Tuesday, November 27, 2018

I love the masses

‘Evening. Soul-rending melancholy . . . Glory, death, and a prostitute. I left the house exhausted, weakened by unsuccessful work. Nevsky Prospect glowed, moving, rang out, rustling with black skirts, and stirring with the feathers of hats. The sidewalks jumped under my feet, glimmering with the light of lamps in the windows, swinging streetlights, moving, trodden for a thousand nights.’ This is from the early diaries of Nikolay Nikolayevich Punin, a prominent Russian art scholar and writer little known in the West, who was born 130 years ago today.

Punin was born on 28 November 1888 in Helsingfors (now Helsinki), Grand Duchy of Finland, to a Russian army doctor and his wife stationed there. He was schooled in St Petersburg, and studied the history of art at the city’s university from 1907 to 1914. He then worked as an art critic and editor. In 1917, he married Anna Arens and they had one daughter. The following year, he was appointed by Anatoly Lunacharsky (the first Bolshevik Soviet People’s Commissar responsible for Ministry and Education) to head the Petrograd Committee for Education (i.e. Narkompros), and to be the People’s Commissar of the Russian and Hermitage Museums.

At the Russian Museum, Punin co-founded the department of iconography and organised major exhibitions for the next 20 or so years. He believed that modern art criticism should be scientific (even trying to reduce the creative process to a mathematical formula), and was among the most widely read Russian writers on the arts in the 1920s.

During the 1920s, and into the 1930s, Punin lived with the famous Russian poet Anna Akhmatova - they had known each other since before the Revolution. Their home in St Petersburg became a focus of the city’s cultural life; much later the house was turned into a museum dedicated to Akhmatova. When Punin was arrested in the mid-1930s, Akhmatova helped ensure his release by writing to Stalin. Their common-law marriage - but not their friendship - had broken down, for Punin had already begun an affair with a young assistant at the Hermitage, Martha Golubeva, whom he would soon marry.

In 1949, Punin was arrested for the third time (he had also been arrested in 1921) on accusations of ‘anti-Soviet’ activity - having described many of Lenin’s portraits as tasteless. He was sent to the Gulag camp in Vorkuta, northern Russia; and there he died in 1953. There is very little information in English about Punin online, and even his Wikipedia entry is short. However, in 2012 the Dutch publisher Brill brought out an English biography by Natalia Murray, The Unsung Hero of the Russian Avant-Garde: The Life and Times of Nikolay Punin, which can be previewed at Googlebooks. See also a review of the book at Russian Art + Culture.

Murray opens her introduction with this assessment: ‘Nikolay Punin is not a name widely known in the West. His file has languished in the KGB archives since his death in 1953, and his grave in the Gulag where he died is marked only by a number. Furthermore, his own reputation became submerged under that of his lover, the poet Anna Akhmatova. Proof of this is that the Anna Akhmatova Museum in the House on the Fontanka in St. Petersburg, is in fact in Punin’s old apartment. Yet, during his life, this remarkable individual was one of the most influential figures in the turbulent but exciting arena of post-revolutionary Russian art. The story of modern art in Russia became Punin’s personal fate.’

Punin kept diaries throughout his life, not always religiously but often enough to fill a dozen or so notebooks. Most of these diaries were purchased in the 1970s from Punin’s daughter by the University of Texas (UT) when Sidney Monas, then UT professor of history and Slavic languages was living in Leningrad. In 1999, University of Texas Press published The Diaries of Nikolay Punin 1904-1953 as edited by Monas and the translator Jennifer Greene Krupala. Monas provides a full explanation of how he came to be offered the diaries in his introduction. There is one chapter for each of ten notebooks 1915-1936, as well as a first chapter on ‘Early Materials from the Punin Diaries, 1904-1910’ and a last chapter on ‘Late Materials from the Punin Diaries, 1941-1952’. Some pages can be sampled at Googlebooks and at Amazon. Here are several extracts.

7 September 1916
‘My brother [Leonid] has been killed (1st of Sept.). At dawn on the first he went out with a rear guard of partisans on reconnaissance. Having sent part of the men on a wide sweeping movement behind the German position, he attacked with the rest. They say that a company of Germans suddenly appeared before them, charging at them with bayonets. He quickly ordered a counterattack, but immediately fell, wounded by two bullets. One through the leg, the other through the hip. A machine gunner with his wits about him opened fire on the advancing Germans; he killed them by the dozens and turned the others back. My brother was carried away, but because there was no dressing station or ambulance nearby, and because he did not present himself to have his wounds dressed, he died from loss of blood at 1:30 p.m.’

16 September 1916
‘Germany! - confusion in every heart, memories, alarm, hatred. Germany is damnation, Germany is barbarism, Germany is the enemy. In the chaos, vanity, vaingloriousness of nationalistic sentiments: self-esteem, pride, greed, indeed it is difficult to find peace of soul and clarity, and firmness of thought. Only a madman or a saint can lift his gaze beyond your cruel eyes, oh, masses. When you turn vulgar, it takes great efforts not to rejoice with you, but when you become agitated, only an inhuman force of will or depth of intuition can save one from your nasty eyes. You are agitated and who is safe from you? I am neither madman nor saint, and I am not safe. In the seclusion of my notebook, however, in the cowardice of my silence, pathetic, mute, completely inaudible, I whisper a word in protest against you. I say: Germany is our future, Germany is the only country worthy to exist, Germany has won already or she will win. Germany is the sun of Europe, the golden band on the surface of the ocean, the way of the future. In what political and economic conditions would war not have arisen two years ago? Historically Germany has had only one role in this conflict, the leader of Europe and the revolutionary of Europe’s spiritual order. Germany had matured and realized her maturity, Germany had found a way out of the individualistic morass, of religious weakheartedness, of moral blight. Germany understood before any other country the triumph of the technical world, showed it to Europe, led humanity out of the era of realistic humanism, and opened the era of spiritual technology. Machines and masses, stormy energy, directness and solidity of achievement, an immensity of the expanses of thought, the purity and practicality of this thought, cruelty, anger, temperament, pride, arrogance, organization, socialism (only the socialist leaders are blind: Germany realized socialist ideals before all others, having made them, moreover, viable; people are unequal, and for this very reason there can be a viable form of socialism even under monarchy), and finally, their full justification of animal egoism - these are the qualities in which Germany surpasses Europe, and which Europe will have to study for a long time to come, with varying success. The flight of the German mind is winged, the ideas with which Germany so suddenly provided Europe were so vital that they were immediately recognized by those who weren’t hypocritical, those who knew desire, those who loved life, and who did live. England herself recognized them and realized them with her own extraordinary aplomb, France follows them, Russia strives toward them. To cleanse the world of everything virtuous, soft-hearted, of everything past-oriented and burdensome, to make the world new, to give birth to it again, to save it - Germany was called to this, and Germany accomplished this with exceptional heroism and self-sacrifice. Worthy of immortality, she revealed her soul and bared her heart, and humanity rose up against her will and strength with the hatred and surprise of pitiful mediocrity, not understanding the significance of German organized militarism, or the monarchical socialism of her governing system, or the futurism of her cultural, her spiritual, her moral ideas.’

26 November 1916
‘Evening. Soul-rending melancholy . . . Glory, death, and a prostitute. I left the house exhausted, weakened by unsuccessful work. Nevsky Prospect glowed, moving, rang out, rustling with black skirts, and stirring with the feathers of hats. The sidewalks jumped under my feet, glimmering with the light of lamps in the windows, swinging streetlights, moving, trodden for a thousand nights. Speech, whispers, the touch of hands meeting, the crowd and loneliness. Women in dark coats, beautiful in their exhaustion; women of perfection, adored streetwalkers, stylish libertines, dull, stupid, and shameless; carried along madly, slowly ambling, shuffling in galoshes; and in these faces, the majority of which were hideous, there was, in essence, the single thought of this sex: I am selling myself. The only women brave enough to be sincere!. . . It is precisely for you that I would give my life, my death, my glory . . .’

24 February 1917
‘The mood is extremely tense. It is difficult to do my own work. On Nevsky from time to time crowds gather, Cossacks are riding. The Duma is procrastinating. The failure of the Ministry of Health doesn’t correspond to the tension of the day. By evening rumors of strikes spread through the whole city; the running of the trams was disrupted. People are stocking up on kerosene, candles, water. There really is very little bread; there are lines at the stores; some women cry out from the pain of not receiving any bread.’

13 August 1917
‘How I hate England. I hate it with an animal hatred.’

15 August 1917
‘If I lived out my life, without having aroused a feeling of compassion in any of the people around me, I would think I had lived it worthily.

I love the masses because they don’t evoke in me a feeling of compassion, even when they perish.

To hell with individualistic and personal feelings, I want to live only as a collective.’

Friday, November 23, 2018

Diaries and literary biography

Until now there has been no significant analysis of the use of diaries in the development of literary biography. A new survey, however, finds important links between the two genres and draws attention to several key features: how diary material has been more fundamental for major developments in literary biography than is generally acknowledged; how published diaries flourished while biography languished in the nineteenth century; and how some biographers - even of the most famous diarists - have relegated their subject’s diaries to little more than a resource to tap into when convenient, while others perceive the persona of the diarist as crucial to a writer’s ‘life.’

These are the main conclusions of one chapter in Wiley-Blackwell’s important new work published today: A Companion to Literary Biography. The book contains 33 essays, written mostly by academic scholars, and an introduction by the editor Richard Bradford, an esteemed literary biographer and noted expert in the field. According to the publisher: ‘The Companion brings a new perspective on how literary biography enables the reader to deal with the relationship between the writer and their work. Literary biography is the most popular form of writing about writing, yet it has been largely neglected in the academic community. This volume bridges the gap between literary biography as a popular genre and its relevance for the academic study of literature.’ Some pages are available to preview at Googlebooks, and the book can be purchased (for £120!) from Amazon.

I, myself, contributed Chapter 10 - The Role of Diaries in the Development of Literary Biography. Here are the conclusions to that chapter (much of which can be read, at the time of writing, in the e-book version available at Googlebooks).

‘The history of literary biography has been much studied and written about, but not from the standpoint of how it might have been affected and influenced by diaries and diarists. Here, I have tried to redress that imbalance by touching, albeit lightly, on some features in both genres, features that show, among other things, how significant changes in the development of biography may well have been driven or fueled by diary writers. It is an impossible leap to see the origins of literary biography in Japan 1,000 years ago (since they were not published in English until the twentieth century), but, on the other hand, it should not be ignored that so long ago there was an artistic culture in which life writing - diaries, biographies, travel journals - not only existed but reached heights of literary excellence still much admired today.

Some 500 years later comes the first evidence in England of individuals, from various different strata in society, recording their lives in diary form - biographical writing. For the Boy King, Edward VI, inspired by his tutor, Cheke, to give more significance to his reflections by writing them down, we have a document of immense historical importance, but one that gives us, at the very least, a feeling of the boy’s life. For Henslowe, his simple account notes are an invaluable first-hand source about the literary world in which he and Shakespeare worked. Most intriguing of all is Anne Clifford, whose diary is one of the very first to document feelings and thoughts, as well as a remarkable story that resonated strongly with one of the twentieth century’s literary figures, Vita Sackville-West. 


Pepys and Evelyn were diarists of the highest order, but in very different ways, not least because their diary habit emerged long before such feats of life writing were commonplace. And it is worth emphasizing that their diaries remained hidden, unpublished until the early part of the nineteenth century. Modern biographers of Pepys, notably Tomalin, have rightfully placed his diary center stage in their ‘life’; but the same cannot be said of Evelyn, for his most recent biographer, Darley, has ignored the diaries as a literary work - this despite Evelyn having kept his diary for 80 years. Other modern biographers have also been dismissive of the persona of the diarist, or diaries as a work to be discussed in relation to a subject’s life - Sutherland does much the same with Scott, O’Keeffe with Haydon, and Briggs with Woolf.

Many, if not most of those, who study the history of English literature agree that Johnson and Boswell can be found at the well-spring of literary biography, the former for his Lives of the Poets, and the latter for his biography of the former. It is clear that around Johnson, and partly because of him, there was a culture of keeping a diary, one that infected not only Boswell, but Fanny Burney and Hester Thrale. And out of this cauldron of life-writing activity came Boswell’s great biography, and another of Johnson by Thrale. It is well understood today that Boswell’s Life of Johnson was heavily dependent on his diaries, but it is my contention that his pivotal place in the development of literary biography came about largely because of his diaries, because he was a diarist. All four writers remain of much interest to modern biographers, their diaries (only travel diaries in Johnson’s case) providing plenty of material to interpret and reinterpret. 


Forward in time from Boswell come two important literary biographies, Moore’s life of Byron and Lockhart’s impressive work on Scott. Both these, in fact, were derived in part from much admired diaries. Indeed, it was Byron’s youthful travel diaries that inspired a middle-aged Scott to begin a journal that would be judged as one of his greatest works. Byron was not a diary keeper by nature, nor were others in the Romantic circle. Shelley tried, but it was his wife, Mary, who kept their joint journal up to date and maintained it beyond her husband’s death, much to the interest of modern biographers. And Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary, a plum source for her husband’s biographers, has over time come to be highly regarded and has raised her own status to that of a literary figure.

While literary biography is considered to have been stagnating for most of the nineteenth century, it was a boom period for diaries - everyone was at it, and many producing works of literary and historical excellence. In Britain, there were writers as different as George Elliot, Lewis Carroll, and Beatrix Potter, whose diaries would shed much light on their lives and their writing; and there were those from the theater world, such as the actress Fanny Kemble (whose later diaries were a bold voice against slavery in the United States). The same pattern was developing overseas. In the United States, there were writers like Emerson, who left behind voluminous diaries, as well as Louisa Alcott, providing unparalleled biographical insights. The author Stendhal, the painter Delacroix, and the Goncourt brothers were all producing diaries that would become French classics of the genre; and in Russia diary writing was becoming a way of life for all the Tolstoys.

With so many writers monitoring their lives by this time, it was inevitable that some would wish to descend further into the depths of their minds and consciousness, looking for explanations of their own behavior and actions, to understand their relationships with other people and the world around, or because they were simply curious to record what they found. For this chapter, I have chosen the very different painters, Benjamin Haydon and Marie Bashkirtseff, the English don Arthur Benson, and the Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel to demonstrate how diarists were beginning to exploring their inner selves, and thus leave behind more enlightening information than biographers had generally had access to beforehand. And by the end of the nineteenth century, two writers - Alice James and W.N.P. Barbellion - stand out for the hyper-consciousness and care with which they wrote their diaries, aware of public interest in the inner life, and aiming for literary success.

If the genre of literary biography had been stagnating for much of the nineteenth century, it was about to explode with ideas - first with Lytton Strachey, then with Virginia Woolf. My aim has been to show that wherever one looks in the genre’s history, there are diaries and diarists, and this is no less true of its reinvention with Strachey and Woolf. My main argument is that by the time of this literary revolution there was a plentiful supply of new, fresh, and invigorating diary material not only feeding into what information was available to biographers but challenging them to find new ways of writing the ‘life.’ It is interesting - I claim no more - that Strachey chose four subjects, for his Eminent Victorians, all of whom were diarists, but diarists with this newly widespread predilection for self examination. Interesting, too, how steeped Woolf was in the diary genre. She was extremely well-read in other people’s diaries, and was reading the newly published diaries of Anne Clifford, edited by her friend Vita Sackville-West, while writing Orlando, a fictional biography of Sackville-West. This turned out to be her most innovative contribution to literary biography. She was also a brilliant diarist herself, and almost every one of her biographers acknowledges how central diary writing was to all her other writing. Thus, it also my contention that the very act of writing a diary has been instrumental in allowing writers to break through into new biography forms, as with Boswell, but so too with Woolf.’

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Tergiversations of policy

‘The thing which really worries me most here and now and which has worried me most during the preliminary conversations last winter is that I, whom the Americans trust, have been in a position in which, as a good public servant, I have had continually to exploit my reputation with them to cast a cloak of academic respectability over the shabby reserves and tergiversations of our own policy.’ This is the British economist, Lionel Robbins, born 120 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept while in the United States negotiating on post-war economic policy. The three diaries he kept on US trips during and just after the war were first published in 1990, but two of them are also freely available online.

Robbins was born in Sipson (now only a few hundred metres north of Heathrow Airport) into a farming family on 22 November 1898. He had two sisters, one of whom died young, He was educated at the local grammar school. When his mother died in 1910, his father married her sister who already had two children. Robbins started at University College, London, until he left to serve as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. He was posted to the Western Front in 1916, but in 1918 was wounded and invalided home. After the war, he became interested in socialism, and took a job with the Labour Campaign for the Nationalization of the Drink Trade.

In 1920, with support from his father, he resumed his university education, at the London School of Economics (LSE). He graduated in 1923, and the following year married Iris, the younger sister of his friend Clive Gardiner. They had two children. After a brief period working as a research assistant to William Beveridge, Robbins was offered a temporary lectureship at New College, Oxford. He then returned to the LSE in 1925 as an assistant lecturer, and, a year later, was promoted to lecturer. Over the next 30 years, he dominated the economics department, building up its now pre-eminent position. In 1927, he was elected to an official fellowship at New College, Oxford; in 1932, he published his first major book, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science.

In mid 1940, Robbins joined the government service, being promoted to director of the economic section of the war cabinet offices in 1941. As such he played a pivotal role in developing the British war economy: advocating points rationing for food, for example; engaging in Anglo-American discussions vis-a-vis post-war international monetary and commercial policy; and inputting into the British government’s 1944 white paper on employment policy. In 1946, he returned to LSE, publishing The Economic Problem in Peace and War in 1947. Many other books followed. He engaged widely in public debate on economic policy, and was consulted by two chancellors of the exchequer on monetary policy in the 1950s.

But Robbins was also interested in the arts, and took positions such as chairman of the National Gallery and director of the Royal Opera House. In 1958, he became chairman of the Financial Times. In the early 1960s, he chaired a committee on higher education which resulted in the Robbins Report, advocating an expansion of the university system. He was also president of the British Academy for five years. He was appointed Companion of the Bath in 1944 (and Companion of Honour in 1968) and, in 1959, was awarded one of first life peerages to the House of Lords (taking the title Baron Robbins of Clare Market). He died in 1984. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), or the LSE.

There is no evidence that Robbins had a habit of writing diaries, but during each of three trips to the United States during the war he did keep a diary. These, along with those of his colleague James Meade (see UK-US talks on commercial union), were edited by Susan Howson and Donald E. Moggridge for publication by Macmillan in 1990 of The Wartime Diaries of Lionel Robbins and James Meade, 1943–45. Robbins’s diaries take up three of the four chapters, one per trip: Hot Springs and after, May-June 1943; Breton Woods, June-August 1944; The Loan Negotiations and the ITO, September-December 1945. Some pages from the 1990 publication can be read online at Googlebooks, and the e-book is still available to purchase at Palgrave Macmillan. Some further information about the diaries (and a photograph of one page) can be found at Archives Hub.

According to Howson and Moggridge, Robbins’s diaries of his visits to North America were written in the first instance for his colleagues back home in the economic section of the war cabinet offices and for his friend John Maynard Keynes, who had returned to Treasury in 1940 (though without any formal role). Using his rough notes, they explain, Robbins dictated the entries for each day which were then typed up, sent home and returned to Robbins once they had been circulated. Two of the diaries are available to view online at the LSE Digital Library. The images of the typed pages are a little fuzzy, and, as far as I can tell, there is no transcript, but each diary has a link to a catalogue precis of each day’s entry (1944 and 1945).

Here are several extracts from the diaries found online (the first and last at Googlebooks, and the middle one at Palgrave Macmillan).

9 May 1943
‘A short spell in an earthly paradise. I cannot understand why the Americans, who certainly do sometimes boast, do not boast about the Pennsylvanian countryside. It is quite as lovely as the best of Buckinghamshire (which in some respects it resembles) but the greater richness and varieties of the trees and flowering shrubs and the quiet distinction of the domestic architecture give it a character all of its own - a mature and kindly setting plucking curiously at the heartstrings.

Three and a half years accumulated gossip and the presence of extremely vivacious companions left little time for talk of a kind worth entering in this record. For a brief period however, away from her other guests, my sister did allow herself to expatiate a little on the politics of her adopted country. She is a woman of great commonsense and sobriety of judgement and the two main points she made seem to me to have considerable importance.

The first thing she emphasised was the gravity of the food situation. By this, of course, she meant the politics, not the economics, of the matter. In her view the administration have so bungled the handling of price control and rationing that this purely local issue is likely to be one of the dominating influences in next year’s elections. She goes so far as to think that there is even a chance that indignation on this matter may bring back not merely the Republicans but the diehard Republicans. She is not inclined to suggest the existence of a wider degree of anglophobia than we usually assume. But she thinks that we vastly underestimate the potential strength of the Republican comeback.

As I listened to her elaboration of the causes of the irritation about food, I suddenly realised what I think is an illuminating comparison. To understand the American attitude to food rationing we have to think of our own experience not of food but of coal. Food at home is shipping: Englishmen understand shipping, they therefore understand food rationing. But coal, that is another matter. The stuff is there in the ground. How can we be short of it? Well food in America is like our coal. How can this great food producing country have to go short of food? Someone has blundered ... Of course someone has blundered. But that is not the whole story.

The second point that my sister made was more encouraging. She asserts that nine out of ten Americans, however anglophile, believe in their hearts that we are going to let them down over the war with Japan. If this is so - and I have heard it before from one or two people I trust - it is a great opportunity. For we shall not let them down. We are just as interested in the Far East as they are.

Sitting alone with my sister and her husband when the week-end party had dissolved, listening to a Glyndeboume [production of Mozart’s] ‘Don Giovanni Act IV’ [sic] and making a supper of bread, Pennsylvanian cheese and good red wine, I suddenly thought ‘I haven’t thought about the war all day’. Of course I had talked about it, told stories, exchanged wisecracks, rejoiced in the fall of Tunis and Bizerte, weighed soberly the prospects of struggles to come. But it had all happened somewhere else. There was no continuing presence. And that is, and I think must be, one of the central difficulties of the American situation. It all happens somewhere else; and though it may be very exciting, and indeed moving, it is exciting and moving like a film at the cinema rather than life itself.’

27 September 1945
‘We are now approaching the end of the voyage out. According to the stewards we shall tie up at New York at about eleven o’clock in the morning. I have not kept any record of our discussions on board ship, not because they were not interesting but because they were almost exclusively technical and the results therof will show themselves in our day-to-day negotiations when we get to Washington. Suffice it to say that they have been abundantly successful in their primary object, that of reviewing the subject as a whole and training us to work together as a team.

I sat out this afternoon on the upper sun-deck, the only space available for taking the air, and tried to assess my hopes and fears as the great ship drove onward through the ocean. It must be confessed that the hopes, at least, were not high. I could not resist the contrast with our earlier mission in the autumn of 1943. The same subjects, the same men (with one lamentable absentee, my dear James Meade). the same (or much the same) negotiators to encounter on the other side. But what a contrast in mood. Then we had a constructive case to argue, an initiative to take, a cause to forward - and despite the scepticism of cynics at home we won right through and brought back a series of drafts which if they had been followed up, could have been made the basis for a general settlement in the economic sphere considerably superior to anything which we can now possibly hope for. Now our case is defensive, initiative is denied us, there is no question of a cause to be vindicated, only a possible grudging acquiescence in a settlement, acceptable only for extraneous reasons. On top of all this, and very materially darkening our anticipations on the voyage, hangs the shadow of possible personal difference within our own ranks precipitated by the wayward impulse and intransigence of one whom we all admire and love and the complete failure of his immediate associates to exercise corrective influence.

The thing which really worries me most here and now and which has worried me most during the preliminary conversations last winter is that I, whom the Americans trust, have been in a position in which, as a good public servant, I have had continually to exploit my reputation with them to cast a cloak of academic respectability over the shabby reserves and tergiversations of our own policy. How I envied Will Clayton the other evening in London when, after listening patiently to Liesching on a certain point, he threw his papers on the table and said, ‘I won't argue with you, Sir Percivale, I have always said we have been wrong on this point and I believe we are still.’ That was the sort of thing which we could afford to do when we still had confidence in ourselves; and it was the way in which I like to conduct my argument when I am speaking for myself. However, I have often had this out with myself and my line is dear. As I see it, there is nothing less at stake in this business than the future solidarity of the Western World. The precious Plan II is either a not very clever bluff or a policy which would land us in a quagmire of bitterness, poverty and humiliation. The only hope for the world, or rather for that part which still renders lip-service to the principles of liberty and decency, is the maintenance of the unity of the English-speaking peoples; and if some of us, playing with fire like idiot children, land our country in a position of economic antagonism to the US the future seems to me to be completely and unmitigatedly black. Hence it is not a matter of achieving some positive good, it is a desperate business of staving off an ultimate evil and there is hardly any degree of personal inconvenience and humiliation which I would not be prepared to undergo in order to do so. Not that I have many illusions about the likelihood of even this degree of success. If people do not know where they want to go - and certainly this is true of most of those who have handled these matters in the last two years - it is surely a pure fluke if they arrive at the right destination. Bear all this in mind, kind friends of the Economic Section, when you read the telegrams of the next few weeks and are tempted to say that I have sold the pass and let down our good tradition.’


14 October 1945
‘I spent Saturday night and Sunday with my sister and her husband at their home near Philadelphia. Nothing much of public interest. Caroline was very gloomy about the anti-British propaganda now being carried on by the New York Zionists and asked why we didn’t call the American bluff on all this. Joe was very solicitous about the loan negotiations, not a bit inquisitive but anxious that the Americans should act handsomely. He thought they ought to begin by paying us back for what we spent during the cash and carry period - a time which he seemed to regard as one of deep national humiliation. I did not disillusion him as to the prospects.

In the train coming back, I read a terrific discussion on Hayek in P.M. [liberal-leaning daily newspaper] - a special supplement devoted to the report of an inquiry into the vogue of the Road to Serfdom. Had it been financed by big business etc? It was all a little comic for in the end after much sound and fury and thumbnail sketches of Aaron Director, John Davenport and others, the investigator was forced to the conclusion that there was no conspiracy of big business. The reception of Hayek’s book by the intellectuals over here is really most discreditable to their sense of fairness and candour. I am beginning to think that P. M. is not much better than The New Statesman.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Refuge in numbers

‘As for me the mind comes ahead always and everywhere. And the worldly wisdom, known from books, is saying that mind and love can scarcely be reconciled. That is what makes me fear sometimes that Olia probably will not be happy with me. As for me, I shall probably always take refuge in Mathematics.’ This is taken from the diaries of Georgy Feodosevich Voronoy (or Voronoi), a Russian mathematician of Ukrainian descent born 150 years ago today.

Voronoy studied at St Petersburg University, where he was a student of Andrey Markov, another celebrated mathemetician. In 1891, he married Olia, and they would have six children (although one died in childbirth). In 1894, he became professor at the University of Warsaw, and in 1897 put forward a doctoral thesis on continuous fractions. He is best known for developing theories on the so-called Voronoi tessellation. He died in November 1908, and in 1918 the Ukraine government
 released special coins to commemorate the centenary.

Wikipedia has a small amount of information about Voronoy; a little more is available, partly thanks to diaries, in published books freely available online.


The St. Petersburg School of Number Theory by Boris Nikolaevich Delone and Robert G. Burns, first published in Russian in 1947 (the English translation is viewable on Googlebooks) contains a brief biography of Voronoy. The authors say, ‘the depth and importance of [his] spacious works is such that they have had a profound influence on modern number theory. Voronoi was in fact the cofounder, along with Minkowski, of the geometry of numbers’. While still at St Petersburg, he studied a particularly hard maths problem, and wrote in his diary: ‘I myself have lost hope of ever solving this problem’. And in equally self-doubting mode, he wrote: ‘The pure mathematics lectures captivate me more and more. I prefer Professor Sokhotsky’s lectures in the special course on higher algebra to all the others. . . The main thing that concerns me is whether I have enough talent.’

There is one further Voronoy diary entry, from 1904, quoted in The St Petersburg School of Number Theory: ‘I am making great progress with the question under study [indefinite quadratic forms]; however, at the same time my health is becoming worse and worse. Yesterday I had for the first time a clear idea of the algorithm in the theory of forms I am investigating, but also suffered a strong attack of bilious colic which prevented me from working in the evening and from sleeping the whole night. I am so afraid that the results of my enduring efforts, obtained with such difficulty, will perish along with me.’

There are more substantial extracts from 
Voronoy’s diaries to be found in Life and Times of Georgy Voronoi by Halyna Syta and Rien van de Weygaert, a 30-page monograph free to download from ResearchGate. The authors explain that Voronoy’s children saved their father’s manuscripts - including mathematical notebooks and diaries - and that they are now held by the National Library of Ukraine’s institute of manuscripts. Here are a couple of extracts from the monograph that refer to and quote from Voronoy’s diaries, as well as one dated diary extract.

‘It says something about the personality of Georgy Voronoi that in these student years he confided his doubts to his diary. Fortunately, this diary has been partially preserved. Along with his descriptions of everyday experiences and events, it is a sincere self-confession of a young man. It discloses his character, his inner world, the process of his creative growth and self-consciousness. The author is active and sensitive and cannot remain indifferent to the events around him. He also tries to help when necessary. At times he is hot-tempered, for which he later expresses regret. He states “I am merrily gazing at God’s world and to everything I touch I submit myself with rapture”. Georgy aims “to reach everything by heart, and not just by intellect” and tries to look at himself from the outside. In this, he displays a rather low self-esteem, while also trying to grasp his own feelings and inclinations: “What am I after all? I am fond of playing cards. I do not have any noble pride. That is, if I am mocked I do not get angry and do not quarrel with the offender. I feel my weakness in front of the powerful of this world”.’

‘Recollections about his acquaintance and the development of his relations with Olia Krytska occupy a particular place in the diary. Georgy writes so sincerely about his feelings, with such virtue and temperament - (events are almost ignored, only his feelings are recorded) - that these pages read like a real novel. He determined once and forever for himself that his destiny was in Bohdany, but he concealed his feelings for the time being because he had no financial basis for his own family. His father insisted on this decision. Such a vagueness in relations brought him many sufferings, but he patiently waited for his hour and did not permit any other passion to find the way to his heart. In 1889, on the eve of his departure, Georgy wrote about his last visit to Bohdany:

”Once more I am writing down my last visit to Krytskis... I am mounting the horse, once more saying goodbye to everybody, that is the end to everything which filled my life during the four months and which will cause me to behave stern and cool during the whole stretch of the Petersburg year. Only mathematics as a bright star is shining afore me, in it I trust all my hopes... The experience of the last year has strengthened my endurance, and my creative eagerness, suppressed before, is bursting into action, and I am certain that Petersburg will bring me much that is new in this respect. So goodbye, Olia, goodbye, Zhuravka! Till the new spring I shall cover myself with my armour. And, as if dreaming I shall see this summer, which gave me so much strength and health and those grains of happiness, which I know I shall so often experience when reading my diary in Petersburg, picking them from those talks with Olia, which I wrote down, along with everything which so often made my heart beat.”

31 December 1890
‘True to the old custom, today, on the eve of New Year, I cast a glance at how I have lived through and deeply felt the Old Year. The first thing which I gladly note and which has become a harbinger of my future happiness is: Olia loves me. I know it now for certain! How happy I am! So long I had been silently suffering from doubts, and at last it has been clarified, and I have already become Olia’s fiancé! ...

Yes, now I know well that Olia loves me, but nevertheless lasting doubts and expectations have brought some bitterness. I seem to have become hardened in my permanent solitude. Ever growing passion for Mathematics has developed in me an egotism of no small degree. I am afraid I cannot feel strongly and surrender fully to my feelings.

As for me the mind comes ahead always and everywhere. And the worldly wisdom, known from books, is saying that mind and love can scarcely be reconciled. That is what makes me fear sometimes that Olia probably will not be happy with me. As for me, I shall probably always take refuge in Mathematics.’

This article is a substantially revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 20 November 2008.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Life at Jonestown

It was 40 years ago today that over 900 people died at Jonestown in Guyana, having been ordered by their cult leader Jim Jones to partake of a cyanide-laced drink. It was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of 11 September 2001. One of those who died was Edith Roller. Her diaries, though, survived and many of them are available online.

Jonestown, Wikipedia says, was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, a community built in northwestern Guyana by the Peoples Temple, a cult from California led by Jim Jones. The cult moved to Jonestown in the summer of 1977, and a little more than a year later, on 18 November 1978,  909 of its members died, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning in an event termed, by Jones, as ‘revolutionary suicide’. Jones himself died of a shotgun wound to the head, probably self-inflicted. The deaths followed soon after the murder of five others by Temple members at a nearby airstrip. Those victims included Congressman Leo Ryan, the first and only Congressman murdered in the line of duty in US history, and three journalists.

Very much has been written about the cult, and the extraordinary events of that day 30 years ago. The Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, for example, runs a website - Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple - which aims to present information about the Peoples Temple as accurately and objectively as possible. Being objective, it says, means offering as many diverse views and opinions about the Temple and the events in Jonestown as possible.

One of the most intriguing parts of the website concerns Edith Roller, a Temple member who meticulously recorded her daily activities in a diary. At the start of the diary in 1975, she was working for the international company, Bechtel, and living in downtown San Francisco, but the diaries continue through January 1978, when she was called to Jonestown, to August that year, a few months before she died (aged 63). Don Beck and Michael Bellefountaine are credited on the website for compiling, transcribing, and analysing the journals. They say the journals were found in two locations: in Temple documents collected by the FBI and released through the Freedom of Information Act; and, in the Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society. However, entries for several months are still considered missing.

Bellefountaine, in particular, has written a number of interesting articles about the journals for the website, and gives an excellent overview of their content and value. Here is part of one article entitled Roller Journals Reveal Detailed, Dispassionate Look at Temple.

‘Edith offers a detailed description of Jonestown that is rarely seen: a thriving active community of over a thousand people who are well aware that their sacrifice and hard work were paying off in the very existence of the community. . . [She] offers overviews of in-depth agricultural reports as well as gardening and livestock reports. She also records the daily diet, and the daily school and work schedules. Additionally Edith takes care to mention as many people as possible: new arrivals, births, job promotions or demotions, and those being brought on the floor for praise or punishment. Because Edith made every effort to record as many names as possible, she gave valuable information about the babies being born in the community, many of whom had gone unrecorded in the official death lists which were based on the passports issued. It is also valuable information for people who know nothing of their relatives’ lives while they were living in Jonestown.’

Edith’s journal also reveals much about the Jonestown community’s darker aspects, Bellefountaine says: ‘She writes of a suicide drill, essentially a trial run for the last day. Her description of the long lines, and the vat of juice are hauntingly familiar to the pictures from November 18th. In her writing she talks about how she did not want to die, and she did not think that the juice was really poisoned. These revelations give credence to some theories that the people of Jonestown thought the last day was just another drill, and many may have initially participated because they thought it was a loyalty test. Additionally Edith gives clear voice to those who do not want to die. Though she writes that she was willing to take the potion, the drill was called off before she got to the vat. Edith makes clear that she had too much hope for the future of the collective community, for the individual children, and for herself. She gives an understanding voice to the conflict of being willing to die, but not wanting to.’

Here are two entries from Roller’s diary in 1978.

1 August 1978
‘. . . Although it was very late Jim took up another matter: Norman Ijames, after having been gone for six months, had informed the Temple he would be returning this week, he had not communicated with his wife Judy and child, had sent no money. He had been reported with another woman, some of our people had talked to him while in Miami, though he had been offered a job at the airport in Georgetown he was flying on lines that did not bring him in to Guyana. The fact that he is a pilot may have some significance with regard to his activities in view of the aerial surveillance of Jonestown by the National Enquirer plane and reports of planned mercenary attacks on us. Many members spoke of Norm’s characteristics: spoiled by his parents, cherished as the only son, avoidance of physical labor, pride in his appearance, which made it possible that he could have deserted to our enemies. Jim said that the government had told us the CIA had a plant in our membership who might come here. . .’

Sunday 20 August
‘I was up at 8.00.

Read news from the pavilion boards. For breakfast pancakes and coffee worked on journal items.

At 12.00 I worked in the African map in the pavilion. I completed the outline for all countries, though there are some loose ends to be tied up. I still have a problem in the seacoast area where Zaire and Angola join. I plan to cut out the outlines of all the countries have a game in class in which the students looking at atlas maps can pin the outlines of the separate countries on a sheet, thus learning the position of some of them. Also we will be able then to ascertain where the map is insufficiently accurate. At the same time we can get a complete list of each country.

Had a shower and shampooed my hair.

Sewed, continuing with my skirt.

Ate dinner at 5.00 and we had rice with pork, okra, french fried eggplant in a batter.

I sewed.

Mark Gosney was giving Edith Cordell trouble; she had a cold. She turned him over to Vern Gosney.

The guest was expected tomorrow and entertainment was being prepared for him in the Pavilion. Intended to go up about 8;00, people were gathering but I didn’t hear any music so assumed he had not arrived yet. Then I heard Jim in the loudspeaker. He was annoyed because people were waiting in the pavilion instead of being in the library studying the news.

I finished sewing about 9.30. I went up to the library, read as much of the news I could over the heads of the crowd. Dick Tropp and Jack Beam were explaining the backgrounds of some of the news. As the guest had not yet arrived I went home and went to bed but I didn’t sleep.

Then we received orders to come to the pavilion. I went up. I expected to find it difficult to get a seat but Jim had earlier ordered young people to get up and give their seats to seniors. A young man led me to seat in front, asking the little boy occupying it to sit on the floor with the other children. The guest, a young looking man, was seated with those assigned to talk to him at a table in the middle of the pavilion. A musical program was given.

We were dismissed at 2.00. A heavy rain fell.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 18 November 2008.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The first biospeleologist

Emil Racoviţă, one of the most distinguished of Romanian scientists, was born 150 years ago today. Though he lived in France for much of his life, it was in the Romanian city of Cluj that he opened the world’s first Institute of Speleology, his own speciality being the study of fauna found in caves. Early on in his career, he took part in a famous Belgian expedition to Antartica, and kept a diary of the expedition. Later, he kept diaries of some of his caving explorations - one of which can be found online at the National History Museum of Romania.

Racoviţă was born on 15 November 1868 into a well-off, cultured family near Iaşi in Romania. During his school years, he became passionate about the natural sciences though, to please his family, he studied law in Paris. After completing his law studies in 1889, he studied the natural sciences to degree level in 1891, and then undertook postgraduate studies, focusing on marine biology, achieving a PhD in 1896. Thereafter, he was selected to join an international research expedition to Antarctica, aboard the ship Belgica, under the aegis of Belgium’s Royal Society of Geography. Racoviță is considered the first researcher to collect botanical and zoological samples from areas beyond the Antarctic Circle. From Rio de Janeiro, he managed to sail ahead of the Belgica to spend three weeks in Punta Arenas studying the Amerindian population, fauna and flora, and exploring caves. Later on, the Belgica ran into considerable difficulties with ice, and two member of the team died; nevertheless the expedition, which returned to Europe in 1899, was considered a success.

Over the next year or two, Racoviţă lectured on the results of the voyage, in Paris and Brussels and in Romania. He settled in Banyuls-sur-Mer, on the Mediterranean coast near the border with Spain, as deputy director of the Arago laboratory. He was also co-editor of the journal Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale. In 1904, during an expedition to study Cuevas del Drach, a cave system on the isle of Majorca with a large underground lake, Racoviţă discovered a new species of cave crustaceans. Thereafter, he decided to devote his studies primarily to, what he called, biospéologie - i.e. biospeleology, the study of organisms that live in caves. He went on to study many hundreds of caves across Europe, often with his young French assistant Hélène Boucard, who he married in 1907. That same year, he founded the journal, Biospeologica.

After the First World War, Racoviţă finally heeded calls from the Romanian government for him to return home. He was appointed professor of biology at the university in Cluj, and soon opened an Institute of Speleology, the first of its kind in the world. He remained its director until his death. He continued to take part in cave expeditions, particularly in the Carpathian mountains. From 1926 to 1929 he served as president of the Romanian academy. In 1940, when Cluj was given to Hungary under the so-called Vienna Award, Racoviţă and his institute took refuge in Timisoara, only returning to Cluj after four scientifically barren years. He died in November 1947, two days after his 79th birthday. A little further biographical information is available online, at Wikipedia (though a Google translation of the French Wikipedia page is more informative than the English one), Show Caves, Geni, and an archived Romanian Speleology page. There is also a good deal of information about the Belgica expedition in the journal Polar Research.

Racoviţă kept a diary, in French, during his Antarctic expedition. Some sources suggest this was published in 1899m but I can’t find any trace of it. However, it was published in 1998 by Fondation culturelle roumaine in Bucharest as part of Belgica (1897-1899): Emile Racovitza: le naturaliste de l’expédition antarctique Belgica: lettres, journal antarctique, conférences. Moreover, the National History Museum of Romania has, on its Capodopere 2019 website, some information about, and photographs of, a manuscript diary kept by Racoviţă in 1901-1902. It contains about 50 pages, of which 36 are filled with annotations and scientific observations concerning caves in Spain.

Comings and goings

Margaret Mead, one of the US’s most widely known 20th century anthropologists, died 30 years ago today. Her studies of traditional cultures in the Pacific and Southeast Asia led her, early on, to develop the idea that civilised nations might have something to learn from more traditional societies, and, more specifically, that a society’s culture played a significant role in the psychosexual development of its young people. She was a firm believer in detailed observation of traditional social life, a way of study which led her, on one occasion, to include a diary as part of an academic paper. As a child, also, she is known to have started many a journal, though none lasted very long.

Mead was born in 1901 in Philadelphia, the first of five children, but raised in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father was a professor of finance, at the University of Pennsylvania, and her mother was a sociologist. The family moved often, so Mead’s early education was provided by her grandmother; but from 1912 to 1926 the family lived at Longland, now also known as the Margaret Mead Farmstead. She studied anthropology at Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college in Manhattan, receiving her degree in 1923. She transferred to Columba University for her postgraduate studies, travelling to Samoa in 1925 for fieldwork, and received her PhD in 1929. From 1926, though, she was employed by American Museum of Natural History, New York City, as assistant curator. Thereafter, her work often took her back to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In 1928, Mead published the first of more than 20 books - Coming of Age in Samoa - which details the sexual life of teenagers in Samoan society, providing a stark contrast to those in the United States. From her observations, she theorised that culture has a leading influence on psychosexual development, and she challenged educators to consider that the ‘civilized’ world might have something to learn from the ‘primitive’. Encyclopaedia Britannica says the book is a perennial best seller, and ‘a characteristic example of her reliance on observation rather than statistics for data’. However, EB also says that it clearly indicates her belief in cultural determinism, ‘a position that caused some later 20th-century anthropologists to question both the accuracy of her observations and the soundness of her conclusions’. Other books followed including, Growing Up in New Guinea, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.

In 1942, Mead was promoted, at the American Museum of Natural History, to associate curator, becoming curator of ethnology in 1964 and curator emeritus in 1969. She was married three times, lastly, from 1936, to the British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, with whom she had a daughter, Mary, who also went on to become an anthropologist. In 1942, she published, with her husband, Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. However, the couple separated in 1947, and were divorced in 1950. She also had long-term relationships with women, notably Ruth Benedict and, for the last decades of her life, Rhoda Metraux, both of whom were also anthropologists.

Over the years, Mead became something a celebrity, and was notable for her political stances on, among other things, women’s rights, child rearing, population control, sexual morality, and world hunger. She continued publishing: Anthropology: A Human Science (1964), and Culture and Commitment (1970) for example. In 1972, she published Blackberry Winter, an autobiography of her early years. The following year, she was elected to the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She died on 15 November 1978, and a year later later was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honour. Further information is available also from Wikipedia, The Philosophers’ Mail, The Institute for Intercultural Studies, or the Encyclopedia of World Biography.

The Library of Congress has an online exhibition entitled Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture. There are several references to diaries kept by Mead but also by her mother. On learning the she was pregnant, Mead’s mother began keeping a diary of her state of mind and daily experiences, believing these factors would affect her baby’s development. She continued the note-taking after Margaret’s birth, eventually filling thirteen notebooks with observations on minute details of Margaret’s behavior and development. The site provides an image of one page, titled Characteristics at 6 Years. The LoC website also notes that Mead, herself, started several journals as a child but did not keep any of them consistently. It provides images of pages from two such journals: one with a record of her sister’s language development, and the other of a first page in a new journal started when she was nine:

11 July 1911
‘My name is Margaret Meade. I am spending the summer on the island of Nantucket, Mass. It is boiling weather here. I went in bathing this morning, early, and I did not feel one bit cooler for it eather. Yesterday, Alace Chapmion and me decided that each of us shood write a diary, and Alace came over and showed me a book she had goten for the diary, and I have goten the same kind. I got up at six o’clock in the morning, and got dressed, then I came down and played with my little sister whose name is Elizabeth . . .’

Elsewhere, there is evidence that, as an adult, Mead kept a diary on field trips as well as personal diaries. For example, Mary Bowman-Kruhm says in her book Margaret Mead: A Biography that as an adult Mead returned to ‘making diary entries and in fact was a copious and methodical notetaker for the rest of her life.’ Also, in at least one of her academic papers (the one mentioned below) she quotes briefly from what she calls her ‘personal diary’. Furthermore, the Library of Congress, which holds her archive - Margaret Mead papers and South Pacific Ethnographic Archives, 1838-1996 - says that her field expeditions to American Samoa, Bali, and Papua New Guinea ‘are well documented by correspondence, diaries and notebooks, notes, catalogs, indexes, and other items’.

However, with one exception, none of her diaries have been published. The exception is, essentially, a scientific record of one of her anthropological projects between January and August 1932: The mountain Arapesh - IV. Diary of Events in Alitoa (Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 40). The diary is part of a much longer paper, in which Mead’s observations are minutely analysed, and discussed. The paper can be freely downloaded from the museum’s website. Here is one extract from the diary part.

12 February 1932
‘The day was full of comings and goings. It began early in the morning with a temper tantrum of Amus’ because her father had refused to take her with him to work. Both her mother and her mother’s co-wife Alaijo were away. He finally took both the little girls with him to work sago.

Early in the morning Taumulimen washed; she and Alis set off for their bush hamlet. Since she had responded to the castor oil, there had been no more talk of her having been sorcerized, although Alis had talked a good deal about his own sorcery state, and tried to get various kinds of medicine from me.

Kule now planned that all of them should return to their bush hamlet to hunt for Balidu’s feast. He sent Soatsalamo and Mausi and the baby ahead. He, Ilautoa, and Naguel stayed, it was said, to get firewood and follow the next day. Then Kule got the idea of turning his ground house around so that the smoke of cooking would not blow into the faces of the visitors seated on Balidu’s plaza. This ground house would be needed during the feast days. He pulled it down and set up the framework again during the day.

Ombomb went to work sago early in the morning, but came back before noon and
shouted for Miduain to come up and get some yams for her family. She came up. Sinaba’i and his wife and child came soon after. Duboma-gau had joined our shoot boys at dawn.

Two young men from Boinam, the sons of Balidu’s gift friend in Boinam, appeared. After shouts, Badui came up from the garden to receive them. Maigi and Badui’s young wife who cooked for the visitors accompanied him.

Early in the morning Ombomb had seen Wabe, who at Bischu’s request had joined him in going to the Plains with the Waginara man on a sorcery investigation. It was publicly said that Wabe and Bischu had gone to the Plains to look for dogs to mark. They were planning to go by Bonaheitum, to Biligil and Kairiru, and return by Dunigi, sleeping there the next night with Ombomb’s affinal relatives (February 13) where they would be met by Ombomb and his wife who would return with them.

Ulaba’i’s brother-in-law from Numidipiheim came to see him. Whasimai, the Numidipiheim wife, stayed about all day. Ibanyos went to get pepper leaves for the visitor.’

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Reprehensible social views

‘One can acknowledge that there are Jews of the highest respectability, and yet regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent.’ This is the great German mathematician and philosopher, Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege, born 170 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept for a month in the last year of his life. Although his academic work was largely ignored during his life time, it became better known in the 20th century, and his ideas and books are now considered to have made a seminal contribution to the development of the philosophy of language and mathematics and of modern logic. However, according to its translator, the diary fragment, which was not published until the 1990s, showed him to have ‘reprehensible social views’.

Frege was born on 8 November 1848 in Wismar, Mecklenburg-Schwerin. His father founded a girls’ high school, and when he died his mother took it over. 
Friedrich profited from a good schooling himself, and went on to study maths and physics, mentored by the mathematician Ernst Carl Abbe, at the University of Jena, matriculating in 1869. He moved to continue his postgraduate studies at the University of Göttingen, receiving a PhD in 1873 for a thesis on the geometrical representations of imaginary forms in a plane. Thereafter he returned to the University of Jena as a lecturer, and Abbe helped him progress to a post as associate professor. He was appointed a full professor in 1896.

Frege lectured in all branches of mathematics and also on his own logical system, though many of his publications were philosophical in character - On Sense and Reference, for example, and The Thought. He is credited by many as the father of ‘analytic philosophy’; his work on logic and language underpinned the rise of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy. Some of his books - such as Begriffsschrift and Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik - are today considered seminal texts. He married Margarete Lieseberg in 1887, and the couple adopted one son.

In 1907, Frege was awarded the prestigious title of Hofrat; and during the early 1910s he was visited several times by Ludwig Wittgenstein. However, his work was largely ignored during his lifetime, and only became more widely known when given attention by the British  philosopher Bertrand Russell and the Italian mathematician Giuseppe Peano. In 1918, Frege retired to Bad Kleinen in the north of Germany (near Wismar), and he died in 1925. For further information see Wikipedia, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopedia.com.

In 1973, the British philosopher Michael Dummett published Frege: Philosophy of Language which was soon accepted as a definitive work on Frege’s philosophy. Dummett’s preface drew attention to a diary that Frege had kept in the last year of his life, and which proved something of a shocking find. (In fact, the original diary no longer exists, and it is a transcript, prepared by Frege’s son in the late 1930s, that can be found in the Frege Archives at the Institut fur mathematische Logik und Grundlagenforschung at Munster University.)

‘There is some irony for me,’ Drummet says, ‘in the fact that the man about whose philosophical views I have devoted, over years, a great deal of time to thinking, was, at least at the end of his life, a virulent racist, specifically an anti-semite. This fact is revealed by a fragment of a diary which survives among Frege’s Nachlass [collection of manuscripts, notes, correspondence], but which was not published with the rest by Professor Hans Hermes in Freges nachgelassene Schriften. The diary shows Frege to have been a man of extreme right-wing opinions, bitterly opposed to the parliamentary system, democrats, liberals, Catholics, the French and, above all, Jews, who he thought ought to be deprived of political rights and, preferably, expelled from Germany. When I first read that diary, many years ago, I was deeply shocked, because I had revered Frege as an absolutely rational man, if, perhaps, not a very likeable one. I regret that the editors of Frege’s Nachlass chose to suppress that particular item. From it I learned something about human beings which I should be sorry not to know; perhaps something about Europe also.’

It would be another 20 years, in 1996, before the diary was translated into English by Richard L. Mendelsohn and published in Inquiry (Volume 36 of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy) as, Diary: Written by Professor Dr Gottlob Frege in the Time from 10 March to 9 April 1924. This is available to read online at the Taylor & Francis website for a fee, or, currently, it can be read for free at the Yumpu website. A discussion of Frege and his diary can also be found in When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics by Neven Sesardic - see Googlebooks.

According to Mendelssohn’s preface in Inquiry, the views expressed by Frege in the diary were shared by many in his day: ‘What the diary shows more clearly than ever is how much Frege was a creature of his time, and how much more closely than we had previously been able to discern he was involved in and influenced by the philosophical activities of his time. There is, I know, a rather sharp difference between an individual’s philosophical views and his political views, and this is especially true when the philosophical views are so far removed from anything practical, as is the case with Frege.  The reprehensible social views expressed in the diary shake neither the truth nor the inventiveness of his philosophical achievements. But they do make it more difficult to read his texts with the same ease and sympathy - and admiration. I find myself deeply confused and troubled by the diary, and compelled to work to disseminate it as widely as possible.’

Here are several extracts from Mendelsohn’s translation of the Frege diary fragment.

24 March 1924
‘From our earliest education onwards we are so accustomed to using the word ‘number’ and the number-words that we do not consider our use to require justification. To the mathematicians it appears beneath their dignity to concern themselves with such childish matters. But we find the most diverse and contradictory statements about number and numbers among them. Indeed, after prolonged occupation with these questions, we come to suspect that our way of using language is misleading, that number-words are not proper names of objects at all and words like ‘number’, ‘square number’, and the rest are not concept-words; and that consequently a sentence like ‘Four is a square number’ simply does not express that an object is subsumed under a concept, and so just cannot be regarded like the sentence ‘Sirius is a fixed star’. But how then is it to be regarded?’

2 April 1924
‘Already before the war, the view that the economic condition of the poor employees could and had to be improved at the expense of the employers infected a wide circle of the German people, far beyond the boundaries of Social Democracy, like a contagious disease, and this infection of the German people continues up to the present. Until it recedes, one cannot hope for a real recovery of the German people. Only by improving the economic condition of the whole nation can the economic condition of the poor social stratum be permanently improved. How can that happen? The debts and other obligations of the Reich are, if at all possible, not to be increased. Against this, a Reich treasure is to be accumulated.20 This project must be held to tenaciously.’

22 April 192443
‘When I was a child, my native town Wismar had a position in Mecklenburg similar to that which later Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen had in the Reich. That is to say, it enjoyed great internal independence. There was a law at that time that Jews were permitted to stay overnight in Wismar only in the time of certain annual fairs. Then, they would first be rung in by the bell and then rung out. I suppose that this decree was old. The old inhabitants of Wismar must have had experiences with the Jews that had led them to this legislation.

It must have been very much the Jewish way of doing business together with the Jewish national character that is tied closely to this way of doing business. One had also probably seen that little was achieved through laws which forbade such business practices. So it came that I could not have bad experiences with Jews. This was changed only in 1866 with the establishment of the North German Confederation. There came universal suffrage, also for Jews. There came the freedom of movement, also for Jews, presents from France. We make it so easy for the French to bless us with gifts. If one had only turned to noble and patriotic Germans, and instead of persecuting them in the time of the reaction, used their help in producing decrees and institutions arising from the German spirit and heart! The French had treated us nastily enough indeed before 1813, and nevertheless we have this blind admiration for all things French. We reckoned the French so far in front of us that we believed we could hardly catch up with them with seven-league boots. Was there yet perhaps also a seed in us from which something German could have been developed? I have only in the last years really learned to comprehend antisemitism. If one wants to make laws against the Jews, one must be able to specify a distinguishing mark [Kennzeichen] by which one can recognize a Jew for certain. I have always seen this as a problem.’

30 April 1924
‘One can acknowledge that there are Jews of the highest respectability, and yet regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent; but how little is achieved by the wish that the Jews in Germany should lose their political rights or better yet vanish from Germany. If one wanted laws passed to remedy these evils, the first question to be answered would be: How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain? That may have been relatively easy sixty years ago. Now, it appears to me to be quite difficult. Perhaps one must be satisfied with fighting the ways of thinking [Gesinnung] which show up in the activities of the Jews and are so harmful, and to punish exactly these activities with the loss of civil rights and to make the achievement of civil rights more difficult.’

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The journals of James Cook

James Cook, one of the great heroes of the exploration age, was born 390 years ago today. He captained three famous expeditions to the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, thus radically changing western perceptions of world geography; but he was killed during the third voyage. His expedition journals were used extensively by himself and others for published accounts of the journeys, however it was not until the 19th century that the journals themselves were given any serious attention, and it was only in the mid-20th century that they were published in full.

Cook was born at Marton, Yorkshire, on 7 November 1728, the son of a labourer and his wife. He grew up on a farm, and was apprenticed to a shopkeeper before moving to Whitby to become apprenticed to a coal shipping company. For several years, he worked on vessels plying the English coast, between the Tyne and London, but in his spare time he studied hard, navigation and other maritime skills. With his apprenticeship completed, Cook served on trading ships in the Baltic Sea, and was promoted to mate. In 1755, he joined the British Navy. His first posting was with HMS Eagle, as able seaman and master’s mate. Two years later, he passed his master’s examinations, and joined the frigate HMS Solebay as master under Captain Robert Craig. In 1762, he married Elizabeth Batts, and they had six children though three died as infants, and the other three died before having children of their own.

During the Seven Years’ War, Cook served in North America as master aboard the fourth-rate Navy vessel HMS Pembroke. There, he gained a reputation for the quality of his surveying, producing the first large-scale maps of the Newfoundland coast. In 1768, Cook was promoted to lieutenant, and given charge of a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus across the sun. His expedition  - on board HMS Endeavour - sailed to Tahiti, to complete the observations, but were not as successful as had been hoped. However, he had also been charged with trying to find a southern continent. After sailing round and mapping New Zealand, he reached the southeastern coast of, what would be called, Australia, on 19 April 1770. Within days he had made the first direct observation of indigenous Australians. Thereafter, the expedition sailed up the east coast, and Cook claimed it all as British territory.

During a second journey, in HMS Resolution (with a companion ship, HMS Adventure), Cook, now with the rank Commander, sailed farther south than any other European, searching for a speculative southern continent. In fact, he circled what would be called Antarctica without sighting it. Before returning to England, he surveyed, mapped, and took possession for Britain of South Georgia, and he discovered and named Clerke Rocks and the South Sandwich Islands. In 1775, he was promoted to captain, and given an honorary retirement. 


The following year, however, Cook departed on a third voyage, again in HMS Resolution (but accompanied by HMS Discovery), aimed at locating a Northwest Passage around the American continent. During this journey, he became the first European to begin formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands, he sailed along the northwest coast of North America, he landed on Vancouver Island, and he sailed through the Bering strait. However, after being blocked by ice, he returned to the Pacific and Hawaii in particular. There, in February 1779, arguments broke out between the crew and the islanders, one of which led to an islander murdering Cook. Further biographical information is readily available online from Wikipedia, Royal Museums Greenwich, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, or the Captain Cook Society.

Soon after the completion of the first expedition, John Hawkesworth brought out A New Voyage Round the World in the Years 1768, 1799, 1770 and 1771 - Performed by Captain James Cook, In the Ship Endeavour - Drawn up from his own journal and from the papers of Joseph Banks. This became the de facto popular account of the famous voyage, though Cook’s own journal and voice was subsumed in Hawkesworth’s narrative - available at Internet Archive


It was not until 1893, that a first version of Cook’s journal was published, as edited by Captain W. J. L. Wharton: Captain Cook’s Journal made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour: 1768-71 - A Literal Transcription of the Original MSS. This can be freely read at Internet ArchiveProject Gutenberg Australia or the University of Adelaide ebooks site. More recently, an online edition of the journal - The Journals of James Cook’s First Pacific Voyage, 1768-1771 - has been made available at South Seas (a website hosted by the National Library of Australia) along with other accounts of the same expedition. A few journal entries can also be found at the Captain Cook Society website.

Cook, in fact, was not happy with the published narrative of his first voyage, and was determined, after his second voyage, to prevent the kind of editorial license that Hawkesworth had enjoyed with the journal of his first expedition. He persuaded the Admiralty (for whom the reports were formally written) to let himself take full editorial control of publishing the expedition account. This led to him publishing, in 1777, of A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World
 - Performed in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 (available at Internet Archive: volume 1, volume 2).

However, Cook warned the reader as follows: ‘I shall therefore conclude this introductory discourse with desiring the reader to excuse the inaccuracies of style, which doubtless he will frequently meet with in the following narrative; and that, when such occur, he will recollect that it is the production of a man, who has not had the advantage of much school education, but who has been constantly at sea from his youth; and though, with the assistance of a few good friends, he has passed through all the stations belonging to a seaman, from an apprentice boy in the coal trade, to a post-captain in the royal navy, he has had no opportunity of cultivating letters. After this account of myself, the public must not expect from me the elegance of a fine writer, or the plausibility of a professed book-maker; but will, I hope, consider me as a plain man, zealously exerting himself in the service of his country, and determined to give the best account he is able of his proceedings.’

Cook’s third and ill-fated expedition resulted in publication of A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (in four volumes), authored by James Cook (who before his death had spent much time onboard preparing an account of the expedition for publication) and James King (who took over command of the last expedition after Cook’s successor Charles Clerke also died). Soon after, Lieutenant John Rickman edited Cook’s own journal for publication as Journal of Captain Cook’s last voyage to the Pacific Ocean - see Internet Archive.

It was not until the middle of the 20th century, though, that the full extent of Cook’s expedition diaries were published. The project was undertaken by John Caste Beaglehole for the Hakluyt Society. The journal of the first expedition was published in 1955, the second in 1961 and the third in 1967, running to four large volumes totalling over 3,000 pages - now in print again thanks to Routledge (Boydell and Brewer). In 1999, Philip Edwards selected and edited Beaglehole’s editions for a one volume compendium published by Penguin. This can be previewed at Googlebooks.

Edwards calls the Beaglehole editions ‘one of the finest achievements of twentieth-century scholarship’. And here is more from his introduction.

‘What Beaglehole was able to present over the years of his labours, and what this abridged version preserves, is a majestic story of epic proportions of three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean in converted Whitby colliers, ranging from the Antarctic Circle to the Arctic Sea, which negotiated and charted for the first time ever the entire coast of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia brought into view innumerable islands not previously known in the west, and provided far and away the fullest and most intimate account of the life of the inhabitants of Tahiti, the Tonga islands, New Zealand and elsewhere, besides bringing back to Europe an unrivalled access of knowledge in natural history - a sphere in which Cook saw himself as no expert.

The story in these pages is Cook’s story, written in his own hand, stamped with the clumsiness of the ‘plain man’ he called himself, but radiating in every line the ambition, determination, control, courage, seamanship, knowledge and skill which enabled him to carry through an unrivalled series of explorations in dangerous waters. It is Cook’s story, the story of these voyages as he wanted them to be known. He recorded what he chose to record, and he recorded it as he saw it. There are very many examples of Cook’s careful revision of his accounts of awkward moments - the best-known being his reworking of the account of the fatal shooting of ‘two or three’ Maoris in Poverty Bay at the time of first contact (9 October 1769). It is important to emphasize this seemingly obvious point in an edition which does not have the space to fill in gaps and provide contrasting viewpoints from other observers. Beaglehole’s full edition provides this corrective view to some extent, though it has to be said that Beaglehole’s loyalty to his hero was so intense that he hardly ever saw Cook as biased or unfair or just wrong. Later generations are less reverential, and it does no harm to Cook’s great qualities and achievements to recognize that he was human enough to be concerned with his image. If he ever doubted the wisdom of his judgements and decisions it does not appear from his journals.’

Finally, here are several extracts from Wharton’s edition of Cook’s journal of the first expedition.

9 November 1769
‘Variable light breezes and Clear weather. As soon as it was daylight the Natives began to bring off Mackrell, and more than we well know what to do with; notwithstanding I order’d all they brought to be purchased in order to encourage them in this kind of Traffick. At 8, Mr. Green and I went on shore with our Instruments to observe the Transit of Mercury, which came on at 7 hours 20 minutes 58 seconds Apparent time, and was observed by Mr. Green only. [Mr. Green satirically remarks in his Log, “Unfortunately for the seamen, their look-out was on the wrong side of the sun.” This probably refers to Mr. Hicks, who was also observing. It rather seems, however, as if Cook, on this occasion, was caught napping by an earlier appearance of the planet than was expected.] I, at this time, was taking the Sun’s Altitude in order to Ascertain the time. The Egress was observed as follows:-
By Mr. Green: Internal Contact at 12 hours 8 minutes 58 seconds Afternoon. External Contact at 12 hours 9 minutes 55 seconds Afternoon.
By myself: Internal Contact at 12 hours 8 minutes 45 seconds Afternoon. External Contact at 12 hours 9 minutes 43 seconds Afternoon.
Latitude observed at noon 36 degrees 48 minutes 28 seconds, the mean of this and Yesterday’s observation gives 36 degrees 48 minutes 5 1/2 seconds South; the Latitude of the Place of Observation, and the Variation of the Compass was at this time found to be 11 degrees 9 minutes East.

While we were making these observations 5 Canoes came alongside the Ship, 2 Large and 3 Small ones, in one were 47 People, but in the other not so many. They were wholy strangers to us, and to all appearance they came with a Hostile intention, being compleatly Arm’d with Pikes, Darts, Stones, etc.; however, they made no attempt, and this was very probable owing to their being inform’d by some other Canoes (who at this time were alongside selling fish) what sort of people they had to Deal with. When they first came alongside they begun to sell our people some of their Arms, and one Man offer’d to Sale a Haahow, that is a Square Piece of Cloth such as they wear. Lieutenant Gore, who at this time was Commanding Officer, sent into the Canoe a piece of Cloth which the Man had agreed to Take in Exchange for his, but as soon as he had got Mr. Gore’s Cloth in his Possession he would not part with his own, but put off the Canoe from alongside, and then shook their Paddles at the People in the Ship. Upon this, Mr. Gore fir’d a Musquet at them, and, from what I can learn, kill’d the Man who took the Cloth; after this they soon went away. I have here inserted the account of this Affair just as I had it from Mr. Gore, but I must own it did not meet with my approbation, because I thought the Punishment a little too severe for the Crime, and we had now been long Enough acquainted with these People to know how to Chastise Trifling faults like this without taking away their Lives.’

13 January 1770
‘Winds Variable. P.M., Cloudy weather. At 7 o’Clock sounded and had 42 fathoms water, being distant from the Shore between 2 and 3 Leagues and the Peaked Mountain as near as I could judge bore East. After it was Dark saw a fire upon the Shore, a sure sign that the Country is inhabited. In the night had some Thunder, Lightning, and Rain; at 5 a.m. saw for a few Minutes the Top of the Peaked Mountain above the Clouds bearing North-East. It is of a prodidgious height and its Top is cover’d with Everlasting Snow; it lies in the Latitude of 39 degrees 16 minutes South, and in the Longitude of 185 degrees 15 minutes West. I have named it Mount Egmont in honour of the Earl of Egmont. [The Earl of Egmont was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1763 to 1766. Mount Egmont is a magnificent conical mountain, surrounded on three sides by the sea, from which it rises to a height of 8300 feet.] This mountain seems to have a pretty large base and to rise with a Gradual Ascent to the Peak, and what makes it more Conspicuous is its being situated near the Sea and in the Midst of a flat Country which afforded a very good Aspect, being Cloathed with Woods and Verdure. The shore under the foot of this Mountain forms a large Cape which I have named Cape Egmont; it lies South-South-West 1/2 West, 27 Leagues from Albetross Point. On the North-East side of the Cape lay 2 Small Islands near to a very remarkable Point of the Main that riseth to a good height in the very form of a Sugar Loaf. To the Southward of the Cape the Land tends away South-East by East and East-South-East, and seems to be every where a bold shore. At Noon had variable light Airs and Clear weather. Latitude observ’d 39 degrees 32 minutes South. Cape Egmont bore about North-East, and we were about 4 Leagues from the Shore in that direction; in this situation had 40 fathoms Water.’

1 June 1770
‘At 1/2 an hour After Noon, upon the Boat we had ahead sounding making the Signal for Shoal Water, we hauld our wind to the North-East, having at that time 7 fathoms; the Next cast 5, and then 3, upon which we let go an Anchor, and brought the Ship up. The North-West point of Thirsty Sound, or Pier Head, bore South-East, distance 6 Leagues, being Midway between the Islands which lies off the East point of the Western inlet and 3 Small Islands directly without them, [the shoal is now known as Lake Shoal - the three Islands are the Bedwell Islands] it being now the first of the flood which we found to set North-West by West 1/2 West. After having sounded about the Shoal, on which we found not quite 3 fathoms, but without it deep water, we got under Sail, and hauld round the 3 Islands just mentioned, and came to an Anchor under the Lee of them in 15 fathoms, having at this time dark, hazey, rainy weather, which continued until 7 o’Clock a.m., at which time we got again under sail, and stood to the North-West with a fresh breeze at South-South-East and fair weather, having the Main land in Sight and a Number of Islands all round us, some of which lay out at Sea as far as we could See. The Western Inlet before mentioned, known in the Chart by the Name of Broad Sound, we had now all open. It is at least 9 or 10 Leagues wide at the Entrance, with several Islands laying in and before, and I believe Shoals also, for we had very irregular Soundings, from 10 to 5 and 4 fathoms. At Noon we were by Observation in the Latitude of 21 degrees 29 minutes South, and Longitude made from Cape Townshend 59 degrees West. A point of Land, which forms the North-West Entrance into Broad Sound, bore from us at this Time West, distance 3 Leagues; this Cape I have named Cape Palmerston [Henry Viscount Palmerston was a Lord of the Admiralty, 1766 to 1778] (Latitude 21 degrees 27 minutes South, Longitude 210 degrees 57 minutes West). Between this Cape and Cape Townshend lies the Bay of Inlets, so named from the Number of Inlets, Creeks, etc., in it. [The name Bay of Inlets has disappeared from the charts. Cook applied it to the whole mass of bays in this locality, covering over 60 miles. A look at a modern chart causes amazement that Cook managed to keep his ship off the ground, as the whole sea in his track is strewed with dangers.]’

The Diary Junction