Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Diary twist to Möbius strip

August Möbius, an important German mathematician, died 150 years ago today. Most students who have studied maths will recognise his name, largely because, at some stage in their education, they will have come across a Möbius strip - a twisted ring of paper that can be cut, as if by magic, into another ring twice as large. Historians know that Möbius discovered this ‘strip’ as early as 1858, 150 years ago, only because of an entry in his diary.

Möbius’s mother was descended from Martin Luther and his father, who died when Möbius was only three, was a dancing teacher. He studied mathematics, astronomy and physics at Leipzig University, then more astronomy at Göttingen with Johann Friedrich Gauss, and more maths in Halle under Johann Pfaff. By 1816, he was back in Leipzig having been appointed chair of astronomy and higher mechanics. He didn’t achieve a full professorship until 1844, but at the same time was also involved in building and running the Leipzig Observatory. He died on 26 September 1868. Further information can be found at MacTutor’s History of Mathematics archive, hosted by the University of St Andrews in Scotland, or Wikipedia.

Although Möbius published works on astronomy, his most important contributions came in the field of mathematics. His publications, not always original, were thought to be effective and clear, MacTutor says. His biographer Richard Baltzer wrote about him as follows: ‘The inspirations for his research he found mostly in the rich well of his own original mind. His intuition, the problems he set himself, and the solutions that he found, all exhibit something extraordinarily ingenious, something original in an uncontrived way. He worked without hurrying, quietly on his own. His work remained almost locked away until everything had been put into its proper place. Without rushing, without pomposity and without arrogance, he waited until the fruits of his mind matured. Only after such a wait did he publish his perfected works . . .’

One of the areas studied by Möbius was the polyhedron, and how to define it. Even today, 150 years later, this remains an area of study. Wikipedia says a polyhedron (plural polyhedra or polyhedrons) is often defined as a geometric object with flat faces and straight edges, but that this definition is ‘not very precise, and to a modern mathematician is quite unsatisfactory’. In a book dedicated entirely to polyhedra (imaginatively called Polyhedra!), its author Peter R Cromwell discusses Möbius’s contribution to the subject. In 1865, Cromwell says, Möbius answered the question ‘What is a polyhedron?’ in a paper, ‘the same one in which he described his famous one-sided strip.’

In a footnote, however, Cromwell adds the following: ‘From entries in his diary, we know that he had discovered the ‘Mobius strip’ as early as 1858. J. B. Listing [
another German mathematician who wrote an important treatise on topology] also discovered it independently around the same time.’ For much more on the Möbius strip see Wikipedia’s extensive article.

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 26 September 2008.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Americanization process

‘The Japanese are really conservative and anything a little different is an indication of radicalism. They will have to get used to changes, because there will be many of them in the next few years. They will never go back to their old pre-war lives. If they cannot adjust themselves to changes, they are in for bitter disillusionment. I have hopes that they will, but the Americanization process will be slow. We can’t expect anything else, I suppose, under the circumstances. Ever since Orientals have been in the U.S. they have had a difficult time. Denied citizenship and economic opportunities, it is not surprising that they have withdrawn and hung onto what they have brought with them.’ This is Charles Kikuchi, son of Japanese immigrants, who kept a detailed diary during his incarceration, alongside tens of thousands of other Japanese in concentration camps during the Second World War. Kikuchi died 30 years ago today, but his diary lives on, as a key resource for understanding the ‘insidiousness of racialism in American history.’

Charles Kikuchi was born in 1916 in Vallejo, California, but was orphaned aged 8 and sent to live in a multiracial orphanage some 70 miles north of San Francisco. He worked at any number of unskilled jobs, and managed to graduate from San Francisco State College in 1939. That same year he published, anonymously, an autobiographical essay entitled A Young American with a Japanese Face, which later brought him some renown in his own community. He worked for the California State Employment Service, surveying occupations of Japanese immigrants; and he attended the School of Social Welfare, University of California, receiving a certificate in social work in 1942. He was recruited by sociologist Dorothy Swaine Thomas for the Japanese Evacuation and Relocation Study (JERS), as a result of which he began to keep a diary.

For about a year, Kikuchi was interned with his family at Tanforan (San Bruno, California) and Gila River (Rivers, Arizona) concentration camps, as part of the US policy to remove over 100,000 persons of Japanese birth or ancestry from the Pacific Coast. He completed sociological field surveys at both centres, and continued chronicling camp resident settlement after he and his sisters had been allowed to relocate to Chicago in 1943. Just before the bombing of Hiroshima, he was drafted into the army. After the war, in 1946, he married Yuriko Amemiya, a professional dancer, and the following year he received a master’s degree in social work from New York University. For more than two decades, thereafter, he followed a career as a psychiatric social worker in Veterans’ Administration Hospitals where he mostly counselled Africa American veterans of the Vietnam War. He died on 25 September 1988. Further biographical information can be found at the Densho Encyclopedia website.

Kikuchi proved to be a committed and careful diarist, amassing many volumes from early 1942 to mid-1945 - all of which are held by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCAL) - as well as for the rest of his life. Some pages from the war period diaries are, in fact, available to read online in their manuscript form. They are also available in print: in 1973, University of Illinois Press (UIP) published The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle from an American Concentration Camp as edited by John Modell. The diary chronicles the period before and during the time he and his family were forced to live at Tanforan (converted race track stalls), but not his later experiences at Gila River. Parts of the book can be read online at Googlebooks. UIP quotes a review in History: Review of New Books: ‘For anyone interested in the significance of ethnicity, the role of social marginality, and the insidiousness of racialism in American history, The Kikuchi Diary is indispensable reading.’

In his introduction, Modell says Kikuchi’s diary can profitably be read on at least three levels: ‘as an insider’s record of events in “America’s concentration camps,” as the daybook of a man who was no mere detached observer but for whom the camp experience was a psychic turning point, and as one strangely glowing example of the far wider phenomenon of ethnic ambivalence.’ 


Here are several extracts from his book.

9 December 1941
‘Berkeley. Holy Christ! San Francisco last night was like nothing I ever saw before and everybody was saying that the Japs are going to get it in the ass. I ran into Jimmy Hong up on Grant Avenue, and he says I’m not allowed to screw Chinese girls anymore. Angelo, too, he says, because he is a Wop. Jimmy was kidding; and he will give me some kind of a badge which says that I am a Chinese as he says some of the Japanese boys from U. C. got beat up. I didn’t hear anything about that. Kenny told me it was true when I got back, and he said that all of the students are going to be restricted to campus. A lot of them want to get the hell out of here and go home, but I don’t know what good that will do. I don’t know what good it will be to stay here.

Kenny has a friend, Shibs, who is full of wild stories. I don’t know where he gets them. He says Bill is spying for the Navy or the FBI. I don’t believe that; but I guess the FBI do have guys on the campus. They have picked up some suspicious Japanese already. I saw Alice and she is worried about Pop, because we live so close to Mare Island and she thinks that Jack should go over and tell the Mayor that Pop was in the U.S. Navy. I think Pop would praise Japan; but he is not going to blow up anything. It may be dangerous for him in the barber shop with all those Mare Island guys coming in. I told Alice to tell Mom to have Pop’s Navy discharge framed and put on the wall next to the barber license and take that Buddha statue the hell out of there. Alice says the Army should put me in charge of patriotism because I am suspicious of my own father. I did not mean it that way; but it is true, I don’t trust the Issei. If just one of them sabotaged something, what hell there would be to pay.

Mrs. Edwards seems very calm about the whole thing, I must say. She told me to study hard and become an officer in the Navy. What a laugh! The Navy would not even let me be a messboy. Jack says it’s going to be bad, and he wants to go East to study medicine; but he can’t walk out on the family like that.’

30 April 1942
‘Berkeley. Today is the day that we are going to get kicked out of Berkeley. It certainly is degrading. I am down here in the control station and I have nothing to do so I am jotting down these notes! The Army Lieutenant over there doesn’t want any of the photographers to take pictures of these miserable people waiting for the Greyhound bus because he thinks that the American public might get a sympathetic attitude towards them.

I’m supposed to see my family at Tanforan as Jack told me to give the same family number. I wonder how it is going to be living with them as I haven’t done this for years and years? I should have gone over to San Francisco and evacuated with them, but I had a last final to take. I understand that we are going to live in the horse stalls. I hope that the Army has the courtesy to remove the manure first.

This morning I went over to the bank to close my account and the bank teller whom I have never seen before solemnly shook my hand and he said, “Goodbye, have a nice time.” I wonder if that isn't the attitude of the American people? They don’t seem to be bitter against us, and I certainly don’t think I am any different from them. That General De Witt certainly gripes my ass because he has been listening to the Associated Farmers too much.

Oh, oh, there goes a “thing” in slacks and she is taking pictures of that old Issei lady with a baby. She says she is the official photographer, but I think she ought to leave these people alone. The Nisei around here don’t seem to be so sad. They look like they are going on a vacation. They are all gathered around the bulletin board to find out the exact date of their departure. “When are you leaving?” they are saying to one another. Some of those old Issei men must have gone on a binge last night because they smell like sake.

Mitch just came over to tell us that I was going on the last bus out of Berkeley with him. Oh, how lucky I am! The Red Cross lady just told me that she would send a truck after my baggage and she wants the phone number. I never had a phone in that dump on Haste Street.

I have a queer sensation and it doesn’t seem real. There are smiling faces all around me and there are long faces and gloomy faces too. All kinds of Japanese and Caucasian faces around this place. Soon they will be neurotic cases. Wang thinks that he has an empty feeling in his stomach and I told him to go get a hamburger upstairs because the Church people are handing out free food. I guess this is a major catastrophe so I guess we deserve some free concessions.

The Church people around here seem so nice and full of consideration saying, “Can we store your things?” “Do you need clothes?” “Sank you,” the Issei smile even now though they are leaving with hearts full of sorrow. But the Nisei around here seem pretty bold and their manners are brazen.
They are demanding service. I guess they are taking advantage of their college educations after all. “The Japs are leaving, hurrah, hurrah!” some little kids are yelling down the street but everybody ignores them. Well, I have to go up to the campus and get the results of my last exam and will barely be able to make it back here in time for the last bus. God, what a prospect to look forward to living among all those Japs!’

23 May 1942
‘Saturday. Last night after I came home I heard a number of gun shots. Alice says (unofficial) that three boys were shot while trying to escape over the fence, one of whom is in the hospital. The administration won’t take any moves to confirm or deny any of the stories so they continue to spread. This seems to be a shortsighted policy. There is no chance for the paper to bring such things out without being censored. They just won’t allow us to take a definite policy on aims, except possibly Americanization. They are so afraid of radicalism. If it is being a radical to push American ideals and war effort among the Japanese without fear of stepping on toes, then we are radicals. The Japanese are really conservative and anything a little different is an indication of radicalism. They will have to get used to changes, because there will be many of them in the next few years. They will never go back to their old pre-war lives. If they cannot adjust themselves to changes, they are in for bitter disillusionment. I have hopes that they will, but the Americanization process will be slow. We can’t expect anything else, I suppose, under the circumstances. Ever since Orientals have been in the U.S. they have had a difficult time. Denied citizenship and economic opportunities, it is not surprising that they have withdrawn and hung onto what they have brought with them. The cultural ties were stronger than the political ones. In a way it is a form of escapism.

Yesterday while we were playing our little card game, the police came in and arrested 88 men for violating the State Gambling law! This puts an end to our games for a while and is an “out” for me. I don’t know where all of those single men get their money; they certainly have enough for those big card and dice games.’

21 June 1942
‘Lots of visitors as usual. Many of them probably came out of curiosity to look at us and the camp. Makes one feel like being either in a zoo or a prison. The person who owns the property across the highway in front of the main gate has opened up a very profitable enterprise. He has a 15 cent parking lot!’

18 August 1942
‘The movies were scheduled for eight o’clock and the place was not supposed to be open until 7:30, but the 1500 people were in line by 6:35. It extended all the way down past the postoffice in three columns. The shows are given every Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night with 1500 people attending each showing. Only the first 7 or 800 to get in can see the picture very well. This week a lot of blankets were put up against the windows to darken the place and two loudspeakers have been installed on the girders crossing the large room.

The Issei are as bad as the kids when it comes to pushing and crowding in. They just come and plop down on any space that is even left slightly open. And they take their shoes off! Seeing a show is a form of self torture. One sits on the floor and the cushions do not eliminate the hardness of the boards. Soon your back gets tired and the feet cramped. You shuffle around to get an easier position and step on somebody’s hand. The owner of the hand turns around and gives you a dirty look. About half way through the picture, your neck gets awfully stiff from looking up at an angle. With people pressing in on you from both sides, you feel suffocated. And to add further torture the sound is not very clear. But in spite of all this, everyone that can walk to the grandstands comes for the show. This week Abbott and Costello in “Hold That Ghost” was playing. The audience really seemed to enjoy the picture, but I thought it was a bit corny. But why should I be an old wet blanket?

The film scheduled for next week was “Citizen Kane” but Yoshio K. told me that he had to cancel it upon the request of Mr. Thompson of the Rec. Department, who claimed that the picture would be too deep for 80% of the audience and he thought that comedies should be shown.’

Saturday, September 22, 2018

France has lost her soul

‘Nobody talks about the Germans. But it’s clear that everyone never stops thinking they’re here, and keeps quiet. The main thing is not to starve this winter. And they all wait, like animals, for their turn at the trough - in the office that distributes rationing coupons. Sometimes a well-nourished soldier in a dashing gray-green uniform goes by on the street. He represents order, and he certainly has the means of maintaining it amid all this docility, this wretchedness. What is to be done? This country has lost her soul.’ This is Jean Guéhenno, a French writer who died 30 years ago today. He wrote many books on literary subjects - not least Jean-Jacques Rousseau - but famously refused to publish any work while Paris remained occupied. Only one book of his has been translated into English - his diary of the Second World War. In its original French, published soon after the war’s end, the diary has been, and remains, a much read classic text of life under German occupation.

Guéhenno was born in 1890 in Fougères in the far east of Brittany, and christened Marcel Jules Marie (though always called Jean after his father). His father was a shoe factory worker, and the family was very poor; an older brother had died in infancy. Although obliged to leave school at 14 to work in a factory, he continued to study at night, and succeeded in taking his baccalaureate. He served as an infantry office in the First World War, and thereafter studied further, becoming a high school teacher for many years. He was director of the literary journal Europe from 1929 to 1936, and in 1935 founded the weekly Vendedi. He wrote half a dozen or so literary non-fiction books before the Second World War, including his autobiographical Journal d’un homme de 40 ans, but deliberately stopped publishing during the war.

After the war, Guéhenno was commissioned to help the provisional government organise a  directorate for popular culture and youth which he did until it merged with the sports directorate in 1948. He also returned to writing, publishing a book nearly every year, many of them on Rousseau. From 1945, he wrote for Le Figaro, and in 1946 he married another writer, Annie Rospabé (they had one child). He was elected to the Académie française in 1952. He died on 22 September 1978. Wikipedia only has a very short bio in English, but the translation of the French Wikipedia page has a little more detail. Further detail can be found in a biographical thesis by Stanislaw Jan Librowski available on the Warwick University website.

Guéhenno is not well known in the English-speaking world, but one of his books was recently translated into English by David Ball and published (in 2014) by Oxford University Press as Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris. Parts of the diary were first published clandestinely in 1944 under the title Dans le prison, signed ‘Cevennes’. With the war over, a fuller text (though much cut by Guéhenno) - Journal des années noires (1940-1944) - was published by Gallimard in 1947. It has remained a highly respected work, and a classic testimony on life in occupied France. Unlike his early autobiography work (never translated) which also had ‘diary’ in the title, this is a bona fide diary. The 2014 English edition can be previewed at Googlebooks, while reviews can be read at The New York Times, The New Republic (‘this extraordinary book reminds us why books matter’) and The Independent (‘helps explain why even the most principled Parisians were often completely passive in the face of evil’).

Here are several extracts from the diary.

14 August 1940
‘I have finally left Clermont, where I spent one of the darkest, stupidest years of my life. These last weeks were especially painful for me, as stupidity was settling into power. Clermont had become, with Vichy, the refuge of journalists, writers, leaders of opinion, the refuge of everyone who’s supposed to think. I knew a lot of people. I could see how they were bowing to the new powers that be. It was frightful. How quickly thought and liberty can die! Last vision: the sidewalk cafe of the Glacier in Clermont; Monday, around 6 p.m. I recognize a few of my former comrades. I can distinguish two types: plump, heavy-lipped faces, swollen with rancid fat, bags under their heavy eyes. And thin faces, gnawed by envy, hatred, and ambition. All of them making a lot of “dough,” as they say; they don’t give a damn about reasons for living, as long as they’re living. Around them, their Muses and their whores, a blonde swarm wreathed in cigarette smoke.

I’m only here for three or four weeks at the most, likely to be called back at any time: for from now on, France is working, and the cabinet ministers are taking in hand those lazy civil servants, of whom I am one. But I feel an inexpressible happiness at being here again, in my village. Oh, nothing like their idiotic “Back to the land.” But it’s as if there were thick walls of air and the whole sky between that cowardly world and me. I would like to think of a few beautiful things.’

19 September 1940
‘I am vainly trying very hard to work. All my projects seem silly to me. What’s the use? I spend hours with my head in my hands, strangely prostrate, like the country itself perhaps. What? After all they’re still the same men in the same skin as a year ago, or two years ago. But no, something has been broken. This people doesn’t think, feel, or want anymore. Two weeks were enough to turn it into a herd. Yesterday I waited on line for five full hours to get our food rationing cards. I listened to the people. But their heads are as empty as their bellies. The confusion of their minds is frightful. The crowd has no hope; they are resigned. One would like to hope for the victory of the English. But some of the demobilized soldiers feel this would add to their shame. They have a selfish interest, out of self-esteem, in seeing the English beaten as they themselves were. Nobody talks about the Germans. But it’s clear that everyone never stops thinking they’re here, and keeps quiet. The main thing is not to starve this winter. And they all wait, like animals, for their turn at the trough - in the office that distributes rationing coupons. Sometimes a well-nourished soldier in a dashing gray-green uniform goes by on the street. He represents order, and he certainly has the means of maintaining it amid all this docility, this wretchedness. What is to be done? This country has lost her soul. What event, what new ordeal could give it back to her? Suffering will not suffice: the country would have to do something, to find herself committed to some action in which she could recover her pride. Nothing can be built on shame.

Today I had to sign a paper through which I “solemnly declare, on my honor,” that I have never been a Freemason and have never belonged to any secret society. Oh, what stupidity!’

17 January 1941
‘Never have so many people in Europe known how to read and yet never have there been so many herd animals, so many sheep. In times gone by, a man who didn’t know how to read would save himself through his distrust. He knew he was ignorant, as Descartes did, and he was wary of anyone who spoke too well. He thought by himself - the only way to think. A man today who has learned to read, write, and count is utterly unprotected from his vanity. A degree certifies his knowledge. He believes in it, he’s proud of it. He reads the paper and listens to the radio like everyone else, with everyone else. He is abandoned to the tender mercies of advertising and propaganda. Something is true as soon as he has read it. The truth is in books, isn’t it? He doesn’t realize that the lie is in them, too.

I can see this confirmed more every day. Our teaching is far too much about teaching results. All too often, it fosters only the gift for pedantry and a docile memory. A hundred young people I talk to are far more knowledgeable in geometry than Euclid, but few of them are able to reflect that Euclid was a great geometer and that they are nothing. More than the results of the sciences, we should teach their history, reveal to young minds the nature of a moving, active intelligence and communicate the deep meaning of science: get them to understand that a scientist is not a man who knows but a man who seeks, crushed and exalted at the same time by the idea of all that he does not know. Thus we could produce independent, strong men and not vain, servile animals.’

11 August
‘This morning I tried once again to obtain the Ausweis necessary to go into the other zone. Useless. As early as 5:30 a.m., in the dark, I was on the first Metro with the fishermen. They were getting on at every station, with their fishing-rods, their landing nets, boxes of worms, folding chairs, and so many hopes. They were all rushing to take their places on the banks of the Seine and got off at Châtelet. Toward 6 a.m. I was at Rue du Colisée, where the occupying authorities have their headquarters. It was much too late. But how could I get there earlier, unless I walked there during the night? It is forbidden to go out before 5 a.m. Three hundred people were already there; they lived in the neighborhood or had slept in the hallways nearby. As the authorities only examine about 50 cases a day, at least 200 of them were there for the third or fourth time. People were bickering with each other. It was all rather frightful, a scene out of Maupassant. Each one wanted to have the most dangerous illness in his own family. Peritonitis was at a premium. The luckiest had a corpse, and, to get in with the first in line, brandished their telegram.

What’s more, I was told they were examining only “urgent” cases and mine did not even deserve examination. After two hours of waiting on line, abandoning all hope, I left.

I walked along the Champs-Élysées, completely empty. Only a few “feldgrau” and a few “gretchen” were making their way to their offices, clicking their heels on the asphalt and giving the Hitler salute. Then I got the idea of going all the way up to the Arch of Triumph, to go for a moment near the Other One, up there under his slab of stone. I stood there for a long time. The policeman on duty was bored. The pathetic little flame danced in the wind. Do I know what I was thinking? I was looking. There he was, that man, killed twenty years ago... a corpse has no age. Are you less dead after twenty years than after a thousand? But all around me there was Paris - admirable - and France, like a ruin, in that astonishing silence, and also those “feldgrau” and those “gretchen.” That dead man, alone among all the dead, decidedly did have an age, an age given to him by the history of his country. For how long will that flame keep burning? Why, then, was it lit? It all felt to me like an insult. Unknown comrade, whom they let neither live nor die, offended in your life which was stolen from you, offended now even in death, you poor man loaded with glory and shame that you did not desire, o you, truly my brother. . .’

13 March 1943
‘Why I keep this diary? To remember, and to put a bit of order inside me, inside my life. Through discipline, the way one does exercises. But it would be unfortunate if I contented myself with these notes, these disjointed fragments with no rhythm to them. All this cannot make a book. A great book is a rhythm that imposes itself on the reader: the reader necessarily adopts the rhythm without even realizing it, the way one follows a companion’s steps. May I just once write a book that leads the way. A diary hardly says anything but where one is coming from, and it is where one is going that is important, where one wants to go, and that can only be said in books, works one has reflected on, composed through our will.

Anthology. Translate Whitman’s wonderful poem: “A Word Out of the Sea.” How he learned to sing on the banks of Paumanok when he was a child by listening to a bird calling its vanished mate day and night, while the bass voice of the sea repeated, to all its waves, death, death. . .’

25 August 1944
‘Yesterday evening around 9:00 they were still building barricades on Boulevard Sérurier. They were chopping down the plane trees at the street corners. I came back home around ten. Friends call me, saying they can see huge fireworks over the Hotel de Ville, with red and blue rockets answering them in the south and west. It was the signal. The first tanks of Leclerc’s army had just rolled up to Notre-Dame. And then all the bells of all the churches rang in the night, drowning out the rumbling of the big guns.

Freedom - France is beginning again.’

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I hope the ewes heard me

‘I got the fence by the cowshed finished and couldn’t help yelling in triumph. Getting it done at last felt fantastic. I hope none of the real farmers heard me. I hope no one heard me. Then again, I hope the ewes heard me. They could do with something to think about.’ This is from a delightful diary, published today by Quercus, charting the daily practice and the metaphysical delights of sheep farming. Written by Axel Lindén, a Swedish literary graduate who decided in 2014 to drop his doctoral studies in favour of a simpler life, On Sheep is heralded by the publisher as ‘a sensitive and entertaining meditation on the small wonders in our world.’

Axel Lindén was born in 1972, studied literature at Uppsala University, and was teaching in Stockholm when, it seems, he was hit by an early mid-life crisis. In his introduction to On Sheep, he explains how he became increasingly aware of potential global environmental crises. He drew the conclusion - ‘a bit hastily’ he notes in retrospect - that ‘the only way to seriously tackle the threat to the climate and global injustice while also making sure of the bare necessities when it all came tumbling down was to start growing our own food and chopping our own wood. And getting some sheep.’ 


As it happened, his parents, who owned a farm in southern Sweden, were wanting to retire, and so he (and presumably his wife, though she is not mentioned explicitly in the intro) decided the family would move out of the city to take over part of their farm. And so, by mid-2014, Lindén found himself focussing on being a sheep farmer (although exactly how this came about is not clear - there’s very little biographical or contextual detail with the diary).

On Sheep: Diary of a Swedish Shepherd contains extracts from Lindén’s diary from July 2014 through until October 2016. The published extracts are sometimes daily though with many gaps, and they vary in length from one line to half a page or so. 
Lindén develops an interesting relationship with the sheep, which he sometimes personifies. For example, when he falls ill with pneumonia he notes how the sheep could have escaped if they’d tried running off. He writes about how the ewes don’t have names (unlike the rams who have a duty to perform as individuals) but they do have numbers (because, he says, they are first and foremost flock not individuals). Nevertheless, he uses these numbers rather affectionately. There’s one ewe, for example, ‘as calm as an old pine tree. That’s number 018; she’s always been particularly sociable.’

The diarist’s prime concern, initially, seems to be to record the practical details of his new life, his responsibilities towards the sheep, and his need to make a living from them. In time, he develops an appreciation of the spiritual and emotional value of manual labour, caring for other living things, and staying connected to the earth, and he finds himself meditating on more philosophical and existential matters. Eventually, however, he finds he cannot stop thinking about the sheep as anything other than a source of income, and all the back-to-earth novelty starts to fade. In one of the last diary entries, he writes simply: ‘The uncomplicated sense of being a shepherd and immersed in the life of the sheep lacks vitality now.’

On Sheep, as translated by Frank Perry from the original Swedish Fårdagboken, is published on 20 September 2018 by Quercus. And, with thanks to Quercus, here are several extracts from the book.

30 August 2014
‘I’ve done almost nothing today with the little woolly’uns. I have been thinking about them though. I checked on the water for the ewes. I even went and stood in the middle of the flock to help them stay used to a human presence and to keep the relationship going. Trust is a perishable commodity, in life and in the sheep biz.’

2 October 2014
‘I got the fence by the cowshed finished and couldn’t help yelling in triumph. Getting it done at last felt fantastic. I hope none of the real farmers heard me. I hope no one heard me. Then again, I hope the ewes heard me. They could do with something to think about. Though they’re doing well enough, just trudging along must get a bit tedious. Imagine if all you had to worry about were your most basic needs. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Am I feeling cold? It’d be enough to drive you crazy. Or leave you feeling completely calm.’

2 December 2014
‘Sometimes, like today, prising the silage out of the bale is all but impossible. Somehow the tufts of grass manage to weave themselves inextricably together. I keep at it and get sweaty. And angry. We’re supposed to work collectively on this farm of ours, that’s the whole idea, though clearly it doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m the only one doing any work, I think bitterly. I don’t get worked up normally but an unexpected rage starts bubbling up inside when I have to labour hard enough to be out of breath. It is cathartic.’

22 December 2014
‘The sick ewe appears to be recovering. She’s grazing along with the others. Her name is 195. Using numbers might seem a bit impersonal but it feels appropriate nonetheless. Sheep are flock first and foremost and not individuals. We only use real names for the stud rams. Not because we have more respect for them but because for a brief period they have a duty to perform as individuals.’

10 April 2015
‘A couple of the mums - we call them ‘mums’ when they’ve just had lambs - keep shoving their lambs away so they can’t get at the teat. We have to hold these mums still a couple of times a day. I was absolutely furious with them at first but now I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re just being sheep. You can’t identify with these animals. They are utterly unlike us.’

20 August 2015
‘Someone asked me what sheep smell like. I don’t really know, never thought about it. That will be up to the beholder’s . . . nose. The ewes have a gland right next to their teats. It looks like a suppurating wound, which makes finding out what it smells like pretty off-putting. The gland helps guide the newborn lamb, presumably by scent alone. My family often say I smell of sheep when I’ve been shearing them. I think the smell is like that of a well-worn sweater, still bearable, but in need of a wash.’

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sourdough sandwich, caribou ribs

‘A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, [. . .] A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River.’ This is from the journals of the inspiring outdoorsman, Richard Proenneke, who spent much of his adult life living in a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. Alaska Northwest Books is today publishing a special edition of One Man’s Wilderness - the first book based on his journals which brought him some fame - as a way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of when Proenneke ‘first broke ground and made his mark in the Alaskan wilds in 1968’.

Proenneke was born near Lee County, Iowa, one of six children, in 1916. He enlisted in the US Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served as a carpenter for two years in Pearl Harbor. In San Francisco, waiting for a new assignment, he was hospitalised for six months with rheumatic fever. As the war ended, he received a medical discharge. He studied to become a diesel mechanic, but, yielding to a love a nature, he went to Oregon to work on a sheep farm. In 1950, he moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska, where he was employed as a heavy equipment operator and repairman by the Naval Air Station at Kodiak. He took up salmon fishing but also continued to work as a diesel mechanic.

In 1968, Proenneke moved to live in the remote and unpopulated area of Twin Lakes. There he built a log cabin, living a relatively solitary life - self-sustained by fishing, gathering, hunting - for more than 30 years. He spent much of his time studying nature and wildlife, photographing it, and keeping a journal. After only a few years, he had become something a celebrity thanks to a book about him published by Alaska Northwest Books in 1973. It was Proenneke’s friend and fishing/hunting partner, Sam Keith that first suggested a book based on Proenneke’s journals, and it was under Keith’s name that it was published: One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke. The book was hugely popular, though Proenneke subsequently claimed that Keith had ‘changed some things’.

As his fame spread in the 1980s, Proenneke took on more formal tasks, volunteering for and eventually being employed by the National Park Service while continuing to live in his cabin. He also found himself often distracted, says Hermitary in its bio ‘by filming and Park Service relations and well-meaning visitors, noisy hunters, editors seeking a writing deal, fan mail, and friends overwhelming him with gifts of processed foods’. Only in 1999, at the age of 82, did Proenneke return to civilisation, living with his brother in California until his death in 2003. A year or two earlier he had donated all his journals to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Further information on Proenneke can be found at Wikipedia or the Richard Proenneke Museum website.

One Man’s Wilderness has remained in print continuously - the thirty-second Alaska Northwest Books printing in 2011 can be previewed at Googlebooks and read in full at Internet Archive. Many reviews can be read at Good Reads, which gives the book a high 4.29 rating on the basis of nearly 5,000 readers. In the early 2000s, some of the book and along Proenneke’s own films were used in a documentary aired by US Public Television: Alone in the Wilderness - see IMDB, YouTube, and the Bob Swerer Productions website. A 50th anniversary edition is being published today (11 September)  by Alaska Northwest Books (see Graphic Arts Books and Amazon) with a new introduction by Nick Offerman (though the 50th anniversary is of Proenneke breaking ground for his cabin and making his mark in Alaska not of publication of the original book).

Editions of Proenneke’s unadulterated journal entries have also been published. The first - More Readings From One Man’s Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke 1974-1980 - was edited by John Branson and published by the National Park Service, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, in 2005. This can be freely accessed online at Internet Archive or National Park Service. Since then, three other volumes have also been published:  The Early Years (1967-1973), A Life in Full Stride (1981-1985), and Your Life Here Is An Inspiration (1986-1991) - all edited by Branson and available from the Richard Proenneke Museum Store.

In his preface to More Readings, Branson says his intent is ‘to present a broad array of Proenneke’s daily activities’, thus readers ‘will find Proenneke during his adventuring days on the trail and battling strong winds in his canoe, they will see him on more prosaic days of cutting wood, mending his clothes, cooking, writing, feeding his “camp robbers,” and contending with an apparent limitless number of porcupines bent on chewing his cabin to dust.’ Moreover, he says, ‘his keen observations of brown-grizzly bears, great horned owls, moose, sheep, caribou, wolverines, lynx, and red foxes demonstrates just how knowledgeable Proenneke was of wildlife behavior.’

Branson also notes that he wanted to document Proenneke’s interaction with various NPS personnel as they planned and created the new Lake Clark National Monument in 1978-1979 and the national park and preserve in 1980, and to make selections demonstrating how very close Proenneke was tied to the small community of Port Alsworth on Lake Clark, and of his particularly close relationship to the pioneering Alsworth family. Proenneke might have been nearly emotionally self-sufficient, he adds, but he was tethered to the Alsworths for provisions, mail service, and friendship. ‘It is hoped,’ Branson says, ‘that this book will inspire more interest in the life of Richard Proenneke because he was truly a remarkable man who represented values of wilderness preservation and resource protection.’

In his biographical sketch, Branson goes on to look at the links between Proenneke and another diarist/naturalist, Henry D. Thoreau. ‘By the 1980s some were beginning to see parallels with Henry David Thoreau in Proenneke’s singular existence at Twin Lakes. The more one examines Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes the more one sees Thoreau’s philosophy put into practice. Thoreau preached material simplicity and a life in balance with nature in Walden. Thoreau wrote about the costs of building his cabin at Walden Pond and Proenneke wrote about the costs of his cabin construction at Twin Lakes. Thoreau lived in his cabin two years; Proenneke lived at his cabin the better part of 30 years. Thoreau has inspired millions about the value of wilderness to human survival, of low consumption and self reliance. Proenneke inspires by example, leading a full life, both of action and of the intellect. He had more constructive energy and could concentrate more than anyone I have ever met, whether cooking, hiking, wood cutting, cleaning up after litter bugs, or writing his journals and attending to his large correspondence. Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes runs back through some 150 years of American history to Thoreau at Walden Pond. Both men achieved great balance in their daily existence, tending both the mind and the muscles.’

Here is one extract from One Man’s Wilderness (Keith’s version of the diaries).

4 June 1968
‘A good day to start the roof skeleton.

Another critic cruised past in the lake this morning, a real chip expert and wilderness engineer, Mr. Beaver. He probably got a little jealous of all the chips he saw, and to show what he thought of the whole deal, upended and spanked his tail on the surface before he disappeared.

Shortly afterward a pair of harlequin ducks came by for a look. The drake is handsome with those white splashes against gray and rusty patches of cinnamon.

My curiosity got the better of me and I had to glass the sheep in the high pasture. It was a sight to watch the moulting ewes grazing as the lambs frolicked about, jumping from a small rock and bounding over the greenery, bumping heads. It was a happy interruption to my work.

I find I can handle the twenty-footers easily enough by just lifting one end at a time. With the corners of the cabin not yet squared off, there are some long ends sticking out on which to rest logs as I muscle them up to eave level and beyond. I also have two logs leaning on end within the cabin, and by adjusting their tilt I can use them to position a log once it is up there. The ladder comes in handy, too.

The two eave logs were notched and fastened down according to plan. I cut the openings for the big window, the two smaller ones, and the opening for the door. 1 placed the first gable log on each end, and it was time to call it a day.

The roof skeleton should get the rest of its bones tomorrow.’

And here are several extracts from More Readings (the diaries as selected by Branson).

24 December 1974
‘I did a bit of reading of magazines collected during the summer and went through half of my Dec. journal. Pretty tame reading now and I wonder how it will be in a dozen years from now. It would be interesting to reread from April 29 and estimate the miles I have covered since that date. 1,500 would be a real conservative estimate in my mind and I wonder how close I am.

Recently I have been thinking of a good hike on snowshoes and only one thing holds me back and that is perishables freezing in my cabin while I am away. Pack my Eddie Bauer sleeping bag, a tarp, axe and some grub and head for Port Alsworth. I could make it in two days easy enough. Go through Low Pass and down the Kijik to Lachbuna Lake and from the lower end take a sharp left and through a pass to the head of Portage Creek. Down the creek to the lake and travel the lake to Tanalian point and Babe’s bay [Hardenburg Bay]. It would be a good exercise and to return over a broken trail would be a breeze. It would be done after mid Feb. when the days are longer and less chance of things freezing here.’

5 October 1975
‘Overcast, Breeze up & 27°. The kettle of caribou to cook and the cabin to restock from the cache. Rain jacket to mend and heavy socks to darn. Jake took a tour with his 35 mm. A good cover of snow but we needed sunshine to go with it. The breeze had been light early but as the day progressed it picked up to a good blow. The lake very rough and the Cub resting easy on its rack behind the high breakwater. A real safe tie down with the lake level low.

A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, but I think roasting them through the open door of the stove would do better but lack the open fire effect.

A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River. If it is a bad day tomorrow I just might spend the day hiking down and back with the light load. See how N70039 is doing as I pass.

The sky was pink above a huge roll of grey clouds at sunset. The wind strong and cold. I put the thermometer in my potato box in the woodshed. When I went for it, 30° and I brought them in. It went into my cooler box for there is green stuff there. 36° when I went to check - good for a few days at least.


A good supper with boiled spuds and gravy. Moose steaks, tender and juicy. A big green salad and beans. Our old standby for dessert. Two gallons and a qt. of blueberries in the bank. The picking season is over. Now at 7:50, the surf is noisy on the beach, a few flakes of snow in the air, temp. 27°.’

3 August 1978
‘Partly Cloudy, Calm & 45°. Very few clouds but enough that I couldn’t call it clear. The lake is rising because of so much warm weather. With so much calm weather I should he seeing sign of red salmon but as yet, none.

Today I would go to the far corner and get a good sunburn in the process. Go up the right hand fork of Camp Creek. Climb to the high ridge looking down on the head of Beatrice Creek. Sheep country in the summer time. Sheep leaving the lick climb to the high ridges and keg up on the ledges just under the crest of the ridges. It’s a long haul, almost like going to the lick as far as travel time is concerned.

I was a long time making up my mind - too many far away places that I would like to visit. This one had priority because of the satellite or space station that had burned on re-entry to the atmosphere of earth. Some garbage separated from it as it passed over head. I felt sure that it was to high for any space parts to land this side of Turquoise Lake but I would keep it in mind as I trudged along.

I crossed at the mouth of Camp Creek and I thought of Roy Allen. He and I had come down Camp Ridge to the creek crossing after an unsuccessful sheep hunt. I had worn boots and offered to pack him across. He disappeared in the brush up the creek and after what seemed an unreasonable length of time he came back with a stout willow pole that he had cut and limbed with his hunting knife. “I didn't take pole vaulting in college for nothing” he said after pole vaulting across the narrow stream. Camp Ridge is a good place from which to check Emerson Creek for bear. A lush green patch far up at the eroded rocks waterfall and a sow with triplets spent some time there one year.

I was sitting down glassing the country and just got to my feet to move. Here came a nice ewe and lamb around that point of loose rock. No more than fifty feet away and she stopped to check me out. I stood still and she and her lamb passed me at twenty five feet headed on up the ridge. Here came another pair, a nice looking ewe molted clean and starting a new coat. The wind in my favor so she wouldn’t wind me. She came a few steps and stopped to watch me. Closer still until she was no more than fifteen feet away. The lamb as close and off to the side. Me with the Exakta hanging around my neck and I didn't dare move. Those little sheep flies of the high country were biting me on the legs and still I didn’t move. Could I move slow enough to get the camera up without spooking them. I would give it a try. Very slowly I moved my hand and they watched. The ewe moved back to twenty feet as I raised the camera. Ewe and lamb came together and I got them. The click of the shutter was too much and they moved back the way they had come. Another pair came and caught me moving and trotted away.

I stayed up there as long as I dared. 2:45 and it would take me at least three and one half hours to get home. It had been building heavy clouds and so I would have shade
for the descent. One last look around and I headed down the loose rock mt. Forty minutes that took an hour to climb. Two hours fifteen to Emerson Creek flats below the falls. A nice breeze up the lake and I wouldn’t use the kicker. 50 minutes from Emerson Creek to my beach. The wind was calming while I had supper and now as I finish my writing it is near glassy smooth. The circles of a strong rise out front and it may have been the first of the red salmon. At 9:30 nearly clear again and the temperature 55°.’

Friday, September 7, 2018

A fat little rascal

‘One week from today my diary will become ten years old. It’s getting to be a fat little rascal and perhaps may be the only literature of any value I’ll leave when I die. [. . .] The good diaries, the ones that are truthful and readable and revealing - these should be published. The ordinary lives of ordinary folks. Personal history, en masse, becomes national history.’ This is Edward Robb Ellis, one of the most prolific diarists in American history, who died 20 years ago today. He worked as a reporter for many years, and published a few books, but he is remembered today mostly for the extraordinary diary, published a few years before his death, with the rather grand title of A Diary of the Century.

Ellis was born in Kewanee, Illinois, in 1911. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri graduating in 1934, and subsequently was employed at the New Orleans Associated Press office. He moved to Oklahoma, where he worked for the Oklahoma City Times. In 1937, he married the professional violinist, Leatha Sparlin, and they had one daughter, before divorcing after the war. He served in the United States Navy between 1943 and 1945, editing a hospital newspaper, The Bedside Examiner; and then, after being posted to Okinawa, he ran another newspaper for sailors.

After a short spell at the Daily News in Chicago, Ellis moved, in 1947, to live and work in New York City. There he met and married Ruth Kraus. He worked for the World Telegram for 15 years, and thereafter he wrote several books - including a history of the city - and many articles. Ruth died suddenly in 1965, leaving him bereft. Since the age of 16, he had kept a detailed daily diary, and it was the diary that now kept him going, and indeed became a central focus of his somewhat eccentric life - largely confined to a book-filled rundown Manhattan apartment. With publication of extracts from his 22 million word diary, he accrued some fame, and, having interviewed many names in his life, he himself became the subject of interviews. Prior to 1994, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world’s longest diary. He died on 7 September 1998. There is not a great deal of detailed biographical information available online, but a little can be found at Wikipedia, The New York Times, and Salon.

A Diary of the Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist was published by Kodansha International in 1995. In a short introduction, another New York journalist, Pete Hamill, compares Ellis’s diaries, in the first instance, to that of Thomas Mann (see Mann on Mann). Then, he compares them to those of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong (Wall Street palpitating), concluding thus: ‘They, too, were decent men and New Yorkers, trying to make sense of the dailiness of their lives. Much of what we know about their time - about the way human beings actually lived - we know from them. There are human beings not yet born who will be helped in understanding our times through the diaries of Edward Robb Ellis. That is his accomplishment. That is his triumph.’ Some extracts from the diary can be read online at Philip Turner’s The Great Gray Bridge or The National Diary Archive. Here are several other extracts.

27 December 1927
(This was the first entry I ever wrote in my diary, misspelling and all.) Well Christmas is past and everyone happy. I got a wristwatch, billfold, DeMolay pin, and the usual hetregeneous collection of sox, ties and handkerchiefs. Went to the students’ dance at the Kewanee Club last night. Took Barbara. Not so hot. Had fun there, though. Am reading a book about the World War. Had trouble with Tom Pierce about ushering at the theater. All right now. I’m paid 25 cents afternoons and 50 cents evenings.’

21 April 1928
‘This is a great day, a great day! Today marks the beginning of a second composition book of my diary. As yet no living person has gazed upon the pages of my diary although several persons have asked for that privilege. At first I put down only the things I wouldn’t be ashamed of, but as time went on I began to record all, or nearly all, of my thoughts, actions and desires, be they good or bad.’

22 February 1932
‘My 21st birthday. What a momentous day! Now, if ever, I am going to have to foster some semblance of manhood and play the part of an intellectual adult. There is one thing of which I am exceedingly conscious on this day, and that is my own ignorance. I can claim but a scant share of all the knowledge the world holds. I am woefully lacking any real insight into all those things worth knowing. I am so damned incompetent! However, there is one quality I possess - energy! If I can retain even a part of this youthful zest and joy in living, then perhaps I can conquer the world. Oh, hell, I’m so Goddam pretentious. Twenty-one, indeed! I’m more like a two-year-old. I wonder whether I’m a neurotic. I’m always highstrung and often nervous. In fact, I’m horribly high-strung and at times become irascible toward Melody Snow when she has done nothing to provoke me. Am I abnormal or normal? Am I over-sexed?’

3 December 1936
‘I’m still having trouble adjusting to the city room of the Oklahoma City Times. When I worked for the New Orleans Item the office was a happy Bedlam, while this office seems like Sunday School. Today the managing editor sent me a note requesting that I make sure my desk is neat before I leave. Nuts! A newspaper office should be the last refuge of non-conformists! “Scoop” Thompson even declares there should be a Constitutional amendment stating that it is the duty of every reporter to get drunk every Saturday night - at least.’

20 December 1937
‘One week from today my diary will become ten years old. It’s getting to be a fat little rascal and perhaps may be the only literature of any value I’ll leave when I die. The other day it occurred to me that it might be a good idea for someone to get an advance from a publishing house and then travel around the country in search of men and women who keep diaries. The good diaries, the ones that are truthful and readable and revealing - these should be published. The ordinary lives of ordinary folks. Personal history, en masse, becomes national history.

If I remember correctly, Voltaire called footnotes in a book the sound of slippers sneaking up the back staircase - something like this. Anyway, this is the kind of history found in diaries - the slippers-under-the-bed, the Mrs. Grundy-just-told-me, the sure-crossed-up-that-guy-yesterday, the hope-that-I’ll-get-it-tomorrow, the but-you-said-you-loved-me, the wail-of-a-lonely-frail, as the song says. The marginalia of civilization.’

23 February 1961
‘In the office today Ed Wallace and I discussed Allen Ginsberg, who worked as a copyboy here at the World-Telegram in 1953. Having just read Ginberg’s poem called Howl, solemn-faced Wallace said; “Ginsberg might become immortal  - if Robert Frost beat him to death with a wet squirrel.”

26 April 1989
‘His Royal Ignorance, George Bush, hopes the Supreme Court will outlaw abortion. The man is all eloquence. In other contexts he speaks of “this vision thing” and “the contra thing.” I wish I could tax bad syntax.’

21 September 1989
‘Donald Trump, the flashy real estate man, is supposed to be worth $1.6 billion. The People's Almanac says that if a person spent $1,000 a day, every day since the birth of Christ, even by this date the billion dollars would not have been exhausted.’

23 September 1989
‘Irving Berlin died in his sleep yesterday at the age of 101 in his town house on Beekman Place. I have a special place in my heart for him because a quarter-century ago I spent an afternoon with him and liked him a lot. The New York Times story about him began on the front page and then broke inside to one full page.’

17 April 1993
‘I dipped into some of my earlier diaries and am astounded by the fact that I have forgotten so many things, some of them important. For example, using photographs, I caricatured Ike and Mamie Eisenhower, Ruthie showed them to her boss, a close friend of the President, her boss took them to the White House, where Ike liked my caricature of him, thought the one of Mamie also was funny, but decided not to show it to her lest it hurt her feelings. How could I forget this?’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Diary briefs

Nelson Mandela’s 1962 diary online  - WikiSourceSunday Times

Tin Hats and Rice - Blacksmith Books, South China Morning Post

Seamus Heaney diaries on display - National Library for IrelandTheJournal.ie

The War Outside My Window - Savas Beatie, The Atlantic Journal

Albert B Nye diary project - Nye diary website

Parts of Emperor Hirohito’s diary published - The Guardian, New York Post,

Chilling diary in Aussie murder case - Daily Mirror

Stranger in My Heart - Unbound, South China Morning Post

Argentina’s ‘notebooks’ scandal - Miami Herald

Diary of Nagasaki nun survivor - The Mainichi

Diary of British WW1 prisoner - Express, Mail Online

Diary clue in Delhi cult deaths - Times of India, The Free Press Journal

The Baker brothers war diary - PoppyLand Publishing, Enjoy Cromer

Old Japanese diaries help scientists - Annales Geophysicae, Daily Mail

Diary evidence in Indian coal case - Northeast Now

Lord Hope’s Diaries - Avizandum Publishing, Scottish Legal News

London to Australia by Clipper - News Letter, Amazon


Monday, September 3, 2018

Rebellious ferment

‘We believed in our views, then considered so revolutionary, with burning intensity, and were completely intolerant of narrow nationalism or the academic establishment. The rebellious ferment also infected our social behaviour . . .’ This is Brian Boydell, one of Ireland’s major 20th century musical figures, writing in his introduction to a memoir focused on the 1940s. The memoir has just been published, for the first time, by Cork University Press with the title Rebellious Ferment, and includes a diary kept by Boydell for just a few months in 1950.

Boydell was born in Howth, County Dublin, into a well-off Anglo-Irish family. His mother was one of the first women graduates of Trinity College, and his father ran the family malting business. He was sent to England to be educated, first at the Dragon School, Oxford, then to Rugby. After a summer in Heidelberg, Germany, where he wrote his first songs and also studied organ, he won a choral scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, though studied natural science, graduating in 1938. At Clare, he became a member of the Cambridge University Madrigal Society (which gave him an abiding love of Renaissance music) and ran the music society. Subsequently, he studied at the Royal College of Music, before returning to neutral Ireland at the start of the war, and enrolling at Trinity College, achieving a Bachelor of Music in 1942.

Boydell was soon well ensconced in the Dublin music world - performing, composing and teaching. In 1943, he was appointed conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, and the following year he was appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. In 1944, he organised a concert featuring his own compositions; and the same year he married Mary Jones. They had three sons (one of whom, Barra, is a leading authority on Irish musical history and Emeritus Professor of Musicology at Maynooth University.) In 1948, Boydell helped found the Music Association of Ireland with the aim of promoting classical music throughout the country. And, in the mid-1940s, he began presenting radio programmes on music appreciation - he would go on to present 1,000 or so such programmes. In the late 1950s, he founded the Dowland Consort, a vocal ensemble with which he performed for many years.

By 1962, Boydell had obtained a Doctorate in Music, and he was appointed Professor of Music at Trinity College. He also also served on the Arts Council for several decades. Apart from music, his interests ranged widely, from painting and photography to cars, fishing and gardening. Following his retirement from Trinity, he devoted himself to musical scholarship, and wrote several books on Irish music history. Further information can be found online at Wikipedia, RTÉ, Trinity College, The Irish Times, The Journal of Music or The Guardian.

Boydell was not a natural diarist, but for the first half of 1950 he did keep a daily diary. This was only discovered in 2014 (down the back of his heavy writing desk). Barra Boydell has now included edited extracts from this diary in a handsome volume, published today by Atrium (Cork University Press), entitled Rebellious Ferment: A Dublin Musical Memoir and Diary. Apart from the diary, the book includes a substantial memoir written by Boydell in the early 1990s covering his life up to the early 1970s.

Cork University Press says: ‘Informative, entertaining and written with an engaging combination of passion and elegance, this is a highly readable book. It presents a vivid portrait not only of artistic life (including painting, poetry and theatre as well as music) but also of politics, religion, infrastructure, education and society in mid-twentieth-century Ireland. Brian Boydell presents a captivating account of his engagement with a wide range of often colourful people, including those associated with the White Stag Group in the early 1940s, and the European musicians who settled in Ireland and contributed so much to Irish musical life from the late 1940s.’

Barra Boydell’s introduction explains how, in 1992, his father turned his attention, somewhat hesitantly, towards writing a memoir (
he called it A Reluctant Slice of Autobiography) with a particular focus on the 1940s. Barra notes how his father uses the phrase ‘rebellious ferment’ to describe the artistic environment in this period - hence the title of the memoir/diary. Barra then also points out how, in the diary, his father writes often about other, non-musical interests and that ‘selected passages relating to these’ have been included so as to produce ‘a full picture’ of Brian Boydell the man, rather than just a musician.

Unfortunately, Barra Boydell has decided to leave out almost all passages concerning his father’s diary entries on ‘private, purely family matters’. This may be understandable given his relationship to the material in question, but such passages would surely have provided a yet fuller picture of the man. That niggle aside, this is a very well-produced book. The diary entries are annotated with useful notes, there is a comprehensive index, a select bibliography (though no list of musical works), and a good selection of photographs.

With many thanks to Cork University Press, here is an extract from Brian Boydell’s preface to his memoir (ellipsis in square brackets indicate my omissions). This is followed by several extracts from the diary (ellipsis NOT in square brackets are as found in the published diary and indicate where the editor has omitted text). NB: footnotes as found in the published volume are not indicated or included here.

Preface to Memoir - Dublin, 1994
‘There are not many of us left to tell, from personal experience, the story of that remarkable period in the history of artistic development in Ireland during the Second World War and shortly afterwards. In a country which had only recently broken free of foreign domination, there was a feeling that Irish creative artists should barricade themselves against foreign influence and proudly celebrate the long-suppressed achievements of a past Golden Age. [. . .]

In the 1930s, the doors that admitted winds of European change were beginning to open. Then, with the outbreak of war in 1939, a motley influx of artists and intellectuals, who for various reasons wished to escape to a neutral country, brought further stimulus. The barricades were down, and the doors fully open to admit a veritable gale which ignited the smouldering aspirations of those who wished to explore new fields of creative activity. [. . .] The lowered voices, which before the war had whispered of modern movements such as surrealism as though communicating some indecency, now became confident. With the encouragement of such ‘subversive’ leaders, the apologetic squeaks became a somewhat arrogant and rebellious roar. We believed in our views, then considered so revolutionary, with burning intensity, and were completely intolerant of narrow nationalism or the academic establishment.

The rebellious ferment also infected our social behaviour. An orthodox lifestyle was considered to be unutterably boring. Beards (not at all seemly in those days - even publicly revolting); corduroy trousers and ‘effeminate’ suede shoes; pacifism and left-wing views; people living together in socially unacceptable circumstances .... And then, of course, we dangerous intellectuals posed a threat to those authorities nervously trying to steer a neutral country through the political minefield of wartime diplomacy.’

17 February 1950
‘Incredibly mild yesterday and today - lovely feeling that spring is here .... Things are bursting out in the garden .... Spent much of the morning cataloguing and arranging a new batch of records which Ralph [Cusack] got for me from Douglas at about ⅓rd price. Fascinating stuff, mostly unobtainable now. Mahler Symphony no. 9, Walton Viola Concerto, Strauss Sinfonia domestica, Ferguson Octet, Bach Sonata in C for 2 violins, cello and harpsichord, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, quarter-tone music of Haba, Indonesian music and Dvorák Symphony no. 4. Played the Hába which is fascinatingly queer, and a bit of the Stravinsky which is of the very dry neo-classical period. Before this we went out to fetch the Lancia from Grattan Norman’s - grand to have her again, going beautifully, and so smoothly with the new transmission couplings and the clutch in order again. Mary drove the Lancia back, and I had quite a job to keep up with her in the Alvis.

... Have started copying really good parts for the leading desks of violas and cellos for The Buried Moon Suite so as to be finished with any possibilities of mistakes in the parts. Did the viola part of the March tonight.’

21 February 1950
‘It turned out to be quite a big job preparing the candles for the Haydn symphony spent the greater part of the morning at it ... At 4.30 yesterday the army rang up Charles to inform him that no instruments would be available for the DOP concerts after three weeks’ notice! So I had to rush down to the Phoenix Hall to collar two trumpets, an oboe and timpani player. It was like trying to catch kittens - for when the rehearsal finished they all made for the door at once; however I managed to book them - so that there is a great weight off my mind as regards the brass section of The Buried Moon Suite.

... [lessons to singing pupils in the afternoon] ... Wind rehearsal at the Academy at 7.30. Unfortunately a number of the section could not attend, so that it was not as useful as it might have been. We worked hard until 10.00.’

26 March 1950
‘… After lunch, we put the hood down on the car for the first time this year, and went off to Blessington. I spent the afternoon spinning for trout with the new threadline outfit, which I am beginning to master ...

Wolfram and Ingrid Hentschel and Rory Childers came for the gramophone evening. We played Bach Suite no. 3, and had a great deal of argument about speeds and appoggiaturas. Then Prokofiev Violin Concerto no. 2 - which didn’t impress Wolfram very much on first hearing. We then talked a good deal about romanticism, conductors, theosophy, etc., etc. After tea we played my Feather of Death and In Memoriam M. Gandhi - they were particularly impressed by the latter. We finished up with Bloch’s Second [String] Quartet which I enjoyed better than ever before. Everyone was very excited by it. I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is one of the masterpieces of our time.’