of fear and shame. Most uncomfortable! Afternoon: Lots of shopping, got 2 nice hats. One, a darling - black straw with yellowy brown roses . . . Evening: Wrote L.B.D. Slept badly. Remington!’

11 August 1911
‘Got up earlier than usual. .. Felt quite reasonably well. Evening: Mrs Arthur Feez’s and Mrs W. Collins’ dance. A very nice one, and I loved it - what I had of it. Broke down at the 12th dance. Rather a stirring night. He was upset because I love him and it upset me, and I nearly kissed him, which would have startled things a good deal. I never felt like that before - rather desperate - and yet not miserable. Only he wouldn’t believe me when I told him so.’

14 August 1911
Stayed in bed with hot bottles and talked to Robin, which was strange and made me feel shy. In the evening Mr Dods came home to his two invalids, and as Mrs Dods could eat nothing, he had dinner in my room, at her suggestion - and to the scandalization of Florence. Read heaps of poetry, heaps and he-eaps.’

29 January 1912
‘. . . Stewards’ concert at night. “Our motto is Comicality without Vulgarity.” Help! They didn’t leave much to the imagination . . . The Bishop got Nina, Edith Anderson and me to the front row, where I sat with my legs coiled up. and my head in Nina’s lap at the startling bits. At the end it came on to rain- soaking, pouring rain . . .

The Rajah follows me round with his soft, black eyes and his soft oily voice -  but no doubt he is very nice.’

8 July 1912
‘Exeter - Plymouth. Got up late and crawled around the Cathedral. . . Then we went to Plymouth. Another wet cold day, else it would have been a prettier journey. But I always
love motoring, even in the rain. On arriving I promptly went to bed. We none of us were to sleep much that night, for the rooms were light as day and the town unbelievably noisy. . .’

Thursday, January 11, 2018

White phantoms, cloven tongues

‘At Bockhampton. My birthday - 44. Alone in the plantation, at 9 o’clock. A weird hour: strange faces and figures formed by dying lights. Holm leaves shine like human eyes, and the sky glimpses between the trunks are like white phantoms and cloven tongues. It is so silent and still that a footstep on the dead leaves could be heard a quarter of a mile off. Squirrels run up the trunks in fear, stamping and crying ‘chut-chut-chut!’ ’ This is rare piece of lyrical descriptive writing from the diary of the English writer Thomas Hardy, who died 90 years ago today. It can be found in his ‘autobiography’ as written/compiled by his second wife Florence - but for the most part the only extracts of his diary that have survived are those with some direct relevance for the ‘autobiography’. Hardy went to great lengths during his lifetime - including destroying his own diaries and those of his first wife - to control how his ‘life’ would be portrayed after his death.

Hardy was born in 1840 near Dorchester, England, and educated locally until he was 18 when was apprenticed to an architect. In 1862, he moved to London where he joined Arthur Blomfield’s practice as an assistant architect, and he was assigned to various church building projects. By the late 1860s, he was writing novels, the first two of which he published anonymously. In 1874, he married Emma Gifford, whom he had met while working in Cornwall. The year before he had published A Pair of Blue Eyes under his own name inspired by his courtship of Emma, which was also serialised, and a year later he published Far from the Madding Crowd which was successful enough to allow him to abandon architecture and take up a literary career.

After living in various places mostly in Dorset, in 1885, Hardy and his wife moved into Max Gate, near Dorchester, a house designed by Hardy and built by his brother. During the subsequent decade, he produced several of his most famous works The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). In these novels, Hardy tackled controversial stories of marriage and divorce, and what he saw as the hypocrisy of Victorian attitudes towards women. While many found Tess shocking, there was a public outcry against Jude the Obscure. Subsequently, Hardy retreated from fiction, and returned to his first literary love, poetry, writing and publishing hundred of poems.

By the early years of the 20th century, Hardy was undoubtedly recognised as one of the country’s outstanding authors. In 1910, King George V conferred on him the Order of Merit (Hardy had refused a knighthood), and in 1912 he received the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature. But that same year, 1912, Emma died. Although he had been estranged from her for some years, he fell back in love with her memory. However, he had also become involved with Florence Dugdale, nearly 40 years younger, who occasionally did research for him in London, and who, herself, had literary ambitions. They married in 1914, but, biographers say, the marriage proved disappointing, and Hardy spent most of every day closeted in his study. He died in 1928. He had wanted to be buried next to Emma in Dorchester, but thanks to a somewhat gruesome compromise between executors Hardy’s heart was removed from the corpse to be buried with Emma, but the rest of it was cremated and interred in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Further biographical information is available online at Wikipedia, The Hardy Society, The Poetry Foundation, the Victorian Web or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Hardy certainly kept a diary at times, but he left behind no diary manuscripts, having chosen to destroy them all - just as he had done with his first wife’s diaries, on discovering how bitterly she had written about him. Claire Tomalin, in her biography of Hardy (The Time-torn Man, Viking, 2006) writes: ‘Sensibly enough, he decided [his wife’s diaries] were largely the product of a mind subject to delusions and refused to allow them to spoil his renewed vision of her as the love of his life.’ However, in the 15 years or so after the death of Emma, and with the help of Florence, Hardy made good use of his own diaries in preparing an autobiography, the first part of which was published soon after his death: The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891 (Macmillan, 1928). It was issued as a work ‘by Florence Emily Hardy’ as ‘compiled largely from contemporary notes, letters, diaries, and biographical memoranda, as well as from oral information in conversations extending over many years’. This original version is freely available at Internet Archive, as is the second volume, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (Macmillan, 1930).

In a prefatory note to the first volume, Florence Hardy says she was greatly helped in her task of putting together the biography ‘by the dated observations which [Hardy] made in pocket-books, during the years of his novel-writing, apparently with the idea that if one followed the trade of fiction one must take notes, rather than from natural tendency, for when he ceased fiction and resumed the writing of verses he left off note-taking except to a very limited extent.’ However, there has been much controversy over the authorship of the two-volume ‘Life’, with biographers generally referring to it as an ‘autobiography’, and offering more or less evidence that Hardy wrote almost all of the text, went to great lengths to create the fiction of his wife’s authorship, and to hide the extent of his own penmanship. Biographers, these days, accept that Florence, with the help of a few of Hardy’s friends, did have some impact on the final published texts, more so with the second volume than the first, but mostly with the aim of ensuring he was portrayed as an attractive character.

An excellent analysis of how and why Hardy and his second wife compiled the ‘Life’ can be found in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy by Thomas Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate (Macmillan, 1984). It is billed as ‘An edition on new principles of the materials previously drawn upon for The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891 and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy 1892-1928 published over the name of Florence Emily Hardy’. Millgate’s introduction can be read online at Googlebooks. He writes: ‘Much that Hardy included in the ‘Life’, however, simply cannot be verified. Indubitably his are the many extracts from notebooks and diaries ascribed to specific dates, but since the originals of those notebooks and diaries were destroyed after they had been cannibalised in this way it has become impossible to check the accuracy either of the dates or of the transcriptions themselves - impossible to be confident that the proffered text of a note dated, say, 1885, corresponds at all precisely to what Hardy actually wrote in 1885.’ He adds, ‘it is self-evident that some of the notes must have been reworked’, and offers various examples of why this must be so.

Here, though, is a selection of extracts from Hardy’s diaries as found (and as reworked or not) in the 1928 edition of The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891.

5 May 1873
‘ ‘Maniel’ [Immanuel] Riggs found dead. [A shepherd Hardy knew.] A curious man, who used to moisten his lips between every two or three words.’

9 June 1873
‘To London. Went to French Plays. Saw Brasseur, etc.’

15 June 1873
‘Met H. M. Moule at the Golden Cross Hotel. Dined with him at the British Hotel. Moule then left for Ipswich on his duties as Poor Law Inspector.’

16-20 June 1873
‘About London with my brother Henry.’

20 June 1873
‘By evening train to Cambridge. Stayed in College - Queens’ - Went out with H. M. M. after dinner. A magnificent evening: sun over ‘the Backs’.

Next morning went with H. M. M. to King’s Chapel early. M. opened the great West doors to show the interior vista: we got upon the roof, where we could see Ely Cathedral gleaming in the distant sunlight. A never-to-be-forgotten morning. H. M. M. saw me off for London. His last smile.’

23 June 1873
‘Excursions about Bath and Bristol with the ladies.’

28 June 1873
‘To Clifton with Miss Gifford.’

30 June 1873
‘About Bath alone. . . . Bath has a rural complexion on an urban substance. . .’

1 July 1873
‘A day’s trip with Miss G. To Chepstow, the Wye, the Wynd Cliff, which we climbed, and Tintern, where we repeated some of Wordsworth’s lines thereon.

At Tintern, silence is part of the pile. Destroy that, and you take a limb from an organism. . .  A wooded slope visible from every unmullioned window. But compare the age of the building with that of the marble hills from which it was drawn! . . .’

25 February 1883. Sent a short hastily written novel to the Graphic for Summer Number.’ [lt was The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.]

28 February 1883
‘Walked with Walter Fletcher (County Surveyor) to Corfe Mullen. He says that the scene of the auction of turnpike tolls used to be curious. It was held at an inn, and at one end of the room would be the auctioneer and trustees, at the other a crowd of strange beings, looking as not worth sixpence among them. Yet the biddings for the Poole Trust would sometimes reach £1400. Sometimes the bidders would say, ‘Beg yer pardon, gentlemen, but will you wait to let us step outside a minute or two?’ Perhaps the trustees would say they could not. The men would say, ‘then we’ll step out without your letting us’. On their return only one or two would bid, and the peremptory trustees be nettled.

Passed a lonely old house formerly an inn. The road-contractor now living there showed us into the stable, and drew our attention to the furthest stall. When the place was an inn, he said, it was the haunt of smugglers, and in a quarrel there one night a man was killed in that stall. If an old horse is put there on certain nights, at about two in the morning (when the smuggler died) the horse cries
like a child, and on entering you find him in a lather of sweat.

The huge chestnut tree which stood in front of this melancholy house is dead, but the trunk is left standing. In it are still the hooks to which horses were fastened by the reins while their owners were inside.’

13 March 1883
‘M. writes to me that when a farmer at Puddlehinton who did not want rain found that a neighbouring farmer had sent to the parson to pray for it, and it had come, he went and abused the other farmer, and told him ’twas a very dirty trick of his to catch God A’mighty unawares, and he ought to be ashamed of it.

Our servant Ann brings us a report, which has been verified, that the carpenter who made a coffin for Mr. W. who died the other day, made it too short. A bystander said satirically, ‘Anybody would think you’d made it for yourself, John!’ (the carpenter was a short man). The maker said, ‘Ah - they would!’ and fell dead instantly.’

24 June 1883
‘Sunday. Went in the afternoon to see Mrs. Procter at Albert Hall Mansions. Found Browning present. He told me that Mrs.__, whom he and I had met at Lord Houghton’s, had made £200,000 by publishing pirated works of authors who had made comparatively nothing. Presently Mrs. Sutherland Orr and Mrs. Frank Hill (Daily News) came in. Also two Jewesses - the Misses Lazarus - from America. Browning tried the elder with Hebrew, and she appeared to understand so well that he said he perceived she knew the tongue better than he. When these had gone George Smith [the publisher] called, he and Mrs Procter declared that there was something tender between Mrs. Orr and Browning. ‘Why don’t they settle it!’ said Mrs. P.

In the evening went to the Irving dinner. Sir Frederick Pollock, who took the chair, and made a speech, said that the departure of Irving for America would be a loss that would eclipse the gaiety of nations (!) Irving in his reply said that in the twenty-seven years he had been on the stage he had enacted 650 different characters.’

25 June 1883
‘Dined at the Savile with Gosse. Met W. D. Howells of New York there. He told me a story of Emerson’s loss of memory. At the funeral of Longfellow he had to make a speech. ‘The brightness and beauty of soul’, he began, ‘of him we have lost, has been acknowledged wherever the English language is spoken. I’ve known him these forty years; and no American, whatever may be his opinions, will deny that in—in—in—I can’t remember the gentleman’s name - beat the heart of a true poet.’

Howells said that Mark Twain usually makes a good speech. But once he heard him fail. In his speech he was telling a story of an occasion when he was in some western city, and found that some impostors personating Longfellow, Emerson, and others had been there. Mark began to describe these impostors, and while doing it found that Longfellow, Emerson, etc., were present, listening, and, from a titter or two, found also that his satirical description of the impostors was becoming regarded as an oblique satirical description of the originals. He was overspread by a sudden cold chill, and struggled to a lame ending. He was so convinced that he had given offence that he wrote to Emerson and Longfellow, apologizing. Emerson could not understand the letter, his memory of the incident having failed him, and wrote to Mark asking what it meant. Then Mark had to tell him what he wished he had never uttered; and altogether the fiasco was complete.’

19 July 1883
‘In future I am not going to praise things because the accumulated remarks of ages say they are great and good, if those accumulated remarks are not based on observation. And I am not going to condemn things because a pile of accepted views raked together from tradition, and acquired by instillation, say antecedently that they are bad.’

22 July 1883
‘To Winterbome-Came Church with Gosse, to hear and see the poet Barnes. Stayed for sermon. Barnes, knowing we should be on the watch for a prepared sermon, addressed it entirely to his own flock, almost pointedly excluding us. Afterwards walked to the rectory and looked at his pictures.

Poetry versus reason: e.g., A band plays ‘God save the Queen’, and being musical the uncompromising Republican joins in the harmony: a hymn rolls from a church-window, and the uncompromising No-God-ist or Unconscious God-ist takes up the refrain.

13 August 1883
‘Tolbort [T. W. H. Tolbort -  a friend of Hardy’s from youth who had died recently] lived and studied as if everything in the world were so very much worth while. But what a bright mind has gone out at one-and-forty!’

3 November 1883
‘The Athenaeum says: ‘The glass-stainer maintains his existence at the sacrifice of everything the painter holds dear. In place of the freedom and sweet abandonment which is nature’s own charm and which the painter can achieve, the glass-stainer gives us splendour as luminous as that of the rainbow . . . in patches, and stripes, and bars.’ The above canons are interesting in their conveyance of a half truth. All art is only approximative - not exact, as the reviewer thinks; and hence the methods of all art differ from that of the glass-stainer but in degree.’

17 November 1883
‘Poem. We [human beings] have reached a degree of intelligence which Nature never contemplated when framing her laws, and for which she consequently has provided no adequate satisfactions.’ [This, which he had adumbrated before, was clearly the germ of the poem entitled ‘The Mother Mourns’ and others.]

23 December 1883
‘There is what we used to call ‘The Birds’ Bedroom’ in the plantation at Bockhampton. Some large hollies grow among leafless ash, oak, birch, etc. At this time of year the birds select the hollies for roosting in, and at dusk noises not unlike the creaking of withy-chairs arise, with a busy rustling as of people going to bed in a lodging-house; accompanied by sundry shakings, adjustings, and pattings, as if they were making their beds vigorously before turning in.

Death of old Billy C__ at a great age. He used to talk enthusiastically of Lady Susan O’Brien [the daughter of Lord Ilchester], who excited London by eloping with O’Brien the actor, as so inimitably described in Walpole’s Letters, and who afterwards settled in the Hardys’ parish as own; the third child’s face that of an angel; the fourth that of a cherub. The pretty one smiled on the second, and began to play “In the gloaming”, the little voices singing it. Now they were what Nature made them, before the smear of ‘civilization’ had sullied their existences. [An impression of a somewhat similar scene is given in the poem entitled ‘Music in a Snowy Street’.]

Rural low life may reveal coarseness of considerable leaven; but that libidinousness which makes the scum of cities so noxious is not usually there.’

2 June 1884
‘At Bockhampton. My birthday - 44. Alone in the plantation, at 9 o’clock. A weird hour: strange faces and figures formed by dying lights. Holm leaves shine like human eyes, and the sky glimpses between the trunks are like white phantoms and cloven tongues. It is so silent and still that a footstep on the dead leaves could be heard a quarter of a mile off. Squirrels run up the trunks in fear, stamping and crying ‘chut-chut-chut!’ ’

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My entire soul

‘Could I have already during this year explored my entire soul, and is there no longer anything in me that interests me?’ This is from the diary of a precocious 18 year old student who would go on to become not only a leading existential philosopher but one of France’s foremost 20th century intellectuals - Simone de Beauvoir. It is only in the last ten years or so, though, that some of her personal diaries have been published in English, thanks to the University of Illinois Press and The Beauvoir Series.

De Beauvoir was born into a wealthy Parisian family on 9 January 1908. She studied at the Sorbonne where she met Jean-Paul Sartre. Thereafter, she and Sartre were to remain a couple for the rest of their lives, although they lived apart and had various other lovers. During the 1930s and through the Second World War, de Beauvoir taught at several schools, in Marseilles, Rouen and then, in Paris. After the war, with Sartre, she founded the magazine Les Temps Modernes, and she travelled widely, in Europe, the US, North Africa and China. Her first novel, L'Invitée, published in 1943, was based on the story of one of Sartre’s affair.

In 1949, De Beauvoir published what would become a classic of feminist literature and her most famous work: The Second Sex. She became involved with the feminist movement from the late 1960s. Between 1958 and the early 1970s, she published various autobiographical works, and, after Satre died in 1980, she published her memoir of Sartre’s last years, Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre. She herself died in 1986. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Paris Review, or The Quarterly Conversation.

In 1947, de Beauvoir spent four months in the US, a sojourn which resulted in her publishing L’Amérique au Jour le Jour in 1948. This was translated into English by Patrick Dudley and published by Gerald Duckworth in 1952 as America Day by Day. Although usually promoted as a diary, with entries for each day, de Beauvoir explains in her preface that, in fact, the text was written retrospectively: ‘In place of a study that it would be presumptuous for me to attempt, I can at least give faithful testimony here of what I saw. Just as a concrete experience embraces both subject and object, so I have not sought to eliminate myself from this account: it would not be a true one did it not take into consideration those peculiar, personal circumstances in which each discovery was made. That is why I have adopted the style of a diary; although retrospective, this journal, reconstructed with the help of some notes, letters and still-fresh memories, is scrupulously exact. I have respected the chronological order of my astonishment, admirations, indignations, hesitations and mistakes. It often happened that my first impressions did not become clear until later on in my journey. But I must point out that no isolated passage expresses a definite opinion; besides which, I often never reached a definite point of view, and it is my indecisions, additions and corrections, taken as a whole, that combine to form my opinion. There was no process of selection involved in the development of this story: it is the story of what happened to me, neither more nor less. This is what I saw and how I saw it; I have not tried to say more.’ A more recent edition of America Day by Day, translated by Carol Cosman (University of California Press, 2000), can be previewed at Googlebooks.

However, more than 20 years after her death, the University of Illinois Press has published - as part of The Beauvoir Series - edited versions of bona fide diaries she kept at different times in her life. In 2006, it published an English translation (by Barbara Klaw) of de Beauvoir’s Cahiers de Jeunesse 1926-1927 as Diary of a Philosophy Student: 1926-1927. Some pages can be previewed online at Googlebooks. And two years later it brought out Wartime Diary (translated by Anne Deing Cordero) covering the period from September 1939 to January 1941. The publisher says of this latter volume: ‘Wartime Diary gives English readers unabridged access to one of the scandalous texts that threaten to overturn traditional views of Beauvoir’s life and work. The account in Beauvoir’s Wartime Diary of her clandestine affair with Jacques Bost and sexual relationships with various young women challenges the conventional picture of Beauvoir as the devoted companion of Jean-Paul Sartre, just as her account of completing her novel She Came to Stay at a time when Sartre’s philosophy in Being and Nothingness was barely begun calls into question the traditional view of Beauvoir’s novel as merely illustrating Sartre’s philosophy. Most important, the Wartime Diary provides an exciting account of Beauvoir’s philosophical transformation from the prewar solipsism of She Came to Stay to the postwar political engagement of The Second Sex.’

The first two of the following extracts are taken from Diary of a Philosophy Student: 1926-1927, and the last two are taken from the 1952 edition of America Day by Day.

9 August 1926
‘Could I have already during this year explored my entire soul, and is there no longer anything in me that interests me? Such indifference, such great disgust, is such lassitude natural or the proof that I am incurably mediocre? It is in solitude that being shows its worth.’

14 September 1926
‘I know now that I would be capable of seeing this work through to the end, but the effort is so useless! I myself am useless! Nothing about me matters to me any longer. Alone in me is this desire more necessary than life. Yesterday, in this barely familiar countryside, that I chose on purpose to avoid the assault of memories from a dead past, I believed myself to be so far from everything, so near and so far from him! Anxiety of knowing that the future will not give me what [I] ask of it. The countryside was really beautiful upon my return, like a thing that one sees for the first time. This morning, memories give me peace, tranquil security . . . and yet I do not even know what my face looks like in the mind of those who think of me. For others, what am I? Can one guess my veritable being behind the words that I have said? One never knows a being, since even if one knows all the elements in him, the unique manner in which the synthesis is formed is perceived only by the being himself, and it is this alone that matters. But one could know an exact symbol for him. How does the symbol for me look? And the place that it occupies? Wait. . .’

26 January 1947
‘In the dead of night and in my deep slumber a voice spoke without words: “Something has happened.” I was asleep and I did not know whether it was joy or catastrophe that had overtaken me. Perhaps I was dead as so often happens in my dreams, perhaps I would wake on the other side of the grave. Opening my eyes I felt frightened. Then I remembered: this was not altogether the world of beyond. This was New York.

This was no mirage. New York was here, it was real.

Suddenly the truth burst on me through the deep blue sky, the soft, damp air. It was even more triumphant than the doubtful enchantments of the night before. It was nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, the streets were deserted, one or two neon signs still glowed. But there was not a person in sight, not a car in the street; nothing to break the rectilinear course of Eighth Avenue. Cubes, prisms, and parallelograms - the streets were concrete abstract designs, their surface looked like the abstract intersection made by two books; building materials had neither density nor texture; space itself had been poured into the moulds. I did not move. I looked. At last I was here, New York belonged to me. I felt again that joy I had known for fifteen years. I was leaving the station, and from the top of the monumental stairway I saw all the roofs of Marseilles spread out below me; I had a year, two years to pass alone in an unknown city; I did not move and I looked down, thinking: it is a strange town. It is my future and it will be my past. Between these houses that have existed for years without me are streets laid out for thousands of people to whom I do not, and never did, belong. But now I am walking, going down Broadway. It’s me all right. I walk in streets that were not built for me, and where my life has not yet left its tracks; here is no perfume of the past. No one knows of my presence; I am still a ghost, and I glide through the city without disturbing anyone. And yet henceforth my life would conform to the layout of the streets and houses; New York would belong to me, and I to it.

I drank an orange juice at a counter and sat down in a shoe-shiner’s booth on one of three armchairs raised on a short flight of steps; little by little I came to life and grew accustomed to the city. The surfaces were now facades, the solids houses. In the roadway dust and old newspapers were drifting on the wind. After Washington Square all mathematics went by the board. Right angles are broken, streets are no longer numbered but named, lines get curved and confused. I was lost as though in some European town. The houses have only three or four floors, and deep colours varying between red, ochre and black; washing hangs out to dry on fire escapes that zig-zag up the buildings. Washing that promises sun, shoe-shine men posted at street corners, terraced roofs - they vaguely recall some southern town, and yet the faded red of the houses reminds one of London fogs. But this district does not resemble anything I know. I feel I shall love it.

The landscape changes. The word landscape is appropriate to this city abandoned by men and invaded by the sky - the sky that soars above the skyscrapers, plunges down into the long straight streets, and is too vast for the city to annex it. Everywhere the sky overflows; a mountain sky. I walk between high cliffs in the depths of a canyon where the sun never strikes; there is the tang of salt in the air. The history of man is not inscribed on these buildings whose equilibrium is so nicely calculated: they are nearer to prehistoric caverns than the houses of Paris or Rome. In Paris, in Rome, history has percolated to the very roots of the soil. Beneath the underground railways, the drains and heating plants, the rock is virgin, not touched by man. Between this rock and the open sky, Wall Street and Broadway, deep in the shadows of their gigantic buildings, belong to nature. The little russet church, with its cemetery filled with flat tombstones, is as unexpected and as moving in the middle of Broadway as some Calvary on the wild seashore.

The sun was so beautiful, the waters of the Hudson so green, that I got on the boat which takes the provincials from the Middle West to the Statue of Liberty. But I did not get off at the little island which looks like a small fort. I only wished to see the Battery as I had so often seen it at the cinema. I saw it. From a distance its campaniles seem fragile. They rest so exactly on their vertical slopes that the slightest tremor would make them collapse like card houses. As the boat approaches, their foundations appear firmer. But their steepness still fascinates. What fun to bombard them!

Hundreds of restaurants, but on Sunday all are closed. The one I eventually found was crowded; I ate hastily, pressed by the waitress. . . ’

17 May 1947
‘This the last day I would spend in Chicago. This morning I went to see the museum again, and the splendid lake on which white sails sparkled. A young mulatto had fallen fast asleep in the sun-drenched grass with straw hat over his eye. A grey-blue mist was thinning gradually over the massive buildings of the Loop, so that they no longer seemed to weight the earth. But the blackness was not banished: beside the harbour where the brightly-varnished boats lay still and slumbered, at the edge of satin waters, there were enormous heaps of dust and coal; warehouses streaked with railways and with trucks loaded with black blocks. I crossed an avenue where shining automobiles were moving swiftly, and went towards the canals. I found myself in a subterranean world; it was roofed by a road and very much darker there than underneath the El. It was lit with lamps, and there was a proper street with shops and bars on sidewalks where neon signs shone at midday; I saw in my mind’s eye the brilliance of the sun and the blue waters, and this subterranean city strongly reminded me of the film Metropolis. The street brought me back to the Loop, in which, alas! I wandered for the last time.

I should miss Chicago. I did not see it at all in the same way as I saw New York, so that I could not compare them. Instead of getting to know a lot of people and many places, I preferred to profit by the friends I had, which gave me a deeper appreciation of at least one of its aspects. My experience was very limited. I did not return to the “smart” districts, of which I had caught a glimpse the first time I passed through; I did not set foot in any of the chic nightclubs, nor did I have any contact with the University, which is most interesting, I was told. But because I had taken up a definite approach I came to be quite intimate with the city, in a way that I had been unable to achieve in New York. At all events it would only be a memory to-morrow. And in three days’ time the whole of America would be but a memory. Slowly my phantom had taken on bodily shape; I had seen the blood flow through its veins, and I was happy when its heart began to beat like a human heart. But now it was becoming disembodied with alarming speed.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Prize money for books

‘My prize money was value of 15/- [.] I chose with this JW Mackail’s translation of “The Odyssey” 5/- & 7 vols of Chiswick Shakespear.’ This is from the diary of Alfred Edgar Coppard, a British short story writer working from the first half of the 20th century, who is largely forgotten today. Having started work from the age of nine with no subsequent education, he read avidly (entering sports competitions to buy books with the prize money) and taught himself how to write in a literary way. Eventually, he was able to live from the income of his published short stories. There has been no biography of the man, but an American philosophy doctoral student, Frank Edmund Smith, wrote a thesis on Coppard - available online - which includes many extracts from a diary the writer kept in the early 1900s.

Coppard (known as Flynn to his friends) was born on 4 January 1878 into a poor family in Folkestone. They moved to Brighton when he was five. After the death of his father, he left school aged nine to work, first as a street vendor's assistant, but many other jobs followed. In 1905, he married Lilly Anne, daughter of a Brighton plumber, and in 1907 they moved to Oxford where he took up a post as confidential clerk at the Eagle Ironworks. An avid reader, Coppard also belonged to a literary group, the New Elizabethans, who met in a pub to read Elizabethan drama. In 1919, he decided to try and make a living as a writer. His first collection of short stories, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, was published by Harold Taylor who had recently launched the Golden Cockerel Press.

Coppard received early praised from Ford Madox Ford, and many similar collections of short stories followed through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. They often featured misfits and outcasts, and were set in the countryside which he wrote of with a lyrical voice, reminiscent of Thomas Hardy. Some stories contained elements of supernatural horror or allegorical fantasy. During the 1920s, he also produced several poetry collections, although these were never given much critical attention. Coppard’s first wife died in 1932, and he then married South African-born Winifred de Kok, with whom he had two children, and who would go on to become a TV expert on family problems.

In 1946, Coppard garnered some commercial success in the US when the Book of the Month Club of America issued his Selected Tales to a vast membership. He died of a heart attack in 1957. There is not a great deal of biographical information online about Coppard (nor have any biographies been written), but what there is can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required). Also, see Shaun Belcher’s Searching for A. E. Coppard for a more personal and interesting view of the writer. Very soon after his death, Methuen issued an autobiography: It’s Me, O Lord!: An Abstract & Brief Chronicle of Some of the Life with Some of the Opinions of A. E. Coppard, Written by Himself.

There are also a few biographical details in Frank Edmund Smith’s 1973 PhD dissertation Flynn: A Study of A. E. Coppard and His Short Fiction (1973) - which is available online thanks to Loyola University Chicago eCommons and Core. (Smith is now Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Harper College.) And it is through this dissertation that some information about Coppard’s diaries is also available online. In researching his thesis, Smith came to England, met Coppard’s wife, Winifred, several times, and was given permission to read and use Coppard’s diaries (1902-1906). In his introduction, Smith describes the diaries as ‘covering closely’ the years 1902-1903 with a few entries from 1904, and one entry for 1906.

After explaining that his own sketch of Coppard’s young life does not describe the real man struggling to find self-identity through the reading and writing of literature, Smith goes on to give this description of the diary: ‘One partial testament to this struggle (“adventure” might be a better word) is the Diary that Coppard kept, unevenly, from 1902 to 1906. It is the journal of an amazingly active young man recording, mostly in the period 1902-1904, a great variety of activities: professional running and billiards tournaments (both with handicaps, scores, wagers, prizes, participants, strategies), marathon walks around Brighton, sketching, photography, reading, writing competitions, art exhibits, and concerts, plays, and operas attended. There are many descriptions of the land and of the people of the land. The young Coppard describes the seasons’ changes in their effects on the land, mostly the plowed fields around Brighton. He also describes flowers, clouds, and birds seen on his frequent hikes.

The Diary contains almost no introspection and no direct entry into the mind of Coppard. He rarely talks about his self. Although one can see in the Diary a strong romantic inclination toward life and literature, there are only the lightest suggestions of his own developing love of Lilly Anne. His wife-to-be appears in many entries as “Dick,” but there is little to suggest that they are about to be married. The young Coppard got along well with others - his many friends and acquaintances appear throughout the pages, and some of the incidents that he describes show that he could make friends rapidly. Yet, his greatest enjoyment is long walks alone.

A great portion of the Diary is a record of Coppard’s reading as his literary consciousness grew. He meticulously records book purchases, always with prices, describes his response to the books he reads, and quotes long passages from favored prose and poetry. He is attempting to write, too. His descriptions of the land around Brighton are, especially at the beginning, sentimental, forced, mawkish, overdone, although they do improve from 1902 to 1906. Not all of his descriptions, though, are set scenes. He already has a fascination for listening to and telling tales, and, when he records persons in action - dialogue, features, movement - he is excellent. He lets the scene carry itself while his sharp eye picks out the comic, the unusual, the bizarre.

In the Diary he has already begun to devise the writing process that he was later to perfect - the continual recording of details that would finally emerge as a complete dramatic portrait. All during his life he carried with him notebooks in which he kept descriptions of scenes and events and records of odd names.’

Here are several examples of Coppard’s diary, as found in Smith’s narrative (including Smith’s occasional square bracket additions).

28 April 1902
‘Each field & road & hedge were charged with clamour & thunder of the great wind which bored into you with a fierce splendid power. But on this bright day the constant motion of the shining grass was wonderful to see, & slipping up over the hill the land seemed living. At one point I stood back to the wind, face to the sun, & the tall greenmeat went scurrying away like myriads of tiny beasts galloping in panic until they reached a little hilloc; over there they lost form & it all looked like a lot of water boiling furiously. So on to Bevendean, past the roaring wood, & behind the barn where all was quiet & warm. I saw 2 red & black butterflies. Further on, sitting on a sheltered bank, I watched the rooks trying to beat into the wind, but each had to drop down & travel close to the earth.’

15 May 1902
‘When the late mr Reason was killed in Australia a big subscription was made by the men in order to buy something which could be placed in the new factory as a memorial of him [.] About £25 was collected & it was foolishly resolved to buy a drinking fountain to be placed in the courtyard. When at length the fountain appeared there was great disappointment it was so small, ludicrously small. At noon when the men came out for dinner they found some sacriligious wag had tied a notice to the paltry thing, “No bathing allowed here”!’

24 May 1902
‘Sports at the Reason Ground (annual) [.] I won 4 third prizes viz. 120 yds, mile, 1 mile, & throwing cricket ball. I was really third. in long jump, but a mistake by the Judges “outed” me. My prizes were a fearful walking stick, a set of carvers of which the knife refuses to perform the only duty one asks of a carve - to carve & 2 of the most medally silver medals God ever permitted a man to make. The value of the lot is about £1. I swear when I think of the books I could have bought with the money.’

22 June 1902
‘On the way home over the lonely hills I told Symonds some of Poe’s tales.(sic) ‘The Maelstrom’ ‘The Pendulum’ & ‘The Mesmerized Corpse’ made him quite uncomfortable.’

6 July 1902
‘Coming home I beguiled Symonds with some more terrible tales, & rather unnerved him again to my great joy.’

18 January 1903
‘My mother’s gossip grows voluminous, she’s quite a character. “You know Alf when I was up there, I used to tell them gals so, whatever it was [.] They used to say ‘Why Coppard’s a jolly old witch, that she is’. And s’elp me bob, its just the same with politics [.] “ Her[e] her garrulity develops [.]? “I says to Mis Hillman, well, I says, so & so, and so & so & there it is. Yes, I see, she says [.] Ive never ‘ad it put before me in that way before. She’s a Roman Catholic but I says there’s nothing to beat a good ole Liberal” (at this point I shut my book & exhibit a sort of rebellious interest) [.] “I was just the same when I first got married, but your poor ole dad, he used to get me up in such a corner & fair beat it into me ‘e did; he used to drive me clean off me rocker & make me understand all about it” (I make a comprehending inclination of my superior head, & suffer mutely) [.] “The things never used to be so dear: when ole Gladdy was in he made everything cheap & paid up all the Natural debts & saved any amount of money, any amount that there ole Gladdy saved. And then the Queen must go and send for that beautiful Beaconsfield, & what with the wars & the things, he spent every blooming farthing he did that poor old Gladdy ‘ad saved, Alf. And the country kicked up bobs-a-dying, & was in such a uproar that the Queen had to send for old Gladdy to come back. But e wouldn’t go; e said he wouldn’t go, & move e never did” (a pause, chockful of unearthly things) [.] “There was, Sir “Something” Bright, too, e rebuked the corn bills, & give us a cheap loaf”. (the latter achievement constitutes a transcendental feature of all her favorite statemen) Sir Somethings “rebuke” assaulted my reserve & I subsided.’

27 May 1903
‘My prize money was value of 15/- [.] I chose with this JW Mackail’s translation of “The Odyssey” 5/- & 7 vols of Chiswick Shakespear.” ’

22 November 1904
‘To Bevendean This was a day of days. A storm all over England last night. The morning came with a little fall of snow -no great matter - but in favourable places on the hills & over ploughed land it lies light on the dry dead grass & cowers on the loose furrows [.] It assumes the aspect of things around a miller’s habitation. The atmosphere is crystalline & thrilling although under grey skies, for a big shattering wind clears all unlovely mist away from here & the sharp lace of the bare trees [.] It is now indeed the season of the whirling leaf. The cold snow brings an increased loneliness to the old sweet lonely places the farm laborers wear great coats old fashioned & tattered [.] A week ago the stubble was crowded with half-budded pimpernel with here & there a poppy. They must be dead as the year is, today.’

12 March 1906 [final entry]
‘at Burdock Farm: Following a bright morn the Northwest wind, for an afternoon, filled the weald, &, leafing towards the Downs kept a blue unhampered sky, & upon sodden field bare hedge thicket path & brook renewed an ancient beauty. But as early as 4 o’clock shadow was filling up the scars on the north side of the Downs; the clarity of the day & the glowing distance to the hills were bent almost as soon as seen to their vicarious decline [.] Day closed later under a wall brilliant with piercing stars; tall trees swinging viciously in the blast [.]’