Saturday, October 31, 2009

A diary not for burning

‘I will tell you what kind of a diary you will never wish to burn. Get a good sized, substantially bound blank-book and record in it simply facts of your every-day life . . .’ Such was the advice given by Jacob Abbott - a 19th century teacher and writer who died 130 years ago this day - to his pupils and other teachers. George F Root, a colleague of Abbott’s who had previously burnt all his diaries, followed this advice, and kept his new diary for 25 years, only to have it be burnt any way - in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Abbott was born at Hallowell, Maine, in 1803, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1820. Thereafter, he studied at Andover Theological Seminary, and was a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Amherst College. He founded the Mount Vernon School for Young Ladies in Boston in 1829 and the Eliot Congregational Church at Roxbury, Massachusetts, in the mid 1830s. With his brothers, in the 1840s, he set up Abbott’s Institute; and was also a principle at the Mount Vernon School for Boys, in New York City.

Abbott was also a prolific author, writing fiction, history, science and religious books. According to Wikipedia, his Rollo Books - such as Rollo at Work and Rollo at Play - are the best known of his writings. Original copies of some of these books, over a century old, can be bought on Abebooks for under a tenner. He died on 31 October 1879, 130 years ago today.

Although Abbott himself does not appear to have left behind any journals, there is an intriguing account of how he advised the young ladies at his school, and other teachers, to keep a diary. This account is found in The Story of a Musical Life: An Autobiography by George F Root published by The John Church Co, Cincinnati, in 1891. It is freely available at Internet Archive, but original copies can also be bought from Abebooks for a little over £30.

Here is that account (preceded by some description of Abbott’s school and the teaching methods - as found on Deidre Johnson’s website which has lots of information about fiction series aimed at 19th century girls).

‘Abbott’s school for young ladies at that time was in one of the fine houses in the white marble row in Lafayette Place, New York, spacious and convenient beyond anything I had before seen. I found the work delightful. Our methods were new, as Mr Abbott had said they would be, and no one having made class teaching and singing tedious and unpopular in the school it was not difficult to arouse and keep up an interest in the lessons. We had frequent visitors - parents and friends of the young ladies, and other persons interested in seeing the new work, and later on in hearing the pleasant part-singing. This singing in parts came along astonishingly soon, for three-quarters of an hour every school day with those bright, interested girls was very different from the two half hours a week that I had been accustomed to in the Public Schools of Boston. . .

. . . I ought to say something more here of that remarkable family with whom it was my good fortune to be connected during my ten years in New York. The published works of Jacob Abbott and of John S C Abbott are known. In the legal profession the works of Benjamin Vaughan Abbott and of Austin Abbott are, I am told, regarded as standards, and in the theological and editorial world Lyman Abbott is one of the most eminent men of the present time. These three last mentioned are sons of Jacob Abbott, and were boys at the time of which I write. That, however, which is not ‘known and read of all’ is the home and school-life of these admirable men. In their homes and in their school-rooms, with each other and with all who were connected with them, either as pupils or teachers, their intercourse was characterized by a sincerity and a gentle friendliness so steady and so constant that breaking over it into roughness of any kind or into disobedience seemed impossible. I saw no outbreak or case of ‘discipline’ in all the years that I was with them. That their excellent methods and great skill and attainments as teachers had something to do with the result will of course be understood. . .

As larger buildings were needed the school was moved, first to Houston street, then to Bleecker, both near Broadway. I can not remember just when the brothers decided to have two schools, and now I miss my diary again. In fact, as I go on, I miss it more and more. That book, by the way, and the circumstances that caused it, are worth speaking of.

Early in my New York life Mr Jacob said to me one day:
‘Did you ever keep a diary?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘I have begun a half dozen at least.’
‘You haven’t any of them now?’
‘You burned each one after writing a few weeks or a few months in it.’
‘Was it because you had been so sentimental that you gradually grew tired of what you had written, and at last ashamed to have any one see it?’
I laughed and said it was exactly so.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘that is a very common experience. I will tell you what kind of a diary you will never wish to burn. Get a good sized, substantially bound blank-book and record in it simply facts of your every-day life; first, every event of your past life, with its date, that you think you would like to remember years hence, then begin where you are now and do the same thing every day. Speak of pupils, letters, people you see, concerts, classes, journeys - in short, every occurrence of any prominence that is connected with your work or home. Do not give an opinion or admit a word of sentiment in regard to any of the records you make, but let them be stated in the briefest and most concise manner possible. They may look dry to you now, but years hence they will be full of associations of the successful and pleasant life you are now living, and instead of growing tiresome as you read them, they will become more and more interesting and valuable.’

I saw at once how good this advice was, and went right off to Mr Ivison (who was then a member of Mercer Street choir) and had the book made. It was as large as a good-sized ledger, was bound in strong leather, and so arranged that it could be locked. As soon as it was done I asked Mr Jacob to come and see it. He came, and when he had looked and approved I asked him to begin it for me. He did, and this is about what he wrote:

Mr George has brought me in here to see his new book. This is his music room. It is octagonal in shape, two corners being cut off for closets and two for doors of entrance. The wood-work is oak. All octagonal table occupies the center, and book-cases with glass doors are on the side between the doors. There is a piano and a lounge here, and several easy chairs in convenient places. Twenty years hence, Mr George, when you read this in some totally different scene let it remind you of your New York music room and ‘Mr Jacob.’

I did as he advised - began with my early life, and found I could recall almost everything of importance before going to Boston, and while there, then started from that time (early in 1845) to make short daily records. This went through my New York life, my first stay in Europe, and my early convention work to 1871, when we were in full tide of successful business in Chicago - more than twenty-five years of brief, close record. The book was but little more than half full, and how true were Mr Jacob’s ideas about the memories and associations it recalled. ‘Closing exercises at Rutgers to-day’ was not merely the record of a musical exercise twenty years before. About that commonplace event were now summer flowers, bright skies and dear friends - and the flowers grew sweeter, the skies brighter, and the friends dearer as the years rolled on. But a memorable day came when my big journal shared the fate of its little predecessors. It was burned! But not by my hand. It went up, with many other mementos of my former life, in the flames of the great Chicago fire.

Somebody may be as much obliged to me as I was to Mr Jacob for this suggestion about the way to keep a diary.’

Nothing but the eyes

Otto Rank, a Viennese psychoanalyst who studied with Freud for many years, died 70 years ago today. He is remembered for theorising that some neuroses stem from the trauma of birth, and for extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of myth, art and creativity. One of his patients was the writer Anaïs Nin, but she was also his lover, and wrote much about him in her extraordinary and intimate diaries.

Rank was born in Vienna in 1884, into a lower/middle-class Jewish family. Aged 21 he met Freud, who persuaded him to study psychoanalysis at the University of Vienna. Before long he had become Freud’s trusted assistant, and was appointed secretary to the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank remained close to Freud for the best part of two decades. Nevertheless, through books such as The Artist and The Incest Theme in Literature, he developed his own theories, extending psychoanalytic theory, in particular to explain the significance of myths and artistic creativity.

Rank served in the First World War and then returned to his studies. In 1924, though, he published The Trauma of Birth in which he maintained that anxiety and neurosis stemmed from a baby’s shock at being separated from his or her mother. Although Freud was initially impressed by this idea, he later rejected it, and the book distanced Rank from him and others in the Vienna Circle.

The same year, he moved to the US, where he developed a reputation for his evolving ideas in psychotherapy (including that of getting patients to re-experience their birth traumas). For the next ten years he travelled often between New York and Paris, teaching and practicing psychotherapy. In 1936 he settled in New York City, where he died 70 years ago today, on 31 October 1939 (five weeks after Freud had died in London). For more detail on Rank’s life see Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia.

Anaïs Nin, one of the 20th century’s most interesting diarists, was not only a patient of Rank, but his lover too. She was born in France, to musical parents of mixed and partly Cuban heritage. When they separated, her mother then took Anaïs and two brothers to New York City. At 20 she married a banker, Hugh Guiler, who later illustrated some of her books and went on to become a film maker.

They moved to Paris, where Nin began writing fiction and where she fell in with the Villa Seurat group, which included the writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell. She had many love affairs, often with well known literary figures, but her relationship with Miller was more constant than most. Although Nin wrote many short stories and some novels, it is her diaries that are considered to be her most enduring work. And, in the diaries, there is much about Rank, and her relationship with him. (See The Diary Junction for more on Nin’s diaries, and some links.)

The following extracts which mention Rank have been culled from Incest: From ‘A Journal of Love’ by Anaïs Nin published by Peter Owen in 1993. It is considered the second volume of Nin’s unexpurgated diaries (the first being Henry and June), and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

21 December 1932
‘. . . We three [Nin, Henry Miller and Hugh Guiler] read Rank together - Rank’s book Art and Artist, the book I wanted to write!’

17 January 1933
‘. . . Daydream of renewing the process of psychoanalysis again - with Rank, perhaps, to see if I can complete my half-born confidence.’

19 January 1933
‘. . . We (Nin and Henry Miller) awake after a short rest and I am not tired. I am blazing with energy. I must be a sexual superwoman who, as Rank has written, is stimulated rather than exhausted by sexual life. . .’

11 July 1933
‘. . . I want to go to Rank and get absolution for my passion for my father. . .’

21 July 1933
‘. . . I need Rank; I need a stronger mind than Allendy’s [French psychoanalyst]. I want to talk with Rank. About art, creation, incest. I want to be free of guilt. I want to confront a big mind and thresh out the subject. Plumb it. . .’

7 November 1933
‘. . . I impulsively decided to ring Rank’s doorbell. . . By sheer accident, it was he who opened the door. ‘Yes?’ he said in his harsh Viennese accent, wrapping the incisive, clean French word in a German crunch, as if the words had been chewed like the end of a cigar instead of liberated out of the mouth as the French do. . . He was small, dark skinned, round faced; but actually one saw nothing but the eyes, which were beautiful. Large, dark, fiery. . .’

‘. . . Rank immediately gave me the feeling that he is curious, alive, fond of exploration, experiment, the open road, anarchism, that he swims freely in big free spaces. . .’

20 January 1934
‘. . . Rank has a leaping quality of mind. It is exciting to see how he corners one, how he attacks, and how he enlarges the problems like a creator who is there to add, to invent, to multiply, to expand rather than analyze into nothingness. He does not raze the ground by analysis; he explores and quickens into life, he illumines. . .’

1 June 1934
‘Today He [Rank] was not shy. He dragged me toward the divan and we kissed savagely, drunkenly. He looked almost beside himself, and I could not understand my own abandon. I had not imagined a sensual accord.’

7 July 1934
‘. . . The word love is not enough. We are both ill with our joy; we are truly dying of joy. We are broken, feverish.

All those who tried to make me renounce the impossible, accept the realities of love, its limitations! I possess it. I am possessed by it. For the first time, I am incapable of enjoying Henry, incapable of thinking of anyone but Rank - I’m full of him. I awake thinking of him. His selflessness. We live for each other. We break down obstacles. We love in a way everybody believes impossible. We love impossibly . . .’

14 August 1934
‘I cannot live without seeing him. It is a hunger, an unbearable hunger. I rushed to him today. It is like touching fire. He makes me terribly happy.’

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gurdjieff and his ‘idiots’

Gurdjieff, one of the last century’s most enigmatic and idiosyncratic spiritual leaders, died 60 years ago today, yet his Fourth Way is still followed by small and slightly secretive groups all over the world. Although he was not the greatest of communicators through the written word, several of his students - Ouspensky and Orage, for example - did much to propagate his ideas, while others - Bennett and Nott - kept diaries which provide some interesting insights into life with the great man, not least his fondness for referring to people as idiots, and to a possible encounter with Aleister Crowley.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia, in the 1860s or 1870s (the exact date is unknown). He grew up in Kars and travelled widely before returning to Russia in 1912 were he began teaching. There he met Peter Ouspensky, who would become his most famous student, and interpreter of his teachings. That same year he married Julia Ostrowska. During the revolution, in 1917, he returned to his family home in Alexandropol, and continued to teach Russian pupils at various locations on the Black Sea coast of southern Russia.

In 1919 Gurdjieff and his closest pupils moved to Tbilisi, then to Istanbul. After travelling around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work, he (and his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man) settled near Paris in 1922 at Chateau du Prieuré. Over the next decade, the Institute attracted many artists and intellectuals from Britain and the US. He remained there until 1933, when he moved to Paris, where he lived and taught for the next 16 years until his death - 60 years ago today on 29 October 1949.

In his teachings, Gurdjieff propounded a system of developing all sides of one’s being (body, emotions and intellect) simultaneously - the Fourth Way - through writing, music and dance movement. Followers of the system call Gurdjieff’s principles and instructions ‘The Work’. His most famous book - Meetings with Remarkable Men - is considered to be pseudo-autobiography, and is one part of a trilogy which also includes the less readable Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and Life is Real Only Then, When I Am. But it was Ouspensky who made Gurdjieff’s ideas more accessible with books such as In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.

There is no shortage of websites dedicated to Gurdjieff’s teachings. Wikipedia has a biography and links; or try Gurdjieff Studies for a longer biography (taken from the Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism) and a detailed chronology of his life.

There are several published diaries which reveal something of Gurdjieff’s life and teachings. In 1978, Routledge & Kegan Paul published C. Stanley Nott’s Teachings of Gurdjieff: a pupil’s journal - an account of some years with G I Gurdjieff and A R Orage in New York and at Fontainebleau Avon. (Orage being another student of Gurdjieff and interpreter of his teachings.)

Nott was a young English First World War veteran and literary intellectual living in New York. Having been spiritually restless and having travelled all over the East and West looking for answers, he eventually found them with Gurdjieff. The book was republished by Arkana (Penguin) in the early 1990s, and reviewed in New Dawn 88. The review (available here) concluded: ‘This work is a valuable one in several ways. It is an objective account by one of Gurdjieff’s earliest young followers, who kept detailed journals and diaries. It follows his personal growth through the work and the method. It is also an insight into Gurdjieff himself, his family, senior pupils and his method. Nothing is whitewashed here.’

There is one extract from Nott’s book which is widely reproduced on the internet (here, for example). It concerns a meeting between Gurdjieff and another big personality from the 20th century who turned himself into a self-styled mystic - Aleister Crowley. This is Nott’s account.

‘One day in Paris I met an acquaintance from New York who spoke about the possibilities of publishing modern literature. As I showed some interest, he offered to introduce me to a friend of his who was thinking of going into publishing, and we arranged to meet the following day at the Select in Montparnasse. His friend arrived; it was Aleister Crowley. Drinks were ordered, for which of course I paid, and we began to talk. Crowley had magnetism, and the kind of charm which many charlatans have; he also had a dead weight that was somewhat impressive. His attitude was fatherly and benign, and a few years earlier I might have fallen for it. Now I saw and sensed that I could have nothing to do with him. He talked in general terms about publishing, and then drifted into his black-magic jargon.

‘To make a success of anything,’ he said, ‘including publishing, you must have a certain combination. Here you have a Master, here a Bear, there the Dragon - a triangle which will bring results . . . ’ and so on and so on. When he fell silent I said, ‘Yes, but one must have money. Am I right in supposing that you have the necessary capital?’. ‘I?’ he asked, ‘No not a franc.’ ‘Neither have I.’ I said.

Knowing that I was at the Prieuré he asked me if I would get him an invitation there. But I did not wish to be responsible for introducing such a man. However, to my surprise, he appeared there a few days later and was given tea in the salon. The children were there, and he said to one of the boys something about his son who he was teaching to be a devil. Gurdjieff got up and spoke to the boy, who thereupon took no further notice of Crowley. There was some talk between Crowley and Gurdjieff, who kept a sharp watch on him all the time. I got the strong impression of two magicians, the white and the black - the one strong, powerful, full of light; the other also powerful but heavy, dull and ignorant. Though ‘black’ was too strong a word for Crowley; he never understood the meaning of real black magic, yet hundreds of people came under his ‘spell’. He was clever. But as Gurdjieff says: ‘He is stupid who is clever.’ ’

The veracity of this account, though, has been questioned - see the Lashtal discussion board - partly because of an entry in Crowley’s diaries, or magical diaries as he preferred to call them. The entry in question, though, is quoted in a much more readable book, a biography of Crowley by John Symonds - The Great Beast.

‘Gurdjieff, their prophet, seems a tip-top man. Heard more sense and insight than I’ve done for years. Pindar dines at 7.30. Oracle for my visit was ‘There are few men: there are enough’. Later, a really wonderful evening with Pindar. Gurdjieff clearly a very advanced adept. My chief quarrels are over sex (I doubt whether Pindar understands G’s true position) and their punishments, e.g. depriving the offender of a meal or making him stand half an hour with his arms out. Childish and morally valueless’.

Then there is Diary of Madame Egout Pour Sweet by Rina Hands which was published by Two Rivers Press in 1991. (Two Rivers Press is part of the Two Rivers Farm Gurdjieff group in Oregon, US, and should not be confused with a small literary UK publisher of the same name.) Hands was a pupil of J G Bennett, also ex British army but subsequently an intelligence officer as well, who studied under Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and became a spiritual guide in his own right (see the Bennett website). She was given the honorary title of ‘égout’ (French for ‘sewer’ or ‘drain’) by Gurdjieff during evening meals with him in Paris, during the last few months of his life in 1948-1949. Rina wrote this diary primarily for herself, the publisher says, ‘for she was certain even then of the importance of those days’.

Here is one extract from the journal (thanks to the Gurdjieff Legacy website): ‘And so we sit with the author at the lunches and dinners, hear Mr Gurdjieff recounting his English, Scottish and Irish jokes and, of course, toasting to the idiots, the toasts usually not getting beyond nine or ten idiots. (Mr Gurdjieff says he is Idiot No 17.) Recounted are Gurdjieff’s insights into the various idiots. For example, there are three kinds of Compassionate Idiot. The first sees a man in need of help and immediately helps him, even giving him his own shirt. The second does exactly the same, but only because his fianceé’s father is observing. The third kind, says Gurdjieff, ‘So-so-so, sometimes he gives and sometimes not, depending on many things, perhaps even the weather.’ ’

And here is another: ‘People are beginning to bring their children. They sit at the table with us and participate like everyone else, often being able to choose their idiots. There is a little English girl here at the moment, Lord Pentland’s daughter, Mary Sinclair. Today she sat at lunch beside her mother and just in front of Mr Gurdjieff. The meal was a long one and she was bored. She had been eating an orange and began to tear up the peel and scatter it on the table. Suddenly Mr Gurdjieff spoke to her. ‘You know something,’ he said, ‘in life it is never possible to do everything.’ The child looked puzzled, as well she might. We all wondered what was coming. ‘You see,’ he went on, ‘on my table you cannot make this mess. Perhaps at home Mother permits. Then if you want to do this thing, you must stay at home. But if you stay at home, you will not be able to come here and see me. So you see, you can never do everything. Now put all orange back on plate and remember what I tell - never can we do everything in life.’ She did as she was told with a very good grace. . . At the end of dinner, Mr Gurdjieff asked her, ‘Who do you respect the most?’ She did not understand and her mother said, ‘Who do you think is the most important person here?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied, ‘My Daddy’. I thought I detected a faint look of consternation on her mother’s face, but she need not have had any qualms. Mr Gurdjieff beamed at the child and said, ‘I am not offended. God is not offended either.’ He went on to explain that who loves his parents, loves God. If people love their parents all the time that their parents are alive, then, when their parents die, there is a space left in them for him to fill.’

From the same period comes Idiots in Paris: Diaries of J G Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett, published by - as it happens - Bennett Books, set up in 1987 to publicise Bennett’s writings and teachings. The book is made up mostly of diary entries by Elizabeth (Bennett’s wife). In her introduction, she explains that the book is ‘designed to help those readers who are not familiar with the activities and environment of Gurdjieff and his followers.’ Twice daily the group would go through a series of rituals, including the ‘toast of the idiots’. The exact repetition of these rituals, Elizabeth says, ‘left one free to attend to the shifting responsibilities of the inner world’; and ‘every moment in Gurdjieff’s presence was a chance to learn, if one was sufficiently awake to take the chance.’

Here are a couple of extracts (taken from Gurdjieff International Review):

‘We would go to lunch at midday. There was always a reading aloud of some part of Gurdjieff’s own writings, or occasionally from P D Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous [referred to throughout the diaries as Fragments, Ouspensky’s original choice of a title]. The reading would last for one or two hours and then we would go to the dining room for lunch.’

‘In the evening he listened with great enjoyment to the reading of Fragments, leaning forward with his elbow on his knee and his cigarette-holder in his hand, his eyes snapping, shaking with laughter at the references to himself.’

‘In the evening he was enjoying the reading from Fragments so much - Chapter XII, about the right use of sex energy - that we did not start dinner until ten to twelve.’

Monday, October 26, 2009

Prussia and Japan’s Diet

Itō Hirobumi, a 19th century Japanese statesmen who played a crucial role in building modern Japan, and became its first prime minister, was assassinated a century ago today. I cannot find any substantial information about him as a diarist, but the Library of the National Diet has an excellent website, partly in English, with images of a travel diary kept by Itō when visiting Prussia during a trip which would influence the very formation of the Diet.

Itō Hirobumi was born in the feudal province of Chōshū in 1841. In 1863, in gained the title of samurai, and the same year was sent by the leaders of Chōshū to England to study naval sciences. On his return, he played a minor part in the Meiji (enlightened rule) Restoration, which overthrew the shogunate (or army) and returned power to the emperor in 1868. Subsequently, he undertook government assignments to the US and Europe (a long one in 1871-1873 - see below), before being appointed home affairs minister in 1878.

Itō travelled to Europe again in 1882 to study foreign government systems, and then on his return to Japan he worked to establish a cabinet and civil service, eventually becoming the country’s first prime minister. He supervised the drafting of the first constitution (Meiji Constitution) and persuaded the government to adopt it. It was proclaimed by the emperor in 1889. A year later, the National Diet - the legislative assembly - was established. The constitution and Diet are considered to have been much influenced by the experience of Itō and others during their visits to Europe, and Prussia in particular, in the 1870s and 1880s.

Itō’s pre-eminence continued in the 1890s. He successfully negotiated with the UK for British nationals in Japan to be subject to Japanese law (an agreement which was then emulated with other Western nations). And he led Japan to success in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. He was not so successful domestically, as the infighting between political parties hindered government programmes in the Diet. Nevertheless, he served four terms in all as prime minister.

Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, when Japan occupied Korea, Itō became Korea’s first Resident General, but he was assasinated on 26 October 1909, exactly 100 years ago today, by a Korean nationalist (an event which then served as a pretext for Japan’s full annexation of Korea in 1910). For more information on Itō’s life see Wikipedia or the Notable Names Database (NNDB).

I can only find one small reference to Itō as a diarist, and this is on the Modern Japan in Archives website hosted by National Diet Library. It says he kept a diary while travelling in the West in 1871-1873 - the so-called Iwakura Mission (named after the mission leader Iwakura Tomomi). The mission lasted approximately two years, making a circuit of the US, Britain, France, Eastern Europe, and Russia. The website displays images from Itō’s diary in March 1873, and says it ‘records his stay in Prussia, with detailed memos about the parliamentary and electoral systems in that country’. Unfortunately, there’s no translation into English.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Musket fire in Vera Cruz

George B McClellan. According to some he is among the most controversial of figures in American military history. And now Louisiana State University Press is publishing what it calls the ‘definitive edition’ of his diary from the Mexican War in the mid-1840s. However, the text of McClellan’s diary, as published in 1917, is freely available online - and very colourful it is too.

McClellan was born in Philadelphia in 1826, the son of a prominent surgeon. He entered the United States Military Academy at a young age, and graduated in 1846. After joining the US Army Corps of Engineers, he was detailed as a military engineer with General Winfield Scott’s expedition in the Mexican War (1846-1848). His experiences there - including the siege at Vera Cruz - proved formative. In the mid-1950s, he was sent to Crimea to report on European methods of warfare, a trip that led him to write a book on calvary tactics, and to design a saddle which became standard equipment in the calvary.

Although McClellan resigned his commission to work on developing the country’s rail network, he soon returned to military life thanks to the civil war - but his was to be a controversial war. After his Union troops had successfully driven Confederate forces from western Virginia in 1861, President Lincoln called on him to restore and command the Army of the Potomac (which had been demoralised by the defeat at First Bull Run). Although he successfully rebuilt the army, his hesitant and indecisive Peninsular campaign led Lincoln to replace him. Although recalled later, he was blamed for failing to destroy the rebel forces at Antietam in 1862, and relieved of his duties again.

in 1864, McClellan, still on active duty as a US Army general, ran for president, but was roundly beaten by Lincoln. He then resigned from the Army, and went back into business as a consulting engineer, but he also served a single term as governor of New Jersey. He died relatively young, in his mid-50s, in 1885. Since then, history has never quite made up its mind about McClellan. Wikipedia says he is ‘usually ranked in the lowest tier of Civil War generals’ but has been universally praised ‘for his organizational abilities and for his very good relations with his troops’.

While still in his formative years and on his first major army assignment, during the Mexico War, McClellan kept a detailed record of his day-to-day activities. Louisiana State University Press is about to publish a ‘definitive edition’ of these diaries (and letters) as edited by Thomas W Cutrer - The Mexican War Diary and Correspondence of George B McClellan. Some pages can be previewed at Amazon.

LSU says McClellan’s ‘colorful diary’ and frequent letters ‘provide a wealth of military details of the campaign, insights into the character of his fellow engineers . . . and accounts of the friction that arose between the professional soldiers and the officers and men of the volunteer regiments that made up Scott’s command’. It calls McClellan ‘a courageous, indefatigable, and superbly intelligent young man’ but suggests the diaries reveal him ‘contemptuous of those he perceived as less talented than he, quick to see conspiracies where none existed, and eager to place upon others the blame for his own shortcomings and to take credit for actions performed by others’.

No need to buy the book, though, since the diaries are freely available - at Internet Archive - in a version edited by William Starr Myers and published by Princeton University Press in 1917. This older version has a near identical title: The Mexican War Diary of George B McClellan. Here are a few extracts from March 1847, when the US Army won control of Vera Cruz.

9 March 1847
‘. . . We were removed from the Orator to the steamer Edith, and after three or four hours spent in transfering the troops to the vessels of war and steamers, we got under weigh and sailed for Sacrificios. At half past one we were in full view of the town [Vera Cruz] and castle, with which we soon were to be very intimately acquainted.

Shortly after anchoring the preparations for landing commenced, and the 1st (Worth’s) Brigade was formed in tow of the Princeton in two long lines of surf boats bayonets fixed and colors flying. At last all was ready, but just before the order was given to cast off a shot whistled over our heads. ‘Here it comes’ thought everybody, ‘now we will catch it.’ When the order was given the boats cast off and forming in three parallel lines pulled for the shore, not a word was said everyone expected to hear and feel their batteries open every instant. Still we pulled on and on until at last when the first boats struck the shore those behind, in the fleet, raised that same cheer which has echoed on all our battlefields we took it up and such cheering I never expect to hear again except on the field of battle.

Without waiting for the boats to strike the men jumped in up to their middles in the water and the battalions formed on their colors in an instant our company was the right of the reserve under [Lieut.-] Colonel Belton. Our company and the 3rd Artillery ascended the sand hills and saw - nothing. We slept in the sand - wet to the middle. In the middle of the night we were awakened by musketry a skirmish between some pickets. The next morning we were sent to unload and reload the ‘red iron boat’ - after which we resumed our position and took our place in the line of investment. Before we commenced the investment, the whole army was drawn up on the beach. We took up our position on a line of sand hills about two miles from the town. The Mexicans amused themselves by firing shot and shells at us all of which (with one exception) fell short.’

22 March 1847
‘. . . The command ‘Fire!’ had scarcely been given when a perfect storm of iron burst upon us every gun and mortar in Vera Cruz and San Juan, that could be brought to bear, hurled its contents around us the air swarmed with them and it seemed a miracle that not one of the hundreds they fired fell into the crowded mass that filled the trenches. The recruits looked rather blue in the gills when the splinters of shells fell around them, but the veterans cracked their jokes and talked about Palo Alto and Monterey. When it was nearly dark I went to the left with Mason and passed on toward the town where we could observe our shells the effect was superb. The enemy’s fire began to slacken toward night, until at last it ceased altogether ours, though, kept steadily on, never ceasing never tiring.’

25 March 1847
‘. . . About 11.30 the discharge of a few rockets by our rocketeers caused a stampede amongst the Mexicans they fired escopettes and muskets from all parts of their walls. Our mortars reopened about 1.30 with the greatest vigor some times there were six shells in the air at the same time. A violent Norther commenced about 1 o clock making the trenches very disagreeable. About three quarters of an hour, or an hour after we reopened we heard a bugle sound in town. At first we thought it a bravado then reveille, then a parley so we stopped firing to await the result. Nothing more was heard, so in about half an hour we reopened with great warmth. At length another chi-wang-a-wang was heard which turned out to be a parley. During the day the terms of surrender of the town of Vera Cruz and castle of San Juan de Ulua were agreed upon, and on 29th of March, 1847 the garrison marched out with drums beating, colors flying and laid down their arms on the plain between the lagoon and the city. . . muskets were stacked and a number of escopettes. . . pieces of artillery were found in the town and . . . in the castle.

After the surrender of Vera Cruz we moved our encampment first to the beach, then to a position on the plain between our batteries and the city. . .’

Monday, October 19, 2009

Banks suspend payments

‘The town is stunned by the news that The Home Savings and Loan Co. has suspended payments and would demand 60 days notice of withdrawals. This is followed quickly by similar announcements from The Federal Savings and Loan Co. and The Metropolitan Savings and Loan Co. All of these loan companies paid 5 ½% on savings deposits and earned their money by lending on real estate.’ It’s a familiar tale, but one written down by an American lawyer - Benjamin Roth - in his diary over 75 years ago during the Great Depression. Much taken with ‘the haunting parallels to our own time’, Public Affairs, a New York-based publisher, has now brought out a hard back edition of Roth’s diary complete with black and white photographs of the era.

Roth was born in New York City in 1894 but was brought up in Youngstown, Ohio. After gaining a law degree, and serving in the army during the First World War, he returned to Youngstown to work as a business lawyer. Two years after the stock market crash of 1929, he began to keep a diary, recording his impressions of what had happened to American economic life. He died in 1978.

Joe Nocera, writing in The New York Times, provides a cute anecdote about how the diary came to be noticed in the present day. When Benjamin Roth’s son, Daniel, first went to work in his father’s law practice, in Youngstown, in the mid-1950s, he was told to read the diary in order to have some understanding of the trauma most of his clients had been through. Daniel Roth, Nocera says, was ‘startled’ by the diary, ‘its literary power, and also by the amount of sheer effort his father had put in trying simply to understand the events he was living through’. More than half a century later, in 2008, during the worst of the current crisis, Daniel’s son, Bill, apparently brought the diary to the attention of Jim Ledbetter, editor of the The Big Money website.

Daniel Roth and Ledbetter have now edited the diary, and Public Affairs has published it as The Great Depression - a Diary, calling it a ‘chilling chronicle of hard times’. The book, which includes black and white photographs from the time, contains Roth’s diary entries for a decade, starting in June 1931 and finishing in December 1941.

Nocera in The New York Times says the journal has no narrative, but is ‘compelling reading nonetheless’. What particularly struck him, he says, ‘was watching Mr. Roth . . . grope from day to day, and year to year, searching for an answer that wouldn’t be clear until long afterward’. He adds: ‘He’s like the proverbial blind man who feels an elephant’s trunk and thinks elephants look like a rope. Not unlike the way we are today, as we grope our way through our own financial crisis.’

The Washington Post describes Roth as ‘a fiend for macroeconomics’ and ‘more likely to list stock prices in his private journal than discuss his wife or children’. Like many other ‘stiff-upper-lipped professionals of his generation’, it adds, Roth is ‘anti-interventionist, anti-whiner and anti-Roosevelt’. It concludes that the book is ‘a valuable document’, but ‘offers underwhelming lessons about man’s powerlessness before market forces’.

A few pages of the new book can be read on Amazon’s website or at Googlebooks. Here are a few extracts.

30 July 1931
‘Magazines and newspapers are full of articles telling people to buy stocks, real estate etc. at present bargain prices. They say that times are sure to get better and that many big fortunes have been built this way. The trouble is that nobody has any money. On account of numerous bank failures, the few people who have money are afraid to spend it and are buying government securities. From the extreme of speculation in 1929, people have now turned to the extreme of caution. In my own case I find it a problem to take in enough to pay expenses and there is nothing left for investment.’

5 August 1931
‘The town is stunned by the news that The Home Savings and Loan Co. has suspended payments and would demand 60 days notice of withdrawals. This is followed quickly by similar announcements from The Federal Savings and Loan Co. and The Metropolitan Savings and Loan Co. All of these loan companies paid 5 ½% on savings deposits and earned their money by lending on real estate. With the coming of the depression people stopped payments on their mortgages; mortgages became frozen and the banks had no ways to get cash. Mortgages are a safe investment but cannot be liquidated quickly and are not a good investment for a bank which has agreed to pay out its deposits on demand. For the past three days these institutions have been besieged by hysterical depositors demanding their money.’

‘I went to the fruit market house this evening. It was almost deserted. The farmers cannot sell their produce because men are not working and it has become fashionable for each family to have its own vegetable garden.’

7 August 1931
‘Business is at an absolute standstill and the big stores are deserted even tho’ they are all running sales and almost giving the merchandise away. Since the local savings and loan companies stopped paying out, nobody has any money and everybody seems scared and blue. We seem to have touched bottom in Youngstown and it hardly seems possible that things could get worse.’

Sunday, October 18, 2009

JFK’s assassin in Moscow

Lee Harvey Oswald might have reached his three score years and ten on this day - 18 October - had he not been gunned down and killed, aged 24, by a Dallas night club operator while being held by the police for the most notorious assassination in modern history - that of John F Kennedy. For a couple of years in his short life, just before his 20th birthday - half a century ago today - and while trying to become a Soviet citizen, Oswald turned diarist.

Oswald was born in New Orleans on 18 October 1939, 70 years ago today, but his father died even before he was born. After a period in a children’s home, he returned to live with his mother and two brothers in Benbrook and Fort Worth. In 1952, Lee and his mother moved to New York, where he was sent to a detention centre and underwent psychiatric treatment. Leaving school at 16, he joined the US Marines Corps. After qualifying as an aviation electronics operator, he was posted, in 1957, to the Atsugi Air Base in Japan. He also served in Taiwan and the Philippines before returning to California, and then, in 1959, leaving the Marines.

Oswald became interested in Marxism and a supporter of Fidel Castro. He travelled to Finland and then to Moscow, where he applied to become a Soviet citizen. When his application was rejected, Oswald attempted suicide. Thereafter, he was allowed to remain in the country. He went to Minsk where he was given work as an assembler at a radio and television factory. There, in April 1960, he married Marina Prusakova, a young pharmacy worker.

Two years later, Oswald took his wife and a baby daughter to the US, where they settled, first in Fort Worth, then Dallas and then New Orleans. He became increasingly political, associating with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, as well as some known criminals. In September 1963, Oswald’s wife moved to Dallas to have her second child while Oswald, after failing to get a visa for Cuba, found a job at the Texas School Book Depository. And it was from there that he shot and killed John F Kennedy. Two days later Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, while in police custody.

There is a huge amount of information about Oswald in books and on the internet. Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start: its biography is very well referenced, and provides many links. For over two years, Oswald kept a diary - which has been dubbed Historic Diary - and this is widely available on the internet. Images of the actual pages can also be viewed among the many papers of the Warren Commission Hearings at the website of The Assassination Archives and Research Center, and a cleaned-up version can be found on John McAdams’ website The Kennedy Assassination. See also The Diary Junction.

The diary starts in October 1959, two days before Oswald’s 20th birthday, on arrival in Moscow where he is hoping to gain Soviet citizenship. Here are all the entries from the diary’s first week, including his 20th birthday, being snubbed by the Soviet state, and the attempt to commit suicide.

16 October 1959
‘Arrive from Helsinki by train; am met by Intourest Repre. and in car to Hotel ‘Berlin’. Reges. as. ‘studet’ 5 day Lux. tourist Ticket.) Meet my Intorist guied Rhimma Sherikova I explain to her I wish to appli. for Rus. citizenship. She is flabbergassed, but aggrees to help. She checks with her boss, main office Intour; than helps me add. a letter to Sup. Sovit asking for citizenship, mean while boss telephons passport & visa office and notifies them about me.’

17 October 1959
‘Rimma meets me for Intourist sighseeing says we must contin. with this although I am too nevous she is ‘sure’ I’ll have an anserwer. soon. Asks me about myself and my reasons for doing this I explain I am a communist, ect. She is politly sym. but uneasy now. She tries to be a friend to me. she feels sorry for me I am someth. new.’

18 October 1959
‘My 20th birthday, we visit exhib. in morning and in the after noon The Lenin-Stalin tomb. She gives me a present Book ‘Ideot’ by Dostoevski.’

19 October 1959
‘Rimmer in the afternoon says Intourist was notified by the pass & visa dept. that they want to see me I am excited greatly by this news.’

20 October 1959
‘Rimma in the afternoon says Intourist was notified by the pass & visa department [OVIR] that they want to see me; I am excited greatly by this news.’

21 October 1959
‘(mor) Meeting with single offial. Balding stout, black suit fairly. good English, askes what do I want?, I say Sovite citizenship, he ask why I give vauge answers about ‘Great Soviet Union’ He tells me ‘USSR only great in Literature wants use to go back home’ I am stunned I reiterate, he says he shall check and let me know weather my visa will be (exteaded it exipiers today) Eve. 6.00 Recive word from police official. I must leave country tonight at. 8.00 P.M. as visa expirs. I am shocked!! My dreams! I retire to my room. I have $100. left. I have waited for 2 year to be accepted. My fondest dreams are shattered because of a petty offial; because of bad planning I planned to much!’

‘7.00 P.M. I decide to end it..[1] Soak rist in cold water to numb the pain. Than slash my left wrist. Than plunge wrist into bathtub of hot water. I think ‘when Rimma comes at 8. to find me dead it wil be a great shock. somewhere, a violin plays, as I watch my life whirl away. I think to myself, ‘how easy to die’ and ‘a sweet death,’ (to violins) wacth my life whirl away. I think to myself. ‘how easy to die’ and a sweet death, (to violins ) about 8.00 Rimma finds my unconcious (bathtub water a rich red color) she screams (I remember that) and runs for help. Amulance comes, am taken to hospital where five stitches are put in my wrist. Poor Rimmea stays by side as interrpator (my Russian is still very bad) far into the night, I tell her ‘go home’ (my mood is bad) but she stays, she is my ‘friend’ She has a strong will only at this moment I notice she is preety’

22 October 1959
‘Hospital I am in a small room with about 12 others (sick persons.) 2 ordalies and a nurse the room is very drab as well as the breakfast. Only after prolonged (2 hours) observation of the other pat. do I relize I am in the Insanity ward. This relizatinn disqits me. Later in afternoon I am visited by Rimma, she comes in with two doctors, as interr she must ask me medical question; Did you know what you were doing? Ans. yes Did you blackout? No. ect. I than comp. about poor food the doctors laugh app. this is a good sign Later they leave, I am alone with Rimma (amognst the mentaly ill) she encourgest me and scolds me she says she will help me me get trasfered to another section of Hos. (not for insane) where food is good.’

23 October 1959
‘Transfered to ordinary ward, (airy, good food.) but nurses suspious of me.) they know). Afternoon. I am visited by Rosa Agafonova tourist office of the hotel,/ who askes about my health, very beauitiful, excelant Eng., very merry and kind, she makes me very glad to be alive. Later Rimma vists’

Friday, October 16, 2009

Height and raptures

It is 330 years since the death of Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, a man who managed to combine life as a soldier and statesman with that of being a playwright. As far as I know he didn’t keep a diary, but he was a contemporary of the most famous diarist of all - Samuel Pepys - who wasn’t short of a comment or two on Boyle’s plays, and on paying to see them!

Roger Boyle, son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, was born in Lismore Castle, Ireland, in 1621. (Robert Boyle, who became a scientist and gave his name to Boyle’s Law, was one of his younger brothers.) He was created Baron of Broghill while still a boy; later he studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He fought against the Irish rebels in 1642, and then sided with Cromwell during the English Civil War, becoming one of his advisers. He was returned to Cromwell’s parliaments of 1654 and 1656 as member for the county of Cork, and also served as lord president of the council in Scotland for the latter year.

After Cromwell’s death he returned to Ireland, and manage to secure favour with Charles II, and was created earl of Orrery. He was appointed a lord justice of Ireland in 1660, and drew up the Act of Settlement. In 1661, he founded the town of Charleville, County Cork, near his estate at Broghill. And towards the end of the decade, he successfully defended himself before Parliament on charges of having tried to seize the lord lieutenantship of Ireland. He died three centuries and three decades ago today, on 16 October 1679.

Apart from his administrative and diplomatic abilities, Boyle was also a noted writer and playwright. Among his works were the romance Parthenissa, and The Black Prince, a verse tragedy. More information is available from Wikipedia and the History of Parliament website. But here is what the diarist Pepys had to say about Boyle’s plays - thanks as ever to Phil Gyford and his website The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

13 August 1664
‘. . . and to the new play, at the Duke’s house, of Henry the Fifth; a most noble play, writ by my Lord Orrery; wherein Betterton, Harris, and Ianthe’s parts are most incomparably wrote and done, and the whole play the most full of height and raptures of wit and sense, that ever I heard; having but one incongruity, or what did, not please me in it, that is, that King Harry promises to plead for Tudor to their Mistresse, Princesse Katherine of France, more than when it comes to it he seems to do; and Tudor refused by her with some kind of indignity, not with a difficulty and honour that it ought to have been done in to him. Thence home and to my office, wrote by the post, and then to read a little in Dr Power’s book of discovery by the Microscope to enable me a little how to use and what to expect from my glasse. So to supper and to bed.’

28 September 1664
‘. . . So to dinner, and after dinner by coach to White Hall, thinking to have met at a Committee of Tangier, but nobody being there but my Lord Rutherford, he would needs carry me and another Scotch Lord to a play, and so we saw, coming late, part of The Generall, my Lord Orrery’s (Broghill) second play; but, Lord! to see how no more either in words, sense, or design, it is to his Harry the 5th is not imaginable, and so poorly acted, though in finer clothes, is strange. And here I must confess breach of a vowe in appearance, but I not desiring it, but against my will, and my oathe being to go neither at my own charge nor at another’s, as I had done by becoming liable to give them another, as I am to Sir W Pen and Mr Creed; but here I neither know which of them paid for me, nor, if I did, am I obliged ever to return the like, or did it by desire or with any willingness. So that with a safe conscience I do think my oathe is not broke and judge God Almighty will not think it other wise. . .’

Sunday, October 11, 2009

White bear, drunk Indians

Died 200 years ago today, did Meriwether Lewis, in strange circumstances. He was only in his mid-30s, but he had already led the US government’s first overland exploration to the Louisiana Purchase - a huge swathe of land bought from the French in 1803 - and from there to the Pacific Coast. Both Lewis and his co-leader William Clark kept trail diaries, amounting to almost five thousand pages, which are widely celebrated today, and freely available on the internet.

Lewis was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, and moved with his family to Georgia in 1784. At 13 he was sent back to Virginia to be educated privately. He served in the army for about five years, achieving the rank of captain. In 1801, he was appointed as private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, who had been a childhood neighbour, and became involved in the planning of an overland expedition to the Pacific coast and back, in part exploring a huge territory - the Louisiana Purchase - that, by the time of the expedition, had been bought from the French.

Lewis was chosen to lead the expedition, afterwards known as the Corps of Discovery, and he selected William Clark as his second in command. Setting off in the summer of 1803, about 40 men followed the Missouri River westward, through what is now Kansas City, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska. They crossed the Rocky Mountains and descended through what is now Portland, Oregon, to the Pacific Ocean in December 1805. The journey home began in March 1806 and was completed in September. Lewis, Clark and other members of the expedition kept diaries on the journey - amounting to almost 5,000 pages.

On his return, Lewis was appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory and settled in St Louis, Missouri. However, Lewis died tragically, aged only 35, on 11 October 1809 - two centuries ago today - killed by gunshots while staying at an inn on the way to Washington DC. It is generally thought he committed suicide, though some believe he was murdered.

There is lots of information on Wikipedia about Lewis and Clark, and their expedition; and there are some diary-related links on The Diary Junction pages. The best and most interesting information, though, can be found at The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online, a website hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The website says it uses the text published in the ‘celebrated Nebraska edition of the Lewis and Clark journals’, edited by Gary E Moulton in 13 volumes. This edition, it adds, is not only ‘the most accurate and inclusive edition ever published’, but is ‘one of the major scholarly achievements of the late twentieth century’. Apart from the journals themselves, there is also an excellent and scholarly 20,000 word introduction.

Here is a small snippet from that introduction: ‘Clark’s last entry is a reminder that ‘wrighting &c.’ was one of the principal tasks of the captains, and one that they thoroughly fulfilled. As Donald Jackson has observed, Lewis and Clark were ‘the writingest explorers of their time. They wrote constantly and abundantly, afloat and ashore, legibly and illegibly, and always with an urgent sense of purpose.’ They left us a remarkably full record of their enterprise . . .’

(A much earlier version of the journals, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, was published in 1904 by Dodd, Mead & Company. Only 200 sets were printed, on Van Gelder handmade paper. Today these fetch several thousand pounds - see Abebooks)

Here are a couple of extracts from Lewis’s journal (the paragraph breaks are mine, but the grammar and spelling are all Lewis’s).

13 April 1805
‘. . . This lake and it’s discharge we call goos Egg from the circumstance of Capt Clark shooting a goose while on her nest in the top of a lofty cotton wood tree, from which we afterwards took one egg. the wild gees frequently build their nests in this manner, at least we have already found several in trees, nor have we as yet seen any on the ground, or sand bars where I had supposed from previous information that they most commonly deposited their eggs.-

saw some Buffaloe and Elk at a distance today but killed none of them. we found a number of carcases of the Buffaloe lying along shore, which had been drowned by falling through the ice in winter and lodged on shore by the high water when the river broke up about the first of this month.

we saw also many tracks of the white bear of enormous size, along the river shore and about the carcases of the Buffaloe, on which I presume they feed. we have not as yet seen one of these anamals, tho’ their tracks are so abundant and recent. the men as well as ourselves are anxious to meet with some of these bear. the Indians give a very formidable account of the strengh and ferocity of this anamal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six eight or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party. the savages attack this anamal with their bows and arrows and the indifferent guns with which the traders furnish them, with these they shoot with such uncertainty and at so short a distance, [NB: unless shot thro’ head or heart wound not mortal] that they frequently mis their aim & fall a sacrefice to the bear. two Minetaries were killed during the last winter in an attack on a white bear. this anamall is said more frequently to attack a man on meeting with him, than to flee from him. When the Indians are about to go in quest of the white bear, previous to their departure, they paint themselves and perform all those supersticious rights commonly observed when they are about to make war uppon a neighbouring nation.

Oserved more bald eagles on this part of the Missouri than we have previously seen. saw the small hawk, frequently called the sparrow hawk, which is common to most parts of the U States. great quantities of gees are seen feeding in the praries. saw a large flock of white brant or gees with black wings pass up the river; there were a number of gray brant with them; from their flight I presume they proceed much further still to the N. W.- we have never been enabled yet to shoot one of these birds, and cannot therefore determine whether the gray brant found with the white are their brude of the last year or whether they are the same with the grey brant common to the Mississippi and lower part of the Missouri.-

we killed 2 Antelopes today which we found swiming from the S. to the N. side of the river; they were very poor.-

We encamped this evening on the Stard. shore in a beautifull plain. elivated about 30 feet above the river.’

14 April 1805
‘. . . Capt. Clark walked on shore this morning, and on his return informed me that he had passed through the timbered bottoms on the N. side of the river, and had extended his walk several miles back on the hills; in the bottom lands he had met with several uninhabited Indian lodges built with the boughs of the Elm, and in the plains he met with the remains of two large encampments of a recent date, which from the appearance of some hoops of small kegs, seen near them we concluded that they must have been the camps of the Assinniboins, as no other nation who visit this part of the missouri ever indulge themselves with spirituous liquor.

of this article the Assinniboins are pationately fond, and we are informed that it forms their principal inducement to furnish the British establishments on the Assinniboin river with the dryed and pounded meat and grease which they do. they also supply those establishments with a small quantity of fur, consisting principally of the large and small wolves and the small fox skins. these they barter for small kegs of rum which they generally transport to their camps at a distance from the establishments, where they revel with their friends and relations as long as they possess the means of intoxication, their women and children are equally indulged on those occations and are all seen drunk together. so far is a state of intoxication from being a cause of reproach among them, that with the men, it is a matter of exultation that their skill and industry as hunters has enabled them to get drunk frequently. . .’

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The discovery of Tasmania

Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch explorer who is credited with discovering Tasmania, New Zealand and various Pacific island, died three and half centuries ago today. Like other explorers of the time he kept a journal, though an English translation wasn’t published until the late 1890s. Thanks to Project Gutenberg Australia, the text is freely available on the web.

Born at Lutjegast in Groningen, the Netherlands, probably in 1603, Tasman joined the Dutch East India company in the early 1630s and then made several exploratory voyages to the east. He married Claesgie Meyndrix, by whom he had a daughter, but Claesgie died young, and he married Joanna Tiercx in 1632. In the early 1640s, he was chosen to lead the most ambitious of Dutch ventures to the Indian Ocean, south of the regular routes, and to investigate the possibility of a sea route through to Chile. He sailed in August 1642 from Batavia (modern-day Djakarta, Indonesia) with two ships Heemskerk and Zeehaen, first to Mauritius, and then eastward.

On 24 November, Tasman sighted the west coast of Tasmania, north of Macquarie Harbour, and then spent the next few days sailing round the island seeking a place to land. However, the weather was against him, and it was only on 3 December, when a carpenter swam through the rough sea to the shore and planted the Dutch flag in North Bay, that Tasman claimed formal possession. He named his discovery Van Diemen’s Land after Anthony van Diemen, governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, and it was to remain that for over 200 years, until the British changed the name to Tasmania in 1855 (see Wikipedia).

Ten days later, Tasman was also the first European to sight land on the northwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island, which he named Staten Landt (thinking it was connected to Staten Island, Argentina). On the northern tip of the same island, one of Tasman’s boats was attacked by Māori, and four of his men were killed. He named it Murderers’ Bay (though it is now known as Golden Bay). On the return journey, he passed the Tongan archipelago and the Fiji Islands, where his ships came close to being wrecked on reefs, and charted the eastern tip of Vanua Levu and Cikobia. Unknowingly, he had circumnavigated Australia.

Several further voyages followed, one again in search of a passage to Chile (in which he mapped parts of the Australian coast), one to Siam (Thailand), and another in charge of a war fleet against the Spanish in the Philippines. Having been promoted to rank of commander, and appointed a member of the Council of Justice of Batavia, he left the service of the Dutch East India company in 1653; and he died on 10 October 1659 - exactly 350 years ago today. For more information see the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the New Zealand in History website, or Wikipedia.

Tasman’s Journal was originally published by Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, in 1898. The book includes a photographic reproduction of the hand-written journal, a translation by J De Hoop Scheffer and C Stoffel, footnotes by Prof J E Heeres, as well as a biography of Tasman also by Heeres. Much of the book - including the English translation of the journal itself - is freely available online thanks to Project Gutenberg Australia.

Here are two entries taken from the first days that Tasman sighted the land that would eventually carry his name.

24 November 1642
‘Good weather and a clear sky. At noon Latitude observed 42° 25', Longitude 163° 31'; course kept east by north, sailed 30 miles; the wind south-westerly and afterwards from the south with a light top-gallant breeze. In the afternoon about 4 o’clock we saw land bearing east by north of us at about 10 miles distance from us by estimation; the land we sighted was very high; towards evening we also saw, east-south-east of us, three high mountains, and to the north-east two more mountains, but less high than those to southward; we found that here our compass pointed due north. In the evening in the first glass after the watch had been set, we convened our ship’s council with the second mate’s and represented to them whether it would not be advisable to run farther out to sea; we also asked their advice as to the time when it would be best to do so, upon which it was unanimously resolved to run out to sea at the expiration of three glasses, to keep doing so for the space of ten glasses, and after this to make for the land again; all of which may in extenso be seen from today’s resolution to which we beg leave to refer. During the night when three glasses had run out the wind turned to the south-east; we held off from shore and sounded in 100 fathom, fine white sandy bottom with small shells; we sounded once more and found black coarse sand with pebbles; during the night we had a south-east wind with a light breeze.’

25 November 1642
‘In the morning we had a calm; we floated the white flag and pendant from our stern, upon which the officers of the Zeehaan with their steersmen came on board of us; we then convened the Ship’s council and resolved together upon what may in extenso be seen from today’s resolution to which we beg leave to refer. Towards noon the wind turned to the south-east and afterwards to the south-south-east and the south, upon which we made for the shore; at about 5 o’clock in the evening we got near the coast; three miles off shore we sounded in 60 fathom coral bottom; one mile off the coast we had clean, fine, white sand; we found this coast to bear south by east and north by west; it was a level coast, our ship being 42° 30' South Latitude, and average Longitude 163° 50'. We then put off from shore again, the wind turning to the south-south-east with a top-gallant gale. If you came from the west and find your needle to show 4° north-westerly variation you had better look out for land, seeing that the variation is very abruptly decreasing here. If you should happen to be overtaken by rough weather from the westward you had best heave to and not run on. Near the coast here the needle points due north. We took the average of our several longitudes and found this land to be in 163° 50' Longitude.

This land being the first land we have met with in the South Sea and not known to any European nation we have conferred on it the name of Anthoony Van Diemenslandt in honour of the Honourable Governor-General, our illustrious master, who sent us to make this discovery; the islands circumjacent, so far as known to us, we have named after the Honourable Councillors of India, as may be seen from the little chart which has been made of them.’

Friday, October 9, 2009

History unmasks all secrets

‘The most frightful judicial error which has ever been made.’ This is how Alfred Dreyfus - born exactly 150 years ago today - described the judgement that had sent him to years of prison on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. After being put in irons, it was one of the very last entries he made in a diary that would later be published simply as Five Years of My Life. In the same entry, he writes about pitying torturers, for ‘history unmasks all secrets’. The full text of the book is freely available online.

Dreyfus was born on 9 October 1859, one and a half centuries ago today, in Mulhouse, France, near the Swiss border, and was the youngest of seven children in a prosperous Jewish family. The family moved to Paris after the Franco-Prussian War, when Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the German Empire in 1871. He trained at the elite École Polytechnique military school and Fontainebleau artillery school before being attached to the 32nd Cavalry Regiment. By 1889 he had been promoted to captain and was working for a government arsenal. In 1891, he married Lucie Hadamard and they had two children. Immediately afterwards he entered the war college (École Supérieure de Guerre), graduating two years later. Thereafter, he was appointed a trainee at the French Army’s General Staff headquarters.

However, in October 1894, Dreyfus was accused of spying for the Germans, and arrested for treason. His Jewishness, his ability to speak German (coming from Alsace), and a complaint he had made at the war college over irregularities in the marking of papers, all seemed to prejudice many against him. The following January he was convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Two years later, evidence came to light identifying a major named Esterhazy as the real culprit, but high-ranking military officials suppressed the evidence and Esterhazy was acquitted. Instead of being exonerated, Dreyfus was further accused by the army on the basis of false documents.

The Dreyfus Affair, as it became known, did not go away, partly thanks to the writer Émile Zola who published vehement accusations of a cover-up, most famously in an article headlined J’accuse!. Eventually, in 1899, Dreyfus was brought back from Guiana to face a second military trial, but he was convicted again, and sentenced to ten years in prison. He was subsequently pardoned, though, by President Émile Loubet and freed, although it was not until 1906 that he was formally exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He later served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He died in 1935. Wikipedia has an article on Dreyfus, and an even longer one on The Dreyfus Affair

There has been very much written about the Dreyfus Affair, and Dreyfus himself wrote or contributed to various books. Most notable, perhaps, is Five Years of My Life, which covers the period of his incarceration on Devil’s Island and is made up of letters and diary entries. It was first translated by James Mortimer into English and published by George Newnes Ltd in 1901. The full text is available at Internet Archive. Here are the last two diary entries included in the book.

9 September 1896
‘The Commandant of the Islands came yesterday evening. He told me that the recent measure which had been taken, in reference to putting me in irons, was not a punishment, but ‘a measure of precaution,’ for the prison administration had no complaint to make againt me.

Putting in irons a measure of precaution! When I am already guarded like a wild beast, night and day, by a warder armed with rifle and revolver! No; the truth should be told: that it is a measure of hatred and torture, ordered from Paris by those who, not being able to strike a family, strike an innocent man, because neither he nor his family will or should bow their heads, and thus submit to the most frightful judicial error which has ever been made. Who is it that thus constitutes himself my executioner and the executioner of my dear ones? I know not.

One easily divines that the local administration (except the chief-warder, who has been specially sent from Paris) feels a horror of such arbitrary and inhuman measures, but is compelled to apply them to me. It has no choice but to carry out the orders which are imposed on it.

No; the responsibility for them is of higher source; it rests entirely with the author or authors of these inhuman orders.

In any case, no matter what the sufferings, the physical and moral tortures they may inflict on me, my duty and that of my family remains always the same.

As I keep thinking of all this, I no longer fear to become even angry; I have an immense pity for those who thus torture human beings! What remorse they are preparing for themselves, when everything shall come to light; for history unmasks all secrets.

I am overwhelmed with sadness; my heart is so torn, my brain is so shattered, that I can scarcely collect my thoughts; it is indeed the acme of suffering, and still I have this crushing enigma to face.’

10 September 1896
‘I am so worn out, so broken in body and soul, that I am bringing my diary to a close to-day, not knowing how long my strength will keep up or how soon my brain will give way under the strain of so much misery.

I will close it with this last prayer to the President of the Republic, in case I should succumb before seeing the curtain fall on this horrible drama:

Monsieur le President,
I take the liberty of asking you to allow this diary, which has been written day by day, to be sent to my wife. It may perhaps contain, Monsieur le President, expressions of anger and disgust relative to the most terrible conviction that has ever been pronounced against a human being, and a human being who has never forfeited his honour. I do not feel equal to the task of re-reading, of going over the horrible recital again. I now reproach nobody; every one has acted within his faculties, and as his conscience dictated. I simply declare once more that I am innocent of this abominable crime, and still ask for one thing, the same thing, that search may be made for the true culprit, the author of this abominable deed. And on the day when the light breaks, I beg that my dear wife and my dear children may receive all the pity that such a great misfortune should inspire.


Mistress of the bedchamber

‘[I] filled my eyes with her,’ wrote Samuel Pepys about Barbara Palmer - who died exactly 300 years ago today - when she was 20, only a few months, in fact, after she'd given birth to her first child. What a woman! She was the most notorious of Charles II’s mistresses. She charmed and schemed her way into court as the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber and became more influential in court than the Queen herself; moreover, she had five of the King’s illegitimate children. I imagine she was too busy with this charming and scheming to keep a diary, but Samuel Pepys mentions her (and her beauty) often enough in his.

Barbara was born in 1641 at Westminster, London, the only child of the 2nd Viscount Grandison (William Villiers), and Mary Bayning. Grandison died two or so years later while fighting for the Royalists; subsequently, Mary married again, to one of his cousins, Charles Villiers, Earl of Anglesea, but Barbara was brought up without a fortune or prospects.

Nevertheless, in 1659 she managed to marry Roger Palmer, although this was against his family’s wishes. Barely a year later she became a mistress of King Charles, then still in exile. Her first child, Anne, was born in 1661, probably fathered by the King. Barbara and Charles (who had been elevated to Earl of Castlemaine) separated in 1662 but remained married until his death, though it’s thought he didn’t father any of Barbara’s children.

For that decade, the 1660s, Barbara Villiers, or Lady Castlemaine as Pepys calls her, was an important player in the King Charles court, sometimes more in favour, sometimes less. But her star was definitely in the ascendant when the king appointed her Lady of the Bedchamber in 1662 - very much against the wishes of the Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Indeed, behind the scenes there was a constant feud between Barbara and the Queen, but it was Barbara that tended to carry more influence.

In 1663, Barbara converted to Catholicism, possibly to consolidate her position with the King. Wikipedia gives more details of the ups and downs of the relationship, but, by the early 1670s, Barbara was on the way out, supplanted by new favourites, the actress Nell Gwynne and then Louise de Kéroualle. Of Barbara’s six children, though, five are thought to have been fathered by King Charles. Both the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sir Anthony Eden are her descendants.

After leaving court, she moved to France with several of her younger children, and then returned to England. Her husband, Palmer, died in 1705, and she married Robert ‘Beau’ Fielding, a rake and fortune-hunter whom she later had prosecuted for bigamy. She died on 9 October 1709, exactly 300 years ago today.

According to Antonia Fraser’s biography of Charles II, Barbara Villiers was tall and voluptuous; she had masses of auburn hair, slanting, heavy-lidded blue-violet eyes, alabaster skin, and a sensuous, sulky mouth. I feel sure she must have been too busy flirting and scheming to keep a diary, but Samual Pepys managed to work, scheme, flirt, plus a whole lot more, and keep a diary. And he wrote often of Barbara - she was easy on the eyes, and good copy, as they say.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys website - a marvellous resource - provides a short commentary on the diary entries made by Pepys about Barbara Villiers, and a separate essay on the so-called bedchamber incident. But here are some titbits from Pepys’s diary that show his admiration for her beauty and his own willingness to be influenced by it.

Friday 13 July 1660
‘. . . Late writing letters; and great doings of music at the next house, which was Whally’s; the King and Dukes there with Madame Palmer, a pretty woman that they have a fancy to, to make her husband a cuckold. . .’

Tuesday 23 July 1661
‘. . . in the afternoon, finding myself unfit for business, I went to the Theatre, and saw Brenoralt, I never saw before. It seemed a good play, but ill acted; only I sat before Mrs. Palmer, the King’s mistress, and filled my eyes with her, which much pleased me. . .’

Saturday 7 September 1661
‘. . . my wife and I took them to the Theatre, where we seated ourselves close by the King, and Duke of York, and Madame Palmer, which was great content; and, indeed, I can never enough admire her beauty. . .’

Wednesday 21 May 1662
‘. . . And in the Privy-garden saw the finest smocks and linnen petticoats of my Lady Castlemaine’s, laced with rich lace at the bottom, that ever I saw; and did me good to look upon them. . .’

Wednesday 16 July 1662
‘. . .This day I was told that my Lady Castlemaine (being quite fallen out with her husband) did yesterday go away from him, with all her plate, jewels, and other best things; and is gone to Richmond to a brother of her’s; which, I am apt to think, was a design to get out of town, that the King might come at her the better. But strange it is how for her beauty I am willing to construe all this to the best and to pity her wherein it is to her hurt, though I know well enough she is a whore.’

Saturday 26 July 1662
‘. . . Since that she left her Lord, carrying away every thing in the house; so much as every dish, and cloth, and servant but the porter. He is gone discontented into France, they say, to enter a monastery; and now she is coming back again to her house in Kingstreet. But I hear that the Queen did prick her out of the list presented her by the King; desiring that she might have that favour done her, or that he would send her from whence she come: and that the King was angry and the Queen discontented a whole day and night upon it; but that the King hath promised to have nothing to do with her hereafter. But I cannot believe that the King can fling her off so, he loving her too well . . .’

Sunday 8 February 1662/63
‘. . . Another story was how my Lady Castlemaine, a few days since, had Mrs. Stuart to an entertainment, and at night began a frolique that they two must be married, and married they were, with ring and all other ceremonies of church service, and ribbands and a sack posset in bed, and flinging the stocking; but in the close, it is said that my Lady Castlemaine, who was the bridegroom, rose, and the King came and took her place with pretty Mrs. Stuart. This is said to be very true. . .’

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Narbrough’s £300,000 diary

The British Library has launched an appeal to raise over £300,000 to save a 17th century diary from being sold abroad. According to the Library, the journal, by Sir John Narbrough, contains the fullest known account of his voyage to South America, and is particularly significant because it demonstrated ‘the apparent viability of the English dream of trade in the Pacific’.

Narbrough (or Narborough) was descended from an old Norfolk family, according to Wikipedia’s information, and received his naval commission in 1664. He was promoted to lieutenant during the Second Anglo-Dutch war, and then, after the battle of Solebay during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, he was made rear-admiral and knighted. In the late 1670s, he had further naval successes against North African pirates. He was appointed commissioner of the Navy in 1680, an office he held till his death in 1688. The most comprehensive information about Narbrough online is available from the second volume (of eight) of The Naval History of Great Britain by Dr John Campbell published in 1818, which is freely available on Googlebooks.

Between the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, though, Narbrough led an important voyage of exploration to the South Seas in HMS Sweepstakes. He was instructed to investigate the possibilities of trade with, and in that context to survey and map, the coasts of South America but without provoking the Spanish. He successfully sailed the treacherous Straits of Magellan, and fulfilled two of the three objectives. However, he ran into trouble with the Spanish authorities, and consequently had a somewhat inglorious return to England.

A narrative of this journey was first published some 20 years later in An Account of Several Late Voyages and Discoveries to the South and North. Towards the Streights of Maggellen, the South Seas, the Vast Tracts of Land beyond Hollandia Nova, &c. also towards Nova Zembla, Greenland or Spitsberg, Groynland or Engrondland, &c. Copies are available, at a price - around £2,000 for a 1711 edition - on Abebooks.

Earlier this year, Narbrough’s original journal, which includes the period of his voyage to South America, was discovered alongside a series of illustrated maps and drawings with the family papers of the Earls of Romney at the Centre for Kentish Studies. It was subsequently sold to a foreign private collector for £310,000, but the government placed a temporary bar - until 7 November - on exporting the manuscript. So far the British Library has raised £290,000 (£200,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund), but is appealing for a further £30,000 to improve on the sale price.

A press release from the British Library (available here) says: ‘The beautifully illustrated journal together with intricate maps and drawings of animals and natives of the region enables Narbrough to be seen more clearly as a crucial figure in the history of English exploration. If his search for gold and dealings with the Spaniards look back to the heroic days of Francis Drake, his preoccupation with the welfare of his crew and his scientific interests look forward to the achievements of James Cook. On top of that, Narbrough, a contemporary of Samuel Pepys, was an excellent diarist.’ History Today has a good summary of the story.

Peter Barber, the head of map collections at the British Library, told MailOnline that the diary’s discovery was ‘fantastically exciting - this is an historical icon of the future and it was unknown, visually so good, scientifically excellent and of such high research value’. And he explained why the diary is so important: ‘Narbrough’s journey proved it was possible for Britain to get involved in the Pacific trade, which set the direction of our foreign policy for the next 50 years . . . The repercussions [were] extraordinary - if Sir John hadn’t made his trip, Britain probably would not have gone into the War of the Spanish Succession and there would never have been the South Sea Bubble of 1720-21 - the biggest financial crisis of the 18th century.’

It was Barber who put the case to The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for Narbrough’s diary and charts to be considered of national importance. In his expert submission he gave three reasons (nb: Barber and the British Library seem to use both spellings of the name):

‘1. Narborough’s successful passage of the Straight in both directions proved that the South Seas trade was technically feasible for the English. . . 2. The manuscript enables Narborough, one of the few English-born explorers of the later seventeenth century, to be seen more clearly as a crucial figure in the history of English exploration. If his dealings with the Spaniards suggest a latter day (and much less successful) Francis Drake, his precise measurement of coastlines and depths, his lively ethnographical and wild life curiosity and his active interest in the welfare of his crew, well illustrated in the maps, foreshadow the achievements of James Cook. 3. The charts from the voyage are of considerable importance as amongst the earliest English large-scale maps of Spanish America. Those of Valdivia and particularly of Port St Julian are especially important for their ethnographical and wild life illustrations.’

Finally, here are several short extracts from the diary, taken from the article at MailOnline.

‘This island is of indifferent height and full of large timber trees, like ash.’

‘And there are those trees, as in the Straits of Magellan, of which the rind is like hot ginger.’

‘Here is good fresh water - the island is about two leagues long from the North West to the South East. . . The earth is a black mould.’

‘I killed many ducks and geese and hars and ostorages here. There are good fowls in the winter, a great store of mullets in the summer and very good salt in the ponds.’