Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Race to the South Pole

One hundred years ago today, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four others in his team were the first explorers to reach the South Pole. A British party led by Robert Falcon Scott, who had made a previous, but unsuccessful, attempt to reach the Pole, was not far behind, and arrived a month later. However, whereas the Norwegian party returned home, Scott’s party all died from cold and hunger. Scott’s diary of his last expedition was first published in 1913, but Amundsen’s diary has only just recently been published in English for the first time.

Amundsen was born in 1872 to a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains in Borge, 80km or so south of Oslo. Initially, he chose to study medicine at the urging of his mother, though gave up at the age of 21 when she died. Having long been inspired by the great Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen (see Siberian driftwood cannot lie), he sold his medical books and took work as ordinary seaman. By 1895, he had obtained his papers as mate, and by 1900 his master’s license. His first experience of the polar regions came in the late 1890s on a Belgian expedition with Adrien de Gerlache.

In 1903, Amundsen led the first expedition to successfully traverse Canada’s Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, though the team had to over-winter three times before returning home in 1906. Significantly, during this time, Amundsen learned various skills from the native Eskimos, such as the use of sledge dogs and the wearing of animal skins.

Amundsen planned next to go to the North Pole, but on hearing in 1909 that others had already claimed that prize, he secretly decided to reorganise his forthcoming expedition - to Antartica. Employing the Fram, the same vessel used by Fridtjof Nansen, Amundsen and his team arrived at the Bay of Whales in January 1911, and made a base camp. Five of them set off on 20 October using skis, four sledges, 52 dogs, and employing animal skins, rather than heavy wool, for clothing. Less than two months later, they were the first to reach the Geographic South Pole. Scott, meanwhile, with four colleagues reached the Pole five weeks later, and were bitterly disappointed to have lost the race. All five of them died on the return journey. So tragic was their fate, indeed, that their story has become far more famous that Amundsen’s

After his venture in Antartica, Amundsen developed a successful shipping business, and set out on more ventures using a new vessel, Maud. An expedition, starting in 1918, during which he planed to freeze the Maud in the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram) proved troublesome, costly and ultimately unsuccessful.

Subsequently, Amundsen focused on air travel to reach the Pole. After a promising effort using flying boats, he, and 15 others (including the Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile), succeeded in flying an airship from Spitsbergen to Alaska in two days, crossing the Pole, in May 1926. However, the last years of Amundsen’s life were embittered by disputes over credit for the flight. He died in 1928 while on a mission to rescue Nobile who had crashed an airship returning from the North Pole.

Wikipedia and the Fram Museum website have more biographical information. And The International Journal of Scientific History has a briefing on the claim that Amundsen and his colleague Oscar Wisting were not only first to the South Pole, but also to the North Pole.

Scott’s diary of his ill-fated expedition was published (by Smith, Elder & Co) as early as 1913, in the first volume of Scott’s Last Expedition. This is freely available at Internet Archive. However, it was not until last year (2010) that Amundsen’s diary of his South Pole expedition was published in English, thanks to Roland Huntford. According to the publisher Continuum, Huntford is ‘the world’s foremost authority on the polar expeditions and their protagonists’. His book - Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen - contains Amundsen’s diary entries alongside those of Scott, and also Olav Bjaaland, one of Amundsen’s colleagues.

‘Cutting through the welter of controversy to the events at the heart of the story,’ Continuum says, ‘Huntford weaves the narrative from the protagonists’ accounts of their own fate. What emerges is a whole new understanding of what really happened on the ice and the definitive account of the Race for the South Pole.’

Here are entries from both Amundsen’s and Scott’s diaries concerning their arrivals at the South Pole. The one by Amundsen is taken from Huntford’s book, while the Scott entries are taken from the 1913 publication. It is worth noting, though, that the British Library website has made available, since last year, photographs of Scott’s original 1911 Antarctic diary.

By mistake, Amundsen’s calender was not put back when the Fram crossed the International Date Line, and when the mistake was discovered Amundsen decided it would be too difficult to revise all the diary and log entries, and so he kept the wrong calendar dates going - hence he actually arrived at the Pole on the 14th, even though his diary dates it the 15th. Håkon VII was King of Norway at the time.

14 December 1911, Roald Amundsen
‘Thursday 15 Decbr.
So we arrived, and were able to raise our flag at the geographical South Pole - King Håkon VII’s Vidda. Thanks be to God! The time was 3pm when this happened. The weather was of the best kind when we set off this morning, but at 10am, it clouded over and hid the sun. Fresh breeze from the SE. The skiing has been partly good, partly bad. The plain - King H VII’s Vidda - has had the same appearance - quite falt and without what one might call sastrugi. The sun reappeared in the afternoon, and now we much go out and take a midnight observation. Naturally we are not exactly at the point called 90°, but after all our excellent observations and dead reckoning we must be very close. We arrived here with three sledges and 17 dogs. HH put one down just after arrival. ‘Hlege’ was worn out. Tomorrow we will go out in three directions to circle the area round the Pole. We have had our celebratory meal - a little piece of seal meat each. We leave here the day after tomorrow with two sledges. The third sledge will be left here. Likewise we will leave a little three man tent (Rønne) with the Norwegian flag and a pennant marked Fram.’

16 January 1912, Scott
‘[. . .] Half an hour later he detected a black speck ahead. Soon we knew that this could not be a natural snow feature. We marched on, found that it was a black flag tied to a sledge bearer; near by the remains of a camp; sledge tracks and ski tracks going and coming and the clear trace of dogs’ paws - many dogs. This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal com- panions. Many thoughts come and much discussion have we had. To-morrow we must march on to the Pole and then hasten home with all the speed we can compass. All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return. [. . .]’

17 January 1912, Scott
‘Camp 69. T. -22° at start. Night - 21°. The POLE. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. We have had a horrible day - add to our disappointment a head wind 4 to 5, with a temperature -22°, and companions labouring on with cold feet and hands.

We started at 7.30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery. We followed the Norwegian sledge tracks for some way; as far as we make out there are only two men. In about three miles we passed two small cairns. Then the weather overcast, and the tracks being increasingly drifted up and obviously going too far to the west, we decided to make straight for the Pole according to our calculations. At 12.30 Evans had such cold hands we camped for lunch - an excellent ‘week-end one.’ We had marched 7.4 miles. Lat. sight gave 89° S3’ 37”. We started out and did 6 1/2 miles due south. To-night little Bowers is laying himself out to get sights in terrible difficult circumstances; the wind is blowing hard, T. -21°, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time. We have been descending again, I think, but there looks to be a rise ahead; otherwise there is very little that is different from the awful monotony of past days. Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow. We have had a fat Polar hoosh in spite of our chagrin, and feel comfortable inside - added a small stick of chocolate and the queer taste of a cigarette brought by Wilson. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.’

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Huns flew over Hythe

Viking, part of the Penguin group, has just published the diaries of Rodney Foster, who served in the Home Guard during the Second World War. He rose to become a major within the organisation but resigned a few months later. Such journals are very rare since Home Guard personnel were forbidden from keeping diaries. However, contrary to Penguin’s publicity that this is the first Home Guard diary ever discovered, I believe there is at least one other.

Rodney Foster was born in India in 1882 into a British army family. He was educated in England, and then entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1900. The following year he was commissioned in the British Army and was sent to India, where he served for a time on the North-west Frontier. In 1906, he joined the Survey of India and worked as a surveyor and cartographer.

Foster returned briefly to England in 1910 to marry Phyllis Blaxland, a friend of one of his sisters, and they had one daughter, Daphne. Although he rejoined the Indian Army during the First World War, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he stayed with the Survey of India until retiring in 1932, back in England, to Saltwood, near Hythe on the Kent coastline. In 1940 he enrolled in the Home Guard, becoming a major in 1942 with 560 men under his command, though he resigned a few months later, frustrated with the organisation around him. He died in 1962.

These few biographical details can be found in Ronnie Scott’s introduction to a new book from Viking - The Real ‘Dad’s Army’ - The War Diaries of Lt.Col. Rodney Foster. The diaries were discovered, Viking says, in an auction, and were then edited by Ronnie Scott. Also in the introduction, Scott says: ‘Rodney’s diaries offer an invaluable insight into the Home Front during the Second World War. Not only do they detail life on Hellfire Corner [a stretch of the English Channel in the Dover area heavily bombed by the Germans], they clearly depict the inception and development of the Home Guard from the point of view of a serving officer - something that, until now, had never come to light. Home Guard personnel, especially those serving in the areas most vulnerable to invasion, were forbidden from keeping diaries, in case the information in them could be of use or value to the invader. So it is all the more remarkable that such an establishment figure as Rodney should break the regulations in this way.’

Viking makes great play of the link with Dad’s Army, an ever popular BBC TV comedy series first broadcast in 1968. The Dad’s Army of the title was a bumbling Home Guard platoon, located in a fictional town on the south coast of England (i.e. somewhere in the vicinity of Foster’s Home Guard). According to Viking: ‘Writing from the village hall, abandoned barns, churches and makeshift officers’ messes, [Foster] records with a unique wit and wisdom the everyday details of family life during the war: the domestic routine dogged by air raid warnings, the antics of soldiers stationed nearby taking every chance to improve their lot, the quiet strength of a small community faced with great adversity.’ His ‘humanity and care shine through’, Viking adds, ‘proud testament to the spirit that defied the Nazis and won the war.’

Foster’s diary is indeed a substantial document and record, and the Viking book is beautifully produced with lots of illustrations by Foster himself, as well as some relevant photographs. However, Penguin is promoting the book as ‘the first Home Guard diary ever discovered’. It even goes so far as to say that this ‘fact’ has been verified by the Imperial War Museum. But is it a ‘fact’? A diary kept by Charles Graves, a journalist and Home Guard officer, during the war was published as Off the Record by Hutchinson in 1942. There is not much information about this on the internet, but see Abebooks for secondhand copies.

Here are several extracts from The War Diaries of Lt.Col. Rodney Foster.

5 November 1940
‘Frost in the morning and a fine sunny day. Huns came, passing over Folkestone, returning later with our fighters on them. At 10:30 am after a burst of firing I saw one of ours drop from the sky like a falling leaf then recover itself and stagger off to Lympne. At 11:30 am three Huns dived on the two from over Pedlinge and dropped bombs. Two fell on the Ranges, and one hit the quarters of the Quartermaster of the Small Arms School. The next hit and demolished the barricaded side of Nelson’s Bridge over the canal, spattering the small houses nearby with black canal mud, and the last fell on Hospital Hill, Sandgate, killing a Sapper from the section in Hillcrest Road. Shortly after, the rain came down. On my way up to mount the guard I saw the strafing of the French coast in retaliation for the shelling of Dover. It came down in buckets as I left the post and I was wet through. Hillcrest Road was full of lorries, some backing into the Choppings’, and there was great activity all night preparing to move the big gun. If the gun goes we ought to be able to return home. It is not pleasant having to go so far at night and sleep in a cold house.’

9 November 1940
‘A strong south-westerly gale. In morning Captain Fuller drove me up to Saltwood and I walked all over the village distributing greatcoats. About 1 o’clock, two Huns flew over Hythe and dropped (some say ten) bombs on Cheriton. The London Division leaves today and a new Division comes in. The roads everywhere were full of troops and lorries and buses and there were pom-poms [AA guns] out on the ranges, in our allotments and in Sandling guarding against dive-bombers. Alarm 6 pm to 10:30 pm. I again got soaked mounting the guard. Neville Chamberlain died today.’

7 May 1942
‘I was out of bed just after 6 am when a plane roared over our roof and there were two explosions to the west. I saw a black snub-nosed Hun fly over my head. Another flew part to the north. Then I saw a third over Seabrook Road and saw a bomb leave its rack. This fell on the Hythe cricket pitch. The first bomb cut Sandling Park House in half, the other two fell in trees. The siren sounded after it was all over! The Huns did no machine gunning. I was so interested I forgot to tell my family to go to safety.’

Postscript (30 November): Penguin has responded to my point about Foster’s diary not being the first such Home Guard diary by passing on information from Shaun Sewell, who is credited with finding the diary. Sewell says: ‘[The Graves diary] was published in 1942 and can hardly be a diary covering the entire war! I'm guessing [it] is not a day to day account of Home Guard life, perhaps a collection of entries for wartime propaganda. I think that paper was rationed in the war so publications might have been censored and very limited.’

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Xu diary melodrama

Xu Zhimo, a much celebrated Chinese poet, might have been celebrating his 80th birthday today had he not died young in a plane crash. Collections of his romantic poems and essays continue to be published, as do biographies celebrating the romance of his life. By incorporating their lives into their literature, one writer says, he and his friends elevated personal details to the level of artistic and historical importance. Even the fate of Xu’s diaries has been likened to a melodrama.

Xu was born in Haining, Zhejiang, in the far east of China, some 125 km from Shanghai. In 1915, he married Zhang Youyi, and the following year took up law studies. For a few years, he also studied economics and politics in the United States, and in Cambridge, Britain, where, it is said, he fell in love with English romantic poetry. Also in England, he fell in love with the beautiful and talented Lin Huiyin who would soon return to China and become a well-known architect and writer.

By 1922, Xu was also back in China, and had divorced from his first wife (the divorce is considered the first to take place in China). He focused his literary efforts on writing poetry and translating Western romantic forms. He also set up poetry societies, and worked as an editor and professor at several schools. In 1926, he married the third love of his life, Lu Xiaoman. Among his friends was Ling Shuhua, a writer who would have an affair with Virginia Woolf’s nephew, Julian Bell, when he was in China, and enjoy a correspondence with Woolf herself.

On his way to a lecture by Lin Huiyin, Xu died in a plane crash on 19 November 1931, aged but 34. He left behind poems, essays, novels as well as translations, and diaries. Wikipedia has a short biography. Several collections of Xu Zhimo’s work have been published in Chinese, the most recent and most comprehensive came out in 2005 - see Amazon. It was announced that ‘the most precious inclusion in the collection are two of the poet’s diaries, which had been looted by a Japanese soldier during the Japanese invasion of China in the 30s but later returned’.

A story about Xu’s diaries is included in A Thousand Miles of Dreams - the journeys of two Chinese sisters by Sasha Su-Ling Welland published by Rowman and Littlefield. The two sisters of the title are Welland’s grandmother who emigrated to the US and changed her name to Amy, and Ling Shuhua. Here is the paragraph from Welland’s book - partly available at Googlebooks - which explains the story.

‘When Ling Shuhua returned to Beijing for Xu Zhimo’s memorial, she provoked a battle over his ‘Eight Treasures Box’, which contained the diaries, letters and manuscripts he had left with her before departing for Europe in 1925. Although it had changed hands in the intervening years, Shuhua had possession of it when Zhimo died. Hu Shi planned to coordinate the publication of the poet’s selected letters, so Shuhua gave the ‘Eight Treasures Box’ to him, not knowing that he would pass it on to Xu Xhimo’s former lover Lin Huiyin to itemize the contents. On learning this, Shuhua wrote a frantic letter to Hu Shi. She feared that Lin Huiyin might destroy the diaries of Xu Zhimo’s widow Lu Xiaoman, now also in the box and full of curses for Lin. Shuhua defended her qualifications to serve as editor of Xu Zhimo’s writing. Once Lin Huiyin began her job of catologing, she discovered that Shuhua had removed two of Xu Zihmo’s diaries from the time at Cambridge when he met and fell in love with Lin. Hu Shi wrote to Shuhua, guessing that she wanted to write a biography based on the diaries, and criticized her for splitting up the poet’s effects and creating bad feeling among friends. Eventually Shuhua returned the diaries, but several pages remained missing.

The melodrama of this scramble after a box of letters and diaries shows the extent to which this generation of authors saw themselves as actors in an era of momentous change. By incorporating their lives into their literature, they elevated personal details to the level of artistic and historical importance.’

Lomonosov’s legacy

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov, a remarkable Russian remembered for advances in science and achievements in poetry. He must have kept a diary because one extract is quoted widely across the internet, but I can find no source for this extract, nor any further information about his diaries.

Lomonosov was born on 19 November 1711 in the village of Denisovka (now called Lomonosovo) in the far north of Russia. Aged around 10, his father, a fisherman and shipowner, started taking him on trading missions. However, he was far more interested in books than in the sea, and, in his late teens, eventually found his way to Moscow (Encyclopædia Britannica says he went by foot, Boris Menshutkin, author of Lomonosov, Chemist Courtier, Physicist Poet, says he joined a caravan).

Once in Moscow, Lomonosov inveigled his way into the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy where he excelled as a student. By 1936, he had been awarded a scholarship to Saint Petersburg state university, and then he won a grant for study at the University of Marburg, in Germany.

Having married in Marburg, but unable to make a good living, Lomonosov returned to Russia in 1741. He was appointed to the physics department at the Russian Academy of Science; however, after insulting colleagues, he was held under house arrest for many months. With apologies behind him, the Academy named him professor of chemistry in 1745, and thereafter he soon established its first chemistry laboratory. A decade later he was instrumental in founding the Moscow State University.

Famously, in 1756, he tried to replicate an experiment undertaken by the English scientist Robert Boyle which had helped support the popular phlogiston theory (which postulated the existence of a fire-like element released during combustion), but concluded that the theory was false. Thus he anticipated the discoveries, 20 years later, of Antoine Lavoisier, one of the discoverers of oxygen and hydrogen, and the first to give a true explanation of combustion.

In support of Lomonosov’s claim to have anticipated Lavoisier, an extract from his diary is widely quoted, on Wikipedia and many other websites: ‘Today I made an experiment in hermetic glass vessels in order to determine whether the mass of metals increases from the action of pure heat. The experiments - of which I append the record in 13 pages - demonstrated that the famous Robert Boyle was deluded, for without access of air from outside the mass of the burnt metal remains the same.’ But nowhere on the internet can I find the source of this extract, nor any other information about Lomonosov’s diaries.

Among Lomonosov’s other scientific achievements are counted an improved design for a reflecting telescope, the first hypothesis on the existence of an atmosphere on Venus, the first recorded freezing of mercury, an explanation on the formation of icebergs, and an early understanding of, what would later turn out to be, the theory of continental drift. On the artistic side, he set up a glass factory to produce the first Russian mosaics, created a grammar that reformed the Russian literary language, and wrote poetry. He died in 1765, still only in his mid-40s. Further biographical information can be found at Russian Poetry Net, Russipedia and Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Livingstone’s invisible writing

A remarkable diary left behind by the famous British explorer and missionary David Livingstone has just been revealed, literally, for the first time - and published on the internet - thanks to a trans-Antlantic team of scholars and scientists. The so-called 1871 Field Diary was written in the run-up to Livingstone’s meeting with the journalist Henry Morton Stanley, and covers a horrific massacre by Arab slave traders.

David Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Scotland, in 1813. He went to work at the local mill aged only 10, which also provided some schooling. In 1836, he began studying medicine and theology in Glasgow, and then decided to become a missionary doctor. In 1840-1841, he was posted to the edge of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. In 1844, he married Mary Moffat, daughter of another missionary; they had six children, one dying in infancy.

During this first 16 year unbroken period in Africa, Livingstone undertook several expeditions north and into the continent’s interior in search of converts. In so doing, he added hugely to Western knowledge of central and southern Africa. On one of his expeditions, starting in 1853 and lasting three years, he discovered some spectacular waterfalls, which he named Victoria Falls. On arriving at the mouth of the Zambezi in 1856, he became the first European to cross the southern width of Africa.

Livingstone returned to Britain that same year, something of a national hero; and subsequently went on speaking tours. He also published his best-selling Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, before heading out to Africa again (arriving in 1858). This time he stayed for five years working on official explorations of eastern and central Africa for the British government. In 1864, though, he was ordered home by the government, dissatisfied with his work. His wife had died some two years earlier.

Back in Britain, Livingstone spoke out against the slave trade, and secured private support for another expedition to central Africa, this time searching for the Nile’s source. The expedition began in 1866 and went on for years; indeed, when nothing was heard of Livingstone for many months, the journalist and explorer, Stanley, set out to find him. And find him, he did, in November 1871, greeting him with the now-famous phrase: ‘Dr Livingstone I presume?’

Livingstone continued on his exploration but increasingly suffered ill health; and he died in May 1873. His body was shipped to England and buried in Westminster Abbey. There is plenty of information about Livingstone on the internet, at Wikipedia, Livingstone Online, Believer’s Web, and Wholesome Words which has a long list of biographies.

Livingstone was a meticulous diarist, recording his journeys in pocket books, and then writing up the journals in larger volumes. All of these survived (brought back with his body in fact) and were edited by Horace Waller and published in two volumes by John Murray in 1874 as The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa from 1865 to his Death. These books are freely available at Internet Archive.

However, for some months in 1871, Livingstone ran so short of writing supplies that he resorted to using improvised composition materials to keep up his diary habit. This so-named 1871 Field Diary was thus composed on a series of odd scraps of paper, some of which already contained pre-printed text, such as an old copy of The Standard newspaper, and was penned using an ink made from the seed of a local berry. This manuscript, though carefully preserved by the National Trust for Scotland at its David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, was unreadable: the paper had deteriorated badly and the ink had faded.

In 2009, a research team led by Dr Adrian S Wisnicki, assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, began a spectral imaging project to recover the lost text. And, on 1 November 2011, announced it had succeeded. The team says the story they found, in the hitherto illegible diary, ‘offers a unique insight into Livingstone’s mind during the greatest crisis of his last expedition.’ Of particular importance, it adds, in relation to what was already known of Livingstone’s diary in 1871, is the original description of a massacre in which slave traders slaughtered hundreds of local people. Stanley’s report of this massacre to the world press, sourced at the time on what Livingstone told him, prompted the British government to close the East African slave trade.

The David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project has now made the complete original text freely available on the internet, complete with everything you would want to know about the project, the manuscript, and more! The website is hosted by the University of California, and the project was funded by the British Academy and the US National Endowment for the Humanities.

The 1 November press release from the project team highlights one of the key aspects of its findings: ‘The massacre is one of the most important events in The Last Journals of David Livingstone (1874), edited after Livingstone’s death in 1873 by his friend Horace Waller. Until now this book was the main source for historians and biographers. However, critical and forensic analysis of the original 1871 text reveals a very different story from Waller’s heavily edited version. In particular it sheds light on a heart-stopping moment when Livingstone gazes with ‘wonder’ as three Arab slavers with guns enter the market in Nyangwe, where 1,500 people are gathered, most of them women: ‘50 yards off two guns were fired and a general flight took place - shot after shot followed on the terrified fugitives - great numbers died - It is awful - terrible, a dreadful world this,’ writes Livingstone in despair as he witnesses the massacre. ‘As I write, shot after shot falls on the fugitives on the other side [of the river] who are wailing loudly over those they know are already slain - Oh let thy kingdom come.’ ’

Monday, October 31, 2011

Columbus in the Bahamas

Some five hundred and sixty years ago today, or thereabouts, was born Christopher Columbus, probably the most famous explorer of all time. His voyages across the Atlantic brought much knowledge to Europe of the American continents, and also set in motion Spanish colonisation - a process which would have the most profound impact on the future of the world. Fortunately, Columbus kept detailed logs or diaries, and these are among the earliest of any surviving European diaries.

The eldest of five children, Columbus was born on (or around) 31 October 1451 in Genoa (there is some dispute about the place as well as the date) into a wool weaving family, possibly of Spanish Jewish descent. How he became a sailor is unclear, although it seems he may have worked first as a commercial agent in his home city, a busy port. He may also have been in the service of a pirate for a while. He made his first trading voyage to Khios in the Aegean Sea. On one early voyage, his vessel sank during a battle off the Portuguese coast, and it is thought he swam ashore. He then settled in Portugal, and married, in 1479, the daughter of the governor of the island of Porto Santo, who bore him one son.

In the belief that the world was smaller than thought, and round, and that Asia could be reached quickly by sailing west, Columbus petitioned the Portuguese court for funds, only to be rejected. He moved to Spain where his plans were more favourably received. Here, Beatriz Enriquez became his mistress and bore him a second son, Ferdinand Columbus. In 1492, Columbus set off on the first of four famous voyages. On the first one, he explored the Caribbean islands. On the second, he founded the first European town in the New World - on Hispaniola (the island now shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

During his third voyage, Columbus discovered the mainland of South America before returning to Hispaniola, where considerable discontent had arisen among the settlers; lobbying against him then led to his arrest. On returning to Spain, he regained his freedom, but at the cost of much prestige and the governorship of the Indies, a title and role he’d acquired after his first voyage. On his fourth and somewhat ill-fated journey, Columbus explored the coast of Central America, but was later stranded on Jamaica for a year. He returned to Spain in 1504, and, in 1506, died a wealthy man, though still in dispute with the Spanish crown over his share of the income from the new lands.

There is much information about Columbus available online, at Wikipedia, Royal Museums Greenwich, The Smithsonian, and in his famous journals which are all freely available at Internet Archive. Here is an extract describing the first sighting of land in the West Indies. It is taken from The Journal of Christopher Columbus (during his First Voyage, 1492-93), and Documents relating to the voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Real, published by The Hakluyt Society in 1892 (on the 400th anniversary of the voyage).

11 October 1492 ‘The course was WSW, and there was more sea than there had been during the whole of the voyage. They saw sandpipers, and a green reed near the ship. Those of the caravel Pinta saw a cane and a pole, and they took up another small pole which appeared to have been worked with iron; also another bit of cane, a land-plant, and a small board. The crew of the caravel Niña also saw signs of land, and a small branch covered with berries. Everyone breathed afresh and rejoiced at these signs. The run until sunset was 26 leagues.

After sunset the Admiral returned to his original west course, and they went along at the rate of 12 miles an hour. Up to two hours after midnight they had gone 90 miles, equal to 22 1/2 leagues. As the caravel Pinta was a better sailer, and went ahead of the Admiral, she found the land, and made the signals ordered by the Admiral. The land was first seen by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana. But the Admiral, at ten in the previous night, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, though it was so uncertain that he could not affirm it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, a gentleman of the Kings bed-chamber, and said that there seemed to be a light, and that he should look at it. He did so, and saw it. The Admiral said the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the fleet as inspector, but he could see nothing, because he was not in a place whence anything could be seen. After the Admiral had spoken he saw the light once or twice, and it was like a wax candle rising and falling. It seemed to few to be an indication of land; but the Admiral made certain that land was close.

When they said the Salve, which all the sailors were accustomed to sing in their way, the Admiral asked and admonished the men to keep a good look-out on the forecastle, and to watch well for land; and to him who should first cry out that he saw land, he would give a silk doublet, besides the other rewards promised by the Sovereigns, which were 10,000 maravedis to him who should first see it.

At two hours after midnight the land was sighted at a distance of two leagues. They shortened sail, and lay by under the mainsail without the bonnets. The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight; and on Friday they arrived at a small island of the Lucayos, called, in the language of the Indians, Guanahani [Watling Island, named San Salvador by Columbus]. Presently they saw naked people. The Admiral went on shore in the armed boat, and Martin Alonso Pinzon, and Vicente Yañez, his brother, who was captain of the Niña. The Admiral took the royal standard, and the captains went with two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral took in all the ships as a sign, with an F and a Y and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the cross and the other on the other.

Having landed, they saw trees very green, and much water, and fruits of diverse kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains, and to the others who leaped on shore, and to Rodrigo Escovedo, secretary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and said that they should bear faithful testimony that he, in presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of the said island for the King and for the Queen, his Lords making the declarations that are required, as is more largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing.

Presently many inhabitants of the island assembled. What follows is in the actual words of the Admiral in his book of the first navigation and discovery of the Indies. “I,” he says, “that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see. They afterwards came to the ship’s boats where we were, swimming and bringing us parrots, cotton threads in skeins, darts, and many other things; and we exchanged them for other things that we gave them, such as glass beads and small bells. In fine, they took all, and gave what they had with good will. It appeared to me to be a race of people very poor in everything. They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one young girl. All I saw were youths, none more than thirty years of age. They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horse’s tail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the colour of the Canarians, neither black nor white. Some paint themselves white, others red, and others of what colour they find. Some paint their faces, others the whole body, some only round the eyes, others only on the nose. They neither carry nor know anything of arms, for I showed them swords, and they took them by the blade and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their darts being wands without iron, some of them having a fish’s tooth at the end, and others being pointed in various ways. They are all of fair stature and size, with good faces, and well made. I saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses, that they may learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots, on this island.” The above is in the words of the Admiral.’

Friday, October 21, 2011

Arthur Schnitzler whistling

Arthur Schnitzler, the Austrian author who wrote sexy plays and stream-of-consciousness short stories long before they were fashionable, died 80 years ago today. He was also a committed diarist, documenting some parts of his life - not least his sexual activity - in meticulous detail. The diaries have only been published in German, in ten volumes; and even English-language biographies, which rely on the diary material, provide few verbatim quotes.

Schnitzler was born in Vienna in 1862, the son of a prominent Hungarian-Jewish doctor. He studied medicine at the city’s university until 1885, thereafter working at the city’s general hospital. He had a strong interest in psychiatry and was a friend of Sigmund Freud; but it was writing that attracted him most.

Schnitzler’s early literary reputation was largely gained through his plays, starting with Anatol in 1893, and then, in 1900, the now-popular Der Reigen (Hands Around, also known as La Ronde). This play - in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after sex - was not actually performed until 1920, but led to the author being branded as a pornographer.

Encyclopedia Britannica summarises Schnitzler’s literary style: ‘Most at home in creating a single, precisely shaded mood for a one-act play or short story, [he] often evoked the atmosphere of the corrupt self-deception he saw in the last years of the Habsburg empire. He explored human psychology, portraying egotism in love, fear of death, the complexities of the erotic life, and the morbidity of spirit induced by a weary introspection.’ He also criticised the military code of conduct in various works, not least in his most well-known novel, Lieutenant Gustl, published at the turn of the century. This latter is considered one of the first German-language works of fiction to rely on stream-of-consciousness writing.

In 1903, Schnitzler married the actress Olga Gussman, with whom he had two children. His later years were largely spent in a villa overlooking Vienna where he devoted most of his time to writing fiction. His 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) was turned into a major film by Stanley Kubrick in 1999 (Eyes Wide Shut). Schnitzler’s married daughter committed suicide in 1930, and he himself died on 21 October 1931. His works were banned by the Nazi party in Germany, and then also in Austria - indeed, they were among those thrown into the flames when Joseph Goebbels organized book burnings. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In addition to his other writing, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death. The manuscript, which runs to almost 8,000 pages, is considered among the most significant of German and European diary literature. Long before his death, Schnitzler stipulated that the volumes of the diaries to the year 1899 should not be published for twenty years after his death, and the remainder not for forty years. In fact, it was not until around 1980 that the Austrian Academy of Sciences began a long-term project to publish the diary, in ten volumes (the last appeared in 2000), with the title, Arthur Schnitzler - Tagebuch.

I can find no extracts or verbatim examples from Schnitzler’s diaries in English on the internet. However, an academic article about them, written by Andrew C Wisely (a Schnitzler specialist and associate professor of German at Baylor University) is freely available online at Googlebooks. The article - The Task of Memory: The Diary Project - takes up one chapter in Wisely’s Arthur Schnitzler and Twentieth-Century Criticism, published by Camden House in 2004. Wisely says the diaries are ‘most notable for Schnitzler’s casual descriptions of sexual conquests - he was often in relationships with several women at once, and for a period of some years he kept a record of every orgasm.’

Schnitzler’s Century, by Peter Gay and published by W W Norton & Co in 2001, relies extensively on extracts from Schnitzler’s diaries, however it only quotes verbatim extracts rarely. Here is one, dated 4 July 1887: ‘In the early morning, I passed her room, whistling. The second time she appeared, I, quickly into the room, lock the door and take her.’ Some pages can be viewed on the Amazon website. See also The Guardian for a review by Nicholas Lezard.

Lezard draws attention to an early moment in Schnitzler’s life: ‘The incident with which [Gay] kicks off his history, and which he makes a kind of focal epiphany, is the moment when Schnitzler’s doctor father finds his 16-year-old son’s diary. Arthur, his father discovered, had been indulging in some precocious sexual exploits. Schnitzler senior marches the young man off to his study and forces him to read ‘Moritz Kaposi’s three-volume standard treatise on syphilis and skin diseases complete with explicit and repellent illustrations’. ’

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thomas Edison’s diary

Thomas Edison, one of the most famous and prolific inventors of all time, died 80 years ago today. The distribution of electricity and the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera are all counted among his contributions to, what is often called, ‘modern life’. Although not known as a diarist, he did - for a few days in the summer of 1885 - keep a journal; and this document is considered to be the only document he left behind with thoughts and feelings of a personal nature.

Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847, but the family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, when he was seven, where he spent the rest of his childhood. At some point, he suffered from a disease which left him hard of hearing for the rest of his life. While still a young teenager, he sold sweets and newspapers on trains, and then became a roving telegraph operator. In 1868, he was employed as a night operator for Western Union; and, by the following year, he had moved to New York City, where, in his spare time, he worked on inventions. After repairing the telegraphic gold price indicator for Western Union, it then commissioned him to improve the stock ticker, which led to the Edison Universal Stock Printer.

In 1871, Edison married Mary Stilwell, only 16 at the time, and they had three children, before she died in 1884. With the proceeds from the sale of his patents to Western Union, he set up his own company, manufacturing stock tickers and printing telegraphs. By 1876, though, he had sold the company so as to have funds to build an industrial research laboratory, the first of its kind, at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

The following year Edison invented the phonograph, the first machine that could record the sound of someone’s voice and play it back. And the year after that, he began work on the idea of a light bulb, and he launched the Edison Electric Light Company. He demonstrated his carbon filament lamp in 1879. By the mid-1880s, Menlo Park had expanded to occupy two city blocks, and Edison and his team had invented, among other things, a system for electricity distribution and a carbon microphone. After the death of Mary, Edison met and married Mina Miller (with whom he would have three more children) and moved to Llewellyn Park in West Orange. Here he built a new laboratory, far larger than the facility at Menlo Park.

Edison was always much engaged with commercialising his products. Chief among these was electricity and its delivery - by 1887, there were well over 100 Edison power stations delivering direct current (DC) electricity. But he also became increasingly engaged in a very public battle with George Westinghouse who was promoting the distribution of alternating current (AC), which was more efficient to distribute. Edison continued working until his death on 18 October 1931. Among many other achievements, his organisation made major developments with the phonograph, x-rays, storage batteries, and motion pictures. Further information is available from The Library of Congress,, and The Thomas Edison Papers.

Edison is not known to have kept a diary through his life, but for one short period, in July 1885, he did write one - indeed, this manuscript is the only known volume kept by him specifically to record thoughts and feelings of a personal nature. It includes observations on art, literature, and religion, along with comments about his dreams, his health, and his feelings toward his future wife, Mina Miller. It was first edited by Dagobert Runes and published by the Philosophical Library, New York, in 1948, as The Diary and Sundry observations of T A Edison. In 1971, The Chatham Press published The Diary of Thomas A Edison with an introduction By Kathleen L McGuirk.

Photographs of the diary’s pages (46 images) can be viewed online at The Thomas Edison Papers website (which currently has 175,000 of Edison’s papers digitalised), hosted by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and the transcribed text can be read at the Ayn Rand Institute website. Here is one full day’s entry.

19 July 1885
‘Slept as sound as a bug in a barrel of morphine. Donned a boiled and starched emblem of respectability. Eat food for breakfast. Weather delightful. Canary seed orchestra started up with same old tune, ancestor of this bird sang the self same tune 6,000 years ago to Adam down on the Euphrates, way back when Abel got a situation as the first angel. Read Sunday Herald, learned of John Roach’s failure - am sorry - he has been pursued with great malignity by newspapers and others, from ignorance I think. Americans ought to be proud of Roach, who started in life as a day laborer and became giant of industry and the greatest shipbuilder in the United States, employing thousands of men and feeding innumerable families. What has he now for this 40 years of incessant work and worry. People who hound such men as these I would invent a special Hades, I would stricken them with the chronic sciatic neuralgia and cause them to wander forever stark naked within the arctic circle.

Saw in same paper account of base ball match. This struck me as something unusual. Read more about that immeasurable immensity of tact and beauty Madame Recamier. I would like to see such a woman. Nature seems to be running her factory on another style of goods nowdays and won’t switch back until long after I’m baldheaded. Damon went out to assist the tide in. Daisy told me something about a man who kept livery stable in Venice. In afternoon went out in yacht. On first trip all our folks, and lot of smaller people, sailed around for an hour. Returned and landed the abbreviated people. Started for Cottage Park where we took on board the charming Mrs Roberts brevet Recamier, and a large lady friend whose name has twice got up and jumped out of my mind. Then sailed away for Rock buoy, and for some occult reason Damon didn’t stop and change his mind but headed for Liverpool. Went out two miles in ocean, undulations threatened to disturb the stability of the dinner of divers persons, returned at 7 p.m. Then Damon took out a boat load of slaves of the kitchen.

Damon and I after his return study plans for our Floridian bower in the lowlands of the peninsular Eden, within that charmed zone of beauty, where wafted from the table lands of the Oronoco and the dark Carib sea, perfumed zephyrs forever kiss the gorgeous flora. Rats! Damon took the plans to Boston to place them into the hands of an archetectualist to be reduced to a paper reality. Damon promised to ascertain probable cost chartering schooner to plough the Spanish main loaded with our hen coops. Dot came in and gave us a lot of girlish philosophy which amused us greatly. Oh dear, this celestial mud ball has made another revolution and no photograph yet received from the Chataquain Paragon of Perfection. How much longer will Hope dance on my intellect? Miss Igoe told me of a picture she had taken on a rock at Panama NY. There were several others in the group, interpolated so as to dilute the effect of Mina’s beauty. As she stated the picture was taken on a rock I immediately brought my scientific imagination to work to ascertain how the artist could have flowed collodion over a rock and put so many people inside his camera. Miss Igoe kindly corrected her explanation by stating that a picture was taken by a camera of a group on a rock. Thus my mind was brought back from a suspicion of her verbal integrity to a belief in the honesty of her narrative.

After supper Mrs G, Daisy and Louise with myself as an incidental appendage walked over to the town of Ocean Spray, went into a drug store and bought some alleged candy, asked the gilded youth with the usual vacuous expression, if he had any nitric peroxide, he gave a wild stare of incomhensability. Then I simplified the name to nitric acid, which I hoped was within the scope of his understanding. A faint gleam of intelligence crept over his face whereupon he went into another room from which he returned with the remark that he didn’t keep nitric acid. Fancy a drug store without nitric acid. A drug store nowdays seems to consist of a frontage of red, blue and green demijohns, a soda fountain, case with candy and toothbrushes, a lot of almost empty bottles with death and stomachatic destruction written in Latin on them, all in charge of a young man with a hatchet shaped head, hair laid out by a civil engineer, and a blank stare of mediocrity on his face that by comparison would cause a gum indian in the Eden Musée [to] look intellectual. On our return I carried the terrealbian gum drops.

Moon was shining brightly. Girls called my attention several times to beauty of the light from said moon shining upon the waters, couldn’t appreciate it, was so busy taking a mental triangleation of the moon, the two sides of said triangle meeting the base line of the earth at Woodside and Akron Ohio. Miss Igoe told us about her love of ancient literature, how she loved to read Latin, but couldn’t. I told her I was so fond of Greek that I always rushed for the comedies of Aristophanes to read whenever I had the jumping toothache. Bed - Mina, morning.’

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Farington on Dance

Nathaniel Dance Holland, a painter of some distinction and a founder member of the Royal Academy, died 200 years ago today. Although he didn’t keep a diary himself, he is mentioned many times in Joseph Farington’s diary, one of the most important sources of historical information about the London art world in the period.

The third son of architect George Dance the Elder, Nathaniel was born in 1735. He studied art under Francis Hayman, a painter and illustrator, and then, in 1754, went to live in Italy, where he developed a considerable reputation as a portrait painter. In 1760, he was commissioned to paint four versions of a now famous conversation piece (an informal group portrait) in front of the Colosseum. Soon after, he was also commissioned for a full-length portrait of Edward, Duke of York.

On his return to England in 1766, Dance continued working as a successful portrait painter. With Hayman and his architect brother George Dance the Younger, he was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768. Among his notable portraits were those of King George IIICaptain James Cook and actor David Garrick.

In 1773, both Dance and Thomas Gainsborough refused to exhibit at the Royal Academy after a disagreement with the president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, but Dance returned to the Academy exhibition in 1774, showing Orpheus Lamenting the Loss of Eurydice, and, in 1776, The Death of Mark Anthony. In 1782 he moved to Cranbury Park, Hampshire, the home of a widow, Mrs Harriet Dummer, who he married the following year.

Dance resigned from the Royal Academy in 1790, the year of his election to Parliament, but he did continue to exhibit as an amateur. He was made a baronet in 1800, and the same year took the name Holland by royal decree. He died on 15 October 1811. A little further information is available at Wikipedia, though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which requires login) has a much better article.

There is no evidence that Dance kept a diary. However, Joseph Farington mentions Dance in his diary quite often. Farington was born in 1747 in Leigh, Lancashire, the second of seven sons of the local vicar. After studying in Manchester, he went to train with Richard Wilson in London and won several prizes, awarded by the Society of Artists, for landscape drawings. He joined the Royal Academy when it was founded, and remained an active member for most of his life. Although he produced some important artistic books - Views of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland and History of the River Thames - he is much better remembered for his diary, with its vivid portrayals of the London art scene in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Farington’s diary was first published by Hutchinson in the 1920s, in four volumes, and these are all freely available at Internet Archive.

Here are a few entries about Nathaniel Dance from Farington’s diary.

11 October 1793 ‘The Prince of Wales has desired N[athaniel] Dance to paint his portrait, which has much embarrassed the latter, who is very unwilling to do it.’

28 January 1794
‘Went this morning with G. Dance to N. Dances in Mortimer Street. The landscape the latter has painted is very ably executed, and very clear. He remarked on the custom of painters observing the foreground objects in masses of brown. His parts in shade are as much made out as those in light.’

18 March 1794
‘Dance recommended the painting clear skies with Ultramarine and White alone and then to use Ivory Black, with White for the cloud tints; adding in some cases a little vermilion or Naples yellow. He said Sir Joshua Reynolds recommended the using Black for his cloud tint, which he said would always be in harmony with the Blue and White.’

30 April 1794
‘News to-day of a victory over the French, near Cambray. The general opinion is that Lawrence this year is inferior to Hoppner. Jones and Hearne think the handling in Dances landscape poor and thorny: that the colouring has too much sameness: and that the greens are not of a true colour. Jones particularly objected to it. They both said how much the subject would gain by being differently coloured.’

26 May 1796
‘N, Dance I met & Sir George Beaumont joined us. Dance told us He had this day paid the Duke of Dorset £4,000 for his seat in the new parliament, and a treat there [East Grinstead] cost him £50 more. I asked him [how] He wd. be circumstanced if a new parliament shd. be called in a year or two. He said He had no agreement, it was all upon honor; but He should think himself very ill used, if required to pay again at the end of so short a time.’

21 April 1807
‘At Eleven o’Clock I called on Sir Nathaniel Holland [Dance had changed his name by this time to Dance-Holland]. We talked of the sale of Barry’s pictures. He said Barry’s Birth of Pandora was a very incompetent attempt to do something great. It was deficient both in design, in form, & in colouring. Jupiter was a Huge figure in the upper parts but the lower limbs were so small in proportion that such a figure could not stand. It was the case with several other figures in that picture; and many of the limbs appeared to have been executed in imitation of parts which He had looked at in the antique, but these limbs were not of the same character with the other parts of the figure to which He had attached them. What attempt there was at colouring was as bad as possible, He seemed to have no sense of it. On the whole He sd. Barry Had talked & bullied people into a belief of His being a great artist. He said His Venus rising from the Sea was His best performance. In that He had the Venus of Medicis in his eye, & made something of it, but He had spoilt the picture by rubbing a brick dust colour over the upper part of the figure.

He spoke of the Bacchus & Ariadne by Titian belonging to Lord Kinnaird. He said it was impossible that Titian could have left the Sky in the state it is, almost pure Ultramarine, like a Lapis Lazuli stone, while another part of the sky is quite Hot. He did not like the figure of Bacchus leaping from His Car, nor that of Ariadne. In some parts there is fine colour, but on the whole it is a picture more fit for an Artist to examine for the purpose of studying what is good in it, than desireable to hang up in a room for general admiration. He thought the picture had been in the hands of bungling picture menders.

He mentioned Wilkie with great approbation, saying that His merit was of the right sort, so true in all respects.

He complained of not having a good painting room at His House in the Country. He had no light good to paint by but what faced the South & He had been much embarassed by it.’

6 June 1807
‘[George] Dance I dined with. We dined a little before 5 and had Port, Madeira, & Red Champaigne. Drinking was spoken of. Dance told me I knew a person who never in his life was intoxicated; it was Sir Nathl. Holland, His Brother. He added that Sir Nathl. always objected to wine; and, when alone, He believed did not drink any; but in company passes the bottle so as to keep up an appearance of drinking some wine. Sir Nathl. has a strong prejudice against wine & thinks it a kind of poison. To Tea He has no objection.’

2 November 1807
‘Sir Nathl. is said to posess £24,000 a year, but does not expend more than £5,000 a year. He lives very handsomely however, both in His House & equipage; Has a man Cook, & when He gives dinners they are sumptuous. He is extremely fond of a young girl, the daughter of His Butler, and just emerging from Childhood. She sits at His table while Her father waits at it . . . and is taken by them [Sir Nathaniel & Lady Holland] when they pay visits, which causes some difficulty in others to know how to receive her. He makes sketches & occasionally paints, but complained of His eyes when speaking to Owen. Though He is considered a singular man in His manner, He is on the whole very well liked by the neighbouring gentry.’

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Broncho Buster

Frederic Remington, a leading figure in American art of the Wild West, was born a century and a half ago today. His paintings and sculptures - such as The Broncho Buster - remain much sought after today. Thanks to a bequest by his wife, Eva, the Frederic Remington Art Museum, located in Ogdensburg, New York, has a large collection of Remington art and artefacts, including his (somewhat scanty) diaries.

Remington was an only child, born on 4 October 1861 in Canton, New York. His father was a colonel in the Civil War, and a newspaper editor. The family moved to Ogdensburg when Ferederic was eleven. Even at an early age, he was noted for drawing soldiers and cowboys. He attended art school at Yale, but left to look after his ailing father who died when only 46.

Thereafter, Remington tried various jobs but devoted himself primarily to illustration. He married Eva Caten in 1884. By this time, demand for his Western illustrations from Harper’s Weekly and other New York magazines had begun to take off. He held his first one-man show in 1890 at the American Art Galleries, and, in the same year, moved to live in New Rochelle. Travelling widely, he spent a lot of time west of the Mississippi River, drawing aspects of the frontier, and loving the life.

Remington’s pictures, Wikipedia says, ‘brought visual information to the eastern public accompanying both factual accounts and fiction of the Old West’. He was praised and trusted for the accuracy of detail in his work. In 1888, two of his paintings were used for US stamps; his first book, Pony Tracks, was published in 1895, and others followed, not least an illustrated novel The Way of an Indian. Around this time, he also branched out into sculpture, producing some now-famous works, such as The Broncho Buster and Big Cowboy.

Remington briefly interrupted his work on Western subjects when, in 1898, he went to Cuba to act as a war correspondent and illustrator during the Spanish Civil War. He came back disillusioned by the realities of war. Near the end of his life, he moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, but he was very obese by this time, and ill-health dogged him until his death in 1909. Further biographical information can be found at the Frederic Remington Art Museum website, and PBS American Masters.

The Frederic Remington Art Museum, located in Ogdensburg, says ‘the depth and breadth’ of its Remington holdings is ‘unmatched’. The museum is located in a property lived in by Eva Remington (though not Frederic) towards the end of her life; and its holding - including Frederic Remington’s diaries - originated through a bequest by Eva on her death in 1918. It does not appear that the diaries have been published, though authors have used them as source material for research, and a few extracts can be found on the Museum’s website.

2 April 1907
‘Left New York on Central with Henry Smith on Limited 3:30 - for south western trip.’

5 April 1907
‘Got out a Tucumcari N, Mexico. 6:00 AM country green as a leek drove out but country uninteresting slept at hotel all afternoon. Local train late. Went to bed woked up at midnight, no train, back to bed . . .’

6 April 1907
‘Out of here at 5o’c. Got to El Paso at 6. couldn’t get room at Sheldon and barely got room at St Regis. . . First bath in a week . . .’

7 April 1907
‘Tired and loafed - short walk wondering when we will go or what we will do.’

9 April 1907 ‘Came up 900 ft. to Cloudcroft all pines and not very paintable. Horrible dinner. Something must be done . . .’

10 April 1907
‘Sketched all day - Mountain and horses beautiful weather fine sunsets on pine tress. Picture ‘The dead cow boy and outlaw horse’ . . . Henry wants to go Grand Canyon.’

11 April 1907
‘We can no longer stand the altitudes. My heart nearly stopped when I took a bath this morning. We are overcome by altitude. Went down to Alamagordo - engineer pulled the air on us and nearly killed half dozen people in caboose by shock. I sketched bluffs at sunset and had terrible ride home across irrigating ditches.’

23 April 1907
‘Sketched Rio Grand river - wonderful red color. Lunched with Terry. . . Left El Paso at night met army officer Powell at station.’

15 April 1907
‘Got to Canyon. El Dover Hotel. Sketched at evening. Canyon bigger than I was led to expect by descriptions or pictures. Met Artist A Keer.’

In 1996, the museum also acquired Eva’s diaries. It says: ‘[These] raise quite a few questions about the composition of our holdings. For instance, on Friday, June 27th, 1913, she writes, “In the P.M. I washed Frederic’s paintings and varnished them and made a great improvement.” Museums and private collectors are now working to remove such old yellow varnish from Remington’s paintings. On Thursday, March 18th, 1915, she records, “Went over things in Frederic’s desk & burned a lot of photos, etc.” We may never know what she deleted from the historic record, or, just as compelling - why she did it. Clearly our holdings were not preserved in a time capsule before they came to us, and sometimes not after they were here.’

Friday, September 30, 2011

Violent, absurd and mad

Lady Mary Coke, a friend of the politician and historian, Horace Walpole, died two centuries ago today. She seems to have been a society woman of some character, but little achievement. She is remembered today partly because of her (rather dull) diary, and partly because of her stormy friendship with Walpole, who called her violent and mad.

Mary was born in 1727, the fifth and youngest daughter of John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and his second wife, Jane who was a maid of honour to Queen Anne and Caroline. She married Edward, Viscount Coke, in 1747. However, the marriage was strained from the start, and before long was the matter of court proceedings. She moved to live with her mother at Sudbrook, Surrey; but, in any case, her husband died shortly after, when she was only 26.

With a legacy from her father, Lady Mary was able to play a full, if increasingly odd, part in society, travelling frequently in Europe. In the early 1770s, she became involved with the court of Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna; but, on a third visit, she fell out of favour with the Empress, and thereafter felt persecuted by her. Lady Mary had a long friendship with Horace Walpole, who dedicated The Castle of Otranto to her; but he called her ‘violent, absurd and mad’ (according to Ponsonby - see below). She died on 30 September 1811. Wikipedia has further biographical information.

Much of what we know of Lady Mary today comes from her voluminous diary, largely written in the form of letters to her sister Lady Strafford. This was first published privately (only 100 copies were printed) between 1889 and 1896 in four volumes by David Douglas in Edinburgh. These were reprinted in 1970 by Kingsmead Bookshops (see Amazon).

Arthur Ponsonby, the author of English Diaries (available at Internet Archive), says the journal is often silly and very dull. Jill Rubenstein, author of Lady Mary’s biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login needed), says: ‘The journal ranges from banal descriptions of card games and weather to perceptive social observation and expressions of sincere affection, often closely and unselfconsciously juxtaposed. The personality which emerges from the whole combines elements of the mundane and the preposterous with the deeply sympathetic.’

The only extracts of Lady Mary’s diary that I can find online are thanks to Yale University Library (and concern Horace Walpole).

7 September 1767 ‘Mr Walpole called on me at five o’clock in very low spirits; he had received an account of his brother being dangerously ill, and Mr Conway had wrote him word of the dreadful accident the poor Duke of Grafton had had, of one of the horses of his chaise, as he was driving, treading upon a man, of which hurt he was since dead. He left me at six o’clock to go to some engagement.’

29 July 1770
‘We had two beaux besides Mr Walpole at Strawberry Hill, Lord Bristol and Mr Hervey. Lady Greenwich and Lady Sackville came from Sudbrook, Lady Jane Scott from town, and Lady Browne from Twickenham. ’Twas a terrible hot day. We had a great dinner very ill-dressed, yet Mr Walpole had sent for a cook on purpose, who certainly knew but little of his trade: he himself is, as you know, always agreeable and always makes his house so to his company. All went well till the evening, when Lady Blandford arrived, and very soon after the servants told Mr Walpole the Princess Amelia was coming: this put all in confusion. Lady Blandford desired to be shut up, but none of the company agreeing to be shut up with her, she was obliged to remain in the Gallery. I went down to meet the Princess: Lady Powis and Lady Harriot Varnon were with her. H.R.H. went over all the house: the Gallery last, as she did not care to disturb the company, and therefore did not stop to look at any of the pictures, desiring they would set down and not mind her. Those she passed by she spoke to, which were Lady Charlotte Edwine, Lady Greenwich, and Lord Bristol, but unluckily, not seeing Lady Jane Scott, she was not taken notice of, which displeased her very much, and though the Princess sent a message to her by me when she went away, all did not do: she would be offended. Lady Blandford was out of humour at being deprived of Mr Walpole’s company, so the party did not end so well as it promised. Things being in this situation Lady Greenwich called for her chaise, and as I was to lie at Sudbrook I followed her example.’

20 December 1768
‘The new opera, I am told, is extremely disliked. Mr Walpole says he will go to it no more. He made the Princess Amelia a present of his snuff-box with the picture of Harry the Fourth of France, who she was expressing her admiration of. As he had wore it in his pocket for above a year, I don’t think it was proper, at least I should have thrown out the snuff; however, it was very politely received and accepted.’

6 January 1769
‘Before he [Mr Walpole] came in, the Princess showed me the lines he had sent her engraved in the lid of the box; to which she had ordered to be added, that it was given her by the Honourable Horatio Walpole, son of that great Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford. Nothing, I think, could be more polite to Mr Walpole, and he seemed to be of that opinion when she showed it him, only saying that he was quite ashamed of her goodness.’

25 April 1769
‘Mr Walpole called at my house, and approves of all I have done since he was here. He has given me a design for some frames to be placed over the doors in my book-room, and repeated to me the epilogue he made for Mrs Clive which she spoke last night on quitting the stage. ‘Tis like everything he has ever wrote, extremely pretty. Nobody has his genius. He gave me a play [The Mysterious Mother] of his own writing. I once heard him repeat some scenes that I thought very fine.’

27 April 1769
‘Lady Spencer has lost her little child. Mr Walpole laughed at me for saying I was concerned.’

14 May 1769 ‘I must not forget to mention that on Saturday evening Mr Walpole, who was one of the party, was both uncivil and ill-natured to me, and with no other provocation than saying what almost every other person agrees in that the French Ambassadress was very illbred. Mr Conway with his usual goodness took my part very warmly and seemed hurt at what Mr Walpole had said. As it was with an ill-natured intention, I own it surprised me, and I’m afraid I shall not soon forget it.’

10 January 1784
‘Sir Edward Walpole is dying; he has been declining some months but is now past all hopes of recovery. Mr Walpole will lose a place which Sir Edward held for him and though he has another which is very considerable, ’tis unpleasant to lose anything that one has had for any time. I called on him this morning but he could not see me.’

30 January 1785
‘I passed an hour with Mr Walpole this evening and was surprised to find him so much recovered though still weak; he told me he had a bad fall the day before by imprudently rising from his chair without his stick and hurt himself so much that he imagined it would bring the gout again but contrary to his expectations he had slept the whole night and was quite well in the morning.’

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kaempfer’s Japan

Today marks 360 years since the birth of the German doctor and naturalist, Engelbert Kaempfer. His fame rests on two books, both largely about Japan, where he stayed for two years during a period when the country was very much closed to foreigners. The British Library holds some of Kaempfer’s diaries, and one of his published books - History of Japan - contains several narratives for journeys which Kaempfer must have based on his diaries.

Kaempfer was born on 16 September 1651 at Lemgo, Germany, a small town in Westphalia, belonging to the Count of Lippe. His father was vicar of the Nicolai Cathedral at Lemgo. After studying medicine and natural sciences, he received his PhD in Poland, then travelled from there to Prussia, and to Sweden. In 1683, he became secretary to the Royal Swedish Ambassador Extraordinary on a special mission to Persia, where he stayed until 1685. He then spent three further years alone in the country, before sailing to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia).

In 1690 Kaempfer joined the Dutch East India Company as a physician, and he then journeyed to Japan, where the company had a trading post on the island of Deshima, near Nagasaki in southwest Japan. This was unique at the time, since the country was all but closed to foreigners (and had been for nearly a century) with only the Dutch allowed limited access: confined to the island, they were granted just one trading mission a year to Edo (present day Tokyo). Despite the restrictions, Kaempfer stayed for two years, learning much about Japan and the Japanese from a young man appointed as his assistant.

Kaempfer returned to Amsterdam in October 1693, and soon after was awarded a medical degree at the University of Leiden. Back in Lemgo, Count de Lippe appointed him his personal physician. In 1700, Kaempfer married and he had three children, all of whom died in their infancy. Kaempfer himself died in 1716. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the Soy Info Center, The Japan Times, and Encyclopædia Iranica.

Kaempfer is largely remembered today for two books he authored: Amoenitatum Exoticarum (Exotic Novelties) published in 1712, with descriptions of flora such as the soy bean, camelia and Ginkgo; and History of Japan, which was first published in an English translation (from the original manuscripts) in 1727. The latter work (which can be downloaded from Internet Archive) also contains biographical information about Kaempfer, and narrative accounts of his travels. The British Library acquired many of Kaempfer’s papers - including diaries - as part of the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane, a founder of the British Museum, who had purchased Kaempfer’s literary estate from his nephew in the 1720s.

As far as I know the diaries have not been published, but the travel narratives in History of Japan must have been based originally on diary material. David van Ooijen, a lute player, has some information about Klaempfer, another lute player, on his website, including a few diary-based extracts. These come from a new (1999) translation of History of Japan by Beatrice M Bodart-Bailey called Kaempfer’s Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed.

‘An incredible number of people daily use the highways of Japan’s provinces, indeed, at certain times of the year they are as crowded as the streets of a populous European city. I have personally witnessed this on the Tōkaidō, described earlier, apparently the most important of the seven highways, having travelled this road four times. The reason for these crowds is partly the large population of the various provinces and partly that the Japanese travel more than other people. Here I will introduce the most memorable groups of travellers one meets daily on these roads.’

‘When on pilgrimage to Ise - which takes place throughout the year but especially in spring - people have to use a stretch of this great road, regardless of what province they come. So it is crowded with such travellers during the said seasons as people of both sexes, old and young, rich and poor, embark on this meritorious journey and act of devotion, attempting to the best of their ability to make their way on foot. […] There are also a number of slippery customers who pretend that they are on this pilgrimage, and as long as they are doing well spend most of the year on the road begging.’

‘Here and there one finds so-called junrei, that is, those who visit the thirty-three most important Kannon temples throughout the country. They drift around in twos or threes and at each house sing a pitiful Kannon tine; occasionally they also play a fiddle or zither not unlike the vagrants in Germany, but they do not approach travellers for alms.’

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was born in Germany three centuries ago today. A fervently religious man, he kept meticulous diaries - documenting his pastoral acts, social interactions, and administrative duties - which are considered a ‘treasure trove for the genealogists’.

Muhlenberg was born on 6 September 1711 in Einbeck, Lower Saxony, Germany, and studied theology in Göttingen and Halle. He worked at various times with charity schools and orphanages. In 1739, he was ordained at Leipzig. In 1741, an application from congregations in Pennsylvania reached Halle requesting a pastor to take charge, and Hermann Francke, a Lutheran leader, chose Muhlenberg to go.

After a sojourn in London, Muhlenberg arrived in America in 1742, reaching Charleston on 23 September. In 1745 he married Anna Maria Weiser, the daughter of a colonial leader, Conrad Weiser, and the couple had eleven children, seven of whom reached adulthood.

Muhlenberg took charge of the congregation at Providence, in what is now Trappe, Pennsylvania, but also served congregations from Maryland to New York, working to manage less qualified pastors and launching new congregations among the settlers of the region. In 1748, he called together the first permanent Lutheran synod in America, and helped prepare a uniform liturgy. He was also instrumental in writing an ecclesiastical constitution, which most of the churches adopted in 1761.

Poor health forced him into limited activity and retirement, and he died at his home in Trappe, in 1787. More biographical information is available at, Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium, and the American Philosophical Society.

An English version of Muhlenberg’s journals, translated by T G Tappert and J W Doberstein, was first published in three volumes by the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in the 1940s. However, more recently, in 1993, they were reprinted by Picton Press (and cost over $200). Picton says: ‘[The] journals are an incredible treasure trove for the genealogist, as [Muhlenberg] carefully recorded his pastoral acts, financial transactions, correspondence, etc, for his personal record (thus he includes subjective opinions, not recorded elsewhere, on people). Marriages, baptisms, funerals, and interactions with neighbors, friends and foes, Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike, are all described in great detail. There is a tremendous amount of data here. The diary is so fascinating you may find yourself reading it cover-to-cover before beginning your serious research!’

There has also been a one-volume version - The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman: Condensed From the Journals of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg - published initially by The Muhlenberg Press in 1959, and reprinted as recently as 2009.

There appear to be no substantial extracts of Muhlenberg’s journals freely available online, but a few quotes can be found in different books. Diary extracts are quoted, for example, in The Pennsylvania Weather Book, which can be read at Googlebooks. Slightly more interesting extracts can be found in Memoir of The Life and Times of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Patriarch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, written by M L Stoever and published in 1856 by Lindsay & Blakiston, Philadelphia, which is available at Internet Archive.

According to Stoever: ‘[Muhlenberg] commenced his journey in the spring of 1742, passing through Holland on his way to England. In London, he met with a cordial reception from Rev. Dr Ziegenhagen, Chaplain to King George II, who greatly encouraged him to his mission and materially aided him in his object. With this excellent and faithful man he remained nine weeks, diligently improving his time in seeking additional instruction and counsel with regard to his future duties. How much he enjoyed the season may be inferred from the following memorandum in his journal: ‘The time was entirely too short for me, and the questions too numerous, upon which I would gladly have conversed with him; so numerous were they indeed, that I was often in doubt which should be taken first. The consideration of these subjects caused me greater joy, and was far more pleasing to me than the possession of jewels or many pieces of gold.’ ’

On the ship from England to Georgia, Muhlenberg tried to convert his fellow passengers, and ‘the humblest of the sea-men he did not neglect’. The memoir says: ‘he labored to reclaim all, to instruct them in the plan of salvation, and to bring them to a saving acquaintance with Him who is ‘the way and the truth and the life.’ In one place in his journal, he remarks: ‘I conversed to-day with some of the crew, and tried to explain to them how sad their condition was, so long as they were estranged from God by wicked works;’ and in another place he says: ‘I urged upon the English passengers the necessity of a radical change in their life by the exercise of faith in the crucified Redeemer. They all listened,’ he tells us, ‘with attention, admitted the truth of my statements, and thanked me for my instructions. But how difficult it is to produce upon the minds of men a permanent impression of the doctrine of regeneration. The many prejudices which darken the understanding - the strong influence of sinful habits, together with riches, worldly prospects, and the cares of life, are powerful hinderances in the way.’ ’

During the American War of Independence, Muhlenberg’s home in Trappe was full of fugitives; he wrote in his journal: ‘The name of Muhlenberg is greatly disliked and abused by the British and Hessian officers in Philadelphia, and they threaten prison, tortures, and death, so soon as they can lay hands upon me.’

In 1989, the Historical Society of Trappe purchased the Henry Muhlenberg House, and restored it to the period of 1776 - using detail from the journals.