Saturday, September 21, 2019

Things will not go well for Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, was born 110 years ago today. He led the British colony of Gold Coast to independence and oversaw his nation’s transformation into a republic. But as president, he became overly autocratic and was eventually deposed in a coup in 1966. A diary he kept in the last decade of his life found its way to the United States where it became the subject of a legal battle between its owner and a Ghanaian patriot. Although the diary was returned to Ghana in 2012 amid a flurry of publicity, there seems to be no information online about what it happened to it then, and I can only find one small tidbit concerning its contents: he wrote, ‘Things will not go well for Ghana’, and ‘[my] vision’ for the country will now be ‘lost’.

Nkrumah was born on 21 September 1909 and raised in a rural village in the British colony, Gold Coast. He was schooled at a local Catholic mission, and then at a government training college in Accra. He took up teaching at a primary school, but was then made head of a school at Axim, where he began to become involved in politics. He had heard the Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe speak, and it was him that advised Nkrumah to enrol at Lincoln College, a historically black college in the US, where he himself had studied. Starting in 1935, Nkrumah spent ten years in the US, first at Lincoln, then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Masters of Philosophy and a Masters of Education. At first he supported himself with menial jobs, but he also began to lecture and preach at Presbyterian churches. He was an activist student, organising a group of expatriate African students in Pennsylvania and building it into the African Students Association of America and Canada, becoming its president.

Nkrumah moved to London in 1945, with the intention of studying for a doctorate, but failed to stay more than a term or so at LSE or University College. Instead, he became very involved in organising the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester (October 1945). In 1947, he returned home to take up a position as general secretary of the new United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) which aimed for self-government. Following extensive riots in 1948, he and other UGCC leaders were briefly arrested. A year later, he split from the UGCC to form the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) which was committed to achieving immediate self-government. He initiated a campaign for nonviolent protests, strikes and non-cooperation with the British colonial authorities, but this led to him being arrested and imprisoned for a year. In 1951, though, after being elected to parliament, he was released, and he then became prime minister of Gold Coast in 1952. It would be five more years before full independence was realised and Gold Coast became the self-governed nation of Ghana. Nkrumah was hailed as the Osagyefo - meaning ‘redeemer’ in the Akan language. That same year, in 1957, he married Fathia Rizk, 
an Egyptian Coptic, and they had four children.

While Nkrumah set about building roads, school and health facilities, his style of leadership proved increasingly authoritarian. In 1960 he won a plebiscite for Ghana to become a republic. Nkrumah became president. However, mounting economic troubles and foreign debt (and other troubles) began to threaten his presidency. He was forced to abandon the country’s Second Development Plan; the economy contracted, and widespread unrest culminated in a general strike. An attempt on Nkrumah’s life in 1962, led to his increasing seclusion from public life, as well as to a massive buildup of the country’s internal security forces. While Nkrumah focused on the ideological struggle for black peoples, the crisis in Ghana itself worsened, until, in 1966, while he was visiting China, the army and the police seized power. On returning to Africa, he found asylum in Guinea, where he spent the remainder of his life, writing books, among other things, such as Dark Days in Ghana and Class Struggle in Africa. He died, while in Romania, in 1972. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, South African History Online, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In the last years of his life, from the mid-1960s onward, Nkrumah kept a diary. It was with him when he died, but then, somehow, it seems to have found its way to the US. Some 30 years after his death, the diary became the subject of a legal battle. An article to be found online at GhanaWeb describes the story of the diary as reading like ‘a whodunnit bestseller’. For 20 years, the diary was in the possession of an American, a financial consultant called Robert Shulman, but then it was tracked down by Vincent Mbirika, a Kenyan scholar and expatriate who lived in New York, and who wanted the diary returned to Ghana. A law suit followed, and in April 2012 the court agreed that the diary rightly belonged to Ghana and to the Nkrumah family (see New African Magazine, GhanaWeb or Denise Valentine’s blog.)

I have not been able to track down any online trace of the diary since 2012, nor any extracts from it. However, this GhanaWeb article (dated two weeks earlier than the one above) does give some information about the diary, as follows:

‘The diary entries start from the mid-1960s, when the Osagyefo was president, and run to the late 1960s when he had been deposed and was living in exile in Guinea as a guest of President Sekou Toure.

One entry, from 1966, the year Nkrumah was ousted by the military, mentions the purchase of military equipment from the Soviet Union. In another entry, from 1968, when Nkrumah was living in Guinea, the former president instructs his wife, Fathia, to “take care” of their children - Gamal Gorkeh, Sekou, and Samia (who is now an MP in Ghana and chairperson of the Convention People's Party founded by her father).

Possibly the most compelling entry in the diary (which is about the size of a small paperback and has a bookmark with the colours of Ghana’s flag stuffed in its pages), is one where Nkrumah, who had been Ghana’s head of state since independence from Britain in 1957, reflects on the abrupt end of his presidency. It makes clear that Nkrumah was worried about Ghana and Africa’s future. He wrote: “Things will not go well for Ghana” and said his “vision” for Ghana would now be “lost”.’

Sunday, September 15, 2019

I don’t feel like living

‘A living person always has hope (sometimes unconsciously). Although life is difficult, it is also beautiful. Life has its strange charm. (I will tell you the truth: I don’t feel like living, it’s too much for me, I will go to sleep soon and I don’t want to get up).’ This is from the diary of Rywka Lipszyc, born 90 years ago today. She was a teenager confined to the Łódź Ghetto during the Holocaust in Poland and barely survived the war, dying not long after being liberated from a concentration camp. But astonishingly, a diary, a heart-rending diary she kept for six months in 1943-1944 was preserved in Russia for many years, and only recently, found its way to the US and into publication.

Rywka was born on 15 September 1929 into a Polish-Jewish family, the eldest of four children. The family was imprisoned in the Nazi ghetto at Łódź following the German invasion of Poland. Her mother and father both died in 1941-1942; Rywka, one sister and three cousins were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in mid-1944. Her sister was gassed to death on arrival, while Rywka went to work for the women’s commando. Further moves followed, to Christianstadt in Krzystkowice, and to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from where she was eventually liberated along with her surviving two sisters. She was, however, very ill, and was transported to a hospital in Niendorf, Germany, where, it is believed, she died, aged 16. Further information is available at the official Rwyka website and Wikipedia,

Extraordinarily, a diary kept by Rywka was found amid the ruins of the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau in June 1945 by a Red Army doctor, Zinaida Berezovskaya. She took it back with her to the Soviet Union, and when she died it passed to her son along with other war memorabilia. When, the son died in 1992, Zinaida’s granddaughter, on a family visit to Russia, discovered the manuscript and took it back with her to the US. A decade later, in 2008, she brought it to the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) Holocaust Center in San Francisco. A team of researchers and historians then began working to authenticate, preserve, transcribe, and translate the diary into English. Finally, it was edited by Anita Friedman, and published in 2014 as Rwyka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto by the JFCS Holocaust Centre and Lehrhaus Judaica (a Jewish educational institution now known as Hamaqom | The Place). For more on the diary and its provenance see the JFCS Holocaust Centre, the Rwyka website, the Koret Foundation, or Yad Vashem. There is further information on the website about the film Diary from the Ashes.

The Rwyka website also has a generous selection of extracts from the diary, organised by topic (disease and hunger, work, siblings, etc.). Here are a few of them.

11 December 1943
‘Sometimes I think that life is a dark road. On this road among the thorns there are other, more delicate flowers. These flowers have no life, they suffer because of the thorns. Sometimes the thorns are jealous of the flowers’ beauty and hurt them more. The flowers either become thorns themselves or suffer in silence and walk through the thorns.

They don’t always succeed but if they persevere, something good will come of it. I think it happens quite rarely but in my opinion every true Jew who is pursuing a goal suffers and keeps silent. Besides, I think life is beautiful and difficult, and I think one has to know how to live. I envy people who have suffered a lot and have lived a difficult life, and yet have won the battle with life. You know, Surcia, such people (when I read or hear about them) cheer me up. I then realize that I am not the only one or the first one, that I can have hope. But I’m not writing about myself.

You know, when I’m very upset I admire life. Then I wonder. Why at the same time are some people crying, while others are laughing or suffering? At the same time some are being born, others die or get sick. Those who are born grow up. They mature in order to live and suffer. And yet all of them want to live, desperately want to live. A living person always has hope (sometimes unconsciously). Although life is difficult, it is also beautiful. Life has its strange charm. (I will tell you the truth: I don’t feel like living, it’s too much for me, I will go to sleep soon and I don’t want to get up). Oh, Surcia, if I really couldn’t get up!’

14 February 1944
‘Mr. Zemel came and delivered a speech, or rather he repeated what the Chairman had said before. And: those who are to be deported but are hiding are being aided by other people. This is forbidden … Apparently, this is going to be some kind of easy labor.

But who knows? What’s more, during the working hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. nobody will be allowed to walk in the streets. The ghetto is turning into a Arbeits Lager [Labor Camp}.. The apartments will have to be locked. Only the bed-ridden with medical certificates will be able to stay inside. Nobody else. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to Saturdays … after all, an apartment can be locked with a padlock. What’s going to happen with attendance at the workshops? God! What’s going to happen? Only You know.’

16 February 1944
‘And … one secret … my cousins are almost out of marmalade and brown sugar, but Cipka and I still have quite a lot. This morning we were going to work (Cipka and I) and she told me that on Sunday when we went to get our rations, Chanusia said to Estusia that we’d finish our marmalade and sugar very quickly and they’d have to share theirs with us. Estusia replied, “I surely wouldn’t think otherwise.”

Stupid cousins, you were so wrong! I have my own satisfaction. I haven’t thought of being as “generous” as you! I don’t even think about it. Ha, ha, ha, at the bottom of my heart I’m sneering at them. Anyway, it’s not worth pondering over! Times are terrible … many people have left … there is hunger … but I’ve already written about it. I feel something, but I can’t express it, though I’d like to. I’d like to help everybody … I’d like to be helpful … I’d like to be useful! I’m full of these inexpressible emotions. I don’t know … it’s connected with my longing and I’m so sad. But I can’t be overwhelmed by sadness, because I know that nothing good will come out of it. I’m against evil … I want kindness! I do want it! There is a saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but it doesn’t apply in my case … because I want to do so much … so much, but what can I do? Little, very little, almost nothing…’

28 February 1944
‘I couldn’t write in the workshop, because I was busy with Cipka’s dress. I had a small problem with the soup, so my break was rather sad (because of the soup). But to the point! Sewing something gives me a lot of pleasure and when I finish it I’ll know that I’m stronger … I’ll know that regardless of the conditions I’ll be able to move forward. I’ll have a profession. I won’t depend on my fate, but my fate will depend on me. I feel stronger.

A few years ago, in my dreams, when I was imagining my future, I could see sometimes: an evening, a studio, a desk, there is a woman sitting at the desk (an older woman), she’s writing … and writing, and writing … all the time … she forgets about her surroundings, she’s writing. I can see myself as this woman. Another time I could see a modest apartment which I share with my sister - earlier I thought it was Tamarcia, but today it’s more probable that it’s Cipka. Some other time I can see: an evening, a modest room with lights, all my family sitting at the table. It’s so nice … so warm, cozy … Oh, it’s so good! Later, when they all go to bed, I sit at the sewing machine and I’m sewing … sewing … it’s so sweet, so good … so delightful! Because everything I make with my own hands is our livelihood. It pays for bread, education, clothes … almost everything. The work I do with my own hands … I’m very grateful to Mrs. Kaufman for this … and then (obviously only when I think about it, because it’s not a reality yet), then I feel that, that I can be useful, and not only can, I have to, I have to! (I have to stop now and bring some water.)

Will I be able to write now as I was writing before? I have to try. (Oh, damn it! Cipka took my pencil case and a pen. I had to try four nibs. None of them is good and I can hardly write.) I know, because I’ve said it to myself many times that work is essential in human life, at least in mine. I’d like to dream up work for myself, difficult but rewarding so I’d know that I’m doing it for somebody, that there is somebody. This is most important: I’d like to give but also to take. It doesn’t come easy.’

5 April 1944
‘Because of the holidays there is a lot of commotion. But not everything is positive, unfortunately. Yesterday those who registered for matzos didn’t get any bread. They can starve for a few days or eat matzos. Well, it’s not so easy to be a Jew. At every step there are difficulties. And the weather is capricious, too, although no doubt it is much better, but … children who were adopted receive coupons, so Cipka and I do, too. What we’ll get, I don’t know, that will become clear today. Some kitchens were registering people for the holiday soup. A few girls from our group are leaving at 10 a.m. Today, we’ll find out. Anyway! I wish it were a holiday right now! During the holidays I won’t know where to go first, to Dorka Zand, to Mrs. Lebensztajn, to Dorka Borensztajn and … and I don’t know myself, and now … I’ve planned to write tomorrow, but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to or whether I’ll have an opportunity.

Three years ago the holidays fell on the same days. It was the last holiday, the last Seder with my Daddy. Oh, time goes by so quickly! Daddy was supposed to be released from the hospital for the holidays. Ereve Peysech [the Eve of Passover] like this year, fell on Friday, so Daddy came back on Thursday (like tomorrow). We, the children, were very impatient all day and every few minutes we would approach the window or the balcony to see if an ambulance was coming. […] I couldn’t stay still in one spot but I remember how happy I was that Daddy was coming back. We, the children, weren’t allowed in the hospital, so we would write letters and Mom would take them to Daddy. I discovered so much love for us in Daddy’s letters. God! Perhaps because of this separation, because of these letters, I loved him even more.

In the winter I saw Daddy in the hospital window. He was cheerful, he could easily pour his own reassurance into me, he said he was better, and soon we’d see each other. Didn’t I see for myself that he was doing better? Yes, that’s why I still believed his words. I was full of hope and reassurance myself. Later, Daddy took a turn for the worse, the hospital itself was getting worse, but nevertheless Daddy was supposed to come home for the holidays.

On that Thursday I didn’t remember or I didn’t want to remember that Daddy was feeling much worse than in the winter. However, I was very happy that finally he’d be at home. At that time I remembered only the good things, like Daddy holding my hand on Yom Kippur, the letters and the visits. […] In the evening, at last the ambulance stopped in front of the gate. I was on the balcony and my heart totally stopped for a second. And then it started to pound so violently that I thought my chest would explode. I had no idea what to do: stay in place or run to the door. I don’t exactly remember what I did. I only know that it seemed forever when my Daddy was climbing the stairs. Finally, finally, Daddy was in the room and … how disappointed I was … it wasn’t the same Daddy as the one in the hospital window. He didn’t even smile, didn’t respond to our greetings. He was upset and visibly tired. He wanted to go to bed as soon as possible. We had to leave the room.

God! This feeling! It was in the evening, but the light wasn’t on yet. In that darkness everything was black in front of my eyes. I simply didn’t see anything or anyone. Like a drunk I stumbled into the other room. I felt like sobbing, but I didn’t. I remained silent. Various thoughts were running through my head: what’s wrong with Daddy? Why is he so different? I didn’t expect this. […] I was telling myself that he was only tired, but I was overcome by a strange anxiety. I was bothered by the thought that Daddy wasn’t thinking about us. […] It is true, later I calmed down about the change in Daddy. We even talked to him, although I was very shy, but in my heart … there was a pain, a sorrow in my heart. I don’t know, I don’t know what to call it. Such feelings always wear me out, reduce my energy. I’m unable to do anything. When Daddy wanted a cup of tea, I brought it for him with great difficulty. I had to bring it, because it would look bad that here he is from the hospital and I’m disobedient. The next day I tried to do everything right, although Daddy was very upset. I tried to make every good moment last and not irritate him. Oh, nobody will ever know how hard it was for me and how “cold” I was feeling. And yet nobody knew. […] I withdrew into myself. Nobody could get anything out of me. After all nobody even supposed that I was worried. Oh, how much I needed a kind word, how much I wanted to be alone with Daddy. I wanted him to be like he was in the past. I missed all that and I felt so helpless, so helpless.

After a few days Daddy regained his cheerfulness and good spirits, but I didn’t have any more opportunities to fulfill my dreams. We were all very happy to be in one room with Daddy. We didn’t talk much, but we exchanged looks. Oh, those looks! I couldn’t say anything at all, not even that I wished him to get better, nothing … simply nothing. I was very awkward. But I wanted to, I wanted to. Only God knows this, because I didn’t tell anybody.

Oh, now I’m remembering it all. I can’t even look at Daddy anymore, only at his picture. But I’ll never see Daddy alive, never see him alive again, never again. God! How terrible it is! It’s going to be the third Seder without Daddy, and the second one without any man at all. Last year Aunt Chaiska was here, and today … today there is Estusia. Oh, it’s so tragic! If only Abramek were here! Oh, God, precisely on Pesach, at the Seder, Daddy will be missed most. Oh, he’ll be missed so much …’

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Diary briefs

Italy’s ‘City of Diaries’ - Atlas Obscura (see also Italy’s Town of the Diary)

Taylor Swift’s diaries - USA Today, Mail Online

Kafka’s diaries unveiled in Israel - Haaretz, The Times of Israel

Abbey Road diary entry - NME

Epstein’s secret diaries! - The Sun, The Mirror

Brigitte Reimann diaries - Seagull Books, Lipstick Socialist

Writing Japan’s War in New Guinea - Amsterdam University Press, AJRP

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A bear bayed by dogs

Happy birthday Jack Ward Thomas - 85 today. A wildlife research biologist, conservationist and professor, Thomas rose to the giddy political heights of being chief of the US Forest Service during the Bill Clinton administration. He was particularly embroiled in political disputes over the demise of the northern spotted owl, the Endangered Species Act, and the preservation of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. For about a dozen years, including those when he was serving as chief of the forest service, he kept detailed, if sporadic, diary entries - later published in several volumes. In one diary entry he confesses that he feels ‘terribly out of place’, and writes, ‘A remark came back to me that one of the industry lawyers made. He said I reminded him of a grizzly bear bayed by dogs: angry, puzzled, and frightened.’

Thomas was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on 7 September 1934. He studied wildlife management at Texas A&M University, with higher degrees in wildlife ecology from West Virginia University (1969) and forestry (natural resources planning) from the University of Massachusetts (1972). He began his working life with the Texas Game and Fish Commission in the late 1950s, moving, in 1966, to join the Forest Service in Morgantown as a research wildlife biologist; then in 1969 he joined the Urban Forestry and Wildlife Research Unit at Amhurst. In 1974, he became the chief research wildlife biologist and project leader at the Blue Mountains Research Lab in La Grande, Oregon.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Thomas became increasingly involved in both research and politics related to the northern spotted owl, the Endangered Species Act, and old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. In the spring of 1993, in the wake of the President Clinton Forest Conference in Portland, Thomas was named to head the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team (FEMAT) with the aim of resolving the spotted owl crises. In December that year, he was appointed Chief of the U.S. Forest Service despite opposition from some environmental groups, the timber industry, and many of the old-guard agency personnel. The following year, he responded to the death of 34 fire fighters by significantly improving woodland fire safety procedures. 


Thomas stepped down from the political position in 1996, accepting a position at the University of Montana as professor of wildlife conservation, only retiring in 2005. He has been responsible for many hundreds of publications: whole books, chapters in books, essays etc on elk, deer, and turkey biology; wildlife habitat; songbird ecology; northern spotted owl management; forestry and land-use planning. Further (limited) biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Jack Ward Thomas website, or the Forest History Society (and its blog).

Off and on between 1986 and 1999 Thomas kept a diary. A selection of entries written while he was chief of the forest service - 1993-1996 - was published in 2004 by the Forest History Society in association with The University of Washington Press as Jack Ward Thomas: The Journals of a Forest Service Chief. Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks. Further selections of his diary entries were published more recently, in 2015, by the Boone & Crockett Club. Excerpts from 
Wilderness Journals: Wandering the High Lonesome can be previewed at Boone & Crockett and at Amazon.

Here are three of Thomas’s diary entries from The Journals of a Forest Service Chief.

30 August 1990, [in camp. Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, Oregon]
‘On the eve of my departure for the Eagle Caps, I was working late in my office clearing my desk and leaving instructions for work to be done in my absence. At 7:00 p.m. Pacific time (10:00 p.m. Eastern time), Undersecretary Jim Moseley called. I could tell from his voice, which was tired and dispirited, that the call was not good news. Moseley wanted me to hear the news from him and not from some newshound with the freshly leaked story.


The working group has recommended to Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter to go with the ISC report with an allowable cut of 3.0 billion board feet [bbf] for Forest Service lands in 1991, scaling down to 2.7 to 2.6 in subsequent years. Secretary Yeutter was in agreement. However, when they took it to the White House, something (Moseley doesn’t know what) went wrong. The president’s chief of staff, John Sununu, was in the Soviet Union giving advice on how to organize the Soviet premier’s office. So Sununu (who has been perceived as the big, bad “booger” who will eat everybody alive if they go with the ISC report) was not present. Interior Secretary Lujan was evidently the stumbling block, saying things like “no bunch of biologists are going to determine policy for the United States government.” That is understandable - he will look very bad if the ISC report is adopted now, after he let Jamison convince him that there was “new or better science” or “other experts” who had devised a “better way.” To adopt the ISC report now is to have to eat those words, and he simply doesn’t have the stomach for it.


It now looks as if the train wreck proponents have carried the day. The timber cut level being proposed is an annual cut of 3.7 to 4.2 bbf and you sacrifice the number of habitat conservation areas necessary to hold the cut level. They will ask Congress for “sufficiency language” to preclude the environmentalists from challenging the decision in the courts. That will, if Congress approves, have the effect of declaring that whatever is prescribed will, de facto, provide adequate protection to the spotted owl and that is that - problem solved.


I had listened quietly to this point and now I began to speak quietly and calmly though my chest was tight. I said that we would expect to see our committee in front of Congress within ten days and there was no way we could support that decision. At that point, we would have to follow the dictates of our profession, which would lead us into direct conflict with the administration. Truly, we must say in the manner of Martin Luther, “Heir stehe Ich. Ich kannicht auder.” ’


13 August 1993
‘In keeping with Friday the 13th, my mail contained the paperwork from the timber industry lawyers: the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and I and the entire FEMAT are being sued. The basis of the suit is that FEMAT operations were conducted in a manner not in compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The brief was filled with page after page demanding documents and affidavits, and question after question concerning how FEMAT operated.


Well, I will deal with that when the time comes. The White House team set the rules and FEMAT did the technical work. I have learned to simply tell the truth in the briefest possible manner and then let the lawyers fight it out and the judges rule.


There are moments, however, when I sit at my desk answering interrogatories and sit hour after hour being deposed by lawyers and sit on the witness stand in court trying to tell the truth while not being discredited by the legal attack dogs - at such times it is sometimes difficult to remember that somewhere there are biologists in denim pants and work boots doing fieldwork far from the world of lawyers in their three-piece suits, shiny black shoes, crisply ironed white shirts, and fresh haircuts. I feel terribly out of place in this world - and the worst part is, they know it. A remark came back to me that one of the industry lawyers made. He said I reminded him of a grizzly bear bayed by dogs: angry, puzzled, and frightened.


Now when I am at the mercy of the lawyers, I keep the image of the cornered grizz’ in mind, knowing that the smooth Harvard lawyer has never seen a bear swat the life out of a dog with one sweep of a paw. The thing about bear baiting is that sometimes you get the bear, but sometimes the bear gets you!’


8 October 1993, La Grande
‘Assistant Secretary Jim Lyons called from his mother’s home in New Jersey at 12:30 a. m. Eastern Standard Time. His message was simple: President Clinton had signed off on my appointment as the next chief of the Forest Service earlier in the day. The next step is a call from White House attorneys to make certain there is nothing in my background that would preclude my appointment or that might prove an embarrassment to the president of the United States.


The waiting and uncertainty have come to an end. Mr. Lyons was still uncertain as to the exact mechanism of making the appointment public knowledge. I told him that whatever his intention, I was not available for the next ten days because of a long-standing speaking engagement and an elk season that begins next week. He asked if elk season was mandatory so far as my participation was concerned. I told him that I had not missed an elk-hunting season in twenty years and didn’t intend to start now.


What was not relayed to him was how badly I needed this hunting season in the high Wallowas, particularly just now. I have a real need to draw strength from the wilderness and the isolation and the majesty and the solitude. What lies just ahead - and now with certainty - is the awesome responsibility of rebuilding the Forest Service and the loss of my life’s partner and the light of my life. If I had my sweetheart with me, there is little doubt that the journey would be exciting and joyful. She would make certain of that, as she always has when I was shy and withdrawn and a little afraid. Just now, the contemplation of that journey without her fills me with trepidation.’

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A life too bustling

‘I have taken a resolution to write down in this book, as in times of leisure I may have opportunity, things past, or things that may occur hereafter, for the perusal and consideration of my [. . .] beloved children.’ This is Sir Richard Steele, a British political and literary figure from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, who died 290 years ago today. He tried once to keep a diary, starting with the above resolution, and left behind but a handful of entries. The editor of his memoirs regrets that his subject never kept more of a diary - ‘his life was too bustling’. Nevertheless, he had plenty of Steele’s letters to choose from, as well as snippets from a letter-journal kept by Steele’s friend Jonathan Swift.

Steele was born in Dublin in 1672 to an attorney and his wife; however he was largely brought up by an uncle and aunt. He was educated at Charterhouse School where he met Joseph Addison, and at Oxford (first Christ Church and then Merton college). He joined the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William’s wars against France, and was commissioned in 1697. In 1700, he gravely wounded a fellow officer in a duel. He rose to the rank of captain before leaving the army in 1705 (probably because he had neither the money or connections necessary for advancement). The following year, he was appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. By this time, he was already advancing a parallel career as a writer, with essays and plays. The Christian Hero was a moralistic tract, published in 1701, which led to him being branded a hypocrite for not following the ways of his own writings; and The Funeral and The Tender Husband were two theatrical comedies which brought him some success.

In 1705, Steele married the widow Margaret Stretch, but she died the following year. At the funeral, he met Mary Scurlock who he married two years later. They had one daughter (though Steele also had one illegitimate daughter as well). In 1709, he co-founded (with his friend Addison) The Tatler, featuring cultivated essays - many written by Steele - on contemporary matters. Although it would only last two years, the name has lived on, being re-used several times for later journals. The same is also true for Steele’s next short-lived ventures, The Spectator (1711) and The Guardian (1713). That year, 1713, Steele became a Member of Parliament for Stockbridge but was soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favour of The Hanoverian Succession. But when George I (born in Hanover) came to the throne the following year, Steele was knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; and he returned to Parliament in 1715 representing Boroughbridge. In 1719, Steele fell out with Addison, who died that same year.

In 1722, Steel wrote his last and most successful comedy, The Conscious Lovers. Two years later - and still notoriously improvident, impulsive, ostentatious, and generous (the Encyclopedia of World Biography says) - he was forced to retire from London because of his mounting debts and his worsening health. He went to live on his wife’s estate in Wales, where he suffered a paralysing stroke in 1726, eventually dying on 1 September 1729. Further information is also available at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Twickenham Museum.

Steele was not a diarist, and Henry R. Montgomery, editor of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Richard Steele, soldier, dramatist, essayist, and patriot (William P. Nimmo, 1865 - see Internet Archive, volume one and volume two), laments this fact more than once. In his preface, however, he does commend Steele for his letters: ‘These letters are wholly unlike those of Pope and many other literary men, written for display. They are artless, unpremeditated effusions of the moment, and serve in some degree to supply the absence of anything in the shape of a diary or journal. It is indeed to be regretted that he did not leave us something of that kind. But his life was too bustling for that. Swift’s Journal to Stella is one of the most interesting things he has left behind him. What would we not give for a Boswell of those men and those times!’ Subsequently, Montgomery says of Steele’s many letters to his (second) wife, ‘while regretting the absence of a diary, which would have taken in a wider range of topics, this correspondence, which is almost as regular as a journal, supplies its place in a more limited circle, it is true, but, so far as it goes, in a more interesting form.’

In his book, Montgomery also employs Jonathan Swift’s famous Journal to Stella which was in fact composed from letters (as opposed to journal entries). Swift was a contemporary of Steele’s, and a friend. Montgomery says: ‘The intimacy of Steele with Swift has been previously noticed. He now made a memorable visit, arriving in London in the beginning of September 1710, with a commission to solicit from the Queen the remission of the first fruits and twentieth parts, payable to the Crown by the clergy of Ireland. There is reason to believe that he procured that commission with the view of pushing his own affairs at the present important crisis when the ministry was tottering. At all events he got so deeply involved in politics on his arrival that his stay was prolonged during the next two or three years. During that time he maintained a regular correspondence with Miss Esther Johnson, better known under the poetical name of Stella, in which he has celebrated her. [. . .] The correspondence was maintained in the form of a journal or diary, and is very valuable as preserving a minute record of the events of those few eventful years. By bringing into one view the scattered notices of Steele that occur in it, we obtain glimpses of him and his affairs at this time more minute and interesting than are to be obtained from any other source.’ (See also Live ten times happier for more on Journal to Stella.)

Steele may not have been a diarist, but at least once in his life he did try to become one. In 1721, just two days after his friend Robert Walpole became prime minister, Montgomery says, ‘we find [Steele] stating distinctly his impression of the secret cause of the deprivation of his rights, in a way to exonerate the Duke of Newcastle, at least of the exclusive blame.’ Unfortunately, his patience with the diary form lasted but a few days. Here is Montgomery again: ‘These entries, with another small fragment at a later date, constitute the whole of the diary; and comparatively trifling as they are, these few items but make us regret the more what we might have had if the plan which he thus late and fitfully took up had been sooner adopted, and he had given us the spirit of those Attic nights which he enjoyed in the company of Addison, Congreve, and the other wits, as well as notices and anecdotes of the leading men and events of the time.’ What follows is most of the diary material left behind by Steele.

April 4, 1721.
‘I have lately had a fit of sickness, which has awakened in me, among other things, a sense of the little care I have taken of my own family. And as it is natural for men to be more affected with the actions and sufferings and observations upon the rest of the world, set down by their predecessors, than by what they receive from other men; I have taken a resolution to write down in this book, as in times of leisure I may have opportunity, things past, or things that may occur hereafter, for the perusal and consideration of my son, Eugene Steele, and his sisters Elizabeth Steele and Mary Steele, my beloved children.’

9 April 1721
‘Easter Sunday. After the repeated perusal of Dr Tillotsou’s seventh sermon, in the third volume of the small edition of his admirable and comfortable writings, and after having done certain acts of benevolence and charity to some needy persons of merit, I went this day to the holy sacrament. In addition to the proper prayers of the Church, I framed for my private use on this occasion the following prayer: [. . .]’

9 [10?] April 1721
‘I have this morning resolved to pursue very warmly my being restored to my government of the Theatre Royal, which is my right, under the title of the Governor of the Royal Company of Comedians, and from which I have been violently dispossessed by the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Chamberlain of his Majesty’s Household, upon a frivolous pretence of jurisdiction in his office, which he has been persuaded to assert against the force of the King’s patent to me. This violation of property I take to have been instigated by the late Secretaries Stanhope and Craggs, for my opposition to the Peerage Bill, by speeches in the House and printed pamphlets.

The Duke of Newcastle brought me into this present Parliament for the town of Burroughbridge, upon which consideration I attempt all manner of fair methods to bring his grace to reason without a public trial in a court of justice: and, therefore, after applying to my Lord Sunderland and Walpole for their good offices, I writ the following letter to his grace’s brother, Mr Henry Pelham, lately appointed one of the Lords of the Treasury [. . .]’

29 April 1721
‘I purchased this day fifteen assignments in the Fish-pool undertaking, with a promissory note to deliver to Mr Robert Wilks (who sold them to me) a bond of five hundred pounds upon demand; the said bound to be payable within two years after this day.’