Tuesday, February 27, 2024

It all affects us terribly

‘Anthony E[den] and Edward Wood are off to Geneva - and the farce begins again - talk, talk, talk - and all the time the nations are arming - and the Teuton faces the Slav as he did in 1914, and Fascism stands opposed to Communism. To us in this country it all seems so silly and unreal - and yet, whether we like it or not, it all affects us terribly.’ This is from the extensive diary kept by the Conservative politician Sir Cuthbert Headlam who died 60 years ago today. He held various relatively minor government positions in the 1920s and 1930s but he is remembered today for his diaries which are considered of historical importance.

Headlam was born in Barton upon Irwell, Lancashire, the third of five sons, the Headlams being a minor gentry family with roots in north Yorkshire. His father was the stipendiary magistrate of Manchester. He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read history. He was a Clerk in the House of Lords between 1897 and 1924, becoming a barrister at the Inner Temple in 1906. He served in the Bedfordshire Yeomanry from 1910 to 1926, and was mentioned in despatches during the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, retiring as lieutenant colonel.

In 1924, Headlam was elected MP for Barnard Castle, losing the seat in 1929, regaining it in 1931, and losing it again in 1935. In 1940, standing as an Independent Conservative, he was voted MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North; he retained the seat until retiring from Parliament in 1951. During his periods as an MP, he held various government positions: Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty from 1926 to 1929; Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions from 1931 to 1932; and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport from 1932 to 1934.

Headlam was also active in his local area, a Durham County Councillor from 1931 to 1939, and Justice of the Peace for the County of Durham. He was created a baronet in the 1935 Birthday Honours and appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1945. He died on 27 February 1964. For further information see either Wikipedia or the UK Parliament website.

Headlam was a keen and committed diarist. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) has this assessment: ‘Headlam's historical significance lies in his extensive private diary. He kept this regularly from 1910 until 1951, and for the period of his political career it contains more than two and a half million words. [. . . He] wrote in a lucid prose style and shrewdly analysed both issues and personalities. When he was at the House of Commons he often recorded the gossip of the lobbies, the mood of his party, and the standing of its leaders. Headlam knew most of the rising Conservative figures of the 1930s and 1940s, and paid particular attention to three of his peers in the 1924 intake - Harold Macmillan, Oliver Stanley, and Anthony Eden.’

Headlam’s diaries were edited by Stuart Ball and published in two volumes: Parliament and Politics in the Age of Baldwin and MacDonald: The Headlam Diaries 1923-1935 (The Historians’ Press, 1992); Parliament and Politics in the Age of Churchill and Attlee: the Headlam Diaries 1935-1951 (Cambridge University Press, 1999). The latter can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive or sampled at Googlebooks. Here is the opening of Ball’s introduction to this later volume.

‘For the period of his political career, from 1924 to 1951, Sir Cuthbert Headlam’s diary consists of more than two and a half million words. The diary is of value for more than just its scale and consistency. Whilst Headlam naturally wrote about his own affairs, he looked outwards as well as inwards. When he was at the House of Commons he would record the gossip of the lobbies, the mood of his party and the standing of its leaders. Headlam knew most of the rising figures in the Conservative Party of the 1930s and 1940s. and recorded his assessment of their characters and fortunes. He also used the diary to analyse the domestic and international situation, and to comment upon topical issues. It is these elements in the diary which are of wider historical significance, and which have been selected for inclusion in the published edition.’

Here are several extracts.

11 September 1936
‘Hitler’s claim to Colonies is very tiresome and the sooner our Government says definitely that we have no intention of surrendering any colonies, the better it will be. There is no earthly use in our giving them up to the Germans - even if we were in a position to do so. It would only make Hitler and co. more certain than ever that they could go on asking for more - a policy of Danegeld never has paid and never will. I don’t for a moment suppose that Hitler is doing more than trying it on - he has got to adopt an aggressive attitude to prove to his own people that he is a devil of a fellow and he has got away with [it] so often now that he thinks that he can go on on the same lines indefinitely.’ 

18 September 1936
‘Anthony E[den] and Edward Wood are off to Geneva - and the farce begins again - talk, talk, talk - and all the time the nations are arming - and the Teuton faces the Slav as he did in 1914, and Fascism stands opposed to Communism. To us in this country it all seems so silly and unreal - and yet, whether we like it or not, it all affects us terribly. We go on talking - some of us really believing that it is possible to find agreement between the contending influences that are perplexing and upsetting Europe today: others realizing the hopelessness of pacts for peace and collective security so long as no nation will abide by such guarantees: none of us bold enough to say that the time has come for us to admit that the League has failed and must be scrapped or recreated on new lines - and that really G.B. must trust to herself alone, and keep out of other people’s messes.’

20 September 1940
‘Things seem to have been quieter over London today - it is beginning to look as if the Luftwaffe had had about enough of the business - they have certainly got it in the neck. . . . Our airmen have had a gruelling time, but each day that passes the more magnificently they seem to carry on the fight. It is odd to see how so much we owe to so small a number of young men - here are millions of us doing nothing while the battle is being decided above our heads by a chosen band of warriors drawn from here, there and everywhere - upon them depends our safety and perhaps the independence of our country. They must be a superb body of men . . . one would like to know the difference in material strength of our R.A.F. and the Luftwaffe: some day presumably we shall know - and then, more than ever, I expect, we shall salute the gallant men who are now doing such untold services for their country.’

27 October 1941
‘It amuses me to see how the big boss Bevin is at last beginning to wake up to the fact that compulsion is the only way of getting people to do war work. His vain efforts to keep up trade union ideas during this national crisis would be amusing if the lag in production were not so great. It is now evident to most of us that things cannot be allowed to go on as they are, and Winston will be well-advised to hand Bevin to the wolves rather than allowing him to go on messing about much longer - I don’t fancy that his removal would upset anybody.’ 

8 December 1941
‘Apparently there was a summons to Parliament on the 12 (midnight) wireless . . . but mercifully not conveyed to me - so I missed hearing Winston’s speech today telling us that we were at war with Japan. This afternoon (or morning, I forget which) we all listened to Roosevelt announcing the villainies of Japan in the American Congress - he did the job remarkably well and only took eight minutes to do it; we heard him admirably. Clearly the Japanese must have caught the American navy napping - Roosevelt admits that a lot of damage has been done at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii - ‘an old battleship’ and a destroyer sunk, large numbers of aircraft destroyed, 3.000 casualties on Oahu Island, etc., etc.,. The Japanese are busy trying to land troops here, there and everywhere - Siam has already submitted to them - and presumably Burma will now be attacked. It is the old, old story - the enemy prepared, the Allies unprepared and no doubt we are in for a beastly time of it for a bit. Singapore has been bombed, also the Philippines and the American base on Guam Island has apparently been taken by Japan. In Russia things seem to be going well - the Germans have now decided not to take Moscow until the spring - the winter it seems is not a suitable time for military movement.

Monday, February 26, 2024

I am praying for your death

’The newspapers are attacking me more furiously than ever, for my speech on the 14th, and I have a swarm of abusive letters. One good lady says: “I am praying for your death; I have been very successful in two other cases.” The whole nation seems to be mad with rage and hatred. Nevertheless, on reading my speech again, I think it was rather unwise and provocative.’ This is from a diary kept by William Ralph Inge - who died 70 years ago today - during his time as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. He was a prolific author (being nominated three times for a Nobel Prize), and a very popular - if sometimes controversial - speaker.

Inge was born in 1860 in Crayke, Yorkshire, where his father, Rev. William Inge was then curate. He was educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, where his academic brilliance was evident early on. He worked as an assistant master at Eton from 1884 to 1888, and also a Fellow of King’s College. He was ordained deacon in 1888, and priest in 1892. In 1905, he married Mary Spooner and they had five children.

Inge was a prolific author of articles, lectures, sermons and books. His writing spanned a wide array of subjects, including theology, philosophy, history, and social criticism, earning him the nickname ‘The Gloomy Dean’ due to his pessimistic views on modern civilisation and technology’s impact on society. He is probably best known for his works on Plotinus and neoplatonic philosophy, and on Christian mysticism. He was also a columnist for the Evening Standard for many years, finishing in 1946. 

In 1907, Inge moved to Jesus College, Cambridge, on being appointed Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity. However, in 1911, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed him Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, a position he retained until his retirement in 1934. There he became a celebrated preacher - being often outspoken and provocative - who drew large congregations to the cathedral. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times; and he was awarded the Order of Merit in 1934, recognising his contributions to literature and philosophy. He died on 26 February 1954. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopedia.com.

Inge kept a diary during his time as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, which Macmillan published in 1950 as Diary of a Dean St Paul’s 1911-1934. This can be digitally borrowed from Internet Archive. Here is Inge’s own explanation for the book’s raison d’être.

‘When I resigned my office in 1934, Messrs. Longman published for me a small book of reminiscences called Vale, which I meant to be my ‘farewell’ to my public. The book was destroyed by enemy action, and several friends have expressed a wish that I would leave some recollection of my life at St. Paul’s. There have been threats that otherwise someone else might seek to draw my frailties from their dead abode, though I begged my family not to allow anything like a memoir to be compiled after my death, apart from the biographical notice which the British Academy prints of its deceased members. I had no suspicion, in 1934, that 1 should still be cumbering the ground fifteen years after my retirement, or I should have known that the cacoethes scribendi, the penman’s itch, is not to be resisted as long as publishers and readers are kind.

It was a strange experiment for a Prime Minister to uproot a shy scholar from his study table, and plunge him into the turmoil of London life. For I have no social gifts. I have inherited from my mother’s family, the Churtons, the faculty of being silent in several languages. I have been further handicapped by slowly increasing deafness, and by a ridiculous inability to remember faces. I have failed to recognise at least three duchesses, and a score of less exalted people. By rights I should have ended my days in college rooms, the world forgetting, by the world forgot. But I am glad to have escaped this fate. It was owing to my dear wife, who was greatly beloved in London, and had a singular power of winning the affection of all who knew her, that we were received into a circle of distinguished and wholly delightful friends, through whom we met many of the leading men and women in the national life.’

Here are several extracts from Inge’s diary.

18 April 1911
‘By the second post arrived a letter of great importance. Asquith tells me that he has the King’s consent to offer me the Deanery of St. Paul’s, vacant by the resignation of Dr. Gregory. I showed the letter to Kitty, and at first we could hardly believe it. I wrote to the Prime Minister to say that I felt rather overwhelmed by so unexpected an honour, and that I should like to consult the Archbishop of Canterbury before making up my mind. I did so, but I had really decided to accept. If the Prime Minister singles out a man who has never stirred a finger for preferment, who has no friends in high places and is not a political supporter, he must think that the choice is right. I ought not to refuse to go where I am sent. Kitty’s parents are in favour of my acceptance. My father-in-law said, “If you have no better reason for refusing than that you would rather live at Cambridge, it is your duty to accept.” ’

3 May 1911
‘I went to London and attended a party at Lambeth. The Archbishop and Mrs. Davidson were most kind. It was not altogether a pleasant beginning of my new work. I was incommoded financially by having to pay one-third of my stipend as pension. My nonagenarian predecessor had taken all the Dean’s appointments for the year in the first four months, so that I had no patronage of preachers till the end of the year. Worse still, he had refused to resign unless he was allowed to occupy the Deanery house till his death. This was a most improper arrangement, which not only put me to the greatest inconvenience, but made it very difficult for me to do my work properly. I went to a hotel; my wife and family remained at Cambridge.

In other ways the prospect seemed equally discouraging. Canon Pearce, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, said, “You have not even a casting vote. No one who is not an Anglo-Catholic has a chance of being appointed to a Chapter living.” I talked to the Archdeacon of London (Sinclair) about one or two things that I hoped to do. He said, “As long as Alexander and Newbolt are both here you are not going to be allowed to do anything.” These two men remained at St. Paul’s till near the end of my time there: one of them indeed much longer.

It is not generally known that Cathedral statutes differ widely. The older statutes give the Dean no independent power; those of the Reformation period give him a great deal. My friend Henson as Dean of Durham was under the statutes of Mary Tudor. He developed quite an affection for Bloody Mary, who would have made short work of him. I explained to Mr. Baldwin that at St. Paul’s the Chapter and not the Dean is what is called the Ordinary. “My dear Dean,” he replied, “nobody could suspect you of being the Ordinary.” I should not advise any man who loves power to accept the Deanery of St. Paul’s. The Dean is like a mouse watched by four cats.’

27 May 1911
‘I dined with the Prime Minister - a very mixed party, from royalties to journalists. Near me were Sir George Lewis the famous solicitor, and Sir John Hare the actor.’

10 June 1911
‘To Windsor, to preach before the King and Queen. I was met by a royal carriage drawn by two white horses, and by an enormous omnibus to carry my handbag. Two magnificent gentlemen escorted me to my apartments. The sitting-room contained portraits of Gladstone, Disraeli, Melbourne and other statesmen. In the evening a ‘page’, a splendid elderly personage, came to fetch me to the Red Drawing Room, where I was introduced to Lord Knollys, Lady Mary Trefusis, Lady Ampthill, and two pretty maids of honour. Then Their Majesties were announced. I took in Lady Ampthill, with the Queen on my left. The Queen, I heard afterwards, said, “What shall I talk about to this learned man?” and she said very little. I ought to have made conversation, though I had been told that it is not etiquette. The King afterwards talked to me mainly about his French tutor Hua, whom I remember as an Eton master. I do not know what they thought of my sermon next day, but they were very gracious to me.’ 

13 February 1912
‘I took the Chair at a meeting of the Sociological Society, where Dr. Saleeby read a paper on Eugenics. All through my time as Dean I took an active interest in Eugenics. I was a friend of Sir Francis Galton until his death. Vital statistics were an old hobby of mine, and I studied the population question in all its branches. After many years on the Council of the Eugenics Society I thought they were becoming too environmental, interested, in Galton’s phrase, in nurture rather than nature; and when they appointed Sir William Beveridge to give the Galton Lecture, I resigned my membership. To subsidise the teeming birth-rate of the slums is not the way to improve the quality of the population.’

19 April 1912
‘A great service for the victims of the Titanic. We were told that thousands were unable to get in.’

12 April 1917
‘I dined with the ‘Pilgrims’, invited by Sir Rider Haggard. I met Sir Charles Parsons, General Smuts, Lord d’Abernon, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Page, the American Ambassador, made a fine speech.’ 

7 July 1917
‘We were warned of an approaching raid. During the Second Lesson people began to leave the church, and soon there was a series of tremendous explosions close at hand. The boys sang the anthem most pluckily. The Central Telegraph Office, 150 yards from the cathedral, was wrecked. I went round to the Choir House to thank the boys for their courage.’

30 November 1917
‘I lunched with Lady Vera Herbert, whose house is full of packing-cases for our prisoners in Germany.’

14 December 1917
‘A Meeting of the ‘League for promoting International Friendship through the Churches’. I took the opportunity to tell them some unpopular truths. “We cherish three impossible hopes: (1) that we can destroy German militarism. We cannot; they will only live for revenge. (2) A restoration of the balance of power. This means a mad competition in armaments and the suicide of Europe. (3) That we can force Germany to adopt our democratic system. They do not want government by mass-bribery, and will prefer a military dictatorship.” I do not want to be unduly discouraging. There is a real horror of war among the peoples; but in spite of the proverb it takes only one to make a quarrel.’

17 December 1917
‘The newspapers are attacking me more furiously than ever, for my speech on the 14th, and I have a swarm of abusive letters. One good lady says: “I am praying for your death; I have been very successful in two other cases.” The whole nation seems to be mad with rage and hatred. Nevertheless, on reading my speech again, I think it was rather unwise and provocative.’

31 December 1917
‘So ends another year of protracted nightmare. Whatever is the end of the war, Europe is ruined for my lifetime and longer. Nearly one-fifth of the upper and middle class of military age - the public school and university men, from whom the officers arc chosen, are dead, and there is no rift in the clouds anywhere. Our people, slow and reluctant to enter the war, are now mad with rage and hatred, and will sacrifice anything rather than make terms with the enemy. It is indeed a terrible time.’

Friday, February 23, 2024

A wonderful day of Life

’A wonderful day of Life
Very sunny & fine.
Left Fenton with Willie & E. soon after 10.
at 11 - Glorious King Olaf a magnificent triumph.’
These are a few lines from the diary of the famous English composer Edward Elgar, who died 90 years ago today. Five volumes of his diaries have been published so far, with two more volumes to come. But if the first volume is anything to go by, the majority of diary entries are very short and prosaic, little more than a record of events and meetings.

Elgar was born in 1857, in the small village of Lower Broadheath, outside Worcester, England. His father owned a music shop and was a church organist. Elgar himself had little formal education in music and was largely self-taught, studying classical literature and compositions on his own and learning to play several instruments. Early work experiences included being a teacher, local bandmaster, and a church organist. He composed music for local events and societies, gradually building a reputation. In 1889, he married  Caroline Alice Roberts, a successful novelist. They spent much of their lives in and around Malvern, and Caroline acted as Elgar’s business manager and social secretary. They had one daughter, Carice.

Elgar’s breakthrough came in 1899 with a set of orchestral pieces - Enigma Variations - a composition that established him as a leading figure in British music. The following year, he composed another major work, the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius, which many consider his masterpiece. In 1904, Elgar was knighted, and from 1905 to 1908 he was the University of Birmingham’s first professor of music. His Pomp and Circumstances works were written between 1901 and 1907. 

During World War I, Elgar wrote occasional patriotic pieces. After the death of his wife in 1920, he virtually stopped composing, returning to Worcestershire in 1929. A friendship with George Bernard Shaw is said to have stimulated him to further composition, and at his death - on 23 February 1934 - he left an unfinished a third symphony, a piano concerto, and an opera. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Edward Elgar website.

Elgar may have been a great composer, but he was not a great diarist. Nevertheless, all his extant diaries - which had been used by generations of biographers but never previously been published - are being published in seven volumes as part of the ‘Collected Correspondence’. Five of the diaries have been transcribed and edited by Martin Bird and published by Elgar Works. Although Bird died in 2019, Paul Chennell has been appointed to conclude the final two volumes.

As Bird explains in his introduction to the first volume - Provincial Musician: Diaries 1857-1896 - the diaries were not kept by Elgar alone.

‘The Elgar family diaries, as we know them today, comprise a series of diaries and notebooks by Edward and Alice Elgar and their daughter Carice, covering a period of fifty years, from 1889 to 1939. This period encompasses the marriage of Edward and Alice through to the death of Carice’s husband. Samuel Blake, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. [. . .]

It seems likely that for much of the time there were multiple diaries in use: a family diary in which was written a retrospective record of the Elgars’ activities; Edward’s appointments diary; Edward’s diary containing his own retrospective record of activities; and a ‘tear off’ diary pad on which daily household appointments could be recorded. Carice, too, kept a diary, though none before 1921 is known to survive.

The first known diary to survive intact, of 1889, is Edward’s. In it he makes brief notes of his daily activities. The 1890 diary is also Edward’s, though here Alice provides the occasional entry. By 1891 the diaries have become very much a joint affair, with the balance of entries shifting gradually from Edward to Alice. From March 1895 entries are almost entirely by Alice, with the occasional comment by Edward. She kept up her recording of Elgarian activities until shortly before her death in 1920. From 1895 to 1920 just two of Edward’s diaries are known to survive, those for 1918 and 1920, and a few for the years after Alice’s death.

There is also a series of Elgar’s notebooks from some of the major holidays he took - to Paris in 1880, to Scotland in 1884. to Bavaria, Alassio, the Mediterranean cruise of 1905 and the West Country tour of 1910.’

The first volume’s contents offer a multitude of very short prosaic diary entries, sometimes combined with an explanatory narrative. Here’s a few examples.

17 August 1880
‘Left Victoria with C.E.P. (travelling 2nd Class) for Newhaven went on board the “Bordeaux”, about 10.30. Rough passage, not very ill, arrd. Dieppe abt. 6.30. Washed, had coffee &c. started for Paris 7.39, arrived there at 1.45, two hours late.’

18 August 1880
‘Wednesday, at Hotel Buckingham, Rue Pasquier, 32. Near the Madeleine, recommended here by Beare. Washed &c. Lunched at 3. Walked down to Notre Dame past the Louvre. Table d’hote at 6, too tired to eat. Strolled up the Boulevards until 10. Then bed. Very fine & hot.’

19 August 1880
‘Thursday. Slept well & comfortable rose at 9.30. started out at 11, saw S. Augustin Madeleine, S. Roch. portion of the Louvre, paintings & sculpture &c, refreshed. Palais Royal, all the shops &c. Charlie went home to write, went alone into Jardin de Tuilleries Place de la Concorde. Cabinet 15c. hair! Home to table d’hote at 6. rain & thunder &c: went into café opposite for billiards with some English, laughed consumedly at two Frenchmen playing. Afterwards, being fine, walked up the Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe, back again to Café chantant (programme) rather leggy. Home at 11’

1 January 1890
‘New-year’s day. Very fine & cold.
Miss E. Lander & Mr J. C. Ledlie to luncheon. Music after.’

2 January 1890
‘To the Misses Raikes. 15 Kensington Gardens Terr till Saturday Arrived in time for luncheon.
(E. to Beares)’

3 January 1890
‘at Ken: Gard: Terrace
E. called at Tuckwoods about Voluntaries & song ‘Man’
In afternoon to Farm St then Benediction Music at Ken. Gard: Terr present Genrl. R. Raikes Mr R. & Mrs R. Raikes Mrs & Miss Lambcn & Mr. &c’

4 January 1890
A & E to Tudor exhbn. called Schott’s
After luncheon, called Miss Raikes Talbot Sq & Miss Marshall Home to Oaklands 6.10’

5 January 1890
‘Very dull & wet.
At home all day.’

30 October 1896
‘A wonderful day of Life
Very sunny & fine.
Left Fenton with Willie & E. soon after 10.
at 11 - Glorious King Olaf a magnificent triumph.
Back to Fenton about 4.
The Pennys to tea.’

Thursday, February 15, 2024

At last we are off

‘At last we are off. The last of the cheering crowded boats have turned, the sirens of shore and sea are still, and in the calm hazy gathering dusk on a glassy sea we move on the long quest. Providence is with us even now. At this time of equinoctial gales not a catspaw of wind is apparent. I turn from the glooming immensity of the sea and, looking at the decks of the Quest, am roused from dreams of what may be in the future to the needs of the moment, for in no way are we shipshape or fitted to ignore even the mildest storm.’ This is from the diary of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton - born 150 years ago today - at the outset of his very last expedition. His expedition diaries though never published in their own right have been used often as a first hand source for books about the expeditions he led.

Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874, in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland, the second in a family of ten. His family moved to Dublin when he was four (so his father could study medicine at Trinity College) and to Sydenham in south London when he was ten. He was restless at school and allowed to leave at 16 to take up an apprenticeship ‘before the mast’ on a sailing vessel. After four years at sea, he passed his examination for second mate and then took up a post as third officer on a Welsh Shire Line tramp steamer. Two years later, he obtained his first mate’s ticket, and, in 1898, he was certified as a master mariner, qualifying him to command a British ship anywhere in the world. 

That same year, Shackleton joined the Union-Castle Line, but in 1901 he took leave and joined the British National Antarctic Expedition, to be led Led by Robert Falcon Scott. He was appointed third officer to the expedition’s ship Discovery; and a few months later was commissioned into the Royal Navy, with the rank of sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. During this expedition (1901-1903). Shackleton made valuable contributions to scientific research and began to establish his reputation as an explorer. However, he was sent home early by Scott, ostensibly on health grounds, though some sources suggest Scott was jealous of Shackleton’s popularity. 

Back in Britain, Shackleton spent some time as a journalist and was then elected secretary of the Scottish Royal Geographical Society. In 1906, he unsuccessfully stood for parliament in Dundee. In 1908, he returned to the Antarctic as the leader of his own expedition, on the ship Nimrod. During the expedition, his team climbed Mount Erebus, made many important scientific discoveries and set a record by coming even closer to the South Pole than before. He was knighted on his return to Britain.

However, it was Shackleton's Endurance Expedition (1914-1917) that would etch his name into the annals of exploration history. The expedition, officially known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, encountered catastrophic challenges when their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice and eventually sank. Stranded on the desolate Antarctic continent, Shackleton and his crew faced unimaginable hardships - extreme cold, starvation, and isolation. Through sheer determination and inspired leadership, Shackleton successfully kept every member of his team alive and led them to safety.

After the war, Shackleton organised further expeditions, including the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition (1921-1922) aboard the Quest in 1921, which had the goal of circumnavigating the continent. Tragically, it was during this expedition that he suffered a fatal heart attack in January 1922, while on South Georgia Island. Further information is available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, the official Shackleton website, Wikipedia, and the BBC.

Shackleton, like other early explorers, kept expedition diaries. However, as far as I can tell, they have never been published in diary form (as have other explorers’ journals - see Tragedy in Antartica for example by Sir Douglas Mawson and Vice-chancellor Priestley, both about the Nimrod expedition). Shackleton’s diaries have, however, been extensively used as source material for books about the polar expeditions, those by Shackleton himself and those by other explorers. See for example, The Heart of the Antarctic being the story of the British Antarctic expedition 1907-1909 (William Heinemann), and Shackleton’s Last Voyage - The Story of the “Quest” by Commander Frank Wild, C.B.E. (Cassell and Company). Both these latter books also contain a few direct quotations from Shackleton’s diaries.

From The Heart of the Antarctic
7 January 1909
‘We were up at 5 a.m., when the temperature was minus 13° Fahr. We were anxious to arrive at the end of our first five miles in good time for Mawson to get a meridian altitude, and take theodolite angles to the new mountain and Mount New Zealand, which were now almost disappearing from view below the horizon. Mawson made our latitude to-day 73° 43’. This was one of the coldest days we had as yet experienced on the plateau, the wind blowing from west by north. We all felt the pulling very much to-day, possibly because it was still slightly uphill, and probably partly on account of mountain lassitude. The distance travelled was ten miles.’

8 January 1909
‘To-day, also, was bitterly cold. The wind blew very fresh for some little time before noon from a direction of about west by north, raising much low drift. Our hands were frost-bitten several times when packing up the sledge. The cold blizzard continued for the whole day. At lunch time we had great difficulty in getting up the tent, which became again seriously torn in the process. Our beards were frozen to our Burberry helmets and Balaclavas, and we had to tear away our hair by the roots in order to get them off. We continued travelling in the blizzard after lunch. Mawson’s right cheek was frostbitten, and also the tip of my nose. The wind was blowing all the time at an angle of about 45° on the port bow of our sledge. We just managed to do our ten miles and were very thankful when the time came for camping.’

From Shackleton’s Last Voyage 
24 September 1921
‘At last we are off. The last of the cheering crowded boats have turned, the sirens of shore and sea are still, and in the calm hazy gathering dusk on a glassy sea we move on the long quest. Providence is with us even now. At this time of equinoctial gales not a catspaw of wind is apparent. I turn from the glooming immensity of the sea and, looking at the decks of the Quest, am roused from dreams of what may be in the future to the needs of the moment, for in no way are we shipshape or fitted to ignore even the mildest storm. Deep in the water, decks littered with stores, our very life-boats receptacles for sliced bacon and green vegetables for sea-stock; steel ropes and hempen brothers jostle each other; mysterious gadgets connected with the wireless, on which the Admiralty officials were working up to the sailing hour, are scattered about. But our twenty-one willing hands will soon snug her down.

A more personal and perplexing problem is my cabin - or my temporary cabin, for Gerald Lysaght has mine till we reach Madeira - for hundreds of telegrams of farewell have to be dealt with. Kind thoughts and kind actions, as witness the many parcels, some of dainty food, some of continuous use, which crowd up the bunk. Yet there is no time to answer them now.

We worked late, lashing up and making fast the most vital things on deck. Our wireless was going all the time, receiving messages and sending out answers. Towards midnight a swell from the west made us roll, and the sea lopped in through our wash-ports. About I A.M. the glare of the Aquitania’s lights became visible as she sped past a little to the southward of us, going west, and I received farewell messages from Sir James Charles and Spedding. I wish it had been daylight.

At 2 A.M. I turned in. We are crowded. For in addition to Mcllroy and Lysaght, I have old McLeod as stoker.’

25 September 1921
‘Fair easterly wind; our topsail and foresail set. All day cleaning up with all hands. We saw the last of England - the Scilly Isles and Bishop Rock, with big seas breaking on them; and now we head out to the west to avoid the Bay of Biscay. With our deep draught we roll along like an old-time ship, our fore-sail bellying to the breeze. The Boy Scouts are sick - frankly so, though Marr has been working in the stokehold until he really had to give in. Various messages came through. To-day it has been misty and cloudy, little sun. All were tired to-night when watches were set.’

26 September 1921
‘A mixture of sunshine and mist, wind and calm. Passed two steamers homeward bound, and one sailing ship was overhauling us in the afternoon, but the breeze fell light, and she dropped astern in the mist that came up from the eastward. Truly it is good to feel we are starting well, and all hands are happy, though the ship is crowded.

Two hands have to help the cook, and the little food hatchway is a blessing, for otherwise it is a long way round. Green is in his element, though our decks are awash amidship. He just dips up the water for washing his vegetables.

With a view to economy he boiled the cabbage in salt water. The result was not successful.

The Quest rolls, and we find her various points and angles, but she grows larger to us each day as we grow more used to her. I asked Green this morning what was for breakfast. “ Bacon and eggs,” he replied. “What sort of eggs?” “Scrambled eggs. If I did not scramble them they would have scrambled themselves ”- a sidelight on the liveliness of the Quest. Query, our wolf-hound puppy, is fast becoming a regular ship’s dog, but has a habit of getting into my bunk after getting wet.

We are running the lights from the dynamo, and, when the wireless is working, sparks fly up and down the backstays like fireflies. A calm night is ours.’

Friday, February 9, 2024

Am I going crazy?

‘I guess I really am a queer fish. When I write poems, as I’ve done at a brisk rate for the past 4 hours, they come to me out of locked rooms - out of nowhere. It is the oddest thing! I feel hot, in the same way I imagine a poker player must feel hot. But what bothers me is my constant bouts of depression. Am I going crazy? What is wrong? Am I simply bitchy?’ This is an extract from the diaries of Alice Walker, the celebrated American writer and the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Today is her 80th birthday.

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born on 9 February 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She grew up in a large sharecropper family during the era of segregation, but despite the challenges of her early life, including an accident that left her blind in one eye, she developed both an intellectual curiosity and a love of reading. She attended Spelman College, Atlanta, for two years before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she graduated in 1965. Her college years were marked by active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and, in 1967,, she married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal, a civil rights attorney. The marriage took place in New York because interracial marriage was still then illegal in the South. They had one child, but would divorce ten years later. Following graduation, she briefly worked for the New York City Department of Welfare. After returning to the South, she took a job working for the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Jackson, Mississippi.

Walker’s literary career began in the late 1960s, and led to the publication of a first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland in 1970 - with themes of family, racism, and the struggles of African Americans in the South. She moved to California which is where she wrote and published, in 1982, The Color Purple. The novel brought her international fame, and won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a critically-acclaimed film directed by Steven Spielberg and a successful Broadway musical.

Numerous novels, short story collections, essays, and volumes of poetry followed. However, Walker also involved herself wholeheartedly into various causes, including the civil rights movement, feminism, and environmentalism. Her work continues to inspire and challenge readers and writers around the world. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Walker’s official website, The Poetry Foundation, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Walker is a committed diarist having filled more than 60 journals through her life. In 2007, she placed these journals - along with hundreds of other documents and items from her personal archive - at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library in Atlanta. The journals, as well as certain business and financial files, were embargoed until 2040. However, in 2022, she chose to issue a collection of extracts from the embargoed journals in Gathering Blossoms Under Fire (Simon & Schuster), as edited by Valerie Boyd. She told The New York Times, ‘I want the journals to be used so that people can see this working through of disappointment, anger, sorrow, regret. So in that sense, it’s a medicine book.’ Much of the book can sampled at Googlebooks.

In her introduction, Boyd notes that the journal entries traverse an astonishing array of events: marching in Mississippi with other foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., or “the King,” as she called him; her marriage to a Jewish lawyer, partly to defy laws that barred interracial marriage in the 1960s South; an early miscarriage; the birth of her daughter; writing her first novel; the trials and triumphs of the women’s movement; erotic encounters and enduring relationships; the ancestral visits that led her to write The Color Purple; winning the Pulitzer Prize; being admired and maligned, in sometimes equal measure, for her work and her activism; burying her mother; and her estrangement from her own daughter.’ The personal, the political, and the spiritual, she adds, are layered and intertwined in the revealing narrative that emerges from the journals. 

The journal extracts are divided up into four parts by decade: Marriage, Movement, and Mississippi - 1960s; The Nature of This Flower Is to Bloom - 1970s; Be Nobody’s Darling - 1980s; You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down - 1990s. Here are several extracts from Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, mostly taken from the first part.

3 June 1966
‘Who cares to write stories “with punch?” Not I. Also I wonder if I could develop into an existentialist writer - actually I’m not sure what that means. An existentialist person understands the world is perhaps ending, and badly, and resolves to live a moral life anyhow.

I suppose I myself am an existentialist as much as I can understand its definition. All those months at Sarah Lawrence studying Camus, and Sartre, and it’s still rather vague - it would seem that whatever I wrote would probably be existential, doesn’t it? And yet it is not. I should probably become better acquainted with the potential of the short story. Right now I would like to do a story in the fashion of Ambrose Bierce. He is very much like Poe to me, even more terrifying, perhaps. Certainly more haunting than Ray Bradbury, whose stories I must also reconsider.’ 

27 June 1966
‘New York City. I have not left yet for Mississippi and feel so much anxiety about leaving my work that it seems almost absurd for me to go at all. But something draws me there, although I have no illusions about how much good I can do. I would like to go with Marian and Henry out through the woods and across those flatlands, going out so smoothly into the horizon.

The Upper East Side after the Lower East Side: too much glass, new cars, skinny girls and money. One must, I imagine, get used to both cleanliness and money and the fact that they are likely to make one sterile and sweet smelling, like a bar of soap.’

18 May 1967
‘I am afraid, worried, distracted, and it is an old-new feeling and quite unshakeable, although for Mel’s sake it must be overcome. There was a time when a mother-in-law’s shouts, as in a story, would have amused me; now they do not, of course. They fill me with dread for the knowledge that these shouts are unchangeable keeps me from being optimistic about a better future relationship.

I don’t think I know everything there is to know, but I do know that I love my husband. This pain each time he pains, sickness even in my body because he feels it, too. My life is double and our lives, one.

We are both nervous, jittery from caring so much about each other.’

4 December 1967
‘A lot has happened since my last entries, easily six or seven months ago. My life is more full than I ever thought it could be. And that is because of my love, not so much my work. Art will always copy life.

My husband has arrived and claimed me forever. He is The One; it is like a fairy tale in its finality - can there be any doubt that, no matter what we will live happily ever after? I did not believe I could become One with anyone - but now I am One. With M.

It seems true that one’s dreams might come true if one waits long enough and remains a hopeful virgin at heart.

The novel too is becoming a reality, albeit a slow one. Perhaps I should have stuck with Hemingway’s example - stories until the Novel was inevitable. I don’t know. Maybe I just write funny. In any case, I think I can see improvement in many themes, stories, “ideas.”

Mel and I are independent. No debts yet. I like this. It gives us freedom from people who only come to pry. Sometimes I wonder if we are more or less complicated (our lives) than when we were single. It is such a strange and sometimes fearful comfort: having someone to lean on.’

11 July 1968
‘After many months of wondering how I, as a married woman, could continue a personal diary, 1 found the answer (I think) quite by accident last night. And it happened when a third person, a girl we love, hurt my husband’s feelings. Then I realized, as I felt his pain, that he is my personal life and that the true joining has come about between us.

He was hurt because Barbara, our closest friend, still regards him on the nitty gritty level as white. I suppose I’m the only black person who does not. Indeed, we are shipwrecked on the American island, just us two against both black and white worlds, but how it makes our love keen! I am reminded of Voznesensky’s poem about pressured lovers being like two shells enclosing their pain but also their intense joy at being permitted by the gods such magnificent, almost heroic emotion.

How I would have been bored as a preacher’s wife!

Now that I’ve found my voice is big enough, occasionally, for two, there is so much to write about that I could not before. There is the growing animosity which blacks in Jackson have towards whites - but not towards the white Mississippi crackers who deserve it, but towards the white civil rights workers who in my opinion do not.

I am thinking now of how Ronnie’s head was split open by a young kid up in Bolivar. Ronnie! Who has worked his ass off every summer in Mississippi hauling black people to the polls -  because he is white and the black kid knew he wouldn’t fight back and wouldn’t call the police! It is so unfair. And then poor Ted Seaver, beaten to a pulp because he was a more effective organizer than his black “friend.” And then there is the black man from Boston who left his family to come work in Mississippi (wife, children; why didn’t he “work” in Roxbury, it needs it as much as Mound Bayou?) who threatened to beat up my husband? If he ever tried it I’d want to murder him and there’s no question I’d want Mel to press charges. Enough is enough! As far as I’m concerned, as long as Mel works to change this world into a better one he’s guilty of nothing. And of course to me there are no white people only white minds. Malcolm learned this, I suspect Baldwin knew it all along. How could my husband be white when we are together trying to make the world fit for our brown babies, our friends who are different colors outside but black by choice?

Barbara objected to Mel’s confidence in this country’s capacity to repress any black uprising. But she and I have said the same thing, made the same dour observation. After all this time though she resents hearing him say it as a white man. And though it is easy to understand her resentment, we are very hurt  - was it because we thought that among our small circle of friends we had abolished the concept of color based on skin color alone?’

11 April 1970
‘Jackson, Mississippi. I guess I really am a queer fish. When I write poems, as I’ve done at a brisk rate for the past 4 hours, they come to me out of locked rooms - out of nowhere. It is the oddest thing! I feel hot, in the same way I imagine a poker player must feel hot. But what bothers me is my constant bouts of depression. Am I going crazy? What is wrong? Am I simply bitchy? I think I will make an effort to get away for a little while. I feel locked inside myself. I feel cramped. And yet when did I ever have more? Somehow that is the problem. I am insecure or else a raging feminist. I resent so many small things - and god knows I don’t want to be picayune.

Hurray! The novel is done - the galleys done, the book jacket already printed (according to Hiram). I cannot believe it - How long it has been, almost three years!

Now I have so many questions going around in my head. Who to send what stuff to. Isn’t that a switch?

Who am I? Why did I lose my wedding ring? Why do I go passive & get headachy so often?’

21 August 1973
‘So now I know - it is possible to fall in love (all over again, or perhaps for the first time) with one’s husband! Because I am in love with Mel. I am becoming sexually awakened truly for the first time. Liking sex and easy about it. It has probably been hard work over the years for Mel - luckily it was work he enjoyed.

Ruth tells me that Mama says “nothing happened” when she made love with Daddy until after Curtis was born, when she was in her thirties. Perhaps it is true that women develop later than they seem to.’

I would like to be a man

Amy Lowell, a colourful and influential personality in American poetry during the first quarter of the 20th century, was born 150 years ago today. Apart from writing her own poetry, she also promoted contemporary and historical poets; and she authored the introduction to an anthology of very early Japanese diaries translated into English. She did not, it seems, keep a diary herself apart from during a few years when still a teenager. These youthful diaries have been used by biographers to show a marked youthful preference for friendship with, and love of, other girls.

Lowell was born on 9 February 1874 into a wealthy and prominent Brookline (Massachusetts) family. She was educated at home and at private schools, travelling widely with her family, but she never attended college. She had two brothers who went on to achieve some fame, one as an astronomer, and one as president of Harvard College. Amy is said to have compensated for a lack of university education by reading avidly, and through collecting books. In her late 20s, she turned to poetry, not publishing, though, until 1910 when a poem of hers appeared in Atlantic Monthly. Two years later she issued her first book of poems, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, which was followed by Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds.

From 1912 or so, Lowell and the actress Ada Dwyer Russell were reputed to be lovers, and Russell is said to be the subject of Lowell’s more erotic works. The two women travelled to England together, where Lowell met Ezra Pound, who then became both an influence and a critic of her work. In particular, Lowell is considered to have displaced Pound as leader of the so-called Imagist poets (considered by some to be forerunners of the Modernist movement); and Pound, reportedly, considered suing Lowell over her use of the word ‘Imagist’ in the title of a series of anthologies.

During her later years, Encyclopaedia Britannica says, Lovell was the most striking figure in American poetry: ‘Her vivid and powerful personality, her independence and zest made her conspicuous, as did her scorn of convention in such defiant gestures as smoking cigars.’ Apart from publishing her own poems, Lowell was also a keen promoter of both contemporary and historical poets. She died in 1925; and the following year was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection, What’s O’Clock.

Further biographical information is available from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, Modern American Poetry, or Wikipedia.

Lowell did not leave behind, as far as I can tell, any adult diaries. However, biographers have made good use of a few teenage journals which are held in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Melissa Bradshaw, for example, in Amy Lowell, Diva Poet (Ashgate Publishing, 2011) says in her introduction (available to read online at Googlebooks):

‘[Lowell’s] adolescent journals show that she regards her friends’ obsessive interest in boys as curious, and their mistaken assumption that a diary entry confessing love for a girl ("Oh my darling!!!!! My darling!!!!!!”) is directed at a boy amusing (“Walter; oh it is too rich”). In the diary entries that follow, however, she concedes that she might marry “if I ever find a man I can love and who will love me equally and will have me,” showing that she does not view marriage as a given but rather a choice predicated on companionate love.’

Towards the end of her first chapter, Bradshaw adds: ‘Entry after entry, however, chronicles her intense, passionate, unrequited love for several female friends. In these entries, Lowell tries to imagine how a life devoted to loving women might unfold and what it might look like. Unable to quite conceptualise this, she instead wishes to be a man: “I can imagine falling in love with a woman, but not with a man, I should like to be a man, and fall in love with a woman.” In one particularly anguished entry, routinely ignored by biographers, Lowell clearly articulates her desire for women, her despair at ever being allowed to fulfil her desires, and her suspicion that others might feel similarly’:

26 January 1890
‘Nobody could ever love me I know. I am but a contemptible being, but I want love, love, love. I know I am making a fool of myself but shurely there are others who have such thoughts. . . If I were a man I’d ask [Patty Storrow, a friend] to be my wife. But I am a woman. I can only ask her to love me and and I cannot do that. . . Men I could not love. My ideal is too high. But I want, need, yearn, for the love of a strong, tender woman. Oh God! Bless her and help me! Amen!’

Elsewhere in Bradshaw’s book this extract is also quoted:

8 January 1889
‘Oh! Wouldn’t I like to be a man . . . [B]eing a man would be fine; no dependence, go where you please, do what you please . . . Oh well, what me be must be. I would like to be a man. Now.’

Amy Lowell, it is also worth noting, wrote the introduction to a 1920 book called Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi, and published by Houghton Mifflin in the US and Constable in the UK. The full text and illustrations are widely available on the internet, at Internet Archive and at A Celebration of Women Writers hosted by Penn Libraries. The book has twice featured in The Diary Review before - Japan, a millennium ago about Shikibu Murasaki and A lady of Old Japan about the Sarashina Diary.

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 9 February 2014.

Monday, February 5, 2024

All sorts of colours

Countess Cowper, Lady of the Bedchamber to Caroline Princess of Wales, the highest ranking lady in Britain at the time, died three centuries ago today. Her much older husband, Earl Cowper, who had served as the first Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, had died a few months earlier. While at Court, the Countess kept a detailed diary - not published for more than a century - full of gossip, intrigue and colour about life in the early years of the newly-established Royal House of Hanover. It also includes a detailed description of the astonishing night when a display of Northern Lights caused all of London to come out onto the streets.

Mary Clavering was born in 1685, the daughter of John Clavering, of Chopwell, County Durham. She married William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper, who had recently been made Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, in 1706, though the marriage was kept secret to begin with (for no reason discernible today). She is said to have been a beautiful and accomplished woman. This was Earl Cowper’s second marriage, although he had also had a mistress before marrying Mary who bore him two illegitimate children.

Earl Cowper took part in negotiating the union of England with Scotland, and was appointed the first Lord Chancellor of the newly-formed Great Britain in 1707. On the death of Queen Anne (in 1714), her successor George I appointed Cowper one of the Lords Justices for governing the country during the king’s absence, and a few weeks later he again became Lord Chancellor.

When Hanover-born George took the throne, his son, George Augustus (who would go on to become King George II) also came to England with his wife Caroline. The two were titled as Prince and Princess of Wales, and, as King George I was estranged from his imprisoned wife, Caroline was thus the highest ranked woman in the land. The same year, 1714, Countess Cowper, who had been corresponding with Caroline in Hanover for some years, was appointed as her Lady to the Bedchamber. The Countess’s language skills are said to have been of great benefit in helping her husband liaise with the new court; and, initially, both the Earl and Countess helped ease the ongoing tensions between King and heir.

Earl Cowper, though, resigned office in 1718, ostensibly on grounds of ill-health, but most likely for being thought to have sided with the Prince of Wales, and having lost the confidence of the King. He retired to his home at Cole Green, Hertford. Mary, however, remained at court for some years. Earl Cowper died in 1723, and Mary died several months later. A little further information is available from Wikipedia or The Peerage.

Mary Cowper is largely remembered today for the lively and informative diary she kept all the time she was at court, although later she destroyed many entries (for 1717-1719), apparently to protect her husband who was suspected of plotting with Jacobites. What remained of the diary was first published by John Murray in 1864 as Diary of Mary Countess Cowper, Lady of the Bedchamber to The Princess of Wales 1714-1720, and is freely available online at Internet Archive. The work is notable for its intimate pictures of court, all the scheming and gossiping, at the beginning of the British monarchy’s House of Hanover (which ended with Queen Victoria).

(Mary Cowper was also responsible for preserving the diary of her friend David Hamilton, physician to Queen Anne, see The Diary Review - The spirit of millipedes.) Here are a few extracts from Countess Cowper’s diary, including one about a spectacular show of the Northern Lights in London.

19 October 1714
‘We went to my Lord Mayor’s Show, four of us in the Duchess of Shrewsbury’s Coach, and two with the Prince’s Lords in one of the King’s Coaches. We stood at a Quaker’s, over against Bow Church. I thought I should have lost the Use of my Ears with the continual Noise of Huzzas, Music, and Drums; and when we got to the Hall the Crowd was inconceivably great. My poor Lady Humphreys made a sad Figure in her black Velvet, and did make a most violent Bawling to her Page to hold up her Train before the Princess being loath to lose the Privilege of her Mayoralty. But the greatest Jest was that the King and the Princess both had been told that my Lord Mayor had borrowed her for that Day only; so I had much ado to convince them of the Contrary, though he by Marriage is a Sort of Relation of my Lord’s first Wife. At last they did agree that if he had borrowed a Wife, it would have been another Sort of One than she was.

This Day was the Prince’s Birthday. I never saw the Court so splendidly fine. The Evening concluded with a Ball, which the Prince and Princess began. She danced in Slippers [i.e. low-heeled shoes which were not the fashion at the time] very well, and the Prince better than Anybody.’

2 November 1714
‘I brought the Princess a Book that Madame Kielmanfegge had sent me to give her, and after presenting it I understood by Mrs. Howard that there was a mortal Hatred between them, and that the Princess thought her a wicked Woman. She also told me that her sending it to me was a Design to persuade the Princess that she was very well with me, in order to ruin my Credit with her; ‘For,’ added she, ‘if it had not been so, she would have sent it either by the Duchess of Bolton or Shrewsbury, that are so well with her; but she never stuck a Pin into her Gown without a Design.’ Piloti told me that she was the Daughter of the old Countess of Platen, who was Mistress to the King’s Father, and had caused the Separation.’

15 November 1714
‘I came into Waiting. I was ill when I came in, and continued so the whole Week. The Princess told me she had seen the Treatise on the State of Parties, already mentioned, and complimented me mightily upon it. In the Evening I played at Basset as low as I could, which they rallied me for; but I told my Mistress I played out of Duty, not Inclination, and having four Children, Nobody would think ill of me if for their Sakes I desired to save my Money, when I did not do Anything that was mean, dishonest, or dishonourable; for which she commended me, and said she thought the principal Duty of a Woman was to take care of her Children.’

17 November 1714
‘Dr. Clarke came in this Morning and presented the Princess with his Books. This Day she expressed a Dislike to my Lady Bristol’s Project of attacking the Duchess of Shrewsbury in the House of Commons about her being a Foreigner, and consequently incapable of having any Place about the Princess.

The Duchess of Bolton asked me to go to her House to meet the Prince and play at Cards with all the Ladies of the Bedchamber. But I was in Waiting: the Duchess of St. Albans supped out also that Night where the King was. She had been made Groom of the Stole the Week before, and so the Duchess of Shrewsbury had come into her Place; and now Lady Bristol laboured to get in, in the same Manner that the Duchess of Shrewsbury had been before. But she has since had a direct Denial.’

21 November 1714
‘I went to Chapel, which concluded the Service of my Week. I received a thousand Marks of my Mistress’s Favour, as embracing me, kissing me, saying the kindest Things, and telling me that she was truly sorry for my Week of Waiting was so near out. I am so charmed with her good Nature and good Qualities, that I shall never think I can do enough to please her. I am sure, if being sincerely true and just to her will be any Means to merit Favour, I shall have it, for I am come into the Court with Resolution never to tell a Lie; and I hope I find the good Effects of it, for she reposes more Confidence in what I say than in any others, upon that very Account.’

25 February 1716
‘Sir D. Hamilton cannot get into the Tower to Lord Carnwath. They are more strictly kept since the Escape. I was with the Princess, who had just received a Letter from Madame d’Orléans stuffed with Lies of the Jacobites, which they wrote from England just before the Pretender got to Lorraine. The Princess says the King and Prince are much displeased with Lord Nottingham. She thinks Monsieur Robetbon a Knave, and Baron Bothmar another. Company came in and stopped our Conversation.’

6 March 1716
‘At Court. An extraordinary Light in the Sky, described to me since by Dr. Clarke, who saw it from the Beginning. First appeared a black Cloud, from whence Smoke and Light issued forth at once on every Side, and then the Cloud opened, and there was a great Body of pale Fire, that rolled up and down, and sent forth all Sorts of Colours like the Rainbow on every Side; but this did not last above two or three Minutes. After that it was like pale elementary Fire issuing out on all sides of the Horizon, but most especially at the North and North-west, where it fixed last. The Motion of it was extremely swift and rapid, like Clouds in their swiftest Rack. Sometimes it discontinued for a While, at other Times it was but as Streaks of Light in the Sky, but moving always with Swiftness. About one o’Clock this Phenomenon was so strong, that the whole Face of the Heavens was entirely covered with it, moving as swiftly as before, but extremely low. It lasted till past Four, but decreased till it was quite gone. At One the Light was so great that I could, out of my Window, see People walk across Lincoln’s Inn Fields, though there was no Moon. Both Parties turned it on their Enemies. The Whigs said it was God’s Judgement on the horrid Rebellion, and the Tories said that it came for the Whigs taking off the two Lords [see below] that were executed. I could hardly make my Chairmen come Home with me, they were so frightened, and I was forced to let my Glass down, and to preach to them as I went along, to comfort them. I’m sure Anybody that had overheard the Dialogue would have laughed heartily. All the People were drawn out into the Streets, which were so full of people One could hardly pass, and all frighted to Death.’ [This was a display of the Northern Lights, once dubbed Lord Derwentwater’s Lights because the coffin of Lord Derwentwater, a young Jacobite executed for treason, had been brought to London that night.]

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 5 February 2014.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Puffins, pipits and plovers

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the American ornithologist and painter of birds, Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Although there are no published books of his journals, Cornell University, which holds the Fuertes archive, has put online a journal kept by Fuertes while exploring the Alaskan coastline, though it is mostly a list of birds seen or shot at!

Fuertes was born in Ithaca, New York, on 4 February 1874. His father, from a Spanish Puerto Rican family, was a professor of civil engineering at Cornell University, while his mother was of Dutch ancestry. As a child, Louis became very interested in birds, being much influenced by Audubon’s Birds of America, and made his first painting of a bird aged 14; and, at 17, he became an Associate Member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He studied architecture at Cornell University, but all his enthusiasm and aptitude was  focused on painting birds. While still an undergraduate, he was receiving commissions and having his work exhibited. After Cornell, he went to work with Abbott Handerson Thayer, a well-known American artist and naturalist.

In 1898, Fuertes made his first expedition, with Thayer and his son Gerald, to Florida, and the following year accompanied the railway magnate E. H. Harriman on his famous exploration of the Alaska coastline. In 1904, Fuertes married Margaret Sumner and they had two children. He travelled across much of the US and other countries, mostly in the Americas, always in pursuit of birds. A prolific artist, he produced illustrations abundantly, mostly for ornithological books, popular and scientific. He collaborated with Frank Chapman, curator of the American Museum of Natural History, on many assignments. While on a collecting expedition together in Mexico, Fuertes discovered a species of oriole, which Chapman named Icterus fuertesi, commonly called Fuertes’s Oriole, after his friend.

According to an old version of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fuertes work ‘is characterised by a fidelity to nature involving not only objective but subjective accuracy. His genius lay in the power to reproduce subtle, fleeting, and intangible qualities of birds that reflected their individuality to a remarkable degree, an ability as much the result of a highly sympathetic and very extensive knowledge of birds in their haunts as it was of technical skill.’ His most extensive work was a series of large plates illustrating The Birds of New York, published by the state and covering practically every species of eastern North America. He died in 1927. Biographical information can be found from Wikipedia, Cornell University’s Guide to the Louis Agassiz Fuertes Papers, or PBS.

Cornell’s guide to Fuertes’ papers mentions diaries and journals, but few, if any, have been published. In 1936, Doubleday, Doran & Co published Artist and Naturalist in Ethiopia, described as diaries kept on the Field Museum-Chicago Daily News Ethiopian Expedition, by Wilfred Hudson Osgood and Fuertes. It’s most likely, though, that Fuertes only provided the illustrations for this book. Otherwise, the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections has made freely available online diary entries written by Fuertes during Harriman’s Alaska expedition in 1899.

5 June 1899
This A.M. at Fort Wrangell, Alaska, got my first raven, & Townsend’s finch, also Stetler’s jay. Saw lutescent W., shot one, but couldn’t find it. Ridgway got a fine Oregon Junco, Fisher a red throated woodpecker, parus rufescens, & Lincoln’s finch. Heard in the forest, by Farragut bay, a hermit-like thrush song, but couldn’t find the author. The ravens made more noise even than usual. Hummers seen & heard by others of the party.

Townsend’s Sparrow in song. Its note is a typical passerella song. very clear and sweet, noticeable for the same deliberation with which the fox sparrow makes its notes. The bird was found on the sunny slope cleared of its bigger growth, facing the bay. Its appearance is somewhat thrush-like due to its heavily spotted breast and uniform brown back, though its attitudes are perfectly typical of its family.

Golden Crowned sparrows were singing at summit-White Pass. They were found in the scrub hemlock in the snow, and occasionally uttered their clear notes. The song was at once recognizable as zonotrichias, consisting of 8 notes, each perfectly distinct and true, and remarkable for the sweetness and purity of their tone: just the kind of a note one would like to find in the frosty air of the mt. tops. The attitudes and flight of the birds were exactly similar to those of the White Crowned, unless perhaps the occipital part of the crest was thrown out farther. Perhaps this appearance was due to the much darker coloration of the whole top of the head.

Mr. Ridgway got two Leucostictes (litoralis) on the R.R. track at the summit, and pipits were seen & taken. Between Juneau and Glacier bay, we saw Marbled Gull.

24 June 1899
Yesterday afternoon we were followed for hours by a large majestic bird that the various sharks aboard disagreed upon. Elliot thought he was a fulmar petrel -- while Fiske + Merriam thought it was a black-footed Albatross. Its wings were very flat -- a little down curved if anything Puffins were continually flying + little bunches from 5 to 20 or 30 would pass nearby at short intervals. They looked very curious, like parrots fore and guillemots aft. Some murrelets and one new kind of guillemots were seen; the latter white-breasted.

7 July 1899
Put off a party at Popof Island this A.M., July 7-99. and Fisher + I went ashore for about one hour, + got a pair of the big Unalaska Song Sparrow. This and the Kadiak form seen to take very kindly to the rocky shores, seldom being seen inland or in the uplands above the shore. Their song seems to preserve to a remarkable degree, its identity with that of the eastern form, tho’ the birds differ in almost every other respect.

12 July 1899
Fisher and I (many others) went ashore on the mainland at Port Clarence Bay, Alaska, and went up the stream where the ship was watering. First bird seen was a pipit (A. Pensilv. ) and soon after saw the yellow wagtail which we had found in Siberia. It turned out to be common, several specimens were obtained. Alice’s thrush was common, + obtained for the first time on the trip. Cole got a Mealy? red poll, and I found a nest with 5 eggs - both redpolls seemed common enough. About the finest sensation we had was a successful hunt after golden plover. I got 3 + F. two, all in more or less perfect summer plumage. The birds have the most beautiful calls + song. They sit at quite a distance from each other in the wet mossy hill meadows and call and answer back + forth. The calls can all be imitated by a full clear whistle, so that the birds answer quite eagerly - whip whee + a shorter note of the same notes, lower, are the common calls, but the song is a rich full warble, of a cadence - repeated - somewhat suggesting a blue-bird song done in R.B. Grosbeak quality.

Dr. F. + I, while separated by quite a distance, saw at the same time a long tailed Jaeger, sitting on a moss tuft way off on a distant hill; and unbeknownst to it and to us, he became the apex of a triangle , where F. + I were doomed to meet. Our sneak became interesting as we neared each other, + became aware of our position. The bird however, relieved us of our responsibility, + let us both out in a sportsmanlike manner by catching sight of me first, and rising with a scream which I took for alarm at first, but when he repeated it came squealing straight at me, I saw that it was defiance, and there was nothing to do but wait for him to get the right distance and shoot in self-defence. When I had come up to the beautiful bird, + was kneeling over it, Fisher’s voice came up the rise -- “let me take the other,” + I looked up to see the mate rising as he approach, at rt [angles] to the course of the first one. Nearer he came, + I itched as he passed over me at nearly 40 ft. I could see him eye me, + his squealing cries were so near that their quality seemed surprising -- very like big hawk’s cries. His long tail feathers oscillated + spread slightly at the tips with each wing stroke. He went right by me, straight on towards Dr. F. + when he got just right -- bang -- and with wings set in a V he came smoothly down into the grass, and we sat together in the mossy hillside and held the first long-tailed jaegers that either of us had ever seen to shoot at. The feet were black, like black rubber, and the rest of the legs light bird blue and the bill black with a “milky flesh color” interior.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 4 February 2014.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Fat alligators in Florida

Andrew Ellicott, one of the most important early surveyors in the United States, was born 270 years ago today. He helped survey borders with Canada and with the Spanish territories, worked on the boundaries of the District of Columbia, and completed the plan for Washington D.C. Unpublished diaries kept by Ellicott on some survey expeditions have been used by biographers, but there is one diary he published himself, concerning his work in ‘determining the boundary between the United States and the possessions of His Catholic Majesty in America’. It is full of well-observed notes on the land he’s passing through, its people, soils, rivers, minerals, and animals, not least the alligators.

Ellicott was born on 24 January 1754 in Buckingham Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the first child in what would be a large Quaker family. His father, a miller and clockmaker, together with his two brothers, purchased land on the Patapsco River and set up a new milling business there, founding the town of Ellicott’s Mills in 1772. Some three years later Andrew married Sarah Brown and they had nine children that survived childhood. He enlisted as a commissioned officer in the Elk Ridge Battalion of the Maryland militia during the American War of Independence, and rose to the rank of major.

After the war, Ellicott returned home to Ellicott’s Mills until he was appointed, in 1784, to the group tasked with extending the survey of the Mason-Dixon line (this had operated from 1763 tasked with resolving a border dispute between British colonies in Colonial America, but had been stalled since 1767). During the survey, he worked alongside the scientist David Rittenhouse and the educator and bishop James Madison. In 1785, the Ellicotts moved to Baltimore, where Andrew taught mathematics at the Academy of Baltimore. The following year he was elected to the legislature, and was called upon to survey and define the western border of Pennsylvania. This so-called Ellicott Line later became the principal meridian for the surveys of the Northwest Territory.

When Ellicott was subsequently appointed to lead other surveys in Pennsylvania, the family moved again in 1789 to Philadelphia. By recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, he was appointed by the new government under George Washington to survey the lands between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to determine the border between Western New York and U.S. territory, resulting in the Erie Triangle. This survey, during which he also made the first topographical study of the Niagara River including the Niagara Falls, did much to enhance his reputation as a surveyor.

From 1791 to 1792, Ellicott surveyed the boundaries of the federal Territory of Columbia, which would become the District of Columbia in 1801. His team placed forty boundary stones a mile or so apart, many of which remain today. At the same time, he worked on surveying the future city of Washington, a project that brought much conflict with the French-born architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Further major projects followed for Ellicott, planning of the city of Erie, and working with the commission that was surveying the borders, negotiated in the Treaty of San Lorenzo, between the Spanish territories in Florida and the United States.

This latter work took four years, after which the John Adam’s government refused to pay Ellicott, and refused him access to the maps he had submitted, leaving him in serious financial trouble. It took until 1803 for the maps to be released to him, under Thomas Jefferson’s administration, which also offered Ellicott the post of Surveyor Journal. He turned it down, accepting instead a quieter life as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Land Office, and moving with his family to live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also in 1803, Jefferson engaged Ellicott to teach Meriwether Lewis, who would later be one of the leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition (see White bear, drunk Indians).

After being fired by a new administration in Pennsylvania, Ellicott returned to private practice, and was hired to re-survey the border between Georgia and North Caroline. This job also ended acrimoniously, without his fees being paid, and the family moved to West Point where Ellicott worked as a professor of mathematics at the military academy. After one last significant survey, concerning the western border between Canada and the US in 1817, Ellicott died in 1820. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or from biographies freely available at Internet Archive, such as Andrew Ellicott - His Life and Letters by Catharine Van Cortlandt Mathews.

Ellicott was accustomed to keeping a diary on his survey expeditions, at least from the mid-1780s. Mathews says this: ‘Records of his earlier surveys were not kept, and it is not until ten years after his marriage that we have the first of those letters and diaries which tell the story of his life so simply and so unassumingly that the biographer cannot do better than to let them speak for him. They form a clear and fascinating picture of the men and manners, the country and the State of Andrew Ellicott’s day, while through even the briefest of them, shines out the character of the man himself, in all its simplicity, integrity, and kindliness. Between the lines of almost every scrap of manuscript he has left behind him, may be traced the quiet, sensible courage, the quick and keen observation of men and things, the tremendous capacity for hard work, and the complete indifference to the lures of wealth or fame, which seem to have been recognized by all who came in contact with him as the most characteristic qualities of the man.’

In her biography (published in 1908), Mathews quotes from various of Ellicott’s unpublished diaries. The only diary of Ellicott’s that appeared in his own lifetime was the one he kept in the late 1790s while surveying the border between the US and the Spanish territories. He was only able to publish this, finally, in 1803, when allowed access to the survey’s maps. The book, which is freely available at Internet Archive has an impressive title:

The Journal of Andrew Ellicott: late commissioner on behalf of the United States during part of the year 1796, the years 1797, 1798, 1799, and part of the year 1800: for determining the boundary between the United States and the possessions of His Catholic Majesty in America, containing occasional remarks on the situation, soil, rivers, natural productions, and diseases of the different countries on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Gulf of Mexico, with six maps comprehending the Ohio, the Mississippi from the mouth of the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, the whole of West Florida, and part of East Florida; to which is added an appendix, containing all the astronomical observations made use of for determining the boundary on a large scale, likewise a great number of Thermometrical Observations made at different times and places.

Here are several extracts.

6 December 1797
‘Spent at work upon our boats. Squalls of snow all day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 28°.’

7 December 1797
‘Finished repairing our boats. Cloudy great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 18° to 26°.’

8 December 1797
‘Detained till evening by our commissary, who was employed in procuring provision. Set off about sun down.’

The town of Louis Ville stands a short distance above the rapids on the east side of the river. The situation is handsome, but said to be unhealthy. The town has improved but little for some years past. The rapids are occasioned by the water falling from one horizontal stratum of lime-stone, to another; in some places the fall is perpendicular, but the main body of the water when the river is low, runs along a channel of a tolerably regular slope, which has been through length of time worn in the rock. In the spring when the river is full, the rapids are scarcely perceptible, and boats descend without difficulty or danger. Thermometer rose from 22° to 29°.’

9 December 1797
‘Floated all night. Stopped in the morning to cook some victuals, and then proceeded on till sunset and encamped.  Thermometer rose from 27° to 35°, Water in the river 53°.’

10 December 1797
‘Left the shore at sunrise. About nine o’clock in the morning discovered a Kentucky boat fast upon a log, and upon examination found that it was deserted, and suspected that the crew were on shore in distress, which we soon found to be the case. The crew consisted of several men, women, and children, who left the boat two days before in a small canoe when they found their strength insufficient to get her off. They were without any shelter, to defend them from the inclemency of the weather, and it was then snowing very fast. We spent two hours in getting the boat off, and taking it to the shore, where we received the thanks of the unfortunate crew, and left them to pursue their journey.

Having a desire to determine the geographical position of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the large store boat not being calculated for expedition, I left her with directions to follow with all possible despatch, and pushed on myself for the mouth of the river. Stopped at sun down, to give our men time to cook some victuals: set off at eight o’clock in the evening, and proceeded down the river against a strong head wind till almost midnight, when it became so violent that we had to put to shore. Snow great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 28°. Water in the river 33°.’

11 Decmber 1797
‘Left the shore at daylight, and worked against a strong head wind till sunset, then went on shore to dress some victuals. Cloudy great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 23° to 29°. Left the shore at eight o’clock in the evening, and worked all night against a strong head wind.’

15 December 1797
‘Much ice in the river. Stopped at an Indian camp, and procured some meat. Dined at the great cave. This cave may be considered as one of the greatest natural curiosities on the river, and I have constantly lamented that I could not spare time to make a drawing of it, and take its dimensions. It is situated on the west side of the river. The entrance is large and spacious, and remarkably uniform, the dome is elliptical, and the uniformity continues to its termination in the hill.

Stopped about sunset to take in some wood. Set off in half an hour and floated all night. Cloudy part of the day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 41°.’

16 December 1797
‘At eight o’clock in the morning, one of our boats unfortunately ran on the roots of a tree, which were under water, and bilged. We spent till near one o’clock in the afternoon in repairing her, and then proceeded down the river till about sunset and encamped. The weather that day was very pleasant. Thermometer rose from 35° to 51°. Passed Cumberland river at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.’

19 December 1797
‘Set up the clock, and prepared to make some astronomical observations for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude of the confluence of those great, and important rivers: for those, and the thermometrical observations made at this place, see the Appendix.

The map of the Ohio river which accompanies this work, is laid down from the best materials I could procure, a number of the latitudes between Pittsburgh and the rapids, were taken by myself: from thence down to the Mississippi, the latest charts have been used, except in a few places which have been corrected by my friend Don Jon Joaquin de Ferrer, an ingenious Spanish astronomer. The map is divided into two parts, that it may not be too large to fold in a quarto volume, and at the same time of such a size, as to shew distinctly the errors that may hereafter be discovered, and serve as a basis for future corrections.

The Ohio river, is formed by the junction of the Allegany and Monongahela rivers, at Pittsburgh, which name it retains till it falls into the Mississippi. It may not be improper here to observe, that all the Indians residing on the Allegany, ever since my acquaintance with the western country, have called that branch, as well as the main river, the Ohio, and appeared to know it by no other name.

The Ohio is certainly one of the finest rivers within the United States, whether considered as to magnitude, the great extent of its course, or the outlet it affords to an immense and fertile country rapidly filling with inhabitants.

The bottom and sides of the river are stony, from Pittsburgh down to the low country, which is generally supposed to be about eight hundred miles. The strata of stone are horizontally disposed, and principally consist of either freestone, or limestone. This horizontal disposition of the strata of stone, is observable through a very large extent of the United States. I have traced it from Oswego, up Lakes Ontario and Erie, with all the waters falling into them, and through all the western parts of Pennsylvania, and down the Ohio, wherever hills or mountains are to be seen.

The flat, or bottom lands on the Ohio, are not surpassed by any in the United States for fertility; but in many places they are small, and inconsiderable; being limited by hills or mountains, on one side, and the river on the other. A large proportion of the hills, and mountains, are unfit for agricultural purposes, being either too steep, or faced with rocks. The hills and mountains on the east side of the river, generally increase in magnitude, till they unite with the great ridge, commonly called the Allegany: but on the west side they decrease, till the country becomes almost a dead level.

The country produces all the immediate necessaries, of life in abundance, and far beyond the present consumption of the inhabitants; the residue, with many other articles, such as hemp, cordage, hard-ware, some glass, whisky, apples, cider, and salted provisions, are annually carried down the river to New Orleans, where they find a ready market. Mines of pit coal (lithanthrax), are not only abundant, but inexhaustible from Pittsburgh many miles down the river.

The inhabitants of no part of the United States are so much interested in establishing manufactories, as of this. They possess the raw materials, and can export their produce with ease, but their imports are attended with difficulty, great risk, and expense. And so long as they receive neither bounties, nor uncommon prices for their articles of exportation, and depend upon the Atlantic states for their supplies of European manufactures, the balance of trade will constantly be against them, and draw off that money, which should be applied to the improvement of the country, and the payment of their taxes. To this source, may in some degree be traced, the character the inhabitants have too generally had bestowed upon them of insurgents, and disorganizers; to a few individuals these epithets may be applied, but not to the body of the people. In order to judge fairly on this question, it will be necessary to take into view the local situation of the inhabitants. In the Atlantic states every article however minute, if a necessary of life, will not only find a ready market, but command cash. On the Ohio, and its waters, almost the only article, which has heretofore found a ready market at home, and would command cash, was their own distilled spirits. The taxing of this article would therefore be but little different from taxing every article in the Atlantic states, which commanded cash. Such a tax as the latter, I am inclined to believe, would be collected with difficulty, and probably with the same propriety, give the same turbulent character to a great majority of the nation.

I am far from justifying any opposition by force, to the execution of laws constitutionally enacted, they must either expire, or be constitutionally repealed; a contrary proceeding must terminate in the destruction of all order, and regular government, and leave the nation in a state of nature: but at the same time, it is a duty incumbent on the legislature, to attend to the local situations of the several constituent, or component parts of the union, and not pass laws, which are feebly felt in one part, and be oppressive in another. That some turbulent persons are to be met with on our frontiers, every person possessed of understanding and reflection, must be sensible, will be the case so long as we have a frontier, and men are able to fly from justice, or their creditors; but there are few settlements so unfortunate as to merit a general bad character from this class of inhabitants.

The people who reside on the Ohio and its waters, are brave, enterprising, and warlike, which will generally be found the strongest characteristical marks of the inhabitants of all our new settlements. It arises from their situation; being constantly in danger from the Indians, they are habituated to alarms, and acts of bravery become a duty they owe to themselves, and to their friends. But this bravery, too frequently when not checked by education, and a correct mode of thinking, degenerates into ferocity.

Vessels proper for the West India trade, may be advantageously built on the Ohio, and taken with a cargo every annual rise of the waters down to New Orleans, or out to the islands. The experiment has already been made, and attended with success.

The climate on the Ohio, does not appear to be inferior to that of any part of the union. The inhabitants enjoy as much health, as they do on any of the large rivers in the Atlantic states. At Pittsburgh, and for a considerable distance down the river, bilious complaints are scarcely known; but they are frequent at Cincinnati, and still more so at Louisville near the rapids.’

7 February 1800
‘We began our observatory, and sent a party to examine whether there was any communication between the river and Okefonoke Swamp, which after our arrival at St. Mary’s to our surprise, we found doubtful. The same day a number of canoes were sent down to the vessel to bring up some of our instruments and other articles, we were under the necessity of leaving behind.

On the 12th the instruments and other articles arrived, and a course of observations was began as soon as the weather permitted. In the evening the party that was sent to explore the source of the river, or its communication with the Okefonoke Swamp returned; but without making any satisfactory discovery, and the day following another party was despatched on the same business.

This being the season that the Alligators, or American Crocodiles were beginning to crawl out of the mud and bask in the sun, it was a favourable time to take them, both on account of their torpid state, and to examine the truth of the report of their swallowing pine knots in the fall of the year to serve them, (on account of their difficult digestion,) during the term of their torpor, which is probably about three months. For this purpose two Alligators of about eight or nine feet in length were taken and opened, and in the stomach of each was found several pine and other knots, pieces of bark, and in one of them some charcoal; but exclusive of such indigestible matter, the stomachs of both were empty. So far the report appears to be founded in fact: but whether these substances were swallowed on account of their tedious digestion, and therefore proper during the time those animals lay in the mud, or to prevent a collapse of the coats of the stomach, or by accident owing to their voracious manner of devouring their food, is difficult to determine.

The Alligator has been so often, and so well described, and those descriptions so well known, that other attempts have become unnecessary. It may nevertheless be proper to remark, that so far as the human species are concerned, the Alligators appear much less dangerous, than has generally been supposed, particularly by those unacquainted with them. And I do not recollect meeting with but one well authenticated fact of any of the human species being injured by them in that country, (where they are very numerous,) and that was a negro near New Orleans, who while standing in the water sawing a piece of timber, had one of his legs dangerously wounded by one of them. My opinion on this subject is founded on my own experience. I have frequently been a witness to Indians, including men, women and children, bathing in rivers and ponds, where those animals are extremely numerous, without any apparent dread or caution: the same practice was also pursued by myself and people, without caution, and without injury.

Some of the Alligators we killed were very fat, and would doubtless have yielded a considerable quantity of oil, which is probably almost the only use that will ever be made of them; however their tails are frequently eaten by the Indians and negroes, and Mr. Bowles informed me that he thought them one of the greatest of delicacies.

The Alligators appear to abound plentifully in musk, the smell of which is sometimes perceptible to a considerable distance, when they are wounded or killed; but whether the musk is contained in a receptacle for that purpose, and secreted by a particular gland or glands, or generally diffused through the system appears somewhat uncertain: and I confess their appearance was so disagreeable and offensive to me, that I felt no inclination to undertake the dissection of one of them.

The second party which had been sent to ascertain the connexion (if any,) between the river St. Mary’s and the Okefonoke Swamp returned on the 17th, having discovered the communication, and the day following a traverse was began, to connect the observatory with that part of the Swamp from whence the water issued, in order to determine its true geographical position.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 24 January 2014.