Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A half-crown public

A century ago today, Arnold Bennett, one of Britain’s great early 20th century writers, then living in Paris, was enjoying the ‘beauty’ of aeroplanes, some ‘chic’ women, and the fading gums of a particular woman who he observed ‘was being worn out by time, not by experience’. And twenty years later, then in London, he was being more prosaic in his diary, noting some thoughts on book royalties and print runs, and bemoaning the lack of ‘a half-crown public’.

The eldest of nine children, Bennett was born in 1867. He grew up in Staffordshire, the scene of what would become his best known novels such as Anna of the Five Towns and The Old Wives’ Tale. He trained and worked as a solicitor, but after moving to London he switched to editing a woman’s magazine and writing serial fiction. After publishing his first novel - A Man from the North - in 1898, Bennett became a full time writer. After the death of his father in 1903, he went to live in Paris for nearly a decade. On returning to England, he then spent the rest of his life in London and Essex. For a little more information see Wikipedia or a biography by Frank Swinnerton on Philip Atkinson’s biographies website.

For 15 years Bennett was married to a French actress, but later had a child with the English actress Dorothy Cheston. He always retained an ability to write about provincial life (having been much influenced when young by the French writers Flaubert and Balzac), but, once in London, his interest in the arts became increasingly cosmopolitan. He also developed a reputation as a literary critic, and kept a detailed diary. Indeed, Bennett had a limited edition of his diary privately printed as early as 1906 - Things That Interested Me Being Leaves from a Journal Kept By Arnold Bennett.

Much later, in 1930, at the very end of his life (he died in 1931), Cassell & Company published Journal 1929, a selection, by Bennett himself, from his diary in that year. This book is freely available online at Internet Archive (although in a very clumsy format). And then, within two or three years of his death, Cassell had published three substantial volumes of the diaries as The Journals of Arnold Bennett. These three books, covering nearly thirty years from 1896 to 1928, were edited by Newman Flower, who was not only a writer himself but had, some years earlier, bought the Cassell book publishing company.

Frank Swinnerton, another novelist and a biographer, made a briefer selection from those made by Flower, and this was published in 1954 by Penguin, also as The Journals of Arnold Bennett. In his introduction, Swinnerton says: ‘Here is a book full of [Bennett’s] simplicity and integrity. The Journal was kept daily, with brief gaps, from 1896 to the end of [his] life in 1931. It originally contained a million words. Even Sir Newman Flower’s selection [in the 1930s], from which the present volume is solely derived, ran to no more than four hundred thousand words. . . All through, however, the books shows Bennett’s gift of observation, his power to appreciate all kinds of writing, painting, and music, his industry, and in some small degree his character. . .’

Here are three selections from Bennett’s diaries. The first is from exactly one hundred years ago, and, with the second, comes from the 1954 Penguin edition. The third is from eighty years ago, and is taken from Journal 1929. The date is unknown (though it may possibly be early autumn) - Bennett himself provides the following note at the front of the book: ‘Most of the entries printed here from a Journal of daily worldly things kept by me during the year 1929 bear no date. I have censored the dates, sometimes for reasons which may be apparent, sometimes for obscure reasons understood only by myself.’ See also The Diary Junction.

30 September 1909
‘After much rain, an exquisite morning. The views of the Seine as I came up to Paris were exceedingly romantic. I came without a sketchbook, and my first desire was to sketch. So I had to buy a book. M. and I then went to the Aviation Exposition at the Grand Palais. Startled by the completeness of the trade organization of aviation; even suits for aviators, and rolls of stuffs for ’planes. We first remarked the Farman aeroplane. Vast, and as beautiful as a yacht. Same kind of beauty. Yet a new creation of form, a new ‘style’; that is newly stylistic. I had been reading Wilbur Wright’s accounts of his earlier experiments as I came up in the train, and I wanted to write a story of an aviator, giving the sensations of flight. I left M, and went to the Salon d’Automne. But I found it was the vermissage and so I didn’t enter. Crowds entering.

My first vague impression was here at last defined, of Paris. Namely, the perversity and corruption of the faces. The numbers of women more or less chic also impressed me. A few, marvellous. It was ideal Paris weather. I saw what a beautiful city it is, again. The beauty of this city existence and its environment appealed to me strongly. Yet the journey from the Gare de Lyon on the Métro. had seemed horrible. Also, I had waited outside the bureau de location of the Français, for it to open, and had watched the faces there which made me melancholy. Particularly a woman of 60 or so, and her virgin daughter 30 or 33. The latter with a complexion spoilt, and a tremendously bored expression, which changed into a mannered, infantile, school-girlish, self-conscious, uneasy smile, when a punctilious old gentleman came up and saluted and chatted, The fading girl’s gums all showed. She was a sad sight. I would have preferred to see her initiated and corrupt. She was being worn out by time, not by experience. The ritual and sterility and futility of her life had devitalized her. The mother was making a great fuss about changing some tickets. This ticket-changing had a most genuine importance for her. The oldish girl, mutely listening, kept her mouth at the mannered smile for long periods. But I think she was not essentially a fool.’

7 April 1925
‘Max Beerbohm, with others, dined here last night. [. . .] He said he had no feeling for London. He liked to visit it, but only on the condition that he could leave it and return to Rapallo [in Northern Italy].  He said that he couldn’t possibly have the romantic feeling for London that I have, because he was born in it. “The smuts fell on his bassinette.” Whereas I could never lose the feeling of the romanticalness of London. He told me that I was in his new series of “Old Celebrities meeting their younger selves”, shortly to be see at the Leicester Galleries.’

‘An author of an older generation than mine talked enviously of the royalties of novelists - popular novelists. He was talking ‘at’ the novelists at the table, including me. He said that his best book had almost no annual sale - a few hundred copies. It was published about thirty years ago. His most popular book was his worst, and last year it had a sale of ‘only 7,800 copies’. ‘How old is it?’ we asked. ‘Oh!’ said he, ‘I couldn’t tell you exactly. It must have been first published twenty-nine or thirty years ago. Perhaps in 1900.’ These books are text-books.

The novelists present merely smiled. Not ours to give the show away. We might have informed him that the number of modern novelists whose novels reach an annual sale of 7,800 copies after being extant for thirty years is as near zero as makes no matter. We might have informed him that the sale of the ordinary fairly successful novel comes to an end within six months of publication, if not sooner; though of course a small percentage of novels do achieve the cheap-edition stage - a stage, however, which brings but relatively trifling sums to the author.

Cheap editions . . . of novels very rarely reach large figures. I doubt whether any [cheap edition] novel of mine has had as large a sale . . . as in its original form, which fact, recurring, always inclines me to doubt the confident assertion of persons with limited incomes that they don’t buy novels because modern novels are too dear. Also, it is to be noted that, to my knowledge, two attempts have been made to sell new novels exactly similar in appearance to new novels at three half-crowns, for one half-crown. Both attempts completely failed to justify themselves. Booksellers’ shops were not invaded by cohorts of the half-crown public. Indeed the sales were deplorably unsatisfactory. Publishers lost money. So did authors. Insufficient advertising may have had something to do with the disaster. But books at half-a-crown will not ‘stand’ much advertising. The most popular of all my seventy-four or -five books, published some twenty years ago, has an annual sale of about 3,000 copies, with which I am well content. If it had an annual sale of 7,800 copies, I should be rather more than content. I should be quite puffed up. It is not a novel. It might not improperly be called a text-book, like the book of my senior friend. Its title is ‘How to live on twenty-four hours a day’. I wrote it in a week or two. It appeared serially in a daily paper. And I was strongly advised by an expert not to republish it in book form. I flouted his wisdom.

Yesterday I learned that the writing of text-books for pedagogic institutions is not always remunerative. The working chief of a large business enterprise related to me, in detail, how after a shortish scholastic career he had been engaged by a publisher as general editor of text-books at a salary of £275 per annum. (This was before the war.) ‘Editing’ the text-books proved to be writing the text-books, in addition to devising all business arrangements. During five years my friend actually wrote entire text-books on all manner of subjects at the rate of one a month - sixty in all. Some of these works still find a more or less regular market. He never got a penny of royalty. He never got any increase of salary. Under a clause in the contract the publishers held all the copyrights. Some publishers are cleverer than others. This particular publisher merited a Nobel Prize for sustained, rock-like cleverness.’

Like ten orgasms

‘You can never top that first rush, it’s like ten orgasms.’ So wrote Jim Carroll in a diary about his first shot of heroin. He died three weeks ago, and although he was a celebrated punk musician and poet, he was best known for The Basketball Diaries, a collection of his teenage diaries first published in 1978 and subsequently made into a successful movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Carroll was born in New York in 1949, and was educated first in Roman Catholic schools then the elite Trinity School before spells at Wagner College and Columbia University. His poetry, drug-fused and original, brought him into contact with the New York art scene of the 1970s where he mixed with the likes of Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, and Robert Mapplethorpe. By the late 1970s, he was starting to gain some success as a punk musician. His art, whether poetry or music, though was dominated by the influence of drugs. He died 11 September, aged 60. More biographical information can be found among the many obituaries such as at The Guardian and The New York Times. For an extensive list of other obituaries see The Catholic Boy.

Most commentators agree, however, that Carroll’s most enduring legacy is, or will be, The Basketball Diaries, first published by Tombouctou Books in 1978. This book - so called because Carroll was something of a teenage basketball star - is a collection of his diary entries made between the ages of 12 and 16. They are startlingly frank about his drug addiction and activities as a male prostitute. Jack Kerouac famously said of the book that ‘at 13 years of age, Jim Carroll writes better prose than 89% of the novelists working today’. However, some of the book’s fame today must surely be attributed to Scott Kalvert’s 1995 film of the same name, which starred Leonardo Di Caprio. A couple of first editions of the book can be found on Abebooks for upwards of £400.

Cassie Carter, writing on The Catholic Boy, her own website dedicated to Carroll, provides an interesting analysis of the book, and gives a number of extracts. Here’s a sample of her analysis: ‘. . . for Carroll, his diaries serve two interconnected purposes. As he imposes order upon the chaos of his life and transforms its ugliness into beauty, he is also assaulting the corrupt social order which made his life chaotic and ugly in the first place. Where the ‘establishment’ refuses to acknowledge its own depravity, Carroll sees corruption spreading like a cancer throughout society. And with New York City as ‘the greatest hero a writer needs,’ he highlights the cancer, laying bare ‘what's really going down’ in the streets and throughout his world. In disclosing this reality, he attempts to ‘get even for your dumb hatreds and all them war baby dreams you left in my scarred bed with dreams of bombs falling above that cliff I’m hanging steady to.’ ’

Here are two extracts taken from a Faber and Faber 1987 edition of Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries and The Book of Nods.

Winter 64
‘Today is our last Biddy League game of the year, but before it all the members of the Boys’ Club have to meet in front of the place to have some kind of memorial service for little Teddy Rayhill. He’s a member of the club that fell off the roof the other day while he was sniffing glue. The priest was making a speech about Teddy and tried to pawn off some story about him fixing a TV antenna when he fell off but no one swallowed that shit. In the middle of the service Herbie Hemslie and his gang started flinging bricks down from the roof across the street. Everybody had to clear out of the club while the cops chased after Herbie and his friends. After it was safe to go out again, everybody filed past Teddy’s closed casket and if you wanted to you said a prayer. If you didn’t want to I guess you just stood and felt shitty about everything.’

Winter 64
‘I never did write about the time I took my first shot of heroin. It was about two months back. The funny part is that I thought heroin was the NON-addictive stuff and marijuana was addictive. I only found out later what a dumb ass move it was. Funny, I can remember what vows I’d made never to touch any of that shit when I was five or six. Now with all my friends doing it, all kinds of vows drop out from under me every day. That day I went down the cellar of Tony’s building, all sorts of characters were in this storage room ‘shooting gallery’, cooking up and getting off. I was just gonna sniff a bag but Tony said I might as well skin pop it. I said OK. Then Pudgy says, ‘Well, if you’re gonna put a needle in, you might as well mainline it.’ I was scared to main, but I gave in, Pudgy hit it in for me. I did half a fiver and, shit, what a rush . . . just one long heat wave all through my body, any ache I had flushed out. You can never top that first rush, it’s like ten orgasms. After half hour of nods and slow rapping I shot the rest of the bag, this time myself. I was high even the next morning waking up. So, as simple as a walk to that cellar, I lost my virgin veins.’

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I wish I were a stone

Saqi Books has just published an English translation of a ‘diary’ by the acclaimed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who died last year. The book - A River Dies of Thirst - is less a traditional diary and more a collection of poetry and jottings written in Ramallah during the summer of 2006, in a period when Israel was attacking Gaza and Lebanon.

Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of al-Birweh in Galilee, Palestine. With the establishment of Israel his family fled to Lebanon in 1948, but returned a year later to the Acre area in north Israel. He was educated at school in Kafr Yasif, and eventually moved to Haifa. He studied at the University of Moscow for a year, then lived in Egypt and Lebanon again. He joined the PLO in 1973 and was banned from re-entering Israel. It was more than 20 years before, in 1995, he was allowed to return and to settle in Ramallah, West Bank.

Darwish wrote over thirty books of poetry and several books of essays, many of which were widely translated. He won several international prizes such as the Lenin Peace Prize, the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and the Prince Claus Award. He died in Houston, US, in 2008, but his body was returned to Ramallah, where he was given the equivalent of a state funeral. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.

Wikipedia gives a good biography and a generous list of links to other websites offering more information and lots of his poems. Some biographical information can also be found at The Palestine Chronicle, a US-based website, and at the International Middle East Media Centre.

Darwish’s last book to be published in Arabic came out just before his death, but has only just been published in English as A River Dies of Thirst, with the subtitle A Diary. The publisher, Saqi Books, which is now 25 years old, specialises in books on the Middle East. It says: ‘Mahmoud Darwish is one of the most acclaimed contemporary poets in the Arab world, and is often cited as the poetic voice of the Palestinian people. . . [He] writes of love, loss and the pain of exile in bittersweet poems leavened with hope and joy.’ (It also says, like many other websites, that Darwish was born in 1942 not 1941.)

I can only find one review of the book online - by Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American poet, for The Guardian. He says it is ‘at times a chaotic combination of journal entries, prose poems, poetic fragments, broken ideas, brilliant meditations and fully worked poems.’

‘Throughout the book’ Joudah says, ‘Darwish delights in prose narratives or poem fragments that came to him between sleep and wakefulness, dream and imagination. These diaries are also writings about writing, and we stroll gently with him on his private walks, where his imagination becomes one of his other selves, ‘a faithful hunting dog’, as young girls throw pistachios at him and call him ‘uncle’. While ‘he sees himself as absent . . . to lighten the burden of the place,’ he observes his surroundings with a revelatory clarity: clouds are a silk shawl caught in the branches of a tree, or like soap bubbles in the kitchen sink that dissolve into forgotten words. A ‘rustling’ is ‘a feeling searching for someone to feel it’. And ‘jasmine is a message of longing from nobody to nobody.’ ’

A little more information about Darwish’s diary can be found, perhaps, on a website called Words Without Borders. It said, in 2006, ‘Mahmoud Darwish has recently begun a diary: a daily record of reflections, observations, and intimate personal commentary on the ordinary life of Palestinians today. The following sections were among fourteen published in the Summer/Winter 2006 edition of Al Karmel, the Palestinian literary journal Darwish edits.’ And it gives several poems from this ‘diary’ translated from the Arabic by John Berger and Tania Tamari Nasir. Here is one of them.

I Wish I Were a Stone

I do not long for anything
No yesterday passes
No tomorrow arrives
My today neither ebbs nor flows.
Neither happens to me.
I said I wish I were a stone
Any stone to be lapped by water
to become green or yellow
to be put on a plinth in a room
as a piece of sculpture
or a demonstration of carving
or a tool for extricating the necessary from what is absolutely not.
I wish I were a stone
then I could long for anything.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Walcheren fever 2 - the duel

Today is the 200th anniversary of a famous duel that took place between two British cabinet members - Foreign Secretary George Canning and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Lord Castlereagh. Like the previous Diary Rewiew article, this one too is linked to the ill-fated Walcheren Campaign: the cause of the duel had its roots in Canning’s opposition to Castlereagh’s deployment of troops to the Netherlands. And on this day 200 years ago, George Rose, then serving as Treasurer of the Navy, gave a detailed account of the duel in his diary.

Rose was educated at Westminster school, joined the Royal Navy for a few years, and then entered the civil service. He became a joint keeper of the records in 1772 and secretary to the board of taxes in 1777. In 1782 he was appointed secretary to the treasury under Lord Shelburne, and then continued to serve in the same post under Pitt with whom he became closely associated. Thereafter, Rose was elected a member of parliament - for Launceston first and later for Christchurch - and was appointed to various offices during Pitt’s governments, including Paymaster-general. After Pitt’s death he was Treasurer of the Navy from 1807 to 1812. A little more information can be found about Rose at Wikipedia and The Diary Junction.

Rose wrote several books on economics. He was also a committed diarist, but it was not until long after his death (in 1818) that these were edited (by Rev. Leveson Vernon Harcourt) and published in two volumes in 1860 as The Diaries and Correspondence of the Right Hon. George Rose: Containing Original Letters of the Most Distinguished Statesmen of His Day. Both volumes are freely available on Googlebooks. Notably, they contain reports of conversations with King George III. However, they also contain a long entry for 21 September 1809, the day of the famous duel between Canning and Castlereagh.

According to the Wikipedia articles on Canning and Castlereagh, the government, then being led by the Duke of Portland, became increasingly paralysed by disputes between the two men. In particular, Canning opposed the deployment of troops away from the Peninsular War in Portugal to the Netherlands. When Canning threatened resignation unless Castlereagh were removed (and replaced by Lord Wellesley), Portland acceded, but in secret until such a time as he could enact the changes. However, Castlereagh discovered the plan, held Canning responsible for the secretive nature of it, and challenged him to a duel. It was fought on 21 September 1809 - exactly 200 years today. The duel caused much outrage, and before long the ailing Portland resigned as Prime Minister.

Last year, I B Tauris brought out an entire book, by Giles Hunt, on the event: The Duel: Castlereagh, Canning and Deadly Cabinet Rivalry. A few pages can be viewed at Amazon. Otherwise, though, here is George Rose’s diary entry for the day (with some paragraphs about the political manoeuvrings omitted).

21 September 1809
‘On going to the Office for Trade, Sir Stephen Cotterell told me, there had been in the morning a duel between Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning, and that the latter was wounded, not dangerously, in the upper part of the thigh. . .

. . . I then went out to Mr. Canning’s, where I saw Mr. Charles Ellis, who had been his second in the duel, on Mr. Henry Wellesley having declined to go with him, who told me that Lord Yarmouth had brought a letter to Mr. Canning yesterday morning, in which Lord Castlereagh recapitulated all that he had lately learned had passed relative to his removal from the War Department, and resting his ground of complaint principally, and almost exclusively, on the concealment from his Lordship of the whole transaction and everything connected with it till after the expedition to Walcheren was over; concluding with a positive call upon him for the only satisfaction he could receive. In the afternoon, Mr. Ellis went to Lord Yarmouth, and in a conversation of an hour and a half explained all the circumstances that had occurred, to show that the concealment (the only important ground of complaint insisted upon) was not in the remotest degree imputable to Mr. Canning. On a report of which, however, to Lord Castlereagh, the meeting was still insisted upon. Accordingly the parties met this morning. When the parties reached the ground, Mr. Ellis explained a further circumstance, to show that Lord Camden (the near relation of Lord Castlereagh) had undertaken positively to explain to the latter all that was necessary respecting the arrangement connected with the Foreign Department; but it was ineffectual; Lord Yarmouth attending Lord Castlereagh, and Mr. Charles Ellis Mr. Canning. The second of the latter said to the other, that as the principals could not be there to seek each other’s blood, it would be desirable to take the usual distance, to which Lord Yarmouth agreeing, twelve paces were measured; and it was then settled the parties should fire together. On the first fire both escaped. Mr. Ellis then said to Lord Yarmouth he supposed enough had been done, but that it must be as Lord Castlereagh wished, as Mr. Canning came there only to satisfy him. Lord Yarmouth then talked with Lord Castlereagh, and addressing himself to Mr. Ellis said there must be another shot, after which he should leave the ground, as he would not witness any further proceedings. The parties then fired together a second time, and Mr. Canning was wounded in the flesh of the upper part of the thigh, the ball passing through; after which he walked to a cottage near the spot, where Mr. Home, the surgeon, was waiting, having been engaged for that purpose by Mr. Ellis last night - and then went home. . .’

Walcheren Fever

Two centuries ago, in a campaign designed to help the Austrians fight the French, over 4,000 British troops died, either in the Netherlands where the campaign was being fought on the island of Walcheren, or soon after returning home. They died not from fighting but from an illness dubbed ‘Walcheren Fever’. And exactly 200 years ago on this day, Maria, the wife of George Nugent, then a lieutenant-general in the British Army, was writing in her diary about how the Archbishop of Canterbury was about to consecrate a burying-ground ‘to receive those, who, alas ! have no chance of recovery, the fever being of so malignant a nature’.

Maria was born in New Jersey, when it still belonged to Britain. Her father, a brigadier-general, fought for the British during the American Revolution, and then, when peace was declared, took his family to England. In 1797, Maria married George Nugent, and went with him to Jamaica when he was made governor of the British territory in 1801. They stayed there until 1806, before returning to England where Nugent was promoted to the rank of colonel and then lieutenant-colonel. He was also elected to Parliament and made a baronet. In 1811, he was appointed commander-in-chief in India.

Maria wrote a diary for much of her life, mostly for her children and for own amusement. There is some more information about Lady Nugent and her diary at The Diary Junction; also on the web pages of the Jamaican journal, The Gleaner; and at ChickenBones which describes itself as ‘A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes’. The diary was edited by Frank Cundall and published in 1907 by The Institute of Jamaica as Lady Nugent’s Journal. Although it is considered an important and primary source of information on the history of Jamaica (and the process of creolisation), the diary is considered less significant when it comes to Lady Nugent’s writing in England.

However, the diary does have its point of interest in the years after the Nugents’ return to England. In July 1809, for example, Lady Nugent and her husband were in Kent cheering British soldiers as they embarked for the Netherlands on a mission to help Austria in its fight against France during the War of the Fifth Coalition. And she was there a couple of months later, watching as the ill returned in their masses and as her husband tried to find them accommodation. She still had time for parties, though, and a bit of fun.

In fact, the Walcheren campaign was a disaster (see Wikipedia for more). Around 40,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses together with field artillery and two siege trains crossed the North Sea and landed on the swampy Dutch island of Walcheren on 30 July - the largest British expedition of that year. The troops hardly saw any fighting but soon began to suffer from malaria. Over 4,000 troops died of what became known as Walcheren Fever (probably some combination of several diseases/illnesses - malaria, typhus, typhoid and dysentery). By February 1810, some 12,000 soldiers were still ill and many others remained permanently weakened.

Here are some entries from Lady Nugent’s diary, including one from exactly 200 years ago today, when the Archbishop of Canterbury was expected to consecrate some new ground to ensure room for the dying soldiers to be buried.

21 July 1809
‘Went to Broadstairs, Kingsgate, &c. and then set off, in the evening, for Deal. Met Lady Wellesley, &c. there, and had a nice walk on the beach. The Downs full of ships, and the sight altogether magnificent. The poor fellows cheering as they embarked, and I don’t know why, but I could scarcely refrain from shedding tears at their joy; it seemed, indeed, so thoughtless when they were so soon to meet an enemy, &c. But soldiers, I believe, never think, and perhaps it is fortunate for them that they do not.’

15 September 1809
‘Saturday, the Admiral’s dinner, at Deal. - Sir Charles Paget, a judge of lace. - Am much amused with the gentleman’s bargains, made at Walcheren, for their wives, &c.’

20 September 1809
‘My Dear N. much harassed by the accounts from Walcheren. There is a dreadful fever among the troops, and the sufferers are beginning to come over, for a change of climate and medical care, &c. - All the morning, he has been on horseback along the coast, and giving orders, for every possible accommodation, &c. for the sick. - Unfortunately, we had another large party at dinner . . .’

21 September 1809
‘The accounts from Walcheren very bad, and General N. was off early for Deal, &c. We followed, a large party, in the middle of the day, and all dined at Ramsgate . . . My dear N’s mind more at ease, having to-day completed many arrangements, and given out his orders, for the accommodation and comfort of the poor invalids as they arrive, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is coming to consecrate a burying-ground, to receive those, who, alas ! have no chance of recovery, the fever being of so malignant a nature.’

22 September 1809
‘. . . In short, we had a great deal of fun, and came back to Ramsgate very merry, in spite of all the anxieties of the morning, respecting the poor sick soldiers &c.’

1 October 1809
‘My dear N.’s mind is most cruelly harassed, by the idea of the numberless sick, coming almost every moment from Walcheren, and almost the impossibility of making them at all comfortable.’

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The news from Belgium

James Fenimore Cooper, an American 19th century author best known for The Last of the Mohicans, died 220 years ago today. He wasn’t much of a diarist but there are a few pages extant of a journal he kept while living among the aristocracy in Paris just after France’s July Revolution of 1830. From the evidence of these pages, Cooper was as interested in etiquette as he was in the news from Belgium.

Although no longer a household name, Cooper was a very famous author in his day. Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edition) calls him ‘the first major American novelist’ and ‘the virtual inventor of the sea romance and the frontier adventure novel’. Born exactly two centuries and two decades ago, on 15 September 1789, he was brought up by a mother from a Quaker family and a father who served as a Federalist congressman. After private schooling in Albany, he attended Yale, but was expelled. He joined the Navy, until his father died, leaving him independently wealthy. In 1811, he married Susan De Lancy, and they had seven children of whom five survived to adulthood.

Cooper published his first book, Precaution, anonymously in 1820, but soon followed it with other novels, including The Pioneers, the first of a number of books together called the Leatherstocking series, featuring Natty Bumppo, a resourceful American woodsman, Judge Temple, who tends to oppose progress, and an Indian called Chingachgook. The series includes Cooper’s most famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826; it became one of the most widely read American novels of the century, and the inspiration for several 20th century films.

That same year, Cooper moved his family to Europe, to Italy and Germany, and then to Paris where he developed a close friendship with the French military officer, La Fayette, a general in the American Revolutionary War and a leader of the Garde Nationale during the French Revolution. Cooper’s novels at this time became increasingly political, tending to attack European anti-republicanism.

On returning to the US, he lived first in New York City, and then in Cooperstown (named after his father). But he found himself less popular than he had been, and was the subject of criticism in press. This led him to launch a series of libel suits. Later in his life, Cooper wrote a history of the US Navy, and he also returned to the Leatherstocking series. For more information refer to WikipediaEncyclopaedia Britannica, or this University of Virginia website.

While being a very literary man, Cooper was not a diarist by nature. He tried several times to start one, apparently, but always gave up after a month or two. However, fragments of one of these attempts survived for a while and was published by Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art in February 1868. The editor explained Cooper’s difficulty in keeping a diary as follows: ‘His pen was generally so active in other ways, that he soon grew weary of the regular daily jottings required to keep up the character of a personal journal.’

The following extracts are taken from Putnam’s Monthly Magazine which is freely available online at Internet Archive. Cooper was in Dresden when the July Revolution of 1830 took place, but soon hastened to Paris, eager to watch the course of great events then occurring daily. His family joined him as soon as the city was safe and tranquil. It was while in lodgings in the Rue d’Aguesseau, that he began to write these diary notes. There is much concern about the news (especially in Belgium), but Cooper seems almost as concerned about the French aristocracy’s etiquette.

19 September 1830
‘. . . In the evening, at 7 o’clock, General La Fayette came for me, in his carriage. We drove to the Rue de Rivoli, and took up Mr MeLane and Mr Thorne. We then went to the Palais Royal to be presented. So little ceremony was used, that General La Fayette, who had previously made his arrangements with the other gentlemen, first proposed the presentation to me at 2 o’clock. In consequence of a remark of mine, however, he had written a note, directly to the King, to apprise him of our wish.

We found the ante-chamber crowded, chiefly with officers, but no ladies. Following La Fayette, we penetrated to an inner room, where most of the high dignitaries were assembled. I observed Marshals Soult, and Maison, Cuvier, the Due de Bassano, & c., among them. When the door opened, the King was seen directly before them; and the Queen, Mademoiselle d’Orleans, and the Princesses, with the younger children, stood in a group on the left. The King was dressed in the uniform of the National Guards, the duc d’Orleans as a Hussar, and the ladies with great simplicity the Queen and Mademoiselle d’Orleans in striped-silk dresses.

We were introduced on entering, each receiving a few complimentary words. The ladies were polite, and, when we had passed them, they left their places to come and speak to us again. It struck me there was an evident desire to do honor to the American friends of the General. It was evident, however, that the presence of La Fayette gave uneasiness to a great many. The affectations and egotisms of rank are offended by his principles, and there is a pitiful desire manifested by the mere butterflies of society to turn his ideas and habits into ridicule. I am amazed to find how very few men are able to look beyond the glare of things.

After we had been presented, we would have retired, but our venerable friend insisted on our remaining. He retired with the King, and the room began to empty. An aid then came and requested us to approach a side-door. The King and La Fayette soon came out together, and we had a short conversation with the former. He spoke of his visit to America with pleasure, and used very courteous though unaffected language. We withdrew when he retired. In passing out of the room, a young officer said, ‘Adieu, l’Amerique!’ The fear of losing their butterfly distinctions and their tinsel, gives great uneasiness to many of these simpletons. The apprehension is quite natural to those who have no means of being known in any other manner, and it must be pardoned.’

20 September 1830
‘Another fine day. I met Lord H_ in the Tuileries this morning. As we had not met since April, when we used to talk politics together at Rome, we said a few words on the present state of things. I have always thought him a mild Tory, and no bad reflector of the hopes and fears of his caste. He is evidently uneasy, as every privileged Englishman must be, and expressed some apprehension about the turn things might take in France. I told him I was of opinion that there would be a struggle about the peerage. If the upper chamber should be made elective, I saw no fundamental principle to quarrel about. The suffrage would be extended, as a matter of course, and the minor interests would regulate themselves according to the necessities of the moment.

I was struck with one of his remarks. ‘If they have the substance, they had better have the form of a republic,’ he said. This is a thoroughly English idea. Whenever their radicals quote America, in Parliament or in the journals, there is one answer always resorted to: ‘America is a republic and England a monarchy’. This accidental difference in the form, serves, with the majority, as a sufficient answer for all differences of substance! Now, if France remains a monarchy in form, with a greater degree of civil rights than those possessed by England, France will become an example that the opposition may cite without danger of the pregnant reply. One is tempted to ask, why France has not the same right to conceal a republic under the mantle of a King, as England has to conceal an aristocracy beneath the same shallow disguise?

The news from Belgium is getting more serious. L_ H_ is running about with a silly story, that is all over, for the people have behaved so badly as to induce the better classes to accede to the King’s terms. Lord H_ had something of the same tale, but it smells too strongly of vulgar aristocratical cant to be believed.’

22 September 1830
‘This morning I got an invitation to dine at the Palais Royal to-morrow.

Lord H_ called, and sat with me half an hour. Still uneasy about Belgium and Germany. I observed, in order to sound him, that I did not think England had sufficient reason to go to war with France about the frontier of the Rhine. He partly assented. But it was easy to see he had arrière-penseés. In the evening I went to Mrs Rives. The reception was very genteel, and just what it ought to be, with the exception of a livery or two. As things trifling in themselves are misrepresented in Europe, they ought to be avoided.

. . . All our ladies are full of a reception which the Queen means to give them to-morrow night. La Fayette, who, in his day, has wrought greater marvels, has brought this about.’

23 September 1830.
‘The news from Belgium this morning still more serious. This contest will draw on the war which, in some shape or other, must grow out of the late revolution. The Dutchmen seem very obstinate, and the Belgians very spirited. The hatred of all elevations of the lower classes, among the European aristocracy, is so intense, that fight they must, to their own certain destruction.

At a little before 6, Thorne stopped for me, and we took up Mr McLane, on our way to the Palais Royal. We had little ceremony in the reception. Our names were taken, and checked off, on the list of the company, when we were shown to an ante-chamber. The King soon opened the folding-doors himself, and we entered. Not half the guests had yet come. All the royal family, with a few attendants, were there. General La Fayette and family soon arrived. Dinner was soon announced. The King led Madame La Fayette, and La Fayette the Queen. Mademoiselle d’Orleans was seated on the right of the King, Madame La Fayette on his left; La Fayette on the right of the Queen, and M Augustin Périer on her left. Here was an oversight in French courtesy. This seat should have been assigned to McLane. I am inclined to think the arrangement was not pre- meditated, for the French rarely fail in politeness.

The dinner-service was plate, the table large, and the servants very numerous. Beyond this, with the décorations of the guests, and the liveries, one might have fancied himself at a Washington dinner. There was a little order in the entrances and exits of the courses, but no proclaiming of the service of the King, as before. Both the King and Queen helped more than is common at good French tables. I saw no embarrassment, or pretension of any sort, during dinner. When the Queen rose, the ladies turned, and the finger-bowls were handed them by servants, the gentlemen using them at the side-tables. We then withdrew into the wing of the Palace, opposite the Théâtre Francais. Here coffee was served. Mrs and Miss T_ soon entered, and were presented by La Fayette. The Queen then went into an inner drawing-room, which was very large and magnificent, with a billiard-room communicating. Here the ladies seated themselves round a large table, a lady of the family working, rather premeditatedly, at another. I presume this lady, who had the air of a governess, was so placed to give the reception an informal character.

In a few minutes, Mrs R_ entered, followed by Mrs M_ and a dozen more of our ladies. They were met by the Queen, who advanced some little distance, and Mrs R_ presented them all, in succession. Two or three more parties arrived, and were presented in the same manner, the whole seating themselves, by invitation. In about twenty minutes, the Queen arose and made the tour of the circle; afterwards the ladies retired, followed by most of the gentlemen. Mr Rives, Mr Middleton, and eight or ten gentlemen, came in with the ladies. The whole passed off very well, and without the least gaucherie, and our women, though with two or three exceptions no longer in the bud, looked uncommonly well. I scarcely remember to have seen so many women in a set, that looked so uniformly genteel and pretty. I suspect but one of being rouged. Two or three were really beautiful. This little exhibition convinces me of what I have often thought, that we only want Parisian mantua-makers and milliners, to carry off the palm in female grace and beauty; for it will be remembered that the effect was produced in a strong theatrical light, without the aid of rouge.

I was surprised to see the uniform grace of their courtesies, which were simple, easy, and dignified.

I wish I could say as much for all the men; though the gentlemen behaved, as such, with modesty, aplomb, and quiet.

I thought the French looked a little surprised.

All the children were present, the little Duc de Montpensier racing round the rooms, though not in a noisy manner, with great gouût. The others were more tranquil, though thoroughly at their ease. It struck me there was a little too much affectation of simplicity for a reception that was necessarily short and formal; and on the part of our women, a little too much dress. After all, it is difficult to hit the true medium in a case of this sort. The court sacrificed a little too much to republicanism, and we, a little too much to royalty. If there was to be a mistake, both erred on the right side.’

25/26 September 1830
‘The weather is getting better, after the most detestable September I have ever known. The news from Brussels is getting to be of the highest interest. Reports differ, but I do not see how a civil war can be avoided. I am of opinion that an European war can scarcely be avoided. Unless the Governments give this direction to their people, in an age like this, they will give themselves employment at home. The ultras have recourse to all sorts of devices to create dissensions in France, but they will hardly succeed. On Sunday, the King reviewed about six thousand men of the garrison, at the Champs-de-Mars. He was well received by the troops and people.’

27 September 1830
‘The news is more favorable this morning, from Brussels. The Dutch defeated, with loss. . .’

29 September 1830
‘The news from Brussels, this morning, still more ominous. There is a strong desire in one party to confine this question to one of territorial separation; but the Bruxellois begin to denounce the dynasty. Germany very uneasy, and only to be appeased by the concession of civil rights. Sooner or later, this bitter pill must be swallowed by the selfish party of monopolists. The Belgians begin to talk of a confederated republic. Too small for that, surrounded by enemies.’

Friday, September 11, 2009

A very good harbour

It is 400 years ago today that the Englishman Henry Hudson, captaining a Dutch boat called the Half Moon, became the first European explorer to discover an area of land which would in time be identified as an island and be called Manhattan. Hudson’s voyage, which took him inland along a river - centuries later to be named after him - is documented in a journal kept by his crew mate Robert Juet. He recorded, for example, finding a very good harbour, and how the natives brought gifts of tobacco and Indian wheat.

Little is known of Henry Hudson’s early life but by 1607 he had established enough of a reputation for a group of English businessmen to invest in his skills as a captain and navigator. He was financed in 1607 and again in 1608 to seek a Northeast Passage across northern Russia to Asia. When those attempts failed Hudson went to the Netherlands to look for more finance. In 1609, the Dutch East India Company hired him to make a third attempt to look for a Northeast Passage.

Hudson was given the Halve Maen (Half Moon) vessel and instructed to sail from Amsterdam to the Arctic Ocean, north of Russia, into the Pacific and so to the Far East. He left in April 1609, but once north of Scandinavia he encountered such bitter weather that he decided to sail west instead across the North Atlantic to explore for a Northwest Passage. He and his crew hit an island, calling it New Holland, but afterwards discovered that it was Cape Cod. From there - according to the Wikipedia article on Halve Maen - Hudson sailed south to the Chesapeake and then north along the coast navigating first the Delaware Bay and, subsequently, the bay of the river which Hudson named the Mauritius River (for Holland’s Lord-Lieutenant Maurits) but which later became known as the Hudson River.

The Half Moon sailed up as far as present day Albany, New York, where the crew determined the river had become too narrow and shallow for further progress, and that it could not therefore be a passage to the East. Leaving the estuary, he sailed northeast, and then crossed the Atlantic to Dartmouth, England. The ship was subsequently detained in England for eight months before returning, without Hudson, to Amsterdam. Hudson, himself, however, secured further funding for yet another voyage but this time under the English flag. At the helm of a new ship, Discovery, he sailed once again in search of the Northwest Passage. But the vessel became trapped in ice toward the end of 1610, and the following summer his crew mutinied. More information can be found at Wikipedia and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

However, the most informative and comprehensive information about Hudson can be found on a website maintained by Ian Chadwick, a Canadian writer and editor. He explains, for example, how Hudson’s log and journal from the third voyage went back to Amsterdam with the Half Moon, and were ‘not seen by English eyes again’. Parts of the journal, though, were quoted and reproduced in a Dutch book - translated as The History of the New World - in 1625. The journal originals were sold at auction in the early 19th century and subsequently vanished.

A good record of the 1609 voyage up the Hudson River, however, does still exist thanks to Robert Juet, one of Hudson’s officers who accompanied him on several voyages. As with Hudson, not much is known about Juet’s origins, but his cantakerous and mutinous behaviour on Hudson’s fourth expedition is well detailed in the Canadian Biography article mentioned above. Juet’s journal of Hudson’s third voyage was acquired by Samuel Purchas, one of the leading travel publishers of the time, and included as part of a series called Purchas His Pilgrimes (also in 1625). The American Journeys website has made copies of this available on the internet.

However, Juet’s journal can also be found elsewhere. In particular the New Netherland Museum in Albany, New York, has a website dedicated to the Half Moon (and has even funded a replica vessel which now holds a touring museum), and it includes a transcription of the journal. And a Civil War website - Son of the South - also has extensive extracts.

Here is Juet’s journal for a week in September 1609. The extracts starts with an account, on the 6th, of how the natives killed one of their crew. And they includes the day - exactly four centuries ago today - on which Hudson is credited with discovering Manhattan, although he did not know how important a piece of real estate it would become; he did not even know it was an island.

6 September 1609
‘The sixth, in the morning, was faire weather, and our Master sent John Colman, with foure other men in our Boate, over to the North-side to sound the other River, being foure leagues from us. They found by the way shoald [shallow] water, two fathoms; but at the North of the River eighteen, and twentie fathoms, and very good riding for Ships; and a narrow River to the Westward, betweene two Ilands. The Lands, they told us, were as pleasant with Grasse and Flowers and goodly Trees as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them. So they went in two leagues and saw an open Sea, and returned; and as they came backe, they were set upon by two Canoes, the one having twelve, the other fourteene men. The night came on, and it began to rayne, so that their Match went out; and they had one man slaine in the fight, which was an English-man, named John Colman, with an Arrow shot into his throat, and two more hurt. It grew so darke that they could not find the ship that night, but labored to and fro on their Oares. They had so great a streame, that their grapnell would not hold them.’

7 September 1609
‘The seventh, was faire, and by ten of the clocke they returned aboord the ship, and brought our dead man with them, whom we carried on Land and buryed, and named the point after his name, Colman’s Point. Then we hoysed in our Boate, and raised her side with waste boords for defence of our men. So we rode still all night, having good regard to our Watch.’

8 September 1609
‘The eighth, was very faire weather, wee rode still very quietly. The people came aboord us, and brought tabacco and Indian wheat to exchange for knives and beades, and offered us no violence. So we fitting up our Boate did marke them, to see if they would make any shew of the Death of our man; which they did not.’

9 September 1609
‘The ninth, faire weather. In the morning, two great Canoes came aboord full of men; the one with their Bowes and Arrowes, and the other in shew of buying of knives to betray us; but we perceived their intent. Wee tooke two of them to have kept them, and put red Coates on them, and would not suffer the other to come neere us. So they went on Land, and two other came aboord in a Canoe; we tooke the one and let the other goe; but hee which wee had taken, got up and leapt over-boord. Then wee weighed and went off into the channell of the River, and Anchored there all night.’

10 September 1609
‘The tenth, faire weather, we rode still till twelve of the clocke. Then we weighed and went over, and found it shoald all the middle of the River, for wee could finde but two fathoms and a halfe and three fathomes for the space of a league; then wee came to three fathomes and foure fathomes, and so to seven fathomes, and Anchored, and rode all night in soft Ozie ground. The banke is Sand.’

11 September 1609
‘The eleventh was faire and very hot weather. At one of the clocke in the after-noone wee weighed and went into the River, the wind at South South-west, little winde. Our soundings were seven, sixe, five, sixe, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteene, and fourteene fathomes. Then it shoalded againe, and came to five fathomes. Then wee Anchored, and saw that it was a very good Harbour for all windes, and rode all night. The people of the Countrey came aboord of us, making shew of love, and gave us Tabacco and Indian wheat, and departed for that night; but we durst not trust them.’

12 September 1609
‘The twelfth, very faire and hot. In the after-noone, at two of the clocke, wee weighed, the winde being variable betweene the North and the North-west. So we turned into the River two leagues and Anchored. This morning, at our first rode in the River, there came eight and twentie Canoes full of men, men, and children to betray us; but we saw their intent, and suffered noone of them to come aboord of us. At twelve of the clocke they departed. They brought with them Oysters and Beanes, whereof wee bought some. They have great Tabacco pipes of yellow Copper, and Pots of Earth to dresse their meate in. It floweth South-east by South within.’

Although Hudson was English, his voyage along the Hudson in Half Moon, a Dutch ship, and for the Dutch, led to the area being under Dutch influence for half a century. In 1613, they established a trading post on the western shore of what would be become Manhattan; in 1614 the New Netherland company was established; and, by the mid-1920s, a newly formed Dutch West India Company had built Fort Amsterdam and a small settlement called New Amsterdam had grown up around it. The Dutch origins can still be seen in many names in New York City, such as Coney Island (from Konijnen Eiland - Dutch for Rabbit Island), Bowery from Bouwerij, Harlem from Haarlem, Greenwich (Village) from Greenwijck. The English didn’t arrive and conquer New Amsterdam (turning it into New York) until the 1660s.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Believing in history

Kim Dae-jung, a former President of South Korea and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, died a few weeks ago, but in the last year of his life he kept a diary, and extracts have just been published. They are, in part, philosophical with reflections back over his life. However, some of the extracts are also proving controversial for being critical of the current administration led by President Lee Myung-bak.

Kim (his family name) was born in 1925 the son of a farmer. He studied at Mokpo Commercial High School and went to work for a Japanese-owned shipping company during the Japanese occupation of Korea. In time, he ended up as owner of the same firm. During the Korean War he managed to escape capture by the Communists, and subsequently went on to enter politics, being elected to the National Assembly for the first time in the early 1960s. By the mid-1960s, he had become a prominent opposition politician. In 1971, he was chosen as presidential candidate for the New Democratic Party to run against the incumbent, Park Chung Hee.

During the Assembly election campaign that followed the presidential vote, Kim experienced the first of at least five attempts on his life by political enemies. When the re-elected Park imposed martial law, Kim began a vigorous campaign against the measures. In August 1973, government agents abducted him from a Tokyo hotel. Intervention by the US saved his life, but he was still imprisoned, and then kept under house arrest. After Park’s assassination, Kim’s freedom was restored, only to be taken away again following a coup that brought Chun Doo-hwan to power. He was given exile to the US, where he taught at Harvard until his return to South Korea in 1985.

Back in Seoul, Kim was immediately put under house arrest but his return intensified a nationwide movement for democracy. In 1987, his civil and political rights were restored, leaving him free to run for office, which he did three times before being elected President, in 1997. He is credited with major reforms and restructuring, which helped pull the country back from a financial crisis, and for pursuing a policy of engagement toward North Korea (the Sunshine Policy). In 2000, Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ‘for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.’

Kim completed his five year presidential term in 2003. He was succeeded first by Roh Moo-hyun, and then, in 2008, by the current President, Lee Myung-bak. Roh, however, committed suicide last May, and just three months months later, in August, Kim died too. There is more biographical information about him on the Nobel Peace Prize website, at Wikipedia, and in various recent obituaries, such as The Guardian’s.

Within days of Kim’s death, 30,000 copies of a small printed book entitled Insaengeun Areumdapgo Yeoksaneun Baljeonhanda (Life Is Beautiful and History Advances) were released. It contains a selection of diary entries from the last year of Kim’s life, starting in 2008 and ending in June 2009. A number of extracts are available online thanks to The Hankyoreh, a left-leaning South Korean newspaper.

In the journal, Hankyoreh notes, Kim ‘passionately’ expresses his rage against the unilateral behavior of the Lee Myung-bak administration, and shares his ‘concern and dismay over the state of democracy in South Korea and the extent to which inter-Korean relations is in crisis’. Also, as if sensing that he does not have long to live, he praises the beauty of life and expresses warm affection for his wife Lee Hee-ho. Here are a few extracts.

11 January 2009
‘I love and respect my wife, and without her, I might not be here now and even now, I think living without her would be difficult.’

20 January 2009 (the day police stormed a building to forcibly evicts tenants)
‘Because of the violent suppression of the police, five people are dead and an additional ten have been hospitalized with injuries. It is truly barbaric behavior.’

‘The situation of these poor citizens, who are being chased out of their homes in the cold winter, brings tears to my eyes.’

14/15 January 2009
‘The question in life is not how long you lived. It is whether you lived for people who are suffering and are faced with hardship.’

‘I have lived my life believing in history and the people even amid innumerable persecutions. In the future, I will continue to walk this same path for as long as I am alive.’

16 January 2009
‘All dictators in history think that they alone will not follow the same path as those previous if they prepare well enough, but in the end, they walk the same path or are subject to history’s harsh judgment.’

27 April 2009
‘What is there to hope for in this world? I will maintain my health until the end and to lend the counsel necessary for resolving the three major crises of the present: the crisis of democracy, the economic crisis of the working class, and the crisis in inter-Korean relations.’

23 May 2009 (the day Roh Moo-hyun died)
‘Prosecutors were too harsh in their investigation. They attacked him, his wife, his son, his older brother and his nephew-in-law as if they were cleaning house.’

29 May 2009
‘There has probably never been a case of nationwide mourning like this before. The people’s disappointment, rage and sadness about reality seems to overlap with President Roh’s.’

A few days ago, Chosun Ilbo (The Korean Daily) published an article about Kim’s diary (and a forthcoming memoir) chastising Kim himself for outspokenly attacking a current administration, and criticising those who seek to use the diary (and memoir) for political ends.

It says: ‘There lingers a sour suspicion that some will seek to take advantage of his diary. Some of the entries plainly criticize the Lee Myung-bak administration. Kim should have known better than anyone that it is unseemly for a former president to condemn one of his successors. The opposition seems to abuse the journal as if it was his political testament that he wanted them to pursue. And indeed, the diary clearly shows his unfailing conviction and trust in himself as a politician rather than self-doubt as a weak human being.’

But concludes: ‘Kim Dae-jung’s memoirs will be the first book in Korea a retired president wrote with posterity in mind. Recording stark truths may be important, but the book should show what kind of person Kim really was, since we know he was an eloquent and well-read man. Let us hope that his writings can be enjoyed in perpetuity for their own sake instead of being abused as a political bible by his supporters.’

Friday, September 4, 2009

A peasant’s mind

Georges Simenon, one of the most prolific and successful writers of the 20th century and the creator of Maigret, died 20 years ago today. He published hundreds and hundreds of works of fiction; and he also penned a few autobiographical works. One of these was based on some notebook diaries he kept in the 1960s. The New York Times said of the book that it reveals Simenon’s mind to be like a peasant’s with its emphasis on ‘the tangible - family, sex, work, health, domestic routine and bourgeois comforts minus bourgeois morality’.

Simenon was born in 1903 in Liege, Belgium, and was already working on a local newspaper by the age of 16. When his mother died in 1922, he moved to Paris and was able to make a living by writing short stories and popular novels under many different pen names. The famous fictional detective Maigret appeared in the very early 1930s in Pietr-Le-Letton (in English, The Strange Case of Peter the Lett), a novel published under Simenon’s own name. In time, he would publish around 100 novels and novellas featuring Maigret. For ten years after the war Simenon lived in the United States, then returned to France in 1955, before settling in Switzerland. He died - peacefully in his sleep - 20 years ago today on 4 September 1989 in Lausanne. More biographical information is available at Wikipedia and Famous Authors.

Simenon is almost as famous for his private life as he is for his novels. As a young man in Liege and then in Paris, he was no stranger to the seamier aspects of city night-life. He married Régine Renchon (Tigy) in 1923, but apparently was also involved with their housekeeper Henriette Liberge, who travelled and moved with them. He had many other liaisons, most famously with the American actress Josephine Baker. Simenon and Tigy had one son, Marc, born in 1939. They divorced in the late 1940s, and Simenon remarried in 1950 to Denyse Ouimet, a French Canadian he met in the US. They had three children, but Simenon’s womanising continued unabated. They separated in 1964. By then, Simenon had become involved with his housekeeper, Teresa, who stayed with him till his death. In the early 1970s, Simenon claimed to have had sex with over 20,000 women.

Simenon may be famous as a crime writer and as a womaniser, but he’s hardly known at all as a diarist. Yet in 1970, he published Quand J’étais Vieux, a collection of diary notebooks written in the early 1960s. This was translated by Helen Eustis into English and then published as When I Was Old by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York, and by Hamish Hamilton in London.

Paul Theroux, an American author, wrote about Simenon recently (March 2008) for The Times Literary Supplement, and mentioned his diaries. ‘Incredibly,’ Theroux wrote, ‘for such a productive soul, Simenon was at times afflicted with writer’s block, and though in him it seemed almost an affectation, it perturbed him to the extent that he used it as an occasion to keep a diary, to recapture his novel-writing mood.’ In the diary, Theroux noted, Simenon tended to write about the things that obsessed him, such as money, family, his mother, and other writers. Theroux also pointed out how Simenon wrote in his diary about his friend Henry Miller, another American author, one much preoccipied with the subject of sex, and how Miller envied Simenon’s life.

More informatively, The New York Times published a review of When I Was Old in 1971 - which is available online (though may require free registration). The review, written by by Gerald Walker, quotes from Simenon’s own preface: ‘In 1960, 1961, and 1962, for personal reasons, or for reasons I don’t know myself, I began feeling old, and I began keeping notebooks. I was nearing the age of sixty. Soon I shall be sixty-seven and I have not felt old for a long time. I no longer feel the need to write in notebooks.’

Simenon’s novels are built around passion, crimes of passion, violence, Walker says, but the Simenon in this diary abhors violence (such as in Algeria, the Congo, Vietnam) and shows himself ‘a passionately devoted family man constantly trying to clear the decks to spend time with his young children and his Canadian second wife’. Being Simenon, though, he is a family man with a difference. He may deeply love his wife, Walker explains, but he is still subject to ‘a lifelong compulsion to have sexual relations with every attractive woman he sees’. He refers to one afternoon, for example, when he called four successive women to his hotel suite while his wife packed their suitcases in the next room.

As revealed in these notebooks, Walker says, ‘Simenon’s is a shrewd, lucid mind, not a deep one; a peasant’s mind, one is tempted to say, with its emphasis on the tangible - family, sex, work, health, domestic routine and bourgeois comforts minus bourgeois morality. He has small regard for ideas.’ He quotes Simenon saying ‘a novelist must live to be an old man, as old as possible, in order to see mankind from every point of view, that of the adolescent, the old man. . . . One must have led a certain number of lives.’ And then Walker concludes: ‘There are lives enough in the man’s diary for any reader.’

Here are few extracts from When I Was Old which can be found on The Maigret Forum, a website maintained by Steve Trussel. The first three are from the start of the first of the diary notebooks, but the last three are quoted on The Maigret Forum without a date.

25 June 1960
‘Four days ago - on the 21st - I finished a novel, number hundred-eighty-something, that I had wanted to be easy. Now on the first day I started to write, towards the 9th or 10th page, I’d had the sensation that it would be futile to go on to the end, that it would never come to life.

I was alone, as always when I write, in my office with the curtains closed. I walked around the room five or six times, and if it hadn’t had a sort of humanness, I would have torn up those few pages and waited a few days to begin a different novel.

This happens two or three times a year. This particular time, I was moved to tears. Then, without too much confidence, I returned to my machine. I think it may be the best of the Maigrets. I’ll know when I start editing. Since the Cannes Festival, I’ve wanted to write a novel filled with sun and tenderness. I had one in my head, for which the characters, the setting, were ready. Of that, I’ve only written three pages. It wasn’t a Maigret. The main characters were in their 30s. I realized later that in Maigret in Society, which in a sense replaced the abandoned novel, I expressed the same tenderness. . . but with characters who were all between 65 and 85.’

27 June 1960
‘Spent yesterday, a typical Sunday, with a Match photographer. He’s here for four days, after which he will be joined by a journalist for what they call a feature story. It’s the fourth that Match has published in seven or eight years about me and my family.’

2 July 1960
‘The Match photographer, who lived four or five days in the bosom of my family, had not known me before he came but left as an old friend. The writer, theoretically more ‘cultured’, but who managed to ask hundreds of impertinent questions, came to do his work, no more, and add an article, a victim, to his collection.’

‘Psychiatry fascinates me, and perhaps as a result, so does medicine. Maigret wanted to become a doctor. And me? I never thought of it when I was young. Later, yes. But without regret, and as if by chance most of my friends have been or are still doctors.’

‘A fascinating dinner for me, yesterday, with half a dozen psychiatrists. . . Almost all of them seeking to reassure themselves, to be sure that they’re on the right track, that they’re doing something useful. . . And for me, a chance to reassure myself. I think that more and more, since the beginning, moreover, my characters are sort of heading to the point where the psychiatrists will take over. That is to say, my clients, after a few more steps, will become theirs.’

‘I ask myself if the essential characteristic of murder isn’t its being illogical, which would explain why in the Middle Ages it was blamed on demons who took possession of a human being, and why today we call more and more upon psychiatry. Now psychiatry, concerned less with lesions and trauma than with behaviour, doesn’t it also escape logic?’

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Peerless jolly day

Exactly one hundred years ago today, Henry Peerless, was on holiday, as he often was, enjoying a very jolly tourist trip in North Devon. The tour included a stop at Malmsmead where he lunched on mutton, stewed fruit and clotted cream, and a visit to Oare Church, where Lorna Doone got married in R D Blackmore’s classic novel of the same name. But Peerless was equally entertained - as his colourful and lively travel diaries show - by a confrontation between his vehicle, a horse-drawn char-à -banc, and a steam driven motor car. Those were the days!

Peerless was born in Brighton into a middle-class family, and entered the family timber business when only 14. He married Amelia (Millie) Garrett in 1891, and they had four children. The oldest, Cuthbert, died during active service in the last year of the First World War. For thirty years, Peerless travelled all round the British Isles and beyond, by horse-drawn carriage, steam train, steam ship, bicycle and motor car, keeping a diary as he went. These diaries, only recently found, were edited by Edward Fenton and published by Day Books in 2003 as A Brief Jolly Change - The Diaries of Henry Peerless 1891-1920. Copies can be bought direct from Amazon.

Day Books says its book provides ‘a fascinating insight into one of the most important social trends of the past 150 years: the rise of mass tourism following the coming of the railway.’ Moreover, it paints ‘an unforgettable picture of a whole class of people striving for diversion and pleasure at a time of unprecedented and cataclysmic change’. Henry Peerless himself, the publisher adds, emerges as a cross between Mr Pooter and Mr Toad: ‘irrepressibly high-spirited (even after the death of his son Cuthbert in the Great War), fond of practical jokes, patriotic, sometimes pompous but always good-hearted, he had an almost childlike zest for discovering new places and embracing new fashions, and it is this which makes him such an engaging companion and guide’.

Here is Henry Peerless writing about his day exactly a century ago:

Wednesday 1 September 1909
‘Stroll out shopping, as Millie wants a pair of warm gloves for driving. She certainly buys a pair long enough, as they go nearly up to her shoulder.

At eleven o’clock, seven of us get on one of those hotel char-à -bancs and start for our drive, through very pretty wooded hills till we stop and water the horses at Rockford - a very sweet spot with the tumbling noise little river on our left. We push on to Badgeworthy Farm House, Malmsmead, where we partake of mutton, stewed fruit and clotted cream ad libitum.

After lunch, with a cheery ‘Now then horse’ from our driver, we clatter off. In a short time we reach Oare Church, famous as the place in which Jan Ridd and Lorna Doone were married, at the conclusion of which ceremony readers of Lorna Doone will recollect Lorna was shot by Carver Doone through the church window from the branches of an old oak-tree in the churchyard. Several of us tried to get into the church, but we had to content ourselves by peeping through the windows.

By Glenthorne and through the village of Countisbury, an episode occurred which might have had a very unhappy ending.

We were driving down carefully with the skid-pan on the wheel and the brakes on, when a motor came struggling, puffing and blowing up. To pass each other required care because of the narrow space. We drew in alongside an excavation on the hill on our left hand; the motor, nearly spent with the tug up the hill, stopped also, and a lot of steam escaped from the fore part of the car.

Then our near-side horse refused to pass, and our driver shouted out to the motorist: ‘It’s the steam she is afraid of, shut it off can’t you, then she’ll go by.’

‘It’ll lie down presently,’ says Mr Motorist.

Well there we stood, and our horses began to plunge and swerve, bringing some passengers’ hearts into their mouths. Our driver was very skilful and quiet, and in two or three minutes the steam subsided, and with a slap of the whip we were by and the danger was passed - but I should not expect to get off Scot-free in similar situations.

We ultimately reach Lynmouth. It is too much of a drag for our horses to take us up to Lynton, so Mr G., Millie, and I walk up the zig-zag path and find it a trying climb. The opinion seems to be ‘never again’.’

Salty and petulant

Andrew Russel, otherwise known as Drew, Pearson died forty years ago today. He was one of the most well-known American newspaper and radio journalists of his day, particularly because of the syndicated newspaper column Washington Merry-Go-Round which was often aimed at exposing scandal and corruption in government and business. A collection of his diary entries was published in the mid-1970s. Time magazine called them ‘salty’ and ‘often petulant’ but, nevertheless, said they provided ‘a kind of layer in the archaeology of American journalism’.

Drew Pearson was born in 1897 in Evanston, Illinois, but when still young his family moved to Pennsylvania, where his father taught at Swarthmore College. Pearson himself was educated at Swarthmore. In his early 20s, he went to Serbia for two years helping to rebuild houses that had been destroyed in the war. On returning to the US, he taught industrial geography before making a tour around the world, a trip financed by writing articles for newspapers.

In the late 1920s, Pearson reported from China, the Geneva Naval Conference, and the Pan-American Conference in Cuba. In 1929 he was appointed Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, and three years later he joined the Scripps-Howard syndicate, United Features. He wrote a famous but anonymous column (with another journalist, Robert Anderson) called Washington Merry-Go-Round which was syndicated across the country and featured sensational exposes. But, when his political views (in support of Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal, and in favour of US intervention in Europe) became increasingly censored, he moved to The Washington Post.

During the war, Pearson became a radio personality, and after the war he supported the United Nations, and he helped organise the Friendship Train. In the early 1950s, Pearson was one of the few journalists to stand against the McCarthy policies, and he is credited with playing an important role in McCarthy’s downfall. In the 1960s, he was often chosen to interview national leaders; and in 1962, he accompanied Kennedy to Venezuela and Columbia. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Diary Junction, or Ecyclopaedia Britannica.

During his lifetime (he died on 1 September 1969, exactly 40 years ago today), Pearson wrote a number of journalism-based books. He also kept a diary, and this was edited by his stepson Tyler Abell, and published posthumously, in 1974, by Holt, Rinehart & Winston in New York and Jonathan Cape in London - Drew Pearson: Diaries, 1949-1959.

A review of the book by Time magazine at the time claimed that Pearson’s diaries were ‘chiefly valuable as a kind of layer in the archaeology of American journalism’. The diaries show that Pearson was immensely proud of his eminence and influence through the Washington Merry-Go-Round column, the review says, and that he considered his almost daily entries as ‘footnotes to history, not merely private ruminations’. While there are no major revelations in the diaries (since, as Time says, his scoops were the daily bread and butter of his column) ‘they do reflect in a detail that could not appear in his column the man’s exhaustive knowledge of what went on in Washington: Joe McCarthy’s bruited homosexuality and alcoholism; the acceptance of gifts by Truman five-percenters; the venality of sundry Congressmen.’

Time calls the diaries ‘salty’ and ‘often petulant’ in the way Pearson ‘pitilessly pilloried the drinking and wenching habits of his foes, while ignoring the public and private peccadilloes of the men who fed him information’. Pearson was often wrong too, Time notes. In his diary, for example, he falsely charged that Jack Kennedy’s Pulitzer-prizewinning Profiles in Courage had been ghostwritten. The diaries also show that he spent much time preparing press releases and speeches for senators and congressmen who were sympathetic to his causes - ‘a practice that today would probably get a Washington correspondent fired forthwith from any newspaper or magazine’, Time comments.

Another review - this one from The Village Voice - can be found online thanks to Google Newspapers. These diaries are not a whitewash job, the Voice says, ‘Pearson’s personality comes through with all its warts’. ‘He was a singularly self-centred man’, it adds, ‘viewing the world as a carousel that spun around him.’

A few extracts from Pearson’s diaries are available at the Spartacus Educational website. The first concerns James Forrestal, a US Secretary of Defence in the second half of the 1940s. Pearson criticised him mercilessly, for his conservative views on foreign policy, and is said to have claimed he was ‘the most dangerous man in America’ and could cause another world war. Some blamed Pearson for Forrestal’s death. Incidentally, Forrestal was also a diarist - more information is available from Adam Matthew Publications.

22 May 1949
‘Jim Forrestal died at 2 am by jumping out of the Naval Hospital window . . .

I think that Forrestal really died because he had no spiritual reserves. He had spent all his life thinking only about himself, trying to fulfill his great ambition to be President of the United States. When that ambition became out of his reach, he had nothing to fall back on. He had no church; he had deserted it. He had no wife. They had both deserted each other. She was in Paris at the time of his death - though it was well-known that he had been seriously ill for weeks. But most important of all, he had no spiritual resources . . .

But James Forrestal’s passion was public approval. It was his lifeblood. He craved it almost as a dope addict craves morphine. Toward the end he would break down and cry pitifully, like a child, when criticized too much. He had worked hard - too much in fact - for his country. He was loyal and patriotic. Few men were more devoted to their country, but he seriously hurt the country that he loved by taking his own life. All his policies now are under closer suspicion than before . . .

Forrestal not only had no spiritual resources, but also he had no calluses. He was unique in this respect. He was acutely sensitive. He had traveled not on the hard political path of the politician, but on the protected, cloistered avenue of the Wall Street bankers. All his life he had been surrounded by public relations men. He did not know what the lash of criticism meant. He did not understand the give-and-take of the political arena. Even in the executive branch of government, he surrounded himself with public relations men, invited newsmen to dinner, lunch, and breakfast, made a fetish of courting their favor. History unfortunately will decree that Forrestal’s great reputation was synthetic. It was built on the most unstable foundation of all - the handouts of paid press agents.

If Forrestal had been true to his friends, if he had made one sacrifice for a friend, if he had even gone to bat for Tom Corcoran who put him in the White House, if he had spent more time with his wife instead of courting his mistress, he would not have been so alone this morning when he went to the diet pantry of the Naval Hospital and jumped to his death.’

28 November 1949
‘Parnell Thomas’s trial started this morning. Looking at him in the courtroom, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I can’t relish helping to send a man to jail. Nevertheless, when I figure all the times Thomas has sent other people to jail and all the instances when he has kept men away from combat duty in return for money in his own pocket, to say nothing of salary kickbacks, perhaps I shouldn’t be too sorry.’

24 April 1951
‘This afternoon McCarthy sounded off with another speech on the Senate floor claiming that the Justice Department had now finished its investigation and had a complete espionage case against me. He also pontificated that I had received State Department documents from the State Department via Dave Karr, whom he described as a top member of the Communist party. McCarthy also claimed that the column today, which dealt with developments in the atomic bomb field, paraphrased a secret report and was a violation of security.’

21 May 1951
‘The facts were that MacArthur had wasted blood most of his career, not only in Korea. I urged the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when they testify, should show up MacArthur’s glaring errors and his well-known ‘extravagance with his men’. For instance, General Eichelberger, who commanded the 8th Army during World War II, could testify to MacArthur’s shameful laxness on New Guinea and his refusal to visit the front at Buna even once.’

16 January 1952
‘Benton told me that McGraph and the President both were working on the matter of the young lieutenant involved with McCarthy. This is the third report on McCarthy’s homosexual activity and the most definite of all.’