Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An account book of time

One of Britain’s greatest prime ministers, William Gladstone, was born 200 years ago today - a bicentenary which doesn’t seem to have attracted that much attention. Gladstone was a committed diarist, but his journals are rarely interesting - as The Diary Junction Blog commented 18 months ago when the family library came up for auction. However, the bicentenary seems a good enough excuse to sample a little more of what the great man called his account book of time.

Gladstone was born in Liverpool, the son of a prosperous merchant, and educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford. Although planning to enter the church, he decided instead on politics. He was elected a Tory MP for Newark in 1832, when only 23. His talent for public speaking led Prime Minister Robert Peel to give him appointments in the Treasury and then in the Colonial Office. After six years in opposition, he returned to government still under Peel, and was eventually appointed President of the Board of Trade.

In the late 1840s and 1850s, Gladstone’s political views changed. As a young man, he had been a Tory, and yet by 1859 he had joined the Whigs (or Liberals) and then become Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell. He succeeded Russell as leader of the Liberal party in 1867. He was Prime Minister on four separate occasions (1868-74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892-94), enabling many reforms, including, in his second term, the Reform Act, which extended the vote to many rural voters. His last two terms were dominated by the Irish Home Rule issue.

In July 1839, Gladstone married Catherine Glynne (who bore eight children) and, together they set up a ‘rescue’ home for prostitutes. Gladstone used to wonder the streets of London at night trying to persuade prostitutes to start a new life. Given Gladstone’s life and great achievements, it is disappointing to find his diary, kept for 70 years, largely bald and uninteresting. Many extracts were used by John Morley in his two volume Life of William Ewart Gladstone published by Macmillan in 1903 (freely available at Internet Archive).

Much more recently, the diaries - The Gladstone Diaries - have been published in full by Oxford University Press in 14 volumes - the first few edited by M. R. D. Foot and the rest by H. C. G. Matthew - between 1968 and 1994. They cost well over £100 apiece new, though some can be picked up for around £25 secondhand on Abebooks.

The introduction to the first of the 14 volumes starts as follows: ‘Morley rightly remarked, in his official Life of Gladstone, that his subject was not equipped with ‘much or any of the rare talent of the born diarist’. These diaries reveal much about Gladstone’s character, and illustrate the religious, political, and social life of his day; yet nobody will find in them either word-pictures of events, or analyses of personality, fit to be compared with Pepys’s or with Greville’s. Gladstone’s diaries were not written with a literary aim. ‘You may take’, he once said to Balfour, ‘the three proverbial courses about a journal: you may keep none, you may keep a complete and ‘full- blooded’ one, or you may keep a mere skeleton like mine with nothing but bare entries of time and place.’ The skeleton was not entirely bare of flesh; but primarily it was what Gladstone, a meticulous keeper of accounts, once called ‘an account-book of the all-precious gift of Time’.

Here are a few entries from Gladstone’s account book of time (all taken from Morley’s Life of Gladstone).

29 December 1832
‘On this day I have completed my twenty-third year . . . The exertions of the year have been smaller than those of the last, but in some respects the diminution has been unavoidable. In future I hope circumstances will bind me down to work with a rigour which my natural sluggishness will find it impossible to elude. I wish that I could hope my frame of mind had been in any degree removed from earth and brought nearer heaven, that the habit of my mind had been imbued with something of that spirit which is not of this world. I have now familiarise myself with maxims sanctioning and encouraging a degree of intercourse with society, perhaps attended with much risk . . . Nor do I now think myself warranted in withdrawing from the practices of my fellow men except when they really involve an encouragement of sin, in which case I do certainly rank races and theatres . . .’

21 July 1833
‘Sunday, - ... Wrote some lines and prose also. Finished Strype. Read Abbott and Sumner aloud. Thought for some hours on my own future destiny, and took a solitary walk to and about Kensington Gardens.’

23 July 1833
‘Read L’Allemagne, Rape of the Lock, and finished factory report.’

26 July 1833
‘Went to breakfast with old Mr Wilberforce, introduced by his son. He is cheerful and serene, a beautiful picture of old age in sight of immortality. Heard him pray with his family. Blessing and honour are upon his head.’

30 July 1833
L’Allemagne. Bulwer’s England. Parnell. Looked at my Plato. Rode. House.’

31 July 1833
‘Hallam breakfasted with me. . . . Committee on West India bill finished. . . German lesson.’

2 August 1833
‘Worked German several hours. Read half of the Bride of Lammermoor, L’Allemagne. Rode. House.’

3 August 1833
‘German lesson and worked alone. . . Attended Mr Wilberforce’s funeral; it brought solemn thoughts, particularly about the slaves. This a burdensome question.’

9 August 1833
‘House . . voted in 48 to 87 against legal tender clause. . . Read Tasso.’

11 August 1833
‘St James’s morning and afternoon. Read Bible. Abbott (finished) and a sermon of Blomfield’s aloud. Wrote a paraphrase of part of chapter 8 of Romans.’

15 August 1833
‘Committee 1-3¼. Rode. Plato. Finished Tasso, canto 1. Anti- slavery observations on bill. German vocabulary and exercise.’

16 August 1833
‘2¾-3½ Committee finished. German lesson. Finished Plato, Republic, bk. v. Preparing to pack.’

17 August 1833
‘Started for Aberdeen on board Queen of Scotland at 12.’

18 August 1833
‘Rose to breakfast, but uneasily. Attempted reading, and read most of Baxter’s narrative. Not too unwell to reflect.’

19 August 1833
‘Remained in bed. Read Goethe and translated a few lines. Also Beauties of Shakespere. In the evening it blew: very ill though in bed. Could not help admiring the crests of the waves even as I stood at cabin window.’

20 August 1833
‘Arrived 8½ am - 56½ hours.’

29 December 1873
‘Sixty-four years completed to-day - what have they brought me? A weaker heart, stiffened muscles, thin hairs; other strength still remains in my frame.’

Monday, December 28, 2009

Such an idle man

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of Thomas Babington Macaulay, politician, writer and historian. He served two shorts terms as a high-level minister in the Whig governments of the 1840s, but is best remembered for his learned and innovative History of England. However, he also wrote much else besides, essays and poems, and he kept a diary. Although not published in full until 2008 (and at a price!), it was quoted frequently by Macaulay’s nephew in a 19th century biography. More of Macaulay’s character, however, is revealed in extracts from the diary of his sister, Margaret, who writes often of Macaulay complaining about his own idleness.

Macaulay was born in Leicestershire in 1800, and studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became friends with Lord Grey and Charles Austin, and developed an interest in utilitarianism. Significantly, his father, Zachary Macaulay, had been a colonial governor and was an active anti-slavery campaigner. After university, Macaulay began contributing to the Edinburgh Review, was called to the bar, and, in 1830, was elected to Parliament (for a pocket borough, thanks to Lord Lansdowne), where he distinguished himself as an orator.

In the mid-1830s, Macaulay went to India to serve on the Supreme Council, apparently because it was a lucrative job and his father was in debt. Partly because of his role in reforming the education system there and in developing the use of English language, people born of Indian ancestry but who adopted a Western lifestyle came to be known - disrespectfully - as ‘Macaulay’s Children’. On his return to Britain, he was elected to Parliament again, this time for Edinburgh, and was appointed Secretary of War in 1839 by Lord Melbourne, a post he held till the fall of Melbourne’s government in 1841; he also served as Paymaster-General between 1846 and 1848.

Thereafter, Macaulay focused on writing The History of England from the Accession of James II, five volumes of which were published to great acclaim between 1848 and 1855. In 1857, Lord Palmerston made him a lord. He died on 28 December 1859 - a century and a half ago today. Some further information is available at Victorian Web, Wikipedia, the Age-of-the-Sage, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For some of the last twenty years of his life, Macaulay kept a diary. He began it in 1838 to record a tour of Italy, and continued for a short while after that, but then the habit lapsed in mid-1839 once he had returned to Parliament and become a minister. He restarted writing a diary in late 1848, and wrote in it more or less regularly from then until five days before his death. The original manuscripts are kept at Trinity College.

Although the diaries were used extensively by George Otto Trevelyan, Macaulay’s nephew, in writing Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, published in the mid-1870s, they were only published in their own right for the first time in 2008 by Pickering and Chatto. The five volume set - The Journals of Thomas Babington Macaulay - was edited by William Thomas and costs a mere £450.

Macaulay, it seems, was acutely aware of the verdict of posterity and would not publish anything not carefully revised and polished, but, the publisher says, his masks were were put aside when writing the journal. Moreover, since he knew the leading Liberal politicians of the day, as well as many writers and scholars (not least Thackeray and Dickens), the diaries are a ‘valuable resource for researchers interested in the mid-nineteenth-century British political and cultural landscape’.

The full text of William Thomas’s introduction to the Journals, as well as 16 pages of diary entries from the first volume, taken from Pickering and Chatto’s website. Here is Macaulay waxing lyrical on the sites of Genoa.

31 October 1838
‘One of the most remarkable days of my life. A day of interest and enjoyment. We were not required to be on board of the steamer again till six in the evening. Soon after seven in the morning I was in the streets of Genoa. Never had I been more struck and delighted. The Strada Balbi, the Strada Nuovissima, above all the Strada Nuovà quite enchanted me. Nothing mean or small to break the charm. One huge massy towering palace after another - forming an assemblage in which the finest houses of London would have seemed contemptible. What would Northumberland House, Lansdowne House, or Norfolk House have been there? Change Northumberland House from brick to variegated marble, and raise it to twice its present height and it might perhaps pass muster as a second-rate palace in Genoa. The vestibules beautiful - the flights of marble steps and the colonnades within far superior to anything in London or Paris. True it is that none of these magnificent piles is a strikingly good architectural composition. But the general effect is majestic beyond description. . .

I went over the Royal Palace - both that I might see the interior of one of these superior mansions, and that I might see the famous Paul Veronese. The house is very noble - magnificent flights of steps of the finest marble - long suites of gilded rooms - galleries adorned with a profusion of glasses - and many good pictures and tolerable sculptures. Of the pictures the Paul Veronese of Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Christ is by far the most celebrated. . . The softness of Mary’s hands is much admired but there is no use in lying to one’s own self and I must say that I want taste to see the transcendant merit of the picture. The expression of the two principal countenances is quite insipid. Mary might be washing her hands and Christ might be sitting to be measured for shoes. There is no love or adoration on her side, nor has he the air of a superior being accepting graciously a sacrifice offered by sincere reverence and affection. The dog under the table is, I think, as well painted and seems as much interested in what is going on as any other character in the piece. . .

The terrace of the palace commands an incomparable view of the city, the port, the shipping and the Mediterranean. The sun was bright and the sea blue so that I saw this fine sight with every advantage.

Next to the huge palaces of Genoa - or rather quite as much as those palaces I admired the Churches - not outside for they are mean and bad, and are seldom so high as the stately houses which surround them, but the interior dazzled and pleased me more than I can express. It was like the awakening of a new sense. It was the discovery of a new pleasure. I had drawn all my notions of classical interiors of churches from such buildings as St Paul’s and St Genevieve’s - cold, white, naked edifices, fine undoubtedly, but without richness and variety. I now found that the classical orders might be used in such a manner as to produce the most gorgeous effects - that an outline like that of St Genevieve might be filled up with all the richest colouring of Rogers’s painted cabinets. The first church door that I opened at Genoa let me into a new world. Variegated marbles, gildings - paintings in fresco occupied every inch. One harmonious glow pervaded the whole of the long Corinthian arcade from the entrance to the altar. These Churches, I am told, do not stand high among Italian Churches, but their effect on me was very great, particularly the effect of the Church of the Annunziata and of the Church of San Siro. I hardly know which of those two I liked the more. In this way I passed the day, greatly excited and delighted. . .’

And here are a few diary extracts culled from the Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay which is freely available online, at Fullbooks for example.

8 April 1849
‘Lichfield. Easter Sunday. After the service was ended we went over the Cathedral. When I stood before the famous children by Chantrey, I could think only of one thing; that, when last I was there, in 1832, my dear sister Margaret was with me and that she was greatly affected. I could not command my tears and was forced to leave our party, and walk about by myself.’

August 1857
‘I sent the carriage home, and walked to the Museum. Passing through Great Ormond Street I saw a bill upon No 50. I knocked, was let in, and went over the house with a strange mixture of feelings. It is more than twenty-six years since I was in it. The dining-room, and the adjoining room, in which I once slept, are scarcely changed - the same colouring on the wall, but more dingy. My father’s study much the same; - the drawing-rooms too, except the papering. My bedroom just what it was. My mother’s bedroom. I had never been in it since her death. I went away sad.’

8 July 1858
‘Motley called. I like him much. We agree wonderfully well about slavery, and it is not often that I meet any person with whom I agree on that subject. For I hate slavery from the bottom of my soul; and yet I am made sick by the cant and the silly mock reasons of the Abolitionists. The nigger driver and the negrophile are two odious things to me.’

8 August 1859
‘We passed my old acquaintance, Dumbarton castle, I remembered my first visit to Dumbarton, and the old minister, who insisted on our eating a bit of cake with him, and said a grace over it which might have been prologue to a dinner of the Fishmongers’ Company, or the Grocers’ Company.’

Also in Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay can be found some revealing diary entries about ‘Tom’ Macaulay, when still a young man his early 30s, by his sister, Margaret.

3 March 1831
‘Yesterday morning Hannah and I walked part of the way to his chambers with Tom, and, as we separated, I remember wishing him good luck and success that night. He went through it most triumphantly, and called down upon himself admiration enough to satisfy even his sister. I like so much the manner in which he receives compliments. He does not pretend to be indifferent, but smiles in his kind and animated way, with ‘I am sure it is very kind of you to say so,’ or something of that nature. His voice from cold and over-excitement got quite into a scream towards the last part. A person told him that he had not heard such speaking since Fox. ‘You have not heard such screaming since Fox,’ he said.’

24 March 1831
‘By Tom’s account, there never was such a scene of agitation as the House of Commons presented at the passing of the second reading of the Reform Bill the day before yesterday, or rather yesterday, for they did not divide till three or four in the morning. When dear Tom came the next day he was still very much excited, which I found to my cost, for when I went out to walk with him he walked so very fast that I could scarcely keep up with him at all. With sparkling eyes he described the whole scene of the preceding evening in the most graphic manner.

‘I suppose the Ministers are all in high spirits,’ said Mamma. ‘In spirits, Ma’am? I’m sure I don’t know. In bed, I’ll answer for it.’ Mamma asked him for franks, that she might send his speech to a lady who, though of high Tory principles, is very fond of Tom, and has left him in her will her valuable library. ‘Oh, no,’ he said, ‘don’t send it. If you do, she’ll cut me off with a prayer-book.’

Tom is very much improved in his appearance during the last two or three years. His figure is not so bad for a man of thirty as for a man of twenty-two. He dresses better, and his manners, from seeing a great deal of society, are very much improved. When silent and occupied in thought, walking up and down the room as he always does, his hands clenched and muscles working with the intense exertion of his mind, strangers would think his countenance stern; but I remember a writing-master of ours, when Tom had come into the room and left it again, saying, ‘Ladies, your brother looks like a lump of good-humour!’

30 March 1831
‘Tom has just left me, after a very interesting conversation. He spoke of his extreme idleness. He said: ‘I never knew such an idle man as I am. When I go in to Empson or Ellis their tables are always covered with books and papers. I cannot stick at anything for above a day or two. I mustered industry enough to teach myself Italian. I wish to speak Spanish. I know I could master the difficulties in a week, and read any book in the language at the end of a month, but I have not the courage to attempt it. If there had not been really something in me, idleness would have ruined me.’

I said that I was surprised at the great accuracy of his information, considering how desultory his reading had been. ‘My accuracy as to facts,’ he said, ‘I owe to a cause which many men would not confess. It is due to my love of castle-building. The past is in my mind soon constructed into a romance.’ He then went on to describe the way in which from his childhood his imagination had been filled by the study of history. ‘With a person of my turn,’ he said, ‘the minute touches are of as great interest, and perhaps greater, than the most important events. Spending so much time as I do in solitude, my mind would have rusted by gazing vacantly at the shop windows. As it is, I am no sooner in the streets than I am in Greece, in Rome, in the midst of the French Revolution. Precision in dates, the day or hour in which a man was born or died, becomes absolutely necessary. A slight fact, a sentence, a word, are of importance in my romance. Pepys’s Diary formed almost inexhaustible food for my fancy. I seem to know every inch of Whitehall. I go in at Hans Holbein’s gate, and come out through the matted gallery. The conversations which I compose between great people of the time are long, and sufficiently animated; in the style, if not with the merits, of Sir Walter Scott’s. The old parts of London, which you are sometimes surprised at my knowing so well, those old gates and houses down by the river, have all played their part in my stories.’ He spoke, too, of the manner in which he used to wander about Paris, weaving tales of the Revolution, and he thought that he owed his command of language greatly to this habit. I am very sorry that the want both of ability and memory should prevent my preserving with greater truth a conversation which interested me very much.’

21 May 1831
‘Tom was from London at the time my mother’s death occurred, and things fell out in such a manner that the first information he received of it was from the newspapers. He came home directly. He was in an agony of distress, and gave way at first to violent bursts of feeling. During the whole of the week he was with us all day, and was the greatest comfort to us imaginable. He talked a great deal of our sorrow, and led the conversation by degrees to other subjects, bearing the whole burden of it himself and interesting us without jarring with the predominant feeling of the time. I never saw him appear to greater advantage - never loved him more dearly.’

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Drug cops are dummies

The great American trumpet player, Chet Baker, might have been celebrating his eightieth birthday today had he not been so addicted to drugs, and had he not fallen out of a window a few months before his sixtieth birthday. He left behind a skimpy diary, apparently, which was tailored, by his estate, into a memoir - but not a very good one by many accounts!

Baker was born on 23 December 1929 - eight decades ago today - into a musical family. He left school at 16, inducted into the army, and was posted to Berlin where he joined a military band. He left the army for a short time to study music at El Camino College in Los Angeles but re-enlisted before leaving again to pursue a career as a professional musician in San Francisco. There he also played for an army band, but appeared in jazz clubs too. In 1952, he played with Charlie Parker in a series of concerts, and then joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. That band became popular very quickly, partly thanks to how Baker’s trumpet playing counterpointed Mulligan’s saxophone playing so well. Wikipedia says the Quartet’s version of My Funny Valentine, with a Baker solo, was a major hit.

The Quartet floundered before long thanks to Mulligan’s arrest and imprisonment on drug charges, but Baker’s career continued apace, not least with his 1953 record Chet Baker Sings. Thereafter, Baker formed various bands, and his 1956 release, The Route, with Art Pepper, helped popularise the West Coast jazz sound, later becoming a staple of so-called cool jazz. Indeed, Baker, with his good looks and singing talent, became something of a jazz icon.

However, thereafter Baker’s career was interrupted by a series of drug-related incidents, including a year-long term of imprisonment in Italy. Other incidents led to him being expelled from European countries, and eventually deported back to the US, where he settled in Milpitas in northern California. A problem with his teeth - possibly as the result of a fight, or of drug-taking - also affected his trumpet-playing. He learned to play with dentures, but most of the time between 1966 and 1974 he used the flugelhorn and stuck with smooth jazz.

Subsequently, though, he returned to the trumpet and his previous style, playing a lot with guitarist Jim Hall. From 1978, he lived and played mostly in Europe. This is a period in which he recorded many albums for many labels (since he was always in need of money to fuel his drug habit), and, according to some, played the best music of his life. He died in 1988 after a fall from a second-story hotel room in Amsterdam. An autopsy found heroin and cocaine in his body. There are several biographies scattered around the web, try Allmusic, Chetbakertribute, or the Chet Baker fan site.

Ten years later, in 1997, St Martin’s Griffin in New York published Chet Baker: As Though I Had Wings - The Lost Memoir. A few pages can be read at Amazon.com, and although it doesn’t appear to read like a diary, Amazon says this about the book: ‘Chet Baker, poster child for West Coast Cool Jazz and patron saint of its notorious lush life, kept a diary. Published by his estate and introduced by his widow, his entries have been tailored to a memoir of his life from 1946 to 1963. These are the years of his rise to stardom in music and movies - and his tumble into the trenches of incarceration and drug abuse. The book is divided into 13 quick-reading chapters in which Baker writes of his life as a musician, all seasoned with tales of drugs, prison terms, and a laundry list of romances.’ The term ‘diary’, though, might not be so accurate. Allaboutjazz calls it a notebook that was unearthed by a magazine writer and that it contained ‘casual writings about [Baker’s] life set in more or less chronological order’.

The book did not garner the best reviews. Kirkus says it is a ‘sliver of autobiography’ and that ‘even when discussing his peak years, Baker concentrates more on drug busts than music’. Still, it concludes, ‘this is a morbidly fascinating window onto his hobbled genius’. Dwight Garner at Salon listed it as one of the worst books of 1997: ‘From its first banal sentence . . . to its last (including the phrase ‘we were so stoned and so sleepy’), it never comes close to the blue velvet of Baker’s singing voice or the sheer breathiness of his trumpet playing.’

Here are a few extracts:

‘I felt uncomfortable and very nervous as Bird asked the crowd if I was in the club, and would I come up and play something with him. . . After Cheryl he announced that the audition was over, thanked everyone for coming, and said that he was hiring me. . .’

‘Moving quickly toward the noise, as did everyone else, I saw Dick lying on the floor. He had passed out cold, and several people were trying to figure out what was wrong with him. We located a doctor and cleared the stage area. I should point out that Dick had always taken care of business; always at work on time and always playing exceptionally.’

‘The cops who busted me were complete dummies who loved to harass and bust musicians, actors, and celebrities of all kinds; people who were an easy bust, and who would get their names in the paper. They never arrested the pushers or anyone who might be really dangerous. It wasn’t their style.’

And again of drug cops: ‘I hated those bastards and all they stood for.’

Friday, December 18, 2009

In Brighton with George IV

It is a century and a half today since Henry Edward Fox, the fourth Baron Holland, died. He was a fairly unremarkable aristocrat, and sired no children, thus causing his baronies to expire. Nevertheless, he was an interesting diarist, gossipy, observant and happily acerbic at times. He had no qualms, for example, in calling the King (George IV) a fool, or in describing the English countryside as being full of ‘Lilliput ostentation’! But he liked Brighton, and was there for the opening of the Chain Pier which he described as ‘a great ornament and convenience to the place’.

Fox, the third son of the third Baron Holland, was born in 1802 at Holland House in London. He was educated privately and then studied at Christ Church, Oxford. He briefly held the parliamentary seat of Horsham before eschewing politics and joining the diplomatic service, taking posts in Italy and Austria. He married the daughter of the Earl of Coventry in 1833, and succeeded to become (the fourth) Baron Holland in 1840 on the death of his father.

On returning permanently to England in 1846, Baron Holland launched himself into renovating and altering Holland House. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended parties there in 1849-1850. He had no children, and so his baronies became extinct when he died on 18 December 1859. Thereafter, the estate passed to a cousin, the fifth Earl of Ilchester. Further biographical informaiton is available at Wikipedia, or the History of Parliament.

Diary writing, it seems, was a family habit. The diaries of both Fox’s parents were published, seven decades apart: The Journal of Elizabeth Lady Holland in two volumes by Longmans, Green and Co in 1908; and The Holland House diaries, 1831-1840 in 1977 by Routledge and Kegan Paul. This latter was based on the diaries of the Third Baron Holland, but also included extracts from the diary of Dr John Allen, a physician and writer, and a significant figure brought into the Holland household by the third Baron.

The fourth Baron Holland’s diaries - The Journal of the Hon. Henry Edward Fox, afterwards fourth and last Baron Holland - were published after his mother’s and before his father’s in 1923 by Thornton Butterworth. Somewhat bizarrely, they cover a 12 year period before those of his father in the Holland House diaries. Having been found among the manuscripts at Holland House, the fourth Baron’s diaries were edited by the sixth Earl of Ilchester, who also gives a short introduction with some biographical details. All 400 pages of the diary are freely available online at Internet Archive (as are both volumes of Lady Holland’s journal).

Arthur Ponsonby, a British writer and politician, who wrote two excellent books on English diaries in the 1920s says this about the fourth Baron’s diaries: ‘He has style, great facility of expression, terse and epigrammatic powers of portraiture and gives unreserved disclosure of candid opinions. So we get at the man through the gossip. This does not prevent the gossip of high society being very exhausting, nor does it prevent him from suffering from the common delusion that association with prominent people must necessarily mean gaining wide experience.’

Here are several extracts from the fourth Baron’s diary, all of them concerning visits to Brighton (for no other reason than that’s where I happen to live).

October 1823
‘We went back to Petworth for two days, and arrived at Brighton on the first of November. For the first three nights we slept in that wretched place, the York Hotel, and dined almost every day with Lady Affleck, who brought Mary from St Ann’s. Our life at Brighton was just what all lives must be in a wateringplace. Some agreable people were there, and latterly when Charles and Henry Webster came it was more agreable: Bedfords, Vernons, Cowpers, Ponsonbys, Duncannons, Hopes, Kings, Aberdeens. Our house was pleasantly situated immediately opposite the Chain Pier, which was twice the scene of gaieties. One night upon its’ being publickly opened there were fireworks, and afterwards, in honor of King’s arrival, illuminated. It is a delightful walk, and a great ornament and convenience to the place. Nothing very particular occurred in the world except that Ld Granville was appointed to The Hague as Ambassador, and that all London has been occupied with the murder of Mr Weare in Hertfordshire one of the most barbarous ever known; and the publicity of it and of all the proceedings has been so great that they thought it but fair to the prisoners to put off the trial, as they had been so much prejudged. . .

My father and I dined one day at the Pavilion. Nothing could be more civil than the King was to him, and the whole conversation after dinner was meant to be gracious to him, praising Holland House, General Fitzpatrick; and even what he did not address to him was meant as implied civility. To Ld Aberdeen he was almost rude. Lf Aberdeen fainted from the heat and looked quite lovely. Nothing could surpass the excellence of the dinner and the splendour of the whole establishment. The King after dinner talked about Junius, which he believes to have been written by Sir Philip Francis, and gave some strong corroborations of that suspicion. The rooms are splendid, and when lighted up look like the palaces of Fairies or Genii. After dinner the King played at écarté with the favorite and Lf Cowper, and all the rest of the company remained in the outer room. Afterwards there were several evening parties and a child’s ball, to which I went. The music is so loud and the heat so overpowering, that they generally gave me a headache. Charles met Lady Errol for the first time one evening there. My father and mother went away on Xmas Day, but Charles and I staid on some time longer. Charles, however, got tired and left me.

One evening I was suddenly sent for to the Pavilion. My dismay was not small at finding myself ushered into a room where the K. and Rossini were alone. I found that I was the only person honored with an invitation to hear this great composer’s performances. A more unworthy object than I am could not have been selected. H.M. was not much pleased with his manner, which was careless and indifferent to all the civilities shown him. The K. himself made a fool of himself by joining in the choruses and the Halelujah Anthem, stamping his foot and overpowering all with the loudness of his Royal voice.’

29 November 1829
‘30 Old Steyne, Brighton. I was called a little after seven and got up immediately. The morning was foggy, damp and cold. I left London before 9 and stopped to hear how Miss Vernon had passed the night at Little Holland House. I was happy to find that the new medicine and a blister had in some measure relieved her and given her a few hours’ sleep. I cannot, however, help apprehending that all ultimate hopes of her recovery must be very faint. My journey was rapid and had no other merit. The country (indeed like almost all the country in this island) is tame and uninteresting; perpetual small country-houses with their mean trimness and Lilliput ostentation. There are few of those worst of all sights on this road - a vast green field, dotted with trees, surrounded by a wall, and damped by a variety of swampy ponds, which call themselves country seats. I arrived at half past 2. My mother was on the pier. I sat with my father, who was, as he always is, very lively. He talked of the Grenvilles, and tho’ he admitted all the faults which make them so unpopular in the world, he praised them for many merits, especially Tom Grenville for his disinterested generosity about Lord Carysfort’s guardianship. I took a bath before dinner. Our guests were, The Lord Chancellor, Lady Lyndhurst, Duke of Devonshire, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr Whishaw, four selves. I never had met the Chancellor before; he is agreable in his manner and voice, and his language is choice and elegant. After dinner we talked of Napoleon and Bourrienne’s Memoires. Sir James said that the conversation there given between the Emperor and Auguste de Stael (at that time only 17 years old), is quite correct. That he has seen Auguste’s letter to his mother, detailing it just as it is told in Bourrienne. He went to meet Napoleon on his return from Italy, in order to solicit for his mother to be allowed to go nearer Paris - but in vain. The D. of D. is grown more absurd in his costume, more obtuse in hearing, and much duller than he used to be. I had a curious conversation after coffee, in which I dissipated the ill-grounded apprehensions of ___. Edward Romilly and Sir James Macdonald came after tea. The room was hot and the evening fatiguing. It is very painful to see and be in the room with someone one wishes excessively to speak to, without the possibility of doing so without becoming the gaze of the whole party. I went to bed at 12.’

2 December 1829
‘A cold, raw day. I got up late and took no bath. I called on Lady Webster and Miss Monson. The former is a fine, open-hearted, cheerful woman, perfectly good-humoured and devoid of any affectation. She has remains of very extraordinary beauty and is still very handsome. I then went to Lady L. The Chancellor is gone. Before he went she received another anonymous letter from London, threatening to expose her to him, and accusing her of an embrace with me on the steps leading to the Chain Pier on Saturday last, on which day I was in London and she was in her bed. This takes off any apprehension we might feel, for it proves the ignorance of our enemies. Great God! What a dreadful country this is to live in, and how much better for the peace of society and for the agrémens of life is the despotism of one man to the inquisitive tyranny and insolent exactions of a whole nation. She very wisely instantly showed the letter to her husband, at the same time showing The Age with a paragraph about her and Cradock, and desired him to direct her future conduct, which he has done in advising her to continue exactly as if she had never received such letters and not to allow the avarice of blackguards to harass and torment her. . .’

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Italy’s Town of the Diary

Some 250km north of Rome and 70km east of Florence, in Tuscany but not far from the borders with Umbria and Romagna, lies Pieve Santo Stefano, otherwise known as the Town of the Diary. For over two decades, it has been the centre of an astonishing project to archive and publicise the diaries of, what the archive calls, common people, and in so doing has developed what might be termed a diary culture.

Pieve Santo Stefano was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, though an L-shaped town hall survived, and it is there that the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale - or ‘house of memory’ - began to evolve 25 years ago, at the initiative of the journalist and writer Saverio Tutino. A full history can be seen here in Italian, and here translated into English. Today, all the roads into the town bear not only a sign saying its name, but another sign saying ‘Citta del Diario’.

Over the years, many thousands of diaries (and letters) have been deposited in the Archive. A few of their authors are highlighted on the Archive’s website: an architect who was victim to a terrorist attempt in the seventies; a ‘naif writer’ who described his work in a mine and his amorous adventures; a Venetian farmer with a poetic but ungrammatic style; a girl who wrote with deep sorrow to her mother from a drug-addicted community before her suicide; a Sicilian farmer who emigrated to the US; a bricklayer from the south of Italy; and a robber from Rome.

But the Archive is more than just a depository for diaries. There are two panels of readers, one consisting of people ‘on the spot’, i.e. in the locality (‘teachers and attendants, clerks and students, a [vet], an engineer, a trader and some housewives’), and the other consisting of ‘experienced people’(!), such as writers, sociologists and historians. And, each year, these readers select a prize text. By the early 1990s, Italian publishers were already sourcing new titles from the Archives, and since 1999, Mursia has been publishing the prize-winners texts.

Every year now, in September, the town hosts a celebration - the Annual Festival of Autobiography - based around the prize giving. The night before there is a meeting between the two groups of readers, and the following morning the authors and the readers get together. Representatives of similar archives in other European countries also visit and together have formed the European Association for Autobiography. The town hall regularly hosts exhibitions of the rarest diaries and of the original manuscripts sent to the Archives during the year.

Here is part of the Archive’s English page which explains, albeit in a rather awkward translation, some of its philosophy:

‘We have spread the idea that also some personal documents, not connected with market interests, are a new genre of not learned literature (or maybe a ‘semi-learned’ literature). Without doubts, this is a lively cultural genre which is fit for the age we live in. In the meanwhile, students, journalists, writers, scenarists, have come to the Archives and have consulted the texts. When the diaries are collated, we often find parallelisms and convergences. Sometime, we assist to a kind of meeting among the past events which are told in the texts. The micro-history we find in our writings emphasizes every aspect of life, even if some texts were originally written for different aims. Besides, around the Archives, which are sources of memory, an attention to old relationships and new friendships revives. It seems that people, whose memoirs are written on the paper, have the possibility of talking over their past loneliness and of communicating with the world in a new real atmosphere.

Philippe Lejeune, the author of Le Pact Autobiographique, agrees with us in using the word ‘magic’ to explain the combination between the poetics of the past and the scientific study of all autobiographic stories. Lejeune says: ‘The autobiographic texts must not considered to be interesting and meaningful documents which are useful only to the study of past events’. For this reason, we thought right to place the texts at public’s disposal and to confront them, in order to make the personal documents revive. We had an intuition like Lejeune. We wondered how it was possible to localize ‘All the anonymous texts which were passed unnoticed by some local institutions and had survived the loss and the material destruction. The aim was to avoid that one day or another these texts were forgotten by the very authors and by the author’s descendants’. Since when we have founded the Archives, the authors give us their diaries to read them and to keep them after their death. One day, a eighty years old woman, who gave her diary to the Archives of Pieve Santo Stefano, said: ‘I would like that at least a person read my memoirs. Otherwise, I would pass over my life in silence and nobody would notice my presence, because I have not a husband nor children. I would have lived without leaving a little trace’.’

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The spirit of millipedes

Three centuries ago to the day, a physician named David Hamilton was treating Queen Anne for gout. He reported in his diary that she was taking spirit of millipedes for the condition, and was feeling much better. Hamilton, who was particularly known in London for his midwifery skills, was also a friend of Mary Cowper, a diarist of some note.

Hamilton was born in 1663 in Lanarkshire, the tenth and youngest son of James Hamilton of Boggs, the first Laird of Boggs and Dalzell, by his third wife. He studied at University of Leyden and the College of Physicians in London. He married in 1689 and again in 1694, fathering two sons with his second wife. He is said to have had a flourishing medical practice, largely because of his skills in midwifery. Indeed, it is possible that he was first brought to the notice of Queen Anne when asked to see if she were pregnant, though there seems to be no evidence that he ever attended her in childbirth - since the last of her many stillborn children predated Hamilton’s appointment.

In 1703, Hamilton was knighted and elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians. The same year he was also appointed Third Physician-in ordinary to Queen Anne but did not attend her until 1708. By 1712, he had been appointed Second Physician-in ordinary. Two years later he was appointed physician to the Princess of Wales, but was not summoned for either of her pregnancies (one was a stillborn child, and the other child died in infancy). There is not much information about David Hamilton online, all the above comes from a lengthy introduction in The Diary of Sir David Hamilton 1709-1714, edited by Philip Roberts and published in 1975 by Clarendon Press.

Hamilton attended the Queen often in the last five years of her life, and so his diary provides not only details of her medical state, but records her ideas and opinions, her relationships with friends, ministers and foes, and gives a good impression of the mood of the times. A short review of the book, found on Pub Med Central, says it provides ‘a valuable account’ of events towards the end of Queen Anne’s reign and gives ‘an excellent portrait of the queen’.

The review, however, is more critical of the book’s (or the diary’s) medical content. It notes that Hamilton is especially exercised over Anne’s gout and discusses the contemporary ideas of etiology and therapy, but complains that ‘the index carries only one reference to any medical treatment of the Queen’ (which, as it happens is to Tipping’s water for urinary lithiasis, and this concerns the Duchess of Marlborough, not the Queen!).

Indeed, Hamilton writes in his diary about the Queen’s gout on one of his first visits. Here is an extract from exactly 300 years ago today, as well as the subsequent entries for 1709.

9 December 1709
‘I’ll begin therefore with an uneasiness which her Majesty appeared to have, about the beginning of December 1709. The particular occasion I was not made acquainted with. But the seeing her inwardly affected, gave me an opportunity to Caution her against disquiets, and as her Phisitian, suggest the Ill consequences that might happen at that time from it. Her receiving this advice with so much Goodness, (I may say Thankfullness) convinc’d me how right my conjecture was. But visiting her the 9th. of that Month I was farther confirm’d therein, for entering the Back stairs I found my Lord Godolphin, then Lord High Treasurer, waiting till her Majesty came out of her Closet, and upon my comming in, he came to inquire for the Queens health (the first time of his doing so, and indeed his great gravity, passing with me as a forbidding Countenance, gave me no inclination to Converse with him). I answerd‚ ‘that her Majesty was better of the Gout that it had been more regular than usual, that she took nothing but spirit of Millepedes, and that since the use of it she had taken few medecines than before’; to which he Replyd the oftner the boards are wash’d, the sooner they are impair’d. Upon this Freedom of Conversation I told his Lordship that it was in his Power to prolong his Majestys life, by laying before her as few disquieting things as possible, but if there was an absolute necessity for it, to shun it at least at some certain seasons. Which he with wonderfull good nature, and seeming pleasure undertook, adding, that if I would send him a line to inform him of every such season, he would do his utmost to keep her easy.

After his returning from the Queen, and my going in, I told her Majesty what had pass’d which She received exceeding kindly; thank’d me, and desir’d me to go on, and do according as he had appointed, only not to trouble too often least he should think it came from her.’

22 December 1709
‘The 22nd. her Majesty acquainted me that she knew I had been with my Lord Treasurer, because he had been with her, and told her, he was not come to discourse of any affairs with her, for if he had occasion to do it, he knew it was not a proper time.’

23 December 1709
‘And on the 23rd. repeated that he would not trouble her with any affairs till after Christmass, which shews how readilly he came in to keep her from disquiet and to act the part of a kind friend as well as a Minister of State.’

24 December 1709
‘The 24th. he sent to me to give him in writing the times he was to omitt Business, at least disquieting business to her Majesty, vid the History. Then he express’d great pleasure in the prospect of keeping her Majesty quiet this way. His after care, and the success of it, prov’d that his words were not complimental, that Freedom from disquiets contributed exceedingly to her health, and consequently that disquiet must injure it. With concern he broke out, saying, You think I disquiet the Queen; what trouble can that give her Majesty for me to read a letter or two to her, or to make her walk to the Councill and hear her Lords discourse upon her affairs; Its Uneasiness from Tattles that injures her most, and craving from her Majesty that which would not look so well for her to grant.’

Philip Roberts, the editor of Hamilton’s diary, provides a note about the ‘spirit of millipedes’ taken from The Essays of Sir William Temple published by Blackie in 1910. This book is freely available online at Internet Archive, and here is what Temple says about the medical benefits of millipedes: ‘The next specific I esteem to be that little insect called millepedes: the powder whereof, made up into little balls with fresh butter, I never knew fail of curing any sore throat: it must lie at the root of the tongue, and melt down at leisure upon going to bed. I have been assured that Doctor Mayerne used it as a certain cure for all cancers in the breast; and should be very tedious if I should tell here, how much the use of it has been extolled by several within my knowledge, upon the admirable effects for the eyes, the scurvy, and the gout; but there needs no more to value it, than what the ancient physicians affirm of it in those three words: Digerit, Aperit, Abstergit. It digests. It opens. It cleanses.’

Finally, it is worth noting that Hamilton’s diary itself has not survived into the modern day, but only a copy made by his friend Mary, Countess Cowper, who herself was a diarist of note - see The Diary Junction. This copy is kept with the Panshanger Manuscripts at the Hertfordshire Records Office, along with a faithful copy of that copy by Mary’s daughter Sarah. In her diary, Cowper mentions Hamilton, and specifically that the stillborn child of the Princess of Wales would have ‘infallibly been alive if she had been laid by Sir D. H.’

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries

It is sixty years to the day that the Republic of China (ROC), having been defeated by the Communist Party in the country’s civil war, relocated to Taiwan. To celebrate the event, Academia Historica, home to Taiwan’s national archives, is presenting an exhibition based on the 1949 diary of Chiang Kai-shek, the ROC’s leader for many years. The original of that diary, and indeed a lifetime of diaries kept by Chiang, are housed in the US, at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, copies of which have only recently been made available for public inspection under stringent conditions.

Chiang Kai-shek was born in 1887 in a place called Xikou which lies roughly 100 miles south of Shanghai and 300 miles directly north of Taipei. His father was a salt merchant, though he died while Chiang was only eight. An arranged marriage followed, and two children. Chiang trained for a military career, partly in Japan, where he served in the imperial army from 1909 to 1911. On returning to China, he took part in various revolutionary activities, until, in 1918, he joined Sun Yat-sen’s Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, which was trying to overthrow the warlords and unify the country.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, leaving something of a power vacuum, but the following year Chiang won control of the revolutionary forces, and continued the campaign against the warlords. However, he had to fight a bloody battle against a Communist wing within the Kuomintang - involving the murder of thousands - before marching into Peking in 1928 and establishing a new central government. To further consolidate his power base, he married Soong May-ling, the sister of Sun Yat-sen’s widow, but first he had to convert to Christianity, and divorce his wife and concubines, because of the demands by Soong’s parents. Chiang’s government made many advances in the subsequent decade - economic, social, industrial - but was constantly harried by surviving warlords and the ousted Communists.

From 1937, and during the Second World War, Chiang’s resources were focused on repelling and stemming a Japanese invasion. With the help of the Allies, Japan eventually surrendered and withdrew from China. By then, however, Chiang’s rule was suffering badly from corruption and economic inflation, while the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, were growing in strength and influence. The US took a stand and suspended aid payments, but encouraged Chiang to negotiate with Mao Zedong. Wikipedia’s extensive biography of Chiang provides this note: ‘In his diary on June 1948, Chiang wrote that the Kuomintang had failed, not because of external enemies but because of disintegration and rot from within; and it was this, more than any alleged foreign intrigue, that contributed to his defeat.’

In the autumn of 1949, the ROC, defeated by the Communists, moved from mainland China to exile on Taiwan, and exactly sixty years ago today - on 7 November 1949 - its government resumed office there. However, it would be some months before Chiang himself made it to Taiwan and took up his duties as president. He was re-elected several times in subsequent decades, and remained leader of the ROC government in exile, formally claiming sovereignty over all of China, until his death in 1975. In the context of the Cold War, Wikipedia says, most of the Western world recognised this position, and the ROC represented China as a whole in the United Nations and other international organizations until the 1970s.

In memory of that day 60 years ago, Academia Historica is presenting an exhibition of Chiang Kai-shek’s 1949 diary, according to Taiwan Today, quoting from a story in China Times. The special exhibition - Critical 1949: President Chiang Kai-shek’s Resignation and Return - is running in conjunction with a documentary using material from microfilms of Chiang’s diary. The microfilms are in the care of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Taiwan Today explains, where readers are only allowed to make handwritten copies, and therefore, their display in the exhibition and documentary is ‘especially valuable’. The documentary film crew, it adds, took a year going back and forth between mainland China, the US and Taiwan, consulting the diary and drawing on the Academia Historica’s files, as well as on films in the US National Archives and Records Administration. The Taiwan Today story gives one quote from Chiang’s diary, dated New Year’s Day 1949: ‘The enormity of the failures and ignominy of the past year has never been surpassed.’

In fact, Chiang wrote diaries for much of his life, and these are all held by the Hoover Institution. It divides them into four groups: Earliest Diaries, 1917–1931; World War II Diaries, 1932–1945; Postwar Diaries, 1946–1955; and Final Diaries, 1956–1972. But it also provides a detailed inventory of the diaries in pdf form, along with three pages of notes about them and their provenance. In particular, it notes that the diaries were given to the Institution by Elizabeth Chiang Fang Chih-yi, the wife of one of Chiang Kai-shek’s grandsons, and that the diaries will remain in the archives for 50 years ‘or until a permanent repository is found on the territory of China’.

The Journal of the Overseas Young Chinese Forum has an interesting article about the diaries, with many short quotes. It concludes: ‘What is the importance of Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries? This is a lively collection of papers. On August 25, 1929, he wrote: ‘my wife was suffering terribly after an abortion,’ fueling speculation of Chiang and Soong’s family life, for, by the time Chiang married Soong, he had contracted venereal disease and become sterile. In October 1933, when the central This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 16 November 2009. Communist activities, he ‘watched the moon with wife and sang Manjianghong [a Chinese tragic opera],’ a sensational moment quite different from the typical image of his seriousness and toughness. The diaries, therefore, provide scholars not only with details of major historic events but also insights into the ‘human element’ of history.’

Here is one quote included in the article, dated 14 October 1928: ‘I am so idle and self-indulgent that I have not been keeping my diaries for ten days! With such an unbridled and wanton attitude, how can I endeavor to wash away our national indignity and realize the success of the Chinese revolution?’

The Hoover Institution has kept Chiang’s diaries carefully archived, and only opened them to the public in stages. The Earliest Diaries were opened for inspection in March 2006, and since then one new group of the diaries has been made available each year until the final set was opened last July. However, there are stringent conditions applying: ‘Before examining the paper copies of the diaries, users must sign an agreement stating that (1) quotations from the diaries may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed in any form, without the written permission of the Chiang family, which retains copyright; (2) the diaries may not be photocopied nor photographed, so only handwritten notes may be taken; (3) cameras, cell phones, computers, scanners, and other image capture devices, as well as tape recorders and other recording devices, are not allowed while using the diaries; and (4) violations of the agreement may result in forfeiture of the privilege to access materials at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.’

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Diary briefs

Scott’s diaries to be blogged and twittered - Scott Polar Research Institute

A Times man recalls the buying of Hitler’s ‘diaries’ - The Times

Carl Crow’s The Long Road Back to China - UPI Asia, Earnshaw Books

More on Turkish coup diary - Today’s Zaman

Danish witness to Armenian Genocide - The Armenian Weekly

Jay Parini on Sofia Tostoy’s diaries - The Guardian

Sam Hanna Bell’s A Salute from the Banderol - The Irish Times, The Blackstaff Press

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Echoes in the Ear

It’s one hundred and fifty years since the great American man of letters, Washington Irving, died. He was a prolific writer, and a committed diarist, keeping especially enthusiastic records of his travels - such as of the time he visited the Ear of Dionysius in Sicily.

Irving was born in 1783 in New York to Scottish-English immigrants who were such admirers of George Washington that they named their last son (of 11 children) after him. He studied law privately, but did not practice for long. After travelling in Europe in 1804-1806, he represented his family’s hardware business in England until 1818. He served as a military aide to a New York governor in 1812, and was a magazine editor.

However, Irving came early to writing, and it is for his short stories, biographies and journals that he is best remembered. His comic history of New York, by the imaginary Dietrich Knickerbocker, was published in 1809, and The Sketchbook in 1819, under the pen name, Geoffrey Crayon. The latter contained stories that were to become famous: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. By the late 1820s, Irving had gained a reputation throughout Europe and the US as a great writer and thinker.

After spending many years in Europe, he returned to New York in 1832, and established a home at Sunnyside in Tarrytown, a place which then many famous people visited over the years. He remained there for the rest of his life, apart from four years (1942-1946) when he acted as minister to Spain, often nurturing young American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allen Poe. He died on 28 November 1859. See Wikipedia or American Naitonal Biography for more biographical information.

Many of Irving’s books are available for free download at Internet Archive, including the three volumes of his journals edited by William Trent and George Hellman and first published in 1919 by the Bibliophile Society. Lots of extracts can also be found in the three volumes of The Life and Letters of Washington Irving by his nephew Pierre M. Irving (and published by G. P. Putnam in 1883) - again see Internet Archive.

Here is the young Irving, on tour in Europe, fascinated by the Ear of Dionysius in Sicily, and playfully dressing up for a party (taken from The Life and Letters of Washington Irving).

4 February 1805
‘This morning I walked out of town to visit the celebrated Ear of Dionysius the Tyrant. I was accompanied by Dr Baker of the President, Davis, a midshipman, and Tootle, purser of the Nautilus.

The approach to the Ear is through a vast quarry, one of those from whence the stone for the edifices of ancient Syracuse was procured. The bottom of this quarry is cultivated in many places, and being entirely open overhead to the sun and sheltered on every side from the wind by high precipices, it is very fertile.

Travellers have generally been very careless in their account of the Ear. Some one originally started the observation that it was cut in the form of a human ear, and every one who has since given a description of it has followed in the same track and made the same remark. Brydone, among the rest, joins in it . . .

The Ear is a vast serpentine cavern, something in the form of the letter S reversed; its greatest width is at the bottom, from whence it narrows with an inflection to the top, something like the external shape of an ass’s ear. Its height is about eighty or ninety feet, and its length about one hundred and twenty. It is the same height and dimensions from the entrance to the extremity, where it ends abruptly. The marks of the tools are still perfectly visible on the walls of the cavern.

The rock is brought to a regular surface the whole extent, without any projection or curvatures as in the human ear. About half-way in the cavern is a small square recess or chamber cut in one side of the wall even with the ground, and at the interior extremity there appears to be a small recess at the top, but it is at present inaccessible. A poor man who lives in the neighborhood attended us with torches of straw, by which we had a very good view of the interior of the Ear. Holes are discernible near the interior end of the cave, which are made in the wall at regular distances and ascend up in an inclined direction. They are about an inch in diameter. Some of the company were of opinion that they have formerly contributed to the support of a stairs or ladder, but there is no visible place where a stairs could lead to, and the holes do not go above half the height of the cavern.

There are several parts of the Ear in which the discharge of a pistol makes a prodigious report, heightened by the echoes and reverberations of the cavern. One of the company had a fowling-piece which he discharged, and it made a noise almost equal to the discharge of artillery, though not so sharp a report. A pistol also produced a report similar to a volley of musketry. The best place to stand to hear the echoes to advantage is in the mouth of the cavern. A piece of paper torn in this place makes an echo as if some person had struck the wall violently with a stick in the back of the cave.

This singular cavern is called the Ear of Dionysius, from the purpose for which it is said to have been destined by that tyrant. Conscious of the disaffection of his subjects, and the hatred and enmity his tyrannical government had produced, he became suspicious and distrustful even of his courtiers that surrounded him. He is said to have had this cavern made for the confinement of those persons of whom he had the strongest suspicions. It was so constructed that any thing said in it, in ever so low a murmur, would be conveyed to a small aperture that opened into a little chamber where he used to station himself and listen. This chamber is still shown. It is on the outside of the Ear, just above the entrance, and communicates with the interior. Some of the officers of our navy had been in it last summer; they were lowered down to it by ropes, and mention that sounds are conveyed to it from the cavern with amazing distinctness. I wished very much to get to it, and the man who attended us brought me a cord for the purpose, but my companions protested they would not assist in lowering me down, and finally persuaded me that it was too hazardous, as the cord was small and might be chafed through in rubbing against the rock, in which case I would run a risk of being dashed to pieces. I therefore abandoned the project for the present.’

6 February 1805
‘This morning, Lieuts Murray and Gardner, and Capt Hall, of the ship President, Capt Dent of the Nautilus, and myself, set off to pay another visit to the Ear of Dionysius. We despatched beforehand a midshipman and four sailors with a spar and a couple of halyards. On arriving there, we went to the top of the precipice immediately over the mouth of the cave. Here we fastened ourselves to one of the halyards, and were lowered successively over the edge of the precipice (having previously disposed the spar along the edge of the rock so as to keep the halyard from chafing) into a small hole over the entrance of the Ear, and about fifteen feet from the summit of the precipice. The persons lowered were Murray, Hall, the midshipman, and myself, the others swearing they would not risk their necks to gratify their curiosity.

The cavern narrows as it approaches the top, until it ends in a narrow channel that runs the whole extent, and terminates in this small chamber. A passage from this hole or chamber appears to have been commenced to be cut to run into the interior of the rock, but was never carried more than ten or fifteen feet. We then began to make experiments to prove if sound was communicated from below to this spot in an extraordinary degree. Gardner fired a pistol repeatedly, but it did not appear to make a greater noise than when we were below in the mouth of the cavern. We then tried the conveyance of voices; in this we were more successful. One of the company stationed himself at the interior extremity of the Ear, and applying his mouth close to the wall, spoke to me just above a whisper. I was then stationed with my ear to the wall in the little chamber on high and about two hundred and fifty feet distant, and could hear him very distinctly. We conversed with one another in this manner for some time. We then moved to other parts of the cavern, and I could hear him with equal facility, his voice seeming to be just behind me. When, however, he applied his voice to the opposite side of the cave, it was by no means so distinct. This is easily accounted for, as one side of the channel is broken away at the mouth of the cavern, which injures the conveyance of the sound. After all, I doubt very much whether the cave was ever intended for the purpose ascribed to it. The fact is, that when more than one person speaks at a time, it creates such a confusion of sound between their voices and the echoes, that it is impossible to distinguish what they say. This we tried repeatedly, and found to be invariably the case.’

‘But,’ writes Pierre Irving about these journal entries, ‘the antiquities of Syracuse did not engage the exclusive attention of the traveller. He found a romantic interest in visiting the convents, and endeavoring to get ‘a sly peep’ at the nuns [and the] following extract from his journal shows him seeking amusement in another scene.’

10 February 1805
‘In the evening I went to a masquerade at the theatre. I had dressed myself in the character of an old physician which was the only dress I could procure, and had a vast deal of amusement among the ofificers. I spoke to them in broken English, mingling Italian and French with it, so that they thought I was a Sicilian. As I knew many anecdotes of almost all of them, I teazed them the whole evening, till at length one of them discovered me by my voice, which I happened not to disguise at the moment.’

Friday, November 27, 2009

Remembering Fanny Kemble

‘The record contained in the following pages is a picture of conditions of human existence which I hope and believe have passed away.’ So wrote the remarkable English actress and playwrite, Fanny Kemble, in a preface to her 1838 diary about the slaves she had tried to help on her American husband’s plantation some 25 years earlier. The diary, which is freely available on the internet, is considered to be an important early document describing the conditions of plantation slaves. Today is a good day to remember Fanny since she was born exactly two hundred years ago.

Fanny was born in England on 27 November 1809 into a theatrical family - both her parents were actors. She made her first appearance, when about 20, as the heroine in her father’s production of Romeo and Juliet at a theatre in Covent Garden. She proved to be an immediate success, and helped revive the theatre’s fortunes. In 1833, while on tour in the US with her father, she met Pierce Butler, a southern planter. She married him, stayed in the US, and gave up acting.

In 1836, Butler and his brother inherited their father’s Georgia plantation which owned hundreds of slaves. In 1838, Fanny (with her two children) spent four months at the plantations on Butler and St Simon’s islands. Thereafter, the family returned to Philadelphia, but the marriage broke down, and Butler denied Kemble access to her children. She returned to England and the theatre world, but then went back to the US to deal with a divorce suit. The divorce was granted in 1849. Kemble retired to Lennox, Massachusetts, and wrote several autobiographical works some of them based on the journals she had kept. For more information on Kemble, see Wikipedia, the PBS resource bank, or The New Georgia Encyclopaedia.

Kemble was an excellent diarist - a good writer and very observant - and her diaries have been published in many editions. Most recently, in 2000, Harvard University Press brought out a compilation of her writing - Fanny Kemble’s Journals - with extracts from throughout her life, starting when she was an actress and continuing to the last years of her life (she died in 1893). A few pages can be seen on the Amazon website.

Her most famous diary, though, is the one she kept for the months while living on her husband’s plantation, in which she recorded much about the slaves she saw and came in contact with. This was later circulated among abolitionists prior to the American Civil War, but was published once the war broke out - as Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Harper & Brothers in 1863. Although a diary in form, it was written as a series of letters, and dedicated to, her friend Elizabeth Dwight Sedgwick, a teacher in Lennox and an author. The full text is freely available at Internet Archive. Here is Kemble’s own preface, written some 25 years after the diary itself, and one extract.

‘The following diary was kept in the winter and spring of 1838-9, on an estate consisting of rice and cotton plantations in the islands at the entrance of the Altamaha on the coast of Georgia. The slaves in whom I then had an unfortunate interest were sold some years ago. The islands themselves are at present in the power of the Northern troops. The record contained in the following pages is a picture of conditions of human existence which I hope and believe have passed away. London, January 16, 1863.’

26 February 1839
‘My dearest E, I write to you to-day in great depression and distress. I have had a most painful conversation with Mr –, who has declined receiving any of the people’s petitions through me. Whether he is wearied with the number of these prayers and supplications, which he would escape but for me, as they probably would not venture to come so incessantly to him, and I, of course, feel bound to bring every one confided to me to him, or whether he has been annoyed at the number of pitiful and horrible stories of misery and oppression under the former rule of Mr K –, which have come to my knowledge since I have been here, and the grief and indignation caused, but which can not, by any means, always be done away with, though their expression may be silenced by his angry exclamations of ‘Why do you listen to such stuff?’ or ‘Why do you believe such trash? don’t you know the niggers are all d–d liars?’ etc, I do not know; but he desired me this morning to bring him no more complaints or requests of any sort, as the people had hitherto had no such advocate, and had done very well without, and I was only kept in an incessant state of excitement with all the falsehoods they ‘found they could make me believe.’ How well they have done without my advocacy, the conditions which I see with my own eyes, even more than their pitiful petitions, demonstrate; it is indeed true that the sufferings of those who come to me for redress, and, still more, the injustice done to the great majority who can not, have filled my heart with bitterness and indignation that have overflowed my lips, till, I suppose, is weary of hearing what he has never heard before, the voice of passionate expostulation and importunate pleading against wrongs that he will not even acknowledge, and for creatures whose common humanity with his own I half think he does not believe; but I must return to the North, for my condition would be almost worse than theirs condemned to hear and see so much wretchedness, not only without the means of alleviating it, but without permission even to represent it for alleviation: this is no place for me, since I was not born among slaves, and can not bear to live among them.’

Friday, November 20, 2009

Other far-off things

‘The big cosmological program I shall not live to see,’ Edwin Hubble, born 120 years ago today, told his wife, Grace, near the time of his death. The truth is, though, that not only had he lived through an era of unprecedented new astronomical understanding, but that he was the very pioneer of that understanding. Grace’s diaries are kept with the Edwin Hubble archive but none of them - as far as I know - have been published. A very few extracts can be found on the internet, but many more can be read offline - in a ‘sloppy’ and ‘pretentious’ novel called Hubble Time!

Hubble was born on 20 November 1889 in Marshfield, Missouri, though his family moved to Wheaton, Illinois, before he was a teenager. He studied maths, astronomy and philosophy at the University of Chicago and, on the basis of academic and sporting abilities (running, basketball and boxing) he was awarded one of Oxford University’s first Rhodes Scholarships. There, he completed a masters in Spanish; and on returning to the US taught the language at New Albany High School, Indiana. He longed, though, to return to science and after a year or so signed on at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, to study astronomy to PhD level.

During World War I, Hubble joined the army, and quickly advanced to the rank of major. Thereafter, he took up a position at the Mount Wilson Observatory, California, with its Hooker 100-inch telescope. In the early 1920s, he found the first certain evidence of separate galaxies of dust and gas far beyond our own. He established that many such galaxies exist, and he developed the first system for their classification. Further, by the late 1920s, he had shown that these galaxies were receding from ours at velocities proportional to their distance.

Hubble is included in the Time 100 list of most important people in the 20th century. Its profile notes how Albert Einstein visited Mount Wilson to see the telescope and thank Hubble personally because his idea of the universe expanding conformed with his (Einstein’s) theory of relativity, even though other astronomers had insisted this could not be the case. Time goes on say: ‘With the greatest scientific superstar of the age paying him homage, Hubble became a popular superstar in his own right. His 1936 book on his discoveries, The Realm of the Nebulae, cemented his public reputation. Tourists and Hollywood luminaries alike would drive up the mountain to marvel at the observatory where Hubble had discovered the universe, and he and his wife Grace were embraced by the elite of California society.’

After World War II, during which he returned to the army, Hubble helped design and plan the new 200-inch Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory, some 90 miles southeast of Mount Wilson; and, in 1948, he was given the honour of being its first user. Between then and 1975, Hale was world’s largest operating telescope. Hubble died in 1953. Interestingly or not, Wikipedia’s article on the man is roughly one-fifth of the size of the article about the famous space telescope named after him!

In 1924, Hubble had married Grace Burke-Lieb, the recently widowed daughter of a well-connected Southern California millionaire. Throughout their nearly 30 years of marriage, Grace kept a diary, recording her husband’s story. There’s a catalogue of her diaries in the inventory of the Edwin Hubble papers at The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Although I can find no trace of them ever having been published, a couple of extracts can be found on the internet. One (undated) about a visit by the Huxleys comes from Virginia Woolf and the Discourse of Science: The Aesthetics of Astronomy by Holly Henry (published by Cambridge University Press in 2003 - see Googlebooks).

‘After dinner we walked to the 100-inch - The moon and globular cluster. Then we came out into enchanting moonlight, a glow in the west, a haze of moonbeams and shadow, all the domes and towers [of the telescope observatories] washed with shining silver. Went to the 60-inch & E[dwin] trained it on the ring nebula and other far-off things. . . Matthew [Huxley’s son] said, what do you expect to find with the 200-inch, sir? and E - We hope to find something we didn’t expect. And Aldous chuckled. Outside the 60-inch Aldous said, ‘Look at the pilasters and the fluting. It is Roman, it is like the tomb of a great queen.’ And it was, under the magic of the moon.’

And another extract can be found in Dan Cloer’s short bio of Hubble at Vision.org (a website designed to ‘challenge readers to examine the historical and philosophical origins of today’s issues’). ‘By September 1953,’ Cloer says, ‘[Hubble] had completed his 176th exposure at Palomar. At the end of the run, he took his wife on a quiet tour of the huge dome and the photographic vault. ‘In two years I will have determined the red-shift [from the new observations],’ Grace recorded him as saying. Her diary entry continued, ‘But the big cosmological program I shall not live to see.’ ’

And then there’s Hubble Time, a novel by Tom Bezzi, who wrote no other novels and died in 1995. The book, first published in 1987 by Mercury House (reissued in 1990 by iUniverse), is narrated by Hubble’s fictional granddaughter, Jane, and ‘explores the private lives of Edwin and Grace Hubble and their compelling legacy’. The blurb explains that the novel contains excerpts from Grace Hubble’s actual diaries as well as previously unpublished material by the Hubbles’ intimate friends such as Aldous Huxley.

But oh dear, here is a review of Hubble Time by Publishers Weekly, posted on Amazon’s website. ‘Astronomer Edwin Hubble and his wife, Grace, a stylish couple who frequented intellectual Los Angeles circles during the first half of this century, make excellent subjects for a historical novel, especially because Grace left behind numerous diaries documenting their life together. Bezzi’s first novel promises much, combining rich material with an innovative premise, but it flounders in execution. The narrative consists of journal entries written by the Hubbles’ fictional granddaughter, Jane, who interweaves excerpts from Grace’s diaries which she is reading into her own. Jane painfully introspective when contemplating her own narrow existence as a lowly copy editor at an inconsequential astronomy magazine turns blindly adulatory when examining her grandparents, reverentially recounting details such as Edwin’s preferred tobacco. Hubble’s significant contributions to his field and the roster of his illustrious friends (among them Aldous Huxley and Charlie Chaplin), however, receive inadequate attention. Jane draws fruitless emotional parallels between herself and Grace, harping ineffectually on the low self-esteem that plagues them both. She also apologizes constantly for her inferior writing abilities, and rightly so, it seems. Bezzi’s prose is sloppy and pretentious, bogging down frequently in awkward repetition and badly chosen phrases in assorted European languages.’

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Inside the ice hole

Tomaž Humar, an extraordinary mountaineer from Slovenia, died earlier this month while climbing Langtang Lirung in the Himalayas. Although he left behind no published diaries, PlanetMountain.com has a few of his diary extracts. Here is a typical one: ‘I spend the entire day inside the ice hole to acclimatize more - I do not want to take any risk of edema. The wind is really strong reaching speeds greater than 100 km/h.’

Humar was born in Ljubljana, then part of Yugoslavia, in 1969, and started to climb seriously as a teenager, under the country’s then strict training regime. He was conscripted into the army, and sent to soldier in Kosovo, an experience he hated. He married Sergeja Jersin in 1991, and they had two children before separating. In the mid-1990s, he began a series of climbs in the Himalayas that would earn him a huge following in Slovenia as well as respect from the international climbing community. In 1999, for example, he made a now-famous solo ascent of the south wall of Dhaulagiri, considered one of the deadliest routes in the Himalayas.

However, Humar’s methods were considered hotheaded and even dangerous by some. During a solo attempt to climb Nanga Parbat in 2005, he misjudged the conditions and became trapped by avalanches and melting snow at an altitude of nearly 6,000 meters. After six days in a snow cave - much of it followed on the internet thanks to his webcam equipment - he was rescued by an heroic Pakistani army helicopter crew.

All in all, Humar completed over 1,500 ascents, Wikipedia says, and won a number of mountaineering and other awards, including the Piolet d’Or in 1996 for a climb on Ama Dablam in eastern Nepal. The Guardian, The Independant, and UK Climbing all have obituaries.

But thanks to PlanetMountain.com for nine days of Humar’s diary while climbing the South Face of Annapurna in October 2007. Here are the first five of those days.

24 October 2007
‘I start out with my friend Jagat Limbu. We cross the glacier and weave our way through mixed rock and ice pillars under the main wall at 5800m. We stage our first bivy on a small ice platform at 5800 meters.’

25 October 2007
‘We remain in our bivy at 5800 meters all day due to strong winds and stomach problems. Moreover, I did not feel acclimatized. I had only climbed Tharpu Chuli (5690 m) as a warm-up peak and did not sleep higher than 5300 meters. These are insufficient altitudes to adequately acclimate for an 8000 meter peak.’

26 October 2007
‘I start climbing at 6am - no helmet, no rope, no harness - just bivy gear, some food and gas. I leave everything else with Jagat who would face the descent alone in case I did not come back. At 3pm, I start digging a hole in the ice at 7200 meters. This is my second bivy.’

27 October 2007
‘I spend the entire day inside the ice hole to acclimatize more - I do not want to take any risk of edema. The wind is really strong reaching speeds greater than 100 km/h.’

28 October 2007
The alarm goes off at 6am. I have not slept. I have just been waiting and waiting for a good moment to leave. The sky is clear. The wind is strong . . . and cold . . . I climb very light carrying just 2 liters of juice which freeze within the first hour. After two hours, I make it to the East Ridge at 7500 meters where Loretan and Joss passed in 1984. Despite very strong winds, I continue towards the East Summit. By 10am, I have crossed most of the East ridge and the summit feels close at hand. With each passing hour, the wind grows stronger. As I climb higher, ice and snow falls increase in intensity and frequency and the risk of avalanche becomes more extreme. I am standing on the East Summit at 8047 meters before 3pm. I trust God, I pray, I feel safe! Even if the weather is good I would never dare to continue to the main summit at 8091 m as God gave me the possibility to reach it already once in 1995. It was my first 8000 m, this is the only answer I have to why I chose Annapurna, it’s 20 years since alpinism became ‘my way of life’. I immediately begin my descent. The shadow of the snow cornice is growing long. I call Jagat to tell him that I am on my way back. He is really happy to hear from me. The last contact we had was at 10:00am and since then he has been praying for me. As night closes in, I reach the beginning of the East Ridge. I am very tired and it has been a long time since I have been able to eat or drink. It is completely dark and I cannot see any of my tracks. I am lost, but in my soul I know that God is with me. My headlamp is not working due to low temperatures and I have to wait in the cold and dark for the moon to rise before continuing. I reach my bivy at 7200 meters at 8:25pm. I am totally exhausted. I send this sms: ‘Blessed, in bivac. New route up to 7500m +, then my the longest journey to myself. Annapurna east 8000m + and back after 14 hours in earth time. Everything was o.k., but if is this wind 60 km/h then i drive my car slowly.’ I enter meditation and I prepare a cup of tea as I wait for dawn to come.’