Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cecil Harmsworth King

‘She comes across in the newspaper and on television as an aggressive sort of woman, creating enemies wherever she goes. This is not at all the sort of impression she makes in the flesh.’ This is Cecil Harmsworth King, mid-20th century media mogul and Labour Party backer, writing in his diary about Margaret Thatcher a few years before she became leader of the Conservative Party. King, born 110 years ago today, had great political influence in his day, but was forced to resign after plotting to unseat Harold Wilson. His reputation took a further dive with the publication of his diaries in the 1970s because some found he had betrayed confidences.

King was born on 20 February 1901 into a privileged family, and was educated at Winchester and Christchurch College, Oxford. He married Agnes Margaret in 1923, and they were to have four children. His uncle, Lord Rothermere, employed him on the Glasgow Record and then on the Daily Mail, and in 1926, on the Daily Mirror. When Lord Rothermere disposed of his shares in the newspaper organisation in 1931, King began to assert a growing left-wing and anti-establishment influence on the political direction of the Daily Mirror. In 1951, he became chairman of Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd, a post he held until becoming chairman of International Publishing Corporation (IPC) in 1963. A year earlier he had divorced Agnes and married Dame Ruth Railton, founder and musical director of the National Youth Orchestra.

King was involved, during 1968, in a bizarre plot to replace the government of Harold Wilson with a coalition led by Lord Mountbatten. The conspiracy failed very early on, and King was forced to resign as chairman of IPC. After retirement, he contributed articles for The Times, and worked on his autobiography and on his diaries. These latter, though, were ill-received by some for revealing too many confidences. In the last years of his life, he moved to Ireland with his wife, and he died in 1987.

There is surprisingly little online information about King, especially given the extent of his influence, for a generation or so, within British media and political circles. Wikipedia and Spartacus, though, both have short articles. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a longer bio, but requires a subscription or UK library card log in.

In 1970, Sidgwick & Jackson published King’s With Malice Toward None: A War Diary (edited by William Armstrong). In the next few years, Jonathan Cape published two volumes of The Cecil King Diary, one covering the years 1965-1970, and the other the years 1970-1974. Here are a few entries from the latter, in which Murdoch and Thatcher and the three-day industrial week all make an appearance.

28 January 1971
‘Lunch with Dennis Hamilton and Hussey at The Times. Both very friendly and it was nearly three o’clock before I got away from Ken Thomson and others. First, Fleet Street. Denis had done his best with The Guardian but they insist on maintaining their independence, in spite of now moving into the red on both papers together. The obvious move is for The Times in London, The Guardian in Manchester and The Scotsman to co-operate with news and other services; but Richard Scott, the chairman of the trustees (and Washington correspondent!) of The Guardian will have none of this. It is thought The Sketch will fold in the next few weeks. It has been making a small contribution to overheads but is doing so no longer. . . Murdoch is threatening to start a new evening paper if the News and the Standard merge. It would be a sort of evening News of the World. The Sunday Telegraph is losing a lot of money, and The Observer in serious financial trouble. The Mirror has lost all its character and has become an imitation Sun. The unions continue as militant, short-sighted and irresponsible as ever. I have been told recently . . . that the Central Branch of the paper workers is politically dominated by a group called the International Socialists . . . [and that] these Socialists get money from China via Ceylon and that this is well known to the Special Branch. The Times has done quite well out of its increase in price to 1s and its losses are now manageable.

The Sunday Times has bought Wilson’s book on his six years in office. He is receiving £260,000 and the book will be out about May. Denis thinks he is going to tell all (why not make sure - for that money?) and he certainly goes to town on George Brown. The Times has bought Rab Butler’s memoirs. According to Denis he was very dependent on his first wife for decision and courage, but had a built-in sense of timing and a feel for politics all his own.’

13 January 1972
‘Dinner at home last night for Mrs Thatcher [three years before she would become leader of the Conservative Party] and others. She comes across in the newspaper and on television as an aggressive sort of woman, creating enemies wherever she goes. This is not at all the sort of impression she makes in the flesh. She is attractive, highly intelligent and very sensible. She says the so-called liberals (the left-wingers, the long-haired, and all that group) are determined to get her out of office and will doubtless succeed.’

14 December 1973
‘So the balloon has begun to go up. The PM announced yesterday that we shall be going on to a three-day industrial week to save electricity during the current trouble with the miners, the train drivers and the power engineers. There is to be a mini-Budget on Monday, despite all the denials. The PM put it all down to the miners and hardly mentioned the oil embargo. In fact, as Lord Robbins writes in the Financial Times today, this trouble was coming on us anyway, even if there had been industrial trouble and no oil embargo. I dare say one of the reasons for the three-day week (and how is to be enforced?) is to cause short-time working and so bring pressure on the miners and railwaymen from their fellow unionists. I doubt if this will work - the resentment is more likely to build up against the Government - and rightly so. Ted’s call for national unity on the box last night could not have been flatter or less inspiring.’

Friday, February 18, 2011

My unprofitable life

Henry Martyn, a missionary with a talent for languages, was born 230 years ago today. He didn’t live much past his 30th birthday, but on that birthday, 200 years ago, he was writing in his diary about his unprofitable life, and pleaded with himself: ‘If I cannot act, and rejoice, and love with the ardour some did, oh, let me at least be holy, and sober, and wise.’

Martyn was born in Cornwall on 18 February 1781. He studied at Cambridge, and, because of a facility with languages, was persuaded to forego the law in favour of missionary work in India. He went in 1806, but was only to live for another six years. In that time, he translated the New Testament into Hindi and Persian, and revised an existing Arabic translation. He also translated the Psalter into Persian and the Prayer Book into Hindi.

In 1811 Martyn left India for Persia with the aim of undertaking more translating work there. But he fell ill on the way, and died the following year. His extensive diary was edited by Samuel Wilberforce and first published as Journals and Letters of Henry Martyn B. D. in 1837 in two volumes by Seeley and Burnside. Christian websites say the book has been called ‘one of the most precious treasures of Anglican devotion’. Wikipedia has more biographical information, as does the Fulcrum website.

Journals and Letters of Henry Martyn B. D. is widely available on the internet, at Internet Archive, for example, and Project Canterbury. Here is Henry Martyn in India, sailing up the west coast from Goa to Bombay.

10 February 1811
‘Somewhat of a happy Sabbath; I enjoyed communion with the saints, though far removed from them; service morning and night in the cabin.’

11-16 February 1811
‘Mostly employed in writing the Arabic tract, also in reading the Koran; a book of geography in Arabic, and Jami Abbari in Persian.’

17 February 1811
‘A tempestuous sea putting us all in disorder we had no service; for myself, having had two nights’ rest broken from the same cause, I was fit for nothing during the forenoon; in the afternoon I had an affecting season in prayer, in which I was shewn something of my sinfulness. How desperate were my case without grace, and how impossible to hope even now without such strong and repeated assurances on God’s part, of his willingness to save! Indeed it is nothing but his spirit’s power that enables me to believe at all the things that are freely given us of God. I feel happy when reading that the enjoyments of heaven consist so much in adoration of God. This is as my heart would have it. I would that all should adore, but especially that I myself should lie prostrate. As for self, contemptible self, I feel myself saying, let it be forgotten for ever, henceforth let Christ live, let Christ reign, let Him be glorified for ever.’

18 February 1811
‘Came to anchor at Bombay. This day I finish the 30th year of my unprofitable life, an age in which Brainerd [an American missionary to Native Americans who, as it happens, also died as a young man] had finished his course. He gained about a hundred savages to the gospel, I can scarcely number the twentieth part. If I cannot act, and rejoice, and love with the ardour some did, oh, let me at least be holy, and sober, and wise. I am now at the age, &c.’

20 February 1811
‘Mr C_, the chaplain for Surat, called on me. I talked very freely with him about the views of the Bible Society, the duty of labouring for the natives, and in short, almost every subject connected with the ministry. He was very candid, and showed a simplicity and gravity that pleased me much. At four went to dine at Mr B_'s. A religious discussion took place at dinner, which lasted the whole time I was there; the Advocate-General chose to express his incredulity respecting eternal punishment, which Mr B controverted, but in so prolix a way, though on the whole well-directed, that it did not appear convincing, so I took upon myself to consider the chief points of discussion; freedom of discussion produced great familiarity, insomuch that I ventured to give him advice about the necessity of praying and keeping the sabbath, &c. and acting up to the light that he had received, that he might receive more, proving to him that in the gospel, the apparent severity of God in punishing sin, appeared reconcilable with the exercise of mercy.’

1 March 1811
Called on Sir J Mackintosh, and found his conversation, as it is generally said to be, very instructive and entertaining. He thought that the world would be soon Europeanized, in order that the gospel might spread over the world. He observed that caste was broken down in Egypt, and the oriental world made Greek, by the successors of Alexander, in order to make way for the religion of Christ. He thought that little was to be apprehended, and little hoped for, from the exertions of missionaries. Called at General Malcolm’s, and though I did not find him at home, was very well rewarded for my trouble in getting to his house, by the company of Mr _, lately from R_. Dined at Parish’s, with a party of some very amiable and well-behaved young men. What a remarkable difference between the old inhabitants of India, and the new comers. This is owing to the number of religious families in England.

15-16 March 1811
‘Chiefly employed in the Arabic tract, writing letters to Europe, and my Hebrew speculations. The last encroached so much on my time and thoughts, that I lost two nights sleep, and consequently the most of two days, without learning more than I did the first hour. Thus I have always found, that light breaks in, I know not how, but if, stimulated by the discovery, I think of forcing my way forward, I am always disappointed. I can learn no more than what God is pleased to teach me. With pleasure let me acquiesce in the method of my God. Constantly let me be reminded of my helplessness, and my dependence upon him. Walked at night with a Jew of Bussorah, whose name was Ezra, by the sea side. Besides the Hindoos and Mahometans, there were some Persians adoring the setting sun. My companion, though one of the highest order, as I judged from his appearance and complexion, knew next to nothing. He said they expected the restoration to Jerusalem every day.’

18 March 1811
‘A rope-maker just arrived from London called upon me. He understood from my preaching, that he might open his heart to me. We conversed and prayed together.’

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reinforcements received

It is 1942, and wounded are pouring into Palestine because the hospitals in Cairo are overflowing. The Countess of Ranfurly, whose husband is a prisoner of war in Italy, is helping at a Jerusalem hospital, being taught to shoot, and scribbling in her diary whenever possible. But she is also enjoying society. She confides in her diary, for example, how, dining with the Duke of Gloucester, she suggests the rubber shortage is worse for women than for men, and then, embarrassingly, is obliged to explain her point - ‘I said it may become difficult to obtain elastic girdles and that bras are very dependent on elastic, but I dodged mentioning needs further south.’ Weeks later corsets arrive in the post from India, from the Duke; and the Countess then tells her diary about how she fretted over the wording of a thank you telegram. The colourful Countess died ten years ago today.

Hermione Llewellyn was born in 1913, and brought up on her grandfather’s estate in Baglan, Wales, by apparently dysfunctional parents: her father was a gambler and her mother a manic depressive. They separated when Hermione was still a teenager. Her elder brother, whom she adored, was killed in an air crash. After studying secretarial skills, she went to Australia in 1937, and became the personal assistant to the Governor of New South Wales. There she met Daniel Knox, 6th Earl of Ranfurly.

Back in Britain, the couple met again and married in 1939. When her husband was called up for service in the army, Hermione broke the rules by travelling out to the Egypt to be with him; although, once there, she found if difficult to find work. She was expelled from the country, but returned secretly, only to suffer when her husband went missing. Nevertheless, she remained in the Middle East (becoming a favourite among the rich, royal and famous passing through); and Ranfurly’s cook/butler, a man named Whitaker, stayed with her. After three years in an Italian prison, Ranfurly eventually escaped and the couple were reunited. With the war over, Ranfurly worked in insurance, until Winston Churchill appointed him in 1953 to be Governor of Bahamas.

Horrified by the lack of education resources on the island, Hermione asked friends to send unwanted books. Thus, she was able to launch the Ranfurly Library Service in Nassau. The couple returned to Ranfurly’s Buckinghamshire estate in the late 1950s, where Ranfurly took up farming, and Hermione helped develop Book Aid International. By 1994, the charity had sent an estimated 15 million books to over 70 countries. She died on 11 February 2001. Wikipedia has more biographical information.

For much of her life, starting aged only 5, Hermione kept a diary. On returning from the Bahamas, the writer Peter Fleming helped secure her a contract for publication of some extracts. However, she changed her mind about the project, and it was only much later, after the death of her husband in 1988, that she began again to edit the letters and diaries, partly with the help of her friend and neighbour Lord Carrington. Heinemann published them in 1994 - To War with Whitaker - The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-1945 - to much acclaim. The Daily Telegraph said the book was one of the ‘most delightful memoirs of recent times’.

In her introduction, the Countess says, ‘Since I was about five years old I have kept a diary. Though I am now eighty, most of these have survived my many adventures and travels and sometimes I glance at them to remember with laughter. . . My diaries, written mostly at night and always in haste, in nurseries, school rooms, cars, boats, aeroplanes and sometimes in loos, expose how we all arrive, helpless, innocent and ignorant; and then, as we step gingerly into the jungle, show how afraid, selfish, show-off and silly we often are. Mine also prove how lucky I have always been. Most of the creatures in my jungle have been extra special.’

Here are a few extracts from To War with Whitaker.

26 May 1942
‘Jerusalem: We had an official dinner for HRH Duke of Gloucester who is staying with us. He is visiting troops all over the Middle East and next month he is going to India. His itinerary is enough to give anyone a stroke. At dinner there was a discussion about the rubber shortage and, stupidly, I chipped in and said I thought this news was worse for the women than for men. HRH fixed me with an amused look and demanded that I explain exactly what I meant. I said it may become difficult to obtain elastic girdles and that bras are very dependent on elastic, but I dodged mentioning needs further south.’

26 June 1942
‘Wounded are pouring into Palestine because the hospitals in Egypt are overflowing. Each day between one and five I go down to a hospital in Jerusalem to help in the wards. I have no training so I do all the odd jobs such as washing soldiers, making beds and emptying things. Today I washed four heads which were full of sand. I am learning a lot about pain and courage and getting used to smells and sights. The soldiers make fun of everything and, even in the long ward where the serious cases are, no one ever grumbles. I cannot describe the courage of these men. Only when they ask me to help them to write home do I glimpse their real misery: some of them are so afraid their families will not want them back now they are changed. They call me ‘Sugar’.’

12 July 1942
‘While we were talking several people joined us and soon an argument began as to whether we can hold the Germans in Egypt and what will happen if we don’t. There was talk of evacuation which I still find rather a sore subject. ‘Lord Byron said women and cows should never run,’ I said. A little man who was standing nearby turned round - he had a red, rather belligerent face: ‘And what use would you be?’ he asked. Robin came to my rescue: She would fight with the rest of us,’ he said. ‘Can you shoot? the stranger asked me. I shook my head - I was beginning to feel foolish. Red Face glared: ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I like that bit about Lord Byron. I’ll teach you to shoot. Be at the police station on the Jaffa Road at six tomorrow.’ He stumped off before I could ask his name.’

13 July 1942
‘This evening I went straight from the hospital to the police station on the Jaffa Road. Red Face was waiting for me in a bare Arab room. I asked his name. ‘Call me Abercrombie,’ he said, ‘it’s as good as any other. Now sit down,’ he continued, ‘I shall tell you all I know. I was taught in America by “G” men and I am a bloody fine shot. Make the gun part of your arm. . . He showed me how to hold it easily in my hand, how to cock it and recock it without moving anything but my fingers and wrist. ‘Never pull the trigger,’ he said. ‘Your gun is like an orange in the palm of your hand. You must squeeze that orange.’ . . .

He took me over to the range. It was dark inside and after the stark Palestinian sun I could not see. ‘There are six dummy men in here,’ he said, ‘stay where you are and use your eyes. Kill them.’ He was unsparing. I shot with my right hand, with my left hand, and with both hands. I hated the noise and blinked my eyes. My wrist wobbled; my mind wobbled. He made me go on. Sometimes I shot in the dark. Sometimes he turned on the light. He bawled. I shot. ‘One, two. One, two. Now left. Now right. Now both together. Squeeze that orange. Keep your eyes open.’ Sweating and shy I plugged on, standing close-to and then far from his life-size dummies. After an hour he told me to return at the same time tomorrow.’

16 July 1942
‘A magnificent parcel, covered in tape and seals, arrived for me from India. Inside were two pairs of old-fashioned corsets with bones and laces. They were sent by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. Nick and I had an argument as to how one should thank one of the Royal Family for a present of corsets. Whichever way we put it looked disrespectful. Finally, we sent a telegram saying: ‘Reinforcements received. Positions now held. Most grateful thanks.’ ’

Monday, February 7, 2011

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the American aviation pioneer and diarist, died a decade ago today. Her life was inextricably bound up with that of her more famous husband, Charles, an extraordinary man who first introduced her to aviation, and with whom she made exploratory flights and wrote books. For many years, the couple never seemed out of the headlines, largely because their first child was kidnapped and murdered amid a frenzy of media attention, but also because Charles took a controversial political stance during the war.

Born in New Jersey, in 1906, Anne was the daughter of Dwight Morrow, a US senator and ambassador. She studied at Smith College, and then, in 1929, married the by-then famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh. He taught her to fly, and they went on many exploratory trips, air surveying and charting new routes, in which she acted as co-pilot, navigator and radio operator. Their first child, Charles, was kidnapped as a toddler, and then killed. The frenzy of publicity eventually led the couple to move to England where they lived in a property owned by Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, and then to France, before returning to the US in 1939. They had five more children.

During the early years of the Second World War, Charles was accused of being anti-semitic: and he vehemently opposed US involvement. Anne’s family, though, held the opposite view. In order to reconcile the differences, she later said, she wrote a book called The Wave of the Future, arguing that something like Fascism might be inevitable. Earlier, in 1935, she had published her first book, North to the Orient, describing a single-engine aeroplane journey she took over uncharted routes from Canada and Alaska to Japan and China.

After Pearl Harbour, Charles became more involved with the US war effort. Having been refused permission to rejoin the Army Air Corps, he worked as a technical adviser for aircraft manufacturers, and in 1944 persuaded United Aircraft to send him to the Pacific where he improved the performance of fighter bombers and flew around 50 combat missions. After the war, his reputation was rehabilitated with the American government and the public. He was often in Europe, where, it came to light much later, he had had three mistresses and fathered seven more children. He died in 1974.

Anne had continued to write a books after the war. In particular, Gift from the Sea in 1955, an early environmental work, was a national best seller. She suffered a series of strokes in the early 1990s, and died on 7 February 2001. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia and the Charles Lindbergh website.

Anne was an inveterate diary writer, and, from the early 1970s, she began publishing them through Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. The first volume, which covered the years 1929 to 1932, was called Bring Me a Unicorn. Four more collections followed: Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead - 1929-1932 (1973); Locked Rooms and Open Doors - 1932-1935 (1974); The Flower and the Nettle - 1936-1939 (1976); and War Within and Without - 1939-1944 (1980).

Extracts from Anne’s diaries freely available online are few and far between. Mike Eckel’s obituary of her for Associated Press (available at the Charles Lindbergh website) has a few. He quotes from the introduction to Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead - ‘Flying was a very tangible freedom. In those days, it was beauty, adventure, discovery - the epitome of breaking into new worlds’ - and then says, in the same book, she wrote of the pain she and her husband felt after the body of their son was discovered in May 1932.

‘We sleep badly and wake up and talk. I dreamed right along as I was thinking - all of one piece, no relief. I was walking down a suburban street seeing other people’s children and I stopped to see one in a carriage and I thought it was a sweet child, but I was looking for my child in his face. And I realized, in the dream, that I would do that forever.’

Mrs Lindbergh, the obituary continues, who struggled to maintain her family’s privacy, wrote of her disdain for the media spotlight: ‘I was quite unprepared for this cops-and-robbers pursuit. . . I felt like an escaped convict. This was not freedom.’ And, she wrote in her diary that when her husband landed in Paris, he was ‘completely unaware of the world interest - the wild crowds below. The rush of the crowds to the plane is symbolic of life rushing at him - a new life - new responsibilities - he was completely unaware of and unprepared for.’

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Three fine horses

Pen and Sword Books has just published the beautifully written and eloquent diary of Charles Crowe, a lieutenant serving in the British Army during the Peninsular Wars. It says the diary is a ‘masterpiece of journalism’ and one of the ‘great military memoirs’. Much of the diary is already freely available online thanks to Crowe’s distant descendant, JJ Heath-Caldwell, who tracked down the second of the two original diaries, and has made the texts available on his website.

Not much is known about Crowe, other than what he writes about in his diary. He was born in 1785 and joined the British Army in 1810, first with the West Suffolk Militia. After moving between regiments several times, he joined the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot (an Irish regiment) as a lieutenant in 1813. He married in 1818; and later suffered ill health, so that he was stationed in Ireland for the latter part of his military career, before returning to England on half pay.

Crowe’s two journals essentially cover the last years, and Wellington’s final campaign, of the Peninsular War between France and the allied powers including Britain. They have now been edited by Gareth Glover, a former Royal Navy Officer, and published by Pen and Sword Books as An Eloquent Soldier - The Peninsular War Journals of Lieutenant Charles Crowe of the Inniskillings, 1812–14. The Pen and Sword Books website says the book was published in October 2010 (but, nevertheless, still asks for pre-orders!), while Amazon considers 1 February 2011 as the publication date.

The publisher’s blurb explains that Crowe did not actually write up his journal until 1842-3, but because he was such a good writer, he was able to embellish the basic journal, describing his thoughts, actions and words ‘in beautiful detail’ and turning the record of his short army career into ‘a masterpiece of journalism’. Crowe does not pull his punches, the blurb adds, ‘he censures officers both junior and senior; he talks openly of the ravages of war, and the pillaging, raping and looting; the horrors of war, describing the deaths and horrific wounds of many in lurid detail, the cowardice and stupidity; and he also describes the mundane in detail nothing is passed over.’ His journal ‘will stand proudly deservedly in the pantheon of great military memoirs’.

More information about Crowe and the book is available thanks to a website maintained by Gareth Glover, the book’s editor. In particular, he explains in some detail how the book was only brought to print through the ‘diligence and sheer tenacity’ of JJ Heath-Caldwell, a distant relative of Crowe. And Heath-Caldwell, himself, also has a website on which can be found the full texts of the two journals.

Here is an example of Crowe’s beautiful diary language and story-telling, taken from the transcripts on Heath-Caldwell’s website.

16 November 1812
‘Vander and I agreed to reverence the day, and a parade for Divine Service had been ordered. I was to have officiated as Chaplain, but the rain was too heavy to allow any but the sailors working the ship to remain on deck. The Master dined with us. When he left our cabin he foresaw a storm, and gave orders accordingly. Late in the evening the Hatchways were closed, and covered over with tarred purlings and a most awful night ensued. The wind blew great guns, and the sea ran mountains high. Our ship pitched and tossed and reeled most furiously.

Sleep was out of question, especially after midnight, when the table broke from the lashings to the floor, and set at liberty all our trunks stowed beneath, which drove slap bang from side to side as the vessel rolled. Thus Cobbold and myself in the lower berths were alternately in dread of unwelcome intruders. I succeeded in catching hold of and securing my own trunk, and was leaning forward to reach Vander’s when Dr Rice, anxious about his case of instruments, dropped from the berth above, and caught my head between his thighs. At this very juncture, the ship lurched suddenly to narboard, so that the Doctor, being rather short, could but just reach the floor, and by clinging to his own berth, save himself from falling backward.

Thus I remained in a pillory without the possibility of withdrawing my head, to the great amusement of our opposite companions. Pinching and thumping availed me not, for the Doctor could not budge a jot, until the ship righted on its way to falling to starboard, which made the Doctor scramble up to save his legs from the trunks, and thus set me free. All of us now could join the hearty laugh, and joke the Doctor’s nimbleness in saving his shanks. Our glee was however, cut short, for as the ship was rising on a lofty wave and appeared to stand on end, a cross wave struck our stern, made every plank and timber quiver, smashed our dead lights, or storm window shutters, to atoms, and shipped much water.

Cobbold and I had now to change our operations, and were obliged as the vessel rolled to either side, to hold up our bed clothes to prevent the water washing into our berths, and were thus employed until the water by degrees found its way under the cabin door to the ship's waste. All this was bad enough, but in the hold, where men and horses were so closely stowed, the scene was horrible! Three fine horses were suffocated, and falling against those next to them, threw them down, and they by their plunging injured others. When the storm mitigated in the morning, so as to allow the hatchways to be partly opened and fresh air admitted some men fainted.

As soon as practicable the dead horses were drawn out of the hold and thrown overboard. But it was a very difficult undertaking to set the other poor fallen and frightened animals again on their legs, during the continued rolling of the vessel. Other ships also threw their dead horses, the most crowded had, consequently, more casualties. There were very many detachments of Dragoons embarked in the fleet, particularly of the Oxford Blues, who lost a very many of their fine black horses. The sea presented a melancholy scene, covered with floating carcases as far as we could see. Our rigging stood well, but some vessels were greatly shattered, and some two or three were obliged to run before the gale, and returned to Plymouth.

Our convoy scudded about in all directions to collect their scattered charge. We maintained our central position. About 3pm Vander descried a suspicious square rigged ship close in shore hugging the wind under easy sail, for we had crossed the bight of the Bay of Biscay, and could discern the Spanish coast. Our Master pronounced the stranger to be an American Man-of-War. This unwelcome intelligence induced us to go down and muster our men between decks, as well as we could, and make them look to, and prepare their arms and ammunition, in case of an attack during the night.

When we returned on deck our Commodore had the signal flying “Look to the strange sail at Windward.” And away went the Brig of War, our Columbine, dashing and splashing in most gallant style through the lofty billows which seemed all to combine to oppose her progress. We watched her with a lively interest, as long as the daylight lasted, then returned to our cabins, and having made as good a meal as the rolling of the vessel would allow, we laid down, sword in hand, prepared for any alarm. Having however, to make up for lost sleep the night before, we soon forgot our cares and anxieties until the morning.’

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Write. Read Homer

‘Percy’s birthday. A divine day; sunny and cloudless; somewhat cold in the evening. It would be pleasant enough living in Pisa if one had a carriage and could escape from one’s house to the country without mingling with the inhabitants.’ This is Mary Shelley, who died 160 years ago today, writing in her diary while still a young woman and living in Italy with one of Britain’s most revered poets. Though not a great read, her diaries do provide insight into the literary couple’s life.

Mary was born in London, in 1757, into a highly cultured family - her father was a liberal philosopher, and her mother, who died while giving birth, was a celebrated writer. She was educated privately, but, soon after meeting the young poet Percy Shelley in 1814, eloped to France with him, if only for a few weeks. Back in London, the two lived together, and then, in 1816 after the death of Shelley’s first wife, they married. Two years later, Mary’s novel Frankenstein was published. It was an immediate success.

The same year, the Shelleys moved to Italy, where they lived in various locations. They had three children, two of whom did not survive infancy. Percy himself died in a boating accident in 1822, and Mary returned to England with her only surviving son. She did not remarry, but carried on with her writing, promoting Shelley’s works, and looking after her father and son. She died on 1 February 1851. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia and The Poetry Foundation.

Although Mary Shelley wrote a few other novels, none were as successful as Frankenstein, which, nearly 200 years later, is considered a classic of the Gothic genre. She also wrote many short stories, and kept a diary. A good description of her original diaries, five of them, can be found in Rosalie Glynn Grylls’s biography, Mary Shelley (Oxford University Press, 1938) much of which is available online at Googlebooks.

The first of Mary Shelley’s diaries to be published was one written jointly with Percy in 1814. Its account of their wanderings on the Continent was later put into more of a narrative form by Mary and published in 1817 by T Hookham - History of a six weeks’ tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland - see Internet Archive.

In the 1880s came The Life & Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Mrs Florence Marshall (also freely available online at Internet Archive). This contained substantial extracts from Mary’s diaries, and was published by Richard Bentley in two volumes. There have been many other editions, more recently, for example, in 1987, Clarendon Press published two volumes of The Journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, as edited by Paula R Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert.

Mary Shelley’s diaries are not the most enthralling of reads, but they are considered an important source of information not only about her own life but about her more famous poet husband. Here are a few extracts, the first dating from her teenage elopement to France with Percy.

14 August 1814
‘At four in the morning we depart from Troyes, and proceed in the new vehicle to Vandeuvres. The village remains still ruined by the war. We rest at Vandeuvres two hours, but walk in a wood belonging to a neighbouring chateau, and sleep under its shade. The moss was so soft; the murmur of the wind in the leaves was sweeter than Aeolian music we forgot that we were in France or in the world for a time.’

12 August 1816
‘Write my story and translate. Shelley goes to the town, and afterwards goes out in the boat with Lord Byron. After dinner I go out a little in the boat, and then Shelley goes up to Diodati. I translate in the evening, and read Le Vieux de la Montagne, and write. Shelley, in coming down, is attacked by a dog, which delays him; we send up for him, and Lord Byron comes down; in the meantime Shelley returns.’

9 March 1819
‘Shelley and I go to the Villa Borghese. Drive about Rome. Visit the Pantheon. Visit it again by moonlight, and see the yellow rays fall through the roof upon the floor of the temple. Visit the Coliseum.’

12 November 1820
‘Percy’s birthday. A divine day; sunny and cloudless; somewhat cold in the evening. It would be pleasant enough living in Pisa if one had a carriage and could escape from one’s house to the country without mingling with the inhabitants, but the Pisans and the Scolari, in short, the whole population, are such that it would sound strange to an English person if I attempted to express what I feel concerning them crawling and crab-like through their sapping streets. Read Corinne. Write.’

13 November 1820
‘Finish Corinne. Write. My eyes keep me from all study; this is very provoking.’

14 November 1820
‘Write. Read Homer, Targione, and Spanish. A rainy day. Shelley reads Calderon.’

23 November 1820
‘Write. Read Greek and Spanish. Medwin ill. Play at chess.’

24 November 1820
‘Read Greek, Villani, and Spanish with M. . . . Pacchiani in the evening. A rainy and cloudy day.’

1 December 1820 ‘Read Greek, Don Quixote, Calderon, and Villani. Pacchiani comes in the evening. Visit La Viviani. Walk. Sgricci is introduced. Go to a funzione on the death of a student.’

2 December 1820
‘Write an Italian letter to Hunt. Read Oedipus, Don Quixote, and Calderon. Pacchiani and a Greek prince call Prince Mavrocordato.’