Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heartbreaking day

‘I have always thought it would be unwholesome for me to attempt to write a diary. I’m sure it will make me think my life drab and strain after sensation to make copy for my autobiography.’ So begins a diary written during the First World War by Cynthia Asquith, described by some as one of the most fascinatingly beautiful women of her time. She died 50 years ago today.

There is a dearth of freely available information about Lady Cynthia Asquith on the internet. Wikipedia has a short entry, as does The Diary Junction; and the garish-looking Fantastic Fiction website has a bibliography. The Liberal England blog tells a cute story about how Lady Cynthia did in 1957 what Judith Keppel became famous for in 2000 - being an aristocrat and winning a big TV quiz prize!

Cynthia Charteris was born in 1887. In 1910 she married Herbert Asquith (the son of Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister at the time) and they had three children. She is most well known, perhaps, for being private secretary to the author J M Barrie and for inheriting a large part of his fortune. She herself wrote for children, as well as horror/fantasy stories, and books of reminiscences. She died on 31 March 1960 - half a century ago today.

At the suggestion of a friend, she began to keep a diary during the First World War. This was published by Hutchinson, but not until 1968, as Lady Cynthia Asquith Diaries 1915-1918 - with a foreword by her lifelong friend L P Hartley. He wrote: ‘Lady Cynthia was one of the most fascinatingly beautiful women of her time - painted for love by McEvoy, Sargent, and Augustus John - and her lively wit and sensitivity of intelligence made her the treasured confidante of such diverse characters as D H Lawrence and Sir James Barrie, but when she died in 1960 she left a new generation to discover yet another of her gifts - as a rarely talented diarist. . .’

Hartley gives three reasons for the ‘value and fascination’ of
her diary: ‘Familiar figures cross her pages, often in ‘undress’, and a pulsing cross-section of the society of her time is shown. . . Secondly, the diary is also the story of the end of an era, symbolised perhaps in the curious anachronism of the Viceregal court in Dublin she describes with such delicious malice. . . And, finally, it is the unconscious analysis of a family and a woman’s identity - developing, maturing, changing, and almost completely breaking under the pressure of the most disastrous events that any generation had ever known.’

Here are a few extracts from Lady Cynthia Asquith Diaries 1915-1918, starting with the very first entry.

15 April 1915
‘I have always thought it would be unwholesome for me to attempt to write a diary. I’m sure it will make me think my life drab and strain after sensation to make copy for my autobiography. I shall become morbidly self-conscious and a valetudinarian about my career, so I shall try not to be un-introspective, and confine myself to events and diagnoses of other people. In any case I am entirely devoid of the gift of sincerity, and could never write as though I were really convinced no other eye would ever see what I wrote. I am incurably self-conscious. This impromptu resolution sprung from an absurd compact I made with Duff Cooper [a British politician and writer] that we would both begin a diary at the same moment, and bind each other over to keep it up. He has given me this lovely book - but instead of inspiring, it paralyses me and makes me feel my life will not be sufficiently purple. . .’

15 April 1916
Margot [second wife of her father-in-law, the Prime Minister] had given me a hat of hers a few days before - too ugly to be seen dead in, and also much too small. I went into Jays to ask if they would change it, but to my humiliating embarrassment they said it must be at least three or four years old.

Lunched at Downing Street with . . . Great discussion about Pamela Lytton. I - in my opinion platitudinously, but in Elizabeth’s paradoxically - supported her claims to superlative charm, saying I should have married her if a man, etc. Elizabeth and the unnatural men there demurred. Jack Tennant admitted she had made his heart beat quicker, but didn’t endorse my good opinion of her intelligence. I said, ‘But, surely, you don’t want a woman to be good at political economy?’ - rather a floater, as that is exactly his wife’s forte! The PM, coming in late, warmly supported me, saying Pamela had had the greatest erotic success of her day and was the most accomplished ‘plate-spinner’. It is bad tactics on Elizabeth’s part to belittle in women just those assets she is without, scoffing at Pamela, Ruby, and other beautiful sirens. . .’

30 July 1916
‘Glittering, scorching day and the town teeming like an anthill. No signs of war, save for the poor, legless men whom Michael tried to encourage by saying, ‘Poor wounded soldiers - soon be better.’ There is no doubt that Brighton has a charm of its own, almost amounting to glamour. I am beginning to be quite patriotic about this end of the town - Kemp Town as it is called - in opposition to the parvenu Hove, which has less character and is to this rather what the Lido is to Venice.

We joined the children on the beach - painfully hot and glaring. We took them in a boat to try and get cooler. Beb and I bathed from the rather squalid bathing machines - perfect in the water, except for the quantity of foreign bodies. . .’

19 September 1916
‘Heartbreaking day. Came downstairs in high spirits, opened newspaper and saw in large print: ‘Lieutenant Asquith Killed in Action’. Darling, brilliant, magically charming Raymond [her brother-in-law] - how much delight and laughter goes with him! It seems to take away one’s last remains of courage. One might have known that nothing so brilliant and precious could escape, but after each blow one’s hopes revive, and one reinvests one’s love and interest. Now I feel I have really relinquished all hope and expect no one to survive.’

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Campaigning against slavery

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Clarkson, a major figure in the anti-slavery movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s. He rode tens of thousands of miles across Britain - not once, but several times in his life - to promote, first, the anti-slave trade cause, and then the complete emancipation of slaves. Occasionally on these travels, Clarkson kept diaries. None of these have been published, but one is available online thanks to the excellent Abolition Project Website.

Clarkson was born at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire on 28 March 1760, and attended the local grammar school where his father was headmaster. He was sent to St Paul’s School in London, and won a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he was ordained a deacon. However, the course of his life was ordained in a different direction thanks to winning an essay competition about the legality of slavery. Famously, he was on his way to London, when he stopped at a small village called Wadesmill, and underwent a kind of spiritual conversion. He wrote later that it was at Wadesmill where he realised ‘if the contents of the essay were true . . . it was time some person should see the calamities to their end’.

Clarkson soon published the essay, which received much attention and drew him into abolitionist circles. In May 1787, he and others (mostly Quakers but including Granville Sharp as chairman) formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The young MP William Wilberforce provided a useful link to Parliament. Clarkson, himself, was asked to collect evidence to support the abolition of the slave trade, a task he undertook with much resolve. For two years, he rode around England (some 35,000 miles), interviewing sailors (20,000 of them), surgeons, and pub landlords, collecting equipment used on slave ships, and meeting with local anti-slave trade groups. As his evidence mounted, so he published more essays which were circulated widely.

And in 1791, Wilberforce put forward to Parliament a first draft law aimed at abolishing the slave trade. But, as a legitimate and lucrative business, generating prosperity for many ports, the trade had powerful supporters, and the bill was easily defeated. For the next few years, until the outbreak of war with France, Wilberforce continued to propose bills, and the Committee continued trying to mobilise public opinion in their support. However, the war only reinforced the opinion of many MPs that the slave trade provided important wealth for the nation as well as valuable training for the Navy. In 1794, an exhausted Clarkson retired from the campaign and bought an estate in the Lake District, where he became friends with William Wordsworth. After marrying Catherine Buck, from Bury St Edmunds, though, he set up home with her in Suffolk.

In 1804, the anti-slave trade campaign started up again in earnest and Clarkson again went travelling round Britain canvassing support, particularly from MPs. Three years later, in 1807, a bill for the abolition of the trade was finally passed. Thereafter, Clarkson published his History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade in two volumes; he also travelled abroad to try and secure international agreements on abolition. By the early 1820s, Clarkson was once more riding through Britain, this time for the newly-formed Anti-Slavery Society (for which he had been appointed vice-president) trying to secure support for the total emancipation of slaves. A law to that effect was passed in 1833. For the rest of his life - he died in 1846 - Clarkson continued to campaign internationally, and was the principal speaker at the opening of the World Anti-Slavery Society Conference in London in 1840.

There is no shortage of biographical material about Clarkson on the internet - see Wikipedia, Thomas Clarkson website, or Brycchan Carey’s website for example; and the full text of his two volume history of the slave trade can be read at The Online Library of Liberty (and other sites).

Although there are no published versions of any diary by Clarkson, the National Archives website refers to three locations which have either diary or journal material: Howard University Library in Washington DC, Atlanta University Center Archives, and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The Howard University Library website, however, only lists correspondence among its Clarkson papers. The Robert W Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center lists a journal, dated August 1789, which ‘recounts Clarkson’s trip to France and his observations in Paris of French Revolutionary activity’. The National Library of Wales is supposed to hold, what the National Archives says, is ‘1823-24: diary of a tour through Britain’ but I can find no trace of it on their website.

There is, though, a further diary held by St John’s College, Cambridge, dating from 25 June to 25 July 1787 and described by the College’s library as follows: ‘Diary of travels in the West Country and Wales. Gives description of travels and scenery, especially Bristol and surrounding area. Gives detailed account of visits to docks, investigation into shipping in Bristol and meeting with local luminaries to gather support for the abolition cause’.

Thanks to the Abolition Project Website, which has substantial information on Clarkson, for providing photographs of the pages of the 1787 diary, and a transcript. Here are some extracts:

3 July 1787
‘In crossing the ferry from Mr Feast’s Yard, I saw a Boat painted Africa on her Stern coming to the same Landing Place. On inquiring of the Crew Whether they belonged to the Africa, a Vessel in the Slave Trade, they answered, yes - I told one of them that I wondered how any seamen would go to Africa, and if he was not afraid - To this he answered in the following Words - If it is my Lot to die in Africa, why I must, and if it is not, why then I shall not die though I go there. And if it is my Lot to live, why I may as well live there as anywhere else. The Same Person told me that the Brothers, Capt. Howlett, then lying in King Road?, could not get Men - that he was cruel Rascal - that a Party of Men had shipped themselves on board him, but that they had all left him on Sunday Morning - I cannot describe my feeling in seeing these poor Fellows belonging to the Africa. They were seven in Number - all of them young, about 22 or 23, and very robust - They were all Seamen; and I think the finest Fellows I ever beheld - I am sure no one can describe my feelings when I considered that some of these were devoted, and whatever might be their spirits now, would never see their native Home more. I considered also, how much the Glory of the British Flag was diminished by the Destruction of such noble fellows, who appeared so strong, robust, & hardy, and at the same Time so spirited as to enable us to bid Defiance to the marine of our Enemies the French’

5 July 1787
‘rode to Mr Bonvilles in Company with John Lury & Robert Lawson - The Downs were beautiful & .... ... went on board the Prince. The People were then busy - The Mate conducted us into their Cabin and invited us to dine: having dined we declined it - but drank some Grogg - The People on board were poor, palefaced, meagre looking Wretches - we were told that the Ship was not half manned - We left her, and went on board the Africa - The Crew of this Vessel, which was fully manned, consisted of as fine Seamen, as could possibly be collected - We drank some Grogg on board this Vessel -. Mr Sheriff, a very humane, good sort of man, was one of the Mates of the Ship, but, though he had been to Sea all his Life, had never yet been a voyage to the Coast - This Mr Sheriff, on account of some misrepresentation of him to Captain Wright was then preparing to leave the Ship. - He sent his Chest to Bristol by the Africa’s Boat, but took his Passage with Us in ours - This man was so beloved by the Seamen on board, that they all came to the Ship’s Side, when he left it, pulled off their Hats, and wished him his Health - We then proceeded again to the Prince, where we drank Tea, after which, we sailed with a fine Wind into the River - I had some Conversation with Mr Sheriff - He informed me that the Men on board the Africa had signed their Articles, but that they had never seen what they signed - He says that he himself also had signed without seeing them, though he did not like it, but as an Officer, did not object, thinking it might be a bad Example in him to set . . .’

18 July 1787
‘9 o’Clock at night - On hearing that Mr Thomas, Surgeon Mate of the Alfred, had been most cruelly treated by Capt Robe, and was then ill in Bed - I went to see him in Company with a Seaman of the Same Ship - I found him ill in Bed. He said that he had been most excessively ill-treated by Capt Robe & the 1st Mate, but that he forgave them. His Thighs were wrapped up in Flannel - The Poor Man was delirious. He asked me if I was a Gentleman - if I was a Lawyer, etc - He seemed much agitated & frightened and repeatedly asked me if I was come with an Intent to take Captain Robe’s Part. I answered no, that I was come to take his & punish Captain Robe - However he did not comprehend me, and was manifestly in a disordered State. This young man leaped three times overboard to drown himself, in consequence of the Cruelty committed, and to avoid it for the future, but was taken up - The last time he leaped overboard, a Shark was within a yard of him, when he was taken up’

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Frightfully tomahawked

‘This day news reached the town that three men had been murdered in Omata. With wilful imprudence, and in defiance of general remonstrances, they had persisted in looking for some stray sheep. As they were engaged in their fatal search, several rebels in ambush sprang suddenly upon them and put them to a horrible death. Their bodies were afterwards discovered, frightfully tomahawked.’ So wrote Sergeant William Marjouram in his diary exactly 150 years ago today. These were the first days of the Taranaki wars, in which indigenous Maoris fought against the New Zealand government’s land acquisitions and the imposition of a British administration on the Maori way of life.

Marjouram was born in 1828 in Suffolk the son of a gardener to the Duke of Hamilton. He had a common school education, but ran away to sea as a young teenager (aged 14 the first time), returning home twice before finally enlisting permanently with the Royal Artillery in 1844. He worked for a while as a recruiter in Newcastle-on-Tyne, and in 1848 was promoted to corporal. However, he was then demoted to the rank of gunner for being drunk and associating with the wrong types; and while on a training course he absented without leave to marry Catherine Pool in 1850.

Thereafter, though, his life changed radically. After being posted to Canada in 1851, he turned hard-working and sober, and became an evangelical Christian. He was promoted to an officer’s batman, and in 1854 was made corporal. The same year he was sent to New Zealand, though circumstances led him to return to England once before being sent again to New Zealand in 1855. There he fervently tried to convert the locals in his spare time. He fought in the First Taranaki War, but was invalided back to England in 1861, and died soon after arriving home.

Marjouram is remembered today largely because of his diary, first published by James Nisbet in 1863 in Memorials of Sergeant William Marjouram, Royal Artillery including six years service in New Zealand during the late Maori War. The full text is available at Googlebooks. Much more recently, though, in 1990, Random Century New Zealand published a re-edited version of the diary as Sergeant, Sinner, Saint, and Spy - The Taranaki War Diary of Sergeant William Marjouram, R.A. This was edited by Laurie Barber, Garry Clayton, and John Tonkin-Covell.

The editors of Sergeant, Sinner, Saint, and Spy say Marjouram’s diary provides ‘a fascinating insight into the life of a sergeant in Queen Victoria’s army on colonial service in the late 1850s and early 1860s’. It first appeared on book shelves (as Memorials) throughout the English reading world, because it was valued for its ‘literary encouragement of soldierly Christian dedication to the cause of British imperial and British Protestant civilisation.’ Today, though, ‘the diary demonstrates the stark antithesis between good and evil that dominated the Victorian Protestant evangelical psyche and reveals a complex, at times contradictory, attitude by the Queen’s soldiers towards the New Zealand Maori, who appear at times barbarous and at times as merciful Christians.’

More specifically, they add, Marjouram’s diaries show his evangelical Protestant passion for personal and social reformation: ‘They reflect the concerns of a well-disciplined and reliable NCO, reveal a keen interest in the characteristics of Maori life, and provide a unique perspective of an army fed on boiled meat and potatoes, housed in insanitary barracks, and inferior in numbers for their garrison task. Marjouram was a centurion of Victoria’s army and centurions were the backbone of the imperial legions.’

Marjouram’s diary also provides a first hand account of and eyewitness testimony to the First Taranaki War. The New Zealand History website has lots of information about the war, but the following background is taken from Wikipedia’s extensive entry. The catalyst for the war was a disputed land sale at Waitara, 16km east of New Plymouth, in the Taranaki district of New Zealand’s North Island. The land was sold to the British despite a veto by the chief of the Maori tribe; and the local governor’s acceptance of the purchase was made in full knowledge that it might lead to an armed conflict.

Wikipedia continues: ‘Although the pressure for the sale of the block resulted from the colonists’ hunger for land in Taranaki, the greater issue fuelling the conflict was the Government’s desire to impose British administration, law and civilisation on the Maori as a demonstration of the substantive sovereignty the British believed they had gained in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. The hastily-written Maori translation, however, had given Maori chiefs an opposing view that the English had gained only nominal sovereignty, or ‘governorship’ of the country as a whole while Maori retained ‘chieftainship’ over their lands, villages and treasures. By 1860, it was tacitly recognised that British law prevailed in the settlements and Maori custom elsewhere, though the British, who by then outnumbered Maori, were finding this [latter] fact increasingly irksome.’

The British, it seems, were convinced that their system represented the best that civilization had to offer and saw it as both their duty and their right to impose it on other peoples. On the other hand, in the 20 years since the signing of the Treaty, the Maori had made significant political advances. For example, they had moved from being a collection of independent tribes to an effective confederation, and one of its uniting principles was opposing the sale of Maori land and the concomitant spread of British sovereignty.

On 15 March 1860, the Maori built an L-shaped pa, or defensive strong point, at one corner of the disputed land block, and the following day they uprooted the surveyor’s boundary markers. When ordered, on 17 March, to surrender, they refused and the British troops opened fire, thus starting the First Taranaki War. Here are a few extracts from Marjouram’s diary from the opening days of the war.

24 March 1860
‘This evening, about 5 o’clock, a message came from New Plymouth stating that the rebels were collected at Omata, a village about four miles distant. In less than half an hour the whole of the artillery, with two 24-pounders, one 12-pounder howitzer, and about two hundred men of the 65th Regiment, were on their way to New Plymouth. After a heavy and dangerous march along the beach, we came to the Bell Blockhouse, built with heavy logs of wood, and manned by settlers. The appearance of the neighbourhood was very gloomy, and as surrounding houses were all closed and deserted, the sad tale of apprehension was sufficiently told. On passing this lonely house we gave its noble defenders three hearty cheers, which were as heartily returned. Proceeding on our way, we arrived in town about ten o’clock, greatly to the relief of hundreds of terrified women and children.’

27 March 1860
‘This day news reached the town that three men had been murdered in Omata. With wilful imprudence, and in defiance of general remonstrances, they had persisted in looking for some stray sheep. As they were engaged in their fatal search, several rebels in ambush sprang suddenly upon them and put them to a horrible death. Their bodies were afterwards discovered, frightfully tomahawked, and a pair of bullocks that had been shot lay beside them. This event has caused a great sensation and a deep thirst for revenge among the settlers, each of the murdered men having left a wife and family to lament.’

28 March 1860
‘Late last night, the bodies of two English boys were found at Omata, both fearfully mutilated. Surely the Lord will avenge the blood of the defenceless and unarmed on the heads of these savage butchers! The Rev. Mr Brown with two or three English families, being still at Omata, and great doubts being entertained of their safety, a strong body of troops, under command of Colonel Murray, had been ordered to proceed by different routes for the purpose of removing them from so dangerous a neighbourhood. They had scarcely arrived before they were attacked by the rebels, who had taken up their position in a gully thickly studded with trees. Soon a smart fire commenced on both sides, and our rockets did much execution. The action continued until after dark, about which time Captain Cracroft with a portion of the Niger’s crew rushed to the pa and seized the enemy’s colours. Unfortunately, at this critical moment, an order arrived for the troops to return at once. I need hardly add that it was most reluctantly obeyed. We arrived in town about midnight, our loss being two killed and about fourteen wounded. We ascertained that the natives had lost by this affray ten chiefs and ninety killed or wounded.’

2 April 1860
‘Today an escort, consisting of two hundred militiamen, with one 24-pounder howitzer and about 30 carts, went to Omata to fetch in some potatoes and wheat. We remained there all day, during which time about one and forty bushels of wheat were threshed and forty tons of potatoes dug, or rather ploughed, up. The appearance of the village was dreary in the extreme: every house had been plundered; and many of the natives seemed to have taken more than they were well able to carry, for the road was strewn for miles with feather pillows, chairs, wearing apparel, and articles of every description. The offensive smell arising from the thinly covered graves of the Maoris, and the carcasses of the still unburied cattle which had been shot and left to decay, together with the innumerable signs of desolation on every side, rendered the place as loathsome as it is possible to conceive.’

3 April 1860
‘Today I mounted guard for the first time in New Zealand. I had charge of the main guard, and at night a drunken prisoner was committed to my care. He was so riotous that I was compelled to bind him hand and foot.’

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Barthes and his mother

Roland Barthes, one of France’s great 20th century thinkers, died thirty years ago today. Although not known as a diarist, he did occasionally write journals, and, since his death, some of these have been published, albeit amid controversy. Mostly, the diaries seem to concern his erotic needs or the extraordinary relationship with his mother.

Roland Barthes was born in 1915 in Cherbourg, northern France, but he and his mother moved to Bayonne, in the south, after his father, a naval officer, died in battle. In 1924, they moved again to Paris. Barthes studied classical literature, grammar and philology at the Sorbonne, but suffered intermittently from TB first contracted in 1934.

During the 1940s, Barthes worked at a teacher in many different places in France and abroad (Bucharest and Alexandria). In 1952 he settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. In subsequent years, he began writing a series of essays on the myths of popular culture for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles.

In 1960 Barthes joined École Pratique des Hautes Études, and by the late 1960s he had established a reputation as one of the leading critics of Modernist literature. He traveled to Japan and the US, teaching for a while at John Hopkins University. It was in this period that he produced his best known work: the 1967 essay The Death of the Author, and, in 1970, the dense critical reading of Balzac’s Sarrasine entitled S/Z. Throughout the 70s, Wikipedia says, Barthes continued to develop his literary criticism, ‘pursuing new ideals of textuality and novelistic neutrality through his works’. In 1977 he was elected to the chair of Sémiologie Littéraire at the Collège de France.

Also in 1977, his mother, with whom he had lived all his life, died. Barthes himself died three years later, on 25 March 1980 (30 years ago today), as a result of being hit by a van while walking in Paris. Apart from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica has a short biography, and there are biographical details in some book reviews, such as that in The Independent. In the latter, Ben Rogers sums up Barthes: ‘[He] was a contradictory figure. He combined a Protestant passion for order and routine with nights in Tunisian brothels and Parisian gay bars. He was a radical critic of the fashion system who liked classic English clothes, a Marxist who recoiled from ’68, a champion of hedonism who never publicly proclaimed his homosexuality.’

Barthes is not thought of, or discussed as, a diarist. However, several works have been published posthumously which contain diary or diary-like material, although only one of these (as far as I can tell) has been published in English. In 1987, François Wahl (Barthes’ friend and literary executor) published Incidents, a collection of four hitherto unpublished works by Barthes. These included Soirées de Paris, an erotic diary he wrote during 1979, and Incidents, a diary written in 1969 while Barthes was on holiday in Morocco (again about erotic encounters). It was translated (by Richard Howard) and published by University of California Press in 1992 - a page or two can be read at

Much more recently, Michel Salzedo, Barthes’ half-brother and the legal guardian of Barthes’ oeuvre, authorised the release of two more works, and these were published last year (2009) in France as Journal de deuil (Journal of Mourning) and Carnets du voyage en Chine (Travel Notebooks in China). The former is a diary written after the death of his mother, and the latter is a diary written during a trip to China in 1974.

According to The Daily Telegraph, François Wahl ‘came out of retirement . . . to angrily challenge their release’. He told the French newspaper Le Monde: ‘The publication of Journal de deuil would have positively revolted [Barthes], in that it violates his intimacy, . . [and] as for the Chinese notebooks, it’s the same type of “unwritten” text, which in his eyes was a real taboo.’ However, the publisher of the new texts said it was hypocritical of Wahl of criticise them since he had personally overseen the release of Soirées de Paris, containing far more intimate revelations.

In The Guardian, Andrew Hussey found himself bemused by the Parisian literary scandal: ‘While the first book delivers (mainly unwittingly) high comedy, the second, an account of maternal bereavement, is a quite touching account of how real life (and death) transformed Barthes’s interior life. Together, these books reveal that he was fond of blow jobs and close to his mother. Neither fact is remarkable. But given that Barthes is still most famous in the English-speaking world as the thinker who gave us the notion of ‘the death of the author’, there is an irresistible irony in the fact that these posthumous publications of his writings should have provoked such a squabble on the Parisian literary scene.’

According to Benjamin Ivry, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education (and reproduced on the blog, evening redness in the west), ‘neither text radically alters our understanding of Barthes’. The Journal de deuil, he says, does add documentation about the writer’s deep attachment to his mother, from whose death, he told friends, he was never able to recover; and ‘Carnets du voyage en Chine, made also of impromptu jottings rather than the carefully worked out prose that readers of Barthes are accustomed to, is another unusually intimate glimpse into the writer’s daily life, even when bored and out of sorts.’

Thanks to the evening redness in the west for the following few extracts:

5 November 1977
‘Sad afternoon. Quick shopping. At the pastry shop (pointlessness) I buy an almond cake. Serving a customer, the little female employee says, “Voilà.” That’s the word which I would say when I brought Mom something when I looked after her. Once, near the end, she half-unconsciously echoed, “Voilà” (I’m here, an expression which we used mutually during a whole lifetime). This employee’s remark brought tears to my eyes. I wept for a long time (after returning to the silent apartment).’

19 November 1977
‘(Overturning of status) For months, I have been her mother. It’s as if I had lost my daughter (any greater suffering than that? I had never conceived it).’

20 March 1978
‘They say (so Mrs. Panzera informs me) that Time lessens bereavement. No, Time makes nothing happen; it only washes down the emotivity of bereavement.’

29 July 1978
‘(Saw the Hitchcock film Under Capricorn) Ingrid Bergman (it was made around 1946). I don’t know why, and don’t know how to express it, but this actress, the body of this actress, moved me, has just touched something in me which reminds me of Mam. Her carnation, her lovely, utterly natural hands, an impression of freshness, a non-Narcissistic femininity.’

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where was a canteloupe

‘To breakfast, where was a canteloupe. Wretched, it being the season’s first.’ So began one of the most popular American columns of a century ago. It was written in the form of a diary, providing a real commentary on the author’s life, but humorously in the style of Samuel Pepys. Its author, the now largely forgotten Franklin Pierce Adams, died 50 years ago today.

Adams was born in Chicago in 1881, and was educated at Armour Scientific Academy and the University of Michigan. He started out selling insurance, but inspired by one of his customers, he began writing humorous verses and published a small volume of poems. He was taken on as a columnist by the Chicago Tribune, but soon moved to work for the New York Evening Mail, where he wrote a column called Always in Good Humor.

In 1914, FPA, as he always signed his columns, switched to the New York Tribune, and his column was retitled, The Conning Tower. Incredibly popular in its early days, the column is said to have launched the careers of several writers (see Wikipedia). Apart from a brief stint during the war when he was assigned to write for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, he remained a columnist for different New York papers until 1941, by which time the resonance of his writing and his popularity had faded away.

Adams is also remembered for being one of the members of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of wits who met for lunch during the 1920s at the Algonquin Hotel. The group included Edna Ferber, George S Kaufman and Dorothy Parker. In the 1940s, FPA found a new role, as a panellist on the popular radio show Information, Please!. He married twice, Minna Schwartze in 1904, and Esther Root, with whom he had four children, in 1925. He died 50 years ago today, on 23 March 1960.

The Poetry Foundation has a little more biographical information on Adams, but for more detailed information seek out Sally Ashley’s book - FPA: The life and times of Franklin Pierce Adams (which can be borrowed from Internet Archive).

And it is in Ashley’s biography that one can find details about a diary Adams wrote for many years. This was not a personal diary, but one written for a column. It is less well remembered, perhaps, than The Conning Tower, but in its day was also very popular. In June 1911, Ashley explains, Adams began a breezy personal memoir written in the style of Samuel Pepys, with the intention of including journal entries within the regular column every other day for a month or so. He named it The Diary of Our Own Samuel Pepys and inserted ‘its first grumpy sentence’ on a Wednesday morning: ‘To breakfast, where was a canteloupe. Wretched, it being the season’s first.’

More from Ashley’s book: ‘At first the paragraphs appeared every few days. . . It was a guileless exercise, boring and fascinating at the same time, sprinkled with old Briticisms like ‘bespeaks’ and ‘betimes’ and ‘betook’. Despite its preciousness, his fans welcomed the account of everyday life as observed by a self-proclaimed ordinary fellow.’ But the diary didn’t stop after a month or two, it was still running in 1922 when he decided to run the Diary regularly just on Saturdays. Ashley says, ‘reading the Diary became a Saturday morning treat in many homes, as much a part of New York City life as the crowded subways it endlessly denounced.’

The Diary went along year after year, Ashley says (although like The Conning Tower in different newspapers) describing FPA’s ups and downs, how he spent his days, whom he saw, the food he ate, the funny things people (including him) said, what he hated, and what he enjoyed. Perhaps, Ashley comments, the Diary’s long popularity came because he never fancied it something more than it was; he evidenced irritation often, and contentment, but rarely outrage and never despair. ‘His concerns were those of a conventionally educated middle-class person, and they reflected the interests and inclinations of his readers. His intellectualism was predictable and mildly liberal, though he preferred describing the menu and the identity of his companions to disclosing the content of serious dinner table discussions.’

In 1935, Simon and Schuster published a very full collection of The Diary of Our Own Samuel Pepys in two volumes. According to Ashley, the reviews were favourable, and the volumes sold more copies than any of his other books, but nowadays they are only of interest to biographers of the Algonquin set and historians, for the topics were too of the moment, the style too precious, and the points of view too narrow.

Here are a few extracts from the diary/column (none of which are dated properly in Ashley’s book).

‘Home, and fashioning some verses, and thence to my barber’s to be trimmed and he asketh me something, and, understanding him not at all, what with his accent of Palermo, I did say, Yes, whereat he took a bottle and poured its contents upon my head, and then I did know it for olive oil, by its odour. And he did rub it into my hair till that I did feel like any head of lettuce and was minded to ask him to pass the salt and vinegar, but did not.’

‘With Mr Theodore Dreiser the great tayle-writer to luncheon, and he tells me of many things that have happened to him in Germany and in England and fills me with a great lust to travel.’

‘To luncheon with Jack Reed the poet and he told me of the four days he was in prison in Paterson, and of the horrible uncleanness, and of one man 80 yrs of age and ill that was imprisoned for six months for begging five cents. Also he told me how great a man is Bill Haywood, and it may be as Jack saith. Also he told me that the Industrial Workers are sorely misjudged and that the tayles in the publick prints of their bloodthirstiness are lies told by the scriveners. And out of it all I wish I did know how to appraise what is true and what is false, but I am too ignorant, and ill-fitted to judge truly.’

‘To dinner, and met Mistress Ida Tarbell, who told me of many ways in which a journal! might be made interesting, and some of her notions not bad neither.’

‘So all day at the office, answering the telephone and riding in the elevators and telling a gentleman from what he called the National Broadcahsting Company that I had no desire to say a few hundred words over the wireless, especially at the price offered, which was nothing. I was what my wife would call rude to him, and what I call ineffectually ironick. Then a fellow . . . came in to ask me whether I was busy, and I said, No, I came to the office to practice penmanship, and he said that I had no reason to insult him, that he wanted only to give me a chance to invest my money in a sound company, so I apologized and said that if he would give me only five minutes to myself I could write a fortune, all of which he could have.’

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Japan, a millennium ago

‘The Minister of the Right praised the six-stringed koto. He became too merry, and made a great mistake, which sent a chill even to the onlookers.’ These are almost the final words of one of the oldest diaries in the world, and, astonishingly, were written almost exactly 1,000 years ago. Much of the diary written by Murasaki Shikibu’s, a lady-in-waiting in the Japanese court, is taken up with the birth of a prince, but there is plenty of gossiping, caustic at times, about such timeless subjects as fashion and manners.

Few details of Shikibu’s life are known, even her birth and death dates are uncertain, though are given as circa 973 and circa 1020. Shikibu’s father was the governor of a province and a well known scholar. He let his daughter learn Chinese classics, although girls were not usually allowed this privilege at the time. She married and had a daughter, and around 1006, some years after her husband had died, she entered the court of Emperor Ichijô as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shōshi.

For two years, while at court, she wrote a diary - one of the historically oldest we know about today (see The Diary Junction for others). She is better remembered, however, for her novel, The Tale of Genji, which is considered one of the first ever written (and longest at 630,000 words). Some argue that Shikibu is the world’s first modern novelist. For a little more information on Shikibu (there isn’t much) see The Women in World History website, The Samurai Archives, Götterdä, or Wikipedia.

A first translation of Shikibu’s diary appeared in Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi, and published by Houghton Mifflin in New York (1920) and Constable in London (1921). Penguin published The Diary of Lady Murasaki in 1996, and reissued it in 2005 (a few pages are viewable on Amazon). Branislav L Slantchev, a professor at the University of California in San Diego, has a review of Shikibu’s diary on the Götterdä website. He says the first part of the diary - which covers the birth of a prince - is ‘rather dull, concerning itself with visual depiction of room interiors, rituals, and positioning of the various (multitude) participants and observers’; but the second part is ‘engaging’ for it has ‘astute, and quite caustic, remarks about the Empress, her immediate circle . . , and courtiers in general’.

The full text of Shikibu’s diary, as it appeared in Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan, is available online thanks to Mary Mark Ockerbloom’s website, A Celebration of Women Writers. Here are the very last pages of the diary, dated 1010 - one whole millennium ago - in which Shikibu is much concerned about the fashion sense and manners of those around her.

‘Third day of first month
The August Princes have presented themselves before the King for three days to receive gifts of mochi [rice cake]. Ladies of high rank accompanied them. Saémon-no-Kami held the Prince, and the mochi was brought to His Majesty by the Lord Prime Minister. The King, facing towards the east door, gave it to the August Princes. It was a beautiful sight to see the young Princes coming and returning through the corridor. The Queen Dowager did not present herself. On the first day Lady Saisho served at table; her colour combination was cunningly executed. Ladies Takumi and Hyogo officiated as the Queen’s secretaries. The ladies who tied their hair were particularly attractive. The lady who was entrusted with the preparation of toso [New Year drink of spiced saké] was very vain of her skill and behaved as if she were a doctor of medicine. Ointment was distributed as usual.

The Prime Minister took the younger Prince in his arms and the King embraced him lovingly, saying, ‘Long life and health’ as usual. The Lord Prime Minister replied, ‘I will uphold the younger Prince in my arms’; but at that His Augustness the Crown Prince became jealous and begged [to be taken up too], saying, ‘Ah! Ah!’ The Prime Minister was much pleased, and the General of the Right Bodyguard and others were amused by it.

The Lord Prime Minister had an audience with the King and they came out together to find amusement. The Minister was much intoxicated. ‘Troublesome!’ I thought, and hid myself away, but I was found. ‘You are summoned by the father of the Queen, yet you retire so early! Suspicious person!’ said he. ‘Now, instead of the Queen’s father it is you who must compose a poem! It is quite an ordinary occasion, so don’t hesitate!’ He urged, but it seemed to me very awkward to make one only to have it laughed at. As he was very much in liquor, his face was flushed and flamed out in the torchlight. He said, ‘The Queen had lived for years alone and solitary. I had seen it with anxiety. It is cheering to behold troublesome children on either side of her.’ And he went to look at the Princes, who had been put to bed, taking off the bedclothes. He was singing:

‘If there be no little pines in the field
How shall I find the symbol of 1,000 ages?’

People thought it more suitable that he should sing this old song than make a new one. The next evening the sky was hazy; as the different parts of the palace are built compactly in close rows I could only catch a slight glimpse of it from the veranda. I admired his recitation of last evening with the nurse Madam Nakadaka. This lady is of deep thought and learning.

I went home for a while. For the fifty days’ ceremony of the second Prince, which was the fifteenth day of the Sociable Month, I returned in the early morning to the palace. Lady Koshosho returned in embarrassing broad daylight. We two live together; our rooms adjoin and we throw them together, each occupying the whole when the other is absent. When we are there together we put kicho [thin curtains of opaque silk] between them. The Lord Prime Minister says we must be gossiping about other people. Some may be uneasy to hear that, but as there are no unfriendly strangers here we are not anxious about it.

I went to the Queen’s audience. My friend wore brocaded uchigi [a kind of robe] of old rose and white, a red karaginu and figured train. My dress was of red and purple and light green. My karaginu [a kind of jacket] was green and white. The rubbed design on the train was in the very latest fashion, and it would perhaps have been better if a younger lady had worn it. There were seventeen ladies of His Majesty the King’s court who presented themselves before the Queen. Lady Tachibana of the third rank served the royal table. Ladies Kodayu and Shikibu on the balcony. The serving of the young August Prince’s dinner was entrusted to Lady Koshosho. Their Majesties sat within the dais. The morning sun shone in and I felt too much brilliancy in their presence. The King wore a robe with narrow sleeves. The Queen was dressed in red as usual. Her inner kimonos were purple and red with pale and dark green and two shades of yellow. His Majesty’s outer dress was grape-coloured brocade, and his inner garment white and green - all rare and modern both in design and colour.

It seemed to be too dazzling in their presence, so I softly slid away into an inner room. The nurse, Madam Nakadaka, holding the young Prince in her arms, came out towards the south between the canopied King and Queen. She is short in stature, but of dignified demeanour. She was perfectly tranquil and grave and a good example for the young Prince. She wore grape-coloured uchigi and patternless karaginu of white and old rose. That day all did their utmost to adorn themselves. One had a little fault in the colour combination at the wrist opening. When she went before the Royal presence to fetch something, the nobles and high officials noticed it. Afterwards, Lady Saisho regretted it deeply. It was not so bad; only one colour was a little too pale. Lady Kotaiyu wore a crimson unlined dress and over it an uchigi of deep and pale plum colour bordered with folds. Her karaginu was white and old rose. Lady Gen Shikibu appears to have been wearing a red and purple figured silk. Some said it was unsuitable because it was not brocade. That judgment is too conventional. There may be criticism where want of taste is too apparent, but it were better to criticise manners. Dress is rather unimportant in comparison.

The ceremony of giving mochi to the Prince is ended and the table is taken away. The misu of the anteroom was rolled up, and we saw ladies sitting crowded at the west side of the dais. There were Lady Tachibana of the third rank, and Naishi Nosuké, the younger attendant of the August Princes sitting in the doorway. In the east anteroom near the shioji [paper doors] there were ladies of high rank. I went to seek Lady Dainagon and Lady Koshosho, who were sitting east of the dais. His August Majesty sat on the dais with his dining-table before him. The ornaments of it were exquisitely beautiful. On the south balcony there sat the Minister of the Right and Left and the Chamberlain, the first officials of the Crown Prince and of the Queen and the Great Adviser Shijo, facing towards the North, the West being the more honourable seat. There were no officials of low rank. Afterwards they begun to amuse themselves. Courtiers sat on the southeast corridor of the side building. The four lower officials took their usual places to perform some music. They were Kagemasa, Korekazé, Yukiyoshi, Tonomasa. Prom the upper seat the Great Adviser Shijo conducted the music. To no Ben played the lute, Tsunetaka played the harp. The Lieutenant-General of the Left Bodyguard and State Councillor played the flute. Some outsiders joined in the music. One made a mistake in the notes and was hissed. The Minister of the Right praised the six-stringed koto. He became too merry, and made a great mistake, which sent a chill even to the onlookers.

The Prime Minister’s gift was flutes put into two boxes.’

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I swept from ten till one

Today marks 260 years since the birth of the German astronomer, Caroline Herschel. A remarkable woman - in her 70s she was awarded a Gold Medal by the (British) Royal Astronomical Society and no woman would be awarded it again for more than 150 years. Chiefly remembered for discovering comets, she spent much of her life working with and supporting her astronomer brother, Wilhelm, who discovered Uranus. Intermittently, Caroline kept diaries or day-books - extracts from which are freely available online - and these give a lively picture of her unusual lifestyle, such as when she says: ‘I swept from ten till one.’

Caroline was born on 16 March 1750 in Hanover at a time when the crowns of England and Hanover were united under George II. Her parents were musical, as was her older brother, Wilhelm, who moved to England aged 19. In 1772, a few years after her father died, Caroline joined Wilhelm in Bath where he worked as an organist and music teacher. He also organised public concerts in which Caroline soon became the principal singer.

But over the next decade the lives of the two siblings swung away from music and towards her brother’s hobby of astronomy. Wilhelm is credited with discovering Uranus in 1781, and the following year he was appointed King’s Astronomer to George III. Caroline, as his dedicated assistant, was awarded a stipend of £50 a year. When, in 1788, her brother married a rich widow, Caroline began to work more on her own initiative, making many significant observations and calculations, and becoming an authority in her right. Most notably she independently discovered the dwarf elliptical galaxy known as M110, although Charles Messier had observed it some years earlier, and she discovered eight comets (on five of which she has unquestioned priority).

Caroline returned to Hanover in 1822, according to Wikipedia, following her brother’s death, but did not abandon her astronomical studies, continuing to verify and confirm Wilhelm’s findings and producing a catalogue of nebulae to assist her nephew John in his work. In 1828, the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with their Gold Medal for this work - no woman would be awarded it again until Vera Rubin in 1996; and in 1835 she and Mary Somerville were granted honorary membership - thus becoming the Society’s first ever women members. Caroline died, age 97, in 1848. Further information can found at the European Space Agency, Biographies of Women Mathematicians, or

There are a few published biographies of Caroline Herschel, the most recent of which is The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition by Claire Brock (see However, there is also a much older biography put together by the wife of her nephew John - Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel by Mrs John Herschel with portraits - and published by John Murray in London in 1876. This uses extensive extracts from Caroline’s diaries and workbooks, and is freely available online. Here are a few of those extracts leading up to the discovery of her first comet.

18 July 1786
‘I spent the whole day in ruling paper for the register; except that at breakfast I cut out ruffles for shirts. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Ramsden (Dollond’s sister) called this evening. I tried to sweep, but it is cloudy, and the moon rises at half-past ten.’

19 July 1786
‘In the evening we swept from eleven till one.’

20 July 1786
‘Prince Charles (Queen’s brother) Duke of Saxe-Gotha and the Duke of Montague were here this morning. I had a message from the King to show them the instruments.’

24 July 1786
‘I registered some sweeps in present time and Pole distance. Prince Resonico came with Dr. Shepherd to see the instruments. I swept from ten till one.’

28 July 1786
‘I wrote part of Flamsteed’s Catalogue in the clear. It was a stormy night, we could not go to bed.’

29 July 1786
‘I paid the smith. He received to-day the plates for the forty-foot tube. Above half of them are bad, but he thinks there will be as many good among them as will be wanted, and I believe he intends to keep the rest till they return. Paid the gardener for four days which he worked with the smith. I registered sweeps to-day. By way of memorandum I will set down in this book in what manner I proceed.

I began some time ago with the last sweep which is booked in the old register (Flamsteed’s time and P. D.), viz., 571, and at different times I booked 570, 569, 568, 567, 566, 565. To-day I booked 564; 563 is marked not to be registered; 560 and 561 I was obliged to pass over on account of some difficulty. The rest of the day I wrote in Flamsteed’s Catalogue. The storm continued all the day, but now, 8 o’clock, it turns to a gentle rain.’

30 July 1786
‘I wound up the sidereal timepiece, Field’s and Alexander’s clocks, and made covers for the new and old registers.’

31 July 1786
‘I booked 558, 557, and 554; 556, 555, I was obliged to leave out on account of some difficulty.’

‘Mem: I find I cannot go on fast enough with the registering of sweeps to be serviceable to the Catalogue of Nebulae. Therefore I will begin immediately to recalculate them, and hope to finish them before they return. Besides, I think the consequences of registering the sweeps backwards will be bad.’

1 August 1786
I have counted one hundred nebulae to-day, and this evening I saw an object which I believe will prove to-morrow night to be a comet.

2 August 1786
‘To-day I calculated 150 nebulae. I fear it will not be clear to-night. It has been raining throughout the whole day, but seems now to clear up a little.

1 o’clock. The object of last night is a comet.’

3 August 1786
‘I did not go to rest till I had wrote to Dr. Blagden and Mr. Aubert to announce the comet. After a few hours’ sleep, I went in the afternoon to Dr. Lind, who, with Mr. Cavallo, accompanied me to Slough, with the intention of seeing the comet, but it was cloudy, and remained so all night.’

Speaker without his mace

England’s so-called Long Parliament was disbanded exactly three and half centuries ago this day. That year, 1660, proved to be the end of a turbulent time in England, which had encompassed revolution, republicanism and regicide. It was also the year that the great Samuel Pepys began writing his diary, and - sure enough - he was there, in Westminster Hall when the Long Parliament was dissolved, and was thus able to note down in his diary how the Speaker was without his mace, and how ‘the whole Hall was joyful.’

The website of The British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660 provides a very readable introduction and lots of detail about this exciting era of British history. It explains that ‘the British Civil Wars and Commonwealth period witnessed the trial and execution of a king, the formation of a republic in England, a theocracy in Scotland and the subjugation of Ireland’. It was also in this period that a first attempt was made to unite the three nations under a single government, and the foundations of the modern British constitution were laid.

More specifically on the Long Parliament the site explains: ‘The Long Parliament was first called by King Charles I on 3 November 1640, six months after the dissolution of the Short Parliament and within weeks of the defeat of the English in the Bishops’ Wars against Scotland. The King was reluctant to summon another Parliament but the expense of the wars had left him desperately short of money and in urgent need of parliamentary subsidies. The Long Parliament sat throughout the First and Second Civil wars until December 1648, when it was purged by the New Model Army. The Purged Parliament (or the ‘Rump’ of the Long Parliament) was expelled by Oliver Cromwell in April 1653. The Long Parliament was reinstated in February 1660 after the fall of the Cromwellian Protectorate and was formally dissolved on 16 March 1660.’

And here is Pepys, only a couple of months after he began writing his famous diary (thanks as ever to Phil Gyford and his Diary of Samuel Pepys website):

Friday 16 March 1660
‘No sooner out of bed but troubled with abundance of clients, seamen. My landlord Vanly’s man came to me by my direction yesterday, for I was there at his house as I was going to London by water, and I paid him rent for my house for this quarter ending at Lady day, and took an acquittance that he wrote me from his master. Then to Mr. Sheply, to the Rhenish Tavern House, where Mr. Pim, the tailor, was, and gave us a morning draft and a neat’s tongue. Home and with my wife to London, we dined at my father’s, where Joyce Norton and Mr. Armiger dined also. After dinner my wife took leave of them in order to her going to-morrow to Huntsmore. In my way home I went to the Chapel in Chancery Lane to bespeak papers of all sorts and other things belonging to writing against my voyage. So home, where I spent an hour or two about my business in my study. Thence to the Admiralty, and staid a while, so home again, where Will Bowyer came to tell us that he would bear my wife company in the coach to-morrow. Then to Westminster Hall, where I heard how the Parliament had this day dissolved themselves, and did pass very cheerfully through the Hall, and the Speaker without his mace. The whole Hall was joyful thereat, as well as themselves, and now they begin to talk loud of the King. To-night I am told, that yesterday, about five o’clock in the afternoon, one came with a ladder to the Great Exchange, and wiped with a brush the inscription that was upon King Charles, and that there was a great bonfire made in the Exchange, and people called out ‘God bless. King Charles the Second!’ From the Hall I went home to bed, very sad in mind to part with my wife, but God’s will be done.’

Monday, March 8, 2010

. . . and 50,000 yuan

‘The year 2007 is over. . . I finally got some women.’ So confided Han Feng, a Chinese tobacco company official, to his personal diary. But, in the last few weeks, this diary has become the centre of a rather juicy news story. Han, it seems, was suspended from his job, pending an investigation into allegations about his debauchery and his taking of bribes - allegations which were sourced somehow from Han’s diary and leaked onto the internet. Meanwhile, Han has asked local police to arrest whoever was responsible for leaking the information and to charge them with an invasion of privacy.

Having been promoted in 2009, Han was employed as director of sales for the Guangxi tobacco monopoly bureau - until, that is, he was suspended at the beginning of March, pending an investigation by the bureau’s discipline inspection committee. The investigation, according to China Daily, quoted by AFP, followed accusations of corruption, a lavish lifestyle and improper relations with female employees. These accusations, it explained, stemmed from extracts of Han’s diaries that had been posted on the internet by a man wanting revenge for an affair Han had had with his wife.

The same AFP report says that during a year-long period up to January 2008, Han’s diary describes: ‘regular feasts and excessive drinking five days a week, usually with police, local government officials and tobacco company directors’; receiving ‘payments ranging from 2,000 yuan [$300] to 100,000 yuan’; and ‘sexual relationships with five female colleagues’. AFP also notes that China’s ruling party has railed against corruption for years, seeking to counter public anger over regular reports of graft, excess and debauchery among officials, and that this case marks the latest instance of an official being investigated following revelations on the internet

Times Online picked up the story, which opens as follows: ‘Most officials in trouble for corruption in China do their best to cover their tracks. Han Feng, however, wrote a diary that provided police investigators with a first-hand account of his misdemeanours. His Twitter-style, almost daily diary entries over a two-year period recount his sexual dalliances and the cash gifts that he received, and have caused a sensation since they were leaked on to the internet last month - prompting an official inquiry into his activities. Mr Han’s boasts about his sexual conquests and frequent enjoyment of banquets, karaoke and heavy drinking is an embarrassment for the leadership on the eve of the annual session of Parliament, where the need to stamp out corruption is likely to be high on the agenda.’

The most thorough and up-to-date news on this story in English, however, can be found at Global Times (a newish Chinese newspaper which says it ‘particularly focuses on expressing Chinese people’s real feelings, sharing their opinions and standpoints on significant international issues and promoting their understanding of the global views on China’). According to Global Times, which quotes the Sichuan-based Chengdu Business Daily, Han has now asked the police to track down the person who released the diary to the internet and charge the hacker with legal liabilities. A preliminary investigation, according to Beijing Times, has shown that the diary was leaked through Han’s computer.

Wikipedia has a brief bio of Han Feng, ChinaSmack has some photos, while EastSouthWestNorth has a very comprehensive report on the story, as well as a full list of the published diary entries translated into English. Here are some.

16 September 2007
‘Sha went shopping in the morning. Wang asked me for lunch at the Guijing Hotel. There were just the two of us. He gave me two bottles of Moutai liquor and 50,000 yuan. I deposited 30,000 yuan and took 20,000 home.’

18 September 2007
‘Stayed at the dormitory during the morning. Went to Guoda Hotel and got a room in the hotel. Went back to the office. Yong Rixian and others came. They are taking the test to become commissioners tomorrow. Drank a lot of red wine with them that evening. Returned to Guoda Hotel after 11am. Xiao Tan was already there. Her menstrual period was here, so she used her mouth on me.’

19 September 2007
‘Stayed at the dormitory during the morning. At noon, Hong He, Anhui, Li Yuefen and others came. Had lunch with them. Drank a lot of liquor. Slept during the afternoon. Went to Guoda Hotel in the evening. Xiao Tan did it with me with her mouth. I ejaculated.’

15 November 2007
‘After breakfast, Mo Kun accompanied us to see the ‘Upper/Lower Nine’. It is still quite well-preserved without a lot of changes. I stayed in the hotel room in the afternoon. Went out to eat in the evening and went back to the room. Ah Fang came to my room to fuck. After fucking five times, she returned to her own room.’

4 December 2007
‘I rested in the morning. At lunch, the Yinzhou court’s Zhao Xin and his colleagues asked me to lunch. I went with Xiao Pan. We drank until 4pm. I drank too much, and so did Xiao Pan. I asked her to come to my room where I fucked her. I seemed to remember that it was very heated and she cooperated with what seemed to be a lot of juice. In the evening, Xiao Pan and Ah Mei asked me to have a late night snack. We ate for a while and we told Tan Gang to come to drink another two bottles of foreign wine. Drank too much once again.’

11 December 2007
‘Economic operations analysis meeting all day. Had dinner Huang Guiting and director Xiao of the Land Department. We fixed our entry fee at 5 million yuan in order to guarantee that we get the land. Drank a lot once again.’

31 December 2007
‘I went with Sha to Xinmeng in the morning. Even more activities were going on. Bought two electric blankets. Ate lunch and came home. Spent the afternoon at home. The year 2007 is over. This is the year in which my work has gone the smoothest ever. The company is growing. The middle-level cadres have worked hard to understand my goals. My authority has grown among the workers. All our missions were accomplished. My income was as much as 200,000 yuan. Next year will be easier. Therefore, I don't care whether I go back to the district bureau. I hope that I can work another couple of years and then return for an easier job at the district bureau. This year, my son has done well and he is being recommended to be a graduate student without even having to take any test. Two years later, he will get a job easily. My photography skills have reached another higher stage, and I will try to keep learning until I grow old. I finally got some women. I hooked up with Xiao Pan. I have fun with Tan Shanfang regularly. I also have fun with Mo Yaodai. I have luck with women this year. But when there are too many women, I have to watch my body health.’

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Large idols are carved

It is the bicentenary today of the birth of William Griffith, one of the most fanatical of 19th century botanical explorers. Although he died young, he described and collected an astonishingly large number of Asian species. He was also fanatical about recording every detail of his explorations: his diaries, though apparently rather dry, provide a hypnotic and fabulous insight into regions that even today retain an aura of being strange and unknown. As an example, I have chosen extracts from his diary for the first three days of September 1839, when Griffith is travelling through central Afghanistan into the Bamean Valley with its caves and statues of Buddha.

Griffith was born on 4 March 1810 - two centuries ago today - at Kingston-upon-Thames near London. He studied medicine at London University, but, under the guidance of Sir John Lindley (famous for his research on orchids) he also became a distinguished student of botany. In 1832, he sailed to Madras, India, to take up an appointment as assistant-surgeon for the East India Company; and in 1835, he was attached to the Bengal Presidency and sent with a group of experts to explore the so-called tea-forests of Assam. This was the first of many such expeditions for Griffith whose quest for botanical knowledge took him to every corner of the East India Company’s extra-peninsular possessions.

In 1841, he was appointed surgeon in Malacca, but the following year he was appointed as acting director of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. That position lasted two years before, in 1844, he returned to his duties in Malacca. That same year he married Miss Henderson, the sister of his brother’s wife. Unfortunately, early the following year and while still in his mid-30s, he died from a liver disease. He bequeathed his collection to the East India Company, which was then sent to England, where it is still held by Kew Gardens. According to The Beauty of Orchids & Flowers website ‘no Botanist ever collected and described so many species like Griffith. His collection comprises about 12,000 plants.’ Futher information is available from Wikipedia.

What Griffith also did in great detail is write about his travels, in letters and in diaries. Some of these were arranged by John M’Clelland in Journals of Travels in Assam, Burma, Bhootan, Afghanistan and The Neighbouring Countries and published in 1847 - the full text is available at Project Gutenberg. The basic text (more or less as provided by Project Gutenberg) was printed in paperback by Hard Press - see - quite recently.

Here are extracts from three days at the beginning of September 1839 when Griffith is travelling through central Afghanistan and into the Bamean Valley.

1 September 1839
‘After re-crossing Hajeeguk we continued our march to Sohkta, five and a half miles. The road continued along a considerable descent throughout, at first down the valley in which we had halted to the west, thence down the large Kulloo valley in a northerly direction; towards the mouth of first ravine or valley it is bad, passing across a land slip, then it crosses the bed of a huge torrent falling at a great rate, and obstructed with boulders; the right bank, a high almost precipitous mountain, the left a high aggregate of granitic and other boulders. Water abundant, divided into three streams or so: this torrent comes direct from the nearest portion of Kohi-Baba, which appears of easy descent, presenting beautiful peaks. The road then keeps along left bank, undulating over the ravines, down which water flows from the hills on the eastern side; some of these are very steep, and the road itself is infamous, as may be supposed, crowded with boulders, and impracticable for wheeled carriages: one precipitous ravine we passed through, the rocks consisted of blackish, curiously laminated, and metallic looking stone. On descending one steep ravine, we then came on the road leading up to the Kulloo mountain, where we halted.

A good many villages, with forts, as usual were passed; the cultivation more advanced than at our last halt, crops consisting chiefly of barley. One good fort was observed close to our halting place opposite the direction of the small Kulloo ravine; across the valley a well marked road is seen running up a part of Kulloo ridge, at a lower elevation than that which we crossed.

Poplars and willows occur in the large valley, particularly towards Sohkta, a small orchard of stunted mulberry trees. Cultivation consisting of peas; barley of fine grain, resembling wheat when freed from the husk.

The plants of the valley of Kulloo were badly observed, as I was greatly tired and fatigued. Polygonum fruticosum re-occurs, Silene, Clematis erecta, Tragogopon, Salvia but less common, a curious Cruciferous plant, Lactucacea purpurea of Cabul, Chenopodium villosum fæmin. Dianthus, Saponaria, Lychnis inflata, oats common in fields, the common thistle, Urtica, Caragana abundant along the bed of the river, Papaver. On rocks about camp, 2 Salsolæ, Glaucum, Umbelliferæ of the Yonutt ravine, Artemisiæ, Rosa Ribes! Scrophularia alia.

The valley is very narrow at camp, the river running between precipices, in some parts passable without wetting the feet.’

2 September 1839
‘From Sohkta Kullar-Rood to Topehee, eight and a half miles. The road lay in a northerly direction for a quarter of a mile, then turning up a steep ravine, with an ascent for 800 feet; then small descent, then levellish, until we came to a black cliff, over which another steeper but longer ascent extended, then it became levellish for some distance; two other moderate, extended, longish ascents, led us to the summit, which is 500 feet higher than that of Hajeeguk. The descent continued steep and most tedious on reaching the precipitous ravine of Topehee, the road wound over small spurs, until we came to a grove of willows near the village. The road although steep is not bad, the soil being soft, that of the upper parts and of the descent, even annoying from the sand, both might with little trouble be made easy, but especially the descent. . .

The camels all came up but one, though very slowly; to them as to us, the descent was more tiring than the ascent.

From the summit a fine view of Kohi-Baba was obtained, running to NW by N. To the NE, another high range, but not so marked as Kohi-Baba, was seen running in a similar direction; on this, two considerable peaks present themselves, but only visible when lower down.

A splendid view of the Bamean valley is here obtained [Google maps for a modern satellite view]. We have now obviously passed the highest ranges: to west where the country is low and flat; to the north, the mountains indistinctly visible, are beautifully varied, presenting rugged outlines 10,000 feet above Bamean, also a view of an unearthly looking mountain, most variedly sculptured, is obtained, with here and there rich ravines and columnar sided valleys, presenting tints very varied; in those of the lower ranges, rich rosy tints are predominant; also niches in which gigantic idols are plainly seen: also a view of Goolghoolla, looking as it is in reality, a ruined city: a fine gorge apparently beyond the Bamean river, and a large ravine due north, by which I expect the Bamean river reaches the Oxus; not a tree is to be seen, except a few about Bamean. The whole view is indescribably volcanic, barren yet rich, requiring much colouring to convey an idea of it.

To the top of the pass it is three and a half miles; the character of Kulloo mountain is different from that above described, it is rounded, and composed of a curious compact slate, towards the summit well covered with plants, large tufts of Statice, two or three kinds, two undescribed; immense quantities of Artemisia, coarse tufted grasses, Onosma, Carduacea herbacea of Hajeeguk, uncommon; Triticoides 998, not common; Alium fusco purpurea common. A few exposed rocks occur on the summit. The ravines are all dry, there being no water or very little in them, and no cultivation; thus the contrast visible on both sides of the Kulloo river which runs round the foot of the mountain, is remarkable. Vegetation being distinct on either side.

Yet the ravine of Topehee shows, that when exposed to the action of water, this rock becomes very precipitous, cliffy, easily dislocated: the latter part of the road winds over a portion of this. Chakor, Ptarmigan a fine bird, voice somewhat like that of a vulture, to which it is perhaps anologous.

About Sohkta or in ravines, Euphorbia linearifolia, Ephedra, Asteroides, Rosa Ribes, Composita dislocata, Artemisiæ, Aster pyramidalis, Chenopodium villosum fæm., Senecionoides [long list of plants]. . .

Not much change beyond 12,000 feet, at that height Glaucium in abundance, with a few Hyoscyamus parvus, Borago [list of plants]. . .

The same vegetation continues down to Topehee; on the red hills over its ravine, the plants are different. [List of plants]’

3 September 1839
‘We proceeded from Topehee to Bamean, a distance of twelve miles, for two and a half miles down Topehee ravine. The road is a decent descent, although steepish: from thence turning abruptly at the Bamean valley, we cross the river, which is of considerable size, but fordable, although rapid. The road then extends along the left bank, not in the valley which is occupied by cultivation, but winding over and round the bases of low hills and cliffs, forming a northern boundary; throughout this part the road is villainous, often impeded by huge blocks. After a distance of about ten miles it improves, the valley expanding into a cultivated plain.

Topehee valley narrows towards its mouth or exit, which is walled in by high, red, raviny cliffs; above, in its upper parts it is well cultivated with beans, barley, wheat, and oats, and contains two villages: it opens into the Bamean valley at a village also called Topehee, there the Bamean valley is well cultivated, with oats intermixed with barley or wheat, trefoil, etc., it then narrows, forming the bed of a ravine occupied by Hippophæ, Tamarisk, etc., then it widens again.

The structure of the hills is curious, and generally exhibiting the appearance of having been much acted on by water. They are often cliffy, composed either of limestone or a soil of red clay, with which salt occurs in abundance, conspicuous from the white appearance, or springs. Crystals of carbonate of lime are frequent, limestone, or coarse conglomerate with large rounded stones, occurs; together with a curious laminated clayey rock, with white and ochraceous layers intermixed. The tints most various, as well as the sculpture of the mountains: here ravines representing tracery occur: there, columnar curiously carved cliffs, exhibiting all sorts of fantastic forms: here, as it were, a hill thrown down with numberless blocks into the stream, scattered in every direction; and here, but this is rare, very red horizontal strata, colours various, generally rosy, especially the clayey cliffs: here and there the colour of the rock is ochraceous, at one place its structure is slaty. The curious intermixture of these colours owing to the weather, is striking.

From the head of two of the ravines by which considerable torrents flow into Bamean river, beautiful views are obtained of the Kohi-Baba, whose peaks according to native authority, stretch sixty miles to the westward of Bamean, without much diminution in height. The scenery, however, is less beautiful after emerging into the widened part of the valley, where the hills are less varied both in form and tints, than they are in lower parts: fine views however of Kohi-Baba are occasionally had.

Salsolæ are the prevailing plants of the rocky sides of the valley, Clematis erecta common, here and there a small Statice.

Caves occur throughout the wide portion of the valley, but chiefly on the northern side; they also extend a little way into the narrow portion, where they seem to be excavated into clayey-looking, red, earthy limestone, or more commonly conglomerate, of coarse grey, or reddish colour.

The caves are most common in two cliffs composed of conglomerate mixed with transverse strata of the same rock, 3,400 feet high, presenting a rugged outline; and between the two, which are 800 yards apart, large idols are carved. These cliffs in some places have suffered little from the action of the elements, as testified by the perfect nature of the opening of the caves, and the corners, etc. of the niches enclosing idols; in others they are furrowed by the action of water; in others again slips have taken place to such extent in some, as to cause the fall of all their caves, or of their greater portion, thus exposing the galleries, etc.

The base of the cliffs is irregular, formed of the same conglomerate and clay, but covered more or less by boulders, evidently brought down by the river; by these many caves are choked up, so that originally the cliff might have been perpendicular to the edge of the base, and if so, the caves in the cliffs, and the idols, are of later date than those of the rugged base. But more probably the cliffs, and the caves, are much as they were originally, the boulders having been a subsequent deposit.

The western corner of the cliff beyond the large idol, is much destroyed; on this, the force of the current would have acted: a breakwater occurring along the returning face.

The caves are very numerous, but are confined chiefly towards the base of the cliffs . . . These are of no size, finish, or elegance, and it is only their number, and the extreme obscurity of their history, that makes them interesting; the roofs are usually arched, and the walls are often supplied with niches, and covered with a coating of tar of some thickness, and intense blackness. The galleries are low, arched, and admit one person at a time, or a line of persons with ease; they often form the ascent to the upper caves now inhabited, but originally they were enclosed in the rock, they are defended in such cases by a parapet.

The largest caves are those about the idols, but I see none of any size. They are often domed, the spring of the dome is ornamented with a projecting frieze, some of these are parallelogramic, in one instance with an ornamented border thus.

Some of the caves are situated as high as, or even above the tops of the idols; all parts within the rock are lighted by small apertures.

Access to the large idol is destroyed; the smaller one is gained by a spiral staircase of rude construction, and by galleries. The floor of the galleries is rugged, the steps and the cement of the conglomerate having worn out from between the masses of rock. The images all occupy niches in the face of the hill: two are gigantic, the rest not very large. They are generally in the usual sitting posture, and rather high up, while the larger ones are erect, and reach the base of the cliffy portion of the rock. They are all male, and all obviously Boodhistical; witness the breadth, proportion, and shape of the head, and the drapery; both are damaged, but the smaller is the more perfect, the face of the large one being removed above the lower lip; the arms are broken off, showing they were occupied by galleries. The drapery is composed of plaster, and was fixed on by bolts which have fallen out, leaving the holes. The arms in the smaller one are supported by the falling drapery. The height of the large image in the niche is 135 feet.

The pictures are much damaged, the plaster on which they were painted being mostly very deficient, all the faces are damaged by bullets or other missiles: their execution is indifferent, not superior to modern Burmese paintings; the colours however are good, the figures are either grouped or single, and one is in the style of the time of Henry VIII, with a hat and plume, others represent groups flying - one a golden bird, another a man with a hemispherical helmet, all are much damaged. The hair in some is dressed as in the modern Burmese top-knot, often surrounded by a circle.

Otherwise the niches are not ornamented, except in one instance, as above alluded to; the head of the smaller figure was formerly covered by the roof, as evident from holes or troughs for timbers in the gallery. These holes are now inhabited by pigeons, and the lower ones by cows, donkeys, fowls, kids, dogs; some are filthy apertures blocked up by stone and mud walls; the doors irregular, and guarded between two giants.

An old tope occurs near some small figures, it is composed of stones very much disintegrated, with curious blocks of kucha work, and large Babylonish bricks; the smaller figures are much destroyed, some completely; all are in alto-relievo.

The plants about Topehee valley, are Cichorium, Centaurea lutea, [long list of plants] . . .’