Sunday, July 12, 2020

The ‘father’ of US naval ordnance

Rear-admiral John A. Dahlgren - sometimes dubbed the ‘father of American naval ordnance’ - died 150 years ago today. He joined the US Navy as young man and rose through the ranks to become a confidante of Abraham Lincoln and a key player in the Civil War. His extensive diaries are considered a rich primary source on the naval and ordnance aspects of the war and on Lincoln.

Dahlgren was born in 1809, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of the Swedish consul in the city. He joined the US Navy in 1826 as a midshipman, but in 1834 went to work on a survey of the US coast line. In 1839, he married Mary Bunker, and they had seven children before her death in 1855. By 1847, Dahlgren had become an ordnance officer, and, serving at the Washington Navy Yard, was intent on improving the procurement and supply system for weapons. There, he established the US Navy’s Ordnance Department; developed equipment (not least the Dahlgren gun); and authored various books, including The System of Boat Armaments in the United States Navy, Shells and Shell Guns, and Naval Percussion Locks and Primers. He also established the Navy’s first foundry to manufacture new equipment - its first product being the boat howitzer, designed for use aboard ship and in landings.

With the onset of the Civil War, Dahlgren was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, a key post for ordnance and for defence of the city. He worked in close contact with Lincoln and many of his cabinet. He was soon promoted to captain and, in 1863, to rear admiral in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He led a partially successful naval assault on Charleston, and later participated in the final occupation of that city; he commanded an expedition up the St. John’s River in Florida; and he cooperated with Sherman in the capture of Savannah.

After the war, Dahlgren spent some years as commander of the South Pacific Squadron. In 1865, he married his second wife, Sarah Madeleine Vinton, daughter of a Congressman, and they had three children. He, finally, returned to his old positions as Chief of Ordnance and Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. He died on 12 July 1870. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Syracuse University, Naval History and Heritage and Mr Lincoln’s White House. Also, freely available online, is The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren published by Naval History and Heritage Command in 2018 (pdf).

Dahlgren kept detailed diaries from his mid-20s until his death. These are held, along with a large archive of his papers, by Syracuse University Libraries. They are described as follows:

The writings of John A. Dahlgren himself, including thirteen volumes of his diaries and one journal, form the bulk of this section. Dahlgren’s diaries, which date from 1834 to 1870, were kept with great regularity and in extensive detail. The volumes from the Civil War years are especially notable as rich sources for information on the war generally, on its naval and ordnance aspects, and on Abraham Lincoln.

In the early years of the war, before his reassignment to the Atlantic Squadron took him away from Washington, Dahlgren was quite close to Lincoln. His diaries note numerous dinners at the White House, outings with Lincoln by carriage or boat, any many meetings and conferences. There are frequent entries recording Lincoln’s opinions of various generals, his interest in modern weaponry, his problems with his cabinet and Congress. Dahlgren also describes Lincoln at ease, taking breakfast in his drawers and telling stories, or cruising up the Potomac and test-firing one of the “Dahlgrens” himself. He often quotes or paraphrases Lincoln.

The diary pages contain mention of many other famous men of the Civil War, including Stanton, Chase, Wells, Sherman, McClellan, Ericsson and others whom Dahlgren knew. Even when he was not personally involved with an individual or an event, Dahlgren often wrote a well-informed account of opinion in these volumes. He wrote extensive discussions of strategy and new developments in weapons and ammunition, and occasionally he wrote about the political and social aspects of the war. In the years preceding and following the Civil War, Dahlgren’s diaries form a record of his naval assignments and ordnance work, as well as of his family and personal life.

Dahlgren's single journal, the daily record of a specific activity stems from his 1829 cruise on the U.S.S. Ontario to the Mediterranean.

Dahlgren’s diaries were used extensively by his widow in compiling Memoir of John A. Dahlgren, Rear-Admiral United States Navy (published by James R Osgood, 1882) - freely available to read online at the Hathi Trust. The book is divided into three parts - The Navy of the Past, Ordnance Record, and The Rebellion - and into 20 chapters. Three of these chapters have titles referring directly to Dahlgren’s ‘Private Journal’ but many of the other chapters are also no more than transcripts of the diaries. Here are several extracts.

3 Feb 1862
‘The public is disquieted with apprehension of British intervention. How stands the game? It is one year since five of the Cotton States seceded from us. The Northern States have an army of 600,000 men in the field. The Navy has been expanded so as to command the Southern seaboard. We hold a point on the coast of North Carolina, one in South Carolina, and one in Florida. In a word, we are just prepared to move, and only wait on the weather. The first weather that freezes the road hard, ought to be the signal. Will it be?

The opportunity for decision seems brief, from two causes, - one financial, the other political. A debt of not less than five hundred millions has been incurred for this preparation, without the first step to provide for it; so the public credit has been used to its full extent, and we are threatened with want of funds.

The other difficulty is from abroad. England cautiously but surely progresses towards intervention. . . Mason and Slidell are demanded by an ultimatum, and now we have threats of 
more direct interference, for which purpose she does not relax in preparation for war. . . It is now evident that the pivot of affairs lay in the period beginning at the time when the attack of Sumter was decided, and the abandonment of Norfolk. The loss of Norfolk was almost fatal; could that have been held, the fate of Virginia might have been otherwise.

The Department had one month to send there a suitable Commandant and officers, which was not done. So the latter deserted and the former was helpless.

How much has it cost, only to ward off the consequences of this mistake! . . .’

5 February 1862
‘The Presidential Reception came off this evening, as appointed. The President and Mrs. Lincoln received in the East Room. The only distinction between this soirée and the usual reception was, that the guests were selected by invitation and there was a supper. It so happened, I was the only Navy officer present. The officers of the Army, below the rank of General of Brigade, with one or two exceptions, were not there. 

All the Foreign Ministers were present.

About midnight the President led the way to the supper-room, which was said to be the most superb thing of the kind that had been seen in Washington. . . While the supper was going on, I fell in with General McClellan. He whispered to me that Fremont was in the room. This is the first occasion I have heard of Fremont’s appearance in such places. The General admired my sword very much; for, being in full uniform, I wore that presented by the Seventy-first. I observed the niece of Mrs. McClellan with General Stone. Four days afterwards General Stone was arrested for treason and sent to Fort Lafayette.

2 April 1862
‘I went down to Mt. Vernon with the President, some members of his family, and others. I advised the President not to land, and remained in the boat with him. General McClellan went down yesterday. Troops still going. Must be nearly 100,000 men at Old Point.’

5 April 1862
‘Great events are at the threshold. The army has begun to move from Fort Monroe, more than 100,000 men, with McClellan at the head, thus changing the first view, for McDowell was to operate here with some 50,000 men. Now he is left behind, and the Chief goes in command, converting the subordinate into the main movement. So it is Richmond, now or never.

Again the “Merrimac” is supposed to be refitted, and her movements will be watched with much solicitude.

In the West the principal armies are about to fight a battle which will decide the fate of Memphis and much else. . .’

24 February 1864
‘In came the “Harvest Moon,” a sea packet, new and just bought, side wheels, and very like the “Philadelphia,” save that she could go to sea. I will go North in her. . . I have news that our troops have been regularly trapped on the march inland from Jacksonville, and lost 1,200 men in battle, besides being beaten.’

25 February 1804
‘Moving from the “Philadelphia” to “Harvest Moon.” I sent for Rowan; Rowan came. He asked “If they blew up a monitor, what he should do?” I answer, “Do not let them, and take care of the rest.” “Well, but shall I go outside?” “ Follow your judgment, and inform me immediately.” We crossed the bar at eleven. . . Got to Port Royal after sunset.’

26 February 1804
‘I went to see General Gillmore. Had a long talk. He said he only landed 3,000 men on the day we entered upon Morris Island. The most he had at any time was 10,000, but then thirty-seven per cent were sick and not fit for service. One day, on collecting all his force, he had 6,300 out of the 10,000. He also thought that Johnson was complete at the landing, but the batteries between it and Seceshville, Simpkins, Hascall, and Cheves, were put up after the landing. Said he gave up the steamer “Mary’s,” as I had the law of him. Spoke of the defeat in Florida, 700 killed, &c, and several hundred slightly wounded. He said Seymour had gone beyond his instructions. Said he had dismissed one correspondent of ____ for lying, who in excuse said he had to do so, and now another had been guilty of slandering. . .  Showed me the drawings and model of Wagner and its approaches. Spoke of his idea of engineering across James Island. I told him I was called home for a few days by the Department. Said he would come to see me this evening. Gillmore is an engineer, but no general. About eight, Gillmore came off with Colonel Fuller, the new Quartermaster. He said I might repeat to the authorities what he said.’

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Arctic Sea adventure

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous around the world for his fictional creation Sherlock Holmes, died 90 years ago today. As a young man, still studying medicine, he sailed for six months in the Arctic seas on a whaling ship - and kept a detailed dairy. The experience would later enrich several of his stories, not least The Adventure of Black Peter in which Holmes solves a murder committed by harpoon. A full facsimile copy of the diary, complete with illustrations, has been published by The British Library.

Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh into a prosperous Irish family. His father was an artist and a chronic alcoholic, while his mother had a passion for books and storytelling. Aged nine, he was sent to a Catholic boarding school at Stonyhurst, Lancashire, where he remained for seven years. Later he would write about the place as being run on medieval principles, favouring the threat of corporal punishment and ritual humiliation over providing compassion and warmth. On leaving school, it seems, he added one of his given names - Conan - to his surname Doyle. 

In 1875, Conan Doyle was sent for a year to a Jesuit school in Austria partly to improve his German. From 1876, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but also botany at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. He started writing short stories during this period, his first  - The Mystery of Sasassa Valley - being published in 1879. The same year he also published a first academic article, Gelsemium as a Poison, in the British Medical Journal. In 1880, Conan Doyle sailed with the whaler SS Hope in the Arctic seas for six months, acting as ship’s surgeon. And, after graduating, he sailed to the West African coast with the SS Mayumba.

In the early 1880s, Conan Doyle tried to set up a medical practice with a colleague in Plymouth, but it failed, and then he launched another in Southsea on his own but this no more successful. He completed his Doctor of Medicine in 1885, and subsequently took up studying and practising ophthalmology - but again failed to attract clients. By then, though, he had published his first story feating Sherlock Holmes - A Study in Scarlet - and its success encouraged him to write further stories. In 1893, tired of his hero, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes, hoping to concentrate on more serious writing, but a public outcry led to Holmes’ resurrection. Conan Doyle wrote various other books: fiction such as The Lost World, and non-fiction such as The Great Boer War (justifying British involvement). He was a keen sportsmen taking part, at various times, in amateur football, cricket, boxing, golf and billiards. In 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins, and they had two children. She died young, and Holmes then married Jean Elizabeth Leckie with whom he had three further children.

Conan Doyle ran twice unsuccessfully for parliament. In-between attempts, he was knighted by King Edward VII in the 1902 Coronation Honours. He was a fervent advocate of justice, and personally investigated two cases which led to convicted men being released. It was partially as a result of one of these cases that the Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907. He was also involved in the campaign to reform the Congo Free State, and, unsuccessfully, tried to save Roger Casement from the death penalty (see Casement’s black reputation). In later life, after the death of his beloved mother, he became very interested in spiritualism, and was friends with the US magician Harry Houdini, believing he had supernatural powers. Conan Doyle died on 7 July 1930. Further information is available from the official Arthur Conan Doyle website, Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Baker Street fanzine.

For half a year or so, while on his voyage through the Arctic seas, Conan Doyle kept a daily diary. He retained it throughout his life, and it was eventually passed down through his heirs until, in 2004, it came up for sale (with sundry other items) at Christie’s in London. The journal, with neat handwriting and many illustrations, was described as consisting of more than 150 pages in two notebooks bound in marbled boards. Although the diary was not sold at the time, the Conan Doyle Estate has, since, allowed it to be published. In 2012, both the British Library in the UK and University of Chicago Press in the US brought out a full colour facsimile of the contents: Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, as edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower. The book also includes a complete and annotated transcript of the diary and several non-fiction and fiction pieces based on Conan Doyle’s experiences during the voyage (including a Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Black Peter; and a ghost story set in the Arctic, The Captain of the Polestar).

The publisher says: ‘With humour and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the ‘murderous harvest’ in the Arctic seas affords a rare and unflinching account of the latter days of the British whaling industry.’ And Lellenberg adds: ‘In this diary’s entries, we see the young medical student step outside the classroom into settings of high adventure and great peril, finding his way among hard men whose skill and daring he came to respect greatly, and at the end of the voyage encountering a direct link to the first tale about Sherlock Holmes that he would write six years later.’ Reviews with extracts can be found at NPR and The Best of Sherlock Holmes. Here are several of those extracts.

4 April 1880
‘I fell into the Arctic Ocean three times today, but luckily someone was always near to pull me out. The danger in falling in is that with a heavy swell on as there is now, you may be cut in two pretty well by two pieces of ice coming together and ripping you. I got several drags but was laid up in the evening as all my clothes were in the engine room drying. By the way as an instance of abstraction of mind after skinning a seal today I walked away with the two hind flippers in my hand, leaving my mittens on the ice. Some of our hands work very well, while others, mostly Shetlanders with many honourable exceptions, shirk their work detestably. It shows what a man is made of, this work, as we are often far from the ship away from the Captain’s eye with a couple of miles drag, and a man can skulk if he will. Colin the mate is a great power in the land, energetic & hard working. I heard him tell a man today he would club him if he didn’t work harder. I saw the beggars often walk pat a fine fat seal to kill a poor little “Toby” or newly pupped one in order to have less weight to drag. The Captain sits at the masthead all day, looking out with his glass, for where they lie thickest.’

12 April 1880
‘Buried poor old Andrew this morning. Union Jack was hoisted half mast high. He was tied up in canvas sack with a bag of old iron tied to his feet, and the Church of England burial service was read over him. Then the stretcher on which he was lying was tilted over and the old man went down feet foremost with hardly a splash. There was a bubble or two and a gurgle and that was the end of old Andrew. He knows the great secret now. I should think he would be flattened out of all semblance to humanity before he reached the bottom, or rather he would never reach the bottom but hang suspended half way down like Mahomet’s coffin, when the weight of the iron was neutralized. The Captain & I agree that on these occasions three cheers should be given as the coffin disappears, not in levity, but as a genial hearty fare-thee-well wherever you are.’

26 June 1880
‘Nothing had been seen all day and I had gone down to the cabin about 10 o’clock when I heard a sort of bustle on deck. Then I heard the Captain’s voice from the masthead “Lower away the two waist boats!” I rushed into the mates’ berth and gave the alarm, Colin was dressed but the second mate rushed on deck in his shirt with his trousers in his hand. When I got my head above the hatchway the very first thing I saw was the whale shooting its head out of the water and gamboling about at the other side of a large ‘sconce’piece of ice. It was a beautiful night, with hardly a ripple on the deep green water. In jumped the crews into their boats, and the officers of the watch looked that their guns were primed and ready, then they pushed off and the two long whale boats went crawling away on their wooden legs one to one side of the bit of ice, the other to the other. Carner had hardly got up to the ice when the whale came up again about forty yards in front of the boat, throwing almost its whole body out of the water, and making the foam fly. There was a chorus of “Now, Adam - Now’s your chance!” from the line of eager watchers on the vessel‘s side. But Adam Carner, a grizzled and weatherbeaten harpooner knows better. The whale’s small eye is turned towards him and the boat lies as motionless as the ice behind it. But now it has shifted, its tail is towards them - Pull, boys, pull! Out shoots the boat from the ice - will the fish dive before he can get up to it? That is the question in every mind. He is nearing it, and it still lies motionless - nearer yet and nearer. Now he is standing up to his gun and has dropped his oar - “Three strokes, boys”! he says as he turns his quid in his cheek, and then there is a bang and a foaming of waters and a shouting, and then up goes the little red flag in Carner’s boat and the whale line runs out merrily.’

4 August 1880
‘Was called up about 11 PM by the Captain to see a marvellous sight. Never hope to see anything like it again. The sea was simply alive with great hunchback whales, rather a rare variety, you could have thrown a biscuit onto 200 of them, and as far as you could see there was nothing but spoutings and great tails in the air. Some were blowing under the bowsprit, sending the water on to the forecastle, and exciting our newfoundland tremendously. They are 60-80 feet long, and have extraordinary heads with a hanging pouch like a toad’s from sheer underjaw. They yield about 3 tons of very inferior oil, and are hard to capture so that they are not worth pursuing. We lowered away a boat and fired an old loose harpoon into one which went away with a great splash. They differ from finner whales in having white underfins and tail. Some of them gave a peculiar whistle when they blew, which you could hear a couple of miles off.’

10 August 1880
‘Up at 8 AM to see the land bearing WSW on the Starboard bow. Half a gale blowing and the old Hope steaming away into a head sea like Billy. The green grass on shore looks very cool and refreshing to me after nearly 6 months never seeing it, but the houses look revolting. I hate the vulgar hum of men and would like to be back at the floes again.

Passed the skerry light, and came down to Lerwick but did not get into the harbour as we are in a hurry to catch the tide at Peterhead, so there goes all my letters, papers and everything else. A girl was seen at the lighthouse waving a handkerchief and all hands were called to look at her. The first woman we have seen for half a year.’

Postscript. In 2014, Christie’s did sell a manuscript journal kept by Conan Doyle. It was listed as ’Baby’s Book - 1909–1916’ with 48 pages, 32 of them blank, and sold for $7,500. Here is how Christie’s described its content: A loving journal of the birth and early growth of three of Conan Doyle’s five children, Denis Percy Stewart (17 March 1909 – 9 March 1955), Adrian Malcolm (19 November 1910 – 3 June 1970). And Jean Lena Annette (1912-1997). We see not just the doting parent, but the novelist's eye for the telling hints of character and the story-teller's pleasure in amusing anecdotes. Most of the journal is devoted to Denis: “Baby was born March 17th about 6 p.m.,” it begins. “St. Patrick’s Day 1909. He was christened Denis Stewart Percy Conan Doyle. April 17th... Began to crow a little – googa noises – when about one month old.... Aug. 3. In splendid form. Developed a very rouguish laugh. More alert.” Two years later Doyle notes that baby Denis “showed some curious characteristics.” When he’s “had enough of anyone or anything he always said Ta Ta. ‘Ta Ta, man!’ To the doctor…and so on.... He is a remarkable mimic, taking off the exact note & tone. He should have a very clear ear for music.” Another child now makes an appearance in the journal: “Little Adrian (3 months old) weighs 10 lbs 6 ounces which is just the same as Denis at the same age.” The interaction between Denis, Adrian and Doyle’s youngest, Jean Lena Annette (referred to only as Baby in the journal) make for some amusing entries: “His mother having reproached Denis by saying that Adrian & Baby took their medicine well, he said ‘Brave souls!’” Denis’s wit comes through in this “Story of Dennis [ca. 1916]. He pretended all day to be the German Emperor. On being told that I would be angry he said, ‘Who is he? A common Doyle!’” 

In an entry form about 1916, Doyle records that “Adrian asked if God was listening to his conversation. On being told that he was he said, ‘Well, it’s very rude of him.’ Baby who had quarreled with Adrian but who had to include him in [her] prayers said, ‘God bless horrid Adrian.’” Another theological query (from which child is unclear) closes the journal: “‘Would Christ play cricket.’ ‘Yes, if it would give pleasure.’ ‘I wonder if he could bowl Googlies.’”

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The ‘canali’ of Mars

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, the Italian astronomer, died one hundred and ten years ago today. He is particularly remembered for his observations and descriptions of the planet Mars, as well as for his studies of ancient astronomy. He kept diaries, mostly scientific, for some of his working life, often illustrating them, and, although not published, they have been used as a primary source for some astronomy history papers.

Schiaparelli was born in Savigliano, northern Italy, in 1835. He graduated in engineering from the University of Turin in 1854, and, with the help of influential friends, went on to study and research astronomy at Berlin Observatory under Johann Franz Encke, and at Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg. Returning to Italy in 1860, he was appointed second astronomer at the Brera Astronomical Observatory, in Milan, becoming its director in 1862, and remaining so for the best part of 40 years. He married Maria Comotti in 1865, and together they parented five children. His first discovery at Brera
, in 1861, was the asteroid Hesperia. This was followed in 1886 by the discovery of a connection between the orbits of comets and meteors (for which he was awarded he Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1872).

In 1875, with a new refractor telescope, Schiaparelli began measurements of double stars, and then, from 1877, during the Mars opposition that year (when Mars is closest to Earth), he launched a long and ultimately important series of observations of the planet over a 20 year period (benefiting from a new telescope and rebuilt dome in 1885). His work was published in several papers by Reale Accademia dei Lincei (of which he was a member) together amounting to the then most detailed monograph on the physical appearance of Mars. In 1893, he published his main work on the subject, La vita sul pianeta Marte (Life on Mars). Interestingly, when he first described (and illustrated - see photo of stamp) a dense network of linear structures that he had found on the surface of the planet, he called them ‘canali’ or channels, but the word was mis-translated in English as ‘canals’ - i.e. artificial constructions. The mistake led to a wave of popular theories about potential life on Mars which carried on through the first half of the 20th century.

Schiaparelli was also a senator of the Kingdom of Italy. After his retirement, he studied the astronomy of the ancient Hebrews and Babylonians and wrote L’astronomia nell’antico testamento, 1903 (Astronomy in the Old Testament). He died on 4 July 1910. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Osservatorio Astronimoco di Brera, Encyclopaedia Britannica, a biography in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association (available at Astrophysics Data System), or David Darling’s website.

There is not much information in English about Schiaparelli’s diaries online, other than a 2011 paper on The Diary of Schiaparelli in Berlin (26 October 1857-10 May 1859): a guide for future scientific activity by P. Tucci. This can be found online at the Journal of the Italian Astronomical Society. According to Tucci, ‘the diary is very important for the reconstruction of Schiaparelli’s training as an astronomer.’ He goes on: ‘The Diary is written in a nice calligraphy, especially the section on the lectures of the winter semester 1857-’58. The Diary contains a wealth of relevant information on the training of the young scientist and the emergence of the wide spectrum of interests. The first part is basically focused on a detailed account of the first semester of the academic year 1857-’58. Almost every lesson is told with great details and the writing is probably a transcript of notes taken during the lesson. Over the months, however, more space is gradually won over by the tale of personal stories and unfolding of episodes of common everyday life, all at the expense of the University lectures.’ Tucci’s paper focuses on astronomy rather than the ‘personal stories’.

Here is an extract from Tucci’s analysis of Schiaparelli’s diary: ‘With the beginning of 1858. Giovanni Virginio began to attend the Berlin Observatory, headed by Encke. It’s firstly quoted in Friday. January 8. when he claims: “I went to the Observatory to find Encke, and gave him the reduction of the observations made on last 8 September of which he was very happy”. After being in the library, Giovanni Virginio came back again to the Observatory, where he was able to observe “. . . quite well at the meridian passage of the Sun”; he also took the opportunity “. . . to see in a very clear way how the Sun is able to change the shape of the instruments.” Also Sunday, 17 Giovanni Virginio “. . . went to the Observatory, first to observe the Sun at noon, then in the evening, where in spite of fresh air I gathered a harvest of at least 24 passages. It’s strange that the Observatory was empty, and no one observed except me. Is this a work of slaves?” ’

Another 2011 paper on Schiaparelli and his legacy, by A. Manara and G. Trinchieri, includes several images (illustrations and texts) from the diaries - as shown here. The manuscript diaries are held in the archives at the Brera Observatory.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Desperately serious living

‘I am giving the girlhood which I remember, the dominant feelings, the most earnest efforts. As I look over the diaries of the time, the first one is for 1876, the records are trivial enough, hardly anything is shown of the desperately serious “living” which was going on.’ This is from the youthful diary of Charlotte Perkins Gilman - an American writer, lecturer on social reform and early feminist - who was born 160 years ago today. Her diaries were published in two volumes in the mid-1990s; in 2010 the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard University) made all the original diary manuscripts freely available online.

Gilman was born on 3 July 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut. She had one older brother, but her father (a relative of the influential Beecher family, including the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe) left when she was still an infant, and her childhood was spent in poverty, with little formal education. Later in her youth, however, she attended the Rhode Island School of Design (with financial help from her father). Subsequently she supported herself by designing trade cards, and through tutoring. In 1884 she married Charles W. Stetson, an artist, and they had one daughter. Family life, though, did not suit her. In 1888, she moved to Pasadena, and by 1894 she had divorced her husband. When he remarried, she sent their daughter to live with him.

Gilman began writing poems and short stories. One story in particular - The Yellow Wall-Paper published in The New England Magazine in 1892 - brought her much attention (and has remained highly popular, being the all-time best selling book of the Feminist Press). She moved to San Francisco, where she edited Impress with Helen Campbell (published by the Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association).

During the early 1890s, Gilman earned a reputation as a noted lecturer, on topics such as labour, ethics, and women’s place in society, and by the second half of the decade was spending much time on national lecture tours. In 1896, she was a delegate to the International Socialist and Labor Congress in London, where she met George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, and other leading socialists. Two years later, she published Women and Economics, a radical manifesto arguing for the economic independence of women - this brought her international renown. In 1900 she married a cousin, George Houghton Gilman, with whom she lived in New York City. Further books followed: Concerning Children (1900), The Home (1903), Human Work (1904) and The Man-Made World (1911) in which she attributed the ills of the world to the dominance of men.

From 1909 to 1916, Gilman published the monthly Forerunner, a magazine of feminist articles, views, and fiction. She co-founded, with Jane Addams, the Woman’s Peace Party in 1915. In 1922, she moved from New York to Houghton’s old homestead in Norwich, Connecticut. Following Houghton’s sudden death in 1934, she moved back to Pasadena, where her daughter lived. She was already suffering from cancer by then, and as an advocate of euthanasia, she committed suicide in August 1935. Further information can be found online at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Radcliffe Institute.

Gilman’s paper are held by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and all of them have been scanned and made available online as part of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Digital Collection. Under ‘Diaries’ for example, the collection lists 6501 items. They seem to come from about 70 manuscript volumes - although a few of the scanned calendar pages are empty. The first volume - dated 1883-1918 - is called ‘Thoughts and figgerings’; the last volume (72) dates to 1935. Transcriptions of the digital images are not available on the website, however, the University Press of Virginia published two volumes of The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman back in 1994 (as edited by Denise D. Knight); and a one-volume abridged edition came out in 1998. (Unfortunately, without my usual library sources available, I have been unable to access these volumes.)

Nevertheless, a few examples from Gilman’s diaries can be found in various biographical works. In her own work - The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (which can be previewed at Googlebooks or borrowed briefly from Internet Archive) - there are references to her diary sprinkled throughout. Here are three.

‘I am giving the girlhood which I remember, the dominant feelings, the most earnest efforts. As I look over the diaries of the time, the first one is for 1876, the records are trivial enough, hardly anything is shown of the desperately serious “living” which was going on. It was my definite aim that there should be nothing in my diary which might not be read by any one; I find in these faintly scribbled pages most superficial accounts of small current events, an unbaked girlishness of no special promise.

Very occasionally some indication of the inner difference appears, as once while seventeen: “Am going to try hard this winter to see if I cannot enjoy myself like other people.” This shows the growing stoicism which was partly forced on me by repeated deprivations, then consciously acquired. The local life in which we moved seemed to me petty in the extreme. The small routine of our housekeeping, the goings and comings of friends and relatives, and the rare opportunities for small entertainment, have left almost no impression.

What I do remember, indelibly, is the cumulative effort toward a stronger, nobler character. At the end of the eighteen-year-old diary is written: “Goodby old Year! It has been one of much progress and considerable improvement. My greatest fault now is inordinate egotism.” A persistent characteristic, this.’


‘All those early lectures are written. I have them yet, a goodly number of them, for the two or three years before I took to notes, and then embarked on the purely extemporaneous. Opening the larger and fuller diary of 1891 I find on Jan. 3rd, Sat. “Begin lecture on Nationalism and Religion,” 4th, “Write 24 double pages on Nationalism and Religion.” Deliver same in afternoon. Mrs. Carr there, Dr. Channing and Miss Knight. Very successful. Got $4.30 - Mrs. Carr put in a whole dollar! Awfully tired with the day’s work.”

On the twenty-first was another good one, of which I made entry: “It was a great success. Some of the women cried, and they actually clapped at times! Then an attempt at organizing, lots of enthusiasm and introductions without number. Also an engagement there for next Wednesday fortnight, and one in Rosedale to be arranged. Also $6.20 in cash! That is worth while. And money more fairly earned I never saw - free gift for well appreciated honest work. It does me good.” ’


‘I left Chicago by train, then by boat from Toronto down the St Lawrence, through the Thousand Islands and the rapids, to Montreal, and sailed July 10th, on S.S. Mongolian, Allen Line, for $50.00. Before leaving Chicago my diary remarks, “Feel calm and happy. Cash low however, down to $10.00 in envelope. $20.00 in purse. Never mind.” And I didn’t.

The steamer was a “whaleback” cattle-boat, one “class,” pleasant people enough. Our bovine passengers grew steadily more perceptible as days passed, until the dining-room port-holes had to be closed, to keep them out, as it were.

“Get to the foremost prow and the rearmost stern and am happy,” says the diary. There is no such chance to be alone with the sea on the big liner. “Sit about contentedly with books, papers and writing things.” “Icebergs! Yes, lots of them. Just like the pictures and descriptions.” “Pleasant morning alone in the stern. Pleasant afternoon making paper dolls for the chicks.” Whose “chicks” I have utterly forgotten, but children were always a comfort. “Crochet a cap, close fitting, as my beloved hat blows somewhat.” “Crochet cap for one Mr. Roberts. Three men have lost caps overboard.” ’


And here are several more references to her diary from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Progress Toward Utopia with Selected Writings by Carol Farley Kessler (also available to borrow from Internet Archive).

‘On the one hand, Gilman’s diary entries indicate a high-spirited individual who does not appear to be unduly burdened. Her energy and intelligence seem to have sustained her as a youngster, but the tendency to depression as an adult may well have had one source in these emotional deficits with her maternal relationship.’


‘Before long, pregnancy consumed her energy: after 13 October 1884, her journal is blank until New Year’s Day 1885, and that year’s diary is more blank than written. Her entries from 1 September 1884 through 4 October 1884 indicate that she was reading Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ Dr. Zay (1882), a novel about a heroine pursuing her medical mission to serve women and children: exactly at the point when Gilman became unable any longer to focus upon keeping her diary, she encountered a model both for her own later life and for later utopian characters she would create.’


‘Gilman’s 1878 diary entry for 17 May notes: “Pleasing epistle from father stating that he can’t send us any more money for some months. ‘This is too redikelous [sic].’ Verily I must toil and moil”. Her journal for 1879 contains a class card for the Rhode Island School of Design for 1878-1879: these financial arrangements clearly were honored but her diary entries attest to unreliable financial support over time from her father.’

Monday, June 29, 2020

The game of literary cryonics

‘It’s a private Journal. No one has ever seen a page of it. And the question remains - why do I write it? I suppose, subconsciously, anyone who keeps a diary or journal expects it to be seen or read by someone else some day, maybe even hoping that it will be read. I suppose, too, such daily records are kept as an effort to achieve mini immortality, extend one’s identity after one’s death. You may be gone, but with luck your Journal will be in the possession of others alive, or in a college and available to living persons, and in that way you continue to live, even for moments, hours, days again. It’s really the game of literary cryonics.’ This is the famous American author, Irving Wallace, who died 30 years ago today, trying to explain to himself why he keeps a journal. He kept diaries irregularly for much of his life, but only a few extracts have ever appeared in print.

Wallace was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1916 to Jewish parents both immigrants from Russia. He grew up in Wisconsin, where he was schooled locally. He is said to have sold his first magazine story when he was 15. On leaving school, aged 18, he traveled with friends to Mexico and parts of Latin America. He studied creative writing at the Williams Institute in Berkeley, and from the mid-30s he worked as a freelance correspondent, sometimes for national magazines. He won an assignment to travel to the Far East, returning with the idea that Japan would go to war. He married Sylvia Kahn, a magazine writer and editor, in 1941, and they later had two children. The following year, he enlisted in the Army Air Force, where he was placed in the First Motion Picture Unit.

After the war, Wallace returned to freelancing for periodicals, with various assignments in Europe, but he found himself increasingly in Hollywood, where he collaborated as a screenwriter on several films, such as The West Point Story and Split Second. By the second half of the 1950s, though, he was focusing on writing books. His big break came with The Chapman Report, a novel influenced by the recently published Kinsey Report. This was translated into a dozen or more languages and earned Wallace a quarter of a million dollars in a little over a year. Many other popular novels followed, such as The Prize (1962), The Word (1952) and The Fan Club (1974) several of which were made into films. One of his editors (at Simon & Schuster) has been quoted as saying Wallace invented a style of novel that is at once a strong story and encyclopedia, with ‘some sex thrown in to keep the reader’s pulse going’. Wallace, Kahn and their two children (both of whom became writers) variously collaborated to produce a series of popular non-fiction publications under the titles The Book of Lists and The People’s Almanac.

Wallace is considered to have been one of the best-read and best-selling 20th-century American authors (yet he doesn’t seem to rate an entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica). He received a number of honours during his lifetime, not least the Supreme Award of Merit and honorary fellowship from George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for writing The Man (1964). He died on 29 June 1990. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, Authors’ Calendar, New York Times.

Wallace kept journals and diaries irregularly through his life, and these have been documented, to some extent, by John Leverence in his Irving Wallace - A Writer’s Profile published in 1974 by The Popular Press. Some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks, and the full work can be digitally borrowed for one hour (!) from Internet Archive. Wallace first kept a journal on his youthful trip to Central America. On his return, he used this to write a first book, My Adventure Trail. However, it was never published, not then, nor later after he had refashioned it from a romantic tale to a more honest and realistic narrative. Leverence has some extracts from the diary

9 September 1934
‘Left Keno at 12:30. [. . .] Left folks at the state line. Both Ma and Pa cried terribly. Our car, Petasus, went well, except for part of the top tearing off.’

21 September 1934
‘Went over to Mexico at night. A new world! Foreign speech, attractive natives, odd food - God! how can I describe it. Went to a 10c a dance joint, ‘The Pullman,’ where we danced with professional harlots!’

26 September 1934
‘At 7 this morning we set out to climb 6,000 foot Saddle Mountain.

We hiked 10 miles to the mountain. There we started up a stoney trail, into brushes, into a million cactus plants, into slabs of stone. We climbed until 1:30 - and just at the summit I told the others to go on - I could never reach the top. (Neither did they.)

So alone, I started down, lost my way, bumped on a rock and passed out, lost my $23 camera. I thought I was going to die. The sun blinded me, the cactus cut, my fingers bled, my legs buckled - I couldn’t stand, kept falling - stumbling - rolling.

I got to a road, I don’t know how. Then I just lay down and slept. I was happy I wasn’t going to die.

I’m sick of mountain climbing.’

According to Leverence, Wallace kept some typed notes of interviews and observations during his Far East trip, but otherwise did not really resume the diary habit until his first trip to Europe with his wife, in 1946-1947: ‘but by the time they reached Spain he was too occupied writing magazine pieces to continue, and it was done by Sylvia. The European Journal was extremely helpful later in recollecting incidents and characters for The Prize and The Writing of One Novel.’

Wallace restarted his journal in late 1956 or early 1957. Leverence has this quote from Wallace’s diary: ‘Once, in Mexico in 1934, I kept a diary, and from time to time, since, I have made notes on events, meetings with well known personages, anecdotes, reflections. But now I have decided - at the somewhat advanced age of 42 years and 9 months - to keep an irregular Journal of doings and thinkings.’

Wallace, Leverence adds, did not write in this Journal every day, but used it as a summary Journal to record his relationship with his wife, the growing up of his children, his changing attitudes, his health, the books he was writing, and the people he had met. This is the final entry (on the day his mother was buried) dated 18 January 1970: ‘Services in chapel of Hillside Memorial Park. From 1 to 1:30. Then, to Court of Devotion, gathering around casket, where kaddish was read at 1:45. Then, after a while we all left.’

However, from December 1961, Wallace had been keeping a more detailed Journal spending several several hours each Friday writing about the week’s events. Over time, he began to write in the journal every day, and, according to Leverence, was still doing so at the time his (Leverence’s) book was published (i.e. 1974). There are twenty-six lines to each dated page, Leverence says, and Wallace never fills more than one page ‘To write more would be burdensome and discourage him from going on with it,’ Leverence says.

Finally, Leverence provides this informative quote from Wallace’s diary.

‘It’s a private Journal. No one has ever seen a page of it. And the question remains - why do I write it? I suppose, subconsciously, anyone who keeps a diary or journal expects it to be seen or read by someone else some day, maybe even hoping that it will be read. I suppose, too, such daily records are kept as an effort to achieve mini immortality, extend one’s identity after one’s death. You may be gone, but with luck your Journal will be in the possession of others alive, or in a college and available to living persons, and in that way you continue to live, even for moments, hours, days again. It’s really the game of literary cryonics.

But all that about motives is guesswork. What is not guesswork is the conscious reason I keep my Journal. The main reason is that I like it as a personal record to refer to years later when I’m writing about events past in fiction or nonfiction. As a reference, it is absolutely invaluable. Even in the most minor ways. When I was writing the chapter called ‘Intrigue Express’ in The Sunday Gentleman, I tried to recollect a certain encounter I had one night on the Orient Express somewhere between Venice and Paris. And lo, I found it in my Journal under an entry made on the train on August 24, 1964. The entry refreshed my memory and i was able to write the tag to my chapter: “Yes, Virginia, there is an Orient Express. You can ignore the obituaries and pallbearers. They are the lie. And one more thing, Virginia. Ignore the debunkers. Listen to me. I was up at three that last morning, in the aisle of the Orient Express as it sped through Switzerland and France - and you know what? There was a lady in distress. True, she was only on her way to the bathroom. But she was swathed in a long mink coat, a mink coat and nothing else, Virginia. When that happens on an airplane, I’ll turn in my Wagons-Lit ticket and fly. But not before. No, never.” ’

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lunch at Algonquin

Carl Van Vechten, the American writer and photographer, was born 140 years ago today. He is well remembered for his photographs of artists and celebrities, but also for being an enthusiastic patron of the so-called Harlem Renaissance. For nearly a decade he kept a daily record of his social (and often drunken) activities. After having been sealed by Van Vechten himself until 1980, this diary record was finally published in the early 2000s. It’s a good read only if you want to know who he was lunching with at the Algonquin or drunkenly stumbling with ‘from one cocktail party to another on an almost daily and nightly basis’!

Van Vechten was born on 17 June 1880 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His father was a banker, and his mother was a musician and arts benefactor. He was educated locally, and then, in 1899, decided to study various art and music topics at the University of Chicago, where he also contributed to the college newspaper. After graduating, he went to work as a columnist for the Chicago American, developing a gossipy semi-autobiographical style, and occasionally including photographs he’d taken. Eventually, he was fired for, what some described as, ‘lowering the tone of the Hearst papers’. In 1906, he moved to New York City, where he was appointed assistant music critic at The New York Times. The following year, he was granted leave to travel in Europe to research his interest in opera, and while in England married Anna Snyder from Cedar Rapids.

On his return to The New York Times in 1909 he became the first American critic of modern dance - at a time when Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were on stage - while at the same time developing an interest in avant garde art. Around 1913, he became friends with the American author Gertrude Stein, championing her work, and maintaining a lifelong correspondence with her. Indeed, she appointed Van Vechten her literary executor, and, after her death, he brought her unpublished works into print. 

Having divorced Snyder, Van Vechten married the actress Fania Marinoff in 1914 - the marriage lasted 50 years even though he took many male lovers. The couple were known for socialising with black friends and groups; Van Vechten was a pioneering advocate of African-American artists, and became very involved with what is known as the Harlem Renaissance. He gave up his newspaper job in order to write full time, soon publishing several collections of essays relating to music, ballet, and cats. His first novel - Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works - was published in 1922. The Tattooed Countess (1924) and Nigger Heaven (1926) also proved popular.

In the early 1930s, Van Vechten gave up writing, choosing to become a photographer instead, taking portraits of many of his friends and acquaintances. Among his subjects were fledgling artists and established cultural figures of the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Stein. During World War Two, he volunteered at the Stage Door Canteen (an entertainment venue on Broadway for servicemen). Saul Mauriber, one of the restaurant staff there, became his photographic assistant (eventually acting as photographic executor for Van Vechten’s estate). Van Vechten’s photographs were widely exhibited and frequently used as illustrations in books and magazines. During his lifetime, he presented various parts of his collection to several university libraries; and, after he died, Mauriber arranged with The Library of Congress for it to acquire some 1,400 photographs. Van Vechten died in 1964. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Library of Congress, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Daily Beast and The New Yorker.

Between 1922 and 1930, Van Vechten kept a daily diary of his activities. An edited version, heavily annotated by Bruce Kellner, was published in 2003 as The Splendid Drunken Twenties: Selections from the Daybooks, 1922-30 (University of Illinois Press). Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks. According to Kellner, Van Vechten left no explanation as to why he started or stopped keeping the diary, but he sealed it until the 100th anniversary of his birth - i.e. 17 June 1980. Kellner further says: ‘During the subsequent twenty-odd years, the small daybooks have proven of inestimable value to a number of writers on various subjects, although the entries are almost entirely free of literary or social observation and commentary. Instead, they record the daily comings and goings - as well as the drinking habits, feuds, and love affairs - of a wide number of significant figures of the period. Taken as a collective accretion over their nine years, they make clear that the twenties passed - for many people, including Van Vechten himself - in an alcoholic haze, cheerfully at first and then desperately, as the decade’s denizens stumbled from one cocktail party to another on an almost daily and nightly basis, until the long bender wound down to the sobering silence that gradually followed the stock market crash in October 1929. At the end of 1930, when Van Vechten stopped keeping his daybooks, the party was over.’

All of Van Vechten’s entries are very brief, matter of fact - usually containing lists of names of people he’s met during the day. More often than not he could be found meeting them at Algonquin, the famous Midtown Manhattan hotel that had opened in 1902. Kellner’s annotations are considerably more substantial than the entries themselves.

Here are several extracts (without the footnoted annotations) from The Splendid Drunken Twenties.

10 September 1922
‘Meade Minnegrode came in afternoon to see my Melvilles for his bibliography. Tom Beer came with him. Joe Hergesheimer turns up & has dinner with me at Leone’s (raided 2 nights ago, but we still have cocktails). Afterwards he came down to the house. Fania, who has been at lack [Marinoff]’s in the country all day, returns & Tom Beer and Ernest Boyd come in. They stay till one o’clock. I work all day on 4th chapter.’

22 October 1922
‘Lunch at Algonquin solo. Afternoon at Mrs. Atherton’s. She tells me that she visited Philadelphia at time of Walt Whitman’s funeral, “Everybody was drunk but Agnes Repplier.” Fania goes to Leo Lane’s for dinner & I dine at Avery [Hopwood]’s. John Floyd there. We visit The lungle, 11 Cornelia Street in the [Greenwich] Village, a tough gangster resort. Avery loses his overcoat. On way to police station to report loss we run into a murder.’

6 November 1922
‘Tea at 5 at Waldorf with Hugh Walpole [English writer] (No tea. We sit in his room and talk.) I give a lunch at the Russian Inn for Boyd & Ettie Stettheimer. Andrew Dasburg & Antonio de Sanchez join us. I give The Blind Bow-Boy to Alfred [Knopf]. Tom Beer at the Yale Club at 7, gives me a bottle of absinthe. Cocktail with Joe Hergesheimer at Algonquin. Dinner at Algonquin with Fania. . .’

27 November 1922
‘Still have bad cold. Sent “On Visiting Fashionable Places Out of Season” to Emily Clark for The Reviewer. Lunch at Algonquin with Marinoff & Claire Schermerhorn. Rita Romilly & Helen Westley came in after lunch. Dinner with Marinoff at Ceylonese Restaurant. We went to the premiere of Gertrude Saunders in Liza at 63 St. Theatre, a negro review. Wonderful!’ 

24 January 1923
‘Lunched at Algonquin with Ralph Van Vechten & Charles Brackett . . . Dinner at 7 with Gertrude Atherton at Madison Square Hotel. She told me the marvelous history of her father & mother, & of her husband George Atherton, who died on a man-o-war &, as a guest, was not buried at sea but was brought home in a keg of rum.’

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Across the Blue Mountains

‘Reached the summit of the Highest land we have yet been, ... and Encamped by a fine stream of water. Here we had a fine view of all our Settlements, our progress was here stoped by an impassable Clift from going either South or West.’ This is from a journal written by the pioneer William Lawson while he and two colleagues were crossing the Blue Mountains for the first time in Australian colonial history. This journal, and others he kept during explorations, are held by the State Library of New South Wales - some have been digitalised and are freely available online. He died 170 years ago today - by which time he had built up one of the country’s most successful cattle and sheep enterprises.

Lawson was born in 1774 at Finchley, Middlesex, England, the son of Scottish parents. He was educated in London and trained as a surveyor, but in 1799 he bought a commission in the New South Wales Corps for £300. After arriving in Sydney he was soon posted to the garrison at Norfolk Island, where he married Sarah Leadbeater, and they had two sons. He returned to Sydney in 1806, was promoted lieutenant and served for a time as commandant at Newcastle, a position he again occupied in 1809. A couple of years earlier he had bought a small property at Concord, and by 1810 had extended it to 370 acres. Subsequently, he was appointed aide-de-camp to Major George Johnston before accepting a commission as lieutenant in the New South Wales Veterans Company. He received a grant of 500 acres at Prospect, where he built a 40 room mansion called Veteran Hall.

In 1813, Lawson accompanied Gregory Blaxland and William Charles Wentworth in the first successful attempt to find a route across the Blue Mountains. From 1819 to 1824 he was commandant of the new settlement at Bathurst, where he also had gained a large grant of land, which he used for sheep. He also made several further journeys of exploration. After 1924, back in Prospect (having left his sons to manage the inland sheep farms), he became a successful breeder of horses. A stock return for the 1828 census revealed he had 10,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle, though biographical sources suggest he (and his sons) may have had as many as 84,000 sheep and 15,000 cattle. Later in life, he entered politics, becoming a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for County of Cumberland from 1843 to 1848. He died on 16 June 1850. Further information is available from the Australian Dictionary of National Biography, Wikipedia, and The Dictionary of Sydney.

During the first expedition to cross the Blue Mountains, all three of the explorers kept journals - see the State Library of New South Wales - but only Blaxford’s account was ever published, as Journal of a Tour of Discovery Across the Blue Mountains. The State Libary holds Lawson’s unpublished journals of three expeditions (digital copies are available online for the first and last): Journal of an expedition across the Blue Mountains, 11 May - 6 June 1813; journal of a tour into the country north of Bathurst, 8-24 November 1821; and Journal of an expedition from Bathurst to the Liverpool Plains, 9-24 January 1822.

Here are two of the longer extracts from Lawson’s Blue Mountains journal (a full transcript is available here).

22 May 1813
‘Reached the summit of the Highest land we have yet been, ... and Encamped by a fine stream of water. Here we had a fine view of all our Settlements, our progress was here stoped by an impassable Clift from going either South or West- Mr. Blaxland Wentworth and Self left our Camp with a determination to get down some parts of this broken land. But found it impracticable in some places 500 feet perpendicular here we saw the course of the Western River and that broken Country at Natai the back of the Cow pasters. No doubt this is the Remnant of some dreadful Earthquake -Prospect Hill bore E. Groce Head NE Hat Hill S.E. by S. the appearance of Hat Hill from this Situation has Two Heads-’

31 May 1813
‘At nine oclock proceeded S W 3 miles west 2 miles. We are now traveling in a fine grazing Country Crossed two fine streams of water One of them running from the west to other from the NE There is no doubt but these two Streams run into the Western River- Traveled on NW ¼ NNE ¼ SSW ½ Encamped on the side of a fine stream of water it running very fast here is a great Extent of fine Forest land and the best watered Country of any I have seen in the Colony went five miles to the westward- our shoes worn out and provisions nearly Expended Obliged us to Return home the same Course we came this Country will I have no doubt be a great acquisition to this Colony and no difficulty in making a good Road to it, and take it in a Political point of View if in case of our Invasion it will be a safe Retreat for the Inhabitance with their Familys and that for this part of the Country is so formed by Nature that a few men would be able to defend the passes against a large body- and I have every reason to think that the same Ridge of Mountains we traveled on will lead some distance into the Interior of the Country and also that a Communication can be Easily found from this to the Head of the Coal River where to my knowledge is a Large extent of fine grazing Country and it having water carriage from thence to Portjackson which will be a great consideration’

Monday, June 15, 2020

From bomber to writer

‘Another four years to say “less than thirty years old”. Will I be forgiven for being “old” without having yet published ten novels and four essays?’ This is from the diary of a young Jules Roy, friend of Albert Camus (both he and Camus were Algerian born) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Although he took up a military career, and flew bombers for the Allies in World War Two, he did, in fact, go on to become a prolific writer, putting into print many strident political opinions on France’s colonial activities, though he also wrote some novels and plays. In the last years of his life - he died ten years ago today - his publisher brought out three volumes of journals, none, alas, available in English.

Roy was born in Rovigo, Algeria (then a French colony), in 1907, of an adulterous relationship between Mathilde Roy, the wife of a policeman, and Henri Dematons, a school-teacher. Although, his mother later married Dematons, he kept the surname Roy. He was brought up on his maternal grandparents’ farm, and educated at Roman Catholic schools. Having considered a career in the priesthood (he remained religious throughout his life), he chose instead a military career, joining the French infantry and later its air force. He married Mirande Grimal and they had two children. In 1940, he answered Charles de Gaulle’s call to resist the Nazis and joined a flying squadron based in England, taking part in some 30 bombing missions over Germany. Soon after the war’s end he published La vallée heureuse in which he recalled, critically, his war experiences. The French authorities objected to the book, but, nevertheless, it won the Renaudot Prize. Two years later, he published another controversial volume, Le métier des armes. In 1953, he resigned from the army, at the rank of colonel, in protest at the government’s policies in Indochina.

Subsequently, in Paris, Roy made his living as a writer of political/social books, as well as novels, essays, plays, pamphlets, film and television scripts. He was a life long friend of both Albert Camus and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and an ongoing supporter of Algeria’s independence movement - few of his books have been translated into English, but The War in Algeria is one. He divorced Grimal, and, in 1965, married Tatiana Soukoroukoff. They moved to Vezelay in 1978, where he lived near the town’s Romanesque basilica of Sainte-Madeleine and became a mystical devotee of Mary Magdalene. His friend François Mitterrand raised him to the rank of Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1990. He died on 15 June 2000. A little further biographical information can be gleaned from Wikipedia, or obituaries in The Guardian and New York Times.

Roy’s last books were three volumes of journals published by Albin Michel in 1997-1998: Journal 1, Les années déchirement, 1925-1965; Journal 2, Les années cavalières, 1966-1985; Journal 3, Les années de braise, 1986-1996. All three can be previewed at Googlebooks, alas not in English. The following extracts, from the first volume, have been crudely translated using Googletranslate.

5 October 1932
‘Another four years to say “less than thirty years old”. Will I be forgiven for being “old” without having yet published ten novels and four essays? October. To tell the truth, is it not there that we must seek the key to my sadness with causes which are rather obscure and too frequent? I change my mood twenty times a day, like the sky. Fromentin makes Dominique say: “There is in the minds of some men I do not know what an elegiac mist always ready to spread in rain on their ideas. Too bad for those who were born in the mists of October!” ’

7 October 1932
‘Every evening, late, in the closed night, the planes hum and spin. Their position lights go away, like two shooting stars, red and green, and the lighthouse, then, moves away and gets lost. I am thinking of Vol de nuit de Saint-Éxupéry. I think of Captain André Faucilhon who said to me: “It’s very funny. We start straight on the bisector of the isosceles triangle formed on the ground by the lighthouses, and we go for it.”

Installation troubles. Boring. And the money goes, melts. I wonder if we will get there. And you should have central heating installed in this house without a fireplace. This winter, in harsh weather, we will freeze.’

11 October 1932
‘Versailles, the old city of dead voluptuousness. Golden silence on autumn mornings. Grass grows between the paving stones of the sidewalks. Rue Royale, a neighborhood in a small province, enough to make Huysmans roar, Place Saint-Louis, Rue de la Sainte-Famille, towards the bishopric and the seminary. A tram leaves with difficulty, the crowd on the left bank, the town hall with flower beds, the avenues of glory that lead to the castle. Purity of lines, quickly familiar designs, nobility of horizons! Perhaps these terrible Corinthian pediments ... But one of them does not hide the royal chapel, too worked for prayer, and the other the theater which Valéry would like it to be a French Bayreuth?

The coast, towards Satory, towards the still green woods where the hairy chestnuts will burst.’

15 October 1932 , note found.
‘B. said to me the other evening: “See your story. When you find a solid work there, you will find that it was done without any great principle being at its base. France? Philippe le Bel said to himself: ‘Excommunicated? I’m not going to the crusade? Good deal! Take advantage of the absence of our enemies, our rivals, our friends!’ What about Napoleon? Did little Corsica have all these extraordinary projects in mind? Ambition, yes.”

28 October 1932
‘Doyon will not yet have the Goncourt Prize which will go to the big novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit. Doyon has no bitterness. At least apparently. He tells me that the author of this book will even deserve the prize.’

8 November 1932
‘Best day. Tonight Jean Louis is getting better. In Paris this morning. True Paris sky, with its light mist, its pale sun, and the glory of the old black walls of palaces, idealized by the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle.

Doyon is full of praise for my short story, Retour du front, whose manuscript I had passed to him. He just says it’s a bit special and the story, in fact, is thin. Obviously. There is nothing - just a railroad adventure. Sent the news to the N.R.F.’

8 December 1932
‘Prix Goncourt to Mazeline, a work of the last hour. Céline had three votes when he had to win. I don’t care. Doyon doesn’t even have the voice of Rosny Jeune.’


The Polish writer, Leopold Tyrmand (see Cramming preserves into a jar
mentions Roy in his  Diary 1954 (Northwestern University Press, 2014).

19 March 1954
‘I’ve read Jules Roy’s book La Bataille dans les rizières. Roy, a former pilot, a friend of Saint-Exupéry, a right-wing liberal, was sent by Le Figaro to Indochina and Korea to see the wars going on there firsthand. He returned under the impression that the French expeditionary corps in Vietnam were heirs to the crusading knights, children of Godefroy de Bouillon. A beautiful message, but he doesn’t explain why the crusaders, even the French, fought like lions in the Holy Land, whereas their descendants seem most eager to wage war in the Saigon whorehouses. Roy perceives the communist threat and menace correctly, and even writes beautifully about Seoul bombed by the Chinese: “I was crushed by the impression that the Seoul nights would never end, that they foreshadow a great darkness that one evening will fall for good on the world, as if over a cemetery of all hopes ...” But he doesn’t say what the French want and are doing in this regard, how they are confronting, mobilizing, immunizing themselves against the plague, which, after all, is already eating them from the inside. Instead, he himself is already infected with the loathsome French chutzpah, which the French are still selling as spiritual mettle or dash, but behind which stands neither action nor wisdom. Roy writes about the Americans in Korea that they are unfeeling, naive, dull-witted. Yet somehow the Americans won their war, despite their dimness, while the winged superiority of French virtue collapsed utterly.’

Friday, June 12, 2020

Bill Naughton’s closed trunks

Today marks the one hundred and tenth anniversary of the birth of the playwright Bill Naughton, best known for writing Alfie, later turned into an archetypal 60s film with Michael Caine. He was one of the first post-war writers to bring to the page and stage an authenticity in describing working-class life in the north of England. Although he was a committed diarist and left behind five trunkfuls of diaries (now in the archive of the Bolton Library and Museum Service), they have remained closed to public scrutiny and - unfortunately - seem likely to remain so for another decade.

Naughton was born into a poor Irish Catholic family in County Mayo on 12 June 1910, but moved with his family to Bolton, England, in 1914. He attended a local school until the age of 14, and then worked as a weaver and coal-bagger. In 1930, he married Anne Wilcock, a cotton mill worker, with whom he had three children (one of whom died in infancy). During the war, in London, he was a conscientious objector and worked as a civil defence lorry-driver. Having long struggled to get into print, he had his first short story published in the London Evening News in 1943. Two years later, his semi-autobiographical A Roof Over Your Head was successful enough to give him confidence to write full-time. Throughout the 1950s, he produced a steady stream of short stories for magazines and published collections, such as Late Night on Watling Street (1959), and plays for BBC Radio.

In the 1960s, Naughton made a name for himself as a playwright - often developing his radio plays for the stage - with his trilogy about working class life in the the North of England: All in Good Time (1963), Alfie (1963) and Spring and Port Wine (1964). In 1968, he moved to the Isle of Man with his second wife, the Austrian Ernestine (Erna) Pirolt. There he continued to write plays and fiction, as well as an autobiographical trilogy of books: On the Pig’s Back (1987), Saintly Billy (1988) and Neither Use Nor Ornament (1995). Several of his plays were turned into successful films, not least Alfie (1966) with Michael Caine playing the lead part. He was a recipient of the Screenwriters award 1967 and 1968 and the Prix Italia for Radio Play 1974. He died in 1992.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says this: ‘[Naughton’s] overall contribution to the cultural ferment of the 1950s and 1960s has still to be properly assessed. Undoubtedly he was one of the first post-war writers to recreate, for the world, the authenticity of working-class life in the north of England. But his range was wider, as his London work, his contributions to popular television series (such as Nathaniel Titlark, Starr and Company, Yorky), his children's stories, and his more experimental, Pinteresque drama The Mystery show.’ Further (rather scant) information is available online from Wikipedia, Bolton Library and Museum Service, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Naughton was, from the age of 28, a committed diarist. However, none of his diary material has ever surfaced, not as published works or even as source material for biographies - there have been no biographies. (Naughton’s Voices from a Journal published by Lilliput Press in 2000 is described as ‘a writer’s journal, documenting friendships, encounters and observations during the ‘60s and ‘70s’, but it does not contain dated diary extracts and is more accurately described as a memoir.)

Naughton’s ‘huge collection of diaries’ is held by Bolton Library and Museum Services. On its website, it says he wrote the diaries ‘in secret’ and described the ‘labour’ of it as his ‘real work . . . which would one day show itself to be the key to all his other writing.’ It also notes that the diaries are closed to public inspection until 2015. However, Dave Burnham, on his fan site, says Naughton’s ‘hundreds of little black books, literally millions of words’ are closed until 2030.

Diary briefs

1939 Venice diary author sought - Fox13, mystery solved Fox 13

Spanish flu family diaries - NBC News

Pepys and the plague - The Conversation

Diary of early Israeli commander - Haaretz

The war diary of a Highland gunner - East Lothian Courier, Amazon

Diary of the Second Grinnell Expedition - From the Page

1918 pandemic diary found in Eureka - Times Standard

War diary of Staffordshire shopkeeper - Stoke-on-Trent Live

War diaries of George S. Patton - Library of Congress

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A frank and lively diarist

E. M. Forster, the important British writer, died 50 years ago today. He is famous for six novels - including Howard’s End and A Room with View - most of which were made into highly successful films. He also wrote short stories, essays, literary criticism and kept diaries from time to time. These latter were only published as recently as 2011, and the publisher claims they are of ‘immense value to scholars researching this key figure of English literature’.

Forster was born in London in 1879, the only child of a Welsh architect, who died before his son’s second birthday, and his Anglo-Irish wife. In 1883, he and his mother moved to Rooks Nest, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where they stayed for ten years. He studied at Tonbridge School in Kent, and King’s College, Cambridge (between 1897 and 1901). At Cambridge he became a member of a secrete society known as the Apostles; other members, like himself, went on to be part of the Bloomsbury Group. Forster was independently well-off, having inherited money from a relative, and was thus able to pursue the life of a writer. After leaving university, he travelled in continental Europe with his mother. They moved to Weybridge, Surrey, where he wrote all six of his novels.

In 1914, Forster visited Egypt, Germany and India. As a conscientious objector in the First World War, he served as a Chief Searcher (for missing servicemen) for the British Red Cross in Alexandria. He spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as private secretary to Tukojirao III, Maharajah of Dewas. On returning to London, he completed the last novel published in his lifetime - A Passage to India. From 1925 until his mother's death in 1945, they lived together in Abinger Hammer, Surrey, though throughout the 1930s, he also had a London base in Brunswick Square. Forster was a confirmed homosexual (he had a long-term relationship with Bob Buckingham, a married policeman), and was friends with many other homosexuals in the literary and artistic worlds,  J. R. Ackerley and Benjamin Britten, to name but two.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Forster became a regular contributor to the BBC and for newspapers and magazines. As a public figure, he opposed censorship, but advocated individual liberty and penal reform; he was associated with the Union of Ethical Societies. On the eve of the Second World War he published one of his most famous essays, Two cheers for democracy, later called What I believe. During the war, he was commissioned by George Orwell (at the India Section of the BBC) to broadcast weekly book reviews. He was elected an honorary fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, in January 1946, where he lived for much of the time. Though he refused a knighthood in 1949, he accepted a Companion of Honour in 1953, eight honorary degrees, and the Order of Merit on his 90th birthday. He died on 7 June 1970.

Encyclopaedia Britannica has this assessment: ‘Although the later Forster is an important figure in mid-20th-century culture, his emphasis on a kindly, uncommitted, and understated morality being congenial to many of his contemporaries, it is by his novels that he is more likely to be remembered, and these are best seen in the context of the preceding Romantic tradition. The novels sustain the cult of the heart’s affections that was central to that tradition, but they also share with the first Romantics a concern for the status of man in nature and for his imaginative life, a concern that remains important to an age that has turned against other aspects of Romanticism.’ Further information is also available from Wikipedia, The British Library, or from reviews of Wendy Moffat’s A New Life of E. M. Forster (as in The New York Times or Telegraph).

Forster was an uncommitted diarist, keeping many notebooks and journals sporadically throughout his life, but never consistently. It was only in 2011 that these diaries were edited, by Philip Gardner, and published for the first time - in three volumes as The Journals and Diaries of E.M. Forster (Routledge). The publisher (see Scribd) says:

‘This fascinating collection of diaries, travel journals and itineraries [. . .] will be of immense value to scholars researching this key figure of English literature. They will also be a useful resource to those interested in travel during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as the wider literary and social history of the period. A frank and lively diarist, Forster was not a dogged one, and his entries over the years are irregular and eclectic. Despite this, the archival material (held at King’s College, Cambridge), here newly transcribed, is substantial. Friendships with T E Lawrence, Benjamin Britten, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, John Maynard Keynes and Leonard and Virginia Woolf are all attested to. Meetings with other writers of the period including A E Housman and Henry James are also documented. Details on Forster’s sexuality, though often veiled, are nonetheless in evidence, particularly with regard to his long relationship with Bob Buckingham.’

See The London Review of Books for a thorough review by Alan Hollinghurst.

The three volumes contain the following texts.
Volume 1: General Introduction; Normandy Journal (1895); Journal (1898); Journal (1899); Journal (1900); Trip to Switzerland and Italy (1901); Journal; (1901); Mediterranean Journal (1903); Notebook Journal (1903-9)
Volume 2: The ‘Locked Diary’ (1909-67)
Volume 3: Stisted (1910); Belfast Journal (1912); ‘Incidents of War’ Memoir, Alexandria (1915-17); Journal (1925); Africa Journal (1929); French Itinerary (1931); America Journal (1947 and 1949); Journal (1950); Journal (1952); Travel Journal, France (1953); Travel Journal, Portugal (1953); Loose Diary Pages (1954 and 1955); Trip to France (1955); Hellenic Cruise (1956); Trip to Australia (1957); Journal (1958); ‘Trip to Italy’ Diary (possibly 1962); Journal (1964); ‘West Hackhurst: A surrey ramble’; Index

Given the lockdown situation, I have not been able to visit the British Library (nor any other libraries), and thus have had no access to the diary volumes. Moreover, I have not been able to find, freely, any extracts from Forster’s diaries online - except for the following few.

From the British Library
3 January 1900
‘Mother & I started together: and parted in wet, she to Douglas’, I to the New Gall: Flemish masters, Rubens, & O. English - a very scrappy collection which I nevertheless enjoyed. More pleased with Mabuse who shows more taste than I expected, and was excellent in portraits. Nice Van Eyck - confounded by visitors with Van Dyck. Had lunch in A.B.C. then went to the theatre. Good seat but nodding plume in front. Sat on my coat and scrunched it a bit. Liked Kiong of France, Arthur, Eleanor, but disappointed in Tree, Constance (who was indeed an understudy) and Hubert: they all ranted. The Bastard was no good. A most depressing play: what is W.S after after - unless ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ and incapacity for ideals. Perhaps patriotism is really the mote: John never sins against England, a Bastard, apparently so unpromising a realistic, delivers the concluding line.’

From Connecting with E. M. Forster: A Memoir by Tim Leggatt (a close friend of Forster’s in the last 15 years of his life).

21 April 1956, King’s Chapel
‘Back little more than a week from Greece I went into the chapel today while the light was fading and the organ playing Bach and felt I had stumbled back into a world which had taken the wrong turning after Christ, and had tried to explain human suffering by the doctrine of suffering, redemption, and atonement, and had identified heavenly happiness with rest. The Greeks did not solve our troubles as was sometimes dreamily hoped, their wars were horrible and endless, they were greedy and unkind. But they did not impose a false solution as Christianity has, and as Bach, burbling and buzzing through endless variations on a chorale, would confirm. The scene was magnificent - brownish light poured through the west window and converted the stone to sandstone, and picked over the niches and emphasised their different altitudes, and from the east a black tunnel advanced and swallowed the fan vaulting. I was in the greatest building of the fifteenth century.’

9 May 1956, Various deaths
‘During the last six or five months, Johnny Simpson has died, Agnes has died, Ivor Ramsay threw himself from the top of the chapel on mother’s birthday, Stephen Glanville (Provost here) died a fortnight back in a twinkling, Sydney Wilkinson has not recovered from her operation, Patrick (she told me yesterday) has injured his hip-socket and will be permanently lame, Kenneth Harrison’s father is going dotty so that K (my best friend in King’s) may have to leave Cambridge to look after him.

None of the above people I dislike, most of them I love, and the cumulative reaction on me is not sadness, but indifference to the young. It has come on me suddenly and might have anyhow. I have lost the quick warmth that used to accompany their approach or the expression of their opinions. I do not find this in Bob, whom I have mummified for my self preservation.’

4 August 1956, Brian Remnant
‘Remnant - will this funny name mean anything to me in two years time when I may next see him again, hardened and smartened by the RAF? I said a little when he went, very little, and that because I could not help it, too little for him to understand. His full-faced freshness, blue eyed, straight-staring courtesy: profile undistinguished. Myself - what a distinguished old man, and what I look like to him a glance at a looking glass must remind me. We were together from 4 to 6, and in incompatible ways happy.

Being a scholar, not a passing plough boy though he resembles one I may meet him again - coarsened, begirled, and lost, unless the feeling in me has struck a spark in him: unless his awe and excitement can be reborn as affection. If he was coming up in Oct. I should be in an odd state. He brought a cake from his mother to placate the oracle.’

From Scribd
6 August 1965
‘Certainly blinder than the overleaf entry, but this may be due to the ointment which dear Narliker squirts twice a day into my eyes. - Rested most of the day, as yesterday I was stumbly and couldn’t give order clearly in the kitchens. Where else could I grow old amid such kindness and competence? “Everyone likes me” which in literature, particularly in the drama, presages disaster. Complacency must be punished”. But life does not always follow literature, and ghouls nosing in my remains may be disappointed. - That I shall be soon swept away and forgotten is another matter and doesn’t count.’

18 August 1965
‘I should like to record - and why not here - that during nearly 70 years I have been interested in lustful thoughts, writing, and sometimes actions, and do not believe that they have done me or anyone else any harm,’

19 November 1965
‘and probably soon for me \death comes/, for the symptoms to day are tiresome, and I can write only a little legibly, am an not yet in bed at soon may be put there as I stumble so. I want to record that so far I feel no fears, pain, or remorse, only annoyance.

Faith should come to morow, Bob, May, sheraraile, Cotier, to morrow. Ben next week. The plan is to stay for the festival. - A Passage is being televised. - Every body have been very kind, including the nurses at Addenbrookes, and I don’t like leaving the err

Now to bed - can hardly leave, a nuisance.’