Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Route of Father Sarmiento

Martín Sarmiento, a much-admired Spanish scholar and monk, died all of 250 years ago today. He wrote on a wide variety of subjects, but he is mostly remembered for his book Viaje a Galicia, or Journey to Galicia, in which he recorded, diary-like, a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The route he took is now known as the Route of Father Sarmiento.

Pedro José García Balboa was born in 1695 and spent his childhood in Pontevedra, Galicia. Aged 15, he entered the Benedictine Monastery of San Martín in Madrid. There he became Father Martín Sarmiento and was mentored by Benito Feijóo, considered the most outstanding Spanish philosopher of the 18th century. There are few details of Sarmiento’s life readily available online, but Camino By The Way gives this brief assessment.

‘Father Sarmiento was an illustrious representative of the Enlightenment, the intellectual movement that promoted reason, individual liberty and religious tolerance. He fought superstition and ignorance throughout his life and encouraged the establishment of libraries in local towns. Father Sarmiento was an early champion of the necessity to understand, restore and preserve traditions and popular culture; as such, he made a strong contribution to the research and recovery of Galician culture. Improving his country’s economic status was also a major concern, which was typical of Enlightenment thinking at the time. [He] wrote on a wide range of disciplines including linguistics, theology, history, botany and medicine.’ Sarmiento died at the San Martin monastery on 7 December 1772. A little further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Sarmiento wrote several books during his lifetime, some even in the Galiican language. His most enduring legacy, however, is the diary he kept of a three-day pilgrimage he undertook in 1745, from Pontevedra, through the valley of Salnés to Santiago de Compostela. The 20 page manuscript formed the basis of a book edited by J. L. Pensado and published by the University of Salamanca in 1975 as Viaje a Galicia (Journey/Travels to Galicia). Much of this (in Spanish) can be previewed online at Googlebooks.

However, more recently the Salnés Union of Municipalities has published a comprehensive pictorial edition of The Route of Father Sarmiento to Santiago, across Salnés - in English and freely available online. The book contains a wealth of information about the route, as well as the architecture, culture, history, food etc, of the region. It also provides quotations from Sarmiento’s diary translated into English. Here are a couple of them.

‘On Monday 19 July I left Pontevedra for Santiago, travelling all across Salnés, Porto Santo, and Puntal point, Lourido, los Gallos point. Campelo, Río del Roboa, Río da Serpe. Combarro. Río de Cela. Chancelas and sand bank and Costoiras point. Samieira. Río de Ama. Arén. Ragió - Armenteira Priory. Bois de Raxó, Island of Tambo; from the sea peeks a tiny bud of an island, called Tenlo, facing Marín.’

‘I arrived on Thursday 22nd at Santiago, keen to beat the Jubilee. I did my diligences on the same Saint’s day and on the Saturday I went to the bulls or xovencos [young bull in Galician] in the morning and in the afternoon, to the college of San Xerónimo. I slept in the same college to see the fires by night, and they lasted nearly two hours. The multitude of people, particularly the Portuguese, was such that they didn’t pay us elders any attention. I heard the Penitentiary Father Goyri tell that on the day of the Apostle there were more than 30,000 people congregated in the cathedral, and many others gathered in other churches, and on the day of Pentecost, there were 22,000 people.

On the Saint’s day I made the offering to the judge of the court Saura de A Coruña. I registered at the archives of San Martiño where I am staying due to the kindness of Master Friar Pedro Mera, a Bishop and my co-disciple in matters of language. There are many precious Gothic instruments, and more than one hundred of them are judged useless.

I registered at the archives of the monks at San Pelaio or San Paio and I went inside two times. Most of the parchments, and there are many, are in the Galician tongue.’

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A dead chicken in my chest

‘Suddenly, in the midst of all the people who crowded around me or spoke to me, I felt as if there were a dead chicken in my chest.’ This is Peter Handke - avant-garde writer and film-maker born 80 years ago today - writing in a diary he kept in 1976 during the early years of his literary fame in Austria. In recent years, he has courted much controversy by defending Slobodan Milošević, nevertheless, very recently, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Peter was born on 6 December 1942 in Griffen, then in the German Reich province Gau Carinthia, now in Austria. His Slovenian mother married Bruno Handke, a tram conductor (not Peter’s father), with whom she lived in the Soviet-occupied Pankow district of Berlin in 1944, and where she had two more children. In 1948, they moved back to Griffen. Peter was sent to a Catholic boarding school at Tanzenberg Castle. After high school in Klagenfurt, he began to study law at the University of Graz in 1961. There he teamed up with the Grazer Gruppe, an association of young writers, which published their own works in an avant-garde literary magazine -  manuskripte. He abandoned his studies in 1965 after the German publisher Suhrkamp Verlag accepted his novel Die Hornissen (The Hornets).

Handke came to public notice as an anti-conventional playwright with Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience) in 1966; several more plays - lacking conventional plot, dialogue, and characters - followed. In 1970, he published what would become his best known novel, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). After leaving Graz, Handke lived in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Kronberg, Paris, the US (1978 to 1979) and Salzburg (1979 to 1988). Since 1990, he has lived in Chaville near Paris.

Handke collaborated with director Wim Wenders on several films, including writing the script for Wings of Desire, and he has also directed films, including adaptations from his novels. In 1978, The Left-Handed Woman was nominated for the Golden Palm Award at the Cannes Film Festival and it won the Gold Award for German Arthouse Cinema in 1980. From around 2006, Handke’s literary renown has been overshadowed by his public support for Slobodan Milošević, the former president of Yugoslavia accused of war crimes who died that year in a prison cell. 

The controversy surrounding Handke was rekindled in 2019 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literatur - even though four years earlier he had called for the prize to be abolished. The Swedish Academy chose it for being ‘an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience’. Further information on Handke can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New Yorker, or in the Nobel Prize’s biobibliography.

In 1984, Secker & Warburg published Handke’s The Weight of the World (as translated by Ralph Manheim). This is described as: ‘A combination of professional notebook and personal diary that records - both in short, informal jottings and through more formal, extended meditations - the details of Handke’s daily life in Paris from November 1975 through March 1977.’ The book offers ‘a complete offering of Handke’s moods and insights, ranging from the outrageous, sarcastic, and bitter to the humorous and gentle’. But, it continues, ‘it is not, in the end, a retreat into himself, but a gesture of friendliness towards the world’.

Here is more from the publisher’s blurb: ‘Along with references to such mentors as Truffaut, John Cowper Powys, Robert DeNiro and Goethe, the journal recounts Handke's passing impressions of strangers; the deep and delicate nature of his relationship with his daughter; and a brief hospital stay which stirs his ever-present fear of death. Aspiring to a condition of “strained attentiveness”, Handke cultivates privacy and solitude, and deplores the all-too-frequent intrusion of the media (“Down with the news!”). His goal is to have a kind of creative “worksheet”, a vehicle through which he can preserve and explore sources of aesthetic inspiration, and also to have a place where he can “practice reacting with language to everything that happens”, a means of discovering a “universal moment of language”.

The Weight of the World can freely borrowed to read online at Internet Archive. Here are several extracts.

1 March 1976
‘Suddenly, in the midst of all the people who crowded around me or spoke to me, I felt as if there were a dead chicken in my chest

This evening I got back from Austria and Germany. Suddenly, at the dark Porte de la Muette on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, it seemed to me that my life - a kind of second, secret biography - was simultaneously continuing back home in southern Carinthia, continuing very concretely before the eyes of the villagers, and that my body at that moment was painfully, yet almost consolingly stretched over the length and breadth of Europe, that I became a standard of measurement and lost myself’

12 March 1976
‘Waking from sheltered sleep: like being tripped up while taking a quiet stroll

Waking with the thought that I’ve strangled the child; not daring to reach out and touch her; at last a sigh beside me

Ruins of memory: I try to remember the details of places, houses, faces, and all I see is ruins

Powdered sugar on my shoes from eating doughnuts (Austria)

The sensation of moving about like a sleeper who wants to look at the clock and in his dreams does indeed keep looking at the clock (because he has to get up soon), but never actually does look at the clock

If I could only look calmly at someone who hates me

A beggar holds out his hand in front of me and I shake my head angrily because he has put me into such a situation (other people just turn away in indifference)

People who have what’s needed for every emergency: umbrella, aspirin, etc.

A girl who for once does not ooze tears in that well-behaved way but lets the corners of her mouth droop and bawls out loud

The salesgirl in an empty shop that stays open at lunch hour is dreamily munching a sandwich (I wrote this outside the open shop door, which someone closed at that very moment)

The teacher who had just taken the children to the farm show (bus ride, street crossings) told me she was always in a bad humor on days when she was going to have to take the children out; at the beginning of the school year, she said, she refused to take them anywhere until she knew all about each one of them, their way of walking, etc.

The sheep at the farm show breathed mechanically, like pumps: it’s their sense of doom that turns them into machines 

“What would you like to accomplish by writing?” - “To make people laugh and cry” (I imagine being able to say such things in all seriousness)

Years ago, someone said the nice thing about me was that I had no habits. And now?

People are always claiming to be a mixture of “good and bad”; as for me, I am either all good or all bad

Nice, seeing my child with other children, as if she belonged with them

That day a pale, solemn, unknown child came in out of the rain with other children, and I didn’t recognize her as my own: horror, and at the same time marvel’

14 October 1976
‘Fantasy: an express train thundering through the suburban station; someone running ahead of it but refusing to scream

On the street today, the feeling that many people knew “who I am” but passed by without a thought of betraying me; some even tried to reassure me with a quick glance

The leaves racing over the ground; impression of a cavalcade, especially when I climb steps to reach the park where the leaves are blowing; there’s one place where the leaves disperse in all directions, leaving a clean empty circle in the middle of the park

How much more domesticated I am, after all, when I’m talking to someone than when I’m roaming around alone! (Fantasy: unaware that I’m watching them, some people, including my calm friends, made almost unrecognizable by their adventurous loneliness, race through the cities of the world with wild, glaring eyes)

Toward midnight, objects, seen out of the corners of my eyes, are starting to crawl again’

Monday, December 5, 2022

Slavery in Brazil

’Last evening, when the rain was over and the moonlight tempted every one on deck, we had a long conversation with our pleasant travelling companion, Mr. Sinimbu, senator from the province of Alagôas, on the aspect of slavery in Brazil. It seems to me that we may have something to learn here in our own perplexities respecting the position of the black race among us, for the Brazilians are trying gradually and by instalments some of the experiments which are forced upon us without previous preparation.’ This is from an excellent diary kept by Elizabeth Agassiz - born 200 years ago today - while travelling in Brazil with her naturalist husband Louis.

Elizabeth Cabot Cary was born on 5 December 1822 into a large Boston Brahmin family that originally came to Massachusetts during the 17th century. As a consequence of her fragile health, she was tutored at home. In 1850 she married the recently-widowed Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz (not to be confused with the later Louis Agassiz Fuertes who was named after him - see Puffins, pipits and plovers), becoming stepmother to his three children (though she had none of her own). From 1855 to 1863, she ran a school for girls in their Cambridge home. In addition to providing a needed supplement to the family income, this proved to be a pioneering effort in women’s education. She also became an indispensable assistant for her husband. Her notes on his lectures, for example, were the raw material of much of his published work, and she helped manage several of his expeditions, notably an expedition to Brazil financed by the Boston banker Nathaniel Thayer in 1865-1866 and the Hassler Expedition through the Strait of Magellan in 1871-1872. 

Together with her husband, Elizabeth founded the coeducational Anderson School of Natural History, a marine laboratory on Penikese Island in Buzzard’s Bay. For some years after Louis’s death in 1873, she devoted herself to the care of her grandchildren and to the writing of a memoir of her husband. In 1879 she helped open the Harvard Annex in Cambridge and was named president when it was incorporated as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. In 1894 the college was named Radcliffe and formally linked to Harvard University. She remained president until 1899, when she relinquished her formal duties. She died in 1907. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography.

Elizabeth Agassiz wrote and published a couple of books on natural history, but also Journey in Brazil (Ticknor and Fields, 1868). This latter was a diary kept by her mostly but also by her husband during their travels in Brazil. Indeed, Louis introduces the work as follows: ‘One word as to the manner in which this volume has grown into its present shape, for it has been rather the natural growth of circumstances than the result of any preconceived design. Partly for the entertainment of her friends, partly with the idea that I might make some use of it in knitting together the scientific reports of my journey by a thread of narrative, Mrs. Agassiz began this diary. I soon fell into the habit of giving her daily the more general results of my scientific observations, knowing that she would allow nothing to be lost which was worth preserving. In consequence of this mode of working, our separate contributions have become so closely interwoven that we should hardly know how to disconnect them, and our common journal is therefore published, with the exception of a few unimportant changes, almost as it was originally written.’ 

The full work - which is very readable and gives insight into early Brazil - can be read freely online at Project Gutenberg. Here are several extracts.

6 May 1865
‘Yesterday, at the invitation of our friend Mr. B——, we ascended the famous Corcovado peak. Leaving the carriages at the terminus of the Larangeiras road, we made the farther ascent on horseback by a winding narrow path, which, though a very fair road for mountain travelling in ordinary weather, had been made exceedingly slippery by the late rains. The ride was lovely through the fragrant forest, with enchanting glimpses of view here and there, giving promise of what was before us. Occasionally a brook or a little cascade made pleasant music by the roadside, and when we stopped to rest our horses we heard the wind rustle softly in the stiff palms overhead. The beauty of vegetation is enhanced here by the singular character of the soil. The color of the earth is peculiar all about Rio; of a rich warm red, it seems to glow beneath the mass of vines and large-leaved plants above it, and every now and then crops out in vivid, striking contrast to the surrounding verdure. Frequently our path followed the base of such a bank, its deep ochre and vermilion tints looking all the softer for their framework of green. Among the larger growth, the Candelabra-tree (Cecropia) was conspicuous. The strangely regular structure of the branches and its silvery-tinted foliage make it stand out in bold relief from the darker background. It is a striking feature of the forest in this neighborhood.

A wide panoramic prospect always eludes description, but certainly few can combine such rare elements of beauty as the one from the summit of the Corcovado. The immense landlocked harbor, with its gateway open to the sea, the broad ocean beyond, the many islands, the circle of mountains with soft fleecy clouds floating about the nearer peaks, all these features make a wonderful picture. One great charm of this landscape consists in the fact, that, though very extensive, it is not so distant as to deprive objects of their individuality. After all, a very distant view is something like an inventory: so many dark, green patches, forests; so many lighter green patches, fields; so many white spots, lakes; so many silver threads, rivers, &c. But here special effects are not lost in the grandeur of the whole. On the extreme peak of the height a wall has been built around the edge, the descent on one side being so vertical that a false step might hurl one to instant destruction. At this wall we dismounted and lingered long, unwilling to leave the beautiful view before sunset. We were, however, anxious to return by daylight, and, to confess the truth, being a timorous and inexperienced rider at best, I was not without some anxiety as to the descent, for the latter part of the slippery road had been a sheer scramble. Putting a bold face on the matter, however, I resumed my seat, trying to look as if it were my habit to mount horses on the tops of high mountains and slide down to the bottom. This is really no inaccurate description of our descent for the first ten minutes, after which we regained the more level path at the little station called “the Païneiras.” We are told to-day that parties usually leave their horses at this station and ascend the rest of the way on foot, the road beyond that being so steep that it is considered unsafe for riding. However, we reached the plain without accident, and I look back upon yesterday’s ride with some complacency as a first lesson in mountain travelling.’

15 July 1865
‘A long botanizing excursion to-day among the Tijuca hills with Mr. Glaziou, director of the Passeio Publico, as guide. It has been a piece of the good fortune attending Mr. Agassiz thus far on this expedition to find in Mr. Glaziou a botanist whose practical familiarity with tropical plants is as thorough as his theoretical knowledge. He has undertaken to enrich our scientific stores with a large collection of such palms and other trees as illustrate the relation between the present tropical vegetation and the ancient geological forests. Such a collection will be invaluable as a basis for palæontological studies at the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy in Cambridge.’

30 July 1865
‘Off Maceió. Last evening, when the rain was over and the moonlight tempted every one on deck, we had a long conversation with our pleasant travelling companion, Mr. Sinimbu, senator from the province of Alagôas, on the aspect of slavery in Brazil. It seems to me that we may have something to learn here in our own perplexities respecting the position of the black race among us, for the Brazilians are trying gradually and by installments some of the experiments which are forced upon us without previous preparation. The absence of all restraint upon the free blacks, the fact that they are eligible to office, and that all professional careers are open to them, without prejudice on the ground of color, enables one to form some opinion as to their ability and capacity for development. Mr. Sinimbu tells us that here the result is on the whole in their favor; he says that the free blacks compare well in intelligence and activity with the Brazilians and Portuguese. But it must be remembered, in making the comparison with reference to our own country, that here they are brought into contact with a less energetic and powerful race than the Anglo-Saxon. Mr. Sinimbu believes that emancipation is to be accomplished in Brazil by a gradual process which has already begun. A large number of slaves are freed every year by the wills of their masters; a still larger number buy their own freedom annually; and as there is no longer any importation of blacks, the inevitable result of this must be the natural death of slavery. Unhappily, the process is a slow one, and in the mean while slavery is doing its evil work, debasing and enfeebling alike whites and blacks. The Brazilians themselves do not deny this, and one constantly hears them lament the necessity of sending their children away to be educated, on account of the injurious association with the house-servants. In fact, although politically slavery has a more hopeful aspect here than elsewhere, the institution from a moral point of view has some of its most revolting characters in this country, and looks, if possible, more odious than it did in the States. The other day, in the neighborhood of Rio, I had an opportunity of seeing a marriage between two negroes, whose owner made the religious, or, as it appeared to me on this occasion, irreligious ceremony, obligatory. The bride, who was as black as jet, was dressed in white muslin, with a veil of coarse white lace, such as the negro women make themselves, and the husband was in a white linen suit. She looked, and I think she really felt, diffident, for there were a good many strangers present, and her position was embarrassing. The Portuguese priest, a bold, insolent-looking man, called them up and rattled over the marriage service with most irreverent speed, stopping now and then to scold them both, but especially the woman, because she did not speak loud enough and did not take the whole thing in the same coarse, rough way that he did. When he ordered them to come up and kneel at the altar, his tone was more suggestive of cursing than praying, and having uttered his blessing he hurled an amen at them, slammed the prayer-book down on the altar, whiffed out the candles, and turned the bride and bridegroom out of the chapel with as little ceremony as one would have kicked out a dog. As the bride came out, half crying, half smiling, her mother met her and showered her with rose-leaves, and so this act of consecration, in which the mother’s benediction seemed the only grace, was over. I thought what a strange confusion there must be in these poor creature’s minds, if they thought about it at all. They are told that the relation between man and wife is a sin, unless confirmed by the sacred rite of marriage; they come to hear a bad man gabble over them words which they cannot understand, mingled with taunts and abuse which they understand only too well, and side by side with their own children grow up the little fair-skinned slaves to tell them practically that the white man does not keep himself the law he imposes on them. What a monstrous lie the whole system must seem to them if they are ever led to think about it at all. I am far from supposing that the instance I have given should be taken as representing the state of religious instruction on plantations generally. No doubt there are good priests who improve and instruct their black parishioners; but it does not follow because religious services are provided on a plantation, the ceremony of marriage observed, &c., that there is anything which deserves the name of religious instruction. It would be unjust not to add the better side of the question in this particular instance. The man was free, and I was told that the woman received her liberty and a piece of land from her master as her marriage dower.’

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Duchess, diaries, divorce

The Duchess of Argyll, a British socialite born 110 years ago today, troubles the history books little other than for the way her upper class promiscuity was given such public exposure. As a young woman, she was known for glamour and style. Not yet 30, though, she was divorced once, and married for a second time, to a duke, the Duke of Argyll. This relationship was much troubled. It lasted little more than a decade, and ended up in the courts, scandalous fodder for the tabloid and magazine press. Centre stage in the divorce proceedings were photographs and the Duchess’s diaries (stolen by her husband to provide evidence of her infidelity).

Ethel Margaret Whigham was born in Newton Mearns, Scotland, on 1 December 1912, the only child of George Hay Whigham, a self-made millionaire. However, she spent the first 14 years of her life in New York City, where she was educated privately. She had youthful romances with Prince Aly Khan, millionaire aviator Glen Kidston and publishing heir Max Aitken, and later the second Lord Beaverbrook. During a holiday on the Isle of White, when 15, she had a fling with the future actor David Niven, and fell pregnant. She was taken to a London nursing home for a secret abortion. 

In 1930, Margaret was presented at Court in London. Soon afterwards, her engagement to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick, was announced. Nevertheless, it was a wealthy American businessman, Charles Francis Sweeny, that she married (after having converted to Roman Catholicism). For the wedding, she famously wore a Norman Hartnell wedding dress which attracted much publicity, and set her on course for a life of glamour and media attention. Interspersed with many miscarriages, she had three children with Sweeny (one of whom was stillborn). In 1943, she had a near-fatal fall down a lift shaft.

Margaret was divorced from Sweeny in 1947. She was then briefly engaged to a Texas-born banker, Joseph Thomas of Lehman Brothers, and she had a longer term relationship with Theodore Rousseau, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1951, she became the third wife of Ian Douglas Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, but it was not be a happy union. He used her money (as he’d done with previous wives) to maintain the family seat, at Inveraray Castle; while she forged letters to throw doubt on Argyll’s paternity of his sons. Apart from various addictions, the Duke was also violent. 

The relationship turned extremely messy, and in 1963 Argyll filed for divorce, accusing his wife of infidelity. It was a huge scandal, attracting widespread media coverage. Granting the divorce, the judge stated that there was evidence to show the Duchess ‘was a completely promiscuous woman whose sexual appetite could only be satisfied with a number of men’ - her husband believed there had been 88 of them! In 1975, she published a memoir - Forget Not - but it was poorly received; by 1978, she was so short of money she opened her house for paid tours. She then moved to a hotel suite, from where, in 1990, she was evicted for failing to pay her bills. Her children placed her in a nursing home, where she died, in 1993. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Vanity Fair, Tatler.

In 1994, Pan Books published Charles Castle’s The Duchess Who Dared - The Life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. This was reprinted by Swift Press in 2021 (to coincide with the TV series A Very British Scandal). It provides some detail on diaries kept by the Duchess which were a key factor in the divorce case. Lyndsy Spence’s biography The Grit in the Pearl: The Scandalous Life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, published in 2019 by The History Press, also examines minutely the role of the diaries in the divorce case.

Here is Spence taking up the story: ‘It was in Sydney that the saga of their marriage reached its penultimate conclusion when Ian, looking for a comb on Margaret’s dressing table, noticed her red leather engagement diary for 1956-59. He glanced at it, and among the notes of her travel arrangements and cheques he saw the names of half a dozen men, all of whom Margaret was meeting. It might have appeared harmless, for her duties as a duchess saw her meet with chairmen and other male officials, but the unusual format of her diary gave Ian reasons to think otherwise. She was fastidious about recording her daily life, and each page was divided into four sections, giving the same days of the month for four years, allowing her to compare what she had done on that day the year before and so forth - or to confuse prying eyes. ‘What are you doing with my property? Give it to me,’ Margaret said, as she tried to retrieve the diary from his grip. He accused her of adultery and she did not deny it.’

The Duchess then flew to New York to be with her father, but back in London, Spence says, Argyll searched though his wife’s private belongings, finding four diaries in a desk drawer, two more diaries behind a bookcase, and some polaroid photographs of the Duchess and a man, from the neck down, naked. Secret codes (for intercourse) in the diaries, and these photographs would be the undoing of the Duchess.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

I flied the highest

‘I ran in the wind and played be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I “flied” the highest of all.’ This is Louisa Alcott - famous for being the author of the American classic Little Women - born 190 years ago today. She was writing in the diary then as a young girl, aged 11, but would go on to keep a diary for  much of her life. This diary, apart from documenting her own life, says much about the New England Transcendentalist movement her father was involved with.
Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on 29 November 1832. She spent her childhood in Boston and in Concord, Massachusetts, being schooled, with three sisters, at home by her father, a New England Transcendentalist. For three years, they were part of the Utopian Fruitlands community. When this failed, they were helped out by her father’s friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson; money problems, though, were never far away. Louisa started writing early, mostly poetry and short stories. Flower Fables, her first book, was published when she was just 22.

In 1862, Alcott, an avowed abolitionist, went to Washington to work as a nurse during the Civil War, but her service lasted only a few weeks, as she nearly died from typhoid. She never recovered full health again. A book of her letters at the time, called Hospital Letters, brought her a first taste of literary fame. She began writing stories for Atlantic Monthly. Her most famous work, Little Women, written in 1868, and set at Orchard House, is still popular today. Alcott continued writing children’s books - though she yearned to do more serious fiction - because the family needed the income. In all, she published over 30 books and collections of stories.

Alcott died, aged 55, in 1888, just two days after her father. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the website for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (‘one of the oldest, most authentically-preserved historic house museums in America’) or The Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.

From an early age through to the end of her life, Alcott kept a diary which she never intended for publication. Parts of it first appeared a year after her death in Louisa May Alcott Her Life, Letters and Journals edited by Ednah D. Cheney and published by Roberts Brothers in Boston. This book was continually reprinted before and after the publisher was taken over by Little, Brown in 1898. A first unabridged edition of Alcott’s diaries appeared a century later in 1989 when University of Georgia Press brought out The Journals of Louisa May Alcott edited by Madeleine B. Stern. Her Life, Letters and Journals is freely available at Internet Archive, and some of the more recent publication can be previewed at Googlebooks and Amazon.

1 September 1843
‘I rose at five and had my bath. I love cold water! Then we had our singing-lesson with Mr Lane. After breakfast I washed dishes, and ran on the hill till nine, and had some thoughts, it was so beautiful up there. Did my lessons, wrote and spelt and did sums; and Mr Lane read a story, “The Judicious Father”: How a rich girl told a poor girl not to look over the fence at the flowers, and was cross to her because she was unhappy. The father heard her do it, and made the girls change clothes. The poor one was glad to do it, and he told her to keep them. But the rich one was very sad; for she had to wear the old ones a week, and after that she was good to shabby girls. I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.

Father asked us what was God’s noblest work. Anna said men, but I said babies. Men are often bad; babies never are. We had a long talk, and I felt better after it, and cleared up.

We had bread and fruit for dinner. I read and walked and played till supper-time. We sung in the evening. As I went to bed the moon came up very brightly and looked at me. I felt sad because I have been cross to day, and did not mind Mother. I cried, and then I felt better, and said that piece from Mrs Sigourney, “I must not tease my mother.” I get to sleep saying poetry, I know a great deal.’

14 September 1843
‘Mr Parker Pillsbury came, and we talked about the poor slaves. I had a music lesson with Miss F. I hate her, she is so fussy. I ran in the wind and played be a horse, and had a lovely time in the woods with Anna and Lizzie. We were fairies, and made gowns and paper wings. I “flied” the highest of all. In the evening they talked about travelling. I thought about Father going to England, [. . .]

It rained when I went to bed, and made a pretty noise on the roof.’

8 October 1843
‘When I woke up, the first thought I got was, “It’s Mother s birthday: I must be very good.” I ran and wished her a happy birthday, and gave her my kiss. After breakfast we gave her our presents. I had a moss cross and a piece of poetry for her.

We did not have any school, and played in the woods and got red leaves. In the evening we danced and sung, and I read a story about “Contentment.” I wish I was rich, I was good, and we were all a happy family this day.’

4 January 1863
‘I shall record the events of a day as a sample of the days I spend:

Up at six, dress by gaslight, run through my ward and throw up the windows, though the men grumble and shiver; but the air is bad enough to breed a pestilence; and as no notice is taken of our frequent appeals for better ventilation, I must do what I can. Poke up the fire, add blankets, joke, coax, and command; but continue to open doors and windows as if life depended upon it. Mine does, and doubtless many another, for a more perfect pestilence-box than this house I never saw, cold, damp, dirty, full of vile odors from wounds, kitchens, wash-rooms, and stables. No competent head, male or female, to right matters, and a jumble of good, bad, and indifferent nurses, surgeons, and attendants, to complicate the chaos still more.

After this unwelcome progress through my stifling ward, I go to breakfast with what appetite I may; find the uninvitable fried beef, salt butter, husky bread, and washy coffee; listen to the clack of eight women and a dozen men, the first silly, stupid, or possessed of one idea; the last absorbed with their breakfast and themselves to a degree that is both ludicrous and provoking, for all the dishes are ordered down the table full and returned empty; the conversation is entirely among themselves, and each announces his opinion with an air of importance that frequently causes me to choke in my cup, or bolt my meals with undignified speed lest a laugh betray to these famous beings that a “chiel’s amang them takin’ notes.”

Till noon I trot, trot, giving out rations, cutting up food for helpless “boys,” washing faces, teaching my attendants how beds are made or floors are swept, dressing wounds, taking Dr F. P.’s orders (privately wishing all the time that he would be more gentle with my big babies), dusting tables, sewing bandages, keeping my tray tidy, rushing up and down after pillows, bed-linen, sponges, books, and directions, till it seems as if I would joyfully pay down all I possess for fifteen minutes’ rest. At twelve the big bell rings, and up comes dinner for the boys, who are always ready for it and never entirely satisfied. Soup, meat, potatoes, and bread is the bill of fare. Charley Thayer, the attendant, travels up and down the room serving out the rations, saving little for himself, yet always thoughtful of his mates, and patient as a woman with their helplessness. When dinner is over, some sleep, many read, and others want letters written. This I like to do, for they put in such odd things, and express their ideas so comically, I have great fun interiorally, while as grave as possible exteriorally. A few of the men word their paragraphs well and make excellent letters. John’s was the best of all I wrote. The answering of letters from friends after some one had died is the saddest and hardest duty a nurse has to do.

Supper at five sets every one to running that can run; and when that flurry is over, all settle down for the evening amusements, which consist of newspapers, gossip, the doctor’s last round, and, for such as need them, the final doses for the night. At nine the bell rings, gas is turned down, and day nurses go to bed. Night nurses go on duty, and sleep and death have the house to themselves.

My work is changed to night watching, or half night and half day, from twelve to twelve. I like it, as it leaves me time for a morning run, which is what I need to keep well; for bad air, food, and water, work and watching, are getting to be too much for me. I trot up and down the streets in all directions, sometimes to the Heights, then half way to Washington, again to the hill, over which the long trains of army wagons are constantly vanishing and ambulances appearing. That way the fighting lies, and I long to follow.

Ordered to keep my room, being threatened with pneumonia. Sharp pain in the side, cough, fever, and dizziness. A pleasant prospect for a lonely soul five hundred miles from home! Sit and sew on the boys’ clothes, write letters, sleep, and read; try to talk and keep merry, but fail decidedly, as day after day goes, and I feel no better. Dream awfully, and wake unrefreshed, think of home, and wonder if I am to die here, as Mrs R., the matron, is likely to do. Feel too miserable to care much what becomes of me. Dr S. creaks up twice a day to feel my pulse, give me doses, and ask if I am at all consumptive, or some other cheering question. Dr O. examines my lungs and looks sober. Dr J. haunts the room, coming by day and night with wood, cologne, books, and messes, like a motherly little man as he is. Nurses fussy and anxious, matron dying, and everything very gloomy. They want me to go home, but I won t yet.’

27 April 1872
‘Mr Emerson died at 9 P.M. suddenly. Our best and greatest American gone. The nearest and dearest friend Father has ever had, and the man who has helped me most by his life, his books, his society. I can never tell all he has been to me, from the time I sang Mignon’s song under his window (a little girl) and wrote letters a la Bettine to him, my Goethe, at fifteen, up through my hard years, when his essays on Self-Reliance, Character, Compensation, Love, and Friendship helped me to understand myself and life, and God and Nature. Illustrious and beloved friend, good-by!’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 29 November 2012.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Party at the palace

Eighty years ago today, Mary, youngest daughter of Winston Churchill, went to a party hosted by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. Expressions of pleasure and nervousness fill an entry in her diary for the day: ‘I suppose I must still be very young because I was simply THRILLED by the party & felt stupidly shy & overcome & excited.’  

Mary Spencer-Churchill was born in London on 15 September 1922, the same week in fact as her father purchased Chartwell, a country house in Kent, where she was brought up, and where she attended local schools. She worked for the Red Cross and the Women’s Voluntary Service from 1939 to 1941, subsequently joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service, serving in London, Belgium and Germany in mixed anti-aircraft batteries, rising to the rank of Junior Commander. She accompanied her father as aide-de-camp on several of his overseas journeys. In 1945, she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her military service.

Mary married the Conservative politician Christopher Soames (later created Baron Soames) in 1947 and they had five children. She accompanied him on his foreign postings to France and Rhodesia. She served many public organisations at various times in various positions (Churchill Society, Church Army, Royal National Theatre Board of Trustees, National Benevolent Fund for the Aged). However, she also published several acclaimed family biographical works, including Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage and Winston Churchill: His Life as a Painter. In 1980, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her public service, particularly in Rhodesia. She died in 2014. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or from obituaries in The Guardian, The New York Times, and the BBC.

Mary Churchill began keeping a diary in earnest in January 1939, and kept up the habit during the war years. With motherhood and marriage, her diary became less detailed, and by the mid-1950s her entries mainly concern gardening (with the exception of the diary for 1979-1980 when she was with her husband in Rhodesia). All her diaries are open for public inspection at the Churchill Archives Centre, and its website has a detailed description of each volume. 

Mary’s daughter, Emma, has recently edited some of the diaries for publication as Mary Churchill’s War - The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter (Two Roads, 2021). This can be previewed at Googlebooks. Here is her entry from 80 years ago today - describing a thrilling visit to Buckingham Palace!

6 November 1942
‘Thanksgiving Day and I’m thrilled at the thought of the party at Buckingham Palace. Caught 1.05 train & had picnic lunch. Found Mummie still in bed but quite well & very gay. Tidied up frantically. Car took me to No. 10 at 3. Found Papa talking to Adml Noble who is off to Washington on a mission. We set off about 3.10.

I felt so excited couldn’t have been more thrilled if I d been in white satin & feathers (tho’ of course that would have been rather gay). And I felt so proud going with Papa. When we arrived we were shown into a drawing room by Sir Alexander Hardinge. Here we waited - there was Mr Winant, the Mountbattens, Ladies in Waiting, Admiral Stark & so on. The other guests were being shown into the next door room. Then another door opened & the Queen followed by the King & the 2 Princesses came in.

Papa unnerved me by saying in a hoarse whisper as Patricia Mountb. kissed the Queen’s hand & then her cheek - ‘You don’t do that’ - I was feeling VERY nervous by this time & I do hope I curtseyed ok. The King asked me about the OCTU - which was rather nice of him I thought. Then we stood behind the R[oyal] F[amily] as they received the guests. Papa had the King’s permission to leave soon afterwards & left me under the friendly wing of Mr Winant - who was looking more like Abe Lincoln than ever. Sir Charles Portal also adopted me & introduced me to S[quadron] Leader Nettleton VC (so good-looking AND married - tant pis) & S Leader Scott Malden who’s just made a tour of the USA.

Then I suddenly got caught up in a whirl of American army - cols, gens, majors etc - Very kind & gay & charming. Also some charming marines, Admiral Stark’s ADC. Stood for about 2 1/2 hrs. King & Queen talked constantly to the Americans. They (the Americans) were very much impressed & I felt so proud that they are our King & Queen. She is so beautiful & fresh & gracious - she was wearing lavender & pearls & was quite perfect. Then they played ‘God Save the King’ & Mr Winant took me home.

I suppose I must still be very young because I was simply THRILLED by the party & felt stupidly shy & overcome & excited - & it was so full of colour - red & gold & beautifully lit & lots of uniforms & gold braid!’

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing other than the date, on the very same day, the film Casablanca (which went on to become one of the most famous and loved films of all time) was being premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City.’

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Shakespeare’s name William

It is four centuries to the day since the death of John Manningham, a lawyer at Middle Temple. There was nothing much remarkable about his life, but he is remembered thanks to a diary he kept for a year or two at the dawn of the 17th century; and this diary happens to mention Shakespeare, and to give an historically important account of the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

John was born around 1575, the son of Robert Manningham of Cambridgeshire. When Robert died, John was formally adopted by his grandfather’s younger brother, Richard, a prosperous London mercer. He studied at Cambridge, graduating in 1596 before entering the Middle Temple.

Manningham married Anne Curle in 1605, and they had at least six children. He practised law throughout his life, and had a position at the court of wards and liveries. He inherited, from Richard Manningham, the manor house of Bradbourne in East Malling, Kent. He died on 22 November 1622. There is a little more biographical information available at Wikipedia or the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900.

Undoubtedly, Manningham is remembered today because of a diary he kept for a short while at the start of the 17th century while he was still a student at Middle Temple. Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple, and of Bradbourne, Kent, Barrister-at-law, 1602-1603, was first edited by John Bruce and published by the Camden Society in 1868. It is freely available at Internet Archive.

Bruce suggests Manningham’s text ‘is scarcely what is generally understood by a Diary. It is rather a note-book in which the writer has jotted down from time to time his impressions of whatever he chanced to hear, read, or see, or whatever he desired to preserve in his memory. The result is a curious patchwork. Anecdotes, witticisms, aphoristic expressions, gossip, rumours, extracts from books, large notes of sermons, occasional memoranda of journeys into Kent and Huntingdonshire, with some little personal matter of the true Diary kind, are all thrown together into a miscellany of odds and ends.’

The Dictionary of National Biography describes it thus: ‘The work is an entertaining medley of anecdotes of London life, political rumours, accounts of sermons, and memoranda of journeys. The gossip respecting Queen Elizabeth’s illness and death and the accession of James I is set down in attractive detail, and Manningham often supplies shrewd comments on the character of the chief lawyers and preachers of the day. He also gives an interesting account of the performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ [. . .] in the Middle Temple Hall. [. . .] The familiar anecdote of Shakespeare’s triumph over Richard Burbage in the pursuit of the favours of a lady of doubtful virtue rests on Manningham’s authority [see Shakespeare Online for example]. Sir Thomas Bodley, John Stow, and Sir Thomas Overbury are also occasionally mentioned by Manningham.’

Here are several extracts, including those that mention Shakespeare and the dying/death of Queen Elizabeth I.

18 January 1602
‘I rode with my cosen’s wife to Maidstone; dyned at Gellibrands.

As we were viewinge a scull in his studye, he shewed the seame in the middle over the heade, and said that was the place which the midwife useth shutt in women children before the wit can enter, and that is a reason that women be such fooles ever after.

My cosen shee said that the Gellibrands two wives lived like a couple of whelpes togither, meaninge sporting, but I sayd like a payre of turtles, or a couple of connies, sweetely and lovingly.

Mr. Alane, a minister, was very sicke. Gellibrand gave him a glyster, and lett him bloud the same day, for a feuer; his reason was, that not to have lett him bloud had bin verry dangerous; but to lett bloud is doubtfull, it may doe good as well as harme.

My cosen shee told me, that when shee was first married to hir husband Marche, as shee rode behinde him, shee slipt downe, and he left hir behinde, never lookt back to take hir up; soe shee went soe long a foote that shee tooke it soe unkindly that shee thought neuer to have come againe to him, but to haue sought a service in some vnknowne place; but he tooke hir at last.

Wee were at Mrs Cavils, when she practised some wit upon my cosen. Cosen she called double anemonies double enimies.’

2 February 1602
‘At our feast wee had a play called “Twelue Night, or What you Will,” much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practise in it to make the Steward beleeve his Lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfeyting a letter as from his Lady in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparaile, &c., and then when he came to practise making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad.’

13 March 1602
‘Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Richard III, there was a citizen grone soe farr in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare ouerhearing their conclusion went before, was intertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare’s name William.’

23 March 1603
‘I dyned with Dr Parry in the Priuy Chamber, and understood by him, the Bishop of Chichester, the Deane of Canterbury, the Deane of Windsore, &c. that hir Majestie hath bin by fitts troubled with melancholy some three or four monethes, but for this fortnight extreame oppressed with it, in soe much that shee refused to eate anie thing, to receive any phisike, or admit any rest in bedd, till within these two or three dayes. Shee hath bin in a manner speacheles for two dayes, verry pensive and silent; since Shrovetide sitting sometymes with hir eye fixed upon one obiect many howres togither, yet shee alwayes had hir perfect senses and memory, and yesterday signified by the lifting up of hir hand and eyes to heaven, a signe which Dr Parry entreated of hir, that shee beleeved that fayth which shee hath caused to be professed, and looked faythfully to be saved by Christes merits and mercy only, and noe other meanes. She tooke great delight in hearing prayers, would often at the name of Jesus lift up hir handes and eyes to Heaven. Shee would not heare the Arch[bishop] speake of hope of hir longer lyfe, but when he prayed or spake of Heaven, and those ioyes, shee would hug his hand, &c. It seemes shee might have lived yf she would have used meanes; but shee would not be persuaded, and princes must not be forced. Hir physicians said shee had a body of a firme and perfect constitucion, likely to have liued many yeares. A royall Maiesty is noe priviledge against death.’

24 March 1603
‘This morning about three at clocke hir Majestie departed this lyfe, mildly like a lambe, easily like a ripe apple from the tree, [. . .] Dr Parry told me that he was present, and sent his prayers before hir soule; and I doubt not but shee is amongst the royall saints in Heaven in eternall joyes.’

This article is a slight revised version of one first published on 22 November 2012.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

I always see the ruin of Italy

‘Am listless and sleepy, as I have never been before. I sleep little at nights: before me I always see the ruin of Italy, . .’ This is from the diaries of the Italian writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce, who died 70 years ago today. Reluctantly, he took on, briefly, active political roles before and after Mussolini’s rise and fall, but he is best remembered for his philosophical works and contributions to liberal political theory.

Croce was born in 1866 in Pescasseroli (Abruzzi region of Italy) into a Catholic and wealthy landowning family. In 1883, he lost his parents in an earthquake on the island of Ischia, and went to live with an uncle in Rome, where he studied law at university. There he abandoned his religious faith, but also became disillusioned with the university, returning to Naples. Having inherited his family’s fortune, he had the freedom to devote time to personal studies, such as on historical realism. He traveled in Spain, Germany, France, and England, but in 1893, influenced by the Neapolitan-born Gianbattista Vico, he turned his learning towards philosophy (even buying the house in which Vico had lived). Friends persuaded him to read Hegel, and in 1907 he published a commentary on the German philosopher - What is Living and What is Dead of the Philosophy of Hegel - which brought him increased attention.

Croce published other significant works around this time, not least Aesthetic (1902), Logic (1908), and Philosophy of the Practical (1908). In 1903, he also founded (in collaboration with his friend the philosopher Giovanni Gentile) La Critica, a journal of cultural criticism in which, over the next 40 years, he would publish nearly all of his writings. Hitherto, he had eschewed interest in politics, but in 1910 he was persuaded into a more public role, being appointed to the Italian Senate. In 1914, he married Adela Rossi, with whom he had four daughters. He opposed Italy’s participation in the First World War. In 1919, he supported the government of Francesco Saverio Nitti, and was appointed Minister of Public Education - a position he held between 1920 and 1921. 

Initially, he supported Mussolini’s fascist government, but by 1925 he had written and signed a Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals. After Mussolini’s fall, in 1943, he became Minister without Portofilio of the new democratic government and a member of the Constituent Assembly. From 1943 to 1947, he was President of the reconstituted Liberal party. In 1947, he retired from politics and established the Institute for Historical Studies in his Naples home, where he had an extensive library. From 1949 until 1952, he was president of PEN International, the worldwide writers’ association, and he was nominated 16 times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on 20 November 1952. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and the New World Encyclopedia.

Croce kept a diary for much of his life; and at some point had them privatively printed in six volumes. But after the Second World War, a year’s worth of his diary entries in 1943/1944 were published in Quaderni della Critica. These were then translated into English by Sylvia Sprigge for publication by George Allen & Unwin in 1950 as Croce, the King and the Allies: Extracts from a diary by Benedetto Croce July 1943 - June 1944. This was re-published in 2019 by Routledge - an edition which can be sampled at Googlebooks. Extracts of Croce’s diaries from other periods in his life can also be found in the biography Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism by Fabio Fernando Rizi (which can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive).

A foreword to the 1943/1944 diary extracts provided by Croce for Quaderni della Critica was also included in the English editions. He wrote: ‘Historical accounts are beginning to appear in print of the nine months from early September 1943 to June 1944, a period when Government and political party activity could only take place in southern Italy and in the islands. I thought I might correct and integrate certain errors and certain omissions not easy to avoid in such accounts, with these notes from a diary, which I have been keeping these last forty years in a fairly brief form, at the beginning or end of my day, and whose purpose has been to note the course of my literary work. But after July 25th 1943, owing to the rush of events, the diary gradually filled with notes on political matters. In the following pages are extracts without the literary and private notes, of which I have left only a few in the early pages so that the character and nature of the Diary may be kept in mind. The political notes were a part of it, and at first were entered occasionally and almost involuntarily. Some details of little importance I have left in, being desirous and careful not to offend the susceptibilities or rouse the resentment of any one, for my purpose is solely that which I have already outlined. I do not know whether I have always succeeded in this, despite the goodwill which I have put into it.’

And here are three extracts (including the first) from Croce, the King and the Allies.

25 July 1943, Sorrento
‘In the morning, historical reading; but in the afternoon, visits from friends. Parente, both the Morellis, Zanotti Bianco, Petaccia. The Dohrns are here too. I was tired and had gone to bed at eleven o’clock when a telephone call from Signorina Elena di Serracapriola’s villa brought the news that Mussolini had resigned and that the new Government had been entrusted to Badoglio by the King. Parente and the Morellis, who had gone away half an hour ago, on hearing the news also arrived, jubilant, and we talked of the event. Back to bed, but I could not close my eyes till four o’clock or later. The feeling I have is of liberation from an evil which weighed upon the heart’s core; derivative evils and dangers remain, but that evil will not return.’

20 August 1943
‘Am listless and sleepy, as I have never been before. I sleep little at nights: before me I always see the ruin of Italy, and the news of Giovanni Laterza’s bad health, rapidly deteriorating, depresses me. When they brought the news of the fall of Fascism to his sick-bed on July 26th, he ordered the words “God be praised” to be written at the head of all letters and bills of that day. In the afternoon, as best I could, took up the threads of work in hand, including the revised elaboration of Blanch. The Giornale d’ltalia has printed my article on the Italian Academy despite the veto of the censors which Bergamini has overridden. But other articles on the subject are forbidden. I am told that the King said, “The Academy is not to be tampered with any more than the Senate.” But the Senate too, unworthy and corrupt as it is, will have to be ‘tampered with.’

17 September 1943
‘In the morning a visit from an American journalist, Kearney, who asked me some political questions, which I answered as best I could, what with being tired, not having slept and it being stiflingly hot. While Elena was helping to translate my answers into English, the English Admiral, J. B. Morse, came to visit me with his aide, Richard Long, and we had a short conversation. The lieutenant asked me who were the dangerous or Fascist people in Sorrento, and I asked to be excused because I could not, in my old age, begin doing things I had never done in the course of my life, to which the lieutenant agreed and said he well understood. The Germans left over there were mentioned in the conversation; but the Dohrn family, although attached to their country, has been noted as ‘neutral.’ In the evening a much famed journalist, Knickerbocker, came to say a lot of kind things to me, and then talked for a long time with my daughters, and wanting to give proof of his admiration, he wrote some lines by which to remember him in a copy of Shakespeare which they had with them.’

22 September 1943
‘Raimondo has left again. Suffocating heat continues. Tight feeling about the heart for Naples in the hands of the Germans. From here we hear explosions and see fires, and get rumours of people killed, devastation and looting. General Donovan and a journalist called Whitaker, together with an American officer called Tomkins, whom I got to know in the last few days and who has been in Italy previously for a long time, came to see me. The General told me that large supplies have been prepared for Naples, to be landed ten or fifteen days after the occupation. He said it might be a good thing if I let this be known in Naples. I said I would spread the news among people I shall see, but that I have no means of communicating with Naples. Similarly, with another of his suggestions that the Neapolitans should try to prevent the Germans from destroying the port. Whitaker offered me presses, paper and ink with which to print a paper here! General Donovan asked me how the spirit of the Italians was, and I said that what all the best Italians wanted, and what would most encourage them, would be permission to form a combatant legion under the Italian flag to co-operate with the Anglo-American armies in liberating Italian soil from the Germans; and then, when he asked me whether there was anybody who could command such a legion, I gave him General Pavone’s name, a man of an old southern family, a patriot and a liberal, and presently a member of the Party of Action.’


Friday, November 11, 2022

Secondary arias were omitted

‘We obeyed and stood at the walls for forty minutes. Anti-aircraft guns were firing somewhere in the distance. After the lights out, the performance continued, albeit at an accelerated pace: secondary arias and duets were omitted . . .’. This is the celebrated Russian poet Vera Inber - who died 50 years ago today - writing in her diary about an air raid during a visit to the opera. It was the early days of Germany’s siege of Leningrad, an offensive that would last for 872 days and take the lives of 1.5 million people. Inber’s diary of those desperate times was subsequently published, and later translated for publication in English.

Vera Moiseyevna Shpenzer was born in Odessa in 1890. Her father (a cousin to Leon Trotsky) ran a scientific publishing house, and her mother was a teacher of Russian. She briefly attended classes in history and philology. Her first poems were published in 1910 in local newspapers. Until 1914, she lived, together with her husband Nathan Inber, in Paris (where she paid for her first collection of poems to be printed), Switzerland and then Moscow. She worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent, traveling across the country and sometimes living abroad. In her literary writing, she associated with the constructivist movement. 

Through the 1920s and 1930s, her writing focused on Moscow, the Revolution, and Vladimir Lenin. She wrote short stories - depicting the clash between old and new Soviet life - and for the theatre. During the Second World War, she joined the Communist Party and began producing patriotic works. In 1941, she moved with her second husband, Ilya Davydovich Strashun, to Leningrad, where Strashun had been appointed director of a medical institute. Her poem Pulkovo Meridian, which details daily life in Leningrad during the siege, won a Stalin Prize in 1946. After the war, she continued to live in Leningrad. She died on 11 November 1972. A little further information is available from Wikipedia, The New York Times, Encyclopedia.com, and the Jewish Virtual Library.

Inber kept a diary during the siege of Leningrad; this was published in 1945. Some time later, in 1971, it was translated into English by Serge M. Wolff and Rachel Grieve for publication by Hutchinson in 1971 as Leningrad Diary. I cannot find much about this online, though Carol Harrison uploaded the following review for Good Reads:

‘A remarkable diary, describing the siege of Leningrad during World War II. The author, an eminent Russian poet, tells the daily struggles and tragedies, from the extreme food and water shortages to the relentless shelling, from the sudden terrible deaths to the persistence of concerts and lectures even when going across the street was a risk to life (but so was staying at home). At the end of the book, although the war is still going on, Leningrad is beginning to rebuild, and there is already a museum commemorating the long siege. Trees are being replanted, and the botanical gardens are planning new trips to re-gather plants from around the world. 90% of their collection died from the cold during the siege, and the loss of tadpoles and frogs also meant the loss of some plants dependent on them. The overall message of the book is summed up by a fifteen-year-old boy who is mortally injured: “a waste”. War is always a waste of lives and of nature and of beautiful, purposeful buildings.’

And I found a substantial article about Inber and her poetry in English on a Russian website (with trigger-happy adverts!) which also had a few extracts from her diary.

26 August 1941
‘Our apartment on Pesochnaya, on the fifth floor, is high, light, half-empty. Only bookshelves and plates on the walls are plentiful. Unfading Elizabethan and Catherine’s roses, nicholas, blue and gold ornament. Gray-white faience. A fragile economy. Where with him now ?! Bedroom windows and balcony overlook the Botanical Garden. Although it is still hot, some trees are already preparing for autumn: they have dressed up in all gold and scarlet. And what else will happen in September! From the balcony one can clearly see a huge palm greenhouse, all of glass. There are few people in the garden. I haven’t been there yet. Let's go on Sunday . . .’

9 September 1941
‘In the afternoon, as usual, there were several alarms, but we nevertheless decided to go to the Musical Comedy, to the “Bat”. . . In the intermission between the first and second acts, another alarm began. The administrator came out into the foyer and, in the same tone as he probably announced the replacement of the performer due to illness, he said clearly: “I ask the citizens to get as close to the walls as possible, since there (he pointed to the huge span of the ceiling) there are no ceilings here”. We obeyed and stood at the walls for forty minutes. Anti-aircraft guns were firing somewhere in the distance. After the lights out, the performance continued, albeit at an accelerated pace: secondary arias and duets were omitted . . . As the car rounded the square, we suddenly saw black swirling mountains of smoke, illuminated from below by flames. All this piled up in the sky, swelled, let out terrible curls and spurs. Kovrov (the driver) turned and said in a dull voice: “The German threw bombs and set fire to the food depots.” . . . The houses stood on the balcony for a long time, everyone looked at the burning Badayev warehouses. We went to bed at eleven. But at two o’clock in the morning I had to (for the first time in Leningrad) go down to the shelter. . .’

17 September 1941
‘Our room is very small: a desk by the window, two iron beds, a bookcase, an armchair and two chairs. To wash, you have to bring in a stool and a basin. On the walls are portraits of scientists. There is a round iron stove in the room. Outside the window are mighty poplars. We have convinced ourselves that they will protect us from the fragments. And the room itself is well located. In the depths of the letter “P”, between the wings of the house . . .’

12 February 1942
‘The view of the city is terrible. Met six or seven dead on a sled. (In “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign” there is a “mortal sleigh.” ice, drinking water. An early, early premonition of spring.

5 August 1942
‘In general, I have a feeling that only while I am working, nothing bad can happen to me.’

See also Only Tanya is left

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Longest Latin America diary

Heinrich Witt, a Danish merchant and financier who lived in Peru, died 130 years ago today. He is remembered for a diary he kept for much of his life. This was published in 10 volumes by Brill in 2016. It is considered exceptional for its length, and for being a ‘treasure trove for interdisciplinary postcolonial and transcultural research’.

Witt was born in 1799 in Altona, then part of Denmark (but now part of Hamburg city), into a merchant family. He was apprenticed to a trading house, before moving to London in 1823 and taking up work with Antony Gibbs and Sons. He was sent to the firm’s South American branch working first in Arequipa, Peru. In 1832, he married a widow, Maria Sierra Velarde, who already had three children. By 1833, he had been promoted to head of office in Lima. In 1842, he established himself as an independent trader of goods from Europe; and he was also active in the guano trade. 

Over time, Witt’s business became focused on financial dealings, and the country’s developing infrastructure. He was appointed Consul for the Kingdom of Denmark in Peru in 1841, and then Consul General in 1845. He was frequently in Europe, though, spending several years touring each time, between 1843 and 1845, for example, in the first half of the 1850s, and in the early 1860s. After the death of his wife in 1876, he entered a period of extensive mourning. Thereafter, for some time, his life and that of his family were affected by a war involving Peru and Chile, but he managed one more trip to Europe, afterwards living in relatively quiet retirement. He died on 3 November 1892. A few biographical details on Witt can be found in the English translation of the German Wikipedia page. But an extensive, academic-quality, biography is freely available online thanks to the publisher Brill.

Witt is largely remembered today because of the detailed diary - written in English - he kept for most of his life. Indeed, it is considered to be the most extensive private diary written in Latin America. A ten volume edition, edited by Ulrich Mücke, was published by Brill in 2016 - The Diary of Heinrich Witt. The paperback version costs over €1,000; however, every chapter appears to be freely available online (open source). Many pages are also available to read at Googlebooks. Brill states: ‘The diary gives a unique version of commerce and trade, politics and politicians, and of lawsuits and corruption in nineteenth-century Peru and abroad. It abounds in details about family life, customs and culture, and is a truly unique source for everyone interested in the history of Peru and of international trade and migration.’

Angelika Schaser, reviewing the diary in the European Journal of Life Writing, says: ‘This edition of Witt’s diary constitutes a very important source for historians. It is also a treasure trove for interdisciplinary postcolonial and transcultural research. Literary scholars can identify Witt’s narratological features and rhetorical strategies in detail. Witt’s diary provides unique opportunities for a host of profound and innovative studies.’

It is worth noting however that there is some debate over whether the work is more autobiography than diary. For example, Mücke in one of her explanatory sections, states: ‘The first question arising in an analysis of Witt’s voluminous text is whether this is actually a diary. Witt himself speaks of a diary, but he also calls the text a chronicle. Speaking against classifying the text as a diary is in particular one key fact: Witt did not write most of the text simultaneously or nearly so with the time it describes but rather in part some decades later. In addition, substantial passages in the text are not in keeping with the form of a diary or journal, i.e are not ordered as dated entries.’

Much of the diary is dense to browse, and full of societal detail, and the Brill edition, fully annotated, is very much aimed at scholars. Nevertheless, here’s a few samples from the published volumes.

5 February 1850
‘A little past 6 o’clock I started for Lima the fog was uncommonly dense, I could hardly see a few yards ahead so that I reached Lima without suffering from heat, Rufino Macedo was my companion on the road. I remained in Lima until Sunday. I took my plain meals in the Victoria Fonda, Juan his in another, whilst Garland breakfasted and dined with Foster of Allsop’s.

On Wednesday 6th my dear mother’s birthday, the exequies of the late king of Sardinia were celebrated by order and at the expense of Jose Canevaro, Sardinian Consul General, in the church of San Pedro. I learned several months later that the outlay had been made good to him by his governments, not without blaming him however, for the large sum he had expended. At about 10 o’clock I drove in full uniform to Canevaro’s house, where the members of the diplomatic and consular bodies assembled, two by two we walked to the Church and took our seats on a bench to the right of the high altar; Manuel Ferreyros, Peruv. Minister for Foreign Affairs occupied the first place, next to him Canevaro as chief mourner, then the remainder; how they sat I didn’t observe, they were Mr. W. Pitt Adams chargé for the United Kingdom, Levrand for France, Elredge for the Sandwich Isles, Toro for Chile, Triunfo Consul General for Nueva Grenada, Sousa Ferreira, for Brazil, I for Denmark, Rodewald for Hamburgh, Prévost for the United States, Lacharrière for Belgium, Alvarez for Venezuela, and Menendez for Mexico, Clay chargé for the United States had remained in Chorillos; behind us sat Barton and some Fre [. . .] The interior of the Church was splendidly decorated, all hung in black with gold fringes, the high altar brilliantly illumined, and in front of the Catafalque stood lighted wax candles of an extraordinary size. We had fine instrumental and vocal music performed by the opera singers. Mass, a sermon, or more properly speaking a discourse lauding the deceased king and pronounced by Don Tordoye, and finally the responses chanted by Don Pasquel, Bishop of Eretria “in partibus infidelium”. Though the church was crowded it was not so hot as I had apprehended, nevertheless it was no joke to sit there till three o’clock braced up in my tight filling uniform. We accompanied Canevaro back to his house, who contrary to our expectation did not offer any refreshment, which I thought at the time we had well deserved. 

On Friday the north Steamer arrived which brought me a few letters containing however hardly anything of importance. Adelaide, Queen Dowager of William 4th had died in England. On the Continent all was quiet for the present, but both Sieveking and Simon Post, from which latter I had a letter for a wonder, were of opinion that the fire was but smothering, and that it would break out on the first occasion. The two rival states Austria and Prussia looked menacingly on each other neither being inclined to be the first to draw the sword. 

On Saturday the south Steamer arrived. C. W. Schutte wrote private letters to the whole family, he found himself in difficulties, and as it was his habit looked to me for assistance. He wrote that at the end of the year his contract with his two partners, Aurégan and Le Platenier would expire; that Aurégan would withdraw his capital, but that the other in order not to leave Schutte entirely in the lurch would lend him for several years without interest 25 to 30,000$ and perhaps 10,000 more at 5% P.A. He added that he himself was not worth a real, that he was desirous Juan should join him and take the management of the Paris House, and that I should lend to the new firm from 40, to 50,000$ at a low interest, besides becoming responsible for the purchases they might make for 40,000$ more. For a certainty he had sufficient “brass” for asking. My answer is copied in my letter book; I am sure it was a negative one; so was Juan’s who had told his sister Rosa in the greatest confidence, that if circumstances would allow him, he hoped to be [. . .] husband of Isabel Bergmann within two years. Before going to bed [. . .] what, not many days previously burglars had acheived at Urmenetas, I laid my pistols close to my bed, moreover I barricaded the door; whilst W. Hopper the coachman took care of the street door.’

20 February 1850
‘I rode to Lima, a drizzling rain accompanying me all the way, even in Chorillos one or two people had been wounded, owing to the elections [. . .] Lima things had really been very bad, and it was generally affirmed [. . .] some let out of prison for the purpose, had been seen in the ranks of Echeniques fighting men. People went so far as to say that he had to ask the assistance of the police, to defend himself against his own partizans, some of whom had sacked the shop of a confectioner close to the theatre, Jose Saldivar, a staunch Vivanquista; on the other hand Genl. Colo[m]a a great friend of Echenique was severely, not dangerously wounded. The result was that Echenique’s party had completely triumphed, the electors who had been elected were almost without exception, known to be decidedly in his interests.’

15 February 1854
‘Carnival day. Early in the morning I was up San Cristoval, and by the 2 o’clock train I went to Chorrillos. Both in Lima and Chorrillos I did not escape without water being thrown upon me. I bathed, made a few calls, and strolled about in the handsome Calle de Lima, until it was Henry’s dinner hour, Dona Anita having previously invited me. In the said street, towards the sea side the houses, the one m[. . .] handsome than the other extended already as far as the desc[. . .] to that [. . .] sea-beach called Agua-Dulce. The last house, still in progress of construction, and an enormous pile, was that of Don Mariano Laos; a few steps from it was that of José Antonio Garcia y Garcia, nicknamed “El Lord Inglés” on account of the airs which he gave himself; he showed me all over it, and it was certainly very well arranged. Heudebert, it was said, was desirous to sell his, a particularly handsome villa, for S/6o,ooo though it had cost him more. At 6 I was at Henry’s, who had rented one of Swayne’s new houses. A quarter of an hour later we sat down to dinner; we were, Dona Anita at the head of the table, I to her right, next to me Mr. Swift of Graham Rowe & Co.’s house, to her left, Macandrew, then Bohl, at the bottom of the table Henry, to his right Alice Gallagher, a very nice girl. There were two other gentlemen, whose names I did not learn. Dinner was nothing particular; in fact, provisions had become so horribly dear that to give anything out of the usual way cost heaps of money. Only English was spoken, and the time slipped away very pleasantly until 8 o’clock, when I had to say good bye; and returned to Lima.’

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Planted some tomatoes

Today marks the centenary of the birth of the great British variety performer Max Bygraves. From humble origins, he rose steadily to the top of the show business world successfully releasing many albums, playing many times at the London Palladium and hosting his own television shows. He also wrote several autobiographical works; one of these is half filled with extracts from diaries he kept in 1996 and 1997. ‘One thing that is noticeable about my diaries of the past,’ he says in one entry, ‘is that they all start off with good intentions - the months of January and February are always quite full with entries, but then I either get lazy, or else nothing noteworthy seems to happen. When the summer arrives I only ever seem to jot down such entries as ‘golf’, ‘laid in garden’ or ‘planted some tomatoes’, etc, etc.’

Walter William Bygraves was born in London on 16 October 1922 where he grew up in a council flat with five siblings. His father was a boxer and a casual dockworker. Walter was educated locally, but sang with a choir at Westminster Cathedral. He left school at 14, working as a pageboy in a hotel, then as a messenger. During the war, he served as fitter in the Royal Air Force as well as working as a carpenter. After the war, he was employed on building sites, but he also worked as an entertainer in pubs during the evenings. He changed his first name to Max in honour of the comedian Max Miller. He married Gladys (Blossom) Murray in 1942, and they had three children. (Though Bygraves also had three children from extra-marital affairs.)

In the summer of 1946, Bygraves toured in a variety show with Frankie Howerd, who introduced him to Eric Sykes. With Sykes, he began writing scripts and developed a radio show - Educating Archie. In 1950, he made his first appearance at the London Palladium, supporting Abbott and Costello; the following year he did the same for Judy Garland who then invited him to perform at the Palace in New York. The 1950s saw Bygraves release seven top ten hits, many of them novelty songs, appear in several films and on television. By 1961 he was famous enough for Eamonn Andrews to feature him on This Is Your Life. In the 1970s he released several very successful albums, and appeared more often on TV shows - he hosted Family Fortunes (having taken over from his friend Bob Monkhouse) between 1983 and 1985.

Bygraves and Blossom retired to Australia, but he was coaxed out of retirement for a series of tours with the Beverly Sisters in 2002, then for a farewell set of performances in 2006. Bygraves published several books, from a novel (The Milkman's on His Way, 1977) to autobiographical works such as Stars in My Eyes: A Life in Show Business, 2002). He collected 31 gold discs in total and was appointed OBE in 1983. He died in Australia 2012, the year after his wife. Further information is available online from Wikipedia, The Guardian obituary and All Music.

In 1997 Breedon Books brought out Max Bygraves In His Own Words. The first six chapters of this are written as conventional autobiography covering the extent of his life through to 1996 (when he was in his mid-70s). In chapter 20, Bygraves reflects on his friendships and relationships with other ‘stars’, and in chapter 21 he focuses particularly on The London Palladium (which he played so often). And, in two of the final chapters he reflects on his life more generally. But, more than half of the book - chapters 7-18 - is filled with extracts from diaries he kept in 1996-1997 - i.e. the year or so directly prior to publication of the book. A copy can be digitally borrowed at Internet Archive. Here’s a couple of extracts in which he mulls over his diary writing habits and expresses sympathy for John Profumo.

31 December 1996
‘Today we say farewell to 1996 - tomorrow a brand new year. I am going for my last swim of ’96 as soon as I have made this entry in my large new desk diary one of the nicest I have ever had. It reminds me of that large five-year diary that my father gave me on the day I joined the RAF back in 1940. It is on moments like these that his words come back to me: “Anything worth remembering, jot down! You’ll never regret it.”

When he eventually died, almost 20 years ago, we continually discovered old Woodbine packets and small bits of paper with the day’s events, neatly dated and written down in his own particular brand of shorthand: “Feb 19 - Tram strike, w Bellamys. ND hand plast - mend pumps”. Deciphered, this read: “There was a tram strike and so I walked to Bellamy’s Wharf. There was no work (ND - nothing doing). His hand was in plaster but he managed to do a repair job on his boots (mend pumps)”.

I have two regrets and may possibly do something about them in 1997. One is that I should have learned shorthand, and the other is to type as competently as Jennifer, my assistant. To her it comes as easy as ABC. I write in long-hand, pass it to her and, shortly afterward, she hands me a pristine copy. I never cease to marvel at lyrics that I have dashed off in a way that sometimes even I can’t read - and yet Jennifer nonchalantly hands them back to me complete and neat - and I am so impressed! I look at my scribble, which is now beautifully typed, and think what a genius I am, thank you Jennifer ... and your word-processor!

The old year is going with a flourish. The plants and bushes have never looked more radiant. In full bloom, the tippichina trees and poincianas make the grounds here at Attunga Park into a wonderland. It is hard to stand at the entrance and not feel the poem that has been carved in stone in so many gardens all around the world. I read the words by the bird bath that Bloss put in place more than five years ago ...

The kiss of the sun for pardon.
The song of the birds for mirth.
You are nearer God’s heart in a garden,
Than anywhere else on earth.

I once asked a gardener who had written those words, but it seems that it was by that writer named Anonymous. It’s a shame to think of all the pleasure his or her words have given and yet have to miss out on the copyright!

It is hot - 85 degrees - not a bird in sight it is much cooler to stay in the trees. Now and again a crow squawks. The news is that Europe is experiencing the worst winter in a decade with quite a few old people dying. The protest marches in Belgrade have dwindled because the rebels can’t face the cold - and I feel so very lucky and humble that I am in a profession that allows me to travel away from all those tribulations. Mind you, we still have to watch out for sunburn, skin cancer, mosquito bites, snakes and so on, but there are few places that I would rather be.

When you are used to Christmas and the New Year being all that winter wonderland stuff that the traditional Christmas cards portray, it comes as a bit of a culture shock to spend that time in Australia. Gone are the robins, the log fires and the gentle snowflakes - instead there are parrots, barbecues and the sort of sunshine that enables you to fry eggs on the rocks. There are, of course, exceptions to even Australia’s beautiful weather.

2 January 1997
‘One thing that is noticeable about my diaries of the past is that they all start off with good intentions - the months of January and February are always quite full with entries, but then I either get lazy, or else nothing noteworthy seems to happen. When the summer arrives I only ever seem to jot down such entries as ‘golf’, ‘laid in garden’ or ‘planted some tomatoes’, etc, etc.

In the summer of my 1996 diary I am surprised to see how many blank pages there are, and not because there was nothing happening - in fact I had a most busy time. Contracted for a ten-week season at Bournemouth’s Pavilion Theatre, every show a different audience, relatives coming to stay, fly-fishing on the River Test a couple of days each week, golf with good friends like Gordon Dean, directors from the BBC in London to talk over proposed shows, phone-ins, charity appearances etc. (The strangest charity show was to cut the ribbon at a pedestrian crossing on the Poole Road, to allow old folk from a retirement home to cross without having to walk a quarter of a mile down the road to another crossing). Looking back, there are quite a few entries that I could have made interesting, so I can only plead laziness!

After cutting that tape on the Poole Road, I was invited back to the home for tea and cakes. Because I am in the business of entertainment I am usually button-holed by the senior citizens to do something about the appalling quality of programmes on television. They must think that I am some form of Mary Whitehouse. One lady, while making a point, made the company laugh when she said: “Why don’t they do something about all that swearing on TV? It’s bloody disgusting!”

I just have to stand there helpless. All I can do is nod and agree, but they think that I can just pick up the phone and say to the Director-General: “Now look here, folk don’t like four-letter words that they hear on TV. With very little being done to chastise the guilty actors and directors you should do something about it - after all, you’re the boss!”

That’s what they think that I can do. And I have to pass it all off with a shrug by saying: “It’s not bloody right is it!” A sneaky way to get out of an argument with a little of what they call comic relief.

Another entry is for May 16th. I promised to appear for Jack (known as John) Profumo at Toynbee Hall in the East End of London. John does such wonderful work at the ‘Hall’ for the poor and deprived - not just now, but for many years past. One stupid mistake forever labelled him as the man who brought down the Tory government because of the Christine Keeler affair. The country lost a very good bloke.

I knew him slightly before the Keeler affair, when he was Minister for War. It was during those days that we went to different parts of the world entertaining our troops. John was such a gentleman, and a real pleasure to talk with - he didn’t become charming after the affair. His wife, former actress Valerie Hobson, is a sweetie too. They both work hard at Toynbee Hall. You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to walk down Park Lane holding the biggest banner that I could carry, emblazoned with the words: ‘John Profumo and Co ... public benefactor . . . let’s hear it for John!’

Another entry is for Monday, April 22nd 1996. All I noted down was ‘QE2 to New York.’ This turned out to be one of the best trips ever on this lovely ship. I am not quite sure if it was my eighth or ninth voyage, but it was really enjoyable. My son Anthony came with me to help out with the lighting, look after the props, take the bandcall and be general dogsbody. He is good company and we get along well.

The other joyful part was that my good friend Gordon Dean and his attractive wife also came aboard to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary - a cruise to New York, then fly back to Heathrow on Concorde. We shared a table with two other good friends from Bournemouth - Jim and Jane, so the six of us had some splendid meals in the Queens grill. Colin, the mâitre d’ excelled - every dish was a banquet.

I did two concerts in the main lounge, which had been refurbished since our last trip. I thought that the good old QE2 had suffered badly with the publicity surrounding the fact that she had not being ready in time on a previous trip. Many of the passengers had complained and Cunard had been forced to pay out some pretty hefty sums in compensation. On this trip, however, all faults had been rectified and we were there to enjoy it. The audience appeared to enjoy my stint and I finished by doing several encores and everyone was most complimentary.’