Saturday, January 23, 2021

Buggering around aimlessly

‘This being the New Year’s Day of practice, as distinct from theory, I paid tribute to it by buggering around aimlessly all morning, and then went down to the office in the afternoon. It was a foggy day - one of the heaviest fogs I’ve ever seen here, and I should think that those who obediently get gloomy in gloomy weather would go into reverse & feel exhilarated with the mystery & glamour that a fog spreads over things.’ This is from the diaries of Northrop Frye, a celebrated Canadian literary academic who died 30 years ago today. On publication of Frye’s diaries, the publisher claimed they provided ‘an unprecedented view of the life and times of this now-legendary scholar’.

Frye was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1912 but was raised in Moncton, New Brunswick. His much older brother, Howard, died in World War I. He studied philosophy at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where he edited the college literary journal. He then studied theology at Emmanuel College. After a brief period as a student minister in Saskatchewan, he was ordained to the ministry of the United Church of Canada. He studied further at Merton College, Oxford, where he was a member and Secretary of the Bodley Club, before returning to Victoria College. In 1937, he married Helen Kemp, an art student. In 1947, Frye’s first book, Fearful Symmetry, a study of William Blake, brought him international attention. 

Frye was made chairman of the English department at Victoria College from 1952, he then served as principal (1959-67) and chancellor (1978-91). As well as teaching at the Toronto college, he travelled widely to give lectures in the US and overseas (he was also, in 1974-1975, the Norton professor at Harvard University). According to his bio in Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘In Anatomy of Criticism [1957] he challenged the hegemony of the New Criticism by emphasizing the modes and genres of literary texts. Rather than analyze the language of individual works of literature, as the New Critics did, Frye stressed the larger or deeper imaginative patterns from which all literary works are constructed and the recurring importance of literature’s underlying archetypes.’ Many further works of literary criticism followed, consolidating his position as one of Canada’s most important literary critics. After the death of his wife in 1986, he married the widow Elizabeth Brown in 1988; but he, himself, died on 23 January 1991. Further information can  be found online at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Online Encyclopaedia of Canada Christian Leaders, and Wikipedia.

From the mid-1990s until 2012, The University of Toronto Press published the Collected Works of Northrop Frye in 30 volumes. Transcriptions of all his diaries were published in Volume 8 - The Diaries of Northrop Frye, 1942–1955 - as edited by Robert D. Denham (who also edited half a dozen or more other volumes in the series). The publisher says, for Frye, diary writing was a tool for recording ‘everything of importance and this ruled out very little’. His entries contain a large measure of self-analysis and self-revelation, and in this respect are ‘confessional’. They cover his classes, planning his career, recording his dreams, registering frank reactions to the hundreds of people who cross his path, eyeing attractive women, reflecting on books, music and movies, pondering religious and political issues, as well as considering his various physical and psychological ailments. The volume (which can be previewed at Googlebooks) is fully annotated, contains a directory that identifies more than 1,200 people mentioned in the text, and has a detailed, lengthy and informative introduction. Here are several extracts.

10 August 1942
‘Bitched the day, celebrating because Ned [Pratt] liked the Blake. Show at night. Thurber’s “Male Animal.” Not bad: but Henry James was a bad dramatist and a master of Thurber’s. The main theme, a hot-headed undergraduate editor turning a piece of ordinary teaching routine into a crusade, is sound. The episodic clowning with his wife was a bit weak. But the Chairman of Trustees was too crude: one never gets them like that. They always turn up quoting Holy Scripture and John Stuart Mill on Liberty. A novel about a similar situation with the weakling’s endlessly rationalizing would be all right. The other show was a bad English thriller based on fake ‘psychology’: Flora Robson writing poison-pen letters because she was a spinster & her maternal impulse was frustrated. [. . .]

Mary [Winspear] said the last person to have real intellectual guts was Bernard Shaw. I said writers were becoming a stereotype, a Brahmin caste, and I trotted out my anatomy theory. If I ever get around to writing a novel called Liberal, the motto for which will be Isaiah 32:8, I want a sentimental weather-cocky Craggish hero with an anatomic  Jack counterpoint and a fantastic  Regillus one. When my ideas are major, why is my execution so miserably stupid: is it just lack of practice? My opening scene with Kennedy is all right if he reinforces the liberalism. But it’s so bloody Quixotic to think in terms of Dostoievsky and produce something on the level of Cosmopolitan or Maclean’s. I‘m getting fed up with it and all my wool-gathering dreary accidia.’

19 August 1942
‘Today the news was all about the Dieppe raid, & the Russian front also got a front-page splash. The fact that the Chinese stormed & captured Wenchow, a city of 100,000 on the coast, was recorded in a tiny box in the second section. I simply cannot understand this assumption that the Chinese front is of no importance or interest. It’s all the sillier when one realizes that the current of world history is now going through Asia & that Europe has ceased to be of any organic historical significance. China will probably have the next century pretty well to itself as far as culture, & perhaps even civilization, are concerned.’

24 September 1942
‘Morley [Callaghan] & Eleanor [Godfrey] dislike the English but don’t fully understand why: it’s because they’re Catholics, of course. The confusions of interests today are curious. Heywood Broun turned R.C. after he’d become convinced, wrongly of course, that it wasn’t inherently Fascist. He judged the church by a political standard assumed superior to it. Yet if he had realized this he‘d have sold out to the reactionaries. Funny deadlock.

The theory of democracy about the will of the people being the source of government is, in that form, just will-worship like Calvin’s.’

28 September 1942
‘Three lectures and busting with shit: went home early this afternoon. Then to Havelock’s for a debating society executive meeting. Eric has taken quite a shine to me evidently & he certainly does work hard at debates. They varied between political and local-scandal subjects, suggesting “should formal parties be suspended?” I said it would be more interesting to say “should formal dresses be suspended?” They came to no conclusions but are planning a group of inter-year debates.’ 

6 January 1949
‘Lectures all morning. In Milton I dealt with the paradox of evil as a metaphysical negation & a moral fact, comparing it with the conception of cold in physics. Somebody asked me why chaos existed. I said all conceptions of the universe, not just the Einsteinian, are limited, & chaos marks the limit of that which is created by God yet is not God. There can be nothing beyond chaos, because there can be nothing beyond God; but God‘s power radiates to the limit of matter, or creation, hence there has to be chaos, or as near to pure matter as is conceivable, at that limit. I said that God’s power is a vision to angels, a mystery to men, an automatic instinct in animals, plants &, according to the 17th c., minerals, and operates as luck or chance in chaos, hence Satan’s footslip. That the 19th c, influenced by the prestige of biological & other sciences, had looked downward from the human mystery & seen the world as a mechanism, and that the 20th c., peering through that, had struck probability & the “principle of indeterminacy” at the bottom of it. A touch of glibness there, as there is in a lot of what I say. [. . .]

Marjorie King has just phoned to say that Harold [KingJ] is dead. Heart attack striking without warning last night. Harold was as lovable a person as I knew, & I shall miss him intensely: it’s one of the few deaths I have experienced that hurt. She wants me to do the funeral: I always refuse marriages, but I don’t see how I can refuse this - actually my attitude to marriages may be ungracious. I suppose when people ask me they want either a personal touch or less religion than they get from professionals. Personal touches are out of place at funerals there one wants only to see the great wheels of the Church rolling by. It is much more of an imposition than Marjorie realizes, as the death is a considerable shock to me, even if it cannot be compared with the shock to her. As for the religion, all one can do at a funeral is proclaim the fact of resurrection: any funeral that doesn’t do that is just variations on “Behold, he stinketh” [John 11:39].’

23 January 1949
‘Overtired after a strenuous week: will I never learn not to accept invitations outside Toronto? A very dull day: out to hear Sclater at Old St. Andrews talk about the gap (curtain he called it) between youth & age. He’s a frivolous person & seemed to assume that after 1913 the world lost a point of stability it had up to that time. Life goes in a parabola, thus: [. . .] & on the descending curve you’re apt to be fascinated by the point opposite you on the up curve. I think there may be even a physiological basis to this, indicated by the way young childhood crowds into the minds of the very aged. I didn‘t actually hear much of the sermon. The Wilsons came in for supper & Margaret [Newton] returned from Washington. Says the Truman inaugural wasn’t, like most American parades, exuberant & good-humored, but a grim military march-past for the benefit of the Soviet Ambassador. If I were a leading Russian Communist I’d say: we now have Russia, one-sixth of the world. We have East Europe & the West is in our pocket we could occupy it in two weeks anyway. The revolt of Asia is the great political fact in the contemporary world, & we’re in a position to exploit that: the Americans can only prop up beaten & discredited governments. The revolt of Africa hasn’t yet come, but is certainly coming. The only power able to oppose our conquest of the world is the U.S.A. There’s no use fighting her: she’s too strong: she has the atom bomb & an economic system that works best under wartime conditions. With the three continents in our grip, we can sit tight & let her blow up & burst with her economy which demands continuous centrifugal expansion & which we I think. Why should they start a war? Margaret’s on the Reserve Army list & has been told to report to H.Q. It doesn’t look like war yet, to me, but that may be just a “wistful vista.” The Americans could start a war to forestall their blowup; but the Russians could start one too to forestall the blowing up of the contradictions in the argument I’ve just outlined.’

2 January 1950
‘This being the New Year’s Day of practice, as distinct from theory, I paid tribute to it by buggering around aimlessly all morning, and then went down to the office in the afternoon. It was a foggy day - one of the heaviest fogs I’ve ever seen here, and I should think that those who obediently get gloomy in gloomy weather would go into reverse & feel exhilarated with the mystery & glamour that a fog spreads over things. My Hudson Review was in the mail, and I spent some time gloating over it: I’m getting to be a terrible intellectual narcist. Saw Ned [Pratt], who has been converted to John Sutherland by a friendly letter, & who tells me Mrs. Ford is dead. Came home and voted. I plumped for May Birchard for alderman again, but she still didn’t make it, though she was close. The Sunday sport issue went pro, greatly to my surprise. Both Protestants & the Cardinal had gone against it, two of the three papers who had been for it had ratted midway (the third, the Star, was against it anyway) and not a candidate except Lamport had dared to open his mouth in favor if it. It indicates that “public opinion” that everyone is afraid of is largely a matter of lobbying and organized minorities.’

Friday, January 15, 2021

Antiquities and highywaymen

It is 350 years since the birth of Abraham de la Pryme, a priest and antiquarian who lived but 34 years and is only remembered today because he kept a diary during his short life. Often written in retrospect the diary sometimes reads more like an autobiography, yet it is full of amusing anecdotes - such as how one would-be highwayman got the better of an experienced one - and interesting notes on the antiquities of his area.

Abraham de la Pryme was born to Huguenot parents on 15 January 1671 in Hatfield, Yorkshire. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, at the same time as Isaac Newton. After working as a curate in Hull, where he diligently researched the records and antiquities of the town, he was granted a living at Thorne, also in Yorkshire. He compiled histories of Hatfield and of Kingston upon Hull, but died young at the age of 34.

There is very little information on the internet about Abraham de la Pryme other than short biographies at Wikipedia and Stainforthonline. He is mostly remembered today because he left behind a diary, part of which is more like an autobiography. It was published by the Surtees Society in 1870 as The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, the Yorkshire Antiquary, and is now freely available at Internet Archive or Googlebooks.

Here are a few extracts taken from 1695, some about highwaymen, one about a tree-planting scheme, and another about a plot to poison to the king!

20 October 1695
‘This [day] examining and talking with several of my oldest parishoners of this town about what was memorable relating thereto, they tell me that this Roman way, of which I have already made mention, is commonly call’d amongst them the High Street way.

This country has been exceeding woody to what it is now, above half of the woods being cut down and sold about forty years ago. Here was formerly very great roberys committed in them, this being the most dangerous place in the whole country, so that people durst scarce travel in companys. In this wood towards Thorholm more, is a low sunken place call’d Gipwell*, which was formerly a mighty deep hole, so thick beset with trees, that it was impossible to see the sun. Here it was that the rogues kept their rendisvouz and carryd all those thither that they rob’d, oftentimes murdering them and casting them therein. Within these twenty years stood a mighty great hollow tree, in which, when it was cut close up by the roots, was found a pair of pot-hooks.

There stood a mighty great famous tree likewise by this way side, which was cut down about thirteen years ago. It was nine yards about, had twenty load of wood in it besides it’s body, and spread at least twenty-five yards each way when it was standing.

There is a good law at Worlebee, a town some few miles off, which every tennant, according to the quantity of land that he takes, is bound to plant yearly so many trees thereon; but, tho’ this law is yet in force amongst them, yet it is a great pitty that it is not so much regarded as formerly.

*There is no such place as Gipwell now. There is a deep black bog on two sides of Thornhohne, and it must, I think, have been some part of this that was formerly a pond or pool; and if they put their victims in, I have no doubt they would soon sink into the bog, and never be heard of again.’

25 October 1695
‘The other day I was at the visitation at Ganesburrough. I met with nothing observable by the way but some places that looked like old fortifications; only at the very entrance of the town is a large green burrow, hollow at the top, under which, as I concieve, many Dains have been buried, because that they mightily infested this town in King William the Conqueror’s days. The church is no splendid piece of workmanship, but low, narrow, and dark. I had not time to observe what inscriptions there were in it.’

23 December 1695
‘I heard this of my patron, that is just come from London, that the king, as he was going to Oxford, was told by one of his nobles (but upon what grounds it is uncertain) that his Majesty should be poison’d at Oxford, and desired him not to tast of any of their entertainment. Upon which, when he came to Oxford, he was exceedingly welcom’d, and carryed to the theater, which was full of gentry in all the gallerys, and there was a most splendid repast provided. But the king came in with his lords and nobles, and took a view of all, and having walked about for a while went out. As he was going out several of the mobb throng’d in, upon which the gentlemen in the gallerys hist at them; and the king, not understanding the meaning thereoff, thought they hiss’d at him, and took it very ill, until that the Chancellor and several of the heads of the university hearing thereoff went and told the king the true reason of their hissing.

A great many more things I could relate about the king’s being in the country, but I am very suspitious of them, therefore shall not set any of them down.’

29 December 1695
‘Yesterday, James Middleton came over from Hatfield. He tells me a very merry thing that happen’d at Wroot, in the Isle, lately. Mr Parrel there had a great lusty man-servant, but, as appears by the sequell of the discourse, not of very much witt. About two months ago, there comes a maggot into his head to turn padder upon the highway; so he acquaints his master with his resolution. “Master,” says he, “I have been two years in your service, and what I get is inconsiderable, and will scarce suffice my expenses; and I work very hard. I fancy,” says he, “that I could find out a better way to live, and by which I should have more ease and more money.” “Ey,” says his master, “pray what is that?” “It is,” says he, “by turning padder.” “Alass! John,” says he, “that will not do; take my word,” says he, “you’ll find that a harder service than mine.” “Well, but I’ll try,” says the man.

And so, next morning, away he went, with a good clubb in his hand; and, being got in the London road, somewhere about Newark or Grantham, there overtook him on the road a genteel man on horseback. John letts him come up to him, and taking his advantage, he catches hold of his bridle, and bidds him stand and deliver. Upon which he of horseback, being a highwayman himself, he began to laugh that a thief should pretend to rob a thief. “But,” says he, “barken, thou padder, I’m one of thy trade; but surely, thou’rt either a fool or one that was never at the trade before.” “No sir,” says John, “I never was at this trade in my life before.” “I thought so,” says the highway-man; “therefore, take my advice, and mind what I say to you. When you have a mind to robb a man, never take hold of his bridle and bid him stand, but, the first thing you do, knock him down, and, if he talk to you, hit him another stroke, and say, ‘Sirrah! you rogue, do you prate?’ And then,” says the highwayman, “you have him at your will,” etc.

Thus they walk’d on for about a mile, the highwayman teaching the other his art; and as they were going a by way to a certain town, they comes to a badd lane. Says the padder to the other on horsback “Sir, I am better acquainted with this country than perhaps you are, this lane is very badd, and you’ll indanger [of] lying fast, therefore you may go through this yate, and along the field side, and so miss all the ill way.”

So he took his advice, and going that way the padder went the other way, and coming to the place where the highwayman should ride through a gapp into the lane again, this rogue, this padder, stands under the hedge, and as soon as ever he sees the highwayman near him, he lends him such a knock over the head that he brought him down immediately. Upon which he began to say, “Sarrah, you rogue, is this your gratitude for the good advice that I gave you?” “Ah! you villain, do you prate?” And with that gave him another knock.

And so, having him wholy at his mercy, he takes almost fifty pound from him and gets upon his horse, and away he rides home to his master at Wroot, by another way, as fast as he could go, and being got home he goes to his master and tell’s him, saying “Tash! master, I find this a very hard trade that I have been about, as you sayd it would prove, and I am resolved to go no more, but be contented with what I have gott. I have got a good horse here, and fifty pound in my pocket, from a highwayman, and I have consider’d that I cannot be prosecuted for it, therefore I’ll live at ease,” etc.’

Happy birthday Wikipedia

Happy 20th birthday Wikipedia. The Diary Review could not exist without it!

Wikipedia provides many of the leads for The Diary Review thanks to its events listings for every date throughout the year. Also, Wikipedia has become the very best encyclopaedic source of biographical and historical information, and because of this almost every story on The Diary Review carries a link to it.

When I first started compiling data for The Diary Junction, in 2005, I still relied a lot on printed sources. Today, in researching biographies for The Diary Review, I use Wikipedia all the time and printed sources rarely. There are three reasons for this: the vast amount of information available through Wikipedia; the ease of access (directly on the computer); and the level of accuracy (which wasn’t always the case in the early years).

However, I have had my issues with the Wikipedia folk, mostly because I am not allowed to add links from Wikipedia articles to The Diary Review (or The Diary Junction). When I’ve tried this once or twice, Wikipedia guard dogs have jumped on me, and threatened to blacklist me. They have a problem with any individual creating links to their own website and pages, even if those links might be useful and bona fide. Since I use Wikipedia’s external links often I can testify with confidence that many of them are far less useful, and far more cluttered with adverts, than any link to The Diary Junction or The Diary Review would be.

Nevertheless, a big thank you to Wikipedia, and all the best for the next 20 years.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

My courage failed

‘Attended the House of Lords on the Unitarian Marriage Bill. I had a great mind to say something but my courage failed me . . . I should be sorry to appear ridiculous - my great evil, is my almost total want of memory . . . all is chaos, blank and confusion.’ This is from the interesting and informative diaries of the 4th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne. He began keeping a diary after the death of his wife, and continued assiduously until his own death exactly 170 years ago today.

Pelham-Clinton was born in 1785, the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne and his wife Lady Anna Maria (née Stanhope). He succeeded to the dukedom aged only 10 when his father died. He was educated at Eton. In 1803, his mother and stepfather took him on a European Tour, but when war broke out in 1803 he was detained at Tours until 1806. On his return to England, he married an heiress, Georgiana Elizabeth. They had twelve children, but Georgiana died aged only 33 while giving birth to twins. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire from 1809, and in 1812 was made a Knight of the Garter, and Steward of Sherwood Forest and of Folewood Park. He was very active in local and regional politics.

From about 1826 Pelham-Clinton became one of the leaders of the so-called Tory Ultras, staunchly supporting the church and state establishment. He was a vehement opponent of policies such as Catholic Emancipation, and also of electoral reform. His positions on the latter led to violent attacks on his property. He published his views on the Reform Bill in An Address to All Classes and Conditions of Englishmen, and was one of 22 peers to vote against it in 1832. As a result of the bill he lost the patronage and interest of six boroughs. 

In 1839, Pelham-Clinton objected, on political and religious grounds, to two government appointments to the magistracy. He wrote an offensive letter to the Lord Chancellor, and on refusing to withdraw it, he was sacked as Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. He died on 12 January 1851, and was succeeded by his eldest son Henry, the 5th Duke of Newcastle, a prominent politician. Further information is available from Wikipedia, University of Nottingham (which holds an archive of the 4th Duke’s papers), the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), The Peerage, Bromley House or The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway.

The latter of these sources has this assessment: ‘The fourth duke of Newcastle is principally remembered as an anti-hero; an obscurantist ultra-Tory who stood in the way of change. Yet at his death [. . .] most of those who opposed Newcastle’s political principles were nevertheless willing to acknowledge his strong dedication to his family, the honest conviction with which he held his political views and the genuine degree of interest shown in his tenants and estate workers. The duke interested himself in the history of his family, in church building, school and hospital provision and in bequeathing a rich material legacy of property, books, art and documents to his successors. It was this mixture of political excess and personal conviction that made him one of the more colourful characters in the history of Nottinghamshire during this period.’

After the death of his wife (and a daughter), Pelham-Clinton began to keep a diary. He kept the habit up for the rest of his life, amassing some 10,000 entries. The diaries are held in the archive at the University of Nottingham which says of them: ‘The entries are detailed, and concern all aspects of his domestic and public life, including comments on news and reports of contemporary events. Family members are referred to frequently, providing information about his daughters, Charlotte, Georgiana, Caroline (later Ricketts) and Henrietta (later D'Eyncourt), and his sons. He was estranged from his eldest son, Henry, Lord Lincoln, and there are references to both Lord Lincoln and his wife Susan, Lady Lincoln, from whom he was subsequently divorced.’

Selections from Pelham-Clinton’s diaries have been published several times. Firstly came John Fletcher’s Where Truth Abides - Extracts from the Diaries of Henry Pelham Fiennes-Clinton 4th Duke Newcastle-Under-Lyne (Country Books, 2001). Dr Richard Gaunt then authored two others: Unhappy Reactionary: The Diaries of the Fourth Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, 1822-50 (Thoroton Society Record Series Volume XLIII, 2004), and Unrepentant Tory: Political Selections from the Diaries of the Fourth Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne, 1827-38 (Boydell Press, 2006).

The following selection of Pelham-Clinton’s diary entries are taken from Fletcher’s Where Truth Abides and Gaunt’s Unrepentant Tory.

24 July 1823
‘Went to London - sat to Sir T. Lawrence for my portrait which he is about to compleat, having had it in hand now about 15 years. Called on Mr Reynolds who is engraving a print of my beloved Georgiana from a picture by Sir Thom. Lawrence.’ 

24 April 1824
‘I today weaned Edward from the nursery and had his bed put with his brothers where he is now fast asleep . . . I left Miss Spencer in London - and Mr Thompson went there as soon as I arrived here, so that I have the children with me entirely.’

28 April 1824
‘Mr Thompson went to Eton to arrange and prepare every thing for Lincoln’s arrival . . . it seems that nothing is found there in private houses, beds, linen and all furniture and utensils to be found by the occupiers.’

4 May 1824
‘Attended the House of Lords on the Unitarian Marriage Bill. I had a great mind to say something but my courage failed me . . . I should be sorry to appear ridiculous - my great evil, is my almost total want of memory . . . all is chaos, blank and confusion.’ 

29 May 1830
‘So great is the hurry to pass what may be called “the Bastard Regency bill’ that the H. of Lords is to sit today (K. Charles’s day a holiday) for the purpose of giving the Royal assent to it -

The King is in a wretched state: his legs are as big as his body, he cannot lie down & he suffers greatly - & yet he does not suspect his near dissolution: he has Even ordered a carriage for Ascot races - it is truly lamentable to conceive Such blindness & want of preparation for what must shortly come - This World & not the next has been the ruling passion.’

30 May 1830
‘The papers including Prince Leopold’s correspondence relative to taking Upon him the Sovereignty of Greece are very curious - He has extricated himself from bad hands & innumerable difficulties with great dexterity & address - He has proved himself more than a match for the D. of Wellington & his Satellites - & unquestionably merits the thanks of the whole Nation for having disengaged himself from this noxious affair.’

20 February 1831
‘. . . I myself have been visited by a troublesome attack, a sort of inflammation of the bladder and urinary passage . . . much pain . . . Dover’s powder, a preparation of opium, has done wonders for me. [The Doctor] tells me that the ailments of this season affect the brain . . . a curious proof is that 3 poor women tenants of mine at West Markham, Elkesley and Drayton have destroyed themselves.’

21 February 1831
‘The waters being very low to lay the ways for the launch of the ‘Lincoln’, I took the opportunity of fishing the end of the lake head. We found nothing but pike and not a great many of them, the mud and weeds were so thick that the net rolled and not a single carp or tench was in the net. There were 232 pike and a few large perch in the net. I put all the former into the [sleu?] below the cascade.’

28 November 1831
‘It is asserted with confidence that Lord Grey is out of favour with the King, that at last H.M. Sees through his Schemes & that the proclamation against the Unions was by the King’s Special desire - The King is Said to be inclined to adopt a different course & positively to refuse to make more Peers - if so Lord Grey & Co. must go - Negociations are on foot with Lords Harrowby & Wharncliffe & the report is that they approve of the new reform Bill.’

1 December 1833
‘I Know of no news - Mischief is working actively & sedulously, but secretly & surely - The report is that Mr Stanley is to be Minister with ultra Whigs.’ 

5 December 1833
‘The Dissenters have now fairly thrown off the mask, thro’ their organ “the Christian advocate”, they declare the Church of England a nuisance & their determination to obtain what they call their rights - that is a total exemption from all disabilities, & to be free & full participators in every benefit Enjoyed by the present Established Church - There is alas too much to be feared that these miscreants will carry their point & with it falls Religion & Order.’

20 December 1833
‘My preparations for the sale of Aldbro’ & Boro’bridge are now completed - They are valued at nearly [£] 146,000, but I think this much too low & I Shall not allow it to be Sold at that price -I should consider it to be very well sold at [£] 170,000.’

16 October 1834
‘. . . a letter arrived announcing that my Mother had taken very ill with inflamation on the chest . . . I shall leave this place for Ranby early tomorrow. My dear Mother has no one with her and must be in a most forlorn situation, on a sick bed with no one whom she loves near to her.’

20 December 1835
‘Mr Maunsel the Conservative Candidate for Northamptonshire has terminated the first day’s poll, most triumphantly with a majority of above 600 - the 2nd day will most probably produce a Still larger majority in his favor - all this shews the altered feeling in the Country.’

5 April 1840
‘The Queen believes herself to be pregnant . . . rather soon to suspect such an event . . . she is a strange self willed, unreasonable little personage. We went to the Levee today . . . I made my bow and passed on, making my bow also to Prince Albert who stood [at] Her left hand. He is a well looking young man, good countenance, with dark hair and complexion. Hitherto all agree in speaking well of him.’

5 August 1847
‘Gladstone is returned for Oxford - I grieve at it most sincerely, no return has given me more pain . . . Although I consider the man himself to be of no weight and not likely to be an authority in any thing, yet he is a man of indefatigable application . . . altho’ pretty nearly unintelligible, so involved and mystified is the style of his speaking and writing.’

11 August 1847
‘Prize fighting - principally on Lindrick Common, has increased so very much of late years, and has become so notorious and such a scandal to the neighbourhood, that a meeting was holden this day at Worksop to consider [action?] to put down the nuisance - and it was wished that I should take the Chair - it was found to be a difficult thing to devise means to meet all the points of difficulty - as the meeting place is on the borders of three counties - It was finally resolved that we should form ourselves into an Association to indict, and to appoint a Committee to watch the movements of the Fancy, and a professional man to conduct the proceedings - Mr Appleton [Vicar of Worksop] to be the Chairman of the Committee and Mr [John] Whall - the Attorney.’

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Purifying penicillin

‘Down to the lab where I saw the Professor [Florey]. He asked me if I would like to help him design apparatus. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, and he said that he could probably get me a Nuffield grant at £300 p.a. for six months.’ This is from the diary of the British biochemist Norman Heatley on the very day he joined the Oxford University team of scientists who would soon develop a technique for purifying penicillin in large volumes. Heatley, born 110 years ago today, was not among the Nobel prize winners in 1945 for the discovery and development of penicillin, but his diaries testify to the crucial part he played.

Heatley was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, where, as a boy, he developed a passion for sailing on the local river. At Tonbridge School, he was inspired towards an interest in chemistry, and then biochemistry. After graduating in natural sciences at St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1933 he went on to attain his PhD in 1936. That same year he moved to the University of Oxford, where he became a fellow of Lincoln College and joined a team of scientists tackling the problem of how to manufacture penicillin in usable quantities. The team was led by the Australian pathologist Howard Florey and included Ernst Chain. Heatley, although the junior member, had a gift for ingenuity and invention, and it was he that suggested transferring the active ingredient of penicillin back into water by changing its acidity, thus purifying the penicillin.

In early 1941, the team treated their first patient, a policeman at the Radcliffe Infirmary. His condition improved, but, for lack of enough penicillin, he eventually died. The new drug was then successfully given to children as they required smaller amounts. After failing to get backing from any British pharmaceutical companies, Florey and Heatley flew to the US where a laboratory in Peoria, Illinois, had agreed to work on production of much large volumes of penicillin. Florey soon returned to Oxford but Heatley stayed on as an advisor for another year. Before the end of the war, soldiers were being treated by the new antibiotic, reducing significantly the number of deaths and amputations resulting from infected wounds. 

Heatley returned to Oxford where, in 1944, he married Mercy Bing. They had three sons and two daughters (though one son died in a road crash). He was elected to a newly endowed research fellowship at Lincoln College where he remained for many years. In 1945, Alexander Fleming, Chain and Florey were all awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine ’for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases.’ Heatley’s contribution was not fully recognised for another 45 years, until 1990 when Oxford University awarded him the rare distinction of an honorary Doctorate of Medicine. He died in 2004. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the BBC or obituaries in The Guardian, or The Lancet

Heatley’s role in the penicillin story has been described in some detail in two modern books partly thanks to a diary he kept at the time. In 2004, Henry Holt published The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat: the story of the penicillin miracle by Eric Lax. Lax says, for example, that ‘Heatley’s diary for October 1939 details his many ideas for and success in assaying penicillin, which was not yet a catchword and whose spelling varied. “Quite encouraging results from the penecillin [sic] testing technique”.’ See also a review of the book in Nature. And in 2012 Viviane Quirke’s Collaboration in the Pharmaceutical Industry - Changing Relationships in Britain and France, 1935–1965 was published by Routledge. A few extracts from Heatley’s diary can be found in both books. 

30 September 1939
‘Down to the lab where I saw the Professor. He asked me if I would like to help him design apparatus. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, and he said that he could probably get me a Nuffield grant at £300 p.a. for six months.’

31 December 1939
‘What a year! .  . . The latter part of the year I have left research entirely, and have been concentrating on the production of P on a large scale. Now, with the help of George Glister, Ruth Callow, and Claire Inayat we are beginning to grow P nearly one thousand times the scale on which I was growing it a year ago.’

15 June 1940
‘I went to register for National Service after lunch, then worked in the lab until 7 o’clock. Collected a pass from the military authorities in the Old Clarendon, for our lab is to be guarded by the Army after 7.0 pm.’

27 June 1940
‘George and I collected about 40 litres of P solution, and filtered it. In the afternoon tried the dustbin still I had designed, and it worked perfectly, although the cooling condenser was not quite efficient enough.’

7 July 1940
‘Spent the evening making masks of silk, for handling cultures in a sterile way.’

8 July 1940
‘Tried out the first complete apparatus for extraction of P, but it did not seem to work well at all. Began to scheme out of a new idea for suspending wicks or thread in ether, and running aqueous solution down them.’

9 July 1940
‘Spent all day making a new P extractor, on the wick principle. Seemed to work fairly well, but the wicks soon became clogged with mess from the P.’

17 July 1940
‘The whole of one batch of 30 tins was infected, so we discarded it. Set up a new batch of tins. Began to make a new P extracting device. The Professor showed me how to inject mice - he will be away tomorrow and wants me to do it for him then.’

25 July 1940
‘Spent all day playing with the P-extracting apparatus. Gained several useful experiences, and I think it will work quite well eventually.’

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Stars Look Down

It is 40 years today since the death of the Scottish writer A. J. Cronin. One of his best books - The Stars Look Down - was turned into a great British movie, produced by Igee Goldsmith and directed by Carol Reed. As far as I know Cronin never kept a diary, but since Igee was my own grandfather and I am a great fan of the film and the book, I’d like to mark the anniversary with the only diary link to Cronin I can find - a couple of entries from my own diaries!

Cronin was born in 1896 in Cardross, the Scottish lowlands, but, after his father died, he grew up in Dumbarton. A first class sportsmen, he also excelled academically and - having served in the navy for a couple of years - graduated in medicine from Glasgow University in 1919. He married Agnes Mary Gibson in 1921, and they had three children.

Cronin’s first medical practice was in a Welsh mining town; and then, in 1924, he was appointed Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain. This work led him to publish reports on the links between coal dust inhalation and lung disease. He moved to a practice in Harley Street, London, before starting his own in Notting Hill. However, in 1930, illness forced him to take a break from work, and this allowed him time to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle. It was such a publishing success that he never returned to medicine.

Subsequently, Cronin wrote about one novel each year in the 1930s; he then moved to the US, where he lived until the mid-1950s, with frequent visits to Europe, especially to Cap-d’Ail in southeast France. For the last 25 years of his life, though, he lived in Switzerland. He died in Montreux on 6 January 1981. More biographical details are available at Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Huffington Post has an article about Cronin’s move to Hollywood.

Cronin is probably best remembered today for creating Dr Finlay, the title character in a long-running TV series; and for his book The Citadel, also made into a film, which is said to have contributed to the establishment of the National Health Service in Great Britain by exposing the injustice and incompetence of medical practice at the time.

The Stars Look Down, published in 1935, is set in a fictional town in the northeast of England, and weaves a story around a coal mine and three men: a miner’s son who is studying to become a doctor; a miner who becomes a businessman; and the son of the mine owner. The film version was produced in 1940 by my grandfather Igee Goldsmith, who a few years earlier had fled from Germany having been placed on Hitler’s black list for importing socialist movies like All Quiet on the Western Front. Carol Reed, who went on to make The Third Man which is considered one of greatest British movies, directed The Stars Look Down; and the cast included several young actors who would go on to become famous: Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood and Emlyn Williams.

Apart from being thoughtful and telling a great story, the film has thrilling scenes in which shaft constructions give way and the mine floods trapping a group of miners deep below the surface. There is a clear socialist message in the book and the film suggesting that such accidents were inevitable so long as the coal industry was run by a large number of small owners, rather than operated by the government within a nationalised industry. The famous American film critic Pauline Kael said of the film: ‘[It] has an understanding, an achieved beauty, that Carol Reed was never again able to sustain.’

Much as I would like to ramble on about Igee (and his second wife, Vera Caspary, who wrote the famous American novel Laura, also made into a film) I realise I have already strayed far enough from the main subject. Here, then, are the two entries in my own diary which refer to Cronin.

8 July 1987
‘. . . I should mention The Stars Look Down. I’m currently reading the novel and find a family called Todd (who do not appear in the film) which is of course my mother’s maiden name . . . And in this [fictional] family I find a Laura Todd and an Adam Todd - Laura and Adam being the very two names we are currently considering for our baby [to be born in the next couple of months]. A. J. Cronin’s book is divided into three books. Yesterday, as I approached the end of Book 1, an enormous thrill filled me for I realised the film was essentially only made from a fraction of the novel. The great disaster scene, which forms the film’s climax, so brilliantly done too, comes at the end of Book 1. A few sub-plots further on have been incorporated - David Fenwick’s discovery of his wife’s adultery, Joe Gowlan’s further rise in society, Fenwick’s dismissal from school. But with two-thirds of the book to go, I can look forward to considerable development and perhaps, just perhaps, a happy rather than a sad ending.’

19 December 1987
‘Cronin’s The Stars Look Down in many ways is a profoundly pessimistic novel. Satisfying in that it weaves the stories of many well drawn characters in and out of each other and in so doing creates a tapestry of the times, rich in colour and detail and action. But Cronin must have been deeply upset at the way British politics and society was moving. All the decent and upright characters find their life’s efforts rewarded by failure, while those who are greedy and even nasty do well. The heroes find some success in the world but Cronin tends to smash it down. The baddies are never more than incidental, but they succeed in the world. Cronin does not even make a very good job out of showing their nastiness and the consequences on the people around them. He has taken on a bitterness about the day’s politics and unleashes it through the novel. I remember discovering that the novel I’d had for years but never looked at contained two more parts than were filmed for the movie by my grandfather. How excited I felt to be able to learn more about the film’s characters, see them develop on and find some justice in the world. Clearly Goldsmith and director Carol Reed captured the mood of the entire book in the film even if they only used one-third of it.’

Friday, January 1, 2021

They be permitted to dance

‘They made us a present of great quantities of fish, and the first thing they entreat, all along this channel, is that they be permitted to dance; this we conceded so as not to displease them.’ This is from the diary kept by Gaspar de Portolá, a Spanish army soldier born 305 years ago today, during an expedition he led from Lower to Upper California.

Portolá was born on 1 January 1716 in Os de Balaguer, Spain, of Catalan nobility. He served as a soldier in the Spanish army in Italy and Portugal, being commissioned ensign in 1734, lieutenant in 1743, and captain in the mid-1760s. In 1767, the Spanish monarchy sent him to Lower (Baja) California to serve as governor with orders to expel the Jesuits from the territory. When the Jesuits opposed this persecution, he dealt severely with the rebels, hanging the leaders. He was commander-in-chief of an expedition to Upper (Alta) California, 1769-1770, for the acquisition of the ports of San Diego and Monterey. In 1776, he was appointed governor of Puebla (now part of Mexico), serving until 1784. He retired from active service and returned to Spain where he served as commander of the Numancia cavalry dragoon regiment. In 1786 he was appointed King’s Lieutenant for the strongholds and castles of Lleida, but died later that same year. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Spartacus Educational.

Portolá kept a diary during the 1769 expedition and this he published while still in California. Nearly 150 years later, it was translated into English (by Donald E. Smith and Frederick J. Teggart) and published as Diary of Gaspar de Portolá during the California Expedition of 1769-1770 (University of California, 1909, for the Academy of Pacific Coast History). The book is freely available online at Internet Archive.

21 June 1769
‘The 21st, we proceeded for four hours on a good road in sight of the ocean. We halted in a gully where there was much water and pasture. Here the expedition rested for one day. During this interim, some natives came [to the camp] and one of them made signs that he had come across other people ahead [of us], indicating that in twelve days we would reach the place where they had halted and were living in houses, and that there were [still] other people in that place. This served to cheer us as we thus understood from the chief that the ships were there. In this place we noticed that there were two islands; it is a large bay with the landmarks that Cabrera Bueno gives for the bay of Todos Santos.’

23 August 1769
‘The 23rd of August, we proceeded for four hours and a half, part of the way along the beach. We halted in a town of eighty houses and the number of natives that we saw was about four hundred. Much running water and pasture. They made us a present of great quantities of fish, and the first thing they entreat, all along this channel, is that they be permitted to dance; this we conceded so as not to displease them.’

4 September 1769
‘The 4th, we proceeded for four hours, the greater part of the road was good; the remainder, close to the seashore, was over great sand dunes. It was necessary to go around the many marshes and lagoons, which gave us much labor. [We halted at a place having] much water and pasture, where there came [to our camp the inhabitants of] a village of about forty natives without [counting] others who were in the neighborhood. Here we found ourselves at the foot of the Sierra de Santa Lucia. We observed that the villages have a small number of inhabitants, and that these do not live in regular houses as [do the Indians] on the channel, but they are more docile.’

20 September 1769
The 20th, we marched for four hours over mountains which, as I say, are very high. All the way, a path had to he opened; the most laborious part being to clear the many rough places full of brambles. The account of Cabrera Bueno has good reason for describing the Sierra de Santa Lucia as being so high, rugged, and massive. We inferred that we could not possibly find any greater range as this was twenty leagues long and sixteen wide. We halted in a gorge where there was little water and pasture; here about four hundred natives came [to our camp].’

29 December 1769
‘The 29th, we travelled for three hours by a route different from that we had taken on the outward journey. We halted in the plain which is named the Plan de los Berros. Here a most obsequious native came up and, being apprehensive among [us] all . . . a present of a fabric interwoven with beautiful feathers which in its arrangement looked like plush [covered with] countless little seeds.’

24 January 1770
‘The 24th, we proceeded for five hours, [and made the same distance as in] two marches on the previous journey. On this day we arrived at San Diego, giving thanks to God that, notwithstanding the great labors and privations we had undergone, not a single man had perished. Indeed we had accomplished our return march, through the great providence of God, without other human aid except that, when we were in dire need, we killed some mules for our necessary sustenance.

We found at San Diego that the three fathers were there with the entire guard of eight soldiers in leather jackets which had been left; but of the fourteen volunteers, who had remained, eight were dead. The San Carlos was anchored in the same place where we had left her; but, during all this time, neither the San Joseph nor El Principe, had arrived, although it was eight months since the former was to leave Guaymas and seven months since the latter had left this port. For this reason, and because of the lack of provisions, a council was held, and it was resolved that, in order to make it possible to hold this port longer, Don Fernando de Rivera, captain of the presidio [of Loreto], should set out with a strong force so that he might go to [Lower] California and also bring back the herd of cattle which was intended for this mission. The remainder of the expedition was to hold this important port, hoping that God might grant us the comfort of sighting some ship.’