Tuesday, February 18, 2020

In a hammock with Brahms

‘I bought a strong hammock yesterday, and Brahms and I went into the lovely beech-wood and hung it up between two trees, on a spot from which through the foliage we could see the sea far below us. We both managed to climb into it simultaneously, an amusing, though by no means easy task to accomplish.’ This is from the diary of George Henschel, a naturalised British musician born 170 years ago today. Accomplished and famous during his lifetime, he is probably remembered mostly for his lifetime friendship with Johannes Brahms, and for the diary entries about him.

Henschel was born on 18 February 1850 in Breslau, Prussia (now part of Poland) and educated as a pianist, making his first public appearance in Berlin aged but 12. He subsequently took up singing, developing a fine baritone voice. In 1868, he sang the part of Hans Sachs in a concert performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Munich. And in 1874, while taking part in the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Cologne, he met and became friends with the composer Brahms. Starting in 1877, he began a successful singing career in England. In 1881, he married the American soprano, Lilian Bailey; and the same year he became the first conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While in Boston, the couple had a daughter, Helen, who would later become an accomplished recitalist and pianist, and who would also write a biography of her father.

In 1886, Henschel launched the London Symphony Concerts. In 1890, he took on British citizenship, and in 1893 he was the founder of the Scottish Orchestra (now the Royal Scottish National Orchestra). Henschel’s compositions are listed as including instrumental works, a fine Stabat Mater (Birmingham Festival, 1894), an opera, Nubia (Dresden, 1899), and Requiem (Boston, 1903). Lillian died in 1901, and in 1907 Henschel, married Amy Louis, one of his students at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) in New York. They too had one daughter, born in 1910. Henschel was knighted in 1914. He died at Aviemore, Scotland, in 1934, and is buried in the local churchyard. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, Boston Symphony Orchestra, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

During his lifetime, Henschel published two autobiographical works (both freely available online at Internet Archive): Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms: some of his letters to, and pages from a journal kept by George Henschel (Richard G. Badger, 1907); Musings and Memories of a Musician (Macmillan, 1918). The following are extracts from Henschel’s diaries taken from the former.

3 February 1876, Münster, Westphalia
‘Brahms arrived yesterday. I am glad my hoarseness is gradually disappearing, for the thought of singing, at the concert day after tomorrow, those high notes in his “Triumphal Hymn” for Double Chorus and Baritone Solo, rather troubled me. I asked him if eventually he would object to my altering some of the highest notes into more convenient ones on account of my cold, and he said: “Not in the least. As far as I am concerned, a thinking, sensible singer may, without hesitation, change a note which for some reason or other is for the time being out of his compass, into one which he can reach with comfort, provided always the declamation remains correct and the accentuation does not suffer.’

6 February 1876
‘Yesterday was the concert. Brahms played his Pianoforte Concerto in D Minor superbly. I especially noted his emphasizing each of those tremendous shakes in the first movement by placing a short rest between the last note of one and the first small note before the next. During those short stops he would lift his hands up high and let them come down on the keys with a force like that of a lion’s paw. It was grand.

Dear old Isegrim conducted and fairly chuckled with joy at every beautiful phrase. The glorious but horribly difficult “Triumphal Hymn” conducted by Brahms, went splendidly. It was a veritable triumph for the composer. The joy and gratification expressed in Brahms’ face at the end, when acknowledging the enthusiastic acclamations of audience, chorus, and orchestra, was evidently caused as much by the consciousness of having written a truly great work, as by its reception and appreciation; a most welcome change from the affected excess of modesty often exhibited on concert platforms.

My throat not being quite well yet, I changed, with Brahms’ approval, the dreaded phrase [line of music ] and sang it like this [line of music] by which Brahms’ intention of emphasizing the word “heavens” was still carried out, the note “c” remaining the highest of the phrase.’

8 July 1876, Sassnitz on Rügen island
‘Arrived here last night. The diligence was delayed by one of the heaviest thunderstorms I can remember, and I did not pull up at the little hostelry, which also contains the post office, until half-past eleven; but in spite of the inclemency of the weather and the late hour, Brahms was there to welcome me and we had an hour’s chat in the little coffee-room. Then he returned to his lodgings down in the village, whilst I came up here to the hotel on the Fahrnberg, where, however, to my great delight, Brahms is going to have his mid-day and evening meals regularly.’

10 July 1876
‘Yesterday afternoon I spent nearly three hours in Brahms’ rooms. He showed me new songs of his, asking me if I could suggest a short way of indicating that a certain phrase in one of them was not his own.

“I have,” he said, “taken a charming motive of Scarlatti’s [line of music] as the theme of a song I composed to one of Goethe’s poems, and should like to acknowledge my indebtedness.” I proposed, as the best and simplest way, that he should merely place Scarlatti’s name at the end of the phrase in question.

He also showed me the manuscript of an unpublished song and the first movement of a Requiem Mass, both by Schubert, enthusiastically commenting on their beauty. The first two issues of the Bach Society’s publication of cantatas were lying on his table, and he pointed out to me how badly the accompaniments were often arranged for the piano; how, in fact, the endeavor to bring out as nearly as possible every individual part of the orchestra had rendered the arrangement well nigh unplayable for any but a virtuoso.

“The chief aim,” he said, “of a pianoforte arrangement of orchestral accompaniments must always be to be easily playable. Whether the different parts move correctly, i. e., in strict accordance with the rules of counterpoint, does not matter in the least.”

Then we went together through the full score of Mozart’s “Requiem,” which he had undertaken to prepare for a new edition of that master’s works. I admired the great trouble he had taken in the revision of the score. Every note of Süssmayer’s was most carefully distinguished from Mozart’s own.

It was a wonderful experience to have this man’s company quite to myself for so long a time. During all these days Brahms has never spoken of anything which does not really interest him, never said anything superfluous or commonplace, except at the table d’hote, where he purposely talks of hackneyed things, such as the weather, food, the temperature of the water, excursions, etc., etc.’

11 July 1876
I bought a strong hammock yesterday, and Brahms and I went into the lovely beech-wood and hung it up between two trees, on a spot from which through the foliage we could see the sea far below us. We both managed to climb into it simultaneously, an amusing, though by no means easy task to accomplish. After having comfortably established ourselves in it, we enjoyed a very cozy, agreeable hour or two of dolce far niente. Brahms was in an angelic mood, and went from one charming, interesting story to another, in which the gentler sex played a not unimportant part.

In the afternoon we resolved to go on an expedition to find his bullfrog pond, of which he had spoken to me for some days. His sense of locality not being very great, we walked on and on across long stretches of waste moorland. Often we heard the weird call of bullfrogs in the distance, but he would say: “No, that’s not my pond yet,” and on we walked. At last we found it, a tiny little pool in the midst of a wide plain grown with heather. We had not met a human being the whole way, and this solitary spot seemed out of the world altogether.’

Monday, February 17, 2020

The slander of inquisitors

Giordano Bruno - described as an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, cosmological theorist, and Hermetic occultist - died all of 420 years ago today. It was very early days for diarists in Europe, and Bruno himself was not one. However, he was in the habit of visiting the Abbey of Saint Victor near Paris, to consult books in its library, and the librarian there, Guillaume Cotin, was a diarist. Indeed, Cotin’s diary entries are an important first hand source of information about Bruno.

Bruno was born in 1548, in Nola (then in the Kingdom of Naples), the son of a professional soldier. From 1562, he studied at an Augustinian monastery in Naples, and aged 17 he entered the Dominican Order at the monastery of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, taking the name Giordano. He developed a particular expertise in the art of memory, which brought him to the attention of patrons, as well as an invitation to Rome to demonstrate his abilities to the Pope. He was ordained a priest in 1572, and, subsequently, began to study theology formally, obtaining his doctorate in 1575.

By then, however, Bruno had developed various heretical views and become a target of the Inquisition in Naples. He fled the city and religious life, becoming a fugitive from his order, an excommunicate, and spent the next 14 years travelling through Europe - France, England, Germany. The works he wrote and published (in Latin and Italian) during this period are those that survive to this day. He is mainly remembered today for his cosmological theories, that the universe was infinite with numberless solar systems. 


Wherever he went, Bruno’s passionate outpourings led to opposition. He worked when he could, teaching sometimes, and lived off the munificence of patrons, though he invariably tried their patience. In 1591 he accepted an invitation to live in Venice. But, once there, he was arrested by the Inquisition and tried. He recanted, but was sent to Rome, in 1592, for another trial. He was kept imprisoned for eight years, and interrogated periodically. But, ultimately, he refused to recant enough, and was declared a heretic. He was burned at the stake on 17 February 1600. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or The Galileo Project. All of Bruno’s extant published words are available online thanks to The Warburg Institute.

In the mid-1580s, Bruno found himself in Paris, and took to visiting the Abbey of Saint Victor to consult books housed in the library there. The librarian at the time, Guillaume Cotin, was an early diarist (as were his predecessors at the abbey), and mentioned Bruno several times in his journal. Some details about Cotin’s diary (and about the long-standing tradition at the abbey for brothers to keep journals) can be found in A Companion to the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris edited by Hugh Feiss and Juliet Mousseau (Brill, 2017) - see Googlebooks.

‘Bruno visited Saint Victor to consult certain texts in the abbey’s library,’ the book explains, ‘and Cotin evidently enjoyed several long conversations with him. He learned where Bruno was living in Paris, what he was writing, what he was reading, and some of his ‘theses’. Cotin noted that Bruno fled from Italy to avoid the inquisitors and to elude authorities seeking him on charges that he had murdered a fellow monk. He also described Bruno’s celebrated debate over certain ‘errors of Aristotle’ with royal lecturers at the College of Cambrai.’

Actual quotations from Cotin’s diary can be found embedded in Squaring the Circle, Paris, 1585-1586 one of the chapters in Ingrid D. Rowland’s biography Giordano Bruno - Philosopher/Heretic (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

7 December 1585
‘Jordanus [Bruno] came back again. He told me that the cathedral of Nola is dedicated to Saint Felix. He was born in 1548; he is thirty-seven years old. He has been a fugitive from Italy for eight years, both for a murder committed by one of his [Dominican] brothers, for which he is hated and fears for his life, and to avoid the slander of the inquisitors, who are ignorant, and if they understood his philosophy, would condemn it as heretical. He said that in an hour he knows how to demonstrate the artificial memory . . . and he can make a child understand it. He says that his principal master in philosophy was [Fra Teofilo da Vairano], an Augustinian, who is deceased. He is a doctor of theology, received in Rome . . . He prizes Saint Thomas . . . he condemns the subtleties of the Scholastics, the sacraments, and also the Eucharist, which he says Saint Peter and Saint Paul knew nothing about; all they knew was “This is my body.” He says that all the troubles about religion will be removed when these debates are removed, and he says that he expects the end to come soon. But most of all he detests the heretics of France and England, because they disdain good works and prefer the certainty of their own faith and their justification [by it]. He disdains Cajetan and Pico della Mirandola, and all the philosophy of the Jesuits, which is nothing but debates about the text and intelligence of Aristotle.’

2 February 1586
‘Jordanus told me that Fabrizio Mordente is here in Paris, sixty years old, the god of geometers, and in that field he surpasses everyone who has gone before and everyone today, even though he knows no Latin; Jordanus will have his works printed in Latin.’

Saturday, February 15, 2020

See slavery as it is

‘People tell me just go South once, & see Slavery as it is, & then you will talk very differently. I can assure all such, that contact with Slavery has not a tendency to make me hate it less, no, no, the ruinous effect of the institution, upon the white man alone, causes me to hate it.’ This is Susan B. Anthony - the famous American woman’s rights campaigner and social reformer, born 200 year ago today - writing in a diary she kept for much of her life. Although the diaries remain unpublished, the Library of Congress, which holds many of the manuscripts, has made digital copies of every page freely available online.

Anthony was born on 15 February 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. Her father was a Quaker, abolitionist and temperance advocate, while her mother was a Methodist. In 1826, the family moved to Battenville, New York, where her father managed a large cotton mill. However, in 1837, with the depression, he went bankrupt, losing the Battenville house. In 1839, Anthony took a position in a Quaker seminary in New Rochelle, New York; and from 1846 to 1849 she taught at a female academy in upstate New York. Subsequently, she re-settled in the family home, now near Rochester, New York. There she met many leading abolitionists, as well as those campaigning for temperance. In 1851, she met Elizabeth Stanton, a leading women’s rights leader at the time, and the following year she was inspired by a speech given by Lucy Stone at the 1852 Syracuse Convention. From there on, she became a strenuous campaigner for women’s property rights and women’s suffrage; her work though made her a target for public and media hostility. In 1856, she became an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society,

After the Civil War, Anthony campaigned (unsuccessfully) to have the language of the Fourteenth Amendment altered to allow for woman as well as African American suffrage; and in 1866 she became involved with the newly formed American Equal Rights Association. Two years later, she and Stanton began publishing The Revolution, a weekly American women’s rights newspaper. Although its circulation never exceeded 3,000, its influence on women’s rights is considered to have been huge, indeed the paper went on to serve as the official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association, set up by Stanton and Anthony in 1869. However, the following year the paper went into  debt, and Anthony embarked on a series of lectures to raise funds. Through the 1870s and 1880s, she travelled much, often with Stanton, in support of efforts in various states towards the franchise for women. In 1890, rival suffrage movements merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association with Anthony as president. By this time, she had become something of a national heroine, attending major conventions and expositions both at home and in Europe. She died in 1906. Further information is available online from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, National Women’s History Museum, the National Susan B. Anthony Museum, or the National Park Service.

According to the Library of Congress (LoC), its Susan B. Anthony archive contains 25 volumes of diaries. ‘[These] span the period from 1865 to 1906 with some gaps and omissions. For the most part, the diaries contain brief notations of Anthony’s activities and a financial record kept in the back of each volume. Other topics noted in the diaries include family matters, African-American and woman suffrage, lecture tours, and important events of the day, such as President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.’ All of these have been digitised and made available on the LoC website. A few of the journals can also be viewed online at the Lewis & Clark Digital Collections with a summary of their content. However, as far as I can tell, none of the journals have been transcribed or published. A few entries from the journals can be found here (concerning the famous incident in 1872 when she cast a vote in the federal election). Otherwise, some extracts can also be read in the 1997 tome: The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Volume I - In the school of anti-slavery, 1840 to 1866, edited by Ann D. Gordon (see Googlebooks).

The following extracts have been taken from The Selected Papers. According to the editor, these extracts (and others) were sourced in a ‘notebook that served as her diary in 1854 and her copybook thereafter’. However, this particular notebook does not appear among the manuscripts held (and digitised) by the Library of Congress. It is, however, part of another Anthony archive held at Harvard Library.


(NB: The printed text in The Selected Papers comes with punctuation and spelling discrepancies etc. as found in the original. Mostly, I have left these as found, but I have made a few very minor punctuation changes - i.e. replacing dashes with full stops in some places.)

November 1853
‘During the three weeks following the National Woman’s Rights Convention held at Cleveland, Oct. 5, 6 & 7th 1853, I travelled through the Southern tier of Counties in N.Y. State, & held meetings in some eight or ten different villages. I talked upon the subject of Temperance.

One year previous to this Miss Emily Clark of LeRoy N.Y. had passed over the same ground, Lecturing upon the same subject, & had aided the Ladies of several of the villages in forming Womens Temperance Societies. In every place, except Elmira, those societies had never existed after the evening of their beginning. The reason given, by very nearly all the ladies with whom I conversed, for the failure of their societies, was womans want of time & money to meet their demands. Their Temperance meetings could be made interesting & useful to their members, or others, unless only by securing the attendance of persons who could speak to the edification of the People. Those of their own number who possessed ability to prepare essays, found they had not the command of the leisure hours necessary for their preparation. And to secure the attendance of speakers & Lecturers from abroad, required money & money they possessed not. Thus as I passed from town to town was I made to feel the great evil of womans entire dependency upon man, for the necessary means to aid on any & every reform movement. Though I had long admitted the wrongs I never, until this time, so fully took in the grand idea of pecuniary & personal independence

It matters not how overflowing with benevolence toward suffering humanity may be the heart of woman, it avails nothing so long as she possesses not the power to act in accordance with those prompting. Woman must have a purse of her own, & how can this be, so long as the wife is denied the right to her individual & joint earnings. Reflections like these, caused me to see & really feel that there was no true freedom for woman without the possession of all her property rights, & that these rights could be obtained through legislation only, & if so, the sooner the demand was made of the Legislature, the sooner would we be likely to obtain them. This demand must be made by Petitions to the Legislature, &. that too at its very next session. How could the work be started, why, by first holding a Convention & adopting some plan of united action.

On my return to Rochester on the A.M. of Nov. 8th I dined at W. R. Hallowell’s & then went directly to Mr. Channing, told of the work I had planned, he answered Capital. Capital. & forth.’

21 March 1854
[Washington] Called on Mrs. Melvin a friend of Mrs. Rose, a member of the M.E. Church South. We talked on the Slavery question, she called the relation between master & slave, a Patriarchial one, said Slavery is a humane institution. My blood chilled in my veins at the thought of a professed Christian, thus so entirely losing sight of the great principle of love, the Golden Rule.

Called at Gerritt Smith’s about two Oclock, Mrs. Smith alone, had a very pleasant chat with her, on the right of every individual to his own belief.

To day the Nebraska Bill in the House was referred to the Com. on the Whole by a vote of 110 to 65, thought to be virtually, death to the Bill.

Miss Miner of the Colored Girls School called on us after dinner a very interesting enthusiastic nature, expressed herself interested in the Woman’s Rights question. 

Mrs. Rose spoke in Carusis Saloon to a small audience, not exceeding 100, 40 tickets only were sold, thus $10 was the amount of receipts.

The smallness of the audience was attributable to the fact that the subject has never been agitated here, Lucy Stone spoke last January to a small audience, had a rainy night. Mrs. R’s subject the Educational & Social Rights of Woman.’

27 March 1854
‘Weather moderated but still cold. After walking about two miles, visiting five printing offices the Bill Printer, & Bill Poster, I returned & with Mrs. R. visited the Patent Office, the most remarkable curiosities there were the sword & Cane, the Coat, vest, & breeches of Gen. Washington worn at the time he resigned his Commission, his Camp Chest - with its appertenances - Tea Pot, Coffee Urn, Pepper dish. Salt - tea chest - Grid Iron, Tin Kettles for cooking &, also the writing desk used by him during all his Campaigns - there too was a bit of the old Tent cloth - ragged & dirty.

From the Patent Office we went to the Treasury department - thence to the State departments, here we were shown the identical letter Benedict Arnold, to Major Andre found in the pocket of Andre - signed Augustus & written as though Andre were a merchant. Saw also the Original Constitution of the United States with the signatures of the delegates from the 13 States - it was beautifully penned on Parchment one two feet square, tied together with a deep blue ribbon - at the Pattent Office saw also the original Declaration of Independence, many of the signatures were nearly obliterated, on account of having been written with poor ink.

From State Departments we went to the Presidents House took a peep into the East Room, splendidly furnished eight large gilt mirrors, in front of the White house in a beautiful park, is a very fine bronze Statue of Gen. Jackson, on horse back - mounted on a white marble pedestal - then called at Mr. Aker’s office to see the Bust of Mrs. Davis, a very fine one indeed. After dinner walked on to Capitol Hill & called on Anne Royal, a woman 85 years of age. She is indeed as Mrs. R. says, the Living Curiosity of Washington - was brought up by the Indians, married a Captain of the Army, he died, & she has printed a paper called the Huntress for the past 20 years. She has a fine, intellectual head. She lives in a small house, has two little boys whom she is educating, one boy she has instructed in Greek & Latin & Geometry. Said to me no one can know how to reason without studying Geometry learning to say Therefore, Wherefore & Because. We each of us subscribed for the Huntress, she gave us each two books, written by her many years ago. She is the most filthy specimen of humanity I ever beheld, her fingers look like birds claws, in color & attennuity, they shone as if glazed.

A great black New Foundland dog, old Cat & kittens sat at her feet & Mrs. R. says eight years ago she had in addition to these 2 Guinea hens & two little pigs running about the floor. She was writing her editorial for this weeks paper

Said I to her what a wonderful woman you are, she answered me, “I know it.” ’

31 March 1854
‘Baltimore. Had a small meeting last night. The landlord agreed to see me started from Alexandria in time to connect with the 8 Oclock Train from Washington but he did not, seemed to be perfectly indifferent to my request. There is no promptness no order, no anything about these southerners. I have had Pro Slavery People tell me just go South once, & see Slavery as it is, & then you will talk very differently. I can assure all such, that contact with Slavery has not a tendency to make me hate it less, no, no, the ruinous effect of the institution, upon the white man alone, causes me to hate it.

Arrived at Washington about 9 Oclock. Called on Mrs. Davis. The Globe of 29th March commented on Mrs. Rose Lecture on the Nebraska Question as deduced from Human Rights very favorably, but misrepresented her on remark.

I came on to Baltimore on the 3 1/2 P.M., called on Dr. J. E. Snodgrass firstly & then went in search of a private hoarding house, finally decided to take rooms at Mrs. Waters, 49 Hannover st.! Every thing is plain but so far seems cleanly, learned from the Chambermaid Sarah, that she & four others of the [blank] Servants were Slaves. It is perfectly astonishing to see what an array of Servants there is about every establishment, three northern girls, with the engineering of a northern hoarding house keeper would do all the work of one Dozzen of these men, women &: children, whether Slaves or free. Such is the baneful effects of Slavery upon labor. The free blacks who receive wages, expect to do no more work than do the Slaves, Slave labor is the Standard - & it need but a glance at southern life, to enable an Abolitionist to understand, why it is that the northern man is a more exacting Slave master than is a southern one - he requires of the Slave an amount of labor equal to that he has been accustomed to get from the well paid northern free laborer. Vain requisition that.’

6 April 1854
‘I lectured this evening, by invitation from the Marion Temperance Society of Baltimore, had a full house. The meeting was called to order by the President of the Society & opened by prayer by an old Methodist man, who made the stereotye prayer of Stephen S. Foster’s Slave holder. “O Lord we thank thee, that our lives have been cast in places & that we live in a land where every man can sit under his own vine & fig tree, & none dare to molest or make him afraid” Oh, how did my blood boil within me, & then to go on with my lecture & not protest against a mans telling the Lord such terrible falsehoods. Mrs Rose was invited to speak after I had finished, she did so & alluded to the necessity of substituting healthful amusements in the place of alcoholic stimulus.

Several gentlemen desired me to speak again on Temperance

Received a letter from Lydia Mott, enclosing Mr. Angles report on the Woman’s Rights Petitions. Reported adverse, but presented a Bill giving to married women, in case the husband does not provide for the family, the right to their own earnings, also requiring the written consent of the mother, to apprentice or will away a child.’

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Klemperer collecting life

Today, it is 60 years since the death of Victor Klemperer, author of one of the most famous diaries to have documented the horrors of the Nazi regime. The London Review of Books said his diaries will never be forgotten, and Der Speigel suggested they eclipse everything that has ever been written on the era of National Socialism. Der Spiegel also recalled that Klemperer said of his diary-writing habit that he was ‘collecting life’.

Born in Poland in 1881, Klemperer was the eighth child of a rabbi, but later converted to Christianity. One of his brothers went on to be a surgeon to Lenin, and a cousin was the famous composer Otto. Klemperer studied at various universities in Germany, Switzerland and France, and also worked as a journalist for a while. Having volunteered during the First World War, he was decorated with the Iron Cross.

After the war, Klemperer was appointed to the Chair of Romance studies at Dresden’s Technical University. In 1935, though, the Nazis took the job away from him, confiscated his house, sent him to a home for Jews, and obliged him to work as a labourer. Because his wife, Eva, was not a Jew, and because she stayed with him, Klemperer avoided deportation for most of the war. In 1945, though, he was due to be deported, but used the confusion created by Allied bombings to escape.

Klemperer went on to become a significant post-war cultural figure in East Germany, lecturing at the universities of Greifswald, Berlin and Halle, and publishing an important analysis of the language used by the Third Reich. He also became a delegate of the Cultural Union in the GDR parliament in 1950. He died on 11 February 1960. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia.

However, it is for his diaries that Klemperer is best remembered today. First published in Germany in 1995, they became something of a literary sensation. English translations by Martin Chalmers were published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson (part of Orion) between 1998 and 2003 in three volumes: I Will Bear Witness (1933-1941), To The Bitter End (1942-1945) and The Lesser Evil (1945-1959). Last year (2019), the publisher De Gruyter launched Klemperer Online, a digital edition of the complete and unabridged diaries as transcripts and facsimiles of the handwritten pages.

The German magazine Der Spiegel offers this analysis of the diaries: ‘Klemperer trusted his thoughts and feelings to his diary. “Collecting life”, he called it. Already at the age of 16, Klemperer began keeping a diary, and he wrote till just before his death. His entries began in the days of Kaiser Wilhelm II, continued during the turbulent times of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, and conclude in post-War communist East Germany. During the Third Reich era and perhaps even before, Klemperer’s entries were, in a way, part of a survival strategy. At the time, Klemperer lived between humiliation, terror, and danger and he endured all of it. The reason was quite simple: Klemperer wanted to record his gruesome experiences of everyday life for those after him. In fact, he felt obligated to write. In his diary, Klemperer adopted the view of a distant observer even though the catastrophe affected him directly. The style of his writing was like a game of ping-pong, switching back and forth between inside and outside views on the things going on around him. Klemperer was seen as a Jew, but he didn’t feel like one. He wanted to be German, but the Nazis made him “un-German”.

And that makes Klemperer’s records unique.

Decades after his death, Klemperer’s diaries emerged as mainstays on bestseller lists, touching thousands of readers, shocking and gripping them. Author Martin Walser once said: “I know of no other means of communication that can make the reality of the Nazi dictatorship more comprehensible than Klemperer’s prose. Nowhere else than in these diaries have I been able to experience and see first-hand what type of criminals the leaders and functionaries of the time were. It’s incredible how this type of crime could legally establish itself.” In his writing, Klemperer placed expectations on himself as well, aspiring to “become a writer of contemporary cultural history”. Commenting on that issue in the weekly Die Zeit newspaper, Volker Ulrich wrote: “There’s no doubt: He became just that. The diaries covering 1933 to 1945 - which merge the most detailed observation skills, linguistic mastership, educational scepticism, and human grandeur - eclipse everything that has ever been written on the era of National Socialism.” ’

The London Review of Books argues that Klemperer’s diary will never be forgotten: ‘This record achieves two things. It tells us what was experienced by German Jews; Klemperer’s experience was typical in every way except its outcome - he survived. His vivid accounts of many others who didn’t, his careful record of what he overheard in the street or was told by others, his account of his own human diminishment as he was progressively stripped of every right and freedom, his gradual awareness of the enormity of what was happening to Europe’s Jews, his refusal to omit any gesture of courage or generosity, his discovery that he was a Jew after all, his care to notice the deprivations of war as food, fuel and clothing were at first rationed and then disappeared altogether: these observations preserve what can so easily be lost - a sense of what happened. For this alone his book will never be forgotten.’

Further reviews can be read at The Atlantic and The Guardian. Some pages from Klemperer’s I Will Bear Witness can be read freely online at Googlebooks. Here are two extracts.

10 March 1933
‘30th January: Hitler Chancellor. What, up to election Sunday on 5th March, I called terror, was a mild prelude. Now the business of 1918 is being exactly repeated, only under a different sign, under the swastika. Again it’s astounding how easily everything collapses. What has happened to Bavaria, what has happened to the Reichsbanner etc. etc.? Eight days before the election the clumsy business of the Reichstag fire - I cannot imagine that anyone really believes in Communist perpetrators instead of paid [Nazi] work. Then the wild prohibitions and acts of violence. And on top of that the never-ending propaganda in the street, on the radio etc. On Saturday, the 4th, I heard a part of Hitler’s speech from Konigsberg. The front of a hotel at the railway station, illuminated, a torchlight procession in front of it, torch-bearers and swastika flag-bearers on the balconies and loudspeakers. I understood only occasional words. But the tone! The unctuous bawling, truly bawling, of a priest. On the Sunday I voted for the Democrats, Eva for the Zentrum. In the evening around nine with the Blumenfelds to the Dembers. As a joke, because I entertained hopes of Bavaria, I wore my Bavarian Service Cross. Then the tremendous election victory of the National Socialists. Their vote doubled in Bavaria. The Horst Wessel Song between the announcements. An indignant denial, no harm will come to loyal Jews. Directly afterwards the Central Association of Jewish Citizens in Thuringia is banned because it had criticised the government in ‘Talmudic fashion’ and disparaged it. Since then day after day commissioners appointed, provincial governments trampled underfoot, flags raised, buildings taken over, people shot, newspapers banned, etc. etc. Yesterday, the dramaturg Karl Wollf dismissed ‘by order of the Nazi Party’ - not even in the name of the government - today the whole Saxon cabinet etc. etc. A complete revolution and party dictatorship. And all opposing forces as if vanished from the face of the earth. It is this utter collapse of a power only recently present, no, its complete disappearance (just as in 1918) which I find so staggering. Que sais-je? On Monday evening at Frau Schaps with the Gerstles. No one dares say anything any more, everyone is afraid [...] Gerstle was hobbling on crutches, he broke a leg skiing in the Alps. His wife drove her car and took us part of the way home.

How long will I keep my post?

On top of the political pressure the misery of the constant pain in my left arm, the constant thinking about death. And the distressing and always unsuccessful efforts to obtain building money. And the hours of lighting stoves, washing up, keeping house. And the constant sitting at home. And not being able to work, to think.

After cursory reading I wrote a bad newspaper piece, ‘The New Spain’, after previously writing a bad article for Dante in Paris, ‘The Idea of Latinity in Germany’. Now I want to - no, I must return to the nightmare of the ‘Image of France’. I want to force myself to write now and catch up on the missing reading chapter by chapter.

I ordered a lot of books for my department, since it turned out there was still 100M left in my budget: Spain, 18th-century France and cultural history. On Tuesday I have to give a primary-school teaching candidate the now required unseen translation into French. I am so out of practice myself that I would only make a very poor translation. [...]’

27 November 1938
‘On the morning of the 11th two policemen accompanied by a ‘resident of Dölzschen’. Did I have any weapons? Certainly my sabre, perhaps even my bayonet as a war memento, but I wouldn’t know where. We have to help you find it. The house was searched for hours. At the beginning Eva made the mistake of quite innocently telling one of the policemen he should not go through the clean linen cupboard without washing his hands. The man, considerably affronted, could hardly be calmed down. A second, younger policeman was more friendly, the civilian was the worst. Pigsty etc.. We said we had been without domestic help for months, many things were dusty and still unpacked. They rummaged through everything, chests and wooden constructions Eva had made were broken open with an axe. The sabre was found in a suitcase in the attic, the bayonet was not found. Among the books they found a copy of the Sozialistische Monatshefte (Socialist Monthly Magazine - an SPD theoretical journal) [. . .] this was also confiscated. At one point when Eva wanted to fetch one of her tools, the young policeman ran after her; the older one called out: You are making us suspicious, you are making your situation worse. At about one o’clock the civilian and the older policeman left the house, the young one remained and took a statement. He was good-natured and courteous, I had the feeling he himself found the thing embarrassing. In addition he complained about an upset stomach and we offered him a schnapps, which he declined. Then the three of them appeared to hold a conference in the garden. The young policeman returned: You must dress and come to the court building at Münchner Platz with me. There’s nothing to fear, you will probably(!) be back 
by evening. I asked whether I was now under arrest. His reply was good-natured and noncommittal, it was only a war memento after all, I would probably be released right away. I was allowed to shave (with the door half open), I slipped Eva some money, and we made our way down to the tramcar. I was allowed to walk through the park alone while the policeman wheeled his bicycle at a distance behind me. We got on to the platform of the number 16, and got off at Münchner Platz; the policeman kindly covered up the fact that I was being taken into custody. A wing in the court building: Public Prosecutor. A room with clerks and policemen. Sit down. The policeman had to copy the statement. He took me to a room with a typewriter. He led me back to the first room. I sat there apathetically. The policeman said: Perhaps you’ll even be home in time for afternoon coffee. A clerk said: The Public Prosecutor’s Office makes the decision. The policeman disappeared, I continued to sit there apathetically. Then someone called: Take the man to relieve himself, and someone took me to the lavatory. Then: To Room X. There: This is the new committals room! More waiting. After a while a young man with a Party badge appeared, evidently the examining magistrate. You are Professor Klemperer? You can go. But first of all a certificate of discharge has to be made out, otherwise the police in Freital will think you have escaped and arrest you again. He returned immediately, he had telephoned, I could go. At the exit of the wing, by the first room into which I had been led, a clerk rushed towards me: Where do you think you’re going? I said: Home, and calmly stood there. They telephoned, to verify that I had been released. The examining magistrate had also replied to my enquiry, that the matter was not being passed on to the Public Prosecutor. At four o’clock I was on the street again with the curious feeling, free - but for how long? Since then we have both been unceasingly tormented by the question, go or stay? To go too early, to stay too late? To go where we have nothing, to remain in this corruption? We are constantly trying to shed all subjective feelings of disgust, of injured pride, of mood and only weigh up the concrete facts of the situation. In the end we shall literally be able to throw dice for pro and contra. Our first response to events was to think it absolutely necessary to leave and we started making preparations and enquiries. On Sunday, 12th November, the day after my arrest, I wrote urgent SOS letters to Frau Schaps and Georg. The short letter to Georg began: With a heavy heart, in a quite altered situation, pushed right to the edge, no details: Can you stand surety for my wife and myself, can you help the two of us over there for a couple of months? By my own efforts I would surely find some post as a teacher or in an office. I telephoned the Arons - the husband had spoken to me on Bismarckplatz on the day of the Munich Agreement. Herr Aron was not at home, Frau Aron would receive me at eight in the evening. I drove there: a wealthy villa in Bernhardstrasse. I learned that he and very many others with him had been arrested and taken away; at present we still don’t know whether they are in the camp at Weimar or are working on the fortifications in the west as convicts and hostages.’


This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 11 February 2010.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The mud of Dakar Bay

Alex Comfort, a scientist and the famed author of the sex manual The Joy of Sex, was born a century ago today. In fact, he wrote many books, scientific and political, as well as fiction and poetry; but his very first published work was a diary kept during a six week voyage, with his father, to Senegal and Argentina.

Alexander Comfort was an only child born in London 10 February 1920. He was home educated to begin with and then at Highgate School. Aged around 15, he lost four fingers of his left hand while trying to manufacture fireworks in his garden. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge, qualifying in 1944. By then, he had married Ruth Harris (with whom he would have one son), and he had already written several works of fiction and poetry. He went to work for London Hospital and later became a lecturer in physiology at the hospital’s medical college. He earned further qualifications at University College (a PhD in 1950 and a DSc in 1963).

Comfort was a conscientious objector during World War II, and he became an active member of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote many a political pamphlet for Peace News and PPU, and exchanged public letters with George Orwell defending pacifism. In 1961, he was imprisoned for a month, with Bertrand Russell and other leading members of the Committee of 100, for refusing to be bound over not to continue organising protests.

During the 1950 and 1960s, Comfort focused his science work on studying the biology of ageing, and popularised the subject by publishing several books. In the early 1970s, he was highly successful in popularising another subject: The Joy of Sex (1972) brought him international fame, as well as wealth. He divorced his wife soon after it came out, and took up with Jane Henderson, his long-term mistress. The much-admired illustrations in The Joy of Sex were based on photographs taken by the two of them. That same year, they relocated to California, US, where they then married.

Comfort joined the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, an unconventional think tank, but he also took up academic appointments at Stanford University (1974-1983), the University of California at Irvine (1976-1978), and at the Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles (1980-1991). He also worked at Brentwood Veterans’ Hospital in Los Angeles (1978-1981) as a geriatric psychiatrist, and as a consultant at Ventura County Hospital, California (1981-1891). In California, Alex and Jane became involved with a swingers community, the Sandstone Retreat. 


By the mid-1980s, Comfort and his second wife had returned to live mostly in England, though Comfort maintained his professional connections with the US. Jane died in the early 1990s, while Alex suffered several strokes, leaving him wheelchair bound. He died in 2000. Further details are available from Wikipedia, Libcom, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or from a chapter on Comfort in Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow by David Goodway (see Googlebooks).

There is no evidence that Comfort was a diarist by nature, but the very first book he published, aged 18, was a journal of a six week voyage he took with his father by ship through the South Atlantic, stopping in Senegal and Argentina.  The Silver River - Being the Diary of a Schoolboy in the South Atlantic, 1936, was published by Chapman & Hall in 1938. Although there are dated entries in the narrative, much of the time they read more like a memoir than a bona fide diary. However, the diary does demonstrate Comfort’s precocious literary ability - he was only 16 at the time of writing it. Here are several extracts.

30 September 1936
‘To-day, the 30th of September, I sacrificed any reputation for sanity which I may have had among my Greek hosts by collecting at some pains all the mud brought up by the anchor and passing it through a fine wire sieve into a tin can. The mud of Dakar Bay is crammed with shells: descriptions of those to be found there were published by the indefatigable naturalist, Adanson, in 1757, and later by a specializing conchologist, Dautzenberg. It is not my place to bore the reader with a catalogue of empty whelk shells, but for such as are interested I have placed at the end of the book a short list of my collection, which adds a few names to Dautzenberg’s careful catalogue. It is perhaps worth a page to put this list on record.

The skipper had filled the larder. He purchased the entire supply of fish existing in Dakar, to the extent of one hundred and forty kilos, and during the coaling all hands sat among the black dust gutting the fish and littering the deck with their intestines, while the cook fried the remains in batter and preserved them in herbs, vinegar and salt. On the first day they were excellent. On the second day they were hard. On the third day they could usefully have been used for building. On subsequent days - and we had fish every day till we passed Ushant - they were unspeakable. I have no idea where the cook can have stowed his fish. They seemed endless, and we who had to eat them were glad of the other additions to our larder which had come on board. There were hibiscus pods - one of the most tasty vegetables I know: there were also the more truly Greek melisdanas or egg-plant (Solanum melongena) which are wholly unlike the French aubergine variety. They are oval, purple fruit, which the Greeks boil, fry in slices, and otherwise maltreat until they produce a mass of orange pulp, brown hides and pertinaceous pips, tasting of unripe tomato and smelling strongly of nightshade, datura, and the other noxious members of the same family. I will stick to the edible hibiscus pod. It surpasses all known greens save spinach. But I have only to hear the name melisdana to smell pickles and hear the water outside and Niko grumbling in the alley-way.’

3 October 1936
‘At six o’clock on the morning of October the 3rd we passed between Tenerife and Gran Canaria We had entered the South Atlantic by the back door and we came out by the front. The skipper had been nervous of the passage: the civil war in Spain had been in progress for some months, and a battle had been fought at the Canary Islands the previous week. But we had no cause to be apprehensive. To our right lay the irregular shape of Gran Canaria, grey and mist-capped, but beginning to assume a gradual oriole of gold as the sun rose behind it. To port was Tenerife, its peak shrouded in a curtain of cloud, and its scoriaceous slopes sinking into a nebulous transparency of scented foliage. Between the two was the strait, blue and rippling, with islands and towers of mist which passed and repassed on its surface. Nobody ever fought a battle here; we were the discoverers of an archipelago. I sat in pyjamas on the fore-hatch, wondering what group of islands our shiploads of tourists had mistaken for the Hesperides. A long finger of sunlight passed suddenly over the peaks of Gran Canaria, above our masts, and fell upon the curtain of mist. The vapour eddied, divided, and lifted as if it had been rung up. Under it lay the perfect cone of Tenerife, its summit of rose-tinted sugar, its sides falling in ridges and hummocks to grey and olive. The first ray of light a lifted the heavens off Atlas’s shoulders, and there he stood, crested and supreme, while the fiery red orange of the [s]un rose and silhouetted in its disc the cairn surmounting a jagged peak on the farther island. Then the glow faded, and the curtain fell once more. A long column of smoke rose from the far corner of Tenerife, where Santa Cruz lies in its bay.’

9 October 1936
‘In the afternoon of October the 9th we passed Ushant. The weather abated, and the waters began to depart from the face of the earth. With their going a silence settled upon the ship - broken only by the dismal “thump . . . swish . . . drip” as a wave came over - and remained undispelled even by the sight of the cook shaving bull’s trotters for the night’s soup with a safety razor. The last carcase swung idly on the bridge, which was now clear of most of its vegetables. There had been a day in the voyage, before we passed Finisterre, when the midday peace of the ship was shattered by a most terrible racket on the lower bridge. A hoarse shouting and a persistent swishing noise were blended with a wild yelling, and the observer, peering cautiously round the end of the captain’s quarters, could see the little man, a malacca cane fully a metre long in his hand, dashing about in pursuit of one of the little dogs, walloping wildly at everything within reach, and hitting chairs, table, sides of beef, and himself, but never under any circumstances his victim. Madame and the daughter stood wringing their hands and trying to arrest their lord and master’s progress as he thundered about, demolishing lifebelts and cucumbers, while the dog, more frightened than hurt, yelled as if the whole crew was cutting its throat.’

Saturday, February 8, 2020

My wedding day!

‘My wedding day! How simple it is to say and how hard to realize that I am married, no longer a young lady with nothing to think of but myself and nothing to do.’ This is a diary entry by Kate Chopin, an American short story writer of the late 19th century who was born 170 years ago today. Though some of her literary themes were controversial in their day, she is now considered a forerunner of 20th-century feminist authors. Only two of her diaries survive - one from her youth through to the end of her honeymoon, and one from the year 1894.

Catherine (Kate) O’Flaherty was born on 8 February 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Thomas, had immigrated from Ireland, and her mother, Eliza Faris (Thomas’s second wife) was of French heritage. Kate was schooled at the Academy of the Sacred Hearts, graduating in 1868. In 1870, she married Oscar Chopin, settling with him in his home town of New Orleans, and having six children. Oscar Chopin’s business failed in 1879, and the family went to live in Cloutierville, some 200 miles northwest of New Orleans, where he managed several small plantations and a general store. He died three years later, leaving Kate with huge debts. She tried to sustain the business, and eventually sold it before returning with her children to St Louis. Two years later, her mother died, and she was left struggling with depression.

A family doctor and friend suggested writing as a therapy for Kate, and by the early 1890s, she was contributing a variety of articles and stories for local periodicals. Many of these were about the Creole and Cajun people she observed around her. In 1899, she published a novel, The Awakening, which achieved a few favourable reviews but which was also vilified for its treatment of female sexuality and interracial marriage. Chopin, discouraged by this response, returned to short story writing, for example Désirée’s Baby and Madame Celestin’s Divorce. She died in 1904. Although The Awakening remained out of print for many years, it was rediscovered in the 1970s, and is now considered an ‘important early work of the South’ (see Wikipedia). She, herself, has become widely recognised as a forerunner of American feminist literature. Further information is also available from the Kate Chopin International Society, American Literature, Missouri Encyclopedia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Some of her Chopin’s diary material was first published in Per Seyersted’s A Kate Chopin Miscellany (Northwestern State University, 1979), but a much more comprehensive collection of her previously unpublished writings were put together in 1998 by both Seyersted and Emily Toth as Kate Chopin’s Private Papers (Indiana University Press). Some pages of the latter are available to view on Googlebooks. According to this, only one diary - for 1894 - has survived from her adult years (discovered by her grandson, Robert Hattersley, in the 1960s), but there is also her Commonplace Book which is said to have much in common with the 1894 diary. The Commonplace Book was started when she was just 16, and used for copying out passages of literature that she admired, and for her own early attempts at literature. However, increasingly, it became a depository for her thoughts, serving as a diary through her honeymoon in Europe. Here are several extracts from the Commonplace Book, and one longer one from the 1894 diary.

9 June 1870
‘My wedding day! How simple it is to say and how hard to realize that I am married, no longer a young lady with nothing to think of but myself and nothing to do. We went to holy Communion this morning, my mother with us, and it gave me a double happiness to see so many of my friends at mass for I knew they prayed for me on this happiest day of my life. The whole day seems now like a dream to me; how I awoke early in the morning before the household was stirring and looked out of the window to see whether the sun would shine or not; how I went to mass and could not read the prayers in my book; afterwards how I dressed for my marriage - went to church and found myself married before I could think what I was doing. What kissing of old and young! I never expect to receive as many embraces during the remainder of my life. Oscar has since confessed that he did not know it was customary to kiss and that he conferred that favor on only a very few - I will have to make a most sacred apology for him when I get home. It was very painful to leave my mother and all at home; and it was only at starting that I discovered how much I would miss them and how much I would be missed. We meet several acquaintances on the cars who congratulated us very extensively, and who could not be brought to realize that they must call me Mrs Chopin and not Miss Katy. They joined us however in consuming a few champagne bottles that had escaped the dire destruction of their companions to meet with a more honorable consummation by the bride and groom.’

27 July 1870
‘Left Stuttgart this morning - arriving at Ulm in two hours time; having barely time to dine & visit the handsome Cathedral and fine fortifications, and left for Friedrickshafen which we reached late at night. Took lodgings for a nights rest, and started early in the morning for Constanz. We are anxious to get into Switzerland.’

28 July 1870
‘Took the boat at 10 this morning - day cloudy - but I was glad we had no sun. The “blue lake of Constanz” looked bluer than ever through the mist. Just as we were starting out, a child playing near the boat, fell in the water: we had not time to wait & see if he was rescued, but I fear not as he must have been caught in some of the numerous net work of wooden piles. The scenery was exquisite along the shore, and the hour glided away only too fast.

At Constanz
We set out immediately to “see the town;” taking in the beautiful church of St. Stephens, which belongs to the severe gothic order; saw some beautiful paintings not the less lovely for being new, and then went to the Cathedral - ascending some 5000000 steps (more or less) to reach the tower, but were repaid for our fatigue by the view. I should fancy such scenery - such a beautiful side of nature, would influence these people only for good deeds. Left Constaz at 4 1/2, reaching Schaufhausen at a 7.

Schaufhausen.
The Blue bien Hotel; where we have taken quarters seems to be entirely at our disposal: the war having frightened off all visitors. I trust the landlord will not attempt to make his accounts balance at our expense. We command a charming view of the Rhein falls (the largest in Europe) and will remain here some time, if only our impatient spirits permit.’

29 July 1870
‘Rain! All the day rain. So we could not venture out, and have amused ourselves all day, making mental photographes of the falls.’

22 May 1894
‘I have finished a story of 4800 words and called it “Lilacs." I cannot recall what suggested it. If the story had been written after my visit of last Sunday to the convent, I would not have to seek the impulse far. Those nuns seem to retain or gain a certain beauty with their advancing years which we women in the world are strangers to. The unchanging form of their garments through years and years seems to impart a distinct character to their bodily movements. Liza’s face held a peculiar fascination for me as I sat looking into it enframed in its white rushing. It is more than twenty years since I last saw her; but in less than twenty minutes those twenty years had vanished and she was the Liza of our school days. The same narrow, happy grey eyes with their swollen upper lids; the same delicious upward curves to the corners of her pretty mouth. No little vexatious wrinkles anywhere. Only a few good strong lines giving a touch of character that the younger Liza lacked perhaps. The conditions under which these women live are such as keep them young and fresh in heart and in visage. One day - usually one hey-day of youth they kneel before the altar of a God whom they have learned to worship, and they give themselves wholly - body and spirit into his keeping. They have only to remain faithful through the years, these modern Psyches, to the lover who lavishes all his precious gifts upon them in the darkness - the most precious of which is perpetual youth. I wonder what Liza thought as she looked into my face. I know she was remembering my pink cheeks of more than twenty years ago and my brown hair and innocent young face. I do not know whether she could see that I had loved - lovers who were not divine - and hated and suffered and been glad. She could see, no doubt the stamp which a thousand things had left upon my face, but she could not read it. She, with her lover in the dark. He has not anointed her eyes for perfect vision. She does not need it - in the dark. When we came away, my friend who had gone with me said: “Would you not give anything to have her vocation and happy life!” There was a long beaten path spreading before us; the grass grew along its edges and the branches of trees in their thick rich May garb hung over the path like an arbor, making a long vista that ended in a green blur. An old man - a plain old man leaning on a cane was walking down the path holding a small child by the hand and a little dog was trotting beside them. “I would rather be that dog” I answered her. I know she was disgusted and took it for irreverence and I did not take the trouble to explain that this was a little picture of life and that what we had left was a phantasmagoria.

This is Jean’s birthday - twenty-three years old today! How curiously the past effaces itself for me! I sometimes regret that it is so; for there must be a certain pleasure in retrospection. I cannot live through yesterday or tomorrow. It is why the dead in their character of dead and association with the grave have no hold on me. I cannot connect my mother or husband or any of those I have lots with those mounds of earth out at Calvary Cemetery. I cannot visit graves and stand contemplating them as some people do, and seem to love to do. If it were possible for my husband and my mother to come back to earth, I feel that I would unhesitatingly give up every thing that has come into my life since they left it and join my existence again with theirs. To do that, I would have to forget the past ten years of my growth - my real growth. But I would take back a little wisdom with me; it would the spirit of a perfect acquiescence. This is a long way from Jean, 23 years ago. I can remember yet that hot southern day on Magazine street in New Orleans. The noises of the street coming through the open windows; that heaviness with which I dragged myself about; my husband’s and mother’s solicitude; old Alexandrine the quadroon nurse with her high bandana lignin, her hoop-earrings and placid smile; old Doctor Faget; the smell of chloroform, and then waking at 6 in the evening from out of a stupor to see in my mothers arms a little piece of humanity all dressed in white which told me was my little son!. The sensation with which I touched my lips and finger tips to his soft flesh only comes once to a mother. It must be the pure animal sensation; nothing spiritual could be so real - so poignant.’

Monday, February 3, 2020

Gideon Mantell - geologist

Although Gideon Algernon Mantell - born 230 years ago today - was almost 50 by the time Victoria became Queen, when reading his lively and interesting diaries from the first half of the 19th century, one has the sense of someone already living in the heart of the Victorian age. He held advanced views on science and medicine; he lived his life in the most energetic and industrious way; and he had a keen intellectual ambition married with a strong sense of social duty. However, although outwardly successful, Mantell was a man never fulfilled, never quite happy. Having moved, for example, from Lewes to the centre of Brighton to extend his medical practice to those attending the King’s court there, he soon became very frustrated for being the centre of too much attention, not due to his surgical skills but because of his remarkable collection of fossils.

Mantell was born in the historic market town of Lewes on 3 February 1790, the son of a shoemaker. Partly educated by an uncle, at age 15 he was apprenticed to a Lewes surgeon, James Moore. Following six months training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, he joined Moore’s practice as a partner, and eventually took it over. In 1816, he married Mary Ann Woodhouse, and soon after acquired a house in Castle Place. They had four children who survived into adulthood.

Apart from his medical practice, Mantell spent much time exploring the Weald of Sussex, studying its geology and looking for fossils. In 1822, he published The Fossils of the South Downs (with lithography by his wife), the first of a dozen or so books he was to write on geology and palaeontology. In the mid-1820s, he announced the discovery of Iguanodon, an extinct gigantic herbivorous reptile, a genus of, what later would be commonly called, dinosaurs. The fossils were proudly exhibited in a museum housed in his own home. A few years later he discovered a second kind of dinosaur, and confirmed they were land, not amphibian, reptiles.

Notwithstanding his growing fame as a palaeontologist, Mantell was constantly seeking to be and to be seen as a successful doctor. And for this reason, he wanted to move his practice to Brighton, where he could find higher class patients among the constant flow of aristocrats to King George’s court at the Pavilion. However, for several years he prevaricated fearing the disruption to his family. Bolstered by a large gift of money from an aristocratic patron, he finally made the move towards the end of 1833, and took up a fashionable residence at 20 The Steine.

Bizarrely, or so it must have seemed to him, his geological and scientific knowledge became far more in demand than his surgeon’s skill. He could barely cope with the influx of visitors, and before long the house was turned into a public museum; and then in 1838 the collection was purchased by the British Museum. That same year he bought a practice in Clapham Common, which soon became a success and allowed him frequent trips to London to attend institutional meetings. He moved again in 1844 to Pimlico, where he remained until his death in 1852. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Strange Science, Dinohunters.

For most of his adult life, from 1818 until his death, Mantell kept a diary. The manuscripts, however, went with his son Walter to New Zealand, where they were given to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Many years later, a typescript copy was acquired by the archaeologist Dr Eliot Curwen (who lived on St Aubyns, Hove) which is now held by the Sussex Archaeological Society. Curwen’s son E. Cecil Curwen edited the typescript copy, and Oxford University Press published The Journal of Gideon Mantell, Surgeon and Geologist in 1940. Decades later, in 2010, John A. Cooper produced a transcript of all the unpublished parts of Mantell’s diaries, and these have been made available to the public, courtesy of David Colquhoun of the Alexander Turnbull Library, by Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums.

In his introduction to the 1940 book, Curwen says of Mantell: ‘[He was] a man of abundant restless energy, fired with an ambition to become immortal in the realms of science; all obstacles were to him irritating frustrations which he bore down with the weight of his dominating personality, and even his domestic happiness was sacrificed to his ambition. . . The journal, however, reveals how the realisation of his ambitions brought neither joy nor peace nor any real satisfaction, for as time went on he became more and more disappointed and embittered. . . And yet Mantell was not in other respects a selfish man. He was a keen surgeon, with a great sense of fairness and a deep sympathy with the poor and down-trodden, and he would often put himself to much trouble to alleviate suffering or to right a wrong.’

Here is a selection of extracts taken from Curwen’s book and from Cooper’s document.

14 December 1822
‘Drove to Brighton: called at Stanmer Park in my way, and left a medallion of Oliver Cromwell as a present to the Earl of Chichester. Drank tea with my friend Chassereau. On my return found my dear boy Walter in a very dangerous state from inflammation of the lungs; applied three leeches which bled till he fainted.’

23 November 1824
‘A severe hurricane and occurring at the spring tide, the low tracts along the coast were inundated and considerable damage occasioned thereby. I drove to Brighton and arrived there between one and two, at the time the sea was raging with the greatest violence, the surf dashed over the pier and occasionally hid it from our view. So soon as the water was retired so as to allow of walking on the esplanade, we went to the Pier, which was much damaged by the waves; the railing in many places washed away, and the platform destroyed, so as to render access to the Pier-head difficult and dangerous: however we ventured to the farthest end although every now and then a sea dashed over us, and completely drenched us, but the awful grandeur of the scene more than compensated for the inconvenience of our situation.’

31 July 1827
‘Tuesday - Drove with my dear boy to Brighton Races; visited a menagerie: took tea with Mr Chassereau and returned home early. Dr Hopkins and his lady, from London, visited us yesterday.’

6 September 1830
‘Every day last week at Brighton, visiting Miss Langham. On Friday a public dinner to 4,000 children on the Steine. The King and Queen visited them: a very gratifying sight. Mrs Mantell accompanied me and saw the Royal Family.

Called on a smuggler and dealer in vertu on the East Cliffe. Bought a magnificent Cabinet drawers of Buhl and tortoiseshell; formerly belonged to Napoleon - quite a bijou - cost me £25. 15s; purchased also a beautiful little statue of a child sleeping; said to be the King of Rome. This evening wrote addresses to the King and Queen; resolutions etc. for the town meeting. I am indeed jack-of-all-trades - more fool I, for I get neither profit, credit, nor thanks! still there is pleasure in moving the public mind and guiding it unseen.’

18 September 1830
‘To Brighton every day. Miss Langham still very ill. [. . .] Last week performed the operation of trephining, or rather with Hey’s saw removed several portions of skull that had been forced into the brain - a boy 16 years old crushed by a horse, died the next morning.’

2 May 1833
‘Received a copy of my Geology of the S. East of England from the publishers and am much pleased with the style in which it is brought out. Received on Sunday a beautiful present of polished fossil woods from Dr Henry of Manchester. Yesterday sent a parcel to London - wrote to Earl of Egremont, on behalf of poor Archer the artist, whose painting of the King’s visit to Lewes, is still on his hands; to the great honor! of the loyal and liberal inhabitants of Lewes! What a precious set!’

5 October 1833
‘Drove to Brighton and called on Lord Egremont, who spoke to me on the subject of my removal to Brighton, and munificently offered me a thousand pounds to assist me in the removal!’

21 December 1833
‘My family and all my servants etc. take up their abode in 20 Steyne - farewell for ever to Castle Place [Lewes].’

18 September 1834
‘Soon after tea was sent for to near Kemp Town to a young man who had just been drowned: an hour had elapsed from the time of the accident till my arrival: I inflated the lungs and assisted in removing the body to the hospital - where the surgeon put it in a warm bath for a few minutes then took it out again and placed it before a fire - then inflated the lungs! and after waiting there nearly two hours I left the place and returned home at near one o’clock very much fatigued.’

9 October 1834
‘As usual murdering my time - hosts of visitors but no patients! Rambled on the Chain Pier in the evening - very beautiful weather.’

11 October 1835
‘Very unwell from a cold: saw the Comet (Halley’s) last night with the naked eye: I had seen it through a telescope on Tuesday: how solemn is the thought that when this body of light next appears in its present situation almost every eye that now gazes on it will have closed for ever!’

1 February 1836
‘For the last fortnight, scarcely a day has passed without my time being engrossed by meetings concerning the project [Sussex] Scientific Institution [and Mantellian Museum] - I am already tired of the eternal changes of opinion which the gentlemen engaged in it, are constantly evincing. I see but too surely that I shall be made a mere stepping stone for the accomplishment of the principal object with most of them - a gossiping club.’

25 April 1836
‘My family removed to Southover and I to lodgings on the Steyne. My collection to be arranged for public exhibition for two and three-quarter years - but I am sick of the cold-blooded creatures I am surrounded by - a change of circumstances with me is but a change of troubles - I will not record them! [From this point on, and at the cost of his home life, Mantell’s house on The Steine was given over to the Institution and museum entirely.]’

29 October 1836
‘A dreadful hurricane from the SSW at about eleven AM it was terrific - houses unroofed - trees torn up by the roots: chimney-pots and chimneys blown in every direction - sea mountains high. Went to the Pier, and was present when violent oscillations began to be produced by the hurricane: the whole lines of platforms and chains were thrown into undulations, and the suspension bridges appeared like an enormous serpent writing in agony - at length one of the bridges gave way, and planks, beams, iron rods - all were hurled instantaneously into the boiling surge! The tension of the bridge being thus set at liberty, the remaining bridges gradually became motionless; the damage done to this beautiful structure cannot be much less than £1,000. Some persons were killed by the falling of chimneys and lead blown off the houses.’

18 February 1837
‘Lecture at the Old Ship, on the South Downs - pretty good company. On my own account, because the Council were unwilling to take the chance of loss!!! During the last fortnight received a splendid collection of Elephantine and remains from Capt. Cautley, Sub-Himalayah mountains, discoursed on them last Tuesday at the Conversazione - about 6 members of the Institution present.’

24 July 1837
‘To the Devil’s Dyke - arrived there at seven - the most glorious sight imaginable - the sun breaking through a mass of clouds poured streams of living light on the landscape - the distant downs, by Steyning and to the far west were crested with mist, and the reflection of the sun’s rays, gave them a magical effect which is seen on the snow-clad Alps. This gorgeous scene continued about ten minutes and then all was wrapped in gloom. Broke the spring of my carriage - obliged to walk home.’

4 March 1839
‘August Received the sum of £4000 from the trustees of the British Museum for my collection. And so passes away the labor of 25 years!!! G. A. MANTELL. But I will begin de novo!’


This is a revised and extended version of an article first published in 2011.