Monday, August 15, 2022

Gandhi and the cat

‘Bapu has been observing the behaviour of the cats. His letter to the Ashram today is devoted to that subject. The cat’s concentration in observing the lizard was perhaps not noticed by our sages, or else they would have suggested that we must concentrate on God in the same manner. Yesterday a lizard was coming near the cat, which began to shake its tail, but then it turned back and went away in the opposite direction. The cat began to cry as if asking it to be good enough to enter its own mouth and not to go away like that. Englishmen who honestly believe that India should continue to be a British possession remind me of this cat. The cat is their prototype, not the snake.’ 

This is from the extraordinary diary of Mahadev Desai, who died 60 years ago today. For most of his adult life, Desai was Gandhi’s personal secretary and most trusted confidante, and through that time he kept a detailed diary which is, today, considered a valuable chronicle of the major events in Gandhi’s life and in Indian independence movement.Desai was born into a Brahmin family in 1892 in the village of Saras in Gujarat. His father was a teacher, and his mother died when he was seven. Aged 13, he was married to Durgabehn. He went to Surat High School and the Elphinstone College; after graduating in law, he took a position as an inspector at the central co-operative bank in Mumbai. He first met Gandhi in 1915 and joined his ashram two years later. In 1919, when the colonial government arrested Gandhi in Punjab, he named Desai his heir. Desai often found himself arrested and in prison alongside Gandhi.

Desai remained Gandhi’s personal secretary and closest associate for 25 years, serving him in many different ways. Apart from transcribing Gandhi’s words and drafting his letters, Desai also served as his interpreter, travel manager, interlocutor and, when necessary, cook. Far more learned than his master, he tutored him on sociology, literature, and history, and much else besides. Desai often disputed with Gandhi on matters of principle and politics, sometimes changing his mind. Desai wrote a number of books (some in English), many of them about Gandhi, while others were historical. He was also an editor of various publications, and contributed to the mainstream Indian press. He was arrested on the morning of 9 August 1942 and  interred with Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace, but a heart attack killed him six days later on 15 August. Further information is available online at Wikipedia and the MK Gandhi website,

Throughout his time with Gandhi (or Bapu as he was known), Desai kept a detailed and daily diary focused largely on Gandhi (see also Gandhi’s London diary). This was eventually published in 22 volumes, as edited by Narhari Parikh (volumes I-VI) and Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal (VII-XXII). It is considered a valuable chronicle of the major events in Gandhi’s life and in the Indian independence movement. The English version is freely available online at Internet Archive or the Gandhi Heritage Portal.

In the 1950s, Valji Govindji Desai translated and edited further portions of the diary. Here is part of his introduction to the first volume: ‘The importance of this volume lies in that we have here before us for the first time a very full account of Gandhiji’s life in prison. He was no less active there than outside. Only his activity took a different direction. Thus we find him looking after other prisoners like a father, prosecuting studies for which he had no time outside, performing dietetic experiments, spinning in spite of pain now in the right hand and then in the left, observing the stars, taking his morning and evening walks and carrying on an extensive correspondence with members of the Sabarmati Ashram and others.

Then again we have a unique pen-picture of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in various moods, rendering personal service to Gandhiji like a mother ministering to her child, undertaking unusual studies, displaying his skill with the hands, and relieving the monotony of prison life with flashes of sardonic humour.

Last but not the least, we are in the company of Mahadev Desai, humble and self-effacing, always discontented with his own achievement, reading books and analysing them for us, making study of ‘crusted characters’ whom he happened to meet, initiating discussions with Gandhiji on a variety of subjects and placing them on record for our benefit.’

Here are several extracts from that volume.

9 May 1932
‘Bapu had asked me to write something to be sent to the Ashram. I therefore wrote five scenes of a play which I had projected in Nasik prison. But Bapu remarked that such things could not be sent from jail. The authorities would not allow them to pass, but if they did, they would make themselves liable to censure. The play might be written out in jail and printed after I was released.

Bapu has been observing the behaviour of the cats. His letter to the Ashram today is devoted to that subject. The cat’s concentration in observing the lizard was perhaps not noticed by our sages, or else they would have suggested that we must concentrate on God in the same manner. Yesterday a lizard was coming near the cat, which began to shake its tail, but then it turned back and went away in the opposite direction. The cat began to cry as if asking it to be good enough to enter its own mouth and not to go away like that. Englishmen who honestly believe that India should continue to be a British possession remind me of this cat. The cat is their prototype, not the snake.’

21 May 1932
‘The riots in Bombay are subsiding. On Saturday none was murdered, but about 25 persons were wounded. Dahyabhai and Manibehn interviewed the Sardar and said that in Bombay too Government had asked the people to seek Congress protection. Thus Bapu’s intuition was correct.

In the evening we talked about the communal riots. The Sardar said, “It is not a straight fight. If people are stabbed in the back and women are injured in the chawls by Muslims disguised as Khadi-clad Congressmen, what is to be done and what is the advice to be given to the citizens of Bombay?” Bapu replied he had pointed out the way: Fight it out or die without offering resistance. The Sardar asked how Hindus could fight it out, as they were not capable of doing what the Muslims did. Bapu remarked that was not so. All were capable of doing what they did, as for instance in Kanpur. “Dr. Munje says Hindus should fight Muslims with the same weapons and the same methods. I think he is a brave man; he speaks out his mind without any reservations. But I hold that Hindus are incapable of fighting the Muslims with the latter’s weapons, as it is not in their nature. Therefore we must die unresistingly. The ahimsa observed at present is practical ahimsa and cannot make any impression on Muslims.” I said, “If big parties face and fight each other, we can imagine one party to be ready to follow the advice of dying without offering resistance. But what can be done about stray cases of murder and loot?” Bapu replied, “My advice would be the same even in such cases. But it is no good as no one is ready to accept it. This is a pointer to my own weakness. My ahimsa is not as it should be spontaneously effective. And yet it is a pity that people seek my advice. The poor things are on the horns of a dilemma. They would be able to find a way out for themselves if I were not alive. My presence is an obstruction for them, and such being the case, fasting is my only resource. If I had been a free man and in Bombay, I might have already employed that weapon.” I remarked that it was then a good thing that Bapu was behind prison bars. Bapu agreed and observed that if they had been free men, they would have been unable to do anything useful. I said I would not wonder if there was now open civil war. Bapu reminded us that civil war had actually broken out before as for instance at Kohat. And in England he had pocketed any number of insults from the Muslims and drunk many a bitter draught uncomplainingly.

To Raihana Tyebji Bapu wrote a letter, hoping all members of the family had derived benefit from the visit to Abu. Did Abbas Saheb read anything? Abu must have given him back the vigour of youth. But the madness in Bombay had damped their spirits. Bapu could not for the life of him understand, how one man could fight another in the sacred name of religion. But he must restrain his mind as well as pen. It was poison that he had been drinking now from day to day.’

14 June 1932
‘Bapu takes lemon squash with soda twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Lemons are dearer in summer. Therefore Bapu suggested the use of tamarind instead, as there are many tamarind trees in jail. But the Sardar rejected the suggestion, as tamarind water was supposed to be bad for the bones and to cause rheumatism. Bapu said, “But Jamnalalji is taking tamarind.” The Sardar replied, “It will not do him harm, as it cannot penetrate deep enough to reach his bones.” Bapu said he himself too had taken a lot of tamarind. The Sardar said that was when he had a splendid digestion as a young man. It would not suit him now in his old age.

Doyle, the Inspector General of Prisons, saw Bapu in connection with the question of giving writing materials to C class prisoners. He was extremely courteous. He shook hands with all of us and said to Bapu, “I could not come earlier as I was very busy. Your request is reasonable and I will give the necessary instructions to Major Bhandari. But please do not ask for general orders. The facility should certainly be granted to all who can make a good use of it.” Turning to the Sardar he said, “I am arranging to transfer good women prisoners from Belgam to Yeravda as suggested by your daughter. Please tell her not to be anxious about them.” I formed a very good opinion of him, but the jailer violently disagreed: “He has certainly acceded to Bapu’s every request, but the experience of subordinates like myself is of a different kind.”

Doyle said he acted on the principle that in jail they would not take the conduct of a prisoner outside jail into account. Thus a turbulent murderer would be placed on a par with gentler prisoners. Perhaps that is the right thing to do. The treatment a convict is to receive in jail must depend upon his conduct inside jail and not upon the nature of his crime. And still there is discrimination typified by the black and yellow caps given to some prisoners.

After reading Birla’s forthcoming book on Indian currency Bapu remarked: “The big theft is not theft, the big robbery is not robbery and murder on a colossal scale is righteous warfare. Not being satisfied with draining away the country’s wealth, Britishers manipulated the currency for their own selfish purposes, depleted the reserves. No country in the world was bled white like this. Mahmud of Ghazni’s looting expeditions were limited in number, and the property plundered by the Moghuls remained in the country after all. But robbery by the British in India is unique.” ’

27 June 1932
‘Today’s spinning tired me out. Either the slivers are not good enough for 50s or perhaps I have not still attained the requisite skill. My speed is low, and the thread breaks off and on, so that I take nearly 5 hours to spin 840 yards, not to talk of the physical fatigue it entails. This is no good. I said to Bapu I was down and out. Bapu suggested that I must now spin only one-half of what I spun before. Narandas writes that Keshu spins equally fine yarn at the rate of 350 rounds an hour. How far behind him I am! Yoga means skill in action, says the Gita (II, 50) but I am as far from such skill as ever. I have been carding for a long time but I am unable to produce fine slivers, and if I spin fine yarn, my speed amounts to zero.’

La Foce is liberated

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of the celebrated English biographer, Iris Origo. She spent most of her life in Italy; there she married, and there, with her husband, she developed a ramshackle farming estate at La Foce, in Tuscany. Famously, during the Second World War, the estate took in refugee children and sheltered escaping prisoners. Her diary of that time has become a classic of war literature.

Iris Margaret Cutting was born on 15 August 1902 in England, the child of an Anglo-Irish mother and a rich American father. She was educated privately in Florence, Italy, and, with inherited wealth, spent much time in her youth travelling. She married an Italian nobleman, Antonio Origo, and together they developed a rundown farming estate, La Foce, some 150km north of Rome. They had one son who died young of meningitis, and two daughters.

In the 1930s, Origo turned to writing, publishing biographies of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and Cola di Rienzo, a fourteenth century Roman politician. During the war, the family stayed at La Foce where they secretly took in refugee children and helped escaping Allied prisoners. After the war, the Origos lived in both Rome and La Foce, and Iris continued writing biographies and autobiographical books. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, and died in 1988. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Florentine and The Guardian.

Origo’s first published autobiographical work was a diary she kept during the war - War in Val d’Orcia (Jonathan Cape, 1947, but reissued several times since then, most recently by Pushkin Press). The book’s publicity material says: ‘In a corner of Tuscany, one woman - born in England, married to an Italian- kept a record of daily life in a country at war. Iris Origo’s compellingly powerful diary, War in Val d’Orcia, is the spare and vivid account of what happened when a peaceful farming valley became a battleground.’ Some pages can be previewed online at Googlebooks.

 9 June 1943
‘At four am in the Clinica Quisisana, my second daughter, Donata, is born. During the long night before her birth I heard from the room, through my own pain, the groans for morphia of a young airman whose leg had been amputated.’

10 June 1943
‘The third anniversary of Italy’s entry into the war. No celebrations. A rumour had spread that there were to be air-raids all over Italy, and all day many mothers have kept their children at home. Nothing, however, occurred until six pm, when a few enemy planes flew over the town - and a few more during the night. The air-raid warnings in the hospital (even though nothing happens) are rather uncomfortable, owing to one’s enforced immobility and the jumpiness of some of the patients.’

24 January 1944
‘The German officer turns up: a parachutist, covered with medals of both this war and the last, in which he served as a volunteer at the age of sixteen. He inspects the Castellucio, is unfortunately delighted with it, and a notice, stating that the castle has been requisitioned, is placed on the door. Mercifully, our own house is not required - as yet. In the afternoon we walk up to Pietraporciana - a lonely farm on the hill-top at the top of our property - to see if we could take all the children there, if we are turned out. There would be thirty-six of us.’

26 January 1944
‘Spend the day sorting furniture and books to be hidden in outlying farms. Schwester Marie, the babies’ charming Swiss nurse, who was to have returned home at this time, decides to stay on with us and see us through, in view of the possibility of our being arrested and the children left alone. Our relief is very great, but she may soon be completely cut off from her home.’

29 June 1944
[. . .] The Germans have gone. [Later] Not only have they gone, but the Allies are here! The first good news came to Antonio, who (while standing beside one of the Germans who are still left in town) was hurriedly summoned by a partisan: some English soldiers, he said, were looking for him. He accordingly hurried down into a wheatfield, and there found a small patrol, headed by a subaltern in the Scots Guards, who had actually come from La Foce. He wanted information as to the number of Germans who are still in town, the lie of the land, the bridges that had been blown up, and so on, all of which Antonio gave him, and in return, he gave us fairly good news of La Foce. The house has only been hit in two or three places, and though the damage inside is considerable, it is not irremediable. All this conversation took place hurriedly, hidden in the wheat, with sentries posted, and just as it was over, a pretty peasant-girl came up with a basket on her head, on her way to town. What next? She said she would hold her tongue, but it seemed safer for the soldiers to take her off with them for a few hours, to which indeed she agreed very willingly. The plan is for the regiment to occupy the town this afternoon. Meanwhile, we are having some German shelling for a change, and Palazzo Ricci and some other buildings have been hit. La Foce has had the honour of being mentioned in the midday bulletin as ‘liberated’ - together with Pienza and Montalcino. But we can hardly listen to the news now: we want to see with our own eyes. Every minute, now, the Allies may arrive!

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 15 August 2012.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Brighton Rock & Helter Skelter

Four decades ago I took part in a Brighton festival workshop on the famous novel Brighton Rock. It was an interesting experience, if a little disappointing. The workshop included entry to a short story competition with a £50 prize, and I duly entered. Exactly forty years ago today, I received notification that I’d won the competition and the £50 - it remains the only literary prize I’ve ever won. But, at the time, I was convinced - as my diary reveals - that I had been the only entrant. Many years later, after that particular diary entry had been published in my book Brighton in Diaries, one of the organisers of the competition emailed me to confirm that I had NOT been the only entrant - so I put that into my diary too. Here is the story of that prize - in three extracts from my diary

4 May 1992
‘Friday saw the opening of the Brighton festival with a splendid procession of children and their school-made dragons. For the whole of Saturday, I’d signed up for a Brighton Rock workshop but I had little idea what it would be like. I dutifully arrived on the Palace Pier a little before 10 and took a couple of pictures - the light was astonishingly bright and clear and the pier furbishings were looking as spanking new and clean as I’ve seen them; they must have had a coat of paint within the last few weeks and the glass in the windows had been spotlessly cleaned. The photos were similar to those I took ten years ago.

At 10 exactly, I approached the tiny group of people in the centre of the pavement at the entrance to the pier. The literature event organiser was there holding a wad of tickets; there was a large well-built man of around 50 introduced to me as Tony Masters who I didn’t know from Adam; otherwise there were two other punters like me - Jake, a dead ringer in character and pretensions for my old flatmate Andy, and Bob. Masters, who turned out to be quite a well known and prolific writer, never really recovered from the fact that so few people had signed up. I don’t know how many he was expecting - originally they had planned on a dozen or so but then thought a group of 4-6 would be better - but the organiser had twenty tickets or more. 

We removed to a banquet suite in the Albion Hotel where Tony talked a while about his working methods, about Brighton Rock (he had known Graham Greene) and about what we were going to do during the day - i.e. a walk in the morning and writing session in the afternoon. It turned out that Bob had never read the book Brighton Rock (he hadn’t even made an effort - I’ve been devouring it in the last few days, even though I read it a year ago) and had never penned a word of fiction in his life; while Jake who found it almost impossible to stop talking, never strayed from his favourite subject of films. However deprecatingly I might talk about these characters, there is no doubt in my mind that they added as much if not more to the day than I did.

I suppose I too was disappointed that the turnout was so small and that I was down on the level of an unemployed fantasist student and a computer programmer giving air to a slight whim. The walk was certainly a disappointment - we walked up and down the pier, passed the Forte’s cafe on the corner directly opposite the pier which was the setting for Snow’s. Tony insisted it would have been more sleazy in the time Greene researched the book but I thought otherwise - Rose says she couldn’t get another job as good and I suspect it was quite posh then, even more so than now. Tony said the same thing about the pier and the Albion hotel (where Greene stayed when in Brighton) but again I would have thought the pier would have been quite rich in those days given the amount of visitors it used to get. Our resident writer seemed determined to impose the sense of sleaze and squalidness that exudes out of the whole book on all the locations. We then walked up to Nelson Place which is where Pinkie grew up and where Rose’s parents live. Tony seemed to insist he could really feel “a sense of place” (the title of the workshop) in this location but I didn’t get anything from it all. 

For a while we sat in the pub Dr Brighton’s which in the book and formerly was the Star and Garter where Ida was often found. I suppose I knew Brighton too well already. There are dozens of locations around the city which have real character and feeling but, the pier apart, we didn’t go near any of them. After a short break for lunch we retired to the same room in the hotel. It became clear that Tony has a lot of experience of such workshops - he has worked a lot in schools it seems and written a lot for children - and was determined to maintain a highly positive attitude and wring something out of us. We had five minutes to write down the bone of an idea based on any inspiration we had had on the walk; then we were given a bit less than an hour to actually write up the idea.

Apart from general thoughts about the gaudiness of the attractions on the pier and the similarity perhaps with Brighton itself in some respects, three pictures on the pier had struck me: the sight of a lanky youth, standing silent and motionless staring at a video machine; a small boy who refused to walk over the slats of the pier because he could see water below and chose instead to walk along the boards laid down for pushchairs; and the colour of the sea - a translucent turquoise which seemed to have a light source of its own - as spotted between the slats when walking through a covered part of the pier.

Pressed into creating a story line and taking my cue from a simple example put forward by Tony himself, I turned the youth into a rather lonely character yet to leave home, addicted to the video machines, his only pleasure, and on the edge of making an important decision in his life. I have him watching the small boy choose the safe path over the boards and seeing himself. A group of lively youngsters enter the amusement arcade and stand near the youth. He starts thinking about how he has never met people like this and so on. I was surprised how much I actually wrote in the short space of time but I suppose that’s my experience as a journalist showing through. Although Tony insisted that one should enclose one’s characters into a finished plot and allow them room, I had sewn up my plot before I began writing. Tony said all one needs is to be able to see four or five scenes ahead (have a narrative thrust) and then one can write. Well, I couldn’t do this, I had already found the end to my story viz: the group of lively youngsters tease the youth and eventually nag him to come along with them for a bit. The first thing they do is go up the helter skelter. The youth, tied up in the imaginary world of the video games, has never actually been on any of the fairground rides and he is frightened sick of going to the top of the helter skelter and sliding down round virtually over the sea. Moreover, he has to spend his last coin of the day. The story finishes as he begins his slide down - a symbol really that he must begin his real life.

Pretty crass eh! Well, what can one do in 45 minutes. Jake wrote three sentences in Tom Wolfe style about a film star (Cher-like) who has come to Brighton to film a few scenes but falls over on the pier and is going to have an affair with a young street-wise lad. Bob also wrote just a few words about a tailor’s shop he’d seen. They were highly descriptive and emotive even and promised well.

We talked for an hour or so about these attempts. Jake found my writing Kafkaesque, Bob liked it and Tony explained that I wrote rather economically without much description, that I didn’t waste words. He said whereas from Bob’s contribution he could touch the scene, with mine he got a strong visual sense. I don’t think he made any judgement as to whether it was any good or not, nor can I think of anything he said that might actually help me write the story better. Oh yes, he said I was very observant.

 The cost of the workshop also includes the chance to send in a story (max 3,000 words) to the organisers who will then award a £50 price as well as provide some constructive criticism. I shall certainly take advantage of that offer. If just three people turn up at the second of the two workshops and every participant sends in a story, I would still have a 15% chance of winning the prize!

 I have to say that I liked Tony and found myself very much on his wavelength - I could tell in advance what pictures he might point out (at one point he was saying that one was unlikely to meet a Pinkie character these days but just at that moment two punks passed us in the street and we both acknowledged the irony of that) - and I could agree with much of what he said about other writers and films. At over 50, he has been a writer for thirty years he said, and is clearly much in demand, for films and television, and also pushes out a lot of books. I suppose if I were ever to be a writer, I would want to have as varied a portfolio as this man.’

5 August 1992
‘ “I am delighted,” Adrian Slack, organiser of the literature part of the Brighton Festival, writes, “to inform you that you have won first prize in the short story competition. I enclose a cheque for £50”. Well, well, well. My first ever literature success. Well, it would be if I wasn’t reasonably sure that I was probably the only entrant. Shame I didn’t get second and third prize as well. The story - Helter Skelter - was supposed to be read by several judges and a critique provided, that might have been more useful than the £50 prize.’

3 January 2014
‘Here we are three days into the new year. I’ve just received this message: “Hello Paul, Thoroughly enjoyed Brighton in Diaries and feel it was a brilliant idea well-executed. That was my opinion long before reaching Chapter 26. Loved your memory of Woodvale 1977 and then Brighton Festival Events! I’ve not thought of the Brighton Rock writing workshop & competition in many years and laughed at/with your snapshot of Tony’s disappointment. Adrian had hired me to show Tony around the landscape of the novel, but from your comments re Snow’s location, etc. it seems Tony did not take on my ideas. I disagree with everyone who tries to lather Brighton solely with the sleaze and squalidness brush. As the third judge in the writing competition, I can confirm you were not the sole entrant, but have absolutely no memory of whether Adrian required us to write a critique of the entries. With good wishes for a Happy New Year, Maire McQueeney’. I googled her to find she’s involved with literary stuff round Brighton, and probably lives round the corner in Warleigh Road. A few years ago, Hat and I did a walking tour around this area led by a woman who lived in Warleigh Road, and it may well be her.’

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

McGovern’s landing skills

‘On our takeoff today we had a tire blow out - the right main gear tire, but it went out after we cleared the field or rather just as we left the field. We went on to the target knowing that we had a rough landing and perhaps a crack up waiting for us on our return.’ This is from a diary kept by US Presidential Nominee George McGovern during his Air Corps days in the Second World War. In the same diary entry, McGovern, who was born 100 years ago today, goes on to explain how he managed to land ‘O.K. without damaging the plane in the least’.

McGovern was born on 19 July 1922 in Avon, South Dakota, to the local pastor and his wife. He was schooled locally, developing an enthusiasm for debating, and then enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. In mid-1942, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, flying many combat missions in Europe (earning himself the Distinguished Flying Cross). He married Eleanor Stegeberg, and they would have five children together. He was discharged from the Air Corps in mid-1945; he then returned to Dakota Wesleyan University, graduating in 1946. He earned a Ph.D. in history at Northwestern University, Evanston, and later taught at his alma mater.

McGovern was active in Democratic politics from about 1948, and by 1957 had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. After losing an election for a Senate seat in South Dakota in 1960, he served for two years as the director of the Food for Peace Program under President Kennedy. He won election to the Senate in 1962 and was reelected in 1968. By then he had emerged as one of the leading opponents to US involvement in Indochina.

McGovern helped enact party reforms that gave increased representation to minority groups, and supported by these groups he won the Presidential Nomination. However, he failed to hold onto many traditional party supporters, and the incumbent Richard Nixon was able to defeat him by a sizeable margin in the 1972 presidential election. McGovern was reelected to the Senate in 1974, though lost it in 1980. After a return to lecturing, he declared himself a candidate for the 1984 Democratic Presidential Nomination, but dropped out after the Massachusetts primary. 

In April 1998, President Bill Clinton nominated McGovern for a three-year stint as US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome. In 2000, he set up - with fellow former senator Robert Dole - the Congress-funded International Food for Education and Nutrition Program. In 2001, McGovern was appointed as the first UN global ambassador on world hunger by the World Food Programme. He continued to campaign on political issues, and to write political/history books, not least his last, a biography of Abraham Lincoln. He died in 2012. Further information is really available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica or the US Congress website.

There is no evidence that McGovern was a diarist, but for a brief period, during the war, he kept a lively journal. This was only published posthumously as My Life in Service: The World War II Diary of George McGovern (Franklin Square Press, 2016). The publisher says: ‘[The book] features a facsimile of the diary George McGovern kept from his first days of basic training until the end of the war. Hastily jotted down in his exacting hand whenever he had the impulse to put his thoughts on paper, the pages convey the immediacy of McGovern’s wartime experiences. Each lined sheet is decorated with illustrations, alongside aphorisms on battle and democracy from some of history’s greatest minds. This document powerfully evokes an era, while it predicts the man George McGovern would become.’

Publishers Weekly says: ‘The bravery McGovern demonstrated in wartime, displayed in this unique diary, was mirrored in his service of over two decades in the House of Representatives and Senate, in his 1972 campaign for President, and in his drive to speak out against the Vietnam War, making him a valiant spokesman for a nation in troubled times.’

And a review in the Middle West Review provides some details: ‘The South Dakotan’s diary entries were expansive early on, describing train travel, housing facilities, fellow recruits, rifle training, bayonet practice, gas mask drills, guard duty, weather, and food. As his training continued in several different places in 1943 and 1944, the entries became shorter and less descriptive. Once in combat, McGovern recorded almost every flight in plain, straightforward language, omitting heroics and seldom referring to feelings and emotions or offering comments on the ultimate meaning of it all. Readers get a good sense of the seriousness, sense of purpose, and matter-of-fact dedication that American aviators like him brought to the task.’

There seem to be no previews of the book online, nor can I find any extracts from the diary - other than this one in The Smithsonian.

17 December 1944
‘Another oil refinery today - the one at Oswiecim and Odertal in the Blechhammer flak area. This makes nine missions for me. We really got this one the hard way. On our takeoff today we had a tire blow out - the right main gear tire, but it went out after we cleared the field or rather just as we left the field. We went on to the target knowing that we had a rough landing and perhaps a crack up waiting for us on our return. While going to the target we lost our manifold pressure on no. 2 engine but pulled enough power on the other three to go into the target and get back. The air force lost ten ships to fighters and several to flak but we came through without a scratch. When we got back to base I had everybody but the copilot, the engineer, and myself go back to the waist and brace themselves for the landing. We made sure that all the loose objects were tied down securely. As soon as we touched the runway I chopped the throttle on the side of the good wheel and advanced the throttle on the side of the blown tire at the same time holding down the left brake. We made the landing O.K. without damaging the plane in the least. Needless to say old terra firma felt plenty good. My copilot today was Lt. Brown and the bombardier was Lt. McGrahan. These two boys and Sam recommended me for the D.F.C. because of the landing but I don’t feel as though I deserve a medal as yet.’

Friday, July 15, 2022

Comparing church services

James Robert Hope-Scott, an English lawyer and member of the Oxford movement, was born 200 years ago today. While still in his 20s, he travelled to Germany and Italy, and kept a diary of his journey. Some parts of this are quoted in a ‘life-and-letters’ biography put together not long after he died. The quoted diary entries demonstrate his fervent interest in the practical and spiritual practices of church services, an interest that would soon lead him to Rome metaphorically as well as geographically.

James Robert Hope, later Hope-Scott, was born on 15 July 1812 in Great Marlow, Berkshire, the third son of General Sir Alexander Hope and his wife. He attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where his father was Governor, and was educated at Eton College. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a contemporary and friend of William Ewart Gladstone and John Henry Newman. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1838, and in 1840-1841 he travelled to the Continent, particularly Italy, visiting Rome. On his return, he became one of the leading members, along with Newman, of the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, a deeply conservative group which fought against a perceived secularisation of the English church. The group evolved into Anglo-Catholicism and many of its members converted to Roman Catholicism - Hope was received into the Roman Catholic church in 1851.

Early in the 1840s, Hope helped found the Scottish boarding school, now known as Glenalmond College, and during his later years he would go on to fund the building of other schools and churches in Scotland. In 1847, he married Charlotte Lockhart, granddaughter of Sir Walter Scott. Thereafter they rented Scott’s Abbotsford House, but in 1853, Charlotte inherited the property - this is when Hope changed his name to Hope-Scott. In 1852, he managed Newman’s defence in a libel action, and in 1855 he conducted the negotiations which ended in Newman accepting the rectorship of the Catholic University of Ireland. However mostly he brought his legal expertise to parliamentary matters, especially standing counsel for railway companies seeking to expand their networks.

Charlotte died in childbirth in 1858. A few yeas later, Hope-Scott married Lady Victoria Fitzalan-Howard, a god daughter of Queen Victoria, but she too died in childbirth, in 1870. Hope-Scott himself is said to have never recovered from this second tragedy and himself died in 1873. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Scottish Places, and the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Within a decade of his death, the classical scholar Robert Ornsby had put together a two-volume ‘life-and-letters’ biography: Memoirs of James Robert Hope-Scott (John Murray, 1884). Both volume 1 and volume 2 are freely available online at Internet Archive. Here and there, through the first volume mostly, Ornsby refers to diaries kept by Hope-Scott kept at various points in his life, when travelling or to help record his religious life. Occasionally, Ornsby quotes from these diaries. The following examples - which demonstrate a more than keen interest in the conduct of church services - were taken by Ornsby from Hope-Scott’s tour diary in Germany and Italy in 1840-1841.

24 September 1840, Coblentz
‘In the eilwagen from Coblentz to Frankfort, met an educated young man, apparently intimate with many of the officers whom we met on our way out of the town. Asked whether Strauss had any followers there? ‘Es bewahre!’ was the reply. ‘But Hermes?’ ‘Ah, yes, many. All the “aufgeklärten,” including many young priests.’ ‘But his principles are, at bottom, the same as Strauss?’ ‘No, no, Strauss goes too far.’ ‘But Hermes has been condemned by the Pope.’ ‘What care we for the Pope?’ He said, however, that the Hermesians did not give unnecessary publicity to their opinions. (Substance of conversation.)’

27 September 1840
‘Being uncertain as to the relative position of the two Communions, I resolved to attend both, not, however, designing more than to hear the sermons. Went accordingly at 9 A.M. to the Frauen-kirche (the only R. C. Church, and that, I was told, only conceded about A.D. 1817). Some previous service was unfinished when I went in, but soon after, preparation was made for the service. The church filled rapidly, and a priest appeared in the high stone pulpit. He began in the name of the Blessed Trinity, and declared the need in which we all stood of the help of God’s Holy Spirit, which he therefore prayed us to invoke. This was done in an hymn accompanied by the organ. After this, he read the first eleven verses of Luke xiv., and then proceeded to preach upon the subject of the first six, viz. the observance of the Sabbath. He then traced its first origin to the rest after the creation; its confirmation and full establishment to the law; its present day and character to the apostles, showing the selections of the day to have arisen from the Resurrection and the Descent of the Spirit. He pointed out its beneficial purposes both for soul and body, giving a priority to the latter as (in their kind) most necessary, but insisting on the impossibility of safely following them, without some countervailing spiritual discipline. The mode of observing the Sunday, he said, resulted from its purposes, a mixture of religious exercises and innocent amusement. The former, he showed, should be chiefly, though not solely, carried on in church, and spoke eloquently of the claims which that holy place has upon us - our baptism, our communions, absolutions, marriages, &c.; and then of the distinct blessing, attendant on the meetings of the Church, the living Presence of Our Lord under the form of bread; the authority of the priesthood; the brotherly sympathies of one assembled family; and urged these against the pretence of prayer at home. (It put me in mind of S. Chrysost. ap. Bingh. 20, c. 2, s. 11.) He also alluded to the practice which he said existed of master-manufacturers carrying on trade either the whole or half of Sunday, and warned them that God would not give His honour to another. The whole was well arranged, and, with the exception of those passages relating to Transubstantiation, such as I would gladly often hear in England. The language was more generally sensible and manly than eloquent; the manner was artificial, but not very disagreeably so, and was dignified. The preacher was some thirty-eight years old, or less. While actually preaching, he wore the clerical cap, but put it off when he paused, and (I think) did not wear it while reading the text. After the sermon, he announced the hours of mass, prayers, &c., published banns, and then recorded the deaths which had taken place during the week, commending the deceased persons to our prayers, adding (as I understood him) a particular reference to the ensuing mass. After this, the consecration of the Host ensued. I could not see the high altar, but joined in the hymns, which I read from a neighbour’s book, and which related to different parts of the service. These were in German, and of a wholesome, devotional kind. The same book contained German prayers. I followed in general the attitudes of those among whom I was, though there seemed a want of uniformity as to kneeling or standing. Bowing the head at Our Lord’s name and using the sign of the cross are surely better than Popish.

The singing was general and manly; the people fairly attentive. In the chancel the stalls were occupied by women of a higher rank. There was a full proportion of men present. The church was not large, but has a good deal of beauty about it, as well as curiosity. Alms were collected during mass.

At 21/2 P.M. went to St. Laurence, which (with the remaining churches) is Lutheran. It is a very fine church, as is St. Sebald’s - and in both of them painted glass, pictures, crucifixes, figures of saints, side-altars, &c., have been preserved. Indeed, it would appear that crucifixes are a Lutheran ornament, for one, at least, seemed new. On the high altar, candles were lighted (as I had seen at St. Sebald’s in the morning), and continued so during the service. The congregation was small, and clustered round the pulpit (Do. at St. Egidien’s Kirche). The service - a hymn, a sermon with a prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, another hymn, and a blessing. An old lady lent me a book, but I could not follow the singing; it was apparently in short verses, with the organ alone between, but the latter was too loud to allow the voices to be distinctly heard. The hymns, of which I read several, were not so much to my mind as the R. C. The preacher was a middle-aged man with a good many rings on his fingers. His dress a black gown with full sleeves close at the wrist. He preached an earnest and fair sermon from the end of ch. 5 and beginning of ch. 6 of the Galatians. His manner also artificial, but inferior to the priest’s. The congregation attentive. The head bowed (at least by some) at Our Lord’s name. The names of sick persons mentioned to be prayed for.

Apparently a new pulpit and altar, both richly carved in stone. English Protestants would stare at the decorations of this church.’

28 September 1840
‘Monday morning. St. Sebald’s bells going at 7 o’clock. Asked Hausknecht, wlio said there was a service, including sermon, every morning in the week at one or other of the Lutheran churches. Scantily attended, he said, otherwise on Sunday mornings.

Note. No Jews may live in Nürnberg. Fürth their residence.

A funeral procession passed the window (Protestant I conclude). Women with baskets of flowers preceded the corpse, which was carried under a pall of black, with a large white cross. Carriages followed. We were told that flowers were used for all ages, but the colours vary for old and young; the former, if very old, quite white; the latter, if in youth, having more bright colours than in middle age. ‘Spargere flores ’ is their purpose, as the relations take and strew them in the grave.’

Sunday, July 10, 2022

First Lady of Texas

‘Decided to get off in Matlock, 6:40 P.M. A mountainous and beautiful place - and a nice hotel - “New Bath” - with a pleasant garden. So many of the lower classes seem to be traveling hereabouts - just tiny little journeys. There is a grand piano here in Matlock. I am aching to touch it!’ This is from the diaries of Miss Ima Hogg, a wealthy Texan, who travelled to Europe several times in her youth. She would go on to become one of the country’s most famous philanthropists - and earn the moniker First Lady of Texas. Her diaries are due to be published for the first time in September 2022.

Hogg was born into a wealthy, political family in Mineola, Texas, on 10 July 1882, though she spent much of her early life in Austin. When she was eight years old, her father was elected governor. After her mother died of tuberculosis in 1895, she attended the Coronal Institute in San Marcos, and in 1899 she began studying at the University of Texas. An accomplished piano player from an early age, she moved to Europe in 1907, not long after her father had died, to further study music in Berlin and Vienna, until 1909. Returning to the United States, she was severely depressed for some years, an experience that inspired her to found - with money from oil strikes on Hogg land - the Houston Child Guidance Center and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health (at the University of Texas).

In 1943 Hogg, a lifelong Democrat, was appointed to the Houston school board, where she worked to establish symphony concerts for schoolchildren, to get equal pay for teachers regardless of sex or race, and to set up a painting-to-music programmes in public schools. In 1946 she again became president of the Houston Symphony Society, a post she held until 1956, and in 1948 she became the first woman president of the Philosophical Society of Texas. 

Hogg was also philanthropic when it came to art: since the 1920s she had been studying and collecting early American art and antiques, and in 1966 she presented her collection (as well as Bayou Bend, the River Oaks mansion she and her brothers had built in 1927) to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. In the 1950s, she restored the Hogg family home at Varner Plantation near West Columbia, and in 1958 she presented it to the state of Texas; and, in the 1960s, she restored the Winedale Inn, a nineteenth-century stagecoach stop at Round Top, Texas, which she gave to the University of Texas. She died, aged 93, in 1975. Further information is available from Wikipedia (which says she was known as the First Lady of Texas), Texas State Historical Association, and East Texas History.

Later this year, Texas A&M University Press is publishing Grand Tours and the Great War: Ima Hogg’s Diaries, 1907-1918, as edited by Virginia Bernhard. Extracts from five of Ima Hogg’s youthful diaries (1907, 1908, 1910, 1914, and 1918) are included in the book which, the publisher says, records ‘her first tour of Europe, a year studying piano in Berlin, a tour of Europe with her brother Mike, a summer in London on the eve of the Great War, and her travels in New York as the war drew to a close.’ Although most of Hogg’s diaries have remained unpublished until now, a few diary extracts, were published in 2016, in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Vol. 119, No. 3, January, 2016) - Ima Hogg in Europe, 1914: A Texan Experiences the Beginning of the Great War which can be found online at Jstor (log-in required).

A few brief extracts from the diaries can also be found online at The Ima Hogg Blog, curated by Bernhard, which is the source for the following. 

10 July 1907
‘Windsor Castle. Drove over - coached to Windsor - Left our trunks - two apiece! - at the hotel, taking only suitcases for our tour up through Scotland. Just as we got in. . . down came torrents of rain. But we went on just the same though it was terribly cold, too. Started at 10:30 got to Windsor 2:30. St. George’s Chapel with Princess Charlotte monument & Henry VIII burial place. White Tower where the order of the garter organized, building in which Merry Wives of Windsor was first played. Then the beautiful view towards Eton from the steps - where I turned my ankle & scrambled up by Mr. Scott’s coat sleeves. Dreadfully caught more cold. Holbein’s portrait (one of them) Henry VIII hangs in the castle. . . Started for Oxford at 5:55 P.M. There at 9:00.

And Mr. Scott was no doubt happy to help.’

19 August 1907
‘Monday. Munich. Hotel Linfelder.

Out looking - got lost - having left my dear old Baedecker somewhere - reached hotel 3:30 P.M. tired hot & hungry. . .’

21 August 1907, Munich
‘Four o’clock Tristan & Isolde! Started from hotel in a carriage at 3:30 in plenty of time. . .

[. . .]

Had dinner between 2nd and 3rd Acts....

Came home decided on leaving out Vienna & staying for Cycle - if my ticket could be redeemed.’

3 September 1907, Innsbruck
‘Here in the rain. Rode the train 2nd class with the cook in my compartment of some Frau Grafin who was herself 1st class. My companion and I carried on an animated dialogue in German - most enlightening!

Great to find the crowd here - only the men arrived this morning.’

11 August 1910
‘Stratford. It was warm and the town has not grown in my favor since 1907.

We visited Shakespeare’s birthplace and then his burial in the church. At the Golden Lion (starred in 1906 Baedeker) 

We had an insufficient and poor lunch @ 2/6 and in disgust with everything returned to Warwick on the 2:08 train. That afternoon we read and wrote. I reviewed “Kenilworth.” After our delicious dinner, we walked out to the bridge near the castle. It was some sort of a holiday - a brass band was playing discords, and a happy, well-behaved crowd were running and pushing the poor performers along.’

12 August 1910
‘Off Friday morning. Went by trolley then to Milverton.

Arrived in Kenilworth 10:40.

Drove a mile and a half to the castle /6 d. These romantic and very beautiful ruins we saw to the best advantage, for after a walk about them, we drove on the way to the station, with the tilting ground, had a fine view of the whole castle, where the lake used to be. Merwyn Tower was the scene of Amy’s life in the castle.

In Warwick, by the way, he & the Earl of Leicester are buried.

Left Kenilworth 12:25 noon.

After innumerable changes arrived in Ambergate at 4:30 P.M. to find that we should have to go farther in order to coach to Haddon Hall, & Chatsworth. We spent the time there until 6:18 P.M. - walked, drank tea and admired this promising beginning of the Peak - Bought tickets to Rowsley, but decided to get off in Matlock, 6:40 P.M. A mountainous and beautiful place - and a nice hotel - “New Bath” - with a pleasant garden. So many of the lower classes seem to be traveling hereabouts - just tiny little journeys. There is a grand piano here in Matlock. I am aching to touch it!’

Monday, June 27, 2022

Ardent love of liberty

Sir Roger Twysden died all of 350 years ago today. Having inherited his father’s baronetcy and estate, he became something of a rebel against the authorities just at a time when king and parliament were starting their civil war. Imprisoned several times, he took to writing books on English history and constitutional law. None of his diary, though, saw publication until the mid-1850s, when Kent Archaeological Society published extracts. The Society claimed that any reader of Twysden’s journal could not fail to admire the man ‘for the depth of his learning, the soundness of his acquirements, his unfeigned and active piety, his domestic virtues, his loyalty, his ardent love of liberty, his truly English spirit.’

Twysden was born at Roydon Hall in Kent in 1557, the son of Sir William Twysden, a scholar and courtier during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I - the latter made him a baronet. Roger Twysden was educated at St Paul’s School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before entering Gray’s Inn in 1623. Two years later he was elected Member of Parliament, and then in 1629, as eldest son, he succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father, and subsequently spent several years managing the family estate and becoming a county justice of the peace. Increasingly he became disturbed by royal excesses, especially ship money, a defence tax levied without parliamentary support. But he was also disturbed by the ambitions of Parliament.

At the outbreak of civil war in 1642, Twysden joined a petition of grievances against the King, Parliament and the ecclesiastical authorities. This led to his being imprisoned; the following year he tried to escape to France, and he was again jailed. His estates were also sequestred. During his incarceration he wrote The Laws of Henry I and began a study of parliamentary history which later led to his foremost work - Certaine Considerations upon the Government of England. Although released after 1647, he continued to campaign on justice issues.

After the execution of the king in 1649, Twysden eventually reached a settlement over his estate at Roydon Hall, and retired there quietly. In the following years he wrote two historically important works, both published in his lifetime: Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores Decem, and An Historical Vindication of the Church of England. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he resumed his position as a magistrate and was made Deputy Lieutenant of Kent. He died on 27 June 1672. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, or the late 19th century version of Dictionary of National Biography

Kent Archaeological Society first published what it called Sir Roger Twysden’s Journal in its publication, Archaeologia Cantiana, in 1858. It included a fascimile of the first page with Twysden’s own title - An Historicall Narrative of the two howses of Parliament. The Archaeologia Cantiana volume is freely available at Internet Archive. However, it is worth noting that Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to Twysden’s text as autobiography rather than a diary, and no bibliography of English diaries includes Roger Twysden. They do, however, include his wife, Isabella, whose diary was also published by Kent Archaeological Society, though not until 1940, as The Diary of Isabella, Wife of Sir Roger Twysden, Baronet, of Royden Hall, East Peckham, 1645-1651. This latter work is not available online.

The Society’s introduction to Twysden’s journal gives the following details: ‘The Diary [. . .] was completed and carefully prepared for the press by Sir Roger himself, and was evidently intended for publication during the Protectorate. It is written throughout in his singularly clear and neat hand, with the disfigurement of hardly a single correction; except in a very few instances chiefly made requisite by the Restoration. Why it was never published, it may not be difficult to conjecture, when we remember how entirely engrossed Sir Roger Twysden was, during the latter years of his life, in those learned researches to which we are largely indebted for the little we know of the early history of England. While occupied in these all absorbing labours, he probably laid aside his private memorials, entrusting the publication of them to those of his family who should come after him, a charge which they seem to have neglected, leaving thereby to us the gratification of first presenting them to the world. The manuscript is too long to be printed entire in a single volume of our serials; we therefore purpose giving it in successive portions. When we shall have subjoined his private correspondence, and a few extracts from his note-books, we shall be much mistaken if our readers do not love and admire the man as warmly as we ourselves do, for the depth of his learning, the soundness of his acquirements, his unfeigned and active piety, his domestic virtues, his loyalty, his ardent love of liberty, his truly English spirit.’

30 March 1642
‘The sayd 30th of March, Sr Edward Dering came unto me early in ye morning, wth whom I went the same day to London, leaving my deere wife great wth child in ye Country.’

31 March 1642
‘The 31, beeing thursday, I yielded myselfe prisoner to ye Sergeant.’

1 April 1642
‘The 1 Aprill, I, with the rest (onely Sr Edward Dering, who then absented hymself, though after hee appeered, was examined, and again went away), was called in to the howse of Commons, examyned on some few questions, and all of us committed to ye Sergeant of ye Mase attending them, who sent us prisoners to an howse in Covent Garden, tyll wee could bee farther questioned by a Committee of Lords and Commons, appoynted for that service, who soone after did it, examyning us upon about 30 Interrogatories, upon wch nothing appeering against us, and our answers agreeing, so far as their could not, nor did ought appeere against us, but an intent onely of petitioning, and yt too upon the Countrie’s desires, the Howse of Commons, not satisfyed, would have us answer to some 9 Interrogatories upon Oath.

But how to doe this for men that had not cast of all shew of legall proceedings was not so easy; for themselves had declared against all oaths ex officio, and every man’s mouth was full of ye Maxime, “No man was obliged to accuse himselfe;” how could wee, then, bee brought by oath to accuse each other, beeing alike criminall. Besides, who should doe it? For if it bee graunted (wch I beeleeve will bee a matter of much difficulty to prove), The Lords’ howse, or my Lord Keeper in it, may in some cases administer an Oath to a Commoner, may a Committee of the Lords and Commons doe it? I conceive they had no president for doing so. Yet that was our case. Mr Spencer, Sr George Strood, and myselfe must upon oath have accused each other, though told wee were not to answer anything concerned ourselves. But our integryty was such, nothing of consequence could be discovered more then beefore. After this, they two (and Sr Edward Dering absent) were empeached. Of my charge a stoppe was made, wch after was layd aside as forgotten; and those two having by good advise put in their answer, there was no farther prosecution of them, onely wee were commanded to call in all ye copies of this petition had beene by us distributed, wch was done accordingly.

Some may, perhaps, admire why the two howses were so transcendently incenced at this petition? why they laboured so earnestly the finding out a plot wch was never imagined? why they tooke so unheard of wayes in their proceedings? for when ever did the howse of Commons appoynt theyr members to joyn wth ye Lords in examining Commoners upon oath, much lesse such as were criminis participes, one against ye other? Why they shewde so strange partialyty as to incourage petitioning in some, yet make this a crime so heynous, as it is certajn a lawyer of the Howse went so far as to say there were in it things not far from treason? and another gentleman, of, I dare say, sincere and pious intentions, told me, defending it, I did not understand the ayme of that Petition; to whom I could onely wish the event might prove me ye foole.

But he will not think it strange, when he considers (as ye issue made good) ye leading men in the Howses had an intent themselves to govern ye nation by votes, paper Orders, and Ordenances, wth wch, if the King should not concur, or any other oppose, they would force obedience by the sword, wch this did a little too soone discover (they having no army, nor in a settled way of raysing one), and might open men’s eies, break their credit, and make them (by whose contributions they must bee at first enabled) lesse willingly contribute to their owne ruine. For these men, presently after the perpetuity graunted, resolved on a change in Church and State, swallowed up all Episcopall, and Dean and Chapters’ revenues; yet, not to lose ye Cleargy totally, persuaded such of them as had beene any way kept under by the Bishops, it should bee distributed for ye improvement of smaller livings, increasing able preachers, raysing lectures, and ye like; and this they did not doubt of effecting wthout the considerable opposition of any, unless perhaps the episcopall party in ye Lords’ Howse, wch being now removed thense, it angred them greatly to see others in any kind thuart their designes, wch they saw this Petition to doe.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 27 June 2012.

Banning foreign buttons

Narcissus Luttrell - a serial chronicler, keeping diaries and journals through much of his life - died 290 years ago today. Most of the records he kept (at least those that have survived) are devoid of personal details. He is most remembered, perhaps, for his Parliamentary Diary which Wikipedia says, ‘is often the best source available for legal and political matters of the time’. Here he is, for example, reporting on a debate concerning a proposed law to ban the import of buttons: ‘Sir John Darell, Mr. Clarke, and Mr. Harley spoke against it that it would only encourage a monopoly of the trade and make the workmen idle and exact more upon the people, and only put the importers of them to bring them in by stealth.’

Luttrell was born in Holborn of a West Country family, educated at Sheen School, and followed his father into the law. However, he also attended, for a few months, Newington Dissenting Academy, learning philosophy and logic. After the death of his father, he spent a few years travelling around England before being called to the bar in 1680. He was twice elected to the House of Commons, sitting for Bossiney (Cornwall) in the second Exclusion Parliament (1679–1680) and then in the parliament of 1690–1695 for Saltash (Cornwall). He served actively as a Middlesex Justice of the Peace for three decades from 1693. On various occasions, he also served as a deputy lieutenant, a commissioner of oyer and terminer, and a commissioner of land-tax assessment. 

In addition to Luttrell’s public service, he accumulated a valuable collection of contemporary publications, including both political and poetical works. He was married twice, first to Sarah, daughter of a wealthy London merchant, with whom he had one son; and later, after Sarah’s death in 1722, he married Mary. After a long illness, Luttrell died on 27 June 1732. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The History of Parliament, or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Luttrell is largely remembered today because he left behind, what has become, a valuable historical daily record of Parliament. He first kept diaries during his travels around the country, though I cannot find any trace of these having been published. He kept so-called Chronicles (compiled from newsletters and papers) which were discovered by Thomas Babington Macaulay and published in 1857 as A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714. Various volumes of this can read freely at Internet Archive.

While serving in Parliament, Luttrell kept a very detailed journal of its proceedings. These were first edited by Henry Horwitz and published in 1972 by Oxford University Press as The Parliamentary Diary of Narcissus Luttrell 1691-1693. This can be consulted freely online at Internet Archive. Wikipedia notes that Luttrell relied primarily on secondary sources for the workings of Parliament, but that ‘he is often the best source available for legal and political matters of the time’. While the legislation of the time can be found in official parliamentary journals, Wikipedia goes on to say, ‘Luttrell's diary is often the only record of debates within the Palace of Westminster’. As a result, it concludes, Luttrell ‘provides crucial political information which cannot be found elsewhere’. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, however, the diary ‘is almost wholly devoid of personal references.’ Both the parliamentary diary and the materials for Historical Relation are held by All Souls College, Oxford. Luttrell also kept a diary of private transactions between 1722 and 1725 written in Greek characters. This is held by the British Library.

Here are two extracts from the Parliamentary Diary.

12 April 1692
‘So the House met according to former adjournment - such members as were in town - and after some time the Speaker took the Chair.

And a motion was made for a new writ for Scarborough in the room of Mr. Thompson, deceased, as also another for the City of Carlisle in the room of Capt. Bubb, deceased. And the Speaker was ordered to issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make writs out accordingly, which was done forthwith.

After some time the Black Rod came with this message: Mr. Speaker, the Lords Commissioners appointed by Their Majesties’ commission desire the attendance of this honourable House immediately in the House of Peers to hear the said commission read.

So the Speaker went up, attended with the House, where the commission was read in Latin. And then the Earl of Pembroke, Lord Privy Seal, spoke: By virtue of Their Majesties’ commission to us directed, we do prorogue this parliament to the 24th of May next, and this parliament is prorogued to the 24th of May next accordingly. From 12 April 1692 to 24 May 1692.’

6 February 1693
‘Sir John Brownlow presented the petition of the inhabitants of the town of Newark in the county of Nottingham and Sir Edward Hussey presented another from Sir Richard Earl, complaining of the undue election of Sir Francis Mollineux for that borough. They were received, read, and referred to the Committee of Elections and Privileges.

The bill for prohibiting the importation of foreign buttons was reported.

Sir John Darell, Mr. Clarke, and Mr. Harley spoke against it that it would only encourage a monopoly of the trade and make the workmen idle and exact more upon the people, and only put the importers of them to bring them in by stealth.

Sir Robert Cotton, Mr. Colt, and Mr. Pery spoke for the bill that it was to encourage our own manufacture - buttons being entirely so. The 

wood is our own and so is the horse hair, which is exported hence and returned you home manufactured, whereby you lose the employment of many of your poor and consequently they must lie upon your hands.

However, the bill with the amendments was ordered to be engrossed.

The engrossed bill for the aulnage [the inspection and measurement of woollen cloth] was read the third time and passed, with the title, and Sir Robert Davers to carry it up to the Lords for their concurrence.

Then the House resolved itself immediately into a committee upon the ways and means for raising the supply for Their Majesties; Mr. Attorney to the Chair.

Mr. Neale proposed for raising the remainder of the taxes to lay a duty upon all paper and parchment used for public matters and all such to be made on this sealed paper and parchment.

Sir Thomas Clarges desired before the House went upon considering how to raise any more money, the House would compute what they had already given. The land tax I reckon at £2,200,000, the project bill at £1,000,000, the revenue £1,000,000, the continued impositions besides sugar £500,000, joint stocks £57,000. And for the duties I have offered to you I will present you with a computation thereof, and when that is done I do not think there will be above £200,000 to raise. [. . .]’

So much inner power

‘This military education is a darned good thing for me. But I suspect life has a good many blows in store for me yet, else Nature would not have endowed me with so much inner power.’ This is from the diaries of Otto Braun, a precociously intelligent young man who volunteered to serve in the German army. He was born 125 years ago today, and he died, still only 20 years old, just a couple of weeks after this diary entry.

Braun was born on 27 June 1897 in Berlin, the only son of Lily Braun, a writer and women’s rights activist, and her politician husband Heinrich. Considered a child prodigy when young, Otto spent some unhappy years at boarding school, trying to escape at least once, but was mostly educated at home by private tutors. With the outbreak of war in 1914, he joined the army, fighting on the Eastern front until he was wounded in 1916. The injury meant he could not return immediately to active service, and was employed instead by the military section of the Foreign Office. Finally returning to the front line, he was killed by a shell in April 1918.

In 1924, Alfred A. Knopf brought out The Diary of Otto Braun as edited by Julie Vogelstein and translated into English by Ella Winter. This is freely available to read at Internet Archive. The book is, in fact, a collection of Braun’s letters and poems as well as diary entries. A ‘Biographical Note’ is barely a page long, so brief was his life.

In her introduction to the texts, Vogelstein says:

‘Besides historical, philosophical, political and military writings of greater or lesser magnitude - complete and incomplete, or merely outlined - there were found among [Otto Braun’s] papers a fragment of a novel, a great number of poems, and twenty-six diaries with regular entries from his seventh year until two days before his death. From these, and from over a thousand letters which we had at our disposal, his father and I made the following selection. The mass of material, and the necessity for keeping the book within reasonable bounds, severely restricted our choice.

None of the entries were intended for publication; Otto Braun was very indignant when one of his poems was printed in a periodical while he was at the front. If the poems are to be regarded as written under an inner necessity without a thought of publication, how much more so is this the case with his diaries. “In order to account to myself, so as to be absolutely honest with myself,” thus he once described his need for this form of confession. Though they are not in literary shape, we have faithfully reproduced all the MSS., and have only corrected obvious slips of the pen.’

Here are several extracts from Braun’s diaries.

20 January 1910
‘It is curious that in the darkness one can see even the tiniest glow, while in broad daylight it is difficult to see the biggest fire; I believe the same is true of human beings.’

10 February 1910
‘I had a very interesting talk with father this morning. There is so much which leaves me unsatisfied at present. What is the purpose of Man, what is his origin? Where does all Life spring from, where do all things start?’

1 June 1911
‘It is not the ascetic, to my mind, who is furthest from becoming a profligate and a voluptuary, but the man to whom this sort of behaviour does not even occur, and who can, therefore, indulge in pleasures, even to excess, without the slightest fear of becoming a profligate.’

5 June 1911
‘Wilhelm Meister. Death of Mignon. How wonderful it is that just at the very moment at which Wilhelm abandons himself to the bourgeois serenity, embodied in Teresa, Mignon dies. I have been thinking a great deal about all these things, so much so that I must let them grow clear now, like my impressions of Florence; I am not afraid that they will vanish or grow cold.’

1 April 1915
‘To-day, in front of the sergeant-major and some N.C.O.s the captain shouted at me, without any reason, in a way that I don’t wish to describe further. Such complete lack of control in an officer was very painful. Every day I grow more calm, and, I may say, more serene, in the face of such behaviour, yet these scenes leave something worse than a bad taste in the mouth, because, completely defenceless as I am, they slowly but surely undermine my moral powers of resistance, which are bent on fighting, and not at all on meek forbearance. I know people here in the squadron who have gone to pieces through the behaviour of the company commander, and that alone. Even if there cannot be the faintest possibility of his breaking me, nevertheless I will try now, come what may, to get out of his company. Lieutenant C. advised me strongly not to file a complaint, as the captain would be put in the right any way. There’s little doubt about that, but the friendly advice I had hoped to get from Lieutenant C. was not forthcoming either.’

17 April 1915
‘The sergeant-major received me with the words: “Well, Braun, you’ve managed it. And I too (?). You will not accompany us to-day, you are ordered to the Signals Section in Lodz.” I almost fell from the clouds, was overjoyed, of course, to get away, but at first rather appalled at the idea of Lodz. Put away all my dirty army kit and reported to the major and captain.’

27 July 1915
‘Beautiful weather; went on fitting up the telegraph cable. The whole time I was most excited and thought out thrilling adventures. Suddenly I got the news that I must return at once as I was transferred to the 21st Chasseurs. That is good. I shall now get to know all there is to know of the war, the danger and the terror; it had to be. My dreams this morning were glorious, glowing; may the gods to whom I pray, the spirit of my forefathers that floats over me, my own strength which I feel within me, grant that I be successful. Hope and faith, desire and will, are my guides, and so I will tread this path cheerfully and securely, filled with that confidence which has always been my support.’

24 March 1918
‘Along the Vosges to Colmar. Beautiful sunny journey. The ancient culture of these parts permeates every village in a most pleasing manner. On a hill to the left towers the gigantic ruin Drei Ahren. In Colmar the streets, squares, yards and a delightful town hall make very charming pictures. Everything grows naturally, but is trimmed and cultivated with wisdom and understanding. One could compare the work of these Gothic architects of cities with that of a sensitive gardener. The deepest impression as regards art was made on me by the interior of St. Martin, an extraordinarily harmonious structure, in which the effect of light has been treated with the utmost skill. Suddenly the communiqué - Peronne taken, the Somme crossed. Everything else vanished. What is to be our fate?’

6 April 1918
‘This military education is a darned good thing for me. But I suspect life has a good many blows in store for me yet, else Nature would not have endowed me with so much inner power to throw off unpleasant things, always to see the best, and never to despair; nor would she have given me so great an urge to assert my individuality, nor the capacity I have, not only to overcome all petty and degrading things, but also to transform them into good, with the help of my Amor fati.’

11 April 1918 [just two weeks before his final entry and his death]
‘In the Field. I received definite news that Kurt Gerschel has fallen. Thus are they all torn away, those that were any good, that were young, courageous and full of hope in the future. He was such a frank, fresh, clean fellow, honest and straight as but few are, such a lovable being! A real lesson to Anti-Semites, brave and proud and true. May he rest in peace.’

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Mrs Grundy’s Easter hat

The diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay, sometimes called the ‘bad girl of American letters’, have been published some 70 years after her death. Many of the entries are rather banal, domestic, but occasionally there are flashes of the ‘bad girl’, such as in this entry: ‘I wrote a letter to the League of American Penwomen, telling them where to get off - for inviting Elinor [Wylie] to be Guest of Honor & then writing her canceling the invitation on the grounds that she is not a respectable person. The sanctified flatfooted gadgets. I wish I had been a Fifth Avenue street sparrow yesterday - or in other words:
I wish to God I might have shat
On Mrs. Grundy’s Easter hat.’

Millay was born in 1892 in Rockland, Maine, to a nurse and a teacher, though her parents separated while she was still young. She showed a precocious talent for poetry, and published a few poems after leaving school. One of these - Renascence - was included in The Lyric Year in 1912, and led to a benefactor paying her way at Vassar College from where she graduated in 1917. She moved to New York City that year, and began socialising with an avant garden literary set. She published her first book of poetry, Renascence and Other Poems, but to earn a living she tried acting and she also published hackverse and stories under a pseudonym.

Further poetry books and a couple of plays followed before she travelled to Europe for a two-year sojourn, acting as correspondent for Vanity Fair. In 1923, she won a Pulitzer Prize for Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. She married Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutch businessman and self-proclaimed feminist, who supported her career and took care of domestic responsibilities. In time, they moved to live in a large farmhouse near Austerlitz, New York state. Throughout their 26 year marriage they both had other partners. In 1925, the Metropolitan Opera Company commissioned her to write an opera with Deems Taylor. The King’s Henchman, first produced in 1927, became the most popular American opera up to its time.

Encyclopaedia Britannica has this assessment: ‘Millay’s youthful appearance, the independent, almost petulant tone of her poetry, and her political and social ideals made her a symbol of the youth of her time. [. . .] The bravado and stylish cynicism of much of [her] early work gave way in later years to more personal and mature writing, and she produced, particularly in her sonnets and other short poems, a considerable body of intensely lyrical verse.’ In mid-1936, she suffered a severe accident which left her in constant pain, and needing operations and morphine. Though previously a pacifist, WW2 changed her views, and she became an advocate for the US to enter the war, damaging her popularity in some quarters..

In 1943, Millay was the sixth person and the second woman to be awarded the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry. Nevertheless, her declining reputation, constant medical bills (including treatment for morphine addiction) and demands from an ill sister meant she was in often in debt during her final years. Boissevain died in 1949, and she died in 1950. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New Yorker or The Poetry Foundation.

Millay left behind a series of diaries from different periods in her life, but 90% of the entries are for her teen/youthful years 1907-1914 and for 1927-1935. Some 70 years after her death they have finally been published, edited by Daniel Mark Epstein, as Rapture and Melancholy: The diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Yale University Press, 2022). The contents can be previewed at Googlebooks.

‘To what,’ Epstein asks in his introduction, ‘does Edna St. Vincent Millay owe the honor of having her diaries published and read in 2022, more than seventy years after her death? Her status as a poet and playwright of the first magnitude, secure until the 1940s, is now a subject of debate. Her poems remain in print and her play Aria da Capo is occasionally revived; but as of this writing her work is rarely included in textbooks or college syllabi. The reasons for this are largely political, or in any case extra-literary. The poet had the fortune and misfortune to become a legend in her own time, what we now quaintly call “a cultural icon.” Her binge drinking and promiscuity were notorious even in the 1920s when such behavior was commonplace. She became the bad girl of American letters who published her modern escapades in verses that demonstrated mastery of the classic forms and meters. No one had seen anything like it. Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, who had enough Latin between them to recognize her achievement, ostentatiously ignored the upstart whose ballads and sonnets made her rich. She needed no one’s help, and what she was writing did not fit the modernists profile of “free verse.” Her success was a reproach to modernism. Meanwhile she behaved as badly as Byron and Baudelaire, Sappho in a cloche hat, chain-smoking, sipping gin, bed-hopping - a person who would not serve as a moral role model in those times. The poetry was transgressive and subversive. Compared with the unimpeachable verse of Elizabeth Bishop, Millay’s poetry is still shocking. [. . .]

She is our greatest love poet with the possible exception of Walt Whitman. She has written many sonnets that compare favorably with the best of Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, and John Donne. Without an axe to grind there is no knowledgeable reader who would dispute the evidence which print has made imperishable. The great poems won’t go away no matter how many professors bar the classroom door against them. As long as there are lovers, they will be reading Millay.

And so, like George Washington, Edna St. Vincent Millay is of interest to us because she was important - a groundbreaking writer. No less an authority than the English author Thomas Hardy proclaimed that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper, and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her diary provides a window not only upon a unique personality and intelligence, but also the creative process that produced sublime works of art. Last but not least, it is of considerable value as “journalism,” the impressions of a woman of a certain class growing up in a New England fishing village, traveling to New York for education and a literary career, and later to Europe, before settling down on a blueberry farm in the Taconic Mountains in 1925. Virtually overnight the small-town girl became dangerously famous; and the diarist’s record of that adventure is one of the most dramatic chapters of her story.’

Here are several of the published diary entries.

4 November 1912
‘Two letters and a card from my Editor. Miss Rittenhouse, secretary of the Poetry Society of America, says, “Renascence is far the best thing in the book. If it doesn’t get the prize I pity your judges.” But it didn’t get the prize! Everything but money!’

6 January 1913
‘Someone (I think it may be Mr. Kennerly) sent me a copy of the January Forum. When I first caught sight of it I thought that it might be a sample copy, and then wondered if there could be anything about my poem in it. So I looked down the index - and there was a review of The Lyric Year by one Charles Vale. So I hunted up the page (mit hands vot zhook) and happened to strike the end of the article first so that I caught a fleeting glimpse of a whole page of my poem. After which, very calmly (!), I proceeded to hunt up my beginning and find out what was said about me. Almost all of Renascence was quoted and the comments were quite satisfactory. I wonder if any other of the January magazines will have mention of the book. I must look them up.’

28 February 1913
‘Today has been wonderful. I have done so many things. Wasn’t late to breakfast. Did a big washing in the laundriette. Translated about ten pages of French on the roof (glorious!), dressed, and wasn’t late to luncheon. Started for Barnard about quarter to two, and wasn’t late to French (translated the rest of my lesson on the subway), went over to Morningside Drive and had tea and a delightful talk with Miss Rittenhouse, her mother, and Mrs. Kendall (?). Got home at ten minutes past six, dressed, and wasn’t late to dinner. Had another birthday party (all the Jan. & Feb. birthday girls) and a lovely carnation. Mrs. Trowbridge asked me to read some of my poems aloud after dinner, and I did. Later translated 2 1/2 pages of Horace.’

24 April 1933
‘Sweethearts calf, a heifer, born either today or yesterday.

Thought we’d all have a picnic luncheon, so took everything down into blueberry pasture near my old shack where I wrote The Kings Henchman. Built a fire for coffee in a little stone fireplace where we’d often done so before, were very careful everybody right on hand in case a spark should fly into the grass, sudden puff of wind blew fire out into the dead grass, all seized our coats & began beating it out, but in less than a minute it was roaring up the hill towards the pasture barn & almost in the direction of the house. Ran to get help. Austerlitz & Spencertown fire departments called out by ranger who saw fire from tower, came very quickly, also many neighbours. Fought fire all afternoon, came within a few hundred feet of kitchen garden. I was sure that the house & everything in it was bound to go. Under control before dark, however. Lost only my shack, which burned flat, and I’m afraid, some beautiful white birches, lovely thorn-bushes, too. Also my little green leather cigarette case, Arthur Ficke gave me, which was in my coat pocket. Tweed jacket of my suit looks pretty exhausted, too. But I am so grateful that the buildings didn’t catch fire that I don’t mind anything else very much. There were no papers in my shack, either, which was lucky. Came home nearly dead. Ugin gave all the men white wine.

Deems, Mary, Ugin & I had a bottle of champagne.’

18 April 1927
‘The loveliest day that ever dawned. A soft warm, really caressing breeze. And so wonderful to have that woman away! Gene went down to A[usterlitz] & rescued the Mercer from Ferry’s barn, where she’s been since three days before Christmas when we got stuck in the snow at 2 a.m. on our way home from Santa Fe [New Mexico] via N.Y. She looks so beautiful in her new coat of paint that Robert gave her - such a beautiful car. I almost finished the sweet-peas. The boy who sold us the barbecue last year called this evening & we ordered a lot of shrubs & roses & things. Terribly exciting. I wrote a letter to the League of American Penwomen, telling them where to get off - for inviting Elinor to be Guest of Honor & then writing her canceling the invitation on the grounds that she is not a respectable person. The sanctified flatfooted gadgets. I wish I had been a Fifth Avenue street sparrow yesterday - or in other words:
I wish to God I might have shat
On Mrs. Grundy’s Easter hat.’